Sunday, October 09, 2016

We Have a Lot of Work to Do

A rough manuscript of my sermon this Sunday on Luke 17: 11-19.

Sisters and brothers, we have a lot of work to do, that’s for sure. We have a lot of work to do. This past Friday evening, as I was waiting to board a plane home from a conference in Chicago, I felt sick to my stomach upon hearing the words of one of our presidential candidates objectifying women to an unspeakable degree, joking about sexual assault and bragging about how through wealth celebrity and power, he could easily get away with such behavior. My mind pretty quickly went especially to the women and girls of our congregation, about how such words must make you all feel, and also the fathers as well who’ll have to explain this stuff to their kids, to make sure their sons know that such talk is simply not okay. For putting you all in such a horrible position, for putting my own family and friends in such a horrible situation, I was absolutely furious with Donald Trump as I boarded that flight.

Through some really helpful conversations with the woman sitting next to me over the following couple hours, I was reminded that the horrible words on that tape reflect something much bigger than any one candidate or even the state of our politics as a whole. Indeed, no matter which candidate you decide to vote for (I’ve had conversations with great folks in our congregation on both sides of that debate, by the way), no matter which candidate you decide to vote for is less important than the much wider, insidious issue of collective sin at hand: the way our society treats women and girls. Or to put it in even a broader context, the issue of collective sin we must address is our society's seeming complete inability to listen to the concerns of one another, especially the concerns of populations who have historically been marginalized and oppressed. So yes, my sisters and brothers, we have a lot of work to do.

We have a lot of work to do. For you see, right here in America, statistically one in three women will be the victim of some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. Right now, in what we consider the greatest country in the world, one in five women have survived an attempted or completed rape. On our college campuses that number narrows to something closer to one in four. One in three women have been victims of some form of physical violence inflicted by an intimate partner in their lifetime and boys who witness their fathers being violent are ten times more likely to abuse their spouses later in life. The way we treat women and girls in our society is an insidious type of collective sin, to be sure, and it’s the type of collective sin that affects each and every single one of us.

When I think about my own life experiences as a young adult, and particularly my time as a college student, the words used by Mr. Trump are more extreme than most, but they honestly don’t surprise me. I lived for three years in a fraternity house and horrible jokes were made on a regular basis. Women were objectified on a regular basis. And because I had a natural aversion to being politically correct as a young, dumb kid and I’ve always liked being the center of attention, I was definitely a major player in all that dumb talk and I was wrong. And my fraternity brothers and I were known as some of the better guys on campus, right, who may have said dumb things but always treated women with respect. Yet, words do matter… how did our jokes make the vast majority of women of hadn’t been treated with respect sometime in their life feel? Moving right up to the present, how did years of seemingly innocent locker room talk change our perspectives in sinful, insidious, ways? Thanks be for Christ, because the work of reconciliation, the work of always trying to improve how us men hear and honor the perspectives of women will never end. Even though that was all close to a decade ago now, I hear from folks younger than me that things have gotten even worse on our college campuses as well. In short, my sisters and brothers, we have a lot of work to.

Yes, we have a lot of work to do, but luckily, as our gospel message teaches us this Sunday, Christ is there at work with us, present in every part of our lives and the life of our community. Even more amazing is the good news that God most often speaks from the perspective of those we least expect Her to be speaking from. Just look at today’s gospel message… it’s a simple yet profound story. Jesus is traveling through the borderlands between Samaria and the Galilee in route to Jerusalem, when he stops in a small village. Ten folks are suffering from leprosy there, a disease that still afflicts thousands in many parts of the world. And well, our God in Christ does what God does best. Jesus sends the lepers off to the priests and amazingly, all are healed! All are washed clean, liberated from their disease by Christ’s love! Yet even then, it’s only of ten lepers who turns back… it’s only one of the ten who recognizes what God’s up to, and it’s the one people of Jesus’ time would have least expected to know much about God at all… a Samaritan, a despised foreigner! And this, my sisters and brothers, is the incredibly good news that confronts us today. God more often than not speaks to us from the people we’d least expect, the Samaritans of our day, the people we're taught to think don’t matter, the people we're taught by our society to ignore. We have a lot of work to do, but luckily, Christ comes to us in the faces of people we’d least expect to make that work possible.

We have a lot of work to do. How can we listen to those voices as we build and strengthen a community that teaches its children that all women and girls, and all people of color and all folks in the LGBT community and all people of different abilities, need to be cherished, loved and affirmed as children of God? I just heard a story from one parishioner this morning talking about how she’s gotten in trouble at work for begin absent to take care of her sick children. How can we help build a local community where the contributions of mothers and fathers are valued, where parents don’t need to decide between their families and their careers? How can we build a community where our boys grow up knowing that objectification of women and abuse of women and sexual assault of women or anyone else for that matter is not okay? In a few minutes Jim Miller will be talking about one of our congregation’s priorities for the year ahead, to build a spirit of brotherhood and service amongst the men of our congregation. How can we include all those fathers in this important work that God calls us to embark upon? Perhaps all won’t want to show up at a church on Sunday morning, but how else can they contribute to the amazing things God is making happen here? How can we hear from their perspectives?

Sisters and brothers, this has been a hard weekend for our nation, indeed for our wider society. We have a lot of work to do. And thank you all for the work you already do, by the way. Whether you’re filling in this Sunday for our church musician so he can spend time with his family or if your acolyte for the first time or helping to balance our budget or walking with me on Tuesday for equitable funding for our schools, you are part of God’s work here, to build a community where all voices our welcome, all voices are cherished. And thanks be to God for the fact that She especially likes to show up in the very voices and places we’d least expect her to. Thanks be to God for Her promise to show up in our own lives in the times we need it the most, in those hardest and least expected of times. Our God in Christ has promised to show up, to make things happen, to bring us joy, to stand with us in solidarity against the worst of human sin, to bear us in the hard work of preaching the good news of liberation and reconciliation to our community. And thanks be to God for that.

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a Spirit filled church following Jesus Christ in Schenectady, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, he spends most of his professional time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with his amazing pup Willy Bear and pretending to know how to sing.