Monday, May 14, 2018

Privileged Omission

This Sunday is Pentecost, and I usually find it hard to preach on something other than the lesson from Acts 2. In Year B, we have the option of hearing from Ezekiel about the Valley of Dry Bones. I love that passage, but, because I've been reading a lot of Sarah Coakley's work lately, I'm drawn especially to the reading from Romans 8 and the Spirit that groans deeply within us. I suspect that, by the time I get to Sunday, my sermon will incorporate that aspect of the Spirit's voice. Even Psalm 104 is interesting with the Leviathan, which God has "made for the sport of it." The hymns, too, for Pentecost are picturesque. There are several good choices from which to pull when writing a sermon, but the gospel lesson (John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15) isn't one of them.

Like last week, this gospel lesson comes from Jesus final discourse with his disciples. It's from his leave-taking the first time around, and I can hear John saying to the lectionary authors, "Couldn't you find something from Luke or Acts to read?" Sure, it's a fine lesson in and of itself, but it isn't a Pentecost story. It's a Holy Week story. We'd be better of going back and reading the first part of the Easter 2 gospel and hearing again how Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit onto his disciples. Although I'll spend this week listening for the Spirit, I don't think I'll be preaching on this passage that spans John 15-16, so I'd like to mention it now.

Whenever I see a broken-up lesson, I immediately want to know what is skipped. Why did the lectionary authors decide to leave out the opening three and an half verses of John 16? Are they stuck in the pre-crucifixion, pre-Easter time frame and so won't work here? Do they pull from some other story that we haven't heard lately? Are they thematically disconnected from everything else we are reading this week? Well, I went to read them and couldn't make any of those explanations fit. And I think their omission is a testament to privilege.

First, here are the verses the lectionary skips this week: "I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them."

Yes, it's challenging. Yes, it's threatening. Yes, it's rather uncelebratory. It's about persecution and how people will think that they are honoring and worshipping God by killing Jesus' followers. And those of us who can afford to skip over these verses, thus sanitizing our experience of the Spirit-led work of Jesus' disciples, are those who have never felt persecuted by other self-proclaimed followers of God. I could be misunderstanding the lectionary authors' decision to skip these verses on Pentecost, but it sounds like the kind of decision a bunch of old, rich, straight, white, cisgendered men would make.

Ask an African-American Christian about the role of Christianity in the persecution of her people. Ask an indigenous person about the Christians who came to this country and "conquered" it in the name of Jesus. Ask a homosexual man or woman what it feels like to grow up in fear that a Christian in the American South would discover his or her secret. Ask a transgendered individual about his or her place in contemporary Christianity.

Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. Is that not the history of privileged Christianity? Is that not the story of our church?

There are those among us even today who need to hear Jesus tell them that even when the church persecutes them in his name he is with them. They need to hear it so that they can remember that Jesus told them it would happen. It is into THIS context that Jesus promises the Advocate, the Comforter. There are some who would rather Pentecost be a nice, neat, regulated expression of God's lily-white work in our lives. But that's not what Jesus wants. It's not what Jesus says. Maybe we should listen to the whole story and let the Holy Spirit speak to us through it.

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