Friends, it has been a long week for many of us. Perhaps you came here this morning seeking peace or comfort or answers, only to be met with our Savior pronouncing yet even more destruction and division. I invite you to enter into the text with me, trusting that Christ gives us the strength and endurance to walk through the valley of the shadow of darkness.
Our story takes place at the temple. Christ is with his disciples, nearing his crucifixion. He speaks of the trials that “must take place” – the temple will fall, false idols will come claiming his name, nation will rise against nation, earthquakes, famines, plagues, persecution and imprisonment, betrayal and death. Christ speaks of trials that by no means are easy to ignore. Trials like this demand our attention. Like a car wreck that causes I-40 to back up for miles – we cannot help but stare. Or worse yet, trials like this consume us; they’re like a disease that takes over our whole body and keeps us bedridden and broken for countless days. Trials will come, Jesus says, even to you my disciples.
But, worry not those whom I have called. When the trials come and try to steal your resolve, this is when you act, he says – this is when you testify. Testify to my name. Testify to the truth I have taught you. Testify to the call I have placed upon your hearts. Testify to the hope I have infused into your life. Testify? I can imagine the disciples wondering – “How does one stand knee deep in ashes and still declare Christ’s name? How does one who’s tears cannot stop flowing find the words to speak? How does one stand amidst the desolation of their beloved community and have the gall to proclaim that Christ has not abandoned us?”
The question, Jesus says, is not how? But rather will you be patient? Knowing full well that his children of every time and place demand answers and demand solutions and demand urgency to rectify what has been broken, Christ says – be patient. Do not prepare a defense in advance for such is futile and such is yours, not mine. I will give you all you need. I am the Word and therefore, will give you the word. I am the wisdom that shaped the world since creation and therefore, will give you wisdom even now. But – you must remain in this uncomfortable, liminal space, betwixt and between what was and what we pray might be. Do not abandon the cause out of exhaustion and fear. Do not slink away out of self-pity or embarrassment. Do not let the present situation decide your future. I let one single hair on your head perish, Christ says. I will give you all you need. But you must stay – you must even now.
Even now, Christ says. Even now.
I have not slept well this week. Call it the election. Call it being 38 weeks pregnant. Call it my two-year-old’s new trick of talking in his sleep. Wednesday morning was no exception. And while I had fully expected to wake up with either joy or sorrow, I strangely woke up with my mind on Jesus. I note this because it is odd for me – even your pastor – to find faith in times like these. There’s an old Gospel song called Woke Up This Morning with My Mind Stayed on Jesus, used again in the Freedom Movement with My Mind Stayed on Freedom. It keeps echoing in my heart – woke up this morning with my mind, stayed on Jesus…woke up this morning with my mind, stayed on Jesus. It feels defiant – and you know how I like a bit of defiance. And…it feels like the balm I need after a season of trials that promises to stretch into countless seasons to come.
I am keeping my mind on Jesus because regardless of how Tuesday’s election went, one cannot deny that our nation and thus, our very selves are in a time of trial and I need Jesus if I am to see clearly through this mess. We are in a trial that consumes us, turns our attention to matters that do not matter, turns us against one another and hardens our hearts. A trial that turns our words into weapons against God’s children. A trial that twists our tongues lest we speak with clarity, a trial that comes as vitriol rather than hope, a trial that comes as hate graffitied on churches and as Facebook posts of people you no longer can stand. A trial that comes as walls of division built from months of mumbled words at the dinner table. A trial that comes with such volume that we have become deaf by choice and defiantly refuse to listen any longer. A trial that leaves us speechless but not because Christ has yet to give us words but because we stand in the chaos with our fingers in our ears. A trial that keeps us from testifying with the words and wisdom Christ has given us, gives us, and will give us.
This is us, at the temple with Jesus, you see. His words still applicable 2000 years later. And like the first disciples, we disciples of Christ in the present day have a choice in this most present and pressing trial: to testify or to keep silent.
Only one choice, Christ reminds us, is the faithful response by which we gain our souls. But oh, how terrifying it is to testify. For it means as Christians, we must acknowledge that either way the election was to go, people were going to feel threatened. And yet – such knowledge should bring us no comfort nor should we want to be comforted for comfort in this case means complacency. I, for one, will not let the voices I heard this election fall silent on my heart and my resolve and cannot because I believe Christ calls us to listen to the entire body of Christ.
I will listen to the testimonies of others – of those who tremble with fear that their bodies will be hurt, be violated, and ignored, voices of the poor across racial lines, voices of those systematically ignored by the halls of power, voices of women of all ages, voices of veterans and of those in blue, voices of Christians, of Muslims, of Jews, of atheists, of agnostics, of immigrants who fear deportation, of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer folks, of those who benefit from generational wealth, of those who have been without work for months, of the people of color and the parents who cannot guarantee their safety. I must, as a Christian, listen to the testimonies that come from the voices of all of Christ’s broken and suffering body. To place myself under Christ’s banner demands that – however painful it might be – I will listen.
And if you, too, as Christians decide to place yourself under the banner of our Lord, then this must also be true: That as Christians, we must not put our trust in government leaders to be the ones to fix or remedy the sins we commit as one body. When one part of the body sins, the whole body is complicit. I have not murdered nor evaded my taxes nor committed adultery but I have ignored my neighbors and hurt those I love and live on land wrested from generations of native people and soaked in the blood of slavery. No political leader can purge us with hyssop and create in us a clean heart. No political structure can redeem the countless sins we carry in our bones. Christ is the only one who can cure our collective body and Christ is the only one worthy to be called our leader. That is the truth we proclaim, no matter what bubble we filled in on Tuesday.
And if you, too, as Christians decide to listen to the testimony of others, to place yourself under Christ’s reign and not a temple of our own making, then this must also be true: That as Christians, we are defiantly hopeful. We must lift our hearts above the rubble, choosing life even when death looms near. This time of trial calls us to be people who carry both the suffering and the salvation, the fear and the faith, the hurt and the hope. This time of trial call us to be not just Easter people who look only to the Resurrection with its beautiful, piercing joy but to be people whose hands and hearts are big enough to remember the pain of the betrayal, the arrest, of the death that took our Lord on Good Friday, of the painful waiting and agony of Holy Saturday and yet still proclaim that love wins. This time of trial calls us to wade into the ashes, to stand knee deep next to your neighbors, and to be the disciples Christ has formed for such a time as this.
This, my friends, is how we testify. If this feels overwhelming to you – it should. It is no small call. But remember this: you are called at your birth and thus, are made capable. Such has been true since the beginning of your life and all our lives. God’s people survived trials greater than the one at hand. And in all trials, God’s people heeded their call: they stood up, raised their collective voice, stood shoulder to shoulder into the fray, been the wonderfully and fearfully made body.
The Exodus from Egypt relied on the whole body walking as one across the dry sea bed. The wilderness shaped the body into a covenant community. The exile forged the body’s resolve. The disciples walked with Jesus, witnessed the breaking of his body, touched his wounds, and when their own lives were threatened with the same fate, chose to rebuild the body of Christ as the early church. Discipleship does not absolve us from trial. Discipleship calls us to be the body of Christ in the trial. Such has been true then and such is true now.
What we face now is but a glimpse of how dire the world can be. It was not long ago when the world seemed to turn – either in action or in a blind eye – against God’s people. Remember with me: It was the late 1930s and into the 1940s. A nation rose up out of fear and hate. Destruction reigned. Many did not survive. But one man did, a man who is still living and not too far from here in Raleigh. He knows greater destruction than many of us have ever known. He survived the trial that millions of his faithful sisters and brothers did not during the Holocaust. As a child, his body was taken to a concentration camp where he saw the ceaseless, senseless, systematic elimination of God’s people. As a child, his body was daily threatened. Every day, the Nazi soldiers lined up all the young boys of the camp to sniff out the weakest. The two weakest were never seen again after the line up. This man was a small, slight child, easily counted in the death knell. But this man was a small, slight child who had two friends. Each would take a side, hoisting him up and standing so close – so tightly – that all three would appear to be shoulder to shoulder. And every day, the boy was passed over. Every day, his body was held up by the bodies of God’s disciples choosing life in the midst of death, choosing hope when all seemed lost, choosing to testify that no matter what, hate will not have the final word.
Friends, what will be your final word? Wake up with your mind stayed on Jesus and know that he will give you the words. But be ready – the time is now to testify. The time is now to stand shoulder to shoulder. The time is now to be Christ’s body in the world. But then again, the time has always been now. This election does not make our work more urgent – the suffering of God’s people does not dissipate with who is in office. This election does not make our work more relevant – the testimonies of all God’s people are always being spoken. We have simply chosen when to listen. This election does not make our work more necessary – the healing of the world is forever our collective call as disciples. The time is now. So, how will you testify? May you know you are called to this work. You always have been. In the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.