“White is Beautiful”
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
November 22, 2015
University Baptist Church
Way back in the summer when I picked this topic for Sunday, I thought we would have had a few weeks of snow under our belts. But to the consternation of winter sports enthusiasts and to the joy of those paying our heat bills, the autumn has hung on a bit longer than usual. As we conclude our three-month-long series on the beautiful colors of creation, we affirm that “White is Beautiful.” Think of this not as the color of one’s skin, but of the culmination of all colors.
My daughter says that I need to see the final installation of the Hunger Games franchise for decent sermon material. It actually has some parallels with Revelation, all that violence, all that deception, all that semblance of peace which covers utter horror. The Machiavellian president’s name is Snow. And he loves his white roses. They mask his evil, his toxic personality, his history of blood on his hands. He hides evil behind a façade of purity. With a devil’s glint in his eyes he all but says, “white is beautiful”—and by extension all other colors are not.
Any painter will tell you that when you combine all of the liquid colors on a palate, you will get black. But that’s not the case when the colors are dry.
There’s a wonderful experiment that Isaac Newton created. Take a disk and put on it the seven colors of the rainbow, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and indigo. If you spin it the colors merge. So you see the primary colors, red, yellow and blue depending on how fast you spin the disk. But here’s the thing. If you spin it really fast, the colors completely merge and what you are left with is white. Or light. It’s the color of all colors together. Just as the bright white light of the sun is refracted to make the rainbow, the opposite is true too. And we have white, beautiful white. The true color of the rainbow, the culmination of it all.
Jesus is said to have come from the Light and that this light is the light to all of the nations. Where is that light that will come to us? Where is that beautiful white light of hope, of courage, of truth-telling, of beauty, of peace, of justice, of dignity? Why do we spend so much time in darkness? And why, when we see the light do we curse it? Is darkness or one shade better? You can’t see the light unless you recognize all of the colors, even those that make you uncomfortable. Even those that scare you. Even those that challenge you.
And we look for that light from our leaders and instead we find not the rainbow of light, but the bleakness of fear. Congress just passed a resolution aimed at banning Syrian refugees from settling in the US. The fact that this xenophobia often wears a Christian face is farcical if it weren’t so upsetting. Christianity and Judaism have strong traditions of welcoming strangers and aliens. Consider just a few of these scriptures. And hear their light:
Exodus 12:49, Leviticus 24:22, Numbers 9:14, 15:15-16 “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.”
Leviticus 19:9-10 and 23:22 “You shall not strip your vineyards bare…leave them for the poor and the alien.”
Leviticus 19:33-34, 24:22 and Exodus 22:21 “When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Deuteronomy 1:16 “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien.”
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 “For the Lord your God...loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 24:14-22 “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land...You shall not deprive a resident alien...of justice…Leave sheaf, olives, grapes for the alien.
Deuteronomy 27:19 “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien…of justice.”
Jeremiah 7:5-7 “If you do not oppress the alien…then I will dwell with you in this place…”
Jeremiah 22:3-5 “Do no wrong or violence to the alien.”
Ezekiel 47:21-22 “The aliens shall be to you as citizens, and shall also be allotted an inheritance.”
Zechariah 7:10 “Do not oppress the alien.”
Malachi 3:5 “The messenger will bear witness against those who thrust aside the alien.”
Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.
Matthew 25:35 “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Romans 12:13 “Mark of the true Christian: “…Extend hospitality to strangers…”
Hebrews 13:1 “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Colossians 3:11 “In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.”
Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female for we are all one in Christ Jesus.”
You have to ignore a lot of scripture in order to be so mean-spirited. And we can be so much better than that, don’t you think?
While we secure our borders against foreign-born would-be terrorists, we do nothing to stem the home-grown terrorists who have seemingly unlimited access to guns. It’s not lost on any of us that an unarmed black man like Jamar Clark can be shot in the head while Dylan Roof, the white shooter in Charleston, is led away in handcuffs and police-provided body armor. There’s the old meme, when a terrorist attacks, it’s a reflection on the entire Islamic religion. When a black man shoots someone it’s a reflection on the black race.
When a white Christian shoots up a church in South Carolina, he is mentally unstable, but certainly not a reflection of his religion or his race.
It would seem people like this think that only white is beautiful or something other than white is suspect. What’s the song say, “If you’re white, you’re all right and if you’re brown sick around. But if you’re black get back.”
The opening words from the book of Revelation were written at a time when the empire was crumbling. There were terrorists who were wreaking havoc on the believers. There was a media saying that everything was all right, but those with eyes to see and ears to hear saw the horror of a system imploding. This implosion was symbolically detailed in the next 18 chapters. Finally, at the end, the faithful remnant sees the new heaven and the new earth.
They can see it because they have kept the faithful witness. They have resisted the powers of evil and have seen the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven. They have seen the earth renewed. They have exchanged their bloody robes for ones that are bathed in white light, the culmination of all of the horror and beauty of the world combined.
We give thanks on this Sunday before Thanksgiving for the rainbow of our witness, the bountiful harvest and the land that transforms before our eyes as it is eventually wrapped in its winter blanket. Revelation 1:9-20 speaks about the world that is yearning to be reborn. It depicts Jesus as one with a white beard, someone who is older than most we think of as Messianic. Maybe there is wisdom in our white hair—or stubbornness.
When I was interviewing here 15 years ago, I remember that one of the questions was how I would regard the seniors: those sporting white hair. I didn’t have much white hair back then, so I was especially suspect, I suppose. I think I said I regard them as sages. They are those who have been there, done that. They get the head seat at the Thanksgiving table. They regale us with stories. There is wisdom there. There is beauty in the white hair of our sages. They have seen it all. And they look back on their lives. And with all of that experience and wisdom and fear, we look and wonder and hope at the young people among us. We hope and pray that they will live in peace; that their lives will be even better than ours; that they will have safety and justice and a world to live on and clean air to breathe.
I remember shortly after September 11, 2001, I was sitting across Tai Shigaki’s table at Coffman Place. She told me that she feared that people would once again be judged by their race, and their religion. She knew that all too well, since she and her family were interred during World War II. Just this past week, a leading presidential candidate suggested that Muslims ought to be required to have special papers and register with the government. Where have we heard this before?
So listen to the sages at the Thanksgiving table. Pay attention to the light. And find a way for all of you to witness to the light. That would be a thankful exercise.
So much of the Thanksgiving celebrations lift up the white pilgrims and caricature the Native peoples. Imagine if the Algonquin nation met the Pilgrims by saying, “I’m sorry, we don’t accept undocumented refugees.” Imagine if you will, the Pilgrims being Syrians and the Natives being the US citizenry. Would we extend the table? Would they look back on this, centuries from now, and give thanks for their relationship with us? That’s what’s at stake here.
This week Black Lives Matter has been in the news surrounding the 4th precinct in the wake of another unarmed black man being killed by police. Thank God that people are gathering and sharing stories across the lines. This is what I heard from my clergy friends who stood vigil. They saw people trying to understand. They saw people trying to make community. And yes, the media likes to focus on the few who throw rocks at police cars or agitate. But there is holy work that is happening on those streets. That is light, the white light of hope and courage in the face of bloodshed and despair.
Sisters and brothers, in a world of sorrow, woe and bloodshed, the enemy wins when we don’t see the beautiful white light. We need to resist the temptation to demonize those with whom we don’t agree or that we don’t understand. We need to stand up and be counted as people who are children not of one religion or one race or one nationality or one political party. We are children of the Light. And we can only see it when we recognize all of the colors. That’s part of God’s design. May we give thanks for that vision this week. And the light will shine in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome us.
Maybe we can sing an adaptation of the old Thanksgiving hymn:
Now thank we all our God with heart and hand and voices.
Who wondrous things have done with whom our world rejoices.
Bring light and hope to all, and ease our wearied bones,
Our sages let us hear, may we live without fear.
Now grant your rainbow love unto a world unstable
Help deaf to hear, and blind to see, our hearts across God’s table.
Make endless wars to cease, and strengthen weary souls
And grant your light to all, and help us hear your call.