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Us and Them

Rev Harry Currie

Feb 25, 2024

Romans 5:1-11, Galatians 3:26-29, Mark 8:27–36

Built in 1919, the Fairground Park pool in St. Louis, Missouri, was the largest in the United States and probably the world, with a sandy beach, an elaborate diving board, and a reported capacity of ten thousand swimmers.

      When a new city administration changed the parks policy in 1949 to allow Black swimmers, the first integrated swim ended in bloodshed. On June 21, two hundred white residents surrounded the pool with “bats, clubs, bricks and knives” to menace the first thirty or so Black swimmers. Over the course of the day, a white mob that grew to five thousand attacked every Black person in sight around the Fairground Park. After the Fairground Park Riot, as it was known, the city returned to a segregation policy using public safety as a justification.

      However, a successful NAACP lawsuit reopened the pool to all St. Louisans the following summer. However hardly anybody went and the city closed the permanently a few years later. Racial hatred led to St. Louis draining one of the most prized public pools in the world.


      This is just one of thousands of stories in the United States where in the first half of the twentieth century there were thousands upon thousands of public pools built, some of them ginormous pools. And free public swimming was the goal of thousands upon thousands of communities.

      But thousands of those pools were filled in and free public swimming was suspended in thousands of communities lest blacks go swimming with whites. Racism not only led to the closing of thousands of public pools it actually led, to poor whites and middle-class whites not being able to go swimming.


      According to Heather McGhee’s book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Proper Together,” this is a classic example of Us vs Them politics with an underlying Zero-Sum thinking.


      In other words, people who are racist, people who have identified another group as bad, would rather suffer themselves than let the people of colour have a win. They would rather have us all lose, or most of us lose, than let their others have a win.


      White people chose to have no public swimming and fill in the thousands of pools than to let blacks have public swimming and let everybody enjoy free public swimming.


      That racism also translates into votes and various politicians have appealed to white voters to vote in certain ways, implying that if you don’t vote that way, various races, or ethnic groups or minorities will gain supposed unfair advantages.

      One such trope is that immigrants are stealing our country from us.

      Or we have to protect our borders with huge walls.

      Or we give too much money to First Nations people.

Or we do too much for the LBGTQ+ community…

Etc, etc.

       And so white voters, even poor and working-class white voters, vote for policies that increasingly put wealth into the hands of the wealthy elite, and not into the hands of ordinary people… lest the LGBTQ+ community, or the immigrants, or the First Nations people, or people of colour get some of the pie.


      All the while the rich are getting a bigger piece of the pie. In fact, the richest one percent of the world have 2 thirds of the pie.


      The problem behind all of this is US-Them thinking.


We are the good guys and let’s get the bad guys.


      It is what led to the Holocaust. It is the cause of racism. It is led to many genocides around the world. It has inhabited many religions.

      Christianity for centuries upon centuries had this kind of thinking. Christians were good and non-Christians were so bad that they could be tortured for all eternity in everlasting hellfire.

      And built into that Us-Them thinking was a basic systemic racism, because Christianity mostly grew in its early stages in white Europe. Consequently, people from other continents and people of colour were often the bad non-Christians.


      It certainly was not the teaching of Jesus, nor what one would get by reading the scriptures in entirety if one could actually read the scriptures without cultural and religious bias.

      And even the Reformation with its emphasis on grace and faith, and the ministry of all the people, was not enough to stop the systemic racism that existed, and we entered another 400 years of White Christian Colonial Domination.

      The emphasis in the church during that time was not so much about justice and equality, but about being one of the elect, one of the good Christians, and making it to heaven and avoiding burning in hell.

      That is US-Them thinking and Jesus repudiates that kind of thinking.

      I believe that Jesus calls this Us-Them kind of thinking Satanic, and rebukes Peter in our gospel lesson today for that kind of thinking.


      In a pivotal scripture in Mark’s gospel where Peter confesses Jesus is the Christ, Jesus immediately silences Peter and the disciples and then later rebukes Peter.



      Let me back up for a second and talk about the structure of Mark’s gospel.

      I will do this by introducing a story in Mark’s gospel which is only found in Mark’s gospel. It is the story that immediately precedes Peter’s acknowledgment that Jesus is the Christ.

      It is the healing of a blind man at Bethsaida.

      Jesus puts saliva or spit on the blind man’s eyes and asked the blind man if he can see anything.

      The blind man replies that he can see people, but they look like trees walking.

      Then Jesus puts his hands on his eyes and the blind man can see clearly.

      I think it is the only two stage miracle, but it comes at a very important time in Mark’s gospel.

      This is the turning point in the gospel between the first half of the gospel and the second half of the gospel.

      In the first half of the gospel, people don’t know who Jesus is and they keep asking the question. Who is this man? Who is this man who teaches with such authority? Who is this man that even the winds and waves obey him?

      In fact, the only ones who seem to realize who Jesus is are the demons.


      People cannot see who Jesus is. They are blind.


And then there is the story of the two-stage healing of the blind man. Then Peter says that Jesus is the Christ or the Messiah.


      But the second half of Mark’s gospel deals with this question. What kind of Messiah is this? This is not the Messiah we were expecting?


      The second half of the gospel is about those, especially the disciples who see Jesus, who know he is special but they cannot clearly see who Jesus is, and what kind of Messiah, Jesus is.


      The term Messiah was a loaded one. The Jews had written about the Messiah. They had dreamed about a Messiah. They thought the Messiah was going to come someday, not to take them to heaven, but to lead an army and deliver Jews from their oppressors. Then the Messiah would create God’s kingdom on earth and everybody would have food and housing and there would be peace and security.


      And this would happen because the Messiah would lead the people in a revolution against the evil overlords and totally defeat them.

      The Jews believed in peace, harmony, justice, and an end to poverty, but it was for us and not for them.


      And when Jesus asks them about who people think he is and what the disciples think he is… the New Revised Version reads that Jesus sternly orders them not to tell anyone about him.

      But the Greek word for sternly ordered is actually translated rebuke. It is the same word when Peter rebukes Jesus and Jesus rebukes Peter.

      Why do the translators soften its meaning from rebuke to sternly ordered.

      Some very good scholars believe that if you translate it more literally as rebuke, you get a better sense of what Jesus is getting at. They believe that Jesus is rebuking all the disciples for the use of the loaded term Messiah. They think Jesus didn’t want the disciples to use that term because most people would think that if Jesus is the Messiah, then Jesus is about destroying the bad guys and saving the good guys.


      The rebuke is so the disciples don’t identify Jesus with an identity he doesn’t want to own.

      Jesus is here for everybody. It is not Us vs Them.

Jesus is here for everybody.

      And so, what is the term Jesus will use when referring to himself? Not Messiah.

      Not because he isn’t the Messiah, but because most people don’t understand the true nature of the Messiah.


      Jesus calls himself Son of Man. You could translate that: The human one.

      And you find that image in the book of Daniel.


Jesus replaces Messiah with a different image. He is not the popular idea of a Messiah, a conquering hero who will enter as a triumphant military leader and kill the bad guys.


That is Us vs Them thinking. Satanic thinking. Get thee behind me Satan with that kind of thinking.    


      The Human One’s strategy is love and non-violence and forgiveness and reconciliation.

      The enemy is not the Romans. The enemy is anything that is not loving and graceful and forgiving.


      Going back to the book of Daniel where you find the image of the Son of Man, you will find that there is a courtroom where the Ancient of Days judges the beasts and hand over true authority to the saints.

      What Daniel is saying that there is a higher courtroom that the ones on earth where Jews were being persecuted, and where later Christians would be persecuted.

      That higher courtroom is God’s courtroom and those who are found guilty in the earthly courtrooms for speaking truth, for wanting equality, for freely worshipping, for loving one another, would be declared innocent in the heavenly courtroom.


      And so, the Son of Man will be taken by an earthly courtroom and by the political-religious system of his day and be found guilty for speaking the truth, for practicing love and forgiveness, for declaring equality and justice and saying that all are God’s children and are worthy of love.

      And these beastly powers will torture and execute Jesus, but at the same time, Jesus’ death and resurrection is being found in God’s court as vindication that his way is true…

      …. that the Messiah, or the Christ, or the Saviour, or the Son of Man, or the Human one, is the way of love and forgiveness, of equality and justice for everyone. And God declares it true by Christ’s death and resurrection.


      So, what does it mean to take up a cross, in connection with all of this?

      …in connection with the Messiah or the Son of Man being love for everyone, and repudiating and rebuking an understanding that some humans are the bad guys to be gotten rid of…

      In connection with Jesus being the Human One for all of us, and not for us against them…


      Well, what it doesn’t mean is getting rid of chocolate for Lent.

      What it doesn’t mean is that we are not to have selves, or identity, or practice self-care, or have joy, or pleasure.

      This whole idea of denying oneself and losing one’s life to save it, is been used in very negative ways over the years.

      It has been used as a weapon to not give equality and justice to people.

      “Oh, as a good Christian you are supposed to deny yourself, so don’t worry about a raise, or healthcare, or having any fun. You are supposed to suffer and sacrifice.”


      But that is not what denying self and losing one’s life means.


      What it means is transfiguration or transformation. It is about dying to an old way of life and being born again to a new way of living….

      Christ’s way of living.


Christ invites us to take up a cross and die with him.

      Die to Us vs Them.

      Die to Violence

Die to Selfishness.

      Die to Racism

       Die to Othering.

      Die to love for the few and the deserving

      Die to sending people to hell

      Die to Exclusion


And be born again to love for all

      Be born again to forgiving everyone

      Be born again to welcoming all people as brothers and sisters

      Be born again to living in relationship with God, with Jesus and with the Spirit

      Be born again to non-judgement, acceptance, sharing, justice, equality…

      Be born again to becoming like Jesus.


Is it easy. No.

       Do we need God’s help. Yes.


Will it cost? Probably


Those who truly love everyone, and try to stand up for everyone will face opposition.

      Not everyone will like that message.

Even some of the people you will try and love might even hate you for it.

      Loving everyone doesn’t make conflict go away. Being full of compassion and serving others doesn’t end all problems.

      It led to the death of Jesus and 11 of his disciples.


It doesn’t mean it will lead to your physical death,

but if you resist the powers that dominate people

if you speak against the powers that are unfair

If you upset the political applecart

      If you demand change for the poor and minorities

If you speak for the oppressed.

      If you call for the end of weapons.

If you preach unconditional forgiveness…


      If you say that everyone is a child of God and everyone is family and nobody is too far gone for God…


I don’t know, but you might upset some people…

      You might face opposition…


You might take up a cross…


I know what it is like to be othered.

      I know what it is like for a group of people to think I am not acceptable, I am not ok, I am not suitable, I am bad, disgusting or evil.


      I know what that feels like.


And I know what it is like to other someone else, to look down on them with contempt, to exclude myself from them, to stop caring about them, to even wish them harm.


      And if you wanted to spend some time in prayer today, then you could talk to God about the ways you have been othered…

      and talk to God about forgiving those who othered you…

      And you could talk to God about those you othered or still other…those you don’t forgive…those you walk away from, those you don’t value…

      And talk about repenting and being forgiven…


For know this…

      Jesus was othered. Jesus was taken and beaten and whipped and lied about, and tortured, and went to a kangaroo court, and falsely convicted…

      And was executed…

      And yet the people who othered him, people like you and me… he included, he forgave, he cared for, he died for…. to save, to redeem and to change.

      There is no Us and Them with Jesus. All are included in Jesus’ love.



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