After a break of a few weeks since finishing my time as interim minister at All Saints King City, I was delighted to step in for my very dear and busy friend, Canon Simon Bell, at Trinity Anglican Church here in Barrie. MP+
A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, preached at Trinity Church, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Barrie, 22 May, 2022.
Readings for this Sunday: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5; John 14: 23-29
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. (Rev 21.23-24)
|People embrace outside the scene of a shooting at a supermarket a day earlier, in Buffalo, N.Y., Sunday, May 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
The most uplifting, Spirit-filled Sunday service I ever experienced, with the most joyous Christians I ever met, was in an African American church in the United States. That experience has been much on my mind this last week as we all digest the news of the supermarket shooting in Buffalo, NY. During this last week as well, as your preacher, I’ve also been dwelling on our second lesson from Revelation, the vision of the heavenly city to which all peoples on earth are drawn to live in unity with God and with one another. So please let me try to connect some of the dots between these recent events and this reading, and to think about how we as Christians are called to think about race.
But first, let me tell you about my all time favourite day in church. Many of you will recall my late wife Kay, who used to worship here at Trinity. On one of our visits to her family in the US, we were in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for a wedding. The bride, Kay’s niece, who was very white, was part of the ministry team at an inner city church whose congregation was 99% black. As someone once wrote, the most racially divided time in American society is Sunday morning, and this church was no exception. Still, at Kay’s niece’s urging, we resolved to attend Sunday worship.
Kay and I stopped first at the the local Episcopal church, a large stone building called St. Paul’s, so I could first get my Anglican fix. It was an 8am traditional service, which didn’t give us a fair impression of the church, as people were very reserved and sat far apart, so we were left a bit cold. We then drove across town, through neighbourhoods that were clearly impoverished, until we got to the address, a nondescript building in a large rough parking lot. We knew it was the right place, because there was a small crowd of people, all black and all in their Sunday best, socializing before the service.
As Kay and I approached, they stopped talking and looked at us. They were neither friendly nor unfriendly, just neutral. One older women asked the logical question, “Are y’all lost?”. Kay, and I’ve always blessed her for this, said in her forthright way, “No, we came here to worship Jesus”. At this the older woman smiled broadly and said “Well, you sure came to the right place”. What followed was unforgettably joyful and Spirit filled. The only thing I’ve seen like it since was with a group of young Christians in Ethiopia. I’ll never forget it.
Last Saturday, a young white man went to a supermarket in Buffalo and killed ten people because they were black and because he was afraid of them. I’ve read some of the tributes to these ten victims, and I can’t get out of my mind how they must have been just like the black churchgoers I met that day in Chattanooga.
Heyward Patterson, for example, was 67 and was a deacon at his church, The State Tabernacle. On Saturdays he would volunteer to clean the church and on Sundays he would greet people at the door. He also worked at a soup kitchen. Hayward Patterson was shot dead because he was black.
Celestine Chaney was 65, a churchgoer, a grandmother and great-grandmother. She was shot because she was black. Katherine Massey was 72, and was passionate about stopping youth violence in her community. She was shot because she was black. Pearly Young, 77, ran a food pantry, loved to sing, and was a missionary. She was shot because she was black. Aaron Salter, 55, was shot because he was black, and so was Ruth Whitfield, age 86, and so was Roberta Drury, age 32, and so was Magnus Morrison, age 52, and so was Andre Mackneil, age 53, and so was Geraldine Talley, age 62. All were shot dead because they were black.
In the weeks to come the media is going to tell us a lot about something called Race Replacement Theory, the belief which motived the killer of these ten people. Race Replacement is a vile, evil, and dangerous conspiracy theory that holds that Christian white people and their culture will be submerged, “replaced”, and made extinct by dark skinned immigrants from supposedly inferior races. As such, Race Replacement Theory is a form of white supremacy ideology. These theories circulate in dark places of the internet, find their way into extremist politics, and have clearly motivated shooters in places like the Christ Church mosque shooting of 2019, the Pittsburgh synagogue Shooting of 2018, the Quebec City mosque shooting of 2017, and the Charleston church shooting of 2015.
The people shot in Buffalo were in many ways people just like us, people of faith, kind hearted and charitable in their actions, parents and grandparents, who just happened to have dark skin. They were loved by their friends and families, and loved by their neighbours and their communities. One local pastor described them this way:
“They are some of the matriarchs and the pillars of our community. They will be missed on ways that I don’t think I can do justice to describing, but who bring joy to this community. They’re the ones who help stand and hold this community.”
We should identify and mourn the dead in Buffalo but not just because some of the were fellow believers and fellow church people like us, but it does deeper than that. It’s not just that we can relate to them because some of them were church people, like the ones I met in Chattanooga. Mass shootings at mosques, at synagogues, at Sikh temples, all kill good people, all kill matriarchs and patriarchs, helpers, feeders, doers of good, pillars of communities. Yet somehow, to the young men warped by racial hatred who bring guns to sanctuaries and schools and supermarkets, the people the target are see threats and menaces when really, they are just people.
They dead of Buffalo were people like us. Like us they created by God, and deeply loved by God. Indeed, the one theological point I want to make today is that no race is preferred or favoured above others in the Kingdom of God. God sees all colours. God’s love is a rainbow. God loves all of God’s creations, all are God’s beloved sons and daughters, all are beloved brothers and sisters of Christ.
If you go through the whole arc of scripture, you will find mention of different peoples or nations, as in God’s promise to Abraham that “I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you” (Gen 17.6). There is no message of racial superiority in the bible that I can see. God choose the people of Israel for a specific mission, to show relationship with God, but Israel is to be a blessing to all nations (Ezek 37.28, Isa 49). Indeed, we see a vision of this blessing being fulfilled in our second reading, towards the end of Revelation, when the New Jerusalem will be a place where all the nations of the earth will come together to be healed.
Indeed, the story of the creation of the church, as we shall see next week on Pentecost Sunday, is a story of Jews from all corners of the known world, speaking many languages, all hearing the message of salvation through the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). From there the offer of salvation is broadened from Israel to all the nations of the earth. Perhaps the most powerful message of Acts comes when Peter says that “God shows no partiality, bu in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10.34).
To hate someone because of their skin colour is to hate the creation of God, which, as scripture tells us, is profoundly good. To hate, let alone murder, another in the name of race is a grievous sin. To attempt to marry theories of racial supremacy to Christian identity and culture is a terrible distortion of our faith, without grounding in scripture, and totally contrary to the story of our origin in church. Yes, racial differences can make us uncomfortable if we are strangers. As Kay and I approached that church in Chattanooga, I did initially feel apprehensive. What I never expected was that once I stepped over that threshold, I would experience a foretaste of the New Jerusalem, where all are gathered in the light and love of the Lamb of God.
Let us pray for the healing of the nations, and for the healing of the racial fears and hatreds that divide us.
Rev. Dr. Michael Peterson