Lenten Sermon on the film Black Panther
Good morning church. During the peace I was hit with the “Wakanda forever”, I needed that. I was curious, did anyone else see Black Panther yet? (Yes’, echoing from the church). Great. Ok. Even better. Good, cause that’s what we’re talking about today. And if you haven’t seen it yet, I apologize in advance in case this spoils anything for you, but I encourage you to go out and see it.
I also want to say, excuse me before I start, for everyone here who is under 30, thank you, thank you for being here. Thank you for existing in this church. You don’t understand how important you are. All of you. Bless up. That is so important. Thank you for worshipping.
The Gospel according to Mark 1:9-15, (NRSV) “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee. And was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart. And the spirit descending like a dove on him. And the voice came from heaven, you are my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased. And the spirit immediately drove him out of the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the good news of God and saying the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come here. Repent and believe in the good news.”
I want to talk about the movie the Black Panther a little bit. It really is a movie for the culture and I am blessed to have seen that in my lifetime. I want to talk about one of the characters, Killmonger. I feel like many of us here are from the United States or have lived here for a good amount of time, correct? I think in many ways; his character is so relatable to us. The black pain. The pain of being left behind. The pain of being disconnected in some way. Killmonger, many of us can relate to him because of this. Because of this anger that has been built up inside of him. This young man who was half Wakandan and half American, grew up in Oakland, without a father. Even though everything might have said that he couldn’t have made it, he ended up graduating from college. He did his graduate studies at M.I.T. He even joined the military. That motivated him to get him where he is.
I want to look at Killmonger, as us. I want to look at this wilderness, as the African diaspora experience. I want us to look at the common things that we share, that we go through, as being in the wilderness. Because often times, during Lent, we do this thing where we talk about this individual wilderness, and we’re all so alone in it. And no one can relate, but maybe they can relate. But this experience, this American experience in particular that we go through, we are collectively in the wilderness. In addition to, all the other pieces of the wilderness we will experience.
Jesus speaks to this struggle because he too has been there, in the wilderness. Which obviously plays a major part in a lot of our relations and the relationship with our ancestors. When they too were enslaved and they were going through their wilderness. Their journey through the underground railroad. Their journey to liberation. Their journey marching. Jesus did that too.
What happens to us in the wilderness? Killmonger said, “The world took everything away from me, everything I ever loved.” This speaks to the pain of any of us. Cause maybe the world took everything away. Maybe the world took away a child of ours, a loved one, a place that we call home. Gentrification or displacement due to war. Maybe the world took away security, or finances, or even our freedom. Maybe the world took away your heritage and identity; the foundation for future generations. This world can be oh so cruel. This wilderness can turn anyone to be angry. That’s what I want to talk about.
I want to talk about the anger that comes with being in the wilderness. I want to talk about the rage that sometimes can come inside of us just by living our everyday life. Seeing ourselves bloody on the street, on the news, every single day. Going home and seeing the next person evicted for whatever reason. Knowing that the majority of people in prison today look just like us with dark skin but did almost nothing in comparison to those who still walk free. Shout outs to Zimmerman.
Let me ask you, what happens when we let the wilderness win? That’s my question for us. Because that’s what happens with Killmonger, right? I think in many ways that’s what happens to a lot of us. This journey can be so much of a burden on us. The weight that we carry on all of our shoulders. Then sometimes we then tend to act out in spite. Or maybe we do work hard. We might actually work hard to degrade others and burn down our sacred spaces. To destroy bridges amongst each other and personal relationships. We can be so angry, but with what purpose? Because often times anger comes from a place of vengeance; anger tends to be a secondary emotion. That’s not always what we’re feeling, there’s something deeper inside.
Jesus was led into the wilderness, being tempted by Satan and amongst wild beasts. Now sometimes, I think when we look at scripture, we look at how light and fluffy it is. “He was in the wilderness”, then we create these really cool metaphors about the wilderness. But, the thing is that the wilderness then, is very fierce. We’re talking about wild beasts. We’re not talking about homes and shelters and protection. We’re talking about living on your bare feet. The callouses. The harsh that’s done there. And you know if you’re in shoes for too long, that you don’t really feel comfortable in, already I’m done. I’m “I’m ready to go home.” What happens when I can’t go home? We’re talking about Satan tempting him. At any moment he can respond with anger. At any moment, he can fall off his path that he was placed on….but he didn’t.
To be honest, Jesus would have had all the right to become angry. Aside from the nonsense he had to deal with in society, let’s talk about being alone. Being threatened by the idea of being forgotten. Feeling displaced and at risk. Uncertain of his own survival. Something that I didn’t mention in my little bio, is that I was actually a trauma chaplain at Christ medical center in Chicago prior to my new position. And I’ve seen all of this. A lot of this by my emergency room department. Gunshot wound victims, who tend to also come from south Chicago, or northwest Indiana. I’ve seen the fear of being forgotten. The “hey, contact everyone on my list” or people outside waiting trying to come in. This anger of “this is not what I wanted for myself, but this is kind of what I ended up with.” This feeling of being displaced, because throughout their childhood maybe they had to go from foster home to foster home or mom just couldn’t simply keep a stable apartment. Again, these are many collective shared things that a lot of us may have experienced or witnessed others experiencing or having those cousins that have experienced it.
But God. In that wilderness was God. Jesus felt God and trusted that he would be led through. That is the message that we’re always going to hear when it comes to the wilderness talk. God’s there. God’s present. God was there for our ancestors. God was there for our parents. God is there for you. For me. For us. I want to ask us to reflect for a second, what’s in our wilderness? What are some things that might be taking us out of character right now? What are some hardships that we might be facing? At what point or where do we feel disconnected in our life today? Life is not a walk in the park. How do we keep ourselves going?
Killmonger used anger, spent years building hate before trying to actually heal, which led him to Wakanda. Using that same hate to instruct a military coup and trying to arm the oppressed globally. That per say is maybe not a bad idea but, look at what he destroyed, trying to fix something. He destroyed sacred rituals. He destroyed sacred ground that people lived on. He destroyed other people; stability and comfort of those who lived there. That’s what happen when we leave the wilderness and we bring our anger with us. That’s what happens when we don’t take the time to heal. We become a destructive force. We become something that becomes so toxic in our environment, in our communities that people may not even want to be around us if by chance they get to survive.
The reality is, we can come out of our trials and choose not to heal. But don’t be surprised when a lit match burns down your house. I can feed you the same line of “God is with you in the wilderness” and that is very much true, but I want to push our learnings today.
Let’s say you’re out of the wilderness. What are you going to do now? That’s the message I want to pull up from here. What are you going to do now? When you get out, how do you cope with the trauma? I’m going to sidebar this real quick because the thing is that, as we’re talking about our history, I’m so blessed that ya’ll were talking about your history today, something else that we bring with us, that is literally in our D.N.A. is intergenerational trauma. Maybe, those before us didn’t have the opportunities to try and heal. Maybe they didn’t have the time of day to try to work and keep themselves together, but right now you do. How are you going to heal? How are we going to share this healing with others? How are we going to undo a lot of the damage that has been done to us?
We may have been like Killmonger. We may have left broken economies or homes that felt like prison. We may have found freedom after abusive relationships or financially stopped working in non-traditional methods. But just because we escaped, does not mean that we escaped the pain and the imprint that the wilderness leaves on our spirits. Do we want to continue to live in the pain so that the anger builds, or do we see peace in ourselves and God to learn to heal? That’s your decision. That’s your decision every single day. Do we even know what healing feels like? Has there ever been a time where you felt that you were healed?
And I would say culturally, we never are really permitted to heal. From bouncing around from slavery, to Jim Crowe, to mass incarceration, human trafficking, the crack epidemic, when have we really even had the time to breathe? That’s right, I can’t breathe. In 2008, I know more names of black unarmed people shot by the police than the prophets in the bible. When have we ever had time to breathe?
The message deep in this text is that we need to regain ourselves and our lives. Christ’s message is powerful because he leaves the wilderness. His mentor is arrested, and he can still find God. Cause if we know the bible pretty well, John doesn’t make it too long and that was someone who brought Jesus up in the faith. Who gave him this power, who passed over the torch to him. After suffering and knowing that his partner in crime will too suffer. Being a stranger in his own home, he still was able to give glory to God. Somewhere in that time period, he was able to find healing and find peace in himself and in God. That’s a hard pill to swallow, because sometimes, these things are so rough, that I can’t even see where God is. Then God taps me on the shoulder and says, “Hey, I’m right here.”
The example that Jesus set, is to find grace in the chaos. With that, I wonder, what if Killmonger was taken back to Wakanda? Or if he grew up with a father. I wonder, what if he wasn’t the truth that the king chose to omit? I also wonder, how many of us carry this pain too? What was the Wakanda that you needed? Where can we invite Jesus into our pain?
We are not alone in our wilderness. We’re not alone in our wilderness because we are a community. Whether we may be going through the exact same thing at the exact same time, there are journeys in our wilderness that intersect. That overlap. That are shared. They may look different but are still the same. In this wilderness we are not alone and like Jesus, we will persevere. Will we learn from Jesus, and seek the peace that is God? Or will we allow our despair to overcome us? That is the work that we are charged with. That is your duty ESPECIALLY in this Lenten season.
I want to leave you with this, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage.” Who are you? Are we our trauma or are we our healing? Maybe we’re both. Who are you after the wilderness? Who are you?
Nicolette Marie Faison (Nic) is an approved candidate for ordination and graduate of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The Chicago transplant lives out urban justice and community healing through her work as the City Director for DOOR Network. When she is not quoting Marvel’s Black Panther, Nic spends time with her cat Penne debating which city has the best pizza. (It’s New York.)