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TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
November 13, 2016
Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Saint Luke 21:5-19

In nomine Jesu!

It’s not the end of the world. That what Jesus tells disciples then and now.

“When you hear of wars and insurrections;” “when dreadful portents” abound; when “arrests and persecutions” are threatened or become common place; when “parents and sisters and brothers, relatives and friends” turn on you; “when hordes of devils fill the land;” it’s not the end of the world, Jesus tells us disciples, it is rather “an opportunity to testify.”

So when our necessary weeping ceases; when incredulous anger subsides; when the tedious post-mortems yield nothing and the blamers and the finger-pointers are exhausted; when the epithets and labels caustically thrown at others become policies and acts that hurt them; It’s not the end of the world,” Jesus tells us, but rather “an opportunity to testify.”
If we believe all that we’ve said about ourselves and this parish community for the past fifty years; if the core values we’ve expressed and struggled to live here over these past decades are really our values, then this is not the end of the world, it is our opportunity to testify.

What are those values?

As we began this soon-to-close year of Luke, Jesus expressed those values — values for which he died and values which he instilled into us — with these inaugural words:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

We publicly proclaim these are our values through the priorities we set in our budget; in the way we use this building to serve this community, to feed and sometimes shelter and always honor the dignity of those homeless and
hungry, the working poor, the fragile elder, those struggling to live with HIV/AIDS; in our very long and very public solidarity with Lesbian, Gay, bisexual, Transgendered and Questioning people; in the growing warmth of our embrace of the people of Sion — many of whom are immigrants, some of whom have nothing but us and one another; as we accompany our sisters and brothers through the immigration process; in the accessibility of our worship and our unrestricted welcome to Christ’s table and in the design of this building. These are our values; infused in us by the Spirit in the waters of baptism; nourished in us through the Word we live and the holy feast we share; shared among us every time we get together. These are our values and therefore the events of these days are not the end of the world, but an opportunity to testify.

Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from a Nazi prison in 1945 shortly before they murdered him, put it this way: “The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.”

As to the urgency of our testimony in times like these, he wrote this: If I sit next to a madman
as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can't, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

This is not the end of the world,” Jesus tells us. This is our opportunity to testify. So how shall we do it?

I have a few suggestions, offered in concentric circles growing in expansiveness; but I know many of you will have many more.

1. In the presence of Christ, let us hold more closely to one another. Eat together, weep together, sing together, speak and listen to one another together; invite friends, acquaintances, co-workers and family members who share these values to eat and weep and sing and talk and be together.

2. Reach out to fully embrace, encourage and express protective solidarity with the frightened people of Sion — and especially the vulnerable children — who are with us week-to-week and day-by-day. And be ready, when the time comes, to declare yourself to be one of them.
3. Speak with Dave or Marisa, Juan Carlos or Fabian to find out how and when you can accompany undocumented persons in their immigration process.

4. Ask Pat Almonrode what you can do to work with GreenFaith to renew our deteriorating environment.

5. Take some friends and visit a Mosque. Declare solidarity with them. I did that last Friday and offered our 55th Street neighbors this place to pray if they are harassed or surveilled at their place. Make the same offer to your cab driver. Be friendly to women in habibs and to kufi-wearing men on the street.

6. Do the same at your local synagogue. I did that on Friday also.

7. Encourage our Parish Council members to have us join the Sanctuary Movement.

8. Come to hear our Seminarian, Suzanne, speak about how to support those held in the purgatory of our local New Jersey detention center.

9. Speak with Michael McKee about what you can
do to engage more deeply in the political process.

10. Heed Saint Paul’s admonition and “do not grow weary in well-doing.”

11. Talk among yourselves, I’m sure there are many things more.

It is possible that all that has been said and all that has been threatened against immigrants, Latinos, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, Jews and others was simply campaign rhetoric that will not translate into government policies and actions. It is possible that the recent incidents of misogynist, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic incidents unleased in the last five days will end. It is possible that freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech and freedom to worship will still be offered to all. But today Jesus reminds us that, if these are not, it is not the end of the world. This will give us an opportunity to testify.

One final, personal word. For twenty years in easier times with Central Synagogue and an almost equal number of years in synagogues before, I have read the words of Pastor Martin
Niemöller and vowed that they would never apply to me. I’ll close with those words with prayerful hope that by our words and actions, they will never need to be said by anyone ever again:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

This is not the end of the world. This is our opportunity to testify. So as of Wednesday: I am an immigrant. I am a Muslim. I am LBGTQ. I am a Jew. God grant us the strength to do that together.

Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter’s Church
in the City of New York