November 6, 2016

All Saints Day

DANIEL 7:1-3,15-18; PSALM 149; EPHESIANS 1:11-23; LUKE 6:20-31


There are so many things I would like to say to do you today, and there simply is not enough time.

I want to say something about how nervous I feel, wondering how we will treat each other after Tuesday’s elections.   I want to say something about the Episcopal clergy and other faith leaders who gathered this week in Standing Rock, North Dakota to hold open a space for non-violence and to stand with those indigenous persons who are standing for their water source.  I want to say things about Baptism and about the Golden Rule.  I want to say something about why the Bible speaks of the poor as the elect, and why it warns the comfortable of upcoming affliction.

You can see my predicament.  There simply is not enough time.  It is All Saints Day, so we have saints to remember and souls to baptize.

For this reason I have settled on the subject of the enemy and why to love them.  I come to it as I read Jay Solomon’s recent book, The Iran Wars, and am struck by how fickle nation state alliances and antipathies can be.  One’s enemy in politics can be as variable as a game of “hide-the-object under the coconuts.”  For example, during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the US supported Iraq and Saddam Hussein.  Within 15 years the US invaded Iraq to topple the very dictator we had previously supported.   It is impressive to me how quickly we redefine the enemy; and in our personal lives to.

I am planning a family event for next weekend, and a few weeks ago I was desperate for help.  So, I left a message for a beloved relative asking for assistance.  I received no call back.  I left a second message, asking only for a return call.  That too went unreturned.  In my anxiety and resentment I started to take this beloved person out of my beloved persons column and move them into the infuriating and unforgivable persons column.  Then I found out that this beloved had been sick at the time I needed assistance.  For all I know they have not even caught up on voicemail.  So, with this new information and understanding, I deescalated the psychic warfare I was doing on myself and put my beloved back in the beloved column.

Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  Why?   Because so often who or what we set ourselves against is not the enemy at all.  Rather it is a false face, a decoy, a devilish distraction keeping us from pursuing who we are and what path God is laying for us to take.

A colleague said to me recently about the current political climate in the US, “Honestly, I have no more boxes to check.  I have no more ways to be insulted or discredited in this country and its political conversation.  I am a woman.  I am a Muslim.  I am an immigrant.”  Her words ring in my memory as an affirmation of how easy it is to target some person - or persons - outside ourselves, when our true enemies are always things like fear, greed, apathy, war, and famine.

When I was twenty-one, I came out of a night club and was suddenly surrounded by a no less than six men who threatened to assault me using the most vulgar of language and checking off all the boxes of my identity as their justification.  To this day I have no idea how I walked away untouched.  But because of this experience, I know in my bones what it is to be despised.  I suspect that most everyone here also has firsthand experience with having been despised.  This why we can never, never live out our jealousies and fears and resentments and needs for security in the shallow end of the spiritual waters.

It is only by praying for the targets of our resentment and hate that we can deface the decoys and false fronts of that which we really need to face.   Only by withdrawing from the world to examine our motivations for these separations can we identify what we are truly fighting against or attempting to flee.

Baptism is the place where the church community acknowledges this incredible challenge.  We sing songs and say prayers that uplift us, while we also admit that it is hard to step out of the shallow end of life.   It takes courage to swim into the deep.  Yet in baptism we affirm our conviction that we are born with what it takes to navigate the deep.  That is why the church is willing to baptize infants who will never remember what we did to them or for them this day.

So, whatever it is that you are considering this week, be it the ballot box or perhaps your own consideration of standing at Standing Rock, keep this in mind.  Maybe you are just trying to be a better parent, sibling or spouse.  Do these things remembering that we cannot afford to be fickle and shallow.  We have to move to the deep end of the spiritual pool.  As clergy friend from Detroit said to me last week.  “America has to decide what it is going to do; if it is going to stay in its fear.”  Frankly, that is the baptismal and spiritual question for us all and at all times.   “Am I going to stay in my fear or move off into the deep end of the spiritual waters in pursuit of the true self that leads to quality of life which will in turn allow for dignity in death?”