Sermons from Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr, Pastor
“It’s Past Time for St*pleton to Go”
June 14, 2020
“I have little to say, except that I will work with the Klan and for the Klan in the coming election heart and soul. And if I am re-elected, I shall give the Klan the kind of administration it wants.”
Those are the promises of former Denver mayor Benjamin St*pleton, a name familiar to most in Denver because he was given the honor of the name of the former airport. And then, after the airport, a massive area of land encompassing many neighborhoods, but known in total as St*pleton. That name must now go. It’s not as though people haven’t tried over and over and over again. But now, it is time for St*pleton to go.
Not only did he promise his “heart and soul” to the KKK, he filled his cabinet and police forces with members of the KKK. His election to mayor of Denver was celebrated by cross burnings on the top of South Table Mountain. The KKK burned crosses in celebration of Benjamin St*pleton. People claim that he later changed his tune. Regardless, despite any change of that heart or accomplishments, Jews, Chinese, Catholics, immigrants, and African Americans were all openly terrorized with impunity during his reign. None of them was asked when the airport was named in 1944 whether they thought his accomplishments outweighed the fiery terror that rained down upon them. Those actions were fresh. Those with the power to name then, didn’t care. But now, it is time for St*pleton to go. It’s past time.
Many people who have moved to the St*pleton neighborhood in the past decade were unaware of this history. When the airport closed, attempts were made to change the name. Most recently, Black Lives Matter brought attention to this in 2015. After years of education and consciousness raising, last year property owners in St*pleton were given the opportunity to voice their opinion. But those with interests in keeping the name created an election in which 1) only property owners could vote. That means the many who live in apartments had no voice. 2) only one person per household could vote. Two adults with two opinions could voice only one opinion. 3) ballot irregularities were ignored throwing confusion into an already heated debate.
I went to the meeting of the Master Community Association at which the results of that vote were ratified. I could as easily have been sitting in on a meeting in Birmingham or Selma in the 1950s. The group was annoyed, calling neighbors initiating the name change of being “outsiders coming in.” They weren’t. The group was impatient to get this off their agenda. They called the ReName group’s concerns overhyped and accused advocates of bad behavior.
Dr. King wrote to clergymen from his jail cell in Birmingham that he had “hoped the white moderate would see this [injustice. But I should have expected] that few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those who have been oppressed, and still few have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent, and determined action.”
And so strong, persistent and determined action has been promised. In a very strongly worded tweet, Tay Anderson put down a marker. “The neighbors of Stapleton have ONE WEEK to change their name ... if they do NOT we will march through their neighborhood to show them that Black Lives Matter.”
My first reaction to the tone was “that’s not helpful.” That sounds like a threat. But if nice words get you nowhere, perhaps strong, persistent and determined action will get people’s attention.
We are watching as more statues of treasonous confederate soldiers on the losing side of a war to enslave humans are being torn down. And now it is time for St*pleton to go. It’s past time.
Even the Pentagon agrees that the names of confederates after whom military bases, like Bragg and Benning, should be changed. It is time for St*pleton to go. It’s past time.
A man in Texas wrote to Dr. King to say “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but is it possible that you are in too great of a religious hurry?” But as we know, Dr. King said, “wait almost always means never.” And so, it is time for St*pleton to go. It’s past time.
But what about the history? You can’t erase history. I completely agree. My solution? Put a plaque on top of South Table Mountain with the history laid out clearly. On this spot, the KKK burned a cross in celebration of the election of Mayor St*pleton. We commit that such an atrocity shall never happen again.” Put a plague up in the offices of the Master Community Association. Put a plaque up in Founder’s Green. Put them everywhere so we don’t forget the history. But the name? It’s time to go.
To Christians I share a story of Jesus. The authorities asked Jesus, “What’s your hurry?” They pointed to a woman who had formerly been bent over for 18 years. They said, “Why couldn’t she wait? It’s against the law to heal today. Do it tomorrow. It’s just one more day.” True, it had been 18 years, but that means, according to their logic, there were 5,634 previous days on which should could have been healed. But no one cared about this woman until Jesus healed her on the wrong day. (Luke 13:10-17)
The tone of a tweet may be off putting, but clearly no action will be taken on the St*pleton name until someone says finally it’s enough: Now is the time to ReName St*pleton. It’s past time.
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
June 14, 2020
“I Can Breathe, Therefore”
Romans 5: 1-5 – New Revised Standard Version
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
I can breathe. Such a statement makes me think of times when people can’t.
For example, the way Covid 19 attacks the lungs is one of the scariest things about it. Some reports indicate that some of those who come off ventilators never regain their ability to fully breathe again. That’s one more reason to keep up the social distancing and wearing a mask in public. I have to admit that I don’t like how it feels to breathe through a mask. But, if I can save a life, therefore, I will.
Why else can’t people breathe? Air pollution corresponds to asthma that leaves people unable to fully take a breath. Ironically, how many people have said their asthma has not been as bad during our shelter at home?
And, of course, chokeholds and knees to the neck, when the officers applying the procedure decide to be judge, jury, and executioner all in one.
Today, you and I can breathe. Say, “I can breathe.” …… But I want to be more than grateful for breath. I invite you to add one more word to that statement. “I can breathe, therefore…”
At George Floyd’s funeral in Houston this week, his niece, Brooke Williams said, “I can breathe and as long as I’m breathing, justice will be served.”
I can breathe, therefore.
Protests around the country and around the world show no sign of stopping. They are beautiful displays of humanity yearning for a more perfect union, expressing hope in the promise of our nation, where all people, created equal in the eyes of our Creator, are truly free.
I don’t know if people fully appreciate that their expressions of anger are really expressions of hope. One wouldn’t demand change if they thought change was impossible. That would be truly depressing. And the consequences would be much worse.
That anger is the antidote. That anger is the antidote we have desperately needed. A cure for our collective slide into depression that nothing will save our country from the culture of cruelty cultivated by cowards, tolerated and even celebrated by too many “christians” more interested in power than piety. That anger is the antidote.
That rage is the remedy. That rage is the remedy for the communal cynicism we were developing over the depths of lawlessness by our president. Thank God for rage.
The medicine that will heal the mendacity of constant corruption and deceit is not hydroxychloroquine but hope and truth. Telling the truth of white supremacy is medicine that can heal our country.
The very first treatment for the toxicity of America’s original and ongoing sin is to take a deep breath. To recognize that we can breathe. Say, “I can breathe.” ……
We have an antidote for anger, a remedy for rage, medicine for mendacity, and a treatment for toxicity. Now, all those beautiful and hopeful protests can be turned into meaningful policies and practices that upend systems that allow or even encourage brutality.
Protest is one step in the process of social change. And keeping up the pressure. Protester is one of the roles necessary for transformation. But there’s more to it than protest, which is especially important to remember because many of us would like to be on the streets but cannot. Thankfully there are plenty of possibilities for all of us who can breathe. Say, “I can breathe.” ……
Deepa Iyer has written about the many roles necessary for social change, one of which is the role of disruptors who speak up when its uncomfortable and take action when its risky. Not all of us can do that in the midst of a pandemic. That’s not a bad thing because it reminds us of all the other things we can do to answer our own personal “I can breathe, therefore.”
We also need bridge builders who can simultaneously work across divisions with patience. Not all of us have the kind of persistence and fortitude required to change minds.
This week Bob Lederer told our Touchbase Tuesday group about a group of friends he has had for 50 years, some of whom have long espoused views of the world that are offensive. Bob has always kept his tongue tied in order to keep the peace. But something one of them said about the protests crossed a line. And Bob said something. He told his long-time group of friends that he had finally had enough and that he was taking a break. But, he left the door open for reconciliation. Bob was nervous before their first conversation after his break. But before Bob could say anything, his friend offered a massive apology for what he called his egregious behavior and said, “We are better than this.” He said that he and his wife had talked about it the whole weekend. It was only because Bob said something that risked separation that a bridge could be built. Sometimes peace comes, a bridge is built, because we are honest and speak our truth instead of saying nothing.
We need both disruptors and bridge builders who can work across divisions. You can breathe. What is your therefore?
We need visionaries. We need visionaries who can show us our north star when others can’t even see the sky. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and Opal Tometi simply cried out “our lives matter” after the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. But they also began to articulate a vision. And a movement was born that became Black Lives Matter, because of their vision.
But alongside, we must have people who know how to organize and mobilize resources needed for those visions of social transformation. People who have vision don’t always know how to make that vision practical.
Dr. King is celebrated for having a dream. But how many people did it take for him to proclaim that on steps of the Lincoln Memorial? For every Dr. King there was a Bayard Rustin and thousands more behind the scenes.
We also need artists and storytellers, poets and musicians, who sharpen that vision and imagine what else is possible. You can breathe. Is that your therefore?
We also need caregivers who provide nourishment and support. Who are all those people delivering water and ice to protesters around the country? Who was in the basement of countless church kitchens cooking meals – in Birmingham, in Selma? Who brought the bandages to tend the wounds of those crossing the Edmund Pettis bridge?
In addition to caregivers, we need healers who walk alongside those of us who live with the trauma of generation after generation of white supremacy, racism, capitalism, and patriarchy. Is being a caregiver or a healer your therefore?
And we need builders who can develop all of these ideas into structures and the scaffolding for organizations. And whose money, whether $10 or $10,000, turns protests into movements into policies.
Funny how the same thing is true for churches. But perhaps that’s not surprising. The church was born as a movement in response to the toxic collaboration of religion and state that conspired to execute Jesus. Jesus hung on a cross until he couldn’t breathe anymore. In response, out of his death, a movement of love was born. The church has seen its share of times when it had to be shocked back into alignment with the vision of the world Jesus proclaimed. The behavior of the church through centuries has sometimes required anger and rage at its injustice. Without all the roles necessary for social change, the church would stagnate and perhaps die. It needs the collective of all who can breathe working together.
No movement is complete without all of us who can breathe. Say, “I can breathe.” ……
I am hopeful. But it’s not just because we decide to have hope. It’s because of the suffering that produced endurance that produced character that produced hope. Paul told the Romans to boast in their hope. I’m not sure I like that. I know I don’t like that. But Paul was clear that their hope was not something they created for themselves but a gift that comes from their faith. Faith that comes from God’s love poured into us by the Spirit. The original gift of breath by God who invites us, motivates us, to play our role. May God help each of us to realize, “I can breathe, therefore.”
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
June 7, 2020
“Through the Fires”
A crucible is for silver, and a furnace for gold,
but God tests the heart.
USA Today reported on Thursday that there have been protests in 584 cities and towns around the country and growing. Hundreds of people even gathered in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the nearest “big city” to where I grew up. Hundreds of people marching in Grand Forks! And in some places, the pressure of those protests is leading to policy changes – the necessary outcome.
Civil rights icon John Lewis said this week that while the video of Mr. Floyd crying out "I can't breathe" brought him to tears, this ongoing movement gives him "hope that we're on our way to greater change."
Why? He compared today with the protests of the 1960s, at which he was literally on the front lines, and said, "This feels and looks so different. It is so much more massive and all inclusive." We remember how Dr. King was disturbed and distressed that more white people, more white Christians, didn’t join what was such an obvious struggle. But Congressman Lewis said this time is different, noting that "people from all over the world [are] taking to the streets to stand up, to speak up, to speak out, to do,” he said, “what I call getting in trouble." He is hopeful.
Of course, there were unhelpful troublemakers in some of those cities. Last weekend we were very discouraged by images of violence. Dumpsters on fire, vehicles on fire, buildings on fire… Add the tear gas and rubber bullets and flash bang grenades and reporters of color arrested on live TV and clashes between police in riot gear and citizens in masks, combined with all those fires, and it looked like the apocalypse.
But I wonder, like the wisdom of King Solomon’s proverb, were those fires simply the crucible needed to purify silver? Were those fires the furnace necessary to remove impurities from gold? I'm not defending the use of fire for protest. I am not glorifying it. But, I still wonder, could God use them to test our hearts?
Because that violence, those fires, in particular, forced us to confront our own prejudices and priorities. Internal battles and temptations to say, “it’s horrible that an innocent black man was killed but destroying property has got to stop.”
Those of you who are African American being subjected to not only one more video of a public lynching repeated again and again on a loop but having to hear endure such equivocation – I am sorry. Some of you, black and white, have talked about difficult conversations in your own families and people you thought were friends and allies in which you had to say “No. It’s horrible that property is being destroyed, but it’s the killing of innocent black men by police that has to stop.” Get your priorities right. We have to understand whose interests we ask police to protect. People or wealth and power.
One example of a disconnect between people of color and white people is our experience with law enforcement. Polls like one in the Washington Post show that 82% of African American Christians believe there is a pattern of police violence against them. However, in reverse, 72% of white Christians believe these are just isolated incidents of a few bad apples.
Black men like George Floyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Walter Scott, Marvin Booker and far too many more would beg to differ. Black women, often forgotten, and not just Sandra Bland, but Eleanor Bumpers, Alberta Spruill, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Tanisha Anderson, Atatiana Jefferson and Charleena Lyles were all killed by officers or in police custody.
Were all of those officer’s racists, some of them, none of them – just a coincidence, or an unwitting part of a system of white supremacy so intertwined into the foundations of our nation we don’t even recognize them? Where do we see the effects of that white supremacy? Breonna Taylor and Amy Cooper. Breonna, an aspiring EMT in the midst of a pandemic, was killed in her sleep in her own bed in her own apartment. But Amy knew she could call the cops to protect her.
Amy Cooper is the white woman who was asked by a black birdwatcher in Central Park to put her dog on a leash – as is required for law and order. Perhaps she didn’t feel that such laws should apply to her, or at the least, she didn’t believe she should be subject to a black man asking her to follow the law. So, she pulled out her white female tears, as she knew she could, to alert the system that she was in danger. A white system that when it hears “black,” rushes in and assumes dangerous and guilty. It works almost every time. This time, however, the officer who responded didn’t buy her story. She lost her dog for a month, but it left Chris, the birdwatcher, devastated by, haunted by, the reality that he could have been dead that day at the hands of police because of a white woman’s tears. She should be prosecuted for a hate crime.
Add to that all the citizen vigilantes, like those who killed Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Abery, protected by prosecutors and DA’s offices. Just claim self-defense. Claim “stand your ground.” He’s got a gun. He’s resisting. Make any claim and we’ve got your back. We can’t stop the killing of innocent African American men, women, and children until we dismantle white supremacy. And that will happen when the fires of protest become changed policies. Banning chokeholds is only one very small step. But, it is hopeful. Keep up the pressure.
We don’t wish for the fires of protest, but we can recognize the necessity of a crucible for silver and a furnace for gold. God tests the hearts. Though, as Dr. King said in 1963, we need to change more than hearts and minds through persuasion. He said, “The law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. The law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.”
It shouldn’t have taken cell phone videos for people to believe that racism is killing black, brown, and Indigenous people. But now that people have been awakened, I pray will they stick with it for the long haul. It makes me feel hopeful.
Of course, that very same hope makes white supremacy feel threatened. So, here comes the white supremacist’s greatest friend, holding a Bible as a prop in front of a church for a campaign photo whose only purpose is to send a message – I’ve got your backs. The blatant absurdity of that display was shocking. Even to Pat Robertson.
In response, some of you have read or heard a piece I wrote and posted online this week called “Thank you, Mr. Trump.” For those who haven’t seen it, I thank him because many of us were getting distracted by images of fires and looting, starting to question our commitment to justice. Equivocating. Thinking false peace would be OK in exchange for property.
Thank you, Mr. Trump. You shocked us back into our mission of hope. To build a movement that coalesces people of all races around the vision of our nation that is open, inclusive, just, and compassionate. Have you seen it happening? It’s beautiful. Thank you!
Thank you, Mr. Trump, for reminding us of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed – our calling. A world filled with love. With food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, comfort for the grieving, liberation for the oppressed.
Those fires may have momentarily distracted us, but now we realize they were like the crucible that is needed to remove impurities to make silver and the furnace necessary for gold. God is testing our hearts and preparing us to be ready when we are called upon to make difficult choices and take up our various roles to dismantle white supremacy and build up the beloved community.
Because of coronavirus, some of us who want to join the protests can’t show up in person,
But you can still use your voice on social media,
You can still contribute money to causes that advance racial justice,
You can still have difficult conversations with friends and family,
You can still educate yourself,
You can hold the feet of politicians and policy makers to the fire.
But all of it starts with prayer that we are ready for the test. So let us pray:
God of Justice, whenever we settle for the way things are instead of the way you would have them to be, forgive us.
Whenever we are paralyzed by fear or limited in vision, increase our trust in you.
Whenever we offer charity, but fail to work for justice, show us what your love requires.
Whenever we forget those who have gone before us or act is if we were the first to struggle, call out our arrogance.
Whenever we tire of the struggle and tomorrow feels overwhelming, restore our hope. We are your hopeful people. Amen
Park Hill Congregational UCC, Denver
Rev. Dr. David Bahr, Pastor
June 3, 2020
I have a message this morning that may surprise many of you. I want to say thank you to Mr. Trump.
Thank you, Mr. Trump, for not opening the Bible, or claiming it was yours.
Thank you, Mr. Trump, for not entering the church.
Thank you, Mr. Trump, for not saying a prayer.
Thank you, Mr. Trump, for not saying a word of any kind. Any word of comfort you might have read from a script would have been a lie, and we’ve had enough of those.
Thank you, Mr. Trump, for simply posing for pictures so they could immediately be turned into campaign ads.
Thank you for making it so baldly obvious that this was just a publicity stunt for your supporters.
And thank you to your supporters who applauded the move, praising you for holding up the Bible “like a boss.”
Thank you for pushing away peaceful protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Thank you, Mr. Trump, for proving that your words about “law and order” are just dog whistles to white supremacists.
While we’re at it, thank you, Mr. Trump, for insisting that churches reopen during a pandemic and then going golfing.
Thank you for crystalizing all of your moments of blasphemy, your sacrilege, your disrespect for Jesus, your contempt for God, so that it momentarily unnerved even some of your supporters.
Thank you. You see, many of us were getting distracted by images of looting, starting to question our commitment to justice. Equivocating. Thinking false peace would be OK in exchange for property.
Thank you, Mr. Trump. You shocked us back into our mission of hope. To honor the life of George Floyd, call out the behavior of racist cops, defeat white supremacists and build a movement that coalesces people of all races around the vision of our nation that is open, inclusive, just, and compassionate. Have you seen it happen? It’s beautiful. Thank you.
Thank you for reminding us of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed. A world filled with love. With food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, comfort for the grieving, liberation for the oppressed.
Thank you, Mr. Trump. We needed the kick in the pants.
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Traveling around the world