ACTS OF FAITH: CONFRONTING RACISM. A Sermon by Reverend Lynn Thomas Strauss

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1 ACTS OF FAITH: CONFRONTING RACISM A Sermon by Reverend Lynn Thomas Strauss Friends, you know it is harder to care about your neighbor if you don t know them; harder to understand a different religion or culture if you have never visited their church or eaten at their table. Today I bring you hope and good news. Something is changing in America. People are crossing over, people are coming together - in places all over America, people are seeing-truly seeing- their neighbors; seeing the humanity that connects us all no matter what differences might appear to divide us. Difference is not being overlooked. Oh no, we see the differences between the 99% and the 1%, between those who use hate speech and those who practice kindness. In big cities we see the women who wear hijab and the men who wear turbans. We see that our children, right here in Montgomery County and Prince George s County and Baltimore City, live the diversity we only dreamed about. Who sees bi-racial children and doesn t think they re beautiful? Who sees families with two moms or two dads and doesn t see what wonderful parents they are? Who sees Jews walking to synagogue on Friday night, or Hindus chanting Kertan or African Americans wearing their Sunday best and praising God who heard Martin Luther King s dream and isn t amazed and grateful that they have lived long enough to see results? Who among us doesn t understand the power and beauty of unity within diversity? If only Dr. King could have seen us now, all the progress in people s hearts.

2 If only he could have stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial yesterday and felt the power of hope and unity that rose from that crowd of tens of thousands! Yes, I am filled with hope this morning. Yes, I am. There were young people marching yesterday. There were union folks singing. There were speeches by young Black leaders, by our first African American Attorney General, Eric Holder, by Cory Booker and Rev. Al Sharpton, by women who were once silenced, like the widow of Medgar Evers. By gay and lesbian activists who once were in hiding. Oh, yes, I am filled with hope. Dr. King s dream is alive and well. The movement that so many gave their lives to, that so many sacrificed to support, that so many prayed over and suffered beatings and imprisonment for -- yes, that movement -- the movement for civil rights, for fairness and equality of opportunity for all, for safety without profiling, for education at all levels for all people, for housing and food and jobs, yes, that movement. Dr. King s dream and the goals of the civil rights movement and the goals of the progressive organizations...our dreams and goals have come alive again. I saw it yesterday; I felt it. I believe in it and yes, it s a dream fulfilled. But I believe justice will roll down like water and peace like an ever-flowing stream. I have always believed in that dream, in the possibility of peace and justice. Our Unitarian Universalist legacy is one of hope in this dream and we have been faithful to its cause. With liberty and justice for all. Our liberal faith grew alongside the American dream and we have never, will never give up the struggle. The Unitarian Universalist Association Standing on the Side of Love Banner was huge and visible from where I stood.

3 This is not a naïve dream. These are not empty words or false promises. We come to this work as an act of faith, acts taken without much evidence of outcome. We come to do this work; we always have. Churches, congregations of all faiths have been crucial to the cause of freedom and justice in this country. The power of the church was a source of strength and solace to Dr. King and to so many other movement leaders over the decades. The moral leadership and the soul force of nonviolence of the churches still resonate, still lead, still work in coalition to counter the forces of evil, to confront abuses of power, to teach compassion, forgiveness and redemption. Who else but the churches can speak with loving kindness and hold up a vision of wholeness and healing? Isn t that why we are here? In the midst of tragedy after tragedy, in the face of gun violence and greed and fear and prejudice of all kinds, we need the churches, the faith community. We need the example of righteous acts of faith. No, we are not naïve; but we have faith in the potential of neighbor caring for neighbor, in fair wages for all people reguardless of race, class or education. We have faith in the power of citizens to hold our elected officials accountable. We have faith in those who do the right thing, no matter what. Yesterday on the Mall, I didn t see any naïve dreamers. I saw men and women, young and old, mostly African American many Howard University students. Many African American union members, many middle age Black women representing their sororities, many second generation members of the National Association of Colored People, that wonderful organization that has kept the faith all these years.

4 I saw people tired of racial profiling and the killing of young black men on the streets of our cities and the jailing of black men in our prisons. I saw people outraged at the killing of Trayvon Martin and the absurd law called Stand Your Ground. I saw people whose grandparents were kept from voting because of the color of their skin, people who will not be quiet when voting rights are threatened or when stop and frisk is defended as a good idea. I saw families, single moms and single dads, who work two jobs, at or below minimum wage, and still can t afford to send their children to college. I saw people full of pride in our first African American president, full of pride in the number of people of color serving in elected office. I saw Black Americans standing up, not just for themselves, but for immigration reform and for GLBT rights and for all people who suffer injustice and poverty. Those marchers know the facts. They know the score. They know things are better, much better, for them than they were 50 years ago. Of course things are better in terms of freedoms and rights, but they still experience racism and the down side of white privilege on a regular basis. And some days, it feels like all the progress might just slip away. They still must teach their boys how to be careful so they won t be profiled in a department store, or pulled over because they re guilty of driving while Black. No, no one at the rally and march yesterday was naïve. They were inspired inspired by those who have gone before to make a path toward racial justice. They were empowered by the progress that has been made.

5 And they were determined to not let this historical moment pass unacknowledged. We are blessed here at UUCR to have among our members Ted Reuther. His uncle, Walter Reuther, was a union leader in the United Auto Workers back in the day and Walter Reuther spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, He spoke of civil rights as a matter of human decency and common morality. He called for not only fair employment, but full employment and he said this: This rally is not the end, it s the beginning. It s the beginning of a great moral crusade to arouse Americans to the unfinished work of democracy. He was not wrong. And yesterday also felt like a moment in which America came awake to continue this unfinished work. People at the march were filled with the sense of a new beginning. I could feel the hope rising. The presence of tens of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial - they knew their march to the King Memorial was an act of faith. Each and every person I encountered was fully engaged, quiet and listening to the speeches, asking directions of one another to get to the place where history was happening. People were wearing t-shirts and carrying signs declaring their affiliation, displaying their faith in change, their hope in a fuller democracy. History often moves one step forward, two steps back. It s not a straight line to justice and peace. Oh no, it s not a straight line. One month after the March in 1963, one month after Dr. King said I have a dream that right here in Alabama, one day, little

6 black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. One month later, four black girls were killed when a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. A bomb killed four girls while they were in Sunday school class. History moves, justice moves, one step forward, two steps back. But tragedy begets not only fear and grief, tragedy, violence and hate, also beget resolve and acts of faith and compassion. Oppression and violence motivate action. When we re awake, justice can move forward. When we re awake, hope is kept alive. In Montgomery County today, people are gathering in coalitions across faith groups because Muslim Americans are afraid and Sikh Americans are afraid afraid of being attacked yet again because of their religion and their culture. Tragic events have sparked acts of faith. There is a new beginning of interfaith work of which UUCR is a part. Nineteenth Century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker penned these words and Dr. King spoke them: The arc of the moral universe is long and it bends toward justice. Parker s words are woven into the carpet in the Oval Office of the first African American president of the United States. The arc of the moral universe is long and it bends toward justice. In every movement for freedom and justice, in every movement for peace, the people ask, how long how long until victory is won?

7 The road is long, yes, but each act of faith by each person who believes in the possibility of the Beloved Community, each act of faith matters and contributes a paving stone on that road. To be a prophetic church we must stay on the moral road, the activist road. That is the faith and hope required of us as people of faith, as people of a liberal tradition of change and new beginnings, as a faith that trusts the dawning future more. We are required to continually engage in acts of faith, participating in a march, a lobby day, a petition, a study group, exercising our vote, teaching the children, singing and organizing, cooking and creating, casting the vision, holding the hope that is the hope of humanity, inviting and visiting our neighbors and our neighbor churches, temples and mosques. And we are not naïve; this work is long and hard and it requires great commitment and even suffering. It requires us to leave our comfort zone, to risk failure, to risk looking foolish, being tired true acts of faith require: Courage Passion Allies A movement- And Hope. I believe in the power of religious community. I believe in the readiness of the UU Congregation of Rockville to continue to engage in acts of faith. We are prepared for this new beginning. We can be part of the renewed movement. Etched in Dr. King s memorial are these words: Out of a Mountain of Despair: A Stone of Hope. As one stands in front of the massive white stone and feels the legacy of the great man, the pastor, the preacher, the organizer, it is easy to feel small, but that is not the intention of the artist of

8 the man. Each of us can be as big and have as much of an impact. Each of us can do our part as Dr. King did his. Yes, there is a mountain of despair in the world today, a mountain of despair in our country, but yesterday on the Mall, I received a stone of hope. I pass it on to you this morning. Use it well. And pass it on. Amen/Blessed Be

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