“This Is Who We Are”
Baptism of Our Lord
January 10, 2021
First Christian Church
Preached at First Christian Church on January 10, 2021.
“This isn’t who we are.”
President-elect Joe Biden said these words in the aftermath of Wednesday’s assault on the US Capitol. Politicians like to say this during events like this. I know more often than not the people who say this mean well. They want to say that as Americans we aspire to higher goals and that what happened is something that is uncharacteristic of who we are as Americans.
This phrase comes from a good place. It’s also incredibly wrong. This is who we are. This is who we are as a nation.
Because if you are African American like I am or Native American or Japanese American, you know that our nation has a dark side and far too many times that dark side has shown up to harm persons of color, LGBTQ Americans, and others. For some of these people seeing the images of a mostly white crowd running amok within the walls of the US Capitol, a place where I once worked, nod their heads and say “This IS Who we are.”
This is not all of what the United States is all about. If it was, then we as a nation are without hope. The words found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution matter to us as Americans. As a nation, we strive to live up to better ideas and many times we do. But let’s not kid ourselves. A century ago, three African American men were lynched in Duluth under trumped-up charges of rape. Later this year, we will commemorate a century since the Tulsa Massacre which killed an untold number of African Americans in what was called Black Wall Street.
This is who we are. We are sinners. We fall short. We commit evil. We are not okay.
In Mark, John the Baptist comes around preaching a baptism that led to repentance, to change their lives. One day, Jesus comes. That had to come as a shock to John because Jesus had nothing to repent of. But he baptizes his cousin anyway. When he comes up from the water, the sky splits and the Holy Spirit comes into him. It is then a voice that claims Jesus as the Son of God. It is there that he is given an identity as our savior. This is who Jesus is.
When we are baptized, we are claimed by God. This is who we are. You and I are Daughters and sons of God.
But we still sin. We fall short. We are claimed by God, but let’s not forget that we are sinners saved by the grace of God. Because we are claimed by God in spite of our sin, we are called to act. After Jesus was baptized, he went into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil and then went into his ministry, because he knew who he was.
Our theme for Epiphany is “For the Sake of the World.” It’s a phrase that comes from our Lutheran sisters and brothers and it says the church exists for the sake of the world. Churches exist as people who are baptized and claimed by God to go out to proclaim justice and preach reconciliation. This is who we are.
In light of the storming of the capital our baptism matters. We are called into a ministry of reconciliation and Lord knows we need it. As a congregation, we need to find ways to give space to where people can listen to one another. Our baptism compels us to move from the sidelines and join in God’s work of justice and reconciliation.
What happened this week is a wake-up call for the nation and the church. What we saw is a reminder that this is part of who we are as a nation. We saw rioters, bullies and a President out that want to spread fear, to use the words of God, but worship an idol. That is who they are. But we at First Christian have another identity. Claimed by God, we have a role in preaching God’s love and justice to our nation and our world. We will be talking about this more because we must. It is time for us to live out our baptisms. It doesn’t matter how small we are in number or how much money we have in the bank. It is time for you and I to live up to who we are in the eyes of God.
We are the children of God. This is who we are. Let’s start acting like it. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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Habakkuk 1:1–4, 2:2–4 and 3:17–19
First Sunday in Advent
November 30, 2014
First Christian Church
My dad was always concerned whenever I did something with one my white female friends. I never really understood what was the deal. I had no interest in dating them, just hanging out with them. I went to a Catholic high school in Michigan that was predominantly white and it so happened that a lot of the people I knew were white women.
A few years out of high school, I started to understand what Dad was getting at. My friend Cherie and I had both moved to Washington, DC she to go to graduate school and I to an internship and hopefully a future job. We had decided to drive the 12 hours from DC to Flint. Somewhere in Western Maryland was when the muffler decided to give out. We kept going until we crossed over into Pennsylvania to stop at a Chevy dealership to get the muffler replaced. We decided to get something to eat while we waited for the car. As Cherie and I were chatting and eating our lunch, a looked over to an elderly man who was looking at me. He had this scowl on his face like he was disgusted about something. It was then that I realized what my father was talking about. You see, having grown up as he did in Jim Crow Louisiana, he was aware of the dangers of a black man seen in public with a white woman. Now, this wasn’t Louisiana in the 1940s, it was Pennsylvania in the early 90s. I don’t think this man was planning on gathering his neighbors to do something to me. But that scowl reminded me that even though we have made advances in the civil rights, there were still lingering threads of a nightmarish past.
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