Pastor Ingrid’s sermon from June 28, 2017, following the not-guilty verdict in the trial of Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile.
The gospel according to Matthew, the ninth chapter:
35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
Word of God. Word of Life. Thanks be to God.
When I began to leave the house as a teenager without my parents by my side, my father’s words to me were always the same. “Be good,” he’d say as I ran out the door to hop into a friend’s car. Night after night, weekend after weekend, always the same farewell. We never had a conversation about the meaning of his words; he assumed I knew what he meant, and I probably did. His parting instructions carried into adulthood. “Be good,” was his instruction when I left for college. And when I got married and my parents walked with me down the aisle, my father whispered in my ear, “be good,” as we parted ways at the front of the sanctuary. I suspect that when I go into labor in a couple of months, these might be the words of “encouragement” he chooses to voice. It was and still is his favorite sending when I’m physically turning away from him and waving goodbye, to embark on an adventure on which he cannot accompany me.
It’s hard to send our kids or our loved ones out into the world. The truth is that many of us would prefer to tail them—that is, to follow behind them—throughout their lives. Oh, of course, we’d agree to stand twenty feet from them at all times, so they could “feel” independent, but we’d be close enough to intervene when we saw danger approaching. If we were there, we may even be able to save them from everyday hurts and embarrassments and heartbreaks—those things that we wish, wish, wish they didn’t need to experience as part of the human condition. Many of us give the current generation of “helicopter parents” a hard time, but, if we’re honest, we’d all like to hover a little bit closer to those we love—whether it’s our child, our partner, our parents, or our closest friends. It sometimes takes every ounce of our courage to see them turn their backs from us, wave goodbye, and head out on adventure on which we cannot accompany them.
This weekend, with the rage and sorrow of Philando Castile’s mother still ringing in our ears, we are confronted with the reality that only some of us know intimately—that is, it takes exponentially more courage to send our loved ones of color into this world. “Be good” isn’t a sufficient sending for those heading out into communities and systems that weren’t created for them. The details associated with the sending instruction need to match the potential risk, which is why, over the past several months, I’ve heard parents in this congregation and elsewhere tell their children that, when approached by police and other authority figures, they need to “move slowly,” “keep their hands in plain sight,” “do what they are told,” and “speak clearly, but only when spoken to.” We send our loved ones out into the same world, but we deceive ourselves if we—for one moment—think that the world offers all of them an equal playing field. The society in which we live was carefully crafted to privilege some of our sons, some of our daughters. As the great scholar, activist, and co-founder of the NAACP, W. E. B. Du Bois once said, “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.”
Minneapolis Pastor, Danny Givens, in his leadership role in the Black Lives Matter movement over the past couple of years, has often reminded all of us that “there is no such thing as other people’s children.” Many of us think this is true. Jesus lived as if this were true. The text today says that he had compassion on the crowds who stood before him—crowds of people who were marked by harassment and Roman oppression. Sometimes we think of the word “compassion” as a flimsy word, but word “compassion” literally means “his guts were torn up on the inside.” Jesus looked at those who stood before them as if they were his own children and he was torn up on the inside. Their lives, their fears, their pain, their wounds were intimately bound up with his. Their cries became his cry.
And I think that’s why he turns to his disciples—disciples who were prone to both bumbling and betrayal—and says, “Today, your identity changes. This morning you woke up thinking of yourselves as disciples, students, apprentices, adherents. Your attention has been focused on learning from me, the teacher. But, this afternoon, you also become apostles—those who are sent out as messengers and ambassadors to carry the message, to do the work.” I have no doubt that Jesus wondered if he was sending them away too soon. After all, really nothing about his interactions with Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, Thaddaeus, Judas, and the other James and Simon up until this point indicated they were well-equipped to proclaim the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. They weren’t ready. But they were who he had, and, the truth was, the world couldn’t wait for them to read one more book on preaching techniques, to do one more residency in the village clinic, to spend another day in the morgue refining their resurrection skills. The world needed the good news now.
And so the twelve turn around, wave goodbye, and head out on an adventure into a world that was quite literally dying to hear and experience another story. I’m suspect the disciples-turned-apostles felt like imposters the first time they laid their hands on a leper, or commanded the dead to rise, or stepped up to the microphone and demanded that the demons that terrorized the people depart. And, no doubt, they made mistakes along the way. In the words of Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce, “I’m sure they sometimes rushed into the language of healing, before understanding the fullness of the injury and the depth of the wound. I’m sure they were tempted to offer a Band-Aid, when the gaping wound required surgery and complete reconstruction. I’m sure they were afraid to sit with the ugliness, the messiness, and the pain that is life in community together. And I’m sure they offered clichés to the grieving, those whose hearts were being torn asunder, clichés they later regretted.” They never became experts; they were always apostles in the making. But they kept showing up at the world’s fault lines, because that’s what Jesus instructed them to do.
Two years ago this weekend, when we gathered to worship, it was with news from Charleston, South Carolina—news that a white, Lutheran gunman had found his way into a historic black church, and after sitting with a prayer group for an hour, he had shot and killed nine of the people who had welcomed him in. Today we gather to worship, this time with news from our own city—news of a jury’s not guilty verdict in the shooting death of Philando Castile, a school cafeteria worker, who pulled over by law enforcement because of the structure of his nose and killed 74 seconds later.
We wish these were isolated tragedies. We wish that we could honestly say that we haven’t heard these stories like these before, and that we don’t expect to see anything like them again. But you and I know that these are simply two new chapters in a stormy American tale that we’ve been writing since our founding. It’s a tale that is less about the individual actions of people like Roof and Yanez—harmful though they may be—and more about the structural racism that pervades our shared lives. This is one of our world’s fault lines. I believe Christ is standing near to it; sometimes I even close my eyes and imagine that his body is bridging the gap so he can touch people on both sides of the divide. And, while white privilege affords some of us in this congregation and in this city the option of choosing when and where we join him there, others of us are forced to show up every day the moment our feet hit the bedroom floor.
Martin Luther once said, “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.” Alongside with our neighbors, our communities, this morning we yearn for a new story. A story marked not by harassment but by healing. A story marked not by oppression but by freedom. A story marked not by violence but by compassion. Like our ancestors, we are imperfect storytellers—prone to both bumbling and betrayal. But, this morning, we take comfort in Jesus’ parting words to his disciples in Matthew’s gospel, “When things get tough, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the living Spirit speaking through you.” And we trust that the Spirit never tires of saying, “This isn’t the end of the story. Look, I’m breathing something new, for, see, the kingdom of God has come near.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.