Delivered at Ames UCC on March 17, 2019
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
Sermons are the result of pastoral preparation, congregational presence, and Holy Spirit participation. Please join me in that mysterious but always delightful process at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.
Ours is a God of magnificent generosity—and so is that of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.
Ours is a God of magnificent generosity—and so it that of Mother Emanuel AME.
Ours is a God of magnificent generosity—and so is that of Tree of Life Synagogue.
Ours is a God of magnificent generosity—and so is that of Al Noor Mosque.
Ours is a God of magnificent generosity—and so it that of Linwood Mosque.
But white people are so narrowly focused on making sure we get what is ours, or protecting what we perceive should only be ours, that we lose sight of that magnificent generosity and take up arms and blow away bodies.
The emotion behind that decision is as old as today’s story.
Jesus tells the story of a landowner.
This landowner hires day laborers. Off and on throughout the day, he hires more people. At the end of the day, the landowner pays everyone the same amount of money, both the people who started early in the morning and the people who did not start until the early evening.
The daylong workers grumble. They assumed they would get more money because they had worked more hours. The landowner replies to the daylong workers that they are getting paid exactly what was promised and that the paying of the same amount to others does not take away from what they have earned. The people who started to work in the morning got what they contracted for, so what is their problem?
Yeah, what is their problem? Why would the daylong workers begrudge the landowner the use of his own money if the landowner has treated them exactly as they expected?
Now, I know the answer: It isn’t fair. Why work all day when you can saunter in at the end and still afford to put food on the table? Why are those people getting something for nothing? It just isn’t fair.
On another Sunday I might have taken a bit of time to affirm that sense of unfairness. But those Sundays are past.
We white Christians cannot afford to give any room or any sympathy to pouting cries of unfairness by people who have lost nothing just because others have gained a little something. We can no longer afford to perceive the gain of others as a loss for us, even for a moment in response to an old, old, tale.
Those days are gone. Those days are as shredded by white supremacists and Christian nationalists as the bodies of elders, adults, teens, children, and infants on the floors of houses of prayers across this continent and the world.
So what are we to do? There are two recognized white supremacist hate groups in Iowa. We could go after them. But the problem is far more pervasive than the proud boys and alt-right leaders who formally organize.
The evil of white nationalism is writing its graffiti in blood across the walls of the sacred places of us all.
Moments later I received notice that someone had commented on the post. The comment didn’t readily make sense—was it supportive or nasty?—so I followed the link to the profile of the person who had made the comment.
What I found was troubling and angering: name calling, conspiracy theories, and dehumanization of people deemed un-American. The rule of the commenter seemed to be that if you do not have anything nice to say, you say it over and over again, hopefully with inflammatory graphics. It mattered more to the commenter that the manifesto of one of the killers and his livestreaming of the massacre had been scrubbed from online platforms, than what the killer had done. For the commenter offered no condemnation of the violence. No condemnation of the bloody deaths.
With a little further searching, I learned more about who the commenter was. Not a Klansman, not an Aryan Nationalist, nor a correspondent for a white power Web site. The commenter was a white American woman who breeds and shows Border terriers. Just a regular white American woman who breeds and shows Border terriers.
She couldn’t be dangerous, right? Wrong.
In a world all too ready to believe the worst about people of color, a world where white people still feel like someone else’s gain must be our loss, the spread of memes and lies by people who do not formally affiliate with racist terror groups are no less lethal than the ones who do.
Yes, the terror groups must be stopped, but so must the white American women who breed and shows Border terriers—women in our own families, workplaces, neighborhoods, and clubs—who are so caught up in a false sense of unfairness that they show no concern for the bloodletting of dozens.
So, again, what are we to do?
In practical terms, get Robin DiAngelo’s book, “White Fragility.” Read it. If it makes you feel defensive or uncomfortable, read it again. For myself, it caused me to reevaluate several situations in which I thought I had done the antiracist thing, but actually caused more harm. That felt bad.
But it didn’t feel nearly as bad as the bullets breaking bone last week.
As long as white Christians protect our feelings, we are failing to protect Black, brown, Latinx, Asian, and indigenous bodies.
In spiritual terms, be open to God’s generosity. Be open to God’s generosity. In the right circumstances, any one of us could be just like those daylong workers who begrudge the generosity of the landowner, even though that generosity costs us nothing.
So explore practices of prayer that allow you to recognize the generosity of God in your own life so that you may not risk being threatened by it in the lives of others. Let me say that again: Explore practices of prayer that allow you to recognize the generosity of God in your own life so that you do not risk being threatened by it in the lives of others.
The upending of racism is not only an intellectual practice. It demands that we White Christians practice metanoia, a term I shared last week: a change of heart.
Let God change our hearts for we will need our hearts far more than our learning if we are to ever truly become people who will work all day so that others may live even one more.
Today we heard in the psalm
I will not pour their libations of blood,
I shall bless the Lord Who gave me counsel
through the nights that my conscience would lash me.
The blood has already been poured.
But we can still bless the magnificent and generous God who this day blesses and keeps the dead of Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque.
Bless the magnificent and generous God who this day blesses and keeps the mourners of Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque.
Bless the magnificent and generous God who this day blesses and keeps the first responders and health care workers and funeral directors and public officials now working in response to Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque.
Inshallah, God willing, we white Christians will some day prove worthy ourselves of that magnificent and generous God.
AMIN, ASE, and AMEN