Jesus Said . . .
“Don’t be afraid, little flock, your mother/father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
When he spoke these words either Jesus had his head in the clouds, or he was telling his followers something very important, something that we need to know in this time of crisis, when the earth itself is weeping for us. The ice caps and glaciers are melting and the seas are rising and fires are burning and scientists are warning that the time is short. Either we will change the way we life, or change will be forced upon us.
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock.” But we are afraid. We have been told too often and for too long that “guns don’t kill people, people do.” It’s a simply-minded half-truth. Guns are frequently the means of choice, especially when the killers intend to inflict maximum pain in the shortest time possible. Nine people were killed in Dayton in 30 seconds, half a minute. Today we grieve for the people of Gilroy, California, El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, knowing that next week it is very likely that we will have a new cities and new communities to pray for. There have been 255 mass shootings in the United States already this year--in the first 8 months--and we have four more months to go.
Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock.” But we are afraid. Bullet proof backpacks are the newest item for parents to buy as they prepare to send their children back to school, where they will learn active shooter drills.
We don’t want to remember, but I cannot forget that Stokely Carmichael once observed that “violence is as American as apple pie.” As if to memorialize this quote, the governor of Tennessee recently honored the memory of Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan. White supremacist groups have been encouraged by our political climate, changing demographics, and economic stress.
Economist Paul Krugman says that the central story of US politics today is the rise of economic radicalism championed by the wealthy who want to reduce their taxes and shred the social safety net. Privatization is the name of their game. Think of this, the newly appointed acting head of the Bureau of Land Management is the poster child for privatization of federal land. He was a leader in the “Sagebrush Revolution.” The goal of that revolution was to privatize all the national parks and other federal land. The very man who led that effort is now the head of the Bureau of Land Management. He has responsibility for overseeing our national parks.
I recite these events because, as Wendell Berry has said, we need to be clear-eyed. The news is not so good. The Center for Disease Control tells us that life-expectancy is a snapshot of our nation’s mental, spiritual and physical health and well-being. Over the last few years there has been a decline in our average life expectancy. According to the CDC suicide and drug overdose are two of the leading causes contributing to this decline.
In this toxic environment of fear and intimidation, let us hear and heed the words of our leader. Jesus said: “Do not be afraid, little flock, your father/mother is pleased to give you the kingdom.” Either Jesus had his head in the clouds, or he knew something really important. Or, maybe it is because he had his head in the clouds he was able to see the world not only as it, but also as it might be for in the next breath, Jesus tells his followers, “Be dressed and ready for action.” These are not the words of someone who is willing to settle for the status quo, or accept the counsel of those who tell us: There is no alternative. Jesus’ words are a call to action.
Howard Thurman, a famous teacher and preacher and author wrote, Jesus and the Disinherited: “The basic fact is that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish teacher and thinker [Jesus of Nazareth] appears as a technique for survival for the oppressed.” Let us declare with the author of the gospel of John: “In him was life, and his life was a light that shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.”
Let us admit that the weight of the Christian movement is often on the side of the strong and the powerful. Establishment Christians have fallen in line with the politics and policies of racism and division. Let’s admit it. If you have not already done so, in the future you will hear establishment Christians talking about “public religion.” What they mean is that they want a Christian theocracy to replace our liberal democracy. The problem, as they see it, is that we have too much democracy. They contend that what we need is public religion, a puritanical code of conduct. Do not be fooled. Those who speak of “public religion” are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
When Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your mother/father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Take no thought of your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; not for your body and what you shall put on. Your life is more than meat and your body more than raiment.” he was casting a vision of a new society; a society that is inclusive and open.
We live in a retributive society that believes in an eye for an eye. As a nation we want to reserve the worst forms of punishment for people whom we believe have committed the worst forms of crime--- those whom we label terrorists. Historically and in the present too often we, white people, are inclined, consciously or otherwise, to equate whiteness with goodness, and terrorism with everyone else. I will give you an example of how this works.
Today in Louisiana and North Dakota and elsewhere people like Water Protectors, who organize to block pipelines like the Dakota Access Pipeline, are legally classified as “domestic terrorists.” Protesters, water protectors, are labeled terrorists subject to arrest, fines and in some cases jail. Meanwhile, according to the Brennen Center for Justice, only 10 percent of our states report any hate crime persecutions.
We need legal reforms, but even more we need more public discussion, not public religion. We need to break down religious, racial and gender barriers. The good news is, we are. Our nation is becoming more diverse, more inclusive, and more open.
When hatred and fear stalk the land, when the logic of the strong replaces moral judgment, when those who walk the corridors of power and occupy seats of privilege are eager to declare open season on any person or group or city that they perceive as weak or vulnerable--be it immigrant communities, cities like Baltimore, or people of color, or women, or children, we need to know two things.
First, we have to recognize that the most effective way that those who have power can hold on to power is to inject fear into the body politic. This was Machiavelli’s advice in his political manifesto, The Prince, a book that is often regarded as one of the first books on statecraft in the modern era. Machiavelli famously counseled the prince that it is better to be feared than loved.
Once this disease of fear has infected the body politic there is no simple way to eradicate it. There is no easy way to regain health. But there is a way. And this is the second thing that we must remember. There is a way. Jesus said: “Do not be afraid, little flock, your father/mother is pleased to give you the kingdom.” A kingdom founded not on fear, but on love. Love is a strategy for defeating fear.
Such love requires building relationships, confessing wrongs of the past and mapping out plans and pathways leading toward the restoration of justice--right relationships. Only in this way can we create a society in which people can live without shame or humiliation. Together we can build a society that is beyond thick walls of intimidation.
Simply put to love one another means that we value and respect each other enough to look for strategies that will remove deprivations and emphasize human capabilities and capacities. Sitting Bull, a great leader of the Sioux nation, said to his assassins shortly before he was killed, “Come, let us put our minds together and see how we can make the world a better place for our children.” Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, your mother/father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” Love is a kingdom and a kin-dom strategy.
I submit that love is the strategy chosen by members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who were recently attending a church-wide assembly in Milwaukee, Wis. In the spirit of Martin Luther, who posted 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, five hundred members of ELCA assembly marched into the ICE office in Milwaukee and posted 9.5 theses to the office door declaring the ELCA is now a sanctuary church. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has created a national agency called the Accompanying Migrant Minors and Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities ministry. When these church delegates marched into to the ICE office they declared: “This is what love looks like.” It looks like a ministry to protect, advocate for, and represent the most vulnerable members of our community.
Jesus said: “Your mother/father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” Love is the key to this kingdom. Love is the strategy used by a group of Roman Catholic peace activists known as the Kings Bay 7, who one year ago, in August 2018, broke into the US Navy Kings Bay Nuclear Submarine Base to protest war. They were arrested, as they knew they would be. Some have been in jail for a year waiting for their case to come to trial, which it recently did. What is particularly interesting about this case is that in their defense the Kings Bay 7 cited the same law that Hobby Lobby successfully cited in their challenged to the government’s contraception mandate. The Kings Bay 7 argued that they acted on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs. The judge who heard this case has yet to issue a verdict.
Love is a strategy for change and transformation, this is what we need to know. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe gained notoriety two years ago when Water Protectors led the fight to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Now they have opened up a new front line of struggle and hope. Today the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has the largest solar farm in North Dakota, demonstrating their commitment to renewable energy based on an ethic of respect for the earth. Other indigenous communities in New Mexico, Nevada and elsewhere are also investing in renewable energy.
Friends, now is the time to believe that it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Now is the time to proclaim release to the people held captive by fear. Now is the time to set at liberty all people oppressed by poverty and discrimination. Now is the time to proclaim this is the year of the Lord’s favor. To borrow a phrase from Habitat for Humanity, now is the time, “to put love in the mortar joints” of our communities.
When Jesus told his followers, “Do not be afraid, little flock, your father/mother has been pleased to give you the kingdom,” he may have had his head in the clouds, but he also had his eyes on prize, which was to create a community that would embody love and create strategies that would build on everyone’s capacities and capabilities, so that together we might see how we can make this world a better place for all children. So be it. Amen.
Rev. David Hansen, Ph.D.