Friday, May 5, 2017

Letter to Bishop Tiemann & Response

Response, sent and received on May 8, 2017
(after the conclusion of the assembly in question, at which the litany mentioned below was used in worship)
Addressed to the first four names on the author/co-signer list, the only names included in the original email. Additional names were added over the following day and a half.

Pastors Ouchakof, Lovick, Rice, Fisher, et. al.  

Thank you for voicing your concern about the “Thanksgiving for our Heritage” litany at our synod assembly.  Allow me provide a little background.  The assembly’s Planning Team wanted to use the observance of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation as a basis for a “progression” in worship.  The Saturday service was called “Formed for Mission,” and they asked our synod archivist, Pr. Luther Oelke, to provide a glimpse at the synod’s Lutheran history.  Interestingly, he wrote a poem to convey that history, giving expression to the 95% of our congregations who have German heritage, with a few other Scandinavian Lutherans moving into Texas from the Midwest.  His intent was to give thanks for the Biblical witness, the Reformation history’s witness, and those Lutherans from Germany who came to settle in Texas beginning in the 1840s.  While those early settlers tended to create close communities of faith, they also reached out to their Spanish-speaking neighbors, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, which also gets reflected in the poem and in many pictures in the archives of the synod.
As your comments and those of others in our synod were voiced, it became clear that good intentions were not enough.  Some persons felt excluded because they did not share this ethnic heritage.  That started multiple conversations at the assembly that will continue.  However, I trust that the Southwestern Texas Synod will not get judged on this one litany.  I commend you to watch the Facebook Live posting on our synod’s page on Sunday morning worship that began at 8:30 a.m.  That service was entitled, “Reformed for Mission,” where we celebrated our faith today and into the future.  The language switches to Spanish, our primary mission field today.  One of our Latino pastors, Pr. Nelson Velazquez, presided at the meal in Spanish.  Songs and the Lord’s Prayer were particularly heard in both languages, a practice which has been in place in our synod for years. 
Combine this worship with a number of other items:  two resolutions were approved, one in support of the AMMPARO Initiative (which passed by a 98% vote) and one welcoming refugees (which passed with an 85% vote); an evening of conversation and participation around portions of the film, Harvest of Empire, which was led by our PEACE for Racial Justice team; a Strategic Planning process which reflected a clear call to become a more diverse and multicultural synod; a fine sermon by Pr. Herb Beyer at Saturday morning’s worship that reflected his experiences and our opportunity for outreach among our Latino brothers and sisters; and over $58,000 raised in our assembly offering to support his year’s Global Church emphasis of the ELCA Campaign (YAGMs, International Women Leaders, Missionaries, and Global Ministries).
As I brought my report at the close of the assembly, I apologized to those who were offended by Saturday’s litany.  I promised to listen to any and all who wished to have more conversation, a process which has already begun today.  There are also specific persons with whom I will initiate those conversations.  Then, as we look to the planning of next year’s assembly worship and other synodical events, we will be incorporating an intentional process of including a broader perspective of persons to review content and form that is more inclusive and welcoming.

I encourage you to watch our final plenary session on Facebook Live to see firsthand my words of apology, which are preceded by our Vice-President’s report who echoed our synod’s commitment to address racism.  Those all happen about the last thirty minutes of the recording.

Please keep our synod and our whole church in your continued prayers.

In Christ,

Bishop Ray Tiemann

Original letter, emailed on May 5, 2017

Dear Bishop Tiemann:

We are appalled by the order of worship planned for the Southwestern Texas synod assembly this weekend. The “polka” worship service scheduled for Saturday includes a Thanksgiving for our Heritage that is racist and reeks of white privilege. It actively alienates any mixed-race or people of non-European heritage who may be clergy or lay voting members at your assembly. Given the ELCA’s stated commitments to increasing diversity, there is no place for this racially exclusive “thanksgiving” in our church. This litany is diametrically opposed to the action at the most recent Churchwide Assembly to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, and is inconsistent with the ELCA’s social statement on Race, Ethnicity, and Culture. Please, we beg you, do not use this litany in your worship this weekend. It is unfaithful, un-Lutheran and un-Christian.

The litany in question refers to “landing… to incredulous faces.” This glorifies the arrival of European settlers to the region, and dehumanizes the Native Americans who were already settled there. The subsequent reference to “our synod’s holy ground” implies that the land was not holy before, and needed the blessing of European settlers to be made holy. As Lutherans and Christians, we affirm that God made all of creation, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31). The land you currently occupy, and all its previous inhabitants, were certainly holy before your synod was there. Additionally, the naming of failed Scandinavian settlements, while omitting the names of Native nations that occupied the region before the arrival of Europeans, perpetuates this church’s history and complicity in the oppression of people of color.

The line in the litany that calls Scandinavian countries “a more civilized north” is completely unnecessary, and additionally, doesn’t make any sense. Unless you are claiming that Scandinavian people are inherently better than the rest of the world (a belief that would be the most basic example of white supremacy), what purpose does that description serve? As a church that believes all people were created in the image of God, from Scandinavians to Asians to Africans to Native Americans, what possible reason could there be for calling one region of the world more civilized than another? There is absolutely no theological, historical, or biblical reason for doing so, aside from promotion of Scandinavian people as a superior race to all other humans. Since our church does not believe this, the line has no place in a litany of any organized body of the ELCA, much less a synod assembly.

Again, we beg you, do not use this litany in your worship at synod assembly this weekend. Any attendees who are non-Scandinavian will be relegated to second-class status. Any attendees who are themselves non-European, or who have loved ones who are, will be hurt and will know, without a doubt, that this church does not want their participation. This is not true. Our denomination is richer when it is filled with people from all variety of ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds. A worship service like this can alienate hundreds of people from the ELCA. Please, for the sake of the ELCA, for the sake of humanity, and most especially, for the sake of Jesus, remove this litany from your worship service at synod assembly this weekend.

In faith and struggle,

Rev. Katya Ouchakof, Madison, WI, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Brenda Lovick, Cambridge, WI, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Kristin Rice, Burlington, WI
Rev. Christa Fisher, Madison, WI, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Carolina Glauster, ECLIC, Vancouver, BC
Rev. Dorothy Cottingham, Oregon Synod
Rev. Matthew Ploeger, PC(USA), Cottage Grove, WI
Ms. Rebecca Redman, Monona, WI
Rev. Andrea Roske-Metcalfe, Minneapolis, MN
Rev. Stephen Marsh, Madison, WI, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Jennifer Chrien, Southwest California Synod
Rev. Gretchen Wagner, Montana Synod
Rev. John Thomas Sipf, Central/Southern Illinois Synod Rev. Kimberly M. Sterner, Grand Canyon Synod
Rev. Beth Pottratz, Mahtowa, MN
Rev. Deborah Andersen, Southwest California Synod
Rev. John Stirewalt, South Carolina Synod
Rev. Raymond J. Hand, Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod
Rev. Torben Gordon Aarsand, Delaware-Maryland Synod
Rev. Donna M. Wright, Southeast Pennsylvania Synod
Rev. Sandra Carlson, Delaware-Maryland Synod
Rev. Kathryn Irwin, New Jersey Synod
Rev. Rachel Laughlin, Bridgeport, MI, North/West Lower Michigan Synod
Rev. Dr. Shirley Guider, Southeast Pennsylvania Synod
Rev. Michelle Sevig, Metro Chicago Synod
Rev. Kathryn Nolte, Metro Chicago Synod
Rev. Stoney Bowen Weiszmann, Grand Canyon Synod
Rev. Carmine A. Pernini, Rahway, NJ, New Jersey Synod
Rev. Kyle Mark Jackson, St Paul Area Synod
Rev. Alex Darling-Raabe, Southwestern Texas Synod
Rev. Chris Heller, Rocky Mountain Synod
Rev. Lisa Nelson, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Ms. Sarah Bengtson, North Liberty, IA
Rev. Steve Jerbi, Greater Milwaukee Synod
Rev. Jessica Scholten, PC(USA), South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Beth Schultz-Byrnes, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Minna Bothwell, Des Moines, IA, Southeast Iowa Synod
Rev. Emily Elizabeth Ewing, Peterson, MN
Rev. Ryan Chaddick, Southwest California Synod
Rev. Shawn Brooks, Western Iowa Synod
Rev. Rick Reiten, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Peder Johanson, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Rev. Bre Roberts, Albuquerque, NM
Mr. Tim Hughes, Madison, WI Ms. Krista Nelson, Verona, WI Ms. Sara S. V. Bishop, seminarian, Northwest Synod of Wisconsin Rev. Dr. Deborah Johnson, Upstate New York Synod

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Game of Thrones, Jesus, and the Syrian Civil War

God of peace, help us to understand your word so that we might share it with the world in all we say and do. Amen.

After some pressure from friends, including one of them lending me a set of DVDs, I finally gave in. I started watching Game of Thrones.
It’s a very compelling story, even though there’s gratuitous nudity and too many sex scenes for my taste. I guess that’s what you get with HBO.
The basic premise of Game of Thrones is that there’s a country that has been ruled by various families in the different regions, and now they’re fighting to see who can rule the entire kingdom, with each family laying claim to the throne. Meanwhile, there’s a group of folks who are not supposed to be allied with any one family, who are trying to fight off the monsters who live behind an enormous wall that has been protecting the kingdom from impending winter and destruction.

Dysfunctional fighting within and between families, with even more dangerous threats coming to them all from outside sources.
It’s not exactly a happy story. But, as I said, it’s compelling.

One of the most interesting things to me about this series is how complex the characters are. There’s no single protagonist. As soon as you start thinking that a particular person is the true hero who really deserves the throne, she or he does something that you can’t quite understand, that makes you like them a little less.
Now, to be sure, there are some characters who are more likeable than others. But there’s no clear good side or bad side, and alliances are constantly changing. It’s not like Harry Potter or Star Wars or a comic book or one of Grimm’s fairy tales.
Many of our favorite stories have a blatant divide between good and evil. In Game of Thrones, however, everyone falls somewhere in between.
Perhaps this is why the series is so compelling. It’s more realistic than many of the stories that we love. It would be nice if the whole world could really be divided into wicked witches and heroic princesses – and that’s why we love our fairy tales. But real life is much more complicated than that.

Take Syria, for example.
In 2011, peaceful protestors were imprisoned and killed by the government, led by Bashar al-Assad, who is still the president of Syria. Some military folks rebelled against the government by joining the protestors and starting their own Free Syrian Army, with the goal of overthrowing Assad.
In the past five years, rebel groups have been reimagined a few times, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has joined in the conflict against them and Assad. The Kurds are fighting against ISIS, the government and the rebels. Outside countries including the US, Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Gulf states have taken sides. By providing money, weapons, and soldiers, some of these outside forces support Assad’s government, some support ISIS, some support one of the rebel groups, and some support the Kurds.

It’s a complicated conflict, with more than two sides, with changing alliances, and with no clear “good guys” or “bad guys.”
And while all the fighting continues, the folks that are taking the biggest hit are the civilians    who have not taken up arms.
The first casualties of the war were peaceful protestors, fired on by Assad in 2011. This is what started the civil war.
In 2013, Assad first used chemical weapons against rebels – the kind of weapons that always kill bystanders as well as the intended targets.
And the violence continues to get worse. As you’ve heard on the news, millions of Syrians are displaced, who have fled their hometowns and in some cases their home country in search of somewhere safe to live.
And when I say millions, I mean about half of the country’s population. That’s a lot of displaced people.
And as you’ve probably heard on the news in recent days, people in Aleppo, which is the largest city in Syria (or used to be), are basically under siege and awaiting evacuation, but a series of cease-fire agreements have been made and violated and ignored.
Even those who are waiting to be taken out of the city fear that they won’t be taken to a place of safety – because there are so many sides to this conflict, the place that is taking in the refugees still might not be a safe place for everyone.

What most citizens want is simply to be able to live in their homes without fear of violence or attack.
But the multi-faceted conflict in Syria has ensured that everyday citizens can’t have what they want, at least not right now. While they wait, they are being killed or displaced or denied access to food and medical care while their homes and neighborhoods have become battlegrounds.
The Syrian people have been caught in the middle of the deadliest conflict in the 21st century. They are experiencing war crimes.

The situation in Syria is dire.
So why am I talking about it today?
Today is the last Sunday in the season of Advent – the season of hope and joy and peace and love, during which we prepare for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, as well as the coming of Christ again someday.
There are several ways in which the current situation in Syria relates to our Christian faith, particularly in this season of Advent.

First, and most obviously, there is a geographic and historic connection between the Bible and the conflict raging in Syria today.
Ahaz is a king of Judah, who speaks with God in Isaiah 7.
Ahaz fears losing his kingdom to a threatening army, so he goes against God’s will and makes an alliance with a stronger army, from Assyria.
Assyria, of course, includes the region that we now know as Syria.
Ahaz’s alliance falls flat when the king of Assyria demands allegiance from Judah, and eventually takes away their independence.

The example of Ahaz can teach us that compromising your God for the sake of your country is never a good idea.
And, at least as important in today’s political climate, Ahaz’s mistakes can remind us that Israel, Syria, and neighboring places have been in conflict for thousands of years. There have been long-standing struggles for power, alliances made and broken, and complicated conflicts that make it seem like no one is truly the good guy or the bad guy, but that everyone falls somewhere in between.
This is the political climate that the Hebrew people lived in, every day.
This is the uncertainty that exists in the Middle East, and specifically in Syria, today.
This is the environment into which Jesus, our savior, was born.
So, the first connection between today’s news headlines and the story of Jesus is geographical and historical.

Second, and more theoretical or ideological, the current situation in Syria is connected with our Christian faith because God tells us to love and act on behalf of those who are oppressed.
The prophets tell us that true worship is to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8) The Lord’s command to the people is to act with justice and righteousness, delivering others from their oppressors, and protecting the strangers and the powerless people in society.  (Jeremiah 22:1-3)
In the Psalms, we hear that God is a stronghold for the oppressed, but crushes the oppressor. (9:9; 72:4)
Basically, the conflict in Syria matters to our Christian faith because the people caught in the middle are the ones that God loves – and they are the ones that God expects us to love.
The history of God’s people is full of stories about God sending some kind of salvation to the people when they are in their most dire need – this is the basis of the Exodus story, and even of the birth of Jesus.

This brings us to the final and most important connection between our preparations for Christmas and the current conflict in Syria:    Jesus himself.
We are preparing to celebrate the birth of a child whose parents were displaced from their homes, who had to flee from government persecution shortly after the child’s birth, and who were innocent bystanders in the political games that were being played in their society. Our savior, Jesus, has more in common with the civilians in Aleppo than he does with nearly anyone else you’ll ever meet.
Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem because of a governmental decree, which is why Jesus was born in a stable. It was the only shelter available.
Jesus was a refugee as a child. When Herod issued a death sentence for all children born the same year as him, Jesus and his parents fled to Egypt to escape the violence.
Throughout his ministry, and even through his trial and execution, Jesus was caught in the middle of power struggles. He was tried by the Roman authorities and the Jewish authorities, and by the masses, after being betrayed and denied by his own followers. Jesus was caught in the middle of multifaceted conflicts.

If we are going to celebrate the birth of our Messiah, who lived close to present-day Syria, in lands that once were ruled by the same empire – Jesus, who spent time as a political refugee, and who was caught in the middle of complex power struggles – if we want to show our devotion to this Savior, who gave his life for us and through whom we are promised eternal life – if we hope to honor the Gospel, the good news that Jesus is to the world – what better way to celebrate Jesus than to support the victims of the Syrian civil war?

The birth of Jesus is good news.
Even Joseph, who didn’t know what to make of Mary’s pregnancy at first, came around with just a slight nudge from the angel in his dream. He stayed with Mary and raised Jesus as his own son.
And until Jesus comes back to earth again, or until the day when we get to meet him face to face, as followers of Jesus, it is our job to continue his work in this world.
Heal the sick, raise the dead, and bring good news to the poor. (Matt 11:5)
Bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the lowly. Fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty. (Luke 1:53-53)
Help those who are in any need, knowing that by doing so, we are serving Christ himself. (Matt 25:40)
This is what the holiday season is truly about. Advent, as we prepare the way for the Lord, is a time for us to look around us, to find those who are in the most desperate need, and to give of ourselves until it hurts so that they can have their most basic human needs met.
It is what Joseph and Mary did for Jesus.
It is what Jesus did for us.
So in this Advent, as we await the coming again of our Savior, I pray that we all will find ways to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, shelter the refugee, and care for the sick and wounded. Especially those from Syria. It is our Christian calling.

A sermon originally preached on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2016. For audio of the sermon, visit 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Speaking Truth

God of grace, speak to us today. Help us to listen, to understand, and to respond in faith to your word. Amen.

You know that the pastors don’t pick out the Bible readings for worship, right? At this church, we generally follow the Revised Common Lectionary, a 3-year cycle of readings that was selected many years ago by a committee of people who were trying to make sure that worshippers – not just Lutherans, but Christians across denominations – would hear from all the Gospels, all of Paul’s letters, as many of the Psalms as possible, and a wide range of books and stories and styles of writing from the Old Testament. The readings for this Sunday are the ones that show up every third year as we get close to Advent.

And what readings they are for today. Jesus tells us:
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.
You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. (from Luke 21)

Wow. This is not the Jesus I remember from Sunday School lessons and nativity scenes.
What happened to warm fuzzy Jesus who welcomes the children and shepherds the sheep? Where is gentle Jesus, meek and mild, infant holy, infant lowly?

Well, as it turns out, the Jesus of Sunday School stories is not always the same as the Jesus of Scripture. There are many times when Jesus was a rabble-rouser, when he said or did things that ticked people off.

One of the wonderful things about Jesus, as we meet him in Scripture, is that he tells it like it is. Jesus does not mince words. When something needs to be named, Jesus calls it out!

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is calling out the complacency of the faithful people around him. Things are so good, they said.
Jesus replied – just wait.
Things are not what they seem.

Yes, this temple is beautiful and we are at our prime as a society right now in many ways. But under the surface, a revolution is simmering.
Workers are underpaid.
Women are objectified.
Immigrants are abused, and prejudice about ethnic groups is harming our community.
Health care is reserved for the privileged, and those in power cannot see the needs of their neighbors.
The poor are ignored and mistreated.
People are afraid for their lives.
It cannot stay this way, says Jesus.
Something’s gotta give.

Jesus sees injustice, and Jesus calls it out. His entire ministry was based around the imbalance of power in his society, and the need for people to see and love and respect one another. Why else would he heal lepers and care for widows? Jesus’ ministry was subversive because he told the truth, and acted on it.
And the truth in today’s lesson is that the people in power are self-centered, self-righteous, and unfaithful to the commands of God.

Anyone who knows anything about unfaithfulness in the Bible knows that God treats it as the ultimate sin. Whenever God’s people stray from God’s commands, they are sent to wander in the wilderness for 40 years; or are subjected to exile in Babylon; or the single nation founded on the Scriptures is divided in two, based on different interpretations of God’s word. It’s all in the Bible – this is the history of Israel. These are the circumstances into which the prophets preached, and during which the Psalms were written. With a few peaceful exceptions, the people of God spent much of their history being unfaithful to God, at the societal level, and God punished them for it.

It’s coming, Jesus says. We are being unfaithful again. And so the destruction and the punishment will be coming again. The central place of worship will be destroyed, and there will be political upheaval.

Jesus can read the writing on the wall and he doesn’t mince words in his predictions. He warns us of the terrible things to come.
And yet.
Even though he knows that disaster is imminent – even though he can see how the people are bringing about their own destruction – Jesus holds out hope. “Not a hair on your heads will perish,” he says.

Jesus holds out hope – for life, and for a better future.
Isaiah does the same, in today’s Old Testament reading.

While the Scriptures are full of stories of the people of God being unfaithful and bringing about their own destruction, the Bible also give us hope for better times. Isaiah talks about a new heaven and a new earth. “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”

If we are living in the moments immediately prior to the creation of a new heaven and a new earth – if we are part of those “former times” – it must seem like the end of the word to us.
But even if we can’t see it yet, something better is coming. God will rejoice in the people and there will be no more pain or sorrow. The people will be safe in the new reality that awaits. That is what the vision from Isaiah promises.

That whole section that begins “they shall build houses and live in them” – that is a response to an earlier prophetic warning, when the people of Israel were about to be taken into exile. The prophet Zephaniah warned the people about the results of their unfaithfulness before they were taken into exile in Babylon. He told the people that disaster would be coming:
Their wealth shall be plundered,
    and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
    they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
    they shall not drink wine from them. (Zeph 1:13)

Isaiah is writing after the people have returned from the Babylonian exile. So he repurposes the words of Zephaniah for his own day, for a better time, for an era when the people are rebuilding their society and reigniting their relationship with God.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
 they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
 they shall not plant and another eat;
They shall not labor in vain,
 or bear children for calamity. (Is 65:21-23, edited)

Even when things seem hopeless, there is a long history of rebuilding and restoration for us to remember. Where Jesus calls out a world of injustice, Isaiah looks forward to a world of peace.
Both can be true.
And both hold out a ray of hope.

The world may be unjust today, as it was in Jesus’ time, but that does not mean that there is no possibility for things to get better. Even in times of tragedy and sorrow, God is there. God has the power to bring peace. When our institutions and sacred places have been knocked to the ground, God can help us rebuild.

Not a hair on our head will perish, Jesus promises.
Of course, this comes immediately after he says that some of us will be put to death.
Which is it, Jesus? Utter safety or death at the hands of people we love?
Again – both can be true.

Some of us will be able to survive the destruction unscathed. Those of us who are members of the ruling class, who have power in society, who have the right skin color or family structure or connections – even if we are lamenting the horror of the destruction, we will probably be safe.
Those of us who have fewer material resources, we who are women, we who love who society says we should not, those of us who do not fit into the normative mold created by the ruling classes – we will have a harder time. Our lives are at risk.

During the Roman occupation of Israel, which was going on in Jesus’ time, some people were safe. Some people chose to cooperate with the authorities and they lived to fight another day. And some people in those days did not or could not cooperate with the ruling class.
As women, half of the population was automatically discredited. People from Samaria were treated like second-class citizens. People were not treated as though they were all equally created in the image of God.
And yet, we know this to be true.
Each and every one of us really, truly, has been created in the image of God. Every person has value. God loves and honors every single one of us. Jesus believed that, and he lived it out in his ministry that healed the sick, fed the hungry, proclaimed freedom to the captive and let the oppressed go free!
And it got him executed.

Both safety – if Jesus had chosen that route… and a death sentence – if Jesus treated everyone as a child of God.
But even the death sentence can be good news. Remember that even though he was put to death, Jesus did not stay in that tomb! Through his death, he conquered death, and through his resurrection, we all are promised eternal life in the kingdom of God.

We have the example of Jesus to live by, and we have the hope of Isaiah to sustain us. The example of Jesus is not always hopeful, and the vision of Isaiah does not always seem realistic. But both of these ways of seeing the world are true, they are faithful, and they have great precedent in Scripture.

For many of us today, we see the world self-destructing, or we look around and see things that are appalling to us – our family relationships are deteriorating over political issues. Some of our loved ones are afraid of their neighbors, and some of our children or grandchildren are reporting awful behavior from their schools. You might even be afraid of what the future will hold for you.

Isaiah promises peace.
Jesus promises life.
And following in the long tradition of the prophets and martyrs, I believe that we are also called to action, while we await the coming of that peace and life. 

When things seem hopeless around us, we the people are left to declare God’s goodness in the face of evil. Without our Messiah in our midst today, we the people are the ones who can carry on the message of Jesus. As it says in the Gospel lesson, we are called upon to testify! Our job is to testify to the values of Jesus:  
Workers deserve fair pay.
Women are not objects.
Immigrants and ethnic groups are children of God who we are to welcome into our communities.
Health care is meant for all people, and those in power must be made to see the needs of their neighbors.
The poor can no longer be ignored and mistreated.
People are afraid for their lives. But if we treat everyone as Jesus wants us to treat them, then no one needs to be afraid any more. Love is love. So love one another, just as God in Christ loves you.

Even in the midst of apparent disaster, God is with us. God has the power to bring peace. And we have the power to be the agents of change. It may not be easy, and it may not even be safe, but that is the example that Jesus sets for us and expects us to follow.

When the world is tumbling down around us, we cannot hide from the reality of life – we are called upon to remain faithful to God. Faithfulness means working for justice, and preparing for the new heaven and the new earth that we know are on the way.
God gives us hope for a new world to come, and our courageous action is our faithful response. It is our job to tell it like it is – to speak truth to power, and to advocate for the underprivileged. Just like Jesus did.

May God, who has taught us these things, give us the wisdom and the courage to do them.

A sermon for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost, Nov. 13, 2016, the Sunday after election day.  Based on Luke 21:5-19 and Isaiah 65:17-25