This is my sermon from yesterday. “Swimming in Gratitude” | Matthew 18:21-35| Pentecost 15 | Dennis Sanders, preaching
Like a lot of congregations, First Christian has been worshipping apart since March. It’s been going okay, though I’m glad I had some skills in video editing before this all hit. I wanted to share with you a sample from last week’s service. The first is a video from the sermon by my friend Rob. The second is yours truly giving the prayer. If you want to see the full video, go over to the church website. I hope it’s good news to your soul.
Nonesuch is a video I do each Friday reflecting on the sermon text for Sunday. Below is the written version with the video below. There is some difference in the two, so read the reflection and then listen to it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about coming to terms with my Aspergers and possible ADHD ever since I was let go from my tentmaking job two months ago. When you have neurological differences that can make it hard to work and participate in society, you start to wonder what in the world can you contribute to the betterment of the world?
There are reasons that someone like me might wonder if they matter in the world and that’s because of how the world treats them. People make fun of you. Or they get mad at you. And they give up on you. You live with this sense of shame and start to think you are a failure. Someone who is always going to fail at what they do and disappoint everyone around you.
This coming Sunday I’m preaching one of my favorite texts, Romans 12:1-8. In my sermon, I focused more on verse one, but the rest of the passage has some good stuff. I want to read verses 4-8:
4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Paul is telling the church that everyone in the community has different gifts. There isn’t a gift that is more important than another. All of the gifts of the community are part of the body of Christ.
I think that means a lot. Maybe Paul didn’t have any idea about persons with disabilities when he wrote this passage, but I think it has a lot to say about the modern church. Because it tells us that everyone is part of the body of Christ, even those people who have autism or ADHD or dyslexia. The world sees them as failures, but God sees them as people created with value.
One of the things I never knew about Vice President Joe Biden is that he stutters. You wouldn’t have known that because he has trained himself to manage his stuttering. When he was young, a teacher at school made fun of his stutter. The teacher happened to be a nun. It was his mother that brought him back to school and tore the nun a new one over her behavior. Because his mother stood up for him, he was able to help a young boy named Brayden Harrington who also stutters. Biden met the 13-year-old in New Hampshire and gave him some pointers in how to deal with his stuttering. Last night, Brayden spoke on national television about his visit. He did it stutters and all. It was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen. We saw a kid that realized that he mattered. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t “normal,” he had gifts to share.
If you are part of a congregation, know that there are probably people in your congregation who stutter or have some sort of neurodiversity like autism or ADHD. Let them know in some way that they matter. Help them participate in church life. Be patient with them as they express their gifts. Always, always let them know that they are loved by you and most importantly, by God. You need to do that because in their lives, they are usually told that they don’t matter. They need to know that they can contribute to the body of Christ because they are part of the body of Christ.
So, to Brayden and everyone who has been told they don’t fit or have made to feel ashamed of who they are, know that you are loved by God and you have something to contribute to the mission of God.
Below is the video version of this post.
Anger and I have always had a strange relationship.
Throughout my life, the message has always been that I can’t be angry. If I respond angrily to something, people get upset or think something is wrong with me. The end result is that I learn to bury my anger. To not show people when I feel they let me down. To not express my exasperation plans go awry. To not demonstrate when people I care about seem to not give a damn about something. Other people can get angry, they can get angry at me, but I can’t get angry.
I sometimes wonder if that has anything to do with the fear people have of angry black men. Of course, not everything in this world is racial.
I don’t think it’s good to hide your anger. I wish I could be angry and the first thing people do is not react angrily to my anger. I wish they understood how I feel before rushing to defend themselves.
But maybe at the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter how others feel. If they are offended, oh well. If they want to break off a friendship, then maybe they weren’t my friend, to begin with. If they are hurt that I got angry at them, big whoop.
Because I’m tired of hiding my anger. Doing that is just taking poison into your soul.
Early this morning, I woke up with a thought in my head:
Why do people hate me?
I know that not everyone hates me. But I know that in the recent past I’ve encounter people in my worklife who are furious with me on one matter or another. Having autism means that work is already difficult and of course it shows itself at work. Most colleagues and supervisors don’t understand so they respond in anger telling you how you are lazy or uncaring. They never see how hard to you try to do your best and they never really acknowledge when you do good work. When it seems like everyone at work starts to yell at you, you start to wonder if you really are bad. You wonder if you are truly incompetent. You can feel the contempt for workmates or supervisors. Even worse is when people think you don’t shouldn’t even be doing what your doing. Maybe you shouldn’t be a pastor. This writing thing really isn’t for you. When you look for work, and see a job that you are interested in, you start to wonder if you should even bother trying. Maybe you should just work at flipping burgers.
But the thing is, I know that I am talented. All I have to do is look at my portfolio and remember my experiences. I know that I make mistakes. I know that I might not always meet people’s standards. But I also know that I’m not just a f*uckup either. Most people with autism or ADHD or dyslexia are talented. But people don’t understand, or don’t care to understand about hidden disabilities. They don’t have time to learn. But they do have time to criticize people and tell them they aren’t wanted in their workplace.
What I wish more people in work environments did is do more encouraging instead of looking down at people or letting them go because you don’t think they measure up. People who are neurodiverse hear that they are failures all the time, they really don’t need to have their bosses doing it. Maybe managers or coworkers think this holding someone’s hand who is an adult. Yes, it is. What the hell is wrong with that?
We’ve made work into some kind of Darwinian race where only the most talented or the best at hiding their problems are the ones that advance in their careers. Work is not some goddamn prize for the best people. It is a place that allows people to make their way in the world. If we can’t offer some help to those that need a little bit of help to get by, what kind of workplace are you?
I know I have my issues. I know that I can be frustrating to others. If you think you are frustrated, know that it is hard being in this skin. Start thinking about how the person you are talking to feels, because 9 times out of ten, they are frustrated with themselves.
I want to be in a place where I am encouraged and not always treated like I just murdered puppies for fun. So does a lot of neurodiverse people. We have a lot to offer if you stop thinking about yourselves and thinking about your wayward employee.
I don’t know why people hate me. And I’m learning to not care. I just wish I could hear more about why I’m valued and matter.
It’s funny how a number mean so much.
Ever since I turned 50 last October, I’ve been wondering if I am where I should be. What I mean is, am I doing serious work for serious pay? Am I even acting like a serious adult?
I’ve been dealing with those questions a lot over the last few months, but they went into overdrive after my most recent loss of a job. When you are let go of a job, you deal with a lot of guilt. If I had tried harder, then things would be different. I know that Aspergers and ADHD have something to do with my tumultuous career, but I still think I should have tried harder. As I said in a previous post, trying harder wasn’t going to change things. I probably would have failed even more spectacularly.
But when you have a neurological disability AND you’re fifty, you start to wonder if it’s time to try something new.
Now, I should add, I love the other part of my career, that of being a pastor. It’s not always easy, but I love what I do in that arena. But the pay right now isn’t enough to pay my way. I also want to do more than the pastor gig.
Usually, when I’ve lost a job, I’m looking at the job boards. I’ve focused mostly on nonprofits to find a position. But when you’re on the spectrum, working at a nonprofit is not always the best environment to be in. They don’t have the time or patience to work with you, and sometimes they don’t have the space to allow you to be creative. None of this is to say nonprofits are bad or the ones where I worked were bad. They just weren’t places where I could grow, or grow in my own way.
I’ve started to toy with looking for work sideways. Instead of looking for a job and sending in a resume, I’m looking at more freelance positions and I’m interested in positions and opportunities that are off the beaten path. I have enough communication skills to be able to hire myself out. I can write, I’m good with graphics and these last few months of online worship, sharpened my video editing skills.
I could see myself doing some freelancing, writing about politics or religion, or maybe cars. I could also work on websites and social media strategy. I’ve been interested in working on a team that produces a podcast or even create a podcast or YouTube Channel.
The challenge is trying to start. Most people say I have to do a lot of networking, which to be honest I really, hate. I know it is needed, but it feels fake to me. I also have to learn how to be a salesperson, which is also something I don’t like. I will have to learn how to do both in a way that I can tolerate.
So turning 50 might mean doing something new. Heck, I might find a “regular” job but find it in a different way.
If you know of any avenues I should give a look-see, please let me know. Of to find a new adventure.
American society has a strange view of work.
Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God. It follows that, in the reality of today’s global society, it is essential that “we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone,” no matter the limited interests of business and dubious economic reasoning. We were created with a vocation to work…
…Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment. Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work.
Work gives us meaning, it can help us grow personally, develop our talents and plan for the future. So work is vital to human flourishing.
So, why is it in American society in the 21st Century, work is viewed as a prize for the most talented?
Throughout my adult life, I’ve observed how work is not something where you are formed into a skilled worker. Instead, you must have all your skills ready to go. There is no interest in training an employee, they need to hit the ground running. In this environment, work becomes a prize handed out to the most talented. This is the meritocracy in action.
But we know that not everyone is ready the moment they start their job. Sometimes it takes time for people to grow into their position. In a culture where work is attained through merit, scores of people are forced to find whatever scraps they can in order to make a living.
There is a statistic that has gone around about the unemployment rate of persons with autism. The rate I’ve heard is somewhere around 85%. I’m uncertain how accurate is this picture, but I think there is some truth that the unemployment rate is high. I can’t answer for other people with autism, but I’ve always found the job market to be an uncaring place for me. The reason the unemployment rate for people who are autistic is this high is because of the kind of job market we have in America, one that is based on merit and one where professionals are valued and blue-collar positions are not.
Being on the spectrum means that I enter the job market with challenges. You learn soon enough that our society doesn’t have time to help those with neurological disabilities like autism or ADHD or dyslexia. Since those talents are easily visible or the mistakes are seen before the person, the potential employee is judged and more often than not is either not given a job or if they have a position are told to leave. In our merit-based system, if you have challenges, you are viewed as incompetent or lazy or stupid.
I’m not stupid, even if my self-esteem makes me feel that way. I have talent and skills. But when it comes to putting those talents to work in the workplace things have gone awry. I’ve tried to help my past supervisors understand my predicament and I hope for some grace and I don’t get it. Instead, I am let go for not doing a good enough job.
Most people with autism have talent, but it takes time for it to come to fore. What they need is encouragement that they are of value and that they have something to offer. It doesn’t happen by yelling at them or telling them to “step up,” as if they aren’t already doing that.
I then have to deal with the shame of having not lived up to expectations. Even though I’ve tried to make sure I don’t repeat the same mistakes. Even though I want to try harder and be better. But my autism always shines through and the mistakes happen. You live with this shame of not being a responsible partner to my husband. You live feeling that you aren’t talented, but an incompetent burden.
When you find yourself in a job where you make a mistake you feel you have to try harder to be a better worker. You think that way because your supervisors and coworkers think you aren’t really working that hard and just need to buck up. But the thing with autism/Aspergers, or ADHD or dyslexia is that you can’t simply work harder. Working harder doesn’t make a disability go away. The person with this kind of disability has to learn how to work with it and what they want from their employee is a little understanding; to ask questions before you start yelling.
Sometimes it takes time for someone to be at their best. Sometimes one has to work hard to get to the desired level. To get to that level means it takes time. However, time is something that is in short supply in the modern workplace. There is not a place for accommodation and training in a job market that runs according to the meritocracy.
I am working now with Vocation and Rehabilitation services from the State of Minnesota that will help with some job coaching. I’m hopeful it will allow me to find a workplace where I can grow and not feel a sense of shame or feel like a dunce.
But I think our job market must change- not just for people like me, but for everyone. We have to create an economy that is built more on seeing the worker as an apprentice, where people can learn their position, places where people can grow into their vocation. We need all of this because we need to stop seeing work as a prize, but as something that can be beneficial to the worker and society as well. If we want a society where less people are “on the dole” and more people are self-sufficient, then we need to see work as something that gives everyone, including people disabilities a semblance of dignity.
I know that there are things I have to do to work better with a disability. But this is a two-way street. One day, I want to come into an environment where I’m encouraged, especially when I fall short. I want to learn that I have value. I want start a new job knowing I don’t have to have all the answers or pretend that I know everything. I want to be secure at work and not worry if this is the day that I get fired for whatever reason. Work should be a place where you come as a student ready to learn.
Several years ago,I wrote a blog post relating to how persons with autism are like dandelions. A dandelion is a flower, but most of us look at them as weeds. People with autism and other people with disabilities are dandelions. For most of my work life, I’ve always felt like a weed to others. I’ve never felt that I had talent or smarts. I’ve found it hard to feel that I have worth. I know that some of this is me changing my own attitude, but it is hard to do that when you are judged so often. You start to believe what others say about you.
But I believe that I am more than a weed. I think I have some flower in me. I know that I have skills and passions in writing. I know I have a desire to try new things and to learn new skills and my portfolio is replete with work where I learned how to write better or make better graphic design. I know I am flawed, but unbeknownst to most hiring managers and potential and past supervisors, I am also someone of great talent and determination. I wish that people could see that before looking at my faults.
Our meritocratic society believes that people with neurological disabilities are worthless weeds. Nonsense. We are flowers that can be beautiful. You just have to look at things differently.
You just need to look at me differently.
Like a lot of people around the world, I’ve been wearing a mask for a few months. I used to always wonder why people from Asian nations wore masks and now I know. Most people are wearing them to protect other people from catching the coronavirus. The masks most of us wear aren’t going to protect us from the virus, but it can prevent the other person from you if you happen to have the virus and since you can be asymptomatic, it makes sense to wear a mask in public places. It’s weird for all of us to have to wear these masks covering our mouths, but if it can slow the spread of the virus it kind of makes sense.
Well, it makes sense to most people. Some like this gentleman in Florida, seem to think putting on a mask is some kind of conspiracy.
There is a movement taking place where wearing a mask is not something you do out of safety, but out of weakness. R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things magazine caused a stir in May as he shared his thoughts on the issue. In one of his widely shared tweets he said the following:
Just to reinforce. Talked to my son in Seattle. The mask culture if fear driven. Masks+cowardice. It’s a regime dominate by fear of infection and fear of causing of infection. Both are species of cowardice.
Just to make sure people got the point he added the following tweet:
By the way, the WWII vets did not wear masks. They’re men, not cowards. Masks=enforced cowardice.
To say that all of this caused a stir is an understatement. Many, many people responded to the series of tweets with a lot of righteous anger. That response must have rattled Reno because he not only deleted the tweets, he deleted his entire Twitter account. So much for being manly.
Wearing of masks is not unheard of in America. During the 1918 Flu Pandemic, there were people who wore masks and those that didn’t. Cities such as San Francisco and Seattle had ordinances requiring people to wear masks. Just as there were recommendations and laws were in place back then, there were people that opposed such a requirement. San Francisco had something called an Anti-Mask League.
Reno is a Christian, and he is presenting a view about what our faith says about wearing masks. In his view, Christianity is supposed to be strong and not weak. It isn’t cowardly and fearful, but it should be daring and bold.
But is that a Christian view? In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul lifts up Christ as an example of what it means to be a Christian. Paul says:
4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
To live as a follower of Jesus, means being willing to be humble and to live for other people. We aren’t wearing masks because we are scared, we wear them to protect others. Since someone can be asymptomatic, wearing a mask stops the virus from spreading to others. If we are follower of Jesus, we aren’t being cowards, but caring for the other. Wearing a mask protects my 86 year-old mother from getting the virus. Wearing a mask protects the person at the check out at the grocery store. Being a Christian is as much about living the faith than it is talking about faith.
One day, we won’t have to wear these masks and I will be happy. But for now, I’m going to wear the mask because when we wonder if Jesus would wear a mask, all I need to do is look to Philippians to know the answer.
Comfort foods. We all have them. We have something that we like to eat that makes us feel good inside. When you’re having a terrible day or you feel under the weather, having your favorite meal or drink can be a bit of a pick-me-up.
My comfort food is shrimp fried rice. I think I love it because it harkens back to simpler days when I was young. I remember eating shrimp fried rice as a kid and the best place to go get that dish was a Chinese restaurant in my hometown of Flint, Michgan called Kenjo’s. It was just at the edge of downtown and I remember we would go there at times to have lunch after church.
These days when I have a bad day, I will still order shrimp fried rice. At the age of 50, life is not as carefree as it was when I was 10. Getting a good dish of Shrimp Fried Rice especially when life seems to be going sideways, makes me feel good.
Comfort food makes us feel good. Comfort food is….comfortable.
Sometimes in life we need comfort when we feel beaten up by life. Or when we are grieving the loss of a loved one. Comfort is even found in the Bible. Comfort, comfort my people, God says to the people of Israel in Isaiah. That message is a balm to the Israelites who at the time of the writing are in exile, far away from their homeland.
But for Christians, comfort can be something that keeps us from taking part in God’s work in the world.
It’s so easy to want church to be comfortable. We want to meet our friends and listen to the choir or even sit in our favorite pew. As humans, we love the familiar. We don’t want to have to face our fears. We don’t want to fail. It’s much easier for us to stay in our comfort zones where things are familiar and things are safe. But is that what God wants for us? Did Jesus stay in a comfort zone?
In the tenth chapter of the book of Acts, Peter is called to go and preach the gospel to a Roman soldier, a gentile named Corneilus. At first, he isn’t crazy about this. He believed the revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord of all was a message that was for Jews and not for Gentiles like Corneilus. God had to show him in a dream that yes, going into all the world preaching the good news and making disciples to was something God wanted shared with everybody. None of this was in Peter’s plans. But he listened to God and decided to go and visit Cornielus. Peter had to get out of his comfort zone and it’s a good thing he did. His message to Cornielius touched the Roman and his household and the Spirit moved among them. Peter realizes that the gospel belonged to these Gentiles as much as it ever did to him.
Peter got out of his comfort zone. What about us? A friend shared a quote attributed to Pope Francis that I’d like to share:
“The Holy Spirit annoys us. The Spirit moves us, makes us walk, pushes the church to move forward. [But] we want the Holy Spirit to calm down. We want to tame the Holy Spirit, and that just won’t do. The Holy Spirit gives us consolation and the strength to move forward and the moving forward part is what can be such a bother. People think it’s better to be comfortable, but that is not what the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit brings.”
The Holy Spirit comes to our lives and communities of faith in wind and fire and as comfort food. And that terrifies us. We don’t want the Holy Spirit sending us to do unfamiliar things. In some ways we want to be like Bilbo Baggins, the famous hobbit in JRR Tokien’s novels who was content to live a simple and comfortable life. But then life comes crashing in literally and he is pressed into service because the world was in danger and his help was needed.
Our own world is in danger. We have a pandemic that is flaring up again putting millions in danger. We are dealing with the long history of police going after people of color. Race relations are at a low ebb. What is God calling us to do? And are we willing to follow even when we don’t want to and wish the Holy Spirit would shut up every one in a while?
Comfort is great when it comes to food. When it comes to churches? Not so much.
Dear Friends and Family of First Christian Church of St. Paul:
Last week in the immediate aftermath of the killing of George Floyd I decided to go for a walk. We live in North Minneapolis. It was a nice sunny day, perfect day for a walk. “Be careful,” my husband Daniel said as I left.
Later that evening, I was chatting with my mother. As we finished our phone call to say goodbye, she asked me to be careful.
Be careful. This has been my reality since I was a kid. My parents were telling me to be careful ever since I was a teen. Growing up in 1980s Michigan, my parents were always concerned about me, not that I was doing something reckless, but because I was a young black man. Even now when I’m 50 years old, some loved one is always telling me to be careful. This is how African American men ( and even African American women) have to live. Black mothers worry when their sons go out with friends. They worry they will get in trouble with the police or worse.
George Floyd was seen as a threat. He had a target on his back on that Memorial Day when he met his end on a Minneapolis street. For far too long, too many African Americans have been viewed not as a fellow human being, but as a threat, worthy of being killed.
Before I go any farther I have to say the following: I believe America is a good nation. I know there are good cops that care about their communities. I know there are good white people. I know that we aren’t living in a time of segregation like my Dad did growing up in Louisiana in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. All of this is true. And yet, a middle-aged black man is dead, again because of the color of his skin.
What’s infuriating is that George Floyd was a gentle giant, a committed Christian who moved to Minneapolis a few years ago from his native Houston in search of a better life, dies at the hand of a cop who had a long history of complaints and for some reason remained on the force. He was engaged to be married and he never got the chance to walk down with his love.
But what is upsetting and frightening is that it could have been me. It could be me. Floyd is only a few years younger than I am. I pray that it never happens, but it is not out of the realm of possibility.
And then there were the riots. Coming from Michigan as I do, you learn about the Detroit riots in 1967. It’s no surprise to African Americans and other people of color that Minnesota is not an idyllic place. Racial disparities are among the highest in the nation. That said, I would have never, ever thought there were going to be riots like what I’ve seen in the past few days. To say that Minneapolis is burning is as weird as saying Lake Woebegon is burning, but it has happened.
So where do we go from here?
That’s the rub. Talking about the problem of race in America is always a challenge because you have those who want to live in denial that there is a problem (and that includes some African Americans) and those that think there are racists under every bed. But I think as Christians what it means is that we live our lives with God’s table at the center. The Restoration Movement which gave birth to the Disciples believes strongly that the Lord’s Table is for everyone. Now when Alexander and Thomas Campbell were making their argument about the communion table they were informed by the internecine battles within the Presbyterian Church. If you didn’t believe the right way, you couldn’t have communion. The Campbells believed it was God, not an interpretation of a creed, that invites us to the table. God wants to be in a relationship with us and God desires that all us be in relationship. So in light of all this, we have to live a life that welcomes everyone into a relationship with each other and God. We have to be communities where people from all walks of life are welcomed, united in Jesus Christ.
Relationship means listening. Listening means being vulnerable. Relationship is rooted in reconcililation. It means living a sacrificial life and opening yourself up to dissonance.White Americans have to be willing to listen even when what you hear goes against what you know or experience. That’s hard to do because we all come with our own experiences and biases. It’s hard to listen to something that doesn’t jive with what you believe. But I think White Americans have to do that because we can’t change until we hear the stories of African Americans that might not be the story you are used to.
But in that relationship there also needs to be grace. Far too often, having a conversation on race become stilted out of fear that something will be said that is offensive. The thing is, if we are going to have an honest talk on race we will stumble and say something that might come off as offensive. It means making mistakes, seeking forgiveness and moving on. It means African Americans should show grace to their white sisters and brothers understanding that we are all sinful and all in need of God’s grace. The racial reconciliation is messy and that’s okay. It will be messy.
As an African American man, I am honored and blessed to be the lead pastor of this congregation that doesn’t just have diversity as a value, but we live it out. We come from various racial and ethnic backgrounds and yet we are in a relationship with each other. But even here, we have to be willing to listen deeper and make space for grace. Because those unsettling stories are there just below the surface and they need to be brought forth and dealt with.
Second, we have to be involved in the work of reconciliation. Our Presbyterian sisters and brothers wrote in the Confession of 1967, that God’s reconciling love breaks down barriers, the Church is called to fight for reconciliation:
God has created the peoples of the earth to be one universal family. In his reconciling love, God overcomes the barriers between sisters and brothers and breaks down every form of discrimination based on racial or ethnic difference, real or imaginary. The church is called to bring all people98 to recieve and uphold one another as persons in all relationships of life: in employment, housing, education, leisure, marriage, family, church, and the exercise of political rights. Therefore, the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination and ministers to those injured by it. Congregations, individuals, or groups of Christians who exclude, dominate, or patronize others , however subtly, resist the Spirit of God and bring contempt on the faith which they profess .
I am reminded of the parable of the Good Samaritan. We’ve heard the story of the man traveling down the road who ends up beaten and left for dead by robbers. Two religious people see this injured man lying at the side of the road and pass him by. For whatever reason, they didn’t stop to offer help. Finally, another man comes by, a Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along, but this man didn’t care about whatever animosities kept them apart. He takes the injured man and places him on his donkey to the nearest inn. He even tells the innkeeper to keep a tab that he would pay back when he swung back that way again. The Samaritan got involved. He could have said this was none of his business and moved on, but he didn’t. He got involved.
The same thing needs to happen now. I said in a sermon four years ago, in the aftermath of Philando Castile’s shooting that the only way these killings of black people by police will stop is when white Christians, white Americans step up. This is not simply a problem for African Americans but it is all of our problems. It’s an American problem and most of all it is a spiritual problem.
The past few days have left me angry and sad. As a community and as a nation, we have a lot of work to do. We need to start talking But I have hope in Christ. I have hope in the Christ that died a horrible death, suffering with humanity and freeing us from the bonds of sin. Ultimately, I have hope because, in Jesus Christ, the evils of racism will never have the last word. Let’s pull up a chair to God’s Table and start talking.
Dennis Sanders, Lead Pastor
When I was 13, I remember going to the credit union with my mother. Mom was busy talking to one of the tellers while I waited near the door. I was just kind of keeping to myself not really paying attention to what was happening around me. Most people who knew me, saw me as someone who was quiet and probably too sensitive emotionally. I wasn’t really a threat to anyone.
Little did I know, someone did think I was a threat. A security guard came up to me and asked what I was doing. I was a bit surprised and before I could answer, my mother came up and said sternly that I was with her. She learned that the security guard came up to me because another teller was basically scared of me. As we left the credit union, Mom was mad at the teller who saw me as a threat. She was also a bit upset at me for not being more aware of my surroundings.
I look back at that event and I see how naive I could be. I had grown up in the years following the civil rights movement of the 60s. Growing up in mid-Michigan in the 70s and 80s, I grew up not knowing a lot of the open racism that was so rampant in American in the decades before I was born. My father grew up in Jim Crow-era Louisiana in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. He knew about how you could be the judge because of your skin. Because that wasn’t the world I grew up in, I didn’t understand that anyone could see me as something to be feared.
Like many people, I’ve been made aware of the horrific murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25- year old man who was murdered by two white men in Georgia who thought he was a burglar. Greg McMichael and his son Travis saw Arbery running in their neighbor and believed he was fleeing from a crime scene. The reality is that Arbery was jogging. Something that the two men should have noticed, but didn’t. The McMichaels took off in their truck with guns and long story short Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed.
Now, I truly believe things are better for African Americans than they used to be. I can do things that my Dad wasn’t able to do because of segregation. I think our nation is in a better place than it was circa 1955.
But better doesn’t mean perfect. While the rampant racism that defined the American South for decades has receded, it is still present. Arbery is part of a long line of African American men that have died at the hands of white Americans in recent years. The ghost of Jim Crow still haunts America.
In the last day or so, the phrase “blood cries out” got stuck in my head. That phrase comes from Genesis 4:8-11, the story of the brothers Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel and when God asks Cain where is Abel, Cain replies dismissively. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God responds by saying the following:
“What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.
Abel’s blood cried out from the ground. God heard the cry of the victim, Abel, and wanted Cain to face the justice of God.
In the book of Deuteronomy, a law stated that if the body of a person was found in a field and no one knew who killed the person, a group of people determined which city the body was closer to. Representatives would sacrifice an animal as an atonement to God for the sin of murder. It didn’t matter that they themselves didn’t do the crime. What mattered was that it mattered to God. Blood was crying out from the ground and it needed to be answered. Taking this crime seriously meant they cared about life. If a city refused to do this, it sent a message to God about how they viewed life.
Ahmaud Arbery’s blood cries out from the Georgia soil. The McMichaels have been charged with murder. We know that temporal justice is at least beginning. But what about the justice of God?
I don’t have an answer. What I do know is that all of us must care. To ignore this, to avert our eyes, means we don’t hold life as sacred. To ignore it is to say that the color of one’s skin determines their worth.
Arbery’s killers will face trial, but in a way, we are facing trial as well. How will we respond to the justice of God who weeps over the blood crying out?