Preacher: Dr. Randall Miller
Message: "Doing the Work Our Souls Must Have"
Scripture: Genesis 9:20-27, Isaiah 58:9-12; Romans 8:18-25
Good morning! My name is Randall Miller (Randy to longtime friends) and in and around my travel schedule, volunteering my time to various United Methodist causes, maintaining my day job, and finding ways to stay connected to my partner and spouse, I’m proud member of Epworth UMC.
If you’ve been around Epworth long enough, you’ll know that I start off every sermon with the same words:
“We only want to tell you something that we have heard and a little of what we have seen that here and there in the world and sometimes even in ourselves, there comes a new creation, sometimes hidden but sometimes manifest, and surely manifest in Jesus who is the Christ.” - Paul Tillich, The New Being.
“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.”
– Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird.”
“On my journey now, Mount Zion. On my journey now, Mount Zion. Well, I wouldn’t trade nothin for my journey now, Mount Zion. One day, one day, I was walking along, well de elements opened up and de love come down. On my journey, Mount Zion. On my journey, Mount Zion. Well I wouldn’t trade nothin for my journey now, Mount Zion.” – Black Spiritual.
Hopefully, if nothing else about my sermon touches your heart, these wise words from those who have gone on before will lift you up.
There’s No Way Forward but Reconciliation
Some of you here in the Sanctuary or watching at home will remember that roughly six years ago, I took a position as the Global Religions Director at the Arcus Foundation in New York City. For the three-and-half years, I held that position I had the great privilege of working with human right defenders on four continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. It was an exhilarating but exceedingly challenging time as I learned to ally with, pray for, and in some cases, cry over advocates for racial justice, gender equality, and LGBTQ+ inclusion in Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.
There are so many stories I could tell you about my travels around the world, but one of memories that will always stick with me is the way in which the words and actions of Archbishop Desmond Tutu served to inspire religiously-based human rights defenders, particularly in Eastern and Southern Africa. How extraordinary it was to shares stories and learn that the common thread for choosing a very risky profession were the words and life-witness of one person. It was a beautiful, living affirmation of Archbishop Tutu’s life and ministry.
Archbishop Tutu’s words and witness are certainly with me today as I think back over the enormity of what has befallen us over the past four years alone: the deepening of racial divisions, the revival of old racial stereotypes and tropes by our former President, the never-ending killings of unarmed black and brown men, women, and children, and the public re-emergence of racial hate groups not so different from the ones that terrorized my grandparents and their grandparents.
In speaking to his fellow South Africans and beyond them to the world about how to deal with racial injustice, Tutu writes:
There is no way forward, but reconciliation. And true reconciliation requires truth-telling and a willingness to grapple with our shared histories. It also requires earnest repentance and a genuine effort to make amends through concrete action. Then, and only then, does forgiveness become possible.
And, of course, deeply embedded in this understanding of true reconciliation is the hope that a few good people from many different backgrounds, faiths, races, and ethnicities will be led by a yearning that is grounded in our common but flawed sense of humanity and in a willingness to see that same sense of flawed humanity in the face of the other.
Seeing the Face of the Other Though it has been twenty years since it first aired to great controversy I might add, I still find Lee Mun Wah’s documentary film, “The Color of Fear” to be inciteful and instructive – at the very least as a great example of how racial dialogues can go terribly wrong. There’s not enough time to recount everything that takes places in the film, but you do need to know that it involves an actual conversations between eight men, two African Americans, two Asian Americans, two Latinos and two white men over the course of a very long day. The climax of the film comes in a moment of anger and frustration over the seeming reluctance of one of the white participants to accept that racism has had such an enormous impact on the lives and life-choices of the men of color in the room. When the white male participant is finally pressed to say why he doesn’t believe that racism isn’t the terribly destructive that his co-participants have reported, he makes clear that to believe what the men of color are telling him would disrupt everything he believes about the goodness and fairness of the world: “I don’t know what I’d do, he says, if I really believed that the world operated in the way you describe.” It is never said quite this clearly or directly in the film, but I wish someone had said to him that the invitation of any courageous conversation about racism and racial justice is for those with relative privilege to give up their misconceptions, their stereotypes, and their defenses about how the world works in order to enter into the deeper relationships, more meaningful solidarity, and active allyship with people of color. This shift from a perspective of privilege to seeing the world through the eyes of those who hunger and thirst for justice is precisely what Jesus refers to as a camel passing through the eye of a needle. It can be done, but you cannot remain the same.
To put this another way, the practice of cultural humility demands life-long learning, critical self-reflection, recognition of and a willingness to change power imbalances, and real accountability for institutions in which we participate. We must learn to see each other far more clearly. At the risk of making myself vulnerable, I can testify personally that if you don’t understand a little about how making my way through the world as mahogany-hued, six foot four African American is made far more difficult by racism, you will never really know me. You will never understand my sigh of relief of making it to my mid-forties because statistically most black men die between the ages of 25 and 44. You won’t get the nagging worries about a random encounter with the wrong policemen where being humiliated and disrespected are the least bad outcomes that can be expected. Then there’s the insult of having to produce extra ID to get into my own accounts or in the past the random checks at nearly every airport, or the strange times when on a crowded BART train the only unoccupied seat is next to me. You will miss these deeply troubling and humiliating experiences, but if you never truly see me you will also miss my expressions of black joy, black humor, black love, and black pride. In the words of Maya Angelou, you won’t know why the caged bird sings.
Doing the Work Our Souls Must Have How strange, how challenging, how terrifying and wonderful that those of us walking in the way of Jesus and attempting to bring about social transformation are told by Jesus himself that to do this work we must love the stranger as ourselves, make ourselves vulnerable and take risks, by God’s grace undergo a profound change of heart, earnestly repent of the harms we have done wrong, and become allies to God’s liberating spirit as it moves through the world.
You know when I teach Christian ethics to seminarians, I attempt to persuade them that in my understanding doing the right thing is not about personal salvation, personal development, or self-improvement. Instead, Tikkun Olam is the Jewish understanding that the fundamental task of the religious believer is about participation in the healing of the world, mending our broken relationship with the Creator, other humans, and the natural world. The great work, I tell them, is to join in the circle of all beings through all time working to create a new reality.
In similar but different fashion two black women theologians, Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, who is now ancestral, and Dr. Emilie Townes, who is very much alive, extend the invitation to participate in this great work, specifically to black women and, by extension, to people of color by asking this question, What is the work that your soul must have? Emilie Townes specifically answers this question by boldly and clearly saying “freedom not just for oneself but for one’s people.” Doing the work our souls must have therefore fall into two parts – liberation (freeing ourselves and others from the bonds of racism, gender bias, and all other kinds of oppression) and reconciliation (building solidarity with others engaged in the work). So let me ask you now, when it comes to combatting racism and engaging in the struggle for racial justice, What is the work your souls must have?
The Prophet Isaiah makes this promise that when we engage in the hard work of healing and mending the cracks and crevasses and all of the broken places that the Spirit of God will fall upon us like blessed rain in all of our parched places and we will become like overflowing fountains. And for our willingness to engage in the work of liberation and reconciliation, we will be remembered as those who laid the foundations for what is yet to come, repairers of the breach, and restorer of the streets.
The Apostle Paul goes even further when he says:
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glorious children of God.
Vulnerability, Risk, Compassion, Healing, Liberation, Reconciliation these are signposts on the way to seeing the freedom of the glorious children of God – And when you see these things happening, look up for your deliverance is nigh.
Order of Worship - Sunday, August 15, 2021 - Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
The Community Gathers...
Rev. Jerry Asheim
Michael Martin, lay leader
Opening Music: "Sweet, Sweet Spirit"
To Hear the Word...
Scripture Reading: Genesis 9:20-27, Isaiah 58:9-12
*Passing the Peace
You are invited to turn to the people around you and bow to each other as a sign of graceful greetings this day.
New Testament Reading: Romans 8:18-25
Anthem: "God Has Work for Us to Do"
Cathryn Bruno, Carole Klokkevold, Eda Naranjo, Gregg Richardson, Cathy Travlos
Message: "Doing the Work Our Souls Must Have"
Dr. Randall Miller
To Respond and Renew Commitment...
*Hymn of Response: "What Does the Lord Require of You?"
The Faith We Sing #2174
Prayers of the People:
Leader: Companion God, People: Hear our prayers.
If you have a prayer request or are interested in longer-term spiritual accompaniment from a Stephen Minister, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a text message with the word "Prayer" to: +1-510-588-5055.
The Prayer Jesus Taught (The Lord's Prayer - Latin American Translation)
God, who is in us here on earth, holy is your name in the hungry who share their bread and their song. Your Kingdom come, which is a land flowing with milk and honey. Let us do your will, raising our voice when all are silent. You are giving us our daily bread in the song of the bird and the miracle of the corn. Forgive us for keeping silent in the face of injustice. Don't let us fall into the temptation of taking up the same arms as the enemy. But deliver us from evil. Give us the perseverance to look for love, even if we fail; so we shall have known your Kingdom which is being built forever and ever. Amen
Offering Our Resources and our Energy
Give online at www.epworthberkeley.org/donate or, send a text message with the dollar amount you wish to give to +1-833-276-7680.
Offertory: "I'll Never Turn Back No More"
Albert Sammons, Jr.
Praise be to God, who breathes the breath of life. Praise to the Christ who sets us free. Praise the Spirit whose wind and fire give power to move and light to see. As it was before the world began, is here and now and evermore. Alleluia! Praise the three-in-one whom we worship and adore.
Prayer of Dedication
To Go Forth with Love and Compassion
*Closing Hymn: "Marching to Zion"
UM Hymnal #733
Rev. Jerry Asheim
Special Thanks to:
Preacher: Dr. Randall Miller
Participants: Michael Martin, Greg Downs, Kelly Trego, Charles Lynch, Judy Cayot, Carole Klokkevold, Cathryn Bruno, Eda Naranjo, Cathy Travlos, Gregg Richardson
Audio engineer: Paul Nasman
Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey
Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt
*Credits: Hymns reprinted/streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE # A-733809, CCLI Copyright license # 20022935, & CCLI Streaming license # 20476749. All rights reserved.