“Divine DNA” Colchester Federated Church, June 7, 2020, (Psalm 8) Trinity Sunday (**Virtual Worship)

The Psalmist David praised God and declared, “What are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them?  You’ve made them only slightly less than divine, crowning them with glory and grandeur.  You’ve let them rule over your handiwork.”[1]  David praised God who gives honor and responsibility to human beings.  Looking out over the vast expanse of God’s universe, he can’t help but be awed by the attention that God pays to people—to people like you and me.  God has given people the responsibility to rule the sky, earth, and sea.  God has created us in God’s own image, how majestic is God’s name throughout the earth! 

And how are we doing with that God-given responsibility of care?  How are we doing with seeing one another as created in the image of God?  Not very well it seems.

Friends, these continue to be troubling days.  Now more than 100,000 people have died in our country alone from covid-19.  And protests have expanded to all 50 states responding to the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis and continued incidents of racial injustice.

There’s an old saying that it’s the responsibility of the Preacher to have a Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  In truth, there are times when we cannot afford to stay silent in the face of evil because that silence will cost us our souls.  The Church and its leaders cannot be silent in the face of the sin of racism.  For too long white Christians have been silent.  Maybe because it’s uncomfortable to talk about racism.  Maybe because we’re not sure what to say and we don’t want to say the wrong thing, so it’s easier to say nothing at all.  Maybe because it’s painful.  Maybe because we’re unwilling to confront our own blind spots and biases.  Maybe because we think that racism isn’t really a problem that we need to address—that racism is not ultimately our responsibility as a mostly white congregation in a mostly white town in a mostly white state (Connecticut as a whole is around 80% white according to the Census.)

We need to challenge ourselves to go there, difficult as this may be.  Because racism is a sin and people are continuing to die because of the sin of racism.  Racism is a human problem, not a problem that white people like me never have to talk about or think about let alone help heal.  Christians are often too comfortable talking about individual sins vs. the corporate sins of our society.  Racism is both a personal sin and a corporate or systemic sin.  Before going further remember that we can define sin as separation—separation from God, from one another, and from being the people that God created us to be.  So when I say that racism is a sin it’s acknowledging that racism goes deep: racism separates us from God, from each other, and from who God created each of us to be. 

The Psalmist David declared that God created human beings “only slightly less than divine.”  (The NRSV translation of that verse is “Yet you made them a little lower than God” and the NIV translation is “You have made them a little lower than the angels.”)[2]  So whether we translate this verse as a little lower than the divine, God, or the angels—there’s no clarifying categories present in Psalm 8 verse 5 when it comes to people.  What I mean is that humans are on the same level and that level is only a little lower than God.  That is good news—we are crowned with glory and grandeur, we are only a little lower than God. 

So why is it that human beings treat one another as if some categories of being human are superior?  People will say well-intentioned phrases when talking about racism like “Well, I don’t see color.”  Except that’s not actually true unless someone is color blind and truly cannot distinguish colors.  And when that’s expressed a person of color may feel that it’s a denial of seeing one’s whole identity.  Seeing the beautiful person who stands created in the image of God in all sorts of amazing ways.  For God created the sheep and the cattle and wild animals too, the birds in the sky, the fish of the ocean, you and me and everybody in all sorts of amazing ways.  Diversity is a blessing.  Why can’t we see that?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”[3]  Now we could say that of course one race is not superior to another.  Only racists think that and we’re not racist.  But that attitude is ignoring hundreds of years of history that have shaped our worldviews whether we are conscious of that shaping or not. 

Here’s one exercise we could do.  Read the poem “The White Man’s Burden” in which Rudyard Kipling encouraged the United States to take up the burden of empire and conquer the Philippines.  Ask the hard question of how those beliefs expressed in that wildly popular poem about race and the superiority of white people seeped into our society.  Including how the Church went about the work of “mission” among the “savages.” 

Study the history and we can start to understand where unconscious bias comes in.  We can begin to acknowledge that when we’re swimming in contaminated waters and breathing contaminated air, that affects the way that we see the world around us whether we are conscious of that or not.  We white folks may not mean to perpetuate systems of oppression, but we do benefit from them.  And it’s up to white people to be the ones to educate one another.  To say something when someone says that racist joke.  To challenge people who say that racism went away after the abolition of Jim Crow Laws and Dr. King solved everything!  To be slow with our judgements and quick to be quiet and listen to the voices of people of color who are expressing generations of pain and fear for the future. 

To center the voice of a person of color to end this sermon, please listen to the words of NBA legend and all around good human being Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who wrote an Op-Ed in the LA Times.  He explained, “Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.  So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”[4]

One sermon on the topic of racism is not enough.  And I wonder what more we may be willing to do as a congregation.  Because the sin of racism is not going away.  Though if there is any good news, remember that we have the divine DNA within us.  We human beings are only slightly lower than God.  May we truly see God in one another.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Psalm 8:4-6, Common English Bible.
[2] Psalm 8:5, CEB, NRSV, and NIV.
[3] Merriam-Webster, “Racism,” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism
[4] Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “Op-Ed: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge” Los Angels Times, May 30, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-05-30/dont-understand-the-protests-what-youre-seeing-is-people-pushed-to-the-edge