Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Jun 21, 2020

    The 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

    Preacher: The Rev. Greg Farrand

    Series: Year A 2020-2021

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

    Our Gospel reading this morning is one of those disturbing and disruptive teachings of Jesus.

    He says, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword… Whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven… Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” I want to respond, “Wait Jesus, I need to love you more than my 3 boys? And if I don’t I’m not worthy of you?” Jesus goes on to say, “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Remember, the cross was the most brutal forms of Roman torture and execution. Jesus is saying in order to follow him, we must volunteer for torture and death. Our reading ends with a strange sounding riddle; “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

    Jesus what are you saying? If we hold onto our lives we will die but if we lose our life for your sake we will live? What does that mean?

    This intense and even harsh teaching will make no sense unless we remember the context. Unless we remember that Jesus was a teacher in the Wisdom Tradition. The Wisdom Tradition was a milieu of spiritual teacher well known in the first century. Wisdom teachers were committed to your transformation from the inside out. Committed to setting you free to be fully human and to grow in what Jesus’ describes as the greatest commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus wants us to love God fully and love our neighbor and he is committed to removing whatever hinders us from that love. And often that process is disruptive even painful.

    The purpose of this disruption is to invite us to love God and love others and explode those beliefs that hinder that love from flowing freely. Today’s teaching from Jesus is spiritual dynamite designed to set us free. Jesus, as a wisdom teacher, pulling out the high powered spot light to reveal whatever is in us that hinders the flow of love.

    Wisdom teachers would figure out your existing worldview and the beliefs that were keeping you in prison. Once they discerned those beliefs that were keeping you stuck, they would often throw a grenade in to blow it apart. And then, as the smoke clears, invite you to a new way to view everything.

    That’s why no one ever walked away from Jesus thinking they just had a pleasant chat. Either they were full of joy or full of sorrow, full of wonder or full of anger. Think about his interactions as a Wisdom Teacher and the Gospels make more sense: When Jesus was speaking to the rich young ruler he said to him, “Go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor then come and follow me.” He knew his wealth was harming him instead of helping him. This is why Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are a brood of vipers. You are white washed tombs with dead men’s bones inside.” They believed their external acts of religious obedience earned them favor in God’s eyes but on the inside they were full of anger and fear.

    And this morning’s reading is meant to be a grenade. A grenade that explodes our existing worldview and invites us to a new way to view everything.

    We Episcopalian’s do not like disruption. We are nice, thoughtful people that prefer order and beauty,.

    But if we open ourselves to the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth, if we want to follow Jesus on his path, it will be uncomfortable, disruptive, and even painful. It will require taking up our cross and following Jesus. It requires us to shine the spotlight of the gospel on our own hearts… and we will see things we don’t like.

    And this moment in our nation’s history invites us to do just that. To reflect on any barriers in our hearts that our hindering us from loving God and loving our neighbor.

    Let me begin with my own heart.

    For many years in my life I would say, “I’m not racist.” I am good man, socially progressive, thoughtful, kind. But what I have learned is that saying, “I’m not racist,” is missing the point. Honestly, when I would say I was not racist, my focus was on me, defensively, concerned about my identity. And once I comforted myself by saying I was not racist, it would lead to a passivity… I am not the problem.

    Asking if I am a racist is the wrong question. If you were raised in America, this wonderful country that I love, but a country whose heritage is rooted in racism, then you have breathed in and metabolized racism. In this cultural context, this fish-tank we have been raised in, we have since birth, taken in racist cultural assumptions. And you had no ability to do anything about that. It’s in the ground water… it’s in the very air we breathe. The brilliant Killian Noe said, “We take in the assumptions of our culture with our mother milk.” So we have racism within us… like a poison in the veins. I don’t like it, I hate it, but it is within us.

    And we will not be able to effectively deal with it until we can admit that. Because I was raised in this cultural context, I have the poison of racism within me.

    To admit that might feel like a death… a death of the nice person we thought we were… but as Jesus said, unless you’re willing to lose your life for his sake, you will not know and experience real life.

    This is the work we must do if we want to love God and love our neighbor. If we want to follow Jesus of Nazareth. So the question is not am I a racist but rather, am I anti-racist?

    Am I actively working to overturn and remove any racist beliefs within me and within any systems around me. We are all called to anti-racism.

    What is anti-racism? In the introduction to his book How to be an Antiracist, Ibrim X Kendi writes, This is "the basic struggle we're all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human."

    To be fully human and see that others are fully human. Author Ijeoma Oluo writes that “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”

    It is the only way forward. It is not a noun… it is a verb. We are called to daily reflection and self-awareness. Ibram X Kendi, says this work is, “Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”  He goes on to say, “The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what -- not who -- we are.” 

    And this is the hard work but it’s the work we must do if we want to follow Jesus, if we want to remove any blocks and hindrances in our hearts to loving God and loving our neighbor. Ashlee Eiland said, “Say what you need to on social media. Then put down your phone and pick up your life. Not many will see you learning, confessing, repenting, uprooting, retooling, inviting, empowering. But we will see its fruit. The hidden work is the heart work is the hard work.” I love that… “The hidden work is the heart work is the hard work.”

    So let me get practical. How do we do this work? The first step is moving away from a defensive posture of saying, “I’m not racist.” That’s the wrong question. Recognize that because of our cultural context, we have the poison of racism in our veins. Once we admit that, we can work towards healing. Allow the spot light of the gospel to reveal that poison within… don’t run from it. I would recommend two books that are very helpful. We did a book study with the first this last year. It’s called Waking Up White by Debbie Irving.

    And the other is White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by DiAngelo and Dyson.

    Secondly, we need to start listening and learning. This is particularly important for those of us used to teaching. We need to stop talking and do the uncomfortable and even painful work of listening to the experience and pain of our brothers and sisters who have endured the suffering and systemic injustice of racism. We need to allow ourselves not to rush to make it better with a band-aid… but truly to hear, and allow their pain, their stories to soak into our bones. There is a book by Ibram X Kendi who I quoted earlier called How to be Antiracist. I am half way through and it is powerful and painful and practical.

    I also encourage everyone to look up the Racial Equity Institute. The Episcopal church requires all clergy to experience this training and it changed my world view. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

    And lastly, when we see racism within us, let us identity it, call it what it is, and work against it. Let us work to be fully human and see others as fully human. And then when we see racism externally, I others, in systems, in churches, in organizations, in the work place, in government, let us work against it. Through solidarity with peaceful protestors, through working towards legislation that honors the dignity of every human being.

    To love God and love our neighbor is not static. It is our call every day. It is a call to take up the cross daily and follow Jesus. It is not easy, and many days it may feel like dying… but it is the path of new life and resurrection. It is the path of healing our broken and thirsty world. It is the path of Jesus. And we need to walk it together.