“Resist! Persist! Be Vigilant!”

August 20, 2017: May God’s words alone be spoken, may God’s words alone be heard.  Amen.

It is so good to be back with you all.  I have been away on vacation, but all of you have been, as always, close to my heart, and I have missed you! 

Now…did I miss anything?  Anything happen?

Yeah.  A lot, I know.

I have heard that Fr. Bob offered insightful prophetic wisdom from this very pulpit last week about what transpired in Charlottesville, and I was not the least bit surprised, and I am grateful for his pastoral leadership in a moment of crisis while I was away. 

I also would love for that to be enough.  For us to be able to put what has happened to our collective psyche into some box of healing, and shelve it in a closet somewhere, put on our eclipse glasses, and move on. But, that is not possible right now…not yet.  And I can’t think of a better gospel reading for these times than what our lectionary is offering up today.

Now, let’s first put this gospel in context…Jesus and his buddies are traveling around from town to town.  They aren’t exactly staying at 5 star hotels – think of it more like camping.  They are walking through fields, along dirt roads, and all of that, and along the way, they are not keeping to the law, because they are not washing their hands before they eat.  The Pharisees and Scribes are not happy about this and in the verses before our gospel today, challenge Jesus about it.  Now, I have to side with the temple authorities here – that’s just not healthy in addition to being kinda yucky…I mean –where have those hands been anyway?  Ick!  So kids, in this one case, do as Jesus and your parents say, not as Jesus does. 

But the thing is, this wasn’t about washing hands for these challengers.  It was about all the holiness codes and commandments that they think Jesus, who is a Jew, was violating.  He didn’t seem to honor the values, traditions, and history of their people and their faith – his faith.  They confront him, and Jesus lets them have it in one of the best moments to be found in any gospel passage, so why the lectionary folks left it out is beyond me:

He answered them, ‘And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? … You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” 

“…teaching human precepts as doctrines.”

Now that is a message for the church today, for all of us.  But Jesus, our rebellious savior, wasn’t done – not by a long shot.  In what we heard today, he decides to do a public smack down, gathering the people to him, and blasting his critics.  “Listen and understand,” he says, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”  His disciples get a bit nervous and let him know that the temple leaders are not too happy with him right now, and would he please just explain what is going on??? And he replies in classic, if not graphic, Jesus form “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? (I warned you he is a bit of a “Potty mouth” in his response).  He continued, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” 

In other words, what we say and do is a reflection of who we are, of our heart, and they can defile the very core of God’s commandment to love. This is a passage that I use in my “Take Back The Bible” forums for the LGBT community and their allies, because for far too many years, those who read the bible literally have acted like the Pharisees – they have held up church doctrine and the bible to oppress and enslave (even while violating other parts of the law and perverting the gospel message).  Our bible, our beautiful and sacred text, has been used to justify slavery, misogyny, sexism, and the oppression of LGBT people.  Jesus, our biblical rule breaking savior, is making it very clear that when faced with a choice, we must never side with scripture over justice, doctrine over compassion, tradition over love.  For that is teaching human precepts of bigotry and hate over and above God’s commandment to love one another.

Today, this is a message for us all. 

Now, I usually like to use a story to connect the scripture to what is happening in the world today, but I don’t have to look far for one…just look at the story that followed in our gospel passage today.  It is the story of the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus seeking healing for her daughter. Initially he rebuffed her because she was not a Jew.  He denied her the grace she needed because in his heart, being a Jew himself, he saw her as inferior.  In this case, it was his heart, not just his hands, that were unclean…if only for a moment.  And perhaps it might have remained so, but she insisted on speaking truth to power.  She was a messenger to Jesus.  And that changed everything for him, for her – and for us. 

Now many are not all that comfortable with the idea that Jesus had a human side.  In fact, preachers and theologians have for centuries tried to clean this story up – make it about Jesus testing this woman (as if THAT would be a good thing – I mean for crying out loud, her daughter was dying and he would respond with tests?  How sadistic would that be anyway!).  Yet in doing so, we deny that our Christology proclaims his fully human/fully divine identity.  And here, as I have said before, Jesus was showing his fully human side.  He was being exclusive with God’s grace and love, and the Holy Spirit sent this woman to do a course correction.  To me, that is freeing, because if Jesus needed it, then how can I resist the idea that I might need it too? 

On top of that…this woman was, in the words of one commentator, responding to Jesus with “resistance, persistence, and vigilance.”[1]  Or, we might say today “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Her story is a model of discipleship for us today.

In the face of one who wanted to discriminate against her because of her nationality, yes – that is exactly what Jesus was doing here before God intervened – she stood up and was counted.  She would have none of it.  Her faith, her steadfast resolve, changed Jesus, and changed the world.

And today, now more then ever, we must be like the Canaanite woman.

We must resist, persist, and be vigilant!

We must, because today there are people who want to exclude, to deride, to marginalize, to oppress – and many do this in the name of Jesus and holding a bible.  There are people professing to be Christians, even using Christian symbols – the cross (or worse – burning a cross).  They are calling themselves names like “Christian American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” and sometimes pray in so called “Evangelical” churches.  They are claiming clean hands, while spewing hate out of a defiled heart.

Well I have got my “Canaanite woman” up, and even though in this crowd I am thankfully preaching to the choir (well, actually – the choir isn’t here – but you know what I mean) – anyway, I want to make one thing absolutely clear to anyone with ears to listen:

If you claim a Christian identity, and you do openly call out this President, or stand against the Neo-Nazi’s, the KKK, or any other similar group, then you are you are no different than those who march at night with tiki torches spewing hate – and if you are standing with them, you crucify the very Jesus you claim to follow – the Jesus who told us to look for him in the stranger, the imprisoned, the sick, and the poor.  The Jesus that commanded us to love one another as he loved us.  The Jesus, our Jewish savior, who died because he spoke truth to power.

It may not be a popular thing to say, but I have absolutely had it with Christians who one minute are in church, and the next remaining silent, or worse donning a hood.  I have had it with anyone who believes in God, but thinks that any part of God’s creation is inferior to them.  I have had it with people who think it is okay to value history more than justice, tradition more than compassion, hate more than love.  Enough already! 

And one more thing.  Mr. President, there is no such thing as a good person who marches with Nazi’s shouting “Jews will not replace us!”.  There are no good people who join hate groups.  Yes, all are capable of redemption through God’s grace, but that is not what you said, is it – you didn’t talk about sin and redemption. No, you equated those who stood for hate with those who stood for love.

Honestly, Mr. President, it would seem that you wouldn’t recognize a moral plane if it flew into Trump Tower.[2] Let me be very clear – this isn’t a political thing.  It isn’t about republicans or democrats, conservatives or liberals.  This is about good vs. evil, love vs. hate.   If you can’t figure that out, Mr. President, then you have no business holding our nation’s highest office.  Your patronizing bullying of the press, your intentional incitement of conflict, your incessant lying, your heartless disregard for the dignity of every human being no matter their race, culture, nationality, gender identity, or sexual orientation is not only in conflict with the ideals upon which this nation was formed, but in direct violation of the commandments of Jesus, whom you allegedly claim to follow. Shame on you!

I told you I got my “Canaanite Woman” up!

The news of this past week has been startling, but not surprising.  It is part of a long battle – one that will be with us as long as there are humans on this planet, but at the moment, because of the failed moral leadership of those in power, these voices of hate are coming out into the open.  Perhaps that isn’t a bad thing, because we cannot address what we cannot see, and in this age of political cowardice, we are being called out of complacency and into a pitched battle about who we are as a people and as a nation.  For those of us who are part of the Jesus Movement, we are also engaged in a fight about our Christian identity, and what it means to really claim it.

When I hear that people want to terrorize others, to march in the streets with Nazi signs and shouting slogans like “Blood and Soil,” to stand outside a synagogue with guns, all to protest the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee on the grounds of preserving culture it boils my blood.  Not because I don’t get it.  Not because I don’t understand.  Oh, I understand alright, more then you likely realize.  I understand exactly what is seeking to be preserved here, and I will embody to the best of my ability the Canaanite woman’s resolve” and resist, persist, and be vigilant against it.  Because in this context the culture they want to preserve is a shameful one of enslavement of our brothers and sisters, and being traitors to both country and God.  It is not something I would ever take pride in, nor wish to honor in public squares, but to preserve it solely in the pages of history books, and in museums, that we might never forget the defilement that can come out of a hateful heart.

And because of all that has happened, and is happening, a week from today, I will leave after the morning services to go down to the DC area, because I will be participating with other clergy in the 1000 Ministers March next week, on August 28th, the anniversary of the “I have a dream” speech of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We will march from his statue in Washington, DC to the Department of Justice building in a united and peaceful statement that people of faith will never stand down in the face of injustice, but will rise up. 

We will rise up! We must all rise up!

Not like those who want to fight hate with hate, or violence with violence – the so called “Antifa.”  No!  We must rise up like Dr. King, who had detractors in his day on both sides of the racial divide.  There were those who felt the only way to freedom, to justice – was through the sword.  But Dr. King would not abandon his belief that only through peace can we overcome injustice.  In an essay titled “Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community,” he wrote, “”The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” 

Folks, we are at a momentous point in time – indeed, we have been at the precipice of it for awhile, but now it is here.  And at this time, each of us must make a choice.

We can stand up to injustice, or sit down and play it safe.

We can speak truth in a time of lies, or we can be silent in our fear.

We can live the gospel, or we can die out of neglect of it.

We can resist, persist, and be vigilant, or we can allow those who warn us, who deny us, to shut us down.

Our choices can change the world, or condemn it. 

And when we make the choice to act, when we rise up, we will, from time to time, feel tired, worn, weary, even lost and despairing at the hate we will see and encounter.  It is then that we must remember that here, in the community of our parish family, we are renewed with the body and blood of Christ.  Prayer, rest, and renewal is vital for our actions in the world…and – so is humor – never forget to laugh from time to time, because if we lose the ability to take a break, to allow ourselves to feel light hearted, to breath in the spirit of joy and love, we will be vulnerable to that which we fight.

And most of all, we must remember that Jesus taught us that there is no darkness which His light cannot overcome, that life is stronger than death, and that love, God’s love, will always defeat hate.

In our closing hymn today we will sing, “Rise up ye saints of God! [God’s kin-dom] tarries long, [Christ] bring the day of truth and love and end the night of wrong.”

Let us take these words to heart and rise up!

Rise up and be counted!

Rise up ye saints of God!

Rise up, for now is the time to resist, persist, and be vigilant!


For the audio from the 10:30am service, click here:

[1] Dr. Karoline Lewis, Associate Professor of Preaching and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary.  http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4952

[2] Seen in various contexts across the internet in the past week.

Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge
August 20, 2017
Pentecost 11 – Track 2
1st Reading – Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Psalm 67
2nd Reading – Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Gospel – Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28