Homily – 20th Sunday OT – August 20, 2017
I am a racist! I’m sorry this homily isn’t starting out with a funny story about a talking dog or a dog that walks on water. Every fiber of my being wants to recant what I just said and say “I’m just kidding,” but the evil fact is that it is true – I am a racist. I make snap judgments about people without getting to know them first; I lump people into general categories that doesn’t honor them as individuals. I prefer some people over others. I am a racist.
In the shadows of the violence in Charlottesville, VA last week and the resulting protests and wars of words, it’s been a hard week for America.
As most, if not all of us here would agree, what happened in Charlottesville was a terrible, deplorable event, which highlighted – once again – the bitter divisions in our country and in our world.
I have been somewhat encouraged, however, by the national conversation that it caused by so many people of good will – Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, sent an e-mail to all of the Apple employees saying: "We must not witness or permit such hate and bigotry in our country, and we must be unequivocal about it." "This is not about the left or the right, conservative or liberal. It is about human decency and morality."
Additionally, top Business advisors to the President left board positions in protest, Senators and Congress men and women called for unequivocal condemnation of racism; and one white Pastor called out “Stupid white people,” as he called them, for their supremist, racist rhetoric. People of good will are calling for America to wake up and change.
There has been some criticism of Churches – thought – both main stream and Evangelicals, that have not been vocal enough in condemning the hatred and racism as they should. Maybe that’s where this homily is coming from.
The readings today fit perfectly with what’s going on around us, because they say unequivocally that God is the God of ALL people. In the First reading, Isaiah concludes: “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all.”
Then in the Gospel we have this very interesting exchange between the Canaanite woman and Jesus, and the Disciples who want to send her away because she keeps calling after them. It appears that the Disciples too, held some racist feelings of superiority against this pagan, Canaanite woman. In Jesus’ time, the word Canaanite was used as an ethnic catch-all to describe people of many national origins that were not followers of the God of Israel. They were the people who the ancient Israelites defeated in order to inhabit the Promised Land; they did not believe in one God, they worshipped many Pagan gods. For centuries, since the time of Moses, they had been sworn enemies of the Jewish nation, and the disciples were caught up in it.
When Jesus first speaks to the woman, it’s hard to tell exactly what He is thinking when he says: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then later as the woman continued pleading for help, Jesus replies: "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." Is He equating this Canaanite woman with a dog? Is he saying she is not deserving of the richness of his fare because she is not of the house of Israel? Or, is He testing her faith – and making a point for the Disciples?
In the end, it is clear that Jesus’ mercy and healing is for anyone who has faith in God, and that God is the God of ALL people. The disciples learned a valuable lesson from that encounter…that some of their preconceived notions about Canaanites, and their worthiness of Christ, were not correct. They had an improved understanding of the wideness of God’s mercy.
There was an interesting program on NPR yesterday that talked about how as a Species, humans continue to improve. They cited sports as an example. Every time the Olympics are held, new World Records are set. Michael Phelps incredible swimming records are already beginning to fall to Caeleb Dressel – a 20 year old swimmer from the University of Florida. And, a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon today, would have made you one of the top runners in the world in the Olympics 100 years ago. As a Species we continue to improve.
The key to this improvement, the author goes on to say is practice. But not just general practicing, it has to be targeted practice. If you want to improve something, whether it be free-throws, pitches, putting, or baking bread…you have to practice that specific skill that you want to improve. If we want to improve our putting game in Golf, simply playing more rounds of golf won’t necessarily help. You have to target your practice and putt over and over and over again, until you see the improvements you are looking for.
The other key to improvement, the author said, is to learn from others.
In light of the violence last weekend in Charlottesville, I question whether, as a species, we are improving how we treat each other? Are we more loving, caring and merciful today than we were 100 years ago? Has the wideness of our mercy improved and grown to include all peoples or is the hatred and division deeper and wider?
If we want to end hatred and racism, and become more accepting of all peoples, we need to learn from the past and practice the improvement we want to see.
A few months ago one of our Hispanic parishioners asked me to visit an African American man named James in the hospital, to offer him a blessing. He was very large man suffering from Congestive Heart failure, diabetes and neuropathy in his arms and legs. Three times a week this Hispanic woman would go to the hospital to massage his arms and legs and feet to help improve the circulation and bring him relief. I asked her how she knew James, and she told me a very inspiring story. She and her husband recently started a small snack bar in Washington Square Mall. There were a lot of young African Americans hanging out in the mall, and she began to have problems with some of them. They would steal things from the store and could be very disrespectful and abrasive. She felt herself becoming resentful of them. When a group of young African American kids would come into her store she would treat them differently. She felt she was becoming racist, and didn’t like that about herself. So, she looked for an opportunity to practice what she wanted to improve. Love and compassion. She heard about James who was a single man, who didn’t have much family, and so decided to use him as her targeted practice of Love and compassion toward African Americans. James doesn’t speak a word of Spanish and she speaks very little English, but she has really come to care about him. She told me the racist feelings she was having had begun to heal and her acceptance of African Americans had improved.
Practicing what we want to improve to make our world more accepting of all peoples.
I know that these words of encouragement to rebuke Hatred and accept All people as children of God will resonate with many of you. These are the kind of words that have drawn applause in the past. I’m not looking for applause – a homily is not given for public approval but instead to make us uncomfortable – to cause us to reflect and to think. What I want is for us to think about is the question: “Am I a racist?” Do I hold myself apart or above others because of the color of my skin, or because of my immigration status, or because of the money or material goods that I have accumulated? Do I refuse to associate with certain groups of people because of past hurts or divisions? Am I proud of my humility? Do I hold people to different standards based on the number of years they have been members of SPN? Do I use a language barrier as an excuse not to get to know someone?
To end of division and Racism in our world, it has to begin in our own hearts – then moves to our community, and then to the larger world. Racism will end. Either in peace, or in violence like it did in Charlotteville., or in the burning of a Mosque or Church in Yemen, or on the nuclear tip of a Wasan Missal fired from North Korea. Let’s work toward the peaceful better option.