Tag Archives: race

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 17:11-19 Through Difference to a Common Humanity

Luke 17:11-19 Through Difference to a Common Humanity

Caitlin Trussell on Thanksgiving Eve, November 26, 2014, with Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver

 

Luke 17:11-19 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

 

There is a lot of talk about distance in this story about the lepers.  Jesus is cutting through the region of Samaria and Galilee on his way to Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is code language in Luke for his death on the cross.  But he’s not there yet.  He makes a detour on the way to the cross.  The ten people with leprosy, the Bible’s catch-all label for a range of skin diseases, are also distant.  They are “keeping their distance” as they call out to Jesus.  The story is silent about whether or not Jesus moves toward the lepers.  He simply tells them what to do and the lepers go away to do what he tells them to do, putting even more distance between the Jesus and the lepers.

We are left with the impression that this initial encounter between Jesus and the lepers happens pretty quickly.  Jesus walking along, lepers yell, Jesus yells back, lepers gone.  All the while there is no contact, no laying on of hands mentioned as the lepers are made clean.  Another way to translate being “made clean” out of the Greek is to be “made whole”.[1]

There is no physical contact until after the man is made clean, made whole.  Noticing his cleanness, his wholeness, the leper turns back and drops at Jesus’ feet.  Picture this, the man lays flat on his belly on the ground. The now former-leper is also a Samaritan which is a double-whammy.  Samaritans, being the outcasts of the day, had no business being near any Jewish man.  This was not their place in the social network.  But there he is, flat out, collapsing at Jesus’ feet, collapsing the distance between them.

Also collapsing as the man drops to the ground are the distinctions between faith, gratitude, and wholeness.  It’s difficult to tease apart the mash-up as the man lays there in the dirt at Jesus’ feet.

A few weeks ago, knowing I was going to be preaching on Thanksgiving Eve, I e-mailed the Prayer Chain of people who pray over the weekly prayer requests.[2]  In that e-mail I told the people on the Prayer Chain that I’d love to hear from them about a practice or behavior of gratitude that works for them or something for which they are grateful.  People e-mailed back specifics but one common theme seems to be something about acknowledging God in the mix of life’s ups and downs regardless of outcome.

More specifically, I have permission to share with you this story from last week’s Congregation’s Council meeting.  Council members take turns each month talking about something related to their experience of faith.  This time at the beginning of each meeting is called “the devotion.”   Our Council Treasurer volunteered to open this latest meeting.  He talked about Thanksgiving coming up and the topic of gratitude.  And then he told us that in the middle of thinking about his gratitude for certain things in his life, it occurred to him that he had not been directly thanking God.  He talked about his awareness without judging it and then read Psalm 145 to us.  When he was done, I suggested that perhaps he could the preacher on Thanksgiving Eve.  Clearly that suggestion didn’t pan out.

The point is that Psalm 145 is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God for who God is and what God has done.  Prayers such as this Psalm drop us at the feet of God.  Prayer such as this Psalm collapse the imaginary distance we put between us and God.  Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus’ death on a cross, collapses this imaginary distance for us.  It is already done whether we take notice of it or not.  The question is, “What happens when we notice that there is not distance between ourselves and God?”  What happens is that we get to see things differently, we get to participate in this life differently.

Notice that man who is made whole isn’t made whole by erasing his Samaritan-ness.  The distinction of his ethnicity remains a part of him in his wholeness.  Differences remain.  This is an important part of the good news in this story for us here today.  Across the differences we set up as barriers, Jesus acts to make us whole.  Making us whole individually.  Making us whole collectively.  Seeing our differences within the container of our common humanity.  Celebrating our differences across infinite shades of brown even as we all bleed red.

We live in a world that would have us believe that we need to choose one over the other.  Either I choose to see only that you are different and need to keep you at a distance or I choose to negate our difference by wondering why you can just be more like me because clearly that’s the best way to go.  Jesus making the Samaritan man whole reveals this as a false choice.  These days we face hard questions about the flaws and strengths of our country’s slow crawl out of historical, yet still devastating, racism and classism.

I was sitting with some friends recently, all four of us in our various shades of skin from the palest tan to warm chocolate.  The subject of race came up and one friend said to the other, “When I look at you I don’t see your color.”  After a long pause, my other friend said, “When I hear you say that, I hear that you don’t see me.”  Both of my friends are sincere, earnest people who care deeply about each other and who have been friends long enough to say what’s on their minds.  It is a tough conversation that isn’t over.  This kind conversation is where we can take the wholeness of Christ out for a spin.  Where we encounter each other as foreigners, different from each other.  And as humans, the same as each other.  Both are true.

Like the 10 lepers, we too are made whole by Jesus.  We are given this wholeness regardless of whether we turn back and thank Jesus for it.  This Thanksgiving Eve, may I humbly suggest that we turn first to God and give thanks and praise to God for all that God is doing through Jesus.  And second, may we say a prayer or two this week thanking God for our differences and ask for the humility to offer ourselves in real relationship across those differences to share in our common humanity.

Jesus makes us whole.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit may we be given eyes that see, ears that listen, minds that think, hearts that connect, and hands that give as well as receive.  And may we at all times and in all places say, “Thanks be to God!”



[1] David Lose, Commentary: Luke 17:11-19 https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=783

[2] Prayer requests may be made online on the AugustanaDenver.org homepage, right-hand column, second option.