Courage To Act

From 1 Kings 21:1-22

You’ve probably heard and read and seen a lot of things about the terrible massacre in Orlando over the past week.  You’ve probably heard a lot of debate and polarization about the intentions and causes and events and issues surrounding that atrocious event….
Was the greatest contributing issue a lack of gun control, lax national security, or rampant homophobia?  Was the cause radical Islam or excessive immigration?  What role does religion play in this type of horrendous violence?
Although some people were quick to assign blame to ISIS, investigators now believe that the motive for the attack had very little—if anything—to do with ISIS, and the name of ISIS might have been invoked only to trigger fear and garner greater publicity.
But whatever you’ve heard or think about the issues and events surrounding this horrifying event, the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando represented freedom and wholeness for many LGBTQI people.  And following this attack in this place, we are left to wrestle with how our culture has created and contributes to such intense division, hatred, and fear.  How do we create and supply such murderous tendencies?  And how do we heal?
And in the wake of this tragedy in Orlando, this week we also remember the one-year anniversary of the dreadful massacre during a Bible Study at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.  Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston is a historic black church that has represented freedom and wholeness for many African-Americans since long before the Civil War.  And following that attack in that place, we are left to wrestle with how our culture has created and contributes to such intense division, hatred, and fear.  How do we create and supply such murderous tendencies?  And how do we heal?
The kind of violence waged in either of these situations is terrorism—intended to intimidate or coerce people in support of some egotistical and misguided political agenda.  This kind of violence imposes a sense of superiority and steals something of intrinsic importance to the identity of individuals.
Now, we’ve all, no doubt, heard that the Orlando massacre was the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. . . .   But like some other scholars, I am wondering why we so easily discount the mass shootings of Native Americans, like the massacre at Wounded Knee in South Dakota, where over 300 Lakota were killed. . . .
Violence is always a way of taking something that belongs to someone else.  Violence is always about dispossession.  And terror is violence perpetrated for political purposes—including the purposes of racism, homophobia, nationalism, religious exceptionalism, and dispossession. . . .
Just ask Elijah. 

When he hears of Ahab’s unjust, duplicitous, and greedy massacre of Naboth, he immediately names it for what it is:  “You have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord.”  Ahab and Jezebal have schemed to have Naboth killed so that Ahab can gain control of Naboth’s vineyard—his ancestral inheritance—a place intrinsically important to his identity.  And like the story of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba—in which King David sends Uriah to the front lines of battle to be killed so that he can have Uriah’s wife Bathsheba for his own—this story of  Naboth’s vineyard probes the limits, ethics, and responsibilities of political power.  In Israel, you see, the king was never considered above the law.  Just like everyone else—he was always subject to divine judgment. 
And entering into this situation, Elijah the prophet acts with faithful courage and clarity.  He stands up, clears his eyes, steps into the vacuous gap of conscience, and condemns the spiritual evil he sees: unchecked narcissism, cruelty, violence, self-aggrandizement, hatred, selfishness, greed, fear.  Public leadership should not operate from these motivations.  Public leadership should in no way perpetuate—much less participate in—the types of terror that arise from these motivations and behaviors.  Public leadership should always empower people—never dispossess them!
Elijah calls us—as people of faith—to call forward a different kind of leadership within ourselves and within others.  Leadership that is spiritually grounded. . . . Leadership that is more sane.  More humane.  Leadership with a holy impatience with violence as a method of solving problems.  Leadership that is invested in the common good of all people and willing stand up for God’s love and God’s justice.  This love and justice are what motivates Elijah. . . . 

He steps into this situation steeped in violence, and he is not afraid. 

He has the courage to see. 
The courage to feel. 
The courage to stand. 
The courage to speak. 
The courage to love. 
The courage to act.

And moving to the core foundations of our faith, this love and justice motivated Jesus as well.  Sometimes, we are troubled or confused by the verses where Jesus claims that he comes not to bring peace but division—or conflict—or a sword.  We like peace, right?!  We like the peaceful, non-violent Jesus!  But, you see, like we’ve been studying, Jesus brought no peaceful complicity with the status quo.  This is really no surprise.  No, like Elijah, he named the injustice and the spiritual evil that would deny some people their humanity in order to privilege others.  He was willing to cause division and discomfort in order to stand up for justice—to stand up for the marginalized—to stand up for those who no one else wanted to stand up for!
And no less is required of us as people of faith.  We are called to follow the likes of Elijah and Jesus—to exercise courage—to cross the lines of hostility and division—to build bridges between neighborhoods, religions, and regions of our world—to work against the contempt that leads to violence—against the complicity that would cover it up or disguise it under a convenient scapegoat—and to transform the fragmentation and segregation of our polarized world.  We are called to be people of faith, not fear.  People of compassion.  People of hospitality.  People of justice.  People of love.
And to love means to do something.  Love is an act, and it gives us the courage to act.  Elijah could have given up in despair.  Naboth was already dead, and he couldn’t do anything about that.  The violence, the evil, was done.  He could have bowed his head in resignation, thought about how awful it was, liked a meme on facebook (or put a sad face…), and gone on his way. 
But he was called to do something.  To act.  This situation doesn’t get a pass.  No, Ahab.  No more.  I’m calling you into moral and spiritual accountability.  This ends here. I don’t have the stomach for any of this anymore.  Each one of these is God’s beloved child.  And violence done to one is violence done to each one of us.  It diminishes us all.  And we deserve something better.  God wants for us something better.  Let’s work together to create something better.  It’s time to act.   

Our Great Pilgrimage

I felt in need of a great pilgrimage
so I sat still for three
and God came
to me.

—“A Great Pilgrimage” by Kabir (c. 1440-1518)

When summer rolls around, I always get the itch to travel.  I love traveling, speaking different languages (or trying to!), and eating different kinds of food.  I love to see and meet and experience people and places and cultures that are new to me.  I love the challenge.  I love the wonder.  And I’ve had some wonderful opportunities in my life to travel far and wide, but over the last few years, my travel has been more limited and more localized.  Imagine that, with a little one!
This past week, my sister has been moving with her husband and 3 little ones from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Glasgow, Scotland.  And part of me says with relief, “Thank goodness that is not me!  I surely would have lost my mind by now!”  But another part of me longs for that type of adventure.  I want to teach Clive about the delightful diversity of the world and the great goodness of God’s creation.  But right now, our great pilgrimage is right here.
Our great pilgrimage is looking up and down our own street and locating and ways and places where God meets us right here.  Where does God meet you?  How does God meet you?  I always think it is unfortunate that the weeks and months following Pentecost are referred to as “Ordinary Time” because, really, if we are paying any attention at all, very little in our world is ordinary.  What we might casually call “ordinary time” or “ordinary things” are actually spectacular miracles that have become worn to our tired eyes.  So, how do we change our perspective?  What would it take for us to see newness and opportunity all around us?  Whatever it is could be the great pilgrimage we need.

See you in church,