|Posted by chesterlanducc on February 5, 2017 at 3:15 PM|
Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20
"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
Anyone my age or older who remembers the 1980s will likely remember the Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neil and of course President Ronald Regan. The two men were fierce, fierce political opponents—who sometimes even insulted one another. Tip O’Neil once described Reagan as a “cheerleader for selfishness” and Regan once compared O’Neil to that 1980s icon Pac-Man — as “a round thing that gobbles up money”.
But as many of you may also recall, while I have read they were perhaps never close friends, the two men would often get together for a drink in Speaker O’Neil’s Office and they would leave their partisan disagreements at the door After 6. In fact when President Regan was shot, it was O’Neil who was the first non-family member at Regan’s bedside—at his bedside praying for him.
The two men are often evoked in politics today whenever partisan gridlock reaches intolerable levels—which seems to be all the time in rececnt years. I think many of us would agree that we have reached a moment, certainly not for the first time, but a moment just the same, that we need more After 6 in our country—that we need more safe times and spaces in which we who fiercely disagree with one another can just be people together—drink together—eat together—laugh together—and even love each other.
I recently heard a woman on the radio tell a story of how soon after she had become an American citizen she received a summons for jury duty. Her friends told her to do whatever she could to get out of it.
She wasn’t the type of person you might picture on a jury anyways, but on jury selection day she made sure to spike up her hair and wear ripped jeans. At the courthouse, she sat uncomfortably, watching the defendant, a young black man who was accused of burglary. When her turn came to be questioned she eagerly volunteered that she had twice been charged with shoplifting—hoping to be disqualified for jury selection.
The judge was not amused. The woman became juror #1. As the others jurors were chosen, she looked them over—they all appeared to her to be conservative looking, in suits, nicely pressed kakis, ties and dresses—probably all republicans she thought. The only juror who wasn’t white was an older Indian man. She looked over at the young black man and thought—he’s screwed.
After watching the young man who was on trial however, she thought to herself, thank God I am on this jury, at least the jury will have one person who will be fair. She wanted to wink at the young man’s family and say “don’t worry, I got this”.
As the trial began the prosecutor introduced evidence and made comments that were often objected to and stricken from the record and the jury was instructed to disregard and forget that information—as if that were possible. The woman thought both the prosecutor but especially the defense attorney were horrible. As the jury recessed to discuss a verdict and passed by the judge on their way out of the courtroom, the judge, seeming to sense how bad the trail had gone, awkwardly told the jury to “just, follow your gut”.
The woman was no lawyer but she had watched plenty of TV court shows she was pretty sure that “just following your gut” wasn’t what you were supposed to do, and yet, she had a gut feeling. After some discussion the jury foreman asked if anyone was ready to vote. The woman paused and then raised her hand and said — guilty. After a moment, the man in the fancy suit next to her with the expensive watch, also raised his hand, and he said, — not guilty, and then the older woman in the neatly pressed blue blouse raised her hand—not guilty—and then the next and the next, until each and every one of those conservative looking jurors had voted not-guilty. The vote was unanimous, that is of course, except for the woman—the liberal—the one who thought that surely she was the only one who was not biased. Perhaps if she had spent time with those jurors After 6, she would have known better than to have misjudged them.
I imagine many, if not all of us, have made this mistake of judging others. I know I do. And when I do, I always think to myself, I should know better. I have been a conservative evangelical, I have been a questioning agnostic, and I have been a progressive liberal Christian at different points in my life, and despite all these labels, despite all the ways me beliefs have changed over time, the one constant in my faith has been my unwavering belief that God is love and that God calls us to love one another.
Ironically, as I was preparing for today’s sermon a funny thing happened. I had put up a scripture quotation from the book of Exodus on the sign out front on the road, reminding us that God demands that we not oppress foreigners for we ourselves were once foreigners. Someone driving by the Church evidently was paying attention and read the sign and I received a rather passionate and strongly worded voice mail. The man who, to put it mildly, did not think the sign was appropriate—who thought it advocated violence—suggested (I believe sarcastically) that perhaps maybe our church should to be attacked by terrorists.
My initial response was a bit of anger and frustration—but if I am to be fair—if I am to be honest—I must admit, how many times have I seen Church signs that have so angered me that I have had the very slight impulse to just swerve off the road and take the sign out with my mini-van? Frustration can be very real when you feel passionately about an issue.
Now, the man didn’t leave a phone number on the message and he didn’t ask me to call him back. I really didn’t want to call him back, but I figured I reall should because this is exactly what I was preaching about this Sunday—and it is also what I have been preaching about the past few weeks—leaving the boat behind—leaving behind what is comfortable and taking risks in order to live out our faith.
Since the Church has caller ID I had his phone number so I took a deep breath and I just dialed. The phone rang and a friendly sounding voice responded—his name is Matt. I introduced myself to Matt and told him that I had received his message and I wanted to return his call and see if he wanted to talk in person about the sign. He didn’t. He told me he just wanted us to know what he thought. But he admitted he didn’t expect a response to his call, and we did somehow get to talking for about ten, maybe fifteen minutes and while neither of us probably changed our perspectives very much, I honestly think we both listened to each other. It was a very civil and respectful conversation and as it ended we thanked one another and agreed to reflect on the other’s perspectives.
Again, I don’t think Matt changed my mind about the issue of temporarily banning refugees from predominately Islamic nations, or even taking down sign, but I have been reflecting on his point of view and I think he had some valid thoughts, and perhaps more importantly, I think talking with him changed how I perceived him and others who might have different, strongly held perspectives on this very important issue than I do.
As people of faith, as conservatives and progressives, as Catholics and Protestants, as Muslims, Hindus and Jews, I truly believe we all have a moral obligation to speak out for our values, for our beliefs, and for justice. Of course we are often going to disagree, and of course we are sometimes going to anger one another because of our disagreements, but that is just part of being human.
Today’s scripture is about letting your light shine—about being a beacon for the world, and I think this is especially true about how our faith calls us to witness to justice. So while I don’t think we can or should try to shy away from issues of social justice because they are political—at the same time we absolutely shouldn’t be surprised that we have a diversity of opinions even in our own little faith community about moral and religious stances. That’s a good thing. That’s a healthy thing.
I know I have been involved in conversations and disagreements about issues in this faith community in the past year where folks have had very strongly held opinions. Some of us at times have felt so strongly that we couldn’t imagine how others could believe or feel the way they do, and at times, these divisions have prompted some of us to even consider whether this Church and these people are who we thought they were. It’s not easy.
However, as we continue to break bread together, as we continue to love each other, if we can practice healthy and constructive conflict and listening and sharing together in this Church—if we can practice both constructive disagreements and friendships, it will not only transform us individually and as a community of faith, but it will also help us as we leave this Sanctuary each week and head out into our different communities where there is even more diversity and even more difficult conflicts for us to address with neighbors and co-workers and friends.
Again, if we as Christians and as American citizens can be like O’Neil and Reagan and somehow find ways of making space for After 6—if we can practice authentically listening to each other—if we can practice being surprised by one another as that liberal woman in today’s story was surprised by the seemingly conservative jury members who acquitted the young black man, if we can find the strength to leave the boat, to have uncomfortable conversations with people we may fundamentally disagree with on certain issues, perhaps we can find the common ground on which to work together—to love together.
Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice.