do not claim to be wiser than you are

A sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28

I come to you in the name of one God: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

Before I begin, I want to state clearly, so we’re all on the same page, that the following sermon is about Racial Reconciliation, and the needed work that we must be engaging in as a church.

Now, I want to begin by reiterating what we heard in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

After announcing our church’s support and solidarity of the statement that Black Lives Matter, and that we as a church would begin to engage in the work of Racial Reconciliation, the energy and passion around the movement faded, particularly in white America, as the COVID summer extended our days and time blended together.

Then, on Sunday August 23, Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by a white police officer.

The video of the shooting paints a pretty clear picture and I will not rehash the narratives in the media attempting to somehow justify this shooting by police, except to state that resisting arrest/not following police orders is a misdemeanor, and misdemeanors never carry a death sentence.

His shooting was placed in even starker contrast to the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17 year old white man who travelled from his home in Illinois to “protect” businesses in Kenosha during the protests ignited by the police actions on Jacob Blake. Kyle shot and killed two protestors, and injured a third, and then was allowed by police to walk away from the scene even as protestors identified him as the person shooting. Again, a narrative has sprung up in certain spheres, but this time in defense of Kyle, seeking a way to justify or lessen the fact that he had committed murder.

Jacob Blake’s shooting lays bare one clear thing: white Americans are not, as a whole, concerned with racial violence committed by the police and vigilantes on black people.

This was made further evident when the North American sports world by-and-large shut down in protest on Wednesday of last week. The first major widespread sports stoppage to ever occur due to a social issue. The reactions from many white fans in particular were telling about where their values lie.

In addition, an article came out on NPR this past week that shows how detached white Americans are in this moment, with only 30% reporting to having engaged in any actions to better understand racial issues in America, and only 47% expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement, both of which are well below the numbers of other races in America.

This is a damning reality. It is especially troublesome for the church to see these statistics and to know that we are wholly complicit in this reality.

In fact, the survey results from NPR only serve to reinforce what is already known from national surveys of American religious values, composite racial indexes of survey results, and anecdotal evidence of those in the institutional structures of the church: “White Christians are consistently more likely than whites who are religiously unaffiliated to deny the existence of structural racism.”

As Christians we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, to honor the dignity of every human being, to seek justice for every single person. There are no qualifiers to these basic, foundational tenets of our faith. 

Christ did not say love only your white neighbor. 

In our baptism we do not promise to respect the dignity of only our white neighbor.

So, if we are Christians, how can we justify NOT engaging in this work, ESPECIALLY at this moment in time?

It may not feel as though this particular issue is pressing in our community, but it is.

Just because something is not being felt directly in our own community does not mean it isn’t impacting the lives of our neighbors, our siblings in Christ, throughout our society.

AND, that previous statement itself is not even entirely accurate, because the threat of racial violence and the need for engagement by white Americans, is very present and real and felt directly in our community. 

We are a community that has the capacity to produce the Kyle Rittenhouse’s of the world. 

We are a community that holds up and defends small town values, but often only those small town values that are important to a specific (and white) subset of our society.

The devaluation of human beings is ever-present in our community, one only has to listen to the rhetoric and vitriol directed at our homeless neighbors to understand how quickly our community is ready to other those who are not homogenous with “us”.

I am preaching this message today because it’s time, past time, that we as a church community, as part of this larger community, practice our faith in a public and loud way in this specific area of our shared lives.

And, in that call, I will again state that I have been just as complicit and lacking in action during this time around this needed work. I have stood on the sidelines, pushing a little here and there, engaging in some personal work and education but not moving beyond that place.

I cannot sit on the sidelines any longer, we cannot sit on the sidelines any longer.

We must engage in the work of Racial Reconciliation, of responding to racially motivated police and vigilante violence against black people in particular, of recognizing our own shortcomings and failings, and coming together as one gathered body of faithful people, to bring an end to racist structures of power and violence that subjugate our black siblings in particular to violence that far exceeds the norms of a just society.

This is not a political issue or a political statement.

This is the call we have as followers of Christ. 

To stand up and defend our siblings in Christ.

To engage in the necessary conversations and conversions that must take place in order to bring about a more just society.

Failure to do so is a failure of our faith, a giving in to the temptations of the devil.

In 1 Peter we are cautioned: “Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.”

Not standing up for racial justice, not engaging in the work of racial reconciliation, not demanding an end to the racial violence and deaths of black people at the hands of police and vigilantes, means we have been devoured.

Resist.

Be steadfast in your faith.

Acknowledge the suffering of all of our siblings, acknowledge the reality that we are joining together in this work, and take up the cross of Christ to change this world through the radical call of love that Christ has left before us.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Amen.

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