After Charlottesville

I have been working on trying to preach more extemporaneously these days, and so the opening Biblical part of this is just my notes, used to tell the story to the congregation. The rest is my sermon focused on these days and the hate and love being lived out in Charlottesville Virginia.

 

"The Favorite Son's Dreams"  

(only because the sermon was titled before the weekend)

 

I wrote the bulletin and chose  a title for this sermon by Thursday afternoon. By mid afternoon yesterday I knew I had to throw my sermon out and start over, just as many of my clergy friends were doing in my social media world. But lets start with the Genesis text and our ongoing exploration of Genesis this summer with the beginning of the story of Joseph.

Joseph

  • Ego-assumes everyone will be interested,

  • Self absorbed- its all about him

  • Young-17 and an assistant

  • ‘Look’ is awe or naïveté

No one in this story does the right thing.

  • The story of the brother’s scorn and then punishment familiar

    • Scheme to kill him, Reuben keeps them from murder but throws him in a pit, to try and save him later.

    • Then the brothers, seeing some traders, sell him into slavery.

    • Take the coat and mess it up to tell their father he is dead, killed by a beast

    • And he is sold by the midianites into slavery in Egypt to Potiphar, and then things just start to get weird.

Notes on Luke 9:46-50

  • The story starts with these words about the disciples, those closest to Jesus competing over who is best. which shows us the world truth that throughout history we have competed with one another. Brother against brother for the love of God quite literally, and just for ego and recognition. And also points to the truth that we separate ourselves one from another in the name of knowing who is best.

  • Exactly what the brothers do, even Joseph in the Genesis story

  • And the insidious thing happening in our world today.

An evil of our culture, one we have hidden from, lied about and denied for generations reared its ugly head Friday when a group of Alt-right, Neo-Nazi, White Supremacists gathered in Charlottesville Virginia to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E Lee.

And let's not get it wrong, these men were not protesting the removal of American history from view, they were protesting the removal of a monument and celebration of  America’s racist and slavery-driven past from front and center.

These men want us to remain a nation where we hate one another, fear one another, exclude one another based only on the color of our skin. And they want us to keep separating so that they, enfleshed in white bodies, can continue to hold the power, this separation serves them most, it keeps them on top with others underneath. Three people died and many many more were harmed bodily and certainly emotionally yesterday standing up to say that this is wrong, it is evil, and it will not be who they have their nation be. And police officers stood in between, doing their jobs, even as they are often a center of the conversation about white supremacy and policing in our nation. There were clergy, and students, and parents, and teachers, and towns people counter protesting, trapped in churches surrounded by a literal angry mob with torches like something out of a monster movie, there were men and women and people running to enter churches to find safety while others held their ground in peace to keep those who would do harm out of those spaces, and yes there were those that met violence with violence in the name of protection for the ones who needed protection. And whether we think their actions are the right way to go or not, they were a real presence offering a strong response to hate.

While both the stories of Joseph and Jesus with the disciples today tell us stories of humanity’s drive to have hierarchy, to talk about who is the best, Jesus tells us the exact opposite story. It is our job to look at who is at the bottom and hold them up in our structures, it is our job, as part of The Body of Christ to be a part of Jesus’ light yoke that helps those who need it.

As a friend said on social media yesterday

“You can be neutral, or you can be a disciple of Christ Jesus. You can't be both.” these times are making that true.

And went on to quote the Belhar Confession

"We Believe:

• that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.

Therefore, we reject any ideology

• which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.

We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence."

--Confession of Belhar, 1986

And another friend posted another quote from Behlar

We believe “that separation, enmity, and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted.” —The Confession of Belhar, 10.3

This text, which a number of people in our denomination said was not relevant to us as American when it comes out of Apartheid era South Africa, speaks to us prophetically today.

I also saw quotes used widely in Presbyterian circles from the Barmen Declaration during WWII against Nazism and the Confession of 1967 witnessing to the evils of racism and exclusion. Our tradition has clear things to say about this event and which side stands with Christ.

But when something this horrible happens, and I know it’s not the first time by a long shot, and I have not lived it before and I know some here have. In these times I am asked by friends, neighbors and pastor colleagues in communities of color if this will change how we white preachers preach, how we behave in everyday life, and how we let our fear keep us from changing racist systems and challenging racist actions,

it hurts my heart- not because I want to throw my hands in the air and say ‘well this has been going on forever, what do you want me to do” but because I know there are things I can and should do and don’t. There are things we can and should do and don’t.

  • Our fear demands we protect ourselves even when we are safe from most forms of discrimination and violence.

  • Our idea of ‘live and let live’ belies the truth that people are dying in prisons, in the streets, at the hands of those in power, at the hands of their neighbors and at the hands of those they love and we stand by.

  • Our anger at racism and other forms of supremacy is not matched by our willingness to leave what is comfortable, what is safe, and where we have power, to go and stand with those we know are mistreated, those we hear saying again and again that they need us not to lay down our lives so much as our power, and who deserve our love just as much as any other sibling in Christ.

In these terrifying times we cannot, as ones who bear the name of Christ, take his words lightly. Jesus tells us clearly that we are to fight oppression and fear, and to fight them not with the sword but with love. Love- that casts out fear, that lightens one another’s loads, and that binds us together so that we can see, anew or for the first time, that God’s way is not the way of division but the way of peace and love, not the way of slavery and White Supremacy and sin, but the way of open doors minds and hearts.

So let us take care of each other this week beloved, and by ‘us’ I mean every human you meet in person or on the internet or the news. Some of us are hurting and scared, and if you do not know someone who is in the face of these times, find someone and talk with them. Find someone who looks like you but thinks differently and ask them about that, what in their life made them believe the way they do.  Find someone who looks or lives differently than you do and ask how they are doing, try to really hear how the world is treating them and not making excuses because you are embarrassed or scared,  and then listen, really listen, when they tell you what it is like to live in a world where they are afraid of their neighbors because their neighbors act in tiny ways and big ones that look like men marching in the streets with torches in the name of white cis-heteronormative supremacy and violent hate.

Don’t offer excuses or reasons for violence, but give the world a chance to breath and to know love through who you are and who you listen to this week. For we will only do better if we know and truly care about one another across all boundaries. We will only truly be God’s people if we stop selling one another into slavery- literal slavery, and bondage to systems that oppress and imprison people who God loves for being who they are. We can only be those people if we give up trying to figure out who is best, who is greatest, and instead try to live the truth that we are greatest when we find unity in the beauty of our diversity and joy in our difference.

Go and listen. Go and care. Go and love. Today and every day. Amen.