Sermon Archives

Sunday, June 21, 2020
Proper 7 (Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
There Is Work to Be Done

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I must admit, this weekend has been an oddly conflicted weekend for me. On the one hand I have watched with great satisfaction the awakening of the American spirit to stand in solidarity with black sisters and brothers as we celebrate, perhaps as the first time as a nation, Juneteenth. To celebrate the emancipation, the enacted emancipation of black slaves across the nation. What an important day in our life as a society, what an important day for us to mark and to celebrate and what a joy it is to see.

But with it came a discomfort as well, a discomfort that begins within me, a discomfort at my own unawareness. You see, as Juneteenth came into our national conversation these past days, I became aware that I wasn’t really aware of what it was. I had heard of Juneteenth. I knew that it was associated with the African American community in some way, but I didn’t really, if I admitted it to myself, I didn’t really know what we were talking about. And so after a bit of digging, I came to understand, I came to learn the story, and I came to an awareness about myself.

I came to understand that there is much that I do not know. Perhaps we will say that all the time, of course, but that there is much that I do not know about the story, about the suffering, and about the struggle that black Americans have faced not only through slavery, but even from its dismantling to this very day. And so, while I have stood in solidarity with black brothers and sisters throughout my life, I realized that there is still much work that I must do to hear their story, to understand their struggle, in order that I can stand even more confidently beside them and work more positively for the dismantling of oppression of racism, of injustice in our nation.

And so there was work, is work, in me still to be done. Now, Juneteenth, as I came to understand it, brought another discomfort to my mind and to my heart. It was shocking to me, though not truly surprising, to realize that it took nearly three years, three years, 30 months, if I’ve got my numbers right, from the date of Lincoln’s proclamation in September of 1862, for it to arrive in Galveston, Texas in 1865. That 30 months transpired between the proclamation and its effectuation for slaves of that generation. Why is that? Why is it that a law that takes effect on January 1, 1863 takes two and a half more years to become a law in effect for the people it impacts? That in and of itself is discomforting, but draws to my attention the deep resistance within the human spirit not to change, but to the loss of privilege. We’re all for change.

Black Americans in 1863, were all for change, understandably. We’re all for change when it benefits us, but we resist change when it benefits another and even more when it changes, reduces, a privilege I possess. And so in 1865, the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation had to be carried by a Union garrison to Galveston, Texas, to enforce it because the human spirit resists change, change that de-privileges what we have. None of us want to give up something we possess. None of us want to give up a good that is ours, that we have enjoyed, even at times when that good destroys another as slavery did, as racism continues to do.

And that is work that we must continue. It is work that we are called to continue. In this passage that we have just heard from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus talks in a way that none of us enjoy, or perhaps few of us enjoy, but I will say none of us enjoy. We’re very comfortable with the passive Jesus, with the peace loving Jesus, with the healing Jesus who takes up children in his arms and creates for us and idyllic society that we all yearn for. But we are all uncomfortable with the hard hitting Jesus, the Jesus with a fire in his belly that overturns the tables of the money changers who are dispossessing Israelite as they come to the temple. That Jesus, we don’t like. We don’t like the Jesus that teaches hard words about changing society. We don’t like the Jesus that says I have come to bring the sword.

And very truly I tell you, father will be against son and daughter against mother and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law, that Jesus, that Jesus, we don’t like because that Jesus is talking far too real with words far too true to our society. That is to say the message of Jesus, the message of change that Jesus proclaimed, the message of lifting up the poor, healing the sick, transforming society for the kingdom of God, that Jesus is challenging. And even more, that Jesus is disrupting the lives of those of us who have privilege because he is forcing us to look at our society and our lives, our very hearts, and ask a fundamental question.

Are you all right with the injustice of your society? It is as if Jesus is looking at us as American people and asking us, are you all right that your black sisters and brothers live in poverty at disproportionate rates to white Americans? Are you all right with the fact that as white Americans have increased their prosperity over the last three decades, black Americans have largely lost wealth? Are you all right that your black sisters and brothers, their children, are being educated in a system that is disproportionately poor, underfunded, and ill-equipped? Are you all right with that world that you’ve created?

Are you all right with that world that benefits you? That Jesus we want none of, because that Jesus is speaking to me, that Jesus is speaking to us. And he says it very truly in this passage, he says to his disciples, this road will be hard. If you want to take up the cause of Jesus, he says to his disciples, if you want to be like your teacher, then expect it to be rough because the world does not want this. The world, those of us in positions of power, and we must admit as a Grosse Pointe society, as a Grosse Pointe community, that we are in positions of power in Michigan, and in the United States. We are disproportionately wealthy. We have a higher level of education and hold positions of influence within our society. We cannot deny this reality.

And so we must hear that Jesus is speaking to us, that the world will resist his message, and we need to be prepared. We need to be prepared for resistance within this very community. Nearly 17 years ago, maybe it was 15 years ago, forgive me for not getting the dates correctly, we stood up as a community as we called and ordained David Dieter to the priesthood in this very church amidst protests from within the church. To stand up for Jesus is to face conflict within our very homes, within our very families, within those friendships that we hold most dear.

And all Jesus is asking of his disciples today is will you follow me? Be prepared, he says, they called me Beelzebub, they’ll call you worse. They nailed me to a tree, they may do worse to you. Be prepared. The road is hard, but will you follow me? He asked that of Peter and Thomas and Andrew 2000 years ago, and he asks it of us today. Will we pursue the kingdom of God in our society? Will we advocate for the changes that are necessary to combat and dismantle racism and inequality and injustice in our society? Are we willing to pay the cost of losing privilege in order that others may know the joy of freedom and fullness of life? All Jesus is asking is that we follow him. Amen.