This past Thursday Old South Church was honored to host the Commonwealth’s celebration of Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday.
Nelson Mandela: freedom fighter, reconciler ... from political prisoner to President of the Republic of South Africa. Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. In the face of hardship and cruelty and on the brutal end of tyranny and terror, Nelson Mandela remained courageous, disciplined and incorruptible. Thursday evening at Old South Church was rocking … our Governor and our Mayor spoke. We were blessed to host social justice giants and to fete Mr. Mandela with birthday cake and song, speeches and dancing, thanksgiving and celebration.
It was hot as the dickins in here, but we were refreshed with memories of a great struggle for justice ... Refreshed with a documentary about Mr. Mandela’s extraordinary journey: from the child who herded sheep to the man who shepherded a nation to freedom.
It was hot as the dickins in here, but we were refreshed with the presence of Boston’s own living legends: men and women who, while Mandela was locked in a cell and his voice muted, yet carried on the struggle ... making Boston the most important American city in the struggle for a free South Africa.
It was hot as the dickins in here, but we were refreshed with the presence of those who refused to ignore the suffering of South Africans, who stopped, bent down and, often at great personal cost, reached out with assistance.
Hot as it was, we were refreshed by justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Therefore, it would be a sin—my sin, my shame—if I were to pat Old South Church on the back for hosting Thursday’s celebration while ignoring those who suffer today in this land, on account of race. It would be a sin—my sin, my shame—if I were to ignore those who, in the wake of the Zimmerman trial, are crying out to be heard and understood ... crying out for their suffering to be acknowledged.
There is a divide … a difference between being white and being black in America.
Clearly, under the law we are all equal. More fundamentally, in the eyes of God we are all equal. We have those precious words from the book of Genesis that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.
But experience matters and the experience of being inside of dark skin is different than the experience of being inside white skin.
Now, white people: I love you. You know I love you. Some of my closest friends are white. But in this one we’ve got to shut up, be silent, stop talking, stop opining on the matter and listen. It is time to close our mouths and open our hearts and listen ... and hear what it is that people of color experience in this land of freedom and equality.
This is not the time to argue. Please, let’s not argue. Let’s not argue over the verdict. Let’s not argue over the evidence. Can we agree together that there is a great national sadness over what occurred ... and over the tragic, unnecessary loss of a young life?
And then, let’s listen. It behooves white America to listen ... to listen to sisters and brothers of color and hear their experience.
I’d like to suggest a single ground rule for this listening project: listening to CNN or FOX News or Jon Stewart or talk radio doesn’t count. I am asking that we listen, really listen to one another.
I was going to preach from the Book of the Prophet Amos … Amos’ vision of summer fruit. Instead, I invite you to read it sometime. It is brief ... just nine chapters.
In a nutshell the Book of Amos is about how the failure of the secure and of the privileged (the failure of people like me who are secure and advantaged in every way) to feel sympathy for those whose lives are insecure, breaks God’s heart and makes God furious.
Don’t break God’s heart. Don’t make God furious. I have been living with the Book of Amos all week and I re-read it in its entirety yesterday. It is fresh in my mind. So believe me when I say: you don’t want to make God furious. Don’t go there.
Instead, we can make God’s heart glad: by listening. Let’s listen … to each other. Amen?