You might remember. Last November, the people of Church of Peace named five priorities that are central to our church’s mission and identity. We voted on the five and named Twenty Twenty the Year of Caring and Service, but the four runners up matter too. In these weeks, we’re giving each of the four its own Sunday. Today’s theme is: Peacemaking in the Face of Hate.
What’s happening is that flyers produced by hate groups continue to appear in the Quad Cities. The flyers promote white supremacy and are explicitly anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, anti-Black, anti-immigrant. Last fall, a batch turned up on the windshields of cars parked at Home Depot. Flyers have been posted in public places and added to rolled-up newspapers. Recently there’ve been flyers suggesting a strategy for avoiding the coronavirus through something called racial distancing.
It’s clear what the hate groups want the flyers to do. They’re meant to create an atmosphere of hostility and terror. They’re meant to intimidate our neighbors of color. They’re meant to galvanize our neighbors who sympathize with white supremacists. These flyers expose the reality that hate is not the property of another time period or another city. If the first problem is that hate has literally come to our own front yards, the second problem is that when this happens, we don’t know what to do!
First of all, our community owes immense gratitude to the organization One Human Family and its supporting groups. One Human Family has taken the lead in answering hate with love. A few years ago, Church of Peace joined its campaign by distributing the yard signs that many of us have. They say in Spanish, and English, and Arabic: “No matter who you are or where you’re from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” Not only do these signs proclaim our values but they let us re-claim our own front yards. Certainly supporting One Human Family is one way we can take a stand against hate.
At the same time, this question of what to do continues to trouble our conscience. For many of us who think of ourselves as kindhearted church folks, we’ve spent a lifetime training for how NOT to respond to hate. And this is good. The church has taught us: Do not repay evil for evil. When hate knocks down your door, with guns a blazin’, it does not solve hate to shoot back. We have learned this well. We have heard our teachers say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say…”
All this could leave us wishing those flyer-designers would have the decency to keep their hate safely locked up in their own hearts or in their own basements. We say things like, why can’t people just be civil, as though that’s the problem, when really.
The problem is, we don’t know what to do with someone else’s hate.
The problem is, we might get tempted to settle for too little —to shake our heads, and tear up the flyers, and sigh the sigh of resignation, and hope the church will remind us that it’s nice to be nice, and I’m telling you. If this is all we can imagine, it’s no wonder there is trouble in our conscience. We could be missing the hope. We could be setting ourselves up to miss the revolution.
Only maybe we don’t have to…
Today our scripture comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans. He’s painting a picture of what it looks like to follow Christ, and let me warn you. We’ve gotten to the place where Paul presents a list of things to do. If we’re not careful, we could read through this list and get overwhelmed. So we’d say, Geez, just give me the gist! If we’re not careful, we could wind up with a summary that goes like this: Be a nice person. Even when it’s hard. Be nice anyway.
If you’re tuning into church because some part of you is hungry for the hope of the Gospel, the last thing you need is somebody telling you —it’s nice to be nice. Nobody needs that!
Instead. What if Paul knew the world was turning itself over…
What if all creation is groaning and yearning to come back to life, and this is the work of the Gospel, and this is the scripture that shows us something of what it looks like to conspire with the Holy Spirit in bringing about God what is longing for —because God is longing for revolution. You want to know what we can do? What if it’s right here…
Today we’ll be reading Romans, Chapter Twelve, verses nine through twenty-one. As I’m reading, I invite you to watch for those tender points where God is turning the world toward love.
We’ll read the scripture again, this time to ourselves. In our silent reading, I invite you to notice a single phrase that speaks to your spirit. Please try to identify a single instruction —just a few words— that lay a claim to your soul.
Now if we were sitting around at a retreat, I would hand you a bookmark like this. Instead, I invite you to make your own. You can use a strip of paper or card stock, or an index card. On one side I have printed “Words of Revolution:” The other side is for that phrase that got your attention. So mine says, Words of Revolution: Rejoice in Hope.
May your phrase become a spiritual practice that nourishes your soul and that helps us all join in the work of turning the world toward love.
Beloved in Christ, I don’t know if you have seen the world lately, but if it feels like everything is collapsing into crisis, that’s because it is.
Our nation’s legacy of slavery is flourishing through racism that’s not even ashamed of itself. We adults are relying on young people to put themselves at risk in order to call for an end to gun violence or to proclaim black lives mater. The pandemic has brought anxiety to our schools —What if we’re making the wrong choice… The pandemic has laid siege to detention facilities. It promises to unleash a wave of evictions. Poverty, prisons, climate change —these chronic conditions have reached their breaking points.
If you find yourself feeling the instability, if it seems like we’re living through a season of crisis upon crisis that’s because we are. The world is turning itself over.
The first thing to know is that God can work with this. What’s happening is the Holy Spirit is giving birth to a new possibility for peacemaking. Behold. Community leaders are seriously re-examining the role of police. A clarion call for justice is rising up, and this time, people are hearing it. We’re being found and faced with an outpouring of music, art, and poetry all asking the question: What if God has not given up on her dream for creation?
What if the LORD our God sees what is broken, and then comes into the world, and then he picks up the pieces in his two hands, and the Holy Spirit turns what is broken into something beautiful…
The first thing to know is the world is turning itself over and God’s power is part of this turning. The second thing is that our call has changed. I used to preach sermons calling for us to wage a revolution of forgiveness, or a revolution of compassion, and that was great. It meant that we could either go out and launch a revolution or we could sit this one out. This is not our choice anymore.
As sure as the hate flyers have shown up in our front yards, the revolution has too. It is already underway; there’s no chance to sit it out. Instead, our question becomes:
How can we help? How can we take hold of some piece to make sure this turning world turns toward love?
Could be, this is exactly the question Paul is answering in this passage from Romans. Paul wasn’t just making up a code of conduct to make Christians into nice people. Down deep in his bones, Paul knew that kindness could be the power that changes everything. Because that’s what happened to him.
Back when he was breathing threats and murder against the Christians, Jesus knocked him down on the road, and all of Saul’s world turned itself over. A man named Ananias was sent by the LORD to show up and answer violence with kindness. (It definitely took some persuading!) Ananias found Saul, and laid hands on him to restore his sight, and gave him dinner.
So now when Paul says: Bless those who persecute you. If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat, you know he learned this from what Jesus said. He also learned this from what Ananias did. After that, nothing was ever the same.
Right now the world needs people who are actively training in the work of kindness. Not because it’s nice to be nice, because like it or not, the world is turning itself over. Cruelty is losing its grip. And who’s going to be there ready to answer violence with peacemaking? When hate crumbles and leaves its stale silence, who is going to be there to speak up for love? And what if it’s us.
We’ve got the words of revolution on our lips, and beauty in our eyes, and the compassion of Jesus on our hands. And what if the world is turning itself over into God’s promise of peace?
And oh my friends. What if this is exactly what we have been training for…