Sunday, June 14, 2020

2 Pentecost, 20-A: Called to systemic change

Lectionary: Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7); Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

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En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

As Episcopalians, we seek to affirm our individual discernment with corporate discernment. An example is our process to ordination. The called person must have their call affirmed first by members of their parish, then their diocese before the bishop will prepare them to serve. In that way, we give the Holy Spirit time and means to show us the will of God for the person and for the Church.

Before I accepted my call to ordination, I heard about it from people in my parish, my friends, my co-workers, even some of my Roman Catholic family members! God was kindly making the revelation of my call abundantly clear to me by providing affirmations from many directions and varied people so that I might stop resisting it.

It’s time to notice what the Holy Spirit is revealing to us when the same thing begins to happen in various places, among varying people, toward the same goal. And what is that goal?

Our goal as Christians who are Episcopalians, is of course, to pray and work toward what Verna Dozier called,’ the dream of God’ when “all creation will live together in peace and harmony and fulfillment. All parts of creation. And the dream of God [she says] is that the good creation that God created… be restored”. Source

As I look around at all the tumult in our current historical moment, I see God affirming this call to us from all directions. There are many ways we aren’t living into the dream of God, but two have risen into the light recently, never to be shoved back into the darkness again, I hope.

Remember the #MeToo movement? Doesn’t that seem like a lifetime ago now? It was only a year ago when it all hit the fan. The #MeToo movement marked a peak in the arc of historical efforts to expose and stop sexual harassment and abuse whose predominant victims over the generations have been women.

The subjugation of women has been part of the fabric of human existence for thousands of years. It’s even evident in the stories of both testaments of our Holy Scriptures.

We’ve experienced it in the history of our own young country from the suffragettes in the early 20th century, to the feminists in the mid-century, to the recent #MeToo movement which brought to light in an undeniable way, the ubiquitous nature of sexual harassment and abuse in our families, churches, and business systems. We watched as the truth of this began to topple dynasties in all of those areas, even sending a few of the most recent perpetrators to prison.

Yet the statistics on harassment and pay inequality remain largely unchanged. The sexist systems held firm, took the bruising from the #MeToo movement, then proceeded on as usual. Even in our beloved Episcopal Church, women still find themselves relegated to secondary and tertiary or part-time positions more often than men, concluding their careers with far more meager pensions than our male counterparts.

Then the #BlackLivesMatter movement erupted as the images of recorded abuses of black bodies flooded our media. This movement marks a similar peak in the arc of historical efforts to expose and stop racism in our families, churches, and business systems.

The events of the past few weeks have shot the reality of the African American experience into our collective consciousness like a lightning bolt, exposing the brutality of, and our complicity with, systems that have long oppressed them. We were shocked into seeing that while most of us are not racist, and not all cops are brutal, the systems are, and all of us who are white have benefitted from those systems that continue to perpetuate racism in our culture.

In a very short span of time, then, we have witnessed the convulsive revelations of sin in two major sins that continue to plague our church and cultural systems - sexism and racism. Do you think God may be trying to tell us something?

In the gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus went out into his world teaching, healing, and proclaiming the good news of the dream of God. Crowds of people described as “harassed and helpless” gathered around him and Jesus responded to them with compassion and an urgency to send out laborers into the field.

To prepare his disciples for their mission, Jesus gave them divine authority to cast out unclean spirits, and to heal every disease and sickness. But, he said, go to your own people and proclaim to them the good news of the dream of God.

We know that Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience and that this was his way of showing that Jesus was the promised Messiah who would bring salvation to the whole world through the Jewish people. But today, we hear another reason why this message matters to us.

We are sent in this moment to our own people whose language and history and dreams we share to proclaim the good news of the dream of God, to heal those infected with the sin of racism, to raise back to life those whose souls have been deadened by their perpetration of sexual harassment and abuse, and to cast out the voices that distract us from establishing beloved community by spewing hate and threats of all kinds. These are the lost, harassed, and helpless to whom we are sent.

Their victims have already demonstrated their strength and endurance. They witness to us the character and hope that happens when we endure with trust in God who does not disappoint.

As hard as this may be to hear, please listen to the plea we heard just last week at the Black Lives Matter Rally. Quoting the Rev. Al Sharpton, local pastor, The Rev. Marcus Richardson said: “We aren’t asking you to give us anything for free. Just take your knee of our necks and we’ll get it for ourselves.” He was speaking to all of us who benefit from the systems that oppress our African American sisters and brothers.

As a church, we pursue our mission through prayer and worship, by proclaiming the Gospel, and promoting justice, peace, and love. That’s what the Catechism in our Prayer Book says, anyway. (p. 855)

The world’s response to our mission will be the same as it has been in every generation. The systems that thrive on the harassment, subjugation, and disempowerment of people for their own gain will resist any change, using their power, money, and networks to stop it. As Jesus said to those first disciples: ““See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves… Beware of them…”

We can’t un-see the murder of George Floyd and we can’t un-know the systemic racism that has been revealed to us as a result. For that, we give thanks, because the pain and anger, shame, and guilt this causes in our hearts lead us to cry out to God: What do we do? What do we say? How do we restore the dream of God in the midst of this nightmare?

The moment we surrender ourselves to God, we find our way. We are not the source of the answers. We are the voices God will speak through, the hands God will work through, and the hearts God will break open until the dream of God is restored.

That is why we pray: “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion.”

The Church (with a capital “C”) has been given the gift of having to reimagine our ministries due to the coronavirus. We thought that meant figuring out how to be the community of God while isolating to stop the spread of the virus, but that was just the tip of the iceberg, wasn’t it?

The divine revelation to us is that we are called to something much bigger, something much more than that. We are called to work together to restore the dream of God in all of the systems of our lives - including our churches - until all are living in peace and harmony and fulfillment.

We have work to do together and now is the time. God has kindly made the revelation of our call abundantly clear by providing affirmations from many directions and varied people so that we might stop resisting it.

Ushering in systemic change through the transforming love of God is in our Christian DNA. It’s what Jesus did, and what we are called to do in his name - and I think he learned it from his mom who was herself oppressed.

I close with her prayer, The Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55):

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.


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