Sermon Thousand Ninety-Nine; or, There’s More Than One Way to Be a
Christian, Mr. Falwell
(A sermon from a Fool on the occasion of the death of the Rev. Jerry Falwell.)
Get ready for a fight.
You were thrown headlong into it the day before you were born, and until you go down the final and everlasting time, you are in. You are in for all you are worth, whether you like it or not .
Was it fair you arrived in this world? Fair has nothing to do with it. For you to be you, this is the world you had to come into, for all its beauty and horror, for all its kisses and lacerations, for all its smiles and pitilessness. For you to be you, you had to come into this world, the world of death; because the world of death is also the world of life.
Is this “the best of all possible worlds?” This is the only world possible for me; whether it will be the best possible world depends a great deal on whether I will choose to be the best me I could have been. Theodicy? I will not lay the responsibility for this world at the feet of Almighty God. He needs no excuses from me or from you. This is the world we were given and along with it, as part of it, came the responsibility to make the world right if it is not to our liking and if it marred, filled with pain, death, lies, hatred, and betrayals with no purpose or point.
Was it fair you arrived in this world? Rather ask, was it fair to the world that you came here and were the person you have been, are, and will choose to be?
Oh, I will be honest with you: There are days I hate this world and most everything in it. I was raised to despise the world and think of it as a hateful thing passing away. I was raised to think that, any minute, Jesus would return to rescue me from this hateful mess into which I had been thrown. I was raised with many such notions, years before the rest of the country came under the influence of the Evangelicals and the Pentecostals.
I was raised to believe I was worthless, that I was born eaten with sin and went downhill from there. I had nothing to offer the world, much less myself or my loved ones or my neighbors. These beliefs left deep scars and I am the scar tissue that remains – these are my things to fight against, wrestle with. They are my angel, my sweet daimon. They are what made me who I am.
A long journey – from worthlessness to the realization that being imperfect only means I am human, not worthless. If I am worthless, if I have nothing to offer, I cannot be responsible for my part of the world, nor will I care what happens to it or those who inhabit it, neither today nor tomorrow after I am gone. Let them fend for themselves, right? And the memory of the dead, my responsibility to hold those who have gone before in some esteem, listen for their voices – why should I care? They are dust and were no more important than I ever have been, and I am worthless, right?
It does not surprise me we molest the graves of the dead and let their words, their books rot and go to nothing since we, as a people, are now as convinced of our collective worthlessness as much as I was of my own personal worthlessness as a child. It doesn’t surprise me we shrug at sending people off to senseless wars and stare straight-faced while we torment and murder people in the name of “security.”
It doesn’t surprise me in the least that so many of us look at our brothers and sisters and do not see brothers and sisters – we see “homosexuals,” we see “foreigners,” we see “freaks,” we see “the crazy,” “the poor,” “drug addicts” -- whatever. We have so little self-worth we refuse to recognize the inherent and glorious dignity in others.
Oh, the world is passing and so are we all; that is the essence of things, to change, to become other than they are. But as long as we are here, we are responsible for what happens in this world, all of us. We are responsible for everything, as Dostoyevsky once said, and we are all responsible for each other, the dead, the living, those yet to come. We cannot do anything we wish. We cannot hate the world, and the world is nothing more than the people who inhabit it, all of us. We cannot abandon it and pretend it is “God’s will” we hate His own creation and refuse to do our part in its ongoing manifestation.
Yes, the world is a thing passing away, but maybe those who taught me that missed the real point – it is passing away because God expects us to make Jesus present within it, to convert it, not to a religion, but from something horrid and marred to something transfigured and of great worth. We are to take its scars, its crosses, its hate, its blood drenched graveyards and the mire of all battlefields and convert them into something human and humane.
We are to forgive and change ourselves and the world, and this, for Christians, is the very work and fruit of the Holy Spirit. Wherever I find that work, whoever I find doing that work, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Shintoist, Taoist, Wiccan, Pagan, Christian, atheist – I do not care what name they go by: there I find God at work, and Goodness, and Christ, and Jesus becoming present in the world. He calls whosoever He wills, however He will, and accomplishes His work in His own way, in His own time – but through us, through us all, as many as will simply take up the burden and become who we are.
Welcome to the fight. We will all fall and fail, but as the Sufi mystic, Rumi said, get up and come, as many times as you have broken your vow. You will not be rejected. Your work is here to be done as long as you desire to do it and beyond.
It is all that simple – and all that difficult. God forgive us for our hatreds and judgmental habits. The next time a disaster comes, please remind us, if we wish to point a finger, to first go look in the mirror for the only guilty party we ever need be concerned with. The Devil has only one face: mine when contorted in anger and flushed with the acid of intolerance.
God forbid we lay our burdens on others, and God forbid we see “the other” as a stranger to be despised. Help us make the table and welcome in the stranger that he may become our brother, that we may serve him and not curse him because he is of a different race or belief, that he loves in a different way than we do, that he has been injured and tormented in ways we haven’t.
This is jihad, the Holy War against . . . ourselves – against our own weaknesses and prejudices, against despair, against devaluation of God’s world and God’s people, and all people are God’s whether they know it or not. Whether we know it or not.
It is a fight and you are in, whether you like it or not, whether you pass through the world without ever figuring it out or not, without ever caring or not.
“Pray for the dead, and work for the living,” said Mother Jones, saint that she is.
Amen, and amen. Amen forever.
Richard Van Ingram
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