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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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INESCAPABLE LESSONS

August 16, 2020

View the sermon:  https://youtu.be/pw6RNQNs1sc

 

INESCAPABLE LESSONS

©Wendell Griffen, 2020

New Millennium Church

Little Rock, Arkansas

August 16, 2020 (Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost)

 

Luke 10:25-37

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 

29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

 

Luke 16:25-31

25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

 

Luke 19:8-10

8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

 

1 John 4:7-12, 19-21

7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 

9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 

19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

 

       The passage in Luke’s Gospel known as the parable of the Good Samaritan (ponder the bigotry of that term), the one about the rich man and the pauper named Lazarus, the account of the conversion of Zacchaeus, and the passage from 1 John 4 emphasize the inescapable truth summarized at 1 John 4:21:  those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.   Notice that I call this truth “inescapable.”  This lesson is not only central to the religion of Jesus.  It is also central to every other religious system we know. 

 

By any honest standard, this society has violated that inescapable standard when it comes to African-Americans.  Black people are like the traveler in the

Good Samaritan lesson who was ambushed by robbers, beaten, and left for dead on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.  Like the priest and the Levite in that lesson, religious people blessed with white privilege have always seen and known about the plight of their black brothers and sisters.   

The slave trade did not happen secretly.  Enslaved Africans were sold openly, owned openly, and mistreated openly before and after the Revolutionary War.  That is undeniable.  

 

It also cannot be denied why Africans were enslaved, bought, and sold as property.  Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. made that point clear in his introduction to In the Matter of Color:  Race & The American Legal Process (Oxford University Press, 1978) in these words.

 

Twenty years after the Civil War, over one hundred years after the Declaration of Independence, two hundred fifty years after the first black man set foot in America, in Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, in a parody of white attitudes, suggested that as late as 1884 many white Americans still failed to perceive blacks as human beings.  He writes:

      

“Good gracious.  Anybody hurt?”

       “No’m.  Killed a nigger.”

“Well, its lucky because sometimes people do get      hurt…”

 

       Like the priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan lesson, White people in this society have no excuse for refusing to treat Blacks as their “brothers and sisters.”  Yet even when Whites have boasted that Black people were treated “just like family,” that was a lie. 

 

Do you remember the words the patriarch Abraham spoke to the rich man who pleaded that Lazarus be allowed to give him relief from torment in the afterlife? “Child, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things…”  I now apply that statement to the issue of racial injustice, and direct it especially to White people who deny their privilege.

 

Remember that White people were never enslaved in this society.

 

Remember that White people did not allow their family members to be enslaved, bought, and sold like livestock. 

 

Remember that White people did not allow White people to be raped and castrated.

 

Remember that White people did not allow their family members to be murdered, robbed, cheated, and otherwise brutalized with impunity.

 

Remember that White people did not pass laws prohibiting white people from voting (except for white women before the Nineteenth Amendment). 

 

Remember that White people did not create laws that disqualified their white “family” from serving on juries and being elected to office. 

 

Remember they did not set up and maintain systems that forced white “family” members to work on jobs for less pay.

 

Remember they did not set up laws that forced White to attend inferior schools, White teachers to earn less pay, and White people to have no voting power. 

 

Remember they did not pass laws that limited their White brothers and sisters from traveling whenever and wherever they pleased, marrying whomever they pleased, owning land, starting and operating businesses, and doing a host of other things Black people were prohibited from doing.

 

Remember that Black people were shot, strangled, bombed, drowned, and murdered by White law enforcement agents for years before George Floyd was strangled to death. 

 

Remember that no White persons were arrested for killing hundreds of Black people in Elaine, Arkansas in 1919, killing hundreds more and destroying 1200 buildings in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1920, or lynching 14 year old  Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi in 1955. 

 

Just as the priest and Levite knew the plight of the beaten and robbed man they did not help on the Jericho Road, so have privileged White brothers and sisters known the plight and refused to help enslaved and then marginalized Black children of God.  Like the priest and the Levite in the Good Samaritan lesson and the rich man concerning the lesson about Lazarus, privileged White brothers and sisters have always known the commandment to love neighbors as we love ourselves. 

 

White children of God are not ignorant about the Good Samaritan lesson.  They do not suffer from moral ignorance, amnesia, or dementia.  Sadly, White children of God have behaved towards their Black brothers and sisters the way the rich man ignored Lazarus and the way the priest and Levite disregarded the robbed and beaten man left for dead on the Jericho Road. 

 

Robert P. Jones makes this point in his newly released book titled White Too Long (Simon and Schuster, 2020) in the opening chapter as follows:

 

…[W]hite Christians deployed to resist black enfranchisement following the Civil War.  The theologically backed assertion of the superiority of both “the white race” and Protestant Christianity undergirded a century of religiously sanctioned terrorism in the form of ritualized lynchings and other forms of public violence and intimidation.  Both the informal conduits of white power, such as the White Citizens’ Councils of the 1950s and 1960s, and the state and local government offices, were populated by pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and other upstanding members of prominent white churches.  The link between political leaders and prominent white churches was not just incidental; these religious connections served as the moral underpinning for the entire project of protecting the dominant social and political standing of whites. [p. 5]

 

However, the Spirit of God does not let us get away with ignoring the plight of our vulnerable brothers and sisters, nor does the Spirit allow us to pretend we are not obligated to make a holy difference in their lives. 

 

That is why the Spirit of God did not allow Cain to be unconcerned about the condition of his brother Abel. 

 

That is why Jesus did not allow the rich ruler in Luke 10, the religious leader who asked Jesus “who is my neighbor in Luke 16, and Zacchaeus in Luke 19 to think they were obeying the commandment to love their neighbors as themselves.  

 

And this shows what the writer at 1 John 4 meant by the statement that people who claim to love God but disregard their brothers and sisters are not telling the truth (liars). 

 

The Good Samaritan lesson shows what White children of God should do. 

 

First, recognize the plight of Black children of God.  The Samaritan did not pretend to not see and understand the plight of the robbed and wounded traveler on the Jericho Road.  The same must be true for White brothers and sisters concerning Black children of God.

Stop pretending you do not see color. 

 

Stop denying you do not have privileges and opportunities because of your Whiteness that Black children of God do not have.

 

Admit that you do not have to worry about being pulled over by the cops because of your color while Black children of God constantly live with that concern. 

 

Admit that your ancestors were not enslaved, bought, sold, raped, castrated, terrorized, and deliberately denied education, the opportunity to own land, and worked for no wages. 

 

Admit that these and other privileges are yours because of your Whiteness, not because you earned them. 

 

Admit that these and other privileges have been denied Black children of God because of their Blackness, not because they deserved to be mistreated. 

 

Admit that White children of God hold unjust advantages and benefits because of the ways Black children of God have been and are mistreated. 

 

Second, put your privilege and power to work!  The Samaritan dismounted from his beast and treated the wounds of the robbed and beaten traveler.  He then lifted and placed the wounded traveler on his beast and took him where he could provide more treatment and shelter the wounded man from the elements.  The Samaritan used his privilege and power to pay for the wounded man to stay at the inn and receive food and care while the Samaritan continued his journey.  By doing so, the Samaritan recruited the innkeeper to join him in being an ally for the wounded man. 

 

Put your privilege and power to work.  Your voice makes a difference.  When White people speak, bankers, politicians, and others in power listen and respond in different ways. Use your racial privilege to show up, speak up, and act up!  

 

Harriet Tubman and the countless number of other enslaved Africans escaped the cruelties of slavery thanks to White children of God who, like the Samaritan, established the Underground Railroad by using their privilege and power to hide them, shelter them, feed them, and transport them out of the South.   Follow the example of the Samaritan.  Follow the example of the White children of God who made the Underground Railroad work.

 

Challenge other White children of God to join the struggle for racial justice.  The Samaritan promised to repay the innkeeper for the cost of sheltering and caring for the wounded man while the Samaritan continued his journey.  Do likewise! 

 

Challenge other White children of God to become activists and agents of racial justice. 

 

Challenge them to admit their White privilege. 

 

Challenge them about the sinfulness of ignoring and denying racial injustice and the damage it causes. 

 

On May 17, 1954, the nine White Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States issued the landmark decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education.  Nine White men followed the example of the Samaritan unanimously reversed the 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson that had been the foundation for legalizing Jim Crow in public education.  The landmark decision only happened because those nine White Justices used their White privilege to see and condemn the racial inequities of segregation. 

 

The Spirit of God is calling White children of God to follow the example of the Good Samaritan.  Listen to the Spirit.  Follow the Spirit. 

 

Holy One, thank you for refusing to allow us to pretend we do not see and know about the indignities, mistreatment, abuse, and terrorism Black children of God have experienced for more than 400 years in this place called America.

 

Thank you for reminding us that we do not love you if we do not love our Brothers and Sisters.

 

Help us, O Spirit, to grow deeply because you show us so much.  Help us to use our power and privilege to dismantle racist systems and practices and policies.  Help White children of God become agents of liberation in an Above Ground Railroad of racial justice. 

 

We confess our sinful obedience to the example of the priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan lesson.  We seek your forgiveness, through Jesus Christ, and commit ourselves to follow you more faithfully, boldly, and lovingly.

 

Amen.