Friends, It is good to be here together on a Sunday morning after the difficult week that we have had in this nation.
To the families and scholars and staff, I am so thankful that you are here.
As you heard earlier – Harambee means “let’s come together.”
And today, more than ever it feels important to come together across our diversity and find places where we can work together toward a different future for our community, for our country and for our world.
But I want to be clear that coming together means more than just being together and holding hands for a moment during a time of grief and singing Kumbaya.
Those moments are nice – but to come together must take us another step further.
The Scripture that Paris just read to us was originally a letter. It was written to one of the earliest Christian churches during a time of chaos and violence and deep division.
Most of the early Christians were Jewish. They lived under occupation of the Roman Empire. They were the minority – an oppressed group of people who were treated by outsiders as if their lives did not matter.
People who were not Jewish were referred to as Gentiles. This group would have included a lot of different people, including Roman citizens and people of other ethnicities and cultural heritage. Some might have also been part of a minority group but many Gentiles enjoyed significantly more privilege than Jews did in the Roman empire. There was a difference in power. A difference in privilege.
But when the early church was founded, it was clear that the distinct barriers that had kept one group in their place, isolated and often dehumanized – that Jesus had called for these barriers to go. The Christian church would be one that would begin with the oppressed Jewish community but it would then go out to include others – the Gentiles. The people of power and privilege as well.
And the New Testament is filled with all the evidence that shows us how challenging this was. The author of the letter to the Ephesians writes to a church who is struggling to figure out how to live in community with one another. Struggling to know how to come together. Not only across all the cultural differences but also across differences in power and privilege.
Which makes the words today particularly powerful. You are one group. The wall of hatred that has divided is gone. And a pathway to peace has been made. So, therefore, conduct yourselves with gentleness, humility and patience. Accept each other with love. And make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit.
These words were written to both the Jews and the Gentiles in that early church. They would have heard them differently.
For the Jews to accept the Gentiles in love – to make an effort – meant that they had to be willing to accept that God might be opening a door for relationship with people that they had previously despised. People who had possibly benefited from their oppression. People who had enjoyed power and privilege. They had to accept that God might be calling them to love and be gracious to the Gentiles.
But the call to the Gentiles was possibly even greater.
For the Gentiles – those who had enjoyed power and privilege are asked to clothe themselves in humility. To accept fully the people in love – to make an effort to preserve the unity with an oppressed group meant that they would have to be willing to lay down some of that power and privilege – to place themselves in solidarity. To listen fully to the stories of their brothers and sisters in bondage. And if they were truly unified – to do whatever they could to lift up their fellow Jews and to work for justice.
The coming together would require some shedding of previous notions and a true willingness to remove the barriers of power and privilege that had kept the groups so well separated before.
As we read this Scripture on a week like we have had in the US. After a year like we have had in 2016, it seems as if we could substitute the words Jews and Gentiles for Blacks and Whites, Muslims and Christians, and Civilians of Color and the Police.
The world we live in wants to pin us against each other, but the call of the Gospel is indeed to come together.
And I stand here as a person of privilege. Who has directly and indirectly benefited in my life from the systematic racism against people of color in our nation.
So, we people of privilege must name that – but then we also must do whatever we can – to utilize our positions to lift up our brothers and sisters. To listen to their stories and to give them a voice to share what is real.
So, in such a time as this – I felt more than anything – you needed to hear the voices of our scholars. Voices of our young people processing the events of this week – reflecting on the heartbreak and hurt and calling us anew to think about the work we must do – whether we come from a place of privilege or not – to come together – to work together to live into the call we have received from God.