The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg
Tell me who you think will solve this. Tell me who you think can fix our collective state of being, the status quo of our living that includes as a foundational truth the devaluing and criminalizing of Black and brown bodies to the point of death.
Who do you think can fix this?
Who do you hold responsible for fixing this?
I talk with friends, I follow conversations on Facebook and Twitter, and I read books & blogs on racism, and it’s clear that there are many fixes. There are many good and necessary efforts toward uprooting racism, and truthfully we need every tool at our disposal to uproot racism. People I know and read have a variety of opinions about where to start or which efforts to prioritize:
The police system needs to be overhauled: not because every police officer is problematic, but because the historic foundations of policing are inherently racist and so the system of law enforcement needs revision if it’s going to be proactively anti-racist.
The justice system needs to be exorcised of its demons and redeemed of its biases against Black and brown persons: from public defenders’ offices to the selection of juries to mandatory sentencing laws to the privatization of jails & prisons.
It’s also essential for white folks who to account for our participation in and our unwillingness to stand against racism. More than that, white folks need to talk to white folks about racism, we need to hold each other accountable for our prejudices, we need to teach each other that the white experience is not the only experience. In particular we Christians who are white need to speak up to other white Christians and testify that Christ’s commandment to love one another is at risk if we do any less than work wholeheartedly against personal & systemic racism.
Those are just a few tools and avenues in the work against racism. Where do you look for solutions?
Where and with whom do you place the responsibility for change?
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals,
in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth
and their plans perish. (Psalm 146:3-4)
In this particular season of American racism, this is what I hear when I read Psalm 146:
Do not put your trust in police systems,
in which there is no help.
Do not put your trust in justice systems,
in which there is no hope.
Do not put your trust in white folks,
in whom there is no hearing.
These are all mortal
and by their mortality, inherently sinful.
When their self-righteous breath departs,
they will return to dust.
Only when they return to dust will their plans perish.
It’s a dismal paraphrase of the psalm, perhaps, but then again several of our scripture readings this morning have a rather hopeless cloud hanging over them – did you notice?
Amos 6 is less than reassuring: “Alas to to you who relax on their couches, who drink a glass of wine, who pause to enjoy a bit of musical harmonization, not minding the suffering outside your doors. You’ll be the first to be punished for the injustices of the world when the LORD finally holds us accountable for failing to love one another.” How bad was the injustice? Amos wrote that the people’s living was so outrageously contrary to God that it was as if they were trying to plow the sea for a harvest. (Amos 6:12)
The thread of biblical misery continues in Luke 16: Jesus tells the parable of a rich man and a poor man who die. In the afterlife, the poor man is waited on by angels while the rich man is tormented by flames. For the first time in his life (and death), the rich man is in need and dependent on someone else for relief. And Abraham, who’s monitoring the whole situation, shrugs and says “Too bad for you.” When the rich man asks if the poor man can be sent with a warning message to the rich man’s brothers, Abraham shrugs again and says, “People don’t really like ghosts.”
Far from a parable of good news, Luke 16 discourages the notion that all will be better if we can just be patient for the sweet by-and-by. To the extent that we look at the pain & suffering, racism & hatred in the world around us and believe that heaven will be the great equalizer, that God’s grace will comfort all who have suffered and cover all who have sinned, Jesus disrupts us in the most strident terms,
“Woe to you who have anything to do with the suffering of another. It would be better to throw yourself into the sea. Otherwise, plan to repent and confess at least seven times a day.” (Luke 17:1-4)
Who do we look to to fix this world of ours?
In what or in whom do we hope against the hopelessness of racism?
If we’re waiting for our sins to turn to dust along with our mortal selves, if we’re waiting for God’s grace to make us all one in the afterlife, Luke’s parable of the rich man and the poor man paints a picture of a judgment day that will feel worse before it feels better.
So then, hoping in heaven seems to be less than a guarantee.
Perhaps we hope just to live a little better, day by day, to keep our priorities grounded in faith according to the admonishments of 1 Timothy 6: to fight the good fight of faith, to hold fast to God’s commandments, to avoid greed, to pursue righteousness. But faith did not save a Black man who was at the wrong end of a police officer’s gun in Charlotte and in Tulsa. Righteous living didn’t save a Black woman who was arrested in Texas for failing to use her turn signal.
God help us, where and in whom are we to place hope?
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD:
the One who made heaven and earth,
the sea and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever,
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry;
the One who sets the prisoner free
and opens the eyes of the blind,
the One who lifts up those who are
weighed down and weighted down,
and watches over the stranger;
the One and only LORD
who upholds the orphan and the widow
but ruins the ways of the wicked.
This is the LORD to whom we sing praises
for generations. (Psalm 146)
It is neither easy nor simplistic to say to one another, “Hope in the LORD,” at a time when hope feels so foolish.
But it is all and everything we have.
“Hope in the LORD” is the beginning of our efforts against racism. It is the foundation and motivation for living with love. “Hope in the LORD” compels us to look upward and outward when fear and stress would otherwise draw our shoulders and our spirits inward in self-protection.
“Hope in the LORD” is the rock we cling to at the end of each day, when racism remains even though we are tired. “Hope in the LORD” is the courage we have to sleep, believing that God has dreams still to give us that are more compelling than our nightmares.
“Hope in the LORD” is not a free pass from doing the work. It is not a dismissal of systems from being held accountable. It is the impatience that we will not wait for the princes of Psalm 146 or the rich man of Luke 16 to understand their dust & their sin before we demand the fullness of life. It is the conviction that our own dust & sin must not deplete another’s fullness of life, must not deplete our own full living in unlimited love.
“Hope in the LORD” is not easy but it is a yoke worth bearing — worth sharing and carrying together.
“Hope in the LORD” is a song worthy of singing through eternity.
Friends, let us hope when hope seems hopeless.
It is all we have.