Sunday, November 13, 2016

Dear Beloved Truro Friends,

It’s been some time since we’ve seen one another, and I’m missing you all.  This summer was such a joy.  I miss our voices rising together in prayer and in song, but I hope you are finding time to tend to your spirit during these fall months.  The air is getting colder!

Chad and I felt compelled to write to each of you today in light of this week’s election.  For a pastor to speak blatantly about politics is a tender and perhaps dangerous thing, but I’m taking this chance because of the extraordinary circumstance we find ourselves in as a nation today.  As a minister of the Gospel, I feel compelled to share with you God’s good news in these trying times.  The following is what I would say from the pulpit if we were together today for worship, which I truly wish we were.

I know that, for many of us, this election cycle pummeled our faith in the politics of this land, and perhaps also in many of our neighbors.  No matter which way you voted, half our country voted the other way.  Perhaps that feels as astonishing and upsetting to you as it does to me.  The rhetoric and behavior of candidates, the vitriol of the talking heads, and the relentlessness of the news cycle helped stoke and deepen long-simmering divides.  Perhaps, like me, you’re feeling the weight of the rift like a chasm in your own chest, making it hard to know how to move forward with a sense of hope for the future.

I’m sure you all know that the Bible is full of stories outlining how the people of God made it through difficult times, and I think we can go to these stories for inspiration and strength.  From Genesis to Revelation, the scriptures offer countless examples of our ancestors’ resiliency under pressure and in the face of fear.  One such story comes from the book of Jeremiah, Chapter 32, verses 1 – 15.  It happens to be one of my favorite passages in all of scripture.

It’s the year 587 BCE, and Jeremiah is forty years into his prophetic ministry; by all accounts he should be inching toward the twilight of retirement.  He’s been offering the same bleak message in various ways that whole time.  For four decades he’s been forecasting that the holy city, Jerusalem, will be destroyed because the people of God have turned away from God, and have instead built altars to idols of their own making.  By the time we reach Chapter 32, the enemy Babylonian army is at the gate, besieging the city.  Everyone knows that Jeremiah’s broken-record prophecy was right – Jerusalem is about to fall.  Fear and confusion reign.  There’s no promise of a better tomorrow ahead.

Our first lesson from this scripture is that, in this tender and terrifying moment, Jeremiah doesn’t waste his time with “I told you so” self-righteousness.  Think of all the thousands of people he had encountered in 40 years’ time who had ignored his message.  It makes sense that he would want to call up those nay-sayers to gloat, or at least draft a rancorous Facebook post about how they should have listened to his prognostications many years before now.  But Jeremiah knows that does no good – that the best way is not backward in bitterness but forward in faith.

And so he does something no one could possibly expect.  Prompted by the voice of God, Jeremiah buys a plot of land in Jerusalem.  The scripture goes into great detail about how he learns of the property’s availability from his cousin, Hanamel, has the proper authorities draw up the contract, weighs out 17 sheckles of silver on the scale, signs the deeds under the eyes of witnesses, and buries the deeds in a strong earthenware jar deep in the earth, so they will stand the test of time.  It is the ultimate impulse buy.  After all, in just a few days’ time, the city will be overrun with the armies of Babylon, and all of Jerusalem’s current land ownership will cease.  Why purchase a plot now?

Of course, this act becomes Jeremiah’s most profound prophesy of all:  that one day the land he’s just bought will again be his, once Jerusalem is restored to God’s people.  He is imagining a time, many years ahead, when things will be better than they are now.  Babylon is knocking on the gate, an inevitable and likely treacherous siege will happen, and there is no way to avoid it.  But Jeremiah does not despair.  Instead he uses his resources to make a public enactment of his faith in both God and a better future.  Jeremiah’s new prophesy, as true as his first one, is that God’s faithfulness will extend to God’s people even while they are in exile, and that Jerusalem will one day be rebuilt.

If I was preaching this aloud to you, I might exegete the text more fully, but suffice it to say that Jeremiah’s field is an image I like to keep in my mind when the world looks ominous.  And whether your candidate won or lost last Tuesday, the world does look ominous right now.  We have tangible reasons to fear.  In the past few days we have seen swastikas on schools and assaults on women wearing hijab.  We have seen middle school children echoing their parents’ racist whispers, chanting that their classmates should “go back to Africa.”  We have seen hate crimes emboldened and suicide prevention hotlines spike in use.  We have seen peaceful protests devolve into rioting.  We have every right to be scared.  But if we are to be God’s faithful people in this time, with Babylon at the gate, we should learn a few lessons from Jeremiah, and act accordingly.

First, we must use what we have to make public actions of faithfulness and hope.  Do you hope for a future free of homophobia?  Volunteer at a local shelter that supports LGBTQIA homeless youth.  Donate to a free health clinic, and I mean donate enough that it hurts a little bit.  Bake cookies and take them with a smile to a local Islamic center.  Make a sacrifice of your time, energy, money, or power – or all of these things – to stand in the gap between society’s fear and the new day of reconciliation that God promises us lies ahead.  Testify to a future not yet seen.  And take steps to enact that future to the greatest extent that you can.  That’s what it means to help bring about God’s Good News in the world.

Second, Jeremiah stayed local, and we can, too.  When politics beyond our control threaten to rock the foundations of society, we will perhaps feel our greatest impact when we act locally.  What are the needs we can meet in our own hometown, among our neighbors?  Is there a local Boys and Girls club in need of tutors?  How about a school that needs painting?  Can you rake some leaves for your neighbor, especially if the opposition’s sign is still in their yard?  Think about tangible, local opportunities to show kindness, hospitality, and empathy.  Jeremiah planted the earthenware jar in the ground of his own hurting city.  He didn’t take it with him into exile.

And, finally, we must resist oppression in all its forms in whatever ways we can.  If Babylon is at the gate then find ways to glimmer resistance.  Jeremiah was deliberate to take every step necessary to make his land purchase legal and binding at a time when he could have just ignored those protocols.  His actions were calculated and intentional.  The evils of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, and Islamophobia can only be weakened by similarly thoughtful and deliberate actions over time.  We must speak up each and every time someone makes a racist joke in our presence.  We can stand as allies by writing op-ed articles, and writing to our elected officials, to demand that marriage equality always remains the law of the United States.  These are long-term commitments, not one-off activities.  We can show God’s steadfast love to others by being steadfast ourselves.

I find myself at the end of this little sermonette aware that, despite my best efforts, more words are not likely the answer.  The best way to work toward the end of fear is to stand together as a community, so that none of us feels alone, and so we can be strengthened for the work ahead.  Chad and I pray for you each and every week, by name.  We would be glad for you to call us any time of the year should you feel like talking.  And we will be hosting a small Open House at our place the Friday after Thanksgiving, November 25th, from 2pm – 5pm.  If you are in town, please come.  There’s plenty of parking (presuming no snow).  Bring your family members and friends; all are welcome.  No need to bring anything else but yourselves.  And we will hang out, talk, and be reminded of the love we share between us as the beloved people of God.

Peace, love, and continual hope,
Anastasia (& Chad)
Co-pastors, First Congregational Parish of Truro, United Church of Christ

Pastoral Response to 2016 Election