Every Epiphany at FCUCC we select “star words.” As the magi followed the star to Jesus, we follow our star words through the year. This year, our congregation also is following a star word. That word? Redemption.
Many of us, including me, were disappointed with the word. What about community? Or justice? Or love? Redemption has so many negative connotations, especially from the conservative religious traditions from which many of us come.
As I’ve thought about it, though, redemption is growing on me. To redeem something is to increase its value, to see that something with new eyes, to look at it again and find a deeper worth than it has known before.
Today, I want to talk with you about redeeming our nation…about increasing its value, about seeing it with new eyes. I want to invite us to look at our nation again and search for a deeper worth than it has known before.
I want to invite you to work with me to save our nation.
What we saw on Wednesday–Epiphany– was startling. A vicious mob forcing its way into the Capitol building, fighting Capitol police, killing one of them, invading the House chamber, forcing their way into representatives’ offices. In addition to Officer Brian Sicknick, four other people were killed on Wednesday.
Yes, the rhetoric has been ratcheting up the last four years, yes, it’s been puzzling why the president hasn’t accepted the results of the election. But the images we saw on Wednesday? It wasn’t the kind of thing we ever thought we’d see in our country, the United States of America. It’s the kind of thing we expect to see happening in other countries, not our own.
But it has happened. And I hope those images of people scaling the walls of the Capitol building, breaking windows, marching down the halls screaming will remain imprinted in our minds…because what happened on Wednesday was our nation’s epiphany, and that epiphany was this: as a people, as a nation, we must change.
When I say “we must change,” I’m not talking about changing our elected officials, though, in some cases, that might help. I’m not even talking about changing policies, though that work is needed.
The change I’m talking about is in how we treat each other. Most of the Old Testament prophets spoke to people who were losing or had lost their country. The explanation the prophets give for these dire circumstances? You didn’t care for the poor. You neglected the least of these. You cared more about your own wellbeing than about the wellbeing of others.
The same is true for us. We, too, are losing our country because we, as a nation, aren’t caring for the poor and the least of these. We’re thrilled the market is doing so well, but fail to think about people who will never have enough money to invest in the stock market. As a nation, we’re focusing more on ourselves than others.
If we don’t change things now, we will lose our country. Period.
How do we redeem our nation? How do we increase its value? We do it by going back to the basics, the four R’s.
First, we remember that rhetoric matters. What we say creates the world we inhabit. If we speak kindness and truth, the world becomes kinder and truer. If we spew hatred and lies, those things take root and grow.
While the images we saw on Wednesday were startling, they really weren’t all that surprising. For four years, little lies have snowballed into big lies because no one has stopped them. Giving the president the benefit of the doubt soon led to enabling his unhealthy and unstable behavior. At some point, the media stopped counting the mistruths spoken by the president and simply began to say, What the president said is not true.
When the first lie was given a pass, the other lies lined up, because they knew there would be nothing and no one to stop them.
Why for four years has congressional leadership abided the lies? It’s no mystery. The president’s lies got a pass from some leaders because they wanted power. At any cost.
That’s the second R. If we want to redeem our nation, we must rethink power. In politics, power has become a zero sum game–either you have it, or you don’t. What can we do for our side? is the main question…and often it turns into, What can I do for myself?
Psychologist Rollo May described five different kinds of power: exploitative, manipulative, competitive, nutrient, and integrative. In so-called normal times, our government tends to gravitate to competitive power, a constant struggle between the parties to move their agenda forward. In the last four years–and especially in the last week–we have seen power used to manipulate and exploit. We have seen power’s ability to destroy.
As May describes it, nutrient power is power for others. We are employing nutrient power when we act others into wellbeing. When both parties work together–as they did on the first CARES Act–for the good of all Americans, our elected officials are engaging in nutrient power. Integrative power is shared power. It’s when we all work together for the common good.
If we want to save our nation, we need to remember that rhetoric matters, we need to rethink power, and, the third R, we need to reconnect with the common good. Remember that? The common good. Do our governmental policies benefit all of the populace? Do the practices in our communities–even in our church…Do we consider the impact of those practices on the least of these? As the prophets told our ancestors in faith, unless we reconnect with the common good, we will lose our country.
Remember that rhetoric matters. Rethink power. Reconnect with the common good. If we mindfully engage in these three things, we’ll be taking a solid first step toward redeeming our country.
One last thing, though, is crucial. If we are to have any hope of redeeming our country, we must, we must, we must reclaim kindness. A lot of us are feeling anger, maybe even rage right now. That is understandable, even commendable. One person has prayed for the courage to “stay angry.” If ever there was a moment to be enraged, this is it.
Once the anger has passed–or has been re-directed into action–I am convinced that the thing that is most needed, the thing (maybe the only thing) that will transform our nation is to reclaim kindness, to see every person–every person–as a human being…to see the flesh-and-blood human being in front of us, the person who is a son or daughter or mother or father or friend and grandparent…to understand that that person is a person, a beloved child of God. And to treat them with fairness and dignity. If we continue to villify the people with whom we don’t agree, if we dehumanize people we don’t understand or simply don’t like, if we don’t reclaim kindness as a daily practice, we will lose our country.
If we don’t reclaim kindness as a daily practice, we will lose our country.
I’m speaking today from the baptismal font. We’ve just celebrated the baptism of Jesus and renewed our baptismal vows. In Sunday’s sermon, I suggested that we don’t fully experience our baptisms until we live out our baptisms in the world.
If ever there was a time to live as baptized people, it’s now. If ever there was a time to follow Jesus, it’s now. If ever there was a time to go forth, not as individuals, but as part of the whole community of Jesus’ followers, it’s now. If ever there was a time to act the world into wellbeing, it’s now.
So, baptized people of God, will we remember the rhetoric matters? Will we rethink power? Will we reconnect with the common good? Will we reclaim kindness?
So, my baptized siblings, beloved children of God: what will we do to redeem our nation?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan (c)2021