Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2020 The Rev. Canon Shay Craig
Protests have been on my mind lately. For obvious reasons. I have some favorites. I love it when motorcycle gangs like Journey for Justice block the path of the Westboro Baptist Church members, when they try to protest at the funerals of veterans, shouting horrible words and making deeply disrespectful claims. The motorcycle riders gun their engines to drown out the WBC chants, in an effort to protect the grieving family and friends of the fallen. What I love about those demonstrations is the fact that these motorcycle gangs used the thing that gives them their greatest joy, their motorcycles, to drown out hate. Love is louder than hate. Another of my favorites was a 2017 rally held in Shelbyville, Tennessee. A white nationalist group called “League of the South,” which calls for the American South to secede held a rally on the heels of the tragic events in Charlottesville weeks before. At the Charlottesville protest, Heather Heyer was killed when a self-described neo Nazi deliberately drove into a crowd of pedestrians. At this Shelbyville protest, the groups leader, was attempting to address fellow white nationalists via megaphone when counter protesters arrived. The counter protesters were prevented from getting near to the League of the South people by a police line, in place to keep things from getting violent. The League of the South’s leader began to denounce the counter protesters with various epithets, the most Sunday friendly of which is “degenerate whores.” And the response of the counter protesters was to drown out the racist rhetoric by turning up a speaker and beginning to play the Mexican folk song “La Bamba.” In the video of this event, which went viral for a long time you can still see the protestors singing along in order to drown out the shite supremacists. They are singing and clapping and swaying. And, in my favorite moment, one of the police in riot gear, is kind of dancing to the music. The first thing I love about this video is that while the people assembled to express their hatred for people of color were frowning, even scowling, the counter protestors, there to testify to their advocacy for people of color, were smiling.The second thing I love about that event, is that it demonstrated that the antidote to hate speak, is sometimes dancing. Love is more fun than hate.
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. And it was very good.
Watching the news this week, it was difficult to see the image of a loving and compassionate God in the faces of protesters, in the actions of looters, behind the tactical masks of armed policemen, in the brutal snuff film that documented the vicious death of George Floyd… it was difficult to see the image of a loving and compassionate God in the news this week. Or was it. What does love look like? The God who loves us and made us and gave us dominion over the earth, that God, values human dignity. That God, embodied in Jesus Christ, came explicitly to overturn the corruption of the world and replace it with justice, compassion, brotherhood and sisterhood and love.
And when those values were not present, there was a flood, there was a bath of fire, tables in the temple were overthrown and ultimately a sacrifice was made. What does love look like? Sometimes, it looks like upheaval. Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” We see God at work in one another when we are kind, when we feed those who are hungry, when we visit the sick. We see God at work there because when we do those things, we see what love looks like. But we also see God at work when we stand up to injustice. When we see the corrupt practices of this world and put our words and our money and our votes and our bodies directly in the path of things God hates. Then we also see what love looks like. God is present when we protect the marginalized even when we protect them with a protest. Our text from Genesis today describes God creating humankind So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; man and woman he created them.
What is missing from that description? It does not say he made them privileged and marginalized. It does not say he made them black and white. Or conservative or liberal. It says he made us ALL in his image. And gave us dominion. He made the world, he made us, and put us in charge. We are created to protect one another. We are created to name injustice. We are created to make sacrifices for the kingdom. Yes, by disagreeing with one another if we have to. Yes, sometimes with our bodies. We do this because we respect the dignity of every human being. Because every human being is made in God’s image. We do this by acting not passively but forcefully. And we do it not out of hatred, but out of love. Sometimes love looks like a motorcycle. Sometimes it looks like La Bamba. Always it looks like God. God has charged us with the safekeeping of everyone made in God’s image. Of George Floyd AND Derek Chauvin Of the small business owner AND the looter Of the demonstrator AND the law enforcement officer. All of these people were made in the image of God All of them deserve dignity, justice and compassion. And love. All of them.
We follow a man who ate with sinners and laid hands on those despised by his culture and called out corrupt and powerful people and said the last would be first and ultimately gave his life because he loved us. If we say we follow this man then we have to be able to do it not just when it is easy, but when it is very, very hard. Not just when it involves smiling, but when it means speaking truth to power, loudly. Let me be perfectly clear. I am not endorsing the violence we saw this past week. I am not saying that kind of mindless mayhem has anything to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Wanton destruction of people and property has no place in the kingdom. But neither does cowardice.
Martin Luther King, Junior once said, ”Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
He also said, “Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper.” We have been shocked and horrified by what we have seen in the past week but we have not been surprised. We have always known that racism is alive and well in our culture and around the world. And we hope that we have done what we can to address it. But the fact is that this level of anger was seething right below the surface and resulted in the conflagration we are seeing across our country, because we have not been doing enough. We were made equal and in the image of God and we have been given dominion to make a way for equality, fairness, justice and dignity. Being a Christian does not always look like a hug and a smile. Sometimes it looks like a sign and a march and a voice and a vote, o stand up, to step out, to speak up to cry out, to do more than talk the talk of our faith. But to walk the walk. Or march the march. Not because we hate each other. But because we LOVE each other. What Jesus asks of us is the hardest thing I can imagine. To answer hatred with love, to stand up to violence, with love, and not to be passive, but to get out in front of evil and stand in its way. Not matching anger with anger but meeting it with the far greater force of love. THAT is what love looks like. THAT is what Jesus calls us to do.
I leave you with the familiar words from St. Paul’s letter to Corinth. I wonder if you will hear them slightly differently now. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.