I preached this sermon at St. Lydia's the week the Grand Jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Later that evening, we learned that the police officer in Darren Wilson's case would also not be indicted.
I have a friend named Heber
(actually, his full name is the Rev. Dr. Heber Brown, III -- a very good name)
who is a pastor in Baltimore.
Heber is a preacher and an activist,
and I know him because of the work he’s doing
starting a new project that’s called Orita’s Cross Freedom School.
Orita’s Cross is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a long time.
Heber is creating an afrocentric Church School curriculum for middleschoolers.
He’s teaching the bible through the lens
of African American experience and tradition and spirituality.
And he’s basing much of what he’s creating
on the Freedom Schools run in the South during the Civil Rights movement.
Through Orita’s Cross, Dr. Brown is raising up a generation of activists.
This Monday, a Grand Jury released their decision
to not to indict Darren Wilson,
the Ferguson police office who shot Michael Brown, a black teenager,
who Wilson approached for walking in the middle of the street.
This means that Darren Wilson will not go on trial for what happened that day.
There will not be a proper trial.
The nation has erupted.
While protestors took to the the streets on Monday and Tuesday
and called for an economic boycott on Friday and this Monday,
the children in Heber’s Freedom School made their own particular kind of protest.
They decided to set up a mock trial for Darren Wilson in their classroom.
They rearranged all the furniture to resemble a courtroom
and played all the played all the different parts.
And then they made a video for Heber to post on facebook.
I features three middle school girls, all African American,
each making her own short, simple statement.
The first young woman says,
“I feel that the police officer shouldn’t have killed Michael Brown.”
“What if it was a white person who died?”
“If a black person had killed a white person, the black person would have gone to jail!”
Kids don’t really mess around.
They get it.
They get it when things aren’t fair.
They see that justice in our country is not blind.
That statue of Justice that stands in front of so many courthouses in our nation
may be wearing a blindfold,
but those scales she’s holding, they’re not evenly weighted.
These little girls know just who they're weighted to help,
and it’s not them.
The prophet Micah speaks during a time of great unrest and turmoil
for the Northern Kingdom and Jerusalem,
not only because of the violent superpower of the Assyrian army overshadows their nation,
but the because of the extreme corruption of those in power
and the abuse they are heaping on the powerless.
Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked,
Can I tolerate wicked scales
and a bag of dishonest weights?
Your wealthy are full of violence;
your inhabitants speak lies.
Micah may be speaking to the powerful leaders of eighth century Judea,
but, it seems clear to me, he is also speaking also to us.
To our people, to our nation, to our country
who built our wealth on the back of both slaves and the slave trade.
Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked?
The wealthy are full of violence.
Yes, and we have been for a long time.
For centuries in this country, and today,
we have arranged for black men and women
to be the bearers of our collective fear, shame and guilt.
If anything is wrong, it is their fault.
If there is crime, it is their fault.
We used to hang black people from trees to remind ourselves that we were in charge.
We are good and they are bad.
And now we keep poor neighborhoods crumbling,
keep black schools from thriving,
and say, when we put black people in prison or shoot them on site
that it’s okay because they brought it on themselves,
all the while conveniently ignoring the truth:
that our scales are dishonest
and our weights are wicked.
A black man is 24 times more likely to be shot and killed by law enforcement
than a white man in this country.
This does not happen by mistake.
The scales are not evenly weighted,
and they have never been so.
Justice is not blind in this country,
and though we proclaim that all men are created equal
we do not treat them that way.
Three little girls in Baltimore already know that, plain as day.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about who this “we” is.
Or, who the “they” is.
How it is that racism is kept so firmly in tact.
We’ve all grown up steeped in it, and now we all act it out, in a myriad of ways.
A black person’s opinion discounted out of hand at a staff meeting,
darker skinned people pulled over far more often by police,
students of color who receive harsher punishments in school,
speeding their route to prison.
And then there are these systems that are in place
that work so terrifying well to keep things from changing.
Perhaps Michelle Alexander, author of
captured it best when she said,
“A vast new system of racial and social control has emerged from the ashes of slavery and Jim Crow. It is a system that shuttles our children from decrepit, underfunded schools to brand new, high-tech prisons. This system of mass incarceration locks poor people, overwhelmingly, poor people of color into a permanent, second class status for life, nearly as effectively as earlier systems of racial and social control once did.”
Who is holding these systems in place?
Who is creating a pipeline from the projects to prisons?
How are these systems constructed and maintained?
They are woven so tightly into the fabric of our nation --
woven in to protect the “haves” from the “have-nots,”
to protect us from losing what we so tightly cling to:
money, power, control.
And cling to them we do,
just as the “have’s” clung to their wealth and power
in ancient Israel when Micah delivered his prophesy.
Christians have a name for that kind of clinging:
we call it sin.
And sin takes a toll.
Again the prophet Micah captures a truth that is cuttingly relevant
for our day:
You shall eat, he writes,
but not be satisfied.
There shall be a gnawing hunger within you.
You shall sow but not reap,
tread olives but not be anointed with oil,
tread grapes but not drink wine.
Is this not a country where we eat but are never satisfied?
Do we not carry a gnawing hunger within us?
Before the table is cleared on Thanksgiving our citizens line up outside
Target and Walmart and Macy’s so we can be the first
to buy a big screen TV
which is just a little larger and nicer
than the big screen TV we already have.
We get a large soda instead of a medium at the movie theatre
for one dollar more
and fill our plates with portions that could feed a family
all in the hope of suffocating that gnawing hunger in our hearts
that never seems to be sated.
It is a collective addiction
foisted on us by those who are interested in our perpetual spending,
that keep us so dosed with commercials and immersed in the mall
that we don’t even know what we are hungry for: liberation.
Advent is about the in-breaking of Christ into our world.
It is the moment, enacted again and again
when God comes down and meets you
in the mess and the grime of your life.
The angel told Mary that she would give birth to a child
and call him “Emmanuel,”
“God with us.”
And we hear from the prophet Micah
that he will come from Bethlehem
and he will be a bringer of peace.
Bethlehem’s a gritty sort of place.
It’s out of the way, forgotten.
Nothing good can come from there, people say.
And yet the cast-aside and forgotten places
seem to be where God does her work.
She has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly, Mary sang.
She has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
Ferguson’s a gritty sort of a place too.
Out of the way, forgotten.
And the kids who live there,
so many of them has been cast aside.
But God hasn’t changed her strategy.
Because God has been breaking into the world in Ferguson
these last months,
coming down to meet the lowly and downhearted
in the mess and confusion of West Florissant Avenue.
Coming down to tear the powerful from their thrones
and lift up the lowly.
This is our Advent, our Immanuel,
our God With Us:
that the world is about to turn,
and we can have a hand in turning it.
So we need to go to Freedom School,
to learn how to have a hand in turning the world.
It may mean giving up something of what we have --
our wealth, our power, our illusions that all is well in this world.
It may mean taking things down --
dismantling structures we have a vested interest in,
or worked to build in the first place.
If we are wolves we must lie down with lambs.
If we are leopards we must lie down with the kid.
And I know three little girls in Baltimore
who are ready to lead us.