On November 15th, 2015, two days after the attacks in Paris, I preached this message. The text is Mark 13:1-8, though honestly, I don’t talk about it as much as I usually do.
I have a confession for you all. I didn’t do what I normally do to prepare for this sermon. Normally, I spend days meditating on the text, researching, pouring over commentaries, my notes from seminary, and praying about what God wishes me to convey about the Scripture. I pray for the words that come through me to be God’s words, and that those words reach each of you, and be the words you need to hear this week.
But I didn’t do that this week. These last few weeks have been some of the most important in my young life. These last few weeks have dictated the course of my future. And you know what? I got distracted by it. My life distracted me from one of the ways that I most relate to God. Life, modern life, gets in the way of our relationship with God.
My plan was to write a sermon about how sometimes I am the false teacher that leads me astray; sometimes I am the one Jesus warns about in the Gospel. And at times, all of us are that for ourselves.
I got home from work Friday night with a plan to write about that. And then I turned on the news. And I knew immediately that I don’t need to preach about myself being a false teacher. In the world today we have an example of what a false teacher looks like. We have a group of human beings using hate, fear, oppression, and terror to kill other human beings. And they justify these murders by saying they are committing them in the name of God. A year ago, one of my greatest friends, Jack Jenkins wrote: “just because you shout God’s name while committing murder doesn’t make your actions righteous.”
This group claims this is Jihad, a Holy war, ordained by Allah (praise be to He). If you leave here today with nothing else, please leave here knowing that this group, ISIS, ISIL, or the Islamic State, is not, in any way other than name, representative of Islam. They are terrorists, who are merely shouting the name of God as they commit atrocities.
Genuine encounters with God create a lot of emotions, and many of these are explained in the Bible. Fear is chief among them. To be in the presence of God, or of God’s angels, often invokes fear. But there is a difference between fear brought on by awe and feeling unworthy, and the terror that reigned in the streets of Paris and Beirut on Friday.
ISIS is using terror and oppression. God doesn’t do that. There is a difference between oppression and willful obedience. What God asks of us is a willful obedience. To follow God; to let God dictate how it is that we should live our lives. We as Christians have the words of Christ, teaching us to love and care for one another, and to love the Lord our God above all else. God as described in the Qu’ran says the same thing. We must care for one another, and to love God above all others. Learning to love God above all else requires a self mastery. This self mastery is known as Jihad. Christianity has a version. Judaism has a version. Buddhism, Hindi, Baha’i, Sikh, and every other world religion teaches a version of self mastery.
And you know what, each world religion also has a group of people who twist the name of God, and the teachings of their religious leaders, to inflict hate, terror, oppression, and murder.
Christians are not immune to this. The Nazi’s claimed to be a Christian group, cleansing the human race in the name of God. There are hate groups still active within our religion, using the name of God to do horrible things to people. These things happen in this city.
Friday night could very easily have happened here. As I wrote these words, I sat in a coffee shop, sipping on a $5 drink that came in a red cup, wearing blue jeans, a flannel shirt, with my head uncovered, Bible open in front of me. I used my collective educational and life experiences to create the words I’m saying now. I’m an educated, gay, woman, preacher, in the ordination process of a Liberal Christian faith, speaking out against the misuse of the name of God. Do you know how many of these so called “religious” groups would put me on hit lists? I’m not sure I can count that high.
Tons of people would say that I am exactly the false teach Jesus warns against in the Gospel today. That it is precisely people like me that are causing the rise of nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes in various places, and world famine.
I appreciate that people think I have so much power to influence God and the course of human events, but sadly, I don’t. But what I do have power to do is to stand here and tell you what I think we can do about all this. Because I do think that each of us can do something.
We can love.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said it best, darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Every single one of us gathered here today has the power to be the light in the world. In a time and place where the voices of false teachers ring out loudly, we can be beacons of hope and love.
It sounds romantic to say that, but the reality is that it isn’t romantic at all. To love in the face of hate is hard. But we must stand up to hate. Because hate is the ultimate false teacher. Hate will lead you astray faster than any person could.
To counter this message of hate we must take the teachings of Christ seriously. We must treat every human being as just that, a human being.
As I look around this room, I see many faces of people who take this message very seriously. There is respect and love etched on every face and in every heart. But the time is upon us to do something about what’s happening in the world, and here at home.
Some of the best sermons I have ever heard will find a way to tell those listening how to do this, how to spread love. But I have to be honest: I don’t know. I don’t know how each of us can best help spread love around our city, our nation, and our world.
There are people in this room with big voices in the world, and people with small voices. There are people who are good with their hands, or good with a pen. Some are more patient than others. Some are more affluent than others. Some of us are crafty, and some of us (me) can’t tie a knot to save their lives.
But we each have something. Something within us that we can use. Tying knots is not my gift. My energy is my gift: I am filled with a passion to spread the message of love in the world. Tonight, please take a moment to think about your gift. And then think about how to share that gift with the world.
Everything starts here with us. In this room are people who care about one another. This is a place where we come together to be vulnerable and relate to God. In a culture and world that tells us vulnerability and religion are useless, we still stand united. And we are united with people all over the world. Our individual lights of love might be small, but together, we can light up this city. To paraphrase Saint Theresa, I may be but a drop in the ocean, but I am still a drop.
Be a drop. Watch the ripple effect.
Smile at a stranger. Help prepare a meal for a neighbor in need. Give away the clothes you don’t wear anymore. Tutor a child who is struggling to learn to read. Give your time, your money, your energy.
Giving time, money, and energy isn’t just giving to a cause, or a church, it’s giving to God.
When I thought about this sermon, I thought I would tell you about how this week I was my own false teacher. But as I wrote these words, I found just the opposite. I, you, we as a community, have the chance to be the best teachers! What burns inside each of us is a flame of love, of truth, it’s the light of God.
We must stoke those flames, and build them so that they may light the world. Be the light in the darkness. If we stand in the light of love together, no darkness is too much to overcome. Let us turn on our lights together, and go forth into the world loving our neighbors as ourselves. Not merely by the words we say, but showing that we love by the things we do.