Saturday, January 13, 2018


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable God my strength and redeemer.

A couple of a days ago at the radio station I was having a discussion with a colleague about Jesus Christ, the Bible and most importantly which interpretation and exactly which Jesus Christ do we believe in, accept and embrace.  The conversation reminded me that our hermeneutic or interpretation of the biblical text is key to our personal, and communal liberation and the issues and concerns of social justice we engage on a daily basis.  As we engage today’s message we should be mindful of the text even as we give glory and honor to Jesus Christ, our savior, who, through no fault of his own, was born an enemy of the state and was crucified, dead and buried an enemy of the State and Jewish authority, but was resurrected and lives today.  It is his Good News that we share.

The text for today is Matthew 5:16. It reads
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 

Before we look at Matthew 5:16 I want to look for a moment at verses 13 and 14, to gain some context for today’s text. In Matthew 5:13 Jesus speaks of the Salt of the Earth.  He says “You are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for nothing except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.  In 14-15 Jesus says, You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel but on a stand and it gives light to all the house. Verse 16, the text for today says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  When we look at verses 5:13 through 5:16 there is the question of The Relation of the Disciples to the World.    This is the underlying question as Jesus introduces the one who would have ears to hear to an inner divine light imparted by God to all creation which illumines a profound and intimate sacredness. While Matthew 5:16b does focus on good works, as the active and powerful witness of a life in Christ, I would suggest that the first part of the verse, 5:16A is the origin of the whole matter.  The words of Jesus intimate that there inner divine light is God’s illumination in us.  It shines everlasting, exemplifying a magnificent awe inspiring grace which calls forth the good works in 5:16b, which are hopeful, joyful, peaceful and loving. These are tenacious and relentless pushing away the darkness.  The 16th chapter of John verses 13-16 tell us

13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

This is the root and the ground of an overwhelming gratitude which awakens and sustains soul, mind and body to live and mature a life of liberation, freedom and justice.  We are compelled, like generations before, by the inner divine light to fight for a world just and sustainable.

I remember when I was in the Navy, I had a conversation with a good friend, colleague and fellow chief petty Officer about  our teenagers.  They had begun going through their changes, transformation, you might say a metamorphosis.  During our conversation I shared with him that I considered the teenage years, to be a matter of rites of passage, where the former child is leaving childhood and preparing to become an adult.  It can be a dynamic, complex, complicated, at times confusing, yet in the long run hopeful as the human being, one created by God, is ever more revealing the work God is doing amidst family, friends, church and community. You could say it’s God’s coming out party. It is a time when the shape, contour, depth and boundaries, as a means to reveal or uncover an inner divine light are being defined more often than not on God’s terms. Yes, this can be a most challenging time for parents and for the teenager transitioning into adulthood and hopefully maturity.  This didn’t sit well with him.  Mindful of the advent season, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, each of us is called to welcome, nurture and empower the inner divine light so that it might shine with a bold and searing brightness for the world to see.

The welcoming, nurturing and empowerment of the inner divine light, through all the stages of life, is central to the processes of acceptance, strengthening, embracing and loving of ourselves and all of God’s creation, and a heart which enables the good works of Matthew 5:16. It is the underlying facility of an authentic life. It is important to the fruits of the Spirit which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, in Christ Jesus written by the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians in chapter 5:22 and 23. These are particularly important living in a society where movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the Metoo movement, the poor people’s campaign, the sanctuary movement, and many more are unfortunately necessary. 

Seeking the divine inner light within (1) empowers a particular mitigation of oppression and injustice from within (2) strengthens and enlivens the soul to engage and overcome a spiritual warfare evidenced by cultural, social, economic and political concerns (3) One’s  apprehension of their divine inner light becomes a means, I suggest somewhat organically, towards solidarity as they more and more embrace the divine inner light in all people. They realize that all people are connected to God, and this understanding allows them to interact with people from a thoughtful loving point of view. (4) Matters of meaning and sectarianism gradually loose scope and intensity enabling the divine inner light to overcome those spaces where knowledge, truth, and things ethical are    become  of Transformation, at least for this writer, is about seeking the divine light within and thus it is finding that authentic sacred space of the heart and in this sense peace beyond all understanding. Philippian 4:7 (NRSV)

The daily injustice, oppression and abuse in American society, the embrace, by some, of extreme ideological concerns for nostalgia, alternative facts, violence reminiscent of Nazi Germany, and a longing for times now past, and, according to a Washington Post article on racist Voter ID laws dated August 3, 2016, a federal appeals court concluded that North Carolina’s voting strictures “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” I suspect this extreme ideology was meant to make America great again. From my perspective this ideology presents me with what God called the Israelites in Exodus chapter 32 verse 9, a stiff necked people. In focus group after focus group what is seen is a people who don’t want to change.  There are some who don’t want life to change or move, even for what might be considered a better more sustainable life, even if it means voting for a man accused of being a pedophile. I ponder what else to call this time we are living through but a tragedy.  

In light of the tragic, there is an unfolding divine grace which uncovers a heart and soul broken and contorted and in need of a religious and spiritual renewal. This need for a religious and spiritual renewal is evidenced in the overhaul of the tax code in favor of the 1%, their corporations and the president’s cronies based on the discredited trickle down economics theory.  It’s evident in a persistent attack on the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare and the removal of the mandate putting the healthcare of millions at risk. It is evident in a democracy, and its institutions, as complicated, complex and at times wanting in the face of corporate desires, shifting and waning amidst the cold winds of injustice.

The tragedy of our times, those cold winds of injustice, call for those with an inner divine light nurtured empowered and bright to bring the Good News to those held captive and enslaved to norms established by their foreparents. To be God’s instrument of a love unfettered by the oppressive regimes and norms which, more often than not, codify the collective sins of a society seemingly unable, as a whole, to accept the fullness of its history. Mindful of Rev. Theodore Parker’s words, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice”, the Good News of Jesus Christ is generational and strategic with the ongoing challenging, risky and at times deadly mission to break the curse brought on by the actions of the foreparents of this nation while setting the captives free.
I presume no secret or grand scheme here but a simple sacred truth as received in Matthew 5:16, that letting our light shine is about breaking down those historical barriers which seek to deny the liberation and freedom of God’s people.  Each of us here today should seek to nurture, nourish and empower our inner divine light, imparted to us by God, so that a just and sustainable society might flourish in Christ.  It is about serving God’s people, sharing in their joys, sorrows, to give the most generous gift of attention.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Advent Season, A Call to be at Peace with God

Pastoral Prayer

I want to look at two scriptures today.  The first is Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, the second is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24.  The scriptures are a gift, imparting the peace of God.  It is a reminder that each of us lives, moves and breaths in the presence of God.  The scriptures remind us that God is active and engaged in the affairs of humanity, in your life.  I caution each of us here today not to take God’s presence for granted.  God is our deliverer and we should not be tossed to and fro by the circumstantial evidence of our day but lean more so into our relationship with the everlasting God.  And this is the Good news of the Advent Season that God is our deliverer and comforter, and lover of justice.  That unconditional love, justice and truth have the final word in our time.  Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, in his acceptance of the Noble Peace Prize, "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality this is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant." I suggest that what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was saying, is that God has the final word.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians exhorts those who call Christ Savior and Lord to rejoice, and to trust in the faithfulness of their God. (Thess. 5:23-24)  The Apostle Paul is exhorting the Christians of Thessalonica of A.D. 52 and the Christians of today to trust in the faithfulness and the unconditional love of God.  The Apostle Paul could write these words having gone through many trials and tribulations for sharing the Gospel. Shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, situations, circumstances did not matter. He was centered in Christ.  He embodied the Advent, living in communion with God.

The words of the prophet Isaiah and the Apostle Paul call each of us to receive the Advent Season as a time of preparation and expectancy, where hope, joy, peace and love define our perspective on this life and not just this season.  Far from a time of consumerism and profits the Advent Season is God’s gift to those who long for the Good News, for the proclamation of liberty, for freedom, for the sustenance of their body and soul, and a renewal of their strength to address the injustice which inhabits much of life today. It is a time of fasting like Lent, and a time of reflection. Graciously and joyously receiving the gift of Advent, the birth of the Christ child, is more precious than life itself.


Woe unto the one who denies this great gift of God.  This is a fool’s errand.  Yet there are some who choose to not only deny the gift of the Advent Season but the very God who created life itself.  This sad and tragic affair became prominent with the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who, having never gotten over the death of his father, who was a pastor, made his famous statement, “God is Dead, a rejection of Christianity as a meaningful force in the world.”  He saw “humanity” as the driving force in the world and no need for God or the Church.  I suggest that his rejection of God, and in this sense his denial of peace with God, In the end led him to become insane, dying a tragic and lonely death.  

Considering the tragedy of disbelief, we are called to receive the Advent Season to maintain our sanity, to re-center ourselves as a means toward peace with God and as a reaffirmation of our faith.  Like the Apostle Paul, the one who truly receives the gift of the Advent in their heart, has new life in Christ and is at peace with God.  In this they rejoice!  

In a world of high speed super highways, high speed internet, 24-hour news and entertainment cycle, social, political, religious and cultural upheavals, polarization, growing economic inequality, gentrification, an economic policy controlled by the 1%, global warming, drug addictions and nationalism, the Advent Season reminds each of us that God has heard our cry, seen our tears, our laughter, and intimately knows our deepest longings, frustrations and sorrows and joys.  While God is not a baby sitter or Santa Claus, God is not oblivious to our circumstances or our situations.

The Advent Season as well as the communion we receive each Sunday are those sacred intimate pleasures which God, as a matter divine grace, imparted through Christ.  Our awakening to these matters of divine grace compel an overwhelming gratitude as they strengthen us in our faith and empowers each of us to address the concerns, challenges and joys of this life. In his book “The Centering Moment, Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman writes, [Read Howard Thurman, pg. 57, The Centering Moment]

After working in food pantries, visiting homeless shelters, visiting the sick and shut in, those suffering with HIV/Aids, those in chronic pain, and those families living in poverty, matters of divine grace are a provocation for survival, for getting through one day at a time. For the people and their families, I have met in these situations the Advent Season, like the communion is sustenance for their life and soul. You see, the reason why the Christ child was born in a manger was so that God could address the issues of all humanity, of every human being and not just those in power who have wealth and privilege.

The Advent Season is a profound, hopeful and somewhat unsettling answer to the concerns of humanity. It is a reminder that God is intimately engaged in our life’s, this we know through faith. So, the question before us today is” How shall we respond to the Advent Season?” How do we respond to God’s gracious love as expressed in the birth of the Christ Child?  I suspect the only answer would be to give our gifts, talents, time, energy, our enthusiasm, our praise, glory and honor, with thanksgiving, that is,  all of who we are or hope to be for we have nothing except that which God has given.  

Psalm 116:12-19

What shall I return to the Lord
    for all his bounty to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord,
14 I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful ones.
16 O Lord, I am your servant;
    I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.
    You have loosed my bonds.
17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
    and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord,
    in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!

Let us Pray

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)