Raise Your Hand If You’re Honestly Terrible At Anti-Racism
Today is Trinity Sunday. If you’ve been in church circles for awhile, you’re used to hearing a priest get up and fumble around in the pulpit for 15 minutes with no real idea of how to say anything helpful.
It strikes me that this is remarkably similar to how most mainline white clergy feel about racism as well.
We get up in the pulpit and fumble around for 15 minutes with very little idea of how to say anything helpful.
That’s where I am today, so God bless you for sitting here and listening while I ask for a Word to share from the Holy Spirit.
What have the events since George Floyd’s death on May 25th revealed to us?
They have shown us a white church having had very little impact on police brutality and systemic racism.
They have shown us an Episcopal Church that didn’t really get outraged until one of our precious historic buildings was threatened.
And they have shown me how much I was allowing white fragility and white silence to drive my behavior, and I didn’t even know it.
God save me from whatever white liberal smugness is controlling my words and behavior now.
I so desperately want to be part of the solution, and it’s being revealed me to anew every day how very much I’m a part of the problem.
Emmanuel folks are in all kinds of places in the journey toward anti-racism.
Our members of color have been and continue to put up with the effects of white supremacy and injustice on their lives.
Some of our white members are seasoned anti-racists who offer their leadership and show us how their pursuit of knowledge and reformation in their own lives has changed them.
You’ll notice that these folks are clear, but they are not loud.
They have found the balance of using their voices for change, without trumpeting themselves and drawing attention away from the Black folks who are leading the movement.
I am grateful for their example of humility and wisdom and hope to learn from it.
Some of us are in a place of feeling helpless. It’s so big, how can I do anything?
The book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo is a great place to start if you haven’t read that yet. We hosted a study at Emmanuel in the fall on that book, and maybe there can be another one.
Faith & For the Sake of All is a ministry of Emmanuel Episcopal Church and needs our continued participation and investment in its work.
There are places to start, no matter how new and unsure we feel. And there are places to continue to grow, no longer how long we’ve been a part of this work.
Perfectionism is our enemy.
We as white people are not going to “get it right.”
We are going to mess up and make mistakes and look back on our previous stances and actions with cringing embarrassment.
There’s every chance I’ll say something cringe-worthy in this sermon and not even know it until someone corrects me.
But I can’t keep saying nothing because I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing.
That’s white silence at its deadliest.
But the beautiful thing about being Christians in pursuit of justice is that our faith directly equips us for this moment.
We are people who have been taught what repentance is.
There is a path laid out for us to become more faithful participants in justice.
Repentance, confession, amendment of life, forgiveness, absolution, and going out to sin no more but to live into fighting for the dignity of every human being.
And then, when our ongoing education and formation reveals that we need to change more, we start the cycle over again.
When someone helps us understand a new corner of our hearts and minds that white supremacy has taken over that we didn’t even know about, we repent, confess, change, give thanks for God’s forgiveness, and keep moving.
That is how an Episcopalian participates in the work of racial justice.
You may feel like you don’t know what to do, but you do. Follow the path our faith lays out for you.
I’ve always known that I’m honestly terrible at being a Christian.
That’s why I became a priest, so I could spend not only my personal but also my professional life trying to learn how to follow Jesus even a fraction more faithfully.
The last few weeks have taken me from knowing I was kind of terrible at being an anti-racist, to knowing I’m really terrible at it.
How blessed I am to have others farther down the path helping me grow.
I’ve been a comfortable white liberal Christian, reading the right books, saying the right things, and thinking, “I am a racist, because I’m part of a racist system, but at least I’m not as racist as those people.”
I’ve worked on my anti-racism when it was convenient to me, when I felt like I had the emotional stamina to confront it, which was all too rare.
I’ve preached on racism before, congratulations to me, but it’s usually a dollop here and there. I can count on one hand the number of sermons I’ve preached where the majority of the content was about racism, and that’s pretty sad.
So if you feel like a bit of a Johnny Come Lately like I do, join me.
We keep working on getting informed, we walk the path of repentance and forgiveness our faith gives us, and we take the next small right action we can find.
Ask yourself: Where is your money?
Where is your voice?
Where is your time?
Where are your feet?
If you’re saying and sharing things on social media, great! A good next step would be donating to a bail fund.
If you’ve never been to a protest, there are plenty to choose from right here in St. Louis. I went to three this week and saw some of you there.
If your physical abilities or risk from the virus don’t allow you to protest in person, you can give supplies or rides to protestors, sign petitions, and help with voter registration.
There are tons of resources online for how to learn and what to do.
White guilt doesn’t help. Concrete action does.
Another great comfort and encouragement to us is that our faith is all about people who are kind of terrible at what Jesus is asking them to do.
The entire story of the four gospels is a group of 12 guys Jesus gathered together to live out love and justice, who constantly fumble around and put their foot in their mouth and just generally act like idiots.
But no matter how many times they mess up, they don’t give up and go home.
They get egg on their face, and then they show up the next day, ready to learn more and try harder and be better formed to follow Jesus.
Because they know that the lives of the people Jesus loves, the people being crushed and murdered by the empire, are far more important than their own feelings of inadequacy.
In fact, right here on Trinity Sunday, we get a good example of this. We read in the Gospel of Matthew, “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
They worshipped him, but some doubted.
These are the same people who have literally witnessed the resurrection, and they’re still messing up.
They’re still struggling. They’re still trying and failing. They still can’t live up to the call.
And what does Jesus do next?
“Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
Jesus trusts them—these screw-ups who even in that moment are doubting him.
He trusts them. He gives him authority to minister, and he reminds them how important it is that his love be shared everywhere.
And he promises to be with them always.
There is hope for us.
When we don’t know what to do, when we know what we’re doing is not enough, when we make mistakes and feel paralyzed and helpless as our black siblings die in the streets, Jesus trusts us and commands us to take action and go forth.
Today is Trinity Sunday, and you’ll notice I’ve made no attempt to explain the mysterious doctrine at the heart of our faith.
We frankly have no time for complex theological formulations right now.
The urgency for action is too strong.
In fact, it always has been, but some of us, including me, haven’t been listening because we had the luxury of being deaf to the need.
But I will share with you a brief Trinitarian observation as we close.
We in this country are facing a trinity of what at first feel like truly unsolvable problems.
We are dealing with a global pandemic, a severe economic downturn only just getting started, and the unchecked violence of systemic racism, and as you know, the first two are disproportionately affecting the communities burdened by the third.
Ever heard the saying, trouble comes in threes?
Any one of those problems would seem overwhelming on its own. Together they can feel like the end of days.
The only thing that could hope to confront this trinity of tragedy is a Trinity of grace, and that is our God.
We have to not just place our faith in the Trinity, but we have to participate in it.
Because our God is a community. A community of three in one.
And united community resolve, disciplined community reflection, and ever-flowing community love is our path through these tragedies.
God shows us how to live by God’s very self, a constant outpouring of Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, into one another and out over the world.
We can’t solve these problems.
But we can participate in God solving them–God’s forgiveness, Jesus’ redemption, and the Spirit’s healing.
The hardest part about all of this is trust.
We want to go out and fix it, right now, because it’s all so awful and it hurts and we witness the suffering happening in front of our eyes.
But we lack the power on our own.
We must trust and participate in God’s action.
Because after all, that’s what Jesus did with us.
He has trusted us to continue his work, even though like the disciples, we sometimes doubt even as we worship.
Jesus has ascended. The work is up to us, and the time is now.
Be brave, and do something.
You are not alone.
The very nature of the universe, the body of God, is a community of love.
The chaos and suffering is so great that it may feel like the end of the world.
But hear the words of Jesus to us today: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
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