Sunday, March 15, 2020 – Lent 3

March 15, 2020  

Lent 3 2020

Our Savior’s La Crosse

Waking Up White Series

Galatians 3:26-28


On our bulletin cover you see a graphic of international trade routes during the time when people were being captured, shipped, bought and sold. The graphic illustrates the horror of the times: that human beings are listed as “slaves,” as items for trade alongside rum, lumber, sugar, gunpowder, and other dry goods.

History tells us that, to transport people:

Two by two the men and women were forced beneath deck into the bowels of the slave ship. The “packing” was done as efficiently as possible. The captives lay down on unfinished planking with virtually no room to move or breathe.

Some [people would] die of disease, some of starvation, and some simply of despair. This was the fate of millions of West Africans across three and a half centuries of the slave trade on the voyage known as the “middle passage.”

Doctors would inspect [people] before purchase from the African trader to determine which individuals [were] most likely [to] survive the voyage. In return, the traders would receive guns, gunpowder, rum or other sprits, textiles or trinkets.

The “middle passage,” which brought the slaves from West Africa to the West Indies, might have taken three weeks. Unfavorable weather conditions [would have] made the trip much longer.

[Captives] were fed twice daily and some captains made vain attempts to clean the hold at this time. Air holes were cut into the deck to allow the people breathing air, but these were closed in stormy conditions. The bodies of the dead were simply thrust overboard.

Upon reaching the West Indies, the [people] were fed and cleaned in the hopes of bringing a high price on the block. Those that could not be sold were left for dead. Those [sold] were then transported to their final destination. It was in this unspeakable manner that between ten and twenty million Africans were introduced to the New World. (“The Middle Passage” U.S. History Online Textbook // copyright 2020 accessed 3/11/2020)

When Jeanne and I were in Memphis two years ago I bought the print you see here, in front of the altar. The print is of a painting done by the artist i.Babatunde, and is sold as a fundraiser for a house that was once on the Underground Railroad. The title on the painting is “The Middle Passage.”

The print depicts the souls of deceased people rising from the ocean water, their faces pointing toward heaven. These people had been transported on a slave ship, where they died. Their bodies were thrown in the ocean water, chains still binding them. In the print the peoples’ hands are lifted upward, broken chains hang from their wrists and from collars around their necks.

I’m telling you this because of the looks on the peoples’ faces in this print.

They are rising from the water, their hands and faces looking up. I believe they are looking toward heaven. The chains on their hands and around their necks are broken. Their spirits are free… free to rise up… looking at their faces I see joy, I see joyful anticipation. These beautiful human beings have escaped the chains of slavery and are going to God.

St. Paul wrote to the Galatians “As many of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ” (Galatians 3: 27-28).

Professor Richard B. Hayes wrote that, in Paul’s time

In baptism, the person being baptized confessed the lordship of Jesus Christ over all creation, disrobed to signify the putting off of an entire way of life, was immersed below the water as if undergoing a burial…, was raised to a new life, and was clothed in new garments symbolizing the transformation that had occurred. (“Galatians 3:26-29 Reflections” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 11 p. 274)

They disrobed… taking off their old ways of living.

They were clothed in new garments… clothed in Christ!

They were putting on Jesus!

With everything going on in the world around us right now… now is the time to remember that in our baptisms we were transformed, we were clothed in Christ, we put on Jesus! And Jesus has never left us. Jesus is with us.

After worship our church council will meet. We will discuss the La Crosse County Health Department’s recommendation that people not meet in large groups right now. Here we are, meeting in a large group. I’m recommending to council that we not meet again in worship until we are certain it is safe to do so. I’m recommending our worship be online only.

These recommendations come to us and we receive them not out of fear, but with love for every person. All of us who are at risk (And I’m at risk in multiple ways) are asking those whose risks are less to live in solidarity with us, by practicing social distancing.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we continue to receive Christ’s call to love one another. People still need to be fed, in fact, with schools closed, feeding hungry people is going to be more urgent. We need to find safe ways to continue serving the hungry.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we continue to receive Christ’s call to love one another. People still need to be prayed for. I urge you all to pray for one another and for the people working in health care and for people without medical insurance and for people who will feel the pains of loneliness and/or depression as they self-isolate. Pray for our elders in nursing homes or living alone at home. Pray for those in prisons who are in lock-down as governments try to lock out disease.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we continue to receive Christ’s call to love one another. To love every other human being as Christ loves us. To delight in our diversity.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we are called to hope because our hope comes from God. Our hope is in God. Our trust is in God.

Because we have been clothed in Christ we look toward heaven with joy, knowing (as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said) “our God is able.”

Our God is able.