Sermon: “Jesus, A Troubled Soul”
Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and made a request: “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” 22 Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One[a] to be glorified. 24 I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.
27 “Now I am deeply troubled.[b] What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
29 The crowd standing there heard and said, “It’s thunder.” Others said, “An angel spoke to him.”
30 Jesus replied, “This voice wasn’t for my benefit but for yours. 31 Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out. 32 When I am lifted up[c] from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (33 He said this to show how he was going to die.)
The Word of God for the people of God.
This passage is yet another reference Jesus makes to the means and the significance of His death, in John’s Gospel account. Last week, we read the first mention, in John 3, of his death as Him “being lifted up”. John continues to stress the universal reach of God’s saving work in Christ. In John 3, the Bible says God loves the whole world, ie, not just the Jews, and Jesus came to save the world. In John 12, we see again, jesus will draw ALL PEOPLE to Himself. This explanation is given on the heels of when in verse 20, the Greeks, ie, the Gentile world, ask, and come, to see Jesus.
Most New Testament scholars say the Gospel of John was written by an Aramaic speaking Hellenistic Jew, with most of it originally written in Greek. However, several of the sources used to compile it could have been originally in Aramaic, especially the “Dialogues” source, the words attributed to Jesus, given the large number of potential Aramaic wordplays in the text.
Evidence that the original text was written in Greek is that Jesus is a Greek name, as are the names of the disciples.
The Greeks approach the disciple Phillip, which is a Greek name from “phileo”, a Greek word for LOVE.
Phillip then turns to the disciple Andrew, whose name is a derivative of the Greek word “Andros”, which means MAN.
For the love of mankind, the Son of man came to save the world. At the hands of hateful fearful sinful humankind, He died.
What is my focus for today, however, is the acknowledgement in John’s account in verse 27, wherein Jesus says, “I am deeply troubled.”
This sentiment is expressed more than once by Him in John’s Gospel.
When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled.
“Now I am deeply troubled. What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time.
The way, the truth, and the life
“Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.
In Luke 22, we see Jesus experiencing anguish:
42 He said, “Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. However, not my will but your will must be done.” 43 Then a heavenly angel appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 He was in anguish and prayed even more earnestly. His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.
In Mark 14:
32 Jesus and his disciples came to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said to them, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John along with him. He began to feel despair and was anxious. 34 He said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert.” 35 Then he went a short distance farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if possible, he might be spared the time of suffering. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”
Jesus is said to feel despair and was anxious.
Imagine that, for a few minutes. Try to let those words sink in.
The dictionary defines anguish as: severe mental or physical pain or suffering.
What does the word translated as ”troubled” mean?
Anticipatory grief is the name given to the tumultuous set of feelings and reactions that occur when someone is expecting a great loss or traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one. These emotions can be just as intense as the grief felt after a death. Another way to describe the inner state of mind is to say one is “troubled”.
My point? If you are feeling troubled, today, know this: Jesus was troubled, too. Jesus was troubled at times in his life where there was great cause for concern. When he was anticipating His own betrayal, trial, torture, and death. In the face of the death at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, and with the grief of Lazarus’ sisters and friends. In prayer, at Gethsemane, he took His anguish to God. So, too, can you, Friend.
Your anguish and anxiety do not banish God from you. Jesus knows what you are going through. In the words of the hymn:
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer
Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer
Hebrews chapter 2
5 God didn’t put the world that is coming (the world we are talking about) under the angels’ control. 6 Instead, someone declared somewhere,
What is humanity that you think about them?
Or what are the human beings that you care about them?
7 For a while you made them lower than angels.
You crowned the human beings with glory and honor.
8 You put everything under their control.[a]
When he puts everything under their control, he doesn’t leave anything out of control. But right now, we don’t see everything under their control yet. 9 However, we do see the one who was made lower in order than the angels for a little while—it’s Jesus! He’s the one who is now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of his death. He suffered death so that he could taste death for everyone through God’s grace.
Qualified to be a high priest
10 It was appropriate for God, for whom and through whom everything exists, to use experiences of suffering to make perfect the pioneer of salvation. This salvation belongs to many sons and daughters whom he’s leading to glory. 11 This is because the one who makes people holy and the people who are being made holy all come from one source. That is why Jesus isn’t ashamed to call them brothers and sisters
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he also shared the same things in the same way. He did this to destroy the one who holds the power over death—the devil—by dying. 15 He set free those who were held in slavery their entire lives by their fear of death. 16 Of course, he isn’t trying to help angels, but rather he’s helping Abraham’s descendants. 17 Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way. This was so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, in order to wipe away the sins of the people. 18 He’s able to help those who are being tempted, since he himself experienced suffering when he was tempted.
Jesus is able to help those who are troubled by the things of this world, who are tempted to despair, to anxiety, who are driven to their knees in anguish over the sorrow and suffering and injustice and evil at work in the world and in human hearts.
WE can, and we must, take our anguish to the Lord in prayer, and find the strength that we need, in this hour, to carry on. And carry on, we must. WE are called to be the ones who carry on, who carry one another, and carry one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the command of Christ.
May God strengthen each of us, in our anticipatory grief, or disenfranchised grief, or shadow grief, or any other experience of anxious sorrow, despair or distress, in any anguish, to resist the temptation to give up or do harm. May the same angel that according to Luke 22:43 strengthened Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, may Gethsemane’s angel come to you, and strengthen you, in Jesus’ name.
Sermon March 14 Lent #4
Your Worst Enemy
4 They marched from Mount Hor on the Reed Sea[a] road around the land of Edom. The people became impatient on the road. 5 The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why did you bring us up from Egypt to kill us in the desert, where there is no food or water. And we detest this miserable bread!” 6 So the Lord sent poisonous[b] snakes among the people and they bit the people. Many of the Israelites died.
7 The people went to Moses and said, “We’ve sinned, for we spoke against the Lord and you. Pray to the Lord so that he will send the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous snake and place it on a pole. Whoever is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 Moses made a bronze snake and placed it on a pole. If a snake bit someone, that person could look at the bronze snake and live.
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One[a] be lifted up 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. 16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.
19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. 20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”
Who has been your worst enemy?
When I was a kid, there were my racist cousins, school bullies, and neighborhood gangs that I was afraid of, tormented by, and that I ran from or hid from every day. Even in College, there were the mean girls in the other dorms, girls who made fun of how I dressed, and who snubbed me even though we were on the same swim team. Their families were wealthy. They had their own cars on campus. My family was poor. I didn’t even have my driver’s license when I went away to college. These bullies who made themselves my enemies all made my life pretty miserable for a few years.
Maybe you were a veteran, and your enemy was the other side, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Al Qaeda– and they had grenades, guns, tanks and IED’s, and you had them, too.
When I was working with law enforcement, the folks we were sworn to serve and protect, were often the very ones who presented as our enemies. It was very confusing, to keep deconstructing and recognizing that the us against them mentality was detrimental to all of us, to see ourselves in two groups, us and them. But the distinctions were essential. We were, after all, the ones with the laws on our side, and the authorization to openly carry weapons and shoot to kill. We were the targets, even as the people we came in contact with, to either arrest, or assist, had been targeted, too. Asking police officers to be both Officer Friendly and Officer Enemy, is a very difficult and traumatizing Ask, for the officer and for the community members. As a law enforcement chaplain, it was part of my job to help us all untangle that mess, and remember we were all just people. There was no us and them. There was just us… all of us, making it better or worse, every day.
So, back to my original question: who is your worse enemy, these days? Old age? Pain? Fear? Debt? Maybe the new neighbors now growing marijuana instead of hay adjoining your property? Taking all your water from the water table, for their environmentally sketchy, morally questionable, money crop?
Or maybe it’s your Ex? Stalking you through social media, turning your mutual acquaintances against you, and never paying you that child support?
Maybe you think your worst enemy is the inflated liberal greedy government, overreaching its proper bounds, taking more from you in taxes and time and bureaucracy than it should, coddling the ungrateful and lazy with too many unnecessary social programs, and saddling the hard-working entrepreneurs with too many regulations. Or your worst enemy is the callous conservative greedy government, not doing enough to eradicate poverty, disease, computer illiteracy, unemployment and food insecurity and so many other systemic inequities and injustices.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” ? It reflects the idea that there are only two sides, and if you are against me, my enemy– than whoever is against you , that’s who I am for. Because I am against you, because you are against me. We are enemies, remember?
What if that were not true?
I mean, what if the world were not that simple? What if there are not two sides? What if there is only one side? and the person you think is your enemy is actually not. Not your enemy.
The people of God in Numbers 21 thought that Moses was their enemy, and God was against them. Because they were in a very difficult place in the journey from Egypt, they thought whoever sent them there to suffer and die must be their enemy. They complained to Moses that he and God, by extension, had just brought them to the wilderness to torment them. Then, after they complained, snakes were found loose in the camps. Poisonous, deadly snakes. They realized they had sinned, in thinking God was against them. Then, they thought the snakes were their enemy. Because the snakes were painful, and definitely deadly. They begged Moses to ask God to help them.
The curious thing is, the neither the snakes, not God, not Moses was against them. These were not their enemy. Have you even encountered a snake ready to bite? It is one of the dumbest animals. It is simply reactive. It has no great intellect or capacity to plot against you. It just reacts to its sense of threat, or the possibility of food nearby, and it strikes. I’ve seen a snake try and bite the tires of the truck that drives over it and kills it.
God tells Moses to do this astonishing thing: make a bronze snake and make the people look at it in order to be healed. They have to first, turn to the God they think is against them, and ask for deliverance. They have to turn to Moses, the leader that they think is against them, to ask for his priestly intercession. Finally they must face the very thing they think is their enemy, the snake, and seek healing from it.
What they don’t realize is that they are their own worst enemy. There is no us and them, here. It isn’t God against His people. It isn’t the people vs. Moses. Or even, the people vs. the snakes. It is just all of them, in it together, making it either better or worse for themselves, every day. Complaining, or trusting. Giving God and Moses grief, or gratitude.
God makes them look at what they have been resisting, in order to be healed.
Jesus, in John 3, says this is exactly how God will do it again, with Jesus. The people are resisting Jesus, as if He is their enemy. What he says they must do feels like a snake bite to them. What?? The wealthy must Give their money to the poor? They must reject the enticements of Rome, and reject the corrupt Temple tax-collecting priests, and turn back to God and take back their own faith for themselves? What? Repent from their sins of indifference to the poor, the sick, the homeless, the foreigners in their midst… and start loving each other??? Forgive each other? What?? Turn in their swords and plans for zealous insurrection, and Forgive their enemies? Trust in God to find purpose and happiness, and do not trust in their own money or power, or good genes, religious superiority, or sex appeal– to give them happiness? And then, he says his disciples must be ready to suffer as He will, and die. Talk about a snake bite. Who wants that?
But God takes the very one they reject and don’t like, and puts Him, this brown skinned rabble-rousing rabbi from Palestine, up on a cross of deliverance—just like that bronze snake the other Moses had to put on a pole, in Numbers 21.
Other people are not your enemy. The government is not your enemy, no matter how you vote. God is certainly not your enemy. Your neighbor is not your enemy.
Only you are, at times, your own worst enemy, when you reject the One whom God sent to save you. When you resist His Way, His truth, His life, of love, then you condemn yourself.
WE can be like a child who has fallen overboard at sea, and cannot swim against the waves, who refused to put on the life jacket that was given to them, because it is too tight and uncomfortable to wear.
we can be the only thing getting in our way of salvation, when we reject the way of Christ.
There is no us and them. There is only us. Flesh and blood people are not our enemies. The enemy of our Soul is a Liar, who blinds our eyes to God, and tells us God is against us– when His Good and Loving, albeit at times painful and difficult, will, is plainly before us.
March 7, 2021 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22 “Jesus Is All the Proof You Need”
1 Cor 1:18-25
18 The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved. 19 It is written in scripture: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will reject the intelligence of the intelligent.[a] 20 Where are the wise? Where are the legal experts? Where are today’s debaters? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish? 21 In God’s wisdom, he determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching. 22 Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. 24 But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. 25 This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 He found in the temple those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as those involved in exchanging currency sitting there. 15 He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. 16 He said to the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written, Passion for your house consumes me.[a]
18 Then the Jewish leaders asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?”
19 Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”
20 The Jewish leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” 21 But the temple Jesus was talking about was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
In my Lenten journey to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His suffering, becoming like him in his death, so that I attain the promised resurrection—I am looking for God.
The Bible readings this week tell us: All the evidence you need for who God is, what God is like, is found in the Person of Jesus, and what happened to him, from the birth to his death to his resurrection and ascension.
I love this passage of Scripture from Saint Paul, about the paradox of God as witnessed by and in the Cross. The Gentiles, the Greeks were known for developing their schools of philosophy, Socrates, Plato, Epicetus, all their wisdom teachers. The Jews were known for their spirituality, their prophets, their miraculous signs from Yahweh that could attest to one’s spiritual power, or be studied, and seen in the heavens, and interpreted by their sages and rabbis.
But Paul says he and the other disciples preached a sign from God that was foolish and jarring, not a cornerstone or pedestal, but an offense, a stumbling block. The Roman Empire’s crucifix, and their Messiah God hanging dead on it. A love from God that did not take up a flag or a sword, but instead lay its life down, for its friends. AND its enemies.
Recently I was brought back to how offensive and shocking and scandalous and jarring the reality and idea of a crucified God is. I was in a Catholic sacred space. It was the presence on the wall at the center of the altar space of a life-sized albeit dead depiction of the crucified Jesus, that I kept coming back to.
It is a stumbling block, and foolishness, to see the horrific state sanctioned murder of the innocent God-Man, and be able to see the glory and nature of God revealed in it, right smack up against the evil of it.
The Bible says God-Christ emptied Himself, lay aside all the privileges of being God, to become human. Jesus abandoned the throne and unlimited divinity to become mortal and helpless and limited, to be hunted, hungry, tired, thirsty, in pain, betrayed, threatened, spit upon, mocked, tortured, and killed.
That. Is. crazy.
But let me be clear, the Cross of Christ is only one part of the entire foolishness of the trajectory, here: the incarnation and resurrection and ascension of Christ, too, are all foolish and difficult and counter-intuitive and offensive to our religious and spiritual “sensibilities”.
There are those who say God is Spirit, and it is blasphemous to think God could or would become a man.
There are those who say God is immortal and eternal and therefore cannot die. The people of Jesus day said the rebuilt Temple is where God shows up and lives, and is worshipped.
There are those, like Peter, who said, ok, God can and will send us a deliverer/messiah, but he must be victorious, and that means he must conquer and rule over his enemies, not suffer and die at their hands.
There are those who said, Jesus died. But the grave was robbed. There were no angels. No miracles. The resurrection is a hoax. Fake news.
Recently I have been thinking about this poetic phrase a colleague shared in a meeting we were in together: the sacred is found in the limitations.
I think, this truth is clearly what we believe happened in the incarnation, in the real Christmas story. It is what is captured in the hymns Silent Night, and What Child Is This, and others: the mystery of the incarnation of God birthed and nursed through childhood by his virgin mother, Mary. It is what we see in the death of Jesus, too.
Jesus told his countrymen and fellow Palestinian Jews that the temple was sacred territory, His father’s house, in fact—once again, Jesus claims his own divinity by saying God is His father– and they needed to not profane it with their exploitive business interests– but the real house of God, the real sign of God’s presence with them, the real place where God lived– was in Him, and was fleshed out and on display in His body. And, the veracity of His message and the authority, or right he had, to do what he did and teach what he taught and claim what he claimed as to His identity, would be seen when his body was destroyed—in death– and after 3 days, raised up again—to life. Things are impermanent. They wear out. They get sick. They break. And still, God is at work in them. In crumbling buildings, and in dead bodies. No one would understand what God was up to at the time Jesus was killed. Except Jesus.
Included in John 2:20-22’s prophetic inscrutable utterance by Jesus to his accusers, is the truth that the resurrection of the dead Jesus and then His ascension would be the ultimate evidence to an unbelieving, scoffing, death wielding world, that God was in Jesus, reconciling all things back to Himself.
The Cross is not just a sign that God is in solidarity with humankind and with us in our suffering and mortality. It is God conquering evil by forgiving our sin and evil and still choosing to love us, not obliterate us. The Cross is God destroying the works of evil by proving God’s love cannot be killed, stopped or defeated, distorted or destroyed by evil. It is God saying to the devil what we chanted as kids to the bullies– I am rubber, you are glue, whatever you try to do to me, bounces off me and sticks to you. What Evil does backfires.
God is like a trick candle, the more you blow it out, the more it just relights itself. The more you beat at the fire, the more your efforts just fan the flames. The more Bull Connor loosed the police dogs and fire hoses on the children of Birmingham, the more righteous outrage got stirred up against his racist cause. The more evil exposes itself for what it is, the more it comes to the Light, the more the Light of goodness weakens it and kills it. The more fire you put grace under, the more beautiful grace under fire becomes. The more you threaten the innocent, the brighter shines their courage in resisting. So that your own actions end up condemning you, and the ones you seek to condemn are set free. It is the story of Queen Esther and her people’s deliverance, and Haman’s fate, played out on a grand cosmic scale.
This 3rd Sunday of Lent, may you notice all the ways the grip of winter’s snows only serve to water the ground and ready it for Spring. May you see God hidden, tucked in, buried even, loving you in all your places of suffering. May the empty church building during the pandemic be the evidence you needed that God is with you wherever you go, and worship can happen anywhere you choose to worship. May the Risen Crucified Incarnate Christ be all the evidence you need, to believe that God is for you, with you, and in you.
February 28, 2021 Mark 8:31-38 “Not Safe– But Good!”
Feb 21, 2021 First Sunday in Lent “Such Good News!” Mark 1:9-15
Where Is (Their) God?
“Dear Brothers and sisters in Christ:
The early Christians observed with great devotion
The days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection,
And it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration
There should be a forty day season of spiritual preparation.
During this season converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism.
It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins
And had separated themselves from the community of faith
Were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness,
And restored to participation in the life of the Church.
In this way the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ
And the need we all have to renew our faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Lord,
To observe a holy Lent:
By self-examination and repentance;
By prayer, fasting, and self-denial,
And by reading and meditation on God’s Holy Word.” (UM Book of Worship)
“‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21)
Joel 2: 12-17
12 Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your hearts,
with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow;
13 tear your hearts
and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
very patient, full of faithful love,
and ready to forgive.
14 Who knows whether he will have a change of heart
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord your God?
15 Blow the horn in Zion;
demand a fast;
request a special assembly.
16 Gather the people;
prepare a holy meeting;
assemble the elders;
gather the children,
even nursing infants.
Let the groom leave his room
and the bride her chamber.
17 Between the porch and the altar
let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, weep.
Let them say, “Have mercy, Lord, on your people,
and don’t make your inheritance a disgrace,
an example of failure among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”
It is a disgrace, an example of failure, when so called Christians do not do what is right. When they give authority and legal power to liars and crooks; when they let people go hungry, and go without care when they are sick, or elderly; when our prisons are filled disproportionately with minorities, and there is no justice or mercy in the courts, in the prisons, in the schools, in the housing markets, in the job market, or in the supermarkets. Collective sins, or systemic sins are as bad if not worse than individual sins. If we plaster the ten commandments on our monuments, courthouses, our bumpers and our children’s clothing, but don’t demand ourselves and our elected leaders abide by them, we are hypocrites.
In poor communities, red-lined minority neighborhoods, there are often no banks and no grocery stores. Just pawn shops and “convenience stores”. Healthy food in every store costs 5x more than junk food. It is affordable to eat food with very little nutritional value, like bologna and catsup, but good quality food, fresh fruit, vegetables, lean meats, organic foods, is all too expensive. Why? Because we value profits over people.
IF we claim to be followers of Christ, then our votes on Mondays need to match our voices on Sundays. Otherwise we are hypocrites. We must live and give, love and serve in ways that support the values of God’s kingdom; we must vote for love and justice, for integrity, for generosity and community, and not for greedy selfish ambition, not for individualistic hedonism in the guise of liberty without proper accountability, and not for racist punitive dehumanizing conditions in our prisons, businesses, and schools. You protest, call me foolish. Unrealistic. Tell me to be pragmatic. Well, I think righteousness exalts a nation, and injustice and sin degrades a nation. It is most pragmatic to do what works. And, according to Jesus, what works is doing what God says to do. And, Yo! I am not the One saying don’t be a hypocrite. Jesus says don’t be religious hypocrites. Don’t claim with your mouths things like mercy and justice, righteousness and goodness, truth and love, when you are unwilling to live them. Don’t tell others to do what you are unwilling to do. Don’t claim a double standard for yourself. What is good on Sunday needs to still be good every other day. If you would do unto others what you wish they would do unto you, then don’t pay them more or less because of their gender; don’t evict them because you don’t like their skin color; don’t ignore them or blame them for their needs. And work to create solutions that leave no child or adult behind.
Socialism! I can hear the defensive accusations, now. Socialism? You think I am advocating something unAmerican? maybe we need to, when the Gospel IS itself un-American. It is not European, Asian or African, either. We need to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus, which is un-American whenever what is “American” is an abomination to a God of justice and mercy. I am advocating for the kingdom of God on Earth. That is better than socialism. That is SOULcialism.
Where is their God? I say, God is in the hands, feet, wallets, words and hearts of people who truly love their neighbors. In you. In me. God is in the faces of the poor, the sick, the scared, the elderly in nursing homes, the foster kids, the immigrants behind barbed wire, people in cages, the factory workers in food processing plants, the panhandlers. God is there, crying out for the Church to hear; crying for justice, for compassion, for a sense of worth and belonging, for hope.
Mark 1: 29-39 “What Are You Watching?”
Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law
29 After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. 31 He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.
Jesus’ ministry spreads
32 That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered near the door. 34 He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.
35 Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. 36 Simon and those with him tracked him down. 37 When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!”
38 He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.” 39 He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.
What do you like to watch, when you can relax and take time for pleasure?
When my children were small, we liked watching musicals, like The Sound of Music, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the more recent, Hairspray.
When I am at home, now, I like watching my dogs play, and I like watching the sky as it changes color throughout the day. I especially have always liked watching nature’s power at work. As a small child, I would rather be watching the wind blow through the trees and fields of corn, or tornadoes rip across the pasture, from my grandmother’s front porch in rural Alabama. I like watching lightning storms, heat lightning, we called it when I was a kid. No rain. Just a lot of electricity in the sky. I like watching the ocean, for that same fascination with not just beauty, sure, but also the sheer power on display as the water crashes against the shore in huge waves during hurricane season.
Are you a people watcher? Before the pandemic limited or ended public gatherings, friends I have, they liked to go out to public places, and just watch people. When I lived in California, we’d entertain ourselves watching people, random tourists and street performers, people walking their dogs, people fishing at the piers and walking along the ocean boardwalk, or at the mall, or in restaurants. People can be interesting, adorable, and funny. Especially little kids.
Things that I notice in people, that I intentionally look for in others, are the kind things they do. Holding hands, or holding doors open for others. Looking at people, especially people begging, panhandlers, with compassion, instead of looking away. Smiling and saying hello to people in line at the DMV, or grocery checkout, instead of avoiding them. Waving at babies in the drive thru line is fun, too.
There are some things that are difficult for me to watch. I don’t like horror movies, with violence in them, nor do I like watching movies that are designed to scare me. Adults yelling at their kids, or animals suffering from illness, abuse or neglect. These are very difficult to see, for me. They upset me, because I wish they never happened at all.
In today’s Scripture from Mark’s Gospel, he tells about how Jesus was someone that people were looking for. Why, do you suppose that was?
I am struck by today’s culture, and how few people seem to be looking for Jesus. I don’t mean the American Jesus, the successful, flashy smiling, good looking, always-gonna-bless-you, secret-Santa- kind of Jesus; the skinny jeans, properous, casual, let me make you comfortable Jesus; the invite me to you’re here have a beer, singles’ party Jesus; the happy friendly White Jesus.
Lots of people seem to be looking for him. THAT Jesus gets a lot of air time. At least he does on religious tv channels like TBN, and in both urban and rural, pass the plate while you give whatever is convenient not costly, while we play you a song, churches.
Not me, though. I want to see the real deal, the Man of Sorrows, well acquainted with grief, Jesus. He is the one I’d go to, for comfort, for healing, for understanding. And, He’s the one, the only one that I’d be willing to likewise serve, after he healed me.
I want to see that Jesus. That is the Jesus who made sinners want to repent and demons tremble—not the Jesus modern day hypocrites have invented who makes evil-doers comfortable. I want the Jesus who made corrupt rulers afraid, instead of making them money; or making excuses for them and acquitting them when they are guilty. I want the Jesus who made regular, ordinary, weary, old, sick-and-tired-of-being-sick-and-tired-, my feet hurt Rosa Parks kind-of-tired— people, feel good enough again to hope in their own futures; and march across wildernesses and across bridges in the face of injustice ready to stand for a better world. I want the Jesus who inspires hope and love in exiled disciples to plant trees and vineyards, and dream dreams, and who inspires disciples today, to invest in their communities, rather than gentrify them or flee from them. So much hope, that people, even church people, religious people, were willing to change their plans and their expectations, to look for Him anywhere, everywhere, even when He wasn’t easy to find, in the darkness, in the faces of their enemies, in the seasons of uncertainty; even in a pandemic. This Jesus causes people, instead of ignoring their sick neighbors in His name, this real-deal-Jesus, the blessed are the poor Jesus, & what you do to the sick or the prisoner you do to me-Jesus, would move in them so they’d bring their sick neighbors to see Him! I bet that day in Mark’s Gospel, they were all looking for Jesus for His touch, or a look, a word of truth, a deliverance; a gift of peace, of healing grace; and for love, acceptance, forgiveness.
I’m looking for that Jesus, who was always about God’s business, always looking for ways He could bring God’s kingdom to come. Even when it was risky, controversial, or unwanted by others.
I read the book by Zora Neale Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” when I was in my early 20’s. It was first published in 1937. It takes place during what is known as the period of Reconstruction, in the Jim Crow South, and is primarily set in rural Florida in the early 20th century, especially in Eatonville.
According to a summary online from Sparknotes, and the website BlackPast, Eatonville, Florida was incorporated in 1887. “The real community of Eatonville was one of the first self-governing black communities in the United States, providing safety and opportunity for its black residents. Hurston roots the novel in the black experience by choosing the setting of Eatonville for the beginning and ending of the story. By making her main character Janie’s principal residence within the town, Hurston emphasizes that despite Janie’s numerous trials and tribulations, she still belongs somewhere. Additionally, the prestige of Eatonville establishes that all black Americans were not downtrodden and poor, and that the community was as vibrant and differentiated as any community of white people.” Their Eyes Were Watching God: Setting | SparkNotes
Hurston’s character, Janie, shows up as a confident middle-aged Black woman, who is recounting her life’s loves and losses to her friend, Pheoby, after she has finally made peace with herself, through everything that had happened to her.
Hurston’s title comes from Chapter 18 in which Janie and her then husband Tea Cake take emergency shelter from the raging hurricane. Hurston writes that they waited, helpless, to see how the storm would play out, and how nature would determine their fate: “They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.” With this line, “the characters recognize the lack of control they have over their own lives and realize they can only be spared from the cruelty of nature if God sees fit to save them.”
It is a very poignant story, and I have always loved that line and its imagery, their eyes, watching in the dark, but watching God, and, also, I think they were watching for God.
What are you watching, these early days of 2021?
I think our watching, our longing, our hope, MUST be in God. And not a God far away up in some Heavenly realm. But the God who was in Jesus, a God who comes to us, where and when we need Him. A God who is for us, and so is in us. A God Who saves us by helping us save each other, by working through each other. I have seen that Jesus show up time and time again throughout this pandemic. Teachers, families, health care workers, unions, police departments, and anti-racism activists. I keep looking for, praying I see God in Congress, even! I saw God in Officer Eugene Goodman, on January 6th. I saw all the Senators in Congress applaud him the other day for his courage, but so many of them failed to show any courage when they voted the next day on the outcome of the impeachment trial, though. That was disheartening.
Are you watching for the Holy Spirit to show up in your own Heart, or in your darkness? Life has plenty of its own cruelty, and people—well, we are all broken and wounded by life in one way or another. Dr. Fred Rogers reminded children, when they were facing danger, disasters, and other kinds of uncertainty, to “look for the Helpers”. I think people who are the Helpers, are Jesus’ hands and feet here on earth now. And it often is seen, if at all, in small things, not in loud huge ways or displays of power. Strength is often quiet, hidden, and seems small at the time.
Like making a mask for a stranger, or making a meal for a foster family, or saying a prayer for someone. I imagine when Jesus healed Peter’s wife’s mother, or silenced demons and healed all the other townspeople around him, it didn’t come with a trumpet of angels on high, or a tv news crew or a parade or huge rally. It was probably is quiet, unflashy, ways without fanfare. It was the power of God seen, not in the mighty wind of a hurricane, or in earthquakes, but in human ways, in loving ways, in still small voices of our own Hearts; in conversations of truth telling with others, in shared stories, in movies, in our homes, at bedsides and at dinner tables, in healing, in serving, in giving thanks, in watching for what God was going to do next, and do next in each other.
May God Bless you, Friends, in what you are watching, as you look for Jesus now.
& God Bless you, as others are watching you.
21 Jesus and his companions went to the town of Capernaum. When the Sabbath day came, he went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike the teachers of religious law.
23 Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil[a] spirit cried out, 24 “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 But Jesus reprimanded him. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered. 26 At that, the evil spirit screamed, threw the man into a convulsion, and then came out of him.
27 Amazement gripped the audience, and they began to discuss what had happened. “What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!” 28 The news about Jesus spread quickly throughout the entire region of Galilee.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
8 Now regarding your question about food that has been offered to idols. Yes, we know that “we all have knowledge” about this issue. But while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church. 2 Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much. 3 But the person who loves God is the one whom God recognizes.[a]
4 So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. 5 There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. 6 But for us,
There is one God, the Father,
by whom all things were created,
and for whom we live.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom all things were created,
and through whom we live.
7 However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. 8 It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.
9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. 10 For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? 11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer[b] for whom Christ died will be destroyed. 12 And when you sin against other believers[c] by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. 13 So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.
What are the things God knows?
Well, according to logic, philosophy, theology and Biblical revelation, God knows pretty much everything. God knows all the possible outcomes in every known and unknown universe. God knows Godself. God knows what God has done, and made, and thought. God knows everything God needs to know in order to be God. God knows the end from the beginning, the Bible says. Thus, God knows all that has transpired, all that is now, and all that will come to pass, in all of time. God knows what God has willed. God knows that whatever God wills, eventually and assuredly, comes to pass in time. God is, by definition, greater than any other force that opposes God, because God is able to ensure that God’s own will is done, and not that of the opposition.
What did the demons know, in Mark 1:21-28? They knew who Jesus was—the Holy One, the Son of God. In this story, the man accuses Jesus of intending harm. What isn’t clear is whether the man moved by evil spirits, is deceived by them and thus stirs up fear and division with his accusation and rejects Jesus, and thinks Jesus will cause harm to come to “us”, the people of Israel—destruction on them—or if the demons, the evil spirits oppressing him, are crying out in fear of the destruction Jesus WILL BRING on THEM. In either case, Jesus has authority over evil, and He uses it to silence the demons and deliver the man from their power.
In the letter of James, chapter 2:19, he discusses the merits of a faith that is without consequential corresponding actions, or “works”; actions that, in effect, prove the validity of one’s professed faith. James condemns a faith in God that does not manifest in a life of actions that are consistent with God’s character and behavior. In his letter, we are told:
“You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”
So, I ask you, what distinguishes your faith in God from that of the demons?
In the letter to the Corinthian church, Paul says there are things they, and we, ought to know.
Namely, that while knowledge is good, and is indeed something we are told to have , for there is no merit in ignorance! We are to add knowledge as a virtue to our faith, it says in 2 Peter 1:2-8, with the point being to grow in our knowledge of Christ!
2 May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.
3 By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. 4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
5 In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.
8 The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the apostles, to know Christ is to know LOVE. It means to know how to love, whom to love, and when to love. We love how? By the power of the Spirit. We love, the Bible says, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Whom do we love? Everyone!! God, ourselves, and others, even our enemies. When do we love? Always. In All ways. Now and forever.
Paul wants the disciples in Corinth to know that knowledge is not as important as love; and, more importantly, he wants them to know that love does no harm to its neighbor. And so, in light of that, he counsels the Christians in Corinth who are conflicted by the behavior of some over what they eat, and so impressed with the superiority of what they profess to know, that they miss the whole point of their knowledge.
We today don’t argue about food offered to idols in other temples, so much. In Corinth, they had massive temples dedicated to the Roman gods and goddesses. Idols, they were considered, in the Biblical vernacular. They were false gods, because the only true God to worship was Yahweh, the God of Jesus. It was assumed by those who worshipped these Roman gods and goddesses in their temples that, if you ate food that was from the altar meant for the gods, you would take on the blessing of that god, and partake of its nature. Some in the Christian church in Corinth were worried that if they ate this food, this meat, they were sinning. Others were convinced that it meant nothing to eat this food, food that was often given to the poor and to the community at large after the rituals of worship were finished. Paul says, indeed, it is inconsequential what you eat. This is quite a change in theology, now, given his Jewish roots that distinguished between clean and unclean foods. Paul says the more important truth is that they ought to be more concerned about each other’s welfare, than their diets, and not risk doing harm to each other’s faith.
Today, we argue about wearing masks, and alcohol consumption, and the like.
I don’t as a rule, consume alcohol. Only on very rare occasions do I enjoy a glass of wine, perhaps. I can count on one hand, those times. It isn’t because I think alcohol is bad for me. It is because love tells me to abstain from it, so I don’t cause someone else, for whom it is bad, to stumble into sin with it. You may have a different conviction about this. God bless you in it.
Some folks are divided over wearing masks. It doesn’t hurt me to wear a mask. It is annoying, and at times when my breathing is compromised or shallow, the mask is difficult to wear. But wearing a mask properly does protect from the spread of germs. That is why when my friend had cancer, and her immune system was compromised, I wore a mask when I visited her. It is why hospital staff have always been told to wear them. Every surgeon I know wears a mask while in the OR to prevent airborne germs from spreading. It is the current guideline to help prevent the spread of COVID19. So, I choose, out of love and concern for my wellbeing, and yours, to wear a mask. Even if I were to know that I were not infected, I realize that others wouldn’t know that about me. And so, to put them at ease, I will wear the mask. I will wear it until Jesus comes again, if I have to, so as not to cause undue anxiety in another, or to cause harm. And I appreciate it when others can wear the masks, as well. Because that, and keeping physical distance, protects the people who, like my oldest daughter, can’t get the vaccine, and can’t wear a mask. When I see someone without a mask on, I say an extra prayer for them, that God would protect them from harm, from other people’s fear and anger, and from themselves! Sometimes we think something is harmful, when in fact it is not. Consider the folks in Corinth!
What ought we to know, friends? We ought to know that God loves us, beyond measure. We ought to know that God knows what we need. We ought to know Jesus, and what he would have us know and do. I look at Jesus, and I see that to know Him is to LOVE. To forgive. To do no harm. To trust in God’s goodness, especially when bad things happen. To speak the truth in love. To pray with love. To walk in love. To protest injustice with love. To do the dishes with love. To drive on Hwy 24 with love in our hearts. To give thanks to God for His unfailing love.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20 “Procrastination or Anticipation”
Sermon for January 24, 2021
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
29 But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short. So from now on, those with wives should not focus only on their marriage. 30 Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. 31 Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.
14 Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News.[a] 15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!
16 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon[b] and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 17 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 18 And they left their nets at once and followed him.
19 A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. 20 He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.
This is the first month in a new year of a new decade! Talk about new beginnings!
So much has shifted, in our collective consciousness, since the close of 2020. The first effective vaccines have been safely given to our most vulnerable people, and some have already had time to receive their second dose. Can you feel the collective anxiety beginning to recede ever so slightly? I can.
The nation witnessed (televised, or virtually) the nonviolent transition of power, as a new presidential duo took the Offices to govern us. I am so in love with Amanda Gorman! Our Youth Poet Laureate! The “hill we climb” this year takes all of us being brave. I am also so excited to see represented in VP Harris, the USA finally has elected a woman! And not just a woman, but a woman who is a person of color, and an immigrant’s daughter, to a seat of power in the White House. I pray I see a woman as President in my lifetime. I am grateful to see a woman as VP. I personally identify with all three of these social locators, and it feels as if the historical barriers for these 3 demographics, and for me and my daughters, definitely shattered in a good way this month.
I pray the new leaders and the Congress all have the wise love of God guiding them. I pray we all can re-commit to being peacemakers and truth tellers and justice seekers from here on. Lives depend on us working together to advance the common good for our nation and the peoples who share the planet with us. The temptations to foment divisions, conflict and chaos, the systemic corruption of self-seeking, power-hungry, racist, moneyed interests, and the long-standing habits of obfuscating the truth and outright lying by those in power, who profit off this deception, are serious strongholds where evil flourishes.
We who the Scriptures call “children of the Light”, who “use the things of this world” must be detached from the things of this world; we must be discerning, disciplined, and determined to not be complicit in the rhetoric and politics of deception that disinherits a nation from the good will and commonwealth that God intends for it. Our enemy is not flesh and blood, but is spiritual, this wickedness in high places that subverts our Hearts and minds and the world away from God’s good will to be done on Earth.
The difference between procrastination, and anticipation is on my mind this week, given the changes we have seen, and the ones we anticipate that are coming as this year unfolds. Let us who have been entrusted with so much, not procrastinate, not put off doing all the good we can, in the name of “unity” and “moving forward”. There can be no peace without justice. There can be no healing without first cleansing the wound.
I do believe being ready and able to live as disciples, as Salt and Light, as Jesus calls us in His teachings, requires the mindset the Apostle Paul calls us to, in 1 Corinthians 7. Time IS short. The time that remains to us is short. None of us knows when our death will actually come. The older my kids get, the more I am astonished at the swift passage of time, how fleeting our lives actually are, how easily and effortlessly each day slips away. It is so easy to become self- absorbed, in our own problems, in our own families, our marriages, or lack thereof. The lull of this paradox that time is, this gradual, and swift, in many ways predictable passage of time, is what causes us to think things are permanent, and our feelings are all there is—when actually our joys, our sorrows, our health, our abilities, our possessions, are temporary blessings and temporary distractions. When we are lost in the immediacy and deceptive sense of permanence that these feelings and possessions provide, then we fail to anticipate what we actually need and need to do with our time.
In the Gospel of Mark, we see Jesus calling his first disciples to drop everything and come.
This reminds me of how my father would call us when we were children. My immigrant father got us 4 kids out of foster care and raised us all, on his own, to be grateful, decent, honest, respectful, kind-hearted adults. And it was not easy. When we were young, and the summer evenings long lit by a late setting sun, we would be scattered in play throughout our inner-city, section 8 housing complex. We had remarkable freedom, then, to play outside for long hours without adult supervision. We were latchkey kids, and we were expected to be trustworthy and responsible with that unsupervised freedom. We also never strayed or played so far away from home than we couldn’t hear the sound of our father calling us, when he wanted us home. We played with one ear always listening for his call. Woe to the child so lost in play’s delight that she forgot to listen….
He had an ingenious system using a detachable, metal, tea kettle whistle. One long blast on the whistle was for my oldest sister. Two, for my brother. Three short blasts for me. And 4 for my little sister. That sound pierced through the entire complex… and when we heard it, we knew to immediately stop and drop whatever we were in the middle of, and literally run to the house. It meant “git home lickety-split” because my father wanted and needed us Home. It could be dinnertime. It could be chore time. It could be he just got home from work and wanted to be with us time. It could be anything. We didn’t need to know why before we answered. We simply knew that when he called, drop everything, and get home. Now.
This is what the would-be, earliest disciples do, when Jesus calls for them. They drop their nets, and without hesitating, answer the call. It is the call by Love, to love and be loved. To find in Him restoration and rest in exchange for their restlessness, and to learn of Him, so that when He was gone, they knew how to always find rest for their souls.
Our time here is short. The time remaining is about following Him, answering the call to be his church, His Body, to be a kind of living sanctuary, instead of the lost and unmoored souls we could be;, and to model an alternative for the clueless, too-heavily-invested-in-things-that-don’t-matter souls, here. Our time is meant for listening for His call, and for answering, following Him all the way Home.
If we are always listening for our heavenly Father’s call, and anticipating that kind of reward, that End, a call to come home—a homecoming – to a place of belonging and love and sanctuary, of delight and goodness—then it will be much easier to detach with compassion from this world, with its delights and sorrows and possessions.
If we anticipate the end of this life, if we can, as it says in Psalm 90:12, be taught to number our days aright, so as to develop a wise perspective, a “Heart of wisdom”, then we will be able to answer the Call Jesus gives us every day to discipleship, answer with the totality and immediacy and humility such a relationship requires.
We can live focused on God’s purpose for us, and not these self-absorbed lives of addictions, of materialistic consumption, of relationship drama and the emotional dysregulation that comes of all or nothing thinking and all the other cognitive distortions in the undertow of the all-consuming overwhelm of our materialism and our attachment to our desires and feelings.
Self-regulated. Mature. Self-controlled. Sober minded. These are the characteristics the Scripture calls us to be. This means to stop procrastinating, putting off the good actions we know to do until our anxiety, rather than the Spirit, pushes us into action; or, conversely and perversely, while our anxiety immobilizes us into missed short-term opportunities, and long-term failure caused by our avoidance.
Instead, as disciples of Jesus, we are meant to be engaged in the world for mercy and justice, with ready hands and listening hearts, ready for action; and, ready to leave this world. We must hold on to the things and people of this world lightly, even those who are life partners, those we cherish. Perhaps especially those we cherish. We must be ready to change course when the course changes; to repent when the wrong is realized and the need arises; to stop, drop, and run to answer the call of Love whenever it comes.
Are you ready, today, to live it fully for God? Or are you too attached to the things of this world, that you are procrastinating about making the changes God’s love is calling you to make?
Lord, help us to have your grace, to be like these first disciples in Mark—help us to make the changes and leave behind the self-absorbed habits, the superficial harmful things of this world, and all the good things, in order to live for You and for the eternal, better things You have in store for us. Help us to detach with love, not disdain, from all these temporary things, and follow You, and to live with Your love as our only purpose. We want to run into Your arms today. And then, as Ram Das said, we can gently and joyfully, without recriminations or regrets, “walk each other Home.”
We live fully alive when we live with that anticipation, of being called, every day, and being called Home. Alleluia.
January 17, 2021 in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I reprint here his:
|AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER – UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA|
| “Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]” 16 April 1963|
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here. But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation. Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification.
We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change. Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.
You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals. We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.
Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.” Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?
A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful.
Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.
Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.
Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?
Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.
I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience. We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.
Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.
I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.”
Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community.
One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses.
The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”
I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood.
And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare. Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice.
If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history.
So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.
Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .”
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?
In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment.
Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists. I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much.
I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.
I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.
Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago. But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church.
I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.
When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.
In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand.
But again I have been disappointed.
I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.”
In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.
I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?” Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church.
But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.
There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.
Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust. Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?
Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.
I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future.
I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.
Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop.
If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.
Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.
It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation.
Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends.
But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.
Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”
I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake.
One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers? If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me. I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother.
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.
Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr.
King, Martin Luther Jr. Page Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D.
January 10, 2021 (online) “Our True Nature Needs Baptism”
When I was in college, I took a course called World Religions. We studied the various belief systems and practices of the major religions around the world. The professor was not a Christian, so it was a gift to look at the world from someone else’s different point of view. I remember when we were discussing the spiritual beliefs and practices of ascetism, specifically fasting, from the point of view of Hinduism, Buddhism and Judeo-Christian traditions. The professor taught that the Buddha taught and practiced fasting as a helpful discipline and a way to attain enlightenment. I asked, to his consternation, why? If He was the Buddha, then by definition, He was already Enlightened, so why did he need to continue to practice fasting?
I wondered at the time if it was anything akin to why Jesus, the perfect Son of God, told John to baptize Him? Why would the sinless Son of God need a baptism of repentance from sin? We see in both of today’s Scripture texts, Mark 1:1-11 and Acts 19:1-7, that John understood his baptism to be different from that which Jesus would give; and Paul likewise understood the baptism that John offered as a baptism of repentance, different from the one Jesus gives a disciple.
In Mark1:10-11, we see that what started out to be a water baptism of repentance by John for Jesus quickly was revealed as a spirit baptism by God, of affirmation and empowerment of His child, his Son, JESUS. In Mark, we are not told about any conversation, intentions, or reasons for it. We are just told what happened. Coming up out of the water, Jesus is anointed by the Spirit and God speaks and tells everyone, THIS, This is My Son. God tells them who Jesus is. God names and claims Jesus as the messiah.
The encounter with both baptisms are like two sides of the coin of being human, aren’t they? We are of human and divine origins. We are mortal flesh, and immortal Spirit. We are made of Earth and Heaven, embodied Souls. WE are spiritual creatures having a mortal experience. God has put eternity in our hearts, as it says in Ecclesiastes. And yet we do not understand the divine Plan from beginning to end. We are not God. We are God’s creatures, God’s children, if you will. Jesus understood the divine plan. He was, as fully God come in the flesh, still the author and finisher of that Plan.
We, however, are limited by design. We mess up. We need teachers, guides, parents. We fail to do what is good. We fail to love and we fail to do justice, in our choices and attitudes of the Heart. Left to our own devices, we would do whatever we felt like, and not know how to discern right from wrong. We would be vulnerable, like sheep without a good Shepherd, led by lies and fears to the slaughter by wolves In sheep clothing. President Donald Trump is only one such wolf.
Given the events of this week in our nation’s life together, it appears there are many people who do not know how to discern truth from a lie, or right from wrong. They have been led astray by those wolves in sheep’s clothing, our leaders in positions of authority, to do great harm, to break the law, to even kill people, all while claiming to love God, country and the President; they were carrying Jesus flags, pro-Trump banners, White supremacy, pro-Nazi, racist banners and clothing, setting up a lynching stage, threatening the press, looting, vandalizing, smearing feces and filth all throughout the Capitol building in Washington DC, egged on by the President and other GOP elected leaders. They need to repent. They need to do better. They need to return to a God of love and justice, not this false worship of American nationalism led by racist claims to privilege and entitlement in the name of a crude White American John Wayne type of Jesus. They need the real Spirit of Jesus, the one born in a stable in Bethlehem, worshipped by angels and hunted by Herod, raised in Nazareth, who taught us to be people of honesty and humility, courageous mercy, to do justice, and who destroyed the works of evil with love. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and rose from the dead.
In the 1954 book by British author, William Golding, titled Lord of the Flies, a group of teenage schoolboys are stranded without any adults to supervise or temper, reward or punish, their behaviors, when their plane crashes on a deserted island. The boys’ group cohesion quickly devolves into a grim display of tribalism, ostracizing, othering and dehumanizing behaviors, to the point of eventual bloodlust and murder, as Jack and Ralph compete, rather than cooperate, in leadership of the group.
According to Spark Notes, the plot analysis of the book centers on the major conflict in Lord of the Flies between Jack and Ralph. “The fight for who will lead the island represents the clash between a peaceful democracy, as symbolized by Ralph, and a violent dictatorship, as symbolized by Jack. Both boys are potential leaders of the entire group, and though Jack grudgingly accepts Ralph’s leadership at first, as the plot develops their rivalry grows and intensifies until it is a struggle to the death. Ralph and Jack (and the boys who align themselves with each) represent different values and different aspects of human nature. Ralph represents respect for the law, duty, reason, and the protection of the weak, whereas Jack represents violence, cruelty, mob rule, government through fear, and tyranny. As we see Ralph’s hold over the other boys weaken and crumble until he is cast out and hunted, the story seems to be showing us that humanity’s violent and savage impulses are more powerful than civilization, which is inherently fragile. And while Ralph is rescued at the last minute by a representative of civilization in the person of the naval officer, the fact that a global war is taking place underlines the idea that civilization itself is under serious threat from the forces of violence.
Set against the backdrop of global war, the book serves as a caution against the specific consequences of nuclear armament, as well as a broader examination of human nature and the destabilizing presence of man in the natural world.” (Sparknotes)
The assumption of the author is a bleak one. It purports that human nature, represented by these boys who are left to their own impulses and devices, is basically evil and depraved, and only tempered by external forces like moral codes, governmental laws, and other civilizing restraints. This view is in opposition to the view given to us in the Scriptures about human nature. The Bible tells us a much more nuanced story of who we are, and who we can become.
In these two baptisms, that complement each other, rather than compete with each other, we see our different nature. The Christian faith teaches that we are made in the image of God for God’s purposes, and we have the ability and responsibility to become who we were meant by God to be; We can choose to love and to hate, we can choose to learn, to choose– for good or for ill; we have the ability to change, and the ability to grow, and the ability to die. We see, in the call to come to these two baptisms, our human need for cleansing from the consequences of evil choices, for “repentance”, an old word meaning to have a change of heart and a changed mind, to turn around and go the other direction, and need for help to change, the power to change; and we are given a call to a renewed loving relationship with the Divine, and with each other in community. We see that yes, human beings everywhere, and myself included, we mess up. WE make errors. We cross boundaries. We lie, steal, take, and force our way rather than yield to another. We see it when people fight over sale items at Walmart, and engage in road-rage behaviors, or kick their dogs, or neglect their own health and family in favor of their addictions. We choose attitudes and actions that separate us from each other and estrange us, separate us, from God. We call this sin, in the Judeo-Christian worldview. We get stuck in mindsets and habits that are harmful, and our fear and shame make it difficult to admit and break free from. We think, “no one can love me if they know this about me.” And so we deny it, and hide it, rather than seek help to change and break free of it.
I see this realization and confession and commitment to change as a miracle of honesty, actually. The water baptism is a cleansing ritual to signify repentance, given by John. We are told by John that it is merely a first step, on the “path of righteousness”, that is, living with right relationships, with God self and others. The baptism Jesus offers is one of adoption, of sonship, of power, to cleanse and further equip the person for a life as a child of God following Jesus, doing whatever Jesus says to do.
Imagine if you didn’t know who your mother or father was. You would not know who you took after, or what if any your inheritance was, if you were living separated from knowing who your parents were, what your ancestry was. If you live as an orphan, you can’t even go home, because you wouldn’t know where home was. All this is restored to a person when he or she or they are baptized into Jesus. To be baptized is to be immersed in something. John’s immersion, total covering and saturation with, was into water, as an act of repentance. Jesus, when Jesus baptizes you, you are immersed in Him by the power of His Spirit. You get the deep knowing, the promise from God, the “blessed assurance”, when you hear the voice of God telling you that you are a beloved child of God.
Blessed Assurance: a song of the one who has been baptized into Jesus, goes like this:
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
|This is my story, this is my song, so I’m|
Praising my Savior all the day long.
Think about it. You and I are heirs of salvation. We have inherited salvation from God. WE will not be destroyed by evil. WE are not stranded here on this planet left to our own devices. We can change for the better, with the help of God. We can be and become who we were made to be: perfected in love like Jesus, as beloved children of God.
Don’t you want that? Don’t you want that for others?
January 3, 2021 onlinehttps://youtu.be/hNcql0U8Ewc
EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING
Christmas is the day when the Messiah was revealed to Israel, fulfilling Isaiah’s messianic prophecy in chapter 9:2-7
January 3rd is the Sunday after Christmas and before the Epiphany, of January 6th which commemorates the Christ revealed to and revered by the Magi, the Gentile kings, fulfilling the 2nd Isaiah’s chapter 60:1-6 prophecy.
The Calendar this year has given us a Sunday after a new year has begun, and it is sandwiched between these two amazing revelations.
I think the scriptures read for today explain what the revelations of Christmas and Epiphany mean for the world. They explain the theological implications of those two events for YOU. Now. Today.
The first one from the prologue of John’s Gospel is the more familiar of the two. But the passage from Ephesians is my favorite. It is jam packed with the meat of the Christian faith. You could spend your entire new YEAR meditating on just this portion of Ephesians, and it would change. your. life.
How do I know? Because unpacking its truths changed mine.
First: let us hear the apostle John ‘s doxology of the Christ— John 1:1-18.
What does this mean? #1. God’s Light shines in Jesus. Darkness cannot win.
#2. Jesus reveals God to us.
#3. How dark has your life been? Do you know how to access the Light? How to be a candle a light of God’s love in Jesus, rather than curse the darkness?
Jesus will show you how, if you study Him, and get to know how He did it. He faced a lot of darkness in His life.
The darkness did not destroy Him. Evil did not destroy His Light. Betrayal did not destroy His light. Poverty did not destroy His light. Being a political refugee in Egypt as a child did not destroy His light. Political oppression and injustice in his own country did not destroy His light. The death of his father Joseph did not destroy His light. Trauma did not destroy His Light. People trying to kill him his whole life long did not destroy His light. Death did not destroy His light. It did not destroy His capacity to choose LOVE. He did not choose hate, not despair, not rage, not revenge, not bitterness, not unforgiveness, not anxiety, not shame, not blame. He chose to believe in Love and to be love.
So. Can. You.
How? Why? Because of what it says in Ephesians 1.
Learning to praise and glorify God is one essential way to light your candle, so that the darkness does not destroy you. Through your tears. In pain, through gritted teeth. In good times. In bad times. Praise God. Glorify God. Draw near to God in worship and praise of who God is, and in Gratitude for who God says you are, and whose you are.
You can choose to count your blessings—rather than simply list your grievances and grieve your losses. The darkness of grief is tempered by the hope of God’s faithfulness and kindness, God’s goodness and the light of God’s love always with us and within us.
The Bible says as children of God, we are one with God; we are in a metaphysical way, in Christ. Think of the Scripture in Acts 17:28— as God’s offspring, we live move and have our being in God. I think of it like living in God’s space, or realm, or kingdom; like living in God’s household, as a member of the family. Or like God being spiritually pregnant with me. God is my Creator, and everything I am comes from God. I am as a child of God a new creation in Christ. Because of the revelation of God in Christ Jesus, I, too, have been reconciled back to God. Like the Jews of old, I can say I am a child of God, too. The Messiah was born for me, too.
My life is hidden with Christ in God. Like twin babies in the womb, that are living and moving, hidden in the Mother. We are a part of Jesus’ family. You live in His kingdom, now. You’ve got a room in His House. You live, move, and exercise your responsibilities and make your decisions and have all your relationships as a member of the Household of God. I am in Christ. Just like my kids share my last name, my family name, we share God’s name. We are Christians. We are in Christ. If you go to the gates of heaven, on the mailbox outside the gate it has written on it all God’s names, and all our names are on there too.
So, the writer here says: we have every spiritual blessing that Jesus did.
v. 5 We are God’s great pleasure. God LIKES having us around. Likes knowing you. Likes that God made you and saved you; God LIKES that He adopted us, and takes great pleasure in healing us, forgiving us, helping us, and loving us. He enjoys His plan, seeing them fulfilled in us; bringing everything together in Christ, under the authority of Christ. It is for His glory, because of His goodness, and in His delight that we are here. Now. Today. Beloved children of God.
And as such, we have an inheritance from God. What do you suppose that is??? what has He saved up for us? For you? Does that give you reason to light your candle today? Light the candle of love and justice, of peace and grace, of truth and trust in God, and the darkness will not destroy you. Believe in God. Be love. This is the source for our inheritance of every spiritual blessing in Christ. Amen. To God be the glory!
December 31, 2020 “Bring It On!”
The year certainly has been a doozy! And in reference to the visual acuity of its numerical moniker, 2020 has afforded us an honest, long, undistorted, and often disturbing, look at ourselves. What has been revealed to you this year? What have you learned about yourself? What light shines in your darkness? What greater vision has sustained you?
For me, as with so many, the year has been one of trauma and tragedy. The details of mine are not as important for this letter as is the bigger picture—what it has revealed to me about my own capacity for love and hate, for forgiveness and fury, for emotional reactivity and intentional resiliency. I have prayed for the grace of God to grow through what I have had to go through. I prayed for the eyes of my Heart to be opened. I prayed for justice, for mercy, for humility. I have prayed that God would help me turn the other cheek, and keep me from doing anything unholy or mean. Then, when I thought the worst had already happened, the pandemic was officially declared here.
After several months of it already ravaging the world, after several months of obfuscating denials and distractions from the powers-that-be, the world came to a screeching halt. The year continued with its unique revelations. 2020 has exposed the lies that served as SOP for the current regime of narcissists. Then, the year shone a glaring light on the generational trauma of systemic inequities and injustices that our nation was built upon, and that still undergird us– as the disease of individual and systemic racism has continued to kill Black men and women both at the hands of law enforcement and from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates. The horrific death of George Floyd, the abject cruelty and total depravity of George Floyd’s uniformed White murderers, recorded and streamed from a young Black girl’s smartphone, was the tipping point for a nation in lockdown to then be galvanized to take to the streets allied with BLM activists in long-overdue mass protest. Our BIPOC communities continue to be at greatest risk in this pandemic, and in greatest need of the reparative justice of long-term solutions, and immediate aid.
Meanwhile, 2020 has also gifted us by exposing an inept, corrupt, and hypocrisy-plagued Congress. It is a system of government leaders who pit Americans against each other and who give lip service to the Constitution and give eulogies of feigned solidarity to great men like John Lewis while they fight over band-aid type relief packages that ignore the systemic hemorrhaging of our ‘body politic’. They instead continue to defund and destroy the tattered frayed systemic safety nets and dismantle the nation-building infrastructure that saved us from the crises of yesteryears, that visionary predecessors like FDR and JFK worked so hard to create.
The year has revealed that “under duress, we all regress.” We have seen we are prone to anxiety-driven spending, Netflix bingeing, paranoid and ethno-centric parochial delusions, and myopic self-centeredness. We also have learned that we can choose to make progress in community building with the commitment to critical thinking, regenerative cooperation, and sacrificial giving. Sadly, while lives have been lost in the battle over self-indulgent definitions of individual freedom—they also have been saved in our heroic efforts to fight for our collective freedom from the ravages of our own self-made catastrophes through longsuffering, shared self-discipline, and our sustained acts of kindness and justice. 2020 has been a year that a weary world now ends with the rejoicing hope of a vaccine against COVID-19.
How might you end the year with your own particular reasons for rejoicing in hope? What has the year 2020 revealed to you about yourself and/or your neighbor? Was it far more good than bad, or worse than you’d ever imagined? Whatever the case, we have come to the realization that, as Henry Stanley Haskins wrote, “what lies behind us, and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
I keep praying. I pray that in 2020 you saw God – God with you (Immanuel) and God within you, too. By God, I mean the Sacred, the holy, felt Presence of Love, in its goodness, beauty and grace. May that Love – that does no harm to its neighbor, that came to us in Jesus, continue to visit us tenderly, bless us fiercely, heal, reconcile and guide us daily. May that holy Love help us stand against evil and oppression, stand with each other, and grow through what we go through- always.
Now more than ever, I see we are in this together. There is no them. There is only us. And my Vision tells me the best is yet to come.
Here’s to 2021! I say, bring it on.