It’s hard for me to be optimistic about the next four years. The sight of violence in Sproul Plaza bodes ill. The blatant falsehoods and hypocrisy coming from the White House and the Republicans, the disarray and apoplexy of the Democrats, the presidential threats against dissent, the hate speech of Bannon – I fear we are being swept over the cliffs into the sea.
I fear that people I care about will be sent back to the Middle East. I fear for my cousin researching renewable energy in the Department of Energy as his leading researchers jump ship and go to work for China. I fear the saber rattling. I fear the death of facts.
This seems darker to me than the chaos of the sixties. Our civil institutions were strong enough to fight off the threat that Nixon posed. There was a moral outrage at the transgression of our core values. There was a presumption that the arc of history was long, but it bent toward justice. I watch with trepidation as it now seems to bend toward chaos. Indeed, disruption has become an inherent good.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
and clever in their own sight! (Isaiah 5:20-21)
I don’t want any more sorrow. The world doesn’t need any more tears.
Something radiant came into the world in Jesus. It was not just the promise that God was coming to reign among us; it was the evidence of that reign. Eyes were opened, lame bodies made strong, voices set free. Evil spirits were driven out. Outcasts were gathered in. Sinners were restored to their communities. Water was turned to wine. Peter walked on the sea. The chaos of the storm yielded to Jesus’ word of peace.
But it seems like we are marching again towards Good Friday, towards the death of kindness and mercy, to the triumph of naked power, to a paroxysm of the Father of Lies.
And with what do we stand? Simply the promise that he is risen. The darkness cannot prevail. Death itself yields to the author of life.
It may be that my courage falters because I have sat at too many bedsides with grieving families. It may be that my vision is darkened by walking with others through too many tragedies. It may be.
My father wanted me to do something official, pastoral – last rites or something – when I sat on the hospital floor at my stepmother’s bedside. But in that moment I had only tears. I was not the pastor symbolizing the presence of God; I was the grieving son.
In all the craziness of my family life as a child, she had been a steady presence of kindness. For 61 years. And now she was going.
Kindness is the simplest and most valuable thing we can give to one another. Kindness must sometimes be firm, but it is always kind. It recognizes the other. It values the other. It speaks truth for the sake of the other, not to wound. It knows when to be silent and when to speak, when to act and when to wait, when to embrace and when to refrain from embracing.
So I grieve Gloria. And I grieve the country. I miss kindness. And hope seems elusive. There is a part of me that wants to rant and rave and throw things – not the tantrums of a frustrated child but the rage of grief at a world so determined to do cruelty.
But then I stand at the altar. And I hold the bread in my hands. And I hear the song of the community echoing the song of the angels. And, for a moment, it all seems okay. For a moment I remember, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” (Psalm 24:1)
There is a deep and profound vision at the heart of Christian faith, a confession that there is more at work in the world than our passions and fears. There is a heartbeat of compassion. There is a breath of freedom. There is a song of joy. There is a love for us.
We come to worship to be reminded of that heartbeat, to hear that song, to join that song. We come to know that we are welcomed at the table of peace, that the universe runs towards us with flapping robes and slapping sandals to embrace us prodigal children straggling back toward home. The text will challenge us often. It is not simple to live as sons and daughters of God’s perfect compassion. It is a challenge to keep our lamps burning. But we come. And we invite others to come. Because here is a light that does not perish. Here is a life-giving bread. Here is the abundant new wine of the wedding feast where the heavens bend to kiss the earth and all join the dance.