Photo Credit: Bryce Krug
Reading the Signs of the Times
Regina Purnell-Gray, Kevin Kriesel, Deborah Krause
Excerpts from “Forward through Ferguson,”
the report of the Ferguson Commission
“In 2013, as we prepared to celebrate St. Louis’ 250th birthday, leaders debated whether or not to engage in community-wide planning, in a wide assessment of the region. Increasingly, civic leaders said no, and it didn’t happen. But on August 9th, young people said yes. We have a Commission because our region’s youth, through their actions, demanded that we rethink things. Youth voice brought us to this moment.”
“Mothers and fathers, extended families, faith communities, neighbors and leaders need to be there to support their hopes and dreams. We want to see our children and every citizen living peaceably, protected and safe without harassment. This requires intentional action to build positive relations between community members and police.”
“To be faithful to this moment, we must respond and work together with young people to bring about change for their generation, and the next. Leaders are dealers in hope. The commission’s challenge to the leaders of this region – no matter how, where, or who you lead – is to engage in the hard work of creating real hope.”
Psalm 118:19-24 CEB
Left: Open the gates of righteousness for me
so I can come in and give thanks to the Lord!
Right: This is the Lord’s gate; those who are righteous enter through it.
Left: I thank you because you answered me,
because you were my saving help.
Right: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone!
The Lord has done this and it’s amazing to witness!
Left: This is the day the Lord acted; we will rejoice and celebrate in it!
12 Jesus spoke to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the winepress, and built a tower. Then he rented it to tenant farmers and took a trip. 2 When it was time, he sent a servant to collect from the tenants his share of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they grabbed the servant, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again the landowner sent another servant to them, but they struck him on the head and treated him disgracefully. 5 He sent another one; that one they killed. The landlord sent many other servants, but the tenants beat some and killed others. 6 Now the landowner had one son whom he loved dearly. He sent him last, thinking, They will respect my son. 7 But those tenant farmers said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 They grabbed him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
9 “So what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 11 The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?”
12 They wanted to arrest Jesus because they knew that he had told the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.
One: Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.
Many: Thanks be to God.
Sermon: Living in the Plot Twist
Pastoral caregivers know that sarcasm is the language of anger, and if we are to believe Mark, Jesus is pissed. After all, Jesus is steeped in han, described by minjung theologians as what you feel when your people have been exploited, brutalized, and killed by colonizers for years. That bitter-hot feeling of rage and resentment that makes your blood boil, twisting your insides into knots, overwhelming you with the need to fight for justice or risk being eaten alive from the inside by han, this inherited sickness that you get when you have been sinned against throughout time and space, across generations and across the diaspora.
Han runs through Jesus’ veins as he tries to organize a liberation movement with the Roman Empire’s COINTELPRO tracking his every move. He’s fighting for the people, but the people get on his nerves. They ask, “Isn’t this the bastard son of a working class man? Where did he go to high school? Nothing good comes from that neighborhood.” Just as Jesus’ temper is really getting out of control—he cursed a fig tree for failing to bear fruit when it was out of season and he flipped a bunch of tables in church—the religious establishment cranks up the heat, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”
Jesus claps back: “Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing to witness?”
The story of oppression says that our world is defined by the builders, those with greater privilege and power, who create and guard our systems and institutions, who decide which stones can remain in the vineyard and which stones are to be rejected. The story of oppression says that God planted our world and went on vacation. You’re born into your position and your story of oppression: whether you are servant/slave, tenant farmer, or landowner’s child. Servants and slaves might be in the best position to be prophets, but are dehumanized and exploited, at risk for being brutalized or killed. They ask, “Why are things this way?” Tenant farmers might be able make a living off the land, but are fearful of being exploited or becoming the lowest rung on the social ladder. They ask, “How can I make sure I am never the slave?” The children of landowners might be able to inherit wealth and status, but are vulnerable to being killed by those who have little to lose and much to gain. They ask, “What can I do to put distance between myself and those people?”
The world is filled with exploitation and violence, greed and fear, death and destruction—Isaiah 5 says that when there is injustice, everyone is trapped in suffering. Privilege doesn’t save the landowner’s child and violence doesn’t save the tenant farmer. So often we think that the solution to all of this is to build apartheid walls, or border walls, or freeways and highways and municipalities and electoral districts and charter schools and suburbs and gated communities and “up-and-coming” neighborhoods that all essentially do the same thing… because gentrification is the new colonialism. We believe that threats always lie outside the fence and outside our borders, when in fact, Mark tells us that threats are on the inside.
With a clapback from Psalm 118, Mark writes a plot twist into the story of oppression: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing to witness. In Isaiah 5, the vineyard has been cleared of stones, but in Psalm 118, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Psalm 118 is a song for survivors who are chanting at the gates of righteousness, impatiently waiting for the Temple doors to open so they can praise God.
They’ve been distressed, so they praise God. They know that God is on their side, so they praise God. They know that haters gon’ hate, so they praise God. They know it’s better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals, so they praise God. They know it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in any politician, so they praise God. The military might of entire nations surround them on every side, so they praise God. They push hard and are falling, so they praise God. It feels like God is punishing them, but STILL they survive, so they praise God.
Find a neighbor and say, “Neighbor… praise is political.”
Find another neighbor and say, “So neighbor… praise God.”
The story of oppression says that the world is being cut apart by walls and fences, we are surrounded by death and destruction, and God is on vacation. But the story of resurrection is the plot twist that says, our world is being rebuilt by the survivors, the strong, stubborn stones that stayed in the vineyard, even after the builders of white supremacy, racism, and colonialism tried to cast them out.
The stones that the builders rejected have become the cornerstones. We will not be cut apart by walls and fences, but will be built up into a new kindom of God. We may be buried and left for dead, but in the spring, we rise. God is not on vacation, but God IS ordaining new management. In the stones the builders rejected, God is still speaking, and teaching, and learning, and listening, and building, and resisting, and dreaming, and fighting, and rising, and always arriving. Therefore we are not moving forward in spite of Ferguson, but through it. The Lord is doing this, and it’s amazing to witness! …so can I get a witness?
May you go forward through Ferguson, out into the streets to let the survivors make disciples out of you, remembering that praise is political. The stones the builders rejected have become the cornerstones! The Lord has done this and it is amazing to witness! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Other reflections & acknowledgements forthcoming.