First in series: Things that have changed my life
We are starting a new series today where we will be looking at things that have changed our life. Ways of thinking, concepts, practices that have changed our experience of faith and thus our life for better. Today I am going to be looking at something that has had a big impact on me personally, and feels particularly relevant with what is going on in our country right now. In light of the racism, prejudice we see in places like Charlottesville - I think we need to hear the message of the Bible more than ever A message that is delivered not through the eyes of the powerful and privileged but through the eyes marginalized and oppressed.
Let me take you on part of my own personal journey, in looking at something that has changed my experience of faith, my understanding of the Bible, changed my life.
Several years ago I was talking to friend of mine, she was actually ahead of me in the same masters program and SLIDE we were discussing how some classes have class participation as a large part of the grade. I loved it, she hated it. She looked at me right in the face and told me about how she grew up being told as a girl that she should not share a thought unless she was sure it was correct and relevant.
I grew up being praised for offering whatever I thought regardless of how correct or relevant it was.
So you see it wasn't just that I was willing to participate and she wasn't. We were informed by our history, and although she knew she was being encouraged to share even incomplete thoughts, the years of messages counter to that made her hesitate in class, which was usually just enough time for some male student, like me, to speak up, who had years of encouragement to share even the most irrelevant thoughts, which would move the conversation past what she wanted to say.
For some reason this hit me in the chest like a ton of bricks, to my mind God, the holy spirit, had opened up my eyes to see the world in a new way.
SLIDE I realized that I had lived my whole life benefiting from a system that was build in my favor. Me, as an outspoken man who was praised for sharing whatever I thought I had.
It made me think back to my summer job in college where I had been given the position of director of a camp even though I had never even been a counselor at the camp.
In my mind, I praised myself, I thought of how well I came across to be given a job that I had little experience in.
But in that moment as I was talking to my friend, a short conversation I had with my boss came back to my mind, like God had highlighted it in my memory.
My boss, a man, said to me," I am so happy that you took the job. You see all the returning counselors were these spacey girls. I just don’t feel like I could trust them to run this camp. I really happy you are here."
In the moment I took it as a compliment of my competence, but now I look back and realize that those “spacey girls” were way more qualified to run that camp than I was, and it doesn't seem like a coincidence that the last three directors before me and the two after me were all men.
I couldn't help but feel like it was not my wonderful qualifications that got me the job, but that I was at least helped by being a man.
This made me realize that the world I live in is not free of context, the benefits I have received, the way that I see the world has been informed by being a man, which at times opened doors for me that I maybe didn't deserve on the basis of my qualifications. And I feel like the Holy Spirit opened up my eyes to see a fuller world, a more profound picture of the world, in that moment when I could see the same stories through the eyes of my female friend.
And I think it goes beyond just gender, I am informed by the many parts of who I am, being a man, being white, growing up in America, Growing up middle class, having educated parents. All of which means that I often see the world through the lens of power and privilege.
And when I first began reading the Bible, inevitably, I read it through this lens of privilege However, what I have come to learn is that if I am going to get the most out of the Bible I need to read it in its own context, read it through the lens of original readers.
SLIDE And the story of the Bible is primarily one of minority and oppressed voices. From Abraham, to Moses, to the ancient Israelites and the Jewish people of Jesus day. The bible is a story following how God was working through and with marginalized and oppressed people. And the very few times we see someone gain power, it quickly becomes their downfall as they become the villains of the story. And I have found reading the Bible through the lens of minority and oppressed voices changes the way I read it, and changes the way I think about God.
And what is a better way to see through the lens of someone else, than to read the prayers they prayed.
As so that is what we are going to do now, is read from the book of psalms And we are going to read psalm 105, which was written while Israel was in exile, they had been conquered by the Babylonians and displaced from their homes, The full psalm is in your program, but I am going to give you a picture of what it is trying to say. SLIDE Psalm 105 1 Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. 2 Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts…
5 Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, 6 you his servants, the descendants of Abraham, his chosen ones, the children of Jacob. 7 He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth. 8 He remembers his covenant forever, the promise he made, for a thousand generations, 9 the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac...
14 He allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: 15 “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.” 16 He called down famine on the land and destroyed all their supplies of food; 17 and he sent a man before them— Joseph, sold as a slave...
26 He sent Moses his servant, and Aaron, whom he had chosen. 27 They performed his signs among them, his wonders in the land of Ham...
37 He brought out Israel, laden with silver and gold, and from among their tribes no one faltered...
42 For he remembered his holy promise given to his servant Abraham. 43 He brought out his people with rejoicing, his chosen ones with shouts of joy; 44 he gave them the lands of the nations, and they fell heir to what others had toiled for— 45 that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws. Praise the Lord.
Interesting psalm, but some strange things too -- in terms of what people in our culture are used to hearing or thinking about. However, if we can read this passage through the lens of the minority and oppressed. People's whose history has been marked by slavery and displacement. It changes the way we understand it
How could seeing things through the lens of oppressed people shift our understanding? SLIDE
- It re-frames Judgement
For me in a relatively privileged position, the idea of judgment feels fairly off putting.
However, if you have faced injustice throughout your life, this takes a very different tone.
If you have been abused, discarded, repeatedly taken advantage of and seen no justice.
And those who oppress and abuse you face no consequence.
How then can I ever claim that God is good.
You see, by using judgment language, the Israelites recognize that God cares about injustice and cares about the wrongs done.
And he will bring those who harm to justice.
Holy cow, that is wonderful news.
Or perhaps for some who benefits from the status quo of marginalization, it might be sobering And the most poignant statements of judgment in the bible are for those who have power and privilege and use it to maintain a status quo that keeps the oppressed oppressed and the marginalized marginalized. I think that has interesting implications to us in this country today. But, to the writer of psalm 105 who was once again living in oppression, he gives thanks to God that he is just in his judgment.
For the oppressed, speaking of God's judgment, is akin to speaking of how Good God is and how much he cares about the wrong done to them.
The language of judgment is not, as I can read from my privileged viewpoint, the language of a bloodthirsty, mean, and callous God. For if I see it through the eyes of the oppressed, it is the language of a good and loving God. A God who cares about the wrongs that have been done to us, he has not forgotten them or us. SLIDE
- This re-frames how we understand salvation
So often in the modern church when salvation is discuss, it is done so in the terms of heaven and hell, in terms of where we are going.
Or it is about as some theoretical framework, Some abstract category of those who are in and those who are out. I do think that there are eternal implications for salvation, I believe that in Jesus we can celebrate a future reality where wrongs are righted. But, when I look at salvation language in the Bible through a lens of privilege, the relevance for today can feel watered down. On the surface, I may think, “what do I need to be saved from?” Things are okay.
I Have come to discover that this is a result of my privilege. If I am ok with things staying the same, that I don’t think the world needs any saving, if I see no need for change or betterment, then likely I am benefiting from the current social structure and hierarchy.
And then from this place of privilege and comfort - discussions of salvation become theoretical, and abstract. They become conversations of exclusion and inclusion. However, when I read salvation language in the Bible through the lens of the original readers people living in oppression without any power or privilege, salvation is not abstract at all but very concrete. Through that lense it speaks to God care about the ways people get shafted, I speaks to God care about the systematic injustices of the world, he cares about the inequity and prejudice. He cares about our hurts and longings. And he is here today and tomorrow, and eternally to offer rescue from that. To offer relief, to offer healing. I don’t think God looks at what happened in Charlottesville and thinks we only need saving in the future or eternal sense. I think he is active and engaged and has a stake right now. That he is not content seeing people marginalized and belittled, only promising that they can know they are “saved on the inside” I believe the story of the Bible shows us that God is in the business of saving now, of redeeming and lifting up those whom society has failed to treat with the honor, care and dignity that all rightfully deserve.
- This shows us that we can find hope in remembering the past.
We see that in psalm 105 a larger part of the prayer is giving a record of the past. This is actually something done throughout the Bible.
In particular Israel looks back on the exodus story,
They thank God and remember the time they were in slavery in Egypt and God miraculously liberated them,
This is done to remember the good God has done for them, to remind themselves that he can rescue. To remind themselves that even in impossibly bleak situations, God can redeem. To remind themselve of God’s character
And since this psalm is written while in exile, that is just the kind of memory that brings comfort and hope.
We as people, often have very short memories, and can forget what has happened in the past,
Particularly when the present is offering us a crisis.
I don’t know about you but I kinda feel like the present is offering us a crisis
What we learn from this psalm, is that thanking God and remembering good things from the past can give us a hope from the future.
That God rescued them from Egypt in the past, and so they have hope that he can rescue them from Babylon today.
Which does happen, in fact two psalms later is a praise psalm thanking God for rescuing them from Babylon. When I think to the past and I look at the arc of our history here in this country, I have hope, hope that God is working towards justice today as he was when slavery was abolished, when women got the right vote, when the civil rights laws were passed. I have a hope that god is still working And it also reminds us that God does not just work through the lives of the powerful This is perhaps one of the most distinct Characteristics of God. In the Bible all the ancient God of the surrounding nations, worked through the lives of the most powerful, and most influential men But the God of the Bible seems to prefer working through the humble, the poor, and the meek.
We don’t see a god who is neutral in the Bible, and I think it should give us pause that the people that God time and time again works through and with, were the religious, cultural, and racial outsiders, the poor, the immigrants, those with no social standing, the marginalized, the oppressed, the least of us. God has shown over thousands of years whose side he is on. And remembering how God has worked in the past, gives me hope today. And this is why I think we at the moment need the Bible.
Reflect on your social identity -
Our social identity makes us the lens with which we see the world
This is our racial makeup
The socio-economic status we grew up with
Our political leanings and the political leanings of our parents
Where we grew up - urban, rural, suburban,
What country we were born
How diverse or similar were the people around us growing up.
We can never hope to live or read the bible objective of our social identity, it will always color the lens we see the world through. However, we can own and acknowledge our lenses and take them into account. Start trying to understand how they shade and inform the way we see the world, faith, and the Bible
And if you do this and come to the conclusion that your social identity, like mine is chalked full of privilege - Then I want to challenge you to stay engaged. have noticed in myself and I wonder if you notice this with yourself. But, sometimes I just want to check out. I don’t want to think about issues of race, or what happened in Charlottesville, or confederate monuments.
But, I don’t think that everyone has that option.
It is not an option to disengage for those who are actually being marginalized.
So, in the vein of standing with Jesus on this, don’t check out. I mean all of us need to decompress, but I think if we recognize that we have a social identity full of privilege we are participants in any injustice of our culture if we disengage. So, maybe engaging is a matter of reading for you, or learning. Or maybe it is participating with the Warming center next date is September 29- or the Family Matter walk-a-thon.It's Sat, Oct 7 -- BLV will have a team to help raise money for them. An opportunity to support an organization that we as a church partner with in their work of supporting kids and families with training and after school programing. mention connect cards as a chance to tell us your interest
And if you reflect on your social identity and it is clear that you are all too familiar with oppression and marginalization
- to walk in the wisdom of the Bible we as community need your voice, we need your help to challenge those of us living from a place of privilege to read the Bible’s wisdom correctly. If this church stays with just the voices of Vince and I as two white men forever, we will fall short of fully understanding let alone living out the true wisdom of the Bible.
In a moment we are going to enter into a time of prayer and song. Something that spiritual communities have done for centuries. And I invite you to engage in that time in whatever way feels best to you. Maybe it is singing along and dancing. Maybe it is just sitting back and letting the music hit you. And, as we are doing that we will have a team of people in the back who would love to pray with you, It can be a really meaningful thing to have somebody else pray along with you. And I have found that God tends to show up in surprising and powerful ways when I have asked someone else to pray for me. It’s a safe and good group of people, no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice.
Pray in remembering the liberation of God in our country,