Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo + January 28, 2024
Pastor Hector's sermon for Reconciling in Christ Sunday explores the themes of justice, inclusivity, and the dangers of exclusivity within communities. Drawing from the biblical narrative of Prophet Amos, he emphasizes the importance of letting justice flow like a river and righteousness like an unfailing stream, challenging the notion of exclusivity among chosen people. He encourages all to reflect on personal biases, the impact of labels, and the transformative power of embracing God's inclusive love.
From automatically generated captions via YouTube, with punctuation and paragraphs added by ChatGPT.
It's going to be a long sermon, so I need to sit. Grace to you and peace from God our creator and the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to break all circles and the spirit that sends us into the world to be the welcome of Jesus and with we said, where should I start?
There is a lot that we could talk about today. Last Sunday, we were reflecting on the ways that the forces around us pull us and make us live in this illusion that prevents us from seeing what God is doing in our midst, in our hearts, in our lives through our lives. Today we begin this passage that the short passage that John just read for us, and it begins with words like, "I despise and reject your fists." Harsh words, strong words, words that we need to read in a context to be able to understand why the prophet Amos needs to bring these harsh words to the people.
I invite you to think with me, and this will be more of a reflective type of time. We will watch a couple of videos, but I would like to start in your hearts and in your minds, just to think and to connect things and reflect on your own life and the life of us as a congregation. We know that after Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, the people of Israel knew that they were the chosen people of God. To some degree, they thought that they had the monopoly of God's love and goodness. Have we ever felt like the chosen ones, the privileged ones, the number one in the world?
So, in the 8th century BCE, Amos called the people of Israel and the people of Judah and reminded them that they didn't have the monopoly of God. Yes, to be chosen meant obedience, and obedience means to listen, to embrace, and to integrate in our daily lives the teachings of God, the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, in chapters 1 and 2 of The Book of Amos, you will see that Amos reminds that actually all nations, including Israel, have been subject to God's rule and judgment, and that the liberation they experienced when they left Egypt was not just unique for the people of Israel. They were not the only ones; they thought they were. They thought that they were exceptional, and exceptionalism seeped into their daily lives and came to believe that everybody else was out of the circle.
Amos reminds the people of Israel that the Philistines and the Syrians had also experienced God's blessing. Actually, they experienced some sort of exodus in their own journey because God works among, through the people of other nations, even those who were called the enemies of Israel. God's grace and power extend beyond any line, any circle that we draw. So Amos comes to debunk Israel's claim that they were the exclusionary love of God and justice of God. God's emancipatory love reaches and extends everywhere, many times, in many places, among and through all peoples.
So, in the next video that we are going to watch, this woman, Ayishat Akanbi--who is a cultural commentator, a stylist, an artist, and a writer--reminds us of the movements that sometimes, in trying to address these ideas of inclusion and not drawing circles, how sometimes these movements actually can become exclusionary, inwardly focused, and sometimes even violent. And we can participate in this injustice actively, passively, and unintentionally.
So, the question that I invite you to think as we listen to this video is: who may be the chosen, and who are those we call unchosen? How may God's emancipatory love be present in our lives, in our community? Let's watch this video and let's reflect.
"I think wellness has robbed many people of compassion and replaced it with more superiority. Compassion and empathy are paramount to any social movement and to any form of progress. Once you have compassion and empathy, you can often see that you have a lot more in common with people than you do apart. And it's the system under which we live that forcefully tries to group on our differences. What is radical is kindness. What is radical is understanding. That's the one thing they don't want us to do is to understand each other. Arguing with each other isn't actually radical at all. It's very conformist, actually.
"I do think that wokeness does run the risk sometimes in reducing very complex issues. Wokeness tends to be quite reactionary instead of responsive. And so when you react, you go off of emotion, and you go off of anger, resentment, humiliation, and that doesn't necessarily leave much space for nuance. And nuance is important in order to understand the interconnectedness of the issues. A lot of us are seeing people who remind us of our former selves, and we're attacking that. It's hard for me to completely condemn someone as problematic because of behaviors that I don't agree with. I only know what I know and have the insight that I have because I have made a lot of mistakes, and I interrogate those mistakes. And I'm not necessarily looking for more purity, but I'm looking for people who are committed to wanting to be better.
"There's a big element of shaming people. I look at Twitter, and I look at a lot of the online spaces and conversations, and it's just a digital version of the school canteen—people choosing who they're going to sit with and who can't sit with us and who can speak on this and who can't speak on this. And this is completely not the goal of any social justice movement. I think what we're doing now is seeing people for their groups—white man, gay woman, black woman. We're talking about what we are rather than who we are. If someone is talking about race and a white person intercepts and is met with maybe defense or met with a slur of some form, that is going to reinforce what they believe of that black person, and that black person is going to cement further their belief about what they think about white people. We're just confirming previous biases, and I think it can just be a place where it can quite easily make people feel as if they are not smart enough.
"Identity politics exists because everyone wants to feel like they matter, but sometimes identity politics can run the risk of playing what they call the oppression Olympics and who has it worse off and who suffered most. And if you have privilege, that means your life has been inherently good, which is very oversimplified notions of anyone's existence, which are not true. I think if people were more honest about their feelings as opposed to their political opinions, we would see that we have more in common than we do apart. Once that is achieved, then we can focus on our common oppressions because although we are all different—we are black women, we are white men, we are gay people, we are lesbians, we are trans—underneath the anger, the depression, the stress, the race conversations, and the gender issues is that we feel a great big void.
"Labels are helpful in helping us understand each other in finding communities, but I think at some stage, we should be able to do away with labels. A man and a woman take many forms. A black person takes many forms. Whiteness takes many forms, and there is no one way to do it. One thing that wokeness has done is to arm me with a community of people who care about what I care about. However, I always want to be accountable for me. To outsource all of my issues to soul white supremacy is to give it too much power. And for me to outsource all of my issues as a woman to men is a little bit too disempowered for me. Just as much as women are oppressed by patriarchy, men are oppressed by patriarchy, and I can't not see that. I'm always skeptical that I don't want what I'm saying to come across as those Generation X Baby Boomers who are talking about wokeness in a very critical way because they are sad that they no longer have their time when they could say things with impunity or they could be racist and make homophobic jokes. That's not it. I'm just asking for us to be more honest with ourselves, to think about why these issues are happening, and to not be so reactionary, to be responsive and to be critical.
"You know, maybe in wokeness 2.0, which is the second stage of the anger in this new stage, the focus is a lot more inward. Once you understand yourself, it's very easy to understand everyone else. So easy because we're actually not that different. We're actually painfully quite ordinary. How our ordinariness and our traumas and our pain manifest is very different, but the root cause is to why we act in the ways that we act often is insecurity. We want belonging, we want acceptance—fundamental things to a human. If we are more understanding of at least ourselves, you know, it's so hard to judge other people."
What comes to your mind, to our minds, what comes to our minds when we hear this? How many labels are out there? How many ways we can separate ourselves when we are trying to be inclusive? It is not an easy answer; the answer is complex. There are many things that we need to consider. I believe that the people of God through the centuries have experienced this too—in congregations, in families, in societies, in communities.
The prophet Amos came back to the people of Israel and said, "This is what God actually tells you, instead of everything else. What I want you is to let justice flow like a river and righteousness flow like an unfailing stream." Righteousness is this Hebrew word that conveys an ethical standard of a right relationship between God and people and between people. It's about treating others as the image of God and being able to see the God-given dignity that God has given to every single person in the world. Justice, this word Mishpat, can be understood as a retributive justice when we read that if you do something, then you receive punishment. But also, in the Bible, justice is restorative justice. It is for you and for me to go a step further, seeking out vulnerable people, those taken advantage of, and tending them as the Lord Jesus has taught us.
Justice is more than charity or performative actions or acts. It is more than a sticker, a certificate, a banner, an electronic sign, a beautiful bulletin. It is the willingness to let the spirit move us in ways that you and I become the extension of the justice of God. And what does that justice look like? What do you think the justice of God looks like in our conversations, in our communities?
Forgiveness. I believe that justice is not so much the act itself. It is not a program in a congregation. It is not a three-week program where you go to learn to do justice. Justice is our lives. Justice is God, and you and I are created in the image of God; therefore, justice is in us. It is part of our identity, part of our DNA. It is who we are as we move in the world, as we interact with one another, as we live with each other. And that justice is there. Let justice flow. "Let" implies it's already there in you, and the only thing that you can do is to let it flow. Because when it flows, it brings life. Because when it flows, you grow. Because when it flows, the community is healed, restored, and reconciled.
So when I hear that we are going to do justice, and I reduce it to one act that makes me feel good, I question it. Is that justice? Because justice is communal. Justice is the body of Christ. Justice is God's creation, and that's what you and I are called to be. Imagine if we were going to live according to the teachings of the Lord Jesus. Justice will be happening as the trees, as the grass, as the flowers grow along the river. Have you seen and driven on those places where there is all this brown scenery, and then you see this line of green pastures and trees that go through the valleys? Why? Why do you know it's there? That's the image that God brings to us of what justice is about.
But many times, like when I was a kid, I liked to go to the street in the big fields. And guess what I did with the little streams? I collected the stones and a lot of dirt. And guess what? What did I make? You did it too, right? That's why you know. And that's what our lives sometimes—we believe that our lives should be doing that, building walls, drawing circles, protecting ourselves, excluding others. So, the message that we receive today in the words of the Prophet Amos is: let it flow, let it bring the life that God has promised for all people.
So when we say all means all, when we say all are welcome, it is because God's justice is flowing.
So our prayer today, and I will conclude with this, this second video is a song and it's a prayer. I invite you that as we listen to it, and as I invite you, last Sunday, when we were writing on those pieces of cloth, what are the things that we are asking God to tear down, to remove so that the justice can flow? I invite you that we continue this prayer as we listen to this song, "Tear the walls down." Let's listen, and then after the song, we continue with the service.