Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 12, 2017
“One Year Later: Resistance and Resilience in Our Post Human-Decency World”
Matthew 21: 28-32
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Remarkably sad, betrayed, and angry. Fearful, shocked, and scared. Helpless, numb, and crushed. And determined.
When we packed in here one year ago, literally packed in, those were just some of the hundreds of emotions expressed on these sticky notes that we placed on the windows around the sanctuary. I kept them as a memorial to the election of 2016.
One of these notes described being “aghast at the depth of racism and sexism the election revealed.” That horror has only confirmed itself as more deeply ingrained than many of us might have been lulled into thinking in our supposedly post-racial America. Although, as I quoted a year ago, DaShawn Mosley from Sojourners, among others, 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.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ fascinating new book shows how the same thing happened after eight years of Reconstruction, the period following slavery when African Americans rose in power and stature, only to be slapped back down by deviously devised Jim Crow laws, the open terrorism of the KKK, and silence of good people.
Post-election, a lot of blame was directed toward the white working class; poor whites who resented being “left behind.” But Coates said blaming them is misplaced. It’s a false narrative. I didn’t know this, and was surprised by it: According to the reputable polls he cited,
Coates points out that, of course, “every Trump voter was most certainly not a white supremacist, just as not every white person in the Jim Crow South was a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it was acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one who is.” Over to someone who bragged that he could sexually assault women, “they’ll let you do it,” because he was a celebrity, while calling Mexicans rapists. Someone who promoted physical violence. Who scapegoated refugees… Well, you know the story. We’ve been living in a post-human-decency world ever since.
Let me also note, however, that Hillary was not devoid of her own racism, including her language about crime and super-predators. Not to mention, we surely would have stayed securely tucked in our beds safely holding on to our “delusions of inclusion,” as Crystal Fleming described it. In fact, bringing the neo-nazis, the KKK and the white supremacists of Bannon’s alt-right “good people on all sides” out from under their rock might ultimately save us from them.
When we gathered for the first service after the election last year, we didn’t know what would actually transpire. We only had promises. We waited and hoped with baited breath that the worst would not unfold. My sermon was entitled “May the Intervention of the Holy Spirit Save Us from an Apocalyptic Nightmare.” And perhaps it has been the Holy Spirit that created the chaos and ineptitude that has saved us from something worse. Maybe we should be thanking Twitter instead of cursing it for the distractions which have stunted some goals. But thank goodness for the Judiciary. And most definitely, thank goodness for the framers of the Constitution who have kept the dictatorial desires of our President from being realized.
And yet, despite many failures, we are still living with
But hey, the stock market is better than ever and maybe billionaires can finally get some tax relief.
Damage has been done. Families have been torn apart. But, thank goodness, or thanks to the intervention of the Holy Spirit, some threats remain unrealized. The stakes have been high, the apocalypse has been dared, but thank goodness, it has not arrived.
But more than anything else, thank goodness for you. For your resistance. For your active participation. For showing up at the Women’s March. For the half of our congregation who marched down Colfax Avenue through torrential rain after Charlottesville. For your participation in Black Lives Matter and the Northeast Denver Neighbors for Racial Justice, who along with some Indivisible groups call our building home for their meetings. By the way, your stewardship pledge pays for that. Thank you for joining the ACLU and writing checks to the Southern Poverty Law Center. For showing decency for our fellow citizens by donating to hurricane relief and especially volunteering for the Women’s Homelessness Initiative.
John Pavlovitz described the year 2017 as a “long decade.” But he joins me in expressing gratitude for the millions of ordinary people who became overnight activists, engaging in their local communities in ways they’d never done before. He said, “It’s been a year of hot humid hell, but heaven has been present in the middle of it.” In Virginia, the fact that the bigoted author of the bathroom bill, the self-described “chief homophobe in Virginia,” was voted out of office and replaced by a transgender woman is indeed a bit of heavenly justice.
But this long decade of a year hasn’t actually even been a full year yet. And despite the recognition that, yes, our cruel national nightmare will one day be over, even so, a return to civic decency and the healing of our deep divisions are a long way off. Resistance has been effective. But also depleting. The stress has taken a toll, including on our immune systems. Several people have described their simple colds as taking twice as long to heal. A coincidence. Or a consequence? Maintaining vigilance long term will require something deeper than we might have expected, or have been cultivating. Today’s story of the foolish virgins may be instructive.
First of all, the whole thing about “foolish virgins” sounds a little like one of the platforms for the promise of making America great again. So, let’s just offer our collective “yuck” so we can look behind the story. It’s also been called the parable of ten bridesmaids, ten maidens, none of which is really much better. I had to laugh, though, because one of the commentators, writing long ago, said the Greek shouldn’t be translated “foolish.” It’s closer to saying “they were morons.” But whatever word you use, it’s still “yuck.”
And double yuck. We have to name that this is another one of those apocalyptic texts that Matthew loves. And though provocative, whatever you call it, the apocalypse, Armageddon, the end times, or the second coming of Christ, they are a problem. As I’ve said before, as progressive Christians, we are not looking forward to everything falling apart through war, famine, and flood in order to fulfill some biblical prophecy from which the mission of the church is to save souls. But rather, our calling and vocation is to help set this world right – to become the open, inclusive, just, and compassionate world that Jesus proclaimed, also known as the Kingdom of God, the Common Good, on earth as it is in heaven. The message of today’s text to “always be ready” still applies. We’ve had a year of practice. But can we stick with it?
That’s why I’ve started to think that we need to work on our resilience for this calling, to build it up, whether it be for 3 more years or 7 or longer. In fact, we should plan for a lifetime. This past year, you and I have been vigilant in our resistance. Keeping on top of things. Monitoring the news. Showing up when needed. Ready. But will we find ourselves one day with an empty lamp? Will the oil in our lamp run dry because we haven’t been filling it? Are we sure there will always be enough time to do it one day when we need it right now? Resilience.
The foolish virgins didn’t prepare so they found themselves locked out. But for our times, I would look at it a different way. Not locked out. But worn out. Done. Exhausted. Depleted. Fatigued. Drained. Think of your own word to say – I’ve got nothing left. I’m out. Burning our lamps with the fuel of anger and righteous rage can provide only so much light before its gone and everything goes dark and we feel hopelessly lost. Can I say it again? Burning our lamps with the fuel of anger and righteous rage provides only so much light before its gone and everything goes dark and we feel hopelessly lost. So, how are we continuing to keep our lamps full?
As I have said repeatedly this year, you are what keeps me sane. Worship is what keeps me going. I don’t know what I would do after another week of chaos without a day to worship and rest. The rhythm of Sabbath and a place to process. God keeps us focused on the bigger picture. After all, God was before the beginning and God will be after the end. Talk about big picture! We need that kind of perspective. And to practice gratitude through all things despite all the things happening in our world.
Jesus shows us what following his vision means – from the consequences of compassion and justice to the redemption of the worst thing the world can throw at us. In our culture of cruelty, this post-human-decency world, our Christian calling and vocation, our vision, is clear: A world that is open to all, inclusive of all, a just world for all, and people who are compassionate at all times and in all ways.
When I wonder if I’ve got the perspective and gratitude needed for resilience, I’m reminded of the Syrian-American poet Mohja Kahf who wrote:
Feeling calm. You folk forget,
I’ve lived in ameriKKKa before. Lived to tell.
Think one election is enough to get me down? Psh.
Roots dig deep in winter, drink nourishment underground.
Good in the world doesn’t drain out overnight.
This ain’t the apocalypse, just the same old business
a little more naked than it has been in a while
and now we have a few more tools stored away
in the vision cabinet for making plans.
This isn’t optimism, just Sisyphus speaking.
I know this boulder from before, and I’ll push it again,
only this time I have more friends,
know better how to hunker my shoulder to it.
Never expected it to get any lighter, and if it did for a minute, that was a breath we can use for the next heave.”
I shared a picture this week of a lone individual hauling a huge heart shaped boulder uphill. Alone. I reminded us to be grateful that we have a church to help us through these times, an unapologetically progressive church. Do you know how many people crave a church like this?
So, for resilience. I want to start developing more resources for us this year, to keep our lamps full or when we are wearing down and want to give up. Here are a few things we can do, and ways the church helps:
1)Keep connected with other people – don’t isolate but gather regularly with friends and neighbors, as in, we’re here every week.
2)Accept that we are living through what we are living through. We can’t wish it away. And then learn from scripture that dictators and demagogues have existed throughout history. And what ultimately happens to them when the people of God resist.
3)Change what you can. Take action, some action, so that you don’t detach and, again, just wish things would go away. We are here to act together for the common good, the Kingdom of God. And we are uniquely blessed with the opportunity to literally feed and shelter people. Which feeds us and fills our lamps.
4)Remember that no problems are insurmountable – through the sacrament of communion, we re-member what Jesus faced, how he coped, and how through God he overcame. And will always be with us. In baptism, we rehearse this dying and rising to new life.
5)The Spirit is in you, so trust your instincts. But also observe and learn and be grateful for the elders in our midst who have been through this before and worse.
6)Give value to such rituals as singing and reading and listening and silence. Through them, God will give you all the strength you need to rise up, to stand up, to stand firm, and hold fast to that which is good and decent.
7)And, as I said one year ago, continue to pray for the intervention of the Holy Spirit to save us from an apocalyptic nightmare. Through the halls of justice, down the corridors of Congress, and around the oval walls of the White House – pray with everything you’ve got. Because filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can make this post-human-decency world as temporary as possible. Not because something as inconsequential as political parties change but because conservative, moderate and liberal, Tea Partiers and people still yearning to feel the bern, people of all faiths, find common ground on behalf of all people’s Common Good.
One: Where hatred roars, we will sing of love.
All: Where fear stalks, we will stand with courage.
One: Where bigotry rages, we will call for justice.
All: Where pain overwhelms, we will extend comfort.
One: Where systems oppress, we will work for change.
All: Now and ever, now and ever, now and evermore.
 See more at https://davidbahr.weebly.com/blog/lets-not-just-wait-and-see-lets-watch-and-get-prepared
 Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, New York, One World Publishing, 2017
 Columnist and UCC member Leonard Pitts described the election as a slap down to women, people of color and LGBTQ folks http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article114285558.html
 Lots of articles including http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/20/politics/election-2016-white-working-class-donald-trump-kaiser-family-foundation/index.html
 Coates, page 346-347
 https://johnpavlovitz.com/2017/11/08/year-resisting-worst-case-scenario Sign up to read his stuff!
 Can’t find the exact citation. But to learn more about her: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/mohja-kahf#poet
 These are an adaptation for a Christian pespective and combination of several lists I found online, one from the American Psychological Association which was particularly helpful: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx