St. Augustine of Hippo

Episcopal Church


Togetherness Rather Than Competitiveness

November 12, 2017

The Reverend Nathanael Saint-Pierre 

Have you ever been invited to a wedding? Can you picture all the activities around this wedding? Who was getting married? The guests? The cake with two little figurines of white people even when the wedded are Blacks? The wedding hall all decorated with this huge lighting structure in the middle? The tables with a champagne ice bucket close to the centerpiece? Do you remember the food? Was it good? The loud music? Yes, the music that kept you from speaking to the person sitting next to you. Can you still picture the women and their heels, the men in their tuxedos? Were you not annoyed by all those video amateurs using their phones as if their taping of the celebration was more important than you watching the wedding unfolding live? Do you remember who was the wedding planner and all the troubles s/he had to go through in order to deliver such an event? I remember some of it and much more because there was a time all I needed was a car and a suit. I would stop my car on the corner of a street of my native Port-au-Prince on a Saturday evening, waiting for marriage corteges to pass. I would enter the most glamorous one, pretending I was a guest (please don’t call me a wedding crasher, I am still Father Nat).

The Gospel presents us a parable that describes a wedding in which several bridesmaids are selected. Some meticulous, took everything they needed with them, including oil for their lamps. Others negligent, forgot to take enough. When time came for the marriage to start, they had to rush out in the streets to get some kerosene for their lamps and maybe some powder, makeup or lipstick. The groom arrived while they were gone; the ceremony started without them, and they were denied access to the banquet, being late. They were lost!

It is easy to get to the conclusion that the bridesmaids who did not evaluate their priorities and did not bring enough oil, should pay for their negligence. But I am afraid that’s what the oppressive systems of our world want us to believe. They want us to compete for salvation and distract us from realizing that we are a community for which togetherness should be the priority. What would have happened if instead of lighting all individual lamps while waiting for the groom, only one lamp was lit? What would have been the outcome if the bridesmaids had a collective wisdom that they were all engaged in the same storm and their common survival depended on sharing the resources they had no matter who owned what? What if instead of making salvation personal we start making grace the collective gift that God intended?

We find the Matthean community in expectation of the return of Jesus and having to respond to the need for vigilance and endurance. But it is inherent to Matthew to separate: Jew from Greek, lambs from goats. The text describes a wedding then, with all the bling-bling and the bells and whistles for such an event. People were gathered in one place. The groom was to meet the bridesmaids there in order to process to the location of the actual wedding. Off course, due to the darkness on the road, they needed to carry lamps in order to lighten the way to the wedding location, at the same time beautifying the whole journey marching through the celebration. Bridesmaids were the torchbearers of the procession. We are today the light bearers of this world in need of direction.

Because many businesses, such as negotiation for the dowry, delayed delivery of dresses and garments, etc., are not easy to conduct and conclude, the bridegroom might be late. Because a father is not easy to negotiate with, it may take time for one to get his blessing before a marriage. The parable told us that, the bridegroom delayed, the bridesmaids were waiting with expectation that the soon to be husband would come but no one knew when it would happen. 

But the oppressive systems (that then were the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Herodians and are now religious and secular powers of our modern lifestyle) are making this parable a race in which we need to be better prepared than others in order to win. Some religious systems are still at work to remove the natural propensity to save that God has, to make it a human self-accomplishment exploit. A few political systems are still at work, emphasizing our differences instead of our communality. They define a foreigner (Black or Arabic) as a terrorist, and a local (White European) as someone with a mental illness. Not aware that the goal of oppressive systems is to promote individuality and divisiveness, some of us may not have the wisdom to discern that they can use the Bible. Sometimes, scripture can be used to inject the venom of confusion into the midst of God’s children and amplify darkness.

We are a community of black people, a community that was taught to deny who we are. Like bridesmaids in a wedding, we think we should compete and be the most beautiful and most ready (we forget the beauty of Lucifer caused him to become too envious). Often, we choose to leave the pack, thinking that there is no salvation possible if we stay in our community. We increasingly come to believe that preparation falsely means to model ourselves on the oppressors. We gather all the unnecessary material goods thinking that we have achieved our demarcation point. We educate ourselves so that we can boast about our individual accomplishments. Oh, I have heard my sisters and brothers proclaim with pride: “I am the first Black to have been a supervisor at NYSO (New York Sanitation Office).” Or “I am the first Black to be an editor of a magazine.” Or “I am the only Black admitted to that club.” We, the oppressed/enslaved, have been conditioned to act as lone wolves. From the field to the house of our slave masters, we were brainwashed and psychologically contaminated… – yes, a twofold process: brainwashed of the innate attribute of all creation that human beings survive only when they stick together and, contaminated with the false belief that nothing good can come out of our black community – we work for our own salvation (a personal salvation). There is no difference between the Fon and the Igbo, the Bakongo and the Kongo, the Mbundu and the Chokwe, the Akamu and the Mandingo, the Blacks born in America and the ones born in the Caribe. WE are all ONE. When our individual success/salvation becomes more important than the collectivity’s, we are doomed to failure; that’s exactly the purpose of oppressive systems. We were brought here from different tribes to prevent any possible cohesion. As successful as we can be, we are just an oppressed, who, trying to look so much, and be so much like the master, has become an oppressor and not someone who has worked to fight against the system so that others, still oppressed, can live grace as extended to all.

The road to Heaven is a relay race track, not a 100 meter for individual performance… If speed in our genes and the fastest human being ever is a Black, Jamaican Usain Bolt, the priority is the team at all times, EVEN IN OUR INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE. It is about Interdependency and mutuality, NOT about competition and superiority of one over the rest of the pack. Yes, we have an individual responsibility to run our own distance to the best of our ability; but the way we transmit the baton to the next runner, the next generation, the next of kin is the most important part of the race. The success of the team is the ultimate goal. I am not telling you that you should not assume responsibility in the plan of salvation of God. I am saying that keeping grace for yourself (keeping your oil for yourself and not sharing it) is NOT God’s plan. Jesus came for all to be redeemed. There is ENOUGH grace in God for all. There is no need for us to keep it for ourselves, make others feel unworthy, inappropriate, falsely pretending we are better than them because we have oil and they don’t.  Too often we end up bleaching our skin to look more whitish. Too many times we go through plastic surgery because we’ve been bullied in school for the size of our nose. Too often we’ve been to the White doctor because we don’t believe the Black doctor can cure us. Too often we would not wear the shoes or clothing made by a Black designer, although Hilfiger declares not designing for Blacks. We need reprogramming, don’t we? We need to develop new wisdom and a new sense of identity. We need to endure that no matter what people say WE ARE CHILDREN OF God as is all humankind. Because: “The beginning of wisdom is the most desire for instruction and concern for instruction is love of her, and love of her is the keeping of her laws, and giving of her laws is assurance of immortality, and immortality brings one near to God; so, the desire of wisdom leads to a kingdom.” The wisdom to explore and to which we must recondition our brains, is that we won’t be in because others are out. Pushing a sister or a brother off the track to make her/him fall or disqualify is really a nasty way to win. Heaven is large enough for all who believe to have immortality (eternal life). Eternal life is faith uninterrupted; eternal life is ongoing monitoring of what oppressive systems are doing to discourage us to change. Eternal life is vigilance to resist the brain washing (the system peeling off God’s goodness from us), to replace it by brain reconditioning (the system making sure that we lose our identity to become a tool in its hands). Eternal life is to stay together rather than compete. After all, in Christ there is no more Jew, no more Greek, no more master, no more slave; we are all one race: the human race.

Next time we are invited to a wedding, or next time like I used to, you crash a wedding, let us remember to go prepared, to wear our wedding robe which means that the grace we ask for ourselves we offer it to others. We should remember we are not alone on the guest list. Although vigilance is important, and endurance is faithfulness, we don’t need to pile up grace upon grace. The miracle through which we have life has been accomplished in Jesus Christ, at the cross, once and for all. Amen.