Letting Go of Privilege
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
6 October 2017 13:01
A sermon based upon Exodus 20:1-20 • Psalm 19 • Philippians 3:4b-14 • Matthew 21: 33-46
Will you pray with me? Let God guide our senses, our hearts and our ears to receive the lesson given to us. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer. Amen.
When people talk about the word privilege, there may be some ideas in mind. Privilege evokes an honor, a gift or a permission.
You hear phrases like:
It was a privilege to meet you!
It was a privilege to stand next to you at your wedding!
It was privilege to write that check!
Privilege becomes a badge of honor, pride or status.
These raise some questions.
How do you get that privilege?
Did you earn it?
Did you achieve or win a victory? Dinner in your honor with many praises!
How about, were you born into it?
I wonder how many people would say it is a privilege to be born poor
or to have broken bones. People generally don’t say these.
Then, I wonder if the fellow at Las Vegas thought it was privilege to own so many guns. I doubt many of the victims would consider that experience to be a privilege.
The thing about privilege is that it says little about the person. One can have wealth, rights and status and use them with compassion. If you use your privilege to mock someone, to deny fair chances or to murder, what does that say about privilege or the person.
Having a flare for the dramatic, our scripture starts with the apostle kind of chest-beating, almost bragging. I come from the great tribe of Benjamin; I was a Pharisee; I was a lawyer. There is a lawyer joke in there. You can almost see a man flaunting robes like someone smearing us with all the great places they have been. You read this part and kind of think so does that make me chopped liver? Could he be any more of a jerk?
Then, the lesson sharply pivots. That next line could be summed up in the word, “Excrement!” as coined by Dead Poets’ Society, Professor Keating, (played by Robin Williams).
For all these marks of honor, prestige and “privilege”, none of that compares to knowing Christ and working Christ’s mission. One’s righteousness is based in “faith in Christ.” Nothing else matters.
Faith in Christ provides a real sense of direction. You can hear the sweet anticipation of “I am so close and I can almost touch it.”
This is a reminder that the achievement, honor and privilege is not a finale. There is work yet to be done because the goal is not yet achieved. The epistle practically yells, “press on toward the goal the heavenly call of God.”
The first part of the lesson is really that guy standing in the front touting one’s privilege for a host of reasons and some not–so-good reasons. We like to show case the gifts we have been given ever since childhood when you were asked to “show and tell.” People like to brandish the life we lead, gifts given to us, the laws we follow (maybe part of the time), the flags we raise, the neighbors we call friends, the circumstance we are born, and even the persecutions we have delivered.
Yes, we can be proud of good achievements and put the plaque on the wall. Yet, we cannot forget the people around us or what God has asked of us – to let go of that privilege and let love.
Why? If you achieved, congratulations are in order! Enjoy the banquet and your award!
Yet, when the dinner and celebration are done, remember the people cleaning up the room.
If you hold onto privilege, that privilege may devolve us into taunting superiority. (I did something you didn’t!) Privilege can be easy because it does not need faith, and without faith, we separate ourselves from Christ. Without faith, we cannot live the life taught to us by Christ.
Privilege quickly takes us into realms of idolatry, uncaring and intolerance-- away from what Jesus would do.
If you recently “won” an argument with your spouse, the temptation is ripe to boast your new-found victory and “supposed privilege.” That could be a simple argument over which direction the car is going or a more serious argument. Do you proceed to add insult to injury? Do you smash everything your partner hoped could have been?
Is that what Jesus would do?
Or Do you lift them up and say thank you for making me a better person?
You warn your child about looking both ways before you cross the road. If the child decides to dart, and you hopefully grab them before a car almost hits them, what do you do? You have all the privilege in the world to be angry and tell them how horrible their action was, or you can use the moment to remind them how much you love them. Is that what Jesus would do?
When your child comes to you licking their wounds, do you gloat your position and remind them “I told you so.”
Is that what Jesus would do?
Or do you become the parent that welcomes the prodigal child with love?
If a person protests racial or gender privilege, do you label them a “cry baby” and tell them to go back into obscurity?
Again, is that what Jesus would do?
Or, would you listen and try to understand how you can learn from these experiences and share compassion?
The gospel lesson, Matthew 21, says something similar. The parable of the wicked tenants take for granted that which has been given to them. The tenants were given charge and privilege to care for a vineyard. They decided they could do whatever they wanted and ignored the covenant with the landowner. You can see the landlord vs tenant tension, but the underlying issue is privilege.
Those who have been given the awesome responsibility to care, to guide and to tend the community have instead used their position to line their pockets, inflict discrimination, and ignore God’s call to love one another. We cannot hide behind privilege to do wrong or to ignore injustice. God notices this stuff. Matthew 21 tells us, as people, that we must tend our own vineyard, and that we are called to do the good work of God.
One might suggest that how we use privilege is important. Yet, if you value your privilege more than your love of God and neighbor, how important is your privilege? Our lesson tells us to simply let go.
So let go of privilege, let go of poor attitudes that separate us and let faith be your guide. Let Christ be your mentor. Appreciate your gifts you have and value your experiences. Remember those less fortunate. Those that cry need your compassion and maybe you can help show them what Jesus would do.
Let go, and Let Jesus shine through you!
Thanks Be to God!