Rev. Katherine Todd
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
Notice the ways John describes the light. John’s entire Gospel centers around light – that Christ himself IS the light – coming into the world.
And here, John takes this further to say that – while light exposes truth and sin and righteousness, our Light, Christ Jesus, did not come in order to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.
This is curious, is it not?
Raised in the south by a mid-western woman, I knew to always deflect uncomfortable comments or questions. In other words, I was not to put anyone on the spot. I was not to be the source or conduit of anyone else’s discomfort.
And so I instinctively lean away from questions or comments that require a response, questions or comments that may connect to sin or sadness…questions or comments that may shed light upon the matters we desire to keep hidden.
But this cultural habit can conflict with my pastoral or personal or friendship responsibilities. For LOVE knows that truth alone will foster healing. Love knows that light is necessary for truth and healing. To love another, requires honestly seeing them. It means taking risks. It means risking another’s feelings sometimes – in order to be honest or truthful or truly helpful. It means inviting one another into the light together – to sit and to be, to wait and to observe. For in the light, we begin to see far more than we perceived in the dark.
And John makes it clear that WE ALL HAVE DWELT IN THE DARK. We have ALL followed after the passions of our flesh – of our lesser natures – of our lowest selves and basest desires. We all stand guilty, jaded, responsible.
But our God – who is LOVE – brings Christ – who is the LIGHT. For love calls for truth. And truth requires light.
We’ve seen the use of spotlights:
A spotlight on a burglar – caught red-handed in old movies,
A spotlight on a performer – accenting their every move…
To be in the spotlight is to be exposed – whether or beauty or failure – or quite matter-of-factly, both.
Conversations of race have been on the rise in this past year. There has been much anger. There has been much discomfort. There have been heart-felt cries for justice. And one phrase has risen to the surface: white supremacy.
My whole life, I knew I wanted to be anything but racist. And I lived that way. I sought to learn from and to love people of all walks. I would have surely told you I wasn’t racist. And I endeavored to learn and respect American minority ways and perspectives.
But the undeniable fact is: I have been affected by the society in which I’ve lived and grown and had my being. In the words of Edgar Villanueva, Native American philanthropist and author, “We have been infected with the colonizer virus.” And not only affected by or infected by but many among us have also benefited from: received the be that colonizer virus – as it was designed to benefit some, to the exclusion of others. Simply by virtue of my skin being largely bereft of melanin, I have been given the benefit-of-the-doubt most all my life. I have been trusted in stores and on the street and not had to worry for my safety in my home or neighborhood. I have not had to remove my hoodie before entering a school or store. I have not had to teach my son best-practices for if he is pulled over in a traffic stop.
But simply the fact that I see white ways as “normal” and the ways of colored people as unusual …is a symptom of my state. I expect business meetings to be run by Robert’s rules, decently and in order. I tense up inside when someone of another (non-white) background interjects to speak or share their emotive, personal experience, out of order. I expect to sing a hymn through once, and rather than find myself invited ever-deeper in prayer if it goes on and on repeating, I confess that often my first thought is, “I wonder how long this will go?” And when I sang with my colleges almost-all-black Gospel choir, I judged my fellow singers when my white best friend and I arrived on time and were the only persons present for a good half-hour. They then taught me the phrase, “Colored people time…”
But bringing it more to home, simply the fact that I feel the need to describe a non-white person as Black or Hispanic or Asian…betrays my bias. For do I describe encounters with my white friends in the same way? I have never – until just now – described by best friend as “my white best friend.” If I don’t remark about ones race, it is most often because they are white. That is the default.
Bias. It’s not necessarily hate. There may be no hate at all. There may be well wishes and kindness intended, but bias is worked into our psyche at a young age. It’s the result of aisles full of white baby dolls. It’s the product of our children’s stories depicting only white characters. In fact, the Bible story resources we reference for our children’s activity pages and lessons constantly and exclusively portray Jesus and his followers as white. White ways are depicted as standard, normal. Instead of becoming everything to all people – to which Paul bears witness as his way of faith and life – white culture has required everyone else to conform to it.
And this is not an isolated phenomenon, but we see it pervasively across our culture, and across issues. White stories have been told. Black stories are largely unknown or forgotten. We even had to make a special month to remind us to start telling the stories because we haven’t worked them into our regular curriculum.
It’s akin to the organic aisle at our traditional grocery stores. Unlike Aldi – where the organic & pesticide-GMO foods exist alongside one another, integrated – most stores separate out one or two aisles for organic items. It is “special.” It is not regular. It is not normal. It is not integrated.
In my college World History class, I was eager to learn about our broader world, but our curriculum focused exclusively on Europe. Europe. I asked my professor, why we weren’t learning about Russia or Asia or Africa. And his answer was that the curriculum covered most of the important things… So nothing of importance has come from Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, or Australia? Nothing?
…And Christ’s light shines on this, my brothers and sisters,
on our bias, on our assumptions.
Christ’s light shines upon the actions that betray our flawed ways of thinking, our twisted ways of “othering” everyone with melanin in their skin.
But Christ’s light shines…
NOT in condemnation – though we deserve it –
But in mercy, in grace.
“…God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Even though we were DEAD in our sins, Christ made us ALIVE TOGETHER WITH CHRIST – Hallelluia! For God wished to show us the immeasurable riches of his grace and kindness toward us…
…Immeasurable riches of grace and kindness!
Christ indeed did not come into the world in-order-to condemn the world BUT THAT THE WORLD MIGHT BE SAVED through him.
We are all uncomfortable in the light. We all bear – both the marks of our Maker and the effects of sin. We all have elements of our secret hearts and lives that we wish to keep hidden in the dark. We all have done and said…and not done and said things we have regretted. We have all participated in social structures and norms that have been more than unfair: some have been downright criminal.
In a court of law today, would our nation’s failure to pay generations of colored persons wages for their labors be dismissed?
In a court of law today, would the mass-lynching of persons of color – strange fruit, as Billie Holiday sang about – be dismissed as acceptable.
In a court of law today, would the driving of indigenous people from their rightful ancestral lands be looked upon with approval.
And yet, we go so far as to meddle in the business of other countries – Israel & Palestine – for example, AS IF we are a beacon of peaceful living together, AS IF we are a just land…
That’s why I was so blown away when in Israel and Palestine: for the first time I came off my high horse of moral superiority and saw just how attentive and intentional the Israelite citizens are – living and bustling tightly beside persons of differing religious views, differing ethnic backgrounds, differing views of history, etc. They far exceeds any efforts for unity and peace that I have observed in this land of our home.
As a nation, we have presumed to take the splinter out of our neighbor’s eye, whilst o’rlooking the log in our own eyes.
And as the truths of our historic actions comes more and more out into the light…
As the stories of our black and indigenous citizens come more and more to the surface…
May we TRUST that this God who shines such a light isn’t out to destroy us, but to heal us.
This God who shines such a light, isn’t out to condemn us, but to save us.
And when we start to live more and more in the light,
each one of us,
and begin reflecting the light of Christ, more and more,
to one another
may we trust that this light
– a reflection of our Maker’s radiance –
has come, not to consume us and one another,
but to invite us and one another back into the light,
where we might find truth and healing – day by day – more and more.
These issues of our times will not be solved overnight. They will not be solved by one apology. They will not be solved by defensiveness – that “The evil acts were not perpetrated or endorsed by modern society but by our forebears!” They will not be solved by bitterness at everyone still mired in and benefiting from the status-quo.
But they can be soothed, moment by moment, day by day, by the Great Physician’s hand.
These matters can be brought to light, little by little, day by day, in the Christ-light of truth-telling and listening.
They can be righted, bit by inadequate bit, as acknowledgement is spoken and reparations are made by this society that has been built upon the backs of its unpaid and imprisoned laborers of color…
we make choices
to retreat into the familiar shadows of defensiveness
or to step into the soul-drenching light of Christ, our Lord.
We make them personally.
We make them collectively.
And with each step, the arc of our history takes shape.
And with each step, our hearts become more supple in the hands of our Maker
or harder and harder in the deserts of our rebellions.
The good news of the gospel is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us;
even when we were dead in sin, God made us alive together with Christ;
and though we and all the world deserve condemnation, Christ came in order to save us and all the world!
So day by precious day,
may we choose to step further and further
into the light
-growing in our self-awareness-
and thereby open
our very selves
to the Great Physician,
the Light of the World,
…Jesus Christ, our Lord.