Proper 8 (13), Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
28 June 2020
Thursday Morning Stephen Quinn interviewed Vancouver Deputy Police Chief Howard Chow about racism in the VPD.
Quinn is a good interviewer who does not let interviewees off the hook easily and so it was a conversation worth listening to. And while the purpose of such an interview is never for reporter and interviewee to agree, it was good that the conversation took place.
The interview began with referencing Mayor and Police Board Chair Kennedy Steward’s call for an end to police spot checks. Chow’s initial response was that when he drove to work last week he heard on his radio a call about a man following a woman and that if spot checks were no longer permitted the police would not be able to assist in such situations. Quinn quickly clarified that in this particular example the police were responding to a 911 call and whether spot checks were permitted or not would not impact the police response to 911 calls.
In case you are not sure why this debate is going on, spot checks at the discretion of the police but affect minorities disproportionately more than other groups, and so it is part of the debate about racism and racial profiling.
I am not in a position to offer a qualified opinion on police spot checks, other than what I just related to you. But what I found interesting in the response of the deputy police chief was that he used what I’d call the slippery slope argument: If we cannot do spot checks, then we cannot adequately protect you.
That, I think, is an argument familiar to all of us, and there are times when it is a legitimate argument. Has the fact that we have allowed Medical Assistance in Dying opened the door to discussions about euthanasia? I would say that it has.
But the slippery slope argument has at least as much to do with our fears as it may have with facts. Our fears are not always based on facts, and as George MacDonald wrote so beautifully in the Princess and the Goblin, “Our fear always sides with what we are afraid of,” which means our fear holds us captive and does not allow us to move beyond it.
This is not unlike the situation Paul faces in chapter six of his letter to the church in Rome. Here not requiring circumcision was the slippery slope. Not requiring adherence to the ritual law, was the slippery slope. What do you mean you can join the people of God without circumcision, without obeying the ritual law, what’s next, prayer to the emperor?
And so we come to chapter six where Paul responds to the fears the congregation at Rome has, which is concerned that too much grace leads to moral indifference.
Paul’s response is anchored in our baptism into Christ. Our baptism has changed us, we are now planted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Sam Wells, Vicar at St Martin in the Fields in London, understands what it means to be Christian as a five-act play.
Act 1, creation, he says, is the unfurling of the cosmic canvas, the emergence of creatureliness as a companion to and reflection of God.
Act 2 is covenant, the Old Testament story of calling, enslavement, liberation, promise, discipline, faithlessness, exile, and partial restoration; covenant isn’t the story of the whole world, it’s the story of the people through whom the whole world would find a blessing.
Act 3 is Christ – the whole presence of God before humanity and the whole presence of humanity before God. This is the central act – of incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection – in relation to which all other parts of the story take their bearings.
Act 4 is church: this is an interim period between the decisive Act 3 and the final Act 5. The glorious liberty of the children of God lies in the fact that all the important things have already happened in the first three acts. Christians don’t have to save the world; only to live in the world that God has redeemed.
And as Paul suggests that our moral imperative come from having been baptized into Christ, so Wells argues that the calling of the Christian is threefold: to be faithful to the God revealed in these three acts, to let God in Act 5 tidy up the rather daunting accumulation of woe that seems set to remain unresolved at the end of the fourth act, and in the meantime to act in ways that anticipate the life that’s coming in Act 5.
Finally Act 5 is consummation, the ultimate revelation of God’s purpose in all four preceding acts – the purpose of sharing the overflowing love of the Trinity and making us God’s companions forever.
To be in Act 4 is to inherit an even mixture of liberation and discipline; the liberation comes from not needing to make the decisive moves oneself, the discipline lies in being faithful to the character of God revealed in the first three acts and that will ultimately prevail in Act 5.1
This is a fair description of what Paul is trying to say in chapter six of his letter to the Romans.
Last week’s Epistle reading began with these familiar verses: Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)
Paul says that those who live with Christ, those who have been baptized into Christ, have entered a new story. We no longer occupy our own story, nor do we believe that we need to save the world, but we occupy God’s story, we have been crucified and raised with Christ in order that we would walk in newness of life.
But not only do we occupy a new story, our life is now occupied by Christ, so that we no longer live to ourselves but we live and die to the Lord (Romans 14:7-8). We have moved from being slaves to impurity to being slaves to righteousness for sanctification (6:19), or in the words of another translation, “You can readily recall, can’t you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing … the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God’s freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?”2
When we first heard Paul’s words about not letting sin exercise dominion over our mortal bodies, we may have thought of sexual sins, or sins that are committed by an individual.
But Paul’s invocation of the image of baptism reminds us that we are called into a body, into the church, and that therefore we do well to contemplate corporate sins, sins that all of us are part of. Therefore the debate about spot checks does relate to our faith because it is an issue of justice and Christians in their new life in Christ are committed to justice.
Paul tells us that we who are in Christ have moved into a new reality, no longer slaves to sin but enslaved to God, slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
And as God is concerned about justice and righteousness, so are we because God dwells in us and we dwell in God.
1Sam Wells, Wholly Holy, What Does the Identity of Being LGBT Add to the Identity of Being Christian, a lecture given at St Martin in the Fields on 30 January 2013
2Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message