Sermon by Rev. Brian Merritt at Renaissance Presbyterian Church
Today’s Text: Luke 19:1-10
Zacchaeus uses the word “if” when confronted by his complicity in a system that oppresses his neighbors and fellow Jews. Zacchaeus says, “if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” In one word privilege and power are summed up in today’s text in the face of such enormous grace by Jesus Christ. It is perhaps one of my favorite anomalies of Jesus ministry. It is like the healing of the lepers whose salvation has nothing whatsoever to do with their gratitude toward Jesus. If… is possibly the reason that I am a Presbyterian. If…denotes the distance between the grace of a good creator and the failure of humanity to completely become responsible for their complicity in oppression, degradation, violence and enormously horrendous stewardship on our planet.
Recently when I asked a prominent white clergy about the possibility that this Presbytery might ask forgiveness for its complicity in white supremacy, racism and the mistreatment of African American Presbyterians he stated, “No one remembers any of that.”
That is why it was such an amazing spiritual move for our General Assembly to make official our complicity in the destruction of Indigenous population’s culture through our Americanizing schools and complicity in the Westward expansive land grab that our government has participated in from its first broken treaty until this day.
The 222nd General Assembly this year stated they affirmed:
An apology to Native American’s for the church’s involvement and administration of boarding schools during the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose purpose was the “civilization” of Native American children.
A repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery: this “doctrine” derives its authority from Pope’s and European royal decrees stating “explorers” may seize lands and convert “non-Christians” in their name and for the good of the Christian Church. It remains the basis, as late as 2005, for Indian Law and Supreme Court decisions against Tribes.
More than this we are seeing official acts of repentance by the Presbyterian Church in Alaska where there was an official apology to the Alaskan Federation of Natives for complicity in sins committed against them by Presbyterian missionaries.
Yet, it is more than a much belated amount of remorse and repentance that makes us support the protestors at Standing Rock and the Sioux who find this pipeline offensive. We know that it is our expansive consumption of the land that is not sustainable and will rob it of its heritage for future generations.
Presbyterians have been far too complacent when it comes to opposing things that might affect the investment returns on their congregations, presbyteries and pension’s returns. We stand with the Standing Rock Protestors because we know that fossil fuel is a nefarious polluting source of energy whose scarring of our land perpetuates misery amongst unstable work forces in dangerous job conditions, unbreathable air, toxic water, ruined crops and an unending amount of wealth amongst corrupt corporate oligarchs who have our politicians in their back pocket. Shame on us for caring so much about Angelina Jolie’s marriage and so little about the Ogallala Aquifer.
We also support the Standing Rock protests because we know that it is only scratching the surface of the exploitation that many of our indigenous neighbors have had to endure for over 500 years. Sexual violence, unsolved murders, entrenched poverty, economic exploitation and years of unresolved land use issues have most recently eroded any trust there can be between the white supremacists surrounding many of the reservations in our country.
What we are not doing is paternalistically spiritualizing indigenous populations. That is a not so subtle way of infantilizing and delegitimization used by privileged, leftist whites. Many of my friends here in the African American community have explained how this painful pseudo solidarity works. This is not walking with, but say, “Isn’t that great. Maybe we can include their prayers in our service.” Then all is forgotten when the newest app comes out for our phone.
We are in solidarity with those in Standing Rock because justice is essential to our response to God in worship. We cannot ignore the cries of our brothers and sisters and must cry along with them. We pray for their safety; we hope for their continued courage and we will not forget our responsibilities well after this day. Most of all we will no longer be a people who says the word “if” when we already know our complicity in sin.