February is Black History Month.   In seminary, I became more attuned to the plight of the oppressed, including our fellow citizens whose history includes slavery and all manner of injustices that have been endured (or not) since emancipation.

Though we are generations removed from the actual events of slavery, it continues to affect us as a nation.  I understand that the brutality and inhumanity of slavery is hard to look at.    But if we don’t look at the sin, how can we begin to heal.

There is an important story (Numbers 21:4-9) from the Old Testament that I hope will help us understand the why.

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea,a to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6 Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So, Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. (Num. 21:4-9, NRSV)

This story is of a people who become impatient and lack gratitude for God’s provision in the wilderness.  Their lack of respect and trust in God created a devastating consequence, death.  Indeed, sin is poisonous.  Moses, given his relationship with God interceded, and God provided a remedy.   The people confessed.  Reconciliation of the relationship with God, and healing happened, when they looked at the very thing that harmed them.

In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul reflects on the way we treat others. “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. (Rom. 14:13, NRSV)

I can think of several stumbling blocks that have been a hindrance to our fellow African American brothers and sisters.   Redlining, exclusionary homeowners’ association covenants, lack of access to mortgages, segregation, food deserts, and disparate health outcomes, to name a few.   Human designed systems create these injustices, and it is this type of injustice that we are called to reject as Christ followers.

Paul writes to the Ephesians, encouraging them to wrestle against systems that do not support life and well-being.   These systemic injustices have a life and power of their own.   And as Paul points out we work together against them.

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. “(Eph 6:12, KJV)

OPLC has taken the step to join the Good Faith Network.   This group goes to the high places to pursue justice.  I hope you will consider joining the assembly of voices in May, to make known to your leaders, the need to address the issues faced in Johnson County.

For those of us with serious gaps in our historical knowledge, we can pursue learning on our own to develop a deeper understanding and expand our minds.  This builds empathy, which is also a quality that Christ shows us.

Keep shining your lights in your own particular ways and according to the gifts you have been given by your Creator.

Peace and Blessings to all of you,

Pastor Sue