A sermon for September 24, 2016
Our country is broken. It has become clear that in the past year the lives of black men in this country are not valued as human lives ought to be. Some thought perhaps that the Black Lives Matter movement would begin to change the conversation of race, the mistrust between police and the black community, the inherent racism that exists in this country. But three years in, it has only been labeled as a fringe group, a militant group, a terrorist group, by white americans who feel their place of privilege threatened. And we continue to see this promulgation of fear. This week two more black men were murdered in cold blood by police officers.
Video of the shooting of Terence Crutcher clearly shows a man who is scared by the response of multiple police officers with guns drawn and an overhead police helicopter, to the report of a black man with a broken down car in the road. No reports of him acting violent, erratic, or anything else had been filed (which still wouldn’t excuse these actions). Terence Crutcher simply had the misfortune of being black in America and dying for that apparent sin. In watching the video it is sickening to see multiple police officers with guns drawn attacking this innocent man. When Terence is tased, he is incapacitated, which an officer, Betty Shelby, takes as the prime opportunity to shoot him dead, claiming that she thought he had a weapon or was reaching for one, neither of which was true, neither of which match what happens in the video.
Until tonight we didn’t have the benefit of video for Keith Scott, shot dead in his car in Charlotte this week as he waited for his children to be dropped off. Even though there exists body camera footage, footage that we must believe supports the police story if that is the story they are so publicly putting forth, footage that would very clearly define this case, has not been made public and the police were doing everything in their power to hide it from public view. And we have to ask ourselves why they waited? If this video that supposedly exists supports what the police are saying, why not make it public? But if it doesn’t, if it clearly shows that another unarmed black man was gunned down, murdered in America by the police for being black (for he hadn’t committed any crimes, officers on the scene were searching for a different person, entirely unrelated to Mr. Scott), how can we trust what the police are telling us? How can we continue to stand by in this country as black men are murdered in the streets by those who are assigned to protect and serve us. Protecting someone, including protecting them from themselves, does not all you to shoot them, to use lethal force to kill them. Serving someone, does not entail responding to a black man with distrust, guns drawn, a carte blanche excuse to murder.
Just this evening a video has been released, and what it shows is that Mr. Scott did not clearly have a weapon in his hands and at no time was he brandishing or threatening officers with a firearm, contrary to their initial reports, and, based on cell phone video released by the family, contrary to what Mr. Scott’s wife is clearly telling them as she watches the officers murder her husband.
We, white Americans, must stand up and say enough is enough. We must stand up and say that racism has no place in this country, in this world. As Christians it is our duty to stand with the least of these in any society, and right now, the least of these in America are black Americans, specifically those unarmed innocent (for according to the constitution we are all innocent until proven guilty and convicted by a jury of our peers) black men who are murdered in cold blood by police officers who are acting as judge, jury, and executioner, acting outside the bounds of what should be acceptable in any society, let alone one that values freedom and personal rights above all else. We have a responsibility as Christians to put an end to this madness. We have a responsibility as Christians in white America to leave our enclaves of peace and comfort, and become one with our brothers and sisters of all races, all walks of life, but particularly with our black brothers and sisters, because right now in America it is pretty clear that black lives do not matter at all. And when you or your friends or your family members get upset when someone says black lives do matter, when you or your friends or your family members angrily reply all lives matter, you are saying that really only white lives matter and black people need to shut the hell up already.
As Christians we cannot keep quiet any longer. As white Americans we cannot keep quiet and ignore the inherent, systematic hate that exists in this country any longer. As people who are eligible to vote this year, we cannot allow hate, anger, racism, and fear drive our or anyone we care about decision making. We must stand up and change this country, change our culture, change it all, because if we don’t it is clear today from the Gospel where we are headed.
Today’s Gospel is not a comendation on being wealthy. Today’s Gospel is a comendation on being complacent, on being unaware, on ignoring the pain and hunger that is literally laying at your front door. The rich man sits in his home, gorges himself in his comfort, enjoys the finer things in life, keeps himself insulated from what is happening in his community, what is happening at his front door. Upon his death, the rich man is being tormented in Hades. He sees Lazarus, the poor man who laid at his door, the poor man whom he had no use for in his life of luxury, the poor man he didn’t even have time to look down upon, far off in the distance, having been carried away by the angels he, Lazarus, stands with Abraham. And the rich man orders Abraham to order Lazarus to serve him. The rich man is concerned with his own suffering. I am in agony. I am in pain. I am in need of Lazarus to serve me so that I may be given respite. Tell this poor man who had no standing in our previous life, who begged at my doorstep, to do my bidding, to serve me. The rich man is implying here that even though he languishes in torment, his place before death should still afford him the right to treat another human being as a lesser, to use them for his own gain, to continue to not see them as an equal member of God’s one family.
And Abraham refuses him. Abraham says to the rich man, you’ve had your fair share, you enjoyed the good life, and now Lazarus, whom no one did anything for, gets to enjoy an everlasting life of peace, because all manner of evil was done to him in the previous life, and that life of inequity has been washed away through God’s love. And the rich man, apparently not paying any attention to what Abraham is saying, orders Abraham to order Lazarus to go and warn his brothers so they may not meet the same fate he has. And again, Abraham refuses. He speaks of the knowledge that has been left by Moses and the prophets. Abraham even foreshadows Christ’s resurrection in stating that these brothers wouldn’t even listen to someone who rises from the dead.
The rich man doesn’t get it. The rich man doesn’t get that his life of luxury, comfort, purposeful ignorance, complacency and implicit support of the structures of society that let him live in peace and comfort, keeping Lazarus hungry, sick, outside on the doorstep, are the very reason why he is now suffering. If he did get it, he wouldn’t be trying to order Lazarus around even now. If he did get it, he would’ve done something about it during his life, he would be confessing and accepting his fate.
We, white Americans, are the rich man. We, white Americans, are the only ones who can come out of our suburban enclaves, leave our gated communities, and engage with all of our brothers and sisters, particularly our black brothers and sisters who are coming to know only fear in this world as they are gunned down in cold-blooded murder on our doorsteps.
The bodies of Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott are laid at our doorstep this week, laying there as Lazarus laid at the rich man’s gates. And in today’s Gospel we are challenged to respond. We are challenged to recognize that the bodies that lay at our doorstep do not have to be there. We are challenged to recognize that we can open our doors, we can welcome all in, we can offer peace and comfort for all, if we are simply willing to see these bodies at our doors as the human beings, the beloved children of God, that they truly are, and not some “Bad dudes” as the officers who murdered Terence Crutcher described a black man whom they first encountered with guns drawn, a man who was a father, a man who was returning home from classes at the local community college.
Our country and our world are broken. This is a reality that is part of our human condition, because we refuse to do anything about it. We think that we can go through our life, living behind our gates, ignoring what’s happening to those on our doorsteps because it’s not directly happening to us. But it is happening to us. And if we continue to ignore, if we continue to turn our gaze away, if we continue to dismiss what is happening to our black brothers and sisters, then we will meet the same fate of the rich man. We will find an eternity of torment. We will find an eternity of agony. Because we did nothing to stop the torment and agony that is happening in our lives today.