Sunday, July 10, 2016

This Week's Sermon: "A Proverb and a Taunt"

1 Kings 9:1-9

Now once Solomon finished building the Lord’s temple, the royal palace, and everything else he wanted to accomplish, 2 the Lord appeared to him a second time in the same way he had appeared to him at Gibeon. 3 The Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your cry to me. I have set apart this temple that you built, to put my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. 4 As for you, if you walk before me just as your father David did, with complete dedication and honesty, and if you do all that I have commanded, and keep my regulations and case laws, 5 then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, just as I promised your father David, ‘You will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ 6 However, if you or your sons turn away from following me and don’t observe the commands and regulations that I gave you, and go to serve other gods, and worship them, 7 then I will remove Israel from the land I gave them and I will reject the temple that I dedicated for my name. Israel will become a joke, insulted by everyone. 8 Everyone who passes by this temple, so lofty now, will be shocked and will whistle, wondering, Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and this temple? 9 The answer will come: Because they deserted the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt’s land. They embraced other gods, worshipping and serving them. That is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.” (Common English Bible)

“The Dreaming Architect: Solomon, Son of David & Bathsheba, King of Israel,” Week Six

I want to tell you a story about something that happened right here at the church, just a few months ago, sometime in February.

This was wintertime, which meant that I had my full beard as opposed to the goatee I usually wear the rest of the year. Worship and fellowship time had both long since passed, and I was out on the front lawn walking my dogs when I saw two walkers admiring our lovely Gothic building.

I walked up to them and introduced myself as the pastor and asked if I could help them or tell them anything about the building. They expressed their thanks for my offer and we made small talk for a few minutes before one of them sort of squints and asks, “So is this still a Christian church?”

I’m honestly dumbfounded at this question. Our big sign on our front lawn does say “First Christian Church” after all; it’d be mighty rich of us to advertise ourselves as a Christian church if we were instead devotees of, I don’t know, the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Richard Simmons.

So I say, “Yes, of course, this has always been a Christian church.”

The man’s response absolutely floored me—and his walking companion. “Well, I ask because you really look like you’re one of those Muslims.”

His companion apologized profusely to me, but it didn’t do much for my immediate dumbfounded humiliation. The guy’s question implied that I had somehow managed some sort of stealthy campaign to turn one of the most historic churches in Longview into a secret mosque, and the suspicion with which that gets asked, and implied…no good can come from that, only pain.

And in truth, it wasn’t the first time I had been mistaken for a Muslim with suspicion. Or, for that matter, for a Jew, Latino, Italian, or even East Asian. I’m from everywhere, I know.

This happened here, literally on our front door, in 2016. Not, say,  in Selma circa 1960, but Longview in 2016. Racial ignorance is very, very real here, just like elsewhere.

After September 11, both my father and I—for he, too, wears a full beard—began being treated with suspicion in ways neither of us had previously experienced at airports. I had a ticket agent, upon seeing my ID, bug her eyes out and ask if that really was my name (as though my real name was, in true Team America fashion, Durka Durka Durka). Another time, a TSA agent reached for my cross that I wear around my neck and asked me why I bothered wearing it. And my dad once had a TSA agent straight-up admit to him that he was not “randomly selected” for invasive screening, but that he had been profiled based on his appearance.

That last one is important, because being profiled based on your appearance has become a deadly thing. Philando Castile, the 32-year-old African-American school cafeteria supervisor in Minneapolis who was shot dead this week—you probably saw his story on the news—for doing nothing more than attempting to comply with an officer’s orders, was similarly profiled.

How? Because the officer who pulled him over—ostensibly for a broken taillight, saidafterwards that the wideness of Castile’s nose resembled someone who was wanted for armed robbery.

The wideness of his nose led him to getting pulled over. The taillight was just a pretense. Over the past fourteen-odd years, Castile—who by all accounts was a model citizen—was pulled over 52 times. How many of those occurrences likewise were really only under pretense?

We saw another situation of when profiling led to lethal violence this week in Dallas, when a young military veteran decided it was time for him to start shooting white police officers. Never mind the fact that over the past seven years, the Dallas PD has been a role model in good policing and in minimizing excessive force from its officers. And never mind the fact that shooting at police officers, no matter which way you cut it, is simply evil and diabolical. It is sin, full stop.

And that sort of danger—I may have felt humiliated by those moments of racism in my life, but I never felt like my life was in danger. That is my own privilege in contrast to people of color and police officers.

I’m theoretically supposed to be using this sermon as the next installment of my summer sermon series on Solomon, so here it is. Today’s passage, which takes place after the temple in Jerusalem has finally at long last been completed, depicts another dreamlike conversation between God and Solomon—although really, God does most of the talking. God tells Solomon, in so many words, not to get complacent, not to rest on his spiritual laurels and lapse into idolatry, but to continue striving to uphold the covenant that his ancestors have made, and continued to make, with God.

God says to Solomon that otherwise, Israel will, in the words of the New Revised Standard Version translation, become “a proverb and a taunt” among the nations. This will happen, God, says, if and when Israel abandons the God who liberated “their ancestors out of Egypt’s land” to embrace, worship, and serve idols.

The invocation of the exodus out of Egypt here is important, because it recalls a reality that, in pointing out and interpreting thusly, I understand I may well upset some of you. But sometimes, that’s my job.

When Moses went before Pharaoh, he didn’t say, “Let all the people go,” he said, “Let *my* people go.” It was him saying, in essence, “Hebrew Lives Matter.”

Not “All Lives Matter.” It was blatantly clear in Egypt that Egyptian lives mattered, or at least mattered more than the lives of their Hebrew slaves.

“All Lives Matter” is one of those idols. Not because it isn’t true—taken by itself, absent of its context, of course it is self-evidently true—but because it has become not something to say to assert truth, but to silence another truth, which is that the lives of people of color need to matter more than they have historically mattered, just like the lives of the Hebrews needed to matter more than they did in Egypt’s land.

So God liberated them from the hand of Pharaoh.

God ensured that their lives would matter.

The danger, then, for Solomon, is in falling away from the ways of the God to whom His people profoundly matter. This, as I have said all along, is what Solomon will sadly eventually one day do.

It need not be, however, what we do. Solomon can act as a proverb to us, just like the ones he wrote and that are handed down to us in Scripture through his book of Proverbs.

Solomon’s own weakness can serve to keep us from our own, that weakness to stray from the teachings of the Prince of Peace who said, “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, *but I say to you*…”

Evil done to repay evil will always and forever remain, evil.

What we do to others to silence them—through our own words to talk over them, through our lack of care or attention to their voice, narrative, and experience, or, in the case of another lone gunman in Dallas, Texas, through diabolical violence and murder—will always and forever remain evil.

What we do to others to profile them—through our prejudices and our bigotries, through our small-mindedness and incapacity for seeing a wider and larger world—will always and forever remain evil.

And until we learn those lessons and really, truly begin to apply them in our lives, then we are, I fear, destined to reap the wages of Solomon…and not the fantastic material wealth of his royal court, but the fraying of our relationship with—and covenant between—the God who so fearfully and wonderfully made us.

Out of nothing but some dirt and love.

May our own capacity for love, then, arise from the dirt and ash of the wreckage of this past week.

May it be so. Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
July 10, 2016

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