A sermon preached at Niles Discovery Church
a new church for a new day, in Fremont, California,
on Sunday, July 21, 2013, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer and
the members of Niles Discovery Church.
Scripture:  Micah 6:8
Copyright © 2013 by Jeffrey S. Spencer

The series of events that led to Trayvon Martin’s homicide started because of racism.  We live in a society that grants white-skinned and light-skinned people privilege.  George Zimmerman is a product of that society.  And, based on comments he made to 911, it is clear that Zimmerman’s primary motivation for following Trayvon was the fact that Trayvon was black.[*]

It is also likely that ageism played a role.  Trayvon wasn’t just black; he was a black teenager.  In a society that gives privilege to people in mid-life (approximately age 30 to 60), Trayvon had two strikes against him.

The next step leading to Trayvon’s homicide brings forth the issue of gun control.  An academic cited a study on an NPR program I was listening to this week that shows that carrying a gun leads to people being more likely to risk a confrontation or to make other risky choices.  Based on how his lawyers described him during his trial, it is likely that Zimmerman wouldn’t have left his car if he wasn’t carrying a gun.

But Zimmerman did get out of his car, and Trayvon was shoot and died.

Once on trial, economic privilege reared its ugly head.  Thanks to access to donations and the fame (or infamy) of the case, Zimmerman was able to hire some top-notch lawyers.  Did that play a role in his acquittal?  Many people think so.

The first half of Micah 6 describes a trial.  God charges Israel with forgetting God’s saving acts through history.  God’s case is open and shut, but instead of slamming Israel, God pleads.  “O my people, what have I done to you?  In what have I wearied you?”

The trial continues and it becomes clear that making the most amazing sacrifices – thousands of rams and rivers of oil – are not what God wants.  “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

There it is – in 6 words:  Do justice; love kindness; walk humbly.

There’s a legend that Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing a short story that made someone cry with just six words.  “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

This legend has inspired many, including Michele Norris.  She started “The Race Card Project.”  She asked people “to think about their experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments or observations about race and identity.”  Then, she asked that they take those thoughts and distill them to just six words.

You’re probably figuring out what that 3 x 5 card in your worship bulletin is all about now.  But rather than just think about race and identity, I invite you to think about race, privilege, and justice.  I’m going to ask you to think about your experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments, and observations about race, privilege, and justice, and distill them down into six words.  You can start thinking, but I’m going to talk for a little longer.

I asked my Facebook friends to do this exercise, worded a bit differently.  I got over 40 responses.  Here are a few:

“‘It ain’t right Atticus,’ said Jem.”

Racism exists. Privilege exists. Justice doesn’t.

Everyone has now become a lawyer.

I am afraid for my children.

We have much work to do!

Unnecessary fear of “them” destroys us.

They know not what they do.

In a moment, Jenny will begin playing some music as you think about what 6 words you will write down.  When the music concludes, some of you will be moved to come forward, one at a time, to read your six words (and just your six words; not the stories behind them or the context or embellishment).  Then, please put your card in the bowl, light a candle, and return to your seat.  We will prayerfully listen to you.  Then the next person is invited to come forward.

I hope you will put your name on your card.  Whatever you write will have some story, some experience behind it, and in the months ahead, Pastor Brenda and I might want to draw on those stories, so it would be helpful to be able to contact you.  Pastor Brenda will draw our time of sharing to a close with a prayer.

If you don’t choose to come forward or we simply run out of time before everyone who wishes gets a chance to speak, please place your 3 x 5 card in the offering plate.

So, think about your experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments, and observations about race, privilege, and justice, and distill them down into six words.

People were quite excited to come forward and share their six words.  In the next two or three weeks, I will post some of those shared on my blog in the comments section to the posting of this sermon.

[*] It was pointed out to me, following the worship service, that gender stereotypes probably played a role in the events that led up to the homicide.  Had Trayvon been a female, Zimmerman might never have left his car or even worried about Trayvon.  This is not necessarily sexism, since, in our culture, sexism give privilege to men.