My sermon today begins with a preamble of sorts. That’s not the usual way to begin, but this has not been a usual kind of week.
I’ve been preaching for well over two decades now. I’ve preached in many difficult situations – after natural disasters here and around the world, after our nation has been attacked, after our children have been slaughtered at their elementary or high schools or colleges, after numerous other mass shootings, in times when a community has been in crisis.
But the situation in which we find ourselves now is by far the most difficult I’ve ever faced from the pulpit.
I need to say first what this sermon is not about. It is not about who lost the presidential election.
Last Tuesday was the 11th time in my life I’ve voted for president. From that first ballot in 1976 until now, I’ve voted for the winning candidate five times. That means that six times the person I hoped would be our next president lost.
Any of us who have voted in more than a couple of elections have had that experience. It’s part of democracy. Sometimes the people we support win, sometimes they don’t.
When they don’t we are disappointed. Sometimes we’re more than disappointed. Sometimes it’s more like grief.
In this election emotions ran strong, and for many people the grief is deep, very deep. We should pay attention to and honor those very real feelings.
But today is not about who lost the election; it’s about who won, and what our faith has to say about the situation we are in.
For many of us it was a shock to wake up Wednesday morning to discover that a man who brags about being a sexual predator, a man who has denigrated people because of their race, their religion, their ethnicity, their gender, their sexual orientation, or their disabilities will soon be the president.
The anguish and fear that this election has engendered is very real. Here are a few of the conversations I’ve had since Wednesday morning.
I had lunch that day with a friend whose spouse is Muslim. They have had serious conversations about what they should do if the president-elect tries to make good on his campaign promise to force every Muslim in the country to be registered. Should she let her spouse go alone? Should she, a Christian, go and be registered, too?
That afternoon I met with another friend who is white, but whose son is adopted from Africa. He goes to a well-regarded private school, where he is one of a handful of black students. For the last few weeks he says the level of racial rhetoric has increased. He did not want to go to school Wednesday.
Another friend whose daughter has physical disabilities asked for prayers Wednesday morning because she dreaded waking her child up and telling her that the new president is someone who mocks people like her.
Friends in South Carolina who run a suicide hotline for gay, lesbian, and transgender youth report that the rate of calls has quadrupled since the election.
These fears are not unfounded. There have been more than 200 incidents of hate crimes or racially charged incidents reported across the country since last Wednesday. Many people in our nation fear that they will become the target of hatred, bullying, violence, or worse.
I know that not everyone who voted for the winning candidate shares these viewpoints. But the consequence of those votes is that a man who does espouse that kind of hate-filled rhetoric will soon be president.
Whether he will be able to turn that toxic rhetoric into toxic policies remains to be seen. But even if he is not, damage has been done.
This election has legitimized hate and bigotry. Those who do see African Americans, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, women, the disabled, gays and lesbians, as lesser humans, as undeserving of equal rights, of not being welcome in this country soon will have a champion in the White House.
The most vulnerable among us have now become even more vulnerable.
Our faith has a lot to say about that.
We worship a God whose first and foremost concern is for society’s most vulnerable members, those who live in fear on the margins.
Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets remind the people of Israel of God’s special concern for the widows, orphans, and immigrants – those who were among the poorest of the poor, and the least protected of God’s children.
God judges nations, their citizens and leaders, by how those on the margins are treated.
Jesus has the same concerns. Many of the president-elect’s views are the antithesis of Jesus’ teachings and actions.
Jesus treats the most reviled and scorned members of society with dignity and respect. He expects his followers to do the same.
So what do we do? How do we respond to the situation we are in, to the dark days that many believe are before us? Not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Christians.
I have heard it suggested that this is a time to forget about the things that have been said in the heat of a campaign and to come together.
I do not believe that is a Christian response. As one of my favorite theologians, Diana Butler Bass, said this week, “As Christians we are called to love our neighbors. That does not mean we unite with racists.”
Christian love does not mean making nice by ignoring evil, papering over deep divisions and pretending they don’t exist.
The Old Testament prophets were scornful of such attempts.
“They have healed the wounds of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace,” the prophet Jeremiah says.
Or as a more modern translation puts it: “They offer only superficial help for the harm my people have suffered. They say, ‘Everything will be all right!’ But everything is not all right!”
In our nation today everything is not all right. And to pretend otherwise is not the way of faith.
There is no single answer for how we are to respond. But the answer is always rooted in love – love that has the courage to stand up to bullies and to evil.
Love that stands in solidarity with those on the margins, love that protects the vulnerable.
Love that will not be silent in the face of injustice. Love that breaks down walls of hate.
For us as a community of faith, in part it means continuing to do the things we are already doing. Providing shelter for homeless mothers and children through Family Promise. Providing school supplies for refugee and immigrant children at Path Academy. Feeding those with disabilities at Holy Comforter.
It means committing to sponsoring a family of Syrian Muslim refugees, something we will be talking about more in the future.
It means spreading the word that this is a church where people of all races are welcome, where rich and poor, young and old, gay, straight and transgender children of God are welcome.
It means that we become a center of resistance to hate and bigotry whether it comes from our president or our neighbors, that we will not be silent in the face of evil.
In today’s reading from Isaiah, the prophet offers us God’s dream of the future.
“I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,” God says. “I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy.”
In an article posted online yesterday, Diana Butler Bass wrote, “Ultimately we are striving toward what the Christian tradition calls the New Jerusalem, the holy city, a sacred community, come here to Earth, where God’s hospitality is the norm, where the Beatitudes are the only constitution, where there is no crying any more.
“We know that our current situation is not that city, but we dream that it may echo the divine dream of God. We know that people of faith should be laying the foundations of shalom and love of the New Jerusalem.”
That new Jerusalem, that Beloved Community, that dream of God’s kingdom, seems a lot further away today than it did last week.
But Jesus reminds us that love is the best tool with which to fight evil.
You may have seen a bumper sticker on my car. Until Tuesday it said “Love trumps hate.”
On Wednesday morning, I took a Sharpie out to my car and made an amendment to the sticker.
Now it says, “Love still trumps hate.”
And no matter who the president is, it always will.