Tony Compolo, an ordained Baptist Minister and professor of Sociology, has often shared his story when, as a newly ordained minister, he preached along side a well-seasoned African-American preacher.
In his telling of the story, the energy in the packed church grew to a fevered pitch after several rounds of Gospel singing. When the time came for Tony to preach, he was ready. With an air of smug confidence, only the young and naïve possess, he bounded up the stairs to the pulpit. His energy matched that of the room and before long the people were responding to his every word with “amens” and “halleluiahs”. For forty minutes he gave what was the sermon of his young career. There was no way the old minster just a few steps away could top him.
Then it was the wizened preacher’s turn to ascend to the pulpit. Slowly, he shuffled up the steps. Silently, he looked down at the congregation and then over to Tony. He paused for a while, then quietly said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.” Then a little bit louder he said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.” As he repeated that same line over and over, and louder and louder, as the responses of “AMEN” and “HALLELIUAH” grew louder with him until the frenzied ecstasy of the congregation could not be contained .
After a good while of this, the venerable Man of God stepped down from the pulpit and glanced, momentarily, at the young minister. That glance left no doubt in the young minister’s mind that those simple six words, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.”, contained a more profound lesson than the hundreds of words he had just preached.
When it comes to the issues of racism in this country, the events of August 12th in Charlottesville, Virginia should sadly make us aware that in America it’s still Friday. What I gather in listening to many of you and others in our local community is a general feeling of sadness, hurt, and even dismay at the sight of open racism by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Sadly, this display of racial hatred is nothing new for our country. The darkness we watched was simply the unleashing of the hidden anger and evil that has been building just out of sight, leaving us asking why, why this country still struggles with the issues of racism and social injustice fifty-three years after the enactment of civil rights legislation. I believe it is because we, as a nation, cannot imagine what a world without racism and social injustice might look like.
But Paul, as we heard this morning in his letter to the Romans has some advice for us. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Racism continues because we don’t know any other way; we are conformed to the way of the world. Paul, remember, was a person most conformed to the world in his early years. First, he worked to eradicate the early Church. He strove to make obedience to the Torah mandatory for all of Israel. Only through his experience of the living Christ was Paul able to discern the notion that the Kingdom of Heaven could be for all people; that Jews and Gentiles could worship one God together. It was only through the transformation of his heart and mind by the risen Christ that Paul was able to unlock his religious imagination from the shackles of this world to see what is good and acceptable and perfect.
St. Paul is not alone, St. Peter and the disciples also struggled to imagine beyond the limits of their experience.In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus asks who do people say that he is. The disciples respond with, a prophet, or the reincarnation of John the Baptist. When asked “who do you say that I am, Peter responds, “the messiah, the son of the living God.” For this, he is praised, but despite Peter’s perceptiveness, he is still bound by his temporal understanding of the world..
When Peter proclaims Jesus to be the messiah, he references the messianic expectation of his time. . .that the messiah, the anointed one, will come to restore Israel to the great Davidic empire centuries earlier.
When Peter declares Jesus to be the son of the living God, he uses a secondary title for the Roman Emperor. While Peter is able to comprehend Jesus as both the savior of Israel and God’s anointed ruler of the Empire, Peter is unable to go beyond the confines of his world. He cannot see that the Messiah standing before him is not merely human but the incarnate God itself.
A few verses later Peter will stumble when he struggles to accept Jesus’ discussion of being crucified. Crucifixion and the messiah he understood did not go together. Jesus rebukes him for this saying, “Get behind me Satan’!” For it is Satan and the forces of evil which bind us to the realities of this world? It is again, after Peter experiences the resurrected Christ that his mind is released from the confines of his world view and now able to imagine the Kingdom Jesus spoke of.
In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. looked beyond a world of racial segregation and shared the results of religious imagination when he gave his I Have a Dream Speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
In one sentence, Dr. King described his vision of the heavenly banquet. In this one sentence Dr. King expressed the vision of the Civil Rights movement. In this one sentence Dr. King shared with the world a vision of what, at that time, was beyond the realm of possibility.
In this historic speech, just as the old Baptist preacher I mentioned earlier did, Dr. King as much as said, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.” Not that Sunday would come the day after tomorrow or the next year or even in his lifetime. For Dr. King taught that the arc of justice is long and that “human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men [sic] willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”
Sadly, fifty plus years later, it is still Friday. Racism still infects this country…but Sunday IS coming. We are assured of this by the pervasive public outcry against the overt racism demonstrated in Charlottesville. We are assured Sunday is coming when over 200 hundred people, willing to be co-workers with God, gathered in South Kingstown to stand against racism. I know Sunday is coming because we, as the Body of Christ, recognize racism as nothing less than evil. That we are not just offended by racism; but willing to stand against it.
Today, August 27th 2017, may be a Sunday, but sadly, it is still Friday, but Sunday IS coming!