Meditation: O Lord, show us ourselves as we are, and as Thou hast purposed us to be, and then hide us from Thy tears. Amen.
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday. His real birthday is tomorrow, Jan. 15. I know that, because that’s MY birthday, too!!! But enough about birthdays; let’s go to the scripture.
The scripture this morning is a parable told by the prophet Nathan to the most powerful person in Israel: King David. Parables are tricky things. They are stories told about OTHER people in OTHER times, but when we finish hearing it, we say, “Um, was that about me?
King David-privileged, powerful, popular, has a whole bevy of beauties in his harem- King David sees another beautiful woman and wants her too. But she’s already married. Long story short, he ends up sending her husband off to the front lines to get killed, so he can have his wife without any harassment.
God sees this, and is appalled. So God sends the prophet Nathan to tell David a parable about some rich man who took a poor man’s lamb. Let’s hear that parable again: “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. The poor man brought it up, and it grew up with him and his children. It used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his own cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock to prepare a meal for the wayfarer who had come to him. So he took the poor man’s lamb, and cooked that for his guest.” Then David’s anger rose against that man, and he cried out, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die! He shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and he had no pity!”
And Nathan looks David straight in the eye and says, “You are that man.” And David, seeing himself for the first time, is sickened by what he has done. And because he is sickened by what he has done, God spares David’s life. That’s what a parable is supposed to do. It’s supposed to make us see ourselves, so we can repent and perhaps be spared.
I’ve been studying a book called Dear White Christians for the past several months. It opened my eyes about how, as a white person, I have been given all kinds of privileges that I don’t even see because they are part of the air I breathe. Getting to live pretty much wherever I want. Getting to choose which school I want my child to go to. Not being pulled over for going 10 miles over the speed limit. When my baby was born, I could assume that she’d live. Simple life assumptions that people of color don’t necessarily have.
The book asks what we’d think if we saw a group of African American students with signs that say, “Black is Beautiful” or “Black Power.” Probably we’d say that was a statement of community pride, a celebration of Black History month, or a protest against some kind of racial incident.
But what if we saw a group of white students with a sign that said, “White is Beautiful” or “White Power?” What would we think about that? I don’t know about you, but when I hear “White is Beautiful” or “White Power,” I think of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacy. I think of violence against black people and brown people. I think of privilege and domination, and I don’t want to go there. Because being ‘white’ in America carries with it a whole lot of baggage.
I just came upon some really interesting history about how this whole race thing developed in America. Up until the mid-1600’s, the English settlers called themselves “Christian,” as opposed to ‘heathen’ and ‘savage.’ But what do you do when the heathens and savages become Christian, and you want to take their lands, and use their bodies?
We Americans started calling ourselves ‘white’ early on, in the 1600’s. White, as opposed to Native American. White, as opposed to African American. White, who by the grace of God, get to take the land, the lives and the freedom of those who are ‘Not White.’ Because white is better than black. We didn’t call ourselves ‘white’ back in Europe; we only did it when we got here and started wanting to take things that belonged to the people who lived here first.
And we created a story about ourselves that said that God had ordained the Anglo Saxon people to take dominion of North America. And as the Chosen People, we felt free to kill the Native peoples and take their land; to enslave the African-American people and use their bodies. It was the will of God.
What does an American citizen look like? A normal, average Norman Rockwell American- is white. Right? Whites are the ones who belong here. And because of that, we’re still taking the Indian lands, like we did last year with the pipeline going through the Standing Rock Sioux reservation; we’re still disenfranchising black citizens, as North Carolina tried to do in 2016 with its voter ID laws.
And Nathan says to David, “You are that man. You are the one who has done what is unthinkable in order to take what belonged to another”
We tend to get really defensive when we hear these kinds of things. Because individually, WE haven’t taken any lands. WE haven’t hurt any black people. WE’RE not racists, because racists are bad people who do bad things, and we’re not bad people. We are good people. Moral people. Yes, we are.
But we are also part of a history and culture where white people get lots and lots of benefits that we don’t even notice, because they are part of the air we breathe. It’s just the way everything is set up.
Up until 1968, white towns like Oconomowoc had “Sundown Laws” which said that colored people had to leave the town by sunset, or you were threatened with beatings and lynching. In the early 1960’s, there was a sign at the city limits of Manitowoc that said, “Nigger, don’t let the sun go down on you in our town.”
A black family had to move out of Dousman this past summer. I could be wrong, but I think there are only two or three black families in Dousman. A couple of years ago Michelle Murphy’s son was fishing on the Bark River bridge- a black boy with a fishing pole. No fewer than 3 of our neighbors called the police, saying there was a black man with a gun standing on the bridge.
The boy with the fishing pole was surrounded by police, and by the grace of God he was not shot.
But we see ‘black male’ and we think ‘dangerous criminal.’
Mrs. Murphy was talking to one of my friends, and was telling her why she felt they had to move. Mrs. Murphy’s son went to Kettle Moraine High School. He was regularly surrounded by white kids who called him ‘nigger’ and told him to go back to Africa. The harassment got so bad that he had to have a police escort from school, just to keep him safe.
Mr. Murphy was driving down Main Street and was pulled over and fined for going 2 miles over the speed limit. It wasn’t the first time he was pulled over; in Waukesha County, it’s called “driving while black.”
The Murphys moved here a number of years ago because their neighborhood in Milwaukee was too dangerous. They were willing to put up with a lot to live here. But this summer they couldn’t take it anymore, and they moved to Madison. To be safe. Because Dousman is not a safe place if you’re black. But it’s a very safe place to live if you’re white.
I didn’t know anything about the school harassment. If I had known, would I have done anything about it? I had read about that fishing incident in the newspaper, but I didn’t do anything about it. I didn’t call the family, or write a note. I mean, I didn’t know them. What might have happened if I- if we- had given that family a call and said, “I heard what happened; can I share a cup of coffee with you? Can I come to your house, or if that’s not comfortable, can we meet at a coffee shop and I’ll buy you a cup of coffee, because I want you to know you’re not alone.”
What might have happened if you and I had reached out to the Murphys rather than just letting it slide?
When Nathan said to David, “You are the one,” and David repented, and was saved. What did it mean that David ‘repented’? What would it look like if we were to repent of not acting, of not looking the other way, of putting these troubling things on the back burner? What could we have done to stand with the Murphys and helped them feel safe?
And in the future, what shall we do? One of the things about being white is that we never have to think about it. We never have to think about uncomfortable things like racism and privilege and injustice because, well… because in a very real way they don’t affect us. We’re insulated from it all.
Traci Blackmon, a young black UCC minister, was asked, “What did she love about being black?” She replied, “I love the color of our skin in all its many tones. I love the texture of our hair… I love my broad nose and wide hips and full lips, and I love our rhythm and the music black people create. I love our strength… I love our traditions and our culture.”
But when the question was turned around onto a white person- What do you love about being white? it was hard to find an answer. Some people answered that they don’t think about it, it’s not a question or an issue. They have no sense of racial identity. Others wondered if this discussion isn’t a little simplistic. Shouldn’t we be thinking about our similarities as human beings rather than our differences? Other people said they were somewhat uncomfortable thinking about the question; particularly since we hear people of color saying that not a day passes without them being aware of their race. This is not a question of ethnicity, how we feel about being Norwegian or Italian, or… People can feel connected to and proud of their ethnicity. But being white is a different question. Some said they never thought about being white until they started learning that whiteness is the norm in our culture and that everything else must see itself in relation to that.
For us to act justly, it means that we have to be willing to open our eyes, and ask questions. Why aren’t there black people in Dousman or Oconomowoc? Why would a black person feel uncomfortable living here? Why do we call the police when black boys are fishing here? Why are black drivers pulled over for going 2 miles over the speed limit?
We can shut our eyes and avoid the questions, because in truth it’s no skin off our back. We’re not the ones who aren’t welcome here.
And to be fair, we’re not the ones who are calling the police or harassing our neighbors. We’re good people; we’re innocent. It’s just that our society happens to be set up so that we have more opportunities and privileges than black and brown people. What can we do to change that? It’s just the way things are.
My preaching professor in seminary always asked us, “What is it you want the congregation to DO at the end of your sermon?” And for this sermon, that’s a really hard question. Because racism is so entrenched in our society, and you and I aren’t going to be changing our society by just signing a petition.
What do I want us to DO about it? I don’t know. But maybe open our eyes to the stuff that we don’t even notice- to the way we get to live, that black and brown people don’t.
Maybe make it a point, if we see a person of color pulled over by the side of the road, to stop and make sure they’re being treated as we would want to be treated? Maybe, if we have a black neighbor or schoolmate of our kids, we could make an extra effort to be a friend? Can we start there? Can we just start by opening our eyes?
There’s an event on Monday, Jan. 29 from 7-8:30pm at the Kettle Moraine High School auditorium. I really want to go, but I’ll be out of town that week. But maybe some of you could go. Reggie Jackson will be speaking on the origins of racial segregation in our Lake Country, and exploring ways to be more welcoming. There’s more information in the bulletin.
That could be a start, so that, like King David, we might see what is actually around us, and come back to what God has always desired for us. A land where all people matter, but in these days, in this place in particular, a land where black people matter. A land with hope for all.
In the Name of the One who holds the mirror, even Jesus the Christ. Amen
Dear White Christians, Jennifer Harvey, Eerdman’s Publishing © 2014; American’s Original In, Jim Wallace; Oct. 2017 Luther Seminary preaching class- Barbara Lundblad; “What Do We Love About Being White?” Curt Anderson, Plymouth UCC, Milwaukee.
Scripture for Jan. 14, 2018 2 Samuel 12:1-7
King David lusted after Bathsheba, the wife of one of his most faithful soldiers, Uriah. To get Uriah out of the way, David had him sent to the front lines, where he was killed. Then David took Bathsheba as his own wife.
But the things that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to him.
Nathan came to David and said, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. The poor man brought it up, and it grew up with him and his children. It used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his own cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare a meal for the wayfarer who had come to him. So he took the poor man’s lamb, and cooked that for his guest.” Then David’s anger rose against that man, and he said to David, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die! He shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and he had no pity!” Nathan said to David, “You are that man!” Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives, and gave you the houses of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I would have added much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in God’s sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.