Sunday, March 1, 2020 – Lent 1

March 1, 2020  

Waking Up White Lenten Series

Lent 1 2020

Philippians 2:1-6

Entering into conversations about race, specifically racism, is a difficult thing to do. We all have our own thoughts about race, about racism, about who we are and who other people are. Knowing this, beginning an entire Lenten series that is about race, specifically racism—is daunting.

No one wants to feel like they are being attacked.

No one wants to feel like they are being judged.

No one wants to address the elephant that is in almost every sanctuary or worship space in the ELCA: that we are the whitest church in the United States. There are a whole lot more white people in our congregations than there are black people, or brown people; there are a whole lot more people of European descent than there are indigenous people, or people of Asian descent.

Obviously, Lutheranism’s heritage is German, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish… aka northern European.

Just as obviously, generations have passed since people of those ethnicities immigrated to the United States in large numbers, establishing congregations in the communities where they settled. In that time, most of our Lutheran churches have not changed, even when the communities they are rooted in have.

As Lutherans, we need to ask ourselves why this is true. Why aren’t our congregations more diverse? This is not a question we direct to the people of color we know. This has to be a question the white people in the room ask ourselves. What are we doing or thinking or saying or believing or not doing or not thinking or not saying or not believing that leads to our being the whitest denomination in the United States?

Our synod recently had Anti-Racism training for all rostered staff in our congregations. I was unable to attend because of my father’s death. But, at the Anti-Racism Task Force meeting I attended this past Monday, colleagues told me the training began with some ground rules, including that there would be:

No blame, no shame, and no guilt.

The workshop was led by a black man. The workshop was attended by dozens of white rostered ministers and one black minister. No other people of color. Friends who attended said the leader was a master of facilitating no blame, no shame, and no guilt. Even when people said things that made others cringe and want to climb under the furniture, the leader of the workshop stayed true to his own rules. Some attendees were surprised he was able. I’m not. If he has lived in this part of the United States his whole life, he is most likely accustomed to being the only black person in the room, which means he has spent a lifetime nurturing the ability to practice no blame, no shame, and no guilt.

I was studying a commentary on the scripture reading I selected for today, the reading I selected to begin our 40-day Lenten journey with. The writer wrote that “theology and ethics are inseparably joined together” (Morna Hooker, “Philippians Commentary” in the New Interpreter’s Bible vol. 11 p. 514).

As an Ethics teacher, I disagree. There are millions of people in the world thinking about ethics who have no belief in God, and thus no theology. But, as a pastor I agree with the author. As Christians, our theology and our ethics are inseparably joined. Our ethics, our figuring out how we ought to live, is rooted in our knowledge of God. “Theological affirmation leads to ethical demand” (Hooker).

Saying “yes” to the reality of God leads us to an obligation to be the people God calls us to be, doing the things God calls us to do.

Paul is clear in his letter to the Philippians: “Those who confess Jesus as Lord should not be looking for status or power” (Hooker p. 515). “Rather, they should be humbly considering others better than themselves” (Hooker p. 516).

The scholar I cited wrote about today’s scripture reading: “the church as a whole has never taken to heart the true significance of this passage…” adding that we have attempted to “detach theology from ethics” (Hooker p. 516).

When I talk about Christian ethics I am not talking about a set of rules God has provided, like the 10 commandments. I am talking about a way of living, a way of living Paul sets before us when he boldly embraces humility. “Paul, in his teaching, always went back to first principles. In effect, he is saying, ‘This is the gospel. This is what God is like. This is what God has done for you, and this is what God expects you to be like” (Hooker p. 516).

It is vital that we approach our conversations these next 40 days with humility. It vital that we listen to others. It is vital that we set aside our own notions and open ourselves to hear voices that are not our own. It is vital that we have as our ground rules: No blame. No shame. No guilt.

We are seeking to better see our systems, better see our policies, better see the cultural values we have had that are exclusive and privileged and counter-productive to our call to live as disciples of Christ.

In Christ we find our community. Knowing this, the relationships within this community– if they are rooted in love, rooted in selflessness, rooted in concern for others (as Christ calls them to be)—they will be transformed. Doors previously shut will open. Hearts previously hardened will soften.

As Paul wrote:

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord…” (Philippians 2:1-2).