Remember

Rev. Alexis Kassim
"Remember"
August 31, 2014

Psalm 105: 5-15, 42-45

5 Remember the wonderful works he has done,
   his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered, 
6 O offspring of his servant Abraham,*
   children of Jacob, his chosen ones. 

7 He is the Lord our God;
   his judgments are in all the earth. 
8 He is mindful of his covenant forever,
   of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, 
9 the covenant that he made with Abraham,
   his sworn promise to Isaac, 
10 which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
   to Israel as an everlasting covenant, 
11 saying, ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan
   as your portion for an inheritance.’ 

12 When they were few in number,
   of little account, and strangers in it, 
13 wandering from nation to nation,
   from one kingdom to another people, 
14 he allowed no one to oppress them;
   he rebuked kings on their account, 
15 saying, ‘Do not touch my anointed ones;
   do my prophets no harm.’ 

42 For he remembered his holy promise,
   and Abraham, his servant. 

43 So he brought his people out with joy,
   his chosen ones with singing. 
44 He gave them the lands of the nations,
   and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples, 
45 that they might keep his statutes
   and observe his laws.
Praise the Lord!

Our scripture reading for today is but a snippet of a very long story. Psalm 105 is one of the so-called “historical psalms” and as a whole retells Israel’s foundational story. The whole story from God first making a covenant with Abraham, to the Israelites finally settling in the land of Canaan. In form and function, it’s a psalm of praise. It glorifies God for seeing the people of Israel through a lot of tough times – times some would probably rather forget.  Times of suffering under an oppressive regime, wandering in the desert for years, enduring famine, and watching loved ones die along the way. But in the end, the people come out singing! The gift of the land of Canaan is a reminder to the people that God remembered the promise to Abraham. The psalm’s retelling of the Israel’s long and turbulent history is a reminder that God had a purpose for keeping God’s commitment all along – the development of a people who would remember God’s promises and commandments and be faithful to them.

Last Sunday and in the days since, many of you have come up to me to express your appreciation for the sermon I gave last week. For those of you who weren’t here last Sunday, I spoke about how I’ve reacted to the unfolding situation in Ferguson, MO and how something like what happened to Mike Brown could have very easily happened to me or anyone else in my family. I spoke about how each and every day, we have to adjust ourselves to the best of our ability to not offend the sentiments of white people in order to stay safe. Because as the situation in Ferguson demonstrates, just being perceived as a threat can cost you your life! For us, this is what every day is like. We know it from when we are little children until we are old and gone.

Several of you mentioned to me that you had no idea how rough it is for people of color, or that you had never really thought much about what we have to do every day to best keep ourselves safe. I sincerely appreciated every one of your comments to me, but it got me thinking. Why does what I said sound so unfamiliar? Why aren’t we thinking about these things every day? Mike Brown’s death was the fourth killing of an unarmed black man by the police in the last month…so why does this sound so out of the ordinary? Our society was built on 400 years of systematic oppression that continues today…we know that, don’t we?!

Honestly, I’m not sure. We may know it intellectually, but our knowing doesn’t seem to have a tangible impact on the lived experience of others. For example, we may know some facts and figures from the dark ages of American history. We may vaguely remember something referred to as the Dred Scott decision being on an AP History test or something like that from our school days, but we don’t think about it. We don’t remember it. We don’t think about how the legacy of that decision lives today, over a century and a half later.

And that’s what privilege does. It lends itself to the creation of a society in which certain people can get by and live full and happy lives without ever having to consider the trials and tribulations of others. Privilege tells us that if you belong to the majority, you do not need to know any people’s history but your own. And what’s worse, privilege tells us that only the majority’s history is valid and meaningful - it’s an exclusive history in which other people’s perspectives and lived experiences do not have a place.

I mention this because several of you have asked me since last Sunday, what can you do to lend your support to the situation in Ferguson, and more generally, what can be done about the sad state of affairs we find ourselves in in terms of racial justice. That’s a tough question to answer, generally speaking. I know that if this is the first time you are hearing these things and grappling with these issues, it can seem overwhelming. But the good thing is, you can start small:

1.     You can start learning about the racialized history of Ferguson and how it reflects the racialized history of America.

2.     You can diversify your media and begin shaping your awareness of justice concerns from the perspectives of people of color

3.     And you can find support from each other! Challenge and encourage each other to dig deeper, even when it hurts and especially when you feel confused and angry and sad and hopeless, so that you can be more authentic in your shared journey with people of color to uphold and protect principles of antiracism and equity in our society.

But most of all, remember that injustice is an issue that affects all of us and each and every one of us needs to be a part of dismantling it. Our scripture reading today offers a starting point. We have to be more intentional about remembering our collective history and making doing so a part of our spiritual practice. For the past month we have been preaching from the Psalms, which isn’t something that’s commonly done in churches, but perhaps it should be.

Perhaps the Israelites’ example of recalling the ups and downs of their history can help us to understand that what happened to Mike Brown and others like him did not happen in a vacuum. It happened as another chapter in a 400 year history of systematic oppression and injustice in the United States.

Meditating on the Psalms may sound like a fine idea, but in reality, it would be uncomfortable a lot of the time! Several of the Psalms are long lamentations and are kind of depressing to read. For example, Psalm 106 is the counterpart to our reading today and instead of recalling the marvelous works of God in the midst of troubling times, it recalls the failures of the people to trust God and follow God’s commandments through the troubling times. It recalls how the Israelites sinned against God over and over again even though God was faithful to them. The point of which is not to merely recall information, but to instruct the next generation. The psalmist writes to remind the people that God remains faithful even to sinners, but the people have a responsibility to acknowledge their shortcomings and ask to be reconciled with God and each other.

The Rev. Dr. Emilie Townes, a renowned womanist theologian, reminds us that communal lament is the first step toward collective action. There is something powerful about knowing you are not alone; that you are not the only one trying to figure out how to stand in solidarity with people suffering all over the world. And if we as followers of Jesus Christ believe that we are all of one body created in the image of God, then we have a responsibility to bear witness to that. You don’t have to watch the news for very long to realize that we are walking in terrible darkness here, but thankfully, we are also walking in the light of the Gospel.

Amen.