3/17/2019 0 Comments
The Unforced Rhythms of Grace
preached on March 17, 2019
at the First Church in Sterling, MA
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
Love will stitch humanity together. Love heals; love restores; love mends. It takes time, but love mends.
I just can’t shake the sadness that the city in New Zealand in which the hateful slaughter of 50 Muslims at prayer was named Christchurch. The terrorist who committed this atrocity was poisoned by the heresy of “Christian” white supremacy. He didn’t just shatter the sanctity of the mosques with his death dealing. He shattered the sanctity of Christchurch and Christ’s church. He shattered the sanctity of prayer. He shattered the sanctity of humanity, raining bullets of hate on God-imaged people. In the Koran, it says that killing one person is killing all of humanity. On Thursday, all of humanity was killed once again.
White supremacist, extremist right-wing terrorism is on the rise. A study came out that this month that said almost two-thirds of terror attacks in the (United States) last year were by white men and tied to racist, anti-Muslim, homophobic, anti-Semitic, fascist, anti-government, or xenophobic motivations.
As the Church we must clearly and unequivocally say NOT IN OUR NAME. Not in Christ’s name.
If you know folks who think that terrorism goes hand in hand with Islam, please do your best to correct the record. If you are one of those folks, please do your best to learn something different.
To repent means to re-think. This Lent, cross the borders of creed and culture to know differently through love, as Christ taught us. And join us at the Worcester Islamic Center on Wednesday, March 20th to have dinner with our Muslim friends, learn something new about God, and show our love and support. If you can’t come, write a prayer for our friends there on our prayer banner. Our friend, Mona Ives has gone to every vigil for every tragedy after September 11, 2001 to lend her Muslim voice to say “not in our name.” She has spent her adult life trying to undo the image of Muslims as terrorists by speaking in interfaith spaces and educating non-Muslims. She couldn’t even go to the vigil at her own Worcester Islamic Center on Friday. She was too tired, too heart sore, too exhausted trying to convince white Christians that she is worthy of dignity and life.
We are all weary. Our humanity is slowly being murdered hour by hour, day by day, by forces of hate and fear beyond our control.
As Christ’s church, we must learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Come to Jesus. As Love’s people, we must re-humanize one another, repair what has been broken, and return to God.
If the Church were Christian, gracious behavior would be more important the right belief, Phillip Gulley says. If the church were Christian our job titles would simply be: Professional Lovers of God and People.
The Christian church plays a part in anti-Muslim, anti-semitic ideology. One of the heresies of the Christian church is the idea that we have somehow cornered the market on Truth. If we want to stop the rise of ideological extremism that leads to white supremacist terrorism, now is the time to re-claim the values of Jesus.
Too often, this book about Jesus has torn people apart. There are many who believe that God himself wrote it with God’s holy pen. There is a “right” way to read it, and a “wrong” way. Every word, some say, is literally true, God-ordained and should hold up in every age and culture.
When I came to First Church, I would ask occasionally why a long time member left years ago. “They said they wanted a church that was more bible based,” was sometimes the answer. That always confused me. It took me awhile to figure out that this was code for “they wanted a church that didn’t marry gay people,” or “they wanted a church that was less inclusive of different understandings of God.”
So let me just be clear. This church is most certainly Bible-based. This church’s foundational text is, in fact, the Bible. The shimmering, clear, God-kissed message of this complex and rich and sometimes problematic story of God’s people is unfailing, indestructible love. And the Law of Love always wins over the letter of the law.
Folks think that people like me cherry pick the texts to make God into who I want God to be—a social justice warrior who loves and accepts everyone. A liberal snowflake God, if you will. And maybe that’s true.
The truth is, we are all being selective about which parts of the Bible to take more seriously than others. That is no more true of religious progressives than it is of religious conservatives. We all pick and choose. I just happen to admit it.
So let’s ALL stop cherry-picking to use this text as a weapon against our opponents and instead re-claim the values of Jesus.
Jesus was also asked to choose which parts of the text were the most important, too. In perhaps the most famous text in the Gospels, He was asked by a lawyer which commandment was the greatest. He answered “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second commandment, he said, is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Loving others is how you love God, Jesus said. Love, not doctrine, is the only thing Jesus really went to the mat for. Love is what he lived and died for.
If the Church were Christian, mirroring the compassion of Jesus would be more important than echoing the orthodoxy built up around him.
Jesus taught that compassion is a verb not an adjective.
Who remembers what story Jesus tells when the lawyer asks him who is neighbor is?
In the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells the story of a man crossing the street to save a bleeding victim of a robbery; a bleeding man avoided by a priest and a Levite. The man who helped and healed and brought him to safety was a Samaritan. Jesus was a Jew. Jews and Samaritans hated each other. But it is the Samaritan who crosses the borders of race, creed and religious law to heal. And so Jesus calls his so-called enemy “good.”
“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.
“Hello, Brother.” That’s what the first victim of Thursday’s white supremacist terrorist attack said to the gunman as he entered the Al noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. 71 year old grandfather Daod Nabi called his killer “Brother” before he was murdered. We know this because the carnage was filmed live for 17 minutes and broadcast on the internet in real time, all over the world.
That video was 17 minutes of hate, but what we will remember is Daod Nabi. The killer wanted his message spread, but we will spread Nabi’s message instead.
As he faced a rifle, Daod spoke peaceful words of unconditional love. That’s as much a profound statement about who he believed God to be as it is about who Daod was.
He resisted letting his killer’s hate become his own, even as he faced down the barrel of a gun. He stayed faithful to the God who made us all brothers and sisters, to his last breath.
“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” Jesus cried out on the cross as he took his last breaths. He did not let even his murderer’s hate become his own. He sees in his enemies the face of a brother and sister, and asks for their forgiveness.
Re-claim the values of Jesus. Re-claim the values of Love. Love mends. Love restores. Love heals.
I spent the weekend at a UU Christian Fellowship revival trying to get closer to God by learning fiber arts, of all things. They kept trying to teach me to knit and to mend, and I kept failing.
It is probably a sign of my generation more than anything else to say that I don’t know how to mend things. This was not true of my parents and grandparents. Clothes used to cost more in their day, and things were made to function and last. My mother made a lot of my clothes as a young child. My grandmother and mother patched holes in jeans, darned socks, hemmed clothes.
Now when I get a hole in a garment or even lose a button, I throw it away and buy a new one. I’m not proud of this…I’m just telling you the truth.
I’m not the only one who treats my clothing as expendable. I found out this weekend that the fashion industry is second only to oil as one of the primary polluters of the world. God help me to repent of this habit for the sake of your creation.
God doesn’t see us as expendable. You and I may not know how to mend…garments or relationships or our own brokenness or the world torn asunder…but God does. We may throw what we create away, but God doesn’t. God saves the pieces, and carefully stitches us back together into whole cloth.
Elizabeth Spelman says that “repair is the creative destruction of brokenness.”
After the flood in which he destroys the world and starts over, God re-recreates humanity with the remnant of what is left. And then God promises us with a rainbow never to destroy us again. Now when God makes us new, she doesn’t throw us away in a scrap heap and start over. God continually repairs and reinforces us until we are strong at the broken places. God gives us one another.
We need to be in the business of mending, repairing, of healing, of RESTORATION together. Together, resistance and reconciliation is holy work. Together, we are a force for love in the world. Together, we have as many chances to see the face of God as we have people to meet and know. Together, we have everything.
Gather up all the fragments, beloved. Of your family, of your community, of our county, of our world. And get to mending.
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Rev. Robin Bartlett is the Senior Pastor at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. www.fcsterling.org