William Sloane Coffin, who was once Chaplain of Yale University–when Dick Obermann was there, I believe–and later Pastor of the great Riverside Church in New York City, had a way with words. He once said: “Too many Christians use the Bible as a drunk uses a lamp post – for support rather than illumination.”
He was a courageous preacher; there was no off-limit topic if he felt the Holy Spirit move him to speak. He would say to his congregation:
What I now want to say is hard for me to say, so I can imagine how painful it’s going to be for some of you to hear. But here we are in church, where unity is based not on agreement, but on mutual concern.
And Sloane often continued by saying:
So let me tell you what’s on my mind and heart, and, after the service, those of you who disagree can bring your coffee into the library and tell me where you think I went wrong.
I am going to follow in Coffin’s footprints and share with you something that has been on my heart these past few months. And I invite you to grab a coffee and join me in South Hall after worship if you want to debrief.
Reading the passage from Isaiah this morning, I feel as if we are being punished as a nation for our rebellion, our false religiosity, our pompous politics.
I feel called to talk about politics this morning and the coarseness of the political dialogue–if we can even call it dialogue.
The candidates drop the name of God and try to show themselves as the “best” Christian and yet I hear little if anything Christ-like in their words, policies or manners. This political season is like watching an automobile accident; we want to turn away but can’t.
I mean, when candidates start talking about the size of body parts we have crossed the line of civility.
I feel called to name Donald Trump,a self-proclaimed Presbyterian, as a danger to our national soul. But all—right wing and left wing—are complicit.
Many have joined the anti-Trump chorus. I tip my hat to Mitt Romney, and Michael Gerson, George Will, Lindsey Graham – Republican commentators and politicians who have spoken out. The Pope and Jim Wallis, the leader of the Sojourner Community, has expressed their concerns.
But where is this moral high ground down in the trenches of parish and congregation?
Many of you, of both political parties, have shared with me your fear.
So I feel called this morning by a truth that is not owned by either party.
When we see a bully, we name him. There is no by-standing here. When we hear Trump call a woman a “horse face” and make fun of a journalist who has a neurological disease; When we hear him talk about pulling a gun in Central Park and calling Mexicans rapists and murderers; When he threatens to ban Muslims from entering the country,; local pastors and local Church communities cannot remain silent, if we are to bow the knee to Jesus Christ.
Silence is complicity. Denial is not an option.
When Trump offhandedly threatens free speech–no matter how frustrated we all get with the media sometimes–we are on a path that leads to nowhere good.
When he fails to condemn white supremacist groups; when he incites violence at his rallies; when he speaks to the basest instinct of fear and hatred of a startling number of people in our country–there is no choice.
When he rambles that he is the smartest, the most excellent, the richest man – and seems to be supported by a large number of Christians – we really have entered a new arena. He might really win the nomination in our city, this summer.
The prophet Isaiah declares: “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet.” The prophet Isaiah lays out the national agenda.
Here we stand, we can do no other.
I was talking to my friend Amos, whose mother – a Holocaust survivor – lives in Israel. He asked her what she thought of Donald Trump; she was quick to name a certain German leader of the 1940s. My father, who went to Europe 75 years ago in WWII, made the same comparison.
And so I have this feeling in my gut and in my heart that for me not to say something is a dereliction of my pastoral duty. Particularly now – for the time is ripe.
Tuesday is our primary. And next Sunday, we remember Jesus heading into Jerusalem:
Jerusalem. Jerusalem… how often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
We celebrate Jesus’ entry into the politics of the city with pageantry, and palm waving – but we all know that what he is facing is his passion and death. Christ foresees the destruction of Jerusalem.
In my more negative moments, I feel as if our nation is heading down the path of dissolution. You and I have to pray for our country’s healing, work for our nation’s unity, welcome the stranger, make room for everybody, live and speak and witness to a much deeper quality of being citizens both of this world and the next.
Isaiah challenges you and me to be “repairers of the breach and restorers of the streets.” Notice that Isaiah does not call for us to build a higher wall!
St. Paul wrote about being a citizen. He wanted us to be good citizens: supporting our officials and following the laws of the nation. But, in Philippians 3:20 he writes, “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
No earthly ruler can save us. You and I are held to a higher standard.
We are at a crossroads – will we continue down the road of rancor, of distrust, and ideological partisanship or will we begin to take it back?
Back in 1845 right before the United States entered the Mexican War, and less than 20 years before the start of our Civil War, James Russell Lowell wrote a poem that became a hymn. We rightfully need to change its male language to be more inclusive, but I want to quote a bit of it in its original words. Many of you will recognize it:
Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
And the choice goes by forever, ‘twist the darkness and the light.
Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust.
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.
Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps is best remembered for this quotation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.
First he spoke about the Mexican but I am not a Mexican;
Then he made fun of a journalist but I am not a journalist;
Then he went after the Muslim, but I am not a Muslim;
Then he demeaned woman and threw African Americans out of his rallies;
but I am not a woman or black;
He may come for you and for me…and then who will shout, let alone speak?
I hope against hope that I am totally wrong about this and that you will forgive my angst. But I don’t want to look back and think I was silent when I should have spoken, and stood by when I could have acted; and I failed to represent my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ both within these walls and in the public arena.
But I do not give up hope. And I do not want you to give up hope either. Bishop Desmond Tutu, who knew something about facing evil and standing firm in the political arena once wrote:
Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours, victory is ours through God who loves us!
Victory is ours, victory is ours, through God who loves us.
So God bless you and thank you for your forbearance allowing me to speak my heart. It is a privilege I do not take lightly.
Through Jesus Christ we shall overcome, together. Republican and Democrat together. Victory is ours through God who loves us…loves us all—even Donald Trump. But love should cause us to: “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet.”