Sunday, November 13, 2016

Pentecost 26C

Jeremiah 29:10–14

 

A FUTURE WITH HOPE

 

This morning I was supposed to preach a stewardship sermon as part of our A Home for All campaign. Then Donald Trump won the election, shocking the nation and the world. Clinton supporters were devastated; but even President-Elect Trump and many of his supporters were surprised by the results.

 

On Thursday Lloyd Meyer, a member of St. Andrew who has been teaching in China, shared with me an email message from his brother Doug’s rabbi at Temple Micah in Washington, D.C. Rabbi Zemel’s message was entitled: “After the Election: Jewish Values.” He began: “Dear Friends, Last night, I slept the sleep of the disturbed with a pit in my stomach. I woke up in shock and to a new reality. We all now feel the pain of a divided country and we wonder how “a house divided against itself” can stand. Half our nation celebrates. Half of us mourn. For half of us there is real pain, despair, fear, and foreboding about what the outcome of this election means for the country we share.” Rabbi Zemel added: “We read in our prayerbook that `Standing on the parted shores of history we still believe . . . that there is a . . . promised land.’ The only way to get to that `better place’ is by `marching together.’ Today and tomorrow are days to help each other. Hug a friend. Phone your family. Tell someone that you love them. Sit and hold the hand of the person who is overwhelmed.” I know that some of the very things Rabbi Zemel encourages us to do have been going on among the people of St. Andrew.

 

President-Elect Trump campaigned on a promise of change. Certainly there will be significant changes under a Trump administration. But some things have not changed. With apologies to David Letterman, I have compiled a top ten list of things that have not changed since Tuesday’s election.

 

Number 10: The Cubs are still the 2016 World Series winners.

 

Number 9: My new book Coming Home to Earth is no more likely to become a best seller.

 

Number 8: St. Andrew still owes nearly $2.1 million on our mortgage.

 

Number 7: Oregon is one of the most beautiful states in the Union.

 

Number 6: The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to peaceful assembly.

 

Number 5: Climate change remains a pressing issue.

 

Number 4: We have much work to do on race relations in our country.

 

Number 3: Every person is created in the image of God.

 

Number 2: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

 

Number 1: God remains the God of the universe.

 

Even for those most devastated by the election, it may be of some consolation that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, not God of the universe.

 

Earlier this fall during the Sunday morning forum on “Truth-Telling in Political Campaigns,” I mentioned a couple of times that people of faith need to consider how we will respond if Donald Trump is elected President. The majority of the country, including many Trump supporters, were assuming Hillary Clinton would win. We anticipated she would not dramatically change many policies of the Obama administration. But Donald Trump was promising significant change. How would we respond if a policy or program he proposed went against our core convictions? That is no longer a hypothetical question.

 

I began serving as Pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Franklin Grove, Illinois, near the end of President Reagan’s final term. President Reagan’s home town of Dixon, Illinois, was ten miles down the road. People in Dixon had fond memories of “Dutch” serving as a lifeguard at the city pool. Art and Alice Schafer, the patriarch and matriarch of our congregation, had a Ronald Reagan wall in their home. It featured a picture of them with Ronald and Nancy when he was serving as governor of California.

 

The Iran Contra scandal was still fresh in people’s minds when I arrived in Franklin Grove. In one adult forum I gave a strong critique of our government’s role in this scandal. Alice was troubled by this scandal, and she supported me addressing it. What she would not have supported was any personal verbal attack on President Reagan.

 

Personal verbal attacks on our leaders have become a staple of our political culture. Such attacks seldom contribute in a constructive way to addressing the real issues we face.

 

My sense is that people of faith are most effective when we are true to our vision and our core values in speaking and acting in the public sphere. In Jeremiah 29:11 the Lord assures the people of God in exile: “For surely I know the plans that I have for you . . . plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” “Welfare” is the translation of the Hebrew word shalom. The more common translation of shalom is “peace.” God’s intention for the exiles is to give them a future with hope. Shalom—their well-being—defines that hope. Shalom is God’s vision of and commitment to the well-being of Earth and all of its inhabitants. Created in the image of God, we are invited to share in the fulfillment of this vision and commitment. Shalom means “peace,” but not simply as an absence of war and violent conflict. Shalom refers to well-being of the whole person— mind, body, heart, and soul. It is well-being in all our relationships: with God, with other humans, and with Earth and all its creatures.[1]

 

The people of Israel gathered often in the Temple in Jerusalem to pray for the shalom of Israel and Jerusalem. But exiled in Babylon, they lamented the destruction of Jerusalem, asking the question: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” Jeremiah’s prophecy made clear that they could be in Babylon for a long time. There was no guarantee that any current exiles would ever return home. In Jeremiah 29:7 the Lord urged them: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” They were to sing the Lord’s song of shalom now, while exiled in a foreign land, and not wait for the future God had promised to give them.

 

In Rabbi Zemel’s message to his congregation he stressed that “now more than ever we value and appreciate what we love at Temple Micah, our truest values of Torah that celebrate diversity; respect difference; support community; welcome the stranger; support the poor and the weak; work for justice for the oppressed; and recognize the image of God in people of every race, religion, and ethnic background.”

 

Our vision for ministry is “the people of St. Andrew living out our core care values”— God care, Earth care, community care, neighbor care, and self-care. That was our vision before the presidential election. That remains our vision after the election. No matter who won this election, our call to be true to our vision and core values was not going to change.

 

In Hillary Clinton’s gracious concession speech what she addressed to her young campaign workers was inspiring: “You will have successes and setbacks, too. This loss hurts but never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.” We too should never stop believing that striving to live out our core values is worth it. When one of those core values is clearly challenged, we need to speak and act in the public sphere without fear.

 

I anticipate, for example, that President-Elect Trump will seek to withdraw our nation from the Paris Climate Agreement that just went into force on November 4. On the basis of our Earth care core value we have a responsibility to challenge that withdrawal. We may also need to resist any unjust treatment of our refugee family the Alajrabs and other refugee families. We need to resist on the basis of our core values without resorting to personal attacks.

 

As I mentioned at the beginning, this was supposed to be a stewardship sermon. Debt reduction is not as exciting a campaign as the campaign nine years ago raising funds to build the new facility we now enjoy. But perhaps something more is going on in this campaign than it at first appears. Providing a solid financial foundation now increases the likelihood that the people of St. Andrew will be living out our core care values well into the future. Generously giving to the A Home for All campaign can be viewed an expression of confidence in the future God intends for St. Andrew.

 

So much of this presidential campaign focused on fear, especially fear of the future. In the aftermath fear of the future remains on many people’s hearts and minds. There are legitimate concerns and uncertainties about where we are heading as a nation. But God wants us to live by faith, not fear.

 

My 18 year old daughter Mary does not often post on Facebook, and I do not normally go on Facebook. But when I was almost done writing this sermon, my wife Donna showed me an entry Mary posted Wednesday night in response to the presidential election, the first she has ever voted in. Perhaps some of you have already seen it. Her post made me grateful for this church community that has nurtured her faith since she was a seven year old girl. Let me read the last part of her post for you: “You don’t know what the future may hold, but you can start living in the now and try to make a difference. Make a difference by spreading love and peace, not anger and hate. Make a difference by saying Hi to someone you usually wouldn’t. After all, we ALL have something in common and that is we are all human, we breath the same air, we see the same sun rise and the same sun go down.” She concludes with the hashtag: #passthepeace.

 

Be assured this presidential election did not change what we all have in common. Be assured this presidential election will not change God’s plan to give us a future with hope.

In Jesus’ name, pass the peace. AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Above paragraph drawn from Brocker, Coming Home to Earth, 66-67.