Sometimes the whole story of our faith, our culture, and this great political divide between us all is made manifest in small moments that speak to you…small moments that tell big stories. That happened to me as I stood at the door after worship on Sunday.
One of the very first couples of shake my hand was an older couple, man and woman, who had been visiting for some weeks now. He shook my hand, but he was frustrated and roiling with anger.
“That sermon today…you are obviously liberal and taking this church in a liberal direction…those things you said about immigration…I can’t believe it….”
Those aren’t exact quotes, understand. But that’s the gist of what he said.
Sunday’s sermon was, in fact, about immigration and faith. Our scripture was the first part of the Christmas story, where Joseph and Mary are compelled to a long, harsh journey to Bethlehem, because of a decree from the Roman government. I had reminded us not to skip over that little line about the “census,” because it tells us a lot.
It tells us that Jesus, Joseph and Mary were subject to the Powers That Be. And when you couple this with the fact that Jesus is crucified— a decidedly *Roman* punishment, reserved for political crimes and activity— you see that the story arc of Jesus’ life has a looming truth behind it. Jesus’ earthly life was shaped –at its beginning, end, and all throughout its middle– by the power and coercion of EMPIRE.
I then went on to remind us that in our modern world, WE, the United States, are the closet thing to Rome in our world…whether our leader is a Black Man, or a White Rich Guy.
My friend, Rev. Owen Ross and I did a Facebook LIVE a few weeks ago, in which we talked about these issues, and how our friends at Christ’s Foundry UMC see these verses. Owen said that the people of Christ’s Foundry had also been studying these very same verses and had asked, “What kind of government makes an eight-month pregnant woman take that journey?”
How cruel do you have to be to do that?
Oh, wait….I said in Sunday’s sermon….WE do that….
I reminded Northaven friends how the people of Christ’s Foundry call Obama “Deporter in Chief.” Why? Because he’s deported more people than any other president in history, that’s why.
Then, I reminded us that Donald Trump has called for Muslim bans and registration. (And, btw, when asked about this in the says since Sunday, said “You all know my plans.”)
I said all this in the sermon, of course, by way of suggesting that we have met the Empire…and the Empire is us.
So, it was that these are the kinds of things that this older white gentleman heard that upset him on Sunday. He said more, of course. Eventually, his wife shuttled him away quickly, pulling him by the hand.
I told him I was sorry he had become upset, and that I hoped he found a place to worship that suited him.
He didn’t say he wouldn’t be back.
But I know how these things usually work.
And so it was that his words were rattling around in my head. It’s hard to not take such things personally, of course. But you grow a bit of a thick skin over time…
But then, just two family’s later in the line, an entirely different reaction from another family who have recently been visiting.
It was a Latino(a) couple and their children. I’d talked to them previously, so I knew their story. They are immigrants from Mexico. And the look in *their* eyes?
Sincere gratitude. In fact, they were on a verge of tears. They thanked me profusely for what I had said. They each hugged me. They didn’t say much more, really. They didn’t *have* to. I knew enough to know they had lived this story. I knew enough to know that they’ve been afraid from the political rhetoric they’ve been hearing lately. I knew enough to know that, that morning in the sermon, they’d heard a message of HOPE for themselves, and maybe even for this country they now love.
I thought a lot about those two couples. I thought about the other grateful hugs I’ve gotten after sermons at Northaven….or after events like “2nd Community.” Grateful hugs, eyes on the verge of tears, from Muslim men and women…from members of the LGBTQ community, and their families…from Women of all races…and now, from this family.
It’s the SAME reaction….time after time…
And it’s not because I am rhetorically brilliant, or anything of the sort. It’s because our church consistently manages to live out what we *say* we believe….that we find ourselves in a position where many are grateful for our witness.
In our Facebook LIVE chat, Owen cited a line that he learned from our theology professor, Dr. Charles Wood. He said that we are called to be “Peddlers of Hope.”
I love that. Because there are a lot of things being “peddled” in the culture right now. And HOPE is one of things in shortest supply.
I also hark back to the old preacher’s adage that we are called “To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
I remembered that when I encountered those two couples Sunday.
It’s easier said than done, of course. Because all of us in the church business, including me, are “people pleasers.” And you can’t afflict the comfortable without their being risks. At the very least, you’ll get angry words at the door. And the very most….well, you can recall what they did to Jesus, I suppose.
But I know that this is the job. This is the calling. This is the REASON FOR THE SEASON.
To be, at Christmastime, “Peddlers of Hope.”
The Christmas story has room for ALL of us. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are poor migrants. Jesus is born in a backwood stable. This reminds us that God comes, powerfully, to the poor and the forgotten of our world. God is PRESENT…incarnationally….WITH them…IN them….THROUGH them…
Some of us, especially us White People, and double-especially we White Males, are more like the Romans than Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Good News of the Gospel is the Jesus came from Romans too. Jesus healed the family of Roman soldiers. Jesus taught his hometown crowd in Nazareth how God wanted them all to reach out to those who were different. There is a place for us ALL at God’s table, and in God’s story.
So, friends, sometimes, the big stories in our culture today, come to us in small ways. Like through the words of two couples, visiting your church. I marveled at how there was so much wrapped up in their reactions, and how it was a small, little microcosm on the very big story of our world.
The story of our faith, the Christmas story, is about how God loves each and every person in our world…immigrant, foreigner, stranger…traveller…and God calls us to see each person as graced and kissed with God’s presence. God dwells with, in, and through us all. “The word become flesh.”
There are no doubt costs, but God calls us to be “peddlers of hope” this Christmas.
Won’t you join the story of our faith too?