Opportunity to Testify
November 13, 2016
At Vancouver UCC
A few weeks ago, we sat together in small groups during worship and talked about some of our hopes for this congregation. There were many great ideas to emerge from that process - as specific as “switch from natural gas to electric in our remodel,” and as general as “keep being welcoming the way we are now.” But the one idea that came from nearly every single group, was this: let other people know more about us. Get the word out to the wider community about the healing and the hope that happens here. There were a few specific examples of how to do this – most having something to do with advertising.
But none mentioned what we something in UCC circles call the e-word, a word we shun because it is so often associated with a kind of Christianity many of us find difficult to relate to – evangelism, the simple act of telling other people about your faith, and how your faith has transformed you. This is NOT the same as telling your friends and neighbors and the guy behind you in the starbucks line about all our great programs and projects – true evangelism is most effective when it is most vulnerable, most willing to first look in and then reach out. Evangelism is a time honored way to get people to learn more about this community of faith – to tell them about it – both with words and with actions.
Now, there are several problems with evangelism as far as progressive commmuities like ours are concerned. I tried to list them. First, evangelism is embarrassing. Second, well it’s embarrassing. And third, it’s really very embarrassing.
Really, no matter how say it, polite progressive people shrink from evangelism, from sharing our personal faith stories, because we don't want to be embarrassed or embarrass someone else. What this week has shown me more than anything is that we no longer have the luxury of embarrassment – our lgbt family, our disabled family, our immigrant family, our African American family – might say that it was a luxury we could ill afford for a long time.
Listen to the gospel reading from this week. Jesus is telling his disciples about the destruction of their most sacred and beloved institution. Not just a church building (although we know how devastating the destruction of a building can be can be) the temple was the center of government, of commerce, of fellowship, of celebration, of education, or worship. It was, literally, where God lived. In short the temple was the center of everything. In Jesus’ telling, the destruction won’t be for some time.
But Luke is writing this story two generations after the temple is destroyed. So he’s writing about a past event, an event that already really happened. And he’s writing about the destruction, the terror, the violation, as if it is the future, as if it is something that has not yet happened. So in a way, there is a timelessness to the description of destruction, waste and terror – it is happening in the future and it is happening in the past and, yes, it is happening right now.
Our own metro area has been the center of nation media attention, as national protests rock Portland’s streets every night. But the destruction that I would like to focus on this morning is the is the nationwide destruction of personal safety and human rights. It does not matter who you voted for. The violence that we’ve seen this week threatens our most sacred and beloved institutions – religious freedom, welcome of immigrants, safety for all.
These are some of the stories I have heard his week.
A Muslim girl’s hijab was ripped off by a group chanting the name of our president elect.
A Mexican child was told, “you’ll have to leave the country now.”
A Black woman was pushed into the street while walking, called a despicable epithet and told to stay off the sidewalk
A college student who was groped by a fellow student who crowed, “we can do this now whenever we want.”
There was n unprecedented spike in calls at a suicide hotline for trans persons
In a group in downtown Portland, a Jewish man tells us his sister began preparations to emigrate to Spain (“where our family has not lived since 1493”) because “if my grandfather hadn’t gotten out of Germany none of us would have been born.”
A clergy person who had gone to standing rock told me “I had hope for the environment, now I don't have any.”
I received a frantic phone call on Thursday from an out lesbian whose LGBT support group in rural Oregon was broken up by armed militia.
Jesus, in his sometimes uncomforting comforting way tells us how to respond to times like this. These days are an opportunity, he says, to testify. To speak boldly. The tell the truth of what we believe about a God whose preference is for the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the oppressed, the violated. To remind others by word and by deed that God’s love and embrace is much bigger than our buildings or institutions. God’s love spills out into the streets and our homes and the world – a lesson this community of faith – post fire, post building - is in a unique position to understand and communicate.
Is it really just embarrassment that is stopping us from speaking? Is it just embarrassment that stops us from proclaiming, “I stand with you because my faith tells me that I must” and “I love you because God loves you” and “I take risks because I follow Jesus, and he took risks”
Sandy Messick, the DOC area minister in this region wrote this week: Before I claimed a political party affiliation, God claimed me. Before we were Republicans or Democrats, we were and are beloved children of God; more specifically we are followers of Christ. As such, we are called to be Christ’s witness in the world, Christ’s hands and hearts and voice. That has not changed…We are called to stand with those who are afraid and uncertain about what the future may hold and stand against language and actions that injure and divide. We are called to love one another as Christ has loved us.” (http://www.disciplesnw.org/newsletter/rev-sandy-messick-word-region)
If you want to show that love in a visible way, you might consider taking a safety pin from the communion table today and pinning it to your jacket as you go out in public. There is a small movement afoot to wear a safety pin as a sign of solidarity and support for those who may be targeted in these distressing days. It’s such a small thing, not hardly anything really, to fasten a pin to your shirt. (http://www.ucc.org/daily_devotional_safety_pinned) It hardly seems like enough. And yet, it is one way to share testimony, to say “We are called to love one another as Christ has loved…”
Yesterday, I took a break from the 24/7 screen diet I’d been ingesting all week and took my son and godchildren outside to rake the leaves. As we raked the leaves into big piles, leaves continued to fall all around and on us, including on places we had just cleared. I was reminded of my dad who used to leave the house in the middle of a big snow storm to go outside and shovel snow, with the flakes still swirling all around him. We used to tease him, about this, I think. It seemed so futile, this act of cleaning up what continued to happen. But yesterday as we raked the leaves, I understood it.
You gotta start shoveling before all the snow has fallen. You gotta rake leaves before all the leaves are on the ground. You gotta overcome the embarrassment that stops you from testifying enough to fasten a pin from your coat. You must start. Now, today, in whatever small way you can. And then your soul, Jesus promises, will not wither, shrink and die away. Your soul will live.