As I prepare to preach on the painful topic of racism I re-read a sermon from 3 years ago. The events of yesterday are proof that we (white people) must get out of our comfort zones and confront this evil in all its manifestations.
I wrote my sermon last Wednesday… at least I thought I had. When I think back to last Wednesday I was pretty angry… or maybe I could say righteous indignation. But then unless you’re Jesus cleaning out the temple righteous indignation looks a lot like self-righteousness and that never looks good.
But thankfully I still listen to those nudges from the Holy Spirit and thought, I need to send this to Brian Eklund for his opinion. So I did and then set out to translate this sermon into Spanish in time for my lesson at 2pm. After the class I went for a much needed run… and while I was doing a cool down walk I heard from Brian. He was very nice in saying that this was not a good sermon and it would not be effective.
As I think about it, that sermon was more like the letter that you write in anger and then through away. Thank you Pastor Brian! Unfortunately, in this Facebook and instant email world, the angry letters sometimes get out! Anyway, I’m less angry now, but still concerned.
Maybe you too have been feeling it, because except for Thanksgiving, last week was not a good one. I was brokenhearted over the shooting death of a 12 year old boy who was playing with a toy gun in a park. And then, we had the events in Ferguson. The subsequent dialog on Facebook and Twitter wasn’t easy to watch or to participate in. In retrospect though, by Friday, I had actually read some very helpful comments and shared stories. They are not always easy, but then neither is life.
I think that we can also look at the chaos of the last week (heck the last year worldwide) and then read today’s gospel and say to ourselves, “it sure looks like all the signs are there for Jesus’ return.” But then the gospel reading also says that we won’t know… that the day of Jesus’ return will be a surprise. We aren’t to figure out when we will see Jesus return… instead we are to be alert to the signs of his coming.
In his commentary on this passage David Garland describes a cartoon by Jules Feiffer. It shows a man,
“looking up in the sky when another asks him what he is doing. He responds, “I am waiting for him to come back, that’s what I’m doing.” The other responds, “But that’s silly he won’t come back from up there.” “You can find him in ordinary life – in loving your neighbor, doing good to those who hate you, in suffering for the truth.” The man replies, “Did you say suffering for the truth?” The last panel shows them both looking up into the sky, and the first man says, “I find this position more comfortable.”
I tried to find this cartoon but was unsuccessful. I like the “you can find him in ordinary life – in loving your neighbor, doing good to those who hate you, in suffering for the truth.”
The good news is that as this cartoon so aptly illustrates, being alert to Jesus’ coming is not to sit and stare at the sky… but to rather go out into the world… in all its messiness… in all its ugliness… and to live the truth.
What is that truth? Well, we could debate it and come to all sorts of conclusions, but the un-debatable truth is that Jesus’ coming the first time was because of the great love that God has for each of us… that’s the truth. And this is the truth:
- God loves Michael Brown… he is now in God’s care
- God loves little 12 year old Tamir Rice… he too is now resting in God’s care.
- God loves Darren Wilson… and whatever I and others may think I doubt it if he woke up the morning of August 9th knowing how that day would transpire.
- God loves all the protestors… even those whose rage results in riots.
- God loves us… black, white, and every color in between. Even… or rather especially when we have trouble loving one another.
This is truth. Sometimes suffering for this truth is experience in having to recognize the vastness of God’s love. I’m mindful of a verse from our Isaiah reading this week. It says (64:8), “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (It so happens that this verse is the basis for the most popular song that we are singing in our Wednesday children’s program, JOLT. )
Pottery is a wonderful metaphor. Pottery is a work of art… useful… varied… comes in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. Pottery is durable, so that clay pots can be found that are centuries old. At the same time, pottery is fragile… drop it or throw it and it can shatter. And if broken, it is possible to glue it back together but the scars will always last.
God has made each of us and each of us is a beautiful work of art… useful… varied… and we come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. And each of us carries the scars of being broken and put back together. Maybe some of the pain we feel is like stepping on the broken shards of that shattered pottery.
But it is in being willing to step into one another’s pain that we have the opportunity to experience Jesus, who (Surprise!) never really left. Friday I saw two stories that are related to Ferguson and which brought tears… not of sadness, but of hope.
I saw the first story on the morning news. I thought to myself, “I should share that.” Then I looked down at the newspaper and there it was… “Ferguson activists find unity at the table.” A woman, Cat Daniels or better known as “Momma Cat”, has been cooking a Sunday meal for those who have been seeking change in Ferguson. Why cook, because according to Momma Cat, “food has a healing power… food can heal your soul.” The interviewer asked her about the police across the street… she said that if anyone with a badge and a gun joins the buffet line “she’ll gladly fix them a plate.” There is hope in eating together… welcoming one another.
The other story is one that took place in Oregon on Friday. There was a protest of the events in Ferguson. And as with most protests, the police were present. Maybe you’ve seen the photo. Another 12 year old boy… African American as well, was at the protest and was holding a sign that said “free hugs.” A police officer began talking to the boy. At the end of their conversation, the police officer pointed to the sign and asked, “Do I get one of those?” He did, and the photo is of this police officer and the boy hugging, with the boys eyes filled with tears.
And… you know what dear brothers and sisters? I’m pretty sure that we saw Jesus.