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Bishop Budde’s sermon, Sunday June 7th

Bishop Budde’s sermon, Sunday June 7th

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Dan C Tootle

Bishop Budde's Sermon:

The Right Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde

Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington

Sermon, Sunday, June 7, 2020 11:15 am Church Service

May the grace of the lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.

As a young person, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nichol Hannah Jones, couldn’t understand why her father always flew the American flag in their front yard. He was born into a sharecropper’s family on a white plantation in Greenwood, Mississippi. He grew up in a white minority state that subjugated its black population through unspeakable violence. Police murders of black men were commonplace. Like millions of black Southerners, his mother packed him and his two siblings up and headed north to escape their life of slavery, by another name. They got off the train in Waterloo, Iowa to realize that “Jim Crowe” was there to greet them.

Like many black Americans, their father, at age 17, joined the Army in the 1940s to escape poverty, And with a hope that if he served his country he might finally be treated as citizen. But the military treated him as inferior to white soldiers. After his discharge he worked menial jobs for the rest of his life.

So, the fact that he insisted on flying the American flag never made sense to his daughter.  His patriotism frankly embarrassed her. Only years later did she realize that her father knew far more than she did in her arrogant youth.  He knew, she said,  he knew that our peoples’ contribution to building the richest and most powerful nation in the world were invaluable. That the United States simply would not exist without us.

And then she goes on. In her introductory essay to the New York Times, “1619 Project” which examines the legacy of slavery in the United States, she goes on to describe and to tell the tale of how this country was built; both physically and economically by enslaved people, and the dizzying profits made from their labor, and not just in the south. Nearly every institution established in the colonial period and the first century of our founding, including our church, benefited beyond our ability to calculate from enslaved peoples’ physical labor and extracted wealth.  Something we are just now coming to terms with.

Equally compelling, Hannah Jones argues that it has been the African Americans’ struggle for freedom and civil rights that has helped this country better realize the promise of America. Our founding ideals, she writes, our founding ideals of liberty and equality, were false when they were written.

Black Americans fought to make them true; and not only for themselves, but for others.  Black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle; including women’s and gay rights, immigrants, and disability rights.  Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic effort of Black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different. It might not be a democracy at all.

So, let’s be clear about one the events of this past week. The President of the United States threatened to use military force against American citizens.  And then proceeded to use federal officers to disperse peaceful protestors outside of the White House.

The African American Mayor of the city stood her ground. She stood the ground for all of us. The debt to Black America in this democracy continues.

Crucible. . . .the word that keeps coming to my mind and to describe this moment in our lives, in this nation, and its history. An actual Crucible is a container in which metals or other substances are subjected to high temperatures to test or to transform them. And a Crucible is a word that we use to describe a severe test or trial that we experience. A refining fire, to use an immature Scripture  Or its one in which different elements interact under pressure leading to our transformation.

This we know that the issues we have been talking about non-stop for the last two weeks have been with us for a very long time. In a sermon preached three weeks ago, The Reverend Dr. Otis Moss, III, described the three men who killed Aumund Arbery, while jogging in his neighborhood, back in March. He described those men as having tested positive for “Confederate COVID-1619”.  A disease that he said is often asymptomatic, spreads due to human contact and rhetoric, ignorance and family relations.

Another term for this disease is White Supremacy. The belief that white skin is the norm from which all other human skin deviates. That the white body is the standard by which all other bodies shall be measured. And this belief, this disease, is a foundation of a racial hierarchy that white Americans have a hard time talking about; but that nonetheless perpetuates disparities that speak for themselves.  Disparities in health care, in educational opportunities, disparities in employment and life expectancy, disparities in the so-called criminal justice system, disparities in outcome when interacting with police.

So, there is nothing new about a white police officer killing a black man; but, this week, for all manner of reasons, our response is new. The heat is rising. We’re all being mixed together. You actually might have an opportunity to change some things in our country and in our world that are crying out for change for a very long time. Think of that possibility. What if the time is now?

Another word, another term for Crucible moments is “Kairos”. It’s a Greek word meaning opportune time, it differs from “Chronos”, or ordinary time that simply passes from one moment to the next. Kairos time emerges out of crisis which as my friend and colleague, the Reverend Dr. Kelly Brown-Douglas, reminds me that crisis is also opportunity.  Kairos, she says, rises from chaos that is pregnant with the presence and the possibilities of God.

So, dare with me, those of you who are people of faith or long to consider where God is in this moment. Consider this moment held before the mystery we call “God”.

Moments ago we heard two young people read the sweeping story of creation that is told in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. And with each miracle of creation’s story, God declares that it is good, that it is good. And when God creates humankind in God’s image, God declares that we are good. At the essence of creation and of our every being is this potential for goodness as a reflection of God’s essential good nature. But creation is not a one-time event. It is an ever-evolving phenomenon.  God is always at work creating life, giving life, cherishing life.

Now, that’s a faith statement, I grant you. There’s ample evidence to counter the notion of this essential goodness in God and the universe, certainly in us. But there it is, there it is for us to hold and to claim “that God is good:, that this world can be good, that we can be good.

For Christians Jesus is God’s definitive response to the brokenness of it all, the brokenness in us. God’s being in human form walking with us, suffering, dying alongside us, forgiving us for all of the ways we fall short of the goodness for which we were born. And through His example and in His power, teaching us how to love.

Now this country. . . Christianity is unduly influenced by the ethos of individualism as if salvation, this salvation we experience in Jesus, is an individual event only; its not. Its deeply personal, yes, but salvation in Christ is universal and communal.

We often also tend to overly fixate on what lies beyond this world, that I understand when this world gets to be so hard. But Christianity is one of the world’s earthiest religions meant to focus our attention here on the building of the Kingdom of God, by grace and with courage, here.

So, when Jesus says as he did, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age”, first of all, “you” is plural, second of all, He is here, He’s here. And if one of us is suffering at the hand or the knee of another of us, or under the system that some of us has created, where do you suppose Jesus is in that situation? Take a look at the Cross and you will find your answer.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry asks us essentially the same question when he says to us what would the sacrificial love of Jesus look like, “Now,  then go, he said, to those of us who follow Jesus, to try to go and do that, do that.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to go and do my part. I want the Church that I lead to do our part to help bring some good out of the nightmare we’ve been in. To bridge grace from unspeakable tragedy, to make real a meaningful restitution of the sins of that past that are visible on far too many, to rid however we can our institutions of imbedded racism. I want to do that.

This is indeed a Kairos moment pregnant with the possibilities of God.

Friends, we don’t want to miss this. We don’t want to miss this.

I have to tell you that some of my colleagues and friends who aren’t white, African-Americans, Latino and others, have been saying for quite some time to me and other white people that there are some things that only we can fix; that the race problem isn’t actually their problem, that its ours, and we are the ones who have to solve it.  And I hear in their voices, I hear both fatigue and exasperation, “Would you please show up to the struggle they have asked me time and again to show up for the struggle that actually benefits you and your children, would you do the work that we can’t do, would you please do your work.”

In that same breath they remind me, they remind all of us, to take a breath, which in this moment is a pretty generous thing for them to say; take a breath and remember that white supremacy wasn’t invented yesterday and that it’s not going away tomorrow.

They acknowledge that many white people have in fact been working alongside them to build the beloved community for a long time. There just haven’t been enough.

And on our watch, my watch, some things have gotten worse. In the last few years things have gotten a lot worse. But, if this is in fact the crucible moment, if this is in fact Kairos time, if we show up we will be empowered by that power.  

So, we need to show up. For our sakes, for God’s sake. If we show up, we can help redeem the time. If we show up, we can move the needle on some of the most needed change. If we show up, we will be given our part. We’ll realize that all have something to offer. We can all do more than we think we can do.

The creator God is busy creating a new Heaven and new Earth. Jesus is right where we would expect Him to be, and the Spirit is blowing into our land. The only question you and I need to answer is “Where are we?”

As for us, in this house, in this cathedral, in this diocese, we will serve our creating, liberating, life-giving God. And we will show up.

After the cameras are gone, after the crowd disburse, we will continue to do the hard work of justice.

Amen.

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