A Wide Door

“A Wide Door” by Rev. Michael Livingston
1 Corinthians 16:9, 13-14
Sunday, November 8, 2020


“…for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.13Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. 14Let all that you do be done in love.”

Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States at noon on Wednesday, January 20th, 2021.  Yes, it’s true. Every morning we wake up between now and then, no matter what happens the day before, this will be true.  Who knows what chaos will be created by Trump and his blind followers in his last two months in office, these frivolous law suits to begin with?  Whatever it is.  It will slip into memory as the finality of this election takes hold of our nation.  Let’s take a moment, to exhale, to be still, to let this new reality season our spirits, comfort our souls.

Kamala Harris will be the first woman and first African America woman Vice President of the United States.  And perhaps one day the first woman President.  Forgive me for stepping into a cloud on this one.  Even though these “First…” this or “First…” that, three hundred years after the founding of the nation, are evidence of the long reign of a racist patriarchy, we must celebrate them for the milestones they are in this present moment.  A wide door is open for what must, what will, we pray, follow.  There is more.

New Mexico elected three women to the House of Representatives—all three of them are women of color.  Two Native Americans and a Latina.  Teresa Leger Fernandez,  Deb Haaland, Yvette Herrell.

Sarah McBride became the first openly transgender woman elected to a state senate in the country—in Delaware.

Oklahoma elected to its state Legislature a black, queer, non-binary, Muslim.  Do I need to repeat that?  And yes, I said Oklahoma.  Mauree Turner is Their name.  That’s a sentence that would not have been understood twenty-five years ago.  There may be some, not at Riverside, who would not understand it today.

Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones, two gay black men, one of them an Afro-Latino, were elected to Congress from New York City.

“A nurse, pastor, and single parent who lived out of a car for several months,” Cori Bush, became the first black Congresswoman from Missouri.  She rose from the tragedy of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

Taylor Small, a white transgender person was elected to the state Legislature in Vermont.

Stephanie Byers will become the first Native American trans in the history of the nation to serve a state Legislature, when her election is confirmed in Kansas.

A wide door has opened in the United States.  A wide door.

Some of you may have avoided following the drama of the count of votes that began Tuesday night when it became possible to begin recording the mail-in ballots sent in record numbers to key “swing states” around the country.  Others, like me, have been glued to the television learning the names of many of the counties in these states as if they were in our backyards:  Clark, Lehigh, Maricopa, Bucks, Clayton…

I haven’t had much sleep over the last few days.  Couldn’t even begin to write this sermon until the outcome of this election was clear.  I thought that was Friday morning but it turned out to be yesterday afternoon.  Nothing about the gospel that has to be claimed was different, just the state of the nation into which the word is spoken.  After this election, even before the inauguration—we’re in a very different place with whole new possibilities.

Don’t you know there are two John’s, one white, one black, who are enjoying eternity with more sweetness than before—if that is possible regarding eternity.  You know who I mean: John McCain and John Lewis.  McCain’s Arizona and Lewis’ beloved Clayton County in Georgia played essential roles in the election.  Both of them terribly maligned by our graceless and soon to be former President Trump.  McCain suffered five years as a prisoner of war and Lewis was nearly killed for crossing a bridge named after a confederate general and leader of the Alabama Klu Klux Klan.  All he wanted was the right to vote for every American.

We could gloat or shout and say “Good riddance.”  Frankly, at 8:50am Friday morning when it was reported on CNN that Biden had pulled ahead in Pennsylvania—what I felt first and strongest, was relief.  This nightmare is almost over, will be over—come January in a new year.  No more government by Tweet and never again a 2am speech by a sitting president undermining, declaring the ordinary process of voting “a fraud.”

A wide door is open…and there are many adversaries, Paul writes.  70 million.  An astounding number of people voted for Donald Trump; wanted to see his presidency continue, were not appalled by his lies, believed them, accepted that the benefit they derived from his leadership far outweighed any defects in his character.  In fact, they may well have believed he did not lie and this his character is unassailable; that his leadership was not divisive, did he did not incite violence or give cover for white supremacists.  That I don’t see how these things could be true is my problem, my challenge.

We are two nations, white and other, to over-simplify it. Pro-law and order, pro-wall, pro-life, pro- guns, pro-deregulation vs pro-choice, universal health care, pro-mask, pro-science, pro-planet.  We are two versions of Christianity, evangelical and mainstream and progressive.  We are miles apart across a divide, a chasm that seems too broad for any bridge.  There were 120 thousand new cases, new people infected by the virus Thursday—the most anywhere in the world on one day during the whole span of the pandemic—until there were 123 thousand on Friday.  There were three record setting days in a row.  The president was golfing on Saturday when the nation fired him.  Fitting.  Well half the nation.

Seventy million people on one side.  Seventy-four million on the other.  Many adversaries.  God?  What is next?  How do we move on from this divided place?  How do we recover the long forgotten, deeply buried truth that we are one people, one humanity, one race?  Not two, or twenty, or however many we’ve broken ourselves into for defensive purposes mainly.  But let’s be clear.  Race matters.  Black Lives Matter.  Because the sin of Whiteness has ruled for too long and the last four years have exposed this lie denying our common humanity in the blinding light of day.

This Corinthian text comes near the end of the letter, one of the most important letters in the canon.  It deals with “divisions and disorders” within the community and so could not be more relevant for our time and circumstance.  In the midst of trouble Paul sees opportunity—that wide door for effective work.  At the end he implores the Corinthians then, as I do us now to, “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.”  Like never before we have to stay awake, “Woke” to what is happening around us, in our government, in our families, in our church and community.  We have such important decisions to make about our future together.  Here at Riverside and in the nation.

We have to be clear about our values and resolute in acting upon them.  We have to dismantle structural racism and say no to whiteness once and for all.  We have to dismantle patriarchy, once and for all.  We have to dismantle an economic system that crushes the many as it privileges the few.  We have to embrace creation, for now, forever.  We have to welcome and accept people of all genders and all sexual identities and orientations.  We have to build community, not walls.  We have to value human life, not guns and the profit they generate.  At Riverside we have two blocks to develop for mission and sustainability.  A troubled past to reconcile, I’m talking about decades of troubled waters, not simply the last year.  A wide door for effective work, there is so much work to do.

I don’t want to abandon altogether the lectionary texts from the Song of Solomon for today.  They are about Wisdom, embodied so appropriately as a woman.  Women don’t start wars or arm themselves for saber rattling or gun battles that will never come.  Women don’t form militias or perpetrate lone gunman mass killings.

We could be angry, stay angry, act in anger after the four years we’ve endured.  We could move within our circles and plot against the other.  We could gloat, “It’s our turn now” and arrange the tables by the truth we know.  We could make our chat rooms secure against intrusion; our passwords impenetrable, smug in our hold on the reins of power in whatever sphere we inhabit.  Wisdom whispers in our ears, so softly we must be very still to hear her…be gracious.  Be still.  Love kindness.  Walk humbly.  Do justice. Love one another.  But that doesn’t mean be weak or gullible or unable to engage principalities and powers, or personalities and dysfunctional practices whenever we encounter them.

Jesus, I think, heard wisdom, had wisdom in his very being.  He was a skilled and effective worker, but he was no unschooled workman from a backwoods town.  We think of Jerusalem as a cultural center like New York or San Francisco and think less of his Galilee.  But Galilee was cosmopolitan, along the treasured Silk Road, trade route to east.  Not only could he read, but Jesus probably fluent in several languages.  He knew Hebrew and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.  He spoke in his native Aramaic, and understood at least, the Latin of Pontius Pilate.  A private call from a personal God no one else hears, does not a pastor make.  At least that is not the norm.

Jesus may well have known Greek.  Now all of that isn’t required to be wise, but it’s a good indication that he was learned and wise because we follow him today.  Wisdom whispered in his ear, this enigmatic teacher, telling parables that confounded conventional thought and practice (one scholar called them “spiritual hand grenades”).  He challenged his hearers, his community, his people—to be better, to do better for especially those who were most vulnerable.

And he didn’t say it, but looking at the life of Jesus, Paul was inspired to write, “Let all that you do be done in love.”  This wide door is open for us.  New President and Vice President soon.  He’s the oldest ever to step into the office, she’s the first woman, and of Asian and black descent.  We also have a first, “First Gentleman.”  Can’t wait for the Annual Easter Egg hunt on the west lawn.  We have a congress more diverse than any in our history—more reflective of who we are as a people than any time in our history.

Now is the time for the tenderest and toughest love we can live.  Nothing else will do.  We have structures to dismantle and bridges to build.  The hard core of seventy million people believe they have been cheated out of a great leader.  Two Americas.   More hate and division will get us nowhere.  There is so much to do and say to one another across all the divisions of our life.  Well, “Let all that you do…” you, me, Joe, Kamala, Trump, the silent Pence, congress, state legislatures, you, me…  As hard as some of what has to be said and done is…we must say and do it, with Paul’s encouragement in mind,” Let all that you do, be done in love.”

Our two new leaders said important things to us last night and each ended their speeches with references to women of wisdom in their lives.  I had read this quote about Kamala’s mother and written it down to remember and Kamala recalled it in her speech.  She remembered her mother telling her, “You’re going to be the first at many things, just be sure you aren’t the last.”  And Joe said, “As my grandpop used to say as I walked out of his home as a kid back in Scranton, ‘Joe, keep the faith’, and my grandmother said ‘No Joey, spread it.”

We are working, loving, speaking, and doing for those who will follow us.  Let us spread our faith, not conversion therapy, the love of justice, the justice of love.   Amen.