About seven years ago, I was in line at the supermarket when I was bumped from behind by someone’s cart. These things happen by accident, and I turned to smile at the person behind me. She was glaring at me, and she bumped me again. Hard. I noticed that her eyes were focused on a pin on my jacket. The pin read Black Lives Matter. I started wearing the pin after Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012.
In a Christian context, the human connection is a profound and significant gateway to connection with the Holy One. Our connectedness means that the love of God can be revealed and expanded through our ordinary relationships. Every conversation, every relationship, even via the internet, is potentially a sacramental moment of divine communion. Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me. We can really be one body, in Christ. When we get that right, we advance the work of God in the world.
What happens when we choose to ignore or to violate that connection? Sometimes, as is today’s story from Jeremiah’s prophecy, we end up at risk of spiritual exile. We become vulnerable to false prophets, much like the Chosen People when they broke their Covenant with YHWH. The people of Israel repeatedly violated their covenant with the Holy One. They worshipped false gods, and treated the poor and vulnerable with disregard. Jeremiah, the prophet who speaks for the Lord, preaches the whole ugly truth, and is rejected by the people as a troublemaker. Hananiah, the ungodly prophet, who preaches smooth and flattering falsehoods, supports the unjust status quo, and is welcomed and cheered. Losing God’s protection as punishment for sins, Israel spent generations in exile in Babylon, political prisoners of Nebuchadnezzar.
You know that I am not a literalist regarding interpretation of scripture. Still I am certain that we need to discern closely in what way we fall short of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus brought good tidings of great love and joy to all people. Our human relationships are good barometers of our spiritual life, inviting us into holiness or into exile. In a time in which the life and safety of Black people continues to be threatened, I wonder if we can actually state with honesty that we follow Jesus Christ.
Friends, racism is not just personal prejudice. It is a systemic problem. And it is a moral issue, not political.
Christianity as it is lived out in North America has been corrupted by the false doctrine of White Supremacy, the notion that people with pale skin are better than people who have brown or black skin. White Supremacy is the source of redlining, voter suppression, school segregation, and unbalanced educational funding. It is virtually undiscussable because White people insist we are not racist because we elected a Black president in 2008. Or we had a Black friend in college.
Our churches are infected by this idolatrous concept. Beyond perpetuating a system that is unjust, we are endangering our very souls when we decline to dismantle the economic and political structures that have been designed to oppress and impoverish an entire group of people solely on the basis of their skin color.
What shall we say when we meet the Messiah and he is actually a Palestinian man with brown skin? Oh my Lord, you don’t look like I thought you would?
We need to own up to our shortcomings and make some changes. White people, we need to do something.
Three things to keep in mind as we consider how to use today’s lessons to deepen our understanding of our connection in Christ and how to advance God’s work of justice for all people in the world:
- If we are all connected, everyone is precious and deserves protection and nurturance.
All lives do not matter until the lives of Black people matter enough that they are not killed in our streets and in their own homes because they are wearing hoodies or look “criminal.”
- If we are all connected, doing what is best for People of Color benefits everyone.
It really doesn’t matter if someone is your relation or mine or neither of ours. If we choose to build an altar to DNA, we need to remember that we all share 99.7% of the same genetic material. Issues of education, the environment, and public policy have an effect on the well-being of the entire community.
- If we are all connected, what we do at St Stephen’s will have an impact on the world.
It is easy to see the need to care within our walls. What about the people we do not usually see? What is our obligation to them? How can we take a stand for justice in our time?
I have asked the Vestry to begin reading Dr Drew Hart’s book Trouble I’ve Seen, which discusses his experience of systemic racism. I invite you to join us. Let’s be the change we need in the world.