Be the Church
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

November 13, 2016


Romans 12:1-2, 9-21
Mark 3:13-19

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

I want to quote one of my favorite small, green theologians: Yoda. (The other is Kermit the Frog.)

Fear leads to the dark side.
Fear leads to anger.
Anger leads to hate.
Hate leads to suffering.

We are a people who are constantly living in fear. Do you remember the Skittles color chart for states of emergency and alertness in our nation. The one with all the colors. We have been at level orange for so long that they scrapped the colors.

Before the election, asking people who they were voting for would generate some answers of why their candidate was the one they wanted, quickly followed by a laundry list of things they feared about the other side.

We have lived in a heightened state of fear for so long that we have forgotten we are afraid. We pretend that things are normal, and we try to go through our days like things are normal, but we are so easily overwhelmed, so easily drawn into games of naming and blaming and publically shaming.

Yoda was right. This constant state of fear leads to anger and hatred.

In recent years, the number of unarmed black men who have been killed by police officers has spiked. In recent weeks, the number of police officers killed, not by vengeful black men, but by disenfranchised white men has spiked as well.

Just before and following the election, we have seen the number of events of hatred and violence rise. Racially based violence, pamphleteering and demonstrations by the KKK, taunting of Latino and Latina students with “build the wall!” as locally as DeWitt, swastikas painted on cars and rocks and walls and people’s doors, women with hijabs attacked or threatened, including recently in Ann Arbor. Flyers left on people’s cars telling them that they are next in Trump’s America. Reports of women who are sexually harassed or assaulted, with the offender justifying their actions with the statements made on video years ago by the president elect.

Children of color ask their parents if they are going to be safe? If they are going to be deported? Girls ask their mothers if this means it is okay for boys to touch them in ways the girls do not want? Bullying based on ethnicity, sexuality, gender is being seen more frequently.

In a time when we live in a constant state of fear, and a denial that we do so, the rhetoric of the election season has emboldened some people to act out of racist, sexist, discriminatory, and homophobic impulses. That these attacks and actions have not been denounced and rebuked by the president elect is further seen as permission. And as always, it is those the margins, the most vulnerable, who are forced to play the pressure relief valve for the anger of a fearful people.

Disenfranchised whites in the rust belt are afraid that the economy has left them behind.

African Americans fear the racism that never really went away in America, and has shown itself again in ugly ways these past months.

Other people of color are afraid of the violence that is verbally directed against illegal immigrants, but which finds an easy target in whomever does not look white.

People who do not conform to gender stereotypes or look straight fear the constant threat of violence, especially among the transgender community where people are less likely to call for help because the helpers may be as bad as the hurters.

Women, especially those with the terrible experience of sexual harassment or assault, are afraid because language by our leaders has real consequences among our people, and the trauma of violence is not something one forgets easily.

And middle class whites are afraid because despite trying to deny the fear, the levels of violence are rising, and they are taking the blame whether they have been actively involved in it or simply benefiting from not having to face the violence leveled at the marginalized.

We are all afraid. And we all find someone else, some other people, onto whom we place the blame. So how in God’s name can we be the church in a time such as this. Let’s look at the early church.

Simon and his brother Andrew are fishermen, as are James and John. By fishermen, I do not mean the men on the outdoors network with the shiny bass boats and the two hundred dollar sunglasses. These people were out before dawn, back after dark. When they weren’t on their boats, they were mending their nets and their sails, fixing their oars and their boats. Sounds like farmers during harvest season to me. Out early, back late, and if the field is too wet, work on the tractor and the rest of the equipment. Hard work.

Matthew was a tax collector. He worked at tablets with money. Basically a middle management, regional manager kind of job. A far cry from the fishermen.

We discussed the outcast status of tax collectors a few weeks ago, but to recap, they were Jews, Israelites, who collected money from fellow Israelites on behalf of the Roman Empire. A traitor, many would call him. A collaborator with pagans and the occupying army.

Then we have Simon the Cananean, or Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot. We know Judas’s role in the betrayal of Jesus. But I want us to look at the names given to these two. A Zealot was a member of a faction that wanted to incite Israel to rise up in rebellion against Rome. They wanted Israel for Israelites.

This is not a new phenomenon. It is a sort of ultra-nationalism that was practiced by some in Rome itself. Rome for Romans, was their motto. Get rid of all the foreigners. Israel’s first century version of this was the Zealots.

And among the Zealots, there were those who took it to extremes. The sicarii, who took their name from the word for a dagger. These were people who would publically assassinate collaborators with the empire. They saw themselves as purifying the nation, sending a message to both their own people to not help Rome and to Rome to get out.

There is evidence that suggests Judas’s second name, Iscariot, may well have indicated either he himself was one of these dagger men, or that his father was.

So among the twelve we have hard working fishermen and office types; collaborators with the Roman Empire and those who wanted nothing more than to kick Rome out of Israel, by extreme violence if necessary.

They run the gamut of backgrounds. But that does not mean they each get a different Gospel. The demands upon each of them is the same. Just as they are upon us.

A brief summary of what we heard from Paul’s letter to Rome would be this: if we want to understand people who are angry, we must look and listen for the fear behind it. If we want to understand our own anger, we must sit with our fear and come to understand it.

The church, if we are going to be the church, must be a sanctuary, a safe place, for people of all backgrounds, all ethnicities, all sexualities.

The church, if we are going to be the church, must be a prophetic voice, denouncing violence, especially against those who are most vulnerable, those who are already at the margins, those who are easy targets for anger and hate.

The church, if we are going to be the church, must find healthy and healing ways to look past the anger and deal with the fear, so that those who are afraid can live.

Whether we voted for our president elect, or against him, or did not vote, we, like the first twelve, must follow Jesus if we are to live.

There is much talk about coming together and unifying our country. But elections do not unify countries. I am not sure they ever have.

What we need to do is to come together and listen to one another, in our pain and our fear and our anger, and discover that we are bound up together.

We need to see in those with whom we are angry, and those who are angry with us, that there is a fearful child of God in there who is trying to survive a crazy time in our country and our world.

For we are all part of one body. And if one part hurts, the whole body hurts. And if any of us are not free, none of us are truly free.

We are all in this together. That is the only way it works.

Thanks be to God. Amen.