Proper 6 / Year A
In her sermon last Sunday at the National Cathedral, the Rt. Rev. Marianne Budde, Bishop of the Diocese of Washington DC, noted New Testament Greek has two different words for ‘time’ – chronos and kairos. Chronos refers to chronological time: 6:01, 6:02, 6:03… When you ask someone the time you are inquiring about chronos. Kairos refers to when the time is right or opportunity is at hand. “Make hay while the sun shines.” “Strike while the iron is hot.” Both refer to kairos time. Think about a football commentator who might say, “With six minutes left in the third quarter (chronos), this might be a good time to take a shot down the field (kairos).”
Bishop Budde stated she believes our country is in a kairos moment when we have the opportunity to create a society more reflective of the ideals set for by our founding documents; one moving us closer to God’s dream for all people (what we Christian’s call The Kingdom of Heaven). Who saw this coming? In the midst of a global pandemic, the death of a black man at the hands and knees of Minneapolis Police Officers has brought us to a kairos moment. People of color are speaking out once again about the injustice they experience and this time white America is listening and willing to learn and to act.
I’d like to think I am a good person. I try to treat everyone with dignity and respect and even go out of my way to extend my value of civility to people of color. Am I perfect? Of course not, but I don’t think of myself as being a racist. If you point out to me a way in which I am, I will repent and work to amend my attitudes and behavior. And most of you, along with most of the white people I know, are good people; folks who try to look beyond the color of a person’s skin to the common humanity we all share as children of God.
But the events of the last few weeks have got wondering if being a nice person is enough, why is our country still struggling with racism? Sure, there are a few “bad apples” who make things difficult. While their actions are an affront to what our country and our faith stands for, their presence alone cannot account for the brokenness in our civic life. For the first time I am beginning to think about things like systemic racism and institutional racism. I want to know more about what they are and I want to understand how they play out in our society.
I understand how phrases like Systemic Racism, Institutional Racism, Black Lives Matter, White Privilege, White Fragility, Reparations, and Defund the Police elicit an almost involuntary negative reaction in white people. I understand this because it is a part of my initial response. But I also recognize my first impulse is not necessarily the best course to take in any particular situation. Thomas Jefferson did not say “The cornerstone of democracy is your gut reaction”. He said, “The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate.” I recognize I need to learn a lot before I can begin to act in a thoughtful, meaningful, helpful way reflective of my pride in being an American and faithful to my calling as a child of God baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
A week ago I had never even heard of the notion Defund the Police. On the surface, it sounds like a completely absurd idea. I committed myself to reading articles about it and to listen to those advocating for it. I read about how Camden, NJ dismantled its entire police department in 2013 because the problems in it were so deeply entrenched reform was deemed not possible. And I read about how they rebuilt the force on a new model using different, community-oriented methods. I read about the positive results coming out of their efforts.
Now, I am not advocating for the Defund the Police movement, nor am I saying we in Suffolk need to dismantle our police force. What I am saying is now is a kairos moment and we white people enter into first by listening and by learning. Many of you have told me you have had enough of our society’s injustice, but you just don’t know what to do. I have a four-part answer. First, pray. Second, listen to the experience of others. Third, learn, explore, understand before dismissing something out-of-hand. And fourth, act locally.
We don’t live in Minneapolis. We don’t live in Camden. We live in Suffolk, VA, a part of the metropolitan region of Hampton Roads. What is the policy of our police force with regard to restraint? What are our statistics for incarceration based on race? For educational results? For income level? For access to healthcare? For representation at all levels of local government? What do these numbers mean? Are they reflective of a just society where everyone has an equal opportunity? If not, what can we do about it? Speaking only for myself, I will need to listen and learn before I can advocate for anything specific.
I am a member of Suffolk Clergy United (a multi-ethnic group founded five years after the shooting at the Charleston A.M.E. Church). We have been privileged to attend meetings with Suffolk’s Chief of Police, with the Sheriff and members of his Department, and with representatives of the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office. All are actively engaged in community relations and (in my opinion) genuinely seek to make Suffolk a good and fair place for every resident in our community. Are we perfect? No. But we are trying and I am sure this kairos moment will only bolster our resolve to move forward.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus at an interesting juncture in his early ministry. He has healed. He has taught. He has feed. He has forgiven. He has challenged the powers that be. And he has amassed a following. He has done all of this and yet he recognizes there is so much more to do. And he recognizes how his human limitations mean he cannot do it all by himself. Jesus knows he needs help. So he calls twelve and appoints them as his disciples. He gives them authority and sends them out to expand his work, giving them only the barest of instructions. The message, it is not what you have that matters. What matters is who you are and who is with you.
Jesus describes this moment in a metaphorical way: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” The harvest is plentiful. He is not talking about chronos time here. He is not saying it is fall and the time for brining in the crop is upon us. He is talking about kairos time. We have an opportunity to spread the Good News. People are open to it in ways like never before and we cannot let this moment pass. Do borrow a phrase from the Navy, we need all hands on deck.
All kairos moments come about by the movement of God’s Spirit. Some kairos moments are deeply personal and tailored to where you are as an individual… the time comes for you to stand up for yourself, or to make a change, or to put away destructive behaviors and make a new beginning. Other kairos moments are communal as it is with where we are in right now. The harvest is plentiful. You and I are called to be laborers who pray first, then listen, then learn, and then act. It is not enough to spectate. This kairos moment requires all hands on deck.