Miguel de la Torre is an activist and theologian in Denver. He writes a lot about what it means to be privileged, what privilege looks like. He wrote a book about Jonah and describes how even when we are the oppressed individuals, our call is to communicate God’s redemptive love to everyone. Without exception – even to those who use their relative power unjustly.
It goes against every tortured memory and bitter slight we might have sustained at the injustices done to us. You might even say it is Foolish. Irresponsible. Insane. But the message of God’s love has everything to do with power – that is, giving it up. Because, in order for a situation to be truly just, it cannot consist of power differentials, power plays. The only way that balance can exist, for everyone to be treated with equity and regard is for those who hold a majority of power to give some of it up, empowering those who have little or none.
Giving up power to empower… “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
Consider your own Call. To what are you called?
Jesus said, “blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers… because they already have the kin-dom of heaven. They also have the earth. They are righteous. Mercy comes to them. They actually see God, and belong to God.”
The meek, the merciful, the peacemakers – they own heaven and the earth! Not by wielding power over others. They do so through poverty of spirit (not controlling, managing others); they mourn over lost relationships; they are merciful. They see God.
‘… Martin Luther King Jr. … spoke into existence a powerful vision of love. “I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love,” he said in a 1967 speech. “I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. I’ve seen too much hate on the faces of sheriffs in the South. I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many Klansmen and too many White Citizens Councilors in the South to want to hate, myself, because every time I see it, I know that it does something to their faces and their personalities, and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love.”
These visions of love have nourished a legacy that lives on through the work of activists and organizers today. …
How this vision of love continues to grow and evolve is up to all of us to not just imagine but also put into practice.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.”
– Romans 12:9 (NIV)
“We must never forget that so long as one group can be targeted with hate, no group is safe.”– Rabbi David Saperstein
Drew Hart, Trouble I’ve Seen, shares how he navigated life at a mostly white Christian college. At first held with suspicion, he relatively quickly made friends due to his outgoing personality. Nearly as quickly he began to notice that his newfound friends would casually make racist remarks about other African American individuals on campus. These would be quickly followed by, “but you’re different from them.”
Hart comments, “It was as if our friendship had no bearing on breaking their stereotypes of other black students at all.” p40. There was no sense that if he is different from what they perceive as “being black,” then perhaps they might alter their view of the distinction.
Then he goes on to explain how being in a university setting is a privilege itself, and one of the benefits to him was the privilege of majoring in biblical studies. He explains,
“Through classes and conversations in my department, my eyes were opened to how Jesus identified and stood in solidarity with vulnerable women, ethnic Samaritan outcasts, the poor, and the systemically excluded and oppressed. I studied how the prophets called God’s people back to lives that practiced justice and mercy. I saw that central to understanding Paul’s letters was seeing his particular calling to form reconciled communities and composed of Jews and Gentiles gathered around the Messiah. And probably more than anything, I was challenged to read Scripture in a way that truly took Jesus seriously by studying his life and teachings and by believing that we are actually supposed to conform our own way of life after his.” p41
To what are you called?
To form reconciled communities?
Ilia Delio writes about the ways in which science reveals the act and being of God. And she says this about sin:
“If the nature of love is unity and evolution is process toward greater unity, then sin is resistance to unity. Hildegard of Bingen described sin as living in the exile of unrelatedness; it is the refusal to change and grow…. Sin is the refusal to accept responsibility for those to whom we are connected; thus, it is the refusal to accept the ‘other’ of relationship (the ‘Thou’) as the one who addresses us, discloses our responsibility, and calls us into question.”Delio, Emergent, 57.
God is clear about our responsibility to our relationships – all of them – even the ones we didn’t know we were supposed to have. Especially the ones we didn’t know we were supposed to have! The phrase Delio attributes to Hildegard is incredibly apt: sin as living in the exile of unrelatedness. Exiled from the garden because we don’t trust the other in the relationship, we form our own prejudices toward the other – when we didn’t even know we were naked! We didn’t even know there was a difference – back when we were living in unity, back when we took responsibility for one another.
We choose to eat the fruit each time we choose to make the knowledge of outward difference a point of division, of exiling ourselves from each other. And we choose it again. And again. And again.
Still, Jesus chooses us. And he chooses us again. And again. And again. Beckons us. Calls us to a better way: Love. And the nature of Love is unity.
Most of you know by now I love new words. I receive a daily email: Word of the Day, and try to use that word sometime in the day – or in a sermon. Most of the time it is very useful for helping one to consider with fresh eyes what is being communicated. So I came across this word a couple weeks ago and sent it to Howie – the reason is self-evident! But it also brings more nuance to what it means to be just and to be called by God.
Uxorious – doting on, foolishly fond of one’s wife; excessively devoted to one’s wife. From the Latin, uxor: wife.
It is foolish because romantic love can sometimes make us stupid. Except when it’s not. Because we are called to each other, we’re goofy with each other and make up silly nicknames – and the only power in action is the power you have over me because I am absolutely besotted with love for you.
And then the feelings go away and we get selfish again and start making demands of one another and those things that seemed so charming and adorable a month ago are now really getting on my nerves! Where’s the love?
“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters…. God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”(1 Cor 1:26-29)
Because if I boast in the presence of God – or in the presence of anyone else, which is the same thing (God-in-you, and all that) – I am making a distinction, distinguishing myself as something other – and another as something less, lacking.
Foolishness only seems foolish to those who need to feel more important. Foolishness looks stupid because power is no longer important. Only love. Only the relationship. Foolishness looks foolish because, despite the fact that you might have hurt me or I let you down, we choose each other. And we choose each other again. And again. And again.
Because we are called to each other.
To whom are you called?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
8 [this is what God has already] told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
[this is what God requires, this is how you please God] : do justice [make things right, reconcile relationships] and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly [don’t make distinctions, refrain from making difference a thing] with your God? (Micah 6:6,7)
When we walk humbly with God, we do so with each other – and choose not to eat that fruit and live in the exile of unrelatedness. We choose to love.
How does God call you? I mentioned last week that addressing this issue of racism matters even here in Durand. It begins in your neighborhood. And it continues through the way we vote, the activities in which we engage, the words we use when talking to our children and grandchildren. It matters. You matter.
Do you hear Jesus beckoning?
Perfectly Love, a Prayer of Confession, Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People.
We pray, as often as we meet,
that we might ‘perfectly love you.’
Indeed, we have been commanded from the beginning,
to love you with all our hearts and
all our souls and
all our minds and
all our strength.
We have pledged to love,
pledged in our prayers and in our baptism,
in our confirmation and with our best resolve.
But we confess …
we love you imperfectly;
we love you with a divided heart,
with a thousand other loves
that are more compelling,
with reservation and qualification,
and passion withheld and
We do not now come to pretend before you,
but to confess that we do not,
as we are,
love you perfectly;
we do not keep your commands;
we do not order our lives by your purpose;
we do not tilt toward you as our deepest affection.
But we would …
we would love you more perfectly,
by the taste of bread become your flesh,
by the swallow of wine become your blood,
by the praise of our lips and beyond our usual reasoning,
by the commandments that are not burden but joy to us,
by embracing your passion for neighbors,
by your ways of justice and peace and mercy,
by honoring the world you have made
and all creature great and small,
by self-care that knows you as our creator.
Lead us past our shabby compromises
and our cheap devotion;
lead us into singleness of vision
and purity of heart,
that we may will one thing,
and answer back in love to your great love to us.
Free us from idolatries,
and our habits of recalcitrance,
tender our hearts,
gentle our lips,
open our hands,
that we may turn toward you fully
toward your world unguardedly.
Let us bask in your freedom
to be fully yours, and
so trusting fully our own.
We pray through the Lord Jesus who loved you
singularly, perfectly fully—to the end.
“The Eucharist is the sacrament of wholeness that heals us by accepting our incomplete being into the embrace of God’s sympathetic love. … When we proclaim ‘Christ will come again,’ we are saying yes to being the body of Christ now in the world. Christ comes again in us when we respond to the gift of God with the gift of our lives. We become the Christ when we offer our lives as bread for a hungry world, living in the freedom of love and generating new energy in the cosmos, gathering together the multiple fields of being into greater wholes [all of the ways in which we created difference and separated – in taking communion together we become the Christ, gathering us all together into greater wholes]. Eucharist completes what baptism initiates, a new spiritual birth and freedom in Christ.”Ilia Delio, Emergent, 99.
We are called to be Jesus now in the world; to walk humbly with God; to be kind; to do justice. It’s a vocation. It’s way of being. It is a Just Calling.
This is the table, not of the righteous, but of the poor in spirit. It is made ready for those who love God and who want to love God more. So come…