Summit Presbyterian Church
March 26, 2017
Sites of Revelation
Two weeks ago, about 10 of us went to a training conducted by a group called Crossroads Anti-Racism Organizing and Training. As one of the exercises, they presented a model for thinking about the way societies are organized. They usually have a center where power and wealth and other resources are concentrated. Living in the center are the people considered “normal” (in quotes): needing no explanation, the standard against which others are measured. Those in the center are respected and admired, even by people who have reason to resent them. As you move away from the center, you enter into the borderlands. People who live on the borderlands are not considered “the norm.” They’re often identified by the ways in which the differ from the norm. They don’t have the same power or prestige. (Model based on the work of Gloria E. Anzaldúa, esp. Borderlands/La Frontera)
The leaders then asked us to think about who’s in the center and who resides in the borderlands in our society. So we brainstormed at tables and used lots of chart paper and we came up with remarkably similar lists. In the center were white people — in the borderlands were African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics. In the center were men, straight men to be more precise— moving out from the center we find women, gay men and lesbians, transgender and queer folk. In the center: English speakers. “Standard” English speakers. . . . in the borderlands were people who spoke with an accent . . . . or those who didn’t speak English at all. In the center were Christians, with agnostics kind of hard to place, while toward the borders were Jews, Mormons, Hindus, Muslim. In the center? The middle class and wealthy — in the borderlands, those who were working class, the poor, homeless, those on government assistance. In the center were the able-bodied, — in the borderlands those with a disability. In the center college grads — in the borderlands those with less than a high school education. In the center: married couples, one man and one woman, with 2.5 children; moving out— those who were single, divorced, widowed. You get the idea. And as we talked, it was also clear that the real world is complex. Few of us reside only in the center or in the borderlands. We have different identities, with both privileges and disadvantages. Groups move around. The leaders pointed out is that people on the borders will often try to be like people in the center, in order to get those resources and power. But it doesn’t mean that anyone can move there, at least not completely. As an example that the leader gave, you can move from Hawaii to New York, to Chicago, to Washington. You can graduate from Columbia and Harvard and become a law professor. You can play golf and have a wife and two children and two dogs. You can be elected to public office and become leader of the free world — yet be succeeded by someone who gained power by claiming you were born in Kenya. You can be a baptized Christian and commander in chief of the most powerful military in history, and be succeeded by someone who began his political career by claiming you’re a Muslim. The solution — the leaders suggested — was not to get people in the borderlands to become “like” the people in the center. Nor was it to get a different demographic into the center while pushing the old one out. The solution was to change the system, so that all of us, with all our differences, could share in the power and resources now claimed by a relative few, often at the expense of others.
The man who was born blind lived in the borderlands. He had a disability; and in that time and place, that was seen as evidence and punishment for sin, a source of shame, pushing one even further to the edge — and hence the disciples’ question “Rabbi, who sinned this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Being on the borderlands, he was also not fully seen, a common experience in the borderlands. All those sighted people around him saw only the fact that he was blind, and that he begged. So when he gained his sight - but in no other way was physically changed — they couldn’t even tell if it was him! And when he insisted that it was him they didn’t believe him . . . . not being believed another experience common to those in the borderlands. When the skeptics went to his parents they pointed out that he was of age, go ask him — John chalks that up to fear, but they were simply stating a truth the questioners should have understood. But disability wasn’t the only thing that kept him in the borderlands. He was poor. He was Jewish. He spoke Aramaic not Greek — for Greek is what people in the center spoke (including Romans!). You learned Greek if you wanted to be in the Center. The Pharisees and other religious leaders would have been closer to the center, but were not, caught in the middle, trying to negotiate the survival and well-being of their community under Roman occupation. The Roman rulers were in the center, although if you were a Roman soldier stuck in this colonial outpost you may not have felt like you were in the center. It was a complicated world, just like ours: but from nearly every angle, the man who was born blind lived in the borderlands.
And the works of God were revealed in him. First, in receiving his physical sight through the handiwork of Jesus, another person who would live and die in the borderlands. But, more importantly, through his witness. His clear and courageous witness. He wasn’t intimidated by neighbors who didn’t even believe who he was: “I am the man,” he kept saying. He recounted exactly what Jesus had done for him: neither exaggerating or downplaying. He gently and politely to pushed back, with the Pharisees who questioned him, even though they were well educated and respected religious authorities. When they insisted Jesus must be a sinner for breaking the Sabbath, the man asked, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” When they asked him who he thought Jesus was, he was honest and answered, “a prophet.” This courage, persistence and clarity did not bring a reward. Indeed, it says he was driven out of the synagogue, even further into the borderlands.
And it was there that Jesus found him for a second time, and where he again became a site of revelation. This time the work of faith was revealed in him. When Jesus said it was he who was the Son of Man, the man said, “Lord, I believe.” — the second person to confess “belief” in Jesus, according to John, after the Samaritan woman at the well, another person from the borderlands. For as we see throughout the Bible, God reveals God’s works in those in the borderlands: through this man, through the woman at the well, through the disciples, through Hebrew slaves and exiled prophets. It’s not only in the borderlands that the works of God are revealed: God also works through a Roman centurion - a soldier who commanded 100 others - by healing his servant. God also works through Kings and Queens and Princes and Princesses. God is no respecter of the center and the border. God reveals God’s self in a Jewish Rabbi, incarcerated and executed in a backwater of the Roman Empire.
At the Crossroads training, we were encouraged to think about how we might break down structures in the church (and beyond) that uphold the center and keep others on the margins. As Christians, we believe that God has already broken down them down in God’s Kingdom, that those far away have been brought near in the divine economy. Our call is to break down those human barriers and to tear off the veils that keep from seeing, understanding and living into that reality. By truly seeing and listening to one another. By fighting racism and sexism in our hearts in the church and in the world. By welcoming and celebrating all kinds of families. By loving and respecting children and Elders. By making sure that everyone has enough, through just wages and fair taxes, through generous giving and grateful receiving. By removing obstacles to persons with disabilities, and by ensuring everyone has the health care they need. By caring for all of God’s creation so that future generations — which we treat as beyond the border, off the map — may enjoy the abundance of God’s creation. By proclaiming God’s love and the saving grace of Christ for all people, including us, no matter how close or far from the center we may be. For we were all born - in whatever way we were born - so that God’s works may be revealed in us.