Sermon for the 26th Sunday after Pentecost – November 13, 2016

Duane LarsonDearest Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Grace and Peace to you from God our Origin and our Destiny.

I’m betting you are very curious about what I will say today. Well, first I want to say this. You have noticed that I do not begin my sermons with the usual biblical words from St. Paul, “Grace to and peace, from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.” I do believe and quote those words. Here, however, I use the words about God as our origin and destiny because they reflect your practice of sharing God’s love in a “big tent” way; you are wonderfully different that way.You walk your talk. There are many strong and divergent opinions here, to be sure. I have heard a few of them. Yet you welcome and embrace each other, and you reach out to the neighbor because you know you are convened by a Love that supersedes every other conviction we hold. In Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, nor male nor female, nor slave nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus,” says Paul.  The spiritual trajectory of that verse for today means that in Christ there is no person who bears less dignity than another, no person who deserves less love than another. You work hard here to live that holy truth.  You minister with a spiritual strength unlike many other churches. You know that our confession of Christ is larger than our differences. And no matter how we view the world’s dances and spasms, we all know after this past Tuesday that we who want to follow Christ have much work to do.

But I will not speak of Tuesday quite yet.  Before that, I note that this is the Sunday, closest to November 11, on which we recognize and give thanks for military veterans. We thank you profoundly for your service and sacrifice. Yet only now are we Americans even beginning to understand what we ask our military service men and women to do. To protect our freedoms and interests, we bid them to go into conflicts that will severely violate their consciences and inflict on them a Moral Injury that could disable them spiritually for the rest of their lives. Moral Injury may be a new term to you, but it is summed in an utterance we’ve all heard from a vet somewhere; “God will never forgive me for what I had to do.” Moral Injury is the guilt one has either from doing a necessary evil or from being betrayed by a trusted authority who did evil.

Earlier societies, Greek, Jewish and Christian, dealt openly in reckoning the moral costs of war. They practiced public rituals that everyone, including military and civvies, had to attend so that everyone would know forgiveness and have their safe and purposeful place again in community.  We Americans lost that practice, if we ever had it. For brevity’s sake, I can only say that now the words of “thank you for your service,” flyovers, and a country-music song are a good start, but they do not suffice.  We must learn to listen to veteran stories, stay with them in their injuries, physical and moral, and help them find their guiding story again. That is how Moral Injury is healed. The church can and must learn to do this again. On this Veteran’s Sunday I lead in our collective thanks for the service of the veterans among us and everywhere, and I challenge ourselves as Christians to do more.

Now about the election.

Many say that this election is the most gut-punching one they’ve experienced. Democrats and Republicans and Independents alike experienced something like Moral Injury on a national scale. Fear preceded the election in a big way. Now those who grieve and fear are told to “suck it up” and accept terms that violate conscience. But frankly, anyone who says, “We won. Deal with it” is as lacking in Christian love as a man who condones violence against women, or a bishop who blinks when a pastor abuses a parishioner, or a command officer who leaves a wounded soldier on the field. Christ commands us to love all neighbors, which means also to protect innocents from spoken and physical violence and to denounce any policy that generates or condones it.

My words would be the same if the tables were turned. We have loved ones here and afar who voted for the winner with honorable conscience-driven principles that reject bigotry of all types. They also feel that they have been ignored or used by the conventional political powers and disrespected by liberal Christian kin. Honorable principle-driven people now find themselves on either side of a divide that is as big as that of the civil war. And just as the only workable prescription to help veterans heal from Moral Injury is to get vets talking and caregivers listening, the only way we will go forward as people of faith is for us to talk and hear each other deeper into the connecting holy story of God with us. God calls us to be a model of a safe and sacred space where we respect each other’s differences, hold each other in Christ, and call each other back to faithfulness when one of us veers too close to the precipice. God calls us  to do the same with our public servants when their plans or actions would violate God’s law of love.

Wednesday morning I was on the phone with my wife, Joen, debriefing the election. I told her that Sunday’s scripture texts were about the end of the world. I’ve never heard her laugh so hard or long. Jesus told his disciples that the impressive walls of the Jerusalem temple would be destroyed and conflict would ensue between the faithful and the faithless. It would feel like the end of the world. But just as Malachi said the sun would rise on the righteous, so Jesus promises that no hair on our heads will be damaged; we are secure in God forever. The sun will rise on those who endure, for those who stick with each other in the holy work of love.

So what about Christ the King Church? You are so different. You live in Christ more than anything else. Or you want to live so. Because you do want to grow deeper in faith, perhaps God has given us a new opportunity to listen and care for each other. I’m imagining, for example, study and prayer groups that gather here and around the city, intentionally peopled with members of different perspectives under the wings of the Holy Spirit. What awesome bridges and spaces can be built when smarts and the Spirit work together!  As you said clearly in the congregational profile for the call committee, you want to do a great new congregational signature thing for the social good! Maybe it was handed to you in a divine call this past Tuesday!

We can start by gathering next weekend to pledge our heightened support in wealth and body and faith to the task; and proudly to reaffirm our membership in Christ the King Lutheran Church as allies in God’s mission to the world. Walls have fallen down. Now we have bridges and safe spaces to build for holy conversation and caregiving.

Put it another way:  There is Good News and there is Better News.  The Good News: There is a messiah. The better news: it’s not you, it’s not me, it’s not President-elect Trump, it was never Hillary or anybody else. We live, breathe, work, and celebrate together—all of us!—in the name of that Messiah, Jesus Christ. 

Duane Larson
Christ the King Lutheran Church  Houston, TX   November 13, 2016