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.