Exodus 19:2-8a † Psalm 100 † Romans 5:1-8 † Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)
A video version of this sermon can be found here.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
Ordinary people. Middle eastern men compelled by the words and the actions of Jesus.
Something happens when we say a person’s name. We remember their humanity.
Perhaps it’s the names of people we have placed on a pedestal: Andrew, James, Mary, Tabitha.
We say their names and we remember – human just like us.
Perhaps it’s the names of people brutalized: Emmett, Trayvon, George, Charlene.
We say their names and we remember – human just like us.
Human with gifts and hopes. Humans: beloved of God.
There is a phrase in this week’s gospel that with some other phrases in these sacred texts have been used by Christians over time to set humans apart.
In this week’s gospel Jesus is sending his disciples – these ordinary people – to be a healing presence and he says: go nowhere among the gentiles, enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.
There are other places in our texts where one might be tempted to think that the only way to wholeness the only way to God is through Jesus. No one gets to the father except through me is one that comes to mind, my sheep know my voice is another. And these have been used over time and place to diminish and vilify all the diverse ways and holy ways that non-Christians – humans just like us – find their way to the divine.
As someone who takes seriously the claim that in our humanness we are all loved and claimed by God these utterances of Jesus have given me a little trouble. But this week, with the way the parts of our country seem to be turning their eyes and hearts towards the structures of power that inflict great harm on sections of our community, I don’t find myself struggling so much. Yes! I realize Jesus is talking to, Jesus came for in this way, his own people: those rooted in the Jewish faith. He comes to them because they have forgotten what they were made for. They have forgotten that they are made for others. They have forgotten that they are to be a blessing because God loves the whole world and does not condemn it – any of it. They have forgotten that the foundation of their faith is justice. Real justice for all people. Insider and outsider, stranger and friend. The kind of justice that leads to peace.
This man, this ordinary man, who let us see the character and the power of God came to help his people and those who would later follow him - you and me - to return to the central things of this Faith:
to proclaim good news to the poor.
to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
A year of jubilee when debts, real debts, will be forgiven and the land will be restored.
Jesus sends his followers to call back the lost sheep of Israel. Those who had moved away from their center; those who had been co-opted by the powers of the time and were complicit with the kind of powers that causes one to step over a poor person on the way to worship and works with an occupying power for the sake of keeping a false peace. Peace build on inequity and oppression.
And Jesus sends these humans to us now. He sends Peter and Andrew and James. He sends Mary and Lois; Martha and Phoebe. And there are others, real humans, prophets, who have come our way from within our tradition and outside of it. Humans asking us, will you return to the center of your faith. Martin and Malcolm and Angela. Fannie and Maya. And George, Tony, Sandra, Breonna, Kalief.
All of these humans are asking us to look at how have been co-opted by powers that operate in our systems of living to keep some people oppressed. They are asking us to reject these powers, and to sacrifice and suffer because they know that is what it will take to bring good news, real good news, to the poor; to release those who are imprisoned by our systems; to let those oppressed go free; and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
It is impossible for a white person in this country (and just so were clear in my own country too – I don’t get a pass because I am British – we invented this stuff). It is impossible for a white person in this country to avoid being co-opted by systems of racial oppression. I am a racist. I was probably formed in a racist view of the world by the time I went to kindergarten. It has been impossible to escape. Our way of life is based on retaining power and access for white people. We can be the kindest, most thoughtful white person in the world and this is still true. The powers of racism run counter to the gospel and the Spirit of the Lord is coming into our houses asking us to reject it; asking us to come back to the center of our religion; asking us to work for real peace; asking us if we will put our bodies on the line to stand up to the violence that is done to people of color in our country.
A few weeks ago, my children went to Seattle. I listened carefully as they told me that when people of color that they were standing next to sensed danger from the police they started to call out “white lives to the front”. I listened carefully as my children explained that they understood why they were there and they went forward. I listened carefully as my children described the feeling of standing between their black and brown siblings and the police officers in front of them. I listened carefully as they described what they characterized as the nurturing voices of older black organizers telling them what to expect and how to strong and how to be wise.
I have been living with the phrase for a few weeks: White lives to the front. We are used as white people to being out front – having our voices heard. But this is a different. This isn’t about taking up space to drown out the voices of those with firsthand experience of injustice. This is about putting ourselves between the violence that is being done and those it is being done to and telling it to stop. Because that is where our real power lies.
Now violence comes to black and brown siblings in all sorts of different way and you can put yourself in between it and your siblings in all sorts of different ways. But, I want to tell you that even if it’s not at the front of a protest line you can expect this to feel threatening and frightening and you are going to want to run because you are working against centuries of conditioning. But beloved stand fast. You are working against centuries of conditioning.
Now one of the most foundational places to work against the violence levied against our siblings is in ourselves. Until we do that work and commit to doing it as we go forward, however we show up, we are in danger of taking up space that is not helpful.
Doing the hard work of examining your own privilege and biases is more than just affirming that you have them, but it involves educating ourselves every day on how exactly these biases show up in our day to day actions in big and small ways and working to stop them. It about working on strategies to stop racist actions among those we love, among your white friends and friends and colleagues. I am not kidding when I say that this personal work is the hardest of all, because we have to face our blind spots and the things we have done and not done that has caused pain for others others. It so very hard but absolutely foundational.
And as we do this work there are so many places, too many places to count, where we speak to the violence done to our black and brown siblings. We can get involved and join forces with those who are working in our local school system to advocate for funding for social workers instead of police officers on campus; or those holding schools accountable for the use of suspension – a tool that is levied against black and brown children in schools at a much higher rate than white children and is the first powerful step on the school to prison pipeline. We can join forces with those working on bail reform or voting rights for those who have been incarcerated. We can send money, just send money to black led groups working so hard and we can research and work on the effects of the health systems, food desserts and transportation systems on black and brown bodies.
It will not be easy, we will make mistakes and we will have to come face to face with the things we have done and continue to do to keep black and brown siblings on the margins but, do not be afraid. Through this kind of suffering comes endurance and through endurance comes character and through character comes hope. The hopeful Spirit of the Lord is with us as we find our way back to the center of this religion. A religion made for others; a religion made to bless the whole world that God so loves; a religion made for a peace that is rooted in justice for all people.
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