Wise Words?: a sermon on 1Kings 3

Yesterday, a white supremacist, neo-Nazi walked into Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered 11 people as they worshipped. This terrible, tragic, heart-breaking, hateful, and hate-filled act must be renounced — especially by Christians. Our faith has for too long and too often been used to justify violent anti-Semitism. I hope resistance to such horrible ideas comes through in this sermon.

A few resources to help bring the message to life:

The Narrative Lectionary text for today is 1 Kings chapter 3. I used The Message version today in honor of the late Eugene Peterson.

The video by The Bible Project on the book of Kings (we showed the first 4 minutes)

Quotes from Professor Cameron B. R. Howard’s commentary.

My intended thesis: True wisdom is always rooted in love. What theme did you hear?

Likely the best part of the sermon (though such a designation is ultimately up to you, dear reader/listener) :

Prof. Howard again: “This story  is a startling reminder of the depths of human despair and our continual yearning for God’s presence among us.”

We don’t lack for stories of human despair, nor do we feel so satiated by God’s presence that we no longer yearn for more.

We need wise words rooted in love because hateful, violent words foment hateful, violent actions. 11 people are dead in Pittsburgh because the shooter lived into the “wisdom” of white supremacy, white nationalism, neo-Nazis. We must ask ourselves: What role does a distorted, hateful version of Christianity play in this? Let’s be like the author of Kings and be honest about our violent past. For centuries, from the beginning really, some Christians have read the gospels as if God hates Jews. That hateful, violent language fomented many tragic hateful violent actions against Jews.

Together, let’s tell better, wiser stories. Stories rooted in love for all people.

Sermon audio:  

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

What’s next?

“Today and everyday, I will fight hatred with love and kindness.”

It has been, and continues to be, a very difficult week for some of us. Each day since the election, reports of violent words and actions against women, blacks, Muslims, and LGBT folks are (trigger warning for hate speech and language) filling our timelines — including dozens of reports of it happening in schools; happening to children.

I find myself in an unusual position: largely at a loss for words. Words are kinda my thing. It is disconcerting to have them fail me in this time when so many are feeling, well, all the feels: shock, fear, anger, disbelief, victory, emboldened, attacked, or even hopeful. We need wise words to help us organize our thoughts and feelings and to galvanize us into action. So I’m relying on the wise words of others.

Like that quote at the top of the page. Know who said that? A high school student from our church, Woodridge UMC, tweeted it Wednesday.

“Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love your enemy and pray for them.” Those are other words I keep going back to.

None of us know what the next four years might bring. We don’t even know what tomorrow will bring. All we have for certain is today. So today we offer love and kindness. If campaign promises of massive deportation, stripping of rights for women and the LGBT community, and banning entire religions come to fruition, it will be up to us as a community (especially the community of faith in Jesus the Liberating King) to respond with love, kindness, and protection.

If campaign tactics of empowering and employing white supremacists (or white nationalists or “alt-right” or whatever else they are calling themselves today) continue, it will be up to us as a community (especially the community of faith in Jesus the Liberating King) to respond with love, kindness, and protection.

Right now, our church building has a beautiful sanctuary. That building may need to become a literal sanctuary. Will we be ready for that?

Here’s another wise tweet from one of our students: “It is easy to hate, it takes strength to be gentle and kind. It is through love that we will get through this, be kind to one another today.”

How might we do that? By saying to any and all — but most especially to the marginalized and the demonized — that this is a safe space. We are here for you. We love you.

Or, as one of my friends put it:

If you wear a hijab, I’ll sit with you on the train.

If you’re trans, I’ll go to the bathroom with you.

If you’re a person of color, I’ll stand with you if the police stop you.

If you’re a person with disabilities, I’ll hand you my megaphone.

If you’re an immigrant, I’ll help you find resources.

If you’re a survivor, I’ll believe you.

If you’re a refugee, I’ll make sure you’re welcome.

If you’re a veteran, I’ll take up your fight.

If you’re LGBT, I won’t let anyone tell you you’re broken.

If you’re a woman, I’ll make sure you get home ok.

If you need a hug, I’ve got an infinite supply.

If you need me, I’ll be with you. All I ask is that you be with me, too.

That seems to me like the to-do list we all need.

Why does this matter so much? Let me share one last quote from this week. This one from a young adult who grew up in our congregation:

“From the moment I saw your video that accepted lgbt youth into the church without judgement, I knew I was accepted in my church. And that meant more to me than I could ever explain.”

Friends, we now know what’s next. We now know what we have to do and who we have to be: agents of God’s love, kindness, and protection.