Martin Luther King Sunday – John 1:43-51 – Epiphany 2B
Audio only version here
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” WOW! All over Christendom, where-ever the Revised Common Lectionary is used, preachers were busy preparing their sermons on this particular Gospel reading, when the most powerful man on the planet caused us all to hone in on these words: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I can assure you that the sermon that I had planned to preach this morning, was nothing like the sermon, I am compelled to preach. Dr. Martin Luther King is quoted as saying that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
I must confess that I was not exactly articulate when I first heard the hate filled comments of the man whose name sticks in my throat. For the sake of decency, I shall not quote my own reaction, which can be expressed with the letters W T F followed by a question mark. But decency does not come easily to the current president of the United States. Watching this sorry excuse for a man, sign a proclamation declaring Martin Luther King Jr. Day, brought tears to my eyes for all the wrong reasons. The hatred expressed on Thursday by a president who holds the futures of so many hopeful immigrants in his hands makes it clear that Dr. King’s dream is not yet realized.
Yes, many of us have come a long way. Some of us can still see Dr. King’s vision. Some of us have lived that dream. But we all received a real slap in the face that ought to wake us up to the reality that we have a long way to go before Dr. King’s vision can be embodied by all those who seek justice and freedom from poverty. Slapped in the face by a man who has ridden his own racism to the pinnacle of political power, we must awaken our sensibilities to the positions of privilege that we enjoy as a result of the legacy of tribalism that continues to enslave our world in systems of abuse that perpetuate fear; fear the enemy of compassion, fear the enemy of justice, fear that leads to hatred; hatred that divides us from one another and robs us of our humanity.
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Indeed, how can anything good come from Nazareth? The soon to be disciple of Jesus, asked a question born out of the very tribalism that continues to haunt us. In Jesus’ day, Nazareth was what number 45 would call a “shit-hole”. Nazareth, where Jesus was from, was located in Galilee, a hick-town in the Roman occupied backwater of Judea. Judea was characterized by its Roman occupiers as a real shit-hole, and Nazareth was a hot-bed of radical terrorists bent on overthrowing the established order. Nothing but trouble came from Nazareth. Nothing and nobody from Nazareth could be trusted.
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nazareth, a shit-hole of a town, in the back of beyond. The last thing anyone in Jerusalem needs is a bunch of Nazareans coming into town to stir up a whole lot of trouble. The juxtaposition of this particular Gospel reading with the comments made in the White House on Thursday is tragic in and of itself. But add the memory of Dr. King to this horrendous outpouring of hatred and perhaps we might, just might, be able to shed some light on the darkness that has descended upon our world. Dr. King insisted that, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And while it is so very easy to hate the spewer of racist venom who wields more power than anyone else on the planet, Donald J. Trump is also our brother and we, my dear sisters and brothers, we are called to love even this sorry excuse for a human being. And while it is so very tempting to respond to his venom by asking, “Can anything good come from this shit-for-brains president?” two wrongs won’t make it right. As easy as it is to assume that Trump is beneath contempt, my hatred of Trump will not shed the kind of light that drives out hate, only love can do that.
So, how do I learn to love Donald J. Trump? I confess that a big part of me doesn’t want to learn to love this despicable excuse for a man. But bear with me for just a moment as I try to explore some things that Mr. Trump and I share; indeed, some things that I suspect we all share with Mr. Trump.
Let’s begin with the disciple Nathanael’s question: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I suspect that each of us have asked a similar question at some point in our lives. As a child, I lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I was trained to believe that people from certain areas were worthy of my suspicion, simply because they inhabited Roman Catholic neighbourhoods. Later when we immigrated to Canada, I was taught to believe that people who came to town from reservations were lesser beings. I was taught to suspect that the people who lived on reservations, were lazy, no-good, drunks, who spent their lives freeloading off the government, and that nothing of much worth ever came off a reservation. As I grew to adulthood, I was taught to be suspicious of everyone who wanted to come to this country who was not British. My parents didn’t teach me this; this I learned in the playgrounds of the various schools I attended in both Ontario and British Columbia, where I learned to label fellow students as, “pakies and rag-heads” because they came from countries that our brother Mr. Trump would call “shit-holes”.
Take a moment. Look into your own lives. Do you remember the way people used to talk about our First Nations sisters and brothers? Do you remember the way people used to talk about immigrants? Most of us, I hope had enough compassion not to say these hate-filled things but if we are honest with ourselves, I suspect that the fear behind these hate-filled words, infected us to the extent that we became at the very least suspicious of people whose origins we did not share.
Tribalism is an ugly trait in a human being. Most of us are still dealing with the legacy of our own versions of tribalism. While I have long-since overcome many of the suspicions I was once taught, I still struggle with my own discomfort around the wearing of the hijab. I have learned enough to know that wearing the hijab is a cultural and not a religious practice. I have listened to sisters who have spoken passionately about their desire to wear the hijab without fear of persecution. I have stood in solidarity with those sisters. But deep down in the darkest recesses of my being, there is a part of me that still sees the wearing of the hijab as a way to restrict the equality of women. So, I will continue to struggle to understand my Muslim sisters. Regardless of my own qualms, I can see those things that we hold in common as women and our shared experiences empower me to support their right to choose and resist my own ignorance of their reality. I will do this because of my love for my sisters; hoping all the while that love will find a way for us to better understand one another. It is the reality that there is more that unites us than divides us that empowers me to seek the light that drives out darkness.
But searching for light in and around the reality that is Mr. Trump is more difficult. So, this week I have resolved to begin seeking commonality with Mr. Trump around the question: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Just as this kind of question has been asked generation after generation, this question has also reared its ugly head in my own life, and I suspect this question also lies behind Mr. Trump’s hate-filled comments. Not even the darkness of racism can obscure the reality of the scourge of tribalism. Mr. Trump embodies tribalism. He is the personification of so many of our darkest traits. Recognizing our own daemons, confessing our own prejudices is a place to begin the arduous journey toward the light that will empower us to drive out hatred.
I may not get to the promised land, the land where I learn to love Mr. Trump, but we might make it to the mountain top where we can capture a vision of the promised land if we are willing to work our way through the tribal legacies that entrap us in the hatred that persists and threatens to hold us captive.
Although it is tempting to linger under the delusion that we Canadians are so much better than our neighbours to the south, the delusion that we live in the Promised Land already, was dispelled by the stark reality that an eleven-year-old girl was attacked by a man wielding scissors. This outrageous attack ought to wake us up to our own need to shed light upon the darkness that persists in our tribe.
So, let us celebrate Dr. King’s dream by seeking the love we need to drive out hate. Let us begin by honestly examining the darkness in ourselves. Let the LOVE that is God be the light that drives out darkness.Let that LOVE live and breathe in, with, through, and beyond us. For in the words of Dr. King: “We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of LOVE into the veins of our civilization.”
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Absolutely. When we begin see in everyone who comes into our lives, the ONE who is the source of our being, then the dream becomes a reality as we begin to know our common humanity. Then everyone everywhere can be loved into wholeness, even our very far from perfect selves. This is the Way to the Promised Land: to be LOVE in the world.