What Are You Waiting For?

What are you waiting for?

This is a little different of a post.  It is actually a sermon that I delivered at Peace Church on November 27 as part of a service led by our Dismantling Racism team.  .

You can listen to the sermon on the Peace Church web site.  Sermon begins at 21:37 of audio file. The presentation above are the slides that we used to make visual some of the quotes that were shared as part of the sermon.

What Are You Waiting For?

Based on Luke 21:25-28

What are you waiting for?

In this time of transition, at the beginning of Advent, we wait….

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

These words from Luke speak to the early Christians who lived under Roman rule. Most scholars suggest that this was written about a decade after the destruction of the temple, the text harkens back to the vision of Daniel that heralded the coming of “the son of man.” In Hebrew: Bar enash. Another way of translating this is “human being.”

So, on this first Sunday of Advent, when we wait for the Divine to become incarnate in humanity, the Dismantling Racism team decided to reach out to a variety of people to find out what they are waiting for.

The past few weeks, for many, have been a time filled not just with waiting, but also anxiety. Yet in that time, there is also room for resilience. On the radio show This American Life, I heard a young African-American woman, Janelle – who was upset after the election but even more worried about her mother. Her mom, she described as a worrier. If bad weather was coming, her mom always called to ask how her daughter was. So, Janelle is anxious as she calls her mom on November 9. And her mom greets her, “Good Morning.” And the daughter is totally thrown off, but her mom replies: “You know what country you live in.”

Communities of color have histories of dealing with times of anxiety. As theologian Ruby Sales put it,

“Religion, for me, growing up in Columbus, Georgia, was the ground that I stood on that positioned us to stand against the wind.”

So, we reached out to Rev. Richard Coleman at St. Mark AME to ask him in this time of advent, what St. Mark’s is waiting for. He shared this:

At St Mark this work begins with helping individuals and families live into the fullness of their identities as possessors of the Spirit who equips us to excel in productive service. Together, as a reconciling people, we seek alignment with sisters and brothers of other ethnicities, communities and denominations. United with our allies, Saint Mark is especially focused on reparative missions that remove racialized disparities and create new prospects for healthy development of children, families, minority owned businesses and the institutions that support communities of color. Our effectiveness will create a culture in which every child can envision her/himself as a happy, safe, humane and thriving person with unlimited potential to do well.

These words carry a vision.

Inherent in this answer, also, is a concern for justice. Because the “redemption” in Luke is connected to a sense of justice. Not equality – where everyone gets the same thing, but equity where people get what they need to live their lives as bar enash. Human beings.

But what is justice about? That’s a question I heard from Casper ter Kuile, who is one of the co-hosts of the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Just yesterday morning, I was running through Chester Park and heard him in my ear buds ask:

“What is justice about? Is it about punishment or is it about helping people recalibrate and move back into right relationship with others?”

Our understanding of justice is really critical, and Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Corps, made it more complicated for me:

If everybody in the room that you’re in has the same definition of ‘justice’ that you do — I don’t care how many colors, or genders, or sexual preferences, or religions are in that room — it’s not a diverse room. Part of the definition of “diversity” is the recognition there are diverse understandings of justice.

And so we have asked people what Justice means to them:

Alan Peterson, in contributing to the diversity of definitions, pointed me back to Plato’s Republic and Thrasymachus who said:

“Listen, then, he said; I proclaim that justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.”

The interest of the stronger. It is what has built our institutions and our laws. They were designed to protect the interests of those who were in power. There are many great efforts to try to reform and improve these systems, but the historical momentum still exists to serve the interests of those who are stronger.

But what of other definitions:

Cruz Mendoza, an active worker for social justice, shared this:

Justice is gaining the power to acknowledge and to correct something that has has been done to you, taken from you or your loved ones or your cause. It is an emotional acceptance that eases the ability to move on from a loss.

Kevin Skwira-Brown couldn’t come up with a specific definition but keyed in that justice is about repairing an injury, addressing where someone has been hurt.

My Dad, the resident Biblical Scholar who I like to call to give me the background on texts, shared that in Matthew’s Gospel, justice is seen as a “moral ecology” in which God’s justice comes with God’s reign has to do with everything fitting together as it should where we all play our part and everyone is treated fairly.

Justice, as well, is looking at the reality of the world and its divergence from God’s Reign. This is, in part, the mission of Witness for Peace. Lori Seele, and Lyn Clark Pegg shared this reflection from their experience traveling to Honduras.

We were stunned when we received the tragic notice that Berta Cáceres, a beloved leader of the Lenca people, was murdered at midnight on March 2, 2016. Only two weeks earlier, our Witness for Peace delegation had met Berta Cáceres during our visit with the Lenca community of Rio Blanco. For over 10 years the indigenous community has been protesting the building of a hydroelectric dam, which would devastate their land and their way of life.

Cáceres asked the delegates to greet the water spirits and join her in the Gualcarque river. We saw the crumbling cliffs and deep scars in the mountainside at hydroelectric dam site, which is a symbol of the socioeconomic inequality and human rights violations in Honduras. We witnessed the armed guards across the river, towering over us and taking photos. Despite their intimidating tactics, Berta asked us to greet the water spirits and join her in the river. Berta’s voice rang out between the cliffs and over the gurgling river, “Viva Rio Blanco!”

While visiting the Lenca community, we saw their indomitable spirit shine through their eyes as they spoke, yet we could also feel the intensity and stress amidst their deep courage. We listened to their accounts of the human rights abuses they have endured while trying to protect their ancestral land. The Lenca are connected to the earth. We are from the earth. We are one in the same. The spirit was there. It was a still day, but there was movement in the grass. It was a beautiful moment.

The movement in Honduras echoes the efforts at Standing Rock. People coming together to protect ancestral land and water. And a reminder that we live in, as Paul Tillich called it, the “already, not-yet” of the God’s Kingdom. Or as I heard once at a Minnesota Conference gathering – that it is God’s Kin-dom, a recognition that we all are relatives, that all may be one..

In appreciating the diversity of perspectives on justice, we are waiting for a way to care for the environment and future generations while still caring for the people in the Dakotas (or West Virginia or anywhere else) who have relied on a fossil fuel economy for employment. We all need a place in God’s moral ecology.

Luke’s vision of redemption is a big one. In our anxious waiting, perhaps that is what we need.

Nick Tilsen, a leader in South Dakota, has another vision for people on Pine Ridge Reservation – one of the poorest places in the US. The vision is to build Thunder Valley, the world’s most sustainable community. Nick shares what people’s response has been to this lofty goal:

Throughout this process so many people told me, “That’s a great vision … but your vision’s a little too big Nick, it’s a little too all-over-the-place.” And every single time, one hundred percent of the time, our answer was, “That’s just not true. Our vision has to be at least as big as the challenges that we’re faced with.”

Our vision has to be at least as big as the challenges we’re faced with.

That is so much of what the conversation of our faith is about. Whether in Daniel, or in Luke, or in Isaiah, the conversation revolves around this: When will the vision of the Reign of God come to pass?

In this time of advent, we carry this vision rooted in justice and our Biblical tradition.

Despite all the contradictions of our experiment in democracy in this nation, this vision was there at the founding of our nation. In the musical Hamilton, there is a scene where George Washington tells Alexander Hamilton he is stepping down from the presidency so that the country will learn to be strong enough to survive beyond him. And in doing so, Washington also answers the question of what he is waiting for by quoting Micah.

VIDEO: “Scripture said, ‘Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.’ They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made.

“I want to sit under my own vine and fig tree. A moment alone in the shade. At home, in this nation we’ve made.”

God’s vision reaches around the world. We also asked Tom and Monica Liddle to share what they are waiting for in East Timor and they sent back this poem, based on the vision of Isaiah 2.

In days to come,

Children in Timor shall have enough to eat,

Because no longer shall there be a “hungry season”

Or fear of scarcity…

We are waiting for a time when,

Children shall not sit on the floor at school,

Nor will they miss out because they couldn’t afford a uniform,

Or because they had to carry water all day…

In days to come,

They shall be confident thinkers, speakers and activists.

They shall value their native languages,

And have running water and a toilet.

We are waiting for a time when,

The roads shall be paved,

People bring their produce to market,

And have access to quality health care…

In days to come,

The children of Timor shall not struggle against foreign domination,

Because powerful nations shall not oppress…

Nor shall they exploit…

We are waiting for a time when,

Fear shall give way to hope,

Trauma will yield to trust…

And the children of Timor will know war no more.

Then many people shall come and say:

“Come, let us go to Timor,

to the land of Maubere…

there we will see how people have struggled together:

to wipe out tuberculosis and prevent HIV,

to grow food, catch fish and create an economy that works for all,

where people live in harmony with nature…

and in so doing have overcome poverty…”

What are we waiting for?

Once again, it is Advent. Tota la tierra espera al Salvador.

All the world is waiting to see the Promised One.

The Son of Man.

Bar Enash.

To see our humanity rise up.

We have our vision.

What are we waiting for?