Jun17Wedwith reference to BIPOC suffering June 17, 2020
Today’s sermon text is from our Reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter 5.
A text that speaks to the concept of suffering in this day and age
in June 2020.
Paul reminds us that since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is nothing we need to do to earn God’s favour.
We are made righteous, we are made right in God’s eyes,
Through faith in Jesus, and the faith of Jesus.
We can trust in God’s grace and there’s nothing more we need.
God’s love to us as shown in Jesus Christ is the basis for our lives
and the way we live in the world.
And since we are OK, all right, in God’s eyes,
We are at Peace with God.
Sin is no barrier to our relationship with God.
It truly is an Amazing Grace: unearned, and undeserved.
We only need to accept God’s grace,
We don’t have to do anything!
Paul goes on with two boasts.
He says we can boast in two things.
First, we can boast in this glory of God since we access it though grace.
That is, we can boast in the Amazing grace that God loves us despite everything and that we are right and justified in his eyes.
We are loved and cherished, and that is something to boast about,
And to praise God for and say thanks for.
The second Boast that Paul has is a little stranger.
He says “we also boast in our sufferings”
Now what does that mean, to boast in our sufferings?
Why would anybody be happy and proud of how much they suffered?
What follows is a long list of connected virtues,
proving that it does makes sense to be proud of suffering, because it leads ultimately to hope, which we have through God’s love.
So Paul writes that there is hope for us when we are suffering
because we know ultimately that God’s love for us conquers all.
I’ll read these verses again because they’re such a good message for today.
We boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5and hope does not disappoint us,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
So it is a bit ironic to say that we can boast in our suffering,
but Paul says, wait a minute, I’ll explain it.
If we boast in our suffering: it’s not because it’s something we seek,
or we want.
It’s because of what we know.
Suffering produces endurance.
I think that one does make sense.
It’s like when you’re working very hard with tools, you can get callouses on your hands which protect your skin…it helps you be able to do more work.
Or the saying “No pain no gain”,
Or “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
You can’t get ahead without a little suffering which forms you, and strengthens you. You can build upon your past experiences to help you meet challenges in the future.
And this endurance, the ability to last longer, produces character.
That is, it forms you and changes who you are,
you’ve been “once around the block” so to speak,
And once you’ve been through a few difficult situations,
maybe you realize that you are quite capable, you can do it,
and it gives you hope that you’ll get through it again.
What often surprises me is talking to people who are in a lot of pain, who are suffering and they have this amazing attitude and they don’t complain much.
And I ask them” why are you not complaining, you’re in so much pain?”
and they say “well what’s the point?”
They have built up endurance and character which points to the hope in God and it carries the day for them.
Complaining about your suffering, is human of course,
and some people are naturally more pessimistic.
But to take pride in your suffering,
well there’s probably something to it,
because it turns everything on its head, you “look on the bright side of life” and realize that suffering is part of human existence , there often isn’t much you can do about it
and you focus on the good you have and the hope you have.
So Paul sets a good example here.
When we boast about something, we bring attention to it.
A sinful way of boasting would be boasting about your own accomplishments, tooting your own horn,
saying what a fine baker or preacher or golfer you are.
That’s just selfish pride.
But if you’re boasting about something else, pointing to something else, that’s much better.
See, boasting about God, you’re pointing to God and saying “hallelujah.” That’s OK.
And boasting about your painful circumstance and saying look,
this all is only helpful for a greater cause,
The kind of boasting is good because it’s inspiring, and can help people around you get unstuck,
it reminds people that it does get better if we pull together
and all do our part.
So here we are in June 2020,
and this is a time of global suffering.
Can we boast in it?
It’s hard to quantify the suffering in Canada due to the pandemic,
one number which visualizes it
is the 2 million jobs lost.
But of course, there are untold other hardships that this Covid-19 suffering has unleashed: domestic violence, mental health crises,
and postponed medical issues that are not getting treated.
But perhaps suffering in the past two weeks has really risen to our consciousness in what’s being called the racial pandemic,
or the greatest global racial unrest in history.
At its core is the suffering of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour who suffer at the hands of systemic injustice and racism in structures of our society.
We hear the cries of the oppressed in the media these past 2 weeks,
of “no justice no peace”.
It’s 2020 and yet, the evil of racism is still an issue within us.
The suffering of People of Colour amidst this pandemic has been amplified because the inherent injustice and inequality in the system means that the virus is targeting them in greater proportion than the privileged white majority.
Furthermore in Canada the spotlight is now on recent incidents of police abuse against indigenous people in BC and New Brunswick, and the killing of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi.
The suffering of People of Colour has been far greater than ours,
and I count myself as a privileged white straight cis man.
Black Lives Matter and other activists ask those of us with privilege,
to be active and not performative allies,
Reminding that being anti-racist is more than just tweeting your feelings,
But can be shown in giving financially to grassroots community organizations that support marginalized communities,
standing up to racist attitude and structures of others, an learning more about our own racist tendencies.
This pandemic time is an anxious, traumatic time, and it may be too early for us to boast in our suffering,
but we need to harness the grace, peace, and love of God to work for justice,
and this is a costly work.
We need to use newly presented opportunities to work for change so that we don’t go back to the old normal,
esp. one that put those with deeper skin hues at a disadvantage.
And as a continuation of last Sunday’s focus,
Scott and I thus chose music from the black spiritual tradition to give voice to our solidarity with People of Colour.
In a small way.
In a moment I will invite you to sing the Hymn of the Day,
as a lament for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour’s experience of systemic racism.
It is a Call to act : to use our own privilege,
To sing the song of the other.
Not to take it as our own,
But to identify with and educate ourselves about other communities’ experiences and lived realities,
African American spirituals are steeped in suffering.
The suffering of slavery, through Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Movement and until today.
Suffering of these spirituals is embodied in songs like
“nobody knows the troubles I see, nobody knows but Jesus’.
Many “African slaves endured the suffering of slavery because they knew the present power of God’s love and the future glory that awaited them”.
The experience of suffering, which leads to endurance, and hope is rooted in a deep faith and lived understanding of the meaning of God’s Grace through faith.
Our Hymn of the Day, “I want Jesus to walk with me”
Talks about the pilgrim journey of life which is full of suffering,
full of trials and trouble,
And how amidst this adversity, hardship and distress,
the source of hope comes from seeking the grace and love from God which comforts and sustains.
A note about this hymn, which is a lament of community,
with no known author.
It has a double layer of meaning, like most African spirituals,
and it affirms that the “Jesus of salvation” is with those who sing.
Its tune is named for Isabella Barnfree who took the name Sojourner Truth, who was a slave who grew up in New York State.
“After being sold more than once, beaten and treated cruelly, she escaped and then began to preach, sing and advocate for women’s rights and abolition of slavery. She met President Lincoln.
Her most famous speech from 1851 was “Ain’t I a woman” , which discussed the double discrimination she experiences as a black woman.
As we sing this song, dear listeners,
I invite you to walk with our sibling Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour, in this time of suffering,
Just as Jesus walks with us. Amen.