By Sarah Holst, October 4, 2015
My name is Sarah Holst and I was asked to preach today as a way of launching the Confronting Historic Injustice: Moving Beyond Forgiveness Adult Education series which will be going on throughout the fall. And, its also World Communion Sunday! Which I think is perfect.
I was really disheartened last week to hear the Pope skip over the entire ugly and unjust history of colonization against Native Americans in this country in his speech to Congress. Pope Francis, who has been such an ally for the oppressed, passed over this chance to speak truth and lift up a story of the often unheard when he said of the beginnings of our country: “Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.” I couldn’t quite believe my ears. For, to me, it seems really hard for us to do the other things the Pope is advocating for: opening our doors to refugees, for example, when we, as a country and a Church, cannot admit to our historical sins.
Without naming, knowing and healing the brokenness of our foundation, how can we hope to live and welcome people into a house of love and justice?
Sometimes we don’t name historical sins because we’re not even sure what they are, our education systems haven’t done a good job telling us the whole story. We are not encouraged to shed light on our brokenness.
Maybe it’s true that the Pope doesn’t know that the Doctrine of Discovery, written by the Catholic Church and used by Catholics and Protestants alike to justify claiming lands in the name of God and Country called for Indigenous peoples to be “invaded, searched out, captured, vanquished, and subdued” and, if they wouldn’t or couldn’t convert, killed. All this…in the name of conversion to the God that we pray to—to our Jesus who we believe walks with the suffering and is present, all the time, to the oppressed. Maybe the Pope doesn’t know, but I do, and I need a way to reconcile my faith that believes in a table where “Everybody is invited, everyone has a seat, and everyone has enough” with this terrible, gruesome history of genocide and sin once-unimaginable by me, a white girl from Nebraska, who grew up happy and comfortable, was taught to love the land, and to pray for forgiveness.
“It is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.”
Navajo pastor Mark Charles expressed deep disappointment in these same words when he wrote, “Until we address the wounds of the past we will be unable to embrace the healing of the future.”
Keetowah Cherokee Randy Woodley, questioned Pope Francis’s entire reasoning in an open letter saying, “You say we can’t judge the mistakes of the past by today’s standards? …Your presumption disregards the long legacy of those whom I consider to be true heroes, who protested slavery, condemned forced mission and risked their lives to protect Indigenous people from land theft and murder. Your argument dishonors these historic and present prophetic voices. By your own rationale to disregard the sins of the past against Indigenous peoples, you dishonor the sacrifices those righteous heroes have made. Are we not to honor those who deserve honor?”
Where common memory does not exist, true community cannot be built. To create a common memory, one that is not skipped over, half- “forgotten”, or told from only one side, we have to name the brokenness. And it is difficult. Naming what is broken can be painful and uncomfortable. But, as an elder said to me recently, “Being uncomfortable is the only thing that leads to change, allows us to reframe guilt as an opportunity to heal, and gives us the courage we need to push through the fear.”
Our reading from 2 Corinthians this morning, names that TODAY is the day of salvation The day that we are called through discomfort of many kinds armed with forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God. Christians are a people outfitted to see light in the cracks, who have sown and grown beauty in the dark corners of the world. We believe that despair can change into miracles. Theologian James Cone said, “There can be no Christian Theology that is not identified unreservedly with those who are humiliated and abused.” And “There can be no theology of the gospel which does not arise from an oppressed community.” Another way to say this is: We Christians have skin in the game, because we believe in a God who has skin in the game. Jesus’ suffering body links us to a suffering world, and through it we get to join in to the whole story, the cycle of redemption, forgiveness and belovedness… truth and beauty and love shining through the brokenness!
This is at the heart of what we celebrate in the Eucharist, what we celebrate broadly today on World Communion Sunday. In the Gospel today, Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and shares it. We are taken into the story (the full story, the common memory), blessed by God’s unending love big enough for everyone, broken open, making room in our hearts to feel, and cry and despair, and heal, and then we are shared with one another. Taken, blessed, broken and shared.
Mark Charles tells a story of a gathering he was involved in where Native Elders who were residential school survivors were telling their stories. He tells how they got up, one by one, full of resolve, but trembling, looking down at their feet, and the audience mirrored them, Black folks remembering their own historical trauma and white folks looking uncomfortable, wide-eyed hearing stories they had not often heard…at mealtimes, the room was sad, silent. People sat in their own racial groups… But the days progressed and more and more stories were shared, subtle changes began to take place. Everyone in the room opened up to create more space for one another. The storytellers stood taller. The audience made more eye contact. And at lunch and dinner, everyone was sitting together. The room filled with conversation.
Taken into the story, blessed, broken-open, shared.
A friend of mine tells a story about a similar gathering she was present at, one where such a strong community was formed that a woman was able to admit something that had happened to her in a residential school that she hadn’t told anyone in over 40 years. My friend tells how the woman cried for 20 minutes straight, letting the pain out. No one moved to touch her or speak to her, but instead made full room for her sorrow, sitting with her, mutually broken open. My friend is quick to remind me that a move to touch or console is an attempt to put a stopper in discomfort, to speed the process to healing, and first, we all need to wade through the grief.
The Confronting Historic Injustice: Moving Beyond Forgiveness series is meant to open up some of these spaces for us here at Peace. Throughout the next several months we will be hearing about our neighbors in need, and radically telling the untold stories of Historic Injustice so that we can create a common memory and move towards reparations and healing. You are invited to join us for our first event on Oct. 18th, when Alfredo Lopez will be here speaking about the Resistance of Afro-Indigenous Hondurans. He will be here during the Adult Forum. Throughout the fall, we will be working with the Indigenous Rights Commission, to talk about the Doctrine of Discovery and Christianity’s role in the colonization of America. I will be giving a presentation about modern day saints that we can support and be inspired by who are doing amazing reconciliation work in our country for All Saints Day. We will be calling upon the wisdom and leadership in this room to open doors to talking about the Palestinian Israeli conflict, which our larger UCC conference has claimed as a conference wide focus. In March, we will have Jennifer Harvey and Melanie Harris here to guide us through what it might look like to do racial reparations work in our community. We are so excited about this series and we hope you will join us.
This is a great opportunity for us to be taken into these stories, blessed by one another, broken open and shared in sacred work of transformative justice. You are invited to come as you are, imperfectly filled with grace and longing.
Brave ones, this is our Communion Story. This is what we believe in—happening today across the world. When Jesus fed the masses at the event of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, the story is very specific that the loaves were made of barley. This seems like a peculiar detail, but consider with me: Barley is not a fancy grain like wheat that needs special care and lush, fertile soil. Barley is a plant that grows in the ditches, out of what is crummy, dry, rocky, dusty. It is a grain that is gritty and resistant. Some might say it is hopeful. It doesn’t give up. And this is what Jesus chose to feed thousands. Abundance from crumbs!
Barley, and You and I, when taken into the Jesus story, the common memory, can feed the whole world.