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Prayer is central to who we are and all we do. The challenges of life are too great for us to manage alone and we take them to God in prayer. We worship in the Anglican tradition with weekly services in English and Kiswahili honoring both Word and Sacrament. We also welcome innovations in worship through use of contemporary music, sermon conversations, and active participation of young people.

 

Sermon for November 20, 2016
by Emily Shelton

Gospel Reading: Luke 23:33-43

Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen.

Three students in Pennsylvania were suspended after walking through the halls with a Trump sign, while they chant “White power”
Forgive them Father, for the do not know what they are doing.

In Greenville, Mississippi, a historically black church is set on fire and the words “Vote Trump” are spray painted in large, white letters on the surviving brick frame.
Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing.

A note is left of the windshield that says “Can’t wait until gay marriage is overturned by a real president. Gay families burn in hell. Repent. God Bless”
Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing.

For me, the most difficult part of this past week and a half has been naming my emotions. I wish there was one word that could encapsulate what I’ve felt. Regardless of who you voted for, our country has hurt so much. So this is not a sermon designed to put a tidy bow on the election and tell you to move on. It’s not to shame Trump supporters, it’s to recognize the open wound this election season left in our country.
During this sermon and in this space, I invite you to feel any feeling that arises. No feeling is unwelcome. Feel anger, feel sadness, feel fear, feel grief, feel joy. Recognize it when it shows up, invite it into the pew when you see it. Because it is only in owning these feelings that we can possibly think of moving forward. Now I would like to try something on. On the count of three, I will invite you to name a single feeling you have experienced during this past week and a half. It could be about the election, it could be about anything you feel is weighing on you today. Say it loudly and while you are doing that, listen to the sound that all of our voices make together. We’ll do it twice so we can really hear it.

Lord, today we feel…One, two, three…(audience says word)
One, two, three…(audience says word)

Today, I am angry. For ten long, long days, I have been angry, and it feels so good to admit it. My entire life, I have tried to shy away from anger–from my own, from other’s. Growing up in a large, Irish Catholic family, anger was present but it was something to be suppressed, bottled up inside. And on my dad’s side of the family, anger with the world around you was dealt with by disengagement and apathy. And came out with passive aggressive phrases that could hurt more than yelling. And then growing up in a world that told me my anger as a woman was simply due to hormones or hysteria, I began to doubt my feelings and shy away from anger entirely. But today, I am angry.
And I was angered beyond words when I read the Gospel reading for today.The phrase, Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they are doing, haunted me. Those boys in Pennsylvania with the chant new exactly what they were doing, I want to say. The people that set that church on fire in Mississippi were really aware of that message. On the other hand, this Sunday is incredibly appropriate. Today is called Christ the King Sunday, which was started by the Roman Catholic Church in 1925 in the aftermath of World War I. In the wake of the deadliest war in history and with the rise of secularism in European states, the Church sanctioned the last Sunday before Advent, this sunday, to be a celebration of Christ’s reign on earth and on heaven. He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords; and this Sunday is meant to remind us that, while governments exist, Christ is the ultimate ruler.

And with faith, I can believe that Jesus Christ rules in Heaven. But after Election day, how do we even begin to see Christ ruling on earth? How do my friends that teach at schools with large immigrant populations tell this good news to a child who is crying for fear that her relatives will be deported? How can I tell my best friend not to worry about what this election means for her as a black woman in America because Jesus is our King?

Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the Church Calendar. Next week we enter into Advent. It is the waiting time as we prepare for Christ’s coming to Earth. And even though Christmas decorations are out in the stores and Santa Baby is playing on the radio stations, today we are asked to remember the Crucifixion, the day when Christ left the world.

This seems like a strange event to highlight when claiming that this man is the king of all kings. What king is this who was stripped of his robes and beaten before a crowd? His regal crown is made of thorns cutting into his head. His throne is a wooden cross to which soldiers nailed his hands and feet. He was sentenced to a humiliating, public execution by the powers that be with criminals on his side.

Christ is not a king by the same definition we hold current political leaders. He cannot lower taxes, and he cannot pass legislation to improve healthcare. And when Jesus is on the cross, the moment most Christians recognize as the atonement for human sin, this moment that is the turning point for human creation, at this moment, Jesus has no power. A king without power. How can that be? Jesus shows a new way of living in this world, a way of unconditional love, bravery, and grace. And I would also like to suggest that the criminals offer two modes of responding.

There is the first criminal who derides Jesus. He yells, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” I must admit, this was my first reaction. I was angry with God that this happened, when we had prayer vigils and collectively prayed so hard. I was angry with America for choosing the path of fear. I was angry with myself for naively believing that America values people of color, women, LGBTQ+ people, and other minorities instead of acknowledging the blatant discrimination and oppression most face on a day to day basis. So many times, I prayed, Jesus, how could this happen? Why would you let this happen? And I ignored his response, “Emily, this has been going on for centuries.” When we solely act out of fear and pain, we do not recognize the Messiah on his side. From our fear and pain, we can lash out in anger. Allowing anger to paralyze our growth and redemption only feeds into the cycles that oppress us.

So let us now look to the penitent criminal. Before Jesus can respond to the other criminal, this one says, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we have been condemned justly for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

There are three things the criminal does that we can emulate in the election aftermath.
First, he calls out his peer, he calls him into truth and challenges his mode of thinking. While it could be read in a variety of ways, it does not seem unnecessarily aggressive or ill-intentioned. This is the penitent thief defending truth and showing us that we, as people of faith, are called to not accept actions that deny the goodness of God or deny the divine spark in each of us. We cannot, in good faith, call out those around us and believe that we are guiltless. We must do the internal work to see ways in which we have fallen short of living fully into the person Christ calls us to be. The penitent thief sees and acknowledges the ways in which he has failed. I am not suggesting that each of us take personal responsibility for the state of our nation, that would be wildly unhealthy and unhelpful. And this is not a moment to shame people for not doing voter engagement or for not posting a political status. This ties in closely with the first section of calling out our peers. At times it is almost scarier to have difficult conversations with those we know well and love most. I found myself avoiding conversations with family members back home with whose politics I disagree. But how can I pat myself on the back for doing Get Out the Vote when I was too afraid to have frank conversations about race and policy with family members I love and might be most receptive to what I’m saying. The next step is twofold: the penitent thief does not ask for forgiveness, he asks for Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. And even as he hangs on the cross, dying, Jesus saves one more person. The thief actively seeks reconciliation. He seeks to mend the ties that separate him from others and from God’s goodness. At the same time, the crucifixion is a long, and painful death. And even though we know that this story ends in the resurrection, I invite us to sit in the pain of that Black Friday in the wake of the election. We do not need to turn our eyes towards the resurrection nor do we need to hurry up and get to the incarnation. Just as the disciples on this day were filled with fear about their future and grief over their murdered leader and friend, for now we can simply feel. This Sunday we are allowed to sit in the pain and the uncertainty.

Once more, I invite you to speak one word into the room.
I will leave you with this quote by Toni Morrison,
She did not tell them to clean up their lives, or go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek, or its glory-bound pure. She told them that they only grace they could have is the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they could not have it.

Today, I pray for the imagination to see grace in this broken, beaten, beautiful world. To see redemption in the most unlikely places, and to go forth, emboldened and empowered by this new sight.