Greater than Fear

December 8, 2013                                 Romans 15:4-13

Advent is an apocalyptic time of year.

It’s mysterious.

On the one hand, it’s a season of waiting; a season of rebirth, it’s a time when we anticipate the world being turned right side up.

It’s a time of year when we countdown the days until the birth of Christ our Savior and our Lord.

And yet, on the other hand, as the prophets remind us year after year, it is not all glitter and warm fuzzy feelings.

As Christ draws near, we are meant to be not just uncomfortable, but also undone.

Advent is a season of repentance, of forgiveness-seeking and justice-making.

And so when we journey through Advent every December, we find ourselves somewhat at odds with our culture and its emphasis on warm fuzzy feelings, happiness for sale, and all the secular rites of passage that go with the end of every year.

So, I know that Christmas is only 2 and a half weeks away, but that doesn’t stop the prophet Isaiah from preparing the way for the One who shall

*strike the earth with the rod of his mouth

and

*with the breath of his lips kill the wicked.

(Sure doesn’t sound very Mennonite, does it?)

Well, in the Romans passage we’re looking at this morning, Paul writes “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I have to tell you, I read these scriptures together this week, and it kind of made my head spin at first.

I mean, this is the Sunday we’re supposed to be talking about the mystery of God dwelling within our relationships.

And here between Isaiah and Romans, we have a picture of God killing the wicked with the breath of his mouth, and in the next breath urging us to live in harmony so that we might praise God together across any differences we might have.

Jews and Gentiles are to worship together.

Clean and unclean are welcome to come.

Male and female

slave and free

african american, hispanic, caucasian and asian…all are to live together

in harmony

in accordance with Christ Jesus.

So I started to wonder, if we’re all coming together like Romans talks about…if we’re all praising God together in spite of our differences and the things that divide us from each other…if we’re busy doing that as Paul tells us to do, then who’s going to be doing the perishing that Isaiah talks about?

In other words, if everyone is welcome to come worship God…then who are the wicked, and where are they going to be when the breath of God consumes them like chaff?

I mean, I can think of some types of people to smite, if God is open to suggestions.

Can’t you?

Don’t we all have our list of the smite-worthy, if nowhere else, at least in our heads?

And don’t we all justify those lists because of the perception that the world would be a better place if only “they” were put in their place?

Liberals or Conservatives?

Baptists, or Catholics?

Fundamentalists, or Atheists?

Wouldn’t the world be a better place without “Them”? Homosexuals? Sex Offenders? Corrupt Politicians? The Greedy?

Well here’s the thing. A few weeks ago I had coffee with an african-american friend of mine, and at some point in our conversation he made the comment that he was sure that there would be some slave-owners in heaven.

We were talking about how we can be so sure we’re doing the right thing based on the norms of the day, and how we can be so blind to our own sins when they’re socially acceptable.

And that’s when he made his comment, emphasizing the grace of God within it.

It really surprised me.

Not because I don’t think he’s right, but rather because I had never thought of it in those terms.

Racism is an evil thing, and I’ve grown accustomed to thinking the worst of slave-owners or others who are blatantly racist, like members of the Ku Klux Klan, for example.

I tend to lump them all together, and make a blanket judgment against people who practice blatant racism.

“The world would be a better place without them”, I think to myself.  

“God’s reign would happen more quickly if they weren’t “in the way”.”

But then my friend made his comment, and I had to re-think my assumptions.

And then, just this week I read an article about another African-American guy, a musician by the name of Daryl Davis.

And let me tell you, if a story can symbolize the imagery from both the Isaiah and the Romans passages that we heard this morning, his story is the one.

It’s a beautiful example of the breath of God smiting the wicked, but probably not in the way most of us would like to imagine.

Let me read just a paragraph of that article for you.

“It was 1983 and Davis was playing country western music in an … all-white lounge. He was the only black musician in the place and when his set was over, a man approached him. “He came up to me and said he liked my piano playing,” says Davis, “then he told me this was the first time he heard a black man play as well as Jerry Lee Lewis.” Davis, somewhat amused, explained to the man: “Jerry Lee learned to play from black blues and boogie woogie piano players and he’s a friend of mine. He told me himself where he learned to play.” At first, Davis says, the man was skeptical that Jerry Lee Lewis had been schooled by black musicians, but Davis went on to explain in more detail. “He was fascinated,” says Davis, “but he didn’t believe me. Then, he told me he was a Klansman.”

 

I won’t read the whole article for you, but it goes on to describe what happened next.

Daryl resisted the urge to leave the bar, he stayed there with the klansman in spite of his revulsion, and they formed something of a friendship, believe it or not.

And if you are ever tempted to pooh pooh the power of love as a force for change in the world, remember that eventually, because of this friendship, because of the respect and the love that Daryl Davis showed the klansman that night in the bar…eventually that Klansman left the klan, and he gave Daryl his robe and his hood, as a token of their friendship.

The defining symbols of a klansman, the mask he had worn to protect himself, the weapons of fear and intimidation he had used for so long…he turned them over.  

They were transformed from symbols of hatred, into symbols of repentance and friendship.

The breath of Daryl’s mouth, the words he used, planted seeds of friendship instead of hatred.

And the harvest was plentiful.

Wickedness was destroyed! Evil was overcome!

But the weapons Daryl Davis used were not earthly weapons.

That story would be powerful enough if it would have stopped there.

But it didn’t stop there, because Advent was at work!

Daryl Davis went on to write a book about race relations.

In so doing, he attended Ku Klux Klan rallies to take notes for his book.

He interviewed a number of klansmen, and he befriended even more.

And over the course of the next several years, his friends from the Klan all started dropping out, giving him their robes and hoods as symbolic gestures.

As of the time when this article was written, Daryl Davis had 20 or more klan outfits hanging in his closet; gifts that were given to him by his friends who eventually left the Klan.

Actually, this article I read credited Daryl Davis for pretty much dismantling the Ku Klux Klan in the state of Maryland because of the inroads he made through friendship.

Friends, this kind of thing doesn’t “just happen”.

The world isn’t transformed by our wishing it could happen.

God’s will does not consist of ‘good intentions’, or in leaving the room when that’s the most comfortable thing to do.

It comes in the form of friendship…even, and maybe most especially, in friendship with your enemies.

The wickedness of racism was overcome through the relationship that was formed…with the breath of his mouth…the words that they shared, the time that they spent together.

The earth was shaken as prejudice and hatred was transformed into friendship and even love.

This is the way, and the truth, and the life…God’s kingdom comes not through the use of power or coercion. It comes when people reach out beyond themselves and embrace the “other” across the boundaries we defend so fiercely.

I couldn’t imagine a slaveholder being in heaven, not until that possibility was suggested to me.

I couldn’t imagine a bona fide member of the Ku Klux Klan being friends with a black musician and eventually coming out of that lifestyle and embracing a different way.

That’s the stuff dreams are made of.

But the Kingdom of God is so much more than a dream.

It’s so much more real, you know?

I’m not asking you to embrace a dream this morning.

I’m asking you to join me in a walk towards the ultimate reality that is the Kingdom of God.

It’s a journey into uncomfortable places where more often than not, we have to admit that we were wrong, that we have something to learn even from our enemies.

It’s a path into the mystery of God’s dwelling, a path where we need to come to terms with ourselves, our sins, our wickedness…and put our evil ways to death.

It’s not an easy path, it’s not predictable, and it’s not even safe, but it’s real.

Amen

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