The following sermon was preached in Chapel by Abby Post on March 22, 2019. Abby is an ally of CISA with the message that we have to hear each other's stories and that these stories cannot be at the cost of another.
The text for the sermon is Psalm 12:
1 Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;
the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
2 They utter lies to each other;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
4 those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail;
our lips are our own—who is our master?”
5 “Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan,
I will now rise up,” says the Lord;
“I will place them in the safety for which they long.”
6 The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure,
silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
7 You, O Lord, will protect us;
you will guard us from this generation forever.
8 On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among humankind.
I have sat with this text for over a month and at times regretted its selection by my senior chapel team. I have read it with many people and some see it as easy and relatable because of our current political times and the administration. It would be easy to name that. Just fill in the blank with the issue for the day. Or turn to twitter and there would be something there from a certain president. It is not that I don’t think conversations about this are important. It is not that the text didn’t say something. There are many ways that it would be easy to preach that sermon. Listen again to verses 2 and 4. “They utter lies to each other; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. Those who say,” With our tongues we will prevail; our lips are our own—who will be our masters?” There could be a sermon there, but that is not the moment it the text that got me. Or even what this community needs to hear.
It is not that I am scared by politics. Quite the opposite. At the beginning of my ethics class with Dr. Douglas last spring, he had a series of questions for students to answer so he could gage where they were. The one that stuck with me was when he asked when our last political conversation was. My classmates answered with varied answers of days, weeks, or even months. When it got to me I proclaimed, “Well they last time I had a conversation, but really it depends on what you mean by political. I think that everything we do is political.” So politics don’t scare me. Because talking about politics is inescapable. It is not separate from who we are or how we act. For me it is not just about how I vote or what I think of different issues. It is a part of how we speak and what we say. This is a political act.
So the longer I sat with this text. The more I realized I could not create an “us vs. them.” I found myself in the text in two places that seemed to be in contradiction. I could not preach a sermon that put some in a category of saying well at least we aren’t doing that. We are not chanting to build a wall. So we are not as bad as them. We might even be working so it doesn’t get built. The next step would logically be then we must be good. It might be the philosopher in me, but I have no idea what good is. But I think instead of thinking good or bad. The question should be are we loving our neighbor? If I were to answer for this community at this moment, I would have to say the answer is no. For anyone that has been on this campus in the last month, this is clear. There has been turmoil, upheaval, and disagreement. For those that are visiting this morning the events on this campus have included student petitions and protests, letters by faculty, and even a press conferences by students that felt unheard, unsupported, and not cared for by a larger part of this community. The thing is I am not a member of this group. I am not there spokesperson or their voice, but I am their ally. I can use my voice to amplify their own, because this is not my story to tell for them.
This is why I cannot talk about Trump and the administration, because that would be an easy conversation to have here. Psalm 12 is not easy text. It is confusing for those that care to study its structure and context. The verses do not seem to flow well and it does not fit with a group of the texts around it. When I read the text I found myself in two places that seems in contention. Verse 1 states that there is no longer any one that is godly; the faithful have disappeared from humankind. I find myself here because the writer doesn’t seem to count himself out. He is a part of humankind and no longer any one that is godly. It is not like the right said there is no one that is righteous but me. I find this in contention with verse 7 when the author says, “You, O LORD will protect us.” The poor are suffering and crying out to the LORD. But the Lord will protect them. I think the us draws me there, because us includes me. But there is still suffering. I know that preaching this Psalm doesn’t make me feel protected. I don’t feel protected physically standing up here. Emotionally I feel vulnerable. Spiritually I feel tension. I can’t seem to name a way that I feel protected, because I actually feel quite uncomfortable. There is a lot of tension in this room. I can feel it. It would have be less tense and probably less uncomfortable for me to preach about Trump.
I think we need to stay in this place of tension and being uncomfortable. I have learned a lot about holding tension in a room. I was tasked to watch Netflix stand up comedies and map the movements of the specials. Comedy done well is about creating and releasing the tension at just the right moment. Out of all the comedy specials that I watched there are one that stood out to me, because her movements were drastically different and she actually left the tension. She did not release it with laugher.
Hannah Gadsby in her Netflix special “Nanette” starts with normal movements of holding and relieving tensions with laugher, but the second half of her show is a refusal to do that. She is angry and no longer making jokes. She says, “… I am angry, and I believe I’ve got every right to be angry! But what I don’t have a right to do is to spread anger. I don’t. Because anger, much like laughter, can connect a room full of strangers like nothing else. But anger, even if it’s connected to laughter, will not… relieve tension. Because anger is a tension. [But] stories hold our cure. I just needed my story heard, my story felt and understood by individuals with minds of their own. Because, like it or not, your story… is my story. And my story… is your story.” End quote.
Hannah Gadsby helped me to understand my tension with Psalm 12. I both a part of the unfaithful and those that are included in the us being protected.
I know some of you might be wondering about the fact that I named the tension and the anger on this campus. But how I also said I would not make this sermon and “us vs them.” And some are thinking you might not have taken a shot at that administration, but you sure did take a shot at this one. I started earlier that their story is not my story. That is true, but as Hannah Gadsby said, “your story is my story.” I cannot escape my connections to both parts of Psalm 12. I am connected to the story of the international students on this campus, but I am also connected to the administration. I am not here to tell their story, but mine. But as we live together with one another in community there are not separate stories, but intertwined.
The point cannot be an us vs them. Faithful and unfaithful. Because at many times we are both. We are all participates in a system that is limited and hurtful.
I said this would not be about Trump or the administration, but that is not fully true. Because these are things that are connected to each of us. We cannot just say he is just not are president and disregard him, because we live here. Now there are people in this room that benefit significantly more from this system and society as a whole. There might be people in this room fully silenced by this system. But there are ways that we all participate in unjust ways. This could be I do not care for the environment to I buy things produced by slave or child labor. Now I want you to think about this for yourself. Now keep this idea in your mind.
As a society we are interconnected, but even more so as a community. This community is not immune from these hurtful actions, decisions, culture, or history. If you are not a regular member of this community begin to think of a place that you are, because your community is no immune from this either.
The last thing I want you to begin to think about is personal or interpersonally harm that you have caused intentionally or not. Think of your own participation.
Now you are wondering where I am going with this. Is this really good news? I want to go back to this protection. I cannot seem to find a way to understand it, but may it is where are hope is. In the season on lent we are preparing for Christ’s death. I would say he didn’t feel protected, but literally naked and vulnerable.
What if the point is to see ourselves in both places as the unfaithful and the protected? As those that have and can harm and as people made in the image of God? What if the purpose here is to create space to have our stories heard and known? What if Hannah Gadsby is right, that stories are our cure. It does not heal the harm done to one group or person. It does not fix it, but what if giving that space and recognizing the humanity of another is the only way forward? It is important to break the cycle of blame, violence, and harm. But not to ignore it. If our stories are told honestly and openly then these things cannot be ignore, but if there is a hope from turning on one another. Well shouldn’t we be working for that? But that should never come at the cost of another person’s. Maybe breaking the cycle is our protection. And breaking the cycle means listening… really listening to another’s story.
Thanks be to God for that.