Charlottesville and the Human Condition
My Dear Precious Congregation,
Jesus once taught that when a house is at its cleanest it serves as the most fertile ground for dust to return. It goes without saying that our living and working spaces must be constantly cleaned. Of course, Jesus was talking about the well-being of our souls. Of course, the point of that teaching was the well-being of our character and our souls. He was helping those in his day understand that just when we think all is well evil is quick to remind us that all is not well. Such is the case in our community, nation and world today. I am reminded that during the period of the Renaissance the notion existed that humanity would just rise to one greater level of knowledge, understanding and enlightenment after the other. We remember that the Middle Ages/Medieval Period “lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery.” Sometimes, I wonder with all our technology and our desire for instant this and instant that are we really any better where it really counts? Like in how we treat each other regardless of our differences? Enlightenment?
In other words, after a terrible period in history, better times came and humanity, in effect, believed it had arrived. That cycle continues to repeat itself and I believe will continue to repeat itself with the same fallacious conclusion that one day humanity will be without blemish. Indeed, in the Old Testament there is what is known as the Prophetic Cycle. It goes like this: humanity and God are in right relationship and all is well, humanity, at some point, falls short of the expectations of God, humanity is punished, humanity repents then God restores humanity to better times. As I said, it is a cycle. Or to put it another way, history continues to repeat itself. World War I was called “the war to end all wars” and today we are talking about the use of nuclear weapons following WW II, Korean War, Vietnam, Gulf War, all our efforts in fighting terrorism, not to mention our longest war in Afghanistan. In light of humanity's inability to settle its differences in more humane ways, I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt we need to live with a more sober, more realistic understanding of human nature.
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia remind us in absolutely no uncertain terms that we are still a broken people; we are still in need of redemption and reformation. The Bible uses the word sin to describe the brokenness and the fragile state of human affairs. Do we think too highly of ourselves as human beings? I believe we do if we live with the notion that we have arrived and all is well with us in our own community, nation and world. Do we think too highly of ourselves? I believe we do if there is an ounce of a superiority complex in our minds, hearts or souls. Do we think too highly of ourselves? I believe we do if we do not take evil seriously. Do we think too highly of ourselves? I believe we do if we think we can help the human situation improve without our own practice of a lifestyle of humility before God and each other. Do we think too highly of ourselves? I believe we do if we think that economic prosperity is the highest mark of a healthy society. Do we think too highly of ourselves? Again, I believe we do if we fail to take evil seriously for in so doing we cannot take good seriously.
What can we do? Where can we make a difference? I am reminded of these lines from an old gospel hymn: “Do not wait for some deed of greatness you may do, do not wait to travel afar, but to the duties ever near you now be true, brighten the corner where you are.” We make a difference in teaching our children that what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia is as evil as evil gets and is terribly wrong in the eyes of God. We make a difference when we let those with whom we work and/or employ that such behavior as we have witnessed is unacceptable in the workplace. We make a difference when we share with our students that people like those who marched on the campus of The University of Virginia are sadly mistaken in their understanding of what it means to be the best human being we can possibly be. We make a difference when we discuss these issues with our families (that is to be sure that we engage in times of clarifying values for those whom we love so very dearly). We make a difference when we, refuse to lend any kind of credibility to such evil as raised its ugly head in the form of white supremacy and Nazism and in Charlottesville, Virginia. As followers of Jesus, we should know that we have been called to stand up and speak out against such evil, call it what it is, where we live, where we work and where we play. And, I will add, where we worship.
Jesus, I remind people from time to time, died on a cross. His death and the way he died are reminders, for as long as humanity is privileged to walk upon the face of God’s good earth, that we have not arrived. In the past, when our world was in crisis, people were quick to turn to religious institutions, turn to God. Today, not so much. I would ask you, are we better off by not insuring that humanity hears loudly and clearly the biblical message as shared in such a story as The Tower of Babel in the Old Testament? The story that teaches us that humanity left to its own devices without a spirit of humility is a humanity destined to live in chaos. Are we better off without telling the story of Jesus? The story that reminds us that good can triumph over evil. The story that teaches us a much better way to be human. Are we better off without prayer, without worship, without being who Christ has called us to be and doing what Christ has called us to do? Indeed, may we find ways, as followers of Jesus, to work with persons of other faith persuasions to help such evil find no place in our community, nation and world.
Hope to see you in church where we will enter to worship, pause to pray and depart to serve. In doing so, may we remember that we believe good will triumph over evil because of what God did in Christ.