Advent Two and Ferguson

On this Second Sunday of Advent, our Presiding Bishop has asked us to remember the victims of the Ebola virus, especially in West Africa, and to pray for our church’s efforts to combat this dread disease. I had even prepared a sermon on the topic for this morning, but now feel that I cannot avoid addressing a disease affecting us even closer to home.
I speak of the deepening racial divide in this country spotlighted by recent Grand Jury decisions in Missouri and New York not to bring indictments against certain police officers involved in the deaths of two Black men.
Some of us, deeply mindful of the difficult and dangerous job law enforcement officers have, and of the fact that they put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, are content with the fact that provisions are made in the law to give the police permission to use deadly force, even the responsibility to use deadly force though tragedies sometimes occur in the application of such measures…such as the killing of Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy in Cleveland who displayed a realistic-looking toy gun.
Some of us, deeply conscious of the sad legacy of slavery and segregation in this country, the effects of which are still with us, are saddened that such incidents remind especially African Americans of the bad old days of lynching and of the more recent heavy handed policing in the years leading up to and including the civil rights demonstrations we all remember so well.
All of us, it seems to me, must admit that there remains a huge chasm between the majority and minority communities in this country which, for all the progress we have made, does not seem to be narrowing or overcome but simply bubbling right below the surface just waiting for an emotionally charged act to occur in order to erupt once again.
From the Rodney King affair in the early 1990s to the O. J. Simpson trial to the more recent deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, study after study reveal the fact that White and Black Americans view these things in almost completely opposite ways, not so much because of the “facts on the ground” (which in most cases will always be disputed) but because of personal experiences each of us has had and the very different histories we have lived out, even though we are citizens of the same great country.
I wish I had solutions to suggest this morning for healing this great divide. I do not. But as one who grew up in the deep South and drank in the legacies of slavery and segregation with my mother’s milk, I know that the effects of these things are far from over and that we will never be the “one nation under God” we claim to be until they are. I know that “quick fixes” like body cameras on police officers will not solve the problem. And my Faith tells me that only repentance and forgiveness, the building of personal relationships and the hard work of reconciliation will begin the process of healing that we so desperately need.
Hmmm…repentance and forgiveness…relationships and reconciliation. Those sound like Advent themes to me.
I wonder if you would be willing to join me in a couple of minutes of silent reflection this morning about what you could do, in these dark days, to try and become part of the solution instead of part of the problem in our racially divided land. Are there things you need to repent of? Someone you need to forgive (even the stranger…or an “enemy”)?
Is there some way you can build a relationship with someone who is very different (maybe even of a different color) than you? What would reconciliation look like… in your family…in your neighborhood…in THIS neighborhood…and in our country? Let’s think about these things together in silence for a little bit. And then I’ll close.
(Silence)
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid…
In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together… (Isaiah 40 passim)
Let us pray,
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
C. Christopher Epting
Assisting Bishop, Diocese of Chicago

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