Wednesday, July 17, 2013

This Sermon - Justice, Hairspray, Race, and Perhaps Yoda?

My sermon is focusing on the movie "Hairspray" this week. You know, the musical with the "pleasantly plump" and incessantly chipper Tracy Turnblad who pushes her 1960s Baltimore relentlessly toward racial integration and acceptance of people's differences. Pushing boundaries, accepting one another, unconditional love ... stuff like that.

The themes for our worship services are set months in advance, and when this Sunday's worship theme was first planned, it was going to have been last Sunday, July 14. That would have meant that it would have been the day after George Zimmerman's verdict came out.

As it is, we had to switch weeks, so now it's a week and a day later. Much has been said in the intervening time. Anger. Elation. Disbelief. Calls for action. Calls for calm. Hoodies and Skittles. Smug satisfaction. Defiant hatred.

"Listening" to all of that, I'm trying to construct a sermon that centers on the scandalous action of the woman in Luke 7, who approached Jesus during a dinner party at Simon the Pharisee's place, cried all over his feet, dried him off with her hair, and then proceeded to slather anointing oil all over them, which to me makes a pretty good parallel to the actions of Tracy Turnblad, whose similarly shocking agenda included celebrating her own big body type, busting a few gender barriers, and ... what was that other thing? Oh yeah, dancing with the "negroes" on the Corny Collins television show - LIVE! "You can't stop the beat!"

There is an inevitability at the heart of the "Hairspray" plot. Full racial integration and acceptance is the assumed future, and anyone who resists it is pretty much a big square.

MLK often quoted Rev. Theodore Parker's idea that the arc of the moral universe may be long, but it must bend toward justice.

(Note to self: that would be a good quote to include in the sermon at some point.)

I believe that idea ... but ... Sometimes my faith in that notion is shaken. When I know that there are parents who have to console their children when they ask why they were not born with differently colored skin. When I know that there are parents who are absolutely terrified to allow their teenagers to walk through certain neighborhoods. When I know that store clerks follow certain kids around in their stores but not others.

When I realize that fear still rules, still dominates, still grips our world with such intensity and strength, in spite of what the angels always tell us, which is something along the lines of, "Do not be afraid."

I mean, come on, people! Did we learn nothing from Yoda? "Fear is the path to the dark side," remember?

So there's this sermon I'm trying to write.

The upbeat, happy, buoyantly hopeful beat of "Hairspray" held up against the death of a young black man whose killer faces no legal consequences for his actions.

The unconditional love of Jesus contrasting with the flawed, broken reality of this fearful world.

The cosmic bending toward justice of the universe's moral arc in tension with humanity's sinful, finite capacity.

Yep. Better get started.

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