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the sermon for

the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

20 August 2017

Matthew 15:10-28
Not by hating the hater, but by loving the hated!

08202017Well, it's been an entire week since the events in Charlottesville. For the past eight days, we've been talking about them and listening to people talk about them and watching them replayed on television over and over and over. By now, it's – pretty much – nothing more than the latest on a long list of tragedies. And frankly, it's getting hard to remember them all. But I have to tell you, as "a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ," this one has been different. There's been something about it that's gnawed at me. I'm sure part of it is that it happened, at all. Another part is that I'm, simply, getting tired of "standing with" one community after another and nothing being done to change anything. Besides, this time through, I thought of my friends. This time, the objects of things like "white supremacy" and "racism" had names and faces. But without a doubt, the biggest part is that, as a white pastor, I'm being challenged to do something! To say anything! Something timely! Anything meaningful!

There was an editorial in the Washington Post, last Sunday, that sounded a lot like a letter Dr. King wrote to the white pastors, priests, and rabbis in Birmingham. Basically, the article asked one question, "Where are you?" It reminded me of something I read by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor/professor who had been executed by the Nazis, during the last days of the war. "Silence in the face of evil," he said, "is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."

What to say? What to say? If anything, at all! I could just be patient, as I have been in the past. And everything will just pass away as it's done before. Give it another week... maybe two... and it will be forgotten... Forgotten or replaced by other headlines... "Denounce the haters!" That's the advice I've been given. "Call it what it is! Evil! Sin! Wrong!" Only thing, doing that has never, really, changed anything. In fact, it seems to make things worse. What to say? Something authentic... helpful... real...

Well, this past week, while reading through the passage from Matthew in quest of a thought, I tripped over the words... Matthew 16 . 13 and 14...

Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.

Let me reread those words...

Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.

Of course, Jesus wasn't talking about the haters in Charlottesville. He was talking about the Pharisees. But they had a lot in common with the people in Charlottesville. They were both haters! They were both haters! Self-righteous! Arrogant! Better than everyone else! Pure! I guess that would be the word! Pure! Always more than ready to tell everyone how to live their life! Needless to day, Jesus was everything the Pharisees weren't! "Listen and understand," Jesus said, "it's not what goes into the mouth that defi8les a person. It's what comes out!" Words! Thoughts! Ideas! And the Pharisees took offense! Jesus said - Jesus says - "Ignore them! Don't worry about it! Let them alone! They have no future!"

I let those words ferment for a few days. One. Two. And I began to understand something. Hating the hater isn't enough! Hating the hater just isn't good enough! Opposing racism – or any other "–ism" for that matter – doesn't really change anything. Sure, it makes us feel better about ourselves. Like signing all those online petitions. We stand up for our values. But in the end, it accomplishes very little. Seven score and fourteen years ago, we fought a war to free the slaves! Sixty-some years ago, segregation was declared unconstitutional! Half a century ago, voting rights were guaranteed despite race! But that's not, ultimately, what's brought people together! Ideas, values, goals, are one thing. Relationships are something else, entirely! What matters is what brings people face-to-face and side-by-side!

Sure, there was a civil war – as if any war is civil! And yes, there was "civil" rights movement. But they took us only so far. And I think it's because we never went beyond hating the haters! Fire with fire! Eye for an eye! But that's not what Jesus was endorsing! That's not what Jesus was encouraging! "Let 'em alone! Ignore 'em! Forget about 'em! Blind guides leading the blind!" Threatening! Intimidating! Ranting! Raving! And ultimately, harmless! In the end, ineffective! Hating the hater only takes us so far and no farther! As a nation, it's important. As Dr. King said, " It may be true that law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important!" But it doesn't transform anything!

But love... love changes everything! And that's where we as the church have missed the mark. That's where we as god's people, have fallen short. I'm not talking, now, about loving the hater. I'm talking about loving the ones the hater hates! Seeking THEM out! Going to THEM, just as Jesus came to us! Just as Jesus comes to us! Taking our place in their midst! I helped out at a wedding, yesterday, at St. Nick's Episcopal Church. The first reading was from the book of Ruth. "Where you go," Ruth says, "I go! Where you lodge, I lodge! Your people will be my people! Your god, my god! Where you die, I die and there I will be buried!"

Hating the hater just isn't enough! As a church, we're called, chosen, to go above, beyond! God expects us to love those the hater hates! And yet, up to now, that's not where we've gone! That's not what we've done! As German-Lutherans, especially, we have to admit, that first time haters rose up, we weren't all that faithful. But now, well now, god has given us a second chance! We're not here to bring down the powerful from their thrones. That's god's job. We're here to lift up the lowly! Nether are we here to send the rich away empty. We're here to gill the hungry with good things! That's salvation! Deliverance! We're not here to hate the haters. We're here to love those the hater hates! To look them in the eyes! To call them by name! To take them by the hand! To love and be loved!

Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.

Believing is not limited, merely, to doing no harm! There' more to it than just hating the hater! There's, also, doing good! Loving the ones the hater hates! "The best way to fight racism," advises a Catholic priest, "is with solidarity!" The best way to fight segregation is by joining with those who are pushed away, with those who are shoved aside! The best way of attacking "–ism"s of any kind is by embracing the very people who are being rejected! And that's not something we have every done! But that's what Jesus did! That's what Jesus is still doing!

He could have gotten in the Pharisee's faces. To see who could yell the loudest and the longest! But that wouldn't have changed anything! That would have solved nothing! Instead, he humbly... and modestly... and unassumingly... went about doing what he was called, sent, to do! Loving! And forgiving! And healing! And cleansing! And raising from the dead! "Let them alone," he said! Ignore them! Forget about them! And do the thing they can't do! The thing they won't do! Love! And love! And, then, love some more! By doing that, the kingdom comes! In doing that, the reign of god is near!

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