The Antiracist Jesus #2

[This is one in a continuing series of posts on Jesus being antiracist.]

The concept of race (people being “white” or “black” as a critical part of their identity) was unknown in Jesus’ day, but what he taught and how he lived supports this statement: Jesus was antiracist. Anyone who actively works to create a culture of equality and justice for all people is antiracist, and Jesus came to do exactly that. He called it the kingdom of God – where what God desires governs the way we live together.

Every religion includes a similar statement to Jesus’ words: “Do to others what you want them to do to you.” [See Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12.]  These deceptively simple words destroy the foundation of racism. No one wants to be treated badly for no reason other than skin color, or because of our physical appearance to…

  • Be someone’s property, to be owned by someone else
  • Be considered lazy, worthless, evil
  • Be thought of as “less than” other people
  • Be denied the right to own property or get a job or go to school
  • Be assaulted, brutalized, murdered by a mob or a police officer

No one can consciously choose to be racist who has decided to live as Jesus taught. We can do none of the above to any other person and think we are doing God’s will. Would we want anyone else to treat us this way? Of course not. Then we must choose to treat all people, whatever the color of their skin – whatever their “race” – in the way we would want them to treat us. It really is that simple.

Being antiracist includes challenging the structures and systems of our culture. That’s what Jesus’ words – “the golden rule” – do. Americans, especially, think individually. Freedom and responsibility have become an individual reality – what I do or you do – and not a communal reality – what we do together. Jesus was always communal. What we call The Lord’s Prayer is about what we do together. And this “golden rule” must be lived out in community. Jesus was not talking to individuals, but to his disciples, perhaps to the crowds of people who were there that day. He talked to them about how to live together, how to be a community. Perhaps the kingdom of God is best thought of as a community of love – where we all treat each other the way we want to be treated. Racism can never – ever – be part of that community.

The Antiracist Jesus #1

[Today I begin a series of posts on Jesus being antiracist.]

The idea of race is only 500 years old, created by white people to keep people of color under control in a white society. Yet Jesus encountered similar structures and irrational bias toward people who were considered not only “different” but “untouchable.” He told a story (see Luke 10:25-37) which we know as “The Good Samaritan.” If the story was told 100 years ago in a white church in a Southern state, with the Samaritan being a Black man and the man attacked by robbers and in need of help being a White man, perhaps a wealthy white man, the congregation would have been offended and angry. The same was surely true when Jesus told the story.

Jewish people in Jesus’ day had nothing to do with people from Samaria. The region of Samaria lay between Judea in the South and Galilee in the North, and Jews would go across the river and travel to the East to avoid it. If they thought about the at all, they despised them, perhaps hated them. For Jesus to tell a story making a Samaritan man “the hero” of the story must have offended and angered many of the people listening that day.

Jesus told the story in response to a conversation about the Law which governed their whole life and which they believed came from God. An “expert in the Law” agreed with Jesus that to have eternal life, what God wanted most was for people to love God and to love their neighbor. So the man asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” … Who am I supposed to love? To love as I love myself?

Jesus answered with this story making a hated Samaritan their example to follow. Be like this Samaritan, Jesus is saying, and you will live. Among White people who despised and hated Black people, the story rightly understood says to be like the Black man who helped someone like you when he was in need. In another place, Jesus said to love those who despise you, those whom you consider to be your enemy.

Jesus was antiracist. He challenged the biased structures and society of his day. He turned everything upside down – “the first will be last and the last first” – love your enemies and do good to those who hate you – be like this “Black man” (he said to the “White” people of his day).

Get out of the Boat!

View the sermon here.

TEXT: Matthew 14:22-33
TITLE:  “Get Out of the Boat”
THESIS: We have to take the first step. 

Introduction

  • We’ve all seen young children dare to take that first step. Then another, and then another – then they run – and climb – and watch out! They’ll try almost anything. … But the children have to take the first step.
  • As a parent, it was always hard to let go and let my children do that first thing – let go of the bike they’re learning to ride – let them leave the house with friends (and no adult) the first time – go on the first date – get behind the wheel of the car the first time – go off to college – get married – have children ….
  • Taking the first step is hard – whether it’s my step or someone I care about – but we never grow and learn and change in life without it.

Scripture

  • In our story today, that “first step” for Peter was “a doozy.” 😊 A strong wind created high waves on the lake at night. The disciples struggled to row against the wind. It had been a long day – an exciting day of challenge and mystery as thousands of people were fed with only a little food. Jesus had sent them in the boat while he had gone off to pray by himself.
  • In the darkness, and the waves and wind – they saw Jesus walking on the water. A ghost? What? They were afraid until they heard Jesus: “Don’t be afraid.” …. And Peter blurted out, Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” – “Come,” Jesus said.
  • “Now what? What was I thinking? That was dumb!” … What will the others think of me if I don’t go out there? But how in the world can I do that? Walk on the water in the wind and the waves?
  • Then he got out of the boat! And walked on the water. – When he took his eyes off Jesus and looked around at the danger of his situation, he grew afraid again and began to sink, and Jesus had to rescue him. – But he DID walk on the water!

Conclusion

  • Peter took that first step. He didn’t lose his fear. His faith overcame his fear that held him back, and he got out of the boat and walked on the water.
  • I doubt any of us will literally walk on water, but we all face situations that feel almost as if that’s what we have to do. – We are afraid, anxious, paralyzed. We don’t know what to do, but “know” that we cannot stay where we are.
  • Peter’s situation wasn’t even a storm. Just wind and high waves. It may even have been a clear night and warm. But the danger of getting out of the boat kept everyone in it. … Peter was impulsive in his words, and probably regretted immediately that he had said, “Tell me to come to you.”
  • But he got out of the boat. He took the first step. He did what no one else did, except Jesus. He did the “impossible.”
  • It’s not “impossible” for children to take their first step, ride the bike on their own, go out safely on a first date, get married, and so on. … And whatever your situation may be today is not “impossible.” [With God, all things are possible.]
  • Jesus could not get out of the boat and take the first step for Peter. Peter had to do that himself. – When Peter got in trouble, Jesus was right there and helped him. – Will this be our story?
  • What is daunting in your life today? What creates anxiety and fear about what will happen? What do you have a sense that God is calling you to do – telling you to “come”?
  • Get out of the boat. Take the first step. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and do the “impossible.” You can do it.

“Rugged Individualism” is not the Gospel

View the sermon here.

TEXT: Matthew 14:13-21
TITLE: “More Than Enough”
THESIS:
Be a gracious and generous people as we follow Jesus. 

Introduction

  • I’ve often heard people say – “Nothing in this life is free!” They mean well by encouraging personal responsibility and hard work. Those things are good – but this idea of “rugged individualism” goes against the gospel of grace.
  • Grace is found in our story today. Grace – and generosity – God’s gift of abundance beyond anything we do.

Scripture

  • According to the story, Jesus took 5 loaves and 2 fish … and they all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
  • There was more than enough for the people. Not “just enough to go around.” No one had to fight at the table to get enough. I can imagine the joy and laughter and grateful surprise of the people as they kept passing around the food and finding there was always more – more than enough – with leftovers to spare.
  • We call this a miracle story – usually because it is “impossible”… beyond human possibility – to do such a thing. But “miracles” are more than “impossible” events. They are mysterious events, beyond our understanding. They are mystery itself – not a puzzle to figure out like a mystery novel, but something we cannot understand. …. Yet we can believe it and experience it.

Conclusion

  • That’s what grace is. True grace is a mystery, beyond our understanding, yet to be experienced and believed. Something to be received with deep gratitude.
  • I invite you to consider this story as an example to us – a calling for our own lives. We are called to grace, not just to receive it, but to give it. We are called to live in the mystery of believing there is always more than enough for everyone in this world – and to stop clinging to what we have, afraid it will be taken away – proud in what we have done to have so much, but protective of what we have so we don’t lose it to someone else. That’s “rugged individualism” – a major cultural characteristic of America – but it is not the gospel. It is not grace. It is not generosity.
  • Jesus said to his disciples: You give them something to eat. And they said, “But there’s not enough to even start feeding so many.” And Jesus took what they had and began to feed them – and gave away what was there so that there was more than enough.
  • Many problems in our world could be solved if we lived with grace and a generous spirit. People of wealth are afraid the poor will rob them of what they have. People with power fear the powerless and losing what they have. People who are white – and Christian – are increasingly afraid of losing what they thought made America great. Our nation is afraid of other nations challenging our power, and so we keep spending too much on wars and fighting too many of them.
  • We are called to follow Jesus, and Jesus was a man of grace. A man who knew there was more than enough for everyone. A man unafraid to live simply and give away even the little he had. A man who taught us to live in the mystery of grace – holding nothing back, sharing what we have (even giving it away).
  • American Christians have far more than “5 loaves and 2 fishes.” How much could we do with what we have if we were not afraid to share it – even give it away – so that people with less could have more? And so that we could all have “more than enough”?
  • Could we not do “miracles” if we move beyond what we believe is possible into the mystery of grace? If we stop protecting what we have and being generous with others out of pure grace and not because they “deserve” it or have “earned” it? If we give up our “privilege” of color or wealth or education or zip code and be truly gracious, generous people with everyone?
  • I dream of such a world. I am committed to being part of that world. Will you dream with me? And be part of it with me? Come, let us follow Jesus.

What can I do about racism?

“We can challenge our own racial reality by acknowledging ourselves as racial beings with a particular and limited perspective on race. We can attempt to understand the racial realities of people of color through authentic interaction rather than through the media or through unequal relationships. We can take action to address our own racism, the racism of other whites, and the racism embedded in our institutions. All these efforts will require that we continually challenge our own socialization and investments in racism and the misinformation we have learned about people of color. We can educate ourselves about the history of race relations in our country. We can follow the leadership on antiracism from people of color and work to build authentic cross-racial relationships. We can get involved in organizations working for racial justice. And most important, we must break the silence about race and racism with other white people.”

DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (p. 148). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.

NOTE: Please read this excellent book, especially if you are a white person like me.

I’ve Got Confidence

View the sermon here.

TEXT: Romans 8:26-39
TITLE: “I’ve Got Confidence”
THESIS: We can live with confidence and without fear. 

Introduction

  • The men in my family have been accused of being arrogant. 😊 For instance, my dad had a cap that said, “I’m not conceited, just convinced.”
  • There can be a fine line between arrogance and confidence. The difference, for me, is whether I trust myself or God. Do I think that “I can do anything”? (I remember saying that.) Do I think my own hard work, intelligence, personality – any combination of who I am – is responsible for whatever success I’ve had?
  • Or do I know that without God, none of it would be possible? Do I acknowledge my faults, weaknesses, shortcomings – sins – and turn to God for the help I need? And do I know that “my help comes from the Lord”?
  • Andrae Crouch wrote a song about confidence:

I’ve got confidence
God is gonna see me through
No matter what the case may be
I know He’s gonna fix it for me

Listen to it.

Scripture

This scripture is familiar to many of us …

  • The Spirit prays for us when we don’t know how.
  • God works for our good in all things.
  • God is for us – whatever we face in life – and will graciously give us all things. …. If God who did not spare his own Son and if Christ Jesus who died for us, loves us and is “for us” and does not condemn us … then what do we have to fear?
  • Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. …. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Conclusion

  • “I’ve got confidence.”– I can live without fear, without anxiety. (I don’t always – but I can!) I can trust God rather than myself. Trust God’s love and power, strength and wisdom – and not my own – and live with confidence every day.
  • For several years, early in my ministry, I was active in the Charismatic movement – people from all denominations who experienced “something more” as we opened up to the Spirit of God in our lives. …. What attracted me was the promise of being able to live with confidence that God could do far more in my life than I had ever experienced.
  • I left the movement because of what I saw as excessive emotionalism and teachings which seemed to have no foundation in the Scriptures. …. But I never let go of what attracted me in the first place – the assurances of this scripture that God’s love will not let us go – that we can be “more than conquerors” – that we can live with full confidence and with fear in our lives.
  • Listen once more to the closing words of the text:

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Don’t Judge!

Listen hear to the sermon.

TEXT: Matthew 13:24-30,36-43
TITLE: “When to Let the Weeds Grow”
THESIS:
Live with love alongside people in this world. 

Introduction

  • Don’t judge! – That’s it. My whole sermon. 😊 Well, maybe not.

Scripture

  • In last week’s parable about the four kinds of soil, “the seed” was the message of the kingdom. In today’s parable the seed is the people of the kingdom. – Last week, our challenge was to do the work of preparing and tending the soil – and pulling out the weeds – so the kingdom of God could grow within and through us and we would continue to do God’s will in this world.
  • This week, however, our challenge is different because the context is different. WE are the seed – the people of the kingdom, planted by Jesus in this world to produce “a harvest of righteousness.”
  • “The field” is the world itself, and we are to grow alongside people who are not of the kingdom – people of evil, people whose way of life is the opposite of doing God’s will.
  • What’s strange is that in the parable, the servants are told NOT to pull up the weeds lest they pull up the wheat. Perhaps because they cannot tell them apart, or perhaps because their roots are intertwined. – Either way, I hear Jesus echoing his words: “Do not judge,” in saying, “Let them grow together.”

Conclusion

  • In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7, Jesus says not to judge someone else until we have taken the log out of our own eye so we can see clearly the speck of dust in someone else’s eye. – Isn’t that much the same as “let them grow together” so you don’t destroy the wheat while pulling up the weeds?
  • I do think Jesus suggests that if we are able to remove what is blinding us from our lives, we can then see more clearly to help others with what may be blinding them. – But it’s not easy.
  • Have you noticed that people tend to see the faults of other people when they share those same faults? – Gossip, pride, a critical spirit, anger?
  • Or in another way, people tend to focus on faults – or sins – they don’t have (or don’t think they have or don’t admit to) and loudly condemn them. – In the Church, historically, this has often led to condemnation of “sins of the flesh,” – most of them having to do with sexuality. And this remains the situation with far too many Christians today.
  • As Joy often says, “There is a reason for what people do – not an excuse, but a reason – and if we don’t understand it, we don’t know enough of their story.”
  • Do we just ignore what people do if we truly believe it is wrong? If we are not to judge – and if we are to let people live together – do we “turn a blind eye” to it all? If not, what can we do?
    • Love them.
    • Listen to their stories.
    • Let them be true to their best selves.
    • Lead them to imagine a different way / a “better” way.
    • Live alongside them.
  • Jesus’ message of God’s kingdom is for this world, and the people of God’s kingdom are to live in this world to make a difference. We are not here to judge or to condemn, but to love and heal and transform. We are to live in this world as people who do God’s will. Such people will “stand against” evil while “standing with” people sometimes controlled by evil. That’s what people of the kingdom do.
  • So having preached the rest of the sermon now, I say again with Jesus: “Don’t judge!” – Just be people of the kingdom – people who live in this world with hope and love for transformation in our world.

True Freedom

Click here to view the sermon.

TEXT: Romans 7:15-25
TITLE: “True Freedom”
THESIS: God has set us free through Christ and the Spirit.

Introduction

  • Sound familiar? – This seemingly constant struggle between what the best of me wants to do and what the other part of me does anyway? … Yet, maybe that’s not what the apostle Paul is describing. Maybe there is more to life than this. A greater freedom to live as God desires.
  • On this July 4th weekend, we in America are “tuned” to the language of freedom. Isn’t that what our country is all about? – “The home of the free … with liberty and justice for all?”
  • I will come back to that, but first let’s look more closely at the text.

Scripture

  • In Romans 6 and 8 (before and after this passage), Paul says we have been set free from sin – that we have been raised to a new life in Christ already – that we live by the Spirit (in the power and freedom of the Spirit).
  • When we don’t do what we know what is right – what “the law” says to do – we prove that the law cannot keep us from sinning, that it does not have the power to make any real change in our lives. – Living under the law – living by the rules of our religion – just isn’t enough. Never was.
  • Paul also says in these chapters that sin is a power greater than our human ability to do what is right. Sin is not just behavior, not just what we do. There is a power of sin and evil operating in this world that apart from Christ and the Spirit of God, we cannot overcome.
  • Yet …  Who will rescue me? – Thanks be to God, who delivers me – sets me free – through Jesus Christ our Lord! – These are the key words of the passage. Not the struggle. Not the failures. Not the sinful behaviors. No.
  • The key to it all is that we have God’s promise to set us free from the power of sin through Christ and the Spirit. If in our inner spirit, we delight in doing God’s will, God will set us free and give us the power to do it. Thanks be to God!
  • A common belief among Christians is that we are basically sinful and cannot do what is right, no matter how hard we try. That’s why we need God to forgive us, why we need God’s grace for what we have done. …. But Paul says we are basically good (what I want to do…in my inner being I delight in doing God’s will) – and God sets us free and gives us the power to live that way.

Conclusion

  • Throughout our long history – especially since the 4th century when the Roman empire took over the Church – Christians have too often seen our faith and experience as purely individual and often just private. Much of today’s contemporary Christian music is very self-centered, focused almost entirely on “my” relationship with “Jesus.” Many hymns from the 19th and early 20th century were the same way.
  • Jesus taught a different way – a way of generosity toward others, compassion for all, seeking justice for the poor and neglected. The NT and OT alike talk far more about the “ekklesia,” the congregation – God’s people – than it does individual faith and experience. What God wants for us, God wants for the whole world. And I believe that what God has done in Christ, God has done for all people.
  • So on this 4th of July – and our annual celebration of freedom as a nation – I am more than ever aware that black people are not free here. Hispanic people, people of color and diverse ethnicities – half our population in the U.S. – are not free to come and go and do what they want and live their lives in the way most white people have come to expect.
  • It’s time for freedom! Jesus taught generosity, compassion, and justice. He lived it and called us to follow him so that we too would live this way in this world.

·       Martin Luther King, Jr. said: No one is free until we all are free. Others said the same thing long before him. It’s time for all of us to believe it and say it and act on it.

·       As Paul said in another letter: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” … May our faith and experience as Christians be one of following Jesus – to live out generosity, compassion, and justice – and freedom for all people today and always.

 

Trust, Rejoice, and Sing

View the sermon here. 

TEXT: Psalm 13
TITLE: Trust, Rejoice, and Sing
THESIS:
…. Trust, rejoice, and sing because of God’s love and goodness for us.

Introduction

  • It was spring 1985. I came through the back door into ministry and had been a pastor for 15 years by then, but I was just completing my seminary degree at Princeton. My family was in KS … I had been seriously depressed for 6 weeks … I had a “practice” sermon to preach in class and chose Psalm 13.
  • In my reading of it and preparation for preaching, my depression “broke.” Let me describe it as we look at the psalm.

Scripture

  • Depression often comes from a loss of hope. That winter and early spring of 1985 was a tough time. Even though I was about to graduate from Princeton Seminary, I worried about the future. Separated from family, working way too hard, wondering where I could get a job as a minister and if it would be where my family wanted to go – tired, exhausted, lonely – depression settled hard in my whole being.
  • How long, Lord? How long will you hide your face from me? – At times like these, most of us have doubts. We doubt ourselves – and other people – and even God. We may feel like God has abandoned us or even wonder if God is real after all.
  • How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and have sorrow in my heart? –  Anxiety has always been part of life for me. And depression and anxiety often work together in a toxic mix to bring a deep darkness and loss of hope to life.
  • How long will my enemy triumph over me? – Everything seemed to be working against me in the midst of this depression. Anxiety, depression, fear, exhaustion, despair – these were my enemies that seemed to threaten my life.
    But I trust, rejoice, and sing – One day those two verses opened the curtain for me – like throwing open the curtains of a huge window looking out into a gorgeous, sunlit day.
  • But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
    I will sing the Lord’s praise,
        for he has been good to me.

Conclusion

  • In these four months of isolation – staying home, staying away from family, keeping our physical distance from everyone (especially for people who live alone) – in this isolation, depression and sadness has been a common experience.
  • People with an addiction have too often returned to that behavior. People who have lost a loved one have felt the loss and emptiness even more sharply. People who live alone have sometimes wondered if they would ever get out with people and get the hugs and simple presence of other people they crave.
  • People feel deep anxiety and dark depression for any number of reasons. And times of feeling isolated for any reason– especially when it goes on for months – can strengthen the grip of that darkness and shut out the light to us. …. That’s what happened to me in 1985.
  • One way “through” it is the path I found in Psalm 13. … I realized that even when faced with my enemies of anxiety and depression, and even when feeling abandoned or cut off from God as well as other people and my hoped-for future – even then – perhaps especially then – I learned to see the word But … Even so, in the midst of it all…
    • I will trust in your unfailing love (what else do I have?)
    • My heart will rejoice in your salvation (in the freedom, healing, justice, and life you have given us)
    • I will sing the Lord’s praise, for God  has been good to me.
  • This path is not the only one, and it may not be the one you need today. It was my way through it all then. I invite you to explore the path for a little way and see where it leads. … Even in the presence of our enemies and in the darkness of our depression …. Trust, rejoice, and sing because of God’s love and goodness for us.

Until All People Are Free

This is my sermon today.  Listen to the sermon here. 

TEXT: Romans 6:1–11
TITLE:  “Alive to God”
THEME: Be fully alive in the freedom to show justice and love to all.

 Introduction

  • Alive to God – what does that mean? As Christians we bring an ancient faith into our contemporary world and try to make sense of it for our lives. – The apostle Paul wrote these words almost 2,000 years ago. About 1800 years ago, St. Irenaeus said something like this – “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!”
  • What does it mean to be fully alive? For four months now, since the pandemic hit us, many people have not felt fully alive. Staying home, especially when people live alone – not being able to go out to work or school or for sports or the movies or dinner … – We have been kept from doing so much of what helps make us feel “alive.” – So what does it mean?
  • And in recent weeks, people have filled streets around the world to protest systemic racism and the ongoing oppression of black people and people of color by cultural and legal means. Such people, in a sense, have never been allowed to be “fully alive.” – So what does it mean to be “alive to God”?

Scripture

  • Paul’s meaning was fairly specific – and underlies everything we as Christians understand by what it means to be “fully alive – alive to God.”
    • We would not go on sinning … anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
    • We would buried with Christ – dead to sin – through baptism (both water and Spirit).
    • We would live a new life … in Christ … living our life to God.
  • Know this! We are dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Conclusion

  • Freedom is what we have through Christ in God. – Freedom to be fully alive – to be all God created us to be – to live in love and justice, with joy and peace.
  • This week “Juneteenth” came into full public awareness – the day recognized by African-Americans as a celebration of their emancipation, their freedom from slavery. White people have become more aware then ever that people of color, black people especially, have never been truly free and able to be fully alive in this nation. . …. We have no more important work today than to stop the racism and change the system and truly set all people free!
  • The apostle Paul spoke of freedom in spiritual terms, yet sin is never just spiritual. That is, sin is lived out in the way we treat other people. We, ourselves, are not free until all people are free. Racism, no matter how subtle – and white privilege – and systemic white supremacy where “white people” are assumed to be normal and the basis on which all people are judged … All of this is sin – in our hearts and minds and bodies – and its effects deprive people of color their freedom.
  • To be “alive to God” is to do God’s will – to live in the justice and compassion and mercy of God – to put into practice all that Jesus taught us (to follow Jesus). To be “fully alive” is to live in freedom from sin – freedom from injustice, from denial of justice and freedom to anyone because of who they are.
  • I invite you today to give yourselves to God through Christ Jesus – to be baptized in Spirit and water – to know that you are dead to sin and alive to God – free from the power of sin to control your life and free to do God’s will, to live in justice and love.
  • I invite you today to be alive to God in Christ Jesus – to be fully alive every day!