There is no audio of today’s service.
The day after I gave my first sermon as a church intern, I went sky-diving. I found jumping out of an airplane to be a lot easier than walking into a pulpit. So, will you please pray with me…
Send us your Holy Spirit, O God,
So that the unworthy words of my mouth
and the meditations of my broken heart
may be acceptable to you. Amen.
In 1963, Freeman Hrabowski was 12-years-old when he left school early to join the Children’s March in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. As a child, he says, he “loved school” and “wanted to be part of anything that would bring [about] better education.”
Before the demonstration, they gathered at the local Baptist Church for training and worship. Then they marched to City Hall, where they knelt and prayed. Freeman, along with others, were then arrested and taken to a juvenile facility.
That is where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited him, and told him, “What you do this day will impact children who have not [yet] been born”
Half-a-century later, in a small town outside of St Louis, Missouri, teenagers and young adults led a movement as they marched night after night to show the world their pain. They organized church services, training sessions, rallies, and concerts. They invited pastors and rabbis, bishops and Imams to come and join them for a Weekend of Resistance. After being arrested for civil disobedience, one of the pastors was questioned: “who is leading this protest?” to which he offered a single name: “Jesus of Nazareth”
Today is Children’s Sabbath in the Presbyterian Planning Calendar. This is not an excuse for me to talk about how cute my daughter is (although I think we can all admit she is very cute). Instead, it is an invitation to wrestle with issues facing our nation’s children (the age group with the highest poverty rate, by far), and to be inspired into loving action.
And so, I turn to two stories about standing up when it was easier not to. ‘=
Both are about young women, children really, who are part of an oppressed minority; who witness injustice at the hands of the powerful and must decide between personal safety and speaking out. Both were named Star(r) by their families; and both women must hide who they are from the people around them.
One of the biggest differences in these stories is that only one of them actually mentions God. Esther’s inclusion in the canon was marked with controversy for its lack of divine language; while in The Hate U Give, Starr and her family attend church, pray to “Black Jesus”, and give thanks to God.
But both books are less stories of God’s work in the world, and more stories of God’s people: those on the margins, the vulnerable, those society segregates. And it is not about a hero coming to save the day. There is no white savior in these stories. As Starr says, “I wish people like them would stop thinking that people like me need saving.” No, instead they are stories of children of God, standing up for themselves and their communities in times of trial.
Esther, whose name means “star” in Persian, was an orphan who was raised by her cousin Mordecai. They were part of the Jewish diaspora, forced from their ancestral land and living as a minority in a society stained by anti-Semitism. There, the King of Persia deposed Queen Vashti, for nothing more than making a choice not to come when commanded. Esther pleased the court and was made the new queen; though she kept her Jewish identity a secret out of fear.
After these things, Haman the Agagite was promoted above all other officials in the Empire. All in the court were commanded to bow down before him. But, in a reversal of a modern-day protest, Mordecai refused to take a knee. Haman vowed to destroy not only Mordecai, but all of his (and thus Esther’s) people.
And that is where we pick up the story in today’s reading. Mordecai is urging Esther to use her new position to persuade the King to stop Haman’s plot. But Esther knows what happened to Vashti for breaking the King’s command. And she knows the law. To approach the King without permission means putting herself in danger and may not change anything; but to do nothing will mean the destruction of her people. This is her choice.
In The Hate U Give, Starr Carter is faced with a similar choice.
While not an orphan, she was raised for part of her life by an uncle while her father used prison as a way to escape gang-life. She and her family are part of the African diaspora, forced from their ancestral land and living as a minority in a society stained by racism.
There, her childhood friend, Khalil, was killed for nothing more than making a choice not to stay when commanded.
Starr continues to attend her private High School in the suburbs; though she is careful not to act “too black” and keeps her identity as “the witness” a secret out of fear.
After these things, people begin to protest; a grand jury is called; and the local gang bears its teeth. Government officials and the gang-lord King threaten her community and her people. Both want her to stay quiet.
And that is where we pick up the story in today’s reading. Maverick Carter is talking with his daughter about her new position. But they both know what can happen to people who speak out against the powerful forces around them. They know the law of the streets.
To speak out against the state and against King means putting herself in danger and may not change anything, but to do nothing will mean the continued subversion of her people. This is her choice.
As I heard Pastor John say when this sanctuary welcomed a mother of four facing deportation, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”
Recognizing the danger that she is putting herself in, Esther replies to Mordecai and asks him to organize a fast, (I wonder, do you think she also said a prayer?) and then she states: “If I perish, I perish; but I will speak to the King.” She stands up and approaches. She speaks truth to a powerful human force. And her voice stirs some change.
Not everything is perfect, there is no clean ending. But Esther’s courage inspires her people; and continues to inspire us. She calls out the hate being given; and invites us into loving action.
As Starr Carter is told by her mother, when she became the witness of tragedy, “Brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you go on even though you’re scared.”
Recognizing the danger that she is putting herself in, Starr takes the bullhorn. She has a hard time lifting it, as a police officer tells the crowd to disperse (I wonder, do you think she also said a prayer?) and then she states: “I am the witness.” She stands up and breaks her silence. She speaks truth to a powerful human force. And her voice stirs some change.
Not everything is perfect, there is no clean ending. But Starr’s hope inspires her people; and continues to inspire us. She calls out the hate being given; and invites us into loving action.
So, what can we learn from these brave young women on today’s Children’s Sabbath?
2Pac said, (and I’m gonna clean this up a little bit): “The Hate U Give” little infants hurts everybody.
Just as Dr. King preached about liberating all people from the tyranny of racism; Pac is speaking about the interconnectedness of hate. He is inviting us to consider how we treat others. How we treat the most vulnerable among us. And how this hate stains all of God’s creation.
2Pac replaced the hate he saw in the world with poetry, which continues to nurture kids others have given up on.
Esther, putting her life in the hands of an impulsive ruler whose judgment depended on his mood, replaced Haman’s hate with courage.
Starr, standing up and speaking out when there was no prospect of change, replaced hate with hope for a better world.
Freeman Hrabowski, the 12-year-old arrested in Birmingham, replaced the hate he was given with education as he went on to become a university president.
And the preacher who visited Freeman that day, studied in the philosophies of Gandhi, Howard Thurman, and Jesus Christ, replaced hate with love; as he spoke about God’s beloved community to anyone who would listen.
The pastor arrested in Missouri replaced hate with faith in a Living Christ.
And Forest Hill Church, by becoming a place of sanctuary; by hanging banners of acceptance; and by embracing a new thing replaces hate with welcome for all.
The hate we give little infants hurts everybody.
So today, I invite you to practice your faith: How will you replace hate? In fellowship hall after worship, you will see a poster “The [Blank] U Give”. There are markers and post-its, and I encourage you to replace hate, and inspire loving action.
And now, I’m going to talk about how cute my daughter is.
One night, awhile back, Amy and I had both had one of those days. We were ready for it to be over, but we needed to feed, bathe, and put to bed a toddler. Tired, we ordered pizza, and threw it on plates as soon as it came. We started to eat. But Elly stopped us. She had bowed her head and stuck out her hands for us to hold. She was looking to pray.
We had been trying to get into the habit. But we assumed that our one-year-old couldn’t understand what we were doing. Apparently, however, the ritual had begun to sink in.
In that moment, she showed me just how important practicing faith can be. Surely, she doesn’t know what prayer is or why we are doing it, but practicing faith has changed the way she sees and interacts with the world.
I’m not a fool. I don’t think changing a word on a piece of paper will save the world. I don’t think it will lift 20% of Ohio kids out of poverty, I don’t think it will fix the criminal justice system, or reform public education.
But I do think practicing our faith, even with small rituals, can change the way we see and interact with God’s creation.
The [Blank] U Give Little Infants Changes Everybody
Praise be to God.