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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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RACIAL INJUSTICE, INCONVENIENT TRUTHS, AND REPARATIONS

August 23, 2020

View the sermon:  https://youtu.be/KHs0pUv1dPg

 

RACIAL INJUSTICE, INCONVENIENT TRUTH, AND REPARATIONS

©Wendell Griffen, 2020

New Millennium Church

Little Rock, Arkansas

August 23, 2020 (Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost)

 

Luke 11:5-9

5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. [NRSV]

 Then he said, "Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. 

6 An old friend traveling through just showed up, and I don't have a thing on hand.' 

7 "The friend answers from his bed, 'Don't bother me. The door's locked; my children are all down for the night; I can't get up to give you anything.' 

8 "But let me tell you, even if he won't get up because he's a friend, if you stand your ground, knocking and waking all the neighbors, he'll finally get up and get you whatever you need. [The Message]

Luke 18:1-8

18Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  [NRSV]

1 Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. 

2 He said, "There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. 

3 A widow in that city kept after him: 'My rights are being violated. Protect me!' 

4 "He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, 'I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. 

5 But because this widow won't quit badgering me, I'd better do something and see that she gets justice - otherwise I'm going to end up beaten black and blue by her pounding.'" 

6 Then the Master said, "Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? 

7 So what makes you think God won't step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won't he stick up for them? 

8 I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?" [The Message Bible]

 

       For the past several Sundays I have preached sermons calling for reparations to Black children of God for centuries of systemic racial injustice across this society.  I thank the people who have communicated with me about the sermons. 

 

       We know that reparation for systemic racial injustice is not a comfortable, convenient, or popular matter to think and talk about. Some people would rather we not think and talk about the centuries-long abuse, mistreatment, and calculated neglect shown to Black children of God in this society.  Some people think this issue has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus.  However, I agree with those who believe this subject has been avoided far too long and should not be avoided any longer.  That is why I hope to include sermons on this issue in my yearly preaching schedule for the foreseeable future.  In the meantime, I hope you will continue sharing your ideas, concerns, questions, and other views with me.

 

       Today’s sermon is titled Racial Justice, Inconvenient Truths, and Reparations.  The passages from Luke 11 and Luke 18 shine light on another aspect of the reparations issue, namely, the reality that many people just do not want to deal with it.  In each passage, Jesus told a story to emphasize the importance of persistence in prayer.  Yet, these passages also point to the need to be persistent in pursuing justice.

 

In the lesson about the friend who sought to borrow bread from a neighbor to feed an unexpected overnight guest in Luke 11 and the lesson about the widow who sought a favorable ruling from a judge we read about people needing help.  Today the descendants of black children of God who suffered centuries of deliberate racial injustice and oppression need help. 

 

But as Jesus pointed out in these lessons, people we count as friends and people who hold positions of power often refuse to help others even when they know help is needed.  The lesson from Luke 11 about the friend who refused a nighttime request for bread shows how people refuse because helping requires them to move outside their zones of comfort and convenience.  In that lesson from Luke 11, the friend denied the request because he did not want to get out of bed and risk disturbing his children. 

 

The fellow could have gotten out of bed.

 

Children can go back to sleep.

 

But those are the type of excuses people in need get from others they consider “friends.”

 

“I can’t join you in protesting police brutality because I don’t want to upset my friends and kinfolk in law enforcement.”

 

“I can’t protest mass incarceration because I don’t want my conservative relatives and neighbors to disapprove.”

 

“I can’t support reparations for systemic racism because I don’t think my kinfolk would understand.”  

 

The lesson in Luke 18 about the widow and the recalcitrant judge sheds light on another aspect of the problem.  In that lesson, the judge had the power to remedy injustice.  The judge knew the widow deserved a remedy.  But for some unexplained reason the judge refused to grant the relief the widow sought. 

 

Both lessons make the same point.  Unhelpful “friends” and unconcerned people in power are reasons for longstanding injustice.

 

 I wonder how many “friends” of black people are like the neighbor who did not want to be bothered.  I wonder how many times people in power refused to use their power to make a just difference in the lives and fate of black people. 

 

And I wonder how many times preachers and Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders have spoken about these passages and avoided applying them to demands by black and other people of color for racial justice.

 

Yet the point Jesus emphasized about persistence in these lessons is what we should apply to the ongoing demands for racial justice, and especially reparations.  And in this context, we should understand that persistence in working for justice and dismantling injustice can require being disruptive! 

 

Think of the needy neighbor standing outside a house knocking loudly.  Think of the needy widow demonstrating and drawing attention to her petition – as if she were pounding on the door of justice – despite the reputation of the judge for being aloof.  We read these passages and think about persistence in prayer.  We should also apply them to persistence in working for justice.

 

Some people see protesters who interfere with street traffic as irritants.  Yes, they are irritants because they are being persistent in the fight against injustice.

 

The Freedom Riders were persistent.

 

The sit-in demonstrations in segregated restaurants and stores were acts of holy persistence.

 

Preaching again and again sermons about reparations is an act of holy persistence.

 

Protesters who show up at shopping centers and in front of public buildings are engaged in acts of holy persistence.

 

Jesus did not condemn the disruptiveness of the needy neighbor or the needy widow.  He used them as examples of what faithful people must do. 

 

We must be people of faith who make “good trouble.” 

 

We must disturb the false sense of peace.

 

We must disrupt the processes and practices of systemic racism.

We must make noise like the nighttime neighbor.

 

We must embarrass the powerful like the widow did in Luke 18. 

 

Stop expecting justice to happen because people feel right about doing justice.  Justice happens because “friends” and powerful people get to the point that they are worn down by our asking, seeking, and knocking.  They are worn down. 

 

May we be people with the kind of faith that works and pounds and demands and disrupts racist systems and processes.  May we, as children of God, understand that God will work through our protests.  God will work by our agitation.  God will work even when “friends” and the powerful would prefer to be left alone. 

 

This is the faith we must act out to obtain reparations.  We must petition, demonstrate, boycott, protest, and disrupt those who are comfortable with injustice and unconcerned about the continuing debt this society owes its black children of God. 

 

This is the faith we must act out to end mass incarceration.  We must petition, demonstrate, protest, and disrupt the birth to prison pipeline.  We must challenge and disturb “friends” and officials who have the power to transfer resources away from incarceration and into liberation. 

 

Where are the people with such faith?  Who are they?  When will we become those people?  When will we do this faithful work?

 

Amen.

 

O God, help us to ask, seek, and knock for reparations.

 

O God, help us to demonstrate, protest, and disrupt racist practices, racist policies, and racist people.

 

Thank you for the presence and leadership of your Spirit.  We ask your forgiveness for our waywardness, timidity, and unwillingness to get into “good trouble” in obedience to Jesus Christ.  Amen.