Scripture: Romans 7:15-25 (NRSV)I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
Reflection:Are you familiar with Harvard University’s Project Implicit?
Every time I take one of their implicit association tests, it reveals something about me that I do not like to admit: that I, like the majority of Americans, show an implicit bias for lighter skin over darker skin, and for facial features of European descent over those of African descent.
“For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,” wrote the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans. He may not have been speaking of implicit racial bias, but his words ring true to me. I do not want to participate in racism. It is incompatible with everything I believe. My beloved friends and family include folks of various hues and origins. I do not consciously hold bigoted opinions of people of color. I’m a trained Racial Justice Facilitator, for God’s sake!
And yet, the pestilence of racism that infects every realm of our society has also infected me. It affects my own thoughts and feelings, my interactions with others, the institutions and systems in which I participate, and the wider cultural sphere. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. It is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
The theologian Paul Tillich described sin as a state of estrangement, of separation from ourselves, from one another, and from God. Grace, on the other hand, is that which reconciles all that has been divided, alienated, or separated. Grace is a gift from God, not something we can achieve on our own. But that does not mean we cannot participate in its unfolding.
I believe that the Holy Spirit is moving in our midst to unmask, dismantle, and eradicate the sin and separation of racism from our hearts, our communities, our institutions, our culture, and our world. For what diminishes the humanity of any member of God’s family diminishes us all. And as long as I cannot fully see God’s image reflected in a sibling in Christ who happens to have more melanin in their skin or more curl in their hair, I cannot fully see God.
Prayer:Holy One, thank you for the gift of your grace, which comes to knit back together all which has been torn apart. Help me to receive your healing power, and help me, in turn, to bring healing to your world. Amen.
The Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer serves as pastor of First Congregational Church of Woodstock. She is a Racial Justice Ministry facilitator and a member of the CTUCC Board of Directors.
The Rev. Jocelyn Gardner Spencer is the President of the Southern New England Conference and the Senior Minister of United Church on the Green, New Haven CT.
July 05, 2017