What I Would Preach on Sunday

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Even though I don’t have a pulpit Sunday, I felt a pull to the call to preach, and so here it is: 

I often take the kids to the protests and vigils in town.

From the murders of Trayvon Martin (the twins were barely 6 months old) to the extrajudicial killings of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Rekia Boyd, and so many, too many to even begin to count here, when Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, when a Muslim woman was attacked at a cafe to the “Bloomington against Islamophobia” (remarks I gave are here), when we wanted to be a part of “Ferguson Action” and “Reclaim MLK Jr. Day,” when hostilities arose against refugees during the Syrian crisis, when the Charleston 9 were brutally killed by the white supremacist American terrorist, when the Orlando massacre happened very recently. Ever since the twins and then Ozzie’s entrances into the world I’ve felt even more pressed to work for the good. For them. 

But to explain why we attend these gatherings to children under five is a bit of a challenge. When I tried to describe the Charleston killings to them, it hit them much more than any other conversation. They have an image of church in their heads. They have images of white and black people in their heads. They have an image of guns in their heads. The way they responded ranged from questions about how and why, as well as questions about our own safety in our church, and in particular, their daddy’s safety, the pastor of his church. I questioned whether this was sound parenting. Other parents often look at me askance when I talk about these conversations.

In the end, I resigned myself to the reality that all my parenting is likely faulty in one way, but as long as we hold these truths and stories in community – in love and mutual encouragement – perhaps we are laying some groundwork for them to at least cultivate awareness. Because the urgency of these days is far more compelling, for me, as we try to sort out the kind of world we live in and the kind we want to build for and with them.

Even now, I sit outside on our porch and look out on our world – at blue skies and flying birds while hearing the laughter of children and ringing bells on bikes in all its odd and discomforting tranquility. I write this watching my children play in dirt and flowers to fashion homes in old mason jars for all manner of insects. And then, I look at the houses around me on our street. Our neighbors. And this is the question from the lectionary passage in Luke that always, always leaps out at me: Who is my neighbor?

Many know of this story of the Good Samaritan all too well, even the so-called “unchurched” and “nonchurched” “will summon its principles so as to describe and determine a moral way of life,” writes Karoline Lewis at Working Preacher. But, what is it about the Good Samaritan that makes him the model and example of a neighbor?

I remember hearing someone preach once about what it means to help in the time of need. How we are all called upon to be the same kind of neighbor as the Samaritan, that is, someone who goes above and beyond, someone who goes the extra mile, and really shows the kind of love that is more than just good intentions, good talk, good tweets.  

Then, there was the sermon about the priest and Levite, and how they were analogous to not only the religious leaders of our time, but to all of us Christians who follow the rules and uphold the principles of love, the eloquent, but verbose talk and chatter about love, but when it comes down to it, we aren’t able to get our hands dirty. Really dirty, I mean, bloody and dirty, like the Samaritan who picked up the brutalized man, and helped him onto his donkey, and cared for him at the nearest hotel. And again, at the end there’s always the call to be the same kind of neighbor as the Samaritan who showed incredible courage and compassion.

And then, another sermon about what it would be like to look at the injured man as Christ. And, another one about the Good Samaritan as Christ. Truly, the possibilities almost seem exhausted at this point.

And, I’m exhausted, honestly. All around me the world is heavy with grief and terror. I turn to our poets and artists when it feels like what we need is not more, but less words, and that healing space between words seems like the best balm. So, poet Warsan Shire writes:

“They set my aunt’s house on fire
I cried the way women on TV do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.

I called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
I said hello
he said Warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

I’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
I come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
I held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.”

I have an icon at home from the Taize community when I visited there for the first time this past May. The icon depicts the parable of the Good Samaritan in 6 small circular panels around the image of Christ. It was commissioned by the Brothers and inspired by the focus of their community this year which is on the theme of the courage of mercy.

I meditate on the icon often during the few moments of quiet I find here and there. I linger on the various panels – on the image of the two robbers hands raised above the man who is on his knees, on the image of the two religious leaders who are praying with eyes upward standing above the man now lying on the ground, on the image of the Samaritan picking up the man to place him on his donkey, on the image of the Samaritan carrying him into the hotel, on the image of the Samaritan caring for the man’s wounds, and on the final image, which is of the Samaritan, the now-restored man, and a third, presumably the innkeeper gathered around a table for a meal.

It’s that last panel that catches my eye as it reminds me of another icon, the one of the Trinity. Both have three people sitting around a table, with two heads on the right tilted towards the third, and there’s a large bowl or chalice in the middle of the table. And it strikes me that there’s a deliberate connection between the restoration of a human being to community and the very communal nature of the Triune God. It is a glimpse of the kingdom in that when we pursue mercy to its end it will always result in the full restoration of every single human being to the wider human community.

It is a glimpse of the kingdom in that when we pursue mercy to its end it will always result in the full restoration of every single human being to the wider human community.Click To Tweet

This is the intersection of #blacklivesmatter and a flesh and blood trinitarian theology. Black Lives Matter is about the liberation and restoration of black lives in this world, yes. It doesn’t stop there though because what many critics don’t realize is that this means when the most marginalized of our world, Native, black and brown lives are free, we will all be free, when black lives thrive and flourish, we will all thrive and flourish. We will all be living as God intended in right relationship with one another, and in a radical table fellowship rooted in the courageous mercy of Christ. Meanwhile, we are called to be a part of this work, and we have a choice – what kind of world will we work toward in the here and now?

Asian Americans cannot afford to be bystanders in this fight, because this is our fight, too. All of America stands at a crossroads, staring down a quintessential moral choice: what kind of society do we want to live in? Do we choose a society where the lives of Black and Brown people — including Black and Brown Asian Americans — has value? (From ReAppropriate)

I ponder this after another week of violence and death – two black men and five Latin@s were killed by police. During a peaceful demonstration in Dallas, a military veteran unassociated with the protest killed five police officers and injuring more. Last week there were numerous terrorist attacks abroad in Istanbul and Baghdad tragically disrupting a holy season for our Muslim brothers and sisters. And all that on the heels of the Orlando shooting, and the memory of a vigil full of tears, rainbow flags and bubbles still fresh in our minds.

Who is my neighbor? This question isn’t only about who we are a neighbor to, and who is a neighbor to us, in some ways, it feels rhetorical – this time for me it challenges me to think about what it means to live in this world together. It is recognizing the plurality of the question, and the reality that we have systems and institutions that have created the conditions in our society that permit these tragedies – from the killing of black and brown bodies to refugee children to LGBTQ lives to police officers – to occur on a regular basis. We won’t experience true healing and reconciliation until we reform those structures so that all are free and equal.

“Are black people Americans? Are black people human beings? I’ll go that far. Because I’m confused, because it does not appear that we’re human beings, because we dot have the inalienable rights that human beings are supposed to have.” Actor Jesse Williams

Who is my neighbor? is a working out, a continuous process of waking up to the people around you, and drawing near, as my dear Andy preached a few Sundays ago, drawing near in the same way God draws near to us, God draws near to us over and over in the most unexpected ways, the least likely places and faces. Maybe in ditches or roads or even on freeways. Who is my neighbor? means to live like we belong to each other, to live like we need each other, because we do. We aren’t going to survive for much longer on the road that we’re barreling down. Who is my neighbor? looks like choosing joy, and then choosing to love harder, love stubbornly, love persistently, so that neighbor looks more like kin-folk and family.

I haven’t talked about any of these recent tragedies with my children, yet. I’m not sure if I will or when I will, though if there is a vigil in the near future, I do expect to attend with them. Because if there’s anything I believe about following the Christ that is about solidarity and hospitality, the Christ of the Triune God, it’s that we keep showing up. Even when we don’t understand, even when we are guilty or complicit or fragile or confused, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when we are despairing, we show up to be with people. To pray. To light candles. To hold hands. To chant Black Lives Matter. To whisper, God, have mercy. 

In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, Amen.

2 thoughts on “What I Would Preach on Sunday

  • July 9, 2016 at 11:37 pm
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    You mention that the people in Charleston were murdered by a White supremacist but did not mention that the killer in Orland was a Muslim fanatic. Nor did you mention the recent murder of Dallas policemen by a Black man and that Philando’s killer was an Asian cop.

    So who exactly is YOUR neighbor? All humanity or just certain groups?

    Perhaps you should try to build bridges wide enough for people to walk across in both directions, they seem to be just one way streets at present.

  • July 10, 2016 at 7:34 am
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    Superb. Thank you for preaching and for challenging all of us.

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