Raleigh Mennonite Church
Nov 13, 2016
Isaiah 61 and Luke 21
On Wednesday Wick and I went on his class field trip. I took his hand, and the hand of his friend, and we walked half a mile to the high school down the road to watch a play.
As we walked a man was parking his car on the side of the road. When he noticed this gaggle of four- and five-year olds, brown and black and white, he stopped. And then he wept, leaning against his car.
A friend told me she spent Wednesday morning holding her fifth grade students who wondered if their undocumented parents would be deported under the new administration.
I can’t sleep on Tuesday night because I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to tell my daughter in the morning, what I’m going to tell her about her immigrant friends, about bullies, about fear. I’m trying to guess how old she’ll be when someone shows her a video of her President laughing about his sexual assault of women. I’m trying not to think about the moment of reckoning, when it becomes clear what this means for her body, when she realizes that a lot of people chose this over her.
My friend Felipe is sitting at his kitchen table, waiting for his girls to wake up. He’s trying to figure out what he’s going to say them, how he’s going to explain this world. I read a story of brown skin children, children like Felipe’s children, greeted at school by a chant: “Build the wall. Build the wall.”
The first email I send on Wednesday morning is to Mohamed, the imam of the Islamic Center here in Raleigh. A few months ago he told me that Islamophobia is always a struggle for their community. He told me that most people think incidents of violence towards Muslims spike after terrorist attacks. It’s not true, he told me. Most acts of hatred towards Muslims happen during elections. That’s when the violence peaks. On the news I see a picture of a woman whose hijab was ripped from her head at the grocery store. I hear of Muslim children hearing slurs from white adults, being told that “their time is up.” On Wednesday I didn’t want Mohamed to think he was alone.
Our Gospel lesson today is about a time when the world is coming undone, when everything is falling to pieces. And in the midst of it, Jesus says, “This will give you an opportunity to testify.”
These words ring out from the page this week, words from the Gospel of Luke. “This will give you an opportunity to testify.”
I read these words over and over again. Wars and insurrections. Famines, plagues, being dragged into court. “Nation will rise against nation; kingdom against kingdom.” These will be the circumstances that occur, the situation that happens and you will testify. To testify – from the same root that we get the word martyr.
A martyr is someone who testifies with her life. Mennonites know how to testify, how far this testimony will have to go, where it can lead. And now is the time when we get to testify to God’s love.
I want to testify today. I want to tell you that God loves you, that God loves this world. I want to remind you of the quote from The Color Purple that Jeff sent us this week: “Listen, God loves everything you love—and a mess of stuff you don’t.”
We get to testify to this love. That’s the next step, that’s what we do now. We get to fall in love with all that stuff that we don’t love yet. We get to figure out how to love people who are different than us, to give our lives up for them. We get to wave a sign that says, “Over here! This is where love is! Love is right here!”
And today more than ever we need this. We need to hear, we need to see that someone loves us; we need to hear, we need to see that we are God’s beloved. People in our country need to know that you’re going to show up for them, that you are going to show up for one another, for people who are afraid.
The opportunity to testify, the one we hear about in Luke, now, after this election, we know who needs those words. We’ve heard people in our own congregation tell us how this election has traumatized them, how this election has made them feel that their lives don’t matter. We’re going to hear that more and more. Life is going to be harder for the disabled, and for people of color, and for Muslims, for the LGBTQ community. Life feels fragile for women, for victims of abuse, for immigrants, and the undocumented. The truth is that for many people this election was an earthquake, a famine, a nation rising against a nation, a nation rising against them.
And if we’re wondering what this testimony will look like, we’ve been given that today, too. It’s a prophecy found in Isaiah 65. “I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.” Isaiah talks about a time when houses will be built and lived in, rather than destroyed. Isaiah speaks of vineyards that grow to maturity, rather than being uprooted before they can bear fruit. Isaiah speaks of prey and predator, lying side by side.
Friends, we must be the world that Isaiah describes. You must be homes for one another, your life the place where someone else will dwell secure. You must be the vineyard for me, and I must be the vineyard for you. We must make out of our lives the world of God’s promise. We have to stop waiting for it and start testifying, making our bodies doors marked with the words “you are loved.”
On some years, today’s prophecy from Isaiah appears in the lectionary as the Old Testament lesson for Easter. It’s the prophecy we read to bring us into the morning of resurrection, to the mouth of the empty tomb, after torture and death, when all are scattered–the morning when women show up to the grave, believing that terror and hatred have won. It is the word that greets us at the empty tomb where we come to discover that nothing overcomes love, that love wins and now love will win over and over again, and nothing can stop it.
Isaiah’s prophecy was for a people who experienced horrific persecution and political upheaval. It’s a prophecy for times of terror, times when you feel like the world is falling apart. It’s a prophecy for those of us who thought we understood the world, thought we knew the terrain of this country, for those trying to find steady ground, trying to find our way through the disorientation of this week.
I don’t know what the future holds for us or for a church in the new world that is dawning. But I do know we will have to be braver than we have been, that we will have to be ready to testify with our lives.
That means we’re going to have to be ready to love a whole lot of people. And if we have been unsure how to love, if we’ve been unsure about our Muslim neighbor, our transgender neighbor, our rural neighbor, our undocumented neighbor, our formerly incarcerated neighbor – now is the time to become sure, to become a sure place of love for them.
I want us to do that together. I know this can be a place where we figure out what that means, where we can figure out the work we need to do within ourselves in order to do the work that is before us, whatever that may be. I know that might sound hard. It may sound scary, and it will be. But I promise you this – you’ll never have to do it alone.
If Luke’s Gospel marks the beginning of this week, Isaiah stands watch here at the end of it. And Isaiah tells us that from now on you and I must become a home for one another, the vineyard, the sign saying “Love is here,” the open mouth of an empty tomb. You must become the place where God’s love dwells. There is no more time. We cannot wait.