Sermon: Scapegoating and Stepping Away from the Crowd

Pentecost 4 Year B 2015
June 21, 2015
Job8:1-11/Mark 4:35-41

I have three stories to tell today.
The first one Imay have told before.
If you’re hearing this for the 100th time, I apologizea
nd ask you to bear with me.

First Story

Before I went to seminary,
I worked at a mid-sized history museum just outside of Indianapolis.
It was the best of jobs.
It was the worst of jobs.
I loved the people I worked with
Most of them, anyway
and we did a lot of good and creative work together.

But we also had an enemy.
The enemy’s name was XYZ College.
XYZ College owned the museum.
That is, they served as the trustee for the museum.

Although they didn’t create the programs,
They were ultimately responsible for our programming.
And although they didn’t write the budgets,
they were ultimately responsible for our budget.
That’s not what made them the enemy, though.

The real problem was
that XYZ College
was also named as a beneficiary of the museum’s assets, should the museum shut down.
If the museum closed its doors for any reason,
this little denominational liberal arts college
with its struggling finances
and decreased enrollment
that wasnt part of our community, but rather existed 2 hours away from us
and had no real interest in our daily operations
… well, they stood to suddenly come into about 200 acres of land
in one of the top 5 fastest growing real estate markets in the US.

And on top of that,
they stood to suddenly find themselves with access
to the 9 million bucks that made up our yearly budget.

Can anyone say, “Conflict of interest?”
Yeah.

So, in 2003, the museum board was pushing the college board
to recognize the conflict of interestand to
– out of their sense of doing the right thing – ahem
allow the museum to make a complete governance separation.
Needless to say, perhaps,
the college declined the separation.

In fact, in June of 2003, the college’s president
fired all 21 members of our museum’s board,
including the Museum President.

Long story short:
The case went to the Attorney General’s office
and was eventually resolved in the museum’s favor.

But it took us 3 years to get there.
During those three years
you would not BELIEVE how well our museum staff worked together!
We created new programs
We made innovation after innovation
We were a well-oiled machine.
And part of the reason we worked so well together
was because we had this common enemy named XYZ College.

Anything bad that happened at the museum
could finally be blamed on those jerks at XYZ.

This system worked really well for three years.
And then the case was resolved in the museum’s favor.
We separated from XYZ
and suddenly had to face responsibility for ALL of our own actions.
We no longer had a common enemy to kick around.

But scapegoating and blame casting had become so ingrained in us,
it was the only we knew how to operate.
We had been steeped in that culture for all those years.
And so now, whenever we failed at something
our first instinct was to look for someone to blame.

And that’s what happened
over and over and over again.
With no common enemy
we all turned on one another
in search of a new, unanimous common enemy
so that we could try to build a new kind of peace and unity
around that identified scapegoat.
It was ugly.

The worst part of that whole ordeal
wasn’t even the destroyed friendships and working relationships
that made up the wreckage- although that was terrible.
The worst part was
that the search for a scapegoat consumed us
and never allowed us to look in the mirror
and see our own role in the destruction
our own complicity in the tragedy.

And it took me getting out of that system
sort of stepping away from the mob mentality there
to see what was happening
and to recognize MY own role in the whole thing.

____________________

Second Story

There was a guy named Job.
Had a beautiful family
was really prosperous.
And Job loved God.

As the story goes,
God was sitting around in heaven one day
having tea and biscuits with the satan.

God says to the satan,
“Hey, check out my servant Job.
That guy really loves me, ya know?”

The satan says,
“Well, YEAH he does!
Look at how you’ve blessed him!
Beautiful wife,
lovely kids
a 4 door camel AND a Ferarri!
But if anything bad were ever to happen to him,
he’d curse you just like anybody else.
Job ain’t so special.”

So God tells the satan, “You’re wrong.”
And God gives the satan free rein to do his worst.

The satan plagues Job with boils
and zits
and hemmorhoids
(I’m not making that part up).

He makes Job lose his house and family
and all his possessions.

Job doesn’t CURSE God for all of this,
but he’s none too happy
and he calls on God to tell him WHY.
Why do I have to suffer like this?
I’m a good person!”

Job’s friends, in the meantime,
keep saying to Job,
“Dude, you must have done something really horrendous to make God this mad.
You must have sinned in some kind of big way
to get a smackdown like the one you’re getting now.”

But Job, knowing better, rejects this “advice.”
He knows that he hasn’t done anything to make God mad.
He knows that God doesn’t operate like that.
But Job still wants to know:
WHY!?
It’s the question we ALL would like an answer to, right?
“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Well, after a while,
God finally responds to Job.
He doesn’t give a DIRECT answer to the question of the persistence of evil, of course.
But he does respond.

God says,
“Look, Job.
Last time I checked,you weren’t there with me when I created the cosmos.
Then how is it that you think you could have done a better job of it than me?
Get off your high horse, Job.
Bad things happen.
Sometimes they even happen to good people.
But know this:
Even in the middle of your poop storm, Job,
I’m I’m here with you.
I’m talking to you right now, aren’t I?
At some point, Job,
you’re going to have to trust
that I’m working on this problem of evil.
You may never fully understand it,
but I’m working on it.”

And that’s what Job walks away with.
Not with any better an understanding of suffering, really,
but now he walks away with a changed perspective.

But in order to get there,
Job had to walk away from the crowd.
He had to get away from his “friends”
and their “advice.”

It seems that his crowd of friends was caught up
in an understanding of God that had to do with
tit for tat
an eye for an eye
so that the only explanation for suffering was,
“You must have deserved it.”

Job’s friends looked at Job and his suffering
and the suffering of his family
and they tried to lay the blame for it at his feet.
That’s mighty convenient, though,
because while the finger was pointing at Job
it wasn’t pointing at his friends.
They were free NOT to examine themselves
and THEIR role in Job’s suffering.
I mean, did they every lift a finger to help him,
or did they just sit and accuse him all day long?
What was THEIR responsibility?
What was THEIR role?

Sounds a lot like me and my friends
back in those museum days.
Maybe it sounds familiar to you, too.

_____________

Third Story

A couple of days ago
a 21 year old man walked into a church in Charleston, SC.
He attended a Bible study with the members of that congregation
and after about an hour of studying and praying with them,
he opened fire on that assembly
killing 9 human beings.
Why?
Because they were Black
and he hated Black people.
He saw them as an enemy of White people.

“You rape our women” he said,
“and you’re taking over our country.
And you have to go.”

We don’t know much about the gunman
and what all of his motivations were for killing those people,
though more information seems to be coming to light in recent days.

But what’s clear is that
he looked around himself and saw society in a bad place.
He looked for a culprit to blame it on
a convenient scapegoat
and that’s what he found in the African American community.

More specifically,
he had found his scapegoat
in the people of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Today that 21 year old man is behind bars,
as he should be.
He committed a crime against society
He planned the attack
He pulled the trigger
and he needs to take responsibility for that.
There’s no question about that.

My fear, though, is this:
We now have a man behind bars.
We’ve caught our Bad Guy.
What now?
Go back to business as usual?

This man,
who sought in the Black race a scapegoat
a group of people whom he wanted to eliminate
as if that would make everything OK in society.
Isn’t that exactly what we’re doing with him now?

Now that we have caught our Bad Guy
it seems as though we’re now free from examining our own role in creating him
and the hatred and bigotry that led him to do the evil things he did.
As long as that finger of blame is pointing at him,
it’s not pointing at us.

Or is it?

He didn’t come by his prejudices and his hatred all on his own.
Bigotry is a family problem.
And It’s a society problem.
And it’s a Church problem.

Here’s an excerpt from a statment
from Presiding Bishop Eaton
on the attack on Emanuel AME Church:

It has been a long season of disquiet in our country. From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence. But this … the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism. The church was desecrated. The people of that congregation were desecrated. The aspiration voiced in the Pledge of Allegiance that we are “one nation under God” was desecrated.

Mother Emanuel AME’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, as was the Rev. Daniel Simmons, associate pastor at Mother Emanuel. The suspected shooter is a member of an ELCA congregation. All of a sudden and for all of us, this is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed two who adopted us as their own.

We might say that this was an isolated act by a deeply disturbed man. But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. And even if the shooter was unstable, the framework upon which he built his vision of race is not. Racism is a fact in American culture. Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly. The Rev. Mr. Pinckney leaves a wife and children. The other eight victims leave grieving families. The family of the suspected killer and two congregations are broken. When will this end?

The nine dead in Charleston are not the first innocent victims killed by violence. Our only hope rests in the innocent One, who was violently executed on Good Friday. Emmanuel, God with us, carried our grief and sorrow – the grief and sorrow of Mother Emanuel AME church – and he was wounded for our transgressions – the deadly sin of racism.

I urge all of us to spend a day in repentance and mourning. And then we need to get to work. Each of us and all of us need to examine ourselves, our church and our communities. We need to be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us. We need to talk and we need to listen, but we also need to act. No stereotype or racial slur is justified. Speak out against inequity. Look with newly opened eyes at the many subtle and overt ways that we and our communities see people of color as being of less worth. Above all pray – for insight, for forgiveness, for courage.

Kyrie Eleison.

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The shooter’s family belonged to an ELCA congregation.
2 of his victims graduated from an ELCA seminary.
This is OUR problem.
This hatred came from someone raised in on of OUR churches.
We need to take responsibility, too.

The Mayor of Charlotte told the press last Thursday,
“In America, we don’t let bad people like this
get away with these dastardly deeds.”

We good people
can’t let these bad people
get away with doing dastardly deeds
as if we had nothing to do with it.
Convenient how that frees us from having to look in the mirror.

It seems as though we’re still standing in the midst of the crowd
pointing fingers
and skirting blame
for systemic racism
and for promoting bigotry.

______________________________________

In today’s Gospel reading,
Jesus has just finished telling the parable of the sower
who sowed seed on 4 types of ground.
75% of the seed was lost.

He then told a story about the kingdom of God
and how it grows from a tiny seed into a mighty shrub.

Nobody in the crowd understood what Jesus was talking about
So he took his inner circle aside explained it to them.

But even THOSE guys didn’t get it.
They were so wrapped up in the kingdom of God being about liberation for Israel
and about kicking the Romas to the curb
that they didn’t see they were still looking through an old set of eyes.

Sure, they were right about the Romans as oppressors.
But the kingdom of God isn’t about getting even,
or getting rid of trouble makers.
That’s what the crowds wanted, though.
They would even force Jesus to be their king
and force him to drive the Romans out,
as though that would change anything.

To see with that set of eyes
is to remain in the crowd
to remain caught up in the myth of sacred violence.
Eye for eye.
Tooth for tooth.
Find a bad guy.
Blame everything on him.
Kick him out.

The problem is that this is a never-ending circle of violence.
You can tell this story a hundred times,
changing the characters each time,
but never altering the script.

The Pharisees wanted to oust the Temple authorities.
The Temple authorities wanted to do away with those pesky Pharisees.
Everybody wanted to get rid of that trouble maker, Jesus.
Look at how he blasphemes God’s name.
Look at how he thwarts Sabbath laws
and food laws.
Look at how he disrespects religious authority.
Let’s get rid of him
and our problems will go away.

That’s the old satanic lie that says:
“Your brother is your enemy.
Get rid of him, and life will be grand.”

But the Kingdom message of Jesus is the opposite:
“Your enemy is your brother.
Be reconciled to him and the Kingdom of heaven will be yours.”

The key to ending all of this circular scapegoating
is to look to the cross of Christ
to the place where we hung the final scapegoat
the one who was without sin
but who was made to be sin.

On the cross, Jesus shows us the futility
of all our scapegoating and our blame casting
and our attempts to drive out the evil other.

From the cross he points us to a better way of being human.
The way of Jesus
incarnates forgiveness
and reconciliation.

But in order to “have ears to hear” this gospel
we have to step away from the crowd.
We have to examine our own failures and shortcomings
as individuals
as communities
as a society
as a church.

I was thinking about us
our little congregation.

I can’t see the depths of anyone’s heart
and I can claim to know everything about any of you,
but from the 2.5 years I’ve spent with you
I can’t say I’ve met a single bigot among you.

I mean, we all have prejudices and stuff
and nobody is immune to that.
And maybe you hid it well.
I don’t know.
I just mean that
nobody I’ve met here strikes me as a Dylann Roof.
We’re all “good people.”
We’re all pretty reasonable about differences
and we all usually just go along with our own lives
minding our own business.

But I wonder:
even though I’d say we’re all good people here
I wonder whether just minding our own business
isn’t part of the problem.

As long as we keep to ourselves
aren’t we just staying with the misunderstanding crowd?
If we don’t get outside of our walls
aren’t we failing to examine ourselve
sand our own role
– as quiet, respectable Lutherans –
in things staying just as they are?
Aren’t we isolating ourselves from
the problems and suffering of our brothers and sisters “out there?”
Contributing in our own way to the problems?

I’m going out on a huge limb here, but here we go, anyway.

Next Sunday,
I don’t want you to come to church here.
Let me say that again, so you hear me right:
Next Sunday, don’t come to church
HERE.
That’s not a blanket encouragement to skip church altogether.
Instead, I invite you to step away from the crowd.
To get outside your comfort zone.

Go to an African-American church where you will be in the minority.
On Tuesday,
I’m going to try to compile a list of potential congregations to visit
and give it to Christina in the office.

Given these attacks in Charlotte,
it might be good to plan this out.
Instead of a bunch of unexpected White people showing up in a Black church,
it’s a good idea to call the pastor beforehand.
Tell them that you want to come, just to listen
and to stretch yourself.
Ask if you’ll be welcome.
And then go.

Then,
come back and tell us how it went.
Come to the Link and share your experience with all of us.
Tell us what you heard
what you saw
what you learned.

Take a risk.
Step away from the crowd.
It’s the only way to move forward.
It’s the way of reconciliation.

Amen.

(By the way, if your child is coming to the youth lock-in on Saturday, when you pick her up, head out to a different church. A Latino church. An Asian church. Especially a Black church. Someplace where you’ll be obviously different from the majority.)

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About Robaigh

I'm a recovering museum nerd who holds no authority regarding correct doctrine, biblical interpretation or anything like that, but who - with fear and trembling - is trying to work all that out.
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8 Responses to Sermon: Scapegoating and Stepping Away from the Crowd

  1. Pingback: Welcome to FELC « First Evangelical Lutheran Church

  2. Dave Kemp says:

    Way to go Pastor Rob!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kayla says:

    I’m reading this as a fellow finger-pointer; as one who was eager to blame the broken system; as one who wondered, “what when so wrong for that young man?”; as one who has criticized them who exploited this tragedy for political gain; And I am reading this as an African American woman who is excited that you and your congregation are stepping out on faith to worship with a congregation like ours. Before I the sermon in your blog post, I laughed to myself about the irony of our coming together. It has been noted many times that 11:00 on Sunday morning is perhaps the most segregated hour of the week. We all retreat to our separate sanctuaries to worship God in our own idiosyncratic ways. Though tragic, I am pleased that the recent loss to Mother Emmanuel’s African Methodist Episcopal church family inspired your Evangelical Lutheran church family to join our National Baptist church family in worship (wow, what a mouthful!). I pray that despite the perceived differences, we are able to relish our resemblance and embrace the shared love of God. I commend courage of your convictions. My brothers and sisters, I bid you welcome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robaigh says:

      Thank you so much for your words and your welcome! We do all have our own way of going about things. Sometimes those things help us to worship, and sometimes they become an idol. It really pays to question our traditions from time to time. I’m so glad we had this experience. As you say, it’s a shame that it took a tragedy like the Charleston shootings to bring us together, but God is always working to transform tragedy and loss into new life. I appreciate how much the communities of First Baptist Church, North Tulsa and Metropolitan Baptist welcomed us with open arms. I hope this was the first of many more opportunities to worship and work together!

      Like

  4. Kayla says:

    Edit to previous post:
    … what WENT wrong…
    … Before I READ the sermon…

    Like

  5. Everett and Clara Kalin says:

    Pastor Rob, Thanks for your sermon on scapegoating and especially for your brilliant idea to send the flock out across lines of difference. May it be a blessing to your congregation, to the host congregations and to all like us who hear of it and ponder ways to follow in meaningful discipleship. Ev and Clara Kalin (parents of Mark Kalin)

    Like

    • Robaigh says:

      Thank you, Ev and Clara. I’d love to claim credit, but the glory belongs to God. I was really nervous about doing this, mostly in terms of what kind of pushback might come from the congregation. I feel bad for having had those qualms, because the congregation reacted very well to the task overall. It’s a good assembly of people, truly. It didn’t hurt that we were all greeted with incredible graciousness by our hosts. God’s hand was working in this whole endeavor. I hope that was a first – and not an only – time that we step out this way. Really appreciate your thoughts. Peace!

      Like

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