First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
February 9, 2020
Wisdom Readings: Lao Tzu, Matthew 5:13-20
Message: “Evolutionary Law”
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Message – “Evolutionary Law”
Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth? Woe to those who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!
O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people! O that I had in the desert a traveler’s lodging-place, that I might leave my people and go away from them! For they are all adulterers, a band of traitors. They bend their tongues like bows; they have grown strong in the land for falsehood, and not for truth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, says the Lord.
‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.
These are the words that came to me this past week as I pondered the state of our nation. I have been caught in a tension between ire and despair, outrage and depression, anger and weeping. While these feelings are not foreign to me, it had been sometime since I had felt them with such profundity and depth. In the context of our scripture passage this morning I have felt more like throwing salt than being salt… I have felt more like curling up under the basket with what little light I could muster, than shining it from atop the hill.
Watching and listening to the words pouring out from who are supposed to be our leaders in Washington, gathered for truth yet opting for dishonesty, coming together for prayer and opting to uphold pettiness and the trivialization of the Way of Jesus and the loving of those who disagree with us. There has been a tension between the fiery Hebrew prophets of old and the weeping prophet of Jeremiah, the passionate words of Jesus to one who stood on the hillside and wept.
I was fortunate to be raised by parents who taught me to love the faith, to love the church even when it is wrong. I was fortunate to have had a high school government teacher who, unbeknownst to me at the time, planted a seed of a love of politics and governance deep within me that would not take root until my mid-twenties. It was a rather idealist rooting, a hopeful sprouting, one that would grow into an expectation of what country should look like and leadership should feel like. A blooming with a deep commitment to the separation of church and state, however not a silencing of the church, but rather a commitment to keep partisan politics out of the pulpit and the keep the pulpit out of the congressional chambers. I studied the bright and shining examples of presidential and representative leaders who set forth a beacon on the hill, none without their personal problems and idiosyncrasies, yet still voices of reason and exemplars of integrity.
It has been a journey of seeing those I agree with and those I disagree with manage to navigate the offices they hold in a dignified and honorable way. Oh, not that some weren’t better than others for that task, but none who ever took us off the rails. The same goes for those religious leaders I have studied who offered counsel and prayer in the highest levels of our nation, some I have agreed with more than others, and while I know of organizations such as the IRD and another known as “The Family,” and others who are downright frightening and treasonous… in my humble opinion, most of the mainline religious leaders I have read who have been involved in spiritual guidance at that level have done so in a dignified and honorable way.
I believe, even as a child I have been prone to wear rose-colored glasses, and am an insufferable idealist, my glass is not half full it is overflowing, I err on the side of seeing light and good in everyone. I believe we are evolving toward a beloved community, though at times I believe we are moving slower than at other times, or perhaps sometimes it seems we are regressing rather than progressing. It is who I am.
It can feel as if we are regressing; when there are still children in cages on the border!
It can feel as if we are regressing; when people are dying because they cannot afford healthcare.
It can feel as if we are regressing; when women are demonized and dismissed in the church and the government.
It can feel as if we are regressing; when you can be fired because of who you are or because you spoke the truth.
It can feel as if we are regressing; when that truth is replaced with lies and deceit.
It can feel as if we are regressing; when our leaders resort to playground bully tactics and name calling.
It can feel as if we are regressing; when the leaders of our country and churches gather together and are dismissive of the high calling of the Way of Jesus and other religious traditions.
And yet, through all of this and more… I have never been willing to relinquish my rose-colored glasses, I have never been willing to give up being a prisoner of hope, I have never been willing to peer deep to see the light within all I encounter. I have never been willing to give up the ideal our faith and our fore-parents set before us so long ago. However, I confess, last Tuesday night I came close. I did not watch the address Tuesday evening, I knew I should, but got home late and told myself I was too tired. However, when I saw the news of a presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom my heart sank, a sick feeling in my stomach, a hole in my soul… I have been in a bit of a funk ever since… even to today.
Because you see, in that moment… the administration of our country went from tolerating, ignoring, verbally condoning the worst of who we have been and are, to aligning us with racism, bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, belligerence, and hatred; not only aligning us with these things… but honoring, lifting up, setting on a pedestal the kind of vitriol and injustice put forth by the worst of who we are… set it on a lampstand on the hill. And this without a whimper of protest in the moment. This is who the world sees us as. I believe one day it be seen as one of the saddest moments in our history.
As a progressive I believe in the evolution of our consciousness and our culture and society. I believe we are evolving toward a more beloved community and I believe we will arrive there one day. Perhaps, not in my lifetime, but I still cling to that hope! The hope that we, together, might leave a better and more just world for our children and our children’s children.
In the passage from Matthew this morning, Jesus spoke of such evolution I believe. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” In the midst of all that is going on around us I still believe in this evolution. Author/Theologian Frederick Buechner likens this evolution to “The Law of Love.” He lays out Jesus’ evolutionary thinking, that mind you was in the Hebrew texts as well, but the idea everything we believe, everything we glean from our scriptures hangs on Loving God. Loving Neighbor. Loving Ourselves. And if whatever law, faith practice, belief, or behavior we encounter runs contrary to Loving God, Loving Neighbor, Loving Ourselves… then it is not to be embraced… even, Buechner says, if it is in our scriptures… even, Buechner says if it is one of Jesus’ own teachings.1
It is an evolutionary way of faith, of being, that moves us from the tribal understanding of reward and punishment, survival of the fittest, I’ll get mine and not worry about you, mentality and existence to a communal understanding of what it means to be in the world. An evolutionary faith that is concerned with the well-being, the common good of all persons… of all things… including creatures, including the earth, and all of creation.
And this evolutionary thinking then tells me I am called to love even those whose beliefs, actions, policies, and practices I find abhorrent. It is a tall bill to fill. And for long time I have struggled, and continue to struggle, with how to do just that.
I have shared this notion and book with you before, however I think in light of where we are today, what lies before us this year, and the struggle many of us have with this notion… it bears repeating… Shortly after the last presidential election one of my seminary professors recommended a book to me by O. Wesley Allen Jr. entitled, Preaching in the Era of Trump. In chapter five, entitled “Love Trumps Hate, But Only if We Love Trump,” Allen writes we are called to love President Trump, and I concur with him. I also agree with his method and how we carry out and practice that love. Allen sets forth in this book the best way to love President Trump is to resist the unjust actions, behaviors, and policies he and his administration puts forth.2 Letters, phone calls, emails, trips to Washington… however we can. I will resist with every fiber of my being any behaviors, actions, language, and policies that are not about building upon the beloved community and the common good of all… ALL persons.
And so, here I stand. With my rose-colored glasses still a little fogged over, but not gone… because to be silent in the face of injustice and bigotry is unacceptable, and I refuse to be. I will resist injustice, oppression, and evil in whatever forms they present themselves, even to the highest office of our land, whoever may occupy that office, … even to the deepest sanctuaries of the church… whoever occupies that space… with the very last breath I have.
I pray you will join me in whatever ways you can. Join together in compassion, justice making, community building, resistance, and love… this is a crucial time in our history. Let us Be Salt and Light on the Hill for All to see.
May it be so.
May it be Now!
1 Buechner, Frederick (1988), Whistling in the Dark, A Doubter’s Dictionary. HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, CA.
2 Allen, O. Wesley Jr. (2017), Preaching in the Era of Trump, Chalice Press, St. Louis, Missouri.