We are coming to the close of our series on Justice or Just-Us? And I have been so encouraged by the emails and letters of many of you. Here are just a few of the comments that have been sent to me:
I am so proud of our church and who we are as a community that pursues justice. However, to be fair, not everyone has shared the same enthusiasm. A few have been concerned about violence of rioters and what seems to be a message that is anti-police. We will address this in the message today.
But it does remind of something I read one time about retired bishop Will Willimon. He served a church in South Carolina and they took a survey to measure bias in the congregation. The results were alarming so WIllimon preached a series of sermon on racism. After the series they took the survey again, and this time the results were…even higher!
Now, one way to look at that is that preaching on racism created more bias, as if talking about racism created bias. But the truth is, drawing more attention to bias heightened people’s awareness of their own bias. In other words, what seemed like a revelation of a serious spiritual problem, pointed to a real spiritual strength: the willingness of Christians to ask, “Could it be me?”
Every challenge we face is an opportunity to reveal the best of spiritual virtues and character. It’s not automatic of course. Some challenges bring out the worst in people. They respond in anger, resentment, or any other myriad ways of frustration. Or they respond in faith.
We see this at the Last Supper. Jesus has just bomb-shelled the disciples with the news that not only is he to die, but one of those at the table with him is responsible. This is where we see a most remarkable response. The disciples one by one begin to ask, “Could I be the one?” That question stands among the highest of personal introspective questions in the spiritual life. Could I be the One? Just say it outloud right now, “Could I be the one?”
The answer is yes.
We all are the ones who contribute to the reasons for Jesus’ crucifixion. That is the cold, hard facts of sin and evil in our world. It possesses all of us. And without even knowing it, it can be passed through us.
Its like this coronavirus we have been working so hard not to eradicate. We wear masks. We practice social distancing. Why? We don’t want to get infected. But what have learned about the spread of the coronavirus? People can be asymptomatic. They don’t show obvious signs of being infected, but they can spread it. In fact, most people are infected by people showing no signs of having the virus.
The same is true of racism.
As we’ve said several times in this series racism is not just acts of hatred or violence. Its more than bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Racism is a social construct that treats people differently, that favors one race over another. Its about power. So when we think of racism as obvious discrimination done by an individual against another because of skin color, then many of us can say, “I’m not a racist.” But just saying, “I’m not a racist isn’t enough.” This is a moment when discipleship is most needed. This is a time when followers of Jesus are being asked to display the highest virtue of discipleship—to be convinced we are not part of the problem and still ask anyway, “Could I be the one? Could I be a carrier? Lord, is it I?” Because the aim is to eradicate racism.
Go back to the virus analogy. Let’s imagine we had a way of knowing which people had the virus and which ones didn’t. Wouldn’t that be great? Let’s say people with coronavirus got red noses, like Rudolph. I mean bright red. No mistaking who has coronavirus. Then when you are out and you see a red-nosed person, you would know, stay away from him! Don’t get close to her! Just avoid them, because they have it!
But would that mean we would stop working on a vaccine? Does that mean we declare that coronavirus isn’t a thing anymore? Of course not! The aim is still to come up with a cure. But when it comes to racism I think many people feel that by talking about it we are just trying to single people out—who is a racist? Who isn’t? But in the end what difference does it make? The point is to eradicate it.
Next Sunday Jim Wallis will be preaching for us and I want to give you a hint of what he will say to us. Jim talks about how making people feel guilty is useless. Asking, “Are you a racist is the wrong question.” But as he points out in his book America’s Original Sin, those who benefit from a system that’s wrong have a responsibility to change it. You see, it starts with asking, “Is it I?” Could there be a system in our world that treats people differently and I just haven’t seen it before?
Recently a few men in our church sat down to tell about their most memorable encounters with police. Listen to their answers…
Now those aren’t random people in other parts of the country. Those are members of our church. They are examples of the different experiences of being white and black in America.
Now, it would be easy to say, “Oh, well the police are the problem then. That’s where all the racism is,” but again, that doesn’t help. That’s still looking for someone to blame and take the responsibility away from us. In fact, when we start targeting the police as the problem, I want us to remember we are targeting our own members here at St. Luke’s as well. Listen to this video…
The other day Sally Pearson in our church sent me this picture she took last year at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Al. It’s a plaque with a quote from Maya Angelou who said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived; but if faced with courage need not be lived again.”
That’s the challenge of our time, not just dredging up history, not blaming people for the history, and certainly not making people feel guilty about the history. The goal is to change history. It is to recognize that this is something that needs of all of us. This is an issue and a moment when our compassion, our faith, and our love is what is needed. It is not to point fingers, label people, and make certain folks feel responsible. It is to say, that as great as the challenge of our time is, it is a moment when we can reveal the best of Christian virtue and character and that’s one thing I know about our church. St. Luke’s is loaded with virtue and character. Our church is like a cup running over with compassion and mercy. We are a people who want to be on the side of justice. We want to right the wrongs of our world. And this takes all of us.
This past Monday we went live with the Antiracistindy.com web site. You can go here to learn about ways to join in our campaign of being an antiracist church. The most immediate is to sign up for the 2 hr training this Saturday, Spet. 12 from 9:30—11:30. You can register through that web site.
You’ll also find there a few things I mentioned last week, like the voting registration and the three week class on Faith and the Ballot Box. Also, if you are available Wednesday mornings at10am I just started this past week a study of James Cone’s book The Cross and the Lynching Tree. You can register…
This web site will also list the future activities we offer to be engaged in anti-racists work. But what will make us want to be a part of this work is understanding the need for it, the disparity of people’s experience, and how without that knowledge we can unintentionally contribute to the problem.
In their book, Divided by Faith, the authors tell a story about a couple who were overweight to the point of being unhealthy. They decided it was time to do something drastic and responded to an advertisement about a weight-loss camp. They went to this compound with the goal of losing 40 pounds. What they didn’t know was that the less-than-ethical program was secretly a research lab studying the affects of various diets and programs on weight-loss effectiveness.
Immediately both persons were put in separate compounds. The wife’s compound had running trails, swimming pool, state-of-the art fitness equipment and a sauna. Her room had lots of magazines and resources about healthy eating and good nutrition. She was surrounded by people who were in great shape and spoke positively about healthy habits and encouraged the woman in her progress.
The husband was in a dingy cabin. No exercise equipment or pools. Just lots of videos that showed sumptuous high calorie foods and desserts. The only people he saw were overweight and didn’t seem to care at all about losing weight.
Every two weeks they came together to be weighed. They, of course, knew nothing of each other’s environments. They assumed the conditions were the same. The wife had lost 19 lbs. The husband had gained 2 lbs. The wife was frustrated with her husband. She said, “You have to exercise and eat right. We paid big money to be here. Just try harder!”
After the next weeks the results were further apart. The wife got more upset with her husband. He tried to make his case that he didn’t think this place was all that great. She said he was foolish to think that way. He was just wasting a great opportunity. The husband started to get depressed which gave him less motivation to change. And the wife resigned herself convinced that nothing would change her husband.
(I’ll read here an excerpt from the book)
If that analogy has any relevance to the issue of race in our country it means first of all we all have to carry our own weight. There are things no one else can do for us. There’s no getting around it. But at the same time, if the conditions are not equitable, the results will never be fair. We must work at understanding the conditions others face and not assume everyone shares our own.
Glenn MacDonald, former pastor of Zionsville Presbyterian Church, points out what sounds like a contradiction of Paul in Galatians. In 6:2 he says, “Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” But just three verses later he writes, “Each one should carry his own load.” MacDonald points out that the meaning of the words ‘burden’ and ‘load’ explain Paul’s point. Burden comes from the Greek word bare (BAH-ray). Its where our word barometer comes from, an instrument that measures atmospheric weight or pressure. In Paul’s day bare referred to an incredible weight that was too heavy to carry, like a weight on the deck of a ship that could make it unsteady.
On the other hand, the word for load is means something more like a backpack, a weight light enough for a person to carry. Paul’s point is that we all have loads to carry. Life comes with responsibilities and we should be encouraged to carry our own loads.
But some people are given heavier loads than others; loads that instead of giving people pride and a sense of ownership about their lives, become burdens. The law of Christ is that we help other people with their burdens. This is what we do as Christians. We don’t say, “Well, I didn’t cause this problem, so it’s not my responsibility.” No, we make it our responsibility. That’s when the world changes for the better. When followers of Christ seek to fulfill his law by saying, “I didn’t create this mess. I may not see myself as part of the problem, but one thing I can do is be part of the answer.”
Isn’t this what Jesus did for everyone of us? Imagine if Jesus said, “I’m not a sinner. I don’t have sin in me,” which, of course he didn’t. But what if he allowed that assurance to keep him from doing anything for us? Thankfully Jesus didn’t say that. Instead, he entered into our sin. He made our sin his own. Jesus became a sinner so that we could have the privilege of heaven one day.
The truth is we all need that burden carried. We can’t carry that load ourselves. We have no eternity without a Savior who steps into help us. Christian faith begins when we understand, “It could be me. I’m a sinful person. I am just as capable as anyone of hurting and offending others.”
The English reformer John Bradford was said to be looking at a group of criminals being taken to the gallows one day and he commented, “There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford.” That’s where the expression comes from, “There but for the grace of God go I.” It recognizes that if the conditions of my life were different, if I were raised and influenced or experienced the challenges of others, I would be capable of the same thing.”
We all need hope We all need help. And we worship a God who not only offers it freely, we worship a God who offers his love through us. Thankfully when Jesus faced his biggest challenge he displayed the highest of virtue and character, and he will help us do the same.