Sunday, July 15, 2018

My Yoke is Easy, My Burden is Light

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28 – 30

The tragedies of our day, the deconstruction of truth in common life, historical and divisive issues and concerns such as racism, sexism, economic inequality, etc., and an outrageous persistent ignorance more and more codified into law and exacerbated by vitriolic political rhetoric, various media, and a politics immoral more and more frustrating for many, should make us thankful for the life, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is his sacred and holy unwavering courageous stance in opposition to unjust and burdensome religious and governmental laws, which left God’s people bound and longing for hope, that offers the Christian a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. His profound and unlawful acts of love present us with the sustenance and the remedy to a national tragedy.  Christ broke the law all the time. Christ forgave and harbored criminals and refugees. Christ's challenge to the temple was illegal and got him crucified. He sets the trend for challenging man-made authorities, i.e. sin, evil and unjust laws, and giving allegiance to God instead.
In Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon, “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore” he writes, Is anything more obvious than the presence of evil in the universe? Its nagging, prehensile tentacles project into every level of human existence.  We may debate the origin of evil, but only a victim of superficial optimism would debate its reality.  Evil is stark, grim, and colossally real.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s words are a reminder that the faith we profess is not for window dressing, or for an exhibition of entitlement, privilege or supremacy but for an encounter of sin, evil and injustice legislated through laws and policies, that do not and will not compromise in their mission to rape, pillage and if possible to destroy our very souls. The faith we profess and seek to live is not an investment in the deception, lies and falsehoods of some who profess Christianity, but in those things, which affirm a costly grace, as expressed by Pastor, Martyr, Prophet and Spy Dietrich Bonhoeffer amidst the final solution, i.e. the murder of 6 million Jews, codified into law in Nazi, Germany, and experienced at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ our beloved savior.  It is an appreciation of this costly grace at the depths of our soul which compels a discipleship which keeps us from a profound and dangerous deception which cast many into the abyss of fragility, discouragement and despair. 

Galatians 6:7 encourages the Christian not to be deceived; that God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man or [woman] soweth, that shall they also reap.  In this sense the deception espoused by the tragic as seen in the current political regimes governmental laws and policies regarding immigration, racism and an incivility unleashed, is only overcome by a discipleship rooted in our encounter of a costly grace in our soul and a profound and uncompromising believe that God’s unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word and that right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant" as said by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In other words, the religious, political, and cultural polarization experienced by many today can only be overcome by a deep and uncompromising believe in the costly grace of Jesus Christ and no other, that regardless of how things look, God has the final word.  As it says in Deuteronomy 32 verse 35 Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them.

An appreciation of costly grace calls us each moment of each day to reclaim once again the gospel of Jesus Christ so as not to be deceived by a religion and its politics parading as a form of a gospel reminiscent of the Jim Crow South and so called Christians who would practice racism while going to the lynching tree after receiving communion. In his review of The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by James Cone, Stephen G. Ray Jr. January 30, 2012 writes, “More often than not, the public renderings of black bodies were carried out by "good Christian folk"—people who had become convinced that their dedication to the regime of white supremacy that demanded these executions was part and parcel of their Christian identity. It is no coincidence that most of the lynchings from the late 19th to mid-20th century occurred in the Bible Belt. Church­going lynchers were often murdering other churchgoing Christians who were of the same communion: Baptists killed Baptists and so on.”

Mindful of Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, in his book, “The Creative Encounter” the history of Christianity is a struggle between good and evil.  This is not unique to Christianity as it is a tension acknowledged by all the great religions. In this light each of us must delve deep within ourselves as children of God to encounter that authentic religious experience. We do an injustice to ourselves, if, unlike Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we don’t consider who we are, as a product of a system, and the implications of what our faith must encounter, engage, and eventually overcome. The faith we live and profess, like our love for all of God’s creation, is not for the faint of heart as it is meant to take on systems and processes, whether external or internal, which codify unjust bias, discrimination and a racial and economic animus into law and governmental policy such as the current immigration policy which separates children from their families, discriminates against the Muslim community, while also putting the healthcare of millions at risk.  Of course, some might consider a position detrimental to so many people, simply a different worldview, covering up the dastardly and shameful conditions advocated by this peculiar ideology. Yet who can deny that children separated from their families and incarcerated in an old Walmart building is not unjust, for some, conjuring mental images of African American enslavement.

The sacred and holy stand against sin, evil and injustice are an ongoing continuing struggle which must be fought generation to generation. Any resting on our laurels becomes an opening for the weeds of delusion, deception and deconstruction, and dehumanization legislated as law, to rise and choke whatever righteousness and an inclusive life-giving hope being nurtured. In this I think the words attributed to Jesus, “It is finished” in the gospel of John 19:30 can be deceptive, used by the forces of injustice to inflict a cruel dispensation, the cheap grace of injustice, upon the innocent making it clear that sin and evil persist. More so, the words “It is finished” is a trumpet call amidst the injustice of our day that Jesus Christ has been the example, he’s given those who choose to be his disciples the tools to stand against the sin, evil and injustice of this world and he’s given his disciples the Holy Spirit so that they might critically and forcefully engage those things which deny a necessary hope.  Amidst the “It is Finished” Jesus had an intimate knowledge of the burden which confronted and confronts his disciples.

Today’s text, Matthew 11:28-30 emerges out Jesus’ dealings with Pharisees who seek God’s righteousness through unswerving obedience to Jewish law.  Similar to today they sought to legislate righteousness and morality, creating a huge and unbearable burden for God’s humanity. The scripture is Jesus’s engagement of the sad affair and a reminder that the law, whether religious or secular, for as much comfort as the law can seemingly provide secular or religious authoritarians or zealots, is a burden which denies the very righteousness, mercy and grace of God and a morality they seeks to take hold of.

The saying “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” is part of a larger passage (Matthew 11:28–30), in which Jesus tells all who are weary and burdened to come to Him for rest. He isn’t speaking here of physical burdens only. Rather, it was the heavy burden of the system of works that the Pharisees like some today, laid on the backs of the people that Jesus was offering to relieve. Later, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will rebuke the Pharisees for laying heavy burdens on the shoulders of the people (Matthew 23:4).

The “yoke of the Pharisees” is the burdensome yoke of self-righteousness and legalistic law-keeping. It has been said by biblical scholars that the Pharisees had added over 600 regulations regarding what qualified as “working” on the Sabbath. That is a heavy burden! Recall the story of the lawyer who asked Jesus what the greatest commandment of the Law was (Matthew 22:36). You can almost read between the lines of the man’s question: “What law, of all the laws we have, do I absolutely have to keep?”

Following Christ
In the life of the Christian, strength and the will to persist become the evidence of their discipleship in Christ which sustains and overcomes the difficulties and challenges of unjust and unnecessary laws which perpetrate the sin, evil and injustice of humanity.  Sin, evil and injustice are often the only words which adequately describe programs and policies which reveal evermore the destruction not only of innocent families longing for a better life but of the demise a nation which each day becomes more and more burdensome, fragile and polarized in its common life.  It is during times like these when the faith of the Christian, their relationship with Christ, becomes paramount in the apprehension of a hope which overcomes burdens which compel a sadness, depression and hopelessness. Considering such matters, today the Christian must lay their burdens at the feet of Jesus Christ knowing that obedience to these words are the clearest way and means to overcome and address the sins and evils of humanity which persist.

In the final analysis, where the laws of humanity fail, making weariness and burden the norms of our day, it is the law of love, which makes the yoke easy and the burden light. It is the Christian’s obedience to Christ and his teachings rooted in love as exhibited by Jesus, which must overcome those burdens, those frustrations encountered in unjust laws.  There may be times in the life of the Christian when they will have a choice between obedience to God’s law or obedience to man’s law.  This has been a very real reality for those dealing with immigration and those who addressed issues regarding environmental concerns at Standing Rock in the face of big oil.  We may be fortunate now not to have to make that choice, yet this choice eventually comes to all who profess their obedience to Jesus Christ.

This day let those of us who profess discipleship to Christ practice the law of love and in so doing gradually begin to change our lives, our homes, our communities, our nation, our world and its politics and in so doing make space for the Kingdom of heaven.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

To Tell the Truth, A Need to Revisit

“To Tell the Truth”

The lectionary text this week, Luke 4:21-30 provides some sorted humor as we read of the rejection of Jesus by the people of his hometown.  There is Jesus, having proclaimed his call out of Isaiah 61:1, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and then we have the townspeople, many who had known Jesus as he was growing up.  They knew him and his family, as they said, is not this Joseph’s son, in effect saying that Jesus was not the Messiah, or a prophet, or anyone great.  Now Jesus being Jesus and knowing his congregation, a people of Nazareth, a city of ill repute, he read the skepticism, contempt and blatant dishonor running rampant among the congregation and become irrate, even insulted regarding the whole matter.  Now in the Gospel of Mark 6:1-6, the earlier text, the situation is described as suspicious, hostile, even resentful as they thought he should have ministered in his hometown first.  According to the interpreter’s bible “The people were astonished but it was a grudging and sour astonishment.”  Having known Jesus for many years before he answered the call of God, the people asked, among themselves, what I would consider logical questions such as, “How did Jesus get all of this wisdom?”, “How did he learn to preach and teach so well?”  Yet the logic of their questions only made the scandal of their hearts more pronounced. At this point Jesus, being amazed at their lack of faith, begins to “tell the truth” meaning he was frank, bold and truthful in his encounter with the congregation of his townspeople. 

I remember when I was a child growing up I would hear people in Church, school and/or on the street say, “To tell the truth” typically it was an introduction to some pretty heavy stuff, somewhat derogatory about an individual, group or organization.  It usually meant that they were on the “outs” or in disagreement with expectations.   Jesus compared the people in the synagogue with the people who lived in Elijah’s time when only and in the time of Eliseus.  Jesus’ comparisons said that they were unworthy of the miracle of God.  Luke 4:29 reads, they rose up, and thrust him out of the city and led him to the edge of the hill where they were going to throw him over but he passed through the midst of them, went his way.

I.                     The Call of Jesus

Mindful of the Call of God upon Jesus his beloved son, the call of God upon a person’s life is one of the most intimate moments a person will experience.  It can be fearful, terrifying, joyful, even stunning, leaving one speechless, to say the least, even in the presence of witnesses.  The call of God is that one moment when the mystical confronts the staid practical sensibilities of human existence.  According to the interpreter’s bible, “They are possessed by the purifying and inspiring purpose of God, then for the first time the soul finds for itself an immense and joyous freedom.  The one called is God’s expressed desire beyond office, position or pedigree, and so was the call of Jesus. Yet the calling of God is not without significant concerns and challenges as the one called moves in the midst of the people, even a hometown crowd whose desires have been shaped by systems, structures and processes of Oppression and Privilege as established by ruler and authority written in Ephesians 6:12,

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.           
In the midst of this struggle described in Ephesians 6:12, there are times, more often than not, when the one called of God will experience rejection yet this rejection can reveal particular passion, even joy, as the ministry of ones calling is defined.  It is ironic that the rejection of Jesus by his hometown people became significant in shaping and defining his ministry.  It became a means toward profound hope for those who might receive salvation.  Rejection, problematic as it is on many levels, can lead us to a hopeful experience as we move on to greener pastures knowing that God is our refuge as written in Psalm 71:1-6,  

In You, O Lord, I put my trust;
Let me never be put to shame.
Deliver me in Your righteousness, and cause me to escape;
Incline Your ear to me, and save me.
Be my strong refuge,
To which I may resort continually;
You have given the commandment to save me,
For You are my rock and my fortress.
Deliver me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked,
Out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.
For You are my hope, O Lord GOD;
You are my trust from my youth.
By You I have been upheld from birth;
You are He who took me out of my mother’s womb.
My praise shall be continually of You.

II.                   A Prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, queering expectations

Jesus had triumphed over the devil in the wilderness and had "returned in the power of the Spirit" to give his inaugural address in Nazareth. He had done so by beginning with the prophet Isaiah and a passage about true reversal of fortune and hopeful change. However, in this passage he picks a fight with the congregation in his old home town and almost suffers a premature demise because of it.

One of the many things that led to the rejection of Jesus is, “expectation.”  He didn’t meet their expectations as constructed by Jewish religious authority within the Roman empire.  The rejection of Jesus reveals the sad but observable fact that God’s truth may come in ways which we do not choose to recognize.   

III.                 Doing God’s work in the midst
Similar to Jesus we do God’s work in the midst of those awake and not awake.


We are called as Disciples of Christ to live a hopeful vision of present and future things, to seek to live an authentic life grounded in Christ and community.    In this light there was a desire to focus today’s message on affirmation, love and the implications of communion.  Mindful of a deeper longing within to address this time we live in I found that I should not bypass a particular terror that engulfs so much of life in our time.    We live in a world of complications, complexities, challenges and oppressions which characterize more and more of life in America.   Thus, as people of faith, we are called to critically reflect on the issues of our day which emerge as symptoms of the world we live in.   We reflect on the many lives lost at the hands of violent racism, police brutality, bigotry, privilege, increasing inequality, poverty, and polarization, considered by some people who embrace white supremacist ideology, to be a matter of tradition.  We remember the recent death of a Black woman stopped for a minor traffic violation in Prairie View, Texas who allegedly committed suicide in a Waller County jail cell by hanging herself.  I receive her tragic death as one more act of terror inflicted on a diverse population of people who are living in states of righteous anger and fear as hope, long defined by productions of white supremacy and black subordination, historically mediated through law enforcement, wane, shift and fall like tectonic plates resulting in seismic shifts in the midst of the California sun.   This became evident as I and my mother watched and then discussed the removal of the confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capital and ensuing protests which occurred. 
They said, “I Forgive You”
A Very Uncommon Act
In the midst of the echoes of a civil war one hundred and fifty years passed but not forgotten we are called to do the joyful work of ascertaining hope in the midst of a time which unsettles so many people.   Reflecting on hope I am mindful that hope is not the exclusive purview of the naive or the optimist but a calling of faith, courage, and a love that is unyielding.   Hope is exemplified in action as the spirit within calls forth a glimpse of the arc of justice.  This becomes clear as we watch the family members of nine beautiful people massacred at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina by a man filled with hate do what might be called an uncommon act of love.  They said, “I forgive you.”  Surely Jesus is the author of forgiveness as it is written in Luke 23:24, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”, in the midst of his own slow and painful crucifixion.   Listening to the many reports from around the country I find that forgiveness, boldly standing with grace and mercy in the face of hatred, compelled a nation of people and their president to give homage to its presence.    That said, their statement of forgiveness has also been controversial, as some people, not considered religious, have said that the relatives showed weakness by forgiving the shooter[1] and some call for a type of moratorium on forgiveness, in regard to black people forgiving white racist.[2]  Yet because it is this type of uncommon act of love that has the potential to contribute, even in controversy, to a mediation of the ills of our present time I believe each of us should, if feasible, sit in silent meditation regarding forgiveness, so that we might come to some understanding of such an uncommon act of love.
The Fool says in their heart I have no need of God,
God cannot speak to the issues of humanity

Living in a society of materialism, rationality and a gradual marginalization of God and Church in common life and space, a critique of love should be undertaken.  I have come to belief that love, the kind of love defined by the life and ministry of Jesus, the one who taught us how to love, has been sequestered and a form of love, now considered common, constructed by various corporate institutions has been given its former holy and sacred space.  Of course this has occurred over time as the purveyors of capital and its politics sought to enslave the heart, its religion and western clerics for matters of greed and profit, for me an extension of the plantation narrative.  Now I must be careful not to become too philosophical, abstract or theological about love, a certainly not cynical,  since I do want to communicate with you today, yet love the love I encounter in Ephesians 3:14-21 is abstract, uncommon and sacrificial.   Yet it is this abstract, uncommon and sacrificial act of love that breathes life into our souls and empowers us towards forgiveness, considered as part of a spiritual medical regimen needed to heal a sick and bewildered nation and its people yearning for some type of solace.
 For those who profess Christ forgiveness emerges out of their heart as they intimately engage in the hope found in the everlasting God.  God and the things of God are the anchor and the inspiration of their life.  Their life and their hope rest secure as they walk humbly with their God as written in Micah 6:8.  Recent discourses on identity inclusive of the political, economic, racial, gender, sexual and scientific rhetoric remind me that walking humbly with our God, in a blessed state of forgiveness is not so popular in a world of materialism which looks within itself for hope believing that the ability to overcome the deeper more substantial ills of society rests in the latest technological trinket inclusive of weapons of personal, communal and mass distraction, or illicit drugs will somehow fill a void or sooth the pain within.  Indeed this is a fool’s errand.  The fool says there is no God.   In this sense they believe that God, if there is a God, bears no consequence and in this sense has no bearing regarding issues of a population of people in severe emotional, mental and spiritual pain, in need of real and sustainable sustenance, considered by some as a yearning for a year of Jubilee, and a time of blessed forgiveness.  This is a challenge for the fool as they see forgiveness as an admission of weakness and a denial of certain profit.  Yet for those in love with God forgiveness is life and this more abundantly.  Psalm 14:1-7 has a lot to say about the fool.  It reads
The fool has said in his heart,
There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge******
Who eat up my people as they eat bread,
And do not call on the Lord?
There they are in great fear,
For God is with the generation of the righteous.
You shame the counsel of the poor,
But the Lord is his refuge.
Oh that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord brings back the captivity of His people,
Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad.
Pope Francis, the Vicar of Christ, considered the voice of God by many in the Catholic Church, and received as a breath of fresh air by some in the Christian religious community beyond the Catholic Church, recently released a papal encyclical or a papal letter on the climate crisis and the economic system that has led to our present environmental crisis.  He has also been speaking out regarding issues of forgiveness, this in regard to the participation of the Church in the brutal colonization of South America.  He has been roundly criticized, even taken to task regarding his comments particularly on the economy and the global climate crisis by many in his own Church and by secular authority.   Pope Francis blames climate change on apathy, political shortsightedness and a pursuit of profits.  He calls climate change one of the principal challenges facing humanity today.    His encyclical intimated that our present state of affairs is a crisis of the soul, making more evident an economic system morally bankrupt.  Of course his encyclical incurred the rhetorical wrath of the capitalist, environmental sceptics, conservatives, less progressive voices and right wing political pundits and candidates running for president.  I remember listening to National Public Radio and hearing a staunch capitalist cry in frustration about the Pope, and the Church seeking to address the issues that impact the poor, the homeless and those of a lesser state.   The response reminded me that God, at least in the mind of the capitalist, has no voice.  Fools have no use for God as capitalism is the great savior and protector of humanity.   Surely we live in foolish and even dangerous times indeed.
Times that Try the Soul of Humanity
In a sermon given at Detroit's Second Baptist Church (28 February 1954) Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made the following statement, “The great problem facing modern man is that the means by which we live have outdistanced the spiritual ends for which we live. So we find ourselves caught in a messed-up world. The problem is with man himself and man's soul. We haven't learned how to be just and honest and kind and true and loving. And that is the basis of our problem. The real problem is that through our scientific genius we've made of the world a neighborhood, but through our moral and spiritual genius we've failed to make of it a brotherhood.”   Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 28 February 1954
The words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are timeless.  They remain as relevant today as they were back in 1954.  His words present a particular truth that is difficult to deny in the face of a nation where banks are privileged and untouchable at the expense of its people, and where Wall Street has more bearing and credibility that the person on the street or the earth herself.   In light of these sobering realities we should gladly desire to gain spiritual strength, to strengthen the human soul and thus begin to know and to comprehend the fullness of God in Jesus Christ.  This is a journey within straining towards the inner sanctum of divine-human interaction.  It is a desire of head and heart, to know the fullness of God and to experience the breadth, width, height and depth of a love which releases forgiveness for ourselves and others.  
Healing, reconciliation and a life affirming perspective begin with forgiveness.  I suspect that the ills of society and even the Church itself, as an inhabitant of the material world, cannot be solved without forgiveness within and without.  It is clear to me that the material world which demands an allegiance of desire at the expense of the soul is seemingly incapable of forgiveness since forgiveness emerges from spiritual strength, and this from a love unknown by the material world.  Love, borne of spiritual strength, for Jesus and my trust in God, at times affirmed by people who do uncommon acts of this unknown love, compel me to be hopeful that one day this would not be the case.   
Uncommon Acts of love such as forgiveness remind me that a Day of Jubilee is approaching. A time of spiritual awakening where forgiveness will comfort and heal the soul of humanity and the earth.  Each of us should prepare for this day as it will surely arrive. 
Let us open our bibles to Ephesians 3:14-21 and read together.
Prayer for Spiritual Strength
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.