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    Lenten repentance of “Ham’s Curse"

    Black History Month meets Lent 1 February 21, 2021
    Filed Under:
    Pr. Sebastian

    We’re here today at the beginning of Lent, 

    a time where we repent of our sins.

    We’re also in Black History month, 

    a little under a year after the murder of George Floyd 

    and the Black Lives Matter protests that rocked the world,

    We started off our service lamenting the sin of racism, 

    and our complicity in it.

    And we have as our sermon text the first covenant between God and humanity, 

    with the sign of the rainbow extending between the heavens and the earth.

     

    Our fIrst reading from the book of Genesis takes place right after God wiped out 99% of all life on earth, in a massive flood, 

    in a ”divinely orchestrated genocide”.

    On one hand, it’s a popular children’s story, 

    well suited for Fischer Price Toy sets,

    a feel-good fable, with a jaunty kids’s song, and a happy ending.

    And yet, it’s because of a terrible calamity carried out by an evil-sounding deity,

    I mean, come to think about it, who wants to believe in a God who would do something like that, willfully destroying so many lives, so many animals, and birds?

     

    No wonder so many teens drop out of church after Sunday school.

    And then we have, following this text, a story, 

    which was used as theological 

    support for all kinds of oppression. 

    But we’ll get to that in a minute.

     

    So the first original genocide happened when the

    “Lord saw that wickedness was great in the earth and said: 

    I will blot out the human beings I have created together with animals and creeping things and the birds (but not the fish)”

    And the flood came and a year later,

    Noah built an altar and offered burnt offerings,

    And God had a change of heart, so to speak,

    from being a deadly rainmaker

    And said: I will never again curse the ground.

     

    A lot of people have problems with the story of the flood, 

    and I count myself in.

    You might even say that the story of the flood is a crime against divinity. 

    That the text itself is sinful.

    Can we believe in God the destroyer and punisher?

    What a horrible image. No! No way.

    It should have been removed, purged from the Bible. 

    But it wasn’t.

     

    In any case, the 1st promise or covenant or contract is signed.

    It is a blessing.

    God established a covenant with Noah and his descendants,

    All races, and all living creatures: birds and animals,

     

    And the rainbow is there as a sign of the covenant (contracts need to be signed)

    And God says:

    I have set my rainbow in the clouds, as a symbol of our agreement,

    That waters never will flood and destroy all flesh.

     

    God’s eternal covenant with all creatures,

    Implies ongoing relationship with every human and animal.

    God wants a relationship with every human and every living being!

    That’s something I can get behind.

    It’s radical:

    It counters the themes we all too often hear of in the Bible: 

    of the parochial, narrow “exclusive we;’ 

    that God loves us but hates our enemies.

    This is a truly and inclusive agreement, 

    between God and every living thing.

    We’re all connected. We’re all in this together.

    Something we are reminded of when COVID-19 washed over our globe like a second Noah’s flood!

     

    Which brings us to one of the most horrendous texts in the history of Christianity, which follows immediately after the story of the cute rainbow,

    Namely the 

    CURSE OF HAM.

     

    It tells of Noah, who had become a farmer, got drunk,

     and lay uncovered in his tent.

    His son Ham, quote “saw the nakedness of his father” 

    (which possibly denotes a sexual act), told his brothers Shem and Japheth, who then took a garment on their shoulders, walking backwards, covered their father up and restored his dignity.

     

    When Noah awoke, he knew what his son had done to him!

    And Noah angrily said: “Cursed be Canaan (the Son of Ham), 

    lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”

    I mean OK, I’d be angry too if my son raped me when I was unconscious.

     

    Now, when the text says that Ham “saw the nakedness of his father.”

    What that precisely means has been the source of debate for 1000s of years.

    Did Ham just laugh at the size of his father’s genitals?

    Did he publicly mock him afterward?

    Or did he castrate his father, or even rape him?

    Whatever, it was, Noah’s outburst meant it was pretty serious.

    It wasn’t just a quick glance at his privates.

     

    There are lotsa difficulties in this text, and what Ham did to Noah in his tent, is the least of its problems.

     

    Originally: the text was used to justify the subjugation or enslavement of the Canaanite people to the Israelites.

    So basically the text was used to give reasons for why Canaanites got their land robbed from them by the Israelites , and they were eradicated as much as possible (although they were the indigenous people of the land.)

     

    More recently, the Curse of Ham was a story

    “interpreted by Christians (as well as Muslims and Jews) as an explanation for black skin as well as a justification for slavery.”

    You see, just a little later, the text goes on to say that the descendants of Ham migrated to North Africa, among other places.

     

    European writers, starting in the 16th century used this text to justify enslaving Blacks and the profitable trans-atlantic slave trade.

    And this text was one of the only Biblical justifications Southern Slave Owners (during the American civil war) used to justify their holding of black slaves.

    It was a curse found in the Bible, they said, “that Blacks should be enslaved forever.”

    And they mentioned it as a generational curse: 

    all descendants could be enslaved, not just Canaan, but all his children and children’s children, forever.

     

     

    Now we all know that slavery is a sin.

    Using this text to justify slavery is a sin.

    This text is an abomination because it has been used to provide a rationale for genocide of a race.

    Martin Luther King Jr: called the justification of slavery with this text “blasphemy… that is against everything the Christian religion stands for”.

     

    We need to repent and lament these texts that have been taken for over the centuries to abuse Black people.

     

    In 2020, last May 25th, George Floyd was murdered by a policeman for a $20 crime.

    This sparked worldwide protests, even here in Kitchener.

    This text of the Curse of Ham, still resonates today, saying the descendants of Ham are not worth anything…”the least of the slaves to his brothers.”

     

    This week I watched “The skin we’re in”, a 2017 CBC Documentary by black journalist and activist Desmond Cole.

    The documentary, based on an award-winning article for Toronto Life,

    Reminds us that while anti-black racism is a huge topic in the US, 

    it is very much real in Canada here as well.

    There is “no domain in Canadian life that anti-black racism doesn’t exist”.

    One person acknowledges: “Our community has to contend with anti-black racism every day”, another announces: “Black people are in a state of emergency.”

    Cole himself reports being stopped over 50 times by police, 

    and he recalls experiences of his being profiled and carded as a young black man on the streets of Canada’s largest city.

    Racial profiling by police is singled out as a visible sign of systemic racism.

    The murder of Mike Brown in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri was a rallying point internationally.

    “We people of colour, we die too much” sister of Andrew Loku (a man shot by police in Toronto) exclaimed.

     

    The most recent Canada Lutheran magazine: has as its title “Black Lives Matter: dismantling racism in our communities and congregations.”

    The feature article “we are Lutheran” by Janelle Lightbourne focusses on Black Canadian Lutherans, and laments that  “melanated siblings” are not seen as being Lutheran or “not Lutheran enough, even if they’ve been Lutheran for generations.”

    Pastor Victoria Mwa-masika, originally from Tanzania, declares 

    “Racism is here. Can we talk in dialogue? Let’s be honest. Can you listen to me when I say I have experienced this as a black pastor, a woman, as a Black person. Can you listen?”

     

    Further on, National Bishop Susan Johnson writes :“why don’t we use the hashtag alllivesmatter? Yes, all lives do matter, but to only say -all lives matter- redirects us from the attention of Black lives which are undervalued and more likely to experience more violence, more poverty, poorer health, more incarceration, the list goes on.”

     

    Over the past few years, I’ve been doing some education and learning around my own white privilige and racism.

    On one hand, I enjoy parts of Black culture, like Jazz, R/B, HipHop, 

    But an examination of my Facebook friends list reveals they are all pretty much white.

    And I have to acknowledge that walking at night, if a Black man in a hoodie comes towards me, part of me goes “whoa”, 

    but that would not happen if the man was white.

    Racism is deep-seated in me. 

    Not that I’ve ever been overtly racist, but that’s not the point.

    Racism is not just the obvious outburst, the racist insult or joke,

     but it can be very subtle, it can work from within the system,

     favouring those who are white, and pushing down those who aren’t.

     

    Racism is the argument that quips:

    “But I’m not racist. I see no colour. I see no discrimination.”

    The reality is that BIPOC do.

    And our job as people of privilege is to stop and listen.

     

     

    What can we do, as Christians about racism?

    I read a great book last year called “How to be an antiracist” by Ibram Kendi

    I strongly recommend it.

    I’d also like to read “Me and white supremacy” by Layla Saad, 

    Which gives a good process for daily journaling to work on one’s own white supremacy, 

    and acknowledge that white supremacy is not just about skinheads and Neo-Nazis, but is part of the fabric of our society, 

    and our subconscious values and interactions.

    Working to combat racism, there’s no easy three-step solution,

    But you have to start somewhere.

    The work will make you feel uncomfortable, and it is hard work,

    But nowhere near as hard as it is for POC living out their lives in predominantly white Canada.

     

    What else?

    The Eastern Synod Racial Justice Committee has excellent resources on their webpage.

    Carey, Scott and I can also provide some.

    This black History month is an opportunity to learn more about accomplishments of the Black community to Canadian and local society.

    We need to recall anti-racist texts in the Bible: (Gal 3, Genesis 1, Acts 10, John 3, 1 Sam 16, Col 3, Ex 22)

    Like Galatians 3:28 (for in Christ there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Greek). 

    And remember we are all symbolically descended from Adam, we all form one race, the human race.

    We need to talk more about enslavement (that is, not just discuss slaves, but who did the enslaving?) that is, who profited from slavery, historically, and into the present (noting that slavery was legal in Canada until 1833.)

     

    We must condemn, call out as sinful and deadly,

    Not only extreme racists like Proud Boys, 

    but also the more garden-variety.

    We need to speak up, 

    Amplify BIPOC voices and

    Make room for those who are marginalized.

     

    Perhaps this season of Lent with its traditional emphasis on prayer, fasting and almsgiving, 

    we can fast from racism, pray for our Black siblings, 

    and give alms to anti-racist causes.

     

    And I think, esp. in this season of Lent, where we say that we return to the Lord our God who is gracious and merciful,

    we need to lament, to cry out and confess our part in this global and local racism pandemic.

     

    Because all the earth is blessed by God’s covenant with Noah,

    with the sign of the rainbow extending between the heavens and the earth.

    We can repent of Christian theology and interpretation of difficult and sinful texts like the so-called “Curse of Ham”,

    that have caused untold sufferings on this earth, 

    esp. to the Black community, 

    And we can work on ourselves, our church and society, 

    to learn more about Black History and anti-Black racism,

     to become more anti-racist, not only one month of the year, 

    but 12 months of the year.

     

    And so we join with Bp Johnson: in praying:

    Loving God, we give you thanks for all your beloved children. 

    Help us work to end the scourge of racism. 

    Help us to prove in our thoughts, words and deeds that Black Lives Matter. In your holy name we pray. Amen

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