This week, in Ottawa, in six separate incidents, a teenager spray- painted hate graffiti on a United Church, a Mosque, a Jewish prayer house, a Jewish community center, and two synagogues. The rabbi of the Machzikei Hadas Synagogue came to work in the morning and saw the message the vandals had wanted him to read. On a sign and the walls were racial slurs and the message “save the white race,” and the symbol of Nazi Germany. Places of worship have always been easy targets for these kinds of messages, and acts of anti-Semitism are more common in this country than we might think. But there is a message in this for all of us who live in community together. There is still hate in our midst and we cannot pretend that there isn’t.
Hoping for the best, however, is what humans do pretty well – if it means not having to do anything at all. When hope requires us to show faith for another person, that is where we tend to fall down. But how often has history shown the cost of so-called good people doing nothing, or waiting to see how it will turn out, or hoping for the best. Certainly, the “good” Germans of the 1930s learned this lesson: the intellectuals and academics and politicians who hoped that Hitler’s time in power would be short-lived, that he would sputter out, that he was too stupid to worry about – learned their lesson. And so did millions of people, in the most tragic way.
These days, I don’t know about you, but I feel unsettled and angry. This is 2016: we are a democratic, prosperous, multicultural society. Haven’t we had moved past a time when, under the cloak of darkness, cowards are spray painting messages of hate and fear to scare people they don’t even know? And worse, why are they doing it in my name, as a white man? What is my culpability in that? Where is my place?
That’s a good question: particularly on a Sunday that clarifies for us, as Christians, the place of Jesus. On Christ the King Sunday, Jesus takes his place at the right hand of the throne of God. This Sunday is meant to re-establish our understanding of the divinity of Jesus. He is not just a carpenter who had a way with words. He is not just a painting that hangs on a wall. He is not just a martyr who sacrificed himself for what he believed in and for his followers. Christ is divine, a ruler above all rulers, who sits with God.
As we figure out our own place, that’s a pretty important understanding for us to have, as followers of Christ’s word. The gospel is not taken up lightly. When we claim to be followers, we are placing ourselves as servants in The Reign of Christ and all that this means. We are saying, quite clearly: this is my place, this is my station, this is where I choose to stand, awaiting instructions.
Those instructions are clear: there is no place in The Reign of Christ for intolerance and judgement, and there is not much room for servants willing to let it all happen and hope for the best. Jesus had hope, but he faced the truth: the worst parts of humanity, if fed well enough, can spread like a fire. He spent his entire time on earth trying to put it out and trying to give others the strength and knowledge to do so. Jesus reached out to the vandals, and the victims, and the bystanders watching. And Jesus did it, again, and again, and again.
This week, someone asked me: but what can we do? We can, as our children have done this morning, send a message of solidarity, a sign to someone who has been horribly treated that they are not alone. It is not hard for us to do this: we can tweet it, email it, Facebook it. We can call out racism and violence when we hear it online and teach our children how to respond when they hear it. Do we block it? Do we hide from it? Is that what Jesus did? Jesus lived in the world as it existed, loved the best parts of it, and saw the worst. When we let hate hide in the shadows to whisper at those more likely to be susceptible to its messages, we give hate the upper hand.
What else can we do? We can give – our time and talent. Donate to Canadian Lutheran World Relief and the Ottawa Lutheran Refugee Sponsorship Committee if we truly believe that diversity is our strength, and that wealthy nations should help poorer ones. We can make our voices heard – not just negatively, but positively. As we Canadians watch what continues to happen in the United States, what are we saying to our own government about values we wish for our country? Put it in a letter, and send it to your MP.
What we should never do is hope for the best, hope for the problem to go away. Our place is not on the sidelines. Our place is in the middle, sent by the one who leads us, to spread the gospel.
If, as we celebrate today, Christ is the One who truly reigns in our lives, then our direction is clear. Let us be that presence that reaches out to both the vandal and the victim. Let us be a voice that speaks with an honest hope that faces truth. And let us live lives for the sake of freedom and peace and love.