Repentance and Racism

Sermon for Sunday, December 7th, 2014 || Advent 2B ||  Isaiah 40: 1-11 ||  Psalm 85: 1,2 – 8-13 || 2 Peter 3: 8-15a ||  Mark 1: 1-8 ||  The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield

The second Sunday of Advent in the year of our Lord 2014—a time in the life of the Church reverberating with the voice of John the Baptist calling, “Repent! Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” A time in the life of our country that’s reverberating with the voice of protesters chanting, “Black lives matter!” and “I can’t breathe!” A time in the lives of those who were here last week for Bryan Hudson’s memorial service, that’s reverberating with the voice of Bryan’s brother, Hilton, as he described growing up in a racially divided Indianapolis, then seeing how the community of Cohasset so generously loved and provided for Bryan during his extraordinary struggle against cancer. “Honestly, I didn’t think it was possible,” big Hilton said, “I really didn’t. But this community… what you did…it’s changed me.”

And Bryan Hudson changed many of us. He and Stephanie and little Hilton moved here only six years ago, yet this church was packed last Wednesday with those who loved him. Virtually every person who got up to speak—including men who’d known Bryan only a few years—cried as they remembered this gentle man of such extreme intelligence—an intelligence surpassed only by his faith, his humility, and his love, they said. No one who was in this sanctuary last Wednesday could’ve missed the definitive connection between what one person after another described as Bryan’s profound faith and humility, and the incredible love and respect so many had for him.   It gave us all pause for thought…lots of thought.

And that was a real gift, because Advent (like Lent, in our tradition) is meant to be a time of thinking and reflecting. While the world beyond our doors is climbing to a crescendo of festive celebration, we turn inward to a place of quiet prayer and preparation…prayer and preparation not just for the Christ child, but for the long-awaited day when Christ comes again to “judge the living and the dead” as we say in the Creed, and to establish God’s kingdom once and for all, on earth as in heaven.

But I wonder how many of us believe Christ will ever really come again? I wonder how many of us believe in the Second Coming to which we do homage each year in this season of Advent?  It doesn’t matter whether we read the various biblical descriptions literally or metaphorically; the point is do we ever consider that the Second Coming of Christ could actually happen within our lifetime —  or do most of us assume we’ll “meet our maker” as it were, when we reach what is simply the end of our own time, our own personal Advent?

Because I can tell you that Advent came far too soon for Bryan Hudson, and the truth is it could just as easily come far too soon for us.

Advent is intended, then, as a time for reflection, for soul searching, for self-examination … a time of womb-like darkness and quiet expectancy… a time laden with layers of longing, meaning, and mystery…a time of repentance and reconciliation.

In churches all over the world this morning, Mark’s gospel is calling folks like you and me to the decidedly difficult work of examining our lives—examining our hearts and our minds…our moral and ethical conduct…our attitudes and our behaviors… our relationships with others and our relationship with God. Do I love God with all of my heart and all of my mind and all of my soul? Do I love my neighbor as myself? Do my actions reflect that love?

This year—this year in which Advent also came far too soon for Michael Brown and Eric Garner—voices all across the country are calling us to examine our country’s relationship with racism, while John the Baptist is calling us to examine our own: Do we recognize our neighbor in both the protestors and the police? Can we humble ourselves to consider that even the most enlightened of us bear vestiges of a racism that is too often invisible to us, yet painfully and pervasively obvious to our brothers and sisters of color? Can we be so faithful to our love of God and neighbor that we’re willing to risk our own discomfort by daring to expose the darkest places in ourselves to Christ’s healing light?

You know, it doesn’t have to be the Second Coming of Christ for us to experience what the biblical writers refer to as judgment. Judgment is the shame we feel when like Adam and Eve in the garden we try to hide our sin from God. Judgment is the despair we feel when in our fear or pain we turn away from God, instead of towards Him. Judgment is the dis-ease we feel when we’re asked to consider our complicity with the beast that is racism, and we really don’t want to. Judgment is the recognition that despite all our best efforts —we are still works in progress. Judgment is the dry, deserted place in our spiritual landscape where we meet our demons and struggle in the darkness until we face the Light of Truth.

And that, it often seems, is what it takes for us to repent. Repentance is what John was shouting about in the wilderness. Repentance is a process. It starts with self-examination… and admitting our sin. Then we make a commitment to changing, and to doing whatever it takes to effect that change. Sometimes we even make restitution, or do penance.

In the months ahead, beginning this Advent but extending beyond it I’m sure, I’m making a new commitment to God—a commitment to learning more about racism in our country and in myself…racism that causes pain to the neighbors God calls me to love.

I will admit to you that as a white woman who’s lived a pretty privileged life, I’m approaching this with not just a little fear and trepidation. I know it won’t be an easy journey. Because while I don’t consider myself even remotely racist, I know I am a product of an inherently racist culture in which none of us is as color-blind as we like to think.

So I’m going to begin with the anti-racism training the Diocese makes available to any who want it. I hope some of you will join me. I’m going to start a small study group  with any of you who want to read about racism and talk about various issues around race. I’m going to listen closely to the voices of those who are most affected by racism in this country. And I might even write a letter or two, go to a protest, or attend a hearing.

Enough is enough. If I’m going to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” this is one small thing I can do to help make it so. Because as long as our brothers and sisters are being treated differently than we are because of the color of their skin, I just know Jesus weeps. And because the love of this community helped heal at least one heart hurt by racism, I know it’s possible.

Advent, 2014: It’s time to prepare the way of the Lord by doing the decidedly hard work of examining our lives—our hearts and minds…our moral and ethical conduct…our attitudes and behaviors… our relationships with others and our relationship with God, all against the backdrop of racism— and in the brilliant light of God’s healing love.

Because all lives matter. Amen.

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