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“Racism Dies in the Valley” – – TJ Harper – – June 4, 2017

“Racism Dies in the Valley”

TJ Harper,

Associate for Racial Justice Ministries, Massachusetts and Connecticut Conferences UCC

Genesis 1:27, 31

June 4, 2017

  • Thank you for having me.  I won’t talk too long because I only have three points I want to give.
  • When we think about racism it makes sense to think about it as a policy issue or something that the government should address or a nonprofit organization.  But it is hard to imagine racism as a spiritual journey, and not a common endeavor.
  • But that is why I suggested reading the two Genesis verses because when we combine that “God created humankind in the image of God” and “Everything that God created was very good.”
    • It’s really no underlying foundation for racism. So why is it OK to allow certain groups of people to suffer just because of the color of their skin is different?
    • Since we are all created in the image of the God, what does that say about God? How does God look, if you and I look differently? 
    • 1st Samuel 16 says, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
    • If God can look beyond our physicality, why is that so many human beings struggle with doing the same? This is a good place to get started. 
  • The first point I would like to make is Reverence.
  • In verse 1 of Ezekiel, it says, “The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.” You are not in the valley by accident or by luck or by mere chance.  You were brought to the valley; you have a purpose in the valley. 
  • And you were placed in the middle of the valley, because there are some lessons that you need to learn in the valley that can only be learned in the valley. 
  • In verse 7, Ezekiel said I prophesied as I was commanded.
  • Ezekiel did not question what God was asking.  He just acted.  He followed God’s word.  How many times have we heard God’s voice about working toward achieving social change, but have ignored God?
  • Ezekiel had no doubt in his mission because God spoke to him. Whereas Ezekiel saw dry bones on the floor, God saw life. Sometimes when we think about racism, it seems like a hopeless situation.  But that is what we see, and not what God knows.
  • It’s easy to be doubtful, to say, “I don’t know if these bones can live.” Or, “I don’t know if I can do anything to help eradicate racism.” But you can.
  • When you come across doubt, and are not sure if you should get involved.
    • For example, you see a marginalized person in your community and are doubtful if you should help.  You must fight your doubt.
  • Just as Ezekiel was commanded to prophesize to the dry bones, we are commanded to speak life to those people of color who are oppressed.
  • The second point I would like to make is Revelation.
  • The text says, “Son, these bones are the people of Israel. They say our bones are dried up; our hope is gone; we are cut off.”
  • The Israelites were in a very similar predicament to African Americans.  Exodus 12:40 says the Israelites were enslaved for 430 years. 
    5,160 months of suffering; 22,437 weeks of pain; 157,054 days
    of mistreatment. I don’t know about you, but the fact that we still
    have this suffering today. My, my.
  • We are in are our own personal valley of racism.  We all have our own struggles. 
    • For anyone has taken a long hike, the valley is on its way to the mountain.
    • You don’t stay in the valley.  You don’t live in the valley.
    • That’s why the sermon is Racism Dies in the Valley.
  • People always tell me, “I don’t know what to say about racism.” Several people told me this week that they have seen things they would like to say about racism.
    • But they were uncomfortable and said nothing. I would like to empower you with this quote: “Silence is violence.”
    • Dr. King said, “The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.”
    • We are all faced with these uncomfortable situations, but we must say something when we see injustice because “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
    • To say nothing says it all.  That means we are OK with something. 
  • The final point is Revolution.
    • “After Ezekiel prophesied over the bones, they rose up with flesh on them.”
    • He sees a problem about whether or not the bones could live, and then was able to create a solution.
  • We have to examine our own lives to assess where we have exuded racism, even when it does not seem like it.  Something like our implicit biases or our silence.
    • When you walk across the street if you see a group of young black men.
    • When you say “They’re coming here taking our jobs.”
  • The Israelites started out in Egypt, go through the Wilderness, and then end up in the Promised Land. 
  • That’s why I use the word “journey.”  It’s not a trip to the grocery store and back.  It’s not that easy.
  • It might feel comfortable in the valley.  You have this feeling to stay in your comfort zone.  It feels good to be in the valley.  You’re happy in the valley.
  • I challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone.  Talk about things you don’t normally talk about; think about things you don’t normally think about; do things you don’t normally do.
  • And you might say, “I don’t want to be uncomfortable,” but when you’re uncomfortable you grow.
  • But in order to grow, you have to stretch yourself.
    • When I used to go to the gym… I had to stretch…
  • I hear this all the time, “We have to remain in a safe place.”  And that’s true.  But I challenge you to create safe, but brave spaces. 
    • That way you’re working toward getting out of the valley.
  • As we are on our way to the Promised Land outside of the valley, this is a land of unity and a land of love. 
  • What can you do to get out of your personal valley of racism?
    • Can you volunteer some extra time in a marginalized community?
    • Can you make a donation as a start?
    • How can you reframe your spiritual awareness of the valley?
    • How do you come to your own awakening that this valley of racism exists?
  • After you leave here today, it is my goal that you are questioning how you can get out of our own valley of racism.
  • I want you to realize that you are not alone in the valley. God is with you, and guides you all the way.  Even when there seems to be no light in the tunnel and the end is nowhere in sight, God is with you.
  • And when you get out of the valley, there will be a Cloud of Witnesses who will join in your life journey for equity of all God’s people.
  • CLOSE EYES – Thank you God for this day.  And we come together talk about ending racism.  In your Holy Word you said that the faith of a mustard seed can move mountains.  And today we have a mountain of racism; a mountain of hate; a mountain of intolerance.  And Lord, even though we could ask you to move these mountains out of our way, I am asking you to instead give us the strength to climb these mountains and tackle these issues and dismantle racism one step at a time.
  • But just as Ezekiel prophesized over those bones to live, it is time for the mighty warriors of the Lord to rise up and know that, we too, are able to live.  We are able to live in peace, live in good health, and live without racism running rampant. 
  • The journey that we have ahead of us is a journey that must be fulfilled.  So I ask you Lord firstly for more strength. In your Word, you said, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Here we are, Lord, waiting upon you.
  • Lord we know that you do not see color or race or ethnicity; you only look at our hearts. So today Lord I ask that you let your Spirit flow throughout this earth and heal the hearts of your people.  Our hearts are broken, they’re broken and they need mending.
  • We must remember that humankind was created out of love. We must remind ourselves Jesus died for our transgressions out of love.  We must always love on earth.  And as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” So if we are to continue toward ending racism we must love one another in the midst of everything.  Amen.

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