Lectionary Texts

You are free to reprint these resources for use in worship. Please include the attribution “RootsOfJusticeTraining.org, 2015.” If text is spoken but not printed, we appreciate printing in your bulletin a general “Thanks to RootsOfJusticeTraining.org for some of the [prayers/text/ideas] used in this service.”

Opening Prayer

We greet our Creator today with hearts eager for repentance. We keep our world, our community, our networks, our family too small — a far cry from the Many Nations promised to Abraham and Sarah. Guide us, Great Leader, into wide worlds that take seriously the utter immensity of your inclusion. And prepare us to embrace a holy diversity that may be uncomfortable for the moment but reflects your Beloved Community.

– Phil Morice Brubaker, RootsOfJusticeTraining.org 2015

Responsive Reading

One: “The poor shall eat and be satisfied.”

Many: Good news! When will this happen?

One: “All the family of the Nations shall worship God.”

Many: Good news! When will this happen?

One: “Those who lose their life for the sake of the Gospel will save it.”

Many: Good news! When will this happen?

One: When God’s people respond to fear by falling on their knees, rather than standing their ground.

Many: May it start today.

– Phil Morice Brubaker, RootsOfJusticeTraining.org 2015

Benediction

Go and proclaim deliverance to a people yet unborn: a people of all nations, tribes, and languages. We have yet to see this holy people, and we are not yet a part of it. And so we must proclaim this deliverance to ourselves: deliverance from all of our homogenous tribes — social media, news outlets, neighborhoods, schools, churches. The Beloved Community is so much bigger than any of us can imagine. Catch a glimpse this week.

– Phil Morice Brubaker, RootsOfJusticeTraining.org 2015

Children’s Sermon Ideas

Depending on the amount of time available, you might consider starting with the old kids song “Father Abraham Had Many Kids.” (Sure, the original “sons” is more singable, but do you really want to leave all the daughters out? If you don’t think it matters, please read this first.)

Initiate a conversation about who Abraham and Sarah were, and how God made a promise to them that they would become the parents of “many nations.” Make sure the kids know what a “nation” is. Be sure to include more than just the idea of a “nation state,” since that modern political structure wasn’t even conceived of in the ancient Near East: Indigenous nations (Cheyenne, Arapahoe, …), ethnic people groups (Scots, Kurds, …), etc. Name some examples or have the kids name them.

Say something like: “God is creating a really big human family that includes all groups of people with Sarah and Abraham as our great-great-great-….-grandparents.”

Give a motion to indicate your assembled congregation and talk about how “Our congregation includes just a small number of the children of Abraham and Sarah. One day, God’s big human family will all be together, people of different languages, and skin colors, and accents, and countries of origin. The Many Nations of Abraham and Sarah will become the Beloved Community of peace, justice, and love that Martin Luther King often spoke about.”

– Phil Morice Brubaker, RootsOfJusticeTraining.org 2015

Preaching Ideas

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Back when I was a child in the 1980s, we learned about multiculturalism in school and it seemed to me that the goal was for all of us to learn to appreciate each other’s differences…. and simultaneously find a way to meld our distinctions together until we were all the same. Of course, “the same” meant that people who were not white, male, middle-class or better, well-educated, and straight should be expected to act a little more white,male, middle-class or better, well-educated, and straight.

One of the things I have heard from white people in the past six months as I’ve entered into conversations around “Black Lives Matter” is that pushback – you know it – “ALL Lives Matter.” Why, they ask, should we lift up Black lives as special and unique? I don’t see color. Wouldn’t the world be a better, more peaceful and harmonious place if we just ignored race (it’s all made up anyway!) and pretended we are all the same. God loves us all, isn’t that enough?

It’s true. God does love us all. But the society we live in has not. The United States, in particular, was founded upon the genocide of Native people and the oppression and objectification (in the truest and ugliest sense) of Black people. This is our inheritance. We cannot simply say, “We are all God’s children” or “We are all children of Abraham” and pretend that makes everything magically okay. There are sins that must be confessed. The difficult work of repair must come before the happier work of reconciliation.

I could imagine a sermon on this Genesis passage which uses the imagery of Abraham as a “father of many nations” as a jumping off point – diving into the history of this nation, which has always been “many nations” in a very real way. We have never been homogenous – and that is a joy. Perhaps the preacher could lift up stories of resistance to the melting pot narrative which continues to sneak up on us.

Or maybe the preacher could explore the name change from Abram-to-Abraham. That’s serious business. The preacher could look at historical figures in U.S. history – people who have changed their names escaping slavery (Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass). Or immigrants from overseas who had their names Anglicized upon their arrival here. Or American Indians who were stripped of their given names. Or Malcolm X, who chose X as his surname to represent the true name of his African foreparents that he could never know. Names mean a lot.

For those in predominately white settings, the preacher might explore the idea of re-naming from the standpoint of what it might take to make a substantial enough change in our way of “being white” to merit a name change. How massive of a shift might we need to fully dismantle and eradicate racism in our schools, churches, government, community, nation? What role might God play in a shift that large? And what would it feel like to be fully re-formed and re-named?

Mark 8:31-38

“Get behind me, Satan!” It’s a phrase I’ve heard tossed around with giggles. When someone tempts us with a second slice of chocolate cake, we might say it. But it brings up the topic of evil. Or maybe we should capitalize it: Evil.

It seems to me that when we personify Evil we end up with someone like Satan. Evil is, at times, so palpable that it seems to be a living, breathing force with a mind of its own. That’s certainly how it is with racism. Those who are engaged in the struggle (especially those who are new to the work) are sometimes overwhelmed with the enormity of it all. If racism is like a giant iceberg floating in the sea, it seems incredibly difficult to dismantle. After all, even if we can eradicate what we see on the surface, how can we deal with what lies below the surface. Change – especially institutional and systemic change – is excruciatingly slow.

And yet. We are reminded that we do not do this work alone. We follow in the way of Jesus. The Spirit breathes life into us. And God will never abandon her work of bringing justice to our broken world. Jesus says with confidence, “Get behind me, Satan!” and Christ still speaks clearly and boldly today: “Die, racism. We’ve had enough of you.” This passage provides hope for those weary from the work of demanding racial justice.

Those in settings that are predominately white may wish to use Jesus’s words, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” as a starting place. This would be a nice starting point for a sermon that grapples with white privilege, doing more than just naming privilege….but naming the reality that in order for racism to be eradicated, white people will have to give up some of their privilege. What does that look like? How might white people struggle with that reality and find a way, through the grace of God, to begin giving up their privilege in tangible ways?

Mark 9:2-9

A mountaintop experience. We commonly think of this as a time or place where we “got high” on some amazing, life-changing experience. I think that reference may come from this story, right? Those who are engaged in the long-term struggle for justice need those mountaintop experiences to sustain them, for this work is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to recognize our successes and moments of transformation. We need to notice them while they are happening and tell stories of them to each other and to our children. When we are in a valley, we can lift ourselves back up with the memory of those mountaintop moments – those places where we truly saw God in the midst of the work. Those moments when we were certain that our labor was not in vain.

Mountaintop experiences are also about rest, I think. We are perhaps too hard on Peter, James, and John for wanting to stay up there with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. But can you blame them? Really? I know I’d want to stay there as long as I could. Because I think they knew what awaited them when they went back down from the mountain – never-ending struggle, persecution, fear and doubt. A preacher who is working in a context with those who are engaged in the struggle long-term may wish to name that it is okay to take care of yourself. It is okay to rest. Especially if you are resting with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. We all need times of rest and restoration. If we don’t take care of ourselves (and each other) we will surely run out of stamina. And we also run the risk of beginning to believe that we are too important. The world will keep turning without us. The work will continue without us. It is a good thing to take Sabbath rest.

Preachers who work with this passage should take care with the image of Jesus as “all white” being equated with holy and good. A careful preacher will name this image as problematic.

– Caela Simmons Wood, RootsOfJusticeTraining.org 2015

Contributors

Phil Morice Brubaker coordinates Roots of Justice and is also an ROJ trainer.

The Rev. Caela Simmons Wood is pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Manhattan, Kansas. Pastor Caela is passionate about racial justice, LGBT rights, and gender equality. You can read her sermons at her blog.

Advertisements