By The Rev. Sherry Deets

2 Advent – December 7, 2014

Mark 1:1-8

It’s the second Sunday in Advent and today we hear about John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of Christ and most importantly, note how our gospel from Mark begins: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. Notice that Mark doesn’t call his book, “The Good News (Gospel) of Jesus.” Rather, he titles it “The Beginning of the Good News….” Which means that everything Mark has to say about Jesus – all the healing, preaching, teaching, exorcising, and even Jesus’ death and resurrection – is only the beginning of the good news. There’s still more to come.

Maybe that’s why Mark’s Gospel ends in such a strange, unsettling way. (You remember, the angel declares Jesus’ resurrection and commands the women at the empty tomb to go share the good news but they run away terrified and say nothing to anyone.) Mark concludes his Gospel with an open-ending because it is, after all, just the beginning. The story isn’t over. Which means we are all invited to continue the story of the good news of Jesus, as God continues to write the Gospel of Jesus in and through our lives as individuals and communities.

So let’s talk about our lives and what’s happening in Ferguson and New York. This is uncomfortable stuff – unpleasant and divisive. I myself have friends on all sides of the spectrum of attitudes about the grand jury decisions, about the protests that followed, and about the state of race relations in our country. Which is why so many of us would be just as happy to avoid talking about this in general and most certainly at church. But there’s more than one way to talk about an issue, and I’d like to invite us to think about another tact. Might we, for instance, talk with each other in order to try to appreciate the various positions people hold with a goal not first of persuasion but of understanding? I sometimes think that part of what makes these kinds of conversations so difficult is that precisely because people feel strongly about them we feel it’s a contest, if not a conquest, and that the goal is to make people see and accept our point of view (or the fear that others think that way about us).

Might we, in the church, recognize that relationship comes before and is vitally important and offer ourselves as places where people who hold different points of view might listen to each other to try to understand each other? Might we ask what it’s like to grow up as an African American kid and get nervous when a police cruiser comes by? Might we ask what it’s like to be a police officer and know that each and every stop you make could be potentially violent? Might we further wonder how we have come to be so suspicious of those who differ from us, whether that’s a difference in ethnicity or religion? And might we also ask what the implications are of our own theology and the confession that in Jesus Christ, God was reconciling the whole world and commissioning us to be ambassadors of reconciliation?

I had the privilege of being with and hearing Elijah Anderson this week at our clergy conference. Dr. Anderson is currently a Sociology Professor at Yale University and his latest book is entitled The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life.

Anderson presents the concept of the “cosmopolitan canopy”: cosmopolitan canopies are settings that offer a respite from the lingering tensions of urban life and an opportunity for diverse peoples to come together.

He is from Philadelphia and did much of his research there. His examples of a cosmopolitan canopy are Reading Terminal where widely diverse peoples are in close proximity to each other and talk with each other, are civil with each other and have a good time together. Another example is Rittenhouse Square – a plot of green in a diverse neighborhood where people walk their dogs and have conversations with each other and have a good time together. These cosmopolitan canopies are an oasis, a space where diverse peoples exist in harmony with each other. I would argue that Trinity church is a cosmopolitan canopy. Dr. Anderson is pointing out that it can happen. There are spaces in which people approach each other, approach that someone who is “different” with respect, dropping any stereotypical ideas, simply communicating with each other as fellow human beings. What we can do is to spread that understanding and way of being into all areas of our lives. At Trinity, we have, for the most part a cosmopolitan canopy. Think about what makes that happen and share it with others.

“If I can’t breathe, you can’t breathe”. “If I can’t breathe, you can’t breath.” This was the chant repeated at a protest march and it really gets to the core of the issue. If one person does not have justice then I don’t, you don’t, none of us does.

Rather than continuing to make blanket condemnations we need to acknowledge the fact that each person, regardless of which side they are on, is created in the image of God. If we start from an assumption of respect we have a much better chance of engaging in dialogue and of avoiding further violence. Indeed, it is only when we learn to see the other as a person rather than an enemy that we have any hope of changing the broken system that has brought us to this place.

The story isn’t over. It is just beginning.

Dear God, Heal all that is broken in our hearts, in our streets, and in our world. Give us eyes to see your image in every human being. Help us interrupt the patterns of injustice, and get in the way of everything that destroys life. Give us imagination — not to accept the world as it is but to dream of the world as it could be. Free us from the systems that keep us down and hold us hostage. Help us name the sins in our lives and in our world so that we can truly be free to love. Set us free from hatred and fear — liberate the oppressed and the oppressors. And give us the faith to believe that no one is beyond redemption.

Make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us bring love;
Where there is injury, let us bring healing;
Where there is deception, let us bring truth;
Where there is doubt, let us bring faith;
Where there is despair, let us bring hope;
Where there is darkness, let us bring light;
Where there is sadness, let us bring joy.
And where there is apathy, let us bring revolution.
May your Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven — in Ferguson, in New York, in Kabul, in Gaza, in Jerusalem, in Baghdad, and all over the world. Amen.

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