Sermon preached at Cyncoed Methodist Church, Cardiff Sun 5th October 2014
In his speech, which he scribbled together in the back of a car on his way to the airport, Robert Kennedy got to the heart of the matter – he realized that as a country, America was either going to go one of two ways, it was going to go down a route of utter self destruction, chaos and political suicide or, it was going make the long, hard, sacrificial walk to reconciliation and some form of visible unity in diversity.
Just as the country lost one of it’s greatest visionaries, one of its prophets! Robert Kennedy managed to hold the two extremes of the nation together…
Acknowledging their pain.
Their frustration .
Their ignorance…in the face of God’s wisdom.
It isn’t wisdom to fight hate with hate.
Something he understood, because his own brother was assassinated, and of course he himself was assassinated too!
In both of our readings, we see what comes when wisdom is lacking –
Whether it be on the part of the vineyard as in the reading from Isaiah, or on the part of the tenants, or on the part of the crowd gathered around Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel – there is ignorance in abundance.
Jesus’ audience may not have all been poverty-stricken, but the majority of them, like us perhaps at one time, are more likely to have suffered from unpleasant landlords than unreliable tenants!
And of course the thing about the tenants from our reading today, as you may have realized, is that they are more than just unreliable.
They are more than just untrustworthy – they are dangerous, they are malicious, they are bloodthirsty, they are wicked.
Jesus asks the crowds, what will the owner do when he comes to the vineyard –how will the landlord treat the tenants?
And like the rattle of a gun they say, “He will certainly kill those evil men”.
They missed the point.
You cannot simply beat evil with evil.
Violence with violence.
Sin with sin.
God combats our sin with his forgiveness.
Our hardness of heart with his softness of heart.
Our brutality with his love.
Our pain with his healing.
But healing, and love, and forgiveness and reconciliation were not of interest to so many of the people who were around in Luther King and Kennedy’s day.
And those words from Isaiah resonate this month more than ever:
‘He expected them to do what was good, but instead they committed murder. He expected them to do what was right, but their victims cried out for justice.’
You cannot beat evil with evil – you cannot simply treat the tenants with the same malice that they show towards you, there is and is always, another way – the way of Christ – the way of wisdom.
Of course, October is Black History Month – something I detest.
Firstly, because it relegates the whole of my history to one month, when suddenly it becomes important.
Secondly, because being black, and the struggle of black people is not history – it’s present, and continuing and not a thing of the past – how can it be when it’s still so real?
But thirdly, because till this day there has not been any significant worldwide commemoration of what many consider the greatest holocaust of history – the holocaust of the slave trade.
What this leads to is people thinking, that the horror of racism and racial discrimination is a thing of the past and yet we know from the situation in Ferguson Missouri – the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner and the London riots in 2012 that we have a long way to go.
And of course, it’s only ‘real racism’ in some quarters if someone is kicking your head into the curb and calling you the N word, or some other word…
The reality, is that racism has just become much subtler.
I often tell people, that the only time I actually realized I was black, and what being black meant was when I went to Cambridge for three years. Constantly being asked by people, as though Bristol or Windrush arrived yesterday ‘what part of Africa I came from, or how long I was studying in England for, or more recently upon my arrival in Cardiff – you speak such good English, where did you learn it?’
Now, the problem with all of this is that, injustice –
Wherever it occurs and whichever ignorance it hides behind, it makes us all slaves, it hold us all hostage, to being just like the vines planted in the vineyard from our reading in Isaiah.
‘Israel is the vineyard of the Lord Almighty; the people of Judah are the vines he planted. He expected them to do what was good, but instead they committed murder. He expected them to do what was right, but their victims cried out for justice’.
I am not free until you are free.
I cannot truly have justice, until you have justice.
I am not equal until you are equal.
King said: “What affects one directly, affects us all indirectly, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be”.
Our problem today, is that unless it affects us directly, it’s not our problem.
We live in an individualistic society, where things belong to me, and I worked for them, and I deserve them, and it’s my country, my job, my life, my body…I can do what ever the hell I like with it.
Often my friends say that to me as a reason for living wrecklessly – it’s their body, and then I think, Hmmm yet when you’re dying you want God to do something about it – well, you’ve spent all your life telling him and the whole world that it’s yours!
The thing about Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy, was that they knew that other people’s pain, and suffering and heartache and injustices were their own. HAD to be their own suffering, their own pain, their own injustices.
Because to follow the God of Abraham is to be committed to an understanding that in all of us lies a common thread of humanity.
And to be a Christian is to cross the barriers which sexism and homophobia and ageism and racism put between us.
Unfortunately, the Church is often the one place where discrimination is allowed, accepted, sometimes even encouraged without our awareness of it.
Here in Cardiff, there is a massive, rich, diverse community of people that – looking around most of our Churches – we have yet to fully embrace.
And if talking about race, and talking about the past, and talking about discrimination makes us uncomfortable then good, because we cannot simply brush under the carpet.
We need wisdom like Mandela, like Martin Luther King, like Robert F Kennedy, like those Nuns, like Christ –
To stand up for those who have no voice.
To stand up to the oppressor.
To put our lives on the line – for what we know to be right, because to do anything else is a denial of the Gospel.
Because when we engage with all of God’s people around us, when we truly have our finger on the pulse of the pressing issues of our context, when we join forces with those who are most in need and most oppressed and most vulnerable – then we will, to our surprise find God standing right beside us, and before us and within us, in the cause of righteousness and justice.
‘Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God’.
May we bring to all, a justice animated by wisdom, by righteous anger and by love.