They Shall Sit Under Their Own Fig Tree and No one Shall Make Them Afraid

Transcribed from the sermon preached  November 13, 2016

The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor

Scripture Readings: Isaiah 6:1-10, Luke 13: 1-9

It is Veterans Day weekend, and the first Sunday after the election. Maybe the candidate you voted for won, but I suspect that most of us are shocked. This election seemed quite different from the others I have experienced in my life. Some of my assumptions about the United States have been challenged. Maybe, as Carl Barth warned, liberal theology is compromised with modernity’s arrogant optimism, progressivism and superiority. We think society, history and nature are evolving toward us.  I am afraid of what might happen next. I realize that as a privileged white male liberal American, I haven’t ever really felt afraid of the government might do to me for my beliefs. I have always trusted that the American people were such lovers of freedom that they would defend it for all of us. And we were on the way to all of us meaning all of us. But now it seems possible that if fear is heightened, then the American people and our government may seek to withdraw freedoms for some and punish dissent. It may be that our congregation will be called to a new level of commitment to our faith – it may become more costly for us. How important is diversity and inclusivity and sanctuary to our service to Christ. I would rather think things will not go as bad as threatened. I even want to give our next president the benefit of the doubt and see what he will do. Maybe he will get private businesses to fix the water pipes of Flint. And I am driven that the election was, relatively speaking, a fair contest, and I should accept defeat. We don’t want to be like the other side threatened to be. The idea of majority wins free elections with peaceful transitions of power is a very important value many nations dream of. The election is over, so now the battle moves back to issues. Like the fig tree in Jesus’ parable, perhaps we need to give it some time, some tending.

Certainly I think the significance of this change is so great that it is highly likely we do not know what our wise response should be. Certainly we can tend our own fig tree, we can till our own soil, put some nutrients at the base and see if we can produce some fruit.

I don’t feel wise, nor am I certain that more words at this point will make things better. I see and hear very little wisdom at this point from either or every side. I feel a bit like Isaiah: just by being a part of the American people I feel like a sinner – like I somehow unwittingly helped us to get to such a rotten place – that as I come before God in this sanctuary this morning I feel like crying out, “Woe is me! For I am lost’; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Our first words this first Sunday ought to be God forgive us. God forgive me.

But there is another message I hear God bringing this morning to those who are not accustomed to losing this badly. The message is in two parts: 1. the government is not God. 2. God is God regardless of the government, regardless of our blindness and ignorance and prejudice. God is not dead because we lost an election. God is not dead even if God is crucified and buried by the government. That is the Christian message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not called to win. We are called to be faithful to the gospel of love, no matter what. Love does not lose by losing. Love loses by ceasing to be loving.

So Isaiah’s first response before the holy God is, woe is me. I am not worthy. But then God asks – I need a prophet for justice, whom shall I send.

Forgiven, cleansed by the Grace of God, Isaiah says, “Send me. Here I am lord. Send me.” Now it is our turn! God is asking, whom shall I send? What is our response?

We close today with the invocation at today’s Berkeley Veterans Memorial service. Spirit of all life, God of many names, source of justice and mercy, we pay tribute to those who have served our country. We express our gratitude for their courage, selflessness, both those among us today and those of generations past. This nation, built by those born of this soil and those who have come here from all corners of the earth, is on a continual journey toward its destiny. May we never let down those who have served in defense of this country. May we take up their care, and uphold the values of freedom, of the inherent dignity of every human being, by our own right conduct, by the kindness and tolerance we show to one another, by the peace and justice and equal opportunity we hope for and seek. We ask forgiveness for those things we have said and done which should not have said and done; for those things we have not said and done which we should have said and done. May we repent from arrogance, and yet have the courage to lead the world by example, and become, in the words of Isaiah, a light to the nations. Amen