Before I say anything else in this sermon, I have to tell you that the events of this past week in VA and the aftermath of more hatred spewed via our national leaders, social media and newspapers have me in a tailspin. I am sick to my stomach. I am certain that all of us here feel much the same way. I am frightened that if we wait any longer that we might not be able to turn back the tide that is barreling its great wave of hatred, disregard towards other humans. I am trying to find that hope that can only be found in God. But I realize I must first look at my own demons of privilege, prejudice and inadequacies as a child of God in today’s moral climate. Finding the courage to wrestle with them. Praying for forgiveness and courage to then act.
I confess that I am a person of White Privilege. By White Privilege I do not intend to state that I am a person of great financial means, nor that I am a person with much land and material goods. Nor even that I am a person of great power and sway in the world. I am a person of White Privilege because, despite the poverty, family violence, alcoholism, and abuse in my home and in the homes of my 2 childhood friends…they had it worse than me.
For you see…They had the great misfortune to be born Black and Native American.
In a town so small…10 square blocks by 10 square blocks, one can’t NOT see how each person is treated. Even I, bad off as I was, could still walk into Margaret’s Variety store and receive a hello and a smile. I’m pretty sure most of that was pity. However, pitied as I was, people did not walk away when I passed by, they didn’t clean the public water fountain after I drank from it. When my 2 friends were with me…in any public place…they were ignored or stared at to ensure that they didn’t ‘steal’ anything…some people walked away to avoid having to say ‘hi’ or even recognize my 2 friends. The care taker of the water fountain would make a big show of cleaning it after my friends were done drinking.
When by myself in a store, owners and other ‘good meaning’ adults would urge me to stay away from those 2 girls… didn’t I know they were ‘trouble’? I was still young and naïve enough that I didn’t know they were ‘trouble’. They never seemed to do anything more wrong than I ever did. I went to my older sister asking why they were ‘trouble’. She told me, “Bubsy, don’t you realize, they’re not White!” Huh, I did not even think of that…she opened my eyes so thoroughly and rudely that day that I ached from, what was then, was an unnamable but constant ailment plaguing me through childhood.
I have never forgotten how those townspeople treated my friends. I have never forgotten why they treated me differently. Those childhood experiences influenced me so greatly that I made it my life’s passion to ACTIVELY ENGAGE IN working towards a better world for ALL PEOPLE. However, before I could help anyone else, I had some very painful personal work I needed to do: I had to wrestle with myself naming my own biases, prejudices and privileges before I could grow, emotionally or spiritually enough to work with and advocate for others who could not speak for themselves whether it be due to color, gender, poverty, MI or cultural issues.
This working towards recognizing my privileges, admitting and moving beyond my own biases and prejudices more deeply into God’s truth has been and continues to be a MOST difficult process. But then without it how could I or anybody else for that matter, possibly grow?
I realize that my naming it aloud to this community today may not change anybody or anything …but, I reason, if we don’t somewhere…like here in our faith community….where and wehnwill we sart to look inside? Each and every one of us has biases, prejudices, and they don’t go away without being tested/challenged by people and events that we encounter through life. So, just HOW serious or close to us does an event have to be….before we recognize that the ball of vitriol, hate, racism, gender bias stops here…in our Court…our faith community???
Well, For Jesus, the time came for him when he encountered the Canaanite woman in our Gospel reading today …this gospel tidbit is shocking! He actually IGNORES the Canaanite woman, IF I DON’T REACT THEN SHE WILL GO AWAY AND HER PROBLEM IS NOT MINE. when she refuses to be ignored, he then speaks words that smack of exclusivity! ‘SHE IS OTHER THAN THOSE WHOM HE WAS SENT FOR. Lastly, he compares her to a ‘dog’… the lowest of the low…the ‘uncleanest’. This is the same man that advised the Pharisees to change their hypocritical ways and watch what spews forth from their hearts. What is wrong with Jesus???….praise to the Canaanite woman: courage, faith, concern for another greater than her concern for her station in life led her to match Jesus comment for comment…and Jesus stops… becoming silent. He is stunned, He has been caught with his compassion down. He was so sure that he was doing what God asked him that his HEART was closed.
That Canaanite woman was his experience of having to stand back and wrestle: recognize his bias, prejudice, short-sightedness before he could act and move forward deeper in God’s truth. God’s truth…LOVE FOR ALL HUMANITY. For in fact, we are worthy in no other way than that God created us and loves us. He gave us Jesus, to help us understand the deepness of that love. We can’t claim it is because of our color, our intelligence, our ‘good breeding’…it’s there for everybody…weak or strong…smelly or clean…smart or lacking. Who are we, mere humans to decide who is worthy and who isn’t?? Yet we do it every day…without even recognizing it!!
Yes, even Jesus had to look into himself as the fully human he was, recognizing his own role in perpetuating exclusivism, racism, gender bias. Wrestling with it to hear God and then act…He healed her daughter. He accepted that her faith in that instance was broader than his own!
For our community, does not the event in Charlottesville, VA hit us so hard in our guts that we too ache with moral/spiritual pain? Does that situation not bring to mind some of our own times when we have rationalized our way out of acting of behalf of others? D Do we not shrink inside at our won pettiness towards others?
Jesus, in today’s gospel showed us that painful as it is…internal wrestling leads the way to action and then change and then love..love as God would have us love.
Let us wrestle together in community, not only to recognize where we are weak and in denial but also to give voice to that which we won’t face so we can receive God’s grace and move deeper into God’s truth. Gaining the courage to risk being called ‘dogs’ as we work faithfully for justice for all God’s children.