- Cathy Sweeney
The Greatest Privilege
At Arapaho UMC in Richardson, Texas, we are in the middle of a sermon series titled, “Unmasked.” We are acknowledging various attitudes, feelings, and actions that need to be unmasked in our world right now. This past Sunday’s sermon was about Unmasking Justice, listen to Pastor Scott share about it if you’d like.
I was struck by his first point about problems we may encounter when we unmask justice. Here’s what he says:
“The greatest privilege is the ability to “move on” from an exposed injustice. The call of Jesus is to take a sustained look at injustice in a culture of sound bites.”
What’s he saying here? Perhaps it’s this:
Speaking out, then going back to the routine in our lives, isn’t fully unmasking justice. Why? Because unmasking justice is a long term commitment. It’s not just a “re-tweet” or “share” on social media. Injustice is something we will encounter over and over, time and again, in our lives and beyond. It’s not a one time thing.
I spoke about this recently in response to George Floyd’s death, and the response from those who were calling out the injustice of the incident. I was asked to share a short devotional as part of a series of devotionals on lamenting. I chose to reflect on the biblical story of Ruth in that devotional, which you can hear on Facebook, or you can read on here:
The story of Ruth is not just about Ruth. The story begins with a famine that forced a man and his wife, Naomi, out of Judah and into Moab (current Jordan). So they were in a strange land. Over time, they had 2 sons, and the sons married women named Orpah and Ruth (who would be Moabites, because that’s where they are living now). In a series of tragedies, Naomi’s husband dies first, then her two sons die. The women are left without husbands, which is not a good place to be.
So Naomi decides to leave the land of Moab and return to Judah. Both of her daughters-in-law are initially willing to join her, but Naomi encourages them to stay, so that they would have a better chance at finding husbands. (Yep. She said it. I’ll talk about that at a later date, this ‘women only have value if they are married’ challenge.) Naomi didn’t just say it once, she said it a few times. “Go back,” she says, “May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” (And again, let’s just acknowledge that this statement is at best, problematic, when expressing that all are children of God in their own right, not dependent on another human being. We are called to be in community, and we need each other, to be sure. But a woman’s value is not based on her marital status.)
Orpah takes Naomi’s advice, kisses her goodbye, and returns home. Ruth, on the other hand, is in this for the long haul. Here’s what she says to Naomi (1:16b-17b, NIV):
“Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.”
Naomi had become Ruth’s family. They had grown to love each other as mother and daughter. They had experienced grief together. Ruth had a choice. She could stay where she was comfortable, return home, and likely marry someone. Or she could stand by Naomi, journey to an unfamiliar place, and continue to be in relationship with her, until death.
Ruth is clear in her actions. And my brothers, sisters, and siblings, we should be, too.
I’m speaking mostly to my white siblings here: are we unmasking justice when George Floyd is killed, then retreating to the comfort of our own homes? What do we do, then, when Jacob Blake is shot and killed? Are we not also family? We, too, have a choice. We can stay where we are comfortable, return home, and wait for the next incident of injustice. Or we can stand by our siblings, in perhaps an uncomfortable place, and continue our journey together. Just like Ruth and Naomi.
What’s our action that says, “Your people will be my people, and your God my God?”
I submit that our action to unmask justice comes from our hearts and from a faith that truly believes that every person is a cherished child of God.
It’s in gathering together, sharing a meal, and learning more about each other. It’s in the action of building community – a Beloved Community in which we can all walk without fear of each other and in which we can grow in love. It’s a community that becomes family.
Because when we build family, it’s a whole lot harder to return to our comforts when our brothers, sisters, and siblings are dying in the streets. When we build a family, privilege is no longer being comfortable. The greatest privilege is in the honor to stand with each other, until the Beloved Community is complete.