February 2, 2020, Your Call, Your Shadow, by Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Micah 6:1-8 O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Give me an answer! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery: and I sent Moses to lead you, and Aaron, and Miriam! My people, call to mind the plans devised by the ruler Balak of Moab; and how Balaam ben-Beor answered him! Remember the journey from Shittim to Gilgal, and recall how the LIVING GOD brought you justice!” “What shall I bring when I come before GOD, and bow down before God on high?” you ask. “Am I to come before God with burnt offerings? With year-old calves?
Will the CREATOR be placated by thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of oil? Should I offer my firstborn for my wrongdoings—the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Listen here, mortal, God as already made abundantly clear what “good” is and what our GOD needs from you: simply do justice, love kindness, and humbly walk with your God.
1 Corinthians 1:18-31 For the message of the cross is complete absurdity to those who are headed for ruin, but to us who are experiencing salvation, it is the power of God. 19 Scripture says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and thwart the learning of the learned.” 20 Where are the wise? Where are the scholars? Where are the philosophers of this age? Has not God turned the wisdom of this world into folly? 21 If it was God’s wisdom that the world in its wisdom would not know God, it was because God wanted to save those who have faith through the foolishness of the message we preach.
22 For while the Jews call for miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, 23 here we are preaching a Messiah nailed to a cross. To the Jews this is an obstacle they cannot get over, and to the Greeks it is madness— 24 but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, Christ is the power and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Consider your calling, sisters and brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential, and surely not many were well-born. God chose those whom the world considers foolish to shame the wise, and singled out the weak of this world to shame the strong. The world’s lowborn and despised, those who count for nothing, were chosen by God to reduce to nothing those who were something. In this way no one should boast before God. God has given you life in Christ Jesus & has made Jesus our wisdom, our justice, our sanctification & our redemption. This is just as it is written, “Let the one who would boast, boast in our God.”
In our moment of reflection today, let’s think about what we are called to be, our cross, how easy it is to fall short, and how powerful God’s forgiving Spirit is to allow us to get back on track.
I’ve always wanted to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. I’ve always wanted to. When I haven’t done it, I’ve mostly assumed forgiveness to tell the truth. Just as Groundhog Day has become shorthand for deja vu and having the same day over and over again, I have sometimes felt like I’m just going around in circles. But I keep hoping that I learn something each time around the circle, and that eventually the simple task of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly will be clear, and do-able.
It’s Black History Month so let me tell you a story about one of the first times I tried to do something about racism. I’ve told some of you before, but it’s Groundhog Day, so we can go around this circle again. I was in 10th grade and I had a girlfriend. Her name was Kathy, as many of my girlfriends have been named – at least 4 of them, all with a different spelling. Anyway, it was 1969, the height of the civil rights era, and she and I decided to have a party and invite some Black folks. I don’t say Black friends, because we didn’t have any, but we wanted to reach past the barrier, so we invited some Black teenagers to join us in somebody’s basement for a little party.
I cannot tell you how embarrassing this party was. The folks we had invited to the party were perfectly nice, but I didn’t know them and I didn’t really know how to get to know people when I wasn’t nervous and embarrassed. So we fell back on music. The Black guys started looking through the record collection we had there and they dismissed record after record. They either had never heard of them or thought they weren’t worth playing. Finally one guy found the soundtrack from Hair which had a very funky danceable song on it. I don’t know if I should say the name of the song in church, but it was called, “Colored Spade.” and it was designed to make me want to hide under the table. It named every derogatory name for Black people you have ever heard. They played it over and over, since it was the only song they liked. And probably because they wanted to keep me under the table.
I originally titled this sermon “Your Call.” I like double entendres and the passage is about your call and my call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly. The other lectionary passages relate to your call as well. I was going to use the double meaning of “Your Call” as in it’s your call whether you do what Jesus is calling us to. Then I realized it is also Groundhog Day, and I added, “Your Call, Your Shadow.” Because our call always has a shadow side to it. Punxatawny Phil saw his shadow this morning, predicting an early spring, but we can always see our shadow if we take the time to look.
We don’t notice our shadow very often, but it is always shadowing us, so to speak, even when we’re trying to do the right thing. The shadow keeps us embarrassed, reluctant, wanting to play it safe. The shadow discourages us from acting boldly, or even from realizing what needs to happen. We need to know our shadow to be effective in what we really want to do.
In our passage for today, Micah portrays God as putting the people of Israel on trial, asking why we the people do not respond to God’s call, why we are more responsive to our frightened shadows than to God’s purpose. The jury is the earth itself. And immediately God’s people start to wonder how we can placate God’s anger with outrageous gifts of huge sacrifices, wondering finally – maybe with self-pity if we might have to sacrifice our first born to appease God. We imagine God has the same kind of shadow we have and can be distracted.
But God is not distracted, and simply calls us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. This is an offer of forgiveness and an expectation that we will not get lost, that we will come back to God’s way every time we become conscious and reconnect with God’s love. This offer is strengthened in the Gospel and by Paul by the power of the cross and Paul’s amazing understanding of the cross as representing our shadow side, our foolishness, our need.
During February/Black History month, particularly this Sunday and the last Sunday of the month, I am focusing on the question of how suburban people understand their spiritual needs and how is that connected with the needs of people in the city. I have found that people, particularly white people in the burbs tend to think a little more individualistically and not as much about the broader community. We who are white want to limit our understanding of what is racism to actions that are personal, deliberate and conscious.
We feel like we should get a pass for anything that is systemic, unintentional, our unconscious. This is our shadow side. How do we help each other to understand that our history is bound up in the history of our neighbors in the city, no matter how far away we live? How do we come to realize that our liberation, our salvation is connected to each other?
If we excuse any racism that is systemic, accidental or unaware, that gives us a pass on most of the problem! This is a matter of deep spiritual importance for those of us who are white. As we become aware of and solve the problems of racism, we will become more whole, we will learn new resiliency, we will have stronger communities and deeper connections with each other
This is why I am excited to have our community, though it is mostly white, though it may seem like foolishness, celebrate Black History Month. This is why I am energized by the prospect of hosting POWER Main Line’s 1619 Symposium at our church on Feb. 23rd. God has put us on trial to set us free, to call us to live aware of our shadow, to help us to be more conscious, more intentional and to see God’s big picture in our lives. God will help us today to see our shadow and live in God’s light.
This is God’s good news.