In this morning’s gospel we retell the story of the woman who is seeking justice against an opponent. The unjust judge ignores her, but in the end grants her justice so that she will stop coming and bothering him. Luke tells us the purpose of this parable is to emphasize the importance of constant, persistent prayer. If an unjust judge responds to a persistent call for justice, won’t the just judge God also respond and grant justice. The answer is yes, constant, persistent, 24 X 7 prayer will result in God quickly granting justice. Luke’s further question is, “Will people trust God to grant justice and pray continually?”
So the question for us today is, “Do we believe that God will answer our prayers and grant justice?” “Do we pray constantly day and night for justice and live our lives like we believe that God will respond?”
So what is prayer? We pray this morning during our worship service. Prayer can take many forms such as thanksgiving, intercession, and petition. Prayer can be corporate as in our worship this morning or prayer can be in the family such as grace, daily office, bedtime prayers or prayer can be quiet, silent individual prayer where we say nothing, but just sit with God in silence. Prayer is conversation with God, part of building our relationship with God. We can choose to live our whole lives in prayer. We can choose to trust God and dedicate our whole lives to God, admitting that we cannot solve the world’s problems, that we cannot even solve our own problems and turn our lives over to God. This is not easy and is a lifelong process. I have to admit that I don’t fully trust God to take care of things and think that I need to intervene and take care of some things. But neither does this mean we should sit back and not get involved in living our own lives. The simple tasks of our lives can be offered as prayer to God, making the morning coffee, doing the dishes, making a meal, mowing the grass, taking the garbage out can be offered in prayer to God. We can choose to believe that God is active in our lives, in our daily routines, in our work and in our play. We can choose to trust that the decisions we make, the words we speak and our own attitude matter, that they do impact the lives of others and our own life.
Yesterday I attended a class of “Examining our own Racism Training”. I think that many of the exercises were equally valid for talking about racism or gender issues or sexual orientation or the many other ways we function to create groups of us and them. Part of solving the problem is our willingness to discuss the problem with others, our willingness to have our lives disrupted when others question the status quo. What do you think of the 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem and the subsequent action of high school football players? Has it lead to any discussion amongst your family and friends? Do you see it as being disrespectful to the military and the flag or do you see it as a respectful way of protesting against police brutality and violence against people of color? Which do you think should take priority, respect and dignity for all people including women, people of color and an opposing political view or respect for nationalism and the flag? In the 1960’s 66% of American’s thought Martin Luther King was too disruptive by bringing racial pain into public view, but it is the disruption of the status quo that brings into view societal and cultural injustices and the pain of others and our own.
When did you first realize that there are racial distinctions, gender distinctions and economic distinctions in our society? What significant experiences in your life contribute to your understanding of yourself as white or black, male or female, Republican or Democrat, middle class or poor?
We need to consider our own unconscious social biases, our automatic assumptions. If I say “physician”, what comes to mind? We know that there are black, female physicians, but what is our automatic response to the image of a black, female physician? Do we feel women are competent to be a physician? Do we believe that black people are intelligent enough to be a physician? We need to confront our own ideas of what a doctor looks like, of what a thug looks like. When I say Cuban American or Arab, what is your first thought? We need to be willing to confront our own stereotypes and assumptions. We all have biases and prejudices, this is not bad, but we need to acknowledge and own them so we can stop acting on them and change. For example, police are good, good people aren’t racist, therefore police are not racist. This is a logical assumption, but not necessarily true.
We need to be aware of our own micro-aggressions; brief social slights that may not appear to be significant in themselves, but that over time contribute to an accumulative affect. Do we ever find ourselves saying: “No, where are you REALLY from.”; “You’re being overly sensitive.”; “Why do you sound white?”; “You are so articulate.”; “I don’t think of you as a woman”; “I don’t think of you as being black.”; “You’re not like the typical black person.”
When we hear someone using micro-aggression there are many ways to respond. We can assume their intentions are good and explain the impact of what they are saying. We can ask a question in the hopes that this will cause them to rethink what they said. It may be necessary to interrupt and redirect what they are saying or broaden the context to a universal human behavior. Perhaps we can make the comment personal by saying, “I don’t think you know that my brother uses a wheelchair.” Or make the comment individual by asking, “Do you really mean all Episcopalians or are you thinking of a particular person?” And sometimes we just need to say, “Ouch!”
Someone’s cadence or speech patterns may identify them as “other” and we stop listening. For some people a southern accent means inferior intelligence. It is about self-awareness and being willing to be called out or to call someone else out on their assumptions and stereotypes.
A final area I offer is institutionalized injustice. This includes the Criminal Justice System with racial profiling, “stop and frisk” and many other policies; Redlining which impacts property pricing in white and black neighborhoods; the G.I. Bill of 1944 which changed who went to college, but was not available to all veterans; and Social Security where farmers and domestic workers, ie sharecroppers and black, female domestic workers, were excluded. Ratified on February 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal or state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on the citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted American women the right to vote, which begs the question of when women were recognized as citizens? In1967 an executive order banned discrimination based on sex in hiring and employment in both the United States federal workforce and on the part of government contractors, in 1971 barring women from practicing law was prohibited in the U.S. and in 1972 the Educations Amendments of 1972 stated that ”No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
In 1958 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church passed a resolution stating that women were to be respected as “an important and integral part of every aspect of the Church’s life, in 1967/1970 the General Convention endorsed and implemented the seating of women deputies; authorized the licensing of women as lay readers and approved the training and ordination of women as deacons. Eleven women deacons were irregularly ordained to the priesthood in 1974 in the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia—a black congregation whose rector, Paul Washington, had distinguished himself as a civil rights activist. Although the 1976 General Convention passed a resolution affirming that the church’s ordination canons applied to women as well as to men, it was not until the 1997 convention that the church’s canons affirmed the ordination and deployment of women clergy were mandatory in all dioceses of the Episcopal Church. In 1977 Pauli Murray was ordained as the first African American woman priest in the Episcopal Church and in 1989 Barbara Clementine Harris another black Episcopalian was ordained as suffragan bishop of the diocese of Massachusetts the first female bishop. Both Harris and Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning received death threats prior to the service. All these changes have occurred in my life time, hardly a swift granting of justice.
All of this is to say that if we truly believe in justice and live our lives like we believe in justice and trust that justice will be granted, eventually justice will be granted. It is not easy, justice does not come quickly, but God can be trusted to grant justice, so pray continually and live a prayerful life believing that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and that God is active in our lives. Amen.