RSS

Tag Archives: racism

A Place at the Table (Oct 21, 2018)

Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to [Jesus]and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Well, whatever’s going on in this text can’t be good. “OK, Jesus, we want you to do whatever we ask.” Promise that first and then we’ll tell you what we want. Deal?

What could possibly go wrong here?

Can you just see Jesus rolling his eyes? Can you hear the deep sigh as he fortifies his patience?

“What is it you want me to do for you?” he asks.

James and John pull him a little further away from the others. Then they lean in close and whisper, “We want to be on either side of you when you become king. We want to ride your coattails into power. We want to sit in the best seats in positions glory. C’mon, Jesus, you know we’re your favorite apostles.”

With a sad look in his eyes, Jesus slowly shakes his head and says “You still don’t get it. Getting more power over others and benefitting yourself is the opposite of how God’s reign works. The ‘way’ of the cross is the way of serving others, giving up power so those without it have equal places at the table.” And then watch when we get to Jerusalem. Watch as I’m arrested, spit at, beaten, mocked, and put on a cross. I’ll show you what this cup is that you want to drink. I’ll show you what this baptism is that you’re so excited about. It’s the opposite of what you think—the opposite of what you want. So be careful. You may just get what you’re asking for. What is greatness?

So I’m wondering before hearing this text, if asked who’s the greatest person you know–would your answer be different than if you were asked now? Isn’t our first, immediate thought someone who is powerful, famous, influential–more along the lines of what James and John are looking for? But then Jesus’ definition sinks in a bit, and we have to rethink it. So go ahead and rethink it. By Jesus’ definition, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all,” who is the greatest person you know? . . .

Let me tell you about a great person I met in Jackson, MS this summer. I’d just spend a couple of days in Mississippi, and was finding this state to be both hopeful and frustrating. There were definite signs, not only of the deep and cruel racism that were glaring parts of its history, but also signs of genuine striving for inclusivity and equality. Yet there seemed to be a tiredness, an acceptance by blacks of their lesser places at the table and a refusal by whites to actually acknowledge their seats of privilege. I was confused because MS has the largest percentage of black citizens of any state in the country, and I couldn’t understand why there was such a repressive imbalance of power.

So, on my last night in Jackson, MS, I met a great person. She was a black woman about 25-30 years old and was serving tables at the restaurant of the hotel where I was staying. She was competent, attentive, funny, personable, and was on her way to earning a pretty good tip. We were getting along fine.

On a whim, since it was my last night in MS, I called her over and wondered if she’d answer a question for me. “Sure, if I can,” she said.

I explained to her how I was feeling about this state of Mississippi, and wondered if she had any insights (this was a “listening tour” sabbatical, remember?). “With such a high percentage of black citizens,” I pursued, “why does there seem to be this oppressive undertone? Am I misreading something?”

“No,” she replied. And then she said some things I found incredibly courageous—and that revealed her greatness. “I find it confusing too. I’m not from MS originally—I’ve only lived here for a couple of years. But, yes, for some reason I can’t figure out the power here is still held by whites.”

Then she said what I consider to be the most courageous—and the greatest—thing of all. “For instance, in this hotel, all the service employees are black, and all the managers are white.”

Even though she didn’t know anything about me, who I was, or why I was asking, she spoke up on behalf of blacks who may well be stuck in service jobs relying on tips or minimum wage to pay rent. For all she knew I could’ve been a friend of management coming to check up on how well the service employees were doing their jobs. There were many scenarios where someone like me could have had her fired.

But from her position of relatively little power, she spoke a truth that revealed her greatness. The blindness to power and privilege on the part of management was laid bare by this waitress. A place at the table for all.

The white management of that hotel seeks to sit, one at the right hand and one at the left of glory, clinging to seats of power and refusing to acknowledge any injustice. In the words of Jesus, they lord their power over others and are tyrants over them. And a black table server, drinking the cup that Jesus drinks, the cup of what could have been a huge personal sacrifice, took a risk of becoming last of all by speaking up for service employees who need a place at the table. That’s the greatness Jesus talks about. That’s the greatness James and John don’t understand. That’s the greatness of Jesus himself, and this is the greatness that reveals the nature of God.

It’s the greatness of Jesus that has opened the kingdom of heaven. It is the greatness of Jesus that includes even us. And it’s this greatness of Jesus we are now called to reveal, and then to emulate. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Who opens up places at the table? Who extends the table to include more? Who gives up cushy seats of honor and privilege so that others can share? That person may be the greatest person you know.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 21, 2018 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Is God pro-Trump or anti-Trump? (October 22, 2017)

Is God pro-Trump or anti-Trump? (October 22, 2017)

Matthew 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Does God want you to be a Trump-supporter? Does God want you to be a Trump-resister? Is there anything more divisive in our country right now? Where is God on this? Believe it or not, that’s what this text in Matthew is asking.

This text describes an admitted attempt to trap Jesus. The Pharisees and the Herodians were working together even though they had virtually nothing in common. They had less in common with each other than today’s Republicans and Democrats. The Pharisees represented the majority of the Jewish people, and the Herodians represented the oppressing Roman government. The only thing they had in common was their desire to get rid of Jesus. Think of Trump-supporters and Trump-resisters joining forces. That’s what’s happening in these verses.

When these two groups banded together against Jesus, they really set an ingenious trap—one into which Jesus shouldn’t get out of. The divisive issue for them is if it’s OK to pay a tax to Rome. If Jesus says “yes,” the Pharisees can turn the Jewish people against him, saying Jesus supports the oppressors and has validated the Roman currency, which would be idolatry and breaking the first commandment, since the denarius declares Caesar to be Son of God (the first Caesar) and High Priest. If, on the other hand, Jesus says “no,” the Herodians can declare him in rebellion to the emperor, and have him jailed or even killed for insurrection. Either way, Jesus will be out of sight, hushed, no longer a threat to anyone. Foolproof.

But Jesus turns the tables. Instead of falling into their trap, he ups the

ante. He raises the stakes and makes their question an even more important one. No longer is this about whether or not to pay a poll tax to Rome, but about the very nature of their relationship with God. Instead of a trap, this is now about who we are and who God is.

Go ahead, Jesus says, and give to the emperor those things that are his, but to do that you have to acknowledge that there are things that do belong to Caesar. Then you have to define what those things are. And in order to do that, you have to know why those things belong to Caesar. Some things might belong to him if you believe him to be the head of the Roman government, but that’s way different than what belongs to him if you believe him to be divine, as all of Rome declares. If he’s divine, Son of god, you’re saying something completely different about what belongs to him, and therefore what ought to be given to him.

Jesus turns this around on them. Now they have to say where their own allegiance lies, they have to define what belongs to the emperor and why? And also what belongs to God and why?

That’s the question we have to answer too. What do we believe belongs to God? The stars? The earth? All the things that live on the earth? Us? The Church? Our gifts and talents? Our checkbooks? Our children? Our next breath? Do we believe everything belongs to God? And what does that even mean?

It starts with admitting that we belong to God. Each one of us. We are created in the very image of God, in God’s love and wonderful creativity, we are uniquely and beautifully made. We are God’s precious and holy creation. We don’t have to try. We don’t have to achieve it. We simply are. We can’t stop it, we can’t change it, we can’t improve it. All we can do is live it. Go ahead and pay taxes, put money in a 401(k), give generously when the offering plates come around. But recognize that you belong completely and totally to God. You will always be surrounded and held in God’s love.

And, therefore, we can live that way. Every time we show compassion, we are giving to God something that already is God’s. Every time we stand up for someone who’s been victimized or hurt, we are giving to God something that already is God’s. Every time we listen without judgment, we are giving to God something that already is God’s. Every time we recognize Christ present in those around us, we are giving to God something that already is God’s.

Is it OK with God to be a Trump-supporter? Is it OK with God to be a Trump-resister? Is it OK with God to be a Democrat? Is it OK with God to be a Republican? Is it OK with God to type #MeToo on your Facebook page? Is it OK with God to be gay or divorced or have an abortion or anything else that we, as imperfect, fallible humans, may think might be divisive?

Give to the emperor the things that are he emperor’s. Give to your own views the things that fall within those views. But give to God the things that are God’s. If everything belongs to God—if we belong to God—then nothing else can get in the way of that. We give unconditional love because it is God’s. We give over-the-top compassion because it is God’s. We give unrestricted forgiveness because it is God’s. We give that which already belongs to God. Those things that divide us come a distant second—if they make the cut at all. We give to God the things that are God’s. When we do that, the rest becomes obvious, doesn’t it?

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 22, 2017 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Sabbath, Rejoicing, God at Work, Racism (August 21, 2016)

Luke 13:10-17

Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Jesus is teaching in a synagogue and gets into an argument with the pastor, or the council president, or some leader. It’s the Sabbath, he has cured a woman who had a crippling spirit and the leader of the synagogue was quite upset. So they argue about what the Sabbath is all about.

Now, first of all, I find it interesting that Luke often describes ailments, impairments, and diseases in spiritual terms. This woman in the synagogue had a “sprit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight.” In our sophisticated 21st century arrogance, we know better. We figure poor Luke was just doing the best he could.

But what if he’s right?

We assume this woman was physically crippled. That her body was unable to stand up straight. But what if it isn’t a physical crippling but a spiritual one?

What if she was carrying such a weight in her heart that her spirit was bent over. Consider that for a minute. It’s actually not too difficult to imagine. Have you ever been so full of grief that you couldn’t get out of bed? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that you felt you had the weight of the world pressing down on you?

Couldn’t this be what Luke is describing here?

Regardless, this woman is afflicted with a spirit, the weight of which bent her over. Yet Jesus sees her and frees her from her bondage. Because that’s what Jesus does. The crowd in the synagogue rejoiced at the wonderful thing Jesus did. They rejoiced because God was active right there in their midst right then.

Perhaps that’s what “Sabbath” is all about—taking time from the chaos and stress of our week to recognize what God is actually doing among us and rejoicing in that! That seems to be what Jesus is pointing out. Sabbath isn’t about what we ought to do, but about noticing—and then rejoicing—in what God is doing.

The people in the synagogue get it. They see a woman set free and recognize God at work and rejoice. Sabbath.

When you pay attention, there’s a lot to rejoice about, because God is all about setting people free from bondage. There are all different kinds of bondage that make us quite unable to stand up. All different kinds of crippling spirits that keep us bent over. And Jesus has come to set us free from them.

What weight are you carrying around that prevents you from standing fully in what God created you to do? What stresses, worries, anxieties, pressures are keeping you bent over? What spirit has you held captive, keeping you from moving? We’re all crippled by something that cripples us from being fully who God calls us to be.

We’re so bent over with the weight of religious activity, trying to get all the right church-things done that we are quite unable to stand up straight and actually be the church.

We’re so bent over with the weight of righteousness that we end up judging those who behave differently that we, and are then quite unable to stand up straight in love for them.

We’re so bent over with the weight of justifying ourselves that we are quite unable to stand up straight and see Christ already present within us.

We’re so bent over with the weight of increasing our faith that we are quite unable to stand up straight and recognize God’s love already present.

And, we’re so bent over with the weight of fear of the unknown that we are quite unable to stand up straight and see Christ in those different than us.

But Jesus has come to set us free. Free to see God’s love and grace at work around us; free to rejoice; free to be part of it.

Jesus sees us, and next week Jesus is calling us over to be cured of a spirit that is crippling us. God is already active in breaking the bondage of racism and God has called us to be part of that redemptive work.

Racism is more than an individual’s prejudice. Racism is a systemic evil that pervades our culture. Racism, which includes our white inability to recognize the depth and the evil of it, keeps us bent over. We are unable to stand up straight with our Black sisters and brothers because of this horror that hangs on us. Racism is a weight that presses down on us and cripples us.

Jesus has come to set us free. As we gather with our brothers and sisters from Zion next Sunday, Jesus will be laying his hands on us so we can stand up and praise God together. And all of us—Black and White—together can rejoice at all the wonderful things Jesus is doing.

Recognizing God at work, and rejoicing in it. That’s Sabbath.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on August 22, 2016 in Sermon

 

Tags: , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: