Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Problem

Those with privilege must be careful not to become lax in their thinking.  If there thinking is lax there is a distinct possibility that someone like Mr. Trump could run a scam that would do profound and severe harm to them and others.  They are ripe for manipulation and useful as pawns for intent unbecoming.  A lack of thinking, more so a lack of critical thinking, is detrimental necessarily putting at risk delicate narratives sensitive to economic, cultural, social, religious and political liabilities. Those in this mental predicament, (ex. a Trump supporter), seldom see, without significant intervention, the harm it will do to their own standing, be it economic or another context such as the Affordable Care Act, i.e.., Obamacare.  In contrast those on the margins, the ones threatened by Mr. Trumps rhetoric during the campaign have, often, had to embrace critical thinking, to be cunning, to recognize the abuse, present as well as historical perpetrated by those privileged and unconscious of desires grounded in that privilege to maintain the status quo.  Those privileged, suckered by a man who is more and more seen as an unwitting operative of Russia and Vladimir Putin (The Hill, August 2016 and Washington Post December 9, 2016) could employ strategies which could take that privilege and use it his advantage to ultimately win the Presidential election.  While many of us could see through Mr. Trump’s scam sadly there were many who were unable to see through them and we look to be worse off for this.

That said, those of us concerned should stand tall, ready to keep Mr. Trump’s policies in full view of the public for the sake of our democracy  

The Rise of Trump, and a stock market which seems to look positively at his possible presidency, reminds me that capitalism, white supremacy and white privilege are connected at the heart.   This is the difficulty that consumes conversations which seek to engage a different more equitable and just economic system.  If we can delink white identity at an institutional level from the economics policy equality might emerge for all.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Why the celebration of Easter? The Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

The title of this message was posed to me by my doctor during a minor operation this past Monday.  The doctor knew me as a pastor and minister of the gospel so the question wasn’t unexpected or out of the ordinary.  It reminded me that questions can offer moments of profound clarity as an embodiment of grace for the one who asks the question and the one providing the response.  My response to her question was that I celebrate Easter because it commemorates the resurrection of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that whatever hope there is in my life I live in Jesus Christ. She said she had asked because she was beginning to teach her children about Easter and the reason why it is so important. She said she had been raised in a Christian family but now she wanted to pass on what she had learned as a child.  I don’t know about you but conversations can bring back some serious memories, reminding me of the song, “Back down Memory Lane” by Minnie Riperton, and my mother and father living out the lyrics of, You’ll Understand It Better by and by” when I didn’t want to go to Sunday School. The older I get the more I appreciate the teachings of my parents.

The conversation with my doctor called me to reflect on the significance of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Good News and the meaning it has for the church.  Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a means for us, as followers of Jesus Christ to reaffirm our love, our faith and our trust in the living Christ. We celebrate the resurrection because its message is that through the risen Christ you and I are no longer bound to sin and death, that through the risen Christ we have overcome the world.  It is also a reminder that the Church, you and me, are called to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the good news with our lives. 

The resurrection is sure, giving courage to the faithful as they stand against and eventually overcome unjust and burdensome systems, structures and their so-called skinny budgets, which concede nothing without a whole lot of prayer and serious political strategies, while at the same time, seeking to deny the good news of Jesus Christ in favor of powerful corporate interests. In the face of this moral crisis where ignorance is stubbornly lifted high, truth seemingly banished and closed mindedness and polarization the order of the day the resurrection offers new life, new hope, and God’s abundant love. This is nourishment for a life, longing, fighting and struggling to transform an unjust circumstance or situation. The resurrection presents the steadfast, faithful, immovable and those weary with a revolutionary hope as it speaks to the stones of injustice such as racism, voter suppression, poverty, ever increasing medical costs, and homelessness, to name a few, being rolled away from a life precious in the sight of God.  

Mindful of the Apostle Paul, and his Damascus Road experience with Christ in Acts 9, and his many trials and tribulations for the sake of the gospel in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33 and his compelling arguments regarding the resurrection in First Corinthians 15: 1-2 and 12-20-22, 30-32 the Apostle Paul’s experience of the good news, of the risen Christ, became that prophetic fire which compelled him in his love and justice for God’s people resulting in Epistles or letters which form much of New Testament scripture and upwards of 20 churches.  What we have in the Apostle Paul is a man sold out to Jesus Christ.  He moves in Christ alone recognizing that the risen Christ illuminates a new covenant grounded in God’s tenacious and everlasting love which held Paul without waiver.  My impression based on the text is that Paul had apprehended the risen Christ and sought to proclaim the risen Christ he encountered on the Damascus Road. Similar to the prophet Jeremiah in 20:9, there was a fire shut up in Paul’s bones which had to be unleashed for the glory of God. 

My oldest and dearest friend, mentor and colleague recently said, regarding Paul, “You cannot receive the risen Christ and not do something, you’ve got to move.” It’s like fire in your pants.  In other words, there are implications for the one who encounters the resurrection of Christ.  The implications of the resurrection are a matter of awakening to God’s deep and everlasting love for all people, to awaken to the plight of our sisters and brothers and the greater community, to awaken to the many lie’s which seek to deny our humanity, to awaken to the fact that we are blessed and highly favored, to awaken to the reality that social and cultural change will not occur without active participation including resistance, to awaken to those systemic structural economic barriers which maintain wealth and privilege for fewer and fewer of God’s people.  

In Rev. Dr. William Barber’s book, “The Third Reconstruction, “How a Moral Movement is overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear” In the chapter on “Learning to Stand Together” he reflects on the words of Stanley Hauerwas, “The first task of the church is to be the church. Only if the church is the church can people see another way is possible. Without this alternative witness, we are tempted to think that the way things are is simply the way things have to be.”
The Church is called to once again to apprehend the resurrection not just as a celebration but a call to live out the resurrection each day to reimagine a more just, whole and equitable society where all people are received as God’s own.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Lord may not come when you want Him, but he's always going to be there on time.  Louis Gossett, Jr. (Based on Job 35:14)

Living day by day in a world where joy, happiness; the good things of this life are tempered or balanced by suffering, death; things profoundly unjust, bordering on what might be considered absurd and immoral push many to their knees in prayer.  Life, for some, at times can seem small, without meaning, seemingly denying the glory of God expressed in life itself. Yet, it is from this life, and no other that many cry out, like David in Psalm 130, for some relief, deliverance, healing; something to soothe the pain or to express the joy occupying one’s life at the moment; there is a profound need for a savior.  

The text of John 11:1-45 is skillful as a response to Psalm 130, reminding us today that there is a savior, yet this savior, that is Jesus Christ tends to reconfigure, transform and even frustrate the desires, hopes, expectations and agendas of even the people he called friends, those whom he loved, his disciples, he troubles the waters of a human imagination sequestered at the feet of economic and political interests.  Jesus rarely saves or redeems exactly the way expected.  Reading the text, we encounter the situation of Mary, Martha and their baby brother Lazarus.  According to the text Jesus was well aware of his dear friend’s death and I suspect Jesus being Jesus was very much aware of the anguish and sorrow of Mary and Martha. Yet Jesus took his time saying, “This illness will not lead to death, rather it is for God’s glory, so that the son of God might be glorified through it.”  When Jesus finally arrives at the house of Mary and Martha, Lazarus is wrapped in grave clothes, in the tomb, and dead four days. Interestingly, all through the gospels there is an eagerness even an urgency in Jesus to help, to make well, to heal, to feed, to give sight to the blind, but in this text, we find no eagerness, no urgency more so we find a savior who seemingly treats his friends differently than those who, though also children of God, might not be considered friends or disciples, there was an urgency to help the stranger!  I suspect that Jesus felt that those who had been around him more, who knew him, his disciples, would not lose sight of the mission at hand. Jesus expected more of them that people unaware.

In vs 20-22, Martha approaches Jesus, saying, “Jesus, Lord if thou had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know, that even now whatsoever thou will ask God, God will give it thee.” Martha spoke these words amidst her and Mary’s frustration with him (John 11:20, 28-33). This was not the first-time Mary and Martha were frustrated with Jesus (see Luke 10:38-42). Seemingly, death held a different importance and space for Jesus than it did for Mary and Martha. Yet Mary’s confidence in Jesus far outweighs struggles of human understanding. She has more confidence in Jesus than in the problem which would end with the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus.

The text begs the question, “How do we hold suffering, dying and death amid a savior who receives these difficult and troubling events, even his own gruesome death, as a means to the glory of God, the resurrection.” I suspect that Jesus doesn’t want to minimize death but seeks to reframe death from a period to a comma. That death is not the end! Why should death be received in this light?  I would imagine, from a philosophical, theological or agrarian perspective death would be a means to new life yet when many encounter, in real time, the death of friends, colleagues, family members it can be mentally and emotionally taxing, demanding, even exhausting, far from thoughts of a bodily resurrection.  Death is one of those topics people rarely ever touch until forced to by circumstances. And then, in some cases, all hell breaks loose. Jesus’ treatment of death would seem to be one meaning of the text and life in Christ that death is a means to new life and in this sense the death and resurrection of Lazarus gives somewhat of a sneak preview of divine things to come. 

The situation of Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus at Bethany, should not be surprising or unusual as our savior, the eldest son in a single parent household, a carpenter, a onetime refugee due to the dangerous life threatening policies instituted by Herrod (sound familiar), homeless, a person who, because of who he was, knew instinctively that the sacredness of God’s humanity entitled all people to unconditional love, free and universal healthcare, and an abundance of food, to name a few contemporary concerns. Jesus was an unorthodox Jewish Rabbi upending the norms and expectations of his day as he sought to reveal and express the glory of God, to usher in the Kindom of God, thus gradually becoming a threat to both the Roman and Jewish establishments, an enemy of the state but the hope and salvation for a world of people longing for relief from systems and processes which supported the empire.

Mindful of Rev. Dr. William J. Barber’s Barbers book, “The Third Reconstruction” and Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated March 24, 1980, in San Salvador, El Salvador because he sought to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, some may find this reading of the text somewhat uncomfortable needing a Jesus and his Church to be complicit in the affliction experienced by many living under the cruel power and authoritarianism of a few for the sake of religious or political gain, cultural animus, wealth, ego and agenda’s. Yet based on the actions of Jesus, read in the text and throughout the gospels, the stance of his Church and those who choose to follow Jesus, must be about the ushering in of the Kindom of God, and in this sense to reveal the glory of God. (Pause)

  The title of today’s message, “The Lord may not come when you want Him, but he's always going to be there on time.” A quotation of Louis Gossett, Jr. Based on Job 35:14 is a reminder that at times there may be a huge difference in the agenda of the one who prays incessantly, fasts and reads scripture daily, and maintaining Christ centered relationships, seemingly doing the right and worthy things of Christian life yet when confronted by life’s circumstances and a God whose touch cannot be felt some become disheartened, asking   “Where is God, Why have you forsaken me or why didn’t God answer my prayer.  The problem may not be the acts or the actions of the Christian but their perspective about the situation or circumstance.  The fundamental question asks of the Christian must be, “Is my thinking, and in this my life about the Kindom of God or the world.  Are my expectations rooted in the Kindom of God or in the world?  Kindom living is not so much about political, material or economic persuasion, more so it is about a way of life, a way of looking at the world as Jesus saw it. While there are many lessons to be gleaned from the text on Mary, Martha and the death of their brother Lazarus it is the lesson of confidence in Jesus.  Jesus Christ is always bigger than the problem yet if our thinking is not Kindom thinking we may miss the very point of life itself.