Sermon: On Charlottesville

index.jpgBy Ross M. Reddick, Pastor
A gospel message delivered to Spanish Fort Presbyterian Church
Text: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Today’s scripture lesson is about hatred, and the results of hatred. Joseph’s brothers hated him. The reasons why, while they are important for a full understanding, seem to fade in importance today.

As our session met yesterday in the fellowship hall, as we were laughing together, making plans, praying and visioning, the city of Charlottesville, Virginia…erupted. Violently. As of last night, dozens of serious injuries are being dealt with by the medical community there, and at least three have died–two police officers (in the line of duty), and a 32 year old woman…crushed to death as a car intentionally rammed through a crowd of people. 

And this morning, the ash, from this eruption, is still falling from the skies.  And while it may seem like falling ash indicates that its all over (this eruption), the disturbing truth is that hatred of this sort, will only wreak more havoc and more loss of life, if left unchecked or unmentioned. That’s the thing about eruptions and volcanoes; the explosion is hellish enough, but the real loss arrives when the earth is choked under the weight of blanketing ash. Suffocation.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that the ash actually ignites collateral fires.

I wish I were speaking symbolically, but I’m not. White supremacists, with torches were marching across the University of Virginia yesterday, in 2017. That’s the power of hatred.

In Joseph’s story, hatred had reached a tipping point. These brothers were jealous that Joseph was their father’s favorite. And Joseph wasn’t innocent; he was haughty about it, prideful, he literally wore it on his sleeve. That coat. They hated the coat, because it was physical reminder of that inequality, a symbol of the disparity of love that is readily admitted in the biblical narrative. They hated that Joseph who–even in his dreams–held this air of superiority. The lectionary skips over that part in the reading, I’m not sure why, but Joseph has this dream where he and all the other brothers are binding sheaves in the field. And all of a sudden the bundle he was working on stands upright, as straight as an arrow, and all of the other bundles bowed down to his. Now, that’s a pretty bold thing to say to your eleven older, bigger, stronger brothers, who already don’t like you. And, if that one wasn’t bad enough, the next dream involved the sun, and moon, and eleven (yes, eleven) stars bowing down to him.”

So, they got together and said, “let’s kill him.” And its unclear, at first. Are they just talking like most brothers tend to do, when the youngest one gets on their nerves. I can’t count the number of times my life was threatened just so by my big brother, and it was just us two. All I’m saying is that murderous oaths aren’t really that uncommon when sibling rivalries are at play.

But that’s where it starts, right? With words. Just words. Maybe it was a joke at first. Locker room talk. “Yeah, man, we should just kill him right? Haha!”

Well, the words didn’t just remain words, did they? In just a few verses, we see the brother huddled together, lying in wait, to inflict violence on their own flesh and blood brother. And they did it; they stripped him of his robe, threw him in a pit, left him to die with no food and water. //

I wonder if they realized at what point there words were turning into something more? I wonder if they could feel that transition taking place in their hearts; the shift from “boys-will-be-bvoys” to… attempted murder, and a requisite cover-up.

I bet they didn’t notice. It’s like the old trope of how one goes about boiling a frog.  You don’t throw a frog into a pot of already boiling water; because it will immediately jump out. The way to boil a frog is by putting it in a pot of cold water, and slowly, incrementally, increasing the heat.

Can you feel the heat? Can you feel the slow, incremental ways that white supremacy is resurfacing? (Maybe it’s not so slow, after all).

Can we recognize the history and the intent behind chants like “blood and soil” and “one nation, one people.” Those words are a direct call for “racial purity.”

I was tempted to address this issue in more ambiguous terms. I was tempted to talk generically about the brokenness of the world. But I think the events in Charlottesville showcase a very specific ideology that must be 1) named for what it is, and must 2) be addressed directly and openly by the church. Silence is not a faithful option. There is no ignoring this issue.

Believe me, it would be so much easier to not preach about this today. I can think of a thousand other ways to do Joseph and his brothers.  But God knocked me down last night, and it hit me; that today’s slated lectionary reading doesn’t end on a happy note. Sure, the brothers go back and rescue him; but its not because they had a change of heart, rather; they’d now figured out a way to make some money off of his demise. They would sell him into slavery, where he would probably die anyway.

The story ends today just like that. Some traders happen to be passing by, so they drag him out of the pit, and sold him for twenty pieces of silver.  Full stop.

Hatred. Greed. Fear. Self-preservation at the cost of others. This is the story of Joseph’s brothers. And this is the story of white supremacy and white nationalism.

This sinful ideology manifests itself in many ways. It’s easy to see some of it–torches and brown uniforms and Nazi regalia. But racism is much more powerful, not because of those obvious expressions, but because of the ways it hides in plain sight.

Everyone in this sanctuary knows that in any city and town across this nation, there are sections of town that are clearly white or black. We’ve all observed this reality. You know that isn’t just happenstance right?

Have you ever heard the term redlining before? After WW2 (you remember what world war two was about, right?) as veterans returned home, the nations largest housing boom was driven by the G.I. bill. Well in that era, our government, and specifically, the Federal Housing Administration, systematically enforced segregation by routinely denying low-interest loans to non-whites. For years and years, this was how it worked: white people got low loans next to all their white neighbors, and people of color didn’t get those loans. Blatant discrimination in sales, financing, in homeowners insurance rates, all across the board. They literally used color-coded maps of American cities based on racial criteria to categorize lending and insurance risks. New, affluent, racially homogeneous housing areas were outlined in green, while black and poor white neighborhoods were often circumscribed by red lines denoting their undesirability. Redlining, perhaps more than anything else, contributed to the initial wealth gap between white folk and black folk, a gap which only widens as time goes on.

I encourage you all to think about how your parents and grandparents bought their first home. Many of us sitting in this room are the beneficiaries of a system that favored us at the expense of others.

Racism shows itself in other ways too. In continued economic disparity, in unequal access to public goods, in uneven and inexplicable differences in judicial sentencing, in access to business loans, and in a million other ways that most of us don’t notice, or don’t see, because we don’t have too.

The groups marching in Charlottesville see a world that is changing, ever so slowly, and they fear that white supremacy is in danger. That’s what they are marching for. They are yelling Nazi slogans. They are yelling racial slurs at African-Americans. They talk about “preserving a future for white children.” It’s all related to the ideology of white supremacy. They might not call it that, but that is what it is.

Each and every one of us lives in a country that expressly wrote that insidious, sinful ideology, into our charter documents ( lets not forget that “3/5ths of a person” is right there in the Constitution!). And many, many folks, unfortunately, we haven’t changed their basic assumptions since then. All of us are formed in the midst of a culture that remains white supremacist, and it isn’t simply a matter of individual feelings (as in “I have some black friends, so I’m not part of white supremacy.”) Our whole culture is permeated with the active legacy of white supremacy, and it’s still at work everywhere you turn. It hides in plain sight.

And let me give a personal example.  When this church called me to serve as pastor, I was so excited. Leah and I immediately got to work in looking for a home. (She also happened to be 8 months pregnant, which itself was a powerful motivator.)  Well, what’s the first thing you need before any bank will talk to you about a loan?  An adequate down payment, right? Leah and I had a little bit saved, but certainly not enough. I get a phone call from my mother, who after taking care of another relative of ours, came into some money that she’d just been sitting on, intending to give it to her three children at some point.  Well, she recognized that we could probably use that money now, as opposed to later.

You see what’s happening there? Free money just shows up in my bank account. Because…because my ancestors had the same color skin that I do. My son is growing up in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, because of the generational wealth I can access. That money, that we used as a down payment, was only available to me because my ancestors were paying pennies on the dollar, while generations of non-whites were being robbed of their earning power. //  I wonder what Joseph’s brother’s bought with their silver? You think they bought some land, which would give them residual and compounding income over years, and years, and years?

There is a very deep sickness that is rearing its ugly head. It’s a sickness that affects all of us, me included. As Christians, we have a responsibility to call this for what it is: a resurgence of white supremacy and white nationalism, but one that has been there all along. It is our job to commit to the work of Jesus. Which is the demolishing of white supremacy whenver we can, and however we can.

I believe in a God that desires peace and justice. I believe in a God that commands us to creates a world wherein all people flourish. I believe in a God of love, not hate. I believe in a God who says “fear not.”

The way of Jesus commands us to speak up, and stand up, for those who are most vulnerable.

So hear this from this pulpit today: White supremacy is a sin.  White nationalism is a sin. Racism is a sin. Hatred is a sin. Allowing ourselves to be held captive to our fears is a sin. And, trying to ignore our own complicity is a sin. White supremacy is an evil that has soaked into the bones of our nation, its something that we all stew in it, whether we march in Nazi parades or not. It’s on us to respond with confession, with truth-telling, with grief, with repentance…in ashes.

Hear these words from 1 John 2:9 “Anyone who claims to be in the light, but hates a brother or sister, is still in the darkness.” That’s all I have today. Amen.

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