August 26, 2018: Troubled Times

Pastor Steve Mechem

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Ephesians 5:15-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

I realized that the structure of today’s sermon was such that we would begin down and work our way back up. But my fear was that beginning in a downward place might create a funk that prohibited us from climbing upward. So, I’ve changed things just a little bit so that we begin up and move down and then move upward again.

Here’s the up!
I really believe that the humanity is getting better. You have to measure such a statement based on the totality of history and not from year to year or even generation to generation. If you look at the reality of history, over the long haul things are much better than they have ever been.

Don’t hear me wrong, we are nowhere close to Utopia, but in comparison to the past, humanity is making progress.

I believe the vast majority of folks are decent and kind. As I experienced last Sunday while taking the city bus home from church. I had my mini iPad in my cargo pocket. As I stood up to leave the bus, it must have fallen out.

I started to walk down the sidewalk and heard the bus’s horn. I turned to see a woman was walking toward me with my iPad. She had seen it on the seat. It would have been so simple for her to be the owner of a mini ipad. As a loser of billfolds and keys and passports, (and now iPads) I can testify that people are generally kind and go out of their way to return those things.

I believe in the basic goodness of God’s creation. God created, and said, “it is good.”

People take care of each other better now than in the past.

There is more emphasis on human rights now then there has ever been.

There are safety nets for the least protected among us.

Again I’m not saying we’re there yet, but I am saying we are farther along than we’ve ever been.

There is less violence.

There are more protections for people.

There is an emphasis on education and healthcare and fairness in the workplace.

Indoor plumbing, enough said.

Advancements in medicine and science and social understanding help people live lives with more opportunities.

Humanitarian efforts, Doctors without Borders, World Vision, One, Heifer International, countless aid organizations work across the globe to make life better.

There is more student involvement and activism than ever.

As Dr. King said so brilliantly, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I believe we are seeing the long arc of history bend toward justice and righteousness and goodness.

And I further believe that a primary cause of progress is the infusion of the kingdom of God into the world. It is a kingdom where we are taught to care for one another, to love one another, to sacrifice for one another. And that has happened since the beginning of the Jesus’ movement.

While the kingdom may not come to fruition as quickly as we would like, it is in the midst of becoming.

Now, the down.
Having said all of that, it is possible, in the present day, to be discouraged, and fearful, and troubled, as you read the headlines and experience life-

Climate change and the propensity on the part of some to ignore it,

Human trafficking, modern day slavery, genocide, extreme poverty and an utter disregard for the suffering of fellow humans,

The immense refugee crisis,

A response to immigrants that sounds hateful and appears cruel,

A resurgence of white supremacy and the growth of hate groups,

Mass shootings that occur so often as to become routine,

A political system that seems to be imploding and where true political leadership and courage seem at a loss,

An economic system that favors those who have over those who have not In greater ways that it ever has before,

Basic human decency appears to be on the decline while sexism, racism, bigotry, and xenaphobia appear to be on the rise, or at least people with those predilections feel emboldened to act out.

At our Courageous Conversation this past Saturday, the facilitator was trying to bring us to a place where we might focus on the church’s role in the world. He said to us “what does this have to do with the church with a with a capital C?”

I sat in my chair, flummoxed, as I wondered what he even meant by church with a capital C. I know he was talking about the worldwide church, but at this point in my journey, I’m not even sure what that is or if I belong to it.

When I see a video of a American missionary in Uganda harassing, verbally bullying, insulting, and physically assaulting a hotel employee in the name of Jesus, I say to myself “his church and my church- not the same thing.”

When I read of clergy abusing children, targeting young boys and girls and then passing them along for other clergy to abuse, I say to myself “this church and my church- not the same thing.”

When I listen to the people who claim to represent church and church leadership in this country speak out, I find myself saying “their church and my church- not the same thing.”

When I watch the church compromise itself, sell its soul, for political power and a seat at the table, I find myself thinking “their church and my church- not the same thing.”

I don’t know what church with a capital C means anymore but I am afraid that it does not mean following Jesus.

To many people, these seem like dark days. Like the kid on the cover of our bulletin, we cover our faces with our hands and look through the slots between our fingers fearful of what we might see next.

The apostle Paul might describe these days as evil. That’s the description he uses as he writes to his friends in Ephesus, “the days are evil.”

So what are we to do as we live in seemingly evil days?
Do we fight back?
Do we run and hide?
Do we give up and acquiesce?
Do we become the evil we so abhor?

Here’s where we go up again.
Paul’s gives some simple but profound advice. He writes, “do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Last week I made the argument that the will of God is not so much about mysterious and mystical discernment of what God wants us to do in life, where to live, what job to have, etc., but rather, God’s will is about doing what we know God wants us to do because we have been told it through Scripture and seen it in the life and activity of Jesus.

Love one another.

Stand beside the put aside.

Stand up for those who have been pushed down.

Pray for your enemies

Treat people the way you want to be treated.

Accept people where they are.

Don’t judge.

Speak truth in love.

Wash some feet.

Choose kindness.

I wear this shirt today as a reminder that it is our responsibility to choose kind. The shirt is part of an active anti-bullying campaign, but it’s message reverberates throughout all of life, especially in troubled times.

Always choose kindness.

People who truly choose kindness are mocked on Cable news, scoffed at on social media, and derided by political bullies.

Bu don’t be confused. Don’t hear “choose kindness” and think “choose capitulation” or “choose to be a doormat.” Hear this- to practice kindness in the light of an unkind world, is to act courageously and bravely.

To stand with the hurting is kindness.
To strive for justice is kindness.
To reach down to help someone up is kindness.
To turn the other cheek is courageous and kind.
To forgive is kindness.

As Jesus hung on the cross, he proclaimed, “Forgive them Father for they don’t what they are doing.” The ultimate act of kindness.

Choose kindness, choose to act out the will of God. That is the way through evil days as we anticipate the deeper reality of the now and coming kingdom.