“Can’t we all get along?”

The text of the sermon, based on Amos 7.7-15 and Mark 6.14-29, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, July 11, 2021.


“Can’t we all get along?” On May 1, 1992, so Rodney King asked, begged in reaction to rioting that followed the acquittal of four Los Angeles police officers charged with having used excessive force during his arrest in the previous year for driving under the influence. The insurrection[1] exposed long simmering tensions along fault lines of race and inequality, law and injustice, power and powerlessness.

Today, these electrified, incendiary third-rails continue to run alongside the tracks of American life. And, in our present turbulent times, not only these…

My mother endorsed the advice of Thumper, the rabbit in the animated film Bambi: “If you can’t say something nice, Shh! Say nothing.” Her close second word of counsel: “Never discuss politics or religion.” These days, in addition to that ageless pair of taboo topics, pick an issue, any issue – climate change, gun rights, immigration, marriage equality, human sexuality, critical race theory[2] and intersectionality,[3] the last presidential election – and the air of the public square will fill with the noise of uncivil debate, replete with angry critiques, sometimes misrepresentations of positions and, by some, verbal insults and physical assaults.

“Can’t we all get along?” Agree to disagree? Leave well enough alone? Let bygones be bygones? Live and let live? Sometimes, when the subjects are great and the stakes grave, the answer is no.

And there are times when God calls not for consolation, but confrontation. So, for Amos and John the baptizer.

Amos had a vision: God standing at a wall, plumb line in hand, measuring, judging the spiritual and ethical unrighteousness of the people. Amos’ prophecy of doom and destruction disturbed the priest Amaziah, who appealed to King Jeroboam to silence God’s prophet: “Amos conspires against you…the land cannot bear all his words.” Amaziah, not waiting for the king’s reply, confronted Amos: “Never again prophesy at Bethel. It is the king’s sanctuary and a temple of the kingdom” (thus, admitting that state and religion shared a protective, defensive symbiosis). Amos confessed he was no prophet, nevertheless, confirmed his call from God to prophesy.

Eight centuries later, John denounced King Herod for violating the Torah[4] by marrying his sister-in-law Herodias. Herodias despised John. Herod, believing John was righteous and holy, feared him. Herod, pressured by his wife and finding perplexing pleasure in listening to the prophet’s condemnation, compromised, placing John in prison in protective custody. On Herod’s birthday, Herodias seized her opportunity. Her daughter danced. Herod, delighted, promised her anything. Thus, a celebration led to John’s execution.

Amos. After him, John. After them, Jesus. After them, us. We follow these three. Chiefly Jesus; God’s Love incarnate, who we follow to be as he is and to do as he does.

So, in this turbulent time, who, in the name of Jesus, are we, like Amos and John, to confront? Ourselves! By reaching out with love especially to those with whom we disagree.

This is hard to do! It’s hard to refocus our worldviews – the lenses through which we perceive and process the reality around and within us, so to make sense of the world and ourselves. And, naturally, we find consolation and security in the company of likeminded people. Therefore, to Rodney King’s question, Can’t we all get along? sometimes the answer is no, which begs the question: Why should we?

Because as important as our comfort and safety in holding fast to our hard-fought, hard-won individual perspectives is – I’ve already said it! – our reaching out to “the other.” Those with whom we differ. All the while in love, keeping our heads, hearts, and hands open to these realities.

There is one race. Human.

There is one life we live in one world. This one.

There is Truth with a capital T; being all that can be known about life and God. And none of us (each of us with our individual truth with a small t) has it!

Therefore – and, now, speaking not universally, but personally from my experience and understanding – if, when you and I disagree it means that you hold a piece of the truth that I don’t have. And, in love, I am called to listen and learn from you.

Because unless I take the risk of the challenge and change of learning and growth, I will be tempted to repeat that cardinal blood-stained lesson of human history – illustrated in driving Amos from the land that could not bear all his words, beheading John for daring to name the immorality of a king, and crucifying Jesus for calling the religious and political authorities to kneel at the throne of God’s righteousness – exiling, executing, however metaphorically or literally, the disturbers of my peace.

Not for me! And, now, speaking universally, not for us! For we follow Jesus who ministered to all. In his life, reaching out his hands to all. By his death, stretching out his arms for all. Through his resurrection, opening his heart and heaven to all.

© 2021 PRA

[1] The rioting, which took place April 29-May 4, 1992, resulted in 63 people being killed, over 2,000 injured, more than 12,000 arrested, and property damage estimated at over $1 billion.

[2] Critical race theory (CRT), originating in the mid-1970s through the works of several civil rights scholars and activists, a body of legal scholarship and an academic movement that seeks to examine American law as it intersects with issues of race and racism.

[3] Intersectionality, the term coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a legal scholar and civil rights activist, examines the interconnected nature of social categorizations (e.g., race, class, and gender) as they apply to individuals and groups creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination/disadvantage or privilege/advantage.

[4] Leviticus 18.16; 20.21

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