January 22 2023 “Leave Coloniality’s Nets: You are Good, Called by God, and Indispensable”
In the name of the One, Holy, Loving, and Liberating God. Amen.
I am delighted and very grateful to be with you again, lovely people of St. John’s! Thank you, my dear priestly sibling, Lisa Wiens-Heinsohn, for inviting me to be your guest preacher this morning. It is such a joy to return to the faith community who loved me through my daunting journey as a deacon into the priesthood and who faithfully stood in solidarity with me as I faced overwhelming immigration woes. For those I haven’t met yet, I’ll tell you a secret about the wonderful people in this community of faith. There is a network of incredible women and men in this church who kept me alive. I used to call them the Church Women’s Mafia! When I got caught in the net of an immigration debacle that was profoundly unjust, like the Prophet Isaiah’s people, I lived in the deep darkness of not knowing when the yoke of my burden and the oppressive bar across my shoulders would be broken by the Holy Spirit. You loved me in those days of gloom and anguish. Gift cards for groceries and fuel anonymously and miraculously arrived in the mail, pet-sitting in your beautiful homes got me out of that awful funeral home I was staying in with so many cadavers, but most of all, you would not let me forget God’s calling on my life. Today’s sermon is about Vocation – God’s calling on each of our lives to leave our nets and to follow the Way of Love as agents of God’s liberation and healing.
In her bestselling book The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times, Michelle Obama writes about all of the doubts and anxiety that plagued her before her most honest book was published. Michelle Obama writes,
Beneath this lay something deeper, more primal, more fixed, and fully terrorizing – the bedrock question upon which all other doubts rest – four words that reliably plague even the most accomplished and powerful people I know, four words that have followed me since I was a young girl on the South Side of Chicago: Am I good enough?[i]
I think each of us can relate to the conscious and unconscious ways we have been made to doubt our own goodness. In a toxic culture that profits off of making us believe we will never be good enough, we become overworked, addicted, debt-ridden, and anxious. We become deeply unwell.[ii] We are caught in the tangled nets that coloniality uses to steal, enslave, corrupt, and destroy God’s most vulnerable people, creatures, and places. In today’s Older Testament Lesson Isaiah preaches to those colonized by Assyrian oppressors in the 8th century BCE. In today’s Gospel Jesus calls disciples who were colonized by Roman oppressors in the 1st century. And in this sacred place today God beckons us out of the gloom and anguish of coloniality into the joy of God’s liberating call on all lives – our Black and Brown and White lives, our LGBTQ+ and straight lives, our differently aged, abled, educated, gendered and non-gendered lives – to leave the nets of the oppressors’ coloniality and to walk in the Way of Love freely given to all people in Jesus Christ.
And yet, those same four words – Am I good enough? – still plague us as we try and fail to answer God’s call on our life to follow Jesus. The net of coloniality traps us in a delusion that if we are not white, male, straight, able-bodied, able-minded, western-educated, rich, or youthful; if we fail to meet with the impossible standards of acceptability imposed upon the majority peoples of our world by white supremacy culture,[iii] then we are made to believe we are not good enough; not worthy of living a purposeful life filled with love and belonging. In all of my kaleidoscopic Otherness, when I was plagued with doubts about whether I was good enough to say yes to God’s calling on my life to love and serve all people as a priest in Christ’s Church, the people here at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church loved me enough to help me slowly let go of those nets of coloniality so that I could follow the Way of Jesus; liberated to free others from those very same nets. It is breathtaking to think that the first disciples – Peter, Andrew, James, and John – immediately left their nets and followed Jesus. It’s astonishing! They left everything they relied upon to survive being taxed by their Roman colonizers and said yes to Jesus with absolutely no guarantees of survival. Can you imagine what that level of vulnerability[iv] felt like? Engrossed in their daily toil and drudgery of mending and casting fishing nets with wet, cold, aching, exhausted hands, the disciples heard that voice! That voice of that most beautiful and true incarnation of God’s love, who says to them in all of their imperfect humanity, “Follow me.” It is in that encounter with the real presence of Christ that we finally accept that we are indeed good enough to say yes to God’s call to live a life of love and service. By, with, and in God’s Word and Sacrament we are living members of Christ’s Body. The light of Christ that each of us carries has the power to change and yes, to save lives – lives like mine. This community of faith embodied that real presence of Christ’s love, reminded me of God’s sacred calling on my life, equipped and empowered me to leave the nets of coloniality’s lies and deceptions that make us doubt our goodness, so that I, in all of my imperfect, sinful humanity, could say yes to the call of our most beautiful, good, and true lover of all souls: Jesus.[v]
Each and every one of us, in all of our multiplicities of difference that make us wonderfully human together, has God’s powerful light within us. And as bleak[vi] as the worst phases of this pandemic have been, that divine light has revealed hard truths we are all finally seeing with new eyes for the first time together. In those now famous words of bestselling author, Sonya Renee Taylor,
We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was never normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.[vii]
We have healing work to do together. That divine light we carry with us into our homes, schools, places of work, neighborhoods, and churches is indispensable to freeing the tight grip of aching hands that still clutch and mend old nets of coloniality. When the hands of all the people of God are finally free to let go of those nets, we will finally be able to join the Holy Spirit in sewing a new garment of liberation, healing, love, and belonging that fits all the peoples and all the bodies in God’s marvelous creation. May it be so in Christ for each of us today, when we say Yes to the Way of Love. Amen.
[i] Michelle Obama, The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times (New York, NY: Penguin Random House LLC, 2023), 9.
[ii] Gabor Maté, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture (New York, NY: Penguin Random House LLC, 2022).
[iii] Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2010).
[iv] “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown: https://youtu.be/iCvmsMzlF7o
[v] Hymn: “My Song is Love Unknown” by John Ireland and Samuel Crossman: https://youtu.be/HMart4wXsI0
[vi] Instead of the word “dark,” Womanist Theologian and Biblical Scholar, Dr. Wilda C. Gafney intentionally uses the word “bleak” to disrupt ways western languages reinscribe racism in mistranslations of ancient languages in:
Wilda C. Gafney, A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church (Year A) (New York, NY: Church Publishing, 2022).
[vii] Sonya Renee Taylor’s Quote: https://www.instagram.com/p/B-fc3ejAlvd/?hl=en