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Sermon 6.23.24 Calming the Waves of Internal Oppression

Sermon begins at 30:26

This week, several of us were able to attend the Union of Black Episcopalians Annual Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

It was a time of gathering, celebrating, and learning from one another.

We attended a few workshops, ate lovely meals together, and connected.

I would share all of the greetings that we received from our fellow black Episcopal Churches, but I think we’re not trying to be here at 2pm.

I will say a special greeting however from the Rev. Ellis Clifton, former rector of St. Michael and All Angels in Avondale.

He sends his greetings and prayers for St. Andrew’s and for all of you.

Two of the sessions that really spoke to me this week while we were learning were ideas that I think all of us have been exposed to, but they were brought forward with a new urgency and solidarity.

These are the ideas of decolonizing our interpretation of the Bible, which means – on a practical level – not just taking the traditional interpretation for granted as if it’s the only way of viewing the Bible.

The second idea goes along with a new curriculum that is coming out from UBE called Healing from Internal Oppression.

This means that while we recognize in this week after Juneteenth the importance of liberation from the oppression of slavery and all of the other oppressions that followed it – Jim Crow, lynchings, mass incarceration, the war on drugs, defunding public schools… -

After we have our bodies liberated, there is still a lot of work to do to liberate our souls from the way that oppression made us conceive of ourselves.

We have to heal from the self hatred that empire has foisted upon us, self hatred that still operates in the way we treat ourselves and others, whom the world has judged as less than.

Now, at this point, I could say some things to make us all a little uncomfortable.

That’s what the Truth can do.

We saw it in our session on internalized oppression.

Several people in the room were ready to admit that others were oppressed in their souls, but of course “not me, I’m above that, I only seldom chastise young people in church about their clothes because they remind me a little too much of people I think of as thugs,” which is code speak for economically less than me, prone to trouble, and a reminder of what could have been, but for the Grace of God.

In other words, we balk, because we know that when our kids act and dress like that, it’s not the way that they’re going to make it in a world dominated by white, European culture hegemony.

We don’t believe that there can be a different way. 

Succumbing to internal oppression, then, is the subconscious, sneaking suspicion that the white way may in fact be the right way.

But we don’t believe that.

I know that if I asked anyone in this room, “is the white way the right way?”

100% of you would say no.

But, if I asked you if a young man came into church to receive communion and he was sagging, would you think to yourself, I wish he’d pull his pants up…

Be honest…

A lot of us would say, “I can buy you a belt, if you want.”

On NPR this week there was an article written about 91 year old Nigerian artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya.

He began his art more than 70 years ago and this summer his stations of the cross, called the Mask and the Cross will be exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.

Born in the Niger Delta and encouraged by a local priest in Lagos, Onobarkpeya created these stations after Nigeria’s independence from Britain in 1960.

His stations show Christ and the other biblical figures in traditional Adire clothing. The Roman soldiers are depicted as British Colonial officers.

His art hung in the church for over 40 years, one of his proudest achievements.

The problem became that after independence from colonialism, many people, especially in the church still had colonized minds.

They still thought of the British way, as the right way.

They saw his art as a distortion of the Gospel, rather than a reinterpretation.

His stations were eventually taken down, because of the power of internalized oppression.

But, if you think that this only happens in Africa…

I’ve heard internalized oppression in our own neighborhood aimed at us here at St. Andrew’s.

I was sitting at the coffee shop last year and was talking with someone, and when I told him where I preached he said to me, and I quote, “Oh! Y’all are that high yellow church.”

That’s code, and what it translates to is a division of the black community, because we have been taught to hate each other based on the darkness or lightness of our skin by the colonizer, whose main method of control is divide and conquer.

What I’m here to say to you today is that the longer we believe the colonizer about who we are and how worthy we are, we cannot be fully healed.

We need to recognize our internalized oppression, and we need to heal from it.

Now, this is a sermon, so let me put this in biblical terms.

Our boats are in a storm, but instead of waking Jesus up to calm the waters, we’re looking at the other boats and saying, “if you’d known better, you wouldn’t be getting tossed around by this storm,”

Ignoring the fact that we are also in the same storm.

Can you imagine?

Jesus wants us to wake him up so that he can calm the storm, but all we’re focused on so often is other people who are caught up in something they can’t control.

Like the storm, empire and colonization want us to see them as part of the natural order.

“Don’t complain about the storm, focus on the other boats.”

But the storm can be calmed, Jesus is in control of the natural and the unnatural.

Jesus can put an end to empire and usher in the Kindgom of God,

We just need to be ready to reinterpret what the world calls distortion.

The apostle Paul tells us that NOW is the acceptable time.

“Do not accept the Grace of God in vain.”

Like Paul, we and our ancestors have come through great hardships with endurance, through afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger.

Open wide your hearts! There is no restriction except that restriction which you allow to settle into your heart.

There is nothing holding you back except that which you allow to get in your way.

Don’t let empire have the last say.

Don’t let the colonizer keep your soul after your body has been set free,

Because the manner of our colonization may have changed, but the methods that are used to pit us against one another have not changed.

What I want to say to you today is that just as the medieval and modern empires of the Western world colonized the globe in the name of Christanity, but more often with the true goal of greed,

As long as greed exists, our souls will be susceptible to colonization.

We will be out at sea, susceptible to the storm.

For Christ’s sake, it’s time that we called on Jesus to calm the storm within and without.

You can take that step forward for yourself, and by doing so we can begin a movement to heal the world from oppression of body and soul.

It begins with us, with our community.

In closing, I want to summarize this sermon with the following words from En Vogue, “Free your minds, and the rest will follow.”

Let us pray,

God of all-power and might in heaven and on earth.

Help us to free ourselves from internal and external oppressions.

Help us to see our world through your eyes and not the eyes of empire.

Help us in this new interpretation of our world to accept the goodness that you have set before us,

Help us to overcome what the world calls distortion, if it leads to the glorification of you.

We thank you for the witnesses in every generation of our ancestors, who have fought to liberate us,

May we not take their efforts for granted.

Free our minds as you have freed our bodies.

We pray this all in the name of the merciful and powerful savior, the calmer of every storm, Jesus Christ our only Lord.


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