Advent One B sermon 2014 R. Crummey, St. Peter and St. Mary, Denver
I have never really thought about this before, but when I was preparing for this Sunday I read somewhere how Advent always starts with Jesus describing the end of the world. Each first Sunday of Advent we have a mini Apocalypse. I have always been focused on the yearning part of this time of year, looking for still small voices in the cacophony of consumerism that ramps up during November. This year Starbucks didn’t even wait until this weekend to bring out the red cups, they appeared just after Halloween. I have always sought comfort in the gradual growing of the light, the simplicity of an Advent wreath, and the gradual build up to the arrival of a baby on Christmas. I have never really thought about or spent much time with the end times that kick off this season before. But here it is, indisputable, right out of Mark.
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”(Mark NRSV 13:24-25)
Jesus goes on the describe how it will happen like a thief in the night, when we least expect it, that we need to keep alert for the signs, if we are paying attention we will see them. Just like a tree tells us the seasons. I can’t help wondering some days if wee are facing some kind of apocalypse, with the world falling apart. Maybe that’s why the holiday season is so ramped up this year. We are wanting to soothe our anxiety with retail therapy, but then we create more debt and stress for ourselves with the wanton spending and consuming, not to mention the weight most of us will gain…
I have to say what has been so heavy on my heart all week has been the events unfolding in Ferguson. It feels like our country is experiencing some kind of Apocalypse around race these days. Maybe it’s because we were in Missouri when the news broke, or because some of the major action occurs in my sister’s neighborhood of St. Louis. I don’t feel ok sitting in my comfortable white world pretending that nothing is happening in our country, pretending that racism doesn’t exist anymore, and that everyone really is treated with dignity and respect by those in power.
What ever all the facts really are, and they are a mess, there is no doubt that the death of Michael Brown and the recent grand jury decision have set off a fire storm of emotions. We have had the scab ripped off a deep and festering wound in our country. Not even white America can continue to hide from the broken and painful history of this country that was built on the backs of slaves whose descendants still fight for equality and justice in so many communities.
I feel really sad that some violent people have given the media something other than the uncomfortable topic of race in America to feature. It is much simpler to point the finger at the people burning down pharmacies and restaurants, people’s livelihoods, than to take a hard look at the real disparities that continue to exist and oppress so many people in our country. No-one is happy about the violence but we also have to acknowledge that it comes from a place of deep frustration. We also have to acknowledge that those of us who are white, are at a huge advantage in this country just because of the color of our skin.
White privilege doesn’t mean that we are bad people for being born white, white privilege means that we don’t have to worry about the color of our skin all day everyday.
There is a lot of thoughtful conversation happening online about this, among the hyperbole there are some real people, black and white writing thoughtfully about how we can move through what seems an impossible impasse in our country right now. I think as followers of Jesus it is incumbent on us to be informed, to look deep and to acknowledge and use our privilege to make a difference.
As Christians, we are called into the uncomfortable places, we are called to follow Christ into the mess and into the hurt. We can start with listening, deeply listening to our brothers and sisters of color when they talk about the pain they experience on a daily basis just trying to get by. As Christians we are called to look deep into our hearts and confront what might be lurking there, hurting us and keeping us from being able to fully be open to someone else’s pain.
I don’t have any answers, but perhaps the events in Ferguson and around the country can be an opportunity to move forward. In the middle of the hurt, and anger and pain and violence and analysis and media speculation, there are voices of courage and hope. People reaching across the chasms that have opened up to make contact with ” the other”.
There is a one man, Lt. Jerry Lohr, a white police officer in Ferguson, who is on the streets on the edge of the protests, he has been hit by things thrown by the crowd, but he does not wear armor. He goes into the crowds and listens to the protestors, he knows them as human beings, many of them know that he sees them and they ask for him by name. Lt. Jerry was able to keep one part of Ferguson peaceful while another part burned on Monday night. If there were more Lt. Jerrys there would be more peace.
What is taking place in Ferguson and across the country is a loud resounding echo of the freedom movement from the 60s. People might not be turned away from lunch counters and from the front of the bus, but they continue to be discriminated against in very real and systematic ways. Things changed when people stood together to say no more, and things can continue to change if we have the courage to stand with our brothers and sisters of color.
The time has come for us to do more than ring our hands and wonder what has happened. The time has come for us to prepare and pay attention. Not all of us are called to the front lines in Ferguson or St. Louis, but we are all called to recognize Jesus in the face of the other. Jesus who we wait for this Advent, Jesus who will be born in the stable behind the inn with the animals and the shepherds to keep him company. Jesus who is always bringing people together who would rather not be together, Jesus who ate with outcasts and politicians. When we are confronted with the difficult conversations that we must have, “The key is recognizing that we are walking on holy ground — not so much the literal earth beneath our feet, but the holy ground of each other’s lives. That is where Christ enters in.” – Mike Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, MO. As we enter the holy time of Advent, let us remember the holy ground of each other’s lives, and the lives of all of God’s children.