“I say to you who listen”
I say to you who listen, “Today is All Saints Sunday,” the day set aside for reminding us that we are not alone in being disciples of Christ Jesus. Not only are we a community of disciples, a school for discipleship in the here and now, we are part of a fellowship of faithful believers who stretch back to the original 12 apostles—to Peter and James and John and Andrew and the rest (and yes, even to the deeply flawed Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus).
The point of today’s observance is to remind is that we are not alone in our faith. We are the link between those who have gone before us and those who will come after us, if we succeed in transmitting our faith to the next generations. We—each and every one of us—are saints. Today I’m supposed to remind you that you, too, are (or can be) a saint.
Fortunately, there’s a hymn where we “sing a song of the saints of God.” I think we at Church of the Resurrection are far more likely to remember the words of our music than the words of our preacher, and maybe that is the way things should be. Do you know that two successive General Conventions of our Church have to approve the words in our hymnals? Our church doesn’t want us to be subverted by bad theology in our songs!
Maybe you will have noticed, though, that truth has a certain variable quality to it lately, a certain flexibility that truth didn’t seem to have had in the past. Have you noticed? In this politically charged world in which we live, we all think that people of the OTHER political perspective are the ones who disregard the “truth,” the ones who ignore “the facts.”
This week I read about a 2006 study that was reported in Time magazine at the time and in an issue in every presidential election year since. The study was by Brendan Nyhan, a professor at Dartmouth, and Jason Reifler, his research partner at Georgia State University, and the findings have come to be known as the “backfire effect.” Let me summarize the “backfire effect” this way: When our beliefs—our deepest convictions—are challenged by facts, our beliefs get stronger, not weaker. In other words, challenging people with facts only strengthen, not change, their core beliefs.
What are YOUR core beliefs? Perhaps the “problem” with our culture today is that our core beliefs have confused religion and politics. We have co-mingled love of God and love of country. We have decided that political activism is a way of carrying out our religious beliefs. The problem is, we often let our political perspective shape our religious belief, instead of the other way around. We act in the name of our will, and call that God’s will.
I think that the people in Jesus’ time weren’t so much different from us today. They had the Romans to contend with, the Romans who were an occupying army and who didn’t believe in the one true God. The people of Jesus’ time were deeply religious, and they had the Zealots to contend with, Jews who urged them—as an act of their faith—to oust the Romans by any means necessary, which is to say, urged them to kill the Romans the name of the one true God. And other devout Jews urged peace in the name of God. No, the people of Jesus’ time weren’t so much different from us, today. Polarized. Tempted.
And Jesus said, “But I say to you who listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you [and I would add, just for me, Jo Belser: even if they have begged from you for 20 years; sigh]; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for hem again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
You have heard these words before. And you can legitimately say to me here at Church of the Resurrection, “But we do these things! Don’t we give food and clothes and dental hygiene supplies and books and even toilet paper, for heaven’s sake—literally—for heaven’s sake?”
And I ask you: Do you love your neighbor who displays a political sign for the other party? Do you love your friend who you have just discovered is going to vote for the OTHER choice? Have you said words aloud about how stupid people are for thinking in a way other than you do, politically speaking? Have you wondered why the OTHER people are not convinced by FACTS?
Were Jesus here, physically, in our presence today, he would say to us, “But I say to you who listen, Love the OTHER, all others.” Jesus would say this, knowing that we don’t listen. And yet we are saints, saints of God.
In his book, A Private House of Prayer Leslie Weatherhead defines what a saint is in a number of ways. My favorite of his definitions is this one: A saint is “someone who lets the light [of God] shine through.”
I challenge you this week to let the light of God shine through you, by listening to the OTHER, to extent you are able and then some. I challenge you this week to let the light of Christ shine through you, by loving the OTHER, to the extent you are able and then some with the help of Christ Jesus. I challenge you this week to share the Peace of the Holy Spirit that dwells within and through you, to the extent you are able and then some, by letting go of whatever facts you use to support your world view and do some good work in Christ’s name.