St. Paul’s 8-26-2018 – Proper 16
On the evening of February 26, 2012, a young man was walking back to his soon-to-be-stepmother’s house after stopping by a convenience store for some snacks.
A neighbor, part of the neighborhood watch, thought this young man seemed suspicious. He confronted him, a confrontation that escalated quickly, and this young man was shot in the chest and killed.
On the night of February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. And when the police arrived to assess the scene, Zimmerman claimed self-defense, and the police found no reason on the scene to dispute his story.
The police officers were unable to arrest and charge Zimmerman, because in the state of Florida the law said he was standing his ground.
What a way to see this moment. This man who had just killed another human being was standing his ground.
And in the days that followed, filled with protests and public arguments, court cases and political rallies, we have not—as a body—wrestled enough with this idea of standing your ground.
We have not wrestled with the voices, the powers, the storytellers that tell us we should stand our ground. It seems so obvious, common sense even: why shouldn’t we have the right to protect what is ours, ourselves, and our loved ones in the face of danger? Why shouldn’t we all have a right to expect absolute safety in the place where we have a right to be, and to use even deadly force to repel an unlawful intruder?
These questions tell a story of their own. It is a story we tell one another from the earliest days, as we teach our children how to open a bank account and begin the long journey of acquiring property.
We tell one another about how we are destined to own property, property like land and belongings and family members, that measure our success and our value as citizens. This story tells us that it is our job to protect that property from anyone who seeks to take that from us and, if need be, to take up arms in defense of all of our property—because if what we have built and what we have bought is taken from us, what will we have left?
It is a beautiful story, a compelling story. It is a story that has made many people wealthy, comfortable, powerful. It is a story that has helped us accomplish impossible things as a people, amazing things, discoveries that have changed us and our world for the better even. It is a story so beautiful it seems like a dream. We even talk about it as a dream, theDream, the American Dream.
Unfortunately for us, those of us who gather here in the name of the Lord are gathered together around another story: a story that runs alongside and even counter to this story, and it is time we let that story have its way with us.
Because this moment we are in, this world where George Zimmerman has stood his ground and killed Trayvon Martin, is a world where it is increasingly harder and more dangerous to read scripture together.
You all know that. You’ve been here week after week, you’ve heard the word from the Lord, and you have seen what it does to us. It is dangerous.
And today, it is particularly dangerous, because here is St. Paul telling the church in Ephesians, telling us the gathered people of God, to take up arms and stand their ground.
Are you feeling uncomfortable yet?
Here is Paul, at the end of this letter, ending his vision for the drama of salvation with this call for the church to take up arms and fight against the rulers, authorities, forces of darkness, and evil powers before us. He just got done telling us that our role as a part of the body of Christ is to put away anger, slander, malice, lying, and hateful speech, and now he tells us to take up arms!
In order to be in this world where a human being can kill another human being because they are simply standing their ground, we the church are going to have to wrestle with some questions that scripture’s story is dragging us into here and now.
As long as stand-your-ground laws and the stand-your-ground culture continues to dominate black and brown bodies, then crucifixion is still a practice of the state in the form of gun violence. And it is only when the church comes to terms with our complicity in that crucifying work, with the ways that have underwritten and supported this way of seeing black and brown bodies as the sites of harm, danger, and criminality, that we will begin to understand how to stand our ground in the ways that Paul is calling us to.
Questions like, on what ground is the church standing?
Have we asked ourselves that recently, looking down and around us, taking stock of where we are and how we got to be here?
How often has the church stood on the ground of that first story I mentioned, the ground of our rights, the ground that says, yes, you should protect what is yours at any cost, the ground that says we will protect what is ours at any cost?
Is that the ground we wish to claim—the solid, stable ground of a well financed property that we have carefully managed and dutifully paid for?
If so, the story that scripture tells is not going to make sense to us. You see, the story of God’s people is the story of people on the move, people who are always at the ready to go following Jesus, a people who will drop the nets on the shore at a moment’s notice to wander about with this stranger who calls us to come and follow.
That is the ground on which we are called to stand, the ground wherever Jesus’s feet may be found, the ground that bears the print of his foot passing through. It is a transitory ground, an ever-shifting sort of ground, one that will resist our desire to possess, to claim, our need to plant a flag and defend with all that we have.
This story of God and Israel and Jesus and the church also presses us to ask questions like, on whoseground is the church standing?
Do we know whose ground we are standing on? I mean, really know? Whose land was this before it was ours? How far back can we remember?
In so many ways, the church continues to stand on ground that was taken from others, land that was once a place where people lived until that place was taken and those people pushed away. We stand on ground that we do not own, ground that was never ours, and we claim it and we protect it as if it is ours to control. Whether it’s our buildings, our classrooms, our worship spaces, or our land itself, we seek to control and protect from the Other.
Fortunately for you and me, that is not the only story we have to tell.
And as soon as we forget those other stories, the stories of God and Israel and Jesus and the church, as soon as we stop caring enough to ask one another, we will begin to think that what we have is ours, is owed us, and that we should do anything and everything we can to keep it safe from others.
We will reduce the stranger to a danger, no longer seeing the stranger as a gift to be received but instead as a threat to be managed, a threat to be fought.
But at no point in the story of God, Israel, Jesus, and the church is the stranger a threat to be fought off. At every turn, the story teaches us to see the stranger as a gift, a friend in the making, an angel among us, Christ himself coming to be with us.
Paul invites to take up the full armor and strength of God in order to share in God’s redeeming love in Christ Jesus.
It is only when we have spent some time answering these questions that scripture’s story presses us to ask, that we will be able to understand what Paul is saying to do here.
It is only when we have learned from this story to be the church-on-the-move, the church that claims no possessions, leaving behind family and wealth in order to get on the road, that we will be able to know where the fight will be found.
It is only when we the church have stood with, even in front of, the Trayvon Martins that we will understand how to put on the belt of truth and to take up the shield of faith.
It is only when we have stood with the gospel, on the ground where Jesus stands, with those whom Jesus stands with, that we will begin to know what it means to stand our ground in the face of evil.
May we learn together, faithfully, peaceably, to stand our ground.
Let us pray
We are a people so often in charge, Lord,
that we have forgotten your command
to become powerless and to leave ourselves behind
in order to follow you.
Teach us how to stand firmly
on the ground of your love and forgiving mercy,
and only from there to launch out into the world in your name.
Lead us to root ourselves firmly in the communities
where we find ourselves,
so that we might come to learn ourselves,
the land you have given us to steward,
and the people with whom you have surrounded us.
In all of these places, may we walk firmly but nimbly,
confidently but gently,
with purpose but also with joy.
For you are the ground and source of our being,
Christ our king.
From the corners of worry and fear,
from the shadows where we huddle with our doubts,
God calls us to this place of sanctuary
where we can draw from Love’s deep wells.
In every moment where we look for strength to continue,
in every time wonder if faith is worth it,
Jesus calls us to this time
where we can welcome the peace given to us.
In every person who embraces us with acceptance,
in every touch that offers healing and hope,
the Spirit calls us to see those around us
as God’s beloved, our sisters and brothers of grace.
Have you ever thought
why the Doxology follows the offering?
Doxology comes from the Greek doxologia,
meaning “words of glory”
It follows an ascription of praise.
Seen this way, this offering is an act of praise to God.
It is through this offering that we honor God.
Let us be generous in our praise to God.
Go, fed and nourished by the body and blood
that is meat and drink indeed;
Love deeply, as God has loved you;
Walk in grace,
following the footsteps of our brother Jesus;
Live fully in each moment,
as the life-giving Spirit of our Lord
leads and guides you.