Where Do We Find God’s Calm in Life’s Storms?
Racial Complaints

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-18, 31, 32

Pastor Todd BuurstraWhere do we find God’s calm in the swirling storms of complaints? Moses had had it! He was as hot and bothered as the rest of the Hebrew people trudging from the Si-nai oasis through that desert. He didn’t need to hear them grouse for quail! Why did you take us out of Egypt? We may have been slaves there, but at least we had fish! Yeah, I’m all dried up out here under the hot, desert sun! Blah, blah. Waa waa Moan, moan.

Now, it was Moses’ turn to complain to the LORD: Why do I have to carry this people? What am I, their mother?! Where am I supposed to get meat?! If you’re going to treat me like this, you might as well kill me, `cause it’s killin’ me anyway! Blah, wah…

Now we could relate this story to any number of complaints today: from kids to parents, from employee to boss, from congregation to consistory, but verse 4 helps us to apply it… Rabble is the motley crew, couldn’t resist, that went along for the freedom ride from Egypt to the Promised Land. From Egypt, Midian, Edom… they instigated the meat complaints. So how does God calm the storm of racial complaints?

Obama’s pastor, and my seminary professor, Jeremiah Wright’s sermon soundbytes about America KKK… Not God bless America, but G d America!… have un-leashed a storm of racial complaints. Can we find God’s calm in the storm’s center?

Before I try, let me share my limited qualifications to speak about race as a privileged, white male, and I mean limited. I lived as a minority, albeit a privileged minority, for 2.6 years in Japan. I strive for equality in a bi-racial marriage within my culture. I strive for equality in a bi-racial staff in my culture. Lastly, Jeremiah Wright was an all-time favorite professor who taught me more about racial inequality than anyone.

There’s a racial storm so how does God calm it? God calmed Moses’ storm of complaints in two ways: by allowing Moses to let off his steam of complaints to God, which we already saw, and, once his blood pressure lowered, to give Moses the idea to involve other leaders by delegating authority. With the load lifted Moses calmed.

How will God calm the storm of our racial complaints? In the same ways. First, God allows us to let off the steam of our racial complaints: how could Pastor Wright say Gd America?! If Obama is a racial healer why didn’t he choose another church?! Etc. And then I think that God would have us involve others. I want to suggest a specific way that you might do that. Ask a minority person, preferable an African American, what they think of Pastor Wright’s comments. Don’t you comment; just listen to learn.

Here’s what I learned listening to Jeremiah Wright 23 years ago. Today’s racism isn’t as blatant as white water fountains and colored water fountains; its more subtle about pulpit talk. We judge Jeremiah’s sound byte sermon by white preaching standards. Jeremiah taught us that black preaching starts low, builds slow, waxes warm, and sits down in the storm. In other words black preaching builds to a rhetorical and emotional storm—G d America! That lends itself to exaggeration. Just like Jesus who said if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Preaching should be judged within its culture.

What is the result of bringing God our complaints and involving others by listening to them? It may not be that quail migrate on past, but it may be that when whites pause to judge blacks by our standards the black pulpit will need less divisive rhetoric so that our racial complaints may be calmed. That’s what I hear, what do you?

Reverend Todd Buurstra
Pastor of Worship and Witness

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