God’s Economics (part 2): Perspective and Generosity

This week we’re returning to a sermon series on “God’s economics.” Last week we took a pause to bless the animals. Gosh it was nice to have that blessing last week. It’s good to have a little fun in church, especially these days, and to remember that God blesses all creation. In a way, blessing creation is a reflection on God’s economics as well. But this week, we’re back to the formal discussion.

Two weeks ago I preached about two characteristics of God’s economics: abundance and equity. Where we struggle with scarcity, with anxiety that there will never be enough, God provides abundantly. And God invites us to work for more equity, so that regardless of the color of your skin, or the profession of your parents, all might know God’s abundant blessings in this life.

This week, I want to look at two more facets of God’s economics. These two are pretty intimately linked. This morning I want to talk about economic perspective and the practice of generosity.

Perpective

Jesus’ parable from Matthew describes a group of tenants who have lost all perspective. As was true with the parable I spoke about two weeks ago, this is a story that is often interpreted as being about Jewish/Christian relationships. There’s an element of the religious in the story. Jesus means the religious authorities to question their place, and they do after he tells the tale. But again, as I did two weeks ago, I’m going to lay aside the question of Jewish relations today. I want to look at Jesus’ economic message.

After his strange story, Jesus asks his followers, “when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” The tenants who have conspired to steal fruit, killed his messengers, and his son, what will the landowner do to them? Jesus followers respond quickly: He’ll knock out the thieves, the murderers, and he’ll lease the vineyard to someone else.

As I said, this is a story about tenants who have lost all perspective. The story makes no sense on a literal level. How could a group of tenants think they could get away with this scheme? Remember, this is a parable. It’s a story with a message. The message is about perspective. They’ve lost perspective.

One of the best explanations of sin that I know comes from the Confessions of St. Augustine. Augustine talked about sin as dis-ordered love. Sin arises when we get our loves out of order.

I want to argue that the tenants in this story have sinned, they’ve lost perspective, they’ve gotten things out of order. They’ve put their love of wealth above their relationship with the landowner. They have a disordered relationship with wealth, and this disorder drives the drama of the parable.

Now, it’s pretty clear, no matter how you read the parable, the landowner in the story represents God. The stakes just got higher. Remember that first commandment to Moses and the people Israel: “You shall have no other gods before me.” The people have made an idol of wealth, they’ve set wealth up as the ultimate test. There’s an economics to this story.

This week, as we heard more and more about the man who committed acts of domestic terrorism in Las Vegas, I was stunned by one question. I heard the question again and again, from the news, in casual conversation. One question kept coming up: “Why would he commit such terrorism, wasn’t he wealthy?” Wasn’t he wealthy?

Do you hear the implicit assumption in that question? How could you be unhappy if you’re wealthy? Friends, that assumption is just plain wrong. I’ve known some wealthy people who are miserable. We say “Money doesn’t buy happiness.” But do we believe it? Really? Truly? It sure didn’t seem so this week.

Another word on Las Vegas, if you’ll permit me. The killer who took the lives of all those people a week ago tonight raised again the question about gun control in this country. We have a disordered relationship with wealth, and we have a disordered relationship with guns in this country. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Burger once remarked that the Second Amendment has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat that word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” Strong words from Justice Burger.

I choose that word “disorder” specifically. Our constitution does contain a qualified right to “keep and bear arms.” But before the Bill of Rights, in the Declaration of Independence, our founders spoke about “certain inalienable rights.” Among them were life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights come first. The right to life comes before the right to keep and bear arms. It has to. But we’ve been behaving as if that were not the case. How many people have to die before we’ll have a serious conversation about sensible gun control in this country? We have our priorities out of order. It’s a disorder. And people are dying.

In Jesus story, the tenants resort to violence. Their lack of perspective on wealth drives them to murder. Sin tends to compound. Human beings are not meant to put wealth first. We’re not meant to serve mammon. When we do, when we lose perspective we can end up in strange and awful places.   

Generosity

One of the best ways I know to keep perspective, to let go of the idol of wealth, is to practice generosity. Now there are a couple of problems that occur when a pastor preaches generosity. I want to head one of them off at the pass. I won’t promise you that practicing generosity will be some kind of magic. I won’t ask you to put ten dollars in an envelope and send it to the church, and tell you you’ll receive it back ten fold. Some so-called pastors run pyramid schemes and call them churches. We’re not that kind of church.

I will tell you practicing generosity can change your relationship with money, not magically, but like any spiritual practice. Generosity is inner work. Generosity is soul work. A practice of generosity can help shift your perspective and lower your anxiety.

When I meet with couples for pre-marital counseling, one of the pieces of homework I give them in our sessions is to do a “pie chart budget.” I tell them that money is a factor in the overwhelming majority of divorces. Conversation about money is essential to a healthy marriage. So I ask them to prepare a budget, and to make a visual representation of that budget. I don’t ask for figures, but I do ask to see percentages. I especially ask them to show me, as a part of their homework, what percentage of their money they plan to give away, and what percentage of their money they plan to save. I emphasize this part of the homework: “Talk together about WHY you are saving, for WHAT. And talk about WHERE you want to give your money,” I say. How many of those couples, when they come back with their homework, do you think have giving and savings on their pie chart? (I’d say only about two in ten).

When we get talking about money, we tend to talk about it from the perspective of scarcity. How are we going to have enough to make ends meet? How are we going to pay the rent, the mortgage, pay off the student loans? How can internet service be that expensive? I tell these couples don’t start there.

Too often we treat generosity as a “last fruit.” We give $20 here or there. We say, “I can spare that bit of money.” The Bible asks God’s people to give away their “first fruits.” Have a practice of generosity that auto-debits on the first of the month, just like your rent. Give away a percentage of your income, if you can. Give so that you notice. And do it first, make it a priority.

My grandmother’s generation used to say that before you did anything else, you set aside ten percent for your tithe, and ten percent in savings. Too few of us are saving. I’d encourage you to have a practice of savings, and to talk with your spouse or partner about why you’re saving, for what you are saving. Why are we saving tends to be a pretty hopeful conversation. You talk about education, your dream house, retirement.

But generosity is even more of a perspective shift. Talk about where you want to give this money you are prioritizing. What causes or organizations would you like to support? Where do you want your work to be a blessing? Think about this: if you give away a calculable portion of your income, you can think of your workday a little differently. If you had a long work week, if you put in more than your forty hours, how many of those hours did you work so that you could help feed someone, help wash someone’s clothes, help support a scholarship for a minority student?

Many of you have heard me quote my former rector in Washington, The Rev. Dr. Luis Leon, when talking about money. You’ll probably here me say this again this season: “Money is a powerful tool. If you can give away some of your money, you have power over the tool. If you can’t give away some of your money, it has power over you.” I hope you have a practice of generosity. I hope you value the work that Holy Communion is doing enough that you want to give some of your money here, and I hope you are giving money to more organizations and causes beyond Holy Communion. Generosity helps us to remember that all that we have comes from God. Practicing generosity helps shift our perspective toward money.

You should have received a pledge letter from the church this week in the mail. The theme for this years pledge drive is an oldy, but a goody:

“All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”

Those words come from the book of Chronicles. We say them as we bring up the gifts at church. We raise the collection plates, and the bread and wine, and we remember. All we have comes from God. We give back what belongs to God. We keep perspective by remembering that all way have comes from God. We keep perspective by practicing generosity, giving back so that God’s work may continue in our world. 

God’s Economy (part 1): Abundance and Equity

Our Biblical stories this morning, by accident or design, touch on a common theme: economics. The story of Moses and God’s manna from heaven may not deal directly with currency, but God’s provision is the clear message of the story. Jesus’ parable about the workers and the employer makes an economic connection pretty obviously. Jesus was pretty direct about economics. “Give us this day, our daily bread.” There’s an economics stake in this life of faith we practice. This morning, we’re beginning a sermon series on God’s economics. We’ll begin today, pause next week to bless some animals, and pick up where we left off on October 8. In this first sermon, I plan to present two perspectives that I believe at least partly characterize God’s economics: abundance, and equity.

Abundance

Walter Brueggemann is a deeply respected Biblical theologian with ties to St. Louis. He received his PhD from Saint Louis University and his Divinity Degree from Eden Seminary, where he later served as academic Dean. Some of Brueggeman’s most influential work is in the Biblical description of God’s abundance over and against human perceptions of scarcity.

Brueggeman argues that for the first 46 chapters of the Bible, we hear of God’s extravagant abundance. God is lavish in creation. God creates more than God’s creatures need to survive. “Be fruitful and multiply,” God says. There’s room, there’s plenty. This abundance continues through the sojourn of Abraham and Sarah, making them and their descendants a blessing to all the people.
This blessing, this abundance, takes a sharp left turn in the 47th chapter of Genesis. Listen to Brueggeman describe chapter 47:

Pharaoh dreams that there will be a famine in the land. So Pharaoh gets organized to administer, control and monopolize the food supply. Pharaoh introduces the principle of scarcity into the world economy. For the first time in the Bible, someone says, “There’s not enough. Let’s get everything.”

Because Pharaoh is afraid that there aren’t enough good things to go around, he must try to have them all. Because he is fearful, he is ruthless. Pharaoh hires Joseph to manage the monopoly. When the crops fail and the peasants run out of food, they come to Joseph.

And on behalf of Pharaoh, Joseph says, “What’s your collateral?” They give up their land for food, and then, the next year, they give up their cattle. By the third year of the famine they have no collateral but themselves. And that’s how the children of Israel become slaves — through an economic transaction. (Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope: Contested Truth in a Post-Christian World).

As we know, the people Israel eventually escape Pharaoh. Last week we followed them through the Sea and out into the wilderness. While they have left Egypt behind, that culture of scarcity is still hard to shake. Out there in the Wilderness, they grumble and complain. They miss the storehouses of food. Moses tells them that God will provide. God sends bread from heaven, Manna.

Manna: That Hebrew word translates “what is this?” What is this stuff? God’s people have been so shaped by Pharaoh’s scarcity that they don’t know what it is to receive bread they didn’t pay for, to receive a gift from God, to know God’s abundance. And they don’t know how to trust that God will provide. Despite Moses’ warning, they try and store the manna.

When Foster Care parents are trained, they learn to watch kids closely at the dinner table. Many foster children, even in St. Louis, come from hungry homes. Often for weeks after they arrive, care providers have to very patiently clean out the kids’ pockets after meal times. These children have learned to hoard food. When there were calories available, when the cupboard is full, they know they should save some for later, when they would be hungry. It takes weeks, sometimes months, for kids to trust they will consistently be fed, no matter the time of the month.

When you have learned scarcity, it can be hard to unlearn.It takes practice to trust abundance. Again and again the Bible tells us, “there is enough, more than enough.” God has provided enough food, clean water, and other necessities for all of humanity. No one should go hungry. But people do go hungry every day. Those of us who live in the developed world, who might stand to loose a few pounds (let’s be real), have a hard time hearing these words. I am not here to scold you. I don’t want to be like that nagging mother who says, “eat your food, there are children starving in…” (you fill in the blank). It really isn’t that simple.

Because really, even when you have enough to eat, Pharoah’s scarcity mentality can have an effect. We receive marketing messages almost 24/7 telling us we don’t have enough, we are not enough, we can’t do enough, unless we purchase these new shoes, or that new computer, we won’t be enough.

How do we practice abundance? How do we move away from scarcity? The sociologist Brene Brown, an Episcopalian, does research on questions related to shame and anxiety. She specifically studied a group of folks who emerged in her research. This group could be categorized as folks who defy the norm. They are not anxious about money. They are not anxious about whether they have enough. These folks, according to Brown, came from every economic strata. What unified them was their lack of anxiety. The researcher calls this group: “whole-hearted.”

What made this group different, she found, the one thing they had in common was a practice of gratitude. Note, that’s not an attitude of gratitude, but a practice. When anxiety came knocking them, they had a practice that helped them to pause, to get perspective, and to give thanks. All of us, all of us, have so much for which to be thankful. When scarcity comes knocking, what is your practice? How do you pause and give thanks?
God says, “you are enough. You are more than enough. I created you as a blessing. Go and bless somebody.” If you are anxious about money, join the club. We live in a society that breeds that anxiety, even among the wealthy. But God created us for a different relationship with economics. God created us for abundance.

Equity:

The early laborers who grumble in today’s parable, they are not moving from a place of abundance. It’s easy to judge them. On the one hand, I feel for them. The pay seems unequal. Yet, I would argue, this story teaches us about equity. I have to confess, I have not always had the same reading of this parable. my reading of this parable has shifted a great deal over the last few years.
Growing up, hearing Jesus’ story about the latecomers who receive a full days wage, I always thought this story was about Jewish/Gentile relations. In the early church there was a debate about whether you had to be a practicing Jew in order to become a Christian. That’s why Paul’s letters make us cringe talking so much about circumcision. I always read this as a metaphor for Jewish/Gentile relations. But in my first year of ordained ministry, that reading had to take a back seat to the economics in this story.

In my first parish I served a Latino Congregation. I remember the September when this story came up well. Many of the members of my congregation were undocumented immigrants. For the sake of this specific story, I’m going to call one member Juan. Juan and I had spent quite a bit of time talking to a lawyer through that late summer and early fall. Juan had worked a construction job with a local contractor, but when payday came, the contractor told him to scram. When Juan said, “we agreed on a wage,” the contractor threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Rent was due. Kids were hungry. Juan had worked, but this employer had exploited his labor. Juan was never paid, and he was having a hard time finding work again. Meeting with the attorney was a dead end as well. The brokenness of our immigration system means that millions of laborers have no protection from their employers.
Having spent time talking through Juan’s story with an attorney that month, when I sat down to write my sermon, this parable really presented itself differently. For the first time I saw the story as a teaching about God’s economy of equity. In God’s economy there is enough work for everyone. And in God’s economy everyone receives a wage that allows them to provide for their family. Our reaction to this vision of equity can be strong, and strongly negative. “Why are they getting more?”

There’s a difference between equity and equality. Equality means treating everyone the same. We need more equality in this country, but we also need equity. Equity is economically important. Equity means making sure everyone has the same chances. This parable makes us question the wisdom that everyone is able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. There is a certain danger when those of us with wealth begin thinking, “I worked hard for what I have” or “I got mine.” We may be adopting blinders to an inequitable system of advantages.

We are seeing in our city a struggle over the meaning of equity.  Do children of different races, different classes, grow up with equitable opportunities? Do we all get the same chances when we encounter law enforcement? Study after study show: Black men are more likely to be found guilty of a crime, more likely to serve jail time, more likely to be denied parole. Black children are more likely to attend an underperforming school, to know domestic violence in their family, to know hunger. Systems like these self-perpetuate. They have inertia. Unless an intervention is made, the ground will remain uneven.
This week we have seen a series of economic protests. Activists have shouted: “If we don’t get it, shut it down” and “you kill our kids, we kill your economy.” Yes, the Stockley verdict was the precipitating factor that led to the anger in the streets, but the anger is deeper. The anger is about a lack of equity. We may have laws that protect equal opportunity, but we are not all standing on the same structures that help us to clear the bars on the way to success.

This week Marc and I ended up the poster children for the protest somewhat inadvertently. On Tuesday afternoon we, along with some lay leaders and other Episcopalian colleagues, attended an Interfaith Prayer vigil for Justice and Peace, organized by the office of the Roman Catholic Archbishop. Like good Episcopalians, we were standing at the back of the crowd. I’m looking at you back pew. Then some of the black clergy decided we needed to pray with more than our words, we needed to pray with our feet. At the end of the service they pushed through the crowd, grabbed the clergy at the back, and marched us to City Hall. The last shall be first got a new meaning.
I wasn’t comfortable with all of the protests I attended this week. The news keeps talking about “protest organizers.” I think organizer is a bit of a strong word for many of these actions. They’re not very organized. There is a difference between a crowd and a movement: a movement is going somewhere. A movement means that you have concrete proposals, and you are acting to bring them about.

If the protests lack of organization made me a little uncomfortable, the police response scared me. Last weekend and this weekend we have seen officers injure and abuse those who are being taken into custody. Including clergy, including an air force officer, including journalists. Do not hear me say that I am anti-police. I have several friends who are officers. I respect many of the policewomen and men I know. I pray for them often. We live in a society where gun violence is out of control, and officers put their lives on the line every day. If we want to change police behavior, we could start by changing our relationship with guns. Still the documented behavior in this city of officers of the law toward peaceful protestors has been atrocious and illegal in many instances. As citizens of St. Louis City and County, we deserve better.

The action that made Marc and me accidentally famous on Tuesday afternoon was the most organized I’ve seen, and the police presence was calm. The officers protected our right to assemble and to free speech. They did their job. As I shared in our weekly email, I was particularly moved by the words of my colleagues: The Rev. Dr. Cassandra Gould. She spoke about the peace that we seek, the shalom of God, that Hebrew word means both peace and wholeness. She spoke about wholeness, and it brought tears to my eyes. She said, Missouri as a state came into being by compromising. Missouri became a state by compromising the identity of black people, by holding them as slaves. We don’t have streets named after the enslaved Africans that LaClede and Chouteau brought with them as they founded St. Louis. We began with inequity, and, if you look at the statistics, the inequity persists.

God’s economy is one of equity. God provides enough, more than enough, for us all. In God’s economy there are plenty of jobs, there is plenty of wealth, so even those who don’t find a full days work can be paid enough to bring home the daily bread. This parable continues to challenge us today. How do we really provide equitable opportunity? How do we make our economy and our education system work so that all St. Louisans have access to the abundant life?
When we speak about economics, there is a great deal at stake. Life and livelihood. God’s economy does not look like our economy. Where we struggle with scarcity, with anxiety that there will never be enough, God provides abundantly. And God invites us to work for more equity, so that regardless of the color of your skin, or the profession of your parents, all might know God’s abundant blessings in this life. Amen

Chaos or Community?

In ancient times waters stood for chaos. In the first chapter of Genesis the Spirit of God hovers over the waters. God brings life out of darkness, out of the waters, out of chaos.

God parts waters. And God brings life and freedom out of human chaos as well. Scholars tell us Exodus is partly an “origin story” for God’s people. When that Red sea parted, when the people marched out of Egypt, escaped slavery, when God’s people walked through on dry ground, they wrote their origin story. Salvation was an act of creation. The people of the bible became the people saved by God.

That night, with the fiery cloud and Egyptian army at their back, and with the sea ahead of them, God’s people learned who God would be to them. God is a God who saves. Our God sees us through the chaos to freedom.

It’s been a long weekend.

Friday morning we learned that former police officer Jason Stockley was found not-guilty of the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. Perhaps this verdict feels most painful because it feels like nothing has changed. Hundreds of protests happened after Ferguson. We marched. We met. We prayed. After countless dialogues, discussions, and trainings, it feels like nothing has changed.

Earlier this week I had coffee with a colleague, an attorney who spent most of her career working pro-bono or legal aid cases. She practiced what is sometimes called “poverty law.” This was several days before the verdict came out, and my friend was sure the officer would be found “not guilty.” Missouri law, in her experience, gives some of the broadest authorization to use force of any state law. She said it would be almost impossible to prove premeditated murder, even with the evidence so many of us have seen and heard. I told my colleague that I was still holding out hope there would be something other than a not-guilty verdict, some continuance or lesser charge. Sadly my colleague was right. She knew this history, knew the law, and knew the judge.

In the last few days we have seen pain and anger erupt again in St. Louis. We’ve seen some chaos this weekend: Streets and businesses shut down. Tear gas has been sprayed. Rubber bullets have been shot. Bricks have been thrown. Windows have broken. Protesters have been arrested. I know a number of us are feeling sad, angry, frustrated.

I know a number of you here had tickets for the U2 concert that was cancelled. I know that’s one of our demographics. I know some of you are upset Ed Sheeren’s show was cancelled, that’s one of our demographics too. I know some of you were upset you missed seeing Nick Cannon who was out protesting last night, that’s another demographic. And I know a number of you have no idea who any of those folks are. That’s another demographic here at Holy Communion as well.

I know that many of us wish this would all just go away, just calm down.

I want to invite you to pause.

Over and over again we’ve heard these protests are about the verdict that was released Friday. Newscasters and neighbors have debated evidence, talked about whether this man’s death serves as a worthy cause to protest.

I want to ask: is this verdict really the reason for the protest? Is the death of Anthony Lamar Smith really at the heart of what we’re seeing in St. Louis? I ask that question because so much of the debate seems centered on the evidence in this particular case. So much of the news coverage switches between talking about the latest action on the streets and debating the merits of the case.

Now, I have hangups about what the judge decided. I do not have a law degree, but I have a hard time when a judge introduces conjecture into an opinion, and particularly when a white official uses words like “urban” to describe his bias in the case. The verdict reads with such a double standard. The judge starts the opinion with pages about how he is bound to find the facts of the case, not to be swayed by public opinion. Then he tells us that in his opinion it would be an “anomaly” for an “urban heroin dealer” not to have a gun. Let’s talk about anomalies: it would be an anomaly for a white judge to convict a white police officer for killing a black person.

Beyond that I promise I’ll leave the questions of legality and judicial analysis to the attorneys.

This weekend I kept coming back to something I heard from our friend Noah Bullock, when we were down in El Salvador. Noah is the executive Director of Cristosal, an organization we partner with fighting for human rights in Central America. Noah talked about how often human rights abuses are committed against people who are labeled as “criminals.” Noah said, “even if someone has a criminal record, they have human rights.” That’s what we mean when we call rights “inalienable.” Christians only believe in one “blameless victim.” (That’s Jesus). Moses didn’t have clean record. He lead God’s people out of Egypt, but before that he had killed an Egyptian. Moses wasn’t clean.

So I want to ask, is the best use of our energy debating the facts of this specific case, or should we see what is happening in St. Louis as one facet of a larger question? Is all of this anger part of a larger story? Can we see the pain and anger as part of something bigger, something systemic? If we spend our energy defending the verdict, our we ignoring the system? The systemic racism so many encounter day in and day out? Is this all about one verdict? Really? Ask yourself. Question your newscaster, your co-worker, is one verdict all that’s at stake, or is the verdict a symptom?

A small group of us from Holy Communion tried to join in an action at Kiener plaza yesterday. I say we tried, because we found out once we made it to the plaza that we were in the wrong place. So we drove up to Delmar. After marching just a few blocks, I got a phone call from organizers asking if Holy Communion might serve as a sanctuary in case the action turned into a massive confrontation. I spent most of the evening standing at the door of University United Methodist Church, waiting to see which way the march would move. The stoop outside University United Methodist turned into an interfaith pastors meeting as Orthodox Jewish, Presbyterian, and UCC colleagues all showed up and talked as we waited to see if we were needed.

I know not everyone in this congregation feels comfortable joining in the protests. I personally have struggled with how to engage. I struggle with the protests. I really do. Seeing all of the broken glass in the loop this morning after I listened to the organizers pleading with folks to leave peacefully, it makes me angry.

I trained as a community organizer in my last parish, and I find the kind of protest we’ve seen in St. Louis frustrating. I want planned direct action to provoke some specific reactions. I want a list of demands. I worry that the statements we heard from the governor and the mayor about “protecting the right to protest” mean that many of our officials don’t plan on making any changes. They don’t see the organizers as a body that can make change, but rather as a problem to manage. The government is simply planning to wait out the activists. I feel frustrated, and and, as a white cis-gendered clergy person, I know that part of my job, especially on these issues, is to keep listening.

But even as I struggle with how to respond to the calls to clergy and people of faith to show up, I keep thinking about this story from Exodus. That next morning, after the walk through the sea: the Egyptian army is no more. Israel is no longer in Egypt’s land, but the work has just begun. God’s people don’t cross through the Red Sea and march straight into the promised land. It’s not that easy. They march into the desert, into the wilderness.

Back in February Dr. Howard-John Wesley, the pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church in the Washington DC area preached about Dr. King’s time in Jamaica after the passing of the Civil Rights act in 1964 and the Voter’s Rights Act of 1965. Brother Martin took some time after these landmark wins to contemplate what came next, after these two landmark laws. After the laws were passed there were still riots in Watts, California and worker strikes up in Detroit, Michigan. So Dr King took some down time in Jamaica to think and to pray. And he wrote his fourth and final book: “Where do we go from here?: Chaos or Community.” Dr. Wesley argues that we are still asking that question in America. Where do we go from here?

That’s the question facing God’s people who have just crossed the sea, isn’t it? Where do we go from here? After this verdict, after this weekend, after these three long years in St. Louis Missouri, where do we go from here?

In Dr. King’s eyes there were two potential destinations: chaos or community. You can wander around the desert lost forever, or you can start making your way to Jerusalem.

Over the next days I will continue to turn up for actions, because I believe it is important to witness the pain and the anger in the black community, and I believe it is important to witness the moments like I did last night, hours before any property damage occurred, when the leaders told folks to go home. I believe I have listening to do. And I will be taking my own safety, and the safety of anyone who comes out from Holy Communion very seriously. I would rather err on the side of caution.

But I want to make another commitment with you today. That commitment is this: Our work won’t end when this season of protests quiets down.

A few weeks ago your senior warden Scott Ferguson and I hosted a small gathering of clergy and lay church leaders from around the St. Louis Metro area. We met with an organizer friend from Washington DC who talked about the work that has been done in Baltimore and Cleveland over the past three years. Cleveland and Baltimore saw similar protests following officer involved shootings in 2014, but there is an important difference between our city and those cities. Both Baltimore and Cleveland have elected new prosecutors in the last two years. and in of those other cities every candidate who ran for county prosecutor promised to engage a special prosecutor for every officer involved shooting. Both cities have a coalition, led by people of faith, that demanded action and sustained attention after the protests were through.

Interfaith coalitions with that kind of power take a long time to build. Faith organizations that can win protections for human rights, for human dignity, they take time and energy. My friend Martin Trimble, the organizer who was with us a couple of weeks ago described those years of building relationships, he called it “slow patient work.”

I keep coming back to that phrase. I have a feeling that what’s next involves a mix of listening, of witnessing, and if we want to see a change, it is going to take a great deal of slow patient work.

So today, I finish this sermon with an invitation to pray. Pray for the St. Louis region. Pray for the days and nights ahead. And, if you can, pray with your feet. But after these nights pass, keep praying. Build relationships. Question the narrative your receiving, and listen. The road to the promised land is long, and we will only get there together. We are seeing these days that it will take a great deal of slow patient work to follow God out of the chaos and into the beloved community. May God bless us on the journey.