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Grace and the White-Washing of Race – Mark 4:35-41 and 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Grace and the White-Washing of Race – Mark 4:35-41 and 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on June 21, 2015

 

[sermon begins after the two Bible readings]

Mark 4:35-41  On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

2 Corinthians 8:7-15  Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you —so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. 8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15 As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

[sermon begins]

 

There’s a small bit of verse 35 missing from the Mark reading in our worship bulletin.  Verse 35 should begin, “On that day, when evening had come…”  So, go ahead and take a pen from the back of the seat in front of you and write in that beginning part of verse 35, “on that day…”

This little bit of Bible verse begs the question about what day Jesus is talking about.  On what day?  The answer is in the Bible stories before the one about the storm today.  In those stories, there are so many people that came to hear Jesus that he has to hop into a boat to teach the people on the shore.  In his teaching, Jesus makes several attempts to describe the kingdom of God.  In one he talks about a farmer planting seeds that the birds steal.  In another, he talks about the greatest of all shrubs that shades even those dastardly birds, the enemies of the kingdom.  The invasive mystery of the kingdom of God is ringing in the listeners’ ears on that day.

Ears ringing, their minds are bent by these kingdom mysteries.  It’s been a long, hot afternoon listening to Jesus.  His disciples are likely ready for a good night’s sleep.  Instead, they hear Jesus say, “Let us go across to the other side.”  Jesus wants them to head over to the country of the Gerasenes, full of Gentiles, non-Jews.  As the boat people go from here to there, shore-to-shore, they are pumped with the adrenalin rush of the storm and the inertia of a dead calm in the aftermath. Their teeth and nerves are rattled by the waves beating into boat.  It’s a wonder they had a clear thought in their head much less a memory of Jesus’ kingdom-of-God speeches from earlier in the day.

It’s a bit quieter for us here together today than it was in that boat. Our minds may be a bit clearer than those of the boat people post-storm.  Although maybe not by much.  Wednesday evening’s murders of nine Black church goers in South Carolina has seen to that.  Honestly?  When I first heard about the killings I simply shut them out.  Another shooting, more people dead.  I’d apparently reached a point where compassion fatigue for this kind of thing had set in.

I can’t even believe I say it that way – “this kind of thing.”  As if it were possible to label a manila folder and file it away.  I’d already had the direction of the sermon worked out to include topics like our interim transition and the rebuilding taking place within the Children and Family ministry.  Then I heard Jesus’ words to his friends in the Bible story again.  “Let us go across to the other side.”  I don’t know how the Holy Spirit calls you out through scripture.  But this is one time when I feel utterly called out.  The churchy word for this feeling is convicted. Convicted by the awareness that the color of my skin allows me to whitewash someone else’s experience as if it didn’t happen.

Along with Jesus’ friends in the boat, I want to scream at Jesus, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”  And then, I opened The Denver Post yesterday to this headline – “Ungodly Deed Forgiven.”[1]  When I saw the headline, I asked myself immediately who would have the audacity?!  Reading further, and then listening online to the bond hearing, reveals a word to the killer from our Christian brothers and sisters whose friends and families were killed during their Bible study on Wednesday night.

Person after person spoke a word of forgiveness to the killer at that bond hearing.  Through anger, tears, and grief, to be sure.  But words of forgiveness spoken so that love wins, not hate.  These friends and family members’ words to the killer echo out of Paul’s letter to those defiant Corinthians. Paul writes:

We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 11 We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. 12 There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13 In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

My friends, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached a Holy Week sermon in Augustana’s sanctuary pulpit here some fifty years ago. This is a point of historical pride for many in this congregation including me.  Many of us may wish that enough time has passed between slavery, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and today.  But it hasn’t.  Perhaps because it’s not as much about time passing as it is about Jesus calling us out on the ways we dehumanize each other.  One way this tendency to dehumanize gets lived out has been the development of the concept of race.

It’s been argued that our experience of race in the 21st century is a product of modernity over the last few hundred years.[2]  Now that it’s been constructed, the calls to deconstruct it are getting louder.  Race has too long been a matter of life and death.  As Jesus people in America, we have work to do.  As Jesus people of Augustana, we each live a story affected positively or negatively by the color of our skin – including the white-skinned among us.  Finding ways to tell our stories and listen with care to other people’s experiences is one part of deconstructing the inherited system of race bequeathed by modernity.

As Jesus people in worship here together in this congregation, we regularly confess that we sin in ways that we don’t even understand.  By extension then, we sin when it comes to race.  As Jesus people, we have something to offer the national conversation about race in terms of sin and grace.

A few years ago, Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2, was interviewed about his Christian faith.[3]  He had this to say about grace, “…along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that ‘as you reap, so you will sow’ stuff…Grace defies reason and logic; love interrupts.”[4]  This is what our Christian brothers and sisters in Charleston did with their words of forgiveness.  They preach to us on this day as their historic congregation experiences violence again.[5]  I pray that they may be consoled.  And I pray that our Augustana mission to “offer hope and healing in Jesus Christ” allows room among us to hear their lament, including their anger.

God extends forgiveness and grace to each one of us on all kinds of days, for all kinds of reasons.  As forgiven people, Jesus calls us as disciples to go across to the other side where other people tell a story much different than our own.  For those of us who are part of a congregation, some of those different stories are only a pew away.  Our differences are part of the grace through which God is working in this congregation for God’s sake and for the sake of the world.  Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

 

[1] Jeffery Collins. The Denver Post on Saturday, June 20, 2015, page 1. http://www.pressreader.com/usa/the-denver-post/20150620/281487864988085/TextView

[2] Racism and Modernity: Festschrift for Wulf D. Hundt ed. by Iris Wigger, Sabine Ritter. Critical Philosophy of Race
Volume 1, Issue 1, 2013.  Pp.136-140.  http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/critical_philosophy_of_race/v001/1.1.lettow.html

[3] Bono’s biography may be read online here: http://www.atu2.com/band/bono/

[4] Bono. Excerpt online from interview with Michka Assays. (Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas, 2005). http://www.patheos.com/blogs/robertricciardelli/ricciardelli/bono-interview-grace-over-karma-by-michka-assayas/

[5] Jonathan Wiseman. The New York Times: Killings Add Painful Page to Storied History of Charleston Church. June 18, 2015.  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/us/charleston-killings-evoke-history-of-violence-against-black-churches.html?_r=0

Luke 14:1, 7-14 “Jesus Stole the Table”

Luke 14:1, 7-14  “Jesus Stole the Table”

September 1, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell

Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO

 

Luke 14:1, 7-14  On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

 

 

Picture this with me…you’re in a school cafeteria… … …do you have that picture?  Picture the other kids.  Who are they?  Where are they sitting?  More importantly, where are you going to sit?  You have your tray or your brown bag or your lunchbox and you’re standing there, trying to act chill but you’re not feeling chill at all.  Picture it…where are you going to sit?  You see a few open seats at one table but you’re not friends with them.  You see another seat but the person sitting next to it kind of scares you or intimidates you.  You see another open seat next to a kid you talk to sometimes in History class.  You’ve been standing awhile now and so you bee-line over to that seat, plunk down and start eating.

Now you know and I know that finding a seat in a busy cafeteria full of other kids is tricky.  It’s about who you know, who you don’t know, who you don’t want others to know that you know…it’s tricky.  It’s also about strategy.  If you’re headed toward more popularity, you sit in those seats.  Less popular, sit in those.  See?  Still tricky.

Let’s make it trickier.  I was talking with some kids recently who were talking about teenage jobs and which ones were cool and which ones weren’t.  When I asked how this all gets figured out and why even talk about it, one of them said to me, “Well, grown-ups are the same way about jobs.”  This led me to thinking about jobs, meetings and this TED video I watched recently about who gets a place at the table, literally, when important decisions are being made.[1]  Are you starting to get an idea about how my brain works?

Anyway, one would think that the metaphor of the table and the actual table itself would be completely cleared of all helpful meaning but evidently we’re not tired of talking about it or sitting around it. This table thing is here, there, and everywhere.  21st century?  1st century?  Doesn’t matter.  People love to talk about the table and, more specifically, who gets to sit where.

Dinner at a leader of the Pharisee’s home sounds much like the tables in the school cafeteria.   The seating ranges from not-so-good (read: humble), good, better, and the best.  Jesus sees the situation for what it is and begins to talk about it almost as if to say that to find the best seat, look for the least appealing seat and sit there.  Which of course, when you’re involved in seat-shifting shenanigans only serves to flip them in the opposite direction, creating a whole other kind of seating hierarchy but a hierarchy nonetheless.  So the labor for a good seat continues, only now the question becomes one of identifying as the most humble among us all which, ironically, is just the other side of the pride coin.  There is nowhere to sit and nowhere to hide.  So what in heaven’s name did Jesus just do?

Well, on this Labor Day weekend, I’d like to suggest that Jesus just ran away with the table, the seats, and our labor to make sense of ourselves in the way we stack up over and against, or under and against other people. This is Jesus as his prankster finest.  Ashton Kutcher’s efforts pale in comparison to what Jesus has up his sleeve.[2]

My own life as a prankster was cut short in kindergarten.  I thought it would be really funny to pull the chair out from under someone as they were sitting down and it was straight to the principal’s office for me.  A failed attempt at replicating the old pepper-in-the-face gag to make my little sister sneeze ended even more miserably – for her and for me when my mother caught wind of it. Still today, my discomfort with pranks is so high that I’m often moving fast away from the one organizing the prank.  What I’m trying to say, albeit not very well, is that it sometimes takes a prankster to spot one.

And in this story, I spot Jesus pulling a prank as he gives us nowhere to sit at the table without consciously thinking, “Is this humble enough?  How about this?  Or this, is this humble enough?”  And as we stand there wondering where to sit, we catch sight of ourselves in the mirror hanging on the wall… …  Caught again…

Caught again in our own labor to create meaning by stacking ourselves over and against our fellow humans in whatever way our seat assignment at the table defines our rank and defines our selves.   Without the table there, we see ourselves and each other in this mirror.  If we’re not really careful, this exposure to our own shenanigans and each other’s shenanigans can lead us to an easy cynicism about other people’s motives.  Seeing them clearly, so trusting no one.

All we had to do to see this cynicism in action this week was open a newspaper, news website or your favorite blog to check out the latest on Miley Cyrus.  Everyone’s taking sides, mostly in critique of her although there are a few writers who come to the table dance with a bit of compassion.

However the conversations go, the table, the chairs and the seating chart are in place and we think we see the shenanigans fully revealed.  If there’s anything to be learned after the week’s news about Syria was overshadowed by the week’s news about Cyrus, it’s that the move to easy cynicism has become a chair in which many find themselves seated.

But the prank that Jesus pulls by removing the table isn’t his final move.  It’s not simply about mischief making that exposes our humanity.   It is about God entering humanity in Jesus and replacing the tables of our own making with one of his own.  Replacing the table through that same humanity. [3]

It is this table, brought to us by Jesus’ decent into death from the cross, which levels the seating.  We tend to picture the mighty falling and being replaced with the humble at the seat of honor, which would be the way we might see if it were our table.  But this table exalts the humble even as the lofty are humbled so that no one can claim to be above the line or push anyone else below it.  This is the table from which we can see the cafeteria game for what it is.  It is also the table the beloved Reverend King marched from with a multi-ethnic, multi-religious band of people to declare our common humanity.  Some table!

Jesus shakes up the way we labor over our seating and gives us each a place so that we all may come to his table at communion and hear that Jesus is “for you.”  Jesus replaces the tables of our own making – seating shenanigans and all – with one of his own and says, “All are welcome…including you.”

 



[1] Sheryl Sandberg, TED Talk: “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.” December 2010. http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders.html

[2] Ashton Kutcher, Punk’d on MTV.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punk’d

[3] For those of your reading this, I move from the preaching spot to stand at the communion table.