Malachi 4:1-2a; Luke 21:5-19
On Monday when I read these texts, I figured I had the sermon figured out. It was going to be about how beautiful buildings dedicated to God, even commissioned by God, still come down. I was going to talk about the Temple and how it was God’s place, and the shock at it coming down, and how the followers of God, both Jews and Christians, eventually discovered that God had moved from buildings to people, and that our hope lies in God’s covenant with all of God’s people. And I was going to completely ignore the second half of this reading, and also most of the Old Testament reading.
And then the election on Tuesday night happened. And then, more to the point, Wednesday and Thursday and Friday happened, and I was inundated with stories about the aftermath of the election. About the hatred and violence that was now unleashed, and the second half of our Gospel reading came rushing back. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. ... You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.” And I knew that I couldn’t preach a regular sermon in these times.
Now if you’re not on social media - if you’re not heavily plugged into facebook or twitter or instagram - you won’t know what I’m talking about. Because our major news channels aren’t reporting certain events that are going on in the US right now. But I want to share these with you, because what’s going on right now south of the border, and is in fact spreading throughout the world, can be described in the same words as what we hear in our Gospel today - nation against nation, people against people, families at war with one another. And I’m sorry that some of the words you are about to hear are words that should never be uttered by a Christian, let alone from the pulpit, but if we are to be followers of Christ we must not hesitate to stare evil in the face, and stare it down.
These post-election events began on Tuesday evening. A friend of mine’s husband, who had been drinking as the election results came in, became increasingly excited about the results, and when she tried to get him to stop yelling about it, he started shouting, “White is right!” She took her kids and left him, and slept in a motel that night. On Wednesday, amidst reports of women being targeted by men with the words, “Your time is up, bitch!” and high school students showing up at school to see graffiti in washrooms that said, “Go home, niggers, this is Trump land!”, a friend of mine posted a note shared from a friend of his, who happens to be a priest, and gay. And that priest received a note on his car windshield that said, “So, father homo== How does it feel to have Trump as your president? At least he’s got a set of balls. They’ll put marriage back where God wants it and take yours away. America’s gonna take care of your faggity ass.”
On Thursday, a high school teacher in Los Angeles told his students that if they didn’t behave, he was going to have their parents deported, and a poster was circulated on a Texas university campus calling for “teachers of diversity” to be tarred and feathered. Tarring and feathering goes back to the days of the old South, when whites would round up a black man, immerse him in boiling tar, roll him in white chicken feathers, and then hang him from a tree. I have friends who “teach diversity” at Texas universities. By Friday, the Ku Klux Klan had announced that they were going to have a Trump Victory Parade in North Carolina on December 3rd.
The level of hatred that has been unleashed this week is evil. And we can’t shake our heads and say, oh, it’s just the States. The leader of the extreme right wing party in France, who has proclaimed her support for immigration policies similar to Trump’s, celebrated that Trump’s win had finally “freed” America, and in Sweden, 600 Neo-Nazis staged a Trump rally, calling his election the beginning of a world revolution. And here in Canada, in Ottawa, a friend of mine was dropping his child off at school and was stunned to be greeted by another parent’s enthusiasm that Trump won. When he asked this parent why she was excited, she said, “Oh, well, you know, because he wants to keep the Muslims out.” This was heard in our nation’s capital.
Now my point in telling you all of this is not to paint one side as good and the other as bad, but to expose the reality that we are, once again, facing sickening levels of hatred and evil. This is not the first time in the history of the world that this has happened; many of you can tell your own stories of being confronted by someone who purely and truly hated you, and wished you dead. This hatred between members of the human family is not new, but I suspect we did not expect to see it again so soon and so close.
Because of the events of the past week, the question for us today is: what are we called to do in the face of all of this? What are we called to do in the face of people who hate us? Who want us dead? I know that the Gospel of Matthew says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” but I admit that I have spent the last three days being afraid. I am the Ku Klux Klan’s worst race-traitor - good German blood tainted by Japanese blood, with Jewish-Christian kids. My cousins are half-Jamaican. I teach about the importance and religious value of diversity. Before I became a US citizen, I was, indeed, an immigrant. But I am not afraid only for myself, I am afraid for my friends, and I am afraid for all vulnerable people living right now in the United States. I am afraid that my fellow Americans are going to kill other of my fellow Americans before this is all over. I am afraid that there is no way to stem the rising tide of hate and that we are all going to be swallowed by it. We have seen hatred of this kind rise before, not so very long ago, and it almost destroyed the world.
But our Gospel reading says that Jesus told his followers, “When you hear of wars and insurrection, do not be terrified.” And then Jesus says, “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” In the face of hate, Jesus gives us words and a wisdom. And what is that? Well, at the very end of the Gospel of Luke, after Jesus himself has been overcome by hatred and evil and crucified, he is raised again, and he meets with his disciples, and his words to them are, “Peace be with you.” Peace be with you. And then he tells them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you ... that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in [the Messiah’s] name to all nations.” The words and wisdom that Jesus gives are Peace be with you, and your sins are forgiven.
Jesus calls us to look squarely in the eyes of violence and hatred and evil and to speak words of peace, and words of forgiveness, and words of love. Because in the final battle, love wins. Peace wins. And there is healing for the people. I don’t know if you caught this in our Malachi reading, the verse, “for you, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” This might sound familiar to you if you remember the third verse of our Christmas hymn, Hark the Herald Angels Sing. “Hail! the heav'n-born Prince of peace! Hail! the Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings.” And in fact, our reading from Malachi carries on with this most profound promise, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah ... he will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents.” So as hard as it is to look at the hatred in the world, as hard as it is to love these people, to persist in loving them no matter how awful the things they do, to persist in loving them when you know they would just as soon see you burn in hell and cheer as it happens, that is what we do, because that is what brings healing to the world. This, and only this, is what will defeat hate. We love with the love of Christ and we share the peace that Christ died to bring because we know God’s power to love is over all.
I’ve been listening a lot to Leonard Cohen the last few days, and there is a verse in his song Hallelujah that pushed me into tears on Thursday, because of its truth. “I see your flag on the marble arch, but love is not a victory march. It’s a cold, and it’s a broken hallelujah. Hallelujah.” You see, when I wrote this sermon yesterday, I believed it. And when I say it to you this morning, I believe it. But I remember how I felt reading these stories on Thursday, and I know how I will feel when I read about more of them happening in the days to come. And I know that in those moments, I will not believe that love can win, or that peace will bring healing, just as you may not believe me right now. I struggle to put away my fear that if I love, I will be overcome, and to let go of my desire to hate in return. I have cried knowing that I have to forgive the people who said these horrible things and that I just can’t. Maybe you, too, have experienced that feeling of knowing you are supposed to forgive, and trying, but just not being able to. There have been times, and there will be times again, when I will not be able to grandly love my enemy or fervently proclaim forgiveness to those who hate. But as Cohen reminds us, love is not a victory march. The love of Christ does not always sweep us up triumphantly, conquering all hate and standing victorious in one fell swoop, Hallelujah, praise the Lord! Loving in the face of hate is hard, and brutal, and, because we are only human, it is often broken. The love we have for our enemies is often fickle. It is inconsistent, it is not pure and constant like the love we have for our family. It doesn’t flame brightly - it fizzles and sputters. Glennon Doyle Melton, a wonderful Christian writers, says that “Love is not warm and fuzzy or sweet and sticky. Real love is as tough as nails. It’s having your heart ripped out, putting it back together, and the next day offering it back to the same world that just tore it up.” Love breaks us. And yet it is what Christ calls us to do. And even if we don’t believe that love wins, but we struggle to love anyway, the struggle itself is an act of love, a struggle that is blessed by God. A cold and broken love that is also a hallelujah to God.
Today, and in the days to come, this week, and next week, minute by minute, we are called to love. Christ calls us to love. Not just generally, with warm and fuzzy feelings for the world at large, but specifically. Christ calls us to love those who have hurt us, to speak words of peace to those who have it out for us. Christ calls us to love those who are broken, those who break us, and to love with a broken love, because that’s better than no love at all.
I want to end with one more Leonard Cohen quote, because it is in this truth that the power of God shines through everything we do. “So ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. That’s how the light gets in.” May the light of God shine in your life this week, through the cracks in your imperfect love for those who hate you, a hallelujah to God, who brings peace to the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.