4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 1 Corinthians 13 NRSV
4 Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut, Doesn't have a swelled head, 5 Doesn't force itself on others, Isn't always "me first," Doesn't fly off the handle, Doesn't keep score of the sins of others, 6 Doesn't revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, 1 Corinthians 13 The MessageI have been spending the first part of this summer immersing myself in 1 Corinthians 13. The Love passage. So when last week began I was feeling a little like Rachel Dolezal the NAACP leader who couldn't answer the question of whether she was black. When you looked at her biological parents and saw white but she was organge. I can relate. I am one of the palest people you would ever meet. Peaches and cream describes my complexion. Yet internally I always had this identification with my mother's Native American ancestors. When I was little, we would visit my grandparents, and my grandfather would tell me stories. I spent all this time hearing him tell me the history, the myths, the stories he remembered. I can relate to Rachel Dolezal. I don't look Native. My mom only looks native if she has her tan on and is in Oklahoma. Genetically I don't even know what you would find. My grandmother claimed Cherokee, my Grandfather would say Cherokee and Crow. But I got all the English, Irish, and Scot genes. So my outside is white, blue-eyed, with reddish brown hair. But internally I felt more. I wanted to be more. I learned the myths, the stories and the real history of the Cherokee people. But to the world I am white. I was never discriminated against and could not make any claims to being other than white. As my mom tells the family history one her great uncles who was the head of the family decided a long time ago that the family which lived in the hills of Tennessee would be white and refused to sign the papers declaring our family as native a long time ago. But what my dad, a European Mayflower descendant, taught was love. When God looked at people, he looked at are hearts and minds and loved us. God didn't see color accept in the beauty found in the differences between us. God saw all of us as beloved, blessed children.
So my first remembered encounter with racism was when we moved from Wisconsin to Illinois when I was 7. We had moved into Pekin. I was playing with the girls who lived a few houses down from us and they pointed out the Klu Klux Clan meeting place. I know my little girl self was appalled and made a vow to never go down that street. I don't know what I said to the other girls whether I was quiet or actually spoke out and said something. I do know that it made me think about race. I learned how Pekin had policies to make sure all the black people lived somewhere else. They had to be in Peoria or East Peoria but were not allowed in our town. I know that I tended to speak my mind about prejudice and didn't usually tolerate it around me. So my next conscious memory of race in Illinois happened in high school. We lived in this small farming community where three little towns sent all their kids to school. So into my class a black family moved with a son. Within a week he was gone and the family had moved. I know I smiled and said hi to him, but we weren't in the same classes. I can only imagine how mean they were to him considering how mean my class was to me and I was just the white nerd outsider who didn't belong and wasn't wanted. Being black downstate in Illinois was hard.
During my college years as part of my feminist studies classes and my study of social movements I spent a lot of time learning about race, class and gender in the US. I learned about my own privilege and how to speak from my space. I marched to end Apartheid in Chicago and worked to get Harold Washington elected mayor and to get Jessie Jackson as president. I was proud to be part of a denomination that hard a long history on fighting for justice. But my skin was still white, I was still lower middle class, and while female it wasn't until I became a pastor that sexism really impacted my life.
So when I had my facebook page explode this week with the murder of Nine Black Americans in a church at bible study, I wanted to cry - How Long , O Lord. How long will lives be taken because of the color of their skin. How long will it be acceptable to kill black bodies. How long will we let hate groups own guns. How long. When will black lives mater enough that we truly change, that we acknowledge our privilege or complicity in this violence.
The words I spent the week with were from Paul. A person I am not the biggest fan of. I mean he is terrible to women, has been used to hurt people who are gay and thought slavery was ok. The man had deep issues. But this week my scripture was verses 4-6. The love is not portion. Love is not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, does not insist on its own way, irritable, resentful, and does not rejoice in wrongdoing. Love does not insist on its own way. As I heard these word I kept thinking about those people killed. Love does not insist on its own way. This young man had been raised in a culture that said black live don't matter. He was raised in a family and tradition that promoted an ideology that insisted it was right, that the world would be a better place if we went backwards. Love does not insist on its own way.
When Paul writes these words he is writing to a community of Christians who haven't quite got the gospel message. They are rude and arrogant to each other. They are not living the walk of love. They are keeping things from each other and are hiding knowledge from each other. One of the issues that they were arguing over was whether to eat the meat sacrificed to idols.
‘All things are lawful’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful’, but not all things build up. Do not seek your own advantage, but that of others. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience, for ‘the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.’ If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice’, then do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— I mean the other’s conscience, not your own. For why should my liberty be subject to the judgement of someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why should I be denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved. 1 Corinthians 10:23-33All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful, but not all things build up. So it may be lawful to have the confederate flag up because it is lawful, but as Paul says it is not beneficial and it does not build up the community. Lets be real - when I see the confederate flag I see racism, I see hate. I don't see heritage or history or ancestors. I see a flag used as a symbol, a sign of hate. So the flag should be moved to the museum as a item of history. But make no mistake to display this flag says hate. But getting rid of the flag does not get rid of the feelings and structures of racism it just hides it. So it was like my move to Connecticut. In Illinois I pretty much assumed if you were white and were from downstate you were racist until you proved otherwise. But when I went to Connecticut it was hidden. I didn't know who was safe and who was not. Racism was hidden and underground. So to get rid of the flag doesn't change the underlying problems it just hides it. So the flag is a first step but there is more that need to be done. We also need to talk about guns. All things may be lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful but not all things build up. Guns kill. Guns have killed too many black bodies. Guns are to easily accessible and we need to have real honest conversation about how many people are killed by guns and how easy it is when angry to get a gun. All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial, not all things build up. We are called to be love, to live love. Guns and the way of love raise serious questions about compatibility. We also need to talk about the practices of segregation where Black Americans are kept from moving into school districts and neighborhoods. These practices and policies have to stop. All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial, not all things build up.
So Paul tells us what love isn't. To love is to be kind and patient. To love is to share compassion and fight for justice. To love is to honestly struggle with our own racism and privilege. To love is to have real conversations about racism. We have to hear the pain of those who have been hurt. We have to hear and listen and then we need to love. We need to speak up and speak out when we encounter people who are speaking hate. We need to speak clearly that black lives matter. We need to say it is not ok to kill someone who looks differently from you. We need to speak love. We need to say enough. We need to look at people with love. We need to reach that day when people are not judge by the color of their skin but the content of their love.
Variation on a Sermon preached June 21, 2015 at St Paul's UCC, Hinckley, IL.