February 4, 2018 - Black History Month
Third Time’s the Charm?, a sermon by Nancy S Taylor, Senior Minister
I Corinthians 13. 1-7, 13
The Apostle Paul – arguably, the most important Christian intellectual across time –frames the Christian life as a three-fold adventure: an undertaking of faith, hope and love. That’s it. That’s enough. Faith. Hope. Love. These three.
Never mind the creeds. You can ignore the raging debates over the baptismal formula. Don’t fret over the Second Coming of Jesus, either the when or the if of it. No need to wrangle endlessly over the meaning of the atonement. No, to the heart and mind of the Apostle Paul, it boils down, the whole enterprise of being a Christian (from the minute you wake up each day to when you lay your head down at night) all boils down to three tidy nuggets … faith, hope, love.
The Apostle Paul has hit on something and, at least a part of what he has hit on is the magic and the beauty, the symmetry and simplicity, the coincidence and the cadence of the number three, the idea and congruence of triad, of trinity: Faith. Hope. Love. These three.
Nature, as it turns out – the created order – favors the number three in some deep and fundamental ways. There are three building blocks of the atom. Also on the subatomic level there are three types of charges. There are three main types of matter. Newton discovered three laws of motion. There are three types of natural laws.
Not least, Christians have built a world religion on the premise that God is, mysteriously and beautifully and immutably, Three-in-One and One-in-Three; that the God revealed in Jesus is a Trinity of Aspects and Personages, the immutable, triad and triumvirate of Father, Son and Holy Ghost or Creator, Christ and Spirit.
Moreover, the attributes of God are also a triad. Omnipotence. Omniscience. Omnipresence.
Which brings to mind an ancient idiom: Third time’s the charm … a phrase associated with good luck arising from the observation and hunch that events come in sets of three.
The point is this: today, a Southern black preacher – maybe he is today’s Apostle Paul for all his traveling and his writing and his Christian reach, for his sense of urgency about the Christian life and how Christians are called to speak into the public square – a Southern black preacher of some repute, the Rev William Barber of North Carolina (founder of the Moral Mondays Movement) points to another threesome, a triptych, or triad to which he is anxious to call our attentions.
He argues that we are today, right now, in the midst – in the tumultuous, stew and brew – of America’s Third Reconstruction. If this is so, if Barber is right, we are to look upon this present time, upon the pain and shame of it, with hope, not despair; with a fighting spirit, rather than a shrug of defeat; with a feeling of forward motion and possibility; and to enter this time with all the hope, and faith, and love that we can muster.
William Barber views the pain of this season as labor pains. He invites us to look forward to, and to lean into with all our might, the new thing that is, however painfully, being born right now.
America’s First Reconstruction flourished, however briefly, after Emancipation. With four million persons, formerly enslaved, of a sudden free, America set about to reconstruct a society, an economy, without slavery. This church – its ministers and leaders played their role in the first Reconstruction. Among other acts, this church rolled up its sleeves and dug into its pockets to support the establishment, the staffing, and the funding of hundreds of schools and colleges across the South for persons newly freed.
During the first Reconstruction, newly enfranchised blacks gained a voice in government and lawmaking, even won election to southern state legislatures and to the U.S. Congress.
In less than a decade, however, reactionary forces–including the Klu Klux Klan–exploded in violent backlash, wrought havoc, and even reversed changes produced by Reconstruction. So fierce was the backlash, and so endowed with institutional power, with wealth and land that, in many ways it succeeded in it restoring white supremacy in the South.
America’s first Reconstruction was painful and incomplete, to be sure, but it gave birth to some irreversible triumphs. It focused a laser beam on America’s original sin of racism and it gave to the inhabitants of this Promised Land a taste of equality, a taste of justice
America’s second reconstruction: the Civil Rights Movement.
With the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the law changed, meaningfully but all the work and all the progress was met and challenged at every turn by ferocious reactionary forces and measures: including, but not limited to, the murder of four small girls in a Birmingham church, the lynching of Emmet Till, firehoses and police dogs, the assassinations of Kennedy and King and others.
The Christian church—black churches in the south, but also a lot of northern churches,
including this one—were instrumental to this movement. However, all the good that was done, all the progress that was made, was met at every turn with backlashes, with forces and measures that severely curtailed, and in many cases rolled back racial and economic progress.
Rev William Barber says we are in the midst of the upheavals, the birth pangs, of a Third Reconstruction. He argues that we are witness to and, should we take up our parts, participants in a profoundly moral awakening
A few years ago, we experienced the first African American president. Cue Isaac Newton's
Third Law of Motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The backlash has meant a re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, of white supremacists, a renewed commitment to Confederate symbols. But this Third Reconstruction is also a story of Black Lives Matter, Take a Knee, and a searing exposé of mass incarceration.
What is happening in our nation is painful and perilous, charged and contested. But the point is, if William Barber is right—I believe he is—if this southern black Christian minister is right, then
something good is being born. America’s future is being born. The Third Reconstruction is giving birth, right here, right now, to a new day. Justice will not be denied.
Remember the Apostle Paul’s triad: Faith. Hope. Love. These three.
First: Have FAITH, Christian, because God is in charge. Have faith that while “the arc of the moral universe is long, it nevertheless bends toward justice.” Have faith. Do not give up. You have no right to give up, Christian. Despair is not an option, Christian.
Second: HOPE: Never give up hope. To give up on Hope is to give up on God. It is also to give up on each other. Not an option, Christian. Go ahead and give up the atonement or give up the Second Coming of Christ, but you can’t give up on Hope. Not an option. To give up on hope is to give up on justice. Only those with amnesia would give up now….only those who do not recall how painful were the gains of the First and Second Reconstruction … who do not recall the lynchings, the firehoses, the dogs, the beatings, the arrests (without representation)…only those who refuse to remember how easy it was, and is, for the sturdy structures of white power to discard black lives, to grind them up and spew them out. To give up on hope is to profess an unforgivable ignorance for how hard fought is racial justice. This church is too educated for that, too well informed to profess such ignorance. Do not give up on hope. The painful birth pangs are bringing something new. Let the past be prologue.
And, LOVE: at the end of the day, that’s what all this is about. Love. Love, love of neighbor.
Love of enemy. Love of each other. Love of the hues of skin in which our God has wrapped us. Even love of the fearful. Love of the bigot. Which, at day’s end, was Dr. King’s most astonishing triumph of his many astonishing triumphs: love of enemy. Love of the bigot.
Faith. Hope. Love. These three.
The Rev William Barber has surely hit on something. At least a part of what he has hit on is the magic and the beauty, the symmetry of three, the idea and congruence of triad, of trinity.
Maybe this time, at the Third Reconstruction … maybe, if we have faith enough, if we hope for it hard enough, if we love one another enough, maybe Third time’s the charm.
I Corinthians 13. 1-7, 13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.