I wept and then I woke up.
Ruling Elder, Joann Cross, February 26, 2017, Exodus 24:12-18, Matthew 5:38-42
The last two months of 2016 were a time for me of incredible sadness. I was sad that so much promise had evaporated. I felt sad that we missed an opportunity to reinvent the world as a kinder, better place.
As we moved into 2017 my sadness increased. I saw my international students expressing fear for their safety and their ability to continue their studies. I felt sad for the farmers who would no longer be able to get their crops harvested and for the families who would not be able to afford healthy options to nourish their children. I felt sadness that health care options were being denied to women who needed affordable options for themselves. I felt sad for the millions who faced a choice to either be treated for significant health issues or feed their families.
I felt sad for a society in which people whose only crime was being poor are treated like criminals, I felt sad for a society that believed that people on welfare are mostly able to work, but are too lazy or too crafty to do so. I felt sad for a government that claims to put power back in the hands of local governments taking that power away from those same local governments. I felt sorry for a society that suppresses scientific data because it does not support the world view of those in positions of power. I felt sad that in a year when numbers of locations in the United States have experienced record breaking warmth, we still focus on pseudo-science which denies that reality.
As the days went by I sank deeper into a pit of hopelessness. After all there was nothing I could do.
And then something Pastor Tom said last Sunday struck a chord in me and I remembered the statement attributed to Martin Niemoller (although probably more familiar as a declaration by Dietrich Bonhofer):
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
I know instantly that this was directed at me in my pain, and I woke up.
In Matthew’s Gospel which we read last we week and which I chose to read again this week,
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
This was not referring to not resisting; this was referring to resisting softly. A soft persistent resistance can be more devastating to a bully than fighting and screaming. Martin Luther King knew this; Rosa Parks practiced this; but I did not see the truth of passive resistance until today.
I picked up my Bible and began searching for a passage I knew I had read, but had forgotten: Matthew 25: 34-40
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
In a world gone crazy with the entitlement of evil, it is my job to be the voice of the voiceless. It is my job to shelter those who evil ones would harm and to do so consistently and quietly. I know it won’t be easy. Bullies find it very easy to minimize those with whom they disagree. I believe this is not because they are more powerful, but because they fear the power that lives within every person. It takes a strong person to accept the fact that their world view is wrong; it takes a strong person to admit that others may have the same rights they do; that others may have better ideas than they do; that the world in which they feel powerful and comfortable may no longer exist. It takes a strong person to adapt and change and grow. And it is my job, as indeed it is everyone’s job, to accept this and facilitate that growth.
So today, I am calling us all to action. It is no longer sufficient to help the poor and oppressed by giving money. It helps; it is important; it is necessary, but it is not enough. We need, all of us need, to speak out against evil whatever guise it comes in. If I see a Muslim being treated unfairly I need to speak up. If I see a person with a same sex partner being denied service by a company I need to speak up and stop patronizing that place. If I see a business mistreating its workers or which has unsafe working conditions or which is treating the land with indifference, I need to speak up; I need to stop buying their products, I need to stop doing business with them. Failure to act because it might inconvenience me is immoral and unchristian.
If I see a poor person who cannot find the resources to keep their family or to obtain needed health care, I need to find a way to lobby for those resources to be provided. Money alone from me will not solve the root cause, it only addresses the symptom. I need to work to make our nation understand why the poor exist. They are not lazy; they are not defrauding the public by taking resources they don’t need. The poor are people like you and me that have been dealt a different hand in life than we have. It is my job to lobby to make our leaders understand what can be done to ease their trauma and give them back their dignity and worth.
If I fail to do this, if we as a nation fail to do this, we cannot prosper. It is not the wealthy that make a nation great. It is the ordinary people and a nation that views wealth as wisdom deserves to be disappointed.
Dante wrote “The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in times of moral crisis.” We are in the midst of such a crisis and I pray that none of my acquaintances face this future. Even as we are secure in our salvation we must act out of gratitude for the gifts we have been given to actively work for heaven on earth. My friends we are far from that goal and moving farther.
What should Christians do when they see their brothers and sisters in need? What will YOU do?