Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
During Advent, we are all called to prepare for the coming of the Lord: by examining our consciences, by confessing our sins, by making straight His paths in all our relationships with God and with each other.
In today’s Gospel reading, we see John the Baptist proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People were flocking to the River Jordan to confess, and have their sins washed away. John was preparing the people for the coming of Jesus.
I have a confession to make.
In August 2017, I was set to preach the weekend of August 12th and 13th on an important new ministry in our parish called Prepares.
But on the Friday before the weekend homily racist white nationalists carrying torches and chanting racist slogans marched on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. A young woman was killed during a counter-protest the next day.
Everything inside my bones said I should drop the prepared homily and preach on the evils of racism. But I felt the need to fulfill a promise to a ministry leader and went ahead with the homily anyway.
This homily is my feeble attempt to make amends for not speaking out then.
It’s amazing we’re still dealing with racism in 2018. Isn’t it?
We live in such a broken world where social sin can corrupt our American souls.
As Catholics, we are called to stand up against such sinfulness and firmly proclaim Jesus to those in error.
In mid-November, U.S. Catholic Bishops gathered in Baltimore. One of the things they did was release a new pastoral letter to counter the evils of racism and how WE Catholics are called to respond to this social sin.
It’s entitled “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call To Love.”
More on that in a minute.
Perhaps you read about the ugly incident recently at a frozen yogurt shop in Kirkland involving a young African American man.
Byron Ragland is a court-appointed special advocate and visitation supervisor. The nine-year Air Force Veteran was at the frozen yogurt business to supervise a parental visit between a mother and child. And, yes, he’s African American.
But employees got scared by the presence of a young black man sitting alone in the shop and called the police. Even after explaining his presence to two Kirkland police officers, he was still asked to “move along.”
Is this 1950s America?!
Ragland told the Seattle Times, “That’s all it takes in America — for you to be black, and to be somewhere you’re not supposed to be… And where you’re supposed to be is not up to you. It’s up to somebody else’s opinion.”
Thankfully, the frozen-yogurt shop owner and police officers eventually issued an apology to Ragland for the incident. The City of Kirkland is now having all of its employees, including the police, undergo special bias training.
In today’s first reading, Baruch is consoling exiles returning home to Jerusalem, reeling after years of catastrophic destruction and forced slavery at the hands of the Babylonians.
Bible scholars believe his words of “lofty mountains made low” referred to an excess of pride, arrogance and materialism among the people of his time. His words of “depths and gorges filled in” referred to a shortage of justice and obedience to God.
Baruch is sharing a reminder of God’s covenant promise of peace, divine mercy and justice to his people. But most importantly he’s telling us how the wasteland of the human heart can be made new again -- through repentance.
Don’t we all need God’s providence to find our way back home?
This is what John the Baptist is promising his Jewish brothers and sisters in the River Jordan -- a chance to be reborn in the spirit, to walk away from evil ways and prepare for the Lord’s coming.
Where is our River Jordan? How can we be washed clean of the stain of our social sins and be made new again? What can we do to right the wrong of racism?
The U.S. Bishops pastoral letter offers us a path forward in battling the social sin of racism present in our nation today.
The letter has been under development for four years, ever since the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, showed how our wounds of racial division in the U.S. are far from healed.
In the letter, posted on our parish Facebook page, the issue of racism is put into the light of the Gospel and Catholic Teaching.
Its intent is to give hope to those who have been wounded by the sin of racism, encourage those who work to try to eradicate racism, and challenge the hearts of those who perpetuate racism by their words and actions.
Louisiana Bishop Shelton Fabre says, “at the very heart of racism is the denial to recognize the basic human dignity of someone of a different race or ethnicity, to recognize the gift of human life that God has given to them.”
He went on to say, “Love compels each of us to resist racism courageously.”
I read an interesting statistic that may shock you.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, since 9-11, only 27% of all terrorist acts in America have been committed by radical Islamic terrorists. 73% of all terrorist acts since 9-11 in the U.S. have been committed by white racists and Right Wing extremist hate groups in America. Ponder that for a moment.
Our indifference on the issue of racism is fueling the resolve of these real terrorists, giving them permission to openly show their hate, both online and in the public square.
The U.S. Bishops are calling us all to examine our consciences, reflect on any flawed thinking, and shine a spotlight on “where the racist attitudes of yesterday have become a permanent part of our perceptions, practices and policies today.”
Then we are called as Catholics to go out into the public square and help right these wrongs. Stand up to those who spew hate and proclaim Jesus.
This is how we can cleanse ourselves from the evils of the social sin of racism. This is how we build a better world. This is how we make straight His path and prepare for the coming of the Lord.
I leave you with a beautiful picture of redemption.
One of those white racists who took part in the march on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville has since had a conversion of heart.
Navy veteran Ken Parker was out of work and without direction in his life, so he joined the Ku Klux Klan, eventually became a Grand Dragon, and started propagating that America was headed for a race war.
With a heart filled with hate, he marched on Charlottesville and even was happy about the death of the counter protesters.
When he returned home to Jacksonville, Florida, Parker met a black preacher in his neighborhood with a heart filled with love.
Pastor Will McKinnon of All Saints Holiness Church opened his small, predominantly black church to Parker and his fiancé, and over time love thawed the hate Ken Parker had in his heart.
Today, he’s a changed man. His sins were washed away by the love of Christ – quite literally washed away as he was baptized a Christian by McKinnon early this year.
Parker’s words of love have now moved to action of love. He’s begun the process of removing all the racist tattoos on his body. He says the process is quite painful, but he says, nothing like the pain and fear he’s have caused others with his past words and actions.
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”