June 7, 2020
We Can Do This: We Are Made for This
A preacher friend of mine said this week, “And I thought preaching LAST week was hard. I have no idea what I will say THIS week, given all that is going on.” Yup. That sounds about right. I’m going to assume you don’t need me to recap the events we are watching unfold and erupt and evolve on our televisions, in our cities, in our neighborhoods, in our backyards. Let us pray things finally, finally, have gone far enough that our eyes are beginning to open, we are motivated to learn, we are energized to vote, that we are re-committing to the path of Christ. It’s no easy to time to be disciples. Many are filled with despair. It’s hard not to be.
And then I got this email from a friend, an African American businesswoman in Columbia: “Thank you so much for checking on me and my family. We are well. My young adult children are struggling with all of this psychologically and emotionally, though. I’m really concerned about their ability to thrive right now so I’m trying to keep them talking and encouraged. I refuse to lose hope!”
If she refuses to give up hope, then surely I can hold onto hope as well. And this week, hope arrives in the Creation Story from Genesis. From “In the beginning….”
What can it say to us right now?
Genesis reminds us we are all – ALL – made in the image of the Divine Creator. You, me, your children, your neighbors. The people you like, the people you don’t like. George Floyd and Derek Chauvin who killed him. The three others – Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao who stood by and watched – Yes. Made in the image of God. The protesters, the rioters, the officers of the peace. The stay-at-home-rs, the worriers, the marchers. Yes. Made in the image of God.
The Episcopal Bishop, Mariann Egdar, denouncing the use of sacred space and sacred scripture to implicitly suggest God condones violence and is on the side of the government; the person who used that sacred space and sacred scripture for his own agenda. Yes. Both made in the image of God. The pastor in her collar praying in the face of a police officer in full riot gear – Yes. Both made in the image of God. We’re all made in the image of God. Which means we are called to see God in the face of every human being. We have been failing at that. But, we’re trying.
Last week during our evening prayers a mother of a SWAT police officer and a mother whose door had been broken down by SWAT officers listened to each other, and everyone’s hearts hurt. Because to be an officer of the peace in a time when they are trained more to see everyone as potential enemy combatants, and to be the one thrown to the ground and handcuffed in their own home - That violates the image of God in us all. And we listened. And we learned.
Genesis tells us human beings, made in the image of the Divine Creator, are to master this call to be human. We are to take charge of the birds and fish and creepy-crawlies and other human beings – The way God would. Not the way we wish God would - smite mosquitoes and poisonous snakes and snakes just innocently lying there– But the way God does. Which, we’re told, is love. You might want to be knocking some sense into some heads right now. But we’re made to be human beings, called to take care of all of God’s creatures. Which means love. At least, that’s what Jesus says. And we have been failing at that. But we’re trying.
And so at Session we wrestled with what is happening in the world right now, and how we ended up here. We talked about how we don’t always understand the term “systemic racism.” What exactly does it mean? And how it’s on us to start educating ourselves – Opening our eyes, reading, watching, talking, about how this thing that’s been invisible to white people is actually poisoning all of us. Good thing Presbyterians think so highly of learning, and education. We’ve got some learning to do, as we start understanding how brown people’s experiences in this country are so radically different from white people’s.
And finally, Genesis doesn’t say, as I’ve been thinking all these years, that when human beings were made – The epitome of God’s creative powers – That’s when the Divine Creator said, “Now that is VERY good.” Nope. God saw everything – EVERYTHING – and THEN said, “Now that is very good.” And rested. Whew. Because only when you look at the whole of creation is it very good. An “A.” Each individual part is maybe closer to a B-. Perfectly adequate, fine, but not Very Good. We’re only VERY GOOD as we understand we are one tiny part of a whole. We’ve been failing at that. But we’re trying.
1. We are all made in the image of the Divine Creator.
2. We are to care for one another.
3. We, and by that I mean every bit of creation and the creatures who call this home, are in this together.
The good news is this: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, when it comes to this creation of God’s. All of creation becomes something Very Good when taken as the whole thing, all in relationship to every one and every thing else - Which means it isn’t up to any one of us. No one of us has to do it all. It’s in living together that we discover what it is to be made in the image of the Divine. Even though, yes, – as you have seen, we’ve been struggling to do for years. And years – and years – And failing, refusing to see, insisting our experience is the only experience - But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t trying. Because we are. And once Presbyterians learn what we don’t know, we start figuring it out, even as we keep on trying to take good care of God’s creation, of God’s creatures, of one another. And it’s in that trying that I find hope.
We each have our own ways – Maybe your way isn’t my way – But together, we people of faith, we know hard times come – And that’s when we hold fast to the Lord of Love, and let go of how things were, and how we thought things were. We keep walking the way of Christ, trusting there we will find courage to change, to think of the other, to learn and grow and admit we’ve been blind and wrong-thinking, and now to see, and realize we are called to be the people of God, which means we live as those made in the image of love.
How are we trying? How are we trying this week? Because it wasn’t just in Session, where they elders were honest with one another about our confusion. And it wasn’t just during last Sunday’s evening prayers.
It was Jason Papanikolas, as Mayor Pro Tem of Beltsville, giving a speech on Wednesday. He described how disgusted he was by the killing of George Floyd by a police officer, over a question of $20, and how it’s on all of us to hold elected officials accountable, and how we all have contributed to the state we’re in. And it’s in how he held up protestors stopping rioters, police officers helping protestors and kneeling with them and breaking bread together.
It’s when Quint Gregory helped organize some of us to make 90 lunches, and others to make 180 masks to put in those lunches - to give to the folk at Elizabeth House coming for dinner – so they could also have food the next day. Because if you can’t afford food, you can’t find masks. Some of us collected food from neighborhoods; many of us – Marion, Lori, Betsy, Carol, Jenni & Hampton, Jody and Liz, Nancy, Danielle - contributed food to fill up Dot Brownlie’s car with over 325 pounds of food, 240 diapers, and toiletries, which she took to LARS.
Richard Mason gave away lunches at Eisenhower Middle School, and he worked with the local police trying to find ways to build trust – Between officers who need to be trustworthy, and communities who need to see reasons they can trust the police. Helene Winters, Kimberly Gregory, the Janush Family – All walked in the Howard County March for Justice Black Lives Matter, joining thousands of others to make their voices heard peaceably, even as we heard stories of police officers around the country kneeling with protestors, eating and discussing and listening across the divide protestor and police officer. Maybe you saw pictures of police officers helping a small girl with her “Black Lives Matter” sign. Maybe you saw a Baltimore police officer holding the sign “Silence = Complicity.”
Now watch Ashley, Chelsea and Brittany remind us how God’s love shows up, because that’s what they can do – Remind us the power of the Spirit.
Our faithful Property Committee folk – including Stacy Coker, Harry Riggleman and Harry Hudson in this picture - come out week after week to tend to a beautiful property even when few of us will see it – Working hard to make it a place of peace and sanctuary, a place of God’s beautiful creation.
Is it enough? No. Because there really isn’t any such thing. Are these acts of faith in a time of fear and distrust? Yes. Small acts, done with great love, spread hope. There is no one right way to stand for justice. There’s no one right way to love our neighbor and all creation. No one right way to speak out and be heard and make a difference. We have seen this week that there are some wrong ways to manipulate Christianity. Insisting God is on your side does not mean God is on your side. People have been mis-using sacred space and sacred scripture from the beginning, including what got us into this whole mess in the first place – Let’s not forget it was our very own sacred scripture that was used to justify slavery in this country.
We Presbyterians are reformed, always reforming – We know we are always called to live as we’re made – In the image of God – We know we are always called to care for all creation – We know we – and by we, I mean even those creepy crawly snakes and mosquitoes – Are always in this together. How we live that changes. What we know, changes. What we are willing to see, and hear, and feel, changes.
Maybe you thought we were farther down this road than it ends up we are. I surely hoped so. I was wrong. We were wrong. But we do not give up hope, and we keep doing what we are doing, and we commit to get up one more day, to be louder, longer, about what we believe: We are all made in God’s image. We are trying to live as God’s people, with all creation. It’s not enough. So we’ll keep trying, one more day, and one more day and one more day. It’s who we are. It’s who we were made to be, in Christ.