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Living with Compassion While Feeling under Attack
1-17-21 1 Peter 3
When Martin Luther King walked up to the lectern on that hot August day at the March on Washington, he had been allocated just five minutes to speak.
He had thought long and hard about what to say to such a diverse audience.
How could he make his controversial points without people’s defensiveness shutting him out?
He decided to stick with a safe speech – that America had given black Americans a bad promissory note – like a bad check that had been returned marked “insufficient funds”.
His carefully manuscripted speech was inspirational, but there came a sense that he was starting to lose his audience.
That’s when his friend and gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who had just performed and was seated about fifty feet away, shouted “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”
He seemed to hesitate for a moment but then slid his manuscript aside and raised the words that still resonate six decades later, “I have a dream.”
It’s said that you could feel the Holy Spirit ripple through the crowd.
King had faced the billy clubs, police dogs and lynch mobs that were stirred by fear and fueled by hate.
But King had tapped into God’s dream – an expansive, inclusive dream of justice for all God’s children.
He echoed the words of scripture, including Amos 5:24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.
We’d like to think that his landmark speech sealed the final push to win voting rights that would bring economic and social equality – but, sadly, we know better.
After some progress, there has been a relentless pushback, decades-long efforts to roll back voting rights of blacks, and media empires created to fan hostilities that divide our nation.
Many of us spent the past ten or twelve days absorbed in the videos and ever-expanding revelations of the insurrection in Washington – and the fear of what’s to come.
Our democracy is under attack, and it’s natural that we, too, feel under attack.
Under attack, actually, on two fronts because we also feel the coronavirus closing in on us.
Now my first point is that this kind of fear can make us small – losing God’s dream for our lives.
In describing her mother’s last days, Simone de Beauvoir noted that the world had shrunk to the size of her mother’s hospital room.
Most of our worlds have shrunk, too.
Our social calendars are empty and our daily commute may have been reduced to a walk across the room.
Some of us assumed that this would create more free time to accomplish more, but we didn’t anticipate the psychological energy and time we must now devote to all that is going on.
Many of you have told me that you achieved very little of what you’d planned last year – that instead you’ve lived in a fog, and some have confessed that they feel some shame for what they perceive as wasting so much time.
Yet God is present in all times, all circumstances and all conditions – even in 2020 – always inviting us to be fully engaged in life, to be fully alive.
The fourteenth-century theologian, preacher and mystic Meister Eckhart wrote, “God is like a person playing hide and seek who coughs so he can be found.”
But just as the nature of daily life has changed, so must our ways of seeking full life.
So, what can I do this year to expand my experiences beyond the smallness of fear?
Dr. Judith Moskowitz has led studies of ways to increase positive emotions among caregivers of patients with dementia, HIV and breast cancer.
She says these same daily practices can help us as we live in a COVID-19 world.
For example, she says this may not be your time for overarching annual goals.
So, depending on your circumstances, this may not be the year that God has big expansive dreams for you, but dreams about your going deeper and living closer to Him so that you will live fully within pandemic restrictions.
And she says, now is the time to give yourself the grace to focus on day-to-day goals without the burden of big annual plans.
I’ve quoted St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is the person who is fully alive.”
It may be for you, that being fully alive over the next few months is finding joy and hope in your restricted setting.
For you, it may be you begin with letting go of resenting what you missed last year and not raising expectations for things you most likely will not be able to have this year.
Dr. Moskowitz also reminds us of things we’ve talked about before but which are easily forgotten when we’re worried and stressed.
For example, she says to find things to be grateful for.
I know, some of 2020 may force us to look hard.
But instead of focusing on the moments you missed out on, she suggests spending some time identifying and appreciating any positive moments or outcomes you experienced.
While we may miss God in the moment, we often can see His fingerprints all over events of the past, and we can note where His hand has led us.
We can also do that day by day.
I know it is tempting these days to get the latest breaking news before going to bed – but that is the worst thing to do.
That bad news becomes the ingredients of your dreams.
To be open to God’s dreams … wrap up your day by finding at least one thing you enjoyed or are grateful for.
Those are God’s gifts to you.
Ideally, write them down somewhere so that you can look back and remember.
All you are doing is creating a space for God’s Spirit so you can be nourished and safe even while there are real threats from outside.
In addition, some of us have come to a fork in the road of our spiritual path.
We desire inclusion and peace, but with the polarizing rhetoric and escalating violence we may start to demonize our political opponents.
Our frustration is compounded because it feels like Jesus has been kidnapped.
The Washington rioters carried crosses, Christian flags, and banners emblazed with the name Jesus.
They passed out Bibles and Bible study guides.
Historically, drum beats or military marching songs bolstered soldiers into battle, but in Washington it was Christian praise music that blared from PA systems.
How do we reclaim the message of Jesus which has been hijacked by right-wing fundamentalists and political operatives – and now insurrectionists?
For the past decade or more we’ve been talking about how to live as Christ did in a politically and socially polarized world, and we’ve talked about how nurturing the Christ within begins with cultivating the attitudes that help us to see the world through Christ’s eyes.
So, that’s led some of you to replace New Year’s resolutions with cultivating new attitudes.
You’ve been paying special attention to your inner dialogues to replace the negative with the hopeful, the dogmatic with the curious, and the hateful with the compassionate.
I know that some of you have adopted a word as a theme for your year.
Someone shared at Fellowship Hour that her word for three years has been “joy” – so as she went through all the ups and downs of her life, she would find the joy in the moment.
She says she is changing her theme this year because she is so overrun with joy – a joy that is contagious to all who know her – that it’s just time to nurture an additional attitude.
Some have said this year will be “hope,” others “health” and for some “balance”.
So, the insurrection coming so early in the year may have been a real challenge to you because right up front it tests our commitment to growing those attitudes.
As a matter of fact, hearing all the conspiracy theories and seeing the Confederate flag unfurled in our nation’s capital may have left you feeling that these Sunday School attitudes are just naïve.
Of course, we are called to be prophetic agents of justice … and that might even lead us to the streets in protest or to sacrifice financially to support movements of justice.
But those things in and of themselves are not enough.
We cannot give away what we don’t already have.
I cannot be a presence of love if I don’t have love within me … and that source of love is Christ.
So, we must also find a way to disagree without demonizing our opponents.
White supremacy is evil; just being enthusiastic for Donald Trump doesn’t mean someone is evil.
We must find a way to stand for justice, without becoming unjust ourselves.
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
The Bible teaches how to choose sides – maybe this can be your mediation this week:
1 Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
To the world that sounds naïve, but that is the possibility, the hope we claim if we nurture the spirit of Christ living within us.