The prophet Isaiah (6:1-3) had a remarkable vision in a year when the king died. . .when all seemed lost. . .when it appeared he and his people were about to leap into an abyss:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Despite the political turmoil and in the face of the abyss, the prophet awakened to the truth that God is God despite whomever the king or queen or president may be. We chant HOLY HOLY HOLY despite the princes of the earth. ~See you Sunday
Last month I was faced with the task of moving my office across the street to our temporary quarters. I came across some files of Newsweek magazines I had saved at the time of Watergate and the resignation of President Richard Nixon. I was nineteen years old. Last week, I turned sixty-three.
Though 1972 was a long time ago, I do recall how unnerved my parents were and the general state of fear and anxiety that was pervasive, at least in my region of the world. The United States survived that constitutional crisis and resignation. And of course, the truth is, this country survived far worse via the Civil War, the two great wars and a Great Depression.
So when candidates run on fear and declare that if they are not elected there will be a constitutional crisis or that the stars will fall from the sky and our country will end, I’m inclined to simply ask them if they have ever, ever read our history. Please. I shy away from fear-mongers and I certainly feel insulted by threats that if I don’t vote for you then you’ll rise up in rebellion. Tsk tsk. Churchhill-esque this is not .
The presidential campaigns, for this season at least, are coming to an end. That end will be greeted as though a pestilence has lifted. We’ll need a good deal of time to heal from the barbarity and banality of all of this.
So the campaigners have been voicing their opinions. Now it is our turn. Go vote. Vote for human dignity and worth; for justice and freedom; and by all means vote for hope. Then come Wednesday, no matter who wins, you and I will roll up our sleeves and do what Christ has asked of us. That mission does not change because someone else sits in the White House as President. Oh, the consequences are enormous, don’t get me wrong. Your vote is important and much will be changed. But our mission is not one of these. I must love God with all of my heart, mind and strength and I must love my neighbor as myself. You must do that too. And when I do that and you do that then we become a We.
Kingdoms rise and fall. They always have and always will. But the Word of God and the love of Christ endure forever. Take hope in that as you go to the polls Tuesday. Take heart in that when you wake up on Wednesday. ~See you Sunday
In Scene IV of Act I, Hamlet and his colleagues are struggling to understand what appears to be the dead King and father of Hamlet. It is an apparition that waves to Hamlet and seems to want to speak with him. Against the advice of his colleagues guarding the wall that evening, Hamlet goes to the apparition. Marcellus, a friend and guard, says what is obvious, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
Democracy in the United States of America in 2016 is rotten. A neo-fascist movement is afoot in our country, rotting with sordid ideologies of misogyny and racism. It is one thing to have such citizens in a country as large as ours. It is another to have a major political party embrace a candidate for President who not only is unapologetic but stokes these ideologies like a scout stoking a bonfire.
Our history, however, is more than adequate to illustrate that these kinds of persons have been here for a very long time and—though the process has been sometimes too slow and an ordeal—we have overcome them. The way we overcome them is to speak up when the time demands that we speak. To remain silent is to be a conspirator with what is cheap and tawdry and sometimes wicked in us. You must speak with your vote. Too many have died and suffered to provide this right and privilege. Exercise your right to vote then and let us be on our way to exorcising ghosts and fiends.
There will never be a perfect candidate. We will always have to make choices that sift and sort through the flaws of people. Not to vote is a silk glove for tyranny’s fist. Christian citizenship is not about electing a Christian or a minister. Instead, it is about living honorably and doing our best to fulfill the promises and responsibilities of our constitution. After you vote, perhaps even as you vote, you might whisper to yourself Jesus’ teaching “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” You belong ultimately to the Kingdom of God. Live honorably in this moment and be assured that if the world is dishonorable, your destiny rests in the the nobility and honor of the Prince of Peace.
~See you Sunday
“It happened that a fire broke out backstage at a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was just a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke.”
– Sören Kierkegaard, Either/Or, vol. I, p. 30
You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared.
I John 2:18
Far be it for me, a Baptist who does not believe we Baptists are historically Evangelicals, to instruct Evangelicals in our country—and let’s put a finer point on this—White Evangelicals in our country who have embraced Donald Trump as a legitimate Presidential candidate–that they have embraced an antichrist, but you just may want to ponder that.
That verse from the epistle of John is a fascinating one. Personally, while I appreciate apocalyptic literature, I don’t try to apply it as a template for history. I’m not fixated on the “last days,” certainly not like the recently deceased Tim LaHaye who got rich off writing stories and pronouncing the end of the world. One might have at least expected an apology before his own hour arrived (an hour that arrives for each of us, so I’m not trying to be disrespectful of the deceased) which brings us actually to Donald Trump who has been disrespectful of the deceased; Khizr and Ghazala Kahn, parents of a soldier who gave up his life in service to the United States, have had to endure the cynical and disgusting smear of Mr. Trump. Oh, I’m quite aware that many in the Evangelical and conservative wing of the country retort with “what has Hillary sacrificed?” but they apparently need reminding that Ms. Clinton has not demanded that Muslims be kept out of the country, monitored and otherwise reduced to second class citizenship because of their religion HENCE (this is a word that pivots on some semblance of a logical mind) a Muslim father standing on the national stage and asking what Mr. Trump has sacrificed demolishes Mr. Trump’s arguments about Muslims in general.
What is it to be an antichrist? To answer that, you have to ask what it means to be Christ-like. Here’s a short list: be compassionate, empathetic, protect the weak and the sick, the orphan and widow, work for peace, honor justice, and otherwise see the Image of God in all persons regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion or sexuality. Does that sound like Mr. Trump? Of course not. But here’s the other red flag: an antichrist will march under the name of Christ while destroying the very principles Christ taught. Cue the story from the Danish theologian, Sören Kierkegaard.
Evangelicals, we are warning you that the theater is on fire, that your champion is an antichrist. This is the moment you stand up and denounce him as unfit for the high office of President of the United States. We’re not holding our breaths though. We expect you to call us clowns and laugh off the warning. That would be a mistake, not just for you, but for the country, the world and the Church.
We live, as Augustine wrote, in a culture that is in love with death. Endless war. Unceasing, really. And yet, there is no sign that the American people are tired of pouring their wealth into the production of more and more weapons. Endless violence. Unceasing, actually. Every day we have to read headlines (who reads articles in full now unless the acts of violence committed are so heinous and to such an outrageous degree that we’ll actually pause and ponder the magnitude of our gun-fixated culture?) and listen to news about people gunning one another down and children picking up guns and killing siblings and parents accidentally. And don’t forget suicides.
Last week I trekked to New York to go to the wake and funeral of the radical priest and peacemaker, Father Daniel Berrigan. I saw him in his shroud of white with red embroidered crosses, a small and nearly weightless man. He wore simple, black shoes. He owned little, if anything. Except this: his soul. And as Christ taught, a person could gain all the wealth in the world and lose their own soul. It is more than fair I would say to conclude that the heir apparent of the Republican Party is a soulless, wealthy man. Anyway, seeing Father Berrigan reminded me of seeing the sculpture of John Donne in his death shroud there in a corner of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Except I was not looking at stone but a corpse and not merely the corpse of a once great and saintly man but the corpse of the 1960s when people sang songs about peace and wrote that word on large banners. All of that is blowin’ in the wind.
Back to now. As you likely were, I was appalled by the auctioning of the murder gun of George Zimmerman who killed Treyvon Martin. Not only appalled by the wickedness like puss oozing from this man, but the complicity of those involved in actually conducting an auction. Shame, Shame, Shame!
Here’s the point I’m headed toward though. In the narrative of the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, we are inoculated against fear, wickedness and death. All of these elements are at play in that narrative. When we receive this pathogen, as it were, from the narrative of Christ’s life, we are inoculated from these pathogens in our present age. Let me put it yet another way. This month we dedicated a child who was adopted by his mothers, we baptized a special needs child dearly loved by his mother and father and we did all of that in a congregation and holy place that is so filled with hope and joy, that we are empowered to return to the world and heal it, repair it, and redeem it. I’m not sure why folks do not step into a sanctuary of peace. But some of us do and we invite you to join us.
In the world you have tribulation, Christ said. But take courage, I have overcome the world. Fearless. Joyful. ~See you Sunday
In 1848 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote a pamphlet entitled, “The Communist Manifesto” which began this way, “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter…”
Today, in the United States of America, the ghost of fascism is haunting the country. It shows up at rallies, froths with fear about the alien, the foreigner, the different. But unlike the 1848 revolutionary period of which Marx and Engels wrote, there is no holy alliance to exorcise this ghost. Indeed, and sadly, we find an unholy alliance of Evangelicals and ne’er-do-wells hawking a syrupy concoction of patriotism and poison.
I am not a politician. I am not a psychologist. But I am a clergyman and I join with others in denouncing the emaciated spirituality that parades at this moment in our country as Christianity. Resist this xenophobic fascist movement that spews its hatred against women, minorities, and anyone who appears different to it. Let your voice be heard. Christ practiced a radical table fellowship. He healed the sick. He denounced puppet rulers and megalomaniacal princes of this world. A specter is haunting America, it is the specter of ghosts we thought we had conquered in World War Two. Come together. For justice. For peace. For merciful and kind citizenship. ~ See you Sunday. ~PSTR