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Encountering Others

Date:7/22/18

Series: Ordinary TIme

Category: 2018 Sermons

Passage: Leviticus 19:33-34

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

 

Encountering Others
Leviticus 19: 33-34
Romans 12:13-20
Mathew 25: 35-40

Last Sunday in worship, during the Time for the Child in All of Us, I gave you a homework assignment to go see the movie about Fred Rogers; Won’t You Be My Neighbor.

I talked about how starved we are as a society for what that movie brings. But David Brooks said it better than I could in an article he wrote for the Times titled; Fred Rogers and the Loveliness of the Little Good. But what Rogers was doing much greater than a Little Good. Brooks writes;

The power is in Rogers’s radical kindness at a time when public kindness is scarce. It’s as if the pressure of living in a time such as ours gets released in that theater as we’re reminded that, oh yes, that’s how people can be.

Moral elevation gains strength when it is scarce.

But there’s also something more radical going on. Mister Rogers was a lifelong Republican and an ordained Presbyterian minister. His show was an expression of the mainline Protestantism that was once the dominating morality in American life.

Brooks goes on to talk about a time that Rogers asked a boy with cerebral palsy to pray for him. When Rogers was complimented for boosting the boys self-esteem, Rogers said “Oh, heavens no, (Tom! ) I didn’t ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.”

Brooks continues-
And here is the radicalism that infused that show: that the child is closer to God than the adult; that the sick are closer than the healthy; that the poor are closer than the rich and the marginalized closer than the celebrated….

Rogers was drawing on a long moral tradition, that the last shall be first….. (Along the way) that tradition has been replaced by an achievement-oriented success culture. 

This movie comes in the middle of chaos, a time when the truth is no longer discernible, ethics have been replaced by legality, technology and social media have replaced real connection, people’s ability to be present in any given moment is diminishing,  we are seeing highly increased rates of depression and anxiety among young people…you can bet we are starved for kindness, a slower pace, meaning, morality. We are starved for a way of being that reflects what we know to be true. That Christ lived this radical way of welcoming others in kindness and in a truth that is grounded in love. Rogers was attempting to cultivate the kind of society he wanted. Beginning with the goodness of children who he counted on growing up to be equally good adults.

As Christians living at a time when it’s not at all popular to be Christian in Marin County, we are called upon to cultivate the kind of society we want.[1] We believe in the kingdom of God here and now. As part of the Reformed tradition the kingdom is not just a place we go to when we die, but something God is doing now, and as part of God’s creation it is our responsibility to help see to fruition that kingdom.

In Judaism, there is the concept of Tikkun Olam, which is Hebrew for World Repair. The human responsibility for fixing what is broken in the world extends to us.

We get stuck when we argue over whats broken in the world. When we disagree on the kind of society we want. Ones person’s kingdom may look entirely different from another person’s kingdom. We could sit around arguing capitalism versus free market, or socialism versus capitalism, you name it, if we sit in a room we will argue about it and truth with a capital t begins to diminish. Which is why as Christians, it’s not our kingdom at all but belongs to God first, and so we go to this book, this collection of teachings, holy wisdom, and discern together what that kingdom looks like.

There are many ways to interpret these teachings, and there are many gray areas, but there are also things that the Bible is altogether clear on. And welcoming the stranger is one of those things.

There are countless verses I could quote about welcoming the stranger and even more about hospitality in both testaments. I could point out that the holy family themselves were strangers in a foreign land as they traveled; that Exodus repeatedly recounts this idea, “remember, you were once the foreigner, therefore you must now extend hospitality to the other, the stranger because that was once you.”

~~~~~~~~~

Rachel Naomi Remen, in her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom, interviewed a Holocaust survivor, Yitzak. Yitzak talks about a time he was uncomfortable in a group of people he didn’t know….so he prays to God-

“…I say to Him, ‘God is it okay to luff strangers?’ And God says to me, ‘Yitzak, vat is dis, strangers? You make strangers. I don’t make strangers.'”

To love the stranger is counter-intuitive to us. We shy away, we wonder, especially about the ones who may be suffering mental illness, those who practice religions we don’t fully understand, those who don’t believe what we believe and those who don’t see the world or politics the way we see the world. So we get bigger and louder until we can no longer stand to be in the same room.

So what do we do to help practice for the kind of society we want? We practice the same radical love that Jesus Christ taught us to practice. We stop dividing ourselves into groups where the biggest thing that bonds us is who we are against.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said The supreme religious challenge is to see God’s image in one who is not in our image.

BBT writes that to encounter another human being, to love neighbor as yourself, is not as someone you can control, change, fix, help, save, enroll convince or control- but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it. All you have to do is to recognize another you “out there” your other self in the world for whom you may care as instinctively as you care for yourself. To become that person even for a moment is to understand what it means to die to your self. This can be as frightening as it is liberating. It may be the only real spiritual discipline there is.

To practice that is to spend every waking moment reminding yourself that the other is you. Despite all the myriad of ways we make our lives more important than the person who is in front of us, we are called to see Christ, to see God in all we encounter.

The more we practice this way of living in the world, the more we help to create the kind of society we want. The more we stop judging others on a man-made criteria of success, the more we begin to welcome people for the God-given criteria of their goodness, their story, their hearts. The more we practice sitting at dinner with those who vote differently the better we begin to understand forgiveness. The more we learn to care for all children because they are innocent always, no matter the circumstance, the more we understand leadership that embodies the same kind of biblical truth we've come to understand as belonging to Jesus Christ, the more we understand that we have a responsibility to walk humbly and serve God with loving kindness by embodying that loving kindness when encountering others, the more likely we are to build the society we want.

In Christ there is no east or west. there is no slave or free, no greek or jew, no male or female. We are all one. This is our intentional community where we come to put into practice here the way we hope the world can be out there.

What we have in common beyond all identity of race, religion, ethnicity, or gender is our humanity.

~~~

Brene brown for those who don’t remember is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Endowed Chair. She’s spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She’s the author of four books: including her latest Braving the Wilderness.

In it she writes about the process of dehumanizing, which she believes, based on her research, always starts with language.

She writes-
Dehumanizing always starts with language, often followed by images. We see this throughout history. During the Holocaust, Nazis described Jews as Untermenschen—subhuman. They called Jews rats and depicted them as disease-carrying rodents in everything from military pamphlets to children’s books. Hutus involved in the Rwanda genocide called Tutsis cockroaches. Indigenous people are often referred to as savages. Serbs called Bosnians aliens. Slave owners throughout history considered slaves subhuman animals.

Humiliation and dehumanizing are not accountability or social justice tools, they’re emotional off-loading at best, emotional self-indulgence at worst. And if our faith asks us to find the face of God in everyone we meet, that should include the politicians, media, and strangers on Twitter with whom we most violently disagree. When we desecrate their divinity, we desecrate our own, and we betray our humanity.

Brown goes on to give examples of what this looks like played out. I have been debating all week as to whether I should read them out loud. I promise if I do, I will get both those on the left and those on the right mad at me. So here goes…

If you are offended or hurt when you hear Hillary Clinton or Maxine Waters called ...(names I can’t say in church) you should be equally offended and hurt when you hear those same words used to describe Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, or Theresa May.

If you’re offended by Instagram photos of Trump made to look like Hitler, you should have been equally offended by Facebook photos of Obama made to look like the joker.

When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens, we should immediately wonder, “Is this an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity so we can get away with hurting them or denying them basic human rights?”

 There is a line. It’s etched from dignity. And raging, fearful people from the right and left are crossing it at unprecedented rates every single day. We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history. 

~~~~

If you didn’t like that, try this because it’s even harder-

Romans 12:-Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[b] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[c]

God is in everyone, our job is not to wait until we find God in everyone, but to accept that as truth… that person in front of me is as much God as I am… regardless of my inability to see it or feel it.

 ~~~~~

So we practice, saying hello- by looking at someone in the eye. Forgo the usual “how are you today” for an eye to eye pause and a heartfelt… how are you? Trade in the, “have a nice day,” for an eye to eye, “thank you for your help.” We practice-by resisting using the same dehumanizing language we protest over when it’s said about our guy, but somehow think it’s ok when it's their guy. We practice praying for those who we believe are on the wrong side of history by entering into conversation with curiosity as to how they got there. We practice by seeing the person living on the street and remembering that we know nothing about how they got there.  We practice by helping them instead of condemning them. We practice by assuming you know nothing about the person who cut you off or said a nasty thing, never knowing the circumstances that got them there. We practice-by asking others to pray for us in the most of humbling ways. We practice-by getting on our knees when we pray because we are in need and humbled by a God who gives all. We practice- losing our self so that the encounter with the other fills us up in such a way that the line between self and other dissolves into human love. Given by God, and begotten through Grace.

 

 [1] Practicing for the Society We Want, Christian Century