Spiritual Discipline 11-13-16

The assigned lectionary readings for the end of the Christian calendar and the beginning of the new year – in other words the next 3 weeks, are often readings emphasizing end times -the end of an age and the beginning of a new one. The reading which Adrienne read from Isaiah gives a very optimistic account of how the new heaven and new earth is at hand where no one will go hungry and no young person will die. Our second reading is a letter written to a community influenced by that kind of thinking. They expected Jesus to come very soon. Evidently some of them had stopped working and contributing, counting on the generous community to get them through until the imminent appearance of Christ. This letter has some pretty harsh words for these people.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 In the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, we urge you, sisters and brothers, to keep away from anyone who refuses to work and live according to the teachings we passed onto you. You know how you ought to imitate us.  We didn’t live undisciplined lives when we were among you, nor did we depend on anyone for food.  Rather, we worked night and day, laboring to the point of exhaustion so as not to impose on any of you—not that we had no claim on you, but that we might present ourselves as an example for you to imitate. Indeed, when we were with you we used to lay down the rule that anyone who didn’t work didn’t eat. We hear that some of you are undisciplined, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. We command all such people and urge you strongly in our Savior Jesus Christ, to earn the food you eat by working hard and keeping quiet. My sisters and brothers, never tire of doing what is right. Take special note of those who don’t obey our teaching in this letter.  Shame them by refusing to associate with them. Even so, regard them not as enemies, but as sisters or brothers.

November 13, 2016

Spiritual Discipline 

Did anybody wake up on Wednesday morning after the election results and feel like the world was a totally different place? Anybody feel like it was the end of the world? I walked around my neighborhood for the two days after the election and there were a lot of people in shock, a lot of people not knowing what was going to come next. I have to admit I was feeling some doomsday kinds of feelings myself, so I had to think, ‘what do I need to do about this?”

I started telling people I needed a hug. Right on the street. People I had never hugged before in my life. I’d just say, “I need a hug.” especially if they looked like they needed one. Because that way they got a hug, I got a hug. We both felt a little connection and gradually felt a little bit better.

What I told the children is true. “It’s not the end of the world. We still live in the same world where parents love their children and want to teach them to respect women and people with disabilities and people of color and people of different religions. There’s a lot of people confused about this, of course. There’s some people that are really confused and feel like they can come out of the woodwork and express hateful thoughts to Muslim folks and Latino folks and that calling that racism is being politically correct. No, it’s not being politically correct. It’s just being correct. We don’t talk to people that way.

We don’t paint Nazi symbols on people’s houses; we don’t make fun of people with disabilities. We don’t allow people to touch women or children inappropriately. We live in a democracy that works and we insist on peaceful transition of power. We believe in fairness and, most of time, a majority vote wins. More people voted against these kinds of tactics of taunting and hurting people than voted for them.

We need to reach out in many different directions to help people feel safer. People on all sides of the polarized political divide feel really scared right now and it’s really easy to get stuck in that fear. We need to listen to each other, and give each other hugs, and reassure people that we won’t give up on them. Our children in particular need to hear that we may be stunned and discouraged, but that we won’t stay that way, and we will hold our leaders accountable to treat them and their friends well.

Our family is very close with a Muslim family in our neighborhood because our sons went to school together. Their younger son is going to the University of Pennsylvania and is one of the 161 people of color who was targeted by text messages with obscene messages about lynching and signed “Heil Trump.” I’m so glad they could reach out to us for support.

We don’t need to blame or shame anyone about these things. We do need to take seriously that a tsunami of fear and targeting has been unleashed in our society, and we need to hug each other and listen to each other, and help each other to know that the world has not ended and that we will be there for each other – all of us together, nobody gets left out.

We need to hear each other on all sides. I have several books on my list right now, including Hillbilly Elegy, White Trash. The 400-year history of Class in America, and Listen Liberal, or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People. I mentioned the concept of political correctness earlier and my response to it, which is rather flip. Clearly a lot of people feel left out when we talk about racism and we have to find ways without condescension to hear these voices of white working people who have been left behind by globalization and professionalization of our society. And let’s hear it for reducing corruption, money and lobbyists in DC.

We are living in an extremely anxious and polarized culture, but let me tell you something. During similar times in US history, like in the 1930’s when things were starkly polarized – those were times of big gains for working people and for women. That’s when women won the right to vote, when workers won 8 hour work days, and social security was fought for and won. Polarized times can provide real opportunities. A Chinese leader in such times (Mao) said, “Everything is chaos. The situation is excellent.”

The writers of Isaiah recognized the power of a time that felt like the end when they rhapsodized about the new heaven and the new earth that lay ahead, a time when the lion will lay down with the lamb. Most of us may have trouble being so optimistic and we can take more solace from the writer of Thessalonians who invites people to hold people accountable when they break the norms of their society- such as by not working and supporting the community. Nonetheless, he writes, treat each other not as enemies, but as sisters and brothers.

 

I have to finish this sermon a couple words about what I had planned to preach about this morning on Stewardship Sunday. It’s still relevant to talk about Spiritual Discipline. In a time such as this it is more important than ever to rely on spiritual disciplines like prayer, singing together, building community, crossing boundaries to listen to each other, and hug each other. I don’t know if all of those are spiritual disciplines, but the giving that we do is certainly a spiritual discipline that reminds us of who we are in God’s love, that makes it possible to have the abiding support of a spiritual community that will let us know when it really is the end of the world.

In the meantime, we will be talking in our Confirmation Class today about the vows of membership, that we combat evil in whatever form it presents itself, we accept the grace of the Living God; we hold each other, we sing together, we praise God until Jesus returns.