Sunday, December 21, 2008

Change Is Afoot: A Sermon by Joy Perkett

Change is afoot. In the passage of Isaiah we heard today, valleys rise up, mountains lower, rough ground levels, grass withers, flowers fade and the breath of God blows by. In this passage, the breath of God blows through the grass to bring comfort to God’s people – in the midst of turmoil, in the midst of new life and old life, the passage assures us that the intimacy of God’s breath & spirit is eternally present. The word for breathe or spirit – they are the same Hebrew word - is also found in Genesis 1:2. In this verse, the breathe of God hovers over the face of the waters of an oceanic deep. In the article “Be This Fish”, Catherine Keller describes the Hebrew sense of the word ‘hovering’ as “a spirit rhythm as in the beating wings of a seabird, the oscilliation of breath, or the ebb and flow of the ocean”. In the beginning, creation was not empty, but rather the breathe God oscillated with the oceanic deep.

Let me share with you my own image of the breath of God:

We stand as sand in dunes and God’s breath the wind. We are caught up in a vital, active force of God’s breath, moved and shaped around. And yet, we do our own shaping. We etch our names on rocks, we dance in the whirlwind of creation and we call the other sand to come and join the dance with us.

We stand as sand in dunes, sometimes thinking we are sure in our formation. And yet the breath of God blows by and again we are caught up in the process of creation. We ask questions, questions upon question. It is our questions that make us more aware of the presence of God in our surroundings. God is here with us, in the process of creation.

The Christian year is similar to this whirlwind of creation. It ebbs and flows, each year catching us up and re-shaping us. Each year it is the breath of God that blows on and reinvigorates us, calling us to join the dance of creation.

Advent is typically thought of as a time of hope, of waiting, of creation not-yet-formed and yet it is intimately tied to the ebb and flow of the Christian calendar. What is Advent without Lent? These are two times of year not typically thought of as compliments. Advent is a time of pending joy, while Lent is a time of pending sadness. Yet can we have one with out the other? Advent calls us to a vision of hope, of the coming Savior and of the coming kin-dom of God that Jesus heralds. Lent, on the other hand, calls us to a time soberly anchored in the reality of the present and of self-critical-ness and self-awareness. Yet I dare to suggest that it is this self-critical-ness and self-awareness of Lent that makes a realistic vision of advent and the coming kin-dom of God possible. It is by being honest, painfully honest perhaps, with ourselves that we are able to carve out a space for God to work in our lives. God’s creative breathe blows by.

Let me share the ebb and flow of “Lent” and “Advent” in my own life. In my college years, I took a class called “Black and White in America” that caused me to be very self-reflective, in the spirit of Lent, on what it meant to have a White racial identity.

Originally, I had grown up “color-blind”, uncritical of race. This class forced me to realize that we do not live in a perfect world and racism still exists today. I realized, in fact, that racism is an institutional system that privileges me as a White person, whether I like it or not. In fact in the book White Like Me, the story of a White ally, the author Tim Wise argues that at some point in their lives all White people have been collaborators. Before this class, I would have argued that I have helped with this cause or that cause or that I have friends of color, so that I could not possibly be a collaborator. Reluctantly, I now must admit that that is not enough. White privilege is such a part of society – manifest in our churches (the most segregated time of the week), in educational opportunities and in growing income gaps – that I cannot claim to not be a part of it. In White Like Me, the author Tim Wise writes that by White people owning their collaboration, they can “regularly see [their] own shortcomings, place them within the larger context of … culture subsidizing those shortcomings, and then commit [themselves] to doing better next time.” Wise writes that “the most dangerous person is the one who refuses to admit that [the person] does in fact contribute to injustice at least as often, if not more so than [the person] truly rebels against it”. For that person, there is nothing that person needs to work on, no point at which the person too is part of the problem and no room for growth.

I was struck deeply when the Pilgrims for Peace came to our congregation and during fellowship we shared our vision of peace. Marla shared an incident of gender identity- based violence, and then asked, “What is it within ourselves that causes that to happen?” Marla did not ask what is it within other people, but within ourselves. Thus, we too must ask what is it within ourselves that allow systems of injustice and of violence to continue in our society. Perhaps even if we are part of the solution, we must also acknowledge we part of the problem – whether it is in our silence, our identifying with the dominant majority, or even because we are not cognizant of the problem.

Yes I have participated in systems of oppression that I haven’t even been aware of! I would dare to suggest so have we all! Yet I come before you, honest and humble, with a searching heart and I enjoin you to the same. Let us come to God and admit the structures of privilege we have in our own lives – whether they be of economics, race, ability, gender identity, etc. I know it is not easy process, but it is honest, it is authentic. Let us move through the self-reflection of Lent, and then let us be fully present in the radical vision of Advent. The Christian years ebb and flow as we continually move through the self reflection of Lent and celebrate the radical vision of Advent, of a baby who will one day challenge systems of oppression and bring hope of God’s kin-dom of love, compassion and equality. God’s breathe blows by.

God’s creative breathe blows by. We are part of the creative process! What a sense of power we should feel! We come with good news – we can all participate in the dance of the creation not-yet-formed. It is for us to etch justice, love and equality on the rocks in the sand dunes. We are a people empower by the Spirit and Breathe of God. As the lady at the Proposition 8 protest said, we will not give up, we will not shut up, we will never go away. God’s love is radical and change is afoot. In the creative process we are both the created and the co-creators and while we must be an active part of the process and we must also carve out space for God to work in our own lives. Only by admitting our faults and our privilege, can we move forward to etch the words of justice, love, inclusion and equality on the rocks. There is something about deeply living, deeply loving, deeply feeling and being present and honest with one’s self that makes us fully alive, swept up in the dance of creation. This sense of reality and authenticity brings us in a grounded way to the radical vision of advent. We are ready to construct new ways of living and of loving. We are ready to construct a new way of being that is radically equal and inclusive! We are ready to celebrate the awesome vision of advent! God’s breathe blows by. Change is a-coming!

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