Here is the text of the sermon I gave on June 24, 2018, at the First Baptist Church in America, here in Providence! It’s a bit longer than usual, but I was in a Baptist Church, after all.
Good morning! And welcome to Ecumenical Sunday at the First Baptist Church in America! I am, as you may have guessed from the attire and title, an Episcopal Priest. But I haven’t been an Episcopalian for very long, believe it or not. I didn’t go to church much when I was younger, and ended up spending a fair amount of time as an adult trying to figure out what denomination I belong to.
I settled on the Episcopal Church because of the theology of the church, because I really love the sacraments, and because deep, deep down, I really like the hierarchy. Basically, I’m possibly the most un-Baptist person to ever ascend this pulpit.
That I’m here today, in this historic place, is fairly crazy. I told a few Baptist friends I would be joining you all today, and there was a lot of looks along the lines of (make stunned face).
I say all of this as a warning that if the floor feels a bit cold, don’t worry, it’s just that hell has frozen over because I’m preaching in the First Baptist Church in America.
And I’m going to preach on politics. At least a little. Now, before you get uncomfortable in the pews, hear me out. Because what I’m hoping to do is discuss the storm that is raging around us from a distinctly Christian perspective, not from the left nor the right. And I want you to be warned that the goal of today is for us to be prepared to wade into the storm together.
Because beyond political affiliation, beyond the color of our skin, beyond our marital status, our sexual orientation, our denomination, beneath all of this, if we are gathered in this room, we are all Christians.
And Christians have never been afraid of difficult conversations. Nor to take a stand for what is right in the face of a swirling storm.
The storm in the Gospel reading today, I think is a great metaphor for the political storm that we are in as a nation. There was chaos on all sides. No one knew what to do, or where to go. All appeared to be lost. And keep in mind, many of the disciples were fishermen. They had seen storms, they’d seen bad storms, they’d seen bad storms on this particular body of water.
And they were still scared.
So they did the most logical thing, they sought help from their leader, who just happened to be God in human form. Which, really, was pretty lucky for them. All was saved, they got a tongue lashing, but I can’t blame Jesus for being a tad on the testy side. He must have been deeply asleep to sleep through that storm. I wouldn’t have wanted to be woken up either. But I digress.
As Americans, we’ve seen bad. We’ve seen bad times in war, in conflict, in recession, in depressions.
But honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever seen a time when our government has just done lost its mind like it has now.
And that’s the storm that I would like to talk about today. I do so for a few reasons. First, Jamie told me to preach whatever the Spirit gave me, and this is it. Really. I was preparing to preach on David and Goliath, which is the Old Testament reading for today, and then the Spirit was like – no. Storms. Go.
Second, I think that as Christians we’ve become too polite and too afraid of politics. We forget that we follow in the footsteps of a man who was so political the ruling elite killed him.
Third, we should talk about this storm because we have to! We absolutely have to. And we must have a genuine discussion. No pointing fingers, no placing of blame. An honest discussion. Where we hear each other, and we seek to understand. Not convince or convict.
There may well be some who are staring at me right now and thinking something along the lines of “yeah, right.” But I am right. It is possible to have an honest discussion. One where we simply listen to one another, seek to understand rather than to persuade.
I know this because it’s my experience. The church that sent me to seminary is a conservative, literalist, evangelical Church in Maryland. They consider me a sinner because of my sexual orientation and I was unable to be in leadership of any kind in the church, nor was I able to become a member. But they recognized my call to ministry and sent me to seminary anyway.
I’ve had conversations with the pastor of that church on theological issues that we are deeply divided on. And we are able to have conversations.
Conversation is possible when you disagree. And at this moment in our history, conversation is necessary.
Because this storm, this storm has potential to divide our nation so deeply, we may never recover.
We must remember how to have difficult conversations with one another. Conversations where people might get offended. Conversations where we might get offended!
Because Jesus calls us all to sit at the same table. We are to sit at the same table and be in community with people who are different from us. Slave and free. Rich and poor. Jew and Gentile. White and black. Gay and straight. Married and single. Married and divorced. Immigrant and Citizen. Democrat and republican. Man and woman. Transgender and Cisgender. Episcopalian or Baptist. Dog person or cat person. Gryffindor or Slytherin.
We are all called to Christ’s table.
We are all called to be in community with one another. A community whose goal is to learn from one another.
And unlike the disciples in the Gospel, we don’t have the benefit of waking Christ up if the storm is so much that we’re scared. We have to figure this out on our own with only the lessons left behind.
And so here is what I suggest we do. Are you ready? It’s revolutionary.
We talk to one another.
I know. It’s crazy. But we should all find someone we trust, or at least respect, who has a different opinion from us, and talk. I would be willing to bet that in this room there are people who disagree with one another. Find someone you disagree with. Talk to them.
What I believe you will find is that buried under all our disagreements, is that we actually want the same thing. We just believe in very different ways of getting there.
We all, well, most of us, want what’s best for people, for all people.
Now, I know that you all don’t know me very well yet. But I am not a person who backs down from a challenge. And I’m not going to simply because I haven’t met most of you before.
I would like everyone to take a deep breath. Because I’m going to talk about immigration. Again, I’m going to do so from a deeply Christian position. At least, from my understanding, based on my life, training, and experience, my understanding of a Christian position.
To begin though, a quick history lesson. Because I truly believe that it is of vital importance that we understand how we got to where we are. I believe it helps us all to better understand the totality of a situation, and how different viewpoints develop.
American was founded by immigrants. It was founded by people in search of a better, more prosperous life. What those initial immigrants did to the Natives who were already here is a sermon for another day, but, it’s important to note that the arriving white people considered themselves to be superior to the darker skinned natives, they considered the natives to be heathens, stupid because they didn’t speak English, and not truly human, so they could easily be displaced, enslaved, or killed.
This is just fact. I know it is difficult to hear, but if you go back and read some of the original documentation and correspondence from the founding of this country, this is what was thought.
Those who founded this country, who built the foundation of this nation, built a foundation of creating a better life for themselves, at the expense of others.
It sounds prettier to refer to this as the American dream, of coming to America to create a better life for you and your family. The earliest settlers of America didn’t come here to escape persecution, they chose to come to America.
That’s the idea that shaped the immigration policy of this nation – people come here to help make America better, and to build a better life for themselves. So immigration should be limited to the people who can help make America better for everyone. And it’s a great concept. But it doesn’t fit the current situation.
The current immigration crisis is a lot more like the earliest days of the Holocaust. The Holocaust, just to remind you, was endorsed by the German Christian Church, and Hitler claimed to be Christian. Before the mass slaughter of the Jews began, the German government made it as impossible for Jewish people to live in Germany as they could, so that the Jews would choose to leave. This anti-Semitism spread throughout Europe and into America, making it very difficult for the Jews to escape.
So much so that when immigration applications began arriving, they were denied. New immigration laws were put in place, and boat loads of Jewish refugees were sent back to Europe, often to their deaths.
The refugees today are fleeing for their lives. They aren’t coming to America seeking a better life, they are coming to America seeking the opportunity to be alive. They are fleeing violence, war, famine, extreme poverty, gang violence, murder, rape, and being sold into human trafficking.
And I hear the argument against allowing the refugees to enter, I do, fear about the economy and the need for Americans to have jobs. Especially, lately, I’ve been listening to the arguments supporting the separation of Children from Parents – that the parents are criminals and whenever a parent commits a crime and goes to jail, even an American parent, they are separated from their children.
I understand the desire to keep our borders safe so that criminals do not enter this country – and the argument that by the very nature of entering illegally, these are criminals entering the country.
The argument against allowing Jews to enter America in the late 30’s and early 40’s – was a fear that some of them were German spies. That some of them were criminals.
What if I tell you, the law that is currently being used to detain now families at the borders, took its current form in the 1950’s. And that up until this year, entering illegally was considered a Civil Offense, not a Criminal Offense. No jailing, a civil citation, and entry into the immigration court system, not the criminal system.
But the law is in place. And now, there is movement to do something about the law. Moderate republicans are attempting to put forward legislation to address at least some issues. Conservatives republicans are rejecting the legislation, and Democrats are refusing to negotiate.
Our system right now, is broken. The measures so carefully put in place to prevent this very situation from happening, have failed. No one is talking to one another. There is only yelling, and distrust.
It’s not a surprise to me, nor to many who have studied the social history of this nation, that we are in this situation. It’s not new. Our very nation is founded on a premise of distrusting “others”. Especially others who don’t look or talk like us.
So here we are. This storm is raging, the boat that is America is taking on water like crazy. We are sinking. I don’t know about you but I’m pretty scared the very fabric of this nation will be ripped apart. Regardless of whether you think the direction of this country is good, or bad, we should all see that we are sinking.
And honestly, all that I can see left to do is to cry out to God, “Jesus, do you not care that we are perishing!”
And in the stillness and peace that follows asking, as we marvel in the presence of Christ, as we accept our tongue lashing for letting things get to this point, in that peaceful moment we must realize that God has been with us the entire time.
God has been, and is still with us. Waiting for us to reach out, and start to focus on God again. And what God is calling for us to do, is to love another, to treat our neighbors as we treat ourselves.
If you’re not ready to treat a refugee neighbor at the border as your neighbor or even to consider them your neighbor, start with your next-door neighbor at home. Or your neighbor in the pew this morning. Someone new at coffee hour. Talk to a stranger next to you in line at a coffee shop.
Get to know people. Learn how to respect people who are different.
And to be clear, I mean all of us. Even those who are proudly liberal. Just because you give money to a good cause isn’t meeting this command of Christ. And if you are proudly conservative, you are called just the same. We are all called Christians. And Christians are called to be more than all of this.
Christians are called to rise above the storm. The People of God are called to love. We are called to be known by our love. So love. Love big, or love small. Love however we are called and prepared to love. But we must get out of our comfort zones. We must all stop approaching the world as though we are right and the other is wrong.
In all likelihood, we’re all wrong.
But it is never wrong to love. Ask Christ how to love more. Ask Christ to help you love your neighbor as yourself. Ask Christ to help you understand who your neighbor is.
This storm that we are in, it’s huge. And it’s consuming us. Every week there’s something new, some other way that our world and nation are broken.
It’s time to start fixing.
And as Christians, we know that what will fix this, the only thing strong enough to possibly heal the brokenness, is love.
Love everyone as God loves us.