One point I was hoping to make with the “Hope” video I was going to show at the beginning of today’s service was that the “Women’s Marches” around the country on the day after the inauguration were not “Protests.”
Now, a “Protest” is where you stand against something – some event or social ill or person. And, certainly this was an impetus to the creation and organization of those demonstrations; but to “Protest” is not what I saw when I was there: it was not why millions of us came together.
We came to be with each other! We knew it was important to show through our physical presence, that we will support those who are being marginalized. We came because we care. We came because we will no longer stand by while our neighbors are being silenced and oppressed. We gathered together out of love, not out of hate.
You saw the signs: signs expressing our care and support for blacks, for women, Muslims, immigrants, the LGBT community, and others! And, in this morning’s video, you would have seen this same spirit in the Immigration Ban Demonstration in Copley Square of a week ago.
I’m not here to vilify anyone, nor condemn any political viewpoint. I’m here to voice my great concern with the hurtful way our political agendas in this country are being expressed and achieved. Do we as a nation really want to alienate or marginalize everyone who differs with us, or who disagrees with us? We all do it! It’s not a sin that exclusively the domain of one “side” or the other.
We all differ from each other. We all disagree with each other, at least from time to time. How then do we draw the line between what is acceptable difference, and difference that which is unacceptable?
It all boils down to one simple question: “Who are we with?”
“With” is the most powerful word in the Bible. Many times from this pulpit, I have said that Jesus is Emmanuel, “God With Us.” We are asked to walk with God. We are taught to demonstrate we are walking with God by walking with those who have no voice: showing love and compassion for those whose lives are filled with despair; feeding the hungry, providing shelter to those without a home. As believers, we are called to bring God’s light into this world, and this means we must walk with those who have no one else at their side.
“With” is a very hard word, it means we can’t hold back. We can’t stand on the sidelines while others endure racism, bigotry, sexism, injustice or oppression of any sort.
But, exactly how do we be “With”? Think of the White dancers that I pointed out in the “Glory” video that we just watched: They demonstrated that they were “with” our Black sisters and brothers by being physically present, but silent.
In the video “Glory” we just saw, being “with” meant walking side-by-side with those who are facing oppression and injustice: enduring the verbal abuse, the dogs, the fire hoses, the clubs, even the guns. The oppressed can, and will, speak for themselves: we can’t do it for them, and we do not have the right to presume so. We are “with” to help batter down doors, and to be shields, so that our fellow human beings will be heard, not us. “With” means we are witnesses and supporters: allies – not leaders.
We are with the oppressed out of Love. Being “with” makes it clear the issue at hand is not that some want more than they deserve. It is an issue of God’s call to love one another: we are all equal before God, and we will not stand by when our brothers and sisters are forced to experience loss and pain, just because they are different.
Because we, as whites, were (and are) with them, the Civil Rights movement and Black Lives Matter cannot be pigeonholed as “White vs. Black.” The question was always “Who deserves to be treated as a human being?” And, it still is.
But, actually, whether Women or Blacks or Jews or Japanese or Gays or Muslims or Hispanics or Native Americans are human is not the issue. They are, obviously.
The question is: are we?
If we do not treat our neighbors with all the respect and care and love which God says is the right of every creature, then how can we call ourselves human beings? This is not a question of the humanity of others, nor of our leaders, but of our own humanity.
If we don’t walk with our fellow humans, no matter who they are, no matter where they are, no matter what they believe, then are we the human beings God is calling us to be? If we don’t walk with our neighbor, can we claim that we’re walking with God at all?
As I read the Bible, and as every bit of our faith tradition teaches, and as every atom of my own being shouts to heaven: that we walk with God can only be true IF, in a concrete way, we are walking with our neighbors in love, in respect, in care, and in truth.
The recent demonstrations all around the world show that it is time to stand up, to walk with our neighbor out of our love for them; for if we don’t, we are denying our own humanity.
The question before us is not whether to walk with our neighbors or not: we must. The question is how to do so. How shall we walk with those who are not being heard now; just as so many of us here have walked with those, often the very same people, who were being silenced or ignored in times past? We are determined to be with them, but the way may not always be clear. Being “with” is rarely easy, and it always requires us to give, not take.
Demonstrations are one way, but there are many others, large and small: holding a door open, offering a seat so someone else can sit down, interceding when someone is being bullied, writing letters in support of a cause, donating money so that others have the resources they need to stand against injustice and greed, running for office, buying someone a meal. We must be seekers and instigators of ways, both great and small, to be with our neighbors. It is no longer a time where we can wait for someone else to take the lead: we’ve already been shown the way.
Some have labeled the demonstrations as fake, as disloyalty, misguidedness, maybe even terrorism. Such judgments will not discourage us from standing for the truth. We’ve been told such things many times before. Such words were spoken against Martin Luther King Jr., and against Jesus and the early Christians as well. So, we’re in good company: we are not alone, such words merely prove that we are with our neighbors.
These demonstrations happened because Hope is still in the world, hope for our future. They grew out of the Hope that is already in our hearts. They prove that millions of people are determined to with us and with our neighbors, out of Love, walking in our common Hope and determination for a better future.
God is still with us because we are still with God.
May it always be so, Amen.
Delivered at ARK Community Church, Dalton MA, Sunday, February 5, 2017 (Fifth Sunday after Epiphany).
Readings and Supporting Videos:
Excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (MS Word Downloadable document)
Video: “Hope,” Music by: Images by Allen Vander Meulen and various news media sources
Video: “Glory,” from the 2015 Oscars performance by John Legend and Common
Copyright (c) 2017, Allen Vander Meulen III.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.