I’ve been thinking recently about how difficult it is to shake off the effects of slavery. And as I’ve been reading the story of The Exodus, I look at what we call the “murmuring stories” of the people who had just fled slavery, and God’s chosen people were walking into the wilderness, at God’s command. The wilderness is a dry desert and, of course, they were murmuring and wondering, “Where’s our food, where‘s our water, we need it, God, we need it, Moses.” And these people, what you see in their experiences, that they were having such a hard time shifting to a place where they could trust God. Because back in Egypt, they have lived with overseers and people who had made them feel a sense of dependence and fear was that lodged all over their bodies, all over their psyche. And in the wilderness of that desert they didn’t know how not to live in fear. I think about The Exodus now, especially as I think about how my people and all the people who have inherited the legacy of slavery have such a hard time shaking the fear that overseers and owners would put into us. Who would make us think that violence was a solution, because that was their solution for controlling us. And now in this day and age, in 2017, I wonder how do we now shake the effects of slavery? And how do we keep the people who want to be our owners again from feeling like cheap labor, free labor is an option? We need to be considering this as Christians, as people of faith, as Americans. Amen.
I’d like to talk about a faith that revels in darkness. In Revelation, the book of Revelation, written by John of Patmos, one of the things that he talks about is what he calls a Nicolaitan Christian. Now what is a Nicolaitan Christian? It goes back to Nicodemus, who we hear about in John, the Gospel of John, chapter 3. Many of you may know this passage, because John 3:16 is really important, it’s one that everyone talks about. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believeth in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Lots of people talk about that passage and when they only focus on that, and they start to figure out ways to deny God’s love to people who perhaps don’t believe in Jesus Christ, then they’re operating in a faith that lives in darkness. Because they’re not paying attention to all the words of Jesus. If you take a text out of its context, then you can lose the point – which is a faith that wants to focus in on something narrow so that very few people make it through, instead of being expansive. Because then Jesus says, “For God sent me not to condemn the world,” but because God loves the world so deeply. So, when Jesus was talking about this, he was talking to a man named Nicodemus, who came to Jesus not in the bold daylight, but hid his faith and came at night. And it took Jesus dying on the cross before Nicodemus would actually stand up for his faith more publicly. And so I ask, do we need Jesus to die again before we’re willing to live in the light? Is that the kind of faith we want? Or will we step into the light and take risks, and notice God, and trusting God to protect us? That is a key question for this time and this age. Amen.
This week we’re looking at the text from the Transfiguration, which comes from, in this case, Matthew chapter 17, verses 1-9. And one of the things that I find fascinating about this text, in which Jesus takes Peter, James and John up to the mountaintop. And as they head up there, they get there, and Jesus withdraws from them. And all of a sudden, he’s transfigured, or he’s changed before them. And the clouds open up, and out of nowhere come Elijah and Moses, these prophets from ages of old. And everyone is stunned and even scared. And Peter sees them, and he has an idea. He tries to interrupt this amazing moment and he says, “Oh ok, I got this God, I got this! I have an idea. I am going to build y’all some houses right here on the mountain so you can always be here.” And he tried to interrupt God, and God had no patience for Peter’s plan.
Now remember, Peter is the rock of the church and even he got this wrong. And it can often be that there will be a beautiful vision God is trying to give us. And we try to interrupt it like, “Oh, I got this God!” No. God will then interrupt us back. Who are we to interrupt God? So here’s what I would like to suggest to you. God is giving you a vision for the purpose on your life. There are three things that I would suggest. First of all: if you’re wondering if you’re trying to interrupt God’s vision, know this: you are. This is part and parcel of what it means to be human. Second of all: know that you don’t have to pull everything off at once. It’s OK. Just give yourself some space and some grace because God does too. And third of all, and this one’s really important: tell God you’re ready. You’re ready to stop interrupting so that you can hear what God has to say for you today. In Jesus name, amen.
Yesterday, someone made the mistake of treating me inappropriately. And I say that this was a mistake, because it didn’t go well for him. However, today is the day after, right? And I am still filled with rage over this incident.
What would God want me to do about this? Jesus said something like, we have to leave our anger behind us. And I wonder about this, because had I not gotten angry, then I wouldn’t have stopped the behavior in the way that I did. That was important. But at the same time, I have to decide what I’m gonna do with the anger next. And I need my prop for this.
How heavy is this bottle? Part of that depends on how long you’ve been carrying it. And anger can be this way. If you carry this for a whole heap of time, if I tried to carry my anger for weeks, imagine how heavy this would feel. That’s what happens with resentment. I think that Jesus told us to leave our anger before we try to approach the alter, because if we don’t, it takes over. And then we can’t see God anymore. It’s very important that we not carry things forever. We take a drink. And then we worship God. Amen.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” And as I think about light, I think about matches. And matches are kind of fickle, right? They don’t always work, and sometimes, the striking surface can get a little worn down. I worry about whether or not your striking surface has gotten worn down. Because light is really important to protect, and the things that ignite us are really important to be deliberate about. Because sometimes, we can get lit up about things that are not of God. Sometimes, things can take all of our energy so that we become depleted. On top of that, there will be forces that will try to burn out our light. They will tell us that we’re not supposed to have light. They’ll try to tell us that we should shine in the way they want us to instead of the way God wants us to. They will tell us that we don’t have any right to light. Know that Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” which means that you are light when you shine God’s brightness within you. And nothing can ever take away your access to that. But you need to kindle your light. And when you can’t, remember this: light is stronger when it joins the other kindled light, and when we join with other people, we shine so much brighter. So, find people who will shine with you. Find the light of Christ in others, because, when we join our forces together, we are an inferno that will change this world. Amen.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about anger. In part, because I find myself getting angry more and more, and it feels as if we’re in a world of growing anger. Regardless of whether or not we’re more angry than we used to be, I think church needs to help people to figure out what we do most effectively with that anger. Is anger bad? Is it something that God calls on us not to feel? I would say no. I would say that there are numbers and numbers of examples throughout the Bible where even God gets mad. And so, when we get angry, I think the question becomes, what does God want us to do with it? There is a place for people of faith to feel righteous indignation. There’s certainly a place to notice something is wrong and to feel wrong about it. To feel as if it needs to change. And that anger that might spark us to say a holy no to something that is wrong is very, very important. Because it’s only when we start to notice the places where we say no, or where we need to say no, that change can come from. The problem is when our anger starts to brew within us like “a hot burning coal,” I read one writer write, that becomes uncontrollable and it burns and it harms us. And so we ask. We have to think of ways to channel that anger most effectively. And how do we know if we’re using our anger right? When good things come from it. When it turns from anger into action that is loving and compassionate. That’s the thing that God is always calling us to do. We have to love. And when we find ourselves acting out of anger that is not loving, that is when we’re not following Jesus. So, get angry. Feel the burn of change coming within you. And then effectively channel it somewhere. But when your anger harms someone, or when your anger turns into trolling on the Internet. We spoke out last week in support of Muslims, and I was shocked at how angry that made people feel. That reminded me by the way that I probably need to talk more about it. So do many of us. But figure out what to do with your anger. Respect that anger and turn it into love. That is how we follow Jesus. Amen.
I’m going to get straight to the point. I am joined by a number of religious leaders who are completely appalled by the Muslim ban and the ban on refugees that has just come from the current administration. Why are we appalled? You see, if we ever want to follow Jesus, then we’re going to realize that we have to take care of the least of these, which includes people who are coming to us in crisis, when their lives are on the line, and that includes refugees. If we want to follow Jesus, then we have to remember that he, too, was a refugee, several times, not even just once. So, if we want to turn away a refugee then we need to go ahead and realize that we’re turning away Jesus – because every person bears the image of Christ. And this is not the country I’ve known. So, if you have a minister who defends a policy in which we turn away refugees, realize that they’re in a moment of crisis right now where they’re not following Jesus. There is no possible way to follow Jesus and say no to a refugee. So, let’s be clear. You can do what Jesus says and encourage them to repent. I have had to repent several times. They need to repent now. Amen.
So now that we’ve marched, what’s next? A lot of us came and showed up. We stood up. In Washington DC, in New York City, all over the country, all over the world. In over 370 cities, we stood up for women. Now what?
I would propose a few things. One, go back home now. Go back to your neighborhood and figure out the one thing that you can do. And decide on it. And then go after it. So maybe there’s a parent organization that you can join at your children’s school. Maybe there’s something, like you need some sidewalks fixed in your neighborhood. Maybe you need to hold people accountable to the promises they’ve made before they’ve been elected. Whatever it is that your feeling like you should do, go ahead and start on it even if it’s small. Because the way that we really stand up is that we get active. We saw people coming to be activists – for the first time for some. And instead of being upset that they weren’t there before, what I would suggest is that we celebrate. We bring them to the party and we keep celebrating.
The spirit was alive yesterday, so we can’t let that spirit die. I borrow language from the prophet Isaiah, who says, “Listen up. God has chosen you. God has chosen you for a purpose. And that you are an arrow in God’s quiver.” A “quiver” is a thing that holds arrows. So, you are an arrow in God’s quiver. And God is going to pull you up right now, and shoot you off to a target. Find your target and pierce through.
It occurs to me that church has become a bit confused about when it should say Yes and when it should say No. I understand that this can be confusing. When we carry as much moral authority as church has often claimed, it can be somewhat of a moment of potential abuse. There are times when church has said No when it should’ve said – and listened to God’s unsurpassing – Yes. And yet it said No to people based on all kinds of morality clauses that were picking and choosing what God wanted us to do. For example, we see church saying No on matters of so called “lifestyle” while letting a whole bunch of other things happen that church needed to say No to. And so, I wanted to address this today because I would love to call my colleagues in the ministry and all of us who are in churches to think very carefully about the things we should be endorsing as church community and the things that we should be resisting. And instead of resisting people’s choices in terms of who they love, in terms of all sorts of sexual questions that seem to obsess church community, we need to set aside some of that and think, what else are we endorsing? Are we endorsing leadership that is going to be oppressive? Are we stepping into spaces that say Yes to leaders who don’t care about whether or not all of the people they are called to serve are able to thrive? And so, I ask us to think now, what do we say Yes to? And what are we going to powerfully resist? That’s the role of church.
There has lately been a lot of conversation about the LGBTQ community in churches. And in many churches, you see silence: silence in the face of other congregations where there are people who stand in the pulpit that is supposed to be preaching a gospel of love and inclusion and freedom, and they’re talking about death for gay people in 2017. That makes no sense. It is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And so I would actually like to call on progressive Christians – and what that means to me is the groups of Christians who would proclaim that there is no one ever excluded from the love and the grace and the mercy of God – I need my colleagues in these churches to say, Indeed, if you are Lesbian, if you’re Gay, If you’re Bisexual, if you’re Transgender, if you’re Questioning, if you’re Queer, if you’re somewhere of this spectrum of love, that God made you that way. And you are affirmed in your being and anyone who would preach that, you need to get up out of that church and walk away. And there are churches that are open to you. There are Faith Communities that will have you, so know that a Gospel of Death is no Gospel. The Gospel we know is one of life eternal for every single created being. And that means you.