The trembling of the white establishment

Here’s a line from a song we sang yesterday: “When tyrants tremble sick with fear and hear their death-knell ringing…” 

I think that’s what we’re really seeing in all these cries for secession in the aftermath of the 2012 election. Tyrants trembling, sick, fearful, acutely aware of their own pending (political) demise. Bill O’Reilly put it best: “The white establishment is now the minority.” To them, no longer being able to lord power over everyone else amounts to their own oppression. The fact that the face of power in the US is (still) brown, maybe because, by God, a majority of people WANT it that way, just reinforces that – and is utterly terrifying to them.

Obamacare and raising taxes on the rich ain’t the issue. The real issue is those faint death-knells ringing in the background, growing steadily louder as time marches on, signifying that the myth of white, middle-class normalcy is ending, and America is evolving into something other than a monolithic, assimilationist blob of red, white, and blue ca. 1950. We just may have to find a way to live together across difference, rather than (a) forcing sameness upon all, (b) excommunicating those who don’t agree, or (c) withdrawing, like unpatriotic cowards. 

In my humble opinion. 🙂:)  On a related note, read on for the sermon I preached yesterday…

Sermon: Beyond Coexistence
Rev. Thomas M. Ryberg
Delivered at First Congregational Church of Battle Creek
1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Most of you have probably seen the bumpersticker that says, “COEXIST.” It is a simple-yet-seemingly-profound message, all the moreso because the letters of the word are comprised of different religious symbols. When I saw first this, my response was, wow…yeah, I get it. There’s something compelling about seeing the star and crescent of Islam, the star of David, and the cross of Christ, all up there together inside the broader message, coexist! Members of these religions in particular have perpetuated murder, enslavement, even genocide upon others and among ourselves for thousands of years. For the seekers of the highest sort of truth to fall into the sin of violence again and again in the name of God is perhaps explainable to human nature. But it is not faithful. Given all the division and conflict between us, and meted out by us, past and present, it’s perfectly understandable why someone would want to tell religious folks to “coexist!”

In the aftermath of the re-election of Barack Obama to this presidency this past week, the incessant TV and radio advertisements may have stilled, but the division in this country remains deep. As usual, about half the country voted one way, the other the other. While the blue half raised their glasses in celebration, the red half felt the bewilderment and despair that the blue half probably remembers from 2004, when it was their turn. Emotions have been charged, tempers have flared, and some, in the aftermath, are proclaiming the way of disfellowship. Voices as prominent as Donald Trump have gone so far as to call for revolution, a march on Washington in response to the travesty that his guy didn’t get as many votes as the other guy did. Other disillusioned voters took to Twitter and Facebook and proclaimed the end of America as they know it. Somebody even started a petition to the White House requesting that the state of Louisinana be allowed to peacefully secede from the Union, and seven thousand people have already signed on. In response to all the division and conflict in our country around decisions of leadership and different visions of governance, there are some who want to withdraw, others who would be happy to let them – so long, Donald Trump! Enjoy your private island. Send postcards…Withdrawal and excommunication may be temporarily satisfying. But they are not faithful. Given the division and conflict we have been facing as a nation, it’s understandable that someone would want to tell political folks of various stripes to “coexist.”

Here at First Congregational Church, I believe we are doing pretty good job of coexisting. One of the things I like to tell other people about this place is that here, there seems to be a true ethic of making room for difference: we are not all on the same page about everything, but we make room for one another. We coexist well.Some of us are very involved in lots of different kinds of things across the church community – attending more than one worship service, participating in various ministries, like women’s circles, volunteering, hospitality, music ensembles, and so on. Others of us are primarily only involved in one worship service or ministry. But most of us are committed to having multiple expressions of worship here, multiple expressions of service, music, of faith formation – multiple kinds of people. We have our own preferences, but we are generally pretty good about making room for those who prefer otherwise. We coexist well. Maybe a little too well. There is a fine line between peace co-existence, and self-sufficiency.

Now clearly, coexisting across difference does not come easily, as evidenced by all the religious and political conflict and division. I don’t want to minimize the goodness – or the difficulty – of what we’re doing here, enacting peaceful coexistence. But as followers of Jesus, the one who taught us to love one another, because God first loved us, coexistence is the starting point, the baseline. It is not the goal. We are called to something beyond coexistence, to cooperation.

When Paul uses the metaphor that different elements of the church comprise one human body, this is a call to radical cooperation. Paul wrote these words in response to the division and conflicts of the church community of Corinth. There was much disagreement between members on matters theological and practical ranging from how to celebrate the Lord’s supper, to also whether women should cover their heads while officiating worship. The division in this community had fragmented the body, and some had reached out to Paul for clarification. Who’s right here? Who’s wrong? What should we do?

Notice what he does not do: Paul does not advocate withdrawal, or excommunication, or distill everyone into sameness. He does not say, the church is like a body, and individually, you are all distinct and separate from the whole. He doesn’t say, the church is like a body, and individually, you should all be the same body part.

Instead, he says this: “you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” Paul’s metaphor holds us in the tension of being uniquely created by God, yet deeply connected to one another. Individually, we may have different functions and different purposes, different things that we prefer, different strengths that we do best. Yet we are each part of something larger than ourselves, connected at the core by our shared belonging to Christ.This kind of approach to one another is much deeper than mere coexistence. In this body of Christ, we need each other.

Eyes need hands, so that what is seen might also be touched. Hands need eyes so that they are not groping blindly. Not coexistence, but eye-hand coordination. Guts need feet, so that the values might move beyond concept into practice, and feet need guts so that movement occurs in the right direction. Not coexistence, but gutsy footwork.We need each other. We are not sufficient on our own, any more than a foot or a hand or an ear is.

Here’s the incredible thing that happens when we learn how to cooperate as members of Christ’s body: the Body moves better.

It is amazing to watch Ellie learn how to move better over time. This kid loves to dance. From before she could walk, whenever a song came on the radio that she liked, we would be holding her and she would shake her legs in excitement! Then, as she became able to stand, she started doing this thing where she’d shake one hand while the knees are going, all while doing the ‘baby rock.’ She has been learning how to use this body of hers, and she’s getting stronger and better at it every day.

It kind of reminds me of how we operate as the body of Christ sometimes. We don’t always move in the most coordinated of ways. Sometimes we’ve got a lot of energy out here, and our hand people are going crazy, ready to move, but the leg people aren’t really in the same frequency. Hey, sometimes I dance like that, sometimes I live like that, sometimes I’m a Christian like that too, off on my own island somewhere, as if I’m not connected to the broader whole.

But sometimes, things line up better, and the inner rhythm of the heart reverberates to the extremities of the body, so that the feet feel it, and the hands feel it, and the hips feel it, and the ankle-bone connects to the knee-bone, and however we come into this world, wherever we reside in this body, no matter how we look doing it, we find ourselves moving together, gracefully – and I don’t mean smoothly or aesthetically-pleasingly, but grace-fully, as in the grace of Jesus Christ filling each of us, moving through us, top of our heads to the bottoms of our feet.

Coexistence is not enough. It is only through coordination and cooperation that the Body of Christ can move. May it be so. Amen.


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