On Tuesday we vote for a new president.
On Monday evening at St. Peters across the street I will join you and others in the Pelham Road corridor of churches to pray for our country on the eve of election. St. Peters initiated this service because it’s always a good idea to pray for God’s guidance in our national life, and, particularly, because this election cycle has been so divisive.
This sermon title is a question.
Do we gather around one table? Is everyone—really—welcome? Are we one people in Jesus Christ, or not? If you think, act, and vote like me you’re class A; if you don’t, you’re back of the bus? second class? persona non grata? Does Christ unite us or divide? Can all be seated and served here at this table, really, or are some relegated to the kids’ table, or to a crowded spot among the mops and utensils in the kitchen?
This sermon title is a question.
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It’s been nearly impossible for me to turn down the volume of election news. I can’t seem to get away from it; three times in the last ten days people have come up to me and said, “Pardon me for interrupting, but you look just like Jeb Bush.” I should run for president.
Like many of you, I could use some more humor and unifying moments.
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Despite our differences of opinion and the divisiveness in our nation, is their room for all Christians around this one table? Are we one in Christ, or not?
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I have found some sweet relief in baseball. The World Series has been the focus of many of my nights. For about 12 days, people in my house have been wildly devoted Cubs fans. I’ve only watched one baseball game in the last season. Last season I watched two games. But for the World Series, I’ve been glued to the TV. There has been relief in this brief obsession. One writer called the final game “insanely melodramatic,” an “extra-inning affair that pushed the teams into the embrace of exhaustion;” Game Seven was inelegant and studded with pitchers who, after a long season, were all pitched out.
I think the series has some lessons about national unity.
Maybe I was desperate to find lessons about our national life in a fun battle between two great baseball teams.
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The sermon title is a question: One table, one people?
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On Thursday I was at a meeting in which the dean of the University of South Carolina Law School spoke. In so many words he said we’d better put our divisions behind us. He cited national challenges that his students are working hard to explore and make sense of. These newly minted lawyers will have a role to play in figuring out our future. We need to work together.
He cited examples.
1.) Policing is harder than ever. Body cameras, releasing footage, interpreting footage requires profound finesse.
2.) There are issues of individual versus community rights that are always being sorted out. We need to bring our best to that, not our worst. Cynicism is probably not helpful.
3.) In 2015, last year, 3,700 children in South Carolina spent part of the year living in foster care. He’s doing his best as a law school dean to prepare good students to be child-law experts. We’ve got to work at this problem wholistically. We need all hands on deck.
We’ve heard and talked about some of these problems leading up to this election. He stressed that we need to continue the conversation and bring our best to it after the election. On Wednesday. On Thursday. And for the next four years—not matter who wins.
Are we so divided that we cannot work together?
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Another well-known practitioner of the law—the Apostle Paul—reminds us in Galatians that we are made right with God not by adhering to the law, but by faith in Jesus. “The only thing that counts,” Paul says (5:6), “is faith (made effective) through love.”
Are we so divided we cannot work together?
We are free, Paul says, but called to use our freedom for the good of the community. “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”
Are we do divided that we cannot work together?
This sermon title really shouldn’t be a question at all. Of course we don’t all think, act, believe, or vote the same. We express our commitment to God and neighbor differently. Each of us has been given gifts to share and it is incumbent upon us to share these gifts and harness these passions in ways that honor God best. Despite differences of opinion, we express allegiance to the centrality of Jesus Christ in our lives. And it is, for the Christian, this allegiance that transcends our divisions. We are freed up to be one community.
. . . (F)or in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
We are one. But sometimes it’s difficult maintaining that unity. I want to say that’s okay. It’s natural. “Time out” is something that teachers and parents sometimes use; kids go to their room to be alone for a few minutes. It’s a way of saying, we can love each other, but right now let’s have some time apart. Let’s count to ten, then try again.
Mark Haddon’s groundbreaking book as been made into a play. Did you see it last week at the Peace Center? In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, our teenaged protagonist Christopher is brilliant, he relates well to animals, but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. In a powerful scene there is much screaming and fear, Christopher finally settles into a fetal position on the floor. His mother, as is her custom, keeps her distance but reaches out her hand. It is an invitation for her son to reach out his hand and touch hers. He tolerates this touch. It’s not much, but for him it’s a lot. Mom says, “Can I just hold your hand?” “No,” he says. But for a moment they touched. And their connection as mother and son will flourish, but it will lack the intimacy shared by many mothers and their sons. That’s just the way it is with this special boy named Christopher.
Though we are one in Christ, sometimes we need space. Sometimes all we can afford is a remote touch. Or maybe we can lock eyes for a split second. We can be united as disciples in Jesus Christ without bear hugs.
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One place where we Christians can be close is this table. In his book Theopolitical Imagination, William Cavanaugh writes about Holy Communion. “In the Eucharist people are gathered into a community in which the calculus of individual and group is overcome by a mutual participation.” (p. 4).
Around this table, the parts are one. One body. One in Christ. One LORD, one hope, one baptism. One table, one people.
My one-word response to this grace is: Alleluia.
I was born and raised in the sight of water in Hampton, Virginia. I was baptized and nurtured in the Presbyterian church. There was never a time when weekly worship attendance, the giving of ...