While Trump supporters chant “Make America Great Again,” there are millions of us that know just how terrifying – and misleading – that slogan is. This past Sunday, my pastor, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III preached a powerful word to my congregation about of strength, fortitude, and hope. Drawing upon Matthew 25:42-45, Pastor Moss proclaimed that we and other marginalized peoples are called not only to survive and thrive in life but indeed, we must always have Hope because God has the last word, not principalities and powers. Dr. Moss, like Dr. Martin Luther King, reminded us that we must live by a “moral compass,” and as such we must remember that when the vulnerable are harmed and mistreated, God is harmed and mistreated. The vulnerable are the face of God. Hope propels us to live faithfully. When “God’s Work” is done with “Our Hands,” we are more likely to be a truly righteous nation. These words stirred me so much I knew we had to share them with you on this day – the day of our nation’s “birth.” And I hope you find them as stirring and thought-provoking as I did. We need words like these for such a time as this.
N.B. This sermon is based on Matthew 25: 42-45. Readers are encouraged to review this scripture.
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
This morning I would like for us to focus on the idea, “This is America, but Don’t Lose Hope.”
His name is Donald Glover: actor, comedian, hip hop, and visual artist. Some people know him by the name of “Childish Gambino.” His off-beat sense of humor. His alternative, sometimes nerdy, chic lyrics, and sense of humor have endeared him to a diverse fan base. His latest song, with a music video is titled, “This is America” has been debated by academics, artists, and cultural critics since the release. What Glover does brilliantly is something called juxtaposition to highlight the contradiction, insanity, irony, and consumer foolishness in America. This video, for those who have not witnessed it, begins innocently with African chants and music; then moves to African American dancing highlighted by a group of children and young people dancing joyously before the camera.
And just as soon as one is settled, bobbing one’s head to the music, enjoying the dancing, then suddenly as you are witnessing the kinetic proficiency of the dancers, all of a sudden there is a moment of gun violence that takes place on screen.
What is disturbing and brilliant is the person injured by the gun is treated as dispensable, but the gun itself is treated as a sacred object, not unlike our communion table or the communion cup in the Roman Catholic Church. The video then goes back to the joyous dancing – but we are unable to completely focus on the dancing because in the background Klansmen, re-enactments of the Jim Crow era, police brutality are happening all while, in the foreground, people and children are joyously dancing.
In the background all hell is breaking loose, but in the foreground people are smiling as if nothing is going on.
And Glover keeps repeating the phrase,
Once you witness the video, it is likely that you you will watch it over and over and over to see the subliminal messages about racism, gun violence, sexism, and America’s love with guns over children.
We have witnessed Glover’s video come to life just as we have seen the contradictions of America come to life before us, especially these last two weeks in our country. We have seen a humanitarian crisis manufactured by political malfeasance: children cut off, jailed, and detained simply because their parents were attempting to or actually fleeing from a civil war, looking for a better life.
And sadly, our government has no system in place to reunite these children with their families. Worse? It is not possible for a six-month-old baby to tell you who her mother is.
This is America: children sleeping on floors in privatized detention centers contracted by the US government.
This is America: that detention centers have a special policy to never drop below 75% occupancy, because if they do, the American government must then pay a higher premium for each empty bed.
The reason this has happened is because privatized prisons work out a policy with the Republican Administration to ensure that they would receive money in their pockets because they do not care about the children they house.
This is America!
However, we cannot end there because this week the Supreme Court of the United States of America uphrld a ban on primarily Muslim and Arabic speaking countries in a 5 to 4 decision – making it legal to ban a person based upon their religion. This is a 5 to 4 decision. Somebody should understand what I’m saying….the reason that it is a 5 to 4 decision is because the previous administration under Barack Obama was not able to select and confirm a Supreme Court Justice because the opportunity to do so was stolen from him by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who would not allow any kind of vote on a Supreme Court justice, eventually allowing our current Republican Administration to elect a new judge who is incredibly conservative.
This is the first time in history that the chance for a President of the United States was robbed of his constitutionally given duty to nominate a candidate for a vacancy on the Supreme Court nominee.
This is America.
Even In my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, children that tried to start a lawn care business had someone call the police on them when they are trying to cut their own Grandma’s lawn.
This is America — a contradiction of pain and possibility. In the words of W. E. B. Dubois who said we should not say, “Land of the free and home of the brave.” We should say, “The land of the thief and the home of the slave!”
America is comfortable with contradiction. It claims to be a place of Liberty, while closing its doors to certain immigrants. There is no outrage among many in this country who are comfortable with these immoral acts toward God’s people. America is proficient in separating families. Please know that this is not the first time that families have been separated as per government policy. This is not the first time that children have been ripped from their mother’s arms because of the United States’ own elected government. This is not the first time that fathers have been placed on one side of the country and mothers on the other side of the country. America was built on this. Don’t you know that how African America came here in the first place! Somebody was ripped from their own mother’s arms. This is America. But even after the transatlantic slave trade was closed down in 1807, it is in America in 1808 that they started what was known as the domestic slave trade. That means that they would move people from New York and Maine and Providence Rhode Island down to places like Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama.
Fifty percent of black people who lived in this country after 1808 had their families ripped apart never to be reunited again. Children would never see their mothers again. Children would never see their fathersis America. But, do not think it is only with black people. You need to know something about the Native population for those who are in these yet to be United States of America
Have you ever heard of the Trail of Tears?
In 1830, when down in Mississippi, they took a group of people is known as the Choctaw and the Chickasaw and moved them from Mississippi all the way from Oklahoma; stripping babies from their mothers. In Alabama the Creek were moved to Oklahoma in 1832 and when they found gold in Georgia, and this eastern Gold Rush caused the American government to remove those people known as the Cherokee.
But do not forget this, the coalition between people of African descent and those who were Native American, because every black person who made their way to a Cherokee Nation and set their foot on that soil, were considered free. So they moved people of African descent and those who were Native American to places that they now call Reservations. How are you going to move the native populations into a smaller square foot when they were the ones here before you arrived in the first place?
This is America!
But, it’s not just those who were Native American, not just those of African descent, but in 1944 Japanese-Americans, too, were interned in concentration camps – and this even though not a single German American was placed into a concentration camp because we were at war with Germany. Our government simply picked on those who are people of color and placed them in internment camps.
This is America.
This history of America even inspired Langston Hughes, the great poet laureate of the Blues to say,
America never was America to me.
And he goes on…
There’s never been equality for me;
nor freedom in this “homeland, the free.”
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land.
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek —
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak…
O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be — the land where every man is free.
This is what Langston Hughes says, and what I say next I speak with the veil of prophetic utterance burning in my heart, that the Holy Spirit is still stalking this land, known yet to be, the United States of America.
And the word that we read today was crafted by a griot by the name of Matthew, who records how the Son of man gives the parameters of what it means to be a righteous Nation – clearly stating place your faith in God, not in government because if you want to be a righteous nation you must be judged by your moral compass. Jesus even speaks an eschatological moment when when God shall gather all the nations. Not some nations, but all nations, and that the group on the right group will be like sheep, while another group on the left will be like goats.
What’s more, scripture makes no mention of it being a democratic nation, or an authoritarian nation, or a theocratic nation, or an oligarchy. It says all Nations! All human organizations that distribute power and operate under a social contract are under God’s authority. There is no mention of tradition or religion. It does not say all Jews, all Christians, or all Muslims. No. It says everybody that is made in the image of God, that all of us are subject to the same moral compass that we see every human being has worth. In other words, it does not matter where you’re from. It doesn’t matter yourstill made in the image of God and what you do to the least of these you also do unto our God.
We are subject to a moral compass. What you do to the least of these you also do to me. What you do to the poor, to the prisoner, the immigrant, to the widow, to the orphan, to the homeless, to the addict, to the trafficked, to the mentally ill, to the infirm, to the elderly, to the babies, to those who are homeless. What you do to the vulnerable, you do also to me. And every time you harm someone who’s poor, who’s broken, who’s marginalized, you are harming the heart of God. I’m here to let you know that we are hurting the heart of God every time we harm a child.
So our greatness as a nation shall be measured by our bridges and not by our walls. “What you do to the least of these, you do also to me.” Jesus is stating, “You shall know me by how you treat those who are the most vulnerable. I should not measure your greatness by how many millionaires you have. I shall not measure your greatness by how high the stocks go. The word is radical because it states, You shall be cast to punishment, not based on accepting Jesus as your personal Savior, but by how you live Jesus. Please do not confuse this.
This is difficult for some who come at faith more from a perspective of personal piety, that yes, Jesus is our Savior. And Jesus is our personal savior, but the word is saying, that anybody can call upon the word of Jesus but can you instead live the way that Jesus want you to live.
Anybody can shout Hallelujah on Sunday and cuss you out on Monday. The question is, can you live based upon the way that Jesus calls us to live day in and day out? And so the question is, if you want to see Jesus it says that what you do to the least of these you do also to me. There are those who are saying that, “I want to see Jesus. I want to connect with Jesus. I want to have a holy ghost experience.” But to them the Word says, “If you want to meet Jesus, then go spend some time in the shelter. If you want to meet Jesus, then go on down to the US/Mexican border and see a crying child – because in their cries, you will see the heart of God since God cares for those who are broken.
But this is America.
Where in Chicago it is easier to get a gun, than it is to get a scholarship. Anybody can get a gun any day of the week. Even though communities like ours here at Trinity [UCC] pass out scholarships, people are still coming out with massive student debt every time they graduate from whatever school they attend. Some institutions will give you certain scholarships; they will give you as certain full ride, because you can get a full ride to the University of Cook County any day of the week – prison. People in power will give you three meals a day and a place to stay, but you can not get a full ride to any other institution.
Something is wrong where we are willing incarcerate, but not educate. Something is wrong when we’re willing to invest in the military, but not in children. Something is wrong where we are willing to give tax cuts to billionaires, but not provide free or low-cost health care to those who need it. Something is wrong when we do not care for the least of these. We need to recognize that our nation will be defined by the bridges that build. We will not be defined by the walls that we erect. We need bridges built for the mentally ill. We need bridges built for those who are incarcerated. We need bridges that so we can see the beauty in the way God is working.
So I stopped by here to tell you, don’t lose hope. Because I’m here to tell you that our God is still working. And how do I know God is still working?
Something happened to me this week and I shouted all week. I even had to post it on Facebook. I went down to Imani Village and had a meeting that Pat Eggleston arranged for me, along with our funders, Cornerstone Church. Cornerstone is out of Cleveland, Ohio and is a part of the United Church of Christ and they are funding the Imani Village project. They wanted a tour of what they were funding. What got me so excited that I almost shouted in the meeting because as we were sitting there with the funder and the bankers, they didn’t look like us. But as we were sitting there, the teams that run the whole building and the operation came in. And when they came in, one young brother came behind another young brother, then a young sister came behind him. Then they sat down and said, “Let me tell you what I do.” And the brother running the whole project was a black man named Franshone.
You know God is working when you got a brother named Franshone running a development project that has over 20 million dollars behind it.
And when he showed up on the property, everybody stood at attention because Franshone runs everything over there. I’m here to let you know that God is still doing great work. But I know that there is some people that don’t believe me because you have the wrong eye on the way God is working. You will say, “Reverend when I come to church I want to come to a packed church. I want to make sure there is no room on the pews.” But as your pastor, I’m here to raise a question, “Not just a packed church, but is the church making an impact.
And I’m here to let you know I’d rather have an Impact Church than a packed church because an Impact Church can change the world. And I’m here to let you know, since 1961 Trinity United Church of Christ has been making an impact and we’re still making an impact, not just here, but across the globe.
So don’t lose hope!
This is America, but don’t lose hope because I’m here to let you know that love will have the final say. That love and justice are coming down the aisle – and they are about to get married and consummate a child by the name of liberation. Can’t you see what’s going on? I don’t say look at the White House, but look who’s protesting around the house. Don’t look at Washington; look at the border. There are people organizing. There’s a 28 year old sister, who just beat a 60 year old man to step into Congress. I’m here to let you know that God is on the move. God is still working. God is still blessing. God is still lifting.
So don’t you lose hope.
I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken. I’ve never seen them begging for bread. I’m here to let you know, my God, your Savior is still on the throne. Is there anyone in here, that knows our God is in control? Just throw up your hands and give thanks to God. God is still in control. God is still in control. God’s still got power. God is still healing. God is still blessing. God is still lifting. Is there anybody in here. Do you know our God?
This is America, but don’t lose hope.
I was talking with my father a few months ago and I was asking him about the present condition and he smiled and said “Otis we’ve been here before. I dealt wit Bull Conner, you got to deal with Jeff Sessions.” We’ve been here before. Don’t fall into this chorus of despair asking “What we’re going to do?”
This is America but don’t lose hope.
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III is an honors graduate of Morehouse College who earned a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School and a Doctor of Ministry from Chicago Theological Seminary. A product of being invited to give Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale in 2014, his very popular book, Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair, has become a staple among many Christian preachers in recent years – demonstrating a homiletic blueprint for prophetic preaching in the 21st century. Currently, he is the senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois, and he is happily married to his college sweetheart, the former Monica Brown of Orlando, Florida, a Spelman College and Columbia University graduate. They are the proud parents of two creative and humorous children, Elijah Wynton and Makayla Elon.
Source: We Talk. We Listen.