If it were up to me, I don’t think I would have chosen an apocalyptic text to read this morning. We’ve had quite enough apocalypse this week.
Many of us, many of our friends, family members, colleagues, here as well as across the United States, are still reeling in shock from the outcome of Tuesday’s elections in the U.S.
So I wouldn’t have chosen a text like this today, but it is the text that the Church in its wisdom has served up for us today. I wouldn’t have chosen this text because I recognize that many of us have frayed nerves already. And talk of wars and insurrections; earthquakes, famine, plagues; arbitrary arrests and persecutions: all this is too close to what many are fearing may lie ahead in the coming months and years in the U.S. under the new administration.
Surely, what is called for at a moment like this is a word of consolation. Surely, what is needed is a word of reassurance. That everything is going to be okay, that things will carry on as normal, that they won’t change too much.
But no. We are given this word of apocalypse.
As I thought about it some more, I thought maybe God knows what he is doing in giving us this word for today. This word apocalypse—you know, we think about it as meaning ‘disaster’ or ‘catastrophe,’ all those terrible things that are described in the Gospel reading that Phyllis read for us today.
But the word apocalypse actually means ‘revelation.’ In Greek, it’s the name of the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse—or the Revelation—to John. I know, bringing up the book of Revelation isn’t cheering you up any, but bear with me here.
Think about this word, revelation. What was revealed by the election results on Tuesday?
Well, one thing that was revealed is that people often don’t tell the truth to pollsters. It seems like many people did not want to say out loud to a pollster, even in the privacy of a telephone conversation, that they intended to vote for the Republican nominee. And yet, behind the curtain, in the privacy of a polling booth, they did not hesitate to mark their ballot for him.
I’m speculating here, of course, but it seems to me that many people were reluctant to publicly admit their support for a campaign that offered itself as a vehicle for the insidious ideologies of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and White Supremacy. The embrace of these ideologies was advertised as “telling it like it is” and standing up to political correctness.
There is a reason why it is embarrassing to admit to racism or sexism or these other isms and ideologies. It’s not because of political correctness. It’s because racism and sexism and homophobia and Islamophobia and White Supremacy are wrong, and they are contrary to the Gospel. But the election revealed that these ideas have a great following.
Someone I follow on Twitter posted this as the results were coming in: “I guess now we know for sure: White evangelicals are ‘white’ before they are ‘evangelical.’ Sad!”
That’s something else that was revealed by this election: that many, many, many White Protestants were willing to overlook the Republican candidate’s statements, and behaviours, and campaign promises that ran counter to biblical teachings, and cast their ballots for him.
This tweet suggests why that might be: that people’s identity is more closely tied to things like their skin colour, than to their participation in a community in which “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
One of the things that this election revealed is that for many, Christian identity doesn’t run very deep. That churches and their leaders—and the list of evangelical leaders supporting the Republican ticket was a long and impressive one—have become so embedded in the culture, and the so-called ‘culture wars,’ political battles, that their Christian witness has become almost meaningless. For these folks, Christian is just a label of affiliation, like Republican.
This election also revealed that there is great pain, and there are great social divides in the United States, between those who embrace the possibilities of a rich and diverse and different future for the country, and those who hold tightly to an earlier vision of the country. And these issues don’t just exist in the United States; we see the same forces in the Brexit vote in Britain, and in political developments in Europe. In Canada, our political life draws from those two sources, and so these are issues for our common life as well.
Women, people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants: members of these groups are only too happy to say goodbye to a political and social order in which White people, and white males in particular, were dominant. White people, particularly those whose worlds have been devastated by the loss of good-paying jobs and opportunities, are understandably less enthused about these massive social changes.
What this election revealed is that these two social groupings have grown increasingly distant from one another, to the point that they now occupy almost two different worlds, parallel universes in which each listens to their own media and sources of information. These two groups now eye each other with hostility, suspicion, and contempt.
a profound need for reconciliation
This election revealed a profound need for reconciliation, which I think is true in our society as well. As Christians, this is part of our DNA; we are called to love one another across our differences. We’ve heard stories in the past few weeks about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners and saving Zacchaeus. As Christians, we’re not permitted the luxury of hating our enemies, or writing off those we disagree with.
So, much has been revealed in this apocalyptic week. How shall we respond? Well, our apocalyptic text suggests that perseverance is a key Christian virtue for times such as this. We are called to persevere in our faith, in our commitment to the Gospel, to the teachings of Jesus, even in times when doing so is difficult and personally costly.
We are called to maintain our commitment to the Gospel even when doing so might be unpopular or unfashionable, and even when it might go against our own personal interests, our own privilege. In Jesus’ words, we are called to testify.
More than ever, we are called to stand in solidarity with the vulnerable, and against the powerful who would deny their dignity. We are called to stand with women against sexism; with people of color and indigenous people against racism; with refugees and migrants and immigrants against xenophobia and Islamophobia; with LGBTQ people against homophobia and transphobia. We are called to stand with those who are poor, those who are marginalized, and stand against laws that give a green light, or turn a blind eye, to hatred and violence perpetrated against any of God’s beloved children.
We are called as Christians to challenge our culture and our politics, and not to get sucked in by ideologies of either the left or the right. This is what Jesus warns about when he speaks about being led astray by those who claim to come in his name. The Gospel is often—very often—countercultural.
If you want a nice comfortable life, in which you are able to “go along to get along,” then perhaps Christianity is not for you. Being a Christian is hard. Now, despite what some Evangelicals will say, we do not live in a time of Christian persecution. We’ve moved out of a time in which Christianity was in a dominant social position and able to enforce its views on all of society through laws on Sunday store closings and alcohol sales and that sort of thing.
But there are no laws preventing us from practicing our faith. But that’s precisely the hard part. Being a Christian means loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, putting God first in our lives, and that is a hard thing to do. Being a Christian also means loving our neighbour as ourself, putting our neighbour first, or at least giving our neighbour’s needs the same priority we give our own needs. That’s probably even harder.
And that is precisely what is needed today, and will be as we go forward as well. Our challenge—especially for those of us who are white and economically comfortable—is to check our privilege, to ensure that we don’t just stand by, or look the other way, when those who are more vulnerable are impacted by legislative changes. We need our Christian identity to be stronger than our racial or gender or economic identity. We need to get serious about our call to solidarity. Otherwise there’s not much point to us carrying the label Christian.
The call to solidarity also includes a commitment to reaching out towards those who think differently than we do. We’re not permitted the luxury of writing off our enemies. But while reconciliation invites us to meet in the middle, to move towards one another, reconciliation is not about ‘splitting the difference,’ as though the goal is to get people to be a little less awful in their attitudes or behaviours.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, and all those other isms and ideologies I’ve listed are contrary to the Gospel; they are wrong, and there is no safe level of them for Christians. And, we are all deeply flawed human beings, what our tradition calls ‘sinners.’ We are all guilty to some degree of the sins of racism and sexism, etc. And we are all called to wrestle with these things, to more closely conform our hearts and minds to God’s will.
It is important in this apocalyptic time, this time when so much is being revealed to us, to stand firm and to stand up as Christians, even if it means standing out. So when we hear—even from those who are dear to us—comments that are racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or disparaging of the dignity of another person, we need to speak up.
Not because of political correctness, that leads us to look down our nose at others for having backward ideas; but because of our Christian faith that calls us to aim higher, and to invite each other to do better.
Friends, it has been a challenging, apocalyptic, week. But when you think about it, this week has just revealed more clearly what we have known all along about the Christian life, but that we’ve often tried to deny: that being a Christian is hard, and it’s costly. That it involves a willingness to go against one’s own interests, time and time again. That it means sacrificing our privilege when our privilege gets in the way of our solidarity with others.
The gospel passage ends with Jesus saying, “You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
Being a faithful Christian in a time such as this
Being a faithful Christian in a time such as this will likely involve losing some things, including some things that have been precious to us. But we trust that God is with us, holding us, shielding us, protecting us, and preserving us through every trial. In persevering we gain our souls: I suppose that’s because it is in doing these things—turning towards each other, loving each other across our differences, standing up for the vulnerable amongst us—that we become more fully the people that God created us to be.
May we hear God’s call in these words. And for the sake of our sisters and brothers and this world God loves, may we find the courage to respond. Amen.
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