Perhaps when the jury’s verdict on Jordan Davis’ killer was announced this past Saturday evening, you were prepared. Despite the weekend timing of the verdict, the trial itself wasn’t new news, nor were the circumstances of racism. Perhaps you had already exegeted your congregation’s angst and anger, so this past Sunday morning, mere hours after the verdict, you brought word to the church of the fierce love of God that remains undeterred despite the injustices of the world.
Perhaps when the jury’s verdict was announced on Saturday evening, you were caught off guard. Your sermon was already written on a theme that could not easily be amended to lift up the name of Jordan Davis or to reflect on our nation’s character of racism. Likely the bulletin was already printed and folded. You may have concluded that it was too late to broaden the tone of worship to include the raw edge of lament or the burning call for justice.
If you are among the latter preachers, you now have the opportunity to craft the sermon for next Sunday that you didn’t feel you could pull off yesterday. You now have the luxury of a week’s time to seek the courage of spirit and the veracity of words for a homiletic moment that brings the evil of racism into the light of God’s justice. Friends, do not let this moment pass by; do not let your pulpit be silent on racism.
The Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, February 23, provide the foundation of God’s law and God’s wisdom for a sermon on racism and injustice:
- “You have heard it said, ‘You may claim the life of a young Black man who does not cower and acquiesce to your whiteness,’ but I say to you, ‘Love Black children as your own sons and daughters, nieces and nephews’ and ‘Welcome the wisdom of those who call out your privilege.'” (Matthew 5:38-48)
- “Do not hinder or harm the life of any of my people: neither directly or indirectly, not by intention or by accident. I am the LORD. You shall not steal out of your brother’s hand openly, nor shall you manipulate his wages for the sake of your own wealth. You shall not resent your sister’s well-being or pride, nor shall you support those who do. I am the LORD. You shall be just, because I am just.” (Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18)
- “Turn my eyes from the vanity of race, O LORD, so that I may see as you see: that all are one. Turn my heart away from insularity; let me delight in diverse community. Give me understanding of your ways, so that with my whole life — in all thought and action — I might not disgrace you.” (Psalm 119:33-40)
- “Do not deceive yourselves. The wisdom of this world is foolishness! Guns and drones, voter ID and ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws, food deserts and de facto segregation: these are the ridiculous results of your wisdom! But reconciliation and hospitality are the embodiments of the wisdom of God. Look: the temple of God rides in a music-blasting car, waits behind the bars of an unjust justice system, knocks on a stranger’s door for help in middle of the night, and most of all — each one of these temples of God belongs to Me.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23)
The Narrative Lectionary reading for February 23 (John 7:37-52) provokes us to recognize our own cynicism in the doubtful questions of the festival crowd, who cannot accept a truth that does not meet their expectations or experience. “Who is this?” they ask. “What is the significance of this moment? What shall we believe?” Questions and doubts have surrounded Jesus for the duration of John 7, and he offers this response: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (7:38). The Narrative Lectionary sermon for this Sunday is an opportunity to confront our disbelief and cynicism:
Doubting racism. White preachers in predominantly white congregations, let’s call this out: Do we believe that there is racism? When our privilege is criticized, do we cry “No one ever taught me these things,” or defend ourselves with “I didn’t mean to cause harm”? Have we opened our eyes to the racism of the for-profit prison system, of our nation’s wars and its international neglects, do we resent affirmative action and refuse to learn the histories of non-white cultures? Let us believe the inculturation of racism in the white psyche, so that our hearts might break open to flow with living repentence.
Doubting justice. For preachers and parishioners across the whole Body of Christ: Do we believe that there can be racial justice? Do we suspect that Florida is beyond hope (and in dismissing Florida, do we pretend that our own neighborhoods have no need for justice)? Has our racialized history made such a judgment upon our future sins that we cannot impact restitution and reconciliation? Do we limit God’s justice by setting in stone our own visions of it? Let us believe in the river of justice — wade into it — until our lives join its flow.
May God be a balm and a burden in our pulpits this Sunday.