I don’t make it back home too often anymore. It’s a thousand miles between here and Georgia. Returning always feels kind of like I’m entering some kind of bizarre world where I am grown up but no one seems to notice. It’s most obvious at large family get-togethers. Everyone has a part to play. Mine is, at least according to my grandmother, still fourteen-year-old boy who can put back his weight in food.
When I was reading about Jesus for today I could put myself in his shoes, at least a little bit. You see, in the passage leading up to today’s Gospel reading, Jesus had been traveling around the Sea of Galilee performing miracles. In fact, he had just raised a girl from the dead before he decided to head home. Still, no amount of miracles could overcome the fact that he would always be little Jesus, Mary’s boy, the carpenter.
This is a kind of nostalgia we are easily prone to. And let’s be honest, nostalgia is not always a bad thing. There can be lots of joy remembering where we’ve come from and who we were. There is a part of me that loves playing fourteen-year-old me. This weekend is for many filled with nostalgia. Fireworks, barbeques, family and friends gathered together. I was certainly thinking about July 4ths spent in my grandmother’s backyard shooting bottle rockets into the night. Or the time my sister and I decided to see what happens when you throw all your roman candles and firecrackers into a barrel fire. The answer is many wonderful and dangerous things.
But nostalgia has an ugly side: maintaining the status quo. This is what Jesus was up against for sure. The people of Nazareth knew him and thought he had no business claiming the authority of a teacher. He was putting on airs. Change can be hard to come to grips with, especially when it knocks you down a rung. Unfortunately our natural tendency is to lash out when we feel like we’re threatened. I’m sure the people of Nazareth felt threatened by Jesus and the way his existence challenged the world they knew.
Nostalgia is especially insidious because it white washes the bad things that have happened in favor of a revisionist memory. Every generation remembers the “good ol’ days” when gas was cheaper and people more honest. The thing is our memory is flawed. The “good ol’ days” were never quite what we remember. Take for instance the golden age of the fifties. In my imagination it’s Norman Rockwell painting of the family around the table for Thanksgiving: everyone is smiling and no one has a care in the world. This never really existed. The fifties were a turbulent decade of fear, war, and inequality. 1954 saw the desegregation in American public schools, and shortly thereafter my home state of Georgia put the Confederate Battle Flag in their state flag, where it stayed for nearly fifty years.
But nostalgia can also swing back the other way. If we are not careful we can look back on the Civil Rights Movement as a battle that was fought and won, and is now over. We can be convinced that the Civil Rights movement was so great and powerful that we can’t possibly bring anything to the table. It’s an easy temptation, especially since our church has just elected our first black Presiding Bishop.
One of the most difficult things for us in the majority to do is to recognize our own complicity in the sins of our society. There are things that are easy to call out as evil, such as the burning of eight black churches in the past two weeks or the crime of slavery. It’s harder for me to think about how I have benefited from living in a world where my skin tone doesn’t get me harassed or threatened, or how I have benefited from the subjugation of human beings. Racism surrounds us and seeps into our being. Researchers at Harvard, the University of Washington, and the University of Virginia together designed the Implicit Association Test to determine a person’s unknown bias. What they found was that 70% of people from all races shared at least some preference for white people.1 We live in a world stacked against our brothers and sisters of color, and it has been stacked that way for three hundred and sixty years.
Now, you may be asking yourself “what does all of this have to do with the Gospel? Isn’t it just a bit too political?” I would argue that this has everything to do with the Gospel. In our Baptismal Covenant we promise to “respect the dignity of every human being.” We also promise to resist evil and when we do fall into sin to repent and return to the Lord. Repent comes from the Greek, metanoia, which means something like “to think differently after.”
Racism is an evil in our world and in this country. We need to repent and in doing so change the way we think. There is a lot at stake if we don’t work to change the way things are. We see that in our Gospel reading. Because they were stuck in their thinking they failed to see Jesus as God’s anointed. They missed an intimate encounter with God, and the power of God working in their lives. I can’t stop thinking about the line, “he was amazed at their unbelief.” How could they have not seen God standing right in front of them? The simplest answer is that they didn’t want to. They didn’t want to have to work that hard. They didn’t want to think about what that would mean.
Our Catechism defines sin as “seeking our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with each other, and with all creation.” Racism is a sin that most of us participate in in some way or another. It has great power to distort and destroy our relationships with God and with each other. We can’t ignore it away, but have to stare headlong into our brokenness and repent. The Gospel of Christ is that even though we humans may separate ourselves from each other and from God, hope is not lost. God fought to reconcile us to God and to each other. As Christians, we participate in that work in part through repentance.
Our Eucharist itself is both a thanksgiving and a turning away from our disordered wills. It both enacts the unity of our faith while pointing to a world where everyone can share in the oneness of Christ. But, more to the point, it sends us out, like the Twelve, into the world to bring about the Kingdom of God.