It has been quite a week.
Fresh on our minds, weighing on our hearts, is the tragic series of shootings and murder in Atlanta, carried out by a white man, and aimed against mostly Asian women. We mourn the loss of those precious lives and we lament and denounce the rise of violence against persons of Asian descent.
Also this week the Vatican put out a statement reiterating their stance against blessing any same sex unions, dashing the hopes of some that this pope would lead the Roman Catholic church in a new direction.
Previously the city of Minneapolis agreed to pay out 27 million dollars to the family and community of George Floyd, as the jury selection for the trial of the police officer who knelt on his neck is ongoing, and it was also the anniversary of Breonna Taylor’s tragic killing a couple of days before that.
There were too many painful reminders in recent days week in our news of the ways we turn against one another in fear, in hate, placing shame and blame on others that they do not rightfully bear, harming and even killing one another. Too many reminders of how active white supremacy culture is, how far we need to go to topple it, how it causes pain in our human family. How we fail to acknowledge the image of God in the other, creating hierarchies that God did not make.
I heard an Asian American journalist this week reflecting on the tragedy in Atlanta point out that what we do too often in the country is let our focus dwell for just a short time on these atrocious acts of violence, put on a show of outrage, and then get distracted a couple of days later with the next big story. We fail to put in the time and attention it takes to really work toward change. We keep getting surprised that these things happen, yet we do so very little to make any change. He was speaking of us as a nation, whose founding documents declare that all are created equal. But the same is often true of the Church, who confesses that God created all as equals.
We have created hierarchies that God did not make and fail to see the precious image of God in one another. That is at the center of the evil of white supremacy and very closely related to at least the stated reasoning of the killer. Who said he felt a temptation and had to remove it, so he killed precious human beings to remove his temptation.
This should go without saying, but that is completely against the will of the God we know through the Bible and through Jesus Christ. The great commandment says love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. The ten commandments say you shall not kill. Jesus said about temptation, if one of your body parts is causing you to sin, you should take care of that yourself so that you don’t dare hurt anybody else.
So our call today, as the church, is to take time to mourn and lament this tragedy. To not just move on to the next thing. To let the pain of those hurting be held, together before God. This crime and the other acts of violence persons of Asian descent, have been caused suffering and fear across many of that population, even in our own congregation. This is not an isolated incident. Let us hold the pain together before God, seek to uphold one another in love, and also see how we can all turn once again to God for a better way.
And as we do so we see again that what we’re doing, repenting of white supremacy culture for Lent, that it does matter. It’s not just a fad, is a part of our discipleship as well, because it has to do with following the commandments of God. We may not kill. But we can all learn and grow in loving our neighbor as we love ourselves on the way to better and more completely loving God. We can all find a way to do that at least a little bit better.
A sense of urgency is one of the characteristics of white supremacy culture that we are focusing on to repent of today. And it comes as there seems to be building pressure at the moment of the gospel story, for Jesus to do something BIG. Some people in Jerusalem who have traveled, known only to us as some Greeks, want to see Jesus. They have some kind of expectation from what’s been said about him. We don’t know exactly what they want, just that Jesus starts talking that moment about glorifying God, and about seeds and dying. He says words similar to those we heard from the gospel of Mark a few weeks ago. Loving your life means losing it, but giving it up means keeping it forever, and that the call is to serve Jesus and follow him. To do the same things as him, and to place ourselves humbly before him and others, to serve. As he is saying these things he becomes deeply troubled, as he knows he is talking about his own death and the death of some of his followers and friends.
A sense of urgency to solve all of the problems right now is not in line with Jesus’ way. Jesus knew his path would not be immediate gratification. This would be a long haul of God working through our small sacrifices to bring about transformation. It would take time like seeds take time to germinate, sprout, grow up through the ground, grow roots down into the ground, grow some more, flower and then produce fruit.
We need to build patience, but not complacency, into our discipleship. We need to be committed to baby steps of humility and service, that keep going in one direction, avoid distraction, as we seek to repent of white supremacy culture and seek to turn back to God.
The kind of change God calls us to, the kind of healing in our relationships, takes time. A lot of time. Time we put into being, really being with other people- which I realize as I’m saying it is ironic right now when we can’t really really be together- but we can keep doing the little things to connect, phone calls and zoom calls and cards, while we wait for when we can really be together. Because I think it’s the sense of urgency that gets in the way of the authentic relationships God wants us to have with one another, the relationships that help us know how to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
There’s another characteristic to repent of today, that is worship of the written word. The passage from Jeremiah points out that God wants a relationship with us so deep that we don’t need to write things down and remind one another anymore. I fear we are a long way off from that. I love and respect the Bible as God’s inspired revelation to us. But we also misuse it. One of the ways we worship the written word is similar to the conclusion of the Vatican this week. Interpretations of a few passages that are written take precedence over human beings living and breathing right in front of us. It has happened with slavery, when choice verses were selected to justify Christians in saying they believe in the crucified one but could still have other humans as property- which we see so plainly now was wrong. Another hierarchy we invented. A written word from our government in executive order 9066 sent precious humans to camps during world war 2. That written word was valued –over the neighbors rounded up and sent off. The written word again in the Bible has been invoked to justify mistreatment of women in domestic violence situations, and in other ways. And this week the written word took precedence over the souls of God’s beloved children who just want to love who they love and know God loves them, too. Which God does. Of that I am sure.
Jesus in this passage from John, cries out to God, glorify your name! he does this with his own death on his mind. The kind of trust in God for the long term in a way that goes beyond written word is what we can try to imitate from Jesus. We cannot fight white supremacy with weapons, there is no easy fix. But we have an example in Jesus for our path. Just as Jesus readily called out to God, just as Jesus trusted that even when he was killed God would still be working, that is how we are called to trust in God and cry out to God. To follow Jesus We need to be deeply rooted in the love of God for each one of us and know that it is just as deep for every other person, so that we can keep at this. We follow Jesus’ example of building relationships by spending time with new and old friends. To serve Jesus we need Keep turning away from sins of all kind, yes keep turning away from everything related to white supremacy culture. Lose your life in Christ so that God can work. It is a humility and serving and undoes all of these wrong hierarchies we humans have made.
But there is good news here. Jesus would die, but then rise. Seeds are buried and it does take time, but fruit is produced in abundance. We can trust in God’s ways and God’s timing even if we don’t see the results right away. Let us continue in God’s ways together, beloved, knowing that God’s life and love will bloom brightly in the long run, Amen.