Sunday, January 20, 2019 Second Sunday after Epiphany Sermon: Beloved Community I Corinthians 12:1-11
Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.” These words were spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement and I certainly have reaped the benefits of that movement bearing in mind the work of King and other trailblazers who spoke of the injustices of race and sexism and sought to squelch those injustices for the future generations. I am not oblivious to the fact that it took a brave, articulate, and deeply holy man to stand before 250,000 people to say that, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” It is difficult to say; however, if that dream has come true when 800,000 people are on furlough over a wall to keep a certain kind of people out of our country. It is hard to say if this dream has come true when faced once again with a deeply divided nation spirally out of control as it confronts the issues of race, immigration, guns, incarceration rates, inflated prescription drug prices, affordable housing, and the ethical demands of what it means to be human in this society and how humanity should be treated.
As I write this sermon, I am reminded of the vivid images 2 ½ years ago of a woman in a car on Larpenteur Avenue, 1.38 miles from my home, wondering if her boyfriend is dead, after being pulled over for a supposed back taillight issue, and a four-year old girl in the backseat witnessing a police officer shoot a man. I am reminded of the countless images of students at “pick a school across the nation” who have endured gun violence in their hallways and then being told by my seven-year old that they practice being quiet in case a bad person comes into their school with a gun.
The media coverage and video clips are haunting and heartbreaking. The variety of gifts that God has given us are washed away when we see and hear such persecution and this is NOT what God intended.
If we are one body with many members, how does the body survive when the members do not look out for its other parts?
Folks our country has a serious problem. Our cities and rural towns have a serious problem. Our neighborhoods have a serious problem. What’s the problem? Racism, Bigotry, Gun Control, Criminal Justice System, Intolerance, Fear, and just plain Ignorance. Have any of us feared for our life as we were pulled over by the police for speeding or for a back tail light issue? No. In the white culture we have been raised, when police pull us over or when we come in contact with a person in uniform – respect is immediate. We follow the orders given, we grumble if we have been fined, and we drive off trying to figure out how to pay for the fine, or if we are going to contest the fine, or it becomes a story of “getting off the hook.” What about the then four-year old girl in the backseat of Philando Castile’s car who is now seven? She was told to respect police too. The four-year old’s and seven-year-old’s are all told to respect the police and now this little girl has a vivid image of police and what they are capable of doing, especially if you are a person of color.
Race can be uncomfortable to talk about especially here at church. And yet, Sunday mornings remain one of the most segregated times across America. I know, I know…some of us wanted to come to church to get away from all that we have been hearing all week long. Church should be a place of respite. I agree with that; however, church is also a place to seek justice and peace. As Christians we are called to care for the neighbor, we are called to use our gifts to their fullest potential and that sometimes means we need to wade through the uncomfortable conversations that confront us in our everyday lives. Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. So we need to start talking about our beloved community and what it means to each of us even in the midst of church living out our call as faithful disciples.
Jesus and his actions were one, big, giant uncomfortable force. WE are being called to proclaim the Gospel in a way that celebrates diversity. What we are seeing in our country is not normal and it is not good. Black Lives Matter – and yet it is hard to see that! Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, but there is a legitimate issues taking place in the African American community that is not happening in other communities. Look at the incarceration rates, look at the number of African American families living below the poverty line – at least just look – and ask, why? The numbers are staggering. For example, according to Pew Research: when we look at the imprisonment rate, which tallies the number of prisoners per 100,000 people we are able to identify racial and ethnic differences in the nation’s prison population. In 2016, there were 1,608 black prisoners for every 100,000 black adults – more than five times the imprisonment rate for whites (274 per 100,000) and nearly double the rate for Hispanics (856 per 100,000).
The church is the place to ask these questions, to hold beloved community, and to long for healing. Jesus talked to people he was not supposed to talk to, healed people he was not supposed to heal, and challenged the status quo. The Gospel message that Jesus preached raised questions within his faith community, within the community in which he lived, and the emphasis was always on loving your neighbor as yourself. Because we are the United Church of Christ, we are called to carry on Christ’s work. This is where the church needs to be the church – care for its community and all who reside in it; to care for neighbors and to hold each other accountable or as the UCC has said - to be the church means to: protect the environment, care for the poor, forgive often, reject racism, fight for the powerless, share earthly and spiritual resources, embrace diversity, love God, and enjoy this life.
I sat in my office for the longest time watching videos, reading news clips, and just sitting listening to the Learning Center children burp, laugh, cry, and talk about their toys and what they do for fun. I just sat there trying to hold on to this stark dichotomy of living in uncomfortable times. We want our kids to be safe when they walk to and from school. We want our police officers to have the training and equipment needed to do their job to the best of their abilities. And we need to make the space to have the uncomfortable conversation for if we cannot have the hard talk about race, guns, and violence in God’s house, where can we have it?
Elie Wiesel, a Noble Peace Prize winner and a survivor of the Holocaust, died at the age of 87 in 2016. In his acceptance speech on December 10, 1986 he said, “Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.” Folks, I’m concerned. The many lives that are lost – black, white, brown, uniformed, un-uniformed, old, young, – the many gifts lost. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though, many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we are all baptized into one body – and we are all made to drink of the one Spirit.” (I Cor. 12: 12).
Doing nothing is not an option any longer. Pretending that THIS is going to go away is not an option any longer. What shall we do to make King’s dream a reality? In the end, King writes, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
We cannot afford to be silent any longer if we aspire to live in beloved community.