One of the Sundays during the season of Easter each year is set aside to think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Many churches celebrated last week, but we rearranged the schedule a bit to celebrate Earth Day in April. So today, I would like us to think about Jesus as shepherd and I want to remember those he refers to as his sheep.
News from Georgia this week brought to light the February 23 shooting of Ahmaud Arbery and the subsequent mishandling of the case by law enforcement and court officials. This was only one example of the many ways blacks and other people of color are treated differently than white Americans. The evidence is all around us, and in this time of the coronavirus it is especially noticeable as it is often the marginalized who work essential jobs, long hours, with little pay, and often no protection. So it is also that a disproportionate number of the ill and dying are blacks, Hispanics, and immigrants.
A seminary friend of mine deals every day with trials such as these, the trials of being black in America. Louis is one of the kindest most caring souls I have met. He gives of himself in so many ways. If you tuned in to the most recent UCC General Synod you would have found hhe was one of the people leading worship. He serves as resource for LGBT folks and especially the trans community holding a special place in his heart for the trans women of color who are now and always so at risk that their life expectancy is 35. Ten have been murdered this year just for being who they are. Louis is an advocate who is in tune with the feelings and fears that come from walking in black skin and with all the very real attendant discrimination and struggles of those with whom he identifies.
This week Louis issued the following challenge: “Ask yourself how you would move in freedom, faith, joy, creativity when you are afraid of the cops, the robbers, the church, the government, some folks in your own family….sit with it for a few minutes. and then join me in celebrating those of us who get up, come out or connect from a non-disclosed position, stretch to serve and support each other, stand in the trenches while carrying the terrifying reality that every day is a chase to the finish line and every town is a sun-down town.” *
Some of us may not instinctively understand that last reference. But if you think about it with some of the movies you’ve seen in mind. You may remember how many times black folks have heard words cautioning them not to be caught outside after sundown. Think of it and then imagine choosing life, choosing hope in such circumstances. Every day working toward the beloved community, working to make our communities safe for those who are marginalized because of what color skin they inhabit, of who they are and who they love. Every day reading in the news some reason for concern, some reason they might need to be looking over their shoulder worried about their safety and yet choosing to go on. Could you do it? Are you willing to speak out for those who must? Can you think of some way to engage on their behalf?
I know that much of the work of feeding the hungry and the homeless continues to go on in Downtown Allentown, and many of the clients of those programs are blacks and other people of color. Some of our UCC partners there are continuing their longtime projects, modified for safe practices. Some are stepping into the breach supplying essentials like the diapers not covered by food stamps for families who are now are having trouble making ends meet. The need is great in these times and some of you are already involved. I have been wondering what we as a church community might do when our usual mission practices are on hold. How might we explore further how to engage now and in the future the work of mission and justice as this crisis has peeled back the layers meant to conceal systems that privilege some and dismiss others.
When Jesus talked about being the Good Shepherd, he did not refer to just a favored few pets. No, Jesus talked about and cared about all the sheep, the black ones, the mottled ones, the brown ones, the white ones, the ones who are covered with thorns and brambles, the ones who have strayed far from the fold, the ones who have been walking through the mud and grime. He loves them all. He leads them to safety and tends their wounds. And so should we all. May it be so.
© Judy Brandon 2020