Thursday, March 22, 2018

Rev. Tracy Heilman

Journeys in Faith

Reject racism, embrace diversity

February is Black History month. In my Children’s Time last Sunday, I shared the book I bought for my daughter when she was in primary school. The book is called In Just One Day, in which family members realize how many of our everyday conveniences are inventions by African Americans, such as elevators’ automatic doors and dry cleaning. For those of us who live in communities with sparse populations of another race from ourselves, it seems important to me to have access to such discoveries. We have seen in the past month discriminatory, hateful graffiti and flyers at Grace Methodist Church in Billings. Good people from many different faith traditions are showing support for this church, just as Billings did in 1993 with its “Not in Our Town” reaction to broken windows showing menorahs.
The Bible has many scripture texts that deal with how the people of God respond to those who are different from ourselves. At our Community Congregational worship recently I asked folks to help me with a sermon on racism. Together we identified the problem(s) in each Biblical text.
•The problem in Isaiah 56: 1,6-8 — Foreigners and, in particular, foreign religions.
•The problem in Luke 10:29-37 — prejudice against foreigners, specifically Samaritans.
•The problem in Galations 3:26-29 — divisiveness, different privileges based on ethnicity, gender, economic status.
If these problems are addressed in the ancient Biblical texts, what Good News is proclaimed in each text as the antidote to the problem?
In Isaiah 56: 1,6-8, justice is called for by God, God promises to gather in all people, and God’s house will be for all people.
In Luke 10:29-37, Jesus says the Samaritan is the example to follow, not the lawyer who abides by the law or the religious leader who follows his beliefs. The detested foreigner (Samaritan) is the one who provides healing for the wounded and the example for us to follow.
In Galations 3:26-29, through our baptism, we are transformed. We no longer divide people into societal categories but understand that we are all children of God and inheritors of the promise made to Sarah and Abraham, that God will be our God and that we will be God’s people.
Just as we can identify the problem and the good news in Bible texts, we also can apply those texts today. We should open our eyes to see where, when, and how these same problems exist in our community and world today. As in the story of the Good Samaritan, how do we as individuals, communities and nation, respond to those who are attacked, who are hurt and suffering? Do we respond by relying on legalities to wash away any responsibility, or do we provide the necessary care and resources to bring about healing and wholeness for those who suffer?
Has our baptism converted us? Have we allowed our faith to reshape our identity so that we no longer name ourselves by race, nation, gender, or economic status?
The problems raised in these Bible texts and which exist today are the sin and evil of Racism.
Rejecting racism has been the work of God’s people throughout the ages. The people of God have been challenged and changed by their past as slaves, as immigrants, and as refugees.
These experiences of racism — where prejudice and power were combined and used to dehumanize those seen as other, as outsider, as “less than”— were the catalyst for the people of God to be diligent in fighting for a recognition of the inherent worth of all people, the divine spark in all humanity, the brother and sisterhood of all.
Rejecting racism is our work as well. The problems identified in our ancient texts still are present today. How will you respond? How will we respond?
Let it be our work to open our eyes to the ways that we have benefitted from the color of our skin, and ways that others have been harmed because of the color of their skin. Let it be our work to open our minds to confront the racism that runs deep in our history: become aware, say “that’s not okay,” and step in to stand with the person being dis-respected or harmed.
Be prepared, but also, and always, Be the Church, the children of God, the followers of Christ who have the courage and conviction to turn our backs on the false notion that the color of our skin is any indication of the content of our character.
And open our hearts to the truth of our God who proclaimed that we are, each and every one of us, created in God’s own divine image.