On this Sunday when we remember and thank God for the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King I want to begin by saying that sometimes it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.
And this day, particularly, I am mindful of some things that I need to apologize for.
I am a white straight highly-educated male who has reaped the benefits of a culture and society waaaay tilted towards me. I worked very hard for what I got – but I had advantages. Therefore, I believe I have a special obligation to model and to, in fact, say “I am sorry” for a system of racial inequality of which I am a part and which benefits me; most of the time I don’t even recognize it;
I am sorry that my forebearers, my founding fathers, codified slavery, and created Jim Crow. I don ‘t need my heroes to be perfect – but we need to be truthful!
I am sorry for concentrated poverty and the institutional and systemic violence against people of color, that has been going on since the first European ship hit the coast.
I am sorry when my words and actions hurt you – most of the time I am not even aware; but sometimes I’m just lazy.
It is scary for me to talk about race with black people in the congregation; I am sorry if I say something really stupid and embarrass myself. I hope I don’t make things worse.
“John, I don’t need your sorrow, I need your action!” True, words are cheap. But they are a place to start. And sometimes action without personal repentance doesn’t work either.
But honestly, I don’t know if I have ever felt less optimistic about race in America, and even racial reconciliation within these walls.
I lament with Jeremiah and with Jesus as they weep over Jerusalem centuries apart (500 years or so). Can we ever really change?
I read in Sojourners this week that while 80% of African American Christians asked believe that the Tamir Rice shooting was indicative of systemic, institutional racism; over 70% of White Christians asked said it was coincidental and an isolated, albeit tragic incident. It would be interesting if we took the poll here.
I am reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between The World And Me” a very long letter to his son. Coates grew up on the rough streets of Baltimore. He graduated from Howard University. “Between the World and Me” is an amazing book; a completely different experience from my own.
As a teenager Coates asked: “Why did all the black heroes have to be non-violent?”
White people got to glory in the stories of revolutionaries and men who took up arms against the powers. But Nat Turner, the Black Panthers, Malcolm X – they were labeled violent and dangerous. “
I never thought of that before.
Even our work at this church is tense right now. The Race Core Team, a committee called by Session to hold us accountable to becoming a racially inclusive church, had a “hot” hard meeting last time; it got personal.
Next month Robyn Hales and her team who are in charge of the Black History Month are rolling out an amazing program. Ajah Hales somehow got the word out to CNN commentator and teacher Batari Kitwana that we are going to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Atlantic Monthly article on “Reparations.” Kitwana is so impressed he is coming to lead the conversation!
And yet there is mistrust and tension.
The one thing I took away from reading “More Than Equals” about the two pastors, one black, one white, who co-pastored a church was how hard it is to maintain a racially diverse church. It is hard work; maybe impossible.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had an African American co-pastor here? But we need to find the best, most qualified person.
Oh my, how both statements are true and heartfelt but so weighted (painful, even.)
See why I started this sermon with apologies?
But hang in there with me please, just for a little bit longer…. For I have also come to believe that it is always “darkest before the dawn” – and even with that I apologize for any micro-aggression I might have blundered into…. Even our language is a minefield today.
And yet, I do not apologize for these words: “Jesus Christ is Lord!” Jesus, in his reconciling grace and empowering love call us through the wilderness of division.
And–if we are doing it right, if we are following Jesus – we will face tension. The first disciples faced death – so we have much easier! This fact is true for everything – in any meaningful relationship. Sometimes it is really good to have a really good argument – clears the air!
If we follow Jesus we will make all sorts of mistakes. We will have to say “I’m sorry” a lot.
We might even make fools of ourselves. But we are trying to be fools for Christ…and we believe that God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. And God’s foolishness begins at the cross – when Christ forgave his killers before they even asked for it.
And here it is: as we continue along this path, as we actually move closer to developing trust with each other (black and white,) as we begin to empower those who have been on the sidelines – yes, the tension is going to increase, it may get messier, I am going to get called out, we are all going to feel uncomfortable. And you may feel angry and agitated. But that may be a sign that we are actually getting somewhere!
Maybe the blood of all these young African American martyrs caught on cameras and cell phones will finally wake us up. It can no longer be covered up as Grand Juries and Prosecutors and Chiefs and Union leaders feel the heat.
And maybe the tension at the Black History Month and Race Core Team meeting tables is a sign of a new day as we all learn to hang in there together.
We are too far along to turn back now.
Maybe after all this time, we are just beginning our work.
We have to keep pushing and staying together – and now extend the invitation to those who have different incomes and different education levels. Is there a place in these pews, and on our ministries, and in our small groups for the homeless and hungry and those who don’t dress like we dress and those who maybe haven’t taken a shower in a day or three? How do we welcome them?
We are too far along to turn back now – say it with me!
We may get angry at each other – but we are too far along to turn back now.
There may be confusion – but we are too far along to turn back now.
There may be obstacles – but we are too far along to turn back now.
We may feel uncomfortable – but we are too far along to turn back now.
We may be feeling down – but we are too far along to turn back now.
We are exactly at the spot in the road where we should be! The kingdom is coming and will not be denied! We are too far along, to turn back now.
And thanks be to God – who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ, our Lord.