When All You Can Do Is Weep.
A sermon preached at The Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on June 25, 2017.
John Buchanan tells this great story
About his failings when trying to preach about Hagar the Egyptian.
The last time I preached a sermon on the story of Hagar,
the Egyptian slave and her son Ishmael, I got in trouble.
I was invited to preach at the installation of a friend of mine
[that’s when they formally make her the new pastor of a church]
and she asked me, specifically, to preach on THIS story. So I did.
It is a big church in the South,
the kind of southern Presbyterian institution
where on the wall of portraits of past session members
and clerks and pastors
you can find a few Confederate Generals.
It is also the kind of institution that reflects
the genuine hospitality and graciousness of its culture.
Now I know it’s a regional stereotype,
but it has been my experience
that Yankees are particularly receptive and responsive
and vulnerable to Southern graciousness. We love it.
After all, we’re not often told how wonderful we are
and how lovely it is that we came to the party
and how fascinating and interesting we are.
So I preached a Hagar and Ishmael sermon for my friend
and afterward I was utterly enjoying greeting the people
and being told how wonderful and fascinating
and interesting I was.
I noticed a woman who seemed to be waiting until the line was gone.
When she greeted me,
she took my hand in both of hers and smiled and said
with sweetness and sincerity,
“Mr. Buchanan, it was lovely of you to come
all the way down here from Chicago to be with us this morning.
I just wanted you to know that I hated your sermon.”
She squeezed my hand, smiled sweetly and walked away.
And I said, “Thank you very much.”
So I haven’t returned to the text for a decade.
That was his way of getting into to this text, once again,
after a bit of a break.
As he said: It’s hot—this story is—perhaps too hot to handle.[i]
And why is that?
Well: Everybody has to hate someone, it seems.
And we don’t like to think about that too often.
Anthropologists and sociologists will argue
that we need someone with whom to make
unflattering and derogatory comparisons
you know, in order to feel good about ourselves
and establish our own identity.
We need a ‘they’ who WE are not, in order to know who WE are.
We need someone to be an outsider so WE can be an insider.
THEY are lazy, immoral, undependable, can’t trust them,
they even smell funny.
That’s how Catholics and Protestants regarded each other
for centuries in Northern Ireland—
Greeks and Turks for generations,
Armenians and Azerbaijani,
Jews and Arabs, Hatfields and McCoys,
Royals and Cardinal fans (oh, I meant to take that one out).
I’ve been re-watching Game of Thrones
Getting ready for the launch of season 7 this July
And if there’s anything in that sordid, violent mess of a television show
That we relate to, it’s the vicious struggle of us-versus-them
That it taps into.
Targarians. Baratheons. Starks. Tullies.
Choose your banner and fight your foe.
While some claim that it is the primary cause of all of this,
There is no doubt that, often,
religion is brought into play to support the process of demonization.
The more we can make our enemies different, or strange
Or smelly. Or inhuman, the easier it is for us to do this. [Read more…]