Friday, June 26, 2020

Loving - Sermon for Week ending June 27, 2020

Modern reading - From Interview with Mildred Loving 

Our reading is from a 2007 interview with Mildred Loving, whose interracial marriage to Richard Loving in 1958 was the basis for the Supreme Court Decision that declared the prohibition of interracial marriage unconstitutional.

“I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have the same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people's religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people's civil rights. I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life.”

The 2016 film, Loving, available on HBO, tells the story of the 1958 interracial marriage of Richard and Mildred Loving that led to the 1967 Supreme Court decision that gave people of different races the right to marry each other in the United States. Mildred and Richard grew up together in Central Point Virginia, where black, white, and Native American farmers and laborers lived together in an integrated community in a very segregated state. They fell in love, and when Mildred became pregnant, they decided to get married and build a house on the lot next to where both their families lived. They didn’t know that it was illegal for them to be married in the state of Virginia. Richard had heard it was less trouble for a white man and a black woman to get married in DC. So that’s what they did. When they came back home to Virginia, they were arrested, because the 1924 Racial Integrity Act forbade a white person from marrying anyone who was not also white. The judge gave them the choice of serving a year in prison or leaving and not returning the state for 25 years. They moved to a slum in DC, which is all they could afford, and had 3 more children. But Central Point was always home. It’s where their families lived, it’s where their community was. It’s what they knew, and they longed to go back there. While living in DC, Mildred was watching the 1963 March on Washington on TV with a friend who told her that she needed to get some of those civil rights everybody was talking about and encouraged her to write to Attorney General Robert Kennedy.  She did, and he passed her letter on to the ACLU, which agreed to take her case. They first filed a motion with the Caroline County, Virginia judge to vacate the conviction and sentence he had issued. The judge replied: “Almighty God created the races, white, black, malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference of his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races means that he did not intend for the races to mix.” They then appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court and lost, as they expected. Meanwhile, after almost 10 years living away from their home, Mildred and Richard bought a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere in a neighboring county to theirs in Virginia, where they basically lived in hiding, but their children could grow up not in a slum, but on the land and near family. Finally, the lawyers appealed the case to the US Supreme Court, and in 1967, the court  ruled that  interracial marriage was protected by the 14th amendment’s guarantee that no state could deny any person equal protection under the law. And the right for people of different races to marry became law in all of the United States.

Only about 15 percent of the movie Loving is about the court case. The rest is about the love between Mildred and Richard and their family and community. There are scenes of everyone around the dinner table, telling stories and enjoying each other’s company. Richard sitting in his car outside the jail all night because they wouldn’t allow him to bail Mildred out. Their sneaking back to Virginia while living in DC, so that Richard’s mother, who was a midwife, could deliver their baby. Their tenderness with one another. And, when the attorneys asked him what he would like them to say to the Supreme Court, Richard, a man of few words, said, simply, “Tell the judge I love my wife.” The court case of Loving vs. Virginia was fundamental in insuring the right of all Americans, regardless of color, to marry.  And it was cited as a precedent in the Marriage Equality Supreme Court decision of 2015 that gave same-sex couples the right to marry. From that case came the slogan, Love wins. And love can win. We have seen it win.   We must keep working for it, so that our children and our grandchildren can grow up in a world where love is love no matter what. Amen.

Friday, June 19, 2020

When They See Us - Sermon for Week Ending June 20, 2020


Our first reading is from a 1989 newspaper story about the young teenage boys who would become known as the Central Park Five, who were unlawfully arrested for and convicted of a crime they did not commit.  “They were coming from a world of crack and welfare, with guns, knives, indifference, and ignorance. They were coming from the land of no father. They were coming from the wild province of the poor, and driven by a collective fury brimming with the rippling energies of youth. Their minds teeming with the violent images of the streets in the movies, they had only one goal, to smash, hurt, rob, stomp, and rape. Their enemies were rich. Their enemies were white.”

Our second reading is from the film, When They See Us, which portrays the true story of the Central Park Five, from Linda Fairstein, the DA who brought the charges against the boys, talking to the police.  “You were going to release those animals and put them back on the street? What did these animals do between here and here? Are there other victims still in the park? Find me that whole group. Every young black male who was in the park last night is a suspect. Let’s get an army of blue up in Harlem. Go into those projects and stop every little thug you see. Bring in every kid who was in the park last night.”

Sermon - When They See Us

The movie I chose to begin the movies with a message series is actually a 4-part Netflix film entitled, When They See Us, by Ava DuVernay, which, as we heard in the readings,

tells the true story of the arrest and conviction of 5 young boys for a crime they did not commit, who would be named in the press the Central Park Five. It is a film that I have refused to watch since it was released over a year ago. I know the story. I remember the story. And I knew it would be difficult. But I have just finished re-reading White Fragility by Robin D’Angelo. There is a chapter called ‘White Women’s Tears.’ And it made me realize how fragile and self-indulgent I was being to refuse to watch a movie about the brutality of racism and white supremacy because it might make me sad, when it depicts real events that black and brown people actually experienced. The film opens on the evening of April 19th, 1989 when a bunch of teenagers from Harlem go to hang out in Central Park. The police chased them, beat and arrested the ones they could catch, and turned them over to family court. Later that night, a white jogger was found in another part of the park raped, beaten, and unconscious. And, right then, the white DA and  the white police captain decided that those boys did it. They rounded them up and interrogated them or over 40 hours without a parent or a lawyer or sleep or bathroom breaks. The timeline for the rape didn’t even match the time the boys were in the park, so they changed the timeline. And even though there was no physical evidence and no DNA match, and the jogger had no memory of what happened, they were arrested for the crime. The DA, Linda Fairstein saw the word Wilding as a description of what the boys were doing in the park, in one of the police reports. Although when questioned, the officer couldn’t say where he had heard the word, she pounced on it to portray these young black and brown boys as uncontrolled animals, and journalists followed her lead. Racist fear and hate spread rapidly. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump spent $85,000 taking out full-page ads in all the local papers with the headline: Bring back the Death Penalty. Pat Buchannan said that New Yorkers should hang the oldest one in the middle of the park as a lesson. Five boys were convicted and sentenced to between 5 and 15 years in jail. Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana were 14 years old. Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam were 15, and Corey Wise was 16.

The film depicts the abuse they experienced in prison, the effects their imprisonment on their families, and the obstacles placed before them when they finally got out. 4 of them served 7 year sentences, and Corey, the oldest, served 13 years. In 2001, a convicted murderer and serial rapist serving life in prison confessed to the rape and beating of the jogger.  His DNA matched what was found at the scene, and he provided other evidence. But the DA refused to admit that she had made a mistake. The boys were exonerated in 2002, and she still refuses to admit she made a mistake. This event happened 31 years ago, and racism is just as strong now as it was then. And it continues to destroy lives.

I watched the video of Rayshard Brooks, in the Wendy’s parking lot in my hometown of Atlanta, calmly offering to walk home, then moments later lying dead in the parking lot,  having been shot in the back by a police officer who then yelled, “I got him!” And I remembered a few years back when I was working as a chaplain. I had just gotten off overnight on call and decided to go directly to a morning meeting. I got there an hour early.  So I reclined my seat and took a nap. I awoke to a policeman politely knocking on the window. I rolled it down, and he said, “Ma’am, you shouldn’t sleep here. It’s a bad neighborhood.” He didn’t ask me to step out of the car. He didn’t ask me if had been drinking, or if I had a weapon. He didn’t grab my body without warning. He didn’t pull out his pistol and murder me because I fell asleep in my car. Why didn’t Rayshard Brooks get that same treatment? Because he was black and I am white. When They see us is an apt title for this film. Because too many white police officers see black people and white people very differently. And they treat us differently. And that has got to change. May we continue to support this movement taking place before us in every way we can until black lives really do matter to everyone. Amen.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Call To Action - Sermon for Week ending June 13, 2020

Gospel Reading: 

Matthew 9:35 to 10:18.

Jesus went about all the cities and villages teaching in the synogogues and proclaiming the good news, curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them. He said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few,’ and sent them out with the following instructions. “Go and proclaim the good news that the kindom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment, give without payment. As you enter a house, greet it. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you, and you will be dragged before governors and kings.”


Call To Action 

Today’s lectionary passage is a call to action for the disciples. 5 chapters earlier, Jesus first called them to join him on his mission, of teaching and healing and proclaiming the good news of justice and equality for all people. They heard his teachings and witnessed his healing, and in these verses, he tells them it is time for them to step up. “The harvest is plenty but the laborers are few. I need your help.” The call was not a supernatural one. Jesus didn’t need a burning bush to get his message across, because the need was obvious. He said, “Look around you. The people are in need of healing and hope. You have seen what I do. Now you go and help me change their situation. Go with compassion and with purpose. Don’t worry about those who refuse to listen. Some will not welcome you because they don’t want change. They like the status quo. Don’t use up your energy trying to get them on board. Shake it off and go on to the next house and the next town, to people who do want to be a part of this inclusive, equal, and just world we call the kindom of God.” He warns them that some people will do worse than refuse to listen. They will physically try to stop you. They will try everything to keep you from delivering your message, because their being at the top of the hierarchy means they must keep everyone else at the bottom. Just keep going. You will make a difference. You will bring about change.

It isn’t difficult to find the relevance of this story to our own time and place. We only have to look around and see that the same thing is happening in our world. Injustice and inequality are rampant. Police murder black citizens with impunity in a racist system with huge disparities in healthcare, education, housing, and jobs between white people and black people. Those who began the mission over two weeks ago to bring change to our society have also met with pushback, some of it violent, from the fearful and the stubborn and the hateful. It would be easy for them to give up, to say nothing is going to change no matter what. After all, this fight has been going on for centuries. Racism is the foundation of our country. But they aren’t giving up. They are growing stronger, because they can see that there is light despite all the darkness. And they are making a difference. Change is already happening. What can we as privileged white people, those at the top of America’s hierarchy do to help?  We can stand in solidarity, as so many across the world are doing. We can listen to black voices and learn from them. We can educate ourselves about racism and white supremacy in our country and in our town. We can learn how to become not just less racist but anti- racist. And we can use our privilege to help dismantle the racist systems that we benefit from, until our world more closely resembles the one that Mary, Jesus’ mother, envisioned with his arrival, where those in power who oppress others are brought down, and those without power are lifted up. I’ll close with a charge to all of us from Michelle Alexander, author of the New Jim Crow, about the movement for justice and equality that is taking place today. “Our only hope for collective liberation is a politics of deep solidarity rooted in love. In recent days we have seen what it looks like when people of all races, ethnicities, genders, and backgrounds rise up together, standing in solidarity for justice.”Amen.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Many Faces Of God - Sermon for week ending June 6, 2020

Modern Reading 
“To White Police from Black Jesus,” by John Pavlovitz.

You have heard it said, “Whatever you do to the least of these (or those most impacted), you do to me.”

When you slowly suffocate a man to death in the street while he pleads for breath, you are slowly suffocating me.

When you run people over with your patrol car, you are running me over.

When you mock the termination of a black life, you mock me.

I am here in these exhausted, desperate human beings, pleading for decency.

I am kneeling across from you in these protests.

I am waiting for you to stop defending Caesar and be the agents of peace you are supposed to be.

I am your black neighbor, giving you the chance to love me as you love yourself, to value my life as much as your own.

When you deny the value of black worth, you are denying my worth.

My life matters.

Many Faces of God 

I’m trying to use the lectionary for a while, because the readings are from Matthew, which is my favorite gospel. I say ‘trying’ because, in the lectionary, today is Trinity Sunday, and we aren’t doing the reading. But I am going to talk about it. Most Christians are Trinitarian, believing in the 3-in one God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or in more inclusive language, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Or at least they express God in that way. It’s in our doxologies and benedictions and communion liturgy, and I think some church leaders just got into the habit of using it, even if they don’t believe it, because I’ve done it myself.  

One problem I have with the doctrine of The Trinity Is that it is a construct, established at the Council of Nicaea, a meeting of bishops, over 300 years after the death of Jesus, as a reaction to the threat of a split in the early church over competing views of who Jesus was, mainly whether he was equal to  God, since God had no beginning or end, but Jesus did. And since Jesus was born of Mary, should she be declared divine? After a lengthy debate, the council decided that The Godhead was made up of three persons, Father, son, and Holy Spirit, who were all present before the beginning of time and were co-creators of the world. (It took a hundred more years for Mary to be proclaimed TheotAkos, ‘Divine mother of God.’)

This new doctrine became the foundation of The Nicene Creed, which says (in part), “I believe in one God, the Father almighty. I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, eternally begotten of the Father. I believe in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the father and the son.” Even more than it being a construct created to try to hold the churches together, and the fact that I am anti-doctrine and anti-creedal to my core, what bothers me about the trinity is that it attempts to define the undefinable to put limits on something that is unlimited. It tries to put all that God is in a human-constructed box, But God won’t fit into the box, because God has so many more faces and voices than just these three. The Nicene Creed says that God is the creator of all, but it doesn’t say that we can see the face of God and feel the presence of God in creation. In the sunrise, on the mountaintop, in the forest, on the shore. Because creation isn’t one of the three. The word ‘love’ is not mentioned, yet Jesus was the epitome of love. There is also nothing about Jesus’ life, only that he was “Born of the father, crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death, was buried, resurrected, ascended into heaven, and will one day return to judge the living and the dead.”

If God is love, as we proclaim, then everyone who has ever loved or been loved wears the face of God, which is what Jesus showed us. He saw everyone as connected by the mysterious energy of love that we call God. If we follow his example, we will see the faces and hear voices of God are all around us. Last Monday night, Rahul Dubey was the face and voice of God. As police used tear gas, flash bang munitions, and low-flying helicopters, to herd peaceful protestors from DC’s Lafayette Square  onto Swann Street, and penned them in, Rahul opened the door of his house and shouted to the protestors, “Come in!  Get in the house, get in the house!  62 people came into his home and were given shelter, first-aid, food, and community. For hours, police waited outside. He yelled to them through the door, “We are doing no wrong in my house. These are my guests.” He gave his business card to everyone there to use if they were arrested.  And they stayed until curfew was lifted the next morning. All the protestors Rahul gave shelter to also wore the faces of God. George Floyd wore the face of God. And Aumaud Aubrey, and Breonna Taylor. Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson wore the face of God. In 1923, Frank Weston, the bishop of Zanzibar, closed the Anglo Catholic congress with these words, “You can’t pretend to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you refuse to see Jesus in the street.” It’s easy for us to sit on our mountain of privilege and praise God in church. It’s only when we open our minds and our hearts to see and hear God outside the church, in our fellow humans, that we experience so much more of all that God is. Amen.

New Vision and Progressive Christianity

 New Vision is a Progressive church. That doesn’t mean that you must be progressive to be a member here. It mainly means that your pastor an...