Resistance As Act Of Love: A Sermon
By Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush
It has been a deeply challenging week for me and for my family and for my communities. I woke up on Wednesday morning and I understood that the world I thought I knew had changed and I have been wrestling with the significance of that change for my life and for my faith.
Preaching is testimony and testimony is an act of articulation of who we are and what we believe at any given point in our lives, with the hope that with more experiences our testimony continues to grow and evolve. This is a time for each of us to clarify our faith and to remember who it is we call Lord. So, here is what I believe today.
I am a follower of Jesus, who was the embodiment of love, the word of love made flesh. I am a follower of Jesus, whose mother gave birth to him in a manger and whose very birth was so threatening to the powerful that they plotted to kill him as an infant. I follow a dark skinned, Palestinian Jew whose first sermon preached liberation for the oppressed, release to the captives and good news to the poor.
Jesus, whose best followers were women, who praised people of other faiths, who tenderly washed the feet of those around him, and who angrily cleansed the temple of hypocrisy.
I call Lord, the one who stood up to bullies who would stone a woman for adultery and condemned the righteous piety of those who would judge but had no mercy. I follow the Jesus who gave dignity to those degraded, invited repentance for our trespasses against God and neighbor and draws us into right relation.
I follow Jesus, our leader of a rag-tag band of outcasts who were despised and blessed. Jesus, who showed compassion to the hurting, healing to the suffering and life to the dead. I follow Jesus who was such a threat to an empire that he was killed on the cross and yet who rose again and whose spirit continues to live even on this day, in this room, where people are gathered in his name.
I follow Jesus who, before he died, gave a commandment that those who would be his followers must love one another in the same way that he loved them. Who warned us that it was only by their love that people would be able to know that they were Jesus followers.
So what does loving as Jesus loves mean in a time when we have elected a man whose candidacy was built upon an us vs them mentality, whose very motto evoked a time when people who weren’t white, Christian, straight and male knew their place. A candidate who derided the differently abled, who threatened the immigrant, whose career has been built on the backs of the weaker, who denigrated and assaulted women because he could get away with it, who normalized racism against black and brown bodies, and whose rhetoric has given permission for violence against Muslims and Jews and queers.
Already since Tuesday the attacks have begun. Young people in middle school are being targeted with chants of ‘build the wall’ and ‘go back to where you came from’, at NYU a Muslim prayer room was vandalized, at Baylor a white student shoved a black student off the sidewalk telling her to know her place. The Southern Poverty Law Center has reported at least 201 verified racist incidents since Trump’s victory. I’m thinking of the queer kids who are scared now, alone and more vulnerable than they were just a few days ago. Of immigrant friends who fear that their status will be changed and that they will be deported. I fear for black men and women whose lives are already targeted on the streets. I fear for my family and how gay marriage is a recent and fragile gain, and we have a child, and I fear for our safety.
So how do I love as Jesus loved in this time of fear and hate and fracture? Just saying you are a Christian is not enough. No. Christianity is suspect. White Christians voted 2 to 1 for the president elect. There is no cover in religious labels.
Yet still I will follow Jesus and I will try to love as he would have me love and for me that is a call to resistance.
I will resist by drawing upon the spiritual power given to me by Jesus the brown savior who demanded justice, who stood up to bullies, who called the most vulnerable the most blessed. I will follow Jesus, the loving resister, who called for the deep repentance that precedes reconciliation rather an easy grace that leads to nothing. The cuts already go deep and the knives are still being sharpened as we speak. I will resist in Jesus’ name and I will resist using the power of love.
I will resist against the hate, but I will not hate, I will resist against the violence but I will not be violent, I will resist against the bitterness and despair by building loving communities and practicing the spiritual discipline of non-violence taught by the American prophet Martin Luther King, Jr.
We find ourselves in a moment when we need King more than ever. In 1958, he wrote about the pillars of non-violent resistance in an essay called “An experiment in love.” He wrote:
“The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.”
King’s love centered, non-violent resistance also makes space deep engagement with the other. While the next president exploited and promoted fear, there is real suffering happening across America. White men, who were the bulk of his support, also have skyrocketing rates of addiction, suicide and health decline. Change has happened fast and there is a sense of alienation rather than a bringing along. Part of my resistance must be extending a hand, seeing with the eyes of Jesus into the eyes of my neighbor with compassion and empathy.
I also have my own spiritual work to do. Those who participated with Dr. King and the civil rights’ non-violent movement underwent a deep process of spiritual preparation to safe guard their hearts against hate. I confess, that work is incomplete in me at this time. I still have deep anger and fear and I must resist the hate in my own heart if I am to be effective in resisting the hate in the world.
For me to be successful I require community. We cannot follow Jesus and be individualists. It is only when two or three are gathered that Christ is with us. So, I hope that this community and churches across the country will rise up in the deep spiritual work of engagement with the other and fierce resistance to the hate that we are seeing in our country today.
The good news is that we are not alone. That in doing this work of loving resistance we have Jesus who is within us and among us, who is always calling us, and whose spirit will sustain us until our living and loving on this earth is done.
(This sermon was delivered at Chelsea Community Church on November 13, 2016. It has been modified for length.)
Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush is Senior Vice President at Auburn Seminary and Editor of Voices and Auburn Seminary.