by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
Looking over the readings for this week, all I see are social justice angles one could take. How many golden calves could we confront when speaking on the lesson from Exodus? Whiteness? Nationalism? Patriotism? Using the reading from Isaiah this week, we can speak of a God who is refuge to the poor. Philippians gives us the opportunity to lift up women in ministry and also talk about the lack of opportunity for BIPOC and trans women in persistently white denominations -- or we could talk about the values of truth, honor, and justice. The words of the gospel this week give us space to talk about who is invited to the feast and what it means to respond to that invitation. In light of the many options the readings provide this week, I want to take this opportunity write to you, dear preacher, words of encouragement and challenge.
I extol you, beloved sibling in Christ, to be brave and bold in your proclamation of the Word this week and every week after. We are in crisis in America. We are, in fact, living in a failed state. Not failing, failed. We are on the eve of an election that could be the final step in our national descent into fascism and totalitarianism. I realize many people believe I am being hyperbolic when I speak this way, or that I am wildly off base. If that is where you are, I encourage you to read this, or this, or watch this - pieces by people who have lived through the rise of totalitarianism or a failed state, or to listen to those who have long experienced oppression at the hand of our systems (or listen to the podcast It Could Happen Here). Those of us who do not experience oppression at the hands of our own nation seem to have a faith in the eternal possibility of the United States and in our systems, a faith that often rivals our faith in the eternal goodness of God. This faith is blind and, frankly, undeserved.
It is certainly tempting to not speak into this moment, or to speak into it with such fear of offending our people that we say nothing at all. After all, we are incredibly stressed out and adding the stresses of angry parishioners or the possibility of losing our jobs to the stresses of living through a pandemic in a failed state in which we are on, like, step 15 of the march towards fascism, feels like too much.
But what if I were to tell you that the words you preach each Sunday can either build supports for the police state, for white supremacy, for anti-trans violence, for fascism itself OR can help to tear down those walls to help build a new future? What if I told you that the sermon you preach this week, and the weeks thereafter, are building the future for future generations? We are, after all, co-creators with God in this world. Ever since Adam named the animals in the Garden of Eden we have been participants in the world, creating and destroying. What world do you want to create? You, dear friends, are builders of the future. It is a heavy responsibility, and in these times it is frightening, but it is one we must bear, in spite of consequences.
We have created a golden calf in persistently white churches that appears benign but is, in fact, deadly. We have taken nice words and pretty liturgy and fluffy music and passive aggressiveness, melted it down, and made an idol of comfort. For generations now, white people have come to church to hear that we are good people, to be told we are loved and covered in God’s grace, and have nothing about how we live challenged. Those of us in confessional traditions confess each week by rote memorization, are forgiven, but are rarely actually called to honest repentance and atonement. I believe that, out of all the things killing Euroentric Christianity in the United States, this might be the greatest problem. This idol of comfort keeps us from being able to confront the giant problems of racism, patriarchy, xenophobia, violence, greed, and hate that fester in our nation and in the hearts of our people (and in our own hearts). As preachers, our desire for comfort renders us frozen when faced with the task of challenging our people.
We have models for challenging people. The people following Moses were uncomfortable. The prophets made people uncomfortable. Jesus made those in power uncomfortable. Paul pissed people off (to be fair, he frequently pisses me off). If we want to comfort our people, which is something people *also* need in these times, we have the comfort of the knowledge that God is always with us. God never left their people in the wilderness. God continued speaking to the prophets even when they tried to run from her. God’s love for us is so great that God decided to experience this terribly uncomfortable human life, to speak up for those on the margins, and to be tortured and die because of their great love for us. That is the comfort. The comfort is not that we are “good people” or that we are doing everything right. The comfort is not that God never calls us to change; it is that God is with us in the change, standing by our sides as we confront our own greed and racism and bullshit. God is with us as we look at our trauma and holds us as we grieve and begin to heal. That’s the comfort. And that is the comfort we can preach to our people.
Some people will not want to hear that. Some people, beloved, will be unable to hear our words. They will reject us. We may be fired. We may make ourselves unemployable. I have many friends who already face great difficulty in getting a call simply because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, or their gender. I have many more who have difficulty in getting a call because they have spoken up too loudly and too frequently on the side of justice. And it sucks.
But we are in a place where we have the opportunity to dream a different world for our grandchildren, and in a position to use our words to bring a world that more closely reflects the Kingdom of God into being.
Historically, the white church has done a shit job of speaking up at times like these. We prefer the idol of comfort to the things God actually asks of us. We have a chance to do differently this time. Let us not fuck this up. Let’s burn that calf of comfort in effigy and call our people to the font to remember the promises made at their baptism, the covenant between us and God, and create something beautiful together.
This is the Revised Common Lectionary sermonizing archive.