Remember Covid? It was in all the news once upon a time. In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, Covid has been given the “Covid treatment” – like when Covid first appeared, it now seems like weeks (not just days) since our world shifted so abruptly and violently.
So now, instead of a pandemic, we have racism.
Well, not really. The pandemic is new. Racism is not. It’s been here, for a long time, and there is no easy solution like a vaccine. This one will take a lot of work!
I’ve been watching the events, and pondering what to say. I’ve also hesitated saying anything, in part because events are changing so quickly (if you watch the weekly worship video keep in mind we recorded the sermon last Friday, which seems like a month ago already). But I’ve also hesitated because I’m not sure what to say. I know some things, and I’ll share them below, but in the end I have no answers.
Let me start with Scripture – always a good place to go! One of the readings appointed for this past Sunday, May 31 (the Festival of Pentecost) was 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13. In particular, I was drawn to verse 13…
“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
The Apostle Paul is dealing with conflict in Corinth, and like he does in some of his other letters, he reminds the Corinthians that they are a community together. Not only that, they are community that is hardly homogeneous. They are made up of folk who are different, sometimes very different, from each other. What binds them together is not the color of their skin, ethnic heritage, language, political beliefs, economic status, education level, or even their favorite football team. They are bound together by something outside of themselves. They are bound together by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But even more than that – the “binding” power of the Spirit binds them together around the cross of Jesus. Together we are sinners, we are vulnerable, we are broken and weak. And together (and at the same time) we are renewed and restored by the work of God in Jesus.
Together. All of us. No matter who we are. Those who are like us, and those who are very different. Whether we like it or not!
That is the work of the Spirit, the same Spirit who has called you to faith in Jesus, worked within you the gifts of faith, and worked to keep you in a faith relationship with a good and gracious God. You are what you are – a disciple of Jesus, and a part of the Body of Christ with those who are like you, and those who are not like you – because the Spirit has made that happen.
Like it or not.
So, that should solve our problems. What place does racism have in a world in which we are gathered together in a community that is intentionally and deliberately diverse? We surely cannot be suspicious, leery, or even downright hostile towards those who are different than us when the whole point of being a follower of Jesus is to be gathered with those whom God has chosen, not us.
Funny, but God chooses a whole bunch of people different than me!
But wait, there is something more going on here. Remember, we are sinners. Yes, we are filled with the Spirit, but we are, as the Lutheran reformers (like Martin Luther) said, “simul justus et peccator.’ We are justified (claimed by God through the Spirit) and a sinner – at the same time!
That is the rub – the big rub. The power of sin is mighty and cannot be ignored. As much as we are brought into a new community, the Body of Christ, the power sin seeks to pull us away.
And so the tug of war ensues. The power of sin constantly pulling me away from what God has called me to be.
So maybe that solves our problems. Give it up, it’s hopeless, and there is nothing to do. We are sinful, so resign ourselves to our fate.
God’s call to us is to live out the grace of Jesus. To be the presence of the crucified Christ in our world. To proclaim hope even in the most difficult moments (whether it’s Covid or racism, or whatever). And to do that, not by ourselves, but allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to work within us.
That means that even though sin is pulling me away, and sin will have its moments (and I will have my moments of failure), I keep working at it. I keep coming back. I don’t surrender to sin. Because I remember and I live out what God did in Jesus – that the Jesus who died on Friday overcame death and sin by Sunday.
So we keep working at changing our world, and maybe (well, definitely) changing ourselves. Ourselves, because there some important points we need to acknowledge, points that are not very pleasant:
George Floyd may have been killed by a police officer, but this is not at its heart about police brutality. Remember the woman in New York who called 911 on a bird watcher? This is about all of us.
Moreover, this is not about Minneapolis or New York – or any other place out there. It’s about all of us, right here too.
Nor is this really an “American” issue. Racism, bigotry, even ethnic cleansing have occurred in countless places, around the world, through the ages.
The fact is – this is a human issue. It is an issue that we as a human race have wrestled with for ages – for ever, really. Because in the end it is about sin. About my placing myself and my identity at the center, as though my identity as a white male is the most important identity out there (sorry, ladies!)
But it is also an issue which we are called to confront. We are called to look in the mirror, acknowledge our failure as a people and as individuals (yes, we are all culpable in one manner or another), and then hear God’s call to repent and live new lives – even as we wrestle with the power of sin.
What then do we do? First, we acknowledge the deep pain, fear, and distrust that exists in those who have been the victims of racism. Yes, the riots need to stop, and the destruction of property (and loss of further life) is unacceptable. But there is real anger behind the protests, anger rooted in years of racist attitude and action against (in this case) African-Americans. How many times have we seen video of black men mistreated, even killed, and yet nothing seems to change?
But it is vital that we not let the riots divert us from the real issue – that our society, reflecting our human nature, is sinful and racist. And we are called to challenge that – again and again. To make a real effort to embrace what it means to be the Body of Christ, to confess our failure to live out that identity, and to invite God’s healing and reconciling presence in us. And why? So we can be agents of change in our broken world.
Maybe I can’t make that happen in Minneapolis, New York, DC, Atlanta, or elsewhere, but I can make it happen here. In my own part of the world.
One last observation…don’t think a change is possible? Think again! While some this evening are calling to bring in the military, to “dominate” protesters, others are reaching out. Like the sheriff in Michigan ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyMdiUuGbAc) who walked with protesters, not challenging them. Or the elderly white woman in North Carolina who approached Zay Jones, an African-American football player, tearfully gave him a hug, and told him, “You matter to me” (https://www.witn.com/content/news/Zay-Jones-shares-heartwarming-interaction-with-Minneapolis-woman-570917021.html).
Small steps, but that’s how it begins. So let’s live out God’s call, let’s proclaim reconciliation, hope, and new life in Jesus, and let’s let the Spirit empower us as disciples, as faithful members of the Body of Christ!
And let’s celebrate that God has placed us in a community, a Body of Christ, even a world, that includes lots of different folk. GOD has done that, and done that intentionally.