Sermon for the First Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 11A)
Sunday, June 14, 2020
Text: Matthew 9:35-10:8
Pastor Nathan Pipho
In the name of Jesus. AMEN.
The full attention of two dozen community organizers and interfaith leaders were all on me as I struggled to answer the question. It was a question the whole group had been asked – but I was the first one called on to respond. It was a question I wasn’t prepared to answer, and I stumbled my way forward, grasping for a response.
The man who asked me the question, stood in his bare feet on the tiled floor of the synagogue, his shoes were off because he said we were standing on holy ground as we did this important and holy work. He stood patiently waiting for me to answer. His eyes were focused, as if he was looking at something in me that I could not see myself.
I felt the attention of the other people in the room as a heat lamp, as I was forced to do what I normally don’t do as an introvert – think out loud. My preferred style is to think by myself with a cup of coffee, to write and reflect before I speak, but there was no time for that. I was called on for an answer in the moment, in real time. So I sputtered out some reply, but the facilitator remained unconvinced. He gave me that kind of expression of someone who hears something outlandish, or clearly wrong, but wants to remain encouraging and inviting, that expression that says something like: “Ok, and maybe there’s another way we could look at it?”
I was asked the question almost exactly one year ago at an anti-racism anti-white supremacy training in Brookline. The man who asked me that question was a young black community organizer who was one of the co-facilitators of the training. The question he asked was this:
“What has whiteness cost you?”
With a black man standing before me, asking what whiteness has cost me, I stumbled for a response. Weren’t we there because of what whiteness cost him as a black man? Wasn’t the focus of the antiracism, anti-white supremacy training, the ways whiteness has cost black people: slavery, segregation, redlining, incarceration, stand your ground laws, police brutality, all costing countless freedoms, opportunities and lives of black people?
But that was not his question. He was not asking about what whiteness cost black people.
Surprisingly, he turned the question around: “what has whiteness cost you?” When I finally exhausted my ability to respond, the retreat leader, still unconvinced, but patiently and generously, and with the mercy of Christ said:
“The cost is deeper to you than you realize, my brother. Count those costs.”
In our gospel reading today, Jesus also said something surprising … if you believe the ministry of Jesus was for the whole Gentile world.
We read Matthew’s account of Jesus sending his disciples out, two-by-two. “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans,” Jesus told his disciples, “but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 5:10) Jesus gave this command after he had been going from city to city, teaching, not in public places, but in the synagogues – as recorded in Matthew 9:35.
That Jesus would restrict the audience of the disciples’ work is surprising. Neither Mark nor Luke, in their telling of this story, narrow the audience of the disciples’ mission trip to just the Jewish people. Jesus, in Mark and Luke’s gospels, doesn’t tell the disciples to avoid the Gentiles and Samaritans.
One scholar explained this focused approach may have been the Matthew community of the early church, decades after Jesus’s death, telling the story in a way that reminded the people the ministry of Jesus was for both for Jews and Gentiles. Perhaps the focus had swung too far to the Gentiles, to the point of making the teachings of Jesus inaccessible for the Jewish people – and so this qualifier regarding the intended audience as added as a correction?
Another scholar, suggests we might receive this instruction of Jesus with the reminder that all ministry is contextual. Jesus didn’t say, “Go far and wide to the ends of the earth.” There would be a time for that, in fact the Gospel of Matthew ends with Jesus sending his disciples to teach and baptize people in ALL nations.
But this time, THIS mission trip, was the lost sheep of the house of Israel. IN THIS CASE, in context, the season of ministry was for their own people, their own neighbors, and their own community. This MISSION Trip was at home.
Friends, I believe that is the case of us as the white church today.
In my sermon last week, I shared that the command of Jesus to “go and make” disciples was not our command today. I suggested instead that we were called to “listen and become” disciples by receive the black and brown messengers sent to us today, teaching us and commanding us to obey God’s vision of humanity and community.
In this instruction of Jesus to his disciples then, what I hear for us today, is that some mission trips are at home. There are times, in our call as disciples, where the mission field is our own hearts, minds, and understandings as individuals, and as individuals together as Trinity Church. The work of racial justice and liberation begins not WITH us to bring about OVER there, but IN us to bring about RIGHT here.
Years ago, Ruth Nunnally, a black member of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Dorchester, began including a quote in the signature line of her email that always made me pause and think when I read it. Sadly, Ruth died several years ago, but her memory and the quote she included lives on. The quote is by Australian Lilla Watson:
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine,
then let us work together.”
This is why, as a white man, I was asked at an anti-racism training, what whiteness has cost me. This is why for we as white people, the work towards racial justice and liberation, together, begins with the quest “What has whiteness cost us?
By starting there, by identifying and confessing the real costs we as white people pay because of our own whiteness … and I suggest the costs to whiteness are hidden deep within us – hidden and dangerous just as cholesterol slowly builds in an artery; like high blood pressure slowly eats away at internal organs; like cancer cells slowly and invisibly multiply … by realizing that whiteness and racism has cost this congregation, that we have paid a dear price because of unrecognized and unacknowledged racism and white supremacy here in this place …
Then we join this work as PARTNERS in mutual liberation.
We join this work NOT as holy white people helping the poor broken black people; not as those who have it all sharing with those who have nothing; not as those superior helping those inferior; but we join the work as fellow sinners and saints, mutually broken and scarred by the identical twin sins of white supremacy and racism.
Counting the costs to us, we enter this work as those seeking healing, freedom, and liberation for ourselves! We join our sister of blessed memory in Dorchester, as partners in mutual liberation. We join this work, not striving for equality as if it’s something far down the road, but enacting equality at the beginning as we work towards racial justice.
With that orientation and focus, we join the crowds in protest. And though it is often the case where it’s not good to go along with the crowd. IN today’s Gospel reading, hope and salvation is found in the crowd.
When Jesus looked out upon the crowds – Jesus had compassion for the crowds.
When Jesus saw the crowds, like sheep with a shepherd, he was moved to compassion.
Professor Diane Jacobson writes: [In the crowds] “Jesus does NOT see an unruly mob that he might send away because he is tired and needs rest [or wants to take a picture]. Rather, the crowds move him to compassion because they are tired and harassed. The crowd is his burden to carry.”
Today, Jesus has compassion for the crowds calling for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Michal Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, the countless other unarmed black bodies in police custody, for their families, and for all who continue to be victims of white supremacy and racist structures …
And in the radical compassion of Jesus Christ, Jesus has compassion for Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Alexander Kueng, Tou Thao, for all police officers, for all white people who are victims of the atrocity of whiteness and racism …
Jesus has compassion for us, the entire American crowd that we are, left in this great and pivotal moment without a shepherd who can summon our better angels to lead us forward in understanding, in healing, and in hope.
In the compassion of Jesus Christ for the crowds then, we find the good news of Jesus who compassion for the crowds today. Responding to the crowds then, “Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 10:1)
Responding to the crowds today, Jesus summons us, giving us authority to cast out the demons of racism and white supremacy here in this place. And these are the names of those summoned and sent: Nancy and Thom; Dave and Beth, Mark and Jena, Loie and Dana, Libby and Cole, Jessica and Duffy, you and me, all the baptized!
Starting in our hearts, in this community, to us the lost sheep of the house of God, Jesus gives authority over the unclean spirits of racism, of white supremacy, of racial hierarchy IN THIS place. We are given the authority here in THIS place to understand the cost of whiteness. We are given authority here in this place to identify and root out the insidious ways the pandemic of racism stains and soils our proclamation in this community.
With the authority of Christ, let us begin this holy work of racial justice and liberation as disciples of Jesus Christ.
In the Holy Spirit’s power, let us begin this work in the mission field of own hearts and minds as we listen and learn about what whiteness has cost us.
In faith, let us follow Jesus into the mission field of Trinity Church, that we may proclaim the Word of God to each other in this place, and in so doing, become a people of justice, liberation, and equality for all.
Indeed may it be so.