Wednesday, September 9, 2015

It's the Neighborhood

“Day of Confession, Repentance, Prayer, and Commitment to End Racism.”
September 6, 2015
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

The Bishops of The African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Bishop of the UMC in MN have asked all Christians to make a day to preach about racism and call for acts leading to its eradication in the United States.

It’s a bold call. And it’s one we, United Methodists are already committed to, both in our baptismal covenant and in our official resolutions. In baptism, we pledge to, “accept the freedom and power Christ gives us, to … resist evil, injustice and oppression in every form in which they present themselves.
In our resolutions we say:
 “The UMC is committed to the eradication of racism”, and we call for “every annual conference, district and local congregation within the US have a strategy and a program which educates and supports systemic and personal changes to end racism.

And we even have a general agency, the General Commission on Religion and Race, to lead the way in helping us all acknowledge and dismantle racism wherever and however it manifests itself.

On paper then, at least, and in our baptismal commitments, we are “on this.”

We are talking this Sunday about getting this stuff we have on paper into action. We are confronting and repenting of our own racism. Which always feels so harsh. Our first reaction is always, “I’m not racist.” “I’m not”. Truly.

Well, that might very well be the case. I do not know anyone’s heart. However, what I do know is that racism isn’t just about how each one of us treats our neighbor who is of a different race.
Racism is a system that maintains the privilege of those already privileged and to ensure those who are not in the privileged caste, can never have access to the full benefits of the privileged that racist systems protect. It’s about how we treat the neighborhood that is of a different race. The neighborhood.

The recent movement called Black Lives Matter might have some of you up in arms. All Lives Matter you want to shout. And I will say a hearty AMEN to that except that, except that, Black Lives Matter is the message we must be hearing right now. Right now. Because it is the message of a neighborhood crying out for justice.

Saying that Black Lives Matter is NOT saying that other lives don’t matter, and certainly not that other lives are inferior.

Saying that Black Lives Matter does say that we are standing with our black brothers and sisters and saying very clearly, Your life as my neighbor and your neighborhood matters to me right here right now.

As a matter of fact I want to say to you that if your immediate reaction to the phrase: Black Lives Matter is “all lives matter’ then I will challenge you in your fulfillment of God’s greatest commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.
For when white people say ‘all lives matter’ as a reaction against ‘black lives matter ‘ we are speaking out of self-centeredness rather than care for neighbor. Which is why God, in the scriptures, over and over and over again reminds the people of God: love your neighbor, love your neighbor.

What do you when a neighbor asks you for help? You say, of course, what can I do, let me help you. You don’t say: “well I need help too, you know.  My life is important, too.”
When a neighborhood asks for help neither should we say: Yours isn’t the only neighborhood with potholes.

I mean wouldn’t that sound ridiculous? If a neighbor came to you and said: I need help and your reaction was: well so do I, my life is important too you know.

This is what the Black Lives Matter movement is about, and what this Sunday is about, it isn’t to call us bad people but to call us to be better neighbors.
It is to call us to the privilege of fulfilling our baptismal vows and To resist evil and injustice that oppress our neighbor and our neighbor’s neighborhood. It is a call to help fulfill our determination as a denomination to dismantle racism.

To pay attention when our neighbors are struggling.
To do something when a neighbor is hurting, or being murdered, or being beaten, or stuck in a system that won’t give them a way out.
To speak out when our neighbor’s life is threatened. Especially when the neighbor is asking you for help.

Even Jesus learned this.

We know this story: A Gentile woman comes to Jesus to ask help for her daughter who is possessed by a demon. This woman was not only gentile, a non-Jew, she was a Syro-Phoenecian, an ancient enemy state of Israel.

Jesus struggles with this, it seems. He puts her off with the typical separatist answer, that his own people deserve his attention before he deals with the needs of the Gentiles (Mark 7:27).

It is as if the Syro-Phoenecian woman came to Jesus saying: Syro-Phoenecian Lives Matter and Jesus said, No, only Jewish Matter, leave me alone.

But she does not let him get away with that. She rejects the separatist excuse. She gives Jesus the opportunity to fulfill all the law and prophets: Love neighbor as yourself. It is breathtaking really. Jesus is given the opportunity to fulfill the very law he is coming to show us: loving neighbor without thinking of ourselves first. Loving neighborhoods that we ourselves think are not ours to care about.

(Here is told the story about the young, black man who was murdered in Rochester who had ties to a gang. I told about how his neighborhood was unsafe for him, about how he got a chance to leave the neighborhood but wouldn’t/couldn’t. About how this neighborhood is destructive and enticing. About how this neighborhood needs to be cared about so that we can help others who are tempted to dwell in this neighborhood leave.)

As disciples of Jesus, we have no choice but to confess, repent, resist and seek to dismantle racism wherever and however it appears. We have the privilege even to be the neighbor Jesus taught us to be, breathtaking in our desire to fulfill the entire law and prophets to love our neighbor as ourselves.

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