I received an email from my brother Andrew, who lives in Cairo, Egypt and has lived through the so-called “Arab Spring” there, with the rioting and police and army response. He asked if I was going to say something about the unfolding events in Baltimore.
I responded “no.” My sermon was already prepared. I had promised the Stewardship Ministry that I would preach on my experience at the national Kaleidoscope Stewardship gathering in Kansas City that Melanie Alban, Steve Sedam and I attended last month. And, I must admit after the last twelve months of discontent – is there anything left to say? I am not a politician, or a policy maker. I am tired of it.
But soon after writing that email response… I swear to you…I had an experience –this very clear memory of the ten minutes I spent in Adult Education last Sunday listening to Professor Brueggeman talk about the prophets, and particularly his passing remarks about Jeremiah in the 4th chapter. It’s not a passage we ever read in church because we don’t want to hear it. In it, the prophet declares:
Look! He comes up like clouds, his chariots like the whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles – woe to us for we are ruined! O Jerusalem wash your heart clean of wickedness so that you may be saved. (4:13-14)
Your ways and your doings have brought this upon you. This is your doom; how bitter it is! It has reached your very heart!
The prophet grieves:
My anguish. I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! Disaster overtakes disaster, the whole land laid waste. For my people are foolish they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.
And the ten minutes from last Sunday and the words of Jeremiah compel me – I don’t think I have a choice but to say something – albeit with a broken heart.
I apologize to Stephen Sedam and Melanie Alban and the Stewardship ministry – the sermon I prepared will have its day and it time.
But today as the ashes of Baltimore still smolder, and judgments have been handed down against some of the police who mishandled and killed Freddie Gray and thankfully citizens of Baltimore gathered peacefully yesterday.
And now we await – citizens of greater Cleveland – the decision about officer Michael Brelo and as I announced GCC is calling for a rally in Public Square on the Monday after the verdict.
You know, I think Malcolm X had it right – the chickens are coming home to roost today; they will always come home to roost.
Decades of neglect have led to pockets of concentrated poverty in our urban cores and many angry, dissatisfied people. When people feel trapped and do not trust those who protect and serve why should we be surprised that these things happen?
And let me be clear I am not in any way shape or manner criticizing police in general.
Those of you who are in Adult Education talking about the prophets should know: God isn’t going to save us when inequality and injustice, lack of jobs, education, health care, mistrust of police and racism go unheeded.
The violent responses will have to play out – it will happen again and again. We can’t hide behind being “exceptional” or “chosen.” America is being exposed. That is what Jeremiah said against Jerusalem and the ideology of the structures of power. Jeremiah is calling us to task across the centuries.
Why is it OK when the Cleveland Clinic tears down Huron Rd. Hospital in East Cleveland because they can make more money moving East, but it is not OK when angry citizens tear down and burn down blighted neighborhoods because they cannot MOVE at all?
In John’s gospel, which is the lectionary text of today – we read that God prunes, cuts back branches that don’t grow fruit, he collects the dead and dry branches and throws them into the fire (John 15:1-8).
I wonder if the fires in the blighted communities and the tearing down that we see on TV is not the pruning Jesus talked about? Perhaps we are being refined in the refining fires – we can only pray!
I am glad in our imperfect but seeking-to-be-faithful way: that FHC is involved in Greater Cleveland Congregations (faith based organizing) and are at the table with Mayor Jackson and will be a peaceful presence at any rally.
I am glad for our Tuesday pantry program and our every other Sunday night Labre hospitality and fellowship program in East Cleveland…. we are least making relationships with people in need – and we are being changed. East Cleveland is a tinder-box – at least we won’t be surprised when the match is lit.
I am glad we have a Race Core Team that drives us to talk about race and white privilege and makes us feel uncomfortable and yet encourages us to be diverse and welcoming to all.
I am glad that our Christian Education team is teaching Bible and exploring the prophets. Scripture is what we need to listen to more than pundits and analysis.
I am glad we are having communion today – so that we can be fed and refreshed for our journeys; remembering who we are and whose we are.
We have to abide, stay with Jesus, hang in there and be present and never give up. We have to be in proximity to those unlike us – so that we will have something to say, something to give, something to do – when the next fires are set.
And I am very, very glad that Jeremiah says not once, but repeatedly:
“But even in those days, says the Lord, I will not make a full end of you.”