Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Call for the Church to return to its first calling, its true love.

Reflecting on a Disability and Diversity Awareness Conference organized by the Women’s Council of Northern California Nevada Region I am impressed by a fantastic grace the consumes those differently abled.  The differently abled reflect the image of God as they embody the profound grace filled teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Their presence radiated a love seldom experienced by many who are able bodied.  Their life’s do not deny the challenges, even the frustrations of being differently abled but, and this is the most important part, they overcome those differences, thus becoming an example of the teachings of Jesus.  They present the Church with the word and wisdom of Jesus Christ of Nazareth as received in Luke 12:12-14.  The blessed reality for us today, that their lives are a blessing to the Church, would seem to be a far cry from theological and philosophical notions practiced by some in the Church today.
12 He, [that is Jesus Christ], said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 12:12-14)
In light of the Luke 14:12-14, the differently abled, living in a world that devalues and marginalizes them, the Church is called to be the vanguard of activism, advocacy and support in the life of the differently abled.  The economics of our day, with its dictates of values regarding the worth of the body as a means to enhance stock portfolios, 401K’s and gentrification, within a so-called pretext that the blessings of God are primarily and always about economics demand that the Church be, without apology, the bulwark of divine intervention, ensuring the care and concerns for the differently abled. The Church lives out the Communion, the Last Supper or the Eucharist, as instituted by Jesus of Nazareth as it fully embraces the differently abled and the many and tremendous gifts and talents within them and their community. The position of the Church should be one of empowerment regarding the community of the Beloved and Beatitudes.
The differently abled are a reminder that the Church, emerging out of an experiential critical analysis is a divine sacred response of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to the needs of the community of the beloved, i.e., the community of the beatitudes, amidst categories of empire. It’s mission, through religious and political means, is to embrace, advocate, comfort and empower those on the margins of society, to make a better world.  The Church is the embodiment of Jesus Christ.  It emerges out of the life and ministry Jesus Christ, necessarily presenting the intent of Jesus himself as the only beloved son of God in relation to the world. The mission of the Church, particularly amidst this historical moment of global narratives shifting like tectonic plates, is an important discourse to engage as a matter of adherence to the most intimate of communions revealing a moral imagination at the root of the teachings of Jesus.
There is an unconditional obligation, rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, for the Church to give voice, even a significant voice to those on the margins of society.  This calling, as a matter of obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, must protect it from becoming bourgeois or appeasing or gratifying those privileged, the societal norms or various and oppressive structures and hierarchies of identity whether race, gender, sexual orientation or affection, economic status, e.g. class, or privilege In accordance with Galatians 3:28-29.
28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The Apostle Paul seeks to clarify the intent of the Church regarding its mission as a response to the world. His words are meant to open the eyes and prick the heart of the Church so that it might fulfill its calling. The Church must be, in the 21st century, the vanguard of advocacy for those unable to advocate for themselves, and those blinded by societal norms recognizing that the blessings which come from God come as an answer to the grace present in those on the margins of society. (Amos 5)  What I am proposing is that those on the margins, i.e., the poor, the homeless, the lame, the indigent, the sick, the blind, those who suffer discrimination, those differently abled, those on the margins of society, in accordance with Luke 14:12-14, in communion with the community of beatitudes in accordance with Matthew 5:1-12, are at the center of God’s divine will.  They are the ones who receive God’s divine grace and mercy without hesitation of ego or institution.  
And it is for these communions that the Church exists.  Apart from these communions there is no Church as brought forth by Jesus Christ. If the Church is to be the entity that fulfills the teachings of Jesus in Luke 14:12-14, then it must fully embrace, without equivocation, the text and its literal meaning.  Mindful of the debate regarding whether the Bible is symbolic or literal, this particular text must be received literally if the Church is to be a firm and steadfast reality of salvation in the world today.  The Church is the Church only when it exists for the care and concern of others.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words intimate that the Church is God’s grace in the world. God’s grace, that is unmerited favor, is not partisan, bias or tribal, more so, it is sovereign, as God is sovereign. Grace is relational as it is rooted in God’s loving desire for all.  Grace must live its courageous path, for in this mercy is present for all.  And with this, healing manifests in all its glory, indeed its wisdom.  The Church, as a matter of its existence for others, must, as an obligation to the Gospel, address the concerns of the a diverse and dynamic community. It must address concerns of constructs and systems such as Jim Crow Sr. and Jr., the Prison Industrial Complex, Healthcare, the Military Industrial Complex, an public educational system under attack by corporate raiders, Economic injustice, and the unjust death and murder of Black men and boys at the hands of a system of law enforcement born as a means to control and maintain slavery. As such, as the Church fights and struggles for justice, grounded in what Cornel West calls a “Black Prophetic Fire”[1], and reminiscent of Amos living in eighth century BCE Judah, as he addressed the injustice of Israel, it maintains a peculiar integrity with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Cross and to the resurrection.
Ephesians 6:12, the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Church at Ephesus.
At this moment, the forces of injustice, as described by the Apostle Paul, are implementing strategies which seek to make life more challenging, difficult and painful for many in the Church, i.e., the Body of Christ. Concerns of social justice such as the poor, healthcare, education, jobs, wages, and housing, are more and more under attack by a corporate/police state which now control many of the levers of U.S. Federal government.  The Apostle Paul’s apt description begs the question, “Where does the Church, as the Body of Christ, stand amidst profound injustice and mounting misery?” Will or can the integrity of the Church to the Gospel of Jesus Christ overcome the seeming allegiance, by some, to those authorities and powers of darkness which control those more so called practical needs?
In closing the Church must once again find its first love.  The Church must fall at the feet of Jesus Christ confessing its profound sins of injustice. Then and only then will a nation more and more torn asunder begin to heal. 

[1] Cornel West and Christa Buschendorf, Black Prophetic Fire (Boston, MA, Beacon Press)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Can You See It? Hope is Alive and Well

The title of this message comes from my experiences in sacred theological activism and the smoke from the massive fires here in Northern California and in Southern California.  It comes seeing people who seemingly maintain their hope after a hurricane has devastated their City.  It comes from people who are in ongoing physical, and at times excruciating pain. It comes from sharing time with 7 other sacred, beautiful Black powerful transgender woman., trailblazers each of them.  In all of these events the one word which came up was “hope.” 
I.          What is Hope? Hope is rooted in our faith, and our faith in God’s love through Christ Jesus.  Hope is that confident assurance in Christ that beyond what we see, know, feel,  or experience, everything will be alight.  Hop is not centered in circumstantial evidence but in God’s unmerited favor, that is grace, as revealed through Christ Jesus.  Hope does not deny the dynamics, complications and complexities of this life, the predicaments, even the calamity at the Cross, more so, hope overcomes those situations and circumstances as a fulfillment of God’s love. Hope is an expression of humility and wisdom as we put Christ at the center of our life’s and not ourselves, our relationships, the situation, circumstance, or even tragedies.  In this sense hope is liberating, calling God to move in ways never imagined.  I have learned that the moment I say, “I hope this works out”, or “I don’t know” or I don’t have a clue, I allow the spirit God to make away I never could have conceived.  I remember trying everything I could think of before coming out.  Fasting, therapy, sexaholics anonymous, seeing the pastor, etc. and finally I said, Ok Lord, I don’t know, but I hope this works out.  I had run out of me, I had no answers.  Once I said, I hope, I was liberated allowing God to move in ways I could not conceive.  My hope was no longer in what I could do but in what God, in God’s infinite wisdom, could do, this by a divine grace. In his Epistle to the Church at Galatia the Apostle Paul writes, "For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:19-20). Paul's dedication to the Law was unquestionable. He cherished it. It was the center of his life. It was his identity. Its friends were his friends and its enemies were his enemies.
Not only did he love the Law, but the Law provided him with great rewards as well. It gave him purpose. It gave him power and prestige. It was his future path to greatness as it had made him a leader of men. It filled him with a wonderful sense of pride (Philippians 3:4-6).
But one thing it did not do; it did not make him alive unto God. The day came when Paul had to "die" to the Law. He had to part ways with its promise, rewards, prestige, power and such. It was the only way to "live unto God."
Likewise for us as well. Because of our circumstances, it probably will not be the Law that is our focus. But whatever it is that we love and trust; that we are focused upon; that is the center of our lives; we must be willing to set it aside in favor of putting Christ Jesus in its former position. We must have the same attitude as Paul did; that when compared to knowing Christ, the other things we love are but rubbish (Philippians 3:7,8). Reading the text the Apostle had run out himself.  The passage reveals a man who was liberated and now lived in Christ.  He could now run the race and fight the good fight of faith.
Hope is the anchor of our faith.   Hebrews 6:19-20 reads, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus our forerunner has entered on our behalf.  He has become a high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” We should ask ourselves the question, amidst a world which disheartens us daily, “Where is my Faith or Who or what is my faith in?”   We should ask these questions as a means to re-center ourselves into a living hope, the love of God.
II.        A living Hope is about the here and now.  It is about living the resurrection of Jesus Christ, moment by moment and day by day. It is about addressing the concerns and issues of our culture and society today in this present historical moment.  I experience this living hope here at FCCO and Tapestry, but I also experienced it at the Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle, a leadership program sponsored by Auburn Seminary, a 200 year old Presbyterian seminary in New York City located in the Interchurch building across the street from Union Seminary.  This was the final meeting, lasting 4 days, of a yearlong program focused on wellness and selfcare. While at Auburn I experienced  a celebration of my sacredness, even a holiness, seldom encountered beyond my communities of faith. As written in 1 Peter 1:7, I felt the genuineness of my faith. The final evening, as we gathered I experienced  Transgender Women called out to be the living hope in the Transgender community.  At this point I said, Can You See it, Hope is Alive and Well! It reminded me that there is always hope, if we choose to see it. 
A Living hope in Christ must be the primary and dominant discourse in our engagement of a world in profound need of what a living hope has to offer, this is Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. There is evidence of this when I see first responders responding to a world of calamity, catastrophe and tragedy, communities of faith standing up against forces of injustice in Charlottesville, VA, or when DACA recipients protest the unjust policies of our current administration, and people living with disabilities putting their bodies on the line to protest the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act.  
III.       The implications of a living Hope in Christ, are nothing less than transformational.  It is tenacious, unyielding and resilient as a hopeful people protest unjust political/religious policies without cease.  A further implication is a prophetic vision which runs counter to and eventually overcomes historic prevailing cultural, religious and political ideologies. In an article entitled, White Heritage vs the Gospel Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourner’s Magazine writes of the Charlottesville incident, The psyche of our nation has been largely disturbed by the profound ugliness championed in the “beloved and besieged” city of Charlottesville. Yet, in its midst, the gospel of Christ was boldly proclaimed. A group of clergy and faith leaders convened by Congregate Charlottesville counted the cost and willingly entered conflict with a presence of deep abiding love. What unfolded was dramatic in its opposition. As several hundred residents and those who traveled to answer the call for support packed out St. Paul Memorial Episcopal Church for an interfaith service, several hundred torch-wielding demonstrators gathered across the street on the University of Virginia campus, evoking the hovering legacy of the Ku Klux Klan. Demonstrators violently clashed with university students standing in opposition to racism, while those departing the church were told to hunker in place because the situation outside had become too volatile.  The implications of a living hope in Christ is a people awakened.
The implications of a living Hope in Christ, compel the forces of injustice to develop strategies which employ voter suppression to ensure unjust political policies which makes life evermore precarious for millions of people.  I suspect they learned from the Civil Rights Movement that a hopeful people in Christ are unstoppable and the clearest strategy is to take away or deny their hope, as a practical matter.  Yet this too has limitations as a Living Hope in Christ in everlasting and will have final word.
In closing A Living Hope in Christ the anchor of our faith. Hope is courageous grounded a great and cosmic love.  Like love it will not be denied and will accomplish its intended action.