What Will We Do?

Sermon for Proper 7, Year A, June 21, 2020

Scriptures: Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”

This past Friday was Juneteenth.  It’s a day many people outside black communities were unaware of until recently, but there is now a push to make it a national holiday. On June 19, 1865, a Union general in Texas declared all slaves to be free. The Civil War had actually been over since April and the Emancipation Proclamation, which only freed slaves in states that were “in rebellion,” was 2 years old. People in Texas hadn’t heard that the war was over. Now, by military fiat, all were free.

It’s a reason to celebrate. There have been others. Later on, Brown vs. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 were certainly leaps forward. All reasons to celebrate.

But as we look back on what was gained they are also…reasons to reflect.

Over the years, we have become complacent.

Our Parish was once a church that took the lead in pushing for racial justice. This church was instrumental in getting the city pool desegregated, playing such a well-known role that someone actually snuck in and put a snake in the pulpit as a warning.

I’ve heard people tell about this and sound rightfully proud of it. But it’s not enough. It was a long time ago.

I can hear God saying ”But what have you done for me lately?”

Losing focus is like that is pretty common. We have some victories, we accomplish a short-term goal or two, and we think the job is done. We rest on our laurels. We get comfortable. Surely the fight is over.

But the fight isn’t over. When I told a black Episcopalian friend my plans for this sermon, she responded, “would you like to know how many times I’ve asked, “…but where is the church?”

Where IS the church?

It’s pretty obvious these days that the job ISN’T done. And we can’t base our reputation – or our opinion of ourselves — on something our church did a half-century ago.

It was explained to me during my postulancy that becoming a Dominican gives one a platform to speak out. Dominicans are, after all, preachers first and foremost. Preaching is our charism, the spiritual gift upon which we center our lives. But more than just a platform, becoming Dominican gives us a responsibility to speak out.

It makes me feel good that a Dominican – Antonio Montesino — preached in 1511 what was likely the first sermon in the New World on social justice, protesting the mistreatment of the indigenous people by Diego Columbus – Christopher’s son – and the Spanish settlers who had engaged in multiple atrocities including enslavement, rape, and murder.

But I can’t rest on what Dominicans did in 1511. Like many of us, I have been silent too long. I have been complacent. I have been complicit. Sure, I’ve celebrated all the advances made during my lifetime. There are many. I was in junior high school in Georgia just as the schools there were being desegregated. But somewhere along the line I stopped recognizing the grave injustices that still occur on a daily basis.

A few weeks ago we all had our nose rubbed in it. A black man was killed because he may have used a counterfeit $20 bill – something that could happen to any of us. It’s hard – no, it’s pretty much impossible to believe that a white man would have died in the same situation.

There was nothing that deserved the death penalty. And yet George Floyd died.

Others have died too. It’s painful to list their names, but I’m going to do it anyway, because we need to look this evil square in the face:

Emmett Till

Eric Garner

Michael Brown

Laquan MacDonald

Tamir Rice

Trayvon Martin

Breonna Taylor

Ahmaud Arberry

Botham Jean

Philando Castiile

Dominique Clayton

George Floyd

It’s painful to read those names, and I’m sure it’s painful to hear them. But this is only a fraction of the names we could list.

So, in the words of my friend, “Where is the Church?”

Are we out working toward justice, demanding justice? Are we taking a stand?

Or are we sitting comfortably at home watching demonstrations and wondering why people don’t behave better, why they can’t just get over it?

Or are we staying home because we’re afraid of what our friends would think?

Speaking out is hard. It’s hard for me. It rarely makes you any friends among those that need to listen. I’m lucky in that my family thinks the same way I do, but it’s not true for everyone:

“For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”

It’s hard to speak out. That sermon preached back in 1511? Let’s just say that the Spanish settlers were not amused.

We are followers of Christ. We are called to something higher. In the words of our Baptismal Covenant, “Will we strive for justice and peace and promote the dignity of EVERY human being?”

In Isaiah, in the 58th chapter, we read:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

Our brothers and sisters are still under the yoke of injustice. Will OUR light “break forth like the dawn” and “rise in the darkness?” Will we “proclaim it from the housetops?”

What will we do?

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