Tag Archive: Racism

Sermon from June 28 at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, VA.

Imana ishyimwe! Praise God! Our mission trip to Rwanda was a incredibly eye-opening and moving journey. On the one hand, I learned up close about the depth of human hatred and depravity. On the other, I left feeling like I had never encountered such a depth of joy in all my travels. How could both of these things be present in the same place and even among the same people? As I reflect and try to understand, I can only think that it is because we were able to glimpse both death and resurrection.

During the genocide in 1994, men were both disproportionately the perpetrators and victims. Afterward, some 70 percent of the country was women. Many of whom had been abused, raped, wounded, and widowed. Or whose families had perpetrated crimes against others and were now in prison. How would they be able to go on after such a horrific tragedy? Men had been breadwinners and now the world had been shaken to the core. Those who were left were hurting, sick, suffering from PTSD, dealing with poverty, and finding it nearly impossible to build trust or community.

I think about the woman in the lesson this morning. She had suffered with hemorrhages for twelve agonizing years. No one could help her. And because of her disease, she was unclean and isolated from society. She must have felt so completely cut off from everything she once knew and enjoyed. Perhaps she had once loved life in her village, but now it was a place of isolation, loneliness, hurt and distrust. How could there be hope for a future?

After the woman in the Gospel quietly touches Jesus’ clothes to receive healing, she is unable to hide any longer. She tells him her whole story about all the doctors, the years of suffering, the feelings of isolation, loneliness, and shame, and how she knew she would be better if she could only touch even his clothes. Jesus looks at her and says gently, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

I hear this story and I think about those Rwandan women after the genocide, and what they must have gone through. They, too, struggled to find hope and a future. They, too, must have felt relegated to the land of the dead as opposed to the land of the living. They, too, must have felt shame for what they suffered or what they or others had done.

But slowly, things began to change. Women began to realize that in order to move forward, they needed to work together. They gathered to talk and weave. Hutu and Tutsi women began sitting together, side-by-side, weaving peace baskets, which nest to show how intricate and how long a process the road to peace and reconciliation is. All over Rwanda, co-ops have formed. People have come together across ethnic lines to begin building, or weaving, a future for their country and for their children.

We were blessed to experience this healing and resurrection in many places on our trip, but particularly in the villages of Gitarama and Nyange. In Gitarama, we participated in Azizi Life, an experience shadowing Rwandan women for the day, learning about their lives, and having the amazing opportunity to share cross-culturally.

While there, we helped prepare lunch, we harvested and planted sweet potatoes, we collected water by walking to the spring with jerry cans, we cut elephant grass and balanced it on our heads to take to the cow, we ate lunch together, prayed, sang and danced, and learned how to make earrings and bracelets from banana leaves. It was incredible. Together, these women have a co-op and they make beautiful handicrafts to sell around the world. They receive a fair wage and are able to support themselves and their families.

Sitting on Our Host's Front Porch Making Jewelry (Azizi Life)

Sitting on Our Host’s Front Porch Making Jewelry (Azizi Life)


With Pauline who Taught Me (Errr… tried to teach me!) How to Make Banana Leaf Earrings and a Bracelet

I found myself sitting on the front porch of our host’s home filled with joy – not wanting the moment to end. We had been so warmly embraced by these women. Their smiles and laughter made me overflow with joy. So much so that when I went to say goodbye and thank you to our host, I found myself tearing up with gratitude. How could this come from the unfathomable depth of suffering of the genocide?

In Nyange, we sat with the village elders with whom Pr. John, Robin’s husband, has been working. They are rebuilding their community by working together to decide what is important for them as a whole. Together, they have decided that they are most in need of new roofs. And in the process, Pr. John has been coaching and encouraging them so that they can put together an action plan, hold meetings, make presentations to government officials, and reflect on their project and its effectiveness. I asked them what has changed as a result of this and one woman said, “We used to not even want to wash our clothes. We were ashamed and we didn’t want to interact with one another. Now we want to take care of ourselves. We are even discussing family planning. We can make presentations to people without being afraid.” Each one of them mentioned how their confidence had increased – how they are once again able to look others in the eye.

Meeting with the Community at Nyange

Meeting with the Community at Nyange

Meeting with the Community in Nyange

Meeting with the Community in Nyange

I hear in that an echo of the woman from the Gospel. She was healed and able to tell her story of her movement from death to life. These communities have been healed, by the grace of God at work in the world and by their faith that there could be a future. And now they are able to tell their stories – to share the joy of their resurrection with us. To point to what God can do – crossing all walls and boundaries and bringing resurrection from the darkest depths of hatred and death.

The day after our Azizi Life experience we heard about the shooting in Charleston. I was sad. I was angry. We had just visited a church in Rwanda that was the site of the killing of 10,000 people. Now here was a shooting in a church in our own backyard. Why? Why do we continue to hurt one another? Our sin runs deep. Racism, lack of compassion for those who are different, hard hearts unwilling to learn and grow and change… We have an opportunity at this moment to begin to discuss what has happened and to work together across races and ethnicities to build a better future for all people. I know that Christ can bring life out of this hurt and death – I know that more deeply after visiting Rwanda. But are we open to his working in us to do so?

Christ healed a woman on the fringes of society and brought her back into her community. He is at work in Rwanda through women and men working together to rebuild their communities. And he is at work even now, starting conversations and reconciliation among Americans in communities across the country. Might we, like the disciples, be overcome with amazement at what God is able to do. Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Awake in Advent

Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, I preached on Mark 13:24-37 at Community Lutheran Church:

If you’re anything like me, the past few days have been spent in a sort of hibernation mode. Packing in delicious food, watching T.V. and meditating on the wonders of comfortable pajamas and sleeping in. I am slightly ashamed that I really didn’t do a whole lot that was productive in that time. Yet, at the same time, I know that it was needed. Valuable time to rest and recharge. Precious time to spend with Jeff, the dog, and my family and friends. And I hope that you were able to have some of that time as well.

Each year, it seems that the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier. Now, emerging from a turkey coma, the world is going full steam ahead into Christmas, with decorations, shopping, parties, cookie baking, Christmas carols and the hustle and bustle of the holidays. With this flurry of activity and stress, it can be really easy to lose sight of God.

Meanwhile, we in the church enter into a time of expectant and hopeful waiting, yearning for the coming, or Advent, of Christ. As a result, the four weeks of Advent are kind of an odd time because we know that Christ has already come 2,000 years ago, yet we’re awaiting Christmas and Christ’s second coming where he will reign in the fullness of his kingdom. Holy and anticipatory waiting contrasted with the busy-ness and often chaos of the month of December.

And then we get these fiery passages about God tearing open the heavens, suffering in the world, the sun being darkened, the moon’s light giving out, falling stars and the very powers of the heavens shaking. Ummmm… yikes! I definitely feel the draw of watching the Grinch, making snowmen, eating gingerbread and laughing at ridiculous hip-shaking dancing Santas!

When we hear texts about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ, I think we have one of two tendencies. We may get nervous and try to figure out when it’s happening and how to read the signs of the times. It makes sense that we would try to figure it out given what we hear in Scripture, but Jesus also tells us, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Not even Jesus knows when all of this is going to occur! I think our second tendency is to say, “I don’t know when this is going to happen, so I’m not going to think or worry about it.”

Both tendencies, however, miss what we are being called to. And that is faithfulness. We’re being called to keep our eyes peeled – to be like watchmen, waiting with our senses on high alert, prepared for whatever will come next. That’s why we hear this Gospel text in Advent – in the season of waiting, preparation, anticipation, and hope for the things to come.

But what do we do while we’re waiting? We keep watch and keep alert for the ways God is active in the world. And we keep watch and keep alert for the places and ways in which we can actively participate in God’s kingdom, whether that’s listening to those who are hurting, cooking for and serving the hungry, praying for and encouraging others in the faith, or repairing and building homes for others. We use this season to prepare our hearts to receive Christ at Christmas and every day through worship, prayer, fellowship and service. We live out our baptisms and are fed by the Word of God, and at the Lord’s Supper. We use this time to allow God to continue shaping us and helping us to recognize Christ in our neighbor.

I’ve been struggling over the past week, and maybe many of you have been, too. I’ve been listening to conflicting reports from Ferguson, Missouri, reading articles, opinion pieces, and listening to interviews… I’ve been trying to figure out what happened there. I’ve been disturbed by the violence, not only of Michael Brown’s shooting, but also of some of the protestors. I’ve been upset by the hate and the vitriol I’ve heard and read. I’ve been saddened by families torn apart, by the hurt, frustration and the brokenness of the situation in Ferguson that is rippling across the country. And I’ve been wondering how I, as a follower of Christ and a white woman in Virginia, can or should respond. I know that by virtue of my skin color, where I’ve been born, and my circumstances in life, I have been lucky – I have not had to worry about the affects of racism. So when an event occurs that highlights the racial divide, the poverty and lack of opportunity for people of color in our country, I struggle to find what to say or do.

I know, however, that the temptation is to hear about these events, acknowledge them, and then just continue with my life. To hit the snooze button rather than keeping awake for the places God might be calling me to use my voice, my role, or my gifts for the sake of my brothers and sisters. But the truth is, while we await the fullness of Christ’s loving, merciful, and just reign, we are invited to be a part of God’s kingdom work. To keep alert and attuned to how God is tugging at our hearts.

And God is tugging at each of our hearts a little differently. Jesus says in his parable, “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.” Each of us has our own work. We have a voice and we have opportunities to get involved in our world. We are invited to be a part of the conversations and reconciliation needed in so many different issues at hand, whether that’s poverty, education, working for peace, caring for the sick, comforting the dying or grieved. You have been invited by God to speak to and live out the hope and love you have been given in Christ Jesus. To keep awake – to be alive and fully present instead of asleep, complacent or missing out of the life into which God is inviting you. Where do you feel like God has awakened you to a need in our world? How might you use the gifts God has blessed you with to make a difference?

There is one other time this phrase “keep awake” or “keep watch” is used in the Gospel of Mark. It’s in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus urges his disciples to stay awake with him and keep watch as he prays about his upcoming trial and then crucifixion. The disciples, as you may recall, fall asleep not once, but twice, nodding off at one of the moments of Christ’s greatest need.   As we begin the season of Advent, we are reminded not to ignore those in need around us, or to ignore God in favor of perfectly decked halls or the most expensive or decadent gifts. We are reminded to slow down a bit and to savor this time, watching with the eyes of faith for opportunities to experience Christ in others and to share Christ with others.

There is an Aramaic word that appears only once in the New Testament, but I think it helps to paint a wonderful picture of Advent. The word is “Maranatha.” Say that with me: “Maranatha.” It can either mean “Our Lord has come” or it can be read as a plea or command: “Our Lord, come!” This word is the prayer of Advent. It is stating with hope and confidence that our Lord has come. Although things may be difficult, God is in our midst and is working in and through us to bring about the kingdom. We know this because we know Christ has come, has died and was raised from the dead. We know that we have a God who brings about healing and forgiveness in even the darkest situations – even from the cross.

And yet this prayer expresses the eager longing of people tired with the way things are. It cries out and asks God not to delay in bringing about the fullness of the kingdom where all are seen as children of God, where justice abounds for rich and poor, black and white, young and old, and where love is the currency people spend freely.   Maranatha. Our Lord has come. Come, O Lord. Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Yesterday’s sermon on Matthew 15:10-28, preached at Community Lutheran Church.

Growing up, as a typical older sister, I did not want my two brothers entering my room. And one day, when I was probably six or seven, I decided the best way to keep them out was to set a booby trap of sorts made out of jacks buried in the carpet. I know, I cringe even thinking about it now… Well, my brothers did not find that boundary… Instead, my barefooted Mom did. Now, in talking with Mom, she pointed out that while it hurt at the time, after the fact, she thought it was pretty creative and even funny. But, I still injured my innocent mother and, in the end, hurt myself because I got in trouble for that little stunt!

The point is, when we create or draw boundaries, we often hurt ourselves and others. Today’s readings look at insiders and outsiders, and the boundaries and barriers we so often put on God’s grace and love for the world. And the words we hear from Scripture this morning help us realize that “us” versus “them” is a problem as old as time itself.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that foreigners who follow God’s commands and love God will be welcomed in – that the new Temple of God will be a house of prayer for all people. God is doing a new thing and gathering those who have formerly been on the outside – the marginalized, the foreigners, and those on the fringes of society.

To our ears, this probably sounds like great news – and it is. But I would argue that it was probably difficult for Israel to hear that God was going to be gathering outsiders in. And the Gospel lesson shows us that this hadn’t gotten cleared up by Jesus’ time either.

In an encounter with the Pharisees, they are having a hard time understanding why Jesus’ disciples aren’t obeying the traditional food and purity laws. So in order to clarify, Jesus says that it’s not what goes in your mouth that makes you unclean or separate from God. Instead, the heart is where all of the uncleanness and evil in the world come from. The disciples report to Jesus later that the Pharisees took offense at hearing this. And of course they’re offended, Jesus has called them out for being hypocrites, saying that all their laws and rules are no good if what’s in their hearts isn’t right. The traditional categories of clean and unclean are being challenged.

But it’s what happens next that really brings the idea of inside and outside, clean and unclean into focus. Jesus and the disciples head north to the region of Tyre and Sidon, Gentile cities located on the Mediterranean coast in what is now Lebanon. As they enter, a Canaanite woman appears, shouting at them, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon!” Talk about a welcome party!

Now a couple of things we should keep in mind.   First, the Canaanites were the ancient enemies of the Jews. Second, this region was one in which Baal worship was traditionally practiced. And yet this woman immediately recognizes Jesus and calls him by his Jewish Messianic title, “Son of David.” She knows who he is, right off the bat. She’s coming to him because her daughter is being cruelly tormented and she believes – no, she knows – that he can do something about it.

And here’s where my heart breaks for her.   Jesus is completely silent. She’s at her wit’s end, worried about her daughter and willing to cross every known cultural barrier to get help. As a Canaanite, a woman, and as someone who’s daughter was possessed, she would have been designated “unclean” many times over. And yet, she calls upon Jesus for help and he’s silent.

In the meantime, the disciples, who have just gotten an outstanding lesson showing that the categories of clean and unclean are changing, tell Jesus to send this woman away because she keeps shouting at them. What an overwhelming show of compassion…

But Jesus does something here that he hasn’t done in his other interactions with Gentiles in Matthew’s Gospel. He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” That, to me, must have felt like a punch to the gut. But this woman runs up and kneels before Jesus – she worships him and pleads, “Lord, help me.”

And then comes the part that makes this one of my least favorite Gospel readings… Jesus answers her pleas for help with, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Here is a woman in desperate need and Jesus is equating her to a dog? People have said that this is Jesus testing her, but there is nothing in the text to indicate that. People have pointed out that it’s Jesus showing how awful it is to designate who receives mercy or who doesn’t based on whether they are clean or unclean. People have also said that this is the gospel writer trying to show the ever-widening inclusiveness of the Gospel to a predominately Jewish-Christian church.

I don’t know. It certainly is an uncomfortable text, but I think that through this woman’s faith and determination, she shows that no matter who you are or where you come from, you still deserve a crumb of justice and mercy. When still kneeling in the ground she says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,” she is both humble and extremely daring. And it seems to bring Jesus back to the Jesus we’ve experienced at other places in the Gospel – the Jesus that acknowledges her amazing faith and immediately heals her daughter.

I’ve been wrestling with this text and I’ve come to see this woman as a type of prophet. She calls out for justice for her daughter and she speaks boldly, helping the disciples, and perhaps even Jesus, to remember that God’s mercy is not only for Israel. She is an outsider, calling the insiders to step out of their comfort zones for the sake of the good news of God’s grace, mercy and healing.

We, like the Israelites, probably don’t like it when we hear that others – the foreigners, the marginalized, the poor, the homeless, the broken, and the imperfect are all loved by God. We don’t like it because those people aren’t like us. We don’t like it because it forces us to step out of those flimsy little places we’ve constructed as our safe comfort zones. As J.J. Heller sings about the expansiveness of God’s love in her song, “Small:”

Cardboard cutouts on the floor
People wish that you were more like what they wanted you to be
Eventually they won’t have much of you at all in their theology
The walls are closing in on you
You cannot be contained at all

I don’t want to make you small
I don’t want to fit you in my pocket
A cross around my throat
You are brighter than the sun
You’re closer than the tiny thoughts I have of you
But I could never fathom you at all

We need people who are different than we are to help us see the limitless nature of God’s love. We need people to help us see different points of view – to stretch us and challenge us.

And when we create barriers or form groups, we eventually set up an us versus them mindset. Instead of admitting that we may have been at fault for something, we place the blame solely on others, never finding reconciliation and healing. Or rather than agreeing to disagree on certain political issues, we hear the blanket statements “all Democrats are wrong” or “all Republicans are wrong” and we cannot learn from the other side. This kind of attitude can even coopt the Gospel. The good news that Christ died on a cross and was raised to new life for the forgiveness of our sins and the reconciliation of the whole cosmos becomes, “well, Lutherans do it right and other denominations are wrong.”

Right now, the boundaries drawn due to race have come to the forefront in our country. In the city of Ferguson, Missouri it has become clear that there is a divide between blacks and whites – a divide highlighted by painful clashes between protestors and police. In the middle of all of this, it has become clear that there is a conversation that needs to happen in our country regarding race. We can either ignore it and pretend like things are fine, or we can, like the Canaanite woman, shout out “something is not right here – where is the justice and mercy for all people; white and black, poor and rich?” We can ask, “how might God be calling us to act prophetically?”

The Canaanite woman caused Jesus and the disciples to stop short and pay attention – to rethink the boundaries of God’s unfathomable grace. We need to listen to the stories of others who are different than we are in order to hear and better understand their lives. We need others to shake us up out of our normal routine so we can hear again the good news of God’s saving grace for all people. After all, when we come to the Lord’s Table, each of us comes forward, hands outstretched to receive a little crumb of God’s grace and mercy. And it is more than enough. Strengthened by those crumbs, how can we be agents of that grace by standing with those on the margins and speaking out against the injustice we see?

Let us pray… God, as you broke through the barriers and humbled yourself to take on flesh to redeem all creation, challenge us to break through the boundaries and barriers we set that keep us from loving our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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