Sermon from February 2, 2020. 4 Epiphany A. Matthew 5:1-12.
Borrowing generously from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Benediction, “Blessed are the Agnostics.”
“Away from the Manger (Refugee King)” written by Liz Vice, Wen Reagan, Bruce Benedict, Greg Scheer, Lester Ruth. © 2018 Cardiphonia Music.
Performed by Clayton Faulkner and Annika Becker (oboe) for Lessons and Carols for Advent 2019 at Faith Lutheran Church, Bellaire, TX.
Download the original chord chart here.
Download my arrangement chord chart here.
Download the oboe/C instrument part I wrote here.
While we were planning for the Lessons and Carols service this year, there was a question as to what should be the carol sung between the last two readings (Luke 2:1-7 and John 1:1-14). It was very providential that I came across this song last week when trying to decide what that last carol should be. It turned out to be quite fitting not only for that spot of the service, but also for the larger season of Advent, and the situation of our world today. One attendee said, “the words were so very appropriate for us to hear with so many babies and young children being held in confinement centers at our borders.”
The connections this song subtly makes are jarring. Jesus was a refugee. His parents were terrified. They were running for their lives. The same is true for immigrants and refugees today. I’m aware of the story of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a 16-year-old from Guatemala who crossed the border in Texas in May and died in U.S detention on May 20 from lack of adequate medical care. Carlos crossed the border because his brother has special needs, and he came to earn money to support his brother back in Guatemala. He is the seventh child that has been reported as dying while in detention near the southern border.
“Keep us from Herods and all of their lies,” is the lyric that sets this song apart. It has the bite of Canticle of the Turning’s “Let the king beware for your justice tears ev’ry tyrant from his throne” (Rory Cooney). One of the ways that empires maintain control is through an alternative narrative. Lies feed people the fear that allows for oppression to take place. We should take note when kings and emperors tell us to not treat everyone as a neighbor. They are the lies of empire, not God’s kin-dom.
Some backstory from one of the composers, Liz Vice: “Earlier this year I was invited to a conference at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI to have a conversation about Christmas carols and how most don’t give an accurate depiction of the scene of God coming to earth in the flesh. A group of us gather into a room and reprised “Away in A Manger”. Side note: Since I wasn’t there, you know, at the actual scene of the Christ’s birth, I can only use my imagination with the scripture I’ve read. Matthew 1:18-25 Joseph’s dream to flee/run/ escape to Egypt Matthew 2:13-14 “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
Live video of Liz Vice singing:
Official audio version:
Away from the manger they ran for their lives
The crying boy Jesus, a son they must hide
A dream came to Joseph, they fled in the night
And they ran and they ran and they ran
No stars in the sky but the Spirit of God
Led down into Egypt from Herod to hide
No place for his parents no country or tribe
And they ran and they ran and they ran
Stay near me LORD Jesus when danger is nigh
And keep us from Herods and all of their lies
I love the LORD Jesus, the Refugee King
And we sing and we sing and we sing
Many following the #ELCAcwa this year have seen the image being discussed and heard the apology offered by Bishop-Elect Strickland. Many have asked how such an offensive thing could happen. As the person who selected the images for worship, I want to offer my apology as well. I apologize to you my colleagues, the Churchwide Assembly and Churchwide leaders and most of all to my African American brothers and sisters who were wounded by this. I know that many were troubled, shocked, hurt, and disgusted by the use of the image. Something I worked on was hurtful, and for this I am deeply sorry.
I do not intend to offer a defense of why the image was used, only an explanation that might help shed light. I was searching for images to align with the gospel text of the service:
“for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me.”
This image of someone being visited in the hospital was selected to lift up the African American experience, support their inclusion in representation, and exemplify ministry to the sick. My own cultural situation and lack of knowledge on this genre of art caused me to not see what was evident to others. The representation of African Americans in minstrel art has a painful history. I was unaware, and we did not have enough diversity in our group that vetted and approved the images. I know these issues are being addressed and they will be handled more carefully in the future.
I am fully aware of the place that racism has in my own life. As a white male born and raised in rural south Texas, it is endemic to me in a deep way. At the same time I am deeply invested in anti-racist ways of being. I find Luther’s sinner/saint idea very fitting here. I have the sin of racism embedded in me while I learn to fight and dismantle it.
I want to echo the words my friend Kathy Patrick shared on Facebook: “(this apology) is a clarion call to recognize that we white people in the church have a LOT of work to do to increase our cultural competence, including by diversifying our leadership, so that we can see as we should see. This was not one person’s mistake, it is OUR mistake. We all make similar mistakes every day that injure our siblings of color and the terrible thing is, we do it thoughtlessly because we do not know what we should know.”
I personally intend to do some things differently as I learn and grow from this:
We’d like to think that everyone has arrived. Everyone has matured to the point of seeing that equality is God’s design. Women can serve the church equally as well as men (perhaps better?). Most consider the ELCA a progressive denomination. But that doesn’t mean that everyone that sits in our pews are in the same place. This video out of North Carolina is a reminder of that:
And it is great to make a cute video, but even better to follow through and walk the talk. Like this: