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Loving All Our Neighbors

Matthew 22:36-40 and Excerpts from speeches given by Frederick Douglass

February 25th, 2024 Second Sunday in Lent  Racial Justice Sunday

10:30 am

By Rev. Jackie Hibbard

Each year the United Church of Christ designates one Sunday as Racial Justice Sunday

during the month of February which is also Black History Month here in the United States.

Officially on the church calendar Racial Justice Sunday was 2 weeks ago but Nicole & I were

both on retreat so we are recognizing it today. It feels especially important as years go by

and while things seem to change, those changes are slow and history and what we humans

do to one another is painful. And still God calls us to Love God and love our neighbor.

As I prepared for today, I also was preparing for our conversation after worship today of the

film, Selma depicting the events in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Just 59 years ago people who

were Black were not allowed to vote in the southern United States despite there being no

legal reason to prevent it. We know the brutal tactics used by white law enforcement officers

and civilians as a result of Black people trying to exercise their right to vote and to peacefully


The theme for this year’s Racial Justice Sunday for the UCC is Banned Books Blessing.

The attempts to silence and keep hidden the truth about our history as a racially divided

nation from the moment Europeans landed on this continent until today is quite disturbing

and astounding. And not just books on racial issues or our racist history are banned. Books

about the atrocities of the holocaust, LGBTQ issues, sexuality, coming of age stories, books

that talk about physical and sexual violence against women, and even the Bible are also on

banned book lists across the country. Many of us have read The Diary of Anne Frank, Caste,

the 1619 Project, So You Want to Talk About Race, Stamped, The Parable of the Sower -

these books are on some banned book lists. How about some of these - Gender Queer: A

Memoir, Kite Runner, The Color Purple, The Bluest Eye, Beloved, Flowers in the Attic, Maus,

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy, The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time

Indian, The Handmaid's Tale, Where the Crawdads Sing, Are You There God, It’s Me

Margaret. You can probably name other books that you know are on banned book lists.

A statement from our denomination leaders: “In the United Church of Christ, we know that

as people called to build a just world for all, we need each other’s stories and experiences to

live into the fullness of the Body of Christ. We believe that banned books have a special

vocation, a particular calling in our faith communities: to help expand and enliven the image

of God and empower us to reckon with truths that demand our loving accountability. So the

Love is Louder Campaign and Join the Movement toward Racial Justice join together to

invite us to bless banned books, so that they might live out their calling and empower us to

continue becoming God’s kindom of justice and love, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Racial

Justice Sunday, 2024 resource Racial-Justice-Sunday-2024-Banned-Book-Blessing.pdf)

All this is to say that a lot came together this week to cause me to reflect. And what does this

have to do with loving our neighbors? First, who are our neighbors?

Everyone! Not just those who look like us, think like us, worship like us, eat the same foods

as us, dress like us. What a small world if we only read books written by people just like us.

Our world is expanded when we love and know our neighbor. When we read books from a

different perspective. When we read history through another person's lived experience.

When we read books relaying the truth about violence against women. When we read stories

and memoirs written by Trans people sharing their lived experience.

I remember in Seminary we took Christian History Classes. The modern Church History class I

took required reading about American Church History written by Native Americans, Asian

Americans, Black and Hispancic people and it was quite different and eye opening from what I learned in my AP History class in high school.

Those neighbors invited me to a different level of understanding and response to the history

of this country. It made me think critically about what I’d been taught up until then. It invited

me to dig deeper into what I thought I knew and understood. It invited me to excavate my

own unquestioned privilege and deconstruct the history of American Christianity I had been

told only the partial story of. Somehow the gravity of hate, destruction, superiority and terror

perpetrated on anyone who was non-white and non-straight-Christian male was lost on me

for many years until I started reading books, watching movies and documentaries, and

following social media accounts written by people of color, queer people, and women.

I did not fear reading these books. I did not start to hate my country or my faith. It did make

me wrestle with the reality of the harm we have caused throughout the centuries which I

think is a good thing. These kinds of books hold a mirror up to ourselves so we can see that

we have not always loved our neighbors as ourselves.

Do I feel some shame? Yes. Do I feel some responsibility? Yes. Does it make me want to vote

and raise my voice for justice causes now? Absolutely. When we know better, we do better - I

think Maya Angelou said that. It also makes me want to learn more about and ask God for

forgiveness of the harm done to Black, Indigenous and other People of Color.

Some of us are going on a Civil Rights Pilgrimage to the south in April. What does it mean to

take a Pilgrimage? It’s a sacred journey to search for meaning of the place and/or events. It is

a journey of personal transformation and prayer. It’s a way to love our neighbor.

On our Pilgrimage, we’ll visit Selma and walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and go to

Montgomery to visit several other important locations active during the Civil Rights

Movement. It will be a time to be in the places where people lost their lives and were hurt

badly and terrorized because of their desire for equality. It will be a time for us to be

prayerful and tune in to voices of the oppressed who continue to scream for justice and

equality. There are 2 spots left if you would like to join us. See Linda Woods for more

information and stay after worship today to discuss the film Selma.

But you know what else it makes me want to do? A Civil Rights Pilgrimage here in Colorado.

There is an exhibit at the Boulder Museum of Art, Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History.

That’s one almost all of us can visit.

Another stop on a Colorado Pilgrimage would be the newest US National Park, Amache

National Historic Site also known as the Granada Relocation Center, near Granada, Colorado. This was one of ten incarceration sites established by the War Relocation Authority during World War II to unjustly incarcerate Japanese Americans.

One could also go on a pilgrimage to the Sand Creek Massacre Historic Site where

unsuspecting Cheyenne and Arapahoe people, mostly women, children, and the elderly,

were killed by soldiers on November 29th, 1864.

Another site is Dearfield, CO - The townsite is the only remaining Colorado example of the

national African-American colonization movement inspired by Booker T. Washington. It was

one of fourteen colonies, or rural towns, established in the West to provide Americans of

African descent with the opportunity to own and work their own land. By 1917, sixty

African-American families worked its 15,000 acres.

I have already had the privilege of visiting Lincoln Hills in Gilpin County up Coal Creek

Canyon. This mountain resort for African Americans was opened in 1922 by Black

entrepreneurs from Denver’s Five Points neighborhood and closed in 1965. It felt sacred and

holy and joyful to walk on the grounds and be in the main lodge where people had enjoyed

the mountains in a welcoming and safe environment during a time when Black people were

not welcomed or safe in other places.

Another important landmark in Colorado historically and today is Five Points Historic

Cultural District, Denver - Although Denver had no Jim Crow laws in place, black residents

had trouble finding housing and were forced to attend segregated schools. The Five Points

neighborhood was the nexus of the black community, supporting the development of

entrepreneurs like Madam C.J. Walker. Churches like Zion Baptist served as centers of

political life. In the 1930s, the Rossonian Lounge and Hotel became one of the nation’s best

jazz clubs, hosting Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and Dinah Washington.

Today’s Black American West Museum was once the home of Dr. Justina Ford, who despite

being denied a medical license delivered about 7,000 babies during her esteemed career.

I’ve also had the privilege of visiting the Stations of the Cross in the town of San Luis and

celebrated with my family Santa Ana y Santiago Fiesta there.

We could go on and on with all the places here in our own state where those of us white folk

can learn more about our neighbors. They have much to teach us and much to offer if we get

out of the way and listen.

I think part of the reason to visit sites, read books and hear from different voices is that we

can be aware, seek forgiveness and work on ways to improve the here and now. Follow the

lead of our BIPOC and LGBTQ friends when they ask for our help and support. Believe them

when they say they are oppressed or targeted or discriminated against. Use your power to

speak up when harm is done. Sign the petitions, hold political and religious leaders

accountable for their harmful and dangerous words and rhetoric, call your legislators,

volunteer. This is how we can love all our neighbors, not just the ones who look like you.

Let us learn the lessons of our history. 160 years ago Frederick Douglass gave those

speeches that Beth read. 59 years ago Martin Luther King gave speeches too - both warning

that oppression and keeping people down can only be tolerated for so long before

resistance escalates more and more. People in Selma suffered terribly and still they marched

for their right to vote until the Nation, politicians and religious leaders listened.

Today our Black and Brown skinned neighbors worry about law enforcement involvement

and potential violence and so they demonstrate and call for reforms. They are tired of

waiting. LGBTQ people are watching as more and more bills are introduced in state

legislatures and a Supreme Court Justice called again this week for a repeal of marriage

equality. We are scared and tired. Women are seeing health care rights erode on a regular

basis and violence increase - we are getting angry. We all watch as more and more people

die because of guns every year and we are weary. Will this country heed the warnings of

Douglass and King or will an oppressed people need to continue to get louder until the

leaders pay attention?

Maybe loving our neighbor means joining them and getting louder. Maybe loving our

neighbor means reading banned books and learning from marginalized voices.Maybe loving

our neighbor means listening and believing them when they say something is not right.

Maybe loving our neighbor means using our privilege in helpful ways when asked. Loving

our neighbor means listening to and singing songs written by people of color as we are in

today’s worship service. Loving our neighbor means that CUCC is a member of the NAACP

of Boulder County & Beth is on the Religious Affairs committee and many of us support and

attend programs. Loving our neighbor also means paying reparations whenever we utilize

African-American Spirituals in our worship services. We’ll be sending a check for $320 to

cover the Spirituals we sang in 2023 to the Center for African and African American Studies

at CU Boulder. Maybe loving our neighbor is a way for us to love God.

People of God, how will you love your neighbor?

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