Welcome to my blog’s first guest post! The writer is the Rev. Lorrie Corder, my wife, who is called to the holy work of bringing about social justice for all oppressed, marginalized, and stigmatized people.
White People’s Work!
Sermon thoughts from a recent Sunday Lectionary
By Rev. Lorrie Corder
John 1:43-46 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Calls Philip and Nathaniel
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathaniel said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Can anything good come out of any place we who are white might fear or mock or ridicule or make less than our own homeland? For anyone who has traveled, the answer is a decided, “Yes.” We have crossed boundaries and borders and seen that all of God’s world is good and that there is good in all persons. More than good, there is God in all persons—whether they look like us, pray like us, love like us, eat like us, dress like us, die like us, mourn like us, celebrate like us, or worship like us. God is in and through all the earth. The key to the scripture passage is Philip’s invitation to “come and see.” Nathaniel must make a journey in order to see the good that came from Nazareth. He must step out and see the world outside to answer the question.
In Saint Louis where I currently live, many white people are insulated in gated communities and intentionally, economically, and racially segregated suburbs. In order to see the good that exists throughout the city and the county, white residents must “come and see.” White people must let go the convenience of driving the freeways—that also serve to isolate them—and travel surface streets. They must drive north and cross the Delmar divide, the avenue that separates the people in St. Louis by race and class from their Nazareth. White people must stop lying to themselves that since they have good schools and grocery stores and hospitals and health care, everyone here in the region has the same access and opportunity. They need to cross the divide to learn that the “derelict” neighborhoods in North City and North County are actually full of human beings with similar dreams and ambitions. These Nazareths are full of human beings who deserve the same access to services where they live as anyone in wealthy enclaves like Ladue or Chesterfield would expect. Furthermore, if one were to come and see, one would learn of the amazing work happening in these so-called ghettos to repair and restore communities. There is enough wealth here that all parts of the city could prosper if there were a will to do it. The Gospel here is about integrating access to basic human services in all places and taking down the walls and barricaded streets that keep all of us in our own lanes and separate us from our common humanity.
What about where you live? Do you need to reach across a street or a border? Do you need to come and see the indigenous people whose homelands we of European descent are all squatting on as illegal and unwanted aliens? Do you need to learn a new language or about a new religion? What is your journey? To whom or to where do you need to “come and see”?
Besides an outward physical journey to understand that good can come from Nazareth, we who are white need to take an interior journey as well. The courageous pastor Andre Trocme’ stood up to the Nazis and saved as many Jewish people as he could regardless of the danger to his own life. He once preached: “Whoever does not love God will always be dividing humans into races, classes, or other kinds of groups…We, on the other hand, know that God abides in the soul of every human being. Every human can find God there, can hear God’s voice. Every human possesses the capacity to look within, where God can always be revealed. Sometimes this even happens without us being aware of it. God’s love for humans teaches us how we too are to love…Every human is a bearer of God’s image in the world.” 1
When we look within ourselves and find God there and listen for God’s voice, what do we hear? If we do not hear Jesus’ command to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, then we have work to do. We must ask ourselves what lies have we swallowed from friends, parents, news programs, history books, and pastors that do not square with the great commandments? Where are our carefully taught biases and blindness to white privilege keeping us stuck and ignorant? Again, Philip’s words send us out to “come and see.” We need to investigate our own hearts and minds and souls, to ask questions, to meet neighbors we don’t understand or know.
We will make mistakes and it won’t be easy! The very act of questioning our inner thoughts will prevent our hearts from hardening like Pharaoh. If we say we have faith in God through Christ, then we must take a risk and turn our inner examination to outward visible action.
Little children can help us as we go. A little girl I know is fond of questioning adults who give sermons and lectures at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis. Her question is always a variation on, “What do like best about what you do or who you are?” She asked Bishop Gene Robinson what he liked best about being gay. She asked young demonstrators from Ferguson what they liked best about their work. To a pastor friend of mine she asked, “What do you like best about being black?” These are simple questions asked to strangers designed to elicit responses that cut to the heart of our common humanity. We must come and see and go and ask of ourselves and our neighbors, “What is it like to be you?”
Recently, the president wondered why we should take in immigrants from certain countries. In his crude way, he asked Nathaniel’s question, “What good can come out of those ‘shithole’ countries?” Disciples of Christ pastor and social justice activist the Rev. Dr. Barber tweeted this response to the president’s version of Nathaniel’s question: “Since we have a President who wants to talk about ppl [sic] from ‘shithole countries’—& extremist preachers & politicians who defend him—let those of us who believe in love & justice turn this shithole moment into fertilizer & grow a movement of resistance & redemption for America!”2
Indeed, we cannot let the tweeter in D.C. go unchecked. We must protest his hate. More than that, we who are white need to search our thoughts and deeds and figure out where we too have “othered” people and places that we do not know. From that searching, we must act to explore, grow, and learn. We must correct our ignorance and our actions. From searching, growing, and learning, we must then turn to action: to fix broken relationships in our own families and communities, to reach out a hand of giving to persons unknown, to offer shelter, to feed and clothe the least of these, to set free the wrongly imprisoned, and finally to love even our enemies.
It is a tall order, a calling that could lead to personal discomfort or possibly danger. We are not living into the life of Christ if we are not willing to lose our lives for the sake of others known and unknown to us. Don’t let the scriptures be only words. Act now! Grow into the stature of the Living Word each day. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of a lot of time for all this searching and growing. The world needs our action more desperately because of the hard and soulless Pharaoh in the Oval Office who currently claims to tweet for all of us. We must challenge this wrongness and say, “Not in our Nazareth!” Good things and people are found in all parts of our towns. They are found both in the ghettos our ignorance and greed have made and in the segregated neighborhoods of the wealthy and fearful. We need to cross the divide and meet at the communion table and realize we are part of a common humanity created by God. We need to live for one another and not against. We can do it because we walk in a love that is from God and that is greater than any hate. Come and see the good that comes out of Nazareth. Be the good that comes out of Nazareth. Amen!
- Schott, Hanna. Love in a time of hate: the story of Magda and Andre Trocme and the village that said no to the Nazis. Herald Press., 2017.
- Barber, Rev. Dr. (@RevDrBarber) Since we have a President who wants to talk about ppl from “shithole countries”—& extremist preachers & politicians who defend him—let those of us who believe in love & justice turn this shithole moment into fertilizer & grow a movement of resistance & redemption for America! January 13, 2018, 4:09pm. Tweet.