This week I'm up again preaching (yay!) and I've been tasked with the section of the unafraid series on "fear of the other." I have a feeling this one will rub people the wrong way, and as such I'm going to try my absolute hardest to make the material not turn people off. But our country has had a strong history with "fear of the other." Colonization was about turning the native savages into distinguished Europeans despite their communities being the original people. For hundreds of years, African people were abused physically, emotionally, and spiritually for the betterment of the white man and degraded to being considered "3/5ths" a person. When the immigration boom happened the settled suburbian white communities feared the Italians that were brought a Catholic wave to a mostly protestant America. In the 1940's we feared the Asian because of the actions of pearl harbor and made efforts to strip them of their freedom and dignity. After 9/11 we feared the Muslim and every new mosque built in America was wrongfully and ignorantly labeled a "victory mosque" stoking the flames of xenophobia once again. In 2016, President Trump campaigned on the promise that he would build a wall to keep out "rapists, drug dealers, and just bad people" from Mexico. (Can you imagine what it must have felt like to be a Latino American at this time being ousted as the public enemy? Could you imagine how hard it must have been to get a job?) In every decade we've labeled a different person as bad, and never once (at least in America) will it be the white man.
Whenever I think of this shadowed truth on our country there is one story I always turn to in the Bible. Exodus. Exodus has served as the prophetic book of hope for every oppressed and abused community in our nation's history, especially the African community. Think about how liberating it must have been to read (well, hear) a story about how God moves through the enslaved community and punishes the slave masters! Not only is God on the side of the slave and endangered, but God is an active agent of death to the oppressor. A new wave of spirituals inspired by Exodus came in the limelight as they anxiously awaited the day that God would liberate them for full freedom.
But the Exodus story also perfectly captures all of what is going on around us right now in regards to COVID-19 and the "fear of the other." Think about the story and recall how it was that the people went free...the plagues. But was interesting is that it took a while for Pharoah to move, and what was it that made Pharaoh move? When the plague finally arrived at his front door. The river turned to blood? No worries I'll buy all the cases of bottled water off the shelves because I can afford it. The bugs bites and boils? No problem for me, I've hoarded an entire shelf of sanitation goods and toilet paper to dress my wounds. But it was only when death came knocking at the door of Pharoah with the death of his child did he change his ways. Why is that always the case? America did not take COVID-19 seriously when it first arrived until it started killing those outside the projected expectations. Many who still hold a full salaried paycheck still consider this a political hoax and fight for the public to open again. America did not take the opioid pandemic seriously until it started killing (white) teenage kids in upper-middle-class suburbs. No one fights for the rights of the LGBT+ community until a child or friend reveals themselves to be in the community. Until it arrives on our doorstep, we frankly do not care. This level of thinking is not only in line with the Pharoah (God's enemy) but it is entirely antithetical to the way in which Jesus lived his life and taught his followers to live theirs. We sing hymns about how God is the God of the sparrow and the whale but invest in companies fossil fuel companies and offshore drilling because it's a hot turn around in the market. We praise Jesus for bending swords into ploughshares but invest in steel that is used for war. Etc. etc. Rev. Joyce and I don't even dare ask where our church invests it's foundation money that is cherishes so highly, but based on its healthy growth something tells me it's not renewable energies or other fair trade investments. Making money for God's church is not doing God's work if it is built on the backs of God's most hurting people. Our faith becomes like wheat that blows away in the wind because it's not at our doorstep and we are not forced to reconcile our beliefs with our actions, yet.
Unlike the plagues of old, COVID-19's spread is not some acolopytic punishment from God for our sins. It's our punishment we caused ourselves for indulging in sin. For not listening to the scientists and experts in the fields that have warned and projected about a pandemic years ago. This too is nothing new. The scientific community has been warning us about climate change for decades now and even with overwhelming evidence to support their claims we continue to do nothing about it. For the longest time, I thought it was we did not believe it was true, but recent polls have shown that even the most conservative-minded folks in the country acknowledge its a real thing, it's just not entirely human-caused nor anything we can stop. But I have another theory on that...like the Pharoah, we don't (and won't) care until it arrives in America. We do not care about the developing countries that live along the coast whose entire villages have been evacuated due to rising sea levels. We do not care about the exponential rise of endangerment to wildlife due to climate change and mass destruction of ecosystems because it is not an endangerment to us. We will not invest in cleaner and greener technologies until we must lest we disturb our offerings to our real God, the economy. Pharoah worshipped this same "god" as well. He implemented one of the heaviest taxes in history in order to build up his kingdom. He exploited cheap labor for the enjoyment of the elite 10%. And when the economy became God, when people were labeled as "bad" or "less than" and exploited, and when God's creation became ravaged it was then that the plagues followed suit. And when the plagues were done, it was the oppressed who went free.
This week in worship we will expand upon this to some degree but will focus more on the fears of violence and terrorism and how to counter those fears before we start pointing fingers at some race or culture to blame for these misguided fears.
You might be reading this and feeling your blood boil thinking 'stick to the Bible and stop bending scripture for your political agendas.' That's fine. Before I began studying scripture as a profession I would have agreed with you on that. But then I had to come to the cross road where my political beliefs and preferences were at odds with God's movements throughout scripture. When I "preach" to you - I'm preaching to myself, truly. Now, my blood boils when people quote the Bible with zero context and treat it like it's some self-help prosperity book you find in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart and not the timeless story of God's preferential option for the poor, marginalized, and oppressed and the promise of a kingdom where all will be free, where there will be no death (or agents of death) and where God's natural creation will be restored. That's the gospel as one cohesive story from Genesis to Revelation. I did not get 100k in debt from seminary and completely devastate my financial portfolio to not learn this with confidence, damn it. Just like the medical professional did not get in astronomical debt to know what they are talking about. Or the climate professionals, or the pandemic professionals, and the list goes on and on. I think we know this. I think it's just easier and more fulfilling for the self to believe it otherwise.
My hope is you will tune into the message this week found here---> https://youtu.be/X-mkIGvbxtc so that we can consider how our fear of the other puts the most vulnerable among us in a cycle of violence and oppression that creates the hope for a future exodus story rather than what should be a celebration of the past (and last) one. As we slowly learn to counter our natural fears we become able to build the kingdom that God has envisioned all along. We uplift, celebrate, value, and protect the wide diversity of God's creation, fauna, flora, and Homosapien alike. That is what it means to live Unafraid in uncertain times. That is what it means to live in the Easter season of resurrection. May it be so the glory of God's beautiful kingdom. Amen and amen.
In Christ's service,
Nick Gliha, Associate Pastor of Discipleship
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