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What does that have to do with me?

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I can’t turn water into wine. But might I be able to do something about overcoming hatred with love?

Today’s texts: Isaiah 62: 1-5 and John 2: 1-11

Pastor Phil
Pastor Phil

Come with me for a few moments to that wedding at Cana.

Jesus was there with his mother. A few of his new companions had come along as well. The way John tells the story, Andrew and his brother, Simon Peter; Philip and his friend Nathaniel had become followers of Jesus. John does not say whether all of them went to the wedding in Cana, but let’s imagine that they did.

So they are all there having a fine party. This must have been a bit of a shock for Andrew, at least, who had been a follower of John the Baptist – you know, the guy who lives in the wilderness on locusts and honey and who does not seem much given to throwing back glasses of wine at a wedding feast.

But here they were, celebrating with the bride and groom when Mary noticed something was wrong, something that would not only wreck the party, but damage the reputations of the families putting on the party. They had run out of wine. This was not supposed to happen at a great wedding feast.

jesus-at-wedding-of-canaMary slipped beside Jesus and told him, “They don’t have any wine.”

And what did Jesus say?

“What does that have to do with me?”

His reputation was not on the line. He and his friends could leave the party, grumble a little bit about the cheapness of the hosts or snicker at their misfortune.

“What does that have to do with me?”

His life could go on quite nicely. And if he tried to do anything about this mishap, if he could fix it in some way, suddenly there would be lots of attention paid to him. He would be on the spot for his new-found followers, for the guests at the party. He was not ready for that.

“What does that have to do with me?”

Have you ever said that? I surely know I have.

Not because I did not understand that what was going on around me might actually have some impact on the community in which I live. More because I did not want to become the focus of attention for doing something outside the norm.

I can’t turn water into wine. But might I be able to do something about overcoming hatred with love? About breaking through barriers that keep people from participating in the party?
About building bridges that would connect those who have all the wine they need and those who look through the windows wondering why they cannot be inside?

Our Friday morning book group just spent some time on a chapter in a book about the questions Jesus asked, questions like “What does that have to do with me?”

Here’s another question from a different setting.

woman-wiping-feet_1409220_inlJesus was at dinner with one of the religious leaders of the town. Interestingly, he had just been chatting with a couple of John the Baptist’s disciples who were a little perplexed by this rabbi who eats and drinks with sinners, so unlike John. And now here he was, eating and drinking with a member of the religious establishment when a women well known as a sinner – probably a prostitute – showed up, bathed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, who poured ointment on them.

His host – named Simon – was a little put out by this. Jesus looked at the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?”

Ah, another question.

Dr.-Otis-Moss-IIIOtis Moss, III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, extended that question in his essay in the book we were reading.

“Do you see this person who has been dismissed by Rome and your theological doctrine as a non-entity?

“Do you see this woman, nameless to all the men, defined as sinner, rebellious, unclean and of low moral wattage because men who have idolized their gender have scandalized her humanity?

“Do you see this woman?

“I want you to see this woman beyond your constructs, beliefs, cultural dogma and foolish ideology. I want you to see this woman.

“Look, Simon, she is impoverished, oppressed and wounded, yet she has given great service God.

“Do you see this woman?
Do you see her standing on corners in cities holding a sign soliciting kindness?
Do you see her crossing the southern border with children in tow, running from danger and hoping for a new future?
Do you see this woman, not yet an adult, walking streets late at night flagging down cars looking for men who cruise the city to support the oldest profession?
Do you see her making choices between food or rent, education or employment, health or safety, love or security?
Do you see her never able to make ends meet but always smiling with joy for her children?”

Otis Moss says the question is not just do we see her. It is – do we know that we are her?

And perhaps we ask, “What does that have to do with me?”

Jim WallisOne of my heroes, Jim Wallis, the leaders of Sojourners – the group that puts faith in action for social justice – has a new book coming out on Tuesday.

Jim has spent a lifetime immersed in issues of race in this country. It all started when he was a 14-year old growing up in Detroit in the early 1960s. He began to ask questions at his church about why there was such a gap between the whites and the blacks in his city and why his church wasn’t doing anything about it.

A church elder told him, “Son, if you keep on asking those questions, you’re going to get into a lot of trouble.”

“Do you see this woman?”
“What does that have to do with me?”

When you see that they are out of wine, if you choose to act, you may find yourself getting into trouble, or at least getting into some uncomfortable situations.

Jim’s new book is called America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America.

It’s really a book written for white Christians – for me, for most of us here. And a central question that it poses is can we be more Christian than white?

Jim said that as he talked with black friends, especially with black parents, the line that got the most response was, “If white Christians acted more Christian than white, black parents would have less to fear for their children.”

Of course we want to act like Christians, we say. The problem is we often see issues of race in this country through white eyes.

A Public Religion Research Institute survey on American values that came out in November underscored the perception gap between blacks and whites.

While about 80 percent of black Christians believe police-involved killings are part of a larger pattern of police treatment of African Americans, around 70 percent of white Christians believe the opposite … that they are simply isolated incidents.

But there’s more. If you are a white Christian, you are more likely to miss the patterns of race than if you are a non-Christian white person – 71 percent of white Christians, 65 percent of non-Christian whites.

“Do you see this woman?”

This weekend, we are celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the man who combined deep Christian faith with a risk-taking commitment to changing the racial equation in this country.

In April of 1963, he was city in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, after being arrested during a civil rights demonstration in that highly segregated city. It would be in September of that year in that city that members of the Ku Klux Klan would plant sticks of dynamite under the front steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church setting off an explosion that killed four little girls.

In April of 1963, he was sitting in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, after being arrested during a civil rights demonstration in that highly segregated city. It would be in September of that year in that city that members of the Ku Klux Klan would plant sticks of dynamite under the front steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church setting off an explosion that killed four little girls.

Sitting in jail, King was distressed to read that the white clergy of Birmingham – the moderate, liberal white clergy – was criticizing the way he was campaigning for justice. He began writing a response along the margins of the newspaper page, smuggling his writing out of jail bit by bit over the next days. His powerful response became known as the Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

Some of his words from then still have resonance now. Just think how we react to the Black Lives Matter movement that is the latest incarnation of the struggle not just for equality but for respect and inclusion. Aren’t they causing too much trouble? Shouldn’t they be more patient, more orderly in seeking change?

King wrote to the ministers about “the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

He sensed that they really had no grasp of the pain underlying the black push for equality of his era as he wrote:

“Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, ‘Wait.’
“But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim;
when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters;
when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society;
when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television…
when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”;
when you take a cross-county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you…
then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

“There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

It’s been 53 years since King wrote those words and clearly much has changed. Segregation is no longer the law of land, opportunities have opened up for African Americans in so many places, the economic condition of many black families has improved.

And yet do you see these tears when a white gunman joins an evening Bible study at a church in Charleston, South Carolina and kills nine black people who had welcomed him in?

Do you see the tears of this woman, the mother of 12-year old Tamir Rice, killed by a police officer in a park in Cleveland out of fear?

Do you see the tears of the families of Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner or Walter Scott or Sandra Bland or Laquan McDonald or Tony Robinson?

Do you see the tears over employment gaps, education gaps, incarceration gaps?

What, then, are we to do? What does this have to do with me?

Let me end with three words rooted in scripture.

One is lament. One is repent. And one is hope.

Our sacred texts are full of words of lament, lament over infants being killed by a brutal king, lament of Jesus’ family at the foot of the cross, lament over the early Christian being stoned to death, lament in the Psalms, lamentations in a whole book of the Hebrew scriptures. The African American tradition is rich with the music of lament, the spirituals – “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” – the blues of “Call It Stormy Monday,” the wailing in the midst of grief.

Our sacred texts also talk about repentance.

Emily Heath is a UCC pastor in New Hampshire. Here’s what she wrote this week: “Repentance isn’t about feeling bad or ashamed or guilty. It’s about being willing to put aside the things that are keeping us from fully participating in what comes next. It’s about believing that our mistakes and our past don’t have to define our future. And it’s about deciding to believe that we can be a part of God’s own work in our world.”

If racism is America’s original sin, then we have some repentance to do, individually and as a nation. The mistakes of our past do not need to define our future – as long as we look at those mistakes honestly, lament what they have done to us and then redefine our future.

And what can guide us toward that future is hope. To quote an old saying from Jim Wallis, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.” And I would add that God’s grace and our work is how the evidence changes.

Our first reading this morning came from a time when the Jewish people were returning to Jerusalem from a time of exile, of disorientation. It must have been hard for them to imagine that this day would ever come. And then the evidence changed.

The prophet says, “I won’t sit still until her righteousness shines out like a light and her salvation blazes like a torch…You will no longer be called Abandoned, you will be called My Delight Is In Her.”

Jesus asked, “What does that have to do with me?”

We ask, “What does that have to do with me?”

It has do with living as followers of Jesus, bring hope from our lament, healing from our repentance, making God’s work in the world our own.

Let’s sing of that work with hymn #576, “For the Healing of the Nations.” Let’s sing the first three verses.