Inspired: Stories Of Resistance

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Diana Butler Bass wrote an opinion piece for CNN this week called The God of Love Had a Really Bad Week. That’s certainly describes what I felt, and I have a feeling most of you reacted in the same way to the incessant racist rhetoric that has come across our phones, our airwaves, our TV’s, our computers this week.  It’s outrageous that this brand of white nationalism is alive and well in our country and it even lives in the White House. I daresay that it is also shocking that none of us are shocked by this. It’s hard to imagine anything more antithetical to the reign of God than this thinly disguised hatred for God’s brown and black skinned children or Muslim children.

We are called to be a community of sacred resistance.  We are called to resist the death dealing ways of the empire that are not of God.  We do that by rehearsing our peculiar history as people of faith, a history that over and over again tells us that our God is a God of self-giving and unconditional love.

We will engage in active lamenting when we see hatred and violence in the world.  We will not allow these things to be normalized. 

We will not be immobilized by the constant barrage of negativity and division.  Like Isaiah we will look upon the destruction caused by such hatred and be reminded of God’s promise to create a new heaven and a new earth.  

Scripture Text: Isaiah 65:17-25

 

Read the full sermon text:

When Berklie was younger she visited Dallas often with her parents.  Jack and I always love it when one or more of our grandchildren visit.  They each have their own personalities. Berklie is a total sweetheart…and she can be a bit of a rascal.  She has a particular spunk which I just love and I’ve done my best to nurture her rascally side. When she was 3-years-old, Jack and I took her to the Arboretum.  At the time they had a little old-fashioned village of child sized homes that she explored and she had a wonderful time.  

When she tired of that, we began to walk through the gardens and came upon a little stream that ran through a small patio area.  There was a sign by the water that said “No climbing on the rocks or wading in the water…” something like that.  I glanced at it and thought to myself, but its 95 degrees out here; wouldn’t it feel great to put our feet in the water?  I’m sure the sign was really only a suggestion anyway.

I led Berklie over to the large flat rocks at the water’s edge.  Jack pointed to the sign. I said, “She can’t read the sign!” Jack said, “She might fall.”  I helped her slip her shoes off. Jack said, “Don’t let her fall.” We sat on the rocks and dipped our toes in the cool water and she giggled and I giggled and Jack took a picture.

Here’s the thing.  Our behavior can’t always be driven by the signs we see right in front of us.  Sometimes rules are optional.  Sometimes, it is more important to ignore the signs we see and behave according to an alternative reality, a reality that is as compelling as a cool stream on a hot day.  

Biblically, it was the prophets who provided the alternative reality.  They would read the signs around them, critique the reality those signs defined, and then, provide an alternative vision…usually they did this with word pictures or poetry that was captivating.

I don’t think anyone would argue with the idea that the signs all around us indicate a world that is polarized in just about every way.  We are deeply divided as a Methodist church and in our politics.  We are divided according to race and economics. It seems that the public narrative is founded on division and the practice of “othering,” which is racist and antithetical to the gospel that proclaims that in Christ, God has broken down the walls that divide us. 

I’ve been re-reading a book by Ginger Cirelli-Gaines, Pastor of Foundry Church in Washington DC. It’s called Sacred Resistance:  A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent.  She leads a church that is deeply rooted in the Methodist tradition of personal piety combined with social justice.  Foundry Church is known for its resistance to political policies that are contradictory to the gospel of reconciliation, inclusion and love.  

Her thesis in this book is that in this time of crisis (politically, environmentally, relationally, spiritually), our calling as Christians is to resist all that is not of God. In fact, resistance is part of our identity.  It’s who we are. We cultivate resistance when we claim our true citizenship in the Kin-dom of God.  So, resistance is a deeply counter-cultural act. And it is grounded in the wisdom and way of Christ.  Christian communities then, are called to give a witness of dissent she calls sacred resistanceA community that practices sacred resistance has four attributes:   

-a long and available memory – the understanding that as people of faith, we are a particular people who have a peculiar history that says over and over again that abundant life is found in self-giving, unconditional love and that God is always working towards wholeness for God’s creation.

-an expressed sense of pain – we name the pain and we have a certain humility in knowing our human limitations in addressing the pain.

-an active practice of hope – this is the ministry of imagination.  The empire, which could be the Babylonian empire, the Roman empire or the Trumpian empire…the empire wants to control the narrative and keep us stuck.  But because we are people of faith, we have a prophetic imagination that sees a different future and we move toward that future.   

-an effective mode of discourse – this is the practice of speaking and living and making decisions and acting out the gospel in concrete ways that energize others to resist death-dealing ways.   

When our ancient ancestors returned to Jerusalem after fifty years in exile they were faced with a city destroyed and a temple in ruins.  It was enough to immobilize them.  Not only were the stones of the temple scattered, the community was fractured by infighting and economic ruin.  The signs of the time led to the despair of the people.  

Fortunately, there were a few prophetic rascals who refused to abide by the signs of destruction right in front of them.  The post exilic prophet Isaiah chose to ignore the signs. He brought a word of hope to those standing at the gates of Jerusalem around 538 BCE, looking in at the destruction.  Through Isaiah, God said:

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But, be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; 

for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”

“No more shall the sound of weeping be heard”

“No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime”

“They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  

They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; 

In other words, justice will accompany the peace that reigns, and peace will be a cosmic reality that extends even into the animal kingdom where “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together.”  Justice, peace, wholeness: the metaphor and poetry of Isaiah are compelling. Brueggemann says that what people in power always discover is that “you cannot finally silence the poets.” 

Bree Newsome is one such poet/artist/musician.  In 2015 she climbed the flagpole in front of the Capitol building in South Carolina and lowered the confederate battle flag. That flag was originally raised in 1961 as a statement against the Civil Rights Movement.  The confederate flag, the “stars and bars” as they call it, was and still is a primary sign of the times.  But Bree Newsome chose to practice sacred resistance.

She was compelled to act after the Charleston Massacre of nine people, all slaughtered during a church bible study in the name of white supremacy.  As she watched the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, she noticed that both the American flag and the South Carolina state flag were flown at half-mast, while the Confederate flag, remained untouched.  She remembered the stars and bars bumper sticker on Dylan Roof’s car and all over his website. And she refused to accept the premise that white supremacy is supreme, untouchable and invincible—she scaled the 30-foot flagpole in front of the statehouse and removed the “stars and bars.”  

As she did, she declared these words: “You come against me with hatred, oppression and violence.  I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.” As they arrested her, she repeated the words of Psalm 27:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; 

of whom shall I be afraid?

Bree’s intention was to create a new image, a new symbol. The iconic picture of her on the pole, flag in hand, has become a touchstone of empowerment for disenfranchised people around the world.  As a witness of resistance against all that is not of God, she imagined a reality where racism ceases to exist. She acted out of her gospel understanding and her witness gained the attention of the world in ways that have already energized others to resist the evil of racism.

Our prophetic role as a church is to judge present reality, but also to embrace God’s vision of hope.  

Diana Butler Bass wrote an opinion piece for CNN this week called The God of Love Had a Really Bad Week. That’s certainly describes what I felt, and I have a feeling most of you reacted in the same way to the incessant racist rhetoric that has come across our phones, our airwaves, our TV’s, our computers this week.  It’s outrageous that this brand of white nationalism is alive and well in our country and it even lives in the White House. I daresay that it is also shocking that none of us are shocked by this. It’s hard to imagine anything more antithetical to the reign of God than this thinly disguised hatred for God’s brown and black skinned children or Muslim children.

We are called to be a community of sacred resistance.  We are called to resist the death dealing ways of the empire that are not of God.  We do that by rehearsing our peculiar history as people of faith, a history that over and over again tells us that our God is a God of self-giving and unconditional love.

We will engage in active lamenting when we see hatred and violence in the world.  We will not allow these things to be normalized. 

We will not be immobilized by the constant barrage of negativity and division.  Like Isaiah we will look upon the destruction caused by such hatred and be reminded of God’s promise to create a new heaven and a new earth.  

Our faithful imagination will allow us to glimpse this new reality every time we reach across all that divides us, every time we act in accordance with the gospel of love.  Perhaps we empower an Eagle scholar from Vickery Meadow so they begin to see a new reality for themselves. Perhaps we make our voices heard in the public square in creative ways.  We are called to live our lives in ways that energize others to resist all that is not of God.  

We will remember the words of Walter Brueggemann: “the most subversive element of any resistance movement is hope.”

Amen.