Isaiah 40: 1-11; Mark 1: 1-8
Today, on the second Sunday of Advent, with the light of our peace candle shining, I’d like us to reflect upon peace. I would like to talk about voices crying out in the wilderness, to prepare a way for peace. Most of all I’d like to talk about the prophet John who prepares a way for Jesus, the bringer of peace.
The events of the last few weeks have left us emotionally raw. In fairly rapid succession three grand juries (Ohio, Missouri, and New York) have decided not to seek indictments against three white police officers involved in the killings of unarmed Black men. The merits and details of each case have been debated endlessly in all forms of media, in dining rooms, bars, places of worship and schools across America. Chants of “No Justice, No Peace” “Remember Mike!” “Don’t Shoot! My Hands up, Don’t shoot!” and “I can’t breathe” are mantras that have gone reverberated across the nation. Die-ins or lie ins, where activists lie on the ground, pretending to be dead, has become a significant form of protest. Rallies and marches are cropping up across the country, at times blocking bridges and access ways, demanding justice, demanding reform, demanding that the country take seriously the institutionalization of racism, a gun culture, a booming prison-industry, that has impacted on law enforcement practices – and has had a devastating impact on African Americans, especially Black men.
So we take a moment and remember Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri), Eric Garner (Staten Island), and Akai Gerley (East New York "Pink Houses"), Tamir Rice, the 12 year old African American boy was shot by police in Cleveland. Rumain Brisbon shot to death in Phoenix. Just the latest links in a chain that goes back decades. Voices crying in the wilderness.
We take a minute and remember Darren Wilson, Daniel Pantaleo, Peter Liang, Timothy Loehman, the unnamed white police officer in Phoenex. Voices crying in the wilderness. Links in a chain that goes back decades.
Aside from the particulars of each case, we would have to be stone deaf not to hear the voices crying, shouting out, these past several weeks. All Advent voices. Mixed in those voices is the familiar voice of the prophet John, calling us to make the path straight for our God. To make low the mountains. To lift up the valleys. To make the uneven ground level. To create a level, even playing field. When that happens, the prophet Isaiah tells us, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed – and all people – all people shall see God’s glory together.
We are in the wilderness these days. On one hand we usually associate the wilderness with deprivation, danger, temptation and chaos: it is the wild. It is stark and bleak. On the other hand, the wilderness also represents a place to make things plain, to strip down to the essentials, for solicitude, to clear our heads and renew our hearts. The wilderness becomes a place of revelation and formation, and redemption. Both situations exist simultaneously. That’s what makes the wilderness a challenging but also transformational place.
So today, we find ourselves in the wilderness.
In this wilderness some see bravery and courage. Others see the ugly face of racism and prejudice. They see racism woven itself into the economic and social fabric of our country, so finely woven it isn’t seen by white folk. Some see all the protests and looters and claim people are making divisions between the races that doesn’t exist.
What do you see, in this wilderness? What voices are you hearing?
Here’s what I am finding in the wilderness: (please bear with me here):
- The Number 1 cause of death of black men ages 15-34 is murder.
- Overall, young African Americans are killed by cops 4.5 times more often than people of other races and ages.
- Black people were about four times as likely to die in custody or while being arrested than whites.
- What these numbers show is that 5% of black males who live in the United States are in prison or jail, 2% of Hispanic males, and less than 1% of white males.
- The United States has the highest prison population in the world, (2,228,424), topping even China which has 4x the population. The US has second highest documented incarceration rate in the world. To put it in another way - , the US is 5% of the World population and has 25% of world prisoners.
- That one in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.
- Prisons has become a growth industry, it is becoming increasingly privatized. It’s a lucrative industry. The two biggest prison corporations earned over 3.3 billion dollars in profits – with wages as low as 25 cents an hour, while the top executive of Corrections Corporation of America makes 3.7 million a year.
Now that may seem like a lot dry, academic sounding talk. We know statistics may be manipulated. They provide us with a starting point, a viewing point to begin to find our way out of madness. To do the work of preparing the way for Jesus and his gospel of righteousness. To expose sin. Further, as we prepare today to bring food and clothing over to the Church of Gethsemane, with its specialized ministry to the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated – we need to enter their lives. We are not in the business of giving handouts, but in rebuilding lives, seeking justice. We need a real connection to our sister Church.
I can’t help but sense that we got a lot of leveling to do. Some mountains got to come down. Some valleys need exalting. Some rough patches need smoothing. We have some Advent work to do. So here in the wilderness with all these opinions coming at us; we remember Jesus’ words, about that part of his vision of setting captives free. At the same time, as we remember the incidents that led us into this wilderness, I think of my niece and her husband, rookie police officers with the Cleveland Police Department, and I pray for their safety too. I pray that they become part of the solution.
What is important is that we take advent time to set the captive inside each of us free. Each one of us has something weighing us down. There’s many ways to be enslaved. One of the things we need to learn in this wilderness is that peace is an inside/outside job. We need it in both places: in our hearts the peace that comes through repentance, change and forgiveness; the peace that comes from becoming whole people. Then there’s the peace that whole people carry in the world when with courage, they bring the mountains down, they exalt those valleys - the peace of a level field.
Here we are, in our Advent wilderness. Will we find danger? Will we run away? Or will we find our solutions together? Like Carmelo, who is putting an event together to take place here January 10, called “Shine a light” with concerts and speakers on race, poverty, violence and law enforcement. People are joining protests – churches are sponsoring book studies, discussions, getting educated, learning, growing and connecting. A lot is happening today. There are faith-based protests happening this Friday and Saturday, here in New York City. All these activities, steeped in prayer, tears and reflection are providing a way out of the wilderness into peace.
God shows us the way out of the wilderness of our making. God is faithful – God did not lead us here to leave us here but to find peace – here and out there. In bringing down the mountains. Lifting up the valleys. Creating safe spaces level spaces, smooth places. As we are about the work of peace, that’s where we will see the glory of our God revealed – and all people – young and old, black & white, brown or yellow, gay or straight, rich or poor, male or female will see it. Together. So the question remains: What will we do? Amen.
- See more at: http://www.businessinsurance.org/prison-industry/#sthash.u32a9HY2.dpuf