Sermon: The Discomfort of Faith

January 14, 2018
John 1:43-51, Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

My intent for this morning’s sermon had been to reflect on the intimacy of our relationship with God, the God who has “searched me and known me.” The psalmist seemed to find that relationship both uncomfortable and comforting. In these days of targeted advertising, security cameras, and Internet surveillance by governments, corporations, and curious individuals, I thought Psalm 139 had something to say about our privacy, and about how different God is from these other familiar and distressing actors in our lives.

But then the President made his foul remark about other countries, and it was not just God who heard it, and it was not just God who reported it. God may have known what was on his lips before he said it, but the rest of us learned what was in his heart because he said it.

And if you think what you heard sounded like racial bigotry, that’s what I heard, too.

Nathanael would have understood it. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he scoffed when Philip told him he’d found the Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” “Can anything good come out of Africa?” “Can anything good come out of Haiti?” “Can anything good come out of an island in the Pacific?”

Apparently the only place anything good can come from in Norway. By the way, when my grand-grandparents left Norway for the United States, they didn’t think it was such a great place.

But it’s not just the President who asks such questions, is it? “Can anything good come out of Puna?” “Can anything good come out of Micronesia?” “Can anything good come from Okinawa?” or, if your family came from Okinawa, the question might be, “Can anything good come from Honshu?”

Yes, we know something about making disparaging judgments about people based on where they’re from.

And yesterday:

“Can anything good come out of North Korea?”

I don’t know what you did when the warning came in yesterday. I was still getting dressed, preparing to head down to Pahoa for the Ho ‘Ike at Pu’ula United Church of Christ. And the warning stopped me cold for a minute.

Where, I wondered, could I go for some effective shelter against an incoming nuclear missile?

The best I could come up with was the bedroom closet. That didn’t seem like much.

So what I did was to get dressed as if life was going to go on.

I wasn’t conscious of it. All I wanted was to have some pants on when the missile arrived. But I started to notice that some things were missing. The sirens weren’t wailing. The radio hadn’t switched to emergency messages. And a quick Google search showed no other signs of trouble. Hawai’i’s emergency management website showed no warnings.

So I went to pick up music to bring down to Pu’ula’s ‘Aha Mele.

All the way along, though, even as my doubts about the warning grew, before the first news agency reported that the warning was issued in error, there was one thing I knew:

If this was real, I knew where the missile was coming from. If this was real, I knew what country had sent it. If this was real, I knew exactly why they’d done it. If this was real, I knew that the insults and the posturing that had replace actual foreign policy and negotiation had come to this.

And what a monstrous evil that was.

So from yesterday’s false alarm, I take warning. Let’s step back from the brink. There is nothing of value in a nuclear exchange. There is no winning. At best, there is only surviving.

I know people in the towns around Seoul, South Korea. It is farther to Kona from here than it is to the demilitarized zone from Seoul. Nuclear bombs in North Korea would have a terrible effect on South Korea.

And more: in South Korea, they know that the people of North Korea are family. They ache for their sufferings and poverty. They try to alleviate it, especially for children. And while they yearn for the day the two nations become one, they have no interest in a military conquest, no interest in a nuclear exchange.

Our government needs to grow up. International diplomacy is not a kindergarten playground. And I know from watching that if a child on this playground behaved as our President or the North Korean President have been acting, they’d be stopped, scolded, and told to apologize before they could play again.

“Can anything good come out of North Korea?” “Can anything good come out of the White House?”

We must see that it does.

If the President swaggers and threatens, we must tell him that this is wrong, and that he will not find support in his posturing. If the President proposes racially biased national policy, we must tell him that he is wrong, and labor without ceasing until those policies go into the dustbin of history. If the President persists, we must persist.

He is not the first to bring racial prejudice into the White House. In fact, the sad truth of the United States is that bigotry is our heritage. Jim Wallis of Sojourners calls it America’s Original Sin. Rachel Hackenberg wrote this week that the President has laid bare America’s racism “but people are posting on social media, saying, ‘We’re better than this.’ No we’re not. Who but white people look at racism and suggest, ‘There’s monumental evidence that white folks rise above racism’? Yes, white people, [the President] is our mirror.”

We are not better than this. Yet we should be better than this. We must be better than this.

Which brings me back full circle to the Discomfort of Faith. I thought last week that the discomfort of faith was about how thoroughly God knows us. And that’s true. Here we are, exposed this week: seeing clearly for the first time the incredible risks we’re taking with foreign policy, and their monumental consequences. Seeing clearly the racial bias shaping both foreign and domestic policy. Seeing, on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day weekend, that the promised land has not come.

We’re still asking if anything good can come out of Nazareth. Shouldn’t Nathanael have been the last to ask that question?

Better, I think, to follow the Psalmist’s lead at the very end of this song, which wasn’t included in the reading today. Here it is:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

“See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Let this be our prayer: “Lead me in the way everlasting.”


Listen to the Recorded Sermon:

Note that the prepared text above and the sermon as delivered differ. They usually do.

The photo is of a sunset over Kilauea. We are blessed that we can see more sunsets, and more sunrises – and we must work to see that we do.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on January 14, 2018

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  1. by Rachel Garrett

    On January 15, 2018

    Wonderful words so appropriate for today. I pray for love to win over hate and bigotry.

  2. by holycrosshilo

    On January 16, 2018

    Thank you so much for your kind words – and particularly for your prayers. Mahalo!

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