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collecting sermons I have delivered in my congregation of The Church of the Brethren
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#987337 added July 6, 2020 at 1:24am
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May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be pleasing in your sight Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Ps.19:14

Jesus said “come to me all of you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

As Christians, and before Christianity as Jews, we have faced the issues of enslavement over and over. Our Bible discusses freedom from bondage in Egypt and in Babylon and we learn about that from the cradle. Many African Americans have drawn hope from these stories.

We white Americans who believe we have never experienced bondage overlook the devastating impact of American slavery in our own lives. In the old south, there were slaveholders and slaves. Most of the people were neither. This majority could have exerted real power as a unified group under the Constitution. However, the slaveholders were clever about keeping this from happening. They kept a large portion of these “free white people” under their control as surely as if they were slaves.
Free white folks depended on commerce with the plantations for their survival. If they did anything the slave owners didn’t like, they could be ridiculed or cut off economically. The slave owners were callous to the poor whites while saying “see how much better I treat you than the slaves!” The wealth that supported the entire society was controlled by the slave owner.

The slave owner’s wealth consisted largely of the unpaid wages deserved by, but never paid to the slaves. Although the slave owners attended church and professed Christianity, they controlled the church and perverted its teachings to justify their way of life and their power. There was no free choice. Poor white people were taught obedience to the slave holder’s version of the will of God. You buckled under or you went under.

Slaves were excluded from white churches but were free to meditate on scripture. From this one safe place, their spiritual place, the only thing they truly owned, came a rich heritage of spirit known to us most easily through their gospel music, and most profoundly through the strength of their community.
Where did that old southern culture go when slavery ended? Did any slave owner say “oh, yes, of course, all you northerners and abolitionists are so very right: I should give up my privilege and become a common citizen with power equal to but not greater than my neighbor. Thank you so much for freeing me from the culture of oppression where I must be the oppressor.”

How many poor whites put their arm around the former slaves’ shoulders and said “Here, brother, I give you half of everything I own. After all, I earned this pittance by doing your master’s bidding and getting paid for it. He paid me with the money he stole from you. You deserve half of everything I own.”

How many northerners followed up with the south and said “No, you may not make laws restricting rights to citizenship?” It took until 1964, 100 years, to pass a voting rights act. It took 90 years for segregated education to be outlawed, and that wasn’t done through legislation. Just 5 years ago, the voting rights act restrictions on voter suppression were dropped.

The rich and powerful just find other ways to sustain the system of bondage.

My mother told a story about a neighbor boy, a preschooler, who lived with his grandmother. She would put him in the yard to play and tie a cotton clothesline around his waist with the other end tied to a small tree. One day, my mother looked out the window and saw the child sitting in the yard crying, holding the two ends of the broken rope together. America is that child and bondage is the broken rope. The rope is made of old cotton, and the cotton is rotten.

Some of you are asking right now, “what does this have to do with my spiritual wellbeing?”
This: We nurture our spirits when we act on Jesus’ teachings.

This week’s chapter in the Brethren Guide for Biblical Studies, The Many Faces of Wisdom begins with today’s Gospel lesson: “come to me all of you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.” In consideration of this passage the author says “…if God really is doing something new, will we accept it and change our lives, or reject it and carry on as usual?”

Later on, he says “Instead of rallying political resistance to the Roman Occupation, (the state and the aggressor at the time,) Jesus has been crossing all sorts of social and religious boundaries by touching unclean lepers, healing a Roman centurion’s servant, healing people in Gentile territory and associating with tax collectors and sinners.

When John heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’

Jesus responds by listing his deeds, which are the deeds predicted in Isaiah—"

Jesus then says, “come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” The author summarizes saying “Jesus is wisdom.” Think about that: “Jesus is wisdom.”

Like the Jews of Jesus’ time, the people of the Black Lives Matter movement are facing an aggressor, the state, represented by the police. The police are members of the underclass known in slave times as “overseers.” The police have been given power over their neighbors by the state, but the state retains the right to change what is delegated to the police and holds responsibility for the content of their training.

Police officers are poorly paid and often they face difficult situations for which they are poorly trained. How can we expect them to reflect on what they are doing and just spontaneously correct the situation? They need the state to find wisdom and apply it. Remember, “Jesus is wisdom.”

But, who is the state? Is it the oligarchs, the owners of business and banking? That was the state Jesus faced. Or do we become the state when we choose to act in unity and in concordance with our Constitution?

Today’s battle in the streets of America is the same battle as the Revolution, as the Civil War, as the Civil Rights movement, as the labor movement, as the women’s movement, and yes, as the movement started by Jesus Christ that we call Christianity. It is the battle for the right to discern wisdom. It is the battle for the power to apply that wisdom to the creation of fairness in society. It is the battle for the power to create just boundaries around the boundless greed of the rich through laws and courts. It is the battle to create ways to share the burden of caring for our neighbor’s wellbeing as well as our own.

As long as we see ourselves as dependent on the rich for a productive role, for status, for a place in society, and for our medical care, we enslave ourselves to them, to the oligarchs. Enslaved in this way, we impoverish our own lives. As long as we depend on the poor to absorb the pain intrinsic in this economic system, we separate ourselves from wisdom. This is what Jesus told us: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”

To free ourselves we must share the burden of the problem in order to arrive at a solution. We must face our own greed and experience the pain around us. Unity with our black, brown, LGBTQ+, immigrant and native brothers and sisters, forms a rainbow of hope for us all. Unity among all of the vast and varied classes and underclasses of our evolving country lightens the burden of each citizen.

What does Jesus say is needed for this to happen? A humble heart. A gentle heart. What does that mean? It means we take on the yoke and share it with Him. It means we humble our hearts and understand that an individual person cannot move forward while bearing the burden alone. A shared burden can be managed.

Sitting in front of our computers and TVs and criticizing those trying to right a wrong is a form of enslavement. Holding onto the broken rope of slavery that enriches the few while casting the many into poverty or near poverty is not sharing the burden. Trying to patch together a sense of self-importance by being “better than” any neighbor shreds the security of shared purpose. Standing by while the overseer police kill a black person, or in fact any person, and then, believing police who tell us “they deserve it,” is not sharing the burden.

Conscious that he faced death, Jesus shared the burden of the turmoil that disrupted his homeland. He served the poor, healed the sick, and forgave the sinner without regard to race, religion or status of servitude. Hanging from the cross, he persisted in reaching out to those in need. We are not facing death on the cross, yet we hesitate. Jesus offers to share our burden. Yet we hesitate.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was among us, he reminded us to reach out to each other, to walk hand in hand. He learned this from Jesus. He learned it too from his neighbors, the surviving people of the African community who managed to support each other through the dark nights of slavery, of reconstruction, and of Jim Crow, and who, against all odds continue to act with hope today.

The Black Lives Matter people are reaching out to our community, the American community. They reach out with the audacity to believe we might respond because some of us have responded. They reach out with the audacity to hope that we will empathize with them because some of us do empathize. They reach out to us as kin. They know we share the same Father, the Father of Abraham, of David the Psalmist, the father of Miriam, Ruth and Mary, and the Father of Jesus. And we share Mother, Earth.

They reach out to us as fellow citizens of one great country, a country founded on a simple principle, that all of us are created equal. Each generation of Americans has been short-sighted in understanding what this means in practice, and each generation has extended the “all” to include more and more people. We strive to be one great people.

As the Psalmist says in our Old Testament lesson for today: “The Lord is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, and his mercies are over all His works.” Jesus says we, too, must be gracious and merciful, slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. We too must be good to all and merciful to all.

Whether working separately, haphazardly, or working in a unified way, we generate our destiny. Working together, we find love. Working together, we generate love.
Love means sharing one another’s burdens.
Love means having a humble heart.
Love means having a gentle spirit.
Love springs from and leads to unity of purpose.
Let us experience unity first in prayer, and then in song:

One: Dear Lord and Father of us all;
Many: hear our prayer
One: Dear brother and savior of us all
Many: Hear our prayer
One: Dear creator and sustainer of our mother earth
Many: Hear our prayer.
One: We are a fractured people living the pain of brokenness.
Many: Hear our prayer.
One: We have lived our lives in a culture sullied by slavery.
Many: Hear our prayer.
One: We have lived our lives blind to the terrible effect this slavery experience continues to render.
Many: Heal our vision.
One: We try to love, while repeatedly stumbling because of this unhealed wound.
Many: Heal our steps.
One: We have hesitated when called to share your burden.
Many: Grant us courage.
One: We desire healthy unity with our neighbors.
Many: Heal our relationships.
One: We desire the peace and comfort of knowing how to bear your burdens.
Many: Grant us gentle hearts.
One: We choose to be one with you.
Many: Grant us Wisdom.
One: We ask knowing we deserve nothing but are offered much.
Many: Grant us the capacities needed for unity so that we may heal our nation.
All: Amen

Sing: “We are one in the spirit

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