Genesis 1; Psalm 8; Matthew 28:16-20
Prayer: May the words of my mouth…
Believe it or not, it was only last Monday that the President had peaceful protesters gassed and pelleted so he could hold up a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. So much has happened since then. What a week! How do the familiar words of Genesis sound after a week like that? God created humankind in the image of God – male and female… God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. Can we hear more clearly today how often we have called God a liar? Because we have looked at some of what God has made and said it is very bad and needs to be destroyed. Today we are seeing the fulfillment of Hosea’s familiar prophesy: They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. We are reaping the whirlwind of 400 years – no, 4,000 years – of calling God a liar about the very good-ness of human beings and creation.
In case we miss the message in Genesis, Psalm 8 gives us another chance: You have made humans but little lower than the angels. I think everyone needs to hear Al Sharpton’s sermon at George’s funeral, so I want to quote heavily from it this morning. Al reminded us that when systemic injustice makes it impossible to acknowledge the greatness of humans described by Psalm 8, we cannot sit back and accept it. George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to be is you kept your knee on our neck. We were smarter than the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck. We had creative skills, we could do whatever anybody else could do, but we couldn’t get your knee off our neck. What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country, in education, in health services, and in every area of American life, it’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say get your knee off our necks.
In addition to the texts assigned for today, Wednesday’s readings for the daily office included the familiar passage from Eccl. 3. Al Sharpton also used that as his text, asking the question, what time is it? To understand this time, we must remember past times. So last week thousands in Hong Kong remembered 1989 in Tiananmen Square. Most of us remember Rodney King in 1992. Many remembered 1970 at Kent State last month on its 50th anniversary. A few of us still remember the Watts Riots of 1965. All those memories make us ask whether this is a moment for hope or for cynicism? The memories remind us that hopes have been raised before. People thought things were going to change. They thought, how could injustice continue when it had been exposed so clearly? But the hopers looked naïve in the years following those events. Things didn’t change like they needed to.
Al Sharpton dared to express hope anyway. From Ecclesiastes 3 he insisted that this is a different time and a different season. He pointed to important signs of that difference: people in Germany marching for George Floyd… in front of the Parliament in London, England. A young white girl no older than 11 years old tagged my suit jacket and she looked at me and said, “No justice, no peace.” And he warned leaders that they better set their watches to the right time zone. Because time is out for not holding you accountable. Time is out for you making excuses. Time is out for you trying to stall. Time is out for empty words and empty promises. Time is out for you filibustering and trying to stall the arm of justice. Time is out. Time is out. Time is out.
But Al didn’t just say the times they are a changin’, or that they’ve already changed. He said we are going to change them. He reminded us that hope doesn’t stand alone; it requires faith. In my life there’s times that I lost hope. [But] I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me now. We didn’t come this far by luck. We didn’t come this far by some fate. We come this far by faith. So, he shared concrete plans – unlike our President, who, when asked his plan, simply said, our country is so strong, and that’s what my plan is. I’ve never been known as the best planner in the world; but I know that isn’t a plan. Al, to the contrary, brought faith alongside and gave us a real plan: outlined a legal process that we must enforce everything from residency to dealing with police backgrounds are not being hidden. We got to go back to consent decrees. On August 28, the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, we’re going back to Washington, We’re going to organize not only for a March, but for a new process. And it’s going to be getting us ready to vote. We are going to change the time.
That emphasis on planning and action resonates with Jesus’ final words to his disciples in today’s Gospel: 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. We can’t stop with seeing the world and other people as God sees them in Genesis and the Psalms. We must live the Gospel by going and acting. We could summarize these verses: “Worship, then move on.” So, as we talk about returning to worship after the stay-at-home period, Jesus would ask, what are you waiting for? Before Jesus called them to action, Matthew says, when they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Jesus didn’t distinguish between those who worshipped without doubting and those who doubted. Apparently, having doubts didn’t let them off the hook. They still had a job to do. Jesus will still use us even if we doubt.
Jesus’ words also confront Monday’s photo op stunt. Don’t just worship: go… and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you. Not only was there no worship on Monday in front of St. John’s, there was even less obeying everything that I have commanded you. This is not a marginal issue for faith. The prophets addressed this subject over and over. Amos was typical: I hate, I despise your religious festivals; I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; I won’t listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters.
Friends, this is a different time. But it still calls for faith, hope and love. For many of us, it calls for dismantling some of the pillars that have supported our way of life. This is clearly a moment of turning. I want to be part of the turning, even though I know I will have to change to be part of it. My whiteness will be confronted in new ways. Are you up for that? Perhaps we could let Psalm 8 lead us in prayer every day: Give me vision to see holiness in myself and let it come forth in acts of practical divinity. Give me vision to see holiness in others and support its birthing in creative and life-supporting ways. Let me
be a midwife of holiness. Amen.