St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa was filled with worshippers. Outside the cathedral hundreds of police gathered, a show of force intended to intimidate. As Tutu was preaching they entered the Cathedral, armed, and lined the walls. They took out notebooks and recorded Tutu’s words.
But Tutu would not be intimidated. He preached against the evils of apartheid, declaring it could not endure. At one extraordinary point he addressed the police directly.
“You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you’ve already lost, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!”
With that the congregation erupted in dance and song. The police didn’t know what to do. Their attempts at intimidation had failed, overcome by the archbishop’s confidence that God and goodness would triumph over evil. The quietly turned around and walked out of the church. Allow me today, in the wake of the most divided and contentious election we have ever witnessed, to echo Archbishop Tutu’s words: “I invite you today to join the winning side!”
The winning side is not Republican, it is not Democratic, it is not Libertarian or Green … or any other political party. The winning side is at the foot of the cross. Oh yes, it looks like losing, but our God who will not be mocked has put all earthly powers under his feet, has declared victory over oppression, violence and death, and we as a Church are here to proclaim that gospel because we are on the winning side.
The prophet Malachi speaks of the day when “all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble” – burned up never to return. Then, and only then, “the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings” – and if that sounds familiar, you will hear it again at Christmas because it is the source of Mendelsohn’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” There is no room for arrogance and evil on the winning side.
Jesus’ ominous words in our Gospel reading are a moment of truth telling. He starts by warning that “all will be thrown down.” He is telling his disciples and his followers in later generations (including us) that all, I repeat ALL, empires will collapse. Every. Single. One – even the empire we live in right now known as the United States of America. All empires decay, all empires collapse. He then goes on to warn that many will come in his name with a false message saying, “I am he” and how we are not to be deceived by this. There will be people who claim the name of Christian who are not following the teachings of Jesus grounded in self-sacrificial love. They may claim the name of Christian, use “Jesus talk” but instead are worshiping nation, or ideology, or power, or money. Do not believe them no matter what they claim, especially if they are choosing the side of power, privilege, and political ideology - there is no place for false gospel on the winning side.
Jesus goes on to paint a very dire picture of national violence and disaster. He also plainly says that if we are faithful and really following him, we will suffer. He says our families will be torn apart. He says we may be imprisoned or killed. But in all cases, we are to testify to the truth of Jesus and his call to self-sacrificial love for ALL people, not just some of them. He gives us a picture of what the winning side looks like … but it does not feel like winning at all.
Take a really good look at the cross. Does the bleeding, suffering, dying Christ look like a winner to you? Or does he look like the “Biggest Loser?” This is the paradox of being on the winning side - winning in God's Kingdom appears like losing in this world. As Fr. Richard Rohr says, "The way down is the way up."
So, in the wake of this election, what will it look like to be on the winning side? Let me start by suggesting what it does not look like. If you voted for our president-elect Donald Trump, congratulations on this win. He’s obtained enough votes to win the Electoral College. Regardless of how you feel about that system, it’s the one we live under. It is America’s rule of law and in 1st Peter we are advised to respect civil authority. But if you are now gloating, crowing about your man winning, and labeling those who did not vote for your candidate “crybabies” or “spoiled brats”, or even worse you are targeting women, LGBTs, minorities and immigrants with physical and verbal violence, you are choosing the losing side! You are not following Jesus, you are not loving others, and you cannot be a Christian and act this way. There is no place for gloating, boasting, bragging, name-calling, violence and exclusion on the winning side. You want to be a real winner? Repent of that arrogance and leave it at the cross.
If you voted for anyone but Donald Trump and are feeling frightened by his rhetoric and the violent actions of some, let me repeat some, of his followers, know that God is with you. Jesus’ warnings today didn’t say life would be easy. It’s going to get hard and it may be scary and it may get worse before it gets better. Your fears are not imaginary, but they cannot define or control you, or send you into despair. They also cannot be the catalyst for you to engage in name-calling, smug self-righteousness, cutting others who voted differently off without first trying to hear them. Someone once said that courage is just fear that said its prayers. Remember the saints I talked about last week? Those who suffered persecution at the hands of bullies in their day were afraid too! But they didn’t let their fear stop them from doing what was right and following Jesus – many times at great personal cost. If you sink into paralyzing fear, reactivity, retaliatory violence, hysteria, name-calling, or despair, you have chosen the losing side too! Repent of this and leave it at the cross.
The winning side looks like this: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – the Fruit of the Spirit Paul speaks of in his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 5:22-23). It looks like weakness. The winning side will engage in listening to the other without defensiveness. The winning side seeks to find out what the people who differ from you are afraid of and finding out where we have common ground. And let’s be honest, the corruption of our political empire on both sides has led to what happened. Lots of people in America are dispossessed and left out – and many were unheard. Both the left and the right raised up their respective “outsiders” out of sheer frustration and fear. Fear is the hallmark of the 2016 election but as John writes in his first letter: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18)
Sisters and brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we as the Church are in a defining moment where we must choose whether we will put our ultimate trust in the cross and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, or we will place our trust in empire and all of its idols. The winning side is at the foot of the cross and seeks to draw all nations to that place. There will be opposition and we are called to ever more live into our baptismal covenant. We must stand firm and claim we are Christians first and Americans second. This isn’t an either/or choice, though, as many American ideals are born out of the very teachings of Jesus. But it does mean that we strive to respect the dignity of every human being and where our country chooses a path which does not do this, we stand up for those whom God has shown preference: the last, lost, little, least and lifeless. Oppression must be named and resisted at every turn because oppression of any part of the Body of Christ means all parts of the Body suffer. We will be called to action and witness like we have never been called before. We cannot be complacent in the face of violence and evil but heed the words of St. Paul:
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-15)
This, beloved in the Lord Christ, is what it means to be on the winning side.