Matthew 11:16-19

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

Is America Beautiful? Was America Ever Beautiful?

July 5, 2020

Reverend Jane Quandt

In 1967…that’s 53 years ago folks!!!…..a group named Buffalo Springfield sang a song called, “For What It’s Worth.” It is a song that fits what’s happening in the streets of America now as perfectly as it did then. The lyrics are:

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It’s s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Recently there have been a whole bunch of memes on Facebook pointing out the hypocrisy of those who are criticizing the way protesters are trying to make their voices heard these days. “Why can’t they just protest peacefully?” they ask. And then it shows some pictures or people marching peacefully and the caption reads, “But no, not like that”…and another picture of Colin Kapernick taking a knee with the caption, “No not like that”…. LeBron James making a statement at a press conference; “No, not like that.” Taraji Henson making a powerful speech at the SAG awards; “No not like that.” A woman climbing a flagpole to take down a confederate flag; “No, not like that.”

This week we witnessed law enforcement in Aurora, CO move in on a violin vigil in memory of Elijah McClain who was killed by police officers about a year ago. A violin vigil! It was a beautiful. But it came to an abrupt end when police officers standing shoulder to shoulder, dressed in full riot gear moved in on the crowd, throwing tear gas and pepper spray to make them disperse.

A VIOLIN VIGIL! “Not like that.”  So how, then!!! Please, tell them…tell us all….what IS the right way to do something about racism and police brutality in our country?

I about jumped out of my chair when I read the scripture reading for today:

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard.”

Sorry John…not that way. Sorry Jesus…not that way either.

So what are people supposed to do? What IS an acceptable way to expose the ongoing injustices that are embedded in our nation’s ethos?

Some of us celebrated Independence Day yesterday but let’s be honest. It was really only Euro-Americans who could have claimed any measure of independence that day in 1776. Enslaved people had no reason to celebrate. Indigenous people had no reason to celebrate.

It’s time to stop white-washing our history. So many of us are having our eyes opened to things that are a part of our history that weren’t included in our history books. The Tulsa Massacre in 1921.The burning and clubbing to death of black folk in St Louis in 1917. The meaning of Juneteenth. None of it was taught in our American History classes.

And yet I need to say something that may surprise some of you. In some ways it surprises me to realize how true it really is. I LOVE MY COUNTRY. I LOVE MY COUNTRY! Which is why I have spent so much of my life joining with those who are fighting for her redemption.

And I have hope. I have hope that maybe something is really is happening in America around issues of race. I have hope that America is waking up. It is powerful to see who is showing up in the name of racial justice….all ages….all skin tones. In spite of all the ongoing ugliness, something beautiful is also happening.

This week I was blessed to tune in to a webinar with Valarie Kaur, an attorney, film-maker, feminist and activist whose is a practicing Sikh by faith. I am suggesting that we as a church read her latest book, “See No Stranger.” For while she may be a Sikh I believe she embodies the spirit of Jesus.

Now I have never been through the experience of giving birth, so guys I’m with you today…but hang in there with me on this now because I think she really has something to say.

She says that the labor of giving birth is fierce, it is bloody and it is imperfect. Apparently there is a moment when a woman feels like she’s dying. Doctors call it the transition but she says that’s an awfully nice name for something so terrifying.

Well she really believes America is in the process of giving birth to something right now….and the process is fierce and it is bloody and it is imperfect. But if this is really going to happen then together we need to keep breathing and pushing….breathing and pushing.

And it needs to be a labor of love. . .a labor of revolutionary love…a love that labors on behalf of ourselves and others, including our opponents. This is not some kind of sappy love. This is love that labors to understand, love that labors to heal our division, love that is willing to take the time to heal our own hurt and pain enough so that we can then step back and “wonder” about our opponents….and then listen to their stories…and maybe even have empathy for them.

She says that such love is not just loving our neighbors because the “other” is not just my neighbor. She is a part of me that I do not yet really know or understand. It makes me think that maybe when Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself” he too was saying that our neighbors are just part of ourselves.”

Valarie was 20 years old when the Twin Towers came down in NYC. She said that after that it was terrifying to realize that as Sikhs her family looked like the ones now seen as “The Enemy” by Americans. And it was soon after 9/11 that a man she called Uncle was killed in a hate crime. It was a moment of terrible fear, despair and anger for her family. Hate can only birth hate.

The story about the killing was all over the national news, but a local news outlet did a story about her uncle. They told the story of his life…the kind of man he was and what he had accomplished. It was a story that made the man real.

Valarie says that it was because of that story that over 3,000 people showed up for her uncle’s funeral. “America showed up” she says, because they heard his story. And of course the fact that they did then became a part of her story. She experienced America showing up for her family.

So here’s the thing. When we hear one another’s stories we can no longer see one another as strangers. But doing that requires a revolutionary love and it often means tending to our own wounds first.

15 years after her uncle was killed Valarie was able to go to the prison to visit the man who killed her uncle. It’s a powerful story of forgiveness. But she is quick to add that it took her 15 years before she was able to do that. She had to first tend to her own anger and grief. Which is why revolutionary love really does involve first loving yourself…..looking at yourself with the kind of compassion that might one day enable you to do the same for your opponents.

But if we can develop the capacity to practice revolutionary love, if we can breath and push together, if we can accept the fact that giving birth is a very difficult and messy process, if we can listen to the stories of those we see as our opponents, this really may be a moment of great transition in America, a moment when it may feel like we’re dying but in fact we are in the process of birthing something beautiful. Dear God may it be so. Amen.