They responded, “We are Abraham’s children; we’ve never been anyone’s slaves. How can you say that we will be set free?” Jesus answered, “I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” – John 8:33-34
The classroom of the late Beverly Harrison woke us up. On the first day of her introduction to Christian Ethics class she asked of us, “Describe an experience of racism.” The responses ranged from simple descriptions of witnessing prejudice, to soul-searing sharings of life shaped by the brutal and systemic denial of God-given dignity based on the color of skin. But the answer that has stuck with me most came from a student who said, “I haven’t experienced racism.” Bev paused for a moment and then said, firmly, “Oh, think again.”
Some who followed Jesus apparently believed that once their birthright was established, they had no more need of saving grace. I heard Jesus in Bev Harrison’s voice: “Think again.”
Yesterday I read a news piece that fit my convictions and shared it — without first taking the time to research where the story came from, and what other versions are circulating, and whether I was extending the reach of a distorted truth. Later I heard my best teachers saying, “Think again.”
It can be awfully hard to see how my convictions separate me from God. It can be awfully easy to believe terribly untrue things — such as, in Nell Irvin Painter’s words, the notion that races exist and that some are better than others. I’m still relying on Jesus to set me free from that one.
Good Teacher, you know better than we do how we’re sinning, and to whom we’ve given our trust. Set us free today, at least a little more, to follow you more nearly. Amen.
John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of Church on the Hill, UCC, in Lenox, Massachusetts.