The world turned upside down: A sermon on the US Election

Lin Manuel Miranda made more than a few brilliant choices when composing Hamilton. One of the most subversive was attributing the last lines of the battle of Yorktown to the defeated British forces:

And as our fallen foes retreat, / I hear the drinking song they’re singing …  The world turned upside-down. / The world turned upside-down. / Down. / Down, down, down…

img_0207In so doing, Miranda signals that the revolutionary war is not an uncomplicated victory. It is the world turned upside down. It wasn’t supposed to happen. All reason would dictate that this rag-tag army in need of a shower could not defeat a global superpower. And, as the rest of the musical makes abundantly clear, the way forward from that revolutionary moment was all but clear.

When we look at our own moment in American history, we note that the world has turned upside-down once again. Whatever one may have thought about our recent election and the candidates in question before Tuesday, most people can agree that the result was a major upset. Defying all trusted polls and prognostications, Donald Trump is our new president-elect. That statement evokes many emotions. Shock from many people, even those who supported him. Perhaps relief or even triumph from some. Not to mention anger. Grief. And certainly fear, especially from those communities most vulnerable to acts of hatred and discrimination.

At this stage, all that we can be certain of is that the future of our country is uncertain and our way forward is unclear. Those who voted for Trump wanted change. Those who supported Clinton are largely terrified to see that change coming. Others still who voted third party or who maybe stayed out altogether felt disgust with the system of the world as it is. For better or worse, the world has turned upside down. It is what we might rightly call an apocalyptic moment.

I don’t know whether it is comforting or not to hear the words of our what is sometimes referred to as the “Little Apocalypse” from Luke’s gospel. On the one hand, if you came to church looking for comfort or assurance after the events of the election, you are not going to find very much here. On the other hand, there is some catharsis to the bluntness of Luke’s words. They captures the mood of what so many are feeling – not everyone, to be sure – but many.

Every fear someone might have about what the next four years might bring finds acknowledgment in this passage: Wars. Rumors of Wars. Plagues and Famines (brought on my global climate change). Insurrections. Bonds broken between friends and family. Echoes of instability and violence. We hear reflections of the deep divisions that cut across different parts of our country. The chasms of understanding that exist between us.

In the midst of this we hear the disciples’ plea – Lord tell us when all this is going to take place. They are looking for that same certainty we all so desire. They crave assurance about the future and what it will mean for them. Instead, all they get are these cryptic words of Jesus assuring them of nothing but that fact that there is much that is unknown. And challenging them to look at the reality of the world as it is, not as they (or we) would want it to be. That is the nature of this “little apocalypse.”

We are coming up on the end of the liturgical year. Next Sunday we celebrate “The Reign of Christ,” when we will reflect on the coming Kingdom of God.. We tend to think “apocalypse” refers to the end of the world. But the term in Greek literally means “unveiling.” In the context of scripture that, that often refers to an unveiling of what lies in the future – such as the end-of-time prophecies in the book of Revelation. But in this case, “apocalypse” refers to an unveiling of the reality in which we find ourselves in the present moment.

This apocalyptic moment calls us to look honestly at the brokenness of our world which is so, so far from the heavenly reality we are called to inhabit. The last few days have brought home to me that reality which is all so close to these words of Jesus that we hear. Not because of who won the presidential election, but because of the darkness this election has unmasked.

I want to make one thing abundantly clear before I go on. I understand that voting is complicated and each person in this community makes the best choice they can when striving to live our faith in the voting book. I am committed to Harcourt Parish remaining a place of welcome to all people where we assume the best in one another even in profound disagreement. And, while there is certainly a predominant political slant in our community, I make no assumptions about how anyone voted in this or any other election.

That said, we cannot look away from the racism and hateful language that singularly defined the campaign of the individual who will be our next president. We can’t look past the reality that the first black president will hand over power to a man openly—and enthusiastically—endorsed by the KKK. We cannot look past the reality that the incidents of hate crimes against various marginalized communities have risen more than they did after the 9/11 attack. That is the apocalyptic moment in which we live, however we voted last week.

There are a many people in the Christian world who want to rush to trust in the coming Kingdom of God. They proclaim God’s sovereignty as the only thing that matters for the Christian community. While it is certainly true that as Christians our ultimate hope must be that God’s supreme love will win out over all forms of injustice, the kingdom isn’t here yet. We may very well have much to face and endure before it manifests.

And it is in that word endurance that hope emerges in this apocalyptic moment. We are told those who endure to the end will be saved. What does it mean to endure? In this moment, I wonder if it might be how we bear with one another. How we support one another. How we work to empathize with one another and open ourselves up to see the reality others who are not just like us inhabit.

There has been much talk over the past few days of the need to come together as a country. We are called to reconciliation and healing. As a Christian leader, I share in that call to empathy and mutual understanding as the only path forward for our nation (or the church). But I also want to make something else abundantly clear, which is about where we place the burden for empathy in this moment. As a society and, especially as a church, we have a really unfortunate track record of putting the burden of empathy on those who have been victims. Victims of abuse are called in the name of Christian charity to forgive their abusers before they have had the time to name and work through their trauma. Victims of systemic racism are called to be the agents of reconciliation in a country where we cannot even admit that we have a problem with systemic racism. Members of the LGBTQ communities in the church are often charged to be the bigger people and show understanding for theological frameworks which cast their most intimate relationships or gender identity as inherently sinful.

We need to get over that. In this moment, the burden of empathy lies first and foremost with those who have power. No doubt many Christian people found their conscience compelling them to vote in different ways. But those who made the choice to support a candidate—for whatever reason—whose rhetoric legitimizes hatred towards women, people of color, people who are LGBTQ+, the disabled community, Muslims (the list goes on) have a particular burden on them to stand up and disavow that rhetoric. The burden is on those who elected our new government leaders to speak up and demand protection for marginalized communities. They are called at this time to affirm the dignity of every human being in the name of Christ.

They also have the special burden at this time to understand why people are afraid and grieving. There can be no excuse for any of us – whether or not we supported the new president-elect —to claim ignorance about why a person of color is afraid for their safety. There can be no excuse for any of us to claim ignorance about why a same sex couple might suddenly be afraid their marriage will be deemed invalid.

Many here today (not all, but many) are deeply grieved about the outcome of the election, and confused as to how anyone could make allowances for the offensive comments that have been made. And yet, despite that grief and confusion, are not at this moment in particular danger from increased acts of hate and discrimination. It is our burden to reach across the aisle in the opposite direction and understand the factors that led someone to support a candidate we cannot begin to understand. It is our obligation to reach out to neighbors, coworkers, or fellow parishioners and offer to hear their story—their fears and concerns—as well.

As we endure and persevere together we are also called to make this current reality reflective of God’s reality. In the coming weeks and months, how will you work to build a better America? Regardless of political affiliation will you join with local groups who are rising up to oppose the increased bullying and harassment we are already seeing in our local community? Will you give support to organizations committed to equality and justice? Will we all work to acknowledge and repent of the role we have played in producing a society so fundamentally broken?

Perhaps the greatest thing for us to remember today is that the work of reconciliation and endurance is not the work of a political party or a government structure. It is the work of human beings bearing with one another in self-giving love that defies all reason.

My favorite song in Hamilton isn’t actually “The World Turned Upside Down.” It is actually “It’s Quiet Uptown.” For those not familiar with the musical, Alexander has had a widely-publicized affair which itself causes his wife Eliza deep pain. Soon after their son Philip tragically dies in a duel defending his father’s honor. These events leave Alexander and Eliza deeply estrange and their family broken.

There are moments that the words don’t reach. / There’s a grief too powerful to name. / You hold your child as tight as you can / And push away the unimaginable.

Towards the end of the song, Eliza and Alexander finally reconcile, in a moment that echoes that unspeakable grief at the beginning:

There are moments that the words don’t reach / There’s a grace too powerful to name  … Forgiveness, can you imagine.

In a musical overflowing in powerful moments, these words are my favorite. And they always strike me as profoundly Christian. Grace is powerful beyond all words. Perfect forgiveness is something that does defy our imagination. But Eliza and Alexander only reconcile because Alexander spends this entire song staring into the reality of his wife’s grief and pain. They only reconcile because Alexander makes the equally unimaginable act of staring into the reality of his own fault in causing his wife’s pain.

These moments of grace, forgiveness, and repentance are the building blocks of God’s kingdom. Let us work together to build a reality that defies what we can possibly imagine, in the name of Christ.

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