The Spirit of the LORD is upon me because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim the shining promise of liberation, O Hallelujah!
The people heard Jesus reading from Isaiah, and their hearts thrilled, and their faces broke into smiles: I mean this is Jesus! Look at him now! We remember when he was little. He and his friends were always racing through the synagogue making a racket. Mary and Joseph must be so proud! To think that he studied Hebrew here. He read that scripture for the first time when he was eight, I heard him do it.
In front of his own people, in front of his old teachers and friends and the friends of his parents, Jesus stood up in his home synagogue, and the people loved hearing how clearly he pronounced the words. And the people loved what he read: Tell the prisoners, they can go home to their families. Tell the blind, they will be able to see. Tell the workers, their debts are forgiven. Jesus’s reading filled the synagogue with the light of God, and the people smiled and murmured to each other: Oh that’s right.
Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. The word of God. For the people of God. Thanks be to God. But then…
Then Jesus sat down and began to preach. With love in his eyes, he looked at the people and told them, God’s promise of salvation was not just for them after all. There were many widows in Israel during the famine, but God sent Elijah to help the widow of Zarephath —that was the heart of Baal country, this widow was not even Jewish! There were many lepers in Israel, but God sent Elisha to cure Naaman the Syrian. It’s not just that God is helping outsiders and gentiles, the LORD our God is saving our enemies.
Not ten minutes ago, the synagogue was filled with the shining promise of liberation. Hear the good news of God! Only now Jesus is telling the people: Actually, the good news is for the people you hate. When the people heard the truth, a spirit of rage filled the synagogue like a cloud. All the people charged Jesus out the door. They turned into a lynch mob, and they tried to drive him off a cliff, only he passed through the crowd and got away.
You might be thinking —how could they do this! These are his teachers and parents’ friends. We might be thinking, we would never do that. I mean, if we heard something horribly offensive, if we found ourselves feeling indicted, if the rage inside us was triggered, we would just leave. We’d stop the video, or we’d quietly leave and not come back, surely this is the opposite of throwing someone off a cliff.
It’s just… is it?
It’s not killing the speaker, that’s true, but in our world, we have all kinds of ways of rejecting what we don’t want to hear, all kinds of ways of rejecting the people we don’t want to hear from.
In the last six months, there’s been a collective rising of consciousness as our nation is beginning to confront our legacy of white supremacy. It’s getting harder to unsee what we’ve seen; it’s getting harder to claim that racism is the problem of a few quote “bad apples.” White supremacy has been poisoning the conscience of our country. The insurrection at the Capitol did not rise up out of nothing. What happened on January Sixth has been simmering for a long time.
As we’re beginning to discover this collectively, at a personal level, we’re noticing a prickling trouble in our own hearts.
Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, I’m pretty sure that you are concerned about racism. It’s like a light has been shined on the secret worries that each of us are carrying.
Something that is both defining and beautiful about Church of Peace is that we’re a people who bring a variety of life experiences, and perspectives, and political opinions. It really might be the case that we’re all troubled by racism, I know we’re not all worried about the same things. And really, that’s okay.
There are people in our church who are part of the law enforcement community. If we were to take a public stand against racism there are those of us who are worried that this could come across as being anti-police…
After the events of this summer, many UCC congregations put up banners stating Black Lives Matter. By choosing not to do this, there are those of us who are worried that our neighbors notice we have no such sign, and what message is this sending…
There are those of us who worry that we’re talking about racism too much. They say: This doesn’t interest me. Why do we even have to go there… There are those of us who worry that we’re not talking about racism enough. They say: By not taking a public stand, our silence is making us complicit…
Perhaps especially if you happen to be white, talking about racism makes us feel worried. It exposes the trouble that prickles in your heart and in mine. But here’s the thing: This trouble is so important. Now I’m not saying that our anxiety is well-founded or that our worry is always right. It’s just if we can lower our own defenses long enough to look at the worry with love in our eyes, if we can investigate our own triggers with tender thoughtfulness, this might be more important than we realize.
I will tell you, I believe our nation’s commitment to white supremacy is a spiritual disorder. This means if we’re going to overcome racism, we’re going to have to address how it is sin, how it’s killing us from the inside out. But this is what gets me: We could actually do this. If what we’re up against is white supremacy, if what we’re up against is a spiritual disease that is keeping us in bondage held apart from God, the church knows what to do. We could begin the slow painstaking work of repenting.
What we’re going to need is a group of people who will take on the practice of disarming their own conscience then helping each other to do this too. We’re going to need people who disagree on politics but agree to sit down together and listen to each other’s worry until this worry becomes our confession, and this listening becomes our way toward repenting. And oh my friends, what if this group is us…
This work of examining the trouble in our own hearts then helping our sister do the same…. The work of staying at the table when our brother tells me that my words have wounded him…. You know what this is? This is exactly the opposite of leaving the room or leaving the church. This is exactly the opposite of throwing someone off a cliff.
Twenty years ago, I was sitting in the basement of the library when I came upon an article in which a preacher was addressing the Ku Klux Klan. Until that moment, I’m not sure I thought of the Klan as being made of human people. I had imagined it as a nebulous monster, but not this preacher. In an essay called “Loving Your Enemies” he said this:
“Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour, and beat us, and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”
In a letter to Chester Bowles, Reverend King spoke again of this double victory saying that this is what a Black man could say to his white brother:
“We will soon wear you down by our capacity to suffer, so in winning the victory, we will not only win freedom for ourselves, but we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that you will be changed… The victory will be a double victory. We will defeat the evil system and win the hearts and souls of the perpetrator of the evil system. It seems to me that this is the only way.”
He’s talking to us. Reverend Martin Luther King, Junior talked about converting the hearts and souls of white people as though the way to end racism is by saving the racists! As though nobody’s free until everybody’s free! And you know the people tried to throw him off a cliff. It’s just, can you imagine if he was right…
Can you imagine if he’s looking at us with love in his eyes and calling us to do the work of repentance… Imagine if this is God’s shining promise of liberation— because it is! It absolutely is.
The people in the synagogue of Nazareth became filled with rage when Jesus told them that God’s promise is for their enemies. If only they could have heard what Reverend King was preaching! He knew what Jesus knew. If only the people in the synagogue stayed in the room a little while longer, they might have heard…
The promise of salvation is for racists who repent, and it’s for those whose lives have been trampled by hate. It’s for oppressors yearning to give up oppression and for workers weary from exploitation. This is the Gospel: God is dreaming of our world set free. And nobody’s free until everybody’s free, even me, even you.
We can still overcome our sin and turn our hearts toward healing, and when we try this, we’ll see. The world won’t be the same. Thanks be to God.