To overcome racism, to be justice and righteousness in this world and live out the conviction that racism is not compatible with Christian teaching is a complex, nuanced endeavor. It is also essential if we are to be a people who make disciples for the transformation of the world – all the world.
This is why we’ve spent 6 weeks with this. To live out the conviction that racism is not compatible with Christian teaching is to be a just people –justice and righteous go together in the Hebrew scriptures, indicating a recognition of the injustice and working to make things right. We talked about how we must first understand and accept that God is Just pleased with us; that we don’t have to be superhuman, but are Just enough; that we are better together and must be of one heart, a Just unity; and that it is a vocation, a way of being, a Just calling.
We also considered what doing justice looks like: To be known as a people who do something about injustices and work to make things right, a people that can be trusted, a people who are safe, empowered by the Spirit of God; and, God brings about growth, and for transformation to occur, it is crucial that we Just grow up!
Growing up means we have a broader view. Our perspective becomes more expansive. We’ve moved beyond object permanence. We have the ability now, our brains are capable of meeting someone from a different neighborhood or culture and learn to understand that view.
So, for instance, Allen Hernandez lives in LA and describes himself in this way: “I am indigenous. I am Mayan and I am a Christian.” His arms bear the tattoos of the deity worshiped by Yucatan Mayan people on one, and the praying hands of Jesus on the other.
Latinx Christians often “feel in the spiritual borderlands.” They have both Spanish heritage and indigenous. People make assumptions immediately about their socioeconomic status, their religious and political preferences, and about their citizenship. Their very identity is instantly presumed. How might that information impact my own view of spirituality, my role as a Christian in this world?
We are complex beings, multifaceted. But God tells the people in Deuteronomy:
I give you life and everything you need. If you obey – and by obey, I mean that you Love God and live out that love among each other – all will be right in your world, all will be well.
But if your heart turns against itself – that is, if you forget who you are and from whom your very life came into being, heaven and earth are witness to your life going to hell in a hand basket.
Choose to live. Choose to live your life to the fullest – by loving God with everything and your neighbor as yourself (that would be everyone) – because I want to show you what God says a few chapters back in 23:
Deut 23:14-16 – “Because the Lord your God travels along with your camp, … your camp must be holy, so that God may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.
15 Slaves who have escaped to you from their owners shall not be given back to them. 16They shall reside with you, in your midst, in any place they choose in any one of your towns, wherever they please; you shall not oppress them.”
God is saying, once you get this land – that you did nothing to make – share it. I give you life and all that you need. It’s a gift. Now show your great love for me and share.
Nothing we do is in a vacuum. There are always innumerable people and factors that collaborate to bring you as you are to this time and place. I love this quote from a book I recently read:
No art ever came about but it was an act of collaboration.A R Moxon, The Revisionaries
When few people hold a majority of resources, giving up is hard to do: (from the As You Sow, The 100 Most Overpaid CEOs 2019 Report)
“The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which became effective in 2018, has been called a giveaway to corporations, which used their huge tax savings to buy back their own stock instead of creating more jobs or raising worker pay ($4,000 a year was promised), as supporters claimed would happen.”As You Sow, The 100 Most Overpaid CEOs 2019 Report
Many new laws are now in place to curb such abuses. Certain loopholes are addressed and the 2010 Dodd-Frank finance reform bill requires companies to disclose the pay ration between CEOs and their median-range employees. Oregon, for one, now bases tax rates on those disclosures.
Investors and others who wield significant control over our economic resources are starting to see how abuses of power are not good for, well, the economy:
“UN PRI CEO Fiona Reynolds writes: ‘Institutional investors have increasingly begun to realize that inequality has the potential to negatively impact institutional investors’ portfolios, increase financial and social system level instability; lower output and slow economic growth; and contribute to the rise of nationalistic populism and tendencies toward isolationism and protectionism.’”As You Sow, The 100 Most Overpaid CEOs 2019 Report
When I look at this information I think, Whew, how many of us even make enough to make these kinds of investments? Even 401Ks are being phased out, and employers are holding back on pension plans for a significant percentage of workers.
When the top corporations – the most successful businesses – don’t pay their workers enough to survive without Government assistance, something is terribly wrong. This report revealed, “‘The median employee compensation for 104 of the top companies is below the federal poverty level of $25,750 for a family of four…’”
These companies fund political elections making it nearly impossible for the average Jane to make much of a difference, make her voice heard.
Paul tells the Corinthian church:
“I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? 4For when one says, ‘I belong to Paul’, and another, ‘I belong to Apollos’, are you not merely human?”
I love how Paul says this: you keep trying to elevate yourselves, make yourselves seem important by aligning with certain people, or ideas, crushing others by declaring their inadequacies based on superficial things. But you’re no god; you’re human! God is the one who causes growth. So grow up! Whatever it is that you do out of your giftedness, talents, privilege or hardship, we absolutely must work together. Because we are working toward a common goal!
[1 Cor 3]“8The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, … 9For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
So we learn from each other – even those with whom we are uncomfortable sharing space. You’ve heard the name, Rosa Parks, yes? Martin Luther King, Jr? But have heard the name James Cone?
James Cone … “laid the foundation for a liberation theology that spoke directly to the injustice, oppression, and violence faced by the Black community in the United States. Jesus made it clear that he came to bring ‘good news to the poor’ (Luke 4:18), showing that if we liberated the people on the margins, the good news would float upwards—in the opposite direction of the ‘trickle down’ economic model, which is largely an illusion. Jesus’ teaching empowered Rev. Dr. Cone to write, ‘Any message that is not related to the liberation of the poor in a society is not Christ’s message. Any theology that is indifferent to the theme of liberation is not Christian theology.’”Richard Rohr, Center for Contemplation and Action, (2/13/2020, email blog)
Another name you have probably never heard: Mary McLeod Bethune, anyone?
“Invest in the human soul,” Mary McLeod Bethune declared. “Who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough.” … This incredibly accomplished public servant founded the school that became Bethune-Cookman College as well as a training school for nurses, advised the White House, founded the National Council of Negro Women, worked towards integration of the Red Cross and served four times as a delegate to General Conference.
… She recognized the importance of access to education and devoted a significant portion of her life to educational issues. She founded the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1904 in Daytona Beach, Florida. In 1923, it merged with the Cookman Institute and became a coeducational college. She also founded the Mary McLeod Hospital and Training School for Nurses in 1911, which at the time was the only school of its kind that served African-American women on the East Coast.
In addition to her considerable educational initiatives, Bethune worked tirelessly for civil rights. During the First and Second World Wars, she advocated for integration of both the American Red Cross and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. She worked extensively with the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, before founding the National Council of Negro Women in 1935. During the Roosevelt administration, she advised the White House on minority affairs, advised 5 US presidents, was the only black woman present at the founding of the United Nations in 1945, and after her death she became the first black woman to be honored with a statue in Washington, D.C.
During Bethune’s lifetime, the predecessor denominations of The United Methodist Church included the Central Jurisdiction, which effectively ensured segregation within the church. As Methodist leaders began to work toward unification in the 1930s, Bethune argued vehemently for the elimination of the Central Jurisdiction and a more inclusive denominational structure. She served on the Woman’s Division Committee on Minority Groups and Interracial Cooperation and as a delegate to General Conference four times. She identified proudly as “a Methodist woman in mission” until her death in 1955. (taken from UM Women)
Here is a human being who grew up – who was just and righteous, living out her faith. I want to be like her! The more I learn about slavery in America, the more I realize the predominance of black women who were instrumental in ushering slaves to freedom. These stories did not feature in my Social Studies curricula.
Would not our faith strengthen, our feet feel a firmer foundation, if we understood the spectacular faith of so many saints – those who planted and watered alongside us, often unbeknownst to us?!
Jesus instructs us in Mathew 5:21-24
‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
It goes on to say, “if your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away… If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it out; it is better to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go to hell.”
Do you really think Jesus is saying to literally get out your butcher’s knife and chop off your hand? I was talking with a colleague of mine this week and his comment on this passage is, to what lengths will you go to show love? How far will you go to display your love for God.
Because if we’ve learned anything through this series about what God means by God’s command to Love the Lord with everything, we know that it doesn’t mean touting platitudes. It doesn’t mean going to church regularly or serving on some committee. You show your love to God by:
Doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly – which means, don’t make distinctions, refrain from making difference a thing. It means, to grow up and start eating solid foods – prepare your meals. Stop expecting to be breast fed when you know how to cook! And making meals together is so much better (because, face it, even the best of us have trouble keeping track of all the pot and pans in action while making a meal!) Maybe it means we do this in another person’s kitchen – with their methods and ingredients – learning from them, eating with them, changing our perspective on what delicious means.
It means we learn from each other – even from the ones with whom we are uncomfortable or whom we don’t understand, or whose way of doing a thing is so different I might even think it is wrong.
Mary McLeod Bethune passed away in 1955, leaving a last will and testament full of wisdom and love.
“I leave you love. ‘Love thy neighbor’ is a precept which could transform the world if it were universally practiced.”
“I leave you hope.”
“I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another.”
“I leave you a thirst for education.”
“I leave you respect for the use of power.”
“I leave you faith.”
“I leave you racial dignity.”
“I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow man.”
“I leave you finally a responsibility to our young people.”
“If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is my philosophy of living and serving. I think I have spent my life well. I pray now that my philosophy may be helpful to those who share my vision of a world of Peace, Progress, Brotherhood, and Love.”– Mary McLeod Bethune 1875-1955
Jesus said, “and let your yes be yes and your no, no; anything more comes from the evil one.” (Matt 5:37)
If you believe God exists, and that Jesus is who he says he is, and we say Yes, I believe, then we must live into that reality. That means, we who have already been learning, being discipled, will go out and disciple others, be that witness of God’s love, Jesus’ redemptive power, the Spirit’s outpouring of graces to the community.
It means that we know God is just pleased with us; that because of Jesus we are just enough; that we do church as just unity; that it’s a lifestyle, a just calling;
And, that we be known as a people who do something about injustices and work to make things right – just evidence of a people that can be trusted, a people who are safe, empowered by the Spirit of God; that God brings about growth, and for transformation to occur, it is crucial that we Just grow up!
I want to be a Just Grownup. What will it look like for us to be just grownups?
A Prayer for a Privileged People
Rosa is dead…but not forgotten!
Rosa is dead…
Remembered by us here as a witness to your truth.
remembered by those who have sat too long
at the back of the bus,
and now have moved forward a couple
of rows but still have no free ride.
those accustomed to sitting up front,
those who have begun repentance that is
those so in control that relinquishment is not easy and mostly
done with a grudge.
Rosa is dead…but remembered,
to be retold after and long among us,
retold because the tale we tell of her
is an item in your large story
and finally –not too soon—forgiveness.
As we remember Rosa, we recall your big story
in which we are situated—
the wonder of the sea miracle,
the miracle of homecoming from exile,
the astonishment of Easter emancipation.
We remember the day the hills danced in resurrection
and the waters answered in new creation.
We remember…and so we hope,
for your new miracles so urgently awaited,
miracles of redemption and release,
of still more back-of-the-bus people
brought to newness.
We give thanks for Rosa and Martin and Nelson
and Desmond and all those who have trusted your goodness.
Let us walk in Rosa’s parade, which is a segment of your Easter parade.
in remembering and in hoping,
open us to your new world that is come soon—even now!Walter Brueggemann, Prayers For a Privileged People.