Sunday, December 18, 2016

These are not the three Kings, woman and Child you are looking for - Isaiah 7:10-17

We have before us this morning a story of political intrigue, which involves three kings, a woman, and a child. However, the kings are not from the East, and although this woman and child point forward to another woman and child they are not woman and child you are looking for me to speak of. What you probably do not realize is that this story is ultimately a story of a cowardly king, who crouches afraid in his palace unsure what to do, and unwilling to ask the Lord for a sign, when the prophet of the Lord, tells him to ask for a sign.
Ahaz the king of Judah is afraid. Rezin, the king of Aram, and Pekah, the king of Israel came to him with a plan, best plan, the greatest plan, the plan to end all plans. They wanted Ahaz to join forces with them and attack the Great and Mighty Assyrian Empire. They thought that although each of them had three little ity bity armies that together their forces would be great and they could take down giant Assyria. Ahaz, who was afraid of Assyria, did not think this was such a good plan and refused to join them. So now, Aram and Israel had these armies all set up and ready to go to battle but nobody to fight. Well they could go fight Assyria but without Ahaz and the army Judah to join them, that was definitely not a battle to win. So there they were with these soldiers, all dressed up, with nothing to do.  They had a solution to that! They were mad about Ahaz for not joining them in their ultimate show down against big bad Assyria, so why not use these armies to show him just how mad they were.
So now, Ahaz is alone, with no allies and he is afraid. He was previously afraid of attempting to take down the great and mighty army of Assyria, but now he is afraid of the armies of Aram and Israel. Although, two little armies might not be as big and scary as one HUGE army, they were still two little armies joining together to form a slightly larger army coming after him and his little ity bity army.  Dead is still dead no matter what size the army is that kills you.
Ahaz does not know what to do. He is afraid. First, he was afraid of Assyria and now he is afraid of Aram and Israel. The world is full of so much fear! Earlier in this chapter we are told that when Ahaz heard about Aram’s and Israel’s plan to come after Judah, that his “heart shook as trees of the forest shake in the wind.” Therefore, when I say that our passage this morning finds Ahaz cowering in his palace, I do not think that I am taking too much poetic license.
I think we all know how Ahaz feels right now. The world is ganging up on him. He is faced with a choice. He has weighed the costs and the benefits. He checked the odds and analyzed all the equations. He did not make the decision lightly. He believes he has come to the good and logical way to handle the situation, but it was all for naught. In the end, the decision created two new problems, and they are big and burly and are coming at him with chariots and swords. We have all been there. We make the right choice, we were careful, thoughtful, we did what we thought was best, but it did not pay off. Things are worse now.
How many times have we felt like we were surrounded on all sides, that our allies have turned against us and there is nowhere to turn? It seems we cannot do anything right. Everything we do, do makes things worse. How many times have found ourselves in a no win situation? When there is no good way forward and turning back is not an option. There are enemies to the right and dangers to the left and all we can do is shake like a windblown tree. We have all had moments, heck entire seasons of our lives when we have been where Ahaz is right now.
So, Isaiah comes to Ahaz, as he shaking like the leaves of a tree in a strong wind. And the word of the Lord to Ahaz, as he is hunkered down, hiding, hands over his head, afraid of being demolished by armies on all sides, is “Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint.” God is essentially telling him to stand up; stand strong. Do not hide, do not shake, there is nothing to fear. These two armies, these two kings are nothing more than smoldering stumps of firebrands (that’s what God says, go look it up). They are nothing more than firebrands who are just going to burn themselves out. They wanted a fight and when you refused to join in their game, they decided to take their ball and throw it at your head. They are hotheaded bullies, who are angry because you spoiled their fun when you would not join in their dangerous game. Let them do what they please. You have nothing to fear.
Apparently, although God tells Ahaz he does not need to be afraid of these two kings with their attacking armies. Ahaz sees their pointy swords and hears their clinking armor and the stomp of their boots and can feel the breath of their horses, and is afraid. Their armies are coming, they are fit for the battle they were looking for. They wanted a fight they could win and he can see that they believe they have found it. They seem to be a force with which to be reckoned.
Ahaz can see and hear the armies approaching. He trusts what he can see and hear. Ahaz can count the number of men who are coming to attack; he can number their weapons and their strength. He knows the odds are against him. He trusts facts figures.  He is a king who “is about to go to war against another king. . .” and has first sat, “. . .down and consider[ed] whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?”(Luke 14:31). He does not trust God.
So, Isaiah says, God wants you to trust. You do not need to be afraid. God wants to replace your fear with faith. So, ask God for a sign, any sign. It can be as great or as small as you like. Ask God for a sign and God will give it to you. Ahaz’s response? “I will not put the Lord to the test.” And Ahaz’s response sounds pious, it sounds righteous and good. (In fact, Jesus quotes Ahaz’s words in Matthew 4 he is tested in the wilderness) But it, like everything else Ahaz has been doing, is motivated by fear. He is afraid to ask God for a sign, afraid that he might not receive it, afraid that he might. Remaining where he is (in fear) is safer than stepping out, than going anywhere. He is much more willing to deal with the danger and turmoil he does know, instead of reaching out and taking a hold of the hope and the promise that come from faith and trust in the unknown, which he must embrace if he did so.
It is always easier to remain where we are. We might not like where we are. Where we are might be causing us to live in fear. We may be unhappy, unable to move forward. We may be surrounded on all sides by enemies and obstacles. “Here” might be absolutely awful, but we know “here.” “Here” is where we are, we understand “here,” no matter how awful (or even amazing) it might be over there, we know can live here. We know it, because we are “here” and we are alive. “Over there” is scary. We do not know what is “over there.” We do not know what it will be like, it could be better, but it could be worse. It could mean living in the light; it could mean living free of the pain we are now in, it could mean living without fear. It could be safe, it could be secure, it might possibly be the most amazing place we have ever been, but it might not. We do not know. “Here” is good. Let us stay “here.”
That is why when Isaiah says; ask for a sign, Ahaz responds from the place where he is. He is living in fear, and God is calling him to faith. Ask for any sign, anything at all. Show a little faith just a little bit, move from fear to faith, come over here where I am, come see what life can be like when you are a tree standing strong, deeply rooted, not turned this way or that by any gale that might come. Come learn to be strong, be brave, to be quiet, to trust, to have a heart full of hope, peace, joy, love and faith. Come here with me. Ahaz in his fear responds in fear, “I will not test the Lord.”
And Isaiah gets frustrated with him and completely loses it. It is too small a thing for you to drive the people around you mad with frustration; you must challenge yourself by attempting to do so to my God as well. It is almost like there is an unspoken if that is what you think of God, that when God is testing you, by giving you permission to put God to the test, you refuse to give God the test God is permitting, because you are afraid to trust God; then YOUR God must not be MY God.
I can completely understand Isaiah here. As a parent I know the tone he is using, when one of the girls refuses to listen to me and keeps on just doing whatever, even when instructed to not. I know how his blood must be boiling and I can almost hear the tone of voice he uses when he rounds on Ahaz. He is exasperated. He is frustrated beyond all get out. He wants to slap him silly but there are laws and guards with pointy sharp things, with which they will poke him, if he does. Ahaz will not listen. He is insisting on doing what he wants to do. He wants to cower before the nations who are opposing him. He wants to be weak and pitiful. He wants to be a tree bent over in a strong gale, snapped, broken and ruined. And will not hear any reason that will save him, make him stronger give him exactly what he needs to not only survive this but thrive in its wake.
So, God offers Ahaz a sign, even though Ahaz does not want one; refuses one. Isaiah tells Ahaz that a woman is with child. A woman they both knew. But not only that Isaiah tells Ahaz that the woman will bear a son, and that she will call him Immanuel. And that before that baby grows to be child, that the firebrands of both Aram and Israel will burn out, that their countries will be left empty, made barren. But, his country alone will remain. Aram and Israel my move against him today, but tomorrow Assyria will come and decimate them all, nothing will be left, their fires will be quenched. You and you alone will flourish; your land and your people will be spared and will live on.
Trust in the Lord and you will truly know the greatness, which God alone can provide. God calls Ahaz from a place of fear to a place of faith and his sign is Emmanuel. The sign is a child and the child is, “God with us.” Ahaz refused a sign because he is afraid and God’s sign is a reminder that God is with him, with the people. God with us, a call to faith when fear is what is easy. When surrounded by all that there is to fear. When the darkness threatens to overwhelm, God with us, the sign God gives, when it seems all is lost and there is nowhere to turn. You are not alone. You are not doing this on your own. Never alone, God is with you.
But it is not a new proclamation. The idea that God was with them was not new. “God with us”, was the very foundation of God’s relationship with God’s people. It was a reminder that God is always the God who is “with us.” From the time of the Exodus, through the times of the judges, all through the prophets, God was a God who was with the people. God was never far off, on a high mountain unreachable, unapproachable- looking down from a distance, seeing everything from afar. No, God was with us. Always, God with us.
From the moment God gave the staff to Moses at the burning bush, God was the God, “who is with.” Every time Moses used his staff, it was a sign that God was “with him.” When the people left Egypt, God was with them in the pillar of cloud and fire, always with them always leading them. But God did not leave them when they left the wilderness. God was with them in the sign of the arch that traveled with them not only in the desert but with them, going before them into the sea and into battle always parting the waters and the armies before them until they settled the land. But God did not leave them then, God was with through the judges and through the prophets, who reminded them of “God with us,” every time they said, “hear the word of the Lord.” The voice of God, speaking through the prophets speaking to them in their times of distress, giving them the words they needed. God was always with them, working for them, speaking to them, guiding and directing them. God was, is always, “God with us.”
The people always seemed to need reminding, God always found a new way to show them. Even if they got it for a little while, they like Ahaz in our passage today, always turned away. Faith is hard, trust is hard, believing in the always present, always active, always trustworthy God is hard. Especially hard, when things are not going our way, when our worlds are crashing down around us, when no matter which way we go, no matter what we do, what choice we make, it seems that disasters mount up around us. There never seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, our clouds have all lost their lining and we find ourselves in the middle of the longest darkest, most unending winter and begin to fear that Spring is never coming. There seems to never be any relief. These are the places we find ourselves and these are the places God’s people found themselves time and time again.  With God continually reminding them, I am here, I am here, I am here. I am the God who is with you.
So then, the woman was with child. But this time there were three different kings and instead of them fussing over armies, they come bearing gifts. And we hear the gospel writer reciting the words of this passage and telling us that the child is God with us, not merely named, not merely a symbol but actually, for really and truly God with us.
God has always been with us, God is always with us, but in Jesus, we see it even more clearly. God sent priests and prophets, signs and symbols but the people never got it. So God, Jesus Christ, became God with us, so that we would actually take notice. So that perhaps this time, when God says, “be still, be quiet, do not be overwhelmed.” We will hear. God is with us. A human with us, who is God. God with us, who is human. All the power of the universe in an itty-bitty baby. God with us.  
In the birth story of Christ, we find the words of the Isaiah to Ahaz, reiterated, redefined. In Christ, we see that God is serious about this being with us stuff. If we can’t believe Moses; if we can’t understand when we are guided by a pillar of cloud and fire; when we do not see God at work in the judges; hear God’s voice speaking to us through the prophets; when we do not understand the symbols God gives us or the signs presented; then God shows us.  God becomes us, so that we can see once and for all know that God IS with us. Do not be afraid, our God is with us. Not just when Christ walked the earth, not just b/c Christ left the spirit behind when he ascended. God is with us, because that IS WHO our God is. God’s name might be, “I am, who I am, I will be who I will be.” But who God IS is the God who is with us. With US. Always forever, where ever we are, never far away, always reachable, always touchable. Always here. Be quiet, do not shake like a tree in the wind, do not let your heart be trouble, I am with you always! Do not fear.
So we have a choice this morning we can stay where we are, in the place where we are. We can choose fear this morning, or we can trust, rely on, the God who not only promises to be with us, but has proved to be with us time and time again, if not in our own lives, throughout all of human history. God with us, in all things at all times, in all places. Do not be afraid! Trust, believe, have faith.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Highway Home - Isaiah 35:1-10

We have all seen the “Holiday Movie.” You know the one, where someone is trying to get home for Christmas. Maybe there are obstacles in the way, maybe they are at home but they have to go through a series of events to find where home really is. Movies at this time of year focus on families coming together, finding one another, learning to love one another to find the “true meaning of Christmas.” Through the general parade of Christmas movies we learn that coming together and finding love amongst your family and friends is what really matters at this time of year; that “home” is where we find the true meaning of Christmas. I think I can hear your eyes roles and see your internal moans from here.
So there is this idea that “true meaning of Christmas “is about  homegoing or finding home, returning to the place where you belong, where love and security are found. This is actually very much a Biblical theme for this time of year. As sappy, as bland and as secular as some of these Christmas movies can be, they have actually somehow managed to stumble upon some amount of truth when it comes important things to think about at this time of year.
This passage is all about going home. The entire time Israel is in exile they are longing to go home; to live in the house and the cities in which their ancestors lived, to be near the friends and family they left behind, to be reunited with loved ones from whom they had been separated since the time of the exile. The idea of going home and being reunited with loved ones, finding safety, security, love and belonging in a beloved place. THIS is what passages like this one are about.
This is about the road home. Finding your way back to where you belong, to the place that is home, to the people that is home. But, it is more than that. In all the movies finding the place, the people, and the relationship that are “home” is always a struggle. The main characters have to go through a series of hardships, they have to work through several problems, or find their way to the other side of some kind of struggle to find “home.” The movies elevate the struggle, the hardships along the way, because where you end up is what matters. Finally finding your way home makes anything endured on the way there worth the hurt, the pain, and the struggle experienced along the way. But, this passage is not about the journey taken, the struggle overcome, the hardships endured, the pain experienced, problems solved that finally bring you home.
This passage is about going home. But it is not about the huge hot dessert one must cross to get there. It is not about the perilous wilderness one must go through. It not about the mountain one must scale, or the dangers, which come at you from all sides. It is not about getting lost along the way, learning an important lesson and then finally finding your way home. This is about going home, finding home, being in the place you were meant to be.
And how did you get there? Surely, the road one must traverse goes over the highest mountain, through the darkest valley, and the driest dessert, with steep cliff on one side with sharp pointy rocks at the bottom and another on the other that periodically throws immense boulder down at you. You mustgo through the forbidden forest, which houses the most notorious bandits and all the lions and tigers and bears. What kind of journey would it be without the dangerous road along which we all must travel to find our way home again? But, that is not the kind of story portrayed in this passage, there is no danger there is no puzzle, there is no unending peril. You just go home. You travel there along a wide smooth road, which passes through a dessert, which is a garden full of food; through a wilderness, which is filled with refreshing pools of water; down a road surrounded by fragrant blossoms, along a highway that does not twist or turn, through a land completely void of danger. There are no bandits to defeat, no wild animals to avoid. There is no danger of going hungry or thirsty or being killed by anything that would wish you harm. In fact, the path is so clear, the road so smooth and so straight that even a fool could not manage to seek out a way to get lost along it. This is a highway, wide, and straight, smooth and safe, which takes you all the way home; straight there with no detours, no danger, and no dashing deeds of heroism needed to earn your way there.
Not only is it a place of safety and security, but it is a place of healing and restoration. The blind, see; the deaf, hear; the lame walk, feeble hands are made strong, wobbly needs are made steady. This is a place of justice and vengeance, where wrongs are set right. Those who have caused others pain, who have done harm, those who have crushed the weak and taken advantage of others, will pay. And those to whom injustice has been dealt, will receive what they have lost, what was taken will be restored; they will receive all that was denied to them.
There is a story where the road home sounds like singing and smells like flowers, where there is rejoicing all along the way. This passage is full of freedom, full of safety, full of longing fulfilled, and full of joy. Joy because home has been found; joy because the lame leap and the mute sing; joy because restoration, reconciliation, redemption have been found, joy because brokenness has been mended and wholeness has been restored.
This is a healing road, one that heals bodies, minds and relationship. It brings restoration to our whole beings and puts us right with our creator. All on this road are righteous, are made clean, only those who are redeemed, who are living in right relationship with God can be found there. This is the road that restores all things, that ultimately sets everything right.
Israel was looking for a way home, way back to the land they loved, a way back to Israel, to Jerusalem. They wanted to go home and so God promises them a road home. God promises them a road like no other road; a holy highway, which encompasses a journey of Joy and leads them right to where they have always longed to be. But the road God promises is bigger than they could imagine, the way there is more amazing than they could dream and the place to which it will take them is nearly incomprehensible. The home to which this road leads, is bigger than Israel, bigger than Jerusalem, bigger than the temple, bigger than the land, this road leads to the holy of holies. It leads to place where we all live in right relationship with God. This is the Holy Highway, the road that leads to the heart of God.
This road IS Jesus Christ. All those found upon it are redeemed. In this passage the road is the way home. And as we look back and see this promise through the lens of the life, death, resurrection and promised return of Christ, when we understand who Christ is and what life lived as Christ calls us to live means, we cannot help but see that this road is not a thing, it not a path, it no mere highway, it IS Jesus Christ. He is the way. And the land to which the road takes us, the home to which we are going, is relationship with the one and only God of the universe. Advent is about finding home, it is about finding that relationships are what really matter, but not the relationship found around a fire, under a Christmas tree, around a cup of comforting cider, but the relationship we find in Jesus Christ, the relationship restored that we find when we are right with God. When that one relationship is made right, when we find ourselves walking along the highway that is belief in Jesus Christ and a life lived in the love of God, then we find that we are able to work out restoration, reconciliation, in the other relationships in our lives. Home is found in God, in Jesus Christ and when we find home in the creator of the universe, we are finally able to begin to find home in all the other areas of our life. When we walk along the road that is Jesus Christ, that is where reconciliation, restoration, redemption is found. When we travel along the highway that leads to the heart of God, we find wholeness and healing, it is in relationship with God that wrong are set right. In living our lives heading toward home we are able to be the people of God rejoicing together, we find that the journey we take is one filled with Joy that can only be found when we finally find where home is, who home is.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Things I've Said . . .

I am a pastor, I am a wife, I am a mother. I am a good person. I am a decent person. I love Jesus with all my heart. I belong to a denomination, which believes in holiness of heart and life. As such, I live and strive to live out the holiness of God in my everyday life. It is my desire that all I do, all I say, all of my actions every day reflect the nature of God and the loving heart of Jesus Christ for this broken world in which I live.
I am also the kind of person who when talking about cussing and which words are words a “good Christian” should and should not use, it is not about a list of words we deem too unholy to be uttered but that such things go deeper than that. We should never use our language to hurt, harm or degrade another human being. Any word or phrase used as such should be deemed unholy, should never be uttered or used, whether that word or phrase was a part of any official or unofficial list of what is taboo. But there I was; I was explaining how I had been cheated out of something that I deserved and I said, “I was gypped.” I stuttered to a stop and looked up into her velvety chocolate eyes, at her beautiful olive skin and enviable dark brown ringletted curls. She was Roma, a gypsy. We were in Romania, and I knew what they said about the Roma. They lied, cheated and stole. I had been told once that I should never think about adopting a gypsy baby, because even if you took it from its mother on the day it was born, it would be stealing from you by the time it was two. It was in their nature, they could not help but lie, cheat, steal; it was inevitable spend much time with a gypsy and sooner or later you would be gypped. She was my friend I would never think any of those things about her, but with one word, I had just said ALL of that to her, about her. I may not have meant it, I would never have even thought it, but I had said it, I had participated in a deeply rooted racism I did not even fully understand.  
I could say that I did not mean it; I did not. I could say that I did not realize; I did not – not until that moment.  I could say that I would never say it again; I have tried not.  But in that moment I knew I was wrong and in many ways I could not believe that I could have been the kind of person who could do something, say something that mean, that offensive, because most of the time I was not.
Whether it is racism, or sexism or some other kind of prejudice, my guess is that all of us are the kind of person who would not seek out that kind of behavior, we would not purposefully say words, phrases, or participate in aspects of our society for the purpose of hurting, harming or deeming anyone else.  
We all want to believe we are good people, we all want to believe that we are enlightened, that we know our own true nature and we not “those” people. We are not sexist.  We are not racist. We do not perpetuate prejudice with our words or our actions. That is not who we are.  That is not who I am.  That is not who I want to be.
I still blush with embarrassment when I think of myself saying what I said in front of my friend. In that moment, at the time I was racist. I said a racist thing, not to my friend, not about my friend, but the remark included her anyway and it included her all the times I had said it previously in my lifetime, whether it was in her presence or not, whether I knew about its racist origins or not. It was wrong. I had said it before, it was wrong, and it just made it so very clear to me, when I said it in her presence how very wrong it was.
My guess is, whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not (to ourselves or to others), we all do and say things like this on a much more regular basis than we would care to think. There are words and phrases in our vernacular, which we do not think about, we have not actually heard what they mean, it has not occurred to us about what or to whom they are referring.
I think of the teens with whom I worked when I was at my first pastorate. I can remember having to talk to them about their use of the word, “Jewd.” Several of them would go to swap meets and pick up stuff and they would talk about how they “Jewd” someone else down from their original price. I can remember their faces the first time I explained to them that this was a racial slur against the Jews. None of them would purposefully use a racial slur. None of them harbored any ill will against the Jews. But they were commonly using a racial slur against a people whom they wished no harm.
Recently I heard someone, say from a pulpit, “Say to the devil, ‘get your cotton pickin’ hands . . .’” It may or may not be a phrase of which you are familiar.  It is a saying in the South, and bugs bunny said a version of it often in his 1940’s cartoons. But it is a phrase which is literally referencing the dark hands of the slaves who picked cotton in the South. I was shocked and distressed. We were in a multiracial gathering and this man was using a racial slur from the pulpit!  
That evening I got on Facebook and messaged my one of my dearest friends in the world, who had spent the first 10 years of her life in Georgia, to talk to her about it. Her response? She had used the phrase growing up. It was a phrase older people used more often than younger, but she has not ever thought about it that way before. In fact, if I had not written it out she would never had made the connection. She had always thought it was a nonsense word, “cotunpikin.” She did say now that knew, she would never use it again.
I cannot even begin to imagine what it means to be black person, much less a black man in America today. I can read the headlines, I can do what I can to be aware, but I am not black, I do not know, I can never know, I will never know. I do know what it means to be a woman in America today. I know what it feels like to be a 40-year-old woman who is called a “girl.” I know what it feels like when someone says, “ladies” in that tone of voice which seems to imply that that is something wrong with my hormones, or my temperament, or my reaction that needs to be soothed and coddled because it is somehow irrational. I know what it is like to be talked down to by others in my profession because I am a woman in a male dominated field. I have been told implicitly and explicitly that I will need to work harder and obtain better results to get the same kind of acclamation as my male counterparts. I have been at a gathering of my colleagues and be addressed as “gentlemen.” In fact I have on my desk, framed and given to as a gift, the covenant I made with my congregation when I was installed, which has me agreeing to be a “faithful husband and father” (rest assured the proper words were used in the ceremony). I will also tell you that most of the times I have been a recipient of sexism, it has been perpetrated upon me by well meaning, good people who did not mean it, and most of whom did not realize that their words and actions were hurtful much less sexist, but they were hurtful and sexist none-the-less.
It is my hope that I do not use language in my everyday speech, which is derogatory of another group of people. It is my hope that I am not going around pronouncing racial slurs.  It is my hope, it is my desire that I am not that person, but I have no assurances that I am not, that I do not. But, I know that at least at one point in my life I did. I do not know for sure but it is my guess that I continue to remain ignorant of other words, or common turns of phrase, which have deeper, darker meanings than I currently comprehend. It is possible that at some point during the course of this day, I have unknowingly said something racist or something prejudice against another human being. And if I have, I am truly sorry and hope that I will be enlightened so that I may not go on unwittingly hurting and harming other with my words and actions in the future. Inadvertent sexism, racism or prejudice is still sexism, racism or prejudice and in many ways is more insidious than that which is perpetrated purposefully, because it is perpetrated by good people over and over again. This is how sexism and racism is perpetrated and sown, watered and grown in our midst. This is unacceptable! This is not Christlike!
My guess is that you also believe yourself to be a “good person.” That you do work to do good and not harm in this world.   I would hope that you are of the same mind as myself; that you would never be the kind of person who would purposefully make sexist remarks, that you would never be the kind of person who would make a racist statement, that you would never purposefully perpetrate prejudice in any way. Neither of us are those kinds of people. But I think that although it is not our desire, it is not our intent that we all do. We have said things; we have done things; we have unknowingly, and unwittingly participated in prejudice in ways that have yet to be revealed to us. We are sexist, we are racist, we hold prejudicial attitudes, we just, as of yet, do not know how, or in what ways. The seeds are planted in our hearts, we water them with our words, we nurture them with our attitudes and harvest them with our actions. We cannot continue to allow this to happen. We cannot continue to allow these things to grow in us, be nurtured in us and by us and harvested among us. This must stop, and it must stop now.
But what can we do? We are all unwitting participants. It seems we are all doomed to fail! No, that is not what I am saying. I am saying that we all can do better. Doing better begins by humbly admitting that although we may not be sexist people, we may not be racist people, we may not be people who see ourselves as defined by some kind of prejudice. In the core of our beings we are none of these things. Yet, we must admit that it is possible that we say racist things, that sometimes we have sexist attitudes, there are times in our lives when prejudice is behind some of our actions. It is possible that we have done one or more of these things today, this week, on a regular basis even. And in speaking those words, performing those actions, holding those attitudes we are being racist, sexist, prejudice. In those moments we are people we do not want to be, would never intentionally be, yet we are. And then, we should be open to be aware of the person we are in that moment, the things she said, the things he did, the attitudes I espoused. In order to hear ourselves, to see ourselves, to know ourselves, we must first be willing to admit it is possible, so that when we do, we may be able to catch ourselves, stop ourselves.  It is possible that simply by being conscious of the fact that we might do this, we are able to enact change in our own attitudes, in the words we use and the things we do.
We must also be willing to humbly hear them when others call us out. There are times when we are with a friend or a small group and we say, do or reflect attitudes that we did not realize were hurtful, that person calls out (either immediately or some time later). We may be confronted following sermon, a Bible Study, a public presentation or some other situation in which we were before a larger group of people. No matter the situation, there are times when someone will come to us and bring before us the harmful things we have said or done. It is easy to deflect, to come up with an excuse, “that is not what I meant.” “I do not think that is what that means.” “You know that is not what I mean when I say that.” “I would never do that.”  We might even be tempted to put it back on the person who has come to us. “You are being too sensitive.” “You are reading too much into what I said.”  “Come on you know that’s not what I meant.” “I think you misunderstood.” When this a happens we must be willing to see the ways in which we have failed. We must be willing to actually hear the person, their concern, their hurt. We must be willing to entertain the idea that we are wrong.
Like my friend who had no idea that she had been using a racial slur until it was pointed out to her, it may take someone else to tell us, to explain to us that what we just said was wrong, that our actions are sinful, that our attitude is wrong. We must be willing to hear these corrections whether they come kindly or whether they come from someone who is lashing out at us in their hurt and their pain (which I might add we inflicted upon them). We must be willing to hear them, to admit that we are wrong, and move to make changes for the future.
When we are made aware of the ways in which we have participated in prejudicial sin, then we must begin by humbly admitting that we are wrong. Before we can move forward before things can begin to be better, before we can work to be the Christlike people we desire to be, we must see these words, these actions, these attitudes for what they are, sinful.  We must admit that we have sinned.  We must be contrite, we need to confess that we have sinned, to ourselves; to God and to any person or persons we have hurt or harmed. And we must also repent, which means that we will need to work within ourselves (with the help of God) to change so that we will no longer sin in these ways in the future. Whenever we are confronted with our own prejudice our response should immediately be humility, contrition, and repentance, privately for private sins and publicly for public sins.
When we see the seeds of sexism inside of us; when we are made aware of how racism is being nurtured in our lives; when we come to know that we are growing attitudes of prejudice let us stomp them out, let cut them down and no longer allow them a place in our lives.
But, let us also cultivate a garden around us, which does no include these things. Although, we begin within ourselves, as we are made more and more aware of the sexist comments that come to our lips, the racial slurs that we might speak or the prejudice attitudes we espouse, we will more and more be made aware of these very things in the Christians (in the people) around us. We must work at finding ways to gently correct our loved ones and friends. We need to figure out brave and kind ways to bring these kinds of things to attention of those around us.
When we come to someone, we must assume that they, like ourselves do not realize what they are saying, what they are doing, what kinds of attitudes they are reflecting in this world. They too are good people; they too are not seeking to hurt and to harm those around them. They are not sexist at heart. In the core of their being they are not racist. They are not really the kind of people who desires to reflect prejudicial attitudes. They may not be as willing or as open to hear us, as we are seeking to be, but we should still work to gently, kindly, and humbly speak to those around us. Perhaps, they will hear us, perhaps they will not. It is possible, even if we do not receive the response we would hope, or we would like, that our words are the first of many which will eventually lead to change in that person’s life. When we find our kind correction is turned away, we should continue to pray that God will work within that person, and one day they will be able to see their own need for change.
Let us be better than this! Let us strive together to be the people we envision ourselves to be. Let us stop racism at its roots within each of us. Let us come together and work to make this world a world where the hearts, lives, words, actions and attitudes of Christians truly reflect those of Jesus Christ.