Holding up a mirror for America

“Make no mistake,” Paul writes to the Galatians, “a person will harvest what they plant. Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant for the Spirit will reap eternal life. So let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. Let’s work for the good of everyone every time we have an opportunity!” (adapted Galatians 6) 

Friends, this week we saw how much words matter. Donald Trump came down his gilded elevator spewing racial animus. Just before the 2016 election, an open microphone caught Trump laughing about violence against women. He mocked our Constitutionally preserving Freedom of the Press calling reporters “enemies of the people”. After Charlottesville, Trump described racists as “good people” and pledged his love for the same angry mob on Wednesday. After losing the election to Joe Biden, Trump and our two Tennessee US Senators fought to overturn the election. The amorality, mockery, racism, untruths, bullying, dog whistling, vulgarity and self-aggrandizement bore very bitter fruit. Let us not forget the silent complicity and slow response of his enablers. Perhaps, that I am only so direct after Wednesday speaks to my complicity in this stunning and shameful event. 

Wednesday holds up a mirror to America.  It invites us to examine what we have sown. It asks do we have the self-discipline and moral courage to explore and change who we have become?  Can we repent and find our better angels? Will we cast off those leaders who demonize, degrade, divide and destroy?  We sit on the examination table in a moment ripe for potential healing and much needed changes to our collective lifestyle. Healing requires change. How will we help heal our nation? It will be hard.  Let us not get tired of planting the seeds of peace, hope, and healing.

Physicians begin with an examination before prescribing pills or surgery.  Let’s hold up the mirror and take a collective inventory. Could we admit we are all better at blaming than listening? On a scale of 1-7, where do we fall on taking responsibility? How can we go forward if we deny our complicity? Will we vote out those who placed party over country and advantage over conscience? Will we stop electing candidates who woo us by pouring blame on the other side?  Do we understand that burning something down is much easier than cooperating to build up the common good?  Do we agree that: “If we want to be united then we must not allow those who divide us to lead us any longer?”  

Will we take a long look at that angry Trump crowd that killed a police officer? If we slapped racial stereotypes on other crowds what will we now conclude about white people? What if the police had stood their ground defending Our House? How long will we remember the difference in police power used against peaceful protestors asking for justice, respect, responsibility, repentance, and the simple protection of their lives after the killings of George Floyd, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, or 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Let’s keep shining the bright examination lights upon the different experiences of justice in America. Let us keep marching and speaking until we have removed the cancer of white supremacy from our world. 

But friends, if we mocked a president’s intelligence who was an average Yale student, landed fighter jets, and earned an MBA from Harvard, all while struggling with alcohol abuse then perhaps we might admit the left has burned down some common good as well. I did not know that President George W Bush read a biography or novel almost every week.  I forgot how when asked as President about evolution, Bush answered, “You’re getting me way out of my lane here. I’m just a simple president. But it’s, I think that God created the world; I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an almighty and I don’t think it’s incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution. No, I’m not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from [the Bible].”   I think that’s pretty good theology from a fellow Methodist. Will we all examine our poor hearing, compulsive judging, self-righteousness and self-assuredness? Sure: disagree, speak truth to power, call out; but be fair, kindle humanity.

How will we heal? What will we plant in this American garden? After being elected as the first African American Senator from Georgia since Reconstruction, Rev. Dr. Senator Raphael Warnock said, “In this moment, Washington has a choice to make, in fact all of us have a choice to make: Will we continue to divide, distract, and dishonor one another, or will we love one another as we love ourselves?” 

Our churches need to sit down on the Great Physician’s examination table.  Friends, a lot of people look at that crowd and think that is Christianity.  Most of our fellow American’s have never heard that Jesus gave away free health care. They do not know that it is incompatible with Christian lifestyle to fail to love one’s neighbors as ourselves. They have not heard their preachers say racism, sexism, homophobia, nationalism, greed, indifference, callousness to suffering, disdain for people caught in poverty, and failing to defend the oppressed are all incompatible with Christian lifestyle.  They do not know that in addition to “sex without morality” and “hard-partying”, Paul lists “corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, magical thinking, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry,  and jealousy” as contrary to Christ-like living. (Galatians 5) Oh Christian Churches, let us hold up a holy mirror up to our silent complicity, our feel-good preaching, our pandering to consumerism, and our failure to name and resist systemic evil. If you are angry at the church, you’re in good company, Jesus grieved and grew angry at the church for it’s callousness of heart. (Mark 3) Let us not grow weary in self-examination and in making the choice to change for the good of all.

As we seek to help heal the nation, we must acknowledge that some folks do not want to heal the nation. Some churches don’t love the world or it’s people. Some politicians long to hold onto power and only care for their base. We must end our complicity and cooperation with such leaders. Dr. Martin Luther King reminds us that “non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” (Christmas Sermon for Peace) We must wage peace. Unity, community, justice and the common good are not passive processes. King advises that “no social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of dedicated individuals.” (The Case against Tokenism NYT Magazine 1963) 

Some see seeking peace as a sign of weakness. Lacking holy imagination, some understand making peace as a sign of resignation. But truly, lashing out, hitting back harder, burning something down requires no self-control or moral courage. During the rise of German Nationalism in the late 1930’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer preached, “There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself.” As Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas, who just shared the Last Supper, arrives flanked by a mob carrying torches, swords, and clubs. It is a confusing scene – angry people, glowing torches, dead of night. What exactly happened? Someone cuts off a member of the high priest’s security details’ ear with a sword. Mark names a bystander; John blames Peter. Luke tells us that seeing what is about to go down, the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, should we fight with our swords?” Trying to protect Jesus, someone stands their ground. Jesus yells, “Stop! No more of this!” Luke tells us Jesus heals the severed ear. Imagine that scene, Jesus healing the officers’ ear as the agents of injustice put him in cuffs. It is a holy and prophetic moment. Linger over this sign- it names injustice and heals.  Amid the clamour, it is easy to miss Jesus’ prophetic warning sign, “Put your swords up. All those who use the sword will die by the sword.”(Matthew 26:52) Blessed are the peacemakers, they are God’s children. Peace-making is hard work, but essential to maintaining a collective common good.  

The work of peace, justice and collective healing is hard work because there is no healing without truth. Ezekiel warns to watch for false prophets calling out, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and “He is building a wall,” when they helped lay the plaster.” (13) Beware of those who called the fire department and wept over the ashes, but helped set the house on fire or dismissed the arsonists’ threats. On the floor of the Senate Mitt Romney said, “The best way to show respect to the voters, who are upset, is to tell them the truth. (The Truth) is the burden, that is the duty of leadership.” Jesus said that the truth is what sets us free. (John 8:32) The truth can hurt, it often stings us deep in our privilege, but it is the only way to become truly free. Pharaoh horded the free labor of the Hebrew slaves, choosing plagues over the common good and comfort over costly economic justice. . May our hearts not be so hardened to other’s plight. “In this moment,… all of us have a choice to make… will we continue to divide, distract and dishonor one another, or will we love one another as we love ourselves?”  We will work for everyone’s opportunity as hard as we do for our own?  Let us keep planting the seeds of hope, justice, and our common fate.

Make no mistake,” Paul writes to the Galatians, “a person will harvest what they plant. Those who plant only for their own benefit will harvest devastation from their selfishness, but those who plant for the Spirit will reap eternal life. So let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. Let’s work for the good of everyone every time we have an opportunity!” (

After a meeting Thursday night, I asked a group of our ministry leaders what they thought God’s people needed to hear Sunday morning. Tate spoke of the dangers of elitism and denigrating others who see the world differently.  Jacob shared how he and Michael felt relief that Trump will no longer be appointing judges who might destroy the legal protections of their marriage. We shared how despite a severe test, democracy held on Wednesday. We wondered if January 6 might become a marker not unlike September 11, but that we remember that we did this to ourselves. We talked about the earnings gap, jobs lost to technology, and declining access to rural healthcare. Some shared the heartache and frustration of loving family members who believe lies and peddle hatred. Kim Sheehan named our stunned feelings, our need to take a deep spiritual breath, and that the Holy Spirit suffers with us identifying with inaudible sighs and groans. (Romans 8) 

Kim’s call for a meditative collective breath holds up God’s forgiving mirror that is fitting for this day. Today is the first Sunday after the Feast of Epiphany. Today, we remember the Baptism of the Lord. Today, we celebrate Jesus’ fulfilling what has become for Christians a sacred religious rite. Today, we pause and reflect. We put on sackcloth and wait for the Good News.. 

Mark’s account of our Lord’s baptism tells us, “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, Christ saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Jesus  like a dove. And a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” As God’s children, hear Christ call out your name, “Paul, Heather…Cyndi, you are my child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Now God does not always delight in our actions. God does not want us to harm each other and yet like any loving parent, our creator delights in who we are and who we can become. “You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of us who are baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3)  “There is no condemnation”. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God”. “You are God’s child!” Let that soak in. (Galatians 3; Romans 8; Philippians 3; John 3, 17; 2 Corinthians 3) 

After descending on with affirmation and hope declaring, “You are my child, who I delight in”….  the Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness to face down the Devil.  As we sit holding the mirror, allowing the Spirit and the cries of lament to examine us- Let us remember who we are and who God calls us to become! Let us build God’s blessed kin-dom of love and justice, on earth as in Heaven. 

Siblings united with Christ, through the Sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s holy Church.
We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit.
All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.

So included in Christ’s church, let us unite our voices and renew our vows together: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil (systemic) powers of this world and repent of your sin?  

 Do you accept the freedom and (spiritual) power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?  

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in Christ’s grace,
and promise to serve Christ as your Lord? Will you do this in union with the Church, which Christ has opened to all people?  

Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and widen the circle of God’s Love so others may come to know they too belong? 

Will you proclaim the Good News of God’s love: By living according to the example of Christ? By helping us build a community of love and forgiveness? By helping us grow in service to neighbors, strangers, and even opponents?  By upholding each other in prayer? By encouraging others by your words and example to walk in the Way that leads to life? 

Oh, come, drink of these healing Living Waters. Breathe in the Love of God. Hold up the mirror,  take the examination, but know God is always creating a new thing in us! Let us not grow weary in doing good to everyone, everywhere, whenever we can.

So, Remember your baptism and feel God’s love poured into your heart; hear God’s whisper, “You are my child, whom I deeply love; I delight in you.”  Remember your baptism and be renewed with love, lifting our hearts and tongues in praise, finding our voice to speak up and out, resisting evil, injustice and oppression! Loving, embracing, serving, forgiving, and living as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.  Remember your baptism and be thankful: God is not done with us yet. Amen.

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