Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 13, 2016
“May the Intervention of the Holy Spirit Save Us from an Apocalyptic Nightmare”
Luke 21: 5-19 – Common English Bible
“5 Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, 6 “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”
7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?”
8 Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and rebellions (and rumors of wars), don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.”
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.”
Every time an apocalyptic text like this one comes up in the lectionary, this one every three years, preachers collectively groan. How many times must we explain that we live in different times or that the apocalypse or rapture or Armageddon or the End of the World are interpretations or metaphors.
But we moderns should take caution. These ideas resonated to a community living in an oppressive realm under a tyrant named Caesar. I should not cast doubt on people whose lives were under such literal threat of violence. I should not blame them for texts that are hard to preach. To them, this was not a metaphor. It wasn’t just in their imaginations.
It’s not something I could imagine – until Wednesday morning when I could picture images of deportation forces rounding up Mexicans. And Muslim American citizens standing in airports around the world banned from returning home. Women walking out of Planned Parenthood in handcuffs.
Just to be clear, this is the vision Americans chose. Was it just all hyperbole? Apocalyptic images that we shouldn’t take seriously?
Well, schoolyard bullies have taken it seriously. Feeling empowered, they have been taunting and harassing their black and brown classmates. Bullies of every age have felt empowered. Jeremy told me about a teacher at South High School who called the ADL on Friday because one of her 16 year old students, who is a Somali Muslim refugee, now a U.S. citizen, was in line at Starbucks. A white man in line behind her said to her, "Your days here are numbered."
This same thing has been repeated over and over again across the country. In the first 48 hours, the Southern Poverty Law Center collected over 200 reports of hate crimes. And obviously only a fraction of incidents get reported. Members of our own church were told this week “We know where you live.” Metaphorically? Or by people who now feel free to intimidate and threaten violence?
Even before Wednesday, we have already seen Mosques burned, Synagogues defaced, and black churches bombed. Is that just the stuff of apocalyptic metaphors? Americans were presented a very vivid vision of the country and chose one that is utterly frightening.
One candidate prevailed over another in an election this week because that is what happens in a democracy. I can handle that. We can be adults about that and accept the results.
But Americans elected a man who set the stage for his rise in politics by appealing to white supremacists. Birthers who could not stomach the idea of a black man with power. A man who then announced his presidency by calling Mexicans criminals and rapists. And then, anytime he started flagging in the polls, stated the next most racist thing he could come up with. David Duke called Wednesday the most glorious morning in his life.
The winning candidate ran willingly and happily on white nationalism and won a vast majority of all white voters – men and women. He turned understandable economic resentment, after all, the system really is rigged for the benefit of the wealthy; he turned understandable economic resentment into racial resentment. By design, anger was turned into hatred.
What did white America get out of this deal? Freedom to express as much hostility toward minorities as they wish. Freedom to be vulgar, to assault women – whether they are our daughters, mothers, or wives – because it’s no big deal. Freedom to mock people with disabilities and discard any other form of “political correctness.” And a perverted notion of religious freedom that extends only to a particular narrow version of Christianity. In order to win that freedom, sadly, nothing was so egregious, so vile, so repulsive, that it couldn’t be forgiven by evangelicals.
This is the choice Americans made this week about the kind of country we are, and what we aspire to be. Not metaphorically. This is the stuff of apocalyptic nightmare.
Some may say, “Well, in the end, it’ll be OK. Don’t get too worked up about it.” But if you can say, “It’ll be OK,” then you probably don’t have much to lose. It’s not going to be OK for everyone. We’ve got to understand that urgency and move through our grief so we can stand alongside those who are truly at risk.
Many will no doubt protest that this election was not about race; had nothing to do with race. They will claim it was simply a desire for change by any means necessary. It’s probably true that we were looking at four more years of absolute gridlock and dysfunction. What could break the logjam? The explanation was given that chemotherapy has to kill living cells too. But then explain why the KKK is planning a victory march in North Carolina on December 3rd.
I am not ready for platitudes about how it’s all in God’s hands. Take the longer view. It’s happened before; it’ll happen again. That may be the case, but real people face real threats right now.
DaShawn Mosley from Sojourners was among those who said he saw it coming. He asked why so many white progressives couldn’t see, couldn’t believe that “every time African-Americans get a little bit closer to equality, a wave of white resentment comes hurtling around the bend to wash all of the progress away.” How could we be so naïve?
Columnist Leonard Pitts called this election a ‘slap down.’ “A slap down to women and people of color and LGBTQ folks. A vicious and painful reminder “’so that we’ll know our place.’” Yet as Pitts added, “To those who wish to crush my spirit and the spirit of others like me, hear this – It will not work.”
How did our apocalyptic text end? Jesus said, “By holding fast, you will gain your lives.”
Or as the NRSV says – By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Or the NIV – Stand firm, and you will win life.
Or The Message – Stay with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end.
So my friends, hold fast to your vision of the Kingdom of God. Racial justice, equality of opportunity, the dignity of the poor, safety for the immigrant… Through your grief, through your anger, though you may be despairing, hold fast.
Now more than ever, act like Christians who follow the teachings of Jesus. Hold fast to values of Jesus. He stood alongside the vulnerable and marginalized, he went out of his way to include the outcast, often to call out the hypocrisy of religious types. And so should we. Demonstrate the values of compassion and civility, but don’t forget how he overturned a few tables too. He had a reason for some righteous anger. But as well, he wept. He wept. He wept over the City of Jerusalem. “Oh would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
My friends, stand firm: Don’t joke about moving to Canada or Costa Rica. Stay here and stand up for the people Jesus loved, the planet on which we live. For the sake of the kind of people we are and want to be, stay with it. Hold fast.
My friends, practice endurance: Figure out what you must do to unshackle yourselves from hate. Don’t hate Trump. Don’t hate his supporters. You must be ready to stand for love in your community. You must be prepared to lead a movement of fierce love within your own family. Jesus said they may hate you. They may betray you. But be undaunted by injustice. Grieve today but get ready to rise up with love to be a force for good.
Rise Up because you are stronger and braver than you know.
Rise Up because, like Queen Esther, you were made for “just such a time as this.”
Rise Up and know that if you stand firm on this vision of the Kingdom of God, you will not only win your own life and gain your soul. You will save the lives of those put at risk. Stay with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end.
But like with all grief, some days that’s too much to ask. Some days I just want to lay on the floor and engage in the biblical practice of lamentation. Like biblical Rachel who refused to be comforted. "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." Weep if you must. That is OK.
But remember. That is a luxury not all of us have. Some of us have found ourselves exponentially more vulnerable today. Religious communities under attack. More backlash against the LGBTQ community. It’s already here and more is coming. This is the vision our country chose. An apocalyptic nightmare.
In the days ahead, know that much will be demanded of you, of us. And to whom much is given, more is expected.
But we are not left without the resources to do this. Jesus promised that another would come after him. We not only have the teachings of Jesus, we have an Advocate, a Comforter. The Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, their fear was replaced by courage. Shut doors gave way to proclamation. Generosity exploded. And every doubt was driven away by a faith full of love.
Pray for this kind of intervention of the Holy Spirit in your life.
Pray for the intervention of the Holy Spirit so that the tongues of bullies are tamed and the spirits of the victims are lifted and that your voice and the voices of allies are emboldened. Pray that the matches of arsonists won’t light; that the paint of the spray cans malfunction…
Oh God, we pray. Send your Holy Spirit upon the United States of America
 https://www.thenation.com/article/donald-trump-has-unleashed-a-new-wave-of-bullying-in-schools/, https://theconversation.com/why-the-trump-effect-could-increase-bullying-67831, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/news/local/2016/11/11/school-officials-grapple-bullying-harassment-incidents-after-election/93639328/
 Luke 19:42
 Esther 4:14
 Matthew 2:18
 John 14:26
 Pope Francis
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Traveling around the world