In the Air, Rev. Fred Kinsey
In the new season of Queen Sugar, love is in the air! All three Bordelon children have landed in a good place. Nova and Calvin have finally resolved their issues and settled into a committed relationship. Charlie has finally decided to let all her rebound relationships go, and concentrate on being there for her son Micah who’s starting college at Xavier, her alma mater. And Ralph Angel and Darla are getting married!
But, as you might expect, love is not the only thing in the air, this season. Like all sitcom’s, Queen Sugar is dealing with multiple tensions. It’s the unseen stuff, in the air, good and bad, that’s always hard to get a handle on. And now they’re having to deal with the virus of Covid-19, on top of the virus of 1619.
The three grown Bordelon children – Nova, Charlie, and Ralph Angel – were brought together on the family farm, just outside New Orleans, in season one, when their father died unexpectedly. Only Ralph Angel, the youngest, had stayed on the farm, and had, at least a rudimentary understanding, of the sugar cane business. Nova the oldest was nearby in New Orleans, a journalist and traditional healer, which was nothing lucrative, not like her younger sister, Charlie, who had built a multi-million dollar company around her husband, an NBA star on the west coast.
But – stuff is in the air – and Charlie’s, handsome but hapless husband, turns out to be sleeping around, and they soon divorce. Nova writes a book that’s wildly popular, but in it, she exposes all the failings and secrets of her family members, who then, in their anger, shun her. Ralph Angel, is trying to prove he can manage the farm and be a good father to Blue, his son with Darla, but until this season, he continued to make bad decisions, going in and out of prison, a couple times.
As one of the few African-American families who farm in St Josephine’s Parish, they are always fighting the invisible virus of 1619 too, which, like an unseen aerosol, is floating in the air all around them. The virus finds a welcome host in the old Anti-Bellum Landry family. They own the Parish’s only Sugar Mill, and all the black families are forced to pay their oppressive prices. When Charlie heroically starts a new Sugar Mill for the black farmers, the Landry’s vow to put them out of business. Charlie is able to defend her mill, at great risk to her financial investment, staving off every attack, until the Landry’s, never able to give up their historic supremacy, clandestinely have it burned to the ground.
The air of Queen Sugar is filled with relationships of, love and sadness, triumph of the spirit and heartbreaking falls, hard won pride and devilish deceit, in every episode of all five seasons. (A great show created by Ava Du Vernay, on Opra’s OWN network.)
The theme’s in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, struck me in a similar way, with its contrast of, grace and wrath, love and sinfulness. One of the Pauline Epistles penned from prison, Paul knows what it’s like to suffer unjustly, because you pose a problem to the authorities. As a follower of the Way, a disciple of Jesus, Paul would push up against the Roman Empire in each new city he preached the gospel in the public square. Christianity was not yet legal, and its members were seen as trouble-makers, something like Ralph Angel was perceived to be, as a young black man growing up in the south.
Paul’s zeal for preaching the gospel in Hellenized cities, far from Jerusalem, put him up against cultures and people who had little or no knowledge of Judaism or its new offshoot of Jesus followers. They were pagans, not monotheists. And that put them at a disadvantage, Paul believed. They hadn’t yet encountered God’s Law – the laws, like in the 10 Commandments, yes – but what he really meant was that they didn’t even yet know, that they were sinners. The law hadn’t convicted them in their conscience, yet. They “were dead through the trespasses and sins” in which they lived every day. They just didn’t know it.
That’s what was in the air, for them. And that’s what Paul was addressing, when he said: “1You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them… and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.”
Turns out, “the ruler of the power of the air,” that Paul mentions, (I had to look it up!) was the ancient belief that evil spirits lived in the air, one of the four basic elements of, earth, water, air, and fire. And air, they believed, was the murky, polluted region between the planet earth and the moon in which the four elements are mixed. Air, is where both, good, and evil, angels dwell. (NIB, Pheme Perkins; pg. 390)
Something was in the air, alright, the very air they breathed. And they didn’t know what it was until Paul began to teach them that there was a standard, a law, that God had set up that they were ignorant of – and thus, they were dead in the lives they were leading. They didn’t even know it – they didn’t know the God who was One. Jesus had summed up the Law and the Prophets into one standard measure: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. That was a universal truth, a rule that everyone could learn and agree to live by. And yet, knowing it, still, we fail.
And, says Paul, that was me too. No one worked harder than me to obey the law, and love the LORD. And what did I do? I persecuted the followers of Jesus, helped throw them in jail, and approved the stoning of St. Stephen. And that’s when the Word of God in Jesus, finally came to me. It’s not that the law has been abolished, but something else entered the world, God-sent, that lives in the very air we breathe. For, “God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made me -us- alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, from his prison cell.
This, is the good news, that’s in the air! The One God, who has created the world and everything in it, loved us even when we were dead, even when we didn’t know it, even when we tried our best and failed, even when we did nothing wrong and were treated as second class citizens or less-than human, even when we don’t like ourselves – even then, God loves us. This, is the grace of God. Let it wash over you, and let your former life go – turn around, and follow the Messiah, Christ our Savior, God’s Son, who was sent into the world to reveal God to us.
“The ruler of the power of the air” has been conquered by the power of grace. The polluted spaces, and invisible viruses, have been met by the mightiest vaccine of them all, the power of the cross, and the gift of the Holy Spirit (the true ruler of the air). “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, in the same way the son of man had to be lifted up, so that everyone who trusts in him may share in the life of God’s new age.”
Good or bad, can happen to us, whether or not, we, are intentionally, good or bad. But, in the love and grace of God, we too can live a life of forgiveness and love for our neighbor. Both powers, are in the air. And God, in Christ Jesus, has already won the decisive battle. In Lent we learn to turn around and go in the direction of our merciful Savior, knowing that nothing can compare, as Paul says, to “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness, toward” us, that we have found “in Christ Jesus” – our love, that’s in the air!