There was no manuscript for my sermon at the Oratory on Sunday December 7th, what follows is my own continuing reflection on a sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent. Edited 12/15/2014 for clarity and grammar
Scriptures for the Second Sunday of Advent were Isaiah, 2 Peter and the Gospel of Mark. These Scriptures include words of comfort (from Isaiah) , a call to wait patiently for the end(2 Peter), and a call to repentance (Mark).
What I asked us to sit with and I am still sitting with is hearing words of comfort together with call repentance in light of the anguish that so many feel and have long felt.
We though can rush too quickly to take on or apply these Scriptures to our context. There are resonances surely but not necessarily an easy fit.
The call to comfort “my people” may easily resonate with the continued suffering of the African-American community as it continues to suffer under a racist system. Yet the words of comfort spoken in Isaiah are to an oppressed people in exile but whom according to the prophets went into exile for their failure to act justly and to remember they were once an oppressed people freed by the act of God. The people addressed aren’t just human beings in general or the oppressed in general but a particular people, who have been oppressed and then who oppressed their own, and who are now again a subjugated and exiled and oppressed people.
It was to those who returned from exile yet still waiting complete deliverance, once again under subjection and oppression, this time of Rome, These are those addressed by John the Forerunner’s ministry and baptism to repentance. John the Baptist called the people of God to repentance.
If we are to hear these Scriptures, in concert with what is revealed in our streets and is coming more and more to light in our institutions particularly the police, we must first hear the Scriptures as addressed to others, the people of God, Israel, the Hebrews, Jews. I would say this is especially true for White Christians in the United States.
We as White Christians need to regain a sense of being grafted into the people of God. We are those who weren’t a people and now are a people. Then we can perhaps begin to repent of our sense of privilege and responsibility.
I’ve recently been reading from a variety of sources how often well meaning Whites seeking to be in solidarity with Blacks, will join a protest and then take the initiative or stick with only other Whites at the protest. Or how the chant #Blacklivesmatter is changed to #alllivesmatter. Also, how attempts at acknowledging privilege (such as the problematic #crimingwhilewhite) turns attention from the lives of Blacks and people of color to whites and our guilt and shame over our privilege. These aren’t examples of repentance, but as often as not re-inscribe White dominance and privilege.
When there are studies that show that even whites who don’t express or show any overt racism or even racist attitudes still in simulation will give the benefit of the doubt to armed White men and will shoot people of color who are suspected of holding a weapon, we have some fairly deep and unconscious shit to turn from. We need a change of mind and being.
Such a transformation for Whites may require stepping back: letting others take the lead, being less concerned about ones identity as White or even to give up one’s need to speak. What I hear from Black voices and people of color is that we as Whites need to listen and amplify their voices, not to speak ourselves. Repentance for White Christians in America may be to turn away from all ways of self-preservation, including attempting to assuage guilt by seeking fix the problems.
Then if there is deep repentance and transformation by White Christians in that we begin to be able to see Blacks and people of color as truly human (thus #blacklivesmater) and as truly members of the Body of Christ.
We want to to do something so this will be difficult. Yet, here, if we can here Peter’s words, there is an openness to God’s refining fire in us and the world. At this moment there is opportunity in the turmoil and the protests to let the fire burn and refine. We can allow this apocalypse ( unveiling) to push us to live according to truth and justice, that will hasten the day when God’s righteousness and justice will be all that we know.
Then in this is also our comfort both for we who wracked by guilt and shame for our being caught up and blinded by our privilege and dominance, but especially for those who suffer and are oppressed by the racist structures and actions of the police.
Words of comfort and call to repentance go hand in hand for the people of God. Sometimes as in our case some of the people of God need to repent for participating in the cause of oppression, so that those who are oppressed may find comfort.
This all begins by hearing “my people” as a people to whom we are foreigners, and to whom have been welcomed into by God in Jesus Christ.
White European Christians the Scriptures and the faith aren’t yours. In fact we may have betrayed the very faith we think we can defend and spread. Repent, and be comforted.
“Comfort O Comfort my people, God has come and is coming. If justice seems slow in coming, it is because of God’s patience with all of humanity. The place where God’s justice and righteousness shows forth fully is what God desires for all. Let that knowledge change you. Seek that vision of the world and each other.
Comfort and change of mind and being go hand in hand. Let your story dissolve into the story of a people of God journeying towards and awaiting the coming of God’s justice and righteousness that we don’t and can’t have or control. Give into the consuming and refining fire. Be comforted and repent.