Because We Can't Wait . . .

Sermon Preached on Advent 1B

In the wake of the announced decision of the Grand Jury to not indict Officer Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, our nation has erupted with countless responses.  The most volatile of which have made their way into our homes through reports and commentaries on our televisions, through our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and around many of our Thanksgiving dinner tables. 
And today is the first Sunday of Advent – a season when we focus on hope and begin looking forward with anticipation to the coming of the Christ child.  As we fill our calendars and our lives with festivities – caroling, shopping expeditions with friends, decorating Christmas trees, hanging colorful lights, radio stations sent to all Christmas music all the time.  It is a season of great joy!  And so, it is tempting to put all of the talk of Ferguson, Missouri aside – at least for this one hour that we share together – to focus instead on the coming of Christ. Can’t we just wait?
Waiting until tempers cool down or until the season feels more appropriate – really, which season would that be?  And waiting, I was reminded this week, is really a white privilege; for our brothers and sisters who are persons of color, waiting has been the cry for too long.  Our history books could be filled with stories of “waiting” for the right time.  And when circumstances around us are already filling our homes with conversation and questions, waiting to address those circumstances can only send a confusing message.  We cannot wait for a better, more opportune time.  Writing for a group blog for educators, contributor David Cohen wrote:
“If we don’t talk about Ferguson, about the life and death of Mike Brown, Jr., then we miss an opportunity to help our students understand and develop a connection to their country’s living history. That’s not something we cherish – the recognition of seemingly perpetual conflict – but if we ignore it, we don’t equip students to deal with it any better in the present or the future”
and, “if we don’t talk about this . . . we’ll have to explain why this particular event – and the tragic pattern in which it fits – that mattered so much to [our students] was not worth our time, not considered educationally relevant.”[1]  And so it is in our churches.  If we don’t talk about Ferguson, about the life and death of Mike Brown then we too miss an opportunity to help one another understand and develop a connection between our faith and our lives.  To this end, The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral in St. Louis who has been in the midst of this unfolding incident since August has asked Episcopalians across the country “to take at least one Sunday during Advent [to] talk about the issues the events in Ferguson have raised and where those issues of race, class and the oppression of God’s children are present in their own communities.”[2]
In order to move us in this direction, I have invited Motoko Maegawa to facilitate such a conversation with and for us after the 10:30 a.m. worship next Sunday [note the date has since been changed to Sunday, December 14].  Motoko is known to many here as “Tyler’s Mom” or as a middle school principal at a Jewish Day School in Chicago but another hat she wears – and, indeed, a gift she has been given is as a Leader for the National SEED Project for Inclusive Curriculum.  SEED stands for “Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity and it is a non-profit organization which encourages conversations about how our own stories relate to social systems and about how we can turn both oppression and privilege into agency and action. 
When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he began by giving thanks to God “because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind. . . so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  In the rest of his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul lambastes them for the many things that were not going so well in their community – for their chaotic assemblies, because of their abuses of the Lord’s supper, and their struggles to sort out what to do with gentile converts to the faith.  But Paul begins with thanksgiving.  Some have suggested that Paul is being sarcastic in his opening remarks; but I don’t think that is the case at all. I think that Paul is truly thankful for the spiritual gifts that God has given them and, by raising this up in the beginning, he can through the rest of the letter tell them of the great things that are expected of them.  There are no good excuses – they have every gift they need – in speech and in knowledge.  They have all that they need to transform their community into one that waits with anticipation and hope for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They are a community, poised on the edge of what we now call Advent  - a season of hopeful preparation and waiting for the coming of Christ.
What might hopeful preparation and waiting look like for us in the wake of all that has taken place in Ferguson, Missouri?  Here are just some suggestions – you may have your own to add to the list[3]:
1.      Listen deeply.  Learn from persons of color how we ended up here by listening to their stories.
2.      Do not police others’ reactions. I’ve heard a lot of comments this week about the need for peaceful responses.  But, remember that much change has taken place in our country through protest from the Boston Tea Party to Women’s Suffrage, from the March on Washington to Stonewall.
3.      Know the history. Take time to understand the history of racial violence in America.
4.      If You See Injustice Occurring, Do Not Stand Silently or Walk on By
5.      Imagine a future without racism.  Learn about and look for the ways systemic racism is a part of our institutions – all of them, including our church.  What alternatives can you imagine? If our churches – if St. Mark’s – were to be built anew how might we more fully use all of the gifts we have received from God to transform our community into one that waits with anticipation and hope for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
6.      Come be a part of next Sunday’s conversation led by Motoko.  This may be the most difficult challenge of all.  Because it is sometimes hardest to have honest conversations with those we care about most deeply, with those we are committed to being in community with.  And yet, isn’t that what being church is all about – deepening our relationships?  To help us begin thinking about the conversation, Motoko has suggested that we might spend some time this week considering how you might complete these two prompts:  “A hard and scary thing in talking about racism is. . .” and “A good and useful thing in talking about racism is. . .”
Today is the first Sunday of Advent – a season when we focus on hope and begin looking forward with anticipation to the coming of the Christ child. Maybe this is, after all, the right season to talk about Ferguson, about race, and about the transforming power of God’s love at work in our lives and in our community.  God has given us every gift we need – in speech and in knowledge.  We have all that we need to transform our community into one that waits with anticipation and hope for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Will you take this opportunity together with me?

[1] David B. Cohen, “Time and Space to Learn and Reflect,” InterACT, August 19, 2014 accessed online  on November 29, 2014.
[2] Mike Kinman, “Episcopal Cathedrals commit to talking about  Ferguson, race, and their own communities,” Christ Church Cathedral accessed online on November 29, 2014.
[3] Some of these appear in Janée Woods, “12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson,” Quartz (August 17, 2014) accessed online on August 22, 2014.