June 23, 2019 – Pastor Trudy Franzen
“A boy like that who’d kill your brother. Forget that boy and find another. One of your own kind. Stick to your own kind.
A boy like that wants one thing only. And when he’s done he’ll leave you lonely. He’ll murder your love, he murdered mine, just wait and see.”
Do you remember that song, from West Side Story? In the years since 1961, when the movie West Side Story premiered, how much has changed? Stick to your own kind. That’s a message that has not changed in millennia.
What has changed is a surge of DNA technology at our beck and call. A few years back, I sent in my swab to 23 & Me and learned that I was 98% Scandinavian. Others are learning about their ethnic heritage, too. Like every tool, DNA information can be used for good and for ill.
People are learning about their heritage and re-examining what they thought they knew about their history. It has brought many families, multi-ethnic families, together. Yet it also tears people apart.
There’s a huge controversy about DNA testing in the First Nations community. Because on the one hand, you can “prove indigenous heritage with a blood test.” On the other hand, isn’t culture about environment, family, and meaningful connection and relationships? How can you prove cultural identity with a blood test?
When there is money at stake, as there is with First Nations Casino revenues, some are turning to the blood test as a way to limit those who can benefit from the proceeds of gaming. Other are crying out that blood tests will do nothing but further fuel systemic racism.
Systemic racism is a sin that destroys family, community, and church. It has done so and continues to do so for thousands of years. Today we read how Jesus addressed it. His Spirit still addresses it. It is the Original Sin of humanity.
A few hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection, some theologians read sections of scripture from the Apostle Paul, and the idea of Original Sin was born.
This idea, similar to something also called “Total Depravity,” is the idea that human beings are born with Original Sin that they cannot overcome. The idea is that we are forever linked sexually to the original sin of Adam and Eve, that we cannot follow God, avoid evil, or even accept God’s offer of salvation on our own.
In the famous words of AA and our own confessions, “We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” This sin has been coupled with sexuality for hundreds and hundreds of years. Sexuality, not evil, has somehow morphed and become the Original Sin.
We cannot deny that all human beings have the capacity for evil and all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We cannot deny that we need God in order to overcome this evil. But sex isn’t evil. Evil is evil.
We also teach that we are created in the Imago Dei, the image of God. There is something in us that is like God. We call this “Original Blessing.” So, we as Lutherans and many others like us hold “Original Sin” and “Original Blessing” together in tension. Sometimes, it really feels like Original Sin is winning. But God is all about Original Blessing and being restored to that blessing. That’s why Jesus came! To restore us to the Original Blessing.
When we look at what happens daily in our world, when people kill and harm others because of race, we realize sex really is not our main problem. Racism is. Racism is the new Original Sin.
When we reflect on the murders of nine innocent people at Mother Emanuel Church four years ago, we see the role of systemic racism at the heart of it.
Racism is in our brains. I am reading this book by a scientist who has done countless studies and proven that we cannot with our logical minds overcome the power of implicit bias, of the wiring of our brains. Our brains function unconsciously far faster than they do consciously.
We cannot consciously overcome the biases formed in our brains. We cannot consciously overcome the evil that has worked its way into our unconscious minds. We are in bondage to it and cannot free ourselves.
Nothing we did caused this. Nothing we chose caused this. Yet, we inherited it and live with the implications and the consequences.
What’s to do? What’s to do?
When the murders at Mother Emanuel happened, I was stunned. I was shocked and horrified, and when I found out that the young man who did it was a confirmed Lutheran, I was even more horrified. I wanted to do something about it. So, I did something I often do. I turned to art.
This is a mosaic I have been working on now for over three years. Cannot believe it has been that long. It isn’t done yet. Each figure here represents a person of faith executed that day. As I work on this mosaic, I pray. I pray for the families, the churches, the pastors, and even the killer. And I look for ways to consciously make choices that dismantle systemic racism. I read books like this. I talk to people of color. I listen a lot.
I work hard at it, but systemic racism is still in my brain. One of my life’s missions is to keep dismantling systemic racism, even though I probably won’t ever see it eradicated.
We cannot on our own overcome evil. We need God to help us. But we must continually choose love and choose the God who first chose us. We cannot afford to pretend it doesn’t hurt us. It does.
One of the things we can each do is to join a Lutheran ethnic association. There are six. There’s the African Descent, American Indian and Alaska Native, Arab and Middle Eastern, Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino, and European Descent Lutheran Associations. These associations work both separately and together to address and dismantle systemic racism. You can sign up online, or Pastor Jeri has volunteered to help you sign up after the service today.
“Stick to your own kind.” No, that is not what Jesus did. It isn’t what we do. With God’s help, we can embrace the Original Blessing, healing, and restoration that God wants for us. No, we cannot do it all on our own. But with the community and the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit, it is possible. Amen.