Adapted from a sermon by the Rev. Anne Edison-Albright, Director of College Ministries at Luther College, given at Focus—the student-led multidenominational worshipping community at Luther—on Sunday, September 7, 2020.
The sermon is part of a series called: Covenant Keeper: Exploring the Promises of a Faithful God.
When I read 1 Corinthians 13, it assures me that God’s covenant—God’s promise to love all creation unconditionally and without end—is trustworthy. God recognizes, knows and loves us and all creation. It can feel challenging to recognize God’s love, or to recognize each other with the loving eyes of God. It’s hard, even scary to be in a situation where you feel like you aren’t recognized, you aren’t known. It is a source of relief and comfort to be recognized, to be known and accepted.
You know that feeling you get when someone sees you, and their whole face lights up because they have caught sight of you; they know it’s you that they’ve seen, and they are so glad. That experience, that feeling, is what comes to mind when I read these verses: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
This is heightened in a lot of ways by the pandemic, and the pandemic has also shed light on ways that this has always been true, but it’s not as easy to ignore or deny anymore. Our view of ourselves and each other is dimmed by fear, by bigotry of all kinds, and specifically by racism.
In the US, many white people have had trouble and still have trouble recognizing the oppressive, systemic reality of racism.
We have been, and we are, currently, fully known and fully loved by God. That is the covenant, the promise, we trust in and place our hopes on. It is also true that our human knowledge, our recognition, even our love is partial and dimmed in these in-between days. Humans struggle to recognize, know, and love each other.
Not being recognized as a person, as an individual, is hurtful. White people not recognizing racism is deadly.
It’s deadly both in overtly violent ways as well as in the cumulative effect of innumerable little deaths, killing all of our souls slowly and keeping us from the mutual joy that is recognizing each other, knowing each other, loving each other.
An example of this I’ve been grappling with, recently, is the origin story of Luther College, and how it’s been told in recent years. In 2015 Maggie Steinberg, now Maggie Hagen, wrote an outstanding senior paper on “Luther College and American Lutheran Engagement With Race and Racism.” She found in her research that there was a group of Norwegian Lutheran lay leaders who, overcoming the reticence of their pastors, pushed their synod to take a stance against slavery, and that stance helped hasten the founding of Luther College.
While the Lutheran church and Luther college was willing to take that kind of stance against slavery, however, Maggie found that it was not active in the movement for the rights of freed Black people, and not an ally with Blacks in the national conversations and conflicts over race that followed the Civil War.
The first Black student arrived at Luther in 1951, 100 years after the school was founded. From 1861 until the late 60’s/early 70’s, the college, and the wider Lutheran church it was part of, stayed largely silent and largely separate in white communities, committing both sins of omission and commission to maintain the status quo of whiteness at the college and in the church.
Maggie’s paper also traces how Luther students from the 1970s to the present time inherit a legacy both of powerful Black student activism and organizing but also of largely unspoken and unrecognized institutional whiteness.
Sometimes we tell the story of Luther College and focus only on the part about how we were founded to oppose slavery, leaving out the rest of the context and the critique from Maggie’s research. When we do that, we fail to recognize the whole story of who we are as a college and a community. We miss an opportunity for recognition, insight, and deeper relationships.
The Rev. Dr. Ron Bell is a pastor, writer, musician and speaker in the Twin Cities who wrote about missed recognition on his blog after the murder of George Floyd. Dr. Bell writes:
“I think you were so busy looking for a riot that you missed the gathering of the grieving. I think you were so busy looking for looters that you missed the lament and heartbreak of a community. I think you were so busy looking for trouble that you missed the tragedy of systemic racialized trauma on the bodies of Black and brown people. Tonight, tomorrow, and even the next day I beg of you, look again. Look again.”
Dr. Bell continues: “Once you have really looked upon our sorrow, once you have put away your hashtags, retweets and emojis, once you have set with the weight of our sorrow what you will discover is my city has become your city. My pain has become your pain. That young person protesting has become your young person grieving, that kid looting has become your kid weeping. Do not look away. For then and only then will you be truly with us! Look again.”
Our ability to recognize and love each other is incomplete; it is like looking through a dim mirror. And yet we are called, we are compelled, to look again.
Look again and keep looking.
Keep searching for a glimpse of that truth, that recognition of the Image of God in each other, that love that is unconditional and un-ending and able to overcome all the ways that we fall short.
Dr. Bell writes: “My city has become your city. My pain has become your pain …For then and only then will you be truly with us!”
That might seem impossible until we remember that is what Jesus did, does and is coming again to do. Jesus is God With Us, God truly with us, and in Jesus, with the Spirit’s help, it is possible for us to be with, truly with, each other. Even in this dimly mirrored, unclear time. Even on days when we feel like we are invisible, when there are so many barriers to recognizing each other, or when no one seems to recognize you, or really know you, or understand you and who you really are. Remember: You are fully known and you are fully loved, right now and always. All of creation is fully known and fully loved, right now and always.
Someday we will recognize each other and God’s love more clearly. Someday we will be face to face. In the meantime, know and trust that you are beloved of God. Empowered by that love, do not look away.
Keep looking. Look again.