New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
October 1, 2017 – World Communion Sunday
|Stand by Sitting by Androo|
You’d think with all the media attention, Colin Kaepernick is the first black athlete to protest during the national anthem. Not so. On the podium at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, track medalists John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their black-gloved fists during the Star Spangled Banner. They were suspended and sent home.
America’s relationship to black athletes has been one of love/hate from the very beginning. The first African-American to play major league baseball, Jackie Robinson received death threats.
In 1969 Curt Flood did not accept a trade from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies, stating that he was not a piece of property to be bought and sold, and lost his suit against Major League Baseball. Eventually it led to the union to bargain for binding arbitration for grievances. This allowed baseball players to be free agents, but it cost Flood his career and his health.
Female black athletes have also used their sport as a protest platform but for the most part receive less attention than their male counterparts. Olympic sprint champion Wilma Rudolph insisted that her hometown parade be integrated. Tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, who catch hell for being strong black women, have fought for equal pay at Wimbledon.
Perhaps one of the first black athlete activists was Octavius Catto. Just after the Civil War, he founded and was captain of the Pythians, an all-black team in Philadelphia.
An educator, writer, orator, activist and athlete, Catto was something of a Renaissance man. Along with his fiancée Caroline Le Count, Catto worked to get black voters to the polls and successfully integrated Philly’s trolley cars. But tensions were high between the city’s Irish and black populations. On Election Day in 1871, at the age of 32, Catto was shot by Frank Kelly, an Irish political operative. Kelly was later acquitted by an all-white jury.
Earlier this week on public radio a caller responded to Kaepernick’s protest with these words: Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean it’s right to do it.
Not unlike Paul’s teaching moment to the church in Corinth when he says, “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.” But he follows that up with something that sounds a lot like his letter to the Philippians: “Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.” “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”
Paul appeals to the church in Philippi that they live in unity with each other, having the same love, sharing the same mind as Christ.
This requires not just regarding each other as equals but regarding others as better, as Christ emptied himself and took the form of a slave. Unity requires humility, servanthood. If we are to live together in unity we cannot claim for ourselves that which we would not claim for everyone else.
We cannot claim affordable healthcare for ourselves and not for others and call this community. We cannot claim outstanding education for ourselves
Protest is not selfish; it’s costly and dangerous. Protest is the imbalance necessary when one group asserts their own advantage at the cost of others’ rights,
It is time we all took a knee and humbled our pride, our nationalism, and our sense of entitlement and the need to be right. And this Table requires our humility if it is to have any
Paul advised the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, that is, how we live out our salvation, the saving unlimited, unconditional grace of God, here and now in the world. There is a selfless power at work in this world and we are its hands and feet, its heart and its agent.
And we are its knees. Amen.