Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20
“Being a Christian is not essentially about joining a church or being a nice person,” our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says, “but about following in the footsteps of Jesus, taking his teachings seriously, letting his Spirit take the lead in our lives, and in so doing helping to change the world from our nightmare into God’s dream.”
This was not said in response to the events of the last two weeks in which the murder of George Floyd sparked protests throughout our country – but it is certainly relevant. Between the pandemic and the protests – many of which ended with violence, many of us feel we are living in a nightmare.
I am upset and troubled, but not sure how to respond. The pandemic has hit close to home, but the experience of racism has seemed so far away. It did until I read a post by a black man who works in the Episcopal Church here in Arkansas. He shared some of his experiences growing up black in America. He is a young man whom I love and admire. When reading his story, I realized I could not identify with him. His story, his experience, is so far from my own that I understood, perhaps for the first time, how easy it has been for me to dismiss concerns over events that happen so far from my home, or that happen in front of me that I failed to see.
When the Black Lives Matter movement began, I heard people respond with, “All Lives Matter,” and “Blue Lives Matter.” All lives do matter, and I believe that the majority of men and women in law enforcement do serve and protect. They deserve our respect, and our appreciation for their service. Nonetheless, racism did not end with the passage of the Civil Right Amendment and we cannot deny that although we are all created equal, we have not received equal treatment and not had equal opportunities.
The Black Lives Matter movement speaks to an injustice that needs to be addressed. It is not saying that only black lives matter. It is saying that it is time for us to stand with our dark-skinned brothers and sisters and call for reform. It is not just about the police, it is about the entire justice system and the inequality that exists in so many facets of our lives together.
Whether or not I wanted to believe that George Floyd’s death didn’t affect me. It did and it does. Protests have been held throughout Arkansas, including the one yesterday here in Batesville. I attended, as did several of our members. As I expected, it was peaceful. From my vantage point, there were more whites present than blacks. I saw signs that said something like, “silence is participation is the violence.” It was referring to the violence against blacks, not the violence we’ve seen erupt at some of the protests within our state and our nation.
Last week, our governor called upon the National Guard to help maintain the peace. In a press conference, Governor Hutcheson said he called them in to protect our citizens who gathered peacefully to speak their minds. It is the right of our citizens to gather and speak out against the injustice most recently witnessed in Minnesota. In fact, I heard him say we need reform in our justice system. The action of those officers did not, Hutchison noted, reflect the character of the majority of the men and women who serve in our police forces who do respect their call to serve and protect.
The protesters are led by the principals of justice, peace and love, he added, and, the violence, looting, and damage to property is not from the protestors. It is from others who have taken advantage of this unrest and acted contrary to what these principles.
To follow in the footsteps of Jesus, is to live by these same values. The Spirit moves us as Christians to use these as our guiding principles and work “to change the world from our nightmare into God’s dream.” But how?
Some of us have more of an opportunity than others to help bring about change. For the majority of us, it begins by not turning a blind eye to injustice, and not being silent when we hear derogatory statements about people of color. It begins by becoming more attentive and by listening.
Listening is challenging. We must learn to listen to what is intended to be said rather than what is said. Often, what we say is not what we mean. So, we need to listen for the feelings that are being expressed. And, we need to ask questions to clarify rather than make assumption or prepare our response before a person even finishes speaking. My friend shared his feelings, his feelings of fear, and that made it easy for me to understand. Most of us, however, have trouble identifying what is behind our own emotions. Fear is often experienced as outrage and hostility and it can lead to violence.
In today’s reading from Genesis we heard God say, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness . . . So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” This is Trinity Sunday, which is theologically a challenging concept – one God in three persons. Here, God refers himself and herself in the plural and speaks of creating humankind in “our” own image – male and female. There is no suggestion that men are superior to women and there is no distinction of race. We are all children of the one who loves each and every one of us – even when we fail.
There is a quote, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, which says, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” We may have failed to treat everyone equally, but it is never too late to change our ways and standup for those who are not being treated equally. We are forgiven for what we have done and what we have not done. And, then, as disciples of Christ, we are sent to make disciples of others.
This is message of Jesus, the reason he came, and the reason he tells his apostles in today’s gospel, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus sends his disciples to make disciples of others and of us that we might go and do the work that needs to be done to change this world from the nightmare that it is, to God’s dream.
As I did last week, I want to close with a prayer from Morning Prayer. Let us pray.
O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.