Sermon by Andrew Reinholz
Vicar, St. Margaret's Emmaus
May 3, 2015
Washington D.C. 1968
Los Angeles 1992
The sad truth is, riots are a part of American history. The sad fact is, riots are probably going to be a part of America’s future.
As we watched and read about the events that unfolded in Baltimore this week, a lot of things were said.
Many condemned the police for their treatment of minorities. Many condemned the rioters for their use of violence.
Debates raged about failed economic policies, and unjust civil structures. About the negative consequence of violent protest over nonviolent demonstration.
People from across the political spectrum weighed in. People of all races, and economic status, commented.
Some applauded, while others condemned. Some demanded progressive change in our society, others called for a return to conservative values.
Police from neighboring cities and states came to the aid of the city of Baltimore. Maryland sent in the national guard. Religious leaders and community organizers gathered and marched.
Night after night, this country watched with a collectively held breath, waiting to see if one of our cities, would erupt into more violence, and more flames.
The discussions surrounding the Baltimore riots are hard ones to have. But, they are important. We need to, as a society, talk about what has happened, and what caused these events. We need to openly talk about them, so that we cannot just move on from this, but work to see that it does not happen again.
A danger in these discussions, is to break down, and condense things into statistics and figures. Names and faces become meaningless. People no longer are people, but they become numbers. They lose their shape and being.
Numbers upon numbers, that competing sides crunch and compile.
Numbers upon numbers, that competing sides quote to build and construct their own preferred narrative.
To do this keeps us from going deeper into the problems and issues. To do this keeps us separated from the real dilemma. It keeps us separated from one another.
Our readings for today help to point us to the deeper issues at work here. Points us to a deeper truth we need to see.
Jesus is the one true vine. And we are the branches of that vine. A branch separated from that vine, does not and can not bear fruit. A branch separated from the vine withers and dies.
Last week we heard this same message, with different imagery. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. There is one shepherd for one flock. Without that shepherd, the sheep are snatched up, and scattered.
Vine and branches, flock and shepherd.
Jesus is our source. Jesus is our foundation. It is by Jesus that we are created. It is by Jesus that we are sustained. It is by Jesus that we are redeemed.
If we do not abide in him, and he in us, we are nothing. We are dried up branches. We are scattered and lost sheep. If we do not abide in Jesus and he in us, we lack the very essence of our being. We have no foundation.
Without Jesus, we lack that thing which lifts us up and redeems us. Without him, we fall into sin and death. Darkness and despair. We lack the light of Christ, which illuminates, and lifts up all of humanity.
We need to stop seeing others as statistics and demographics or figures from failed urban and civic policies. When we reduce them down we take away their humanity. When we have taken away their humanity, we have severed our connection with them.
We begin to sever the branches from the vine. We scatter the sheep from the flock. Sheep separated from the flock cannot survive. Branches separated from the vine cannot thrive. They cannot grow. They wither up and die.
By abiding in Jesus we abide in his divine and eternal love. And that love teaches us that we are all children of God.
That love placed Jesus on the cross for us all. That love raised Jesus from the dead. That love lifted him into eternal life. That is the love we are called to abide in. A love that changes us to our very core. A love that completes our very being. A love that illuminates humanity, and lifts it up.
Jesus calls us to go deeper in our relationships with each other. If we do not do that, we dehumanize one another.
We categorize and stereotype.
They become criminals and thugs.
They become abuser and oppressors.
They stop being people. They stop being human beings with a heart and a soul and a mind.
They become that which we fear. That which we hate.
They become the reason for our problems, instead of the reason for solving them.
They stop being children of God in our eyes. And we cannot see, that just as Christ suffered and died for us, so too did Christ suffer and die for them. Just as Jesus calls us to live in his risen life, so to does he call them. Just as Jesus calls us to abide in his love, so too does he call them to abide.
God calls us as Christians, to love our enemy as ourselves. To abide in his love. To grow and be nourished from his vine.
Is this easy? No, no it is not.
It takes courage.
It takes strength.
It takes faith.
But we have to be willing to put aside our fears. To put aside out hate. To put aside out dehumanizing ways that separate us, and divide us.
It is clear, it is so painfully clear, that we do not yet fully abide in the love of Jesus Christ. It is clear, so painfully clear, that the kingdom of God which we are called to build, still has much work to be done.
Too many from our flock have been snatched away. We have been scattered and flung so far apart. Too many branches have been cut from the vine. We are slowly drying up and being consumed by flames of our own making.
We will continue to face this problem until people on both sides are able to see, that its not just fellow Americans standing across from them, not just fellow human beings standing across from them, but fellow Children of God standing across from them.
We must abide in the love of Jesus Christ. For without it we are nothing.
With it, humanity is illuminated, and humanity is lifted up.