This post is excerpted from a sermon from July 2016. However, the subject is one I could preach every week.
– Pastor Alexx Wood, 2016
“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”
Jesus’ words in this passage paint a picture of a generation of impetuous, selfish children who want things their own way and who don’t play well with others. He accuses them of being self-centered, hard-hearted and closed-minded. They are independent and arrogant. They are too smart for their own good, thinking they knew what was best, insisting on going it alone, and shunning all other ways and messages, and people.
And it is important to note these examples aren’t just directed to individuals, but to cities – whole communities, yes, a whole generation the passage says – who have become like spoiled children who want things just their own way; a way filled with injustice and far from God. This is a tough message, but it strikes a chord with me.
Because sometimes in our love for freedom and self-determination, we might have a tendency to become like this. I think sometimes we confuse independence with individualism. In seeking to lift up our ideals of freedom, we can lose sight of the fact that we were made to share our lives with one another – and with God. When our pursuit of freedom is centered around having our own way, we can lose our sense of community, of cooperation, of grace. As individuals, this kind of freedom and individualism carried to an extreme can be isolating and heavy, as if the world were on our shoulders. We forget, or worse – refuse, to trust or rely on others, or on God. And when a community becomes oriented in this way, it can – as Jesus rebukes the communities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum – make us insulated, resentful, condescending, and far from that which God desires for us. But Jesus shows us another way. The way of recognizing and living into our interdependence.
But when we are called out to this new way, it can also cause us to react with fear, confusion, anger, resistance, and all kinds of objections. Objections like those that Jesus sparked in his encounters with the authorities. If we truly accept that we are all God’s children—not just other people we like, that we agree with, that look the same as us, that act in ways we are comfortable with, but we are ALL God’s children, of all shapes, sizes, colors, orientations, beliefs, traditions, annoying habits and all—if we accept this truth, well…we might have to lament. We might have to repent. We might have to work for justice, and we, ourselves, might have to change. Not just individually, but communally.
But this is what Jesus calls us to do. And we need to hear this and we need to respond. Now. Right now. Because the burdens of oppressive white supremacy and racism that pervades our nation’s soul are destroying us – all of us. Can we see it? Can we get to the heart of it? Can we begin by saying that “Black Lives Matter?” How simple is this statement. How can it be controversial, even (or especially) among Christians?
In an article in the Huffington Post, writer Derek Flood addresses the counter-statement “all lives matter” that some make in response to the idea that Black Lives Matter. He states that the issue “is not that anyone is proposing that other people’s lives do not matter. Of course everyone’s lives matter — including the lives of police officers. The Black Lives Matter slogan draws attention to the fact that, in our country, people of color — and in particular black males — are systematically treated as if their lives do not matter.” (emphasis mine).
Flood reminds us that “Jesus did not say ‘blessed is everyone,’ but ‘blessed are the poor’ (Luke 6:20). He did not say ‘as you do it unto everyone, you do it unto me,’ but ‘as you do it unto the least’ (Matthew 25:40). Jesus did not say ‘love everyone,’ but “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Continually, Jesus drew our attention not to loving people ‘in general’ but to specifically caring for those we would tend to discount or condemn. Black lives matter is exactly the kind of thing Jesus would say…It is at the very heart of Jesus’ mission.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/derek-flood/why-jesus-would-say-black-lives-matter_b_7507098.html)
Our Christian faith then, calls us in such a time as this to stand up and stand together, to proclaim that black lives matter, to say “enough!” It calls us to action, to work so that not one more ounce of blood is spilled by violence borne of racially motivated fear and hatred. Not one more Trayvon Martin. Not one more Freddie Gray. Not one more Michael Brown. Not one more Eric Garner. Not one more Sandra Bland. Not one more Tamir Rice. Not one more Alton Sterling. Not one more Philando Castile. And not one more Officer Lorne Ahrens, Officer Michael Krol, Officer Michael J. Smith, Officer Brent Thompson or Officer Patrick Zamarripa. Not. One. More. (Since this was originally written in July, of course, there have tragically been more names to add to this list.)
These names are important, but it can be easier for us not to say them. These are harsh realities, but it can be easier not to face them. To recognize that we have these options to not confront these realities is to recognize our own privilege. But we cannot ignore these devastating losses. We cannot ignore the fact that we are a deeply dysfunctional human family, and that the soul of the world is in deep distress. It is obvious in the destruction of individuals, and families, and communities; in these dear lives lost. Because these are not just someone else’s family or someone else’s problems, but they are our very own brothers and sisters, our sons and our daughters, our mothers and fathers. They are lives that mattered, gifts to the human family that God gave to the world, gifts that we needed. God’s precious children executed, extinguished, by longstanding systemic issues of white supremacy and racism, and a growing political and social climate of fear, exploitation, hatred and ignorance.
It may be painful to open our eyes to this reality and to our roles in it, just as it can be painful to accept how much we need each other, when these beautiful children of God are now gone, and the world continues to be starved of justice. It can move us to despair. But…as people of faith, we are not powerless and we are not starved of hope.
In one of the many stories and comments on these tragic events over these past few days, I read a prayer written by a Roman Catholic layperson, Matty Zaradich. In the Catholic tradition, many prayers are addressed to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as an intercessory, and this one is as well. But this powerful prayer says, so simply, so many of the things that I know are on our hearts in these days. I want to share it with you now. Perhaps it is something you will pray each day:
Mary, our blessed Mother, whose own blessed Son was murdered by state violence, pray for us all;
Be with your beautiful black children as they make their way in America; Keep them safe, keep them strong;
Give us the strength to proclaim daily that their bodies, that their lives, matter. Heal the divisions that choke us.
In the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
This is my prayer, for us here at First Church, and for this broken world. Let us keep praying together, and let us continue to think about how to be in dialogue with one another about the deep and disturbing struggles we are experiencing in our nation and communities; what part we play in these struggles, and what part we can play in the healing of relationships, communities and the world.