Who am I to speak on the topic of racial justice? As a white, middle aged, middle-class man, I really don’t have the right. And that’s because I lack the personal context from which to speak. My family have never been sold as slaves. I’ve never had to survive on a dollar a day digging lithium out of the ground for western people to drive electric cars that are practically free to run. My child has never had to dig cobalt for Western smart-phones. My home is not about to be swamped by rising floodwaters, caused by the output of the Western power stations and traffic.
I do, however, have some personal experience from which to draw, when I think about the topic of racial justice. I recall, for example, the day 10 years ago when I visited a former slave castle in Cape Coast. I was shown the entrance to the old slave pit. Above the entrance – literally built on top of it – was a small chapel. That chapel, I was told to my shame, was the first Anglican church to be built in the old Gold Coast.
Across the road from the slave castle is the Cathedral of the Diocese of Cape Coast. The Cathedral was built by the British Army. It was a garrison church for the soldiers who worked in the slave castle, when the little chapel became too small. It was an immensely humbling experience to be invited to be a Canon of that Cathedral. On the day of my installation, I addressed a sea of African faces in a church that once was stocked with smug, white, slave-trader smiles.
Today is not the day to debate the slave trade, however. No, today, we’re being asked to think about Justice, and specifically racial justice. The focus is our reading of the Sermon on the Mount, which we heard, just now (Luke 6.17-26). Let’s unpack some of what that great Sermon has to teach us.
The first thing we note is that it was a Sermon to a diverse group of people. According to the text, people came to hear Jesus from all over the area, including Tyre and Sidon, which were areas inhabited predominantly by non-Jews. Among the crowd would have been representatives from all sections of society – rich, poor, powerful, powerless, and famously (according to the Gospel of Monty Python) cheese-makers too!
To such a varied, diverse, multi-racial section of humanity; what does Jesus say? He speaks of Justice. In the new Kingdom of Heaven he is inaugurating, there will be justice for the poor, and woe for the rich. The hungry will be filled, and the full will be hungry. Those who mourn will laugh, and those who laugh now will mourn and weep.
Jesus’ words are powerful. They predict the consequences of what will happen when those with power to effect change fail to live up to their sacred duty. A time is coming, according to Jesus’ Mother Mary, when the mighty will fall from their thrones, and the humble and poor will be lifted up.
This is a picture of the topsy-turvy Kingdom of Heaven. Everything gets turned upside down when the Kingdom comes into full effect. And we know this to be true, even as amateur students of history. Over and over again, the mighty Empires of Humanity collapse under the weight of their own greed and corruption, and because of their lack of attention to justice; especially justice for the people under their rule, or their influence.
In this sense, the Bible doesn’t so much teach us what will take place. It shows us what is taking place, all the time, all around us. It is not so much that we read the Bible, but that the Bible reads us – we find ourselves reflected in its stories, and warned by its prophets. In that sense, the Bible is a commentary on the world we live in, as much as the world of the past.
Societies which fail to look after the poor, of whatever race, ultimately collapse. The Eqyptians exploited the Hebrews, and paid a heavy price at the time of Moses. The Romans exploited every country they conquered, and kept other nations outside with walls. For all its greatness, their great City fell – conquered by those it had kept outside its borders. The British Empire exploited the lands of millions, taking their natural resources, as well as enslaving their peoples. Today, the Empire of the G7 exploits every other nation on earth. Their poorest people dig in the earth for our lithium, our precious metals, our coffee beans, our sugar – while living in the most impoverished conditions.
So, when the Bible tells us to take care of the poor of other nations, we do well to listen. Many great Empires have come and gone. Our present Empire goes under many names. We call it the G7 or the Western Hegemony. But it is an Empire like all those of the past. It lives off the backs of other nations, other races, of those who live outside its apparently impregnable borders, and military might, longing to get inside.
But what can you and I do about this? What can we do to live out the principles of the Kingdom? How can we sow living seeds of racial justice. Bringing about real change means changing our buying habits – making sure, for example, that nothing we buy (from our cars to our clothes) has come from a sweat-shop, a slave-market, or has been dug out of the ground by work-slaves. It means fighting for the voices of other races, with other experiences, to be heard in our board-rooms and in our decision-making bodies. Bringing about real change means engaging in the political process – lobbying our politicians, protesting, and making it impossible for those with the real power to ignore the message of the Kingdom. This is a call to prophecy…to the task of calling the people to God’s way of living, and warning them of the consequences if they do not.
So let me leave you with this challenge. How can we become a racial justice action centre? What will you do today? What change will you make to the things you buy? What will you do to increase the pace of positive change in our political structures? Who will you write to? Where and how will you protest? Who will you bind together to make real and meaningful change?
And…how much of your personal income will you give to charities that help the poor of other countries, other races? If that’s a thought which challenges you, then why not talk to Sue Tinney, a World Vision ambassador, after the service? (Other development agencies are available!).
And when you meet a person of another race outside the walls of this church, will you smile, will you welcome them in and invite them to taste the new wine of the Kingdom? For all God’s children are welcome here! Amen
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