“What Do We Do Now?” (January 17, 2021)
Micah 6:8; John 14: 15-27
“What Do We Do Now?”
On January 6 I dropped Caleb off at school for the first time since March. We had made the decision to keep him in the remote learning option in August, but were convinced that COVID wasn’t spreading in the school, and so requested he rejoin the general population for the Spring. And so, I dropped him off on January 6 for the first time ever with a little mask on. And as he’s walking into the school, I turned around, went to my car and sat down and asked myself, for about the 17 millionth time did I make the right decision? We had asked that question, whether deciding to keep him home or send him, it was always wondering if it was the right decision.
It seems like that is always a question that you ask when you can no longer change the decision that you made.
It’s not unlike pastoring. Sometimes there are events that happen in the world that I have to ask “do I stop my plans for where I was going with sermons and topics and themes, and address what is going on or not?” And their times, like say September 11, where that’s obvious. But there are times where it’s less obvious, or at least less unanimous, and you make a decision but then question all week long if it was the right choice; whether you’re preaching about it or whether you’re ignoring it. I feel that way this week.
I drop Caleb off on January 6 for the afternoon session of school. This was in my vacation, and the idea was that on the 6th through the 8th, while Caleb was at school, I would come here to the Spring Hill sanctuary, and I would have three hours of prayer, and study of Scripture. And that would hopefully refresh my soul throughout my vacation.
When I arrived on the sixth, I had a small snack that I was chowing on for lunch. And I decided to go ahead and eat that. And as I was eating that snack, I pulled up my Facebook to see what my friends were doing today. The first thing my friends are posting was that the large crowd had gathered to protest outside of the US Capitol building was pushing on the police barricades.
I had no access to my CNN app, so the only thing I could do was the constantly refreshing facebook and twitter. Every time I refreshed, hoping that you would begin to get under control again, it got worse. They were on the steps. They were on top of the steps. The Vice President was being evacuated. The Senate was being evacuated. There was an armed standoff at the doors of the House. Pictures began to flood in.
It was clear that there was not going be any prayer that day as I found myself paralyzed watching the United States be attacked. Everything worldly that I held dear was being attacked, at least that’s what it felt like. My heart shattered. It was a feeling I hadn’t had since 9/11. All Jennifer and I wanted to do was to run up to the school and grab Caleb and pull him back out. For the 17 million and one-th time we asked if it was right to send him to school that morning, but for the first time it wasn’t because of COVID.
The reality is that I have opinions about what happened on the 6th, and what it means. And those are strong opinions, and they’re Scripturally sound, or at very least I can make a Scriptural argument in favor of them. But they’re still opinions and interpretations. I don’t have a little gold phone in my office that I can pick up and ask God‘s opinion. I really wish I did! There’s no Acts 29: 17 that that reads “when a portion of the United States believes the Electoral College is incorrect, or they believe that there was fraud in the election, then here is what a Christian is to do.” That’s not there. We all have our opinions, hopefully informed by Scriptures talking to other situations and through prayer, but their opinions. And while that’s fine for say posting on my personal Facebook page, when it comes to representing the church and speaking up here, I try to be a little more certain than that.
And I think we can be pretty certain about God's feelings of what happened inside the capitol building on the 6th. I don’t believe that God was very happy with what happened inside the building; when people are breaking windows, when people are murdering police officers with fire extinguishers, actions that left a total of five people dead. I don’t think God approves. I don’t think God approves of people coming in with with zip ties intending to to take hostages or worse, they were gallows two blocks away from the capitol building and the people inside were chanting to hang Mike Pence, and intended to give military tribunals and probably execution to speaker Pelosi and minority leader Schumer. And probably many others. I don’t think God approves. Even the people who weren’t necessarily doing that, there were many who were taking priceless paintings from the walls of the building, one person took the lectern from the rotunda. I think that I am pretty safe in saying God is not in favor of that. I think “Thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not steal'' are pretty clear. I think that “you have heard it said ‘do not kill,’ but I said you don’t even look upon your neighbor in anger” is pretty clear.
But that’s not what had me paralyzed in this room. That was bad, don’t get me wrong, but what had me paralyzed and had me so upset last Wednesday was the fact that I’ve seen it coming for at least five years, if not 13. And my friends who are not white had seen it coming for a lot longer than that. I had hoped we might get past it. Right? We only had 14 days to go! And we had gotten through all of the previous steps without actual violence. There had been calls for it. There had been fears of it. Investigators and intelligence agencies of both Michigan and Kansas, that I know of, had arrested people who had intended to kidnap and kill the governor. The electors for two or three states met in clandestine secret locations for safety. In a couple of other states they had secret entrances to get into the building so they didn’t have to go in the front doors next to the protesters. In Idaho an state Health Board meeting on masks had to be cancelled due to threatening protestors at the member’s homes. There were scares. But we had thus far gotten through without violence. I had hoped that we would continue to get through without violence. And what had me paralyzed and scared was not what was happening in the building, but the fact that it wasn’t an isolated incident. That list wasn’t even exhaustive in just 2020.
There is a gaping wound in the soul of this nation. A spiritual wound. The 6th was merely the latest symptom of it. I had not stopped at any of those previous incidents, but I can’t ignore this wound any longer. And I know that this sermon is not going to change the world, this sermon is not going to change the country, but I’m hoping that this sermon might change you. Or, at the very least, that preparing the sermon might change me.
There are some interesting things that I saw as I was watching. And I was trying to identify what this wound that I knew was present was really about. There are a lot of things that I identified, but this is the one that’s going to make the sermon: what I saw on display outside and inside the building, with all the groups (protestors, rioters, and the Congress members and staff), was just how much different Americans live in different realities. And just how much each reality is unable to see another reality, because no one‘s taking a step back to look.
There are many different divides in our country. Liberals and conservatives increasingly live in separate realities in the United States of America. Listen to the interviews of protesters and you’ll hear them say “it was obvious.” It was obvious that there was widespread election fraud, or that the nation was going to be irreparably damaged if Democrats took office. And then you go can you talk to the Democrats, (I was watching on CNN, and CNN has liberal and conservative commentators. But this was also heard in the protests over the summer). And the liberals are saying “it’s obvious!” It’s obvious that there was no election fraud, and that the nation has been irreparably damaged because Republicans have been in office.
I watched that and took note of the fact that they were both saying that it was obvious. They were looking at the exact same situation and because of whatever they were coming from, what news station they were watching, what they chose to believe and what they chose not to believe in terms of sources; what was obvious to them was different. We all think it’s obvious, and so we cannot understand why the other isn’t seeing it. We can’t understand because we don’t listen to what their reality is, what their experiences are. We’ll listen to how their day is going, but the minute politics might get into it we run away. “I don’t wanna talk politics, lol.” That is feeding this gaping wound the soul of America. Because we’ve gotten to the point where we think is the solution is obvious, and because the other side is not getting on board with what is obvious, we come to the only obvious conclusion: that they must hate America.
There was another divide on display, but it took longer to see: a generational divide. Take a look at the pictures. Some people are panicking, some people are stealing their resolve, and some look like it’s an average Wednesday.
Largely that was a result of the school drills. I had a couple of years where they had walk-throughs of what to do in a school shooting, but we knew they were coming. The millennials nowadays they have flat out drills. The school announces that there is an intruder in the building, and lock yourself down. And they had to do it. And sometimes there’s police or a principal who walk through the halls of the school and try to open the doors. And you have to be quiet and still. And these millennials, the staffers, the interns who just got out of college, they went through their whole schooling practicing this every day. The capitol was invaded, and it was just another Wednesday to them, just another school shooting drill. The faces they had of calm resolve was a worldview I didn’t know. I was closer to the panic attack on half the boomer legislators. But it’s their reality, and they’ve been trying to tell us. We have to find a way to get back to the same reality with all of our neighbors; younger and older, black and white, liberal and conservative.
What I’m saying essentially boils down to this: there was a group of people who were on a boat out in the middle of waters and they hit a tree. A hole was ripped open in the boat. And suddenly black sludge, and oil, and sewage begin to fill the boat. The question is: why did such horrible dirty things get in the boat when it was injured? And the answer, of course, is: that’s the water they were sailing. Often times we as Christians, hopefully, have a little bit of a buffer. Some evangelicals might call the “Armor of God,” out of Ephesians. That’s our boat. But when the boat gets damaged, when our souls get tired, when the scabs get pulled off the wounds, whatever we’re surrounding ourselves with is what gets in.
Church, I am charging you with the work of cleaning up the waters around you. And what I mean by that is that I want you to look and see what are you watching on television? Is it full of hate, and anger, and violence; or is it full of kindness, and love? If you’re watching a news channel, is that news full of hate, and anger, and blaming, and violence; or is it news that’s just providing information? If you’re in Facebook groups, or parlor, or whatever; what’s being said in those? Is it hate filled? Then leave. If you’re talking with your friends out in the real world, what’s getting said in those meetings? Is it loving? Then keep going. Is it hateful? Then leave, at least for that day. And I don’t care how long you’ve known that friend. Clean your waters, because there’s a gaping hole in our boats. I commit to this processing and doing the same.
And the second thing I want you to do is I want you to follow the Bishop’s directive. You can see the letter the Bishop sent out last week, it’s up on the church’s Facebook page. In the letter, which was well written, the Bishop had three things he wanted the church to do. Number one is what we’re doing here today, to hold a service of healing and hope on the 17th. A lot of the liturgy you’re seeing around the sermon, and hopefully at least some of the sermon, is from that idea.
Second, he wanted to hold dialogue with both sides of the political aisle. I want you to commit to have discussions and conversations. If people start going political in conversation, go there. Because we have to come together and find a way to care about our neighbor’s needs as if they were our own. Listen to them.
And the third thing he asked us to commit to is to pray, every day, for the next 100 days. The prayers is “a prayer in a time of national crisis,” (for we are in a national crisis) in the book of worship, #517. And it just happens to be on your bulletin, it was the opening prayer that we prayed today. I want us to join the conference in praying that prayer every day, preferably in the morning at 10:45. Every Sunday for the next 100 days, which by the way he picked 100 because Easter is 100 days from today, so every day between now and Easter, pray this prayer. And we’re gonna pray at 10:45 in the morning because I want to pray it every Sunday morning, so at the very least you will pray it during church in the midst of those weeks, as a weekly reminder.
And lastly, he encouraged you to think about the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi as you go about your life. Francis prayed for the world, but his prayer wasn’t that God would go fix the world. This prayer wasn’t that the proverbial “them” would come to see what’s “obvious.” His prayer was that God would help him to find the places where there is hurt and pain in the world, where there is despair, where there is darkness, where there is is a pain, where there is suffering; and that God might help him to so the seeds of light, and hope, and joy, and healing. And I believe the Bishop’s call is a call to remember that. As we pray for the country, which we of course need to do, that prayer should be in a mindset of going out to work for the country. To work to heal this divide. To be bridges.
I thank you for staying with me through this whole sermon. And I’m going to end today with the Lord's Prayer. You may have noticed we didn’t get to it earlier, and that’s because I wanted it to stand on its own here. Like it does in Scripture. So as you’re praying the next hundred days, if you don’t happen to have a copy of the prayer for national crisis, just do the Lord’s prayer. But I want you to pray this prayer, and I want you to think about what you’re actually praying. So, I’m actually going to slow down, I want to throw you off your muscle memory, so that you have to actually think about what you’re praying. You have to actually read it.
This prayer is revolutionary. This prayer is revolutionary. Are you really wanting for God‘s name to be hailed on earth as it is in heaven? Or do you want a person’s name, whether you or someone else? Do you really want God‘s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven? Do you really want God‘s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? Do you want to forgive those who trespass against you, for this prayer it says that your sins are forgiven as you forgive others. Do you want your daily bread, or do you want a little bit more? I’m not trying to guilt you, if you’re answering his questions no, I think that’s necessarily a problem. I just want you to recognize it and think about what you’re praying every week. Then let the Spirit tell you where to go.
So let’s pray. Slowly.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.