What Do We Do Now?

I preached this sermon today in Dalton. I used Isaiah 65:17-25 and Luke 21:5-19.  You can guess it was on the election.  I changed the title because I choose the titles way before I actually write and typically hope they align (often not, which makes me wonder why I even bother with a title in the first place.)

A point of full disclosure, I voted for Secretary Clinton on Tuesday.  Despite her shortcomings from ethical lapses to being THE establishment candidate, I felt she was the person most capable of serving as President of the United States given her experience and intelligence.

Like many people who voted for Clinton, the news on Wednesday morning was difficult to comprehend.  I read a few articles in The New York Times.  I talked to a few people at Soldier On and exchanged some e-mails about the election results.  I stayed away from Facebook.  I spent most of the day letting it churn in the back of my head trying to make sense of this election.

I thought about our summer road trip to Illinois and Indiana.  Though Illinois went for Clinton, she won only in a few areas:  Chicago and its suburbs, Champaign County, Peoria and a couple of other counties I couldn’t identify.  The rest of Illinois voted for Donald Trump.

On our trip we wanted to spend a day in New Harmony, Indiana, which is about as far south as you can go in Indiana.  It is on the Wabash River, just a little north of where it meets the Ohio River.  New Harmony was a utopian community founded in 1824 by German Pietists led by George Rapp.  Today it is a quaint small town of about 800 people.  As the town is so small and its few rooms were booked, we stayed in Grayville, Illinois, a short drive away, for two nights.

As our dining experience the first night in Grayville was at best forgettable, the next evening we went to Carmi, Illinois a few miles south and the largest town in the area.  Its population is about 5000 – 6000 people.

Driving through Carmi, I saw why people would vote for Donald Trump.  This was a town that had seen better days.  It was a solid middle class community that seemed a little hollowed out with empty storefronts on the main street.  The existing businesses lacked visual vibrancy, especially on a Saturday night; like Pittsfield’s North Street back in the mid 1990s.

I thought about people who are in their late 60s and early 70s today who 30 or 40 years ago had dreams that they could retire in Carmi in comfort but now have to keep working because their good paying job left 20 years ago and their 401K tanked.  I thought about young people who grew up in Carmi who would like to raise their children there, but can’t find decent employment because industry has died and their grandparents have the jobs they would typically have.  I thought about deeply religious people who cannot reconcile their understanding of scripture with our wider acceptance of people who marry someone of the same gender.

The last eight years of economic growth passed them by.  When they look back to the 1970s, they realize that they’ve been working hard all these decades and never got ahead.  Their incomes didn’t rise despite increased worker productivity and they fell further behind as income inequality rose.  It didn’t matter which party held the White House or Congress.  They heard candidates promise that their programs would turn things around and trade agreements were good for all of us.  But after decades of empty promises, why believe it now?

The establishment, Democrat and Republican, failed them.  Meanwhile their world changed.  Not only do people of same gender get married, they see people of color and women in positions of authority.  Their president is black.  A local shopkeeper speaks with an accent and the supermarket carries food products with weird names like jicama, durian, guanabana, and carambola.  When they call their pharmacy to refill a prescription, they have an option to listen in Spanish.  The social compact, work hard and play by the rules to get ahead, doesn’t work.  This is not the America that they knew.  They are exiles in their own land.

The establishment and its byproduct, its institutions, are rotting from within because they’ve lost sight of the common good.  They’ve been operating contrary to the gospel.  They’ve told us we don’t have the resources to ensure that everyone can have their daily bread and we’ve believed them.  They’ve framed our world in terms of scarcity, not abundance.  They’ve made us fearful of strangers by stirring up false tropes of race, gender, sexual identity, ethnicity and social class.  We’ve allowed those fears to overcome our belief that perfect love casts out fear.

Losing sight of the gospels has messed up national priorities. We’re not willing to invest money and resources to help people who struggle in poverty, but we’ll spend money to incarcerate them when poverty drives them to run afoul of our laws.  We spend money without question to send men and women to fight in war, but can’t find money to care for their psychic and emotional wounds when they come home.  We have no problem subsidizing people’s housing through mortgage interest deductions on their income tax, but we can’t seem to provide housing subsidies which would reduce the waiting time for subsidized housing, which in Pittsfield is about three years.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Dr. King’s words from his speech “A Time to Break Silence” in which he said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”[1]  It was true in 1967 and is even truer today.  Listen to the drumbeat.  We are under threat.  We need to spend more money to bolster our military.  Yet, our military spending already exceeds the combined total of military spending of the next ten nations.  We’ll increase military spending, but we won’t raise our taxes, so we cut social programs. Note that of every tax dollar going to Washington, 60% covers mandatory spending: Social Security, Medicare, and debt service, 21% covers the military, and 19% covers everything else.

Jesus saw the rot within the establishment and its institutions in his day.  His ministry on behalf of the people questioned the righteousness of the establishment and challenged its authority because merely performing the rituals without the intent behind them was not obedience to God.  He said it would all be destroyed.  When our structures rot from within, there is nothing inside to keep them standing and strong.  They will come down and in the wake of their destruction we will have turmoil because we actually need our institutions to hold us together as one community.

It’s not that Donald Trump is today’s Jesus.  This election exposed the rot that has long been there, but we didn’t want to see it or do anything about it.  That it seemed not to touch us, we could overlook it.

But we can’t overlook it anymore.  We can’t ignore the shattered dreams of millions of people like the people in Carmi.  People need hope.  They need not only to believe that their lives will get better, but that their lives actually will.  The establishment must deliver that.

We need to reject the establishment’s message of scarcity and renew our belief in God’s abundance.  We must remember that God’s abundance is due to God’s generosity because God loves us.  We must live knowing that God’s abundance means that no one ever has to suffer from scarcity or deprivation.  Furthermore, we must recognize that we all suffer when people around us don’t have their daily bread.

We have to stop living in fear and embrace love’s transforming power.  We take the first step to end fear by affirming that people are fearful.  Then, we can dispel that fear by loving one another and the stranger through our ministries and in our actions.  We need to embrace forgiveness and seek reconciliation.  We must acknowledge that though people may be racially different or from a different culture or are not cisgendered, deep down we all want the same thing, to live our lives in the fullness of our humanity to the fullest of our potential and to have true peace and justice rooted in love.  We must remind people that the antidote to fear is love – remembering that perfect love casts out fear.

Our task as faithful disciples of Jesus is to ensure that our political leadership will serve all of us.  We should press them to create policies to ensure the common good.  We should advocate for policies to protect the environment.  We should condemn policies which discriminate against people because of their race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual orientation, physical ability, mental health, and gender.  Our policies should be compassionate, not punitive.  Our policies should affirm life over property. And we must oppose with all our hearts and strength those who seek to do otherwise.  Furthermore, we carry a responsibility to ensure that human dignity is not someone else’s obligation, but ours.

Over the last year the media has shown us vicious public displays of hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and xenophobia.  We have heard credible reports of increased harassment and attacks upon people of color, Muslims, and immigrants.  Immigrant children are worried about being deported.  Dystopian messages filled with fear dominated the media to create a feeling of hopelessness and despair.

We must not let those messages overwhelm us.  We have the tools because we have the love of God, the teachings of the Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot succumb because we know better.  Neither can we be silent.  We must vehemently oppose them otherwise we will lose the ties that bind us together, however imperfectly, as a community.

Our greatness comes when the common good is strong and healthy.  And then, no more shall the sound of weeping be heard or the cry of distress.  No more shall an infant live but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime.  People will build their houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  People shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by God– and their descendants as well.

When we reject scarcity and embrace abundance, when we abstain from fear and have faith in love, when we place our faith in the bread and the cup rather than weapons of destruction, when we live to ensure and sustain the common good, when we live to honor God’s gift of creation, then Isaiah’s vision of Jerusalem will become reality.  We will have hope and all our dreams will be fulfilled.  We will discover that true greatness is for all people to live in God’s realm of peace and justice rooted in steadfast love.

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr.  A Time to Break Silence. from I Have a Dream Writings and Speeches that Changed the World.  Edited by James Washington.  Harper: San Francisco  1992 P. 148

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About Quentin Chin

Eclectic interests: religion, technology, food, music, current events. I live in the reality-based world.
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