Love Uproots Hate
August 20, 2017
Pastor Monte Stevens – North Riverdale Lutheran Church – Dayton, Ohio
10-11 He then called the crowd together and said, “Listen, and take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life, but what you vomit up.”
12 Later his disciples came and told him, “Did you know how upset the Pharisees were when they heard what you said?”
13-14 Jesus shrugged it off. “Every tree that wasn’t planted by my Father in heaven will be pulled up by its roots. Forget them. They are blind men leading blind men. When a blind man leads a blind man, they both end up in the ditch.”
15 Peter said, “I don’t get it. Put it in plain language.”
16-20 Jesus replied, “You, too? Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you know that anything that is swallowed works its way through the intestines and is finally defecated? But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It’s from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing. That’s what pollutes. Eating or not eating certain foods, washing or not washing your hands—that’s neither here nor there.”
I come to you this morning with both a heavy heart, but also a heart full of hope. My heart is heavy from the events of Charlottesville last Saturday through today. Sad because of the racial hate and bigotry that has been on display. In the news, there’s been the deplorable ideologies of White Supremacy, Neo-Nazis, Anti-Semitism and White Nationalism. All of these ideologies are wrong and antithetical to the good news of the gospel. The good news Jesus lived and taught.That means that these ideologies are antithetical to the Church and her people—to the disciples of Jesus.
The very opening salvo of our sacred scripture, reminds us, that God created each of us in God’s holy and divine image—male and female he created us—and it was VERY Good. That’s how our scripture begins, with each life being sacred, each life sharing in the divine, and with each life being holy and good. Our biblical narrative begins in equality and thus in love for one another. The Kingdom Jesus taught was based on equality.
That’s why the number 900 is so tragic this week. 900 is the number of Hate Groups operating in the United States, according to data from the Southern Poverty Law Center. This Alabama-based nonprofit activist group tracks civil right crimes and hate crimes. They define a hate group as an organization with “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics. “Immutable characteristics are characteristics you can’t change, like the color of your skin, or being born Jewish, or being born homosexual, or transgendered. Science and religion say we’re all the same. Misguided and evil ideologies say we’re different—one better than another. 900 groups and their followers may be, in reality, a very small minority of the population, but history pleads with us to remember, small beginnings can lead to movements and movements to tragic consequences—where the worst of humanity is on display, rather than the best of humanity
The church has the ethical, moral, and divine calling to be God’s people in the world, taking our rightful stand, and non-violent stand, for Justice and Righteousness. To do this we must call evil, evil, and not allow our religion to be hijacked by evil ideologies.
The very recent past teaches us much we need to remember and reflect upon today. To remember this recent past, I want to read to you, a pastoral message from Bishop Tim Smith—the ELCA bishop of the North Carolina Synod.
He begins, “When Wendy and I lived in Berlin on our seminary internship in 1984 and 1985, horror stories of the Nazi Regime of the ‘30s and ‘40s in Germany regularly shocked us. There was the spouse of a retired pastor whose reach across the dinner table to pass us the bread revealed her concentration camp serial number tattooed on her wrist. There was the Lutheran pastor and his wife just outside of Weimar who insisted that they as teenagers had no idea what was going on up on the hill at Camp Buchenwald and that the thick greasy smoke was from some sort of manufacturing, not tens of thousands of bodies of Jews, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, and resistors of the state being cremated within sight of their home. Oh, they had heard and read the rumors, but they just couldn’t fathom that it could possibly be true.
Some of the victims were flayed and/or beheaded before cremation, their skin transformed into macabre lampshades and their heads shrunken into ornamental trinkets. This was all not only acceptable but inevitable, the Nazis insisted, since these body parts came from clearly inferior human beings. … (This ideology says) …You can’t have a superior race, culture, or religion without carefully labeling and eventually oppressing, exploiting, and finally exterminating the inferior ones. The only thing more appalling than these and countless more graphic images of the evil that pervaded this chapter in history is that, with the small exception of the Confessing Church, this thoroughly Lutheran culture, dominated by a Lutheran State Church, regularly either refused to believe or looked the other way and remained silent.
Churches were required to display swastikas as their altar paraments, and the huge majority complied. Virtually all protests were squelched by the Nazis themselves who quoted Martin Luther, reminding those concerned that all governments are instituted by God, and we are therefore to obey the governing authorities. After all, isn’t that what Paul says in Romans 13?
A notable exception, of course, was Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He spoke and acted, boldly speaking the Gospel even to a totalitarian state. It eventually cost him his life. Bonhoeffer reminds us that silence in the face of evil is essentially endorsement or consent.
You don’t need me to rehash all the recent news. Charlottesville is only the tip of the iceberg of recent white supremacist hatred, the most blatant form white privilege. Nine persons died at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, because they were black and a white shooter felt it his calling to start a race war to rid the world once and for all of non-whites. That shooter, by the way, was also an ELCA Lutheran.
Across the country last fall and winter, Jewish Community Centers were targets of threats, vandalism and destruction. Men were knifed this spring for standing up for an elderly Muslim woman against her tormentors. Hatred and evil are always lurking just beneath the surface, but something, perhaps someone, has unleashed them, empowered them, given them voice and encouragement and power again.
These are troubled times. A pastor formerly in this synod lamented on Facebook this past Sunday, “It’s 2017, and I have to preach a sermon on why Nazism is bad.” It really is unbelievable. And any group, white or otherwise, whose identity hinges on demeaning, exploiting, or destroying any other group is, let me say for the record, simply evil.
Jews hated the Samaritans and wanted to blame them for everything. Jesus used the Samaritan as the hero in the story. He reached out to and lifted up women, foreigners, lepers, the unclean, and not only included but embraced them.
As bishop of this synod and in all humility, I denounce the racist oppression and violence in Charlottesville and throughout our society. We Lutherans have a shameful history of quietism. We must speak out against the evil of racism and the self-righteousness that always wants to blame someone else in order to elevate the sinful self. Looking the other way simply won’t do. Silence is assent.
This ends the bishop’s pastoral statement.
I like preaching from the lectionary, the assigned lessons for each week, because I often see the Holy Spirit working through the lessons given on any particular Sunday. As I read through our gospel lesson from Matthew this week, with the churning of the news constantly in the background, one line from Jesus spoke to me. Did you hear it this morning when I read the gospel?
“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.”
This came after the Pharisees took offence at Jesus for teaching that they had the core of religion wrong. It’s not what goes into the mouth the defiles a person, it’s what comes out of the mouth. Jesus is saying, it’s not about ritual, it’s about heart and what comes out of your heart. What comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and bad stuff coming out of the heart will defile you.
What’s in your heart, the good news or the defiled news? Is racial equality in your heart—all being created equal and good. Or, do you have in your heart a different gospel on race.
History teaches us how misguided ideologies can be planted, take root, and grow. Jesus saw it in his own day and taught the following. “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.”
Did God plant White Supremacy?
Did God plant Anti-Semitism?
Did God plant White Nationalism?
Did God plant Neo-Nazism?
Did God plant the current 900 hate groups that are now active in the United States?
We as the people of God, in the world today, need to boldly and robustly say, NO! They are not from God. These ideologies can’t have a place in our church and they will not be allowed to use our scripture to justify their misguided ends.
“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.”
Our stand for justice and righteousness will help God uproot all that is not part of the good news. We and the church need to be the light of Christ in the world, scattering the darkness. We must not allow the quietism of the past have any place in the present.
As I conclude this morning, I want to offer an image of the church that is antithetical to the 900 hate groups in this country. 900 hates groups seem like a lot, but consider this. Each church in this country should be, and can be, considered and used by God as a Love Group.
There are 9,320 ELCA churches this morning across this nation. That’s 9,320 Love Groups! It’s hard to be precise about how many protestant and catholic churches, or communities of faith, there are across this country, but it’s around 350,000! That’s a lot of LOVE Groups to spread the good news. That’s at least one hundred and fifty million people shining the light of love and actively rejecting the darkness of ideologies based in hate.
When we baptize any person into the faith, we give them their calling—“Let your Light so shine!” Let us not fall into quietism.
Jesus said, “Love God … Love Neighbor!” We will robustly do that! Amen!