“Should I?”

Picture of Martin Luther King JR. praying with the words, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - Rev. Martin Luther King JR."

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH January 17, 2021

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Beloved, I invite you to consider those words – for a moment. Consider the blessed meaning behind those words written by a man – a prophet – my hero, Martin Luther king Jr. Consider those words and remember that this person fought and died for racial equality in a time when racism was rampant. People were being murdered by mobs because their black body dared to speak to a white body, dared to speak up for themselves, dared to consider themselves human. This society is where King lived when he, with his black body, said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Do you hear the message behind the words? The gift of hope King shared with us on that day in 1963. Can you witness the light of Christ in those words – the love King shared with us even though all around him was hate and darkness? I pray that you do – I pray that you hear the message of love in those words. The message which reveals how to walk in the love of God. That said, I believe King’s message of love is needed as much today as it was then. For, the message behind those words is not about what justice we are seeking but how we are seeking that justice. How are we confronting racism – hate – division in this world? How are you confronting these atrocities? Are you using darkness – hate – violence to drive out racism? Should you? Should our society? Should I?

Or are we called to follow the path of Christ – walking with a prophet who shared love for all people, even the people who hated him. As you consider which path you should follow, as Christians, let us pray.

Holy Christ – Son of God who is the Light of the World – our beacon of Love – our guide on the way to the kin-dom – soften our hearts to the enemies we see around us and help us learn how to share Your Love with the whole world. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You, God.

Now, beloved, on January 6th, 2021 – just last week, another atrocity happened in this country. One which shook me to the core – one which I consider the antithesis of Christianity – one which I believe reveals the evil path so many in this country have chosen to take. And let me be clear, I am speaking about the violence which happened in our capital – the use of darkness to drive out what these souls considered darkness – the use of hate to drive out what these souls considered hate. And, I unequivocally say there is no justification for this violence. Much like I believe there is no justification for the violence which has been part of our life for the last year. No justification: but that does not mean this horrible act of violence at the capitol was not expected or even inevitable because…

because, I believe we have been using darkness to drive out darkness. Hate to drive out hate and this horrible event is the inevitable result.

The sad thing is most of us do not even realize our part in these events. We are simply speaking our truth to power – calling out bad behavior – being intolerant of the intolerant. Yet how does calling a person names, cancelling their humanity, or silencing their beliefs drive out the darkness we see as darkness? What darkness are we even trying to drive out when we witness a person of a different ideology – like a republican or a democrat – and call them all racist or all socialist. Are we trying to get rid of the socialist and racist darkness or the darkness that is democrat and republican? I seem to think the latter. I seem to believe that over the last four, twelve, twenty years there has been a growing push to drive out the “other” political ideology and this has percolated into the violence of last week. We see this reality happening when we judge every person at the capitol protests and riots as a racist. Yet, we know they cannot all be racist. Not every person is a racist who believes in one political agenda. But after four years of being silenced, cancelled, and called names for their political identity; what did we think would happen? Did we really think that the rhetoric of division which happens in Washington, on the news, in our grocery stores would not explode?  What do you expect will happen when our brothers and our sisters are called names, cancelled, and silenced for over four hundred years? More violence – looting – riots, like those of last summer.

I believe more violence will happen; because, we have witnessed this frustration percolate out in the silencing of white voices in the discussion of racism; in the cancelling of white monuments which glorified our racist heritage; in the generational trauma of black bodies who use language which may seem angry – hateful – or yes even prejudice to white bodies. We have witnessed these inevitable events quite often over the last many years and for many of us who are called by God to be one with all people in the kin-dom, it becomes difficult. Difficult because we do not know how to help – how to end racism – how to stop the systemic tragedies of racism which are boiling into violence. Difficult to do the hard work of discipleship; therefore, we take the easy path and use darkness to defeat darkness – hate to defeat hate and the cycle of violence continues.

However, there is another way – beloved. The way of the disciple revealed to us through the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church of Corinth, a church which was being destroyed. Not from the greater Roman civilization, but from the conflicts inside – from the people judging one another within the community – from the divisions being created through darkness and hate. To these souls, Paul reveals another way. He first confirms the Corinthian conviction, according to the theologian J. Paul Sampley, of their own perception in the form of a maxim, or an accepted “truth” that “all things are lawful for me.” Yes, Paul agrees all things are lawful – permissible. We all have free will to do what we wish. He then counters this “truth” by saying, “not all things are beneficial… I will not be dominated by anything.” Not all things are beneficial – not dominated by anything. Not dominated by the hate – the darkness which our people – our human beings – our society has been dominated by for over four hundred years. In my heart, I believe hate does do just that – dominates and controls our actions. Paul offers this simple addition to the maxim as a guide to disciples to not be dominated by evil. He also offers the addition that not all we do is beneficial – which comes to the core of our message today. Yes, you may do anything – you may use darkness to drive out the darkness – be dominated by the hate when you use it to drive out hate. Yes, you can do this especially because Jesus believed in justice; but – but, is this path beneficial – beneficial to you – to society – to me? Should I call people names, cancel them, silence them when I find their acts of violence, prejudice, and racism to be the darkness of hate. Is this beneficial?

Our psalm this week, seems to say – no – no we should not – not because it is not permissible – because it is only God who knows what lies in our hearts – only God who knows our path; and only God who may judge me, you, or anyone. For, only that in-depth knowledge can judge fairly – with equity – our actions and inactions in this life. I do not know what lies in the hearts of the person who rioted at the capitol; so, how can I fairly judge them as a racist? How is this beneficial to our unity under God?

This message, beloved, does not mean we accept the hateful actions of people – it means we confront these actions with love – with understanding – with compassion; so, we may all be one with God as one people in the kin-dom to come. It means we share compassion when confronted with people who are suffering from generational trauma by listening with our hearts. Listen to the meaning behind the anger which is percolating through abusive language. Hear the person’s heart and understand what the black body has and is enduring every day in our world. It means we share love when confronted with history being destroyed by offering another way; for, we cannot forget and relive the darkness of our past. This way of discipleship means we share love by stepping back out of the conversation – to listen – to listen with our hearts all the ways black bodies feel the world is inequitable to them – we hear their hearts not so we can fix the situation but to support – we witness their hearts not to drive out hate with hate; but share love together as one people through God.

This good news, beloved, is the first step and what I believe King shared with us in 1963. This message of hope is how we end racism, divisions, and violence – through Love. By loving one another so much that we set aside the offences and love the person before us. The child of God within them and the child of God within each of us. It is a message which requires us to ask the very real question: Should I? Not once or twice; but every single time we are confronted with violence, hate, and darkness. Should I react with darkness to drive out those racist thoughts? Should I hate them back because all I see is their hate of my skin? Should I resort to violence when violence is thrust upon me? Should I – should you – should we, as a people, react with the violence, hate, and darkness of divisiveness when a group of individuals riot on our streets or at our capitol. Should we be controlled by that darkness or should we lovingly witness the person, understand their situation, and share compassion for them? While we let our courts – not us – make sure they are accountable for their actions. Should I walk in the way of darkness or in the way of Christ – our light in the world. Beloved, all may be permissible but only the light of Christ is beneficial. May Christ’s light guide you every time you are confronted by evil and let the love of God drive racism from our world. Amen.

The Deliverance of Wisdom

Picture of the Sun in a blue sky with the text, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem on January 3, 2021

Our country promises: “all men are created equal.” It is a promise articulated by our forefathers in our Declaration of Independence – and one which is based on our particular understanding of the Christian religion. I have faith in these words. Words which reveal one part of how our fore parents chose to live out their faith when they remembered that God created all people and in this act of Creation, we are all created equal. However, this promise that everyone is equal and should be treated equally was not enough; for, people with African heritages were not considered whole people – with full rights. Yes, their rights would begin to come – eventually. Eventually when Lincoln abolished slavery and civil rights activists like Martin Luther King JR. lived his faith of equality in the 60’s. Yet, King did something more: he also taught his Faith of equality when he put his faith not in the structures of human hands alone, but in God’s hands and inspired generations to come.

Now, I know there are other issues in our world today. Issues (like politics, schools, and vaccines) which are heavy on our hearts as we turn the corner of a New Year. Issues which many of us struggle with as our trust in the government, the system, the other political party dwindles. But that trust in the human structures of society is failing more often than not because our foundation – our foundational Faith in God that ALL people are created equal – is not as solid as it could be. For, Faith requires more than just belief – more than just living that belief – Faith in the equality of Creation requires us to reveal our Faith by teaching that truth every day of our lives.  

And we see this failure of Faith because people are still being treated worse and better in this country due to their essentialness in society, due to the side of the aisle they sit upon and especially, due to the color of their skin. We witness a lack of faith in the Equality of Creation every time a person is murdered for their skin color or given benefits because of their skin color. Either reasoning is a form of racism which fails to believe, live, and teach our Faith in God who created ALL people – equally.

Equality though does not mean sameness – does not mean your thoughts, feelings, or heritage are or should be the same as anyone else – We are all created equally UNIQUE and this truth is the Faith in God which is lacking every time we give greater or lesser value to one person over another person. For, each person is a valued Creation – essential – and equal in the eyes of God. But this idea is only a belief – only a belief until we live and teach its Wisdom to the world – only then will it become our Faith in God’s Wisdom which brings ALL people deliverance.

Let us pray:

Holy One, who creates and recreates us as whole beings – recreate us this day with Your Holy Wisdom. Let us witness the world as You do – witness the beauty of each unique individual and celebrate all Creation as equal under You. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God.

Now beloved, I know most, if not all of you, already believe in God as our Creator. Believe that God has created humankind and all of Creation. For your belief, I am grateful. Yet, I take this belief further in that I believe God is and continues to recreate each of us daily; for, I am different today than I was yesterday. This belief is where I begin. A belief of faith that God is recreating and working through each of us to make the world better for all – better than the last year, the last generation, or the last 400 plus years of racism in North America. Yet, that faith in God’s equality of Creation becomes shaken – shaken when we do not see an immediate reward for our faithfulness which is a common issue for us as humans. For, humans tend to see the world through a perception of rewards: one must be good – work hard – do what’s right and your reward will be that good things will happen for you. So, when we do not see the reward for our faithfulness – that faith in God is shaken, questioned, or simply lost.

Mind you, this human perception of reward from God for good deeds is not new. The ancient Israelites used a similar trope in our reading from the Wisdom of Solomon this week. Where it recounts the “Parting of the Red Sea” story from Exodus according to the theologian Michael Kolarcik with a clear shift to a moral determination. For, our passage describes the Israelites as holy, blameless, and righteous. Because of these qualities the Israelites are provided “reward of their labors.” Rewards such as being guided, sheltered, and brought over the Red Sea. In contrast, the enemies of the Israelites are drowned and plundered.

Sadly, passages like this throughout the Bible which are meant as metaphors to encourage faith actually work against the true Faith in God. It sets up the believer to ask the age-old question: if I am being good, why do bad things happen to me – to the blameless – to the righteous? If God is good, why do bad people get rewarded? In theology we call this question – theodicy. It is a question which cannot be answered as no human can truly conceive the reasoning behind God’s actions.

That said, there is Good News – here in the Wisdom of Solomon. The Good news that the divine does not operate on these human structures of rewards. Yes, the author of this scripture tells that the Israelites were rewarded for their faithfulness; but they were not delivered from oppression until “they sang hymns… and praised” God. It was not until they lived their Faith through song and praise that God delivered them and opened “the mouths of those who were mute and made the tongues of infants speak clearly.” Opened their mouths to share and teach each and every generation to come how to be faithful. And beloved, I believe this is God’s Good News because it tells us that you cannot buy deliverance – you will not be rewarded for good deeds – you are no closer to the kin-dom of Heaven because of what you do, have, or are. Deliverance is found only through faith in God and equally available to all people. Therefore, the Egyptians were not drowned because they opposed the Israelites but because they lacked faith in God. 

This Good News is even more clearly explained in our scripture from the Gospel according to John when the author tells of when Christ Jesus came to his own people. Yet, those people – the Israelites – did not accept him. They turned away from Jesus and were lost. In the next breath, the author also tells of all of us who receive Jesus – who believe – who have faith and will become the children of God which is a gift to all people. An equally offered gift to everyone which does not rely on blood – flesh – or heritage; it is freely given to all people who are born of – have faith in – believe in God as our Creator. This message, beloved, is the Good News throughout scripture and what we fail to remember every time we place even one person above or below another person due to any human identity structure – but especially structures like the color of one’s skin.

Now, beloved, I will share my own naivety – my own assumption – my own idealistic view that each of you who are here listening to me now already believe in God – in the equal and unique Creation of all people through God. I pray that I am correct and that each of you witness the person before you, beside you, behind you as equally important – equally loved – equally beautiful as you in the eyes of God. However, belief is only one part of faith. Belief alone is like knowing that there is racism in our country and not learning about how people are treated differently due to skin color – choosing to not listen with your heart to the trauma many people of color face every day – or blindly accepting solutions to end racism without discerning the depth of the outcome. Faith in God as the Creator who made us all equally means we not only believe but live into the divine reality where identities like skin color do not shape our decisions on how we treat one another. 

This divine goal though does not mean culture or heritage does not matter, in fact quite the contrary. Faith in God through action means that culture does matter – each person’s unique perception – identity – and culture matters as much as yours – as much as mine. For, it is only through all voices being spoken and heard – through this blessing of our beliefs be witnessed in action – through acceptance and love of other children of God can we then start the blessed teaching of God’s deliverance through Wisdom. This teaching, beloved, is not only how we reveal our Faith in God’s Equal Creation of All, but also how we grow in our own Faith as disciples teaching of God’s love for ALL. And the education of one another is an important part of Faith; for, it helps people see the human rewards – the person of color witness allies – you witness the places where you are still failing to embrace the Faith in God’s equal Creation of All people. 

So, I pray that each and every one of you who believe that God Created all people equally unique will seek out one action – one story – one issue of racism in our country this week and teach that lesson to someone else. Learn from the lesson of that one story – even if it makes you uncomfortable – for, this continuing process of Faith in God is the deliverance of Wisdom -teaching us the places we still need to grow as disciples. May you always believe, live, and teach your Faith in God’s equally unique Creation of All people as we strive to be better disciples than we were last year. Amen.