16 Pentecost—September 9, 2018
Isaiah 35:4-7a, Psalm 146, James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-37
The name of Spike Lee’s new movie is “BlacKkKlansman”, which is funny, while at the same time edge of your seat exciting, and at the end emotionally draining, yet oddly encouraging. This true story is set in the 1970s when Colorado Springs hires their the first Black policeman, named Ron Stallworth, who then teams up with two white detectives to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, as the Klan plots hatred and violence.
It’s refreshing how this movie overturns traditional movie stereotypes: the Black man isn’t wild and lawless, but a law and order guy who’s always wanted to be a cop. His two white detective partners aren’t mean racists, but true partners who back up their Black partner, and with him form a powerful team.
We’re living in a time of unconsciousness in which stereotypes are ruling our national life and ruining lives, blinding us to the actual person who is right in front of us. The gospel today opens with just such a stereotype: Mark writes: “Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin”. Seen through first century stereotypes, this person is: a “woman” which means it is assumed she is not as smart, capable, or trustworthy as a man. She is also a potential sexual treat or threat to a group of exhausted men who are looking for a break from their hard ministry.
She is a “Gentile”, which means she is a vile, unclean pagan who does not believe in the One True God and worships all manner of false gods.
She is a “Syrophoenician” which means she is a vicious enemy from Israel’s past.
In his exhaustion Jesus speaks to her as a stereotype: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” As one scholar puts it, “Jesus was caught with his compassion down.” (in William Placher commentary on Mark) In Matthew’s account the disciples beg Jesus to send her away.
The ego lives off stereotypes because the ego needs to protect and project itself by judging those around it, putting people into little boxes to save it from having to engage with reality. Better to pigeon hole this woman than to have to look her in the eye and respond to her as a human being, a child of God, who makes demands on our time, energy, and compassion. And normally, this would have been just fine with the woman because then she would be justified in keeping her stereotype of Jews, especially Jewish men, as arrogant, narrow, and violent. This stereotype created Pogroms, leading up to Hitler’s Final Solution of the Jewish Problem.
But this woman has been forced to move out of the ego into a higher consciousness. Her love for her sick daughter and her knowledge that Jesus heals sick children, pushes her out of her head and into her heart. So she falls at Jesus’ feet, and begs him to heal her little girl.
Jesus is easily awakened out of his stereotypic response and now sees this “dog” as a beloved child of God and gladly heals the little girl.
James in his letter today, presents another example of how our stereotypes derail our humanity, destroy our community, and leave us trapped in the tiny ego full of fear.
He poses a scenario for his church to consider that doesn’t need a cultural historian to translate, because it continues to happen in churches around the world–He writes: “For if a well-dressed rich person comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?”
This is the same thing we saw in the movie “Animal House”: the fraternity is having a rush party and all the good looking, well-dressed, guys who “look like us” are invited into the big room with the brothers and the girls, where a good time is happening.
Then we see a dark room off to the side where they have shunted a blind guy in a wheelchair, a geek, a guy with a turban, and, of course, a person of color. But James isn’t worried about a fraternity that is built on the principle of getting guys who will easily fit into their club.
No, James is worried about the local church that is built on the gospel principle that “in Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile–for we are all one in Christ.”
James knows we have no gospel to proclaim if we speak the Word of Christ but fail to do the Word of Christ.
But let’s face it, our stereotypes are as tough as old shoe leather and as difficult to uproot as crabgrass. Just hearing James name our problem does not mean we will find it easy to overcome.
I still remember the Sunday in North Carolina when a young attractive couple visited our church. In talking with them after the service, I find out the young man is a new physician in town and they are looking for a church. And I can feel my energy rise and I gladly give him a grand tour of the church with all the charm I can muster. I was giddy when they left! A new doctor—we already had a number of old doctors—with an attractive wife who would fit in wonderfully to St. Peter’s Church!
But on the way home the Holy Spirit was kind enough to burst my ego-high and point out how I had been captured by a stereotype that treated the couple as objects to use and not as people to love. And just to make this message stick, the young doctor and his charming wife joined the Presbyterian Church down the street!
I want to suggest the only way to resist this trap is to develop spiritual practices that invite the Holy Spirit to move us out of the ego which lives in the head, into living in our True Self which resides in the heart. The True Self is rooted in Christ, who sees not as the ego sees, but as God sees.
I’m thinking of practices like regular church attendance, Bible study, and Centering Prayer, in which we practice for 20 minutes letting go of our attention to our thoughts and resting in the all-accepting awareness of the heart. (If you are interested in learning about Centering Prayer let me know.)
Or practices like working with the sick and suffering, in which we practice letting go of the ego’s sense that we are better than the poor and instead resting in the communion of Christ, beyond our stereotypes.
Life itself is continually offering us opportunities to let go of the tiny ego and rest in the spaciousness of Christ, who eternally abides in us.
In the Spike Lee movie, the Black detective on one hand, has phone conversations with David Duke, the Grand Wizard of the KKK, who despises all people of color, and on the other hand, he has conversations with a Black would-be-girlfriend, who despises all cops.
This Black detective stands in a place of deeper awareness, refusing to live by stereotypes.
In the reading from Isaiah, the prophet proclaims that one day, “God will act and “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped” and there will be “streams flowing in the desert.”
In that day, which can be this day, God shall wake us from the nightmare of separateness, and lead us into the communion of the heart, the heart we share with Christ.