October 17, 2021

Black Saints: Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

A Sermon for Black History Month preached by Reverend Joe Moore

Matthew 5:1-12

Let the Church proclaim to all that the sin of racism defiles the image of God and degrades the sacred dignity of humankind which has been revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation. Let all know that it is a terrible sin that mocks the cross of Christ and ridicules the Incarnation. For the brother and sister of our Brother Jesus Christ are brother and sister to us.

These words written in 1979,as part of a pastoral letter from US Catholic bishops in the expresses quite plainly the truth about racism for Christians.

And these words were spoken in 1969, words from Martin Luther King which could still apply today. “The Gospel calls Christians to confront the evils in our society, proclaim the good news of justice and live according to the social order modelled by Jesus, which specifically honours those who are marginalised” (Luke 4: 16-21).

Addressing systemic and institutional racism and racial sin in the church is not a theological addendum. It is a missional imperative of the Church of England as set out in the Anglican Communion’s fourth mark of mission, ‘to transform unjust structures of society’ 6 : to restore the equal dignity of each person as holding the image of God. The Christian narrative of reconciliation offers us an invitation to confess the sin of racism, and to acknowledge our past and present complicity in various forms of ethnic discrimination and racial prejudice, so that we may truthfully and honestly work together to build the kingdom of God here and now.

The Sermon on the mount is the great vehicle by which Jesus announces what the Kingdom of God is like. It is subversive, and hope filled, it is beautiful and dangerous. Because Jesus is offering another way, another vision for humanity-  he is telling of the Kingdom of God, where the oppressed are on top, where those who fight for peace rather than power are lifted up.

The church is very good at words and apology, and not very good at action and change. After all, Complacency is more convenient than confronting, Inaction  more enticing, than implementing. This includes issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and other prejudices. The things is tackling racism has been talked about for decades, and still as the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, the church of England is still institutionally racist.

The neighbouring  parish to me in Walworth, St Peter’s, has a parishioner Doreen Browne, that has spoken  openly about her experiences of racism within the Church of England, after her family were barred from entering St Peter’s in 1961 “due to the plain fact of the colour of her skin.” Experiences of people of colour in churches, where they have been disregarded, ignored, excluded, and indeed threatened are not a thing of the past, it is very much still a reality today.

I think of Michelle, a woman in her late 40s that I trained for ordination with, passionate, and holy, a woman of colour, and a single mum, who was ignored as she struggled at theological college. In a Panorama interview she gave earlier this year, she said she felt too black, and too poor to be part of the Church. She is now thriving in her ministry, but the route to get to where is is was a painful one

The structures of the church are still broken, still flawed, still having to apologise for injustice

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

This Beatitude is surely both spiritual and social. Most Bibles to this day soften this Beatitude: “hunger and thirst for what is right” or “for righteousness” are the more common faulty translations. But the word in Greek clearly means “justice.” Notice that the concept of justice is used halfway through the Beatitudes and again at the very end. The couplet emphasizes an important point: To live a just life in this world is to identify with the longings and hungers of the poor, the meek, and those who weep. This identification and solidarity is in itself a profound form of social justice.

John Dear, who has spent his life in the struggle against the injustice of violence, writes about this Beatitude:

Righteousness is not just the private practice of doing good; it sums up the global responsibility of the human community to make sure every human being has what they need, that everyone pursues a fair sense of justice for every other human being, and that everyone lives in right relationship with one another, creation, and God.

Jesus instructs us to be passionate for social, economic, and racial justice. That’s the real meaning of the Hebrew word for justice and the Jewish insistence on it. Resist systemic, structured, institutionalized injustice with every bone in your body, with all your might, with your very soul, he teaches. Seek justice as if it were your food and drink, your bread and water, as if it were a matter of life and death, which it is. . . . Within our relationship to the God of justice and peace, those who give their lives to that struggle, Jesus promises, will be satisfied. . . .

How do we hunger and thirst for justice?

By making global justice a priority in our lives. This Beatitude requires us to join a grassroots movement that fights one or two issues of injustice and to get deeply involved in the struggle. Since all issues of injustice are connected, fighting one injustice puts us squarely in the struggle against every injustice.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said over and over again, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Befriend the victims of systemic injustice, side with them, listen to their stories, let their pain break your heart, join the movements to end injustice, lets commit  ourselves to be o the right side of history.

As Martin Luther King observed: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.

While [it] may take a long time, our nonviolent persistence and truth-telling will eventually win out and bear the good fruit of justice. Truth is on our side; God is on the side of justice. “The arc of the moral universe is long,” Martin Luther King Jr. said famously, “but it bends toward justice.

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