Sermon Notes - June 30, 2020
Sermon Notes - August 8, 2020

Black Lives Matter – What’s Next

What’s Next
Abraham Lincoln, at the start of the Civil War, would have agreed to have slaves remain in captivity.   He would have accepted the Confederates remain in the Union with their slaves while keeping the Union intact.  How, then, did he become the Great Emancipator, the Great Savior who freed the enslaved peoples of America? His transformation was due, in large part, to the character of the man; he pursued the truth.  Lincoln would not easily, certainly not for self-aggrandizing purposes, allow himself to be convinced to agree to any poorly conceived political plan.   Lincoln simply cannot be pigeon-hold with the term the Leader of a ‘team of rivals’; it was truth that was the one characteristic irrevocably embedded in him. The philosophy of searching for and following the truth was baked into his personality and affected every decision of his life.
The social context of our lives, the culture, the politics, the economic circumstances, our entire community determine who we are and what we shall become.   And, in the time of slavery, we can well assume the institution of slavery did not engender the kind of moral outrage, even in good people, we could ever come to hope for.  BUT, because of the kind of person Lincoln was, circumstances would lead him to a dramatic change of heart.   When one is always disposed to seek the truth and to live by it, one’s values can change with enlightenment, and one can learn and grow and change with time. Truth remained his virtual North Star and centered his moral compass.
Our concept of ‘falling from grace’ is often viewed, much like the concept of Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall; that at one time we are whole and perfect, and as tragedy strikes, all of a sudden, we find ourselves shattered and broken to bits.  Subsequent to this fall, our growth becomes a struggle to put Humpty back together again.  The truth is, we are always in the process of becoming, and we do not begin in a perfect place.  It is not a surprise we become frustrated with ourselves as we struggle towards some figment of perfection.  Why are we not as good as we ought to be?  Why are we not perfect?   We are broken and imperfect human beings. We merely strive towards perfection.  When we fail to grapple with the truth and weight of this concept, we run the risk of exposing ourselves to hypocrisy. 
How often we hear from our white, liberal friends, recently freed from the ignorance of bigotry (just like the person who recently quit smoking or drinking) ranting and raving over the evils of segregation and its twin ‘White Privilege’.  These are folks who used to live in abject comfort with bigoty and racism in all their ugly forms and enjoyed privileges attached to the color of their skin.  They have suddenly found religion!  On the one hand, we are somewhat relieved with their apparent conversion.  But, on the other hand, can we again be mistaken?  Can these new converts be trusted with our truth, our history, our feelings? How real is their newly acquired zeal?  Might it now be the new craze?  There is always a test to determine its genuineness.  The test is in their ability to deal with the truth about the world we live in and the truth about themselves.  Lincoln did change, he became genuinely committed to freeing the enslaved of this Union.  It was no novelty, the change came because of his character, the capacity deal ‘with a team of rivals’ and to understand the truth.
The Black Lives Matter movement is definitely a chapter in this Country’s move towards ‘a more perfect union’.  It is not an attempt to put Humpty back together again.  If there was a Humpty, he was more abstract than real.   We are fooling ourselves to allow those, who are delighted with the new platform, a new-fangled and popular movement, to come running with glee and superficial commitment and who tire easily, who are shallow, who are not willing and ready to make the painful changes this new, important movement demands. We must determine whether this new zeal is a new face for the same gratuitous satisfaction and comfort held in the existence of white privileges and advantages, or whether this new enthusiasm comes from personal anguish and pain over the sitz im leben of which we are already now a part; a culture of injustice baked into a society which needs to be dismantled and rebuilt for the sake of one truth and one justice for all.
We are not dealing with a simple problem. Racism is prevalent, systemic.   Here is an incident which is a template for our understanding of the all-consuming complexity of racism:
Frederick Douglas told this story almost inadvertently.  But, this story expresses, in all its simplicity, the overwhelming implications and manifestations of what racism is.  Douglas tells us that after five years of pampering by his grandmother, the time came for him to be presented to his owner and the owner of Wye House Farms. One his way to the ‘big house’, one of the first things he noticed and upset him to no end was seeing the enslaved children being fed like pigs in a trough.  He could not bring himself to be a part of this humiliation.  A simple yet poignant story, BUT here are the implications:

  • What Douglas was looking at (children fighting for food in a trough), was a creation of the white masters. (The precursor to today’s ghetto using redlining housing laws).
  • That this behavior was interpreted as inhuman and savage and demonized the enslaved children in the eyes of the master and of his kin.
  • The behavior categorized as inhuman and savage subjected the                    participants to the cruelest punishment.  
  • Frederick himself looked on his own kin with shame and even disrespect.
  • The enslave children felt bad about themselves and about each other.

Here indeed are the fundamentals of racism: a practice created by white people.  A practice demonized by white people.  A practice punished by white people.  It was a practice resulting in a sense of estrangement, distrust and disrespect, and engendered a sense of worthlessness in the victims and amongst themselves.
This is the problem of racism.  The victims are powerless and helpless. You cannot be proactive when you are a victim.
To lament over racism in all its degrading and disgusting aspects is merely shouting at Humpty lying at the base of the wall in shambles.   In real terms, Humpty got there by a simple and deliberate act of separating people; by offering privileges to one and denying privileges to others on the basis of their color.  The separation grows, and the cavern of hatred and ignorance proliferates exponentially as more and more stipulations are added to solidify distinctions.  This tragedy was and still is facilitated by the explicit help and support of the wealthy, the church and the government.   The Country has sunk into an irretrievable quagmire.  The damage is ongoing.  The damage boomerangs on its purveyors with worse ferocity than it was when originally propelled.   Being shocked into a realization of the wrongdoing of racism, the sin of the Country, is definitely a right and good start.  Diagnosis of the problem may be a beginning, BUT it is sheer hypocrisy to come shouting and flag waving unless we are committed to accepting complicity in the whole affair. Unless there is willingness and determination to change and be prepared for the personal sacrifices this acceptance demands, we are wasting time.  Slavery was wrong and sinful.   We cannot have it both ways; we cannot believe in and fight slavery while we celebrate symbols of its sinfulness (monuments) and keep holding on to the practices of its decadent past.  White people have the responsibility to solve a problem they created.  THE PROBLEM IS AORIST.   Failure to do so is sheer hypocrisy (the aorist tense in Greek is defined as an action created in the past whose consequences continue to the present).   How legal enactments in a society, those of the founding fathers were misguided!  How effective and destructive!  How all encompassing!  The slave laws have left, in their wake a deep, virulent and seemingly irreversible hatred.  How the church created a theological foundation for such an evil system to prevail is diabolic.
Jumping on a bandwagon today without some realization and accepting of the personal cost, self-examination, and acknowledgement of guilt, as well as, some corrective behavior on our part will do no good.  Ranting and raving about past evils with no obvious and deliberate move to change character, leaves the impression modern day protagonists will do the same thing wherever and whenever the setting will allow.  Racism was constructed brick by brick.  Racism has to be dismantled brick by brick.

Introduction Canon Lyons

The subjects of American’s original sins, slavery and racism, are today at the forefront of ongoing discussions in our churches and in our government.  After the tragic murder of George Floyd, the streets of almost every city and town in America were filled with people protesting the brutality levied against black and brown communities by police. These protests were fueled by young people of every ethnic background and every hue under the sun.  The diversity of these protest is something not seen since the Freedom Marches in the 1960’s and has given all who are participants in the struggle hope that the call for change will last more than a moment. 

Today, I wish to share some thoughts expressed by Canon Leroy Lyons. Canon Lyons is a retired Episcopal priest in the Diocese of New Jersey.  Additionally, I wish to recommend two books recently released.  The release of Begin Again by the Princeton University Professor, Eddie Glaude Jr. examines the struggles of James Baldwin in his effort to keep hope alive amidst the cyclical nature of the struggle for racial equality and how this cycle of enthusiasm and apathy has promoted disillusionment and sorrow in our community; Baldwin calls this cycle a “litany of past betrayals”. Alongside this work is the book, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, which describes how ill-informed and how little invested white people are in the ongoing discussions of racist policies and their role in the implementation of these policies.

It is important we all become informed and invested in this movement for positive changed.  The very life of the African-American depends on all of us understanding our past. The experience of the African-American is not a monolithic one; it is varied, colorful, creative, sorrowful, joyful, dangerous and inspirational; we are human.  Read as much as you can; learn as much as you can and participate as much as you can. 

Kindly direct all comments regarding Canon Lyons’ opinion piece to him via email to

Narcissism vs Mindfulness

Galatians 6:8 -10 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So, let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
The readings for today seem to carry a central theme of becoming God’s agents of transformation. It seems to be heavily based upon an understanding that our call as Christians and members of the  Body of Christ is much greater than our own personal survival or maybe one can prescribe to the revolutionary idea that our survival and success is based upon our willingness to participate in the work of Christ. We dwell in a time where it seems increasingly fashionable to live for ones own comforts and satisfaction. Today extreme narcissism seems to be unparalleled in the media and strains of it have become quite a large part of our daily lives. The new term being applied is mindlessness or having a lack of awareness which actually is just disconnecting ourselves from all that is impactful and important to those around us.  As resources dwindle the tension between hoarding and communal sharing becomes increasingly intense; very much like Jesus and his disciples in the miracle of the five barley loaves and two fishes.  How do we feed the multitude with so little?  Must we exclude those who need us, or do we choose where we believe we may have the greatest impact? How much faith are we willing to exercise in order to overcome our mindlessness? How much should we really care about the needs and feelings of others?

If the Episcopal Church is to be an agent of transformation in this world, we must be willing to move.  How can we move from being a church stuck in time and frozen within a framework of mindlessness and apathy to that of a movement driven by God’s Holy Spirit? Our Presiding Bishop Curry coins it “The Jesus movement”.

“We must start to subvert a static institutional identity in favor of becoming a dynamic, reputation-risking, radically inclusive, justice-oriented, deeply disruptive force in our community.”

How do we do this? How do we meet the needs of our congregations while still giving to our community? The answer remains the same “For they know we are Christians by our love” Yet, love come with a cost.

The price we pay is holiness, consecration prayer and sacrificial giving which provides us power to participate in a personal and community transformation one life at a time. Jesus can lift us into becoming transforming agents. His mandate was bold yet clear “Go make disciples. The making of disciples is about the willingness to both experience and reveal the effects of God’s transforming love.  “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” the Apostle Paul urges.  Many of our urban churches are facing possible extinction because a spirit of fear and skepticism has invaded our minds. This may seem quite a natural response as the years of broken dreams and the constant cry for love, healing and repairing of the breach  go unheeded.
In a recent article titled “One City, but Two Very Different Stories” in the Star Ledger, many residents of Camden were declaring that unlike the picture of tremendous success being broadcasted by those who have enriched themselves, there has not been much to celebrate for the residents. The reality of the residents was “A city where fresh food is as much a mirage as a good job.” A city in which hopelessness has become so thick that it seemingly can be cut with a knife. The urban Episcopal Church is not immune. It is that city in which St. Augustine has just declared its own death.

Many of our members are investing more time and energy in other places rather than seeing the church as a viable place to explore ministry. For many in our communities the church has become an institutionalized and insular structure which, in many, ways have made us become quite culpable in our own demise.

Many of our members are doing fantastic and extraordinary work outside of our churches.  Many sororities and fraternities are active in our communities helping young people find their way to colleges and jobs.  Many have chosen not to share in our corporate ministry and would greatly invest in community work. This is not to condemn but maybe they find these outside interests more meaningful because they can better see the work of transformation through these institutions, organizations, and through corporate giving. Black churches are now competing with sororities, corporations, and social agencies whose work and ministry they previously were shared.

This leaves the Church struggling to eke out a new identity and a renewed understanding of who we are really called to be. But my friends, this is the Good News! We have been here before! The early followers of Christ were bonded together not by buildings and structures but by a vision of hope and renewal as preached and taught by Jesus Christ. Our call is not to become a reflection of the community, but to become agents of transformation. We are called to be the experts on the topic and ministry of LOVE!  The disciples bought into a vision of God’s love as expressed through human compassionate acts, before it became a reality. The early Christians turned the world upside down! Our ancestors turned their communities upside down by believing even before they fully understood their missions. We have churches built on which were once open fields. This means that it may come a time when we may not have buildings but will still have a God who is inspiring us to do things in a profoundly different way.

The Church needs to raise a new crop of leaders who are first willing to believe in the work of Christ and the higher call to become Kingdom builders rather than being gate keepers. One of the most difficult challenge of God inspired leadership is the struggle of those who are co-leaders to buy into the awesome power of God. From Abraham, Moses, Joshua, through Jesus, Paul and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the challenge was just as great when either facing one’s opponents to that of shoring up the support of those who were close and involved in the movements.  It can easily become a tiresome burden; Abraham and Lot parted ways, Moses broke the first set of 10 commandments Tablets, Jesus cried out for the disciples just to stay awake, Paul and Barnabas disputed over John Mark, MLK fell out with James Bevel. Yet the work must go on!

My friends, for us to overcome these challenges it is important to hold fast that the work of transformation is ongoing.  It is revolutionary, but it is most importantly, Holy Spirt inspired. It is that Holy Spirit which created the world out of nothing, it made a believer out of skin sick Naaman, The Holy spirit made men out of cowards and inspired women to become space ship captains and soccer champs. It is that same Holy Spirit to whom we turn for fresh inspiration and renewed hope.   In the end it is all we have to offer to world. And in the end, it is the most satisfying!