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We are a Jesus-focused, inclusive community of faith that strives to live as Jesus lived in real, everyday ways. Come Thrive Go. Salt House is a Church on Seattle's Eastside located in Kirkland, Washington. 

Location: 11920 NE 80th Street, Kirkland, WA 98033.

IN DIVISIVE TIMES

Sermons

IN DIVISIVE TIMES

Jason Bendickson

February 5, 2017 / IN DIVISIVE TIMES / Sara Wolbrecht / Isaiah 58:1-9

I don’t know about you, but I spent much of this week trying to keep up with what was happening in our country – and so much of it has felt heavy, even paralyzing. I’ve heard from many of you how there is fear and anxiety and concern that you’re carrying. And in talking it out with others, I heard language that captured why this feels like a heavy time. The word is division.  So much of what we’re hearing is trying to separate us from others.

An article I read from the International Bonhoeffer Society this week named their concerns this way: “…we are gravely concerned by the rise in hateful rhetoric and violence, the deep divisions and distrust in our country, and the weakening in respectful public discourse. Some of the institutions that have traditionally protected our freedoms are under threat. In particular, this election has made the most vulnerable members of our society, including people of color, members of the LGBTQ communities, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, the poor, and the marginally employed and the unemployed, feel even more vulnerable and disempowered.” - Statement Issued by the Board of Directors of the International Bonhoeffer Society, 1 February 2017

My own sense of being overwhelmed by it all this week, and looking forward to this time with y’all, it is striking to me that we are in this series on the Force of Nature – looking at how we harness the incredible power of community.  For in divisive times, being a community that is with and for others, is absolutely what is needed.  So I felt God inviting us into a space today of looking at how to respond.  WHAT DO WE DO? What do we do in these divisive times? Anyone else looking for what to do?  Well that’s where we’ll head.  And to get to the “what to do” we’ll reflect first on who we are, as followers of Jesus, and look to how the story of God, throughout time, has captured what a faithful response can be in divisive times. 

We’ll turn to scripture in a moment, but I want to start with a video because it captures a baseline for us in how to see what’s happening.  …And because I wept uncontrollably when I watched it – and Kris even posted it on Facebook and tagged me in it, which is awesome. Maybe you saw it – it’s actually a commercial for a television station in Denmark – and even though we’re not Danish, it is still powerful.  So let’s begin with this:

VIDEO: “All that We Share” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jD8tjhVO1Tc

 

Did you see it this week?  What we do in divisive times…Goes back to what we tried to do at the beginning of this service and with our kid’s message.  It begins on a fundamental level with not giving in to rhetoric that tries to make our neighbor different than us. Divided from us. And seeing, like in the video, that we will always stand in any room with people who fit into different boxes than us – and that’s part of the gift of life lived on this planet – there is rich diversity in what it means to be human!  And in that diversity to recognize that there is also so much that we share across the lines that would attempt to divide us. 

So I want to turn to the Prophet Isaiah to dig into this more fully – this question of what we do in divisive times.  Isaiah, and the prophets of the Old Testament, they functioned as God’s mouthpiece, they would speak for God.  Israel was God’s chosen people, and so time and again YHWH tried to communicate with and lead his people, Israel, through thousands of years together.

One of the defining moments for Israel was the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple at the hands of the Babylonians in the 6th Century BCE, which resulted in deportation and exile for the Israelites.  The book of Isaiah, is a (complex) meditation about the destiny of Jerusalem INTO the crisis of exile and the promise of Jerusalem OUT of exile into new well-being. 

We’re going to read from Isaiah 58, which falls in the final of the three sections of Isaiah, often referred to as Third Isaiah – the third/final section of Isaiah that spans chapters 56-66. To set this up, check out this quote about Third Isaiah, from the Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggeman: “Whereas Second Isaiah is preoccupied with emancipation from Babylon, Third Isaiah is concerned with internal communal life and the tensions that must have arisen among the parties that we might label ‘liberal and conservative.’  - An Introduction to the Old Testament, Walter Brueggeman, p. 170

 Did you hear that?  Third Isaiah (chapters 56-66) documents the squabbles between liberals and conservatives – huh.  Too bad we can’t relate this to current day, right?

            The piece we’re turning to is a squabble over fasting – about what God actually is looking for in fasting.  And as you probably know, fasting means going without food for a time.  And folks at that time would wear sackcloth (like burlap) and smear ashes on their faces and hang their heads as a sign of penitence. All of it was to be a spiritual experience, drawing them closer to God.

            In this passage we hear Isaiah – speaking as prophets do as God’s mouthpiece.   

 

Isaiah 58:1-9

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.

    Raise your voice like a trumpet.

Declare to my people their rebellion

    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out;

    they seem eager to know my ways,

as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.

They ask me for just decisions

    and seem eager for God to come near them.

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,

    ‘and you have not seen it?

Why have we humbled ourselves,

    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please

    and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,

    and in striking each other with wicked fists.

You cannot fast as you do today

    and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,

    only a day for people to humble themselves?

Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed

    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast,

    a day acceptable to the Lord?

 

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

    and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

    and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

    and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness will go before you,

    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

 

 

            Do you hear the contrast of the two sections?  First, this word of reprimand and redirection over the fighting, hitting, anger between people – and God is reflecting back to them – um, is this the fast that I choose?  Is this what you think I’m looking for?

            And if we’re honest, in our current moment, we can see ourselves in this picture.  Do you?  That we’re these squabbling folks, who do what we want, hungry at the end of the day, swinging fists as we go after each other – (yes, we could also claim that we’re not as bad as those on “the other side” – but we’re still in the squabble).  I see it in things like the jabs made on social media, in the mudslinging between politicians this week, all the way to the terror of mosques burned to the ground this week. Is this the fast that I choose?  God asks us. Is this the life of YHWH, and of God’s people?

            Of course not. …What do we do in divisive times?  Here we have an answer in this text – this vision for the kind of fast, the kind of faithfulness God asks of us in divisive times.   

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

    and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

    and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them… (leave up)

We will always be in the room with people who are different than us.  Or on our Facebook feed, or across the picket line, or across town, or next door – from people who are different than us.  And it is so easy to place people into boxes. Or make generalizations about who someone is based on who they did or didn’t vote for.

But my friends, what does Isaiah, in his response offer as hope and direction for Israel and for us? 

This incredible list.  And what is this list? Well, it says get over the differences and get to work! Do the radical, ongoing, hard work of love (add big “love” to the Isaiah text).  This is a list of loving action.  Love is not a warm fuzzy feeling or a Hallmark card.  Love is action – action like this poetic list of what it means to want the best for someone else – for the someone who is without voice, who is suffering – and to do something about it.

We are in a time when God is asking of us to choose this fast, to take loving action that resonates with this vision from Isaiah, a list that absolutely reflects the life of Jesus.  Throughout history, Jesus-followers, members of the Christian movement have been at their best in times of oppression and persecution. Which is why in these divisive times, we are called upon to rise up, not because we are persecuted and oppressed, but because our sisters and brothers are. This is what love is as followers of Jesus.

Now. We are seeing division, boxes being drawn around people in multiple ways and for various fringe groups.  But there is particular hate rhetoric and fear mongering toward our Muslim brothers and sisters, much of it sourced in the Executive Order last Friday, as the United States closed its borders to all people seeking to come to this country from seven nations which are populated primarily by those who practice Islam. The ban is said to impact more than 134 million people, including U.S. residents who are natives of those seven nations – “green-card” holders – who were abroad when the ban was enacted. An additional order prohibits any refugee from entering the U.S. from any country for four months.

This week, I wrote one of my best friends, Tarah, who works for Amnesty International in DC, who is seeing first-hand some of what this means.  In case you haven’t received the full picture, here’s what Tarah shared with me about how this affects refugees (she didn’t know I’d be throwing it in to my sermon like this):  

These are people who are among the world's most vulnerable; they have been in refugee camps, sometimes for years; they have fled unspeakable terror, torture, and persecution.  And they went through the world's MOST secure vetting process to be resettled in the United States – it's a 14-point check which includes the FBI, Homeland Security, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense.  They pose a threat to no one.  And now, they will be turned back.

They will almost certainly not have a chance to come to the US again, because after 90 days, they lose their permission. If they are lucky, they go back to refugee camps, where they will live in almost total poverty, mostly forgotten, with 21 million of our brothers and sisters, who live life cycle after life cycle without home, without security, without place, many in desperation. If they are unlucky, they go back to the place from which they fled; for most people when that happens, they are killed. For some that were mid-process when this went through, they just linger here in this very weird limbo, because they have nowhere to go back TO. 

We already did so little for refugees.  Of the 21 million refugees, only 200k or so are permanently resettled every year. HALF of those were resettled by the United States, and now that half has been turned back. It makes me truly sick to think about it.

So, we need to make change in our hearts for our neighbors, and we must echo that change to our nation. – Tarah Demant, Identity & Discrimination Unit at Amnesty International USA

Tarah, bound by her own faith, echoes Isaiah in his call to Love. To take action in love. And in this case, this morning, we are rallying a call to love on behalf of our Muslim neighbors.  And our immigrant and refugee neighbors.

Because. Throughout history, Jesus-followers, members of the Christian movement have been at their best in times of oppression and persecution. We rise up. This is what love is as followers of Jesus.

We could list some of the heart break we’ve witnessed in the news and in our neighborhood – it is happening. But for the remainder of our time, let’s listen to God together for what this action of love might look like in these divisive times.  As the Force of Nature we are as a community, let’s name four things we can do to respond in love.

First, as a community of Christ, we can harness our creativity and encouragement for loving action.  As we come together, we can be a place, a crucible for letting the fires of creativity and encouragement burn to help us form ideas for loving action in our everyday circles we run in. We all have ways, relationships, platforms, influence, access to taking actions of love – in big and small ways.  You have a circle of influence in your life – a network of relationships.  We all have that. What can we do in those circles?

One example: we chose to use our reader board here at Salt House as a place to voice love.  On Monday, we changed it to read: “TO OUR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS: WE ARE WITH YOU #NOBANNOWALL.” A simple, public way to be a voice of love to our neighborhood.  And we wondered what kind of feedback we might hear, we wondered about whether a rock might come through our window.

On Thursday, there was a letter at our front door when I got to work.  A letter, and this bouquet of flowers. The letter reads… Ahmed’s Letter

And on Friday, we had this post from a neighbor of ours, Lara, on Salt House’s Facebook page.  “As your neighbor, I would like to sincerely thank you for your kind words on your sign this week. Although I am atheist, I am filled with warmth having your church in our community.”

The words and articles we share on social media, or in signs we place in the windows of our homes or cars, or in the lighting of candles, or in how we choose to go to dinner at a restaurant run by immigrants and take time to say hello to those who work there and run it – there are so many ways to embody this love of Jesus.

From Ahmed, from Lara – we have the vivid reminder that acts of love can change the conversation, change the neighborhood, one person, one moment at a time.  So I wonder two things: where have you already shown love, where have you witnessed love in faithful action this week?  And second, what might you do in the week to come? Where and how and with who might you speak on behalf of those who cannot speak? Because we can be a crucible, coming together as community, a place where we birth creativity and encouragement to take brave actions of love, together.

And the second thing we can do together as community, is say thank you to actions of love, in those places and with those people who are on the front lines or who are making the intentional efforts to bravely change to story.

Reading Ahmed’s letter?  I wept.  Reading Lara’s post on Facebook – I kept going back to it, because I am deeply moved to get that feedback.  They didn’t have to say anything to us – but they did.  And we are so grateful – and we want to do more now!. So who might we each say THANK YOU to?  Whenever you see these acts of loving action on behalf of the voiceless, the oppressed – we can be people who encourage others.

In light of both these points, we wanted to create intentional space for us today, again, to take loving action.

First.  No better way to respond than with Post-it notes.  Friends, we want to create that space for creativity and encouragement.  And so with your ideas, with what you’ve seen, with what you hope for – we want to name specific tangible ways to act with love.  And share them here in community.  Something you’ve seen, or something you want to try this week.  What you want to commit to.  What organizations should we be supporting, subscribing and listening to?  Let’s make a bit ol’ resource list for each other.  That’s the first thing.

The second, thing, is postcards. And there are two places we want to send them to – though you are welcome to send to more than these two places.  First, to our state representatives.  Susan DelBane (or whoever is your Congress person), and Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.  We have postcards and even stamps and some addresses. Ready to go.  My friend Tarah recommended writing to Susan DelBane: say thank you for already speaking out about the unfair, unchristian, un-American treatment of refugees and immigrants.  And we can ask her for more – to let her know as her constituents that we encourage her step forward as a leader in this, and to fight for the rights of the most vulnerable among us. Sign with your full name and city.

Additionally, we want to gather postcards and notes to deliver to our local Mosques.  This is a chance to say directly to our Muslim brothers and sisters what we’ve posted on our reader board.  We are so glad you are our neighbor.  We’re grateful for our shared faith in God, in love, in compassion.  We thank God for the diversity of human expression and that we get to be in this world and in this city, together.  And that we pray for their well-being, their safety, their joy and thriving as a community here with us.  What would you like to say to them in these divisive times? No need for postage on these – we’ll hand-deliver them all together.

Third and finally, as a force of nature, as a community of people who belong together, we also celebrate today what God has been doing in us as a community. In December we had our vote, considering whether we would sell 1/3 of an acre, about 1/6 of our total land here as a separate parcel to become a 24-7 shelter for families and women experiencing homeless. We said YES. And a week ago, alongside the mayor of Kirkland and our own Kim Saunders, we presented this request to our parent congregation, HSLC for approval. And they joined us in our YES – 145 YESES to 7 NOS. It’s happening!. We are moving forward to make room on our land for those on the fringes, those who are homeless here on the Eastside of Seattle, and in these times when division is the story of the day – we are attempting to erase the lines.

And we will continue to need folks to step in and be more hands on with this process and in relationship with homelessness in our community.

As many of us know, we’ll be launching Thrive Teams by March 1st, various ways in which folks can gather around a sense of mission and passion, yet also be community for one another. And today we get to hear more in depth about another one of those teams – again, offering another way to respond as Isaiah inspires us to today. I’ve asked Kim Saunders to share with us.

Kim Saunders

You can indicate your interest with more Post-It notes on our Thrive Team board over there.

So: Post-its of ideas for loving action and who we should support and listen to (which we’ll gather and share the ideas this week), write postcards (here or take them home if needed), and third, finally, consider whether you’d like to continue championing for those in great need, the homeless on the Eastside, through joining that Thrive Team.

And the final thought – remember that video we started with about boxes? Did you notice that in the listing of the various “boxes” that they named, “The Religious” – and who did they show? Folks wearing jerseys.  Probably Rugby or European football. That’s what they associate as religious. It is time to change that association, for us – as Jesus-followers – to be known as the those

 who loose the chains of injustice

who set the oppressed free

    who share our food with the hungry

    and provide the poor wanderer with shelter. Who in all things, become salt for the earth and light for the world. Is not THIS the fast that we choose? Are you with me? Let’s do it.