June 17, 2018

Radical Racism – June 17, 2018

Passage: Mark 4:26-34

Bible Text: Mark 4:26-34 | Preacher: The Rev. Sanford A. Key

Movies geared primarily toward children often are about secrets and an insider/outsider duality. For instance, we see these in the Harry Potter movies about a boy, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), who becomes a student at Hogwarts, a training-school for wizards. Only certain people can attend Hogwarts. Most of us are “muggles,” non-magical people, who are not to know of the school or of the magical world in general. Clearly, in these movies, there are secret truths and an insider/outsider status, just as in the Markan text.

In a different way, Crash (2005; dir. Paul Haggis), which is definitely not for children, also presents secret, or at least unseen, truth and an insider/outsider duality. This complex and engrossing film tells the story of several characters living in Los Angeles whose lives crash into each other in various ways. All of the main characters are both victims of and perpetrators of racism. White people discriminate against black people, black people discriminate against Asian people, white and Middle Eastern people discriminate against Mexican people, on and on.

For example, a white cop played by Matt Dillon pulls a black couple over for a minor violation. He demands that the man played by Terrence Dashon Howard and the woman played by Thandie Newton get out of the car. He has them frisked for no good reason. When he frisks the woman, he molests her while her husband looks on helplessly. The movie is full of such racist moments although not all are as egregious. Some are as simple as a slur, but all jab at us viewers, challenging us to pay closer attention to how we talk to and act toward each other.

Crash does not only critique our society’s racism; it also shows people transcending it. For example, later in the movie, the same white cop finds a woman trapped in a car that is about to explode, the same woman he molested. She demands that someone else help her, but no one else is available. He persuades her to let him rescue her. The white cop does all he can, risking his own life, to pull the black woman out of the car to safety just before it explodes.

A truth in the movie is that, despite our various differences, we people, regardless of race, are all far more than stereotypes. This truth is not seen by the racist characters, although many of them manage to learn a small piece of this truth through their collisions with each other.

                  Some time ago in the New Yorker magazine[1], Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article called “The Tipping Point.” Gladwell describes a substantial drop in the crime rate in New York City, and an even more dramatic drop in the devastated area of Brooklyn North. Those who have studied this phenomenon have found the most helpful model to be that of the epidemic. It takes only a small increase in the number of infected people to spread a disease in dramatic numbers. When a certain “tipping-point” has been reached, the numbers spiral exponentially.   In the same way, small changes in a community may lead to a similar “tipping-point,” at which the crime rate either decreases (hopefully) or increases with unpredictable speed.

                  When our community or our Nation acts in a way to subjugate and create an insider/outsider duality resulting in children being separated from their parents, leading to a similar “tipping-point,” we must take note. And when the excuse is certified by quoting scripture, I am going to take note. The A.G. Jeff Sessions, quoted Romans 13 as the rationale behind treating the civil code as a criminal one, the church has an obligation to see the facts straight.                             I don’t preach politics, I teach bible.

Mr. Sessions sited Romans 13.1-2 which reads,

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.2Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement.

Mr Sessions, invoked the Bible to defend the Trump administration’s immigration policies, including separating families who illegally cross the border into the U.S.: “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Yes it says that. But a mere 6 verses later, we get a broader panoramic view into Paul’s thinking.

But read the rest of the chapter where it says, “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

How, if that same Bible, same book, same chapter says “Love does no harm to a neighbor,” are our nations actions acts of neighborliness? How is separating a child from his/her parents an act of love?

When Scripture is used to do harm to another, we run the chance of creating a systemic “tipping point.” And with any tipping point, it could go either way… and in this case, affirming the radicalization of social racism OR we tip it in favor of calling out for a greater act- one of Love, the truer fulfillment of the Law.

And indeed, Mr. Sessions attempt at Bible study landed with a damp, wet sound among religious leaders. As the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Sarah Smith reported, numerous Christians objected to Sessions’ “misuse of Scripture.” As one Southern Baptist pastor, Wes Faulk, told the paper, “Any government that uses Romans 13 to silence ethical objections has already realized it does not stand on Scriptural or moral high grounds.”

Let me be clear, today’s Gospel remind us that while God is unseen and not always visible in the forces of the unfolding of human history, God is still at work around us. When faced with racism in our lives we cannot easily realize how God’s presence and God’s action are real, it seems beyond our power to measure how close God’s realm may be. The lifelong task of Christians and of Christian communities is to allow Christ to form in us the trust that our beginning, middle, and endings are always in God’s hands – to take root in how we treat others in our lives.

This charitable way of living, this Christian love, does not originate with us. It starts with God.

It was to share the divine love that the Creator launched the cosmos and formed the human race.
It was love that brought heaven to earth in the person of Jesus the Christ, and it was love that led him to accept the cross, and it was love that burst open his tomb on the first Easter Day.
And this divine love came to reside among his first disciples. It still dwells in human hearts and manifests itself in a myriad of gifts, all of them grace at work in the world, the action of the Holy Spirit.

For the God we Christians serve is not the creature of anybody’s culture, but a God sovereign in love and action, whose gospel judges and changes every culture, and whose reign will remain forever.

This divine love thus should be the one true cause of our lives. It is the source of any love we experience which is worthy of the name. And our calling as Christian people is to serve as nothing less than the agents of this love.

Here we have it, my friends: the great struggle, worthy of all our best efforts. To serve as agents of God’s love is what we have been put here to do

Opportunities for this appear to us in life’s ordinary transactions as we move among the people we know. But our opportunities to love also extend beyond the horizon of our sight. We can strive for God’s peace to extend among people we barely know, even people we will never meet here on earth. We can work for right relationships to prevail among disparate groups and peoples in the sphere of politics, in the sphere of economics. Yes, divine love wants to work through us to establish everywhere that justice and peace—that network of right relationships which the Bible calls shalom.

The Truth is there are forces in progress which we cannot see or measure until their yield produces an almost explosive effect. Through the lens of Christian faith, we believe that God is similarly at work.

So, for the time being, we look at the world around us, and attempt to do our part. As a Parent, as a father, I’m mindful of all those children- children of my neighbor- who are in distress this day; therefor I will seek to find a way to bring their suffering to an end. I’m looking not just at today but looking with hope when we transcend the hatred and societal racism that holds us captive, towards a better world yet to be discovered.

[1] New Yorker magazine June 3, 1996

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