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Pentecost 11 August 20, 2017 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Sermon for August 20, 2017 | Pentecost 12
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
Fr. Samuel Torvend
We have witnessed an extraordinary ten days in the nation beginning with a torch-lit parade on Friday, August 11, at which hundreds of white supremacists and Neo-Nazis rallied in support of one statue but, in fact, supporting the many statues of Confederate slave-owners: statues that were erected in the early 20th c. as Jim Crow laws were being codified in many state legislatures. But if truth be told: the issue is not statues but the fever of bigotry and racism in our national body. And this, too: we have witnessed the nation’s president doubling back on his refusal to denounce the resurgence of white supremacist hate groups, most of which claim to be Christian: their shields, flags, and clothing adorned with crosses – the cross on which a 1st c. Jew was put to death.
We might think that the events of these ten days are a legacy of the Civil War: something “out there.” But we would be remiss if we fail to recognize that our seemingly “tolerant” region of the nation carries similar wounds. While the first state constitution of Oregon explicitly prohibited African American settlement – and was not repealed until 1927 – the history of Tacoma and Washington fares no better. In 1854, the Puyallup and Steilacoom Indians were forced to abandon their ancestral lands – on which this church and many of our homes stand – so that the land could be sold for pennies to white settlers who coveted the rich farmland of the region. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited Chinese and dampened Japanese migration to the state. Indeed, a mob of white residents in Tacoma, led by the mayor and the chief of police, burned the homes of all Chinese immigrants in 1885 and forced all Chinese to leave the city at gun point. By the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan was active in Tacoma, targeting Catholics, Jews, and persons of African, Chinese, Hawaiian, and Japanese descent. Klan hostility promoted the segregation of neighborhoods – a shameful reality that continues in our metropolitan region. And in our own day, the successor to the Klan, the supremacist group called the Northwest Front, grows as it promotes resettlement of “pure whites” to this part of the nation.  No, I say, the events of the last ten days illuminate not only the resurgence of hate groups in the Deep South: they also cast light on the conveniently forgotten story of racial hatred and discrimination in our city and region.
What comes to my mind are the solemn vows each of us makes in the renewal of Holy Baptism: to renounce those evil powers which destroy the creatures of God; to put your whole trust in the grace and love of Jesus Christ; to serve him in all persons; to strive for justice and peace; and to respect the dignity of every human being. I wonder, though, are these simply laudable sentiments we mumble through every year or do they serve as core spiritual practices, as your rule of life? Do they enter into your prayer as they must enter into mine, asking the Spirit to transform any residue of lovelessness, bias, selfishness, violence, or disrespect for others?
What comes to mind is the woman in today’s gospel who pleads with Jesus to heal her daughter who is tormented by a demon. I wonder if her plea, by way of analogy, is no different than the one so many make today. For we, too, as a nation experience the tormenting demon called Hate, Discrimination, and Violence. Facing the disdain of the disciples and the apparent indifference of Jesus, she nonetheless persisted and found her daughter healed of this troubling spirit. She persisted with the One who is the source of life and healing. Can she not lead us to Jesus and lead us to persist in prayer and in the actions set forth in our baptismal vows? For you must know that though you and I have been socialized into quick if not instant gratification, there is no quick fix, no easy road to the diminishment of the bigotry and racist attitudes that populate the air we breathe. Indeed, it was only after years of carefully planned and nonviolent boycotts, sit-ins, marches, voter registration, and the incessant lobbying of elected officials that the Civil Rights Act was passed, passed as only a beginning of what is needed to bring a greater measure of justice to the terrible story of injustice among us.
What comes to mind is the most Holy Eucharist when, in receiving the Lord’s broken Body and shed Blood, we discern Jesus’ solidarity with any one whose body is broken in the pursuit of righteousness, whose blood is spilled in the work of justice on streets and alleyways, in prisons and homes, around monuments that express nothing but the hollow glorification of bigotry and discrimination. What can we do as Episcopal Christians committed to another way of living together in this world?  We can at least do this as a beginning: we can stand and walk to this altar and here encounter the One who intends to bind us together as this small but potentially powerful force committed to extending the love of Jesus into the economic, political and social fabric of our common life. We can receive here the holy wisdom and divine strength that this world cannot give, that we cannot muster on our own. We can share, here, in the Body and Blood of the One who was thought to be vanquished by hate and yet has risen with energizing life into you and me. We can receive this bread fragment and wine cup – a communion that extends across and breaks through any barrier erected by disdain and discrimination: our communion here drawing us into solidarity with God’s wounded yet beloved children.
The perennial temptation among Christians and their leaders is to play it safe publicly in order to avoid trouble and maintain some alleged internal unity so that everyone feels welcomed. Let others handle this mess, some say. But that path has led to Christian complicity in evil and injustice. To the strategy of silence, I say No, for this mess strikes at the heart of what it means to be an Episcopal Christian, strikes at the heart of our best aspirations as a nation. Let us then think together about how our witness in this little Stadium District might shine more brightly and clearly so that a future generation might say at least this of us: they persisted in both faith and the good works God gave them.