8 Pentecost—Proper 11-B
July 19, 2015
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
On Wednesday I spent the day with my 15 year old nephew at Stone Mountain Park which is just 30 minutes east of downtown Atlanta. On one hand, it is a typical tourist trap with a 4-D movie, putt-putt golf, and bad, but expensive, food. But on the other hand it is, by law of the Georgia legislature, a memorial to the Confederate States of America. As you drive in you go by the flags of the states that made up the confederacy, but at the heart of it all is Stone Mountain itself, a 900 foot granite monolith that rises out of the woods, and has on one side the largest relief carving in the world.
Much bigger than Mount Rushmore, this carving is of, I kid you not, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, General “Stonewall” Jackson, and between the two, southern saint, General Robert E. Lee, all three riding on horseback. The carving was conceived and begun in 1915, continued in 1925, but “In 1963…the Stone Mountain Memorial Association chose Walker Kirkland Hancock of Gloucester, Massachusetts to complete the carving. Work resumed and was completed in 1972.” You can see the sculpture at http://www.stonemountainpark.com/activities/history-nature/Confederate-Memorial-Carving.aspx
I was a senior at the University of Georgia when the carving was finished and thought it was pretty cool, but then my ancestors came to this country from England and France as paying customers on ships and not as human property chained in the hold.
But after all the trauma of the past month over the Confederate Battle Flag being flown on the South Carolina state house grounds in Columbia, I couldn’t help seeing that carving with new eyes.
As you might imagine, I am not alone in having this new reaction. The Atlanta newspaper noted that while there was no real chance to remove the massive sculpture itself, there may be a way to add to it. So they printed an editorial cartoon by Mack Williams showing Georgia rappers Big Boi and Andre 3000 of Outkast in a convertible Cadillac, right next to Stonewall Jackson. See http://www.myfoxatlanta.com/story/29558653/artists-suggests-adding-outkast-rappers-to-stone-mountain
On a more serious note, someone suggested that what could be added were the words from Atlanta native Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous 1963 “I have a dream” speech where he said:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!3
As you recall King’s speech that day begins as a political address, mentioning the Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence. But by the time he gets going good King has gone from politics to preaching, and at the heart of his dream is the passage we have today in Ephesians where Saint Paul tells us that the miracle of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ heals the ancient animosities and creates “one new humanity”: He says,
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups, Jew and Non-Jew, into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
This is at the heart of the good news: in Jesus Christ God has created a new humanity, or in the Greek, “one new human being”, so that finally, the human race can experience communion so that hope conquers despair, non-violence replaces destruction, peace replaces war, BECAUSE the causes that divide us are overcome in Jesus Christ who became sinful humanity in order to kill it on the cross, so we could receive a new humanity from God.
Something real and eternal happened in Christ.
Albert Schweitzer, humanitarian and theologian, said when Jesus Christ saw that his healings and preaching didn’t bring about the kingdom of God he threw himself under the wheel of history hoping to break it, when instead it broke him. Yet, with resurrection and Pentecost, the wheel of history began to turn in the other direction. N T Wright, Simply Jesus, p187
This is why Paul could say in Galatians 3:28
28 “There is no longer American and non-American, there is no longer Black and White, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
You and I, baptized into Christ, are filled with the Spirit of Christ and are the Body of Christ, and are commanded by our Lord Christ to bear witness to “the one new humanity”.
When we practice this vision of the New Humanity we may experience suffering at the hands of those unready and unable to give up their cherished identity with its imbedded fears and insecurities. Jesus lost his life at the hands of those protecting themselves against his boundary breaking. Dr. King, and countless women and men across time were more willing to live into the truth of Jesus Christ, than to live in the fear, hatred, and violence of those who circle up the wagons to keep the so-called other far away.
If all humanity needed was a little forgiveness and teaching then God could have phoned in salvation. But the illness that troubles us isn’t like a rash on the skin, but like a tumor in the brain requiring radical and invasive surgery. This tumor activates the zones in the brain that create fear and hatred of the other.
Christ is the surgeon who makes house calls to burn away the old reactive pattern, the neural loop of fear, anger, violence that has run for millennia.
In our in-between time of the coming and fulfillment of the Kingdom Jesus’ Spirit empowers us to grow beyond this reactive default setting and replace it with the ability to move from reaction to reflection; and from reflection to surrender of the feeling to Christ who leads us to prayer and trust in the Father, who touches the other in love.
This is the mission of the church: to proclaim and bear witness through our actions in the world the new humanity all have been given in Jesus Christ. We do this as individuals and we do this as church. We cannot have Holy Communion without it.
Paul puts it this way:
“So then [we] are no longer strangers and aliens, but [we] are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God….5 In former generations this mystery[a] was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6 that is, the nations have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Ephesians 2:19, 3: 5-6