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When Love Comes

Karlene Griffiths-Sekou
Sun, Jan 12

Text: Matthew 3: 13-17

Recently British film director, Steve McQueen, released an epic film, 12 Years A Slave. It tells the true story of Solomon Northrup, a born free Black man, married with children, living in New York State during the antebellum era. Northrup was lured into a business scheme to travel to Washington, DC. But upon arrival instead of entering into a lucrative proposition, he was captured and sold into slavery. The film takes us through the intrapsychic and physical horrors of Northrups experiences with fellow enslaved persons on a Plantation in Louisiana. And, unlike other films of modern times about the slavocracy in America, this one spares us no details in his portrayal of the brutality visited upon the enslaved, or of the misogynistic transgressions of women and girls by plantation lords, and the dehumanized, disfigurement of the very souls and humanity of those possessed with the zeitgeist, the spirit of a supremacist capitalist project.  He neither makes it pretty nor easy to watch.  As a matter of fact many who have seen the film come away with a much more clear and sobering understanding of the nature of chattel slavery in America.  We carry collectively this sordid American narrative. It binds us together in very painful, complicated and challenging ways. No doubt the vestiges of this history are present with us in plain sight as is evidenced by gaping heath, education and economic disparities visited upon the vast majority of the descendants of the enslaved living in rural and urban centers. Not to mention the structural and systemic sanctioning of racialized biases both in education and the criminal justice system.  We see the rise of the school to prison pipeline where failing schools suspend challenged children for minor infractions. This feeds the dropout rate and increases their likelihood to end up in a life of crime and either dead or in prison. Also, the enterprise known as the prison industrial complex where a disproportionate number of black and brown children are profiled, stopped and frisked and many end up with extensive or even life sentences for minor marijuana offenses.  This has less to do with the criminality of these young people and more to do with the privatization of prisons in which States enter into contract with the Corrections Corporations of America to guarantee an 80% occupancy rate in prisons.  A recent study tells us that 49% of African American men will be arrested by the age of 23.  As a society, we spend 80 billion dollars a year to incarcerate our young for profit to some, rather than investing it in their education and flourishing. And when 27% of Black and Latino children live in poverty we are daily slaughtered by the realities of malnutrition, poor education, and little viable means for hope. In plain sight we are reminded of the structural vestiges of American slavocracy; an old and bygone era that remains with us in new modern ways. And, for all of us reminds us that though we have come a long way, we have still a long way to go to see the manifestation of the justice and love of the Kingdom of God.

And so it is “EPIPHANY, manifestation, or striking appearance. We have been waiting and finally He is here. The One for whom our advent longings and yearnings and burning fires of anticipation awaited as if sundrenched traveler awaiting a cool drink of water. He is here, finally the one who delivered the children of Israel through Moses and Daniel from the den of lions. The same one whose very being rendered blood curdling cries through the spirit of Rachel in Ramah over the slaughter of innocent children. Taken trans historically from Ramah to Bethlehem where innocents were slaughtered at the hands of the Herodian Spirit representing the power and evil structures that would suppress and destroy anyone that threatens its agenda.  Rachel’s cry still echoing today throughout the land. Can you hear it? Trevon, my dear precious Trevon.  I hear her voice wailing for the innocents. Hush. Oh, little ones of Newtown, taken from us so savagely…innocents. Indigenous children locked in a cycle of poverty, poor health and high school drop rates. Innocents. The one million Syrian refugees displaced by civil war and where thousands of children are traumatized by violence and displacement. Innocents in the Palestinian territory living under daily assaults and immanent threats to their future and security living under occupation. Their families herded through checkpoint turnstiles like cattle just to get to work.  Innocents among us who suffer the consequences of a recalcitrant Congress shutting down causing over 19,000 innocents to be locked out of Head start.

It is in this moment, at this place I stand here to remind you of the question asked by America’s greatest prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking of race relations in America and beginning shift his focus to sustainable economic justice for the poor in America and abroad. King asks the question, where do we go from Here?  Chaos or Community?  Twelve Years a Slave shows us from where we are coming as a nation, but it also offers us afresh the very same choices: Chaos or community?

Friends the good news that Matthew brings to us is that the answer to King’s question is implicit in the Scriptures. It tells us that we are a community connected to Emmanuel. God with us. More than just a story or metaphor. He is no longer the forerunner or the sign but flesh and blood. God with us. God with US. It is the particularity in Matthews account to let us know that Jesus is both divine reality and human. We all come from a community of folks, the holy text reminds us of Jesus’ genealogy from Abraham to David all the way down to Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary of whom Jesus was born, who is called Messiah.  We are reminded that the one Jesus is descended from real people with rich and complicated histories, but who are tied together by a bigger story.  Just as our own stories.  Oh how terrifying it must have been for a displaced, homeless, poor and pregnant teenaged girl and her husband to become refugees fleeing to save the life of her innocent unborn child from an imperial terror. All she had was faith: trusting and obeying an angel of the Lord who told Joseph that the life she carries is a gift of God to the world. And still today, God entrusts us with God’s gifts to the world, innocents…little ones, children born to us, all of us including those born to poor, unwed, uneducated, Black, White, Asian, Latino, Native Americans, Palestinians, Israelis, Syrians, Muslim, Christians, Jewish children…innocents our enemies children…”them” “those over there” our children---all of whom God is still saying, “the child you carry is a gift to the world.” You can recall your own story and remember your ancestry whether biological or a family of choice, you are an important and integral part of a family and community that loves you. Every child is a gift from, with their arrival on the scene of our lives we affirm over and over again that God is with us.  For those of us who are around your children on a regular basis, Its miraculous to watch their lives unfold…we become more and more convinced that they are gifts that only a loving creator can give. Last year my 17 month-old son, Lalibela, played baby Jesus in the Christmas pageant here. Well, I’m reluctant to report that this Christmas he holds his miniature guitar and rocks out at any given moment with his self-titled, debut song, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus….” I kid you not, First Church, I think we are in for some trouble.  How wonderful it is to be entrusted with and bear witness to the Baptism today of these two little ones.

As in the days of Matthew, the rite of Baptism affirms our relationship to God. For those being baptized anew and those of us adults who have gone before, it is our public proclamation that we have accepted to enter into part of a sacred history. A history in which God intervenes. New Testament scholar Alejandro Duarte puts it this way, “It is a history in which Old Testament is neither forgotten nor abandoned, but fulfills the great promise of God, clarified in Jesus.”  Jesus is the promise of continuing presence for the future tied to the salvation history of the same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of David and Mary and the same God who self-revealing Spirit descends and enliven our own to ever be children of God.   Baptism is a rite symbolic of our entrance into both a spiritual and natural relationship with God in which we can cry “Abba,” Father and be ever embraced and love.   This God whom Matthew also characterizes as lamenting over those who rejected His prophets is as a Hen who sought to gather her children. Now as someone who grew up in a rural part of Jamaica we kept chickens. And Matthew isn’t holding out on us when he speaks of the fierceness of a mother hen’s love for her little chicks. I have learned that lesson the hard way having had my hands pecked a time or two for trying to intervene on a sister hens schooling of her toddlers.  Take my word for it, but some of you may have your own hen-pecking stories (now I am only sticking to the reference of henpecking relevant to my sermon. That other kind for you married folks, I’ll leave for another preacher). What this disciple of Christ is conveying to us is that beginning with our Baptism, we enter into a fierce passionate love relationship with God. And, we become part of God’s design for his children as community of covenant, a beloved community.   So our salvation story belongs not just to us, but like the gift that Mary carried in her belly so too are your gifts given you by God to love all whom God loves.

The great Negro, mystic, poet and prophet, Howard Thurman tells it this way, “The final thing that my faith teaches me is that God is love. Not only that He is, not only that he is near, but that He is love. Fully do I realize how difficult it is. There is so much anguish in life, so much misery unmerited, so much pain, so much downright reflective hell everywhere that it sometimes seems to me that it is an illusion to say that God is love…. I know that this world is messed up and confused. I know that much of society stretches out like a gaping sore that refuses to be healed. I know that. I know that life is often heartless, hard as pig iron. And yet, in the midst of it all THIS I affirm my faith that God is love…. whatever else He might be GOD IS LOVE.”

And that love is also God’s holy fire that burns deep within us with a passion for justice. Dr. Cornel Wests says that “Justice is what love looks like in public” And, so as we remember our own Baptism and bear witness anew. May we, a Beloved Community, long for the promised freedom that affirms our connection to a bigger story of God’s gift of love for all people.

 

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