naming it: responding to racism & hatred (part 1)

god be with you!

So the plan for the summer was that we’d base our sermons off of the lectionary,
that’s the schedule of bible readings that churches around the world follow throughout the year,
but after what happened last weekend,
we need to pull over and talk about some things.

Last weekend we witnessed the swelling tide of white supremacy, neo-nazism, hate and violence erupted in Virginia.

It was scary stuff to watch, wasn’t it?

And as if that wasn’t terrible and scary enough,
what makes it worse is that it’s not just some isolated incident in someone else’s town far far away.
We’re seeing it here too.
Right here in Canada,
right here in Alberta,
and right here in Calgary.
We’ve witnessed the swelling of exclusion, marginalization, discrimination and hate.
We’ve seen it entering into our politics,
we see it in acts of vandalism, aggression, and violence,
and some of us have even seen it in our families and workplaces.

Anyone know what I’m talking about?

Im sure we all do.

We’ve all been confronted by it,
we’ve all had our souls troubled by it,
and maybe you,
like me and a lot of people I’ve been talking to,
have been feeling lost and confused,
knowing something needs to be said and done,
but not knowing what exactly,
and knowing our faith must speak to this,
but not knowing how exactly it does …

Anyone with me?

So I want to take some time out to explore that tension,
and offer a way to see this through the lens of our faith
and through that offer whatwe’re called to do in response.

And we do this not just because we’re confused,
but because we’re a church,
and it’s at times like this,
at times when evil and hate are swelling,
that being the church matters the most.

Sound good?

So today
we’ll talk about a story in the Bible,
we’ll talk about what Jesus’ “last name” really means,
we’ll talk about naming things,
and we’ll end with a litany.

 But first, because this is heavy stuff,
because this is real stuff,
and because we want to hear God’s Spirit speak,
let’s start with a prayer …

//

There’s this story in the Bible,
it’s found in the Gospel of Matthew
and it talks about how during a long day Jesus and the disciples are taking a break in a place called Caesarea Phillipi.

The scene isn’t too difficult imagine:

Jesus and his friends are all hot and tired and so they are on some hillside catching under some shade.
Mary is having a drink of water,
James is making crustless sandwiches for everybody,
Andrew’s having a smoke out back where he thinks Jesus can’t see him.
Peter is working hard trying to figure out a parable,
and we’re told how Jesus looks at them and asks:
 ‘Who are the people saying I am?’

Now, it’s probably an honest question.
By this time Jesus is getting quite the following and reputation.
As he’s been going around telling people about this new kind of world God is creating,
and how everyone and anyone is invited to be a part of it,
people are getting excited and curious about what a life and world connected with the very Source of Life and Ground of our Being could be like,
and so naturally they begin to talk and gossip,
wondering out loud:
Who is this guy? 

It’s another honest question.
I mean,
Jesus has been performing miracles,
he’s pointed out the egg on the face of religious, academic, and government leaders,
and he’s offered a wisdom and truth thats rearranged the air.
People can tell there’ssomethingis special about this guy,
something reverent,
something different,
and so people are understandably asking:
 “just who is this guy?”

Some are saying he’s John the Baptist,
others think he’s a prophet,
others think he’s just a crazy drunk and glutton.

So the disciples tell Jesus as much,
giving him the low down on what the word on the street is,
but then Jesus turns the question back to them,
asking:
‘But what about you guys?
Who do you think I am?’ 

Now we can imagine the silence that followed.
We can imagine it getting longer and longer,
getting more awkward and awkward,
and it’s Peter who finally speaks up, saying:
“You’re the Christ.
You’re the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

And after Peter names Jesus as ‘the Christ,’
Jesus names him as ‘the Rock,’
saying it’s on him that his church will be built.
He then warns them not to tell anyone the truth about who he is.

//

Now when this text comes up preachers usually use it to talk about how Peter shows us how faith is a process,
or we talk about what to do with those moments of clarity when,
even just for a minute,
everything clicks and shifts into perspective.

And that’s all well and good,
those’ll preach,
but the story is also about something else,
something bigger,
something that speaks to the tension we’re living in right now.

it’s a story about who the Church is. 

It’s a story about how it’s the belief that Jesus is the Christ that is the foundation,
the very basis,
– the rock –
of the Church.

The Church,
the story tells us
are those who name and experience Jesus as the Christ.

//

Now this is a big deal.

We’re getting to the heart of why it is we call Jesus divine,
why it is we say it’s in him we live, move, and have our being,
and why things like communion are so central to our faith and spirituality.

To name Jesus as the Christ isn’t just to answer the question ‘who is this guy?’
it’s to make a very particular claim about the nature of God and of our universe.

To name Jesus as ‘the Christ’ is to name him as
the divine pattern,
the unifying theory,
the rhythm,
the sacred energy,
the flow,
the very music of the universe;

to name him as the Christ is to name him as the one that connects us with the God who holds the world together and guides it all forward;

to name him as the Christ is to name him as the one who connects us to life as it was always meant to be,
not life free from pain and suffering,
but life connected with God, each other, and with ourselves. 

So this is why naming Jesus as Christ is a big deal,
and here’s the one thing you need to hear today:

If Jesus is that that divine pattern, that theory, that rhythm, that energy, that flow and that music of the universe,
then the divine pattern, theory, rhythm, energy, flow and music of the universe,
the Spirit of God in the universe,
life as it was always meant to be?

They are decisively and unequivocally for love, justice, peace, and mercy. 

And if they are decisively and unequivocally for love, justice, peace, and mercy.
they are decisively and unequivocally against evil, hatred, violence, and discrimination. 

The beautiful and liberating claim of our faith is that the universe is bent towards justice, peace, and love.

Jesus doesn’t just define our faith,
he defines the nature of God and the nature of the universe,
and he does that because he is the Christ.

Are you with me?

//

So with that in mind,
how do we in the Church understand this  swelling tide of nationalism, white supremacy, and racism
and how do we see our place and role in all of this?

It comes down to naming it. 

Naming,
as Fred Buechner said,
is a powerful thing as using someone’s name gives you a power over them,
allowing you to call them out for who they truly are.

We start by naming these movements of hate, discrimination, fear and violence for what they are.
And we use the name for them our tradition gives us:

the AntiChrist.

It’s the name we give to those things that intentionally and purposefully move the world in the opposite direction than God is calling us to go,
pulling us away from harmony, love, truth, and beauty,
creating a very different kind of world than the one Jesus is trying to create. 

//

So having named them and declaring what those movements really are,
we name ourselves and remember who we are:

We are the Church.
We are people who have named and experienced Jesus as the Christ,
people who are decisively and unequivocally for love, justice, peace, and mercy,
people who are caught up in that divine pattern, theory, rhythm, energy, flow and that music of the universe.

And if that’s who we are,
if that’s the movement we’re apart of,
it’s there we find our role:

in moments like this
when violence swells up
when discrimination erupts,
when hate encroaches,
when the world seems to start going in the opposite direction than we believe it should,
that we stand up and say to those pulling the world backwards:

“No.
We do not stand with you. We stand against you.
You do not speak for us.
You do not speak for God.
This is not the direction the world is going to go.”

And it’s in moments like this,
when people are hurting,
when people are scared,
when people are being belittled, marginalized, and having their world taken away from them,
that we stand up and say to all those feeling threatened and targeted:

“We stand with you and for you.
We will speak with and listen to you.
You are not alone.”

The time is long past for us to keep who we are and what we believe a secret.
This isn’t a call for evangelism.
This is a call to be the church in the time it matters the most.

So let’s end with this,
a litany to root us in that identity and purpose,
and to help us go out and in this tense time be the Church of Christ.

Let’s stand up together:

     We stand up and speak out for justice, peace, love, and mercy because
       we are one with Christ.

     We stand up and speak out against discrimination, hate, and evil because
       we are one with Christ.

              Regardless of our race, heritage, baggage, colour, sexuality, gender, income
or anything else we can come up with,
we are one with Christ.

Those who are different?
One with Christ.

Those who challenge us?
One with Christ.

If they are one with Christ & we are one with Christ,
we are one with each other.  God’s love is radical because its big enough for everyone

Amen
Let it be so.