Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
September 25, 2016
“Time to Get Our Panties in a Tuff”
Luke 16: 19-31
“There once was a rich man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions, wasting his days in conspicuous consumption. A poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, had been dumped on his doorstep. All he lived for was to get a meal from scraps off the rich man’s table. His best friends were the dogs who came and licked his sores.
22-24 “Then he died, this poor man, and was taken up by the angels to the lap of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell and in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham in the distance and Lazarus in his lap. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, mercy! Have mercy! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool my tongue. I’m in agony in this fire.’
25-26 “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that in your lifetime you got the good things and Lazarus the bad things. It’s not like that here. Here he’s consoled and you’re tormented. Besides, in all these matters there is a huge chasm set between us so that no one can go from us to you even if he wanted to, nor can anyone cross over from you to us.’
27-28 “The rich man said, ‘Then let me ask you, Father: Send him to the house of my father where I have five brothers, so he can tell them the score and warn them so they won’t end up here in this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham answered, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.’
30 “‘I know, Father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but they’re not listening. If someone came back to them from the dead, they would change their ways.’
31 “Abraham replied, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they’re not going to be convinced by someone who rises from the dead.’”
“Just because I don’t get my panties in a tuff and stand on my soap box doesn’t mean I condone what’s going on out there.” That one really tore at me this week. More than the usual “before you complain about the police, stop blacks from killing blacks.” And “all lives matter.” And “If only they had…” Or “If only they would…”
Even this one didn’t get under my skin as much: “There's been too much chatter about ‘institutional racism and institutional bias.’ ‘We ought to set aside this talk’ because it's the ‘rhetoric of division.’ Well, OK, that one is pretty bad. Chatter? As though Terrance Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, and I learned just yesterday at our Soul2Soul retreat of another – 13 year old Tyre King in Columbus, Ohio. Were they all just the subject of gossip and rumors and innuendo? Chatter? Really?
It’s past time, way past time, to get our panties in a tuff. I’m sorry if that sounds vulgar. It isn’t really church language. It’s kind of sexist. And I don’t mean to offend. But I was offended and I am offended. Panties and Black Lives and chatter?
“Hey Abraham. Tell Lazarus to fetch me some water. It’s too hot down here.”
Last week’s parable about the Shrewd Manager was difficult to understand. Hard to interpret. This week’s parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is easy to understand. It’s just hard to swallow. In fact, it’s so easy to understand that instead of trying to interpret it, commentators and preachers often just jump to assuage any guilt by saying “Well, he didn’t really mean it.” Or “Hell isn’t literal, after all.”
This is certainly one Bible reading that prove that literalists are only literalists about the things they want. The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination. Scripture forbids women from being priests and pastors. But the rich are going to hell is just hyperbole. It’s a metaphor.
Sometimes I wish I believed in hell. And that it was hot. Superhot. And the people there were really thirsty. Perpetually thirsty. A home for racists and birthers ordered around by Muslims, Mexicans, and refugees. But like the rich man, deluded by still thinking they could appeal to some higher authority to order a formerly lowly servant to fetch for them. “Hey Abraham. Tell Lazarus I’m thirsty. Bring me some water. Or wait. No. I’ll take a sweet tea.”
Can you blame the oppressed for telling stories about a better life in another world? Streets paved with gold. Gates made of pearls. But just for those who haven’t already lived with gold-plated chandeliers and pearl necklaces. I understand the sentiment: If we can’t get justice today, then ya’ll better watch out in the next.
But comfort for one group is just an excuse for another. And the thing about the next world means that whatever happens in this one doesn’t matter. There’s a line in our benediction every Easter that says:
“No pie in the sky bye and bye when we die
but something sound on the ground while we’re still around.”
That line by Kenneth Samuel, pastor of Victory UCC in Stone Mountain, Georgia, has explained my theology ever since I first heard it.
Jesus was always aware of two audiences listening to him. The money-lovers and those without any money to love. Before today’s parable starts, the verses preceding it say “You can’t serve both God and the Bank. When the Pharisees, a money-obsessed bunch (or “money-lovers” in other translations), heard Jesus say this, they rolled their eyes, dismissing him as hopelessly out of touch.” I bet they did more than roll their eyes. I mean, ultimately they met behind closed doors to plot his execution.
Jesus knew exactly how to tell stories that both audiences could easily understand. You can’t hear the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man without knowing which side you’re on. Heaven or hell. Sheep or goat. A story of encouragement or a statement of indictment.
Except… there are some of us in the middle, there are some of us like me, who might be called “money-likers.” I like money. I’m not obsessed with it. I don’t love it but I like to have enough of it to live in a nice neighborhood and afford a nice car and take some nice trips. What is someone like me who stands in the middle supposed to take from this parable? I’m not the rich man and I’m not Lazarus.
Actually, Jesus always addressed at least three audiences. He included the ones who stood by and had sympathy for Lazarus but since they were neither rich nor poor, it didn’t affect them personally. The ones who could choose what side they were on. Like me.
I’m not a person of color and I’m not a raging racist. One of “those” people who fly confederate flags and flirt with racist politicians. I’m what I might call an occasional… “accidental racist.” Who, too often, tries to prove he’s not really a racist, except that I’ve been through enough training to know that the best I’ll ever be is a recovering racist. I’m not one who harbors hatred in my heart, but I will never escape the privilege that comes with being white. And with that, I can choose when and if I want to take sides. I’m in the middle watching Jesus address those were represent the Rich Man and those who represent Lazarus without realizing Jesus is talking to me too. A money-liker and occasional accidental racist. In the middle. Kind of a lukewarm spot. But Jesus didn’t like lukewarm faith.
In the Book of Revelation it says “To the angel of the church in Laodicea: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Well that’s not very nice! Especially for anyone comfortably in the middle…
Last week I lamented to myself, “I think people have moved on.” The deaths of African American men, women, and children had been moved out of the headlines. The outrage had passed. It was way, way back in July that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered. Michael Brown was years ago. How quickly those in the middle can think that the problem today isn’t that bad.
But it’s time, if we haven’t already, to get our panties in a tuff. I really am sorry if that’s offensive to you. But there is something else that feels worse.
Lance bought his first car last week. He’s been saving half his salary since he started working when he was 16. Of course, now he wants to drive it. It’s to get to and from work on weekends when the bus doesn’t run. But as can you imagine, and some of you already know, we are scared that one day he’ll actually use his car to go to the movies or to the mall? Not because he’s less experienced but because he’s black. It’s a nice respectable Volkswagen SUV. No scratches and dents. No low riders or duct tape on the bumper. But that doesn’t mean he still won’t be stopped and have an encounter with the police who see him and are afraid, even those who might not be raging racists. Bias is so tightly woven into the fabric of society, I’m susceptible to fear too.
Alex Landau, a friend of many in our congregation and a neighbor, won an Emmy this week. He’s actually downstairs right now at an all-day meeting of the Denver Justice Project. The Emmy was for a video short of a story that originally aired on NPR’s StoryCorp when he told the story of his near death experience at the hands of Denver Police – a few blocks from here seven years ago. He was pulled over for making an illegal left turn. A white friend was found with some weed. Alex didn’t have any, but when police demanded to search his car, he calmly asked for a warrant. Brutality rained down on him until his face was unrecognizable, for stating his rights, except that obviously as an African American he didn’t have the same rights.
All the distraction of whether Keith Lamont Scott or Terrance Crutcher had a gun, they were in the South! Who doesn’t have a gun? John Walter was shot inside a Walmart in Ohio – an open carry state – for wanting to just buy a BB gun. Obviously, even the sacred Second Amendment does not extend that far.
But I’m not rich nor am I Lazarus, so I can stand and watch. Or I can just shake my head and move on.
But are you ready for some deeper, sacrificial, heart-opening, love-us-enough-to-expect-more, God-kind-of-work, engagement with racial justice?
There’s lots of ways to begin, but here are a few, along with a few beyond the beginning:
2) Amplify the voices of Black and brown people
3) Talk to your family and friends
4) Donate to anti-racism work
5) Know who you are voting for – in all races, not just the top
6) Be a witness
7) Demand accountability
9) Commit yourself to fixing this. You are not helpless
Number 1: Listen to Black people and do not debate their experience, their feelings, or their reality. Or share how bad you’ve had it too. Listen. And listen by reading. Read Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson. Educate yourself by educating yourself, not by requiring African Americans to teach you. But in fact, the church is paying for you to gain this experience – every second Saturday until March.
2) Amplify, not speak for or instead of, Black voices. Don’t jump in to explain for an African American. It happens all the time by people of the best intention.
3) Don’t ignore or scroll past your family and friends who make or post either ignorant or hateful statements. You don’t necessarily have to debate or argue. You can simply say “I disagree” and that’s it. Enough said. But silence implies you condone or tolerate racist comments.
This is hard. We don’t want disharmony, but the world as is, is not harmonious and won’t get any better without all of us in the middle taking a side. The consequences to us are nothing in comparison with the agony the wives and children and parents and siblings and cousins of Terrance Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott are feeling today. And many others.
A mixed race group of fifth graders in Tulsa discussed the news the day after Terrance Crutcher’s murder. They had questions like “Why did they have to kill him? Why were they afraid of him?” But soon their questions were more personal. “What will his daughter do at father daughter dances? Who will walk her down the aisle?” They were innocent questions. Meanwhile the seventh grade boys, who were growing taller, their voices growing deeper, their shoulders broadening, were aware that the size of Mr. Crutcher made him look threatening. They asked, “Was it his size or his color?”
I don’t have to talk about all nine suggestions – and the many, many more options for action. This is a sophisticated congregation and you get it. Vote. Donate. By the way, when you donate to the church, you are supporting racial justice. We provide free space to any group working on racial justice. It’s part of our mission. We provide free space to Black Lives Matter for their weekly and monthly meetings. Free space to the NE Denver Neighbors for Racial Justice. Free space for a retreat day for the Denver Justice Project. Free space to the Interfaith Alliance racial justice cohort meetings. Word is getting out and other groups have begun calling. Not to mention, the expenses of our six month series on Soul2Soul. But there is one more thing I will mention.
Be a witness. Karen Ashmore has begun doing this. When you see a Black motorist pulled over, pull over too. Get out of the car and stand and watch. Video if you can. It is not against the law to do so. Don’t interfere. Don’t get in the way, but watch. A witness may save a life.
It’s time to get our panties in a tuff and stand on our soapbox and not let another death become a memory instead of an opportunity and call to action. Silence does condone “what is going on out there.” So, what are we, you, me, us, going to do differently, starting today?
What kind of
 Luke 16: 1-13, see www.davidbahr.weebly.com for the sermon (scroll down below today’s)
 Luke 16:13-14, The Message
 I highly recommend it https://storycorps.org/animation/traffic-stop/
 Between the World and Me, The New Jim Crow, Just Mercy – just three of many excellent choices, plus Waking Up White and White Like Me
 Post by teacher Rebecca Lee on Facebook