Sermon. February 14, 2021
Rev. John Steitz
The Core Values statement that the Executive Council adopted in November 2020 has four Core Values: Spiritually Alive, Making Disciples, Loving Church Family, and Neighborhood Engagement.
Today we are going to look at Neighborhood Engagement. Each of our Core Values are rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The key passage for Neighborhood Engagement is the second half of the Great Commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 / Mark 12:31).
The three Core Value Actions of
Neighborhood Engagement are:
- Helping those in need through Community Involvement;
- Reaching out in Solidarity with the marginalized; and
- Sharing our resources through Stewardship.
The United Church of Christ celebrates Racial Justice Sunday today. It is also Valentine’s Day, which I think would be good to celebrate as a “Loving our Neighbor” Sunday.
The Biblical texts this morning are both stories there is a person who suffers from leprosy, a skin disease. In the story from Second Kings Nathan washes seven times in the Jordan and is made clean. In the Gospel story the leper is made clean by Jesus’ touch.
Racism is not a skin disease. Racism is a disease of the soul at the core of our nation. Leprosy is a medical condition. Racism is a spiritual condition.
By spiritual I do not mean personal spirituality, although there are things we can do to transform our hearts. The spirituality of racism is interwoven into the fabric of our society. While we might wish racism could be washed away like the leprosy in the Biblical stories, we need to reweave a “Rainbow Quilt” of love, justice, and compassion. This is a will be a multigenerational task.
This Rainbow Quilt weaving is essential to our discipleship as followers of Jesus Christ. How do we begin?
Here I am reminded of a third grade art project. We were to weave a simple, small potholder for our mothers for Christmas. Such was my all thumbs ineptitude at this task that my mother got hers for Easter.
I must confess that there are times I also feel a huge sense of ineptitude when it comes to working on racial justice. Still, just as I was persistent weaving that potholder many decades ago, today I persist in the effort to be anti-racist.
Weaving a Rainbow Quilt of love, justice, and compassion will take patience, practice, and persistence. Even when we feel that we mess up in the process it is important that we persist. I know I will mess up and that I will persist.
The document, “Our Faithful Commitment to Being an Anti-Racist Church” from three UCC conferences in the Midwest gives us a framework to begin weaving the Rainbow Quilt.
We begin by affirming the beauty and blessedness of all people. In a world that devalues the lives of many we lift up the sacredness of people’s lives. We affirm: “Black Lives Matter. Indigenous people’s lives matter. People of color’s lives matter. LGBTQ+ people of color matter.”
We make this affirmation grounded in the Great Commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. For me to affirm that Black Lives Matter, or that LGBTQ+ people’s lives matter, or that women’s lives matter does not devalue or degrade my intrinsic worth as a child of God.
The racist Big Lie given to white people is that somehow our worthiness is dependent on our whiteness, on our not being Black.
This racist Big Lie has been accepted by many because structures of domination in our society have enforced the racist Big Lie for centuries in order to divide people apart.
The truth is that it is God’s love for each of us that empowers us to love others. It is a deep acknowledgement of my intrinsic worth as a child of God that gives me the ability to love my neighbor as myself.
To love our neighbors by affirming that Black Live Matter is radical act of discipleship. Radical means getting to the root. Loving our neighbors uproots the racist Big Lie and the structures of domination that divide us. When I ground myself in God’s love, and on this foundation love my neighbor as myself, I begin to weave the Rainbow Quilt.
Loving our neighbors by affirming Black Lives Matter is an act of discipleship. It is an act of discipleship to identify and challenge the structures of domination that devalue and degrade people of color.
It is an act of discipleship to embrace the extravagant love taught by Jesus and to live in the Way of Jesus. This extravagant love transforms us as we center Jesus’ Way of love in our lives rather than the world’s way of domination and division. This extravagant love sustains us and helps us to persist.
It is an act of discipleship to work to dismantle racism. As people of faith we renounce theologies, ideologies and doctrines that justify subjugating and degrading people of color. There is a need for decolonizing our hearts and minds.
The Early Church emerged during the height of the Roman Empire as an anti-imperialist community among conquered peoples and poor people. The Roman Empire was fairly accommodating of religious beliefs among those who were conquered. Yet it tried to repress and extinguish the Early Church. Why? Because the Early Church was a Brace Space that liberated people’s hearts and minds from the Imperial ideology.
The Early Church decolonized the hearts and minds of poor and conquered people the Empire considered disposable. A “believe this doctrine and you get to go to heaven” church it would have posed no threat to the Empire. The Early Church however moved people to believe that God’s kingdom of love, justice, and compassion was to be realized on earth as in heaven.
The Early Church embodied a theology of liberation and compassion based on loving God, loving neighbor, and loving one another. And the Early Church actually put this liberating compassion theology into practice as the people gathered daily to worship and break bread together. They created an alternative community that functioned as a constructive program, to use Gandhi’s term.
One of the insights of Gandhi was that liberation required two hands: nonviolent resistance and constructive program. Nonviolent resistance is the “NO!” to injustice. Constructive program is the “YES!” to a better alternative.
We have just begun a Justice Team to work on being an Anti-Racist Church. My sense is that this work will involve both hands of liberation: saying NO! to injustice and saying Yes! to a better alternative. Resistance and construction. Dismantling racism and weaving the Rainbow Quilt.
We too can embody the liberating compassion found in the Early Church and in Gandhi’s model. Based on loving God, loving neighbor and loving one another we weave the Rainbow Quilt of love, justice, and compassion that dismantles racism and creates a just world.
Nathan needed to wash seven times in the River Jordan. What we are called to do is harder and will take longer. By grounding our Anti-Racist work in our Core Values of loving God, making disciples, loving one another, and loving our neighbors, the process of doing this work will strengthen our faith. And our faith will sustain us and help us persist in doing the work.