A Crack in Everything

On Wednesday, December 18th the House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump. It was a day of sadness and a day of hope. For me the hope didn’t ensue from the debate on the floor of congress or even the the vote to impeach. Rather it came from a surprising place, Christianity Today magazine.

Mark Galli, longtime editor of the magazine who is about to retire, wrote an editorial that gave voice to a bubbling discontent that has marinated among Evangelical Christians for years. In short, Galli asserted that Donald Trump should be impeached and removed. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html.

Galli writes, this president’s actions and words are “profoundly immoral.” Trump, Mr. Galli asserts, “has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”

Was I surprised? Well, in truth my surprise was only that it has taken this long for an Evangelical leader with moral courage to surface. Over the past three years my Evangelical friends have lowered their gaze and voices when speaking of the wholesale surrender of Christian virtue to Donald Trump. They spoke of his enablers, like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr., having strayed far from any biblically normative ethic. Just how solid is the support for Mr. Trump?

There has been growing discontent and concern near the heart of important parts of the Evangelical universe. For years, words of concern have come from Fuller Seminary that the racist language and the horrific immigration policies of the Trump administration are not to be endorsed. Respected Evangelical colleges across the nation, places like Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego, Wheaton in Illinois, Seattle Pacific, Houghton in New York have seen a growing willingness to say “enough, this is not who we are!”

In May 2019 there was widely expressed faculty and student discontent at Taylor University in Indiana when Vice President Pence was selected as commencement speaker. Thousands signed a petition of concern regarding the racism and bigotry of the administration. There was a request to rescind the invitation, to no avail. Mr. Pence spoke; but dozens of the graduates and faculty did not participate or wore symbols of protest saying “We Are Taylor Too.”

In the state universities, like in my hometown, Evangelical student organizations are finding young Christian students who are embarrassed by the claims that Trump represents an Evangelical agenda. They discover alternative voices and perspectives.

I listen to the pundits who say the Evangelical support is a solid wall, eighty percent (80%) or more of the Evangelicals will support this administration. I doubt it. I doubt it will be there in November. O yes, I suspect a majority of those who wear the “Evangelical” label will march in line. However, there is dissent, especially among the young.

So, my belief, my hope at least, is that December 18, 2019 was an inflection point, a crack in the silence, a step by the honest adventurers away from all of the aiding and abetting. The gift of truth was spoken even amid the threats to “stay in line.” This crack in the facade of official Evangelicalism is an opening for small virtues like manners, and greater virtues like truth, altruism and beauty. I want to express gratitude ahead of time to our courageous Evangelical sisters and brothers speaking words of truth in the new year. May your tribe increase.

I am reminded of words of Leonard Cohen: Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. (From Anthem by Leonard Cohen.  See also The Soul’s Journey, Alan Jones, p. 219)

Prayer: O Christ of Christmas, lite our way in the year ahead that we may see your pathways of hope.  Amen

Where the Light Enters

apollo8.jpg

Where the Light Enters

Philip A. Amerson                                              Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:15-20

December 24, 2018                                             Christmas Eve 8:00 and 10:45 PM  

Welcome:

Beloved in Christ – we gather again on this evening to tell of the loving purposes of God and the glorious redemption possible for the world through Jesus Christ.  We gather to affirm our commitment to peace and good will across the earth, within and among our various denominations and faith traditions and within this great city and nation.   We remember those at the margins tonight: the poor, helpless, sick, cold, depressed, lonely and unloved; and those who know not God.  Before God, we join all who tonight celebrate the word made flesh – who through the Lord Jesus has shown us the way of peace and has called us to be one family.

Sermon: Where the Light Enters

Introduction:

Ring the bells that still can ring,

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

(From Anthem by Leonard Cohen.  See also The Soul’s Journey, Alan Jones, p. 219)

Prayer: O Christ of Christmas, lite our way that we may see your pathways of hope.  Amen.

At 7:00 AM this morning, Elaine and I listened to the broadcast on BBC of Lessons and Carols from King’s College Cambridge.  You might say it is our annual nostalgia bath… when revel to hear remarkable choirs and the retelling of the story of Jesus’ birth. As I listened, I couldn’t help wondering what does this story call upon me to do differently in the year to come? 

This evening you heard our own Bradley Ladrido singing the first verse – Once in royal David’s city, Wasn’t it lovely?  And what about you?  Are you called to anything different in the year stretching before you?

My guess is that some of you have come to one of the Christmas Eve services in this place for years, right?  Perhaps decades?   Or, perhaps this is the first time you have come to this place on the night before Christmas.  Whichever it is, WELCOME.  We receive anew the light of Christ, a light we so often fail to see.  What does this call upon us to do?

Dorothy Day said: “It is no use saying that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live to the end of the world have been born too late.  Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts.” (Day, Dorothy, “Room for Christ” in Watch for the Light, Walden Publishing, New York, p. 176.)

2018 is a year of anniversaries:

  • Lessons and Carols from King’s College celebrate its 100th anniversary today.
  • It was 200 years ago Silent Night (Stille Nacht) was first sung in the St. Nicolas Church in Oberndorf Austria.
  • Our congregation FUMC is on the eve of celebrating our 150th anniversary in San Diego—next year is the year.
  • But there is one other anniversary we mark. [Show Slide of “Earthrise”].  

Fifty years ago, on Christmas Eve, William Anders, James Lovell and Frank Borman, the crew of Apollo 8, were orbiting the moon.  The first humans to do this, they broke into the evening news. Anders began: “We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send.”  And he began to read: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth… And God said, Let there be light: and there was lightLovell and Borman continued the reading ending with “and God saw that it was good.”  The Frank Borman closed: “And from the crew of Apollo 8… good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”  [Woods, David; O’Brien, Frank (December 27, 2008). Day 4: Lunar Orbits 7,8,and 9”. The Apollo 8 Flight Journal. NASA History Division.]

apollo8Later the crew sent a photo back to earth.  It was unscheduled, unplanned.  Yet, when they saw it, they knew it needed to be shared.  This iconic image, called earth rise, shows the glory and fragility of our planet.  The blue marble brims with life – a dot of beauty against darkness all around.

What does Christmas Eve mean to you in 2018?  What new traditions might you begin this year?  What questions emerge about our care for God’s creation, about how we can learn to live together on this precious galactic real estate?  How will we answer the ancient questions like: who is my neighbor?  [END SLIDE]

Some of us bring a brokenness of body or spirit tonight, some of us are ready to spread our blankets by the pools of narcissism so prevalent in our society, some of us bring doubt, some come with renewed hope and join the poet John Keats in saying: “There is a budding morrow in every midnight.”

Whatever your state of belief or attitude, you are welcome here – it is a time to begin again.  Time to recommit to following the one who first entered our world as an infant in Bethlehem.  Don’t be afraid – Jim Wallis points out that this is the most frequently spoken command in scriptures.  It appears 365 times – once for every day in the year to come.  How will you change in the year ahead – what new traditions will you begin?  What repentance will you make?  In the comic strip Broom Hilda she asks her friend Irwin about how to make a better world. “Start with yourself! He says… give up your bad habits.  Then… you’ll stand as a shining example to others!”  Broom Hilda thinks and responds, “O.K.  What’s the second best way?”

We all face changes, even as we hold to our traditions.  The world is changing, the church is changing.  My beloved tradition of Lessons and Carols is a part of a European encapsulated expression of the faith.  It is good.  However, the years ahead will require new expressions, new anniversaries, new ways of being church.  The growth of the church with people from the cultures from of Asia, Africa and Latin America.  How will we welcome them and learn from them?                                      

St. John’s Church in Edinburgh Scotland stands near the downtown rail station.  For decades it has been under construction.  On the scaffolding are two signs: One says: “Caution, Under Construction” and on the other are the words: “Business as Usual: Peace and Justice Center.”

We love our traditions – and well we should.  Even so, like us, are always under construction.  We celebrate our anniversaries, even so, the world is changing.  God’s purposes are seeking places where new light will shine through the cracks of what has been already present to illuminate the ongoing work of seeking peace on earth and good will among all.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.  For a child has been born for us, a son given us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9)

 Amen.  Even so, come Lord Jesus.                         God Bless Us, Every One!

++++++++++++++

Howard Thurman:

I Will Light Candles This Christmas
Candles of joy despite all sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all the year long.

Isaiah 9:2-7 (NRSV)
9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined.  9:3 You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.  9:4 For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 9:5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.  9:6 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 9:7 His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.