Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Thursday, November 10, 2016

For God's sake, PREACH!!

I'm on a bit of a tear, here, so pull up a chair. Or, click delete and move along. Your call.

This is primarily for clergy but it's important that laity hear it as well. 
I've already heard from two clergy who assure me that they see "nothing to be gained and lots more to be lost" by preaching about the spiritual health and well being of our community, our nation and the world in the aftermath of Tuesday's election. 
"I'm just going to preach the gospel," said one to me.

I don't think he had yet gone over to the Lectionary Page. What is that Gospel for this Sunday? Oh, only a few little warnings from Luke (21:5-19), like
"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."
Go ahead. Just try and preach something about "Sweet Baby Jesus, meek and mild" after THAT Gospel is read in the midst of a people who feel like they've been kicked in the stomach. 

My God! We just elected a man to the highest office in the land who is a White supremacist, a sexual predator, a dishonest business man who calls himself "The King of Bankruptcy," and a man who doesn't see the need to ask forgiveness, even from God. 
He feels he gets that in church - the few times he goes - from "the little cookie" but not the wine. He never drinks wine. Or, any alcohol. Such a virtuous man - with really lousy Eucharistic theology.
On Wednesday, November 9th, in Rehoboth Beach, DE, a young Black woman named Ashley, a mother of three young children, was accosted at a gas station by three white men who threatened to kill her. 
This was in Rehoboth Beach. The "nation's vacation place".  Just 20 minutes from where I live.

Things like that are not supposed to happen here. And yet, it happened. Right after the election. 
And, let's be very, very clear: This is just the beginning. 

Soon and very soon, clergy and laity alike are going to learn - if they don't already know - why it is that we call the inside of the church a "sanctuary".  Or, why the ceilings of most churches look like the inside bottom of an upside down boat - an illusion to Noah to whom God promised never to destroy the earth. 
If the newly elected President's word is good and his promises sure, beginning January 21st people who are Muslims, people who are immigrants who did not follow the byzantine immigration laws and are therefore considered "illegal aliens" will be rounded up and deported. Families will be torn apart. Children born in this country will be left without their parents who were not born in this country. 
Already, black and brown bodies are considered less valuable than white bodies. Our law enforcement officials feel they can shoot and kill black men with impunity for crimes like selling "loosies" (Cigarettes, 10 cents a piece or four for $1), or for "not following orders" when they are being held on the ground in the midst of an asthma attack yelling "I can't breathe", or even when they are on the ground, on their knees with their hands up. 
Our health care system does not treat people of color with the same quality of medical care. Our educational system does not value their minds or their futures. Our prison systems in the United States of America now contain more black men than South Africa did at the height of Apartheid. 
These things are already happening. It will get worse.

All the gains the Queer community has made in the past eight years are in danger of erosion. Watch for hate crimes to increase in five, four, three . . . .. 

And, women? By next Tuesday, a week from the election, I predict that shelters for women who are victims of domestic violence will be filled beyond capacity.  There will also be an increase in the incidence of rape. 

This is not hyperbole or fear mongering. Sociologists tell us that these things happen when our nation is in the spiritual dis-ease of high anxiety. Indeed, that's exactly what happened after 9/11. It was explained as the result of PTSD and increased alcohol abuse. 
There are lots of similarities between the ways people are expressing their feelings now and what happened on September 11, 2001. "Sick." "What just happened?" "What will happen to us?"

When all these things come to pass, what will the church do? How will the church be the Body of Christ incarnate here and now? What risks will we take for the Gospel we profess? 

Will we open our churches and parish halls to provide sanctuary? Will we put our bodies where our mouths have been? Will we put our faith into action? Will we take stands against injustice? Will we demonstrate? Protest? Be willing, like St. Paul, to be jailed for our beliefs? Or, at least, stand in solidarity with those who do?

Personally? I think the priest who doesn't preach on the spiritual state of this nation in church on Sunday ought to have a little visit from his or her bishop about their ability to lead a community of faith. Well, that's if the bishop has any cajones or ovaries. 
I think clergy who avoid the high calling of a pastorally prophetic sermon this Sunday ought to have a little "sit down, come to Jesus" with their spiritual director and therapist about the nature of their vocation. 

Because my personal assessment is that we are in the state we are in today, at least in part, because clergy have been afraid to preach the Gospel. 
Indeed, we've been afraid to live the Gospel and inspire others to do the same. 
In so doing, we have lost our spiritual, religious and moral authority. And, rightly so. 

For some clergy their personal financial security - especially their pension or sabbatical or compensation package - is more important than putting the work into preaching and living the Gospel.
What often passes for a sermons is regurgitated platitudes all strung together with assurances and reassurances of God's love. That's on a good Sunday. Sometimes, we might get to hear about the rector's last vacation, or her love of a particular sport's team, or his personal prayer life - all humbly offered, of course, with interjection of a bad joke at the beginning or shaggy dog story in the midst of it all so as to illicit appropriate laughter as a way to discharge nervous energy or anxiety. 
It's as if the unofficial philosophy of modern preaching for some pastors is "The church family that laughs together . . . doesn't decrease its pledge." 
Here's the truth as I know it: People are hungry for the Word. Our people are spiritually starved and thirsty. Our souls are emaciated. Our hearts are malnourished.  

I see it in my work in Hospice. I hear it conversations in the grocery store and Post Office. 

This is real, people. And, it's serious. Very serious.

This is a call to my sister and brother clergy: For God's sake, PREACH!

This is not the time for "humility" or hide behind your sense of "spirituality" or make false equivalencies about "church and state" in order to avoid the high calling - the enormous privilege - of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
No, you do not have to take sides. Indeed, you shouldn't. If nothing else, there is the little matter of our tax exempt status with the IRS. God forbid we should lose that! 
All sarcasm aside, it ISN'T the job of clergy to tell people how to vote or exercise their civic duties. It IS the job of clergy to preach the Gospel, even when that puts them at odds with cultural norms. 
Especially when that puts them at odds with cultural norms.

In the words of Rev. William Barber, our task in this election was to 
“shock this nation with the power of love. We must shock this nation with the power of mercy. We must shock this nation and fight for justice for all. We can’t give up on the heart of our democracy, not now, not ever!”
That remains our sacred task as religious leaders - laity and ordained - after this election. 
Our people are sore afraid.  Yes, the ones who lost but even the ones who are thumping their chests in victory and terrorizing young Black women at gas stations. They are only doing that because they are afraid. They think that by abusing power they are powerful. 

They are pathetic, but make no mistake: They are afraid.
One of the ancients of the church once said, "Perfect love casts out fear." 
This is the time to put the belief we so easily profess into the hard work of action. 
We are people of Word and Sacrament. We must feed our people on Love Incarnate, Love Divine in the bread and wine as well as the words we preach. 

A bold, courageous, prophetic sermon which comes authentically from the very middle of the middle of a pastor's heart is a work of perfect love. 
Let me say that again: 
A bold, courageous, prophetic sermon which comes authentically from the very middle of the middle of a pastor's heart is a work of perfect love. 
And, let me say this: I am planning to attend two different churches on Sunday: One at 8 AM and one at 10 AM. If the Gospel is not preached, expect to see me rise from my seat and leave.

I'll be quiet. God knows, I won't make a fuss - I am Anglican, after all - but rest assured, I will not stay. And, I probably won't be back any time soon.

Others may not be so bold, but don't be surprised to see a dip in church attendance after that.

You'll be able to find me in those rare places where the Gospel IS preached and lived. Authentically. Boldly. Some of them are even Episcopal churches. 

I will leave you with these words to consider.  My friend and colleague Rev Aaron Payson, lead minister at the United Universalist Church of Worcester, MA, sent this to his congregation yesterday.

I share it now with you now in the hope that it will nourish your soul and inspire your religious imagination and creativity.
The Work of Citizenship
By Rev. Aaron Payson
(with appreciation for Howard Thurman’s “The Work of Christmas”)
When the last campaign ad has aired;
When polling stations are closed and the count has been certified;
When pundits and politicians have turned in for the night
And pollsters and political operatives are turning their thoughts to the next big race
The work of citizenship remains:

To care more for the marginalized than for profit margins
To be mindful that quality education is far less expensive than mass incarceration
To insist that military intervention is a last resort,
Not the preemptive prerogative of the powerful
In short, to know that our true wealth is the welfare of all beings and the planet that we all call home.
I know it says, "citizenship" but if ever there was a clearer vocational call to the church - the Citizens of the Realm of God, the "New Jerusalem" - I never heard it.

This is an amazing time to be a Christian. It's an even more incredible time to have the privilege of ordination and take the responsibility of our ordination vows seriously.

Yes, I'm sad I'm not able to preach this particular Sunday. I sound like I'm chomping at the bit because I am and I know it.

So, g'won. For God's sake: PREACH! In the pulpit and with your lives.

This is one of those times when you do need words, but they need to flow from your life and into the work of your ministry and inspire the lives and work and ministry of others.

We've got a lot of work to do.  Two years to take back the legislative branches of government and four years to take back the presidency.

Let's get busy, church!


David said...

Yes! Yes! YES!
Thank you blessed Elizabeth.
Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, David. You are a brother, sure and true.

Colette said...

The career religious who "see "nothing to be gained and lots more to be lost" by preaching about the spiritual health and well being of our community" are the reason I cringe when I hear the word "Christian." I just can't get past the lack of holiness. At this point in time, you may be the only Christian leader I trust.

Elizabeth said...

You have articulated my fears, and triggered my tears. Thank you.

Elizabeth Marshall
Goldwater, Michigan

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Collette, I hear you. I agree with you. In the future, I may disappoint you but I hope never to betray your trust.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Elizabeth - First, you cry. We'll get through this. We're stronger together.