The Holy Trinity / First Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, June 7, 2020
Text: Matthew 28:16-20
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Every human interaction contains within it the possibilities of beauty & life and the possibilities of pain & death.
Isn’t that what this pandemic has taught us? The very same human interactions that are life-giving, affirming, nourishing for body and soul, the interactions we have set aside, and crave, and miss, are the very same interactions that could transmit a virus that could kill us, or kill the people we love.
Isn’t that what we hear the Spirit speaking in the protests across our land? That the very same structures, institutions and beliefs that bless, support, and give freedom to people considered white, are the very same structures, institutions, and beliefs hat oppress, criminalize and kill people considered black.
And isn’t true of this culminating verse in the Gospel of Matthew? “The Great Commission” – Mathew 28:19-20 where Jesus said to his disciples: “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.”
Thank God for the spirit of this verse fulfilled in our lives! Thank God for faithful missionaries and pastors and teachers and parents and church members who have taken this verse seriously, who baptized us and who have taught us the ways of Christ!
And yet, in confession and humility, we must admit this instruction has caused untold harm, destruction, and devastation in the world, and in this land. Isn’t it true, that along the way, the wheat of this instruction, that all people would know the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ, has become mixed in with the weeds of colonialism and imperialism? The spirit of this verse meant for life and salvation, has also has been used for pain and harm.
Today the Church commemorates Seattle (pictured above), chief of the Duwamish Confederacy in the Pacific Northwest. Chief Seattle worked to preserve peace between the native tribes and white immigrants in the Northwest. He did so while both embracing the message of Christ as a convert to Roman Catholicism AND remaining true to tribal traditions and customs.
And while we commemorate Chief Seattle, we must also be honest about the ways the Great Commission itself has been misused as theological justification against native peoples, labeled “uncivilized” even though all the marks of civilization were on this continent long before European settlers arrived.
The Haudenosaunee people, known to settlers as the Iroquois Confederacy and living in what is today the upstate region of New York, had a form of self-government that some point to as forming a foundation for the United States three branch form of Government. Yet, when they wanted to purchase their native lands they had lived on from centuries (think about that!), they were refused and sent to reservations.
When explorers reached the Midwest, they found huge mounds built in the area that would become St. Louis – these mounds were of the ancient city Cahokia, a city with the same population as Paris, France around the 13th Century, with artifacts found in the city from Mexico and Canada, indicating it stood at the center of a vast and extensive network of trade. Because of changes in the climate, and ensuing droughts and floods, the great city was abandoned and all that remained were huge mounds. But when the settlers saw them, the settlers though aliens had built the great mounds, such extensive work could not have been done by the “primitive uncivilized” Indians, they thought.
The most “benevolent” among the citizens of the new American republic recognized native Americans as fellow humans, but labeled them as lagging behind on the evolutionary scale who needed to be civilized. Native American Children were sent to boarding schools to erase native American culture. “To save the child was to erase the Indian” went the cry. Native children were “civilized” by introducing them to western “civilization” and Christianity.
Recognizing both the ways this instruction of Jesus, to make disciples of all nations, contains both the reality of beauty & life, and the reality of pain & death, I would like to suggest something today. Just as we are practicing physical distancing from each other to stop the spread of a virus, I suggest, that for the sake of life and health – we should quarantine and isolate ourselves from receiving this instruction as command to go and make.
I don’t think we, as white Americans, should think about going anywhere to make disciples. I think we should quarantine ourselves from this instruction as command to go and make … and instead receive it as invitation to LISTEN and BECOME. Instead of seeing ourselves as commissioned to go and tell others, I suggest instead we receive those commissioned and sent by Christ to us today.
For if we are being honest and speaking the truth – must we not confess – that it is the United States of America, that is the uncivilized, unchristian, cruel, oppressive empire that needs civilizing, that needs Christ, that needs saving? If we are being honest and speaking the truth – must we not confess – that we have always been an empire, not obedient to the command of Jesus Christ as our living Lord, but sinners bound in sin who have turned Jesus into an idol of white militant nationalism where Jesus the victim, the crucified one, who forgave his enemies on the cross, is an idol blessing policies of slaughter and death.
Christ of the scriptures and the early Church never blessed empire. Christ never said he would be found in tear gas, batons, pellet guns, flash grenades, and sound bombs. Christ said he was found in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner – Christ said he was found in the care of the least among us for: “When you do to the least of these – you do it to me!”
To our uncivilized unchristian empire, led by a president who manipulates his followers and desecrates houses of worship and the sacred scriptures by using them as a photo op for partisan political purposes…in our uncivilized empire where in response to mass shootings the cries of grieving parents are drowned out by the self-righteous cry that people have the right to own guns … in our unchristian country where a few privileged insiders extract wealth, prosperity, and opportunity from the masses …
I don’t think we should go and teach anybody anything. Instead, in confession and humility, I think we are called today to sit and listen.
One of my classmates, a black woman living in South Carolina, posted on facebook, that she asked her four-year-old daughter if she wanted to go to the peaceful protests. Her daughter responded: “No Mommy, I don’t want anyone to kneel on my neck.” No, I don’t think we should go teaching anybody about how to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
We, as white Americans, are called today to sit, listen, learn and BECOME disciples. Rather than go heading off to teach others about Christ, we need to first sit and listen to what others in our OWN nation are teaching us! We are called today to listen to those commissioned by Christ, to teach us the ways of Christ.
Today, this command of Jesus to make disciples of all nations, is fulfilled in all those in peaceful protests raising fists, kneeling, dancing in the streets, and speaking ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
The command is fulfilled in disciples and apostles sent to us today who are people of color shouting out at us from their pain – calling us to become the people of freedom and justice we say that we are. The disciples sent to us today are all those in the black church preaching that the crucified Christ of the cross stands not with those in power, but with victims of power.
But, let me be clear: if you have a black friend or coworker, do NOT go to them and ask them about racism – they are not your teachers. Do NOT ask them to explain to you what is going on in the country today. First, doing so makes you look somewhat stupid. Racial injustice has been going on for 400 years, we should have known what was going on 400 years ago, and second, perhaps more important, don’t re-traumatize those who have suffered enough.
I’m reminded in the scriptures of the rich man suffering in Hades asking Lazarus to leave the cool comforts of heaven to return to his hell on earth to instruct the rich man’s brothers about what awaited them in the afterlife. Lazarus had suffered on earth, and when he finally reached comfort and consolation, the rich man asked him to leave it behind to serve him. Don’t force anyone to share their story … listen if a black friend wants to talk, yes, always listen, but don’t ask.
Instead, listen to the countless voices of black men and women who have volunteered to share their stories and who want to be listened to. Listen to black voices on social media, on podcasts, on television, in books, documentaries, movies, there are overwhelming amounts of willing and able black and brown teachers speaking to us – they are the teachers, they are the disciples and apostles sent by Christ we are to listen to and who we are to receive today. To become disciples, we are called today to listen and learn.
Every human interaction contains within itself the possibilities of beauty & life and the possibility of pain & death.
The Good News today, in our black and brown teachers speaking to us, is that God’s word speaks both death and life!
God’s word puts us to death! In God’s word spoken in baptism, our sins are nailed with Christ to the cross as we are joined to the death of Christ. Indeed, may the sin of racism, may the sin of white supremacy, may the sins of all race based hierarchy and violence may nailed to the cross. May all that is within our hearts and minds, stained and affected by racism and white supremacy be joined to the death of Christ.
And, God’s word raises us to new life! In God’s word spoken in baptism, we are joined to Christ’s resurrection. We are not lost forever in our sin, Christ redeems us and saves us from our sin! In the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ, we are joined to Christ’s resurrection – we are breathed upon by the Holy Spirit to become disciples of racial justice and liberation. It’s never too late to do the right thing, to become the right thing – joined to Christ, let us begin!
In hope and faith, and in the power of the Holy Spirit – may we indeed spring from the empty tomb into a new season of racial liberation. Bold in the Spirit’s power, may we build beloved community welcoming all people with humble and listening hearts and a wide and generous hospitality. And in that, some things will need to die, some comforts/conveniences/traditions will need to be set aside, for the sake of life, for the sake of joy and healing, for the sake of the liberation of the whole people of God.
Indeed may it be so!