Today is Juneteenth, but do I have to acknowledge it?
My ancestors were not slaves or plantation owners.
Today is part of Pride Month, but do I have to acknowledge it?
No cops have ever raided my bar and arrested me for flirting with a woman.
Today is Father’s Day, but do I have to acknowledge it?
I have no children of my own and my Dad is dead, and so are so many others I know.
Today is Sunday, but do I have to acknowledge it?
Even though Jesus rose from the dead, I’m still alive and my beloved saints are still dead.
These holidays don’t revolve around me, so why should I care?
Pastor Martin Niemöller famously wrote of Nazi Germany:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
His haunting reflection is grounded in the same truth later articulated by another Pastor Martin, writing from a jail cell in Alabama:
In a real sense all life is inter-related.
All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...
This is the inter-related structure of reality.
Our society, increasingly intoxicated with individualism run amok, has mostly forgotten this, but the early church understood.
The first followers of Jesus saw distinction as danger, social stratification as spiritual peril,
undermining the truth of our interrelatedness, disconnecting us from our foundational connectedness.
They were committed to defying and undoing the damage wrought by difference.
Historian Stephen Patterson explains:
The early Christians made solidarity the very focus of the new communities they
The first Christian creed said nothing about the nature of God or Jesus Christ or
It spoke of “the children of God,” and urged a spirit of “oneness” that could unite Jew
and Greek, slave and free, male and female….
You can find it today still there in Galatians 3:26-28.
Unearthing it from this context and restoring its original lines requires some exegetical spadework, and scholars will quibble on its precise wording, but none doubt its existence or its age.
When the first followers of Jesus were baptized, this (more or less) is what they heard:
You are all children of God: There is no Jew or Greek;There is no slave or free;
There is no male and female; For you are all one.
This creed was a riff on an ancient cliché, attributed by some to Socrates, others to
Thales, that went something like this:
“I thank the Fates every day that I was born a Greek, not a barbarian, free, not a slave,
and a man, not a woman.”
That was how ancient free men defined themselves and their privilege: by their ethnicity
(Greek, Roman, etc.), their class (free), and their gender (male).
Race, class and gender have been used by every people in every time and place to draw a
line between us and them, to the advantage of us, of course.
But these early Jesus followers decided to assume a different posture: there would be no
us, no them.
Ethnicity, class, gender — these things would no longer count for anything.
It was the early church’s radical equality that shocked the neighbors, offending many,
The crowd gasped when condemned Christians Perpetua and Felicity kissed each other
in the arena—not because they were two women, but because one was a noble woman and the other a slave.
Which was which?
If you think it matters, you’ve missed the point.
There is no mention of fear in the gospel reading until the crowd showed up and found the
man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.
A naked man possessed by demons, breaking shackles and living in the tombs is normal;
the town has acclimated and adjusted.
He’s been successfully marginalized; everybody just avoids that neighborhood.
But his health and freedom—and of course the collateral inflation of the price of bacon—terrifies them: all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.
In 1933, Pastor Niemöller attended a meeting with Adolf Hitler as part of a clergy delegation.
Walter Brueggemann describes the scene:
Niemöller stood at the back of the room and looked and listened.
He didn't say anything.
When he went home, his wife asked him what he had learned that day.
Niemöller replied, "I discovered that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man."
Human history, including our own, is littered with the tragic consequences of terror at the
possibility of human equality.
Now the town will have to live with the soul they had left to rot in the tombs.
Now Texas will have to live with God’s black children as free citizens.
Now Jews and Christians who took refuge in what it says right here in the Bible are called in
Christ to embrace persons with different ethnicities, sexualities, and social circles.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and
female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
There is no longer greater and lesser; there is no longer insider and outsider; there is no longer us and them, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus: baptism has destroyed our social order and sense of identity and introduced a terrifying, liberating, healing new reality.
That is why the front of our bulletin includes our welcome statement every week.
Maybe you’ve stopped reading it by now, so let’s revisit it.
Please pull out your bulletin and let’s read it together:
We welcome everyone.
We welcome you because you are a child of God.
Whether you are a believer, a doubter or seeker; no matter what you are, where you’re from or what you’ve done, God’s love shines on all of us, without exception.
We invite you to a community that welcomes anyone and everyone.
You are welcome regardless of race, color, ethnicity or cultural background, ancestry,
national origin, age, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, relationship
status, education, economic circumstances, legal status or political perspectives.
Our doors are open to you.
Now let’s work on living it.