Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Naming the Other

For two years now, we’ve been treated to Pastor Jon’s excellent preaching. He has delivered inspiring and powerful sermons touching on both law and gospel, those two most basic aspects of Lutheran biblical interpretation. His sermons on gospel tell us of a God who loves unconditionally, who redeems, uplifts, inspires and blesses. His sermons on law tell us of a God who exhorts us to love our enemies, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and stand up for the oppressed. In short, to reach out in love and service to the Other.

We hear these messages and we nod our heads. We are comforted and challenged. We are called and inspired.

Twice in the past two years, Pr. Jon has gone a step further. He has named the Other. A year ago, he named the Other as the African American community, which is suffering under intense and painful institutionalized discrimination. More recently, he named the Other as Muslims, whose civil rights are being violated by our government.

Naming the Other changes things. As Pr. Jon named the Other, and named the injustice, we reacted at a much deeper level. Some of us said to ourselves, “Yes! THIS is the Christian message. THIS is what it means to follow Jesus!” We left affirmed and inspired. Others of us said to ourselves, “This is politics and it doesn’t belong in the pulpit.” We left disappointed and angry.

People of Calvary, this could be a serious problem. Or it could be an amazing opportunity.

It is a serious problem if we refuse to engage in dialog with one another about these things. It is a serious problem if we keep to ourselves our disagreements with one another, if we dig in to our own ideas and opinions convinced that we are right and others are wrong. It is a serious problem if we have conversations behind closed doors rather than open dialog within our loving and embracing Calvary family.

It is an amazing opportunity if we can come together and wrestle with these very real issues. I think that we can at least agree that our communities and our nation are experiencing an unprecedented level of divisiveness, anxiety and anger. We have been worshipping and sharing in community with one another for years, and even decades. We have practiced Christian hospitality with one another, and we have loved unconditionally. What better environment in which to come together and grapple with difficult issues that directly impact our lives and our call as Christians?

I will tell you now that whichever direction we choose, it is not going to be comfortable. We face either being frustrated with one another in secret, or being honest with one another in what might be painful ways. If we do choose the way of dialog, we will need—absolutely NEED—to set aside our insistence that we are right (this will be especially difficult for me!) We will need to be prayerful, loving, forgiving, and open-minded.

It is probably obvious which option I favor. We cannot simply use Calvary as some sort of ivory tower in which to take refuge until the current turmoil blows over. I do not believe that is what it means to follow Jesus.  I believe to the very core of my being that if we remain silent in the face of injustice, we condone that injustice. If we fail to take action to stand up for the oppressed, we are complicit with the oppressor. So I, for one, cannot remain silent. It is my deepest hope that you will join me in prayerful and loving conversation in which we are unafraid to name the Other.

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