Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Godwrestling 4: Gaza. Ferguson. Staten Island. And a challenge....


Witnesses: Stephen, Hugo, Arcadia, Lilly, Stephen, Samantha

The empty days of late August. And we gather for worship. Our 4th in the series on godwrestling.
Good to see Russ back again. And Stephen W. And Rachel, who always lifts my spirits. We use Lead on Oh King Eternal as a musical reflection. And our main scripture this morning is Exodus 1:  8-2:10, which we do as a reader’s theatre, different voices, different parts. The story of a new pharaoh who knew not Joseph, the quasi genocidal project against male children and the rescue of baby Moses.

This time I do more talk at the beginning than I usually do. Much on my mind and heart.
Talk about wrestling…There’s the continuing siege of Gaza. The murder of loosie salesman Eric Garner. The protest march on Staten Island. Michael Brown, shot down in  Ferguson. We’ve now added to our common language, I can’t breathe... (Garner) and Hands up, Don’t shoot…(Brown). Foley's brutal beheading by ISIS. Feels like a world aflame.

Did you notice that last Monday on Monday Night Football the Washington Redskins  secondary entered the field with their hands up? Did you notice that our friend Osagyefo Sekou was sent to Ferguson as a representative of the Fellowship of Reconciliation? ( He commented that in Ferguson he needed  a gas mask more than his clergy collar. Turns out Brother Sekou grew up around there and graduated from Ferguson high school.

Our PCUSA officials released a statement that urged prayer and calm… son Micah  saw this on my Facebook and commented …seriously?....Micah’s point was what is called for is not calm, but a loud cry of outrage....

So we turn to our story…

First…how did we get into this situation?
* Jacob settled where he wanted, not where God wanted…setting it all in motion. He chose the security of a gated community over the wilderness where reliance on God is the only security.
* Joseph, sold away by his brothers,  put his fate in the hands of pharaoh, not God. Served the pharaoh. Manipulated a food crisis to rob the people of their property, enslaved the country, the lower class Egyptians as well as the Hebrews.
* The new Pharaoh manipulated  up resentment against and fear of the Israelites to distract from his culpability. It’s an old common story…lower class whites encouraged to blame the blacks, not those who control the economy. Lower class whites blaming immigrants. Jews driven out of one country serving the rulers of a new country until the people arise.  An old story.

Now…a new pharaoh…who did not know Joseph…arises ….(and even if he did know Joseph, his strategy could have been the same…)

The message is simple: when you buy into the empire you are lost…

There is also the reality of the more powerful fearing the larger population, Pharaoh afraid of Hebrew demographics,  Israel fearing being outnumbered by  Palestinians…

There is new scholarship suggesting that revolutionary war was not just about self determination but also about slavery…That the British Empire was preparing to end slavery and the colonial economy was dependent on slavery and so the drive for separation…the roots of today’s trauma run very deep….

The story of baby Moses and the bulrushes   has a sense of Bible story nostalgia.., a gentle glow of memory. It’s easy to forget that underneath this story is a genocidal plan…

Again, familiar…Gaza,(shooting fish in a barrel, as one of us says…),mass incarceration, drug laws, (remember again our West-Park overture, the disproportionate rate of stops, arrests, incarceration…with about 12% of the population blacks are 65% of drug arrests and 75% of incarcerations…)  and now with these shootings, is there any wonder African-Americans feel like there’s an outright war on black youth…(Deacon James, shakes his head. Remembers serving his country in Korea. Why? he asks,  Just why? You pay your debt. Why do you lose your vote forever? Seems like a plan… )No wonder they call it the new Jim Crow…

And so our midwives, Shiphrah and Puah had to wrestle. Note they get names. Actual names. How would they respond to their commands? Would they risk their own security for their people? They resisted where they were….did what they could where they could. With cleverness they outsmarted pharaoh.

And so Moses is pulled out of the water…(in Cairo they’ll show you exactly where…) Thus setting in motion a new story…..

So for us?.... A world on flame. A time of reckoning… a time for us to discern what we can do where we are…

The church cannot just look outside and speak a prophetic word. We must look inside. As last summer’s General Assembly showed, as our struggles over lgbtq inclusion are resolved, the real struggle over race and class will begin to emerge. We in New York City Presbytery have already been wresting with that for awhile now.

What we can, where we can…that’s what we must discern…

Arcadia is moved just by the death of so many children. Others by the inequity of power in Gaza. Or the newly militarized police forces across the US…

We struggle. We wrestle. What we can, as we can, where we can

Today for our prayer preparation, Jeremy and I do Amazing Grace Hank Williams style. To the tune of So Lonesome I could cry…As his musical offering, Jeremy sings his original Walk with me on the winding road....a song written for a mother who lost a child. In honor of mothers and lost children.

Anna meets with the session to announce her interest in officially joining the church. She's dressed up for the occasion. And we are happy that she is ready to commit. 

                                                                    * * * *

The service ends. And then it’s time. Last week the West-Park Angels softball team did the ALS  ice bucket challenge and then challenged me. ( this is my time. I know about the push back. Wasted water. Shallow analysis. Viral video. All that. But I also have read the comments of ALS survivors and families and know that thee has been 5.5 million raised as opposed to 32000 during this time last year. So I’m down. I go to the steps, make my challenge. To Gale Brewer. Presbyterian colleagues, clergy colleagues. And from Samantha’s suggestion, Amanda in Oregon. People gather around. Including people in Barney Greengrass brunch line. I raise the bucket, feel the ice and water pour over. Catch my breath…and laugh….

the challenge

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