The Church Is in the Clothing Business

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Genesis 3 NRSV

How often have you watched a pet dog sprawled all out taking a nap in the middle of the day, and thought to yourself: “Must be nice!” Would you just look at Max or Buddy or Bella or Lucy? Not a single care in the world! No job. No bills to pay. No groceries to buy. No dishes to wash. Never has to stand in line at Wal-Mart. No knowledge whatsoever of good and evil. No knowledge of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. No knowledge of children being separated from their families at the border, of the opioid drug crises, of people living in poverty, or people living with mental illness. They know of no friends who hurt or desert them. They’re unaware of any sick family members, ambivalent to the certainty that they will one day die, unmindful even that they are a dog, and oblivious to the reality that they are sprawled all out on the living room floor completely naked. No shame whatsoever. They’re in paradise.

Sounds to me like the two who represent all of humanity, who even today, represent you and me: Adam and Eve. That is, before they ate that apple…or that orange or that peach or that fig or that banana. Whatever it was, before they ate that fruit from the tree of knowledge, they were just happy-go-lucky animals sprawled all out in a paradise with no knowledge of good and evil whatsoever: no knowledge of death and disease; no awareness of pain and grief; not even a clue that they would ever have to work hard to make a living; unaware that they were broken, fragmented, and sinful creatures; unmindful that they were even human, humans who in their self-centeredness will continually disobey the Creator’s commands and abuse the creation which that had been graciously given.

And they were also unmindful of the danger that lurked in their paradise, that crafty serpent: that symbol of everything chaotic and evil, that enigmatic, yet personal force of temptation that somehow, we have no explanation of why, was already present, preexisting and existing in the garden alongside of humanity. And because of this unholy force or presence or energy, the sordid self-centeredness of Adam and Eve, along with the knowledge of good and evil was suddenly made known. The shame of who they now knew they were was almost too much for them to bear.

For who has not said: “I wished I never knew!” “I wished you hadn’t told me that!” “I would be so much better off if I just didn’t know!”  Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Sometimes ignorance is paradise.

Paradise is lost as Adam and Eve, humanity, each one of us, live in a world where we know way too much, where we’re too smart for our own good. We live with the knowledge that all is broken, with a knowledge of pain and suffering, stress and strife, sadness and grief. Furthermore, we live in a world where we know that one day, we are all going to die.

We also live in a world where we make countless mistakes, and we know it. We are selfish, and we know it. We live to save our lives, protect our lives, look after number one at the expense of everyone else, and we know it. We know we have done some terrible things, and we know we have not done some good things, which is equally, if not more terrible. With our cursed knowledge, we can easily relate to the Apostle Paul’s words to the Romans: “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:18-19).

And because we know, we live with a lot of shame. And we spend much of our energy, time and resources trying to cover it, hide it, masquerade it.

I have always been a terrible golfer, and because of that, I really have not played much in the last few years. However, when I used to play more, I would make sure I always wore the latest styles in golf apparel and footwear. I always had a new golf glove to wear and a nice golf bag with my shiny and very organized clubs. My thinking was: “If I wasn’t a good golfer, dadgummit, I was going to look like a good golfer!”

Thus, I can easily relate to Adam and Eve who worked hard to cover up the truth of who they were with those fig leaves, when they ran and hid themselves from the presence of God whom they heard walking through the garden. Surely, Adam and Eve know by now that you can run, but you cannot hide.

God then asks a question that is as liberating as it is frightening. It is a fascinatingly miraculous question when one considers the one who is doing the asking: “Where are you? Where are you? God, the creator of all that is, loves us so much that God yearns not only to be with us personally and intimately, but desires to be with us… where we are. Where we truly and honestly are, behind the masks and apparel, behind the allusions we have created, behind acts we portray.

As the old hymn goes: God wants to know of all the sins and griefs we bear. God wants to know our pain, our trials, our temptations, our trouble, our sorrows, and our every weakness. God wants to know if we are in a place where we are heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care, in a place where our friends despise or forsake us.

God calls out to Adam and Eve, to all of humanity, to each one of us: ‘Where are you? Because wherever you are, that is the place I want to be. So, please do not hide from me. Do not run away from me. Please, do not be afraid and do not be ashamed. I want more than anything else to know you, to know you for who you really are. You don’t have to come to me. Let me come to you, find you, be with you, walk alongside of you. Let me love you.”

Adam comes out behind the trees and responds, “But God I am naked! All of me is uncovered, out in the open. My true colors are laid bare for the entire world to see. All of my failures, all of my fears, all of my brokenness, all of my self-centeredness, all of my mess is out there, completely exposed. You, O God, have created us to lose ourselves, and all I want to do is to find myself, to save myself, protect myself. God, I am a sinner, and what’s worse, now I know it. And I am so ashamed.”

Then God does for Adam and Eve something that they cannot do for themselves. They cannot deal with their shame. They cannot deal with their sin. The reality of who they had become was too much for them to bear.

As revealed in every act of Jesus of Nazareth, God responds to their shame by doing something amazing. God bends God’s self to the ground, uses God’s own hands, and creates garments of skin, and lovingly and very graciously clothes Adam and Eve.

God meets Adam and Eve where they truly are. They are naked, exposed. And what’s worse, unlike little Max or Buddy, Bella or Lucy sprawled out naked on your living room floor, Adam and Eve are naked and exposed, and they know it. All has been laid bare, and they could not be more frightened and ashamed.

And God responds to their nakedness, God responds to all of their fear and shame, by amazingly clothing them with grace.

And here’s the good news. The only thing that may be more frightening than being fully known, completely naked, exposed for who we really are, all our sins and griefs laid bare, is perhaps the prospect of never ever being fully known, the prospect of going through this life without anyone ever truly knowing us, and then accepting us, loving us, clothing us with grace. The good news is that God wants to know us, every part of us, and then God still wants to love us and forgive us.

I believe with all of my heart that this is one of our primary purposes as a community of faith. First and foremost, we are to always be a community of grace. If people cannot come through our doors, take off their masks, stop the charade, and honestly lay bare all of their sin and all of their griefs, knowing that they will never be judged, looked down upon or condemned, then I do not believe we are a church. I am not sure what type of business we are, but we are not a church, we are not a community of grace. As a church we are to always be in the business of yearning to meet people where they are, so we can be with them, so we can walk alongside of them, so we can listen to them, learn from them, forgive them and love them.

As the church, we are to always be in the clothing business. We are to always be in the business of bending ourselves to the ground, using our own hands, our resources and our talents, to clothe one another, to clothe all people, with the grace of God in the name of Jesus the Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Message to Graduates: How Low Can You Go?

Carson Graduation

Luke 14:7-11 NRSV

Today, all over this country, high school and college graduates are beacons of hope in a dark world! It has been said that they belong to a generation that is “up and coming.” They refuse to be silent. They are passionate, relentless, determined youth with high ideals and high ambitions to change the world! I look at how they are courageously standing up and speaking out, inspiring us to be a better a better people, and I ask, “My God, how highcan they go?”

They were probably taught at a very early age that up highis where it is at, and no doubt, they spent the first eighteen years of their lives trying to grow up, graduate highschool and then possibly pursue an even highereducation. All so they move upa little higherin this world, keep climbing to make sure they are always upward bound: upfor a promotion so they can move upthe ladder. For up, up high is how our society measures success.

Up high, we are told, is where we will find our life, a life that is full, complete, satisfied, and abundant.Up highis where we are able rub elbows with others who also shaped up, grownupand moved up.Up high is where we find what we call the “in” crowd. They are the “up” and the “in” as opposed to the “down” and the “out.”

So, we set goals that are high. We seek to make high marks, achieve high grades, meet high expectations.

The message of nearly every motivational speaker or life coach in America today is all about how to shape upand move up, aim high and soar high.

After all, who in their right mind would want to move in the opposite direction? Who wants to change directions from up high to down low?  As the late Henri Nouwen one of my favorite preachers, has said: “Downward mobility [in our society] is not only discouraged, but even considered unwise, unhealthy or downright stupid.”

Can I get an “Amen?” Come on now, really? Who in their right mind would want to lower themselves? What mind must you have to want to humble yourself, move to and sit at the lowest seat at the table, lower yourself to the ground to wash another’s feet, descend down the economic ladder to relate to people who are poor, be with and love people who are down and out?

I think we know what mind.

When God chose to reveal to the world a life that is full, abundant and eternal, God’s will for all people, God chose a life of downward mobility. God emptied God’s self, poured God’s self out, humbled God’s self, lowered God’s self and came down. Down to meet us where we are, down to earth as a lowly baby, born in a lowly stable, laid down in a feeding troth to worshipped by down and out shepherds.

The scriptures do say that Jesus grew upward in stature; however, the gospel writers continually paint a portrait Jesus’ life as one of downward mobility. He is continually bending himself to the ground, getting his hands dirty, to touch the places in people that most need touching.

While his disciples seemed to always focus on privilege and honor and upward mobility, chastising little children who needed to shape up and grow up before they could come to Jesus, Jesus argued that the Kingdom of God actually belonged to such children.

While his disciples argued about who was going to be promoted, who was going to graduate to be the first in the Kingdom, Jesus frustrated them (and if we are honest, frustrated us) by doing things like moving downto sit at the lowest seat at the table, bending downto wash their feet, stooping downto welcome small children, crouching downto forgive a sinner, reaching downto serve people who are poor, lowering himself downto accept people who had been cast out of their community. He was always always getting down, to touch the leper, heal the sick, and raise the dead.

While others exercised worldly power to graduate and move up, climb up, and advance, Jesus exercised a strange and peculiar power that always propelled him in the opposite direction. It is not a power that rules but is a power that serves. It is not a power that takes but is a power that gives. It is not a power that seizes but is a power that suffers. It is not a power that dominates but is a power that dies.

And nearing the culmination of his downward life, to save the world, Jesus went to highest seats of power in the capital city of Jerusalem, not on a white stallion with an elite army of high ranking soldiers, but riding a borrowed donkey with a handful of ragtag students who never graduated from anything. The whole scene of Jesus riding that donkey, in the words of Henri Nouwen, looks “downright stupid.”

This is the narrow and seemingly foolish way of downward mobility, the descending way of Jesus toward the poor, toward the suffering, the marginalized, the prisoners, the refugees, the undocumented, the lonely, the hungry, the dying, the tortured, the homeless—toward all who thirst and hunger justice and compassion.

And what do they have to offer? Those who are down and out in our world cannot offer success, popularity, riches, or worldly power, but they do offer the way to life, full, complete, abundant and eternal.[i]

So today, as we recognize and pray for our graduates, as our hearts are filled with hope, and we ask, “My God, how high can these young men and women, these future leaders of the world go?” We are also asking, with perhaps even greater hope for the world and the Kingdom of God, “My God, how lowcan they go? How low can these young men and women, these future leaders of the world, these future leaders of the church go? How lowcan they go to fulfill the divine purposes that God has for each of their lives?

My hope is that each graduate who is being recognized in churches all across are country today is in church not to help them move up to be with the “in” crowd,” or there to find something in worship that will make them more successful, more affluent, climb a little higher. I hope they are not even in church looking to be uplifted or to be more upbeat or for some kind of upstart to get this new chapter in their life headed on an upswing.

My hope is that they are in worship because they have chosen to move in the opposite direction.

My hope is that they want to find ways to climb down, to get low, to lose themselves, to die to themselves and live for Christ. For they have heard, and they have believed Jesus when he said: “Anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28).

Spencer Allen, Jamie Pape, Jason Pryor and Kourtney Williamson, although it sounds good to be a part of the up and cominggeneration, my hope is that you will be a generation that is always down and going. May you always go down, get low, sacrificially and selflessly. And then go out bending yourselves down to the ground if you have to, to touch the places in people that most need touching. May you go out and stoop down to welcome and accept and serve all children: children who are sick, children with different abilities. May you go out and crouch down to care for the sick and the elderly. May you go out and reach down to serve the poor, lower yourselves down to accept people who are marginalized, and may you get low, get down on your knees to pray for people who are grieving and the lost.

And, there, as low as you can go, may you truly find your life, your purpose in this world, one that is full, complete, satisfied, abundant and eternal. Amen.

INVITATION TO COMMUNION

Each Sunday, we gather around a table to get our minds right. To open our minds, focus and refocus our minds, even blow our minds wide open if we have to, to let the same mind be in us that was in

in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

Commissioning and Benediction

Go out bending yourselves down to the ground if you have to, to touch the places in people that most need touching. Go out and stoop down to welcome and accept and care for all children, to love on those in hospitals and nursing homes. Go out and reach down to serve the poor, lower yourselves down to accept the outcast and the marginalized, and may you get low, get down on your knees to pray for the grieving and the lost.

And, there, as low as you can go, may you truly find your life, your purpose in this world, one that is full, complete, satisfied, abundant and eternal. Amen.

[i]The sermon is inspired by this paraphrase from Henri Nouwen, Here and Now, 138-139.

Profiting from Perpetual War

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Today, we remember and give thanks for those who have given their lives in the service of our nation. During the pastoral prayer yesterday, many pastors in our country asked God to help us honor their memory by…

…caring for the family members they have left behind, by ensuring that their wounded comrades are properly cared for, by being watchful caretakers of the freedoms for which they gave their lives, and by demanding that no other young men and women follow them to a soldier’s grave unless the reason is worthy and the cause is just.[i]

The late pastor of Riverside Church in New York, Harry Emerson Fosdick, once said:

I hate war for its consequences, for the lies it lives on and propagates, for the undying hatreds it arouses.

In January 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower used his farewell address to alert the nation of what he viewed as one of its greatest threats: the military-industrial complex composed of military contractors and lobbyists perpetuating war.

Eisenhower prophetically warned that “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” had emerged as a hidden force in US politics and that we “must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.”

Failing to heed his warning, today we find ourselves in perpetual war. While perpetual war creates perpetual losses for families and perpetual increases in our national debt, it also creates perpetual profits for private business.

In 2015, the Department of Defense budgeted more money on federal contracts, $274 billion, than all other federal agencies combined. In 2016, CEOs of the top five military contractors earned on average $19.2 million each — more than 90 times the $214,000 earned by a U.S. general with 20 years of experience and 640 times the $30,000 earned by Army privates in combat.

In his sermon on militarism at Riverside Church in 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the leaders of the original Poor People’s Campaign said:

If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

To honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, I believe we must do all that we can to escape this dark corridor, or at the very least, be dragged down it kicking and screaming.

This is just one of the reasons the Poor People’s campaign has been reignited. We are marching and screaming that no more blood will be shed for this country unless the reason is worthy and the cause is just.

Calling for a moral revival in this nation, we do not believe we can remain silent when we discover the immoral profit that is being made by perpetual war.

We cannot remain silent when we hear war-mongering speech from our leaders that supports this immoral profiteering.

We cannot remain silent when our leaders call for a privatization of the Veterans Administration that will allow corporations to profit from the injuries of war.

We cannot remain silent when the Commander-in-Chief, who has the power to declare war, lies repeatedly to the American people.

We cannot remain silent when we learn that 53 cents of every federal discretionary dollar goes to military spending, and only 15 cents is spent on anti-poverty programs, many of which assist our veterans.

We cannot remain silent when those who profit by war proliferate our peaceful communities and with weapons of war that kill our children.

We cannot remain silent when people of color are being unjustly victimized, demonized and dehumanized by a “war on drugs” or a “war on terror” that has become a war on the poor.

We cannot remain silent when children who are immigrants are being separated from their families to support a political agenda.

We cannot remain silent when the political agenda is to support a war economy for the financial benefit of a few. If we want to honor those who gave it all for our country, we must agree as a nation that it is morally indefensible to profit from perpetual war.

Speaking on behalf of those who sacrificed their lives in WWI, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae ends his beautiful poem In Flanders Fields:

To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.

May we honor their fallen hands by holding high the torch of truth while marching for peace.

[i]J. Veltri, S.J.

 

Mirroring the Self-Giving Love of the Triune God

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2 Corinthians 13:11-13 NRSV

We Americans are often guilty of trivializing things that are important. Consequently, survivors of loved ones who gave their lives for their country often struggle during the Memorial Day Weekend, and rightly so. For it can sometimes be difficult to tell if Americans truly know what Memorial Day is about.

Is it about the end of the school year and the beginning of summer? Is it about going to the beach, the river, or the lake? Is it about playing golf, having a cookout, or opening the backyard swimming pool? Is it about red-tag sales at the mall or some other self-fulfilling activity?

No, it is about sacrifice. It is about self-denying, self-expending love. It is about people giving all that they had to give, for they so loved their country more than self.

This weekend is about honoring those who died for us, and it is about praying for those they left behind. It is also a time to recommit ourselves to those who continue to selflessly fight evil in our world, evil that demeans, devalues and destroys human life and sometimes does it in the name of God.

May God forgive us for forgetting what this weekend is all about or watering it down for our own selfish gain.

I am afraid that we have done the same thing to the Christian faith. Consequently, followers of Jesus everywhere struggle, and rightly so. For it can sometimes be difficult to tell if Christians really know what the gospel is about.

Is it about judging and condemning others who believe and live differently? Is it about pure beliefs and possessing an attitude of superiority? Is it about having the right to discriminate and treat others who differ from us as second class citizens? Is it about banning people of other faiths from our communities? Is it about depleting our natural resources because we believe the Lord is returning and the world is ending in our lifetime? Is it all about going to heaven one day or on some other self-absorbed venture?

No, our faith is about sacrifice. It is about self-denying, self-expending love. It is about a God giving all that God has to give, for God so loved this world more than God’s self.

Thus, faith is about honoring a God who died for all. It is about recommitting daily to continue to selflessly fight the evil in our world, evil that seeks to demean, dehumanize and destroy human life and sometimes does it in the name of God.

Monday is Memorial Day. May we remember what it is truly about. And everyday is the day the Lord has made. May we remember how God is made known to us, relates to us, and loves us, and how God calls us to make ourselves known to, relate to and love the world.

This is where I believe the doctrine of the Holy Trinity can really help us—Three persons in one. Throughout the centuries, people have been trying to explain this complexity in simplistic language.

You have probably heard that God is like a pie. You can cut a pie into three pieces, but it’s still one pie. Or God is like many of us. I’m a brother, a father, and a son, but I am still one person. Or God is like water, and water has many forms: steam, ice, and liquid, but it is still water.

However, I believe each of these descriptions only scratch the surface of who our God truly is. It is only a watered-down, version of who our God is. Furthermore, it is defining God based on our understanding of the world, instead of allowing our understanding of God to define the world.

God, the creator of all that is, the power behind our universe, gave God’s self, emptied God’s self, poured God’s self out and became flesh and dwelt among us through Jesus Christ.  And Jesus Christ, while he was on this earth, gave himself back to God by becoming obedient to God even to death, even death on the cross. But before he left us on this earth, he promised not to leave us orphaned, he promised to be with us always by giving himself back to us through the Holy Spirit.

Do you see the one characteristic of the Holy Trinity which stands out?  God gave God’s self through the Son. The Son gave himself back to the Father. And God once more gives God’s self back through the Holy Spirit. God is a self-giving God. God is a God who loves to give to others the very best gift that God has to give, the gift of God’s self.

God is a giver. That means that God is not a taker. For givers are never takers.

Isn’t interesting that many Christians, often characterize God as a taker? Again, I think it is because we like to create a God in what we want our image to be, instead of allowing the image of God to define and guide us.

For example: How many funerals have we attended and heard the phrase: “God took her home or God was ready to take him?”

We have all lost loved ones to death. But the Trinity teaches us that Lord did not take them. For givers are not takers. A more accurate way of describing what happened to our loved ones when they breathed their last on this earth is that God wholly, completely and eternally, gave all of God’ self to them.

When we experience the heartache and heartbreak of this fragmented world, there is one thing of which we can be certain, God is here with us, not taking, but giving us all that God has to give, the best gift of all, the gift of God’s self.  If we don’t know anything else about God, we can know this. For it is God’s very nature.

As we renew our discipleship mission as a church, let us renew our commitment to mirror our God by living not as takers, but as givers.

For I believe with all of my heart that mirroring the self-giving love of God that is revealed to us in the Holy Trinity can help us reclaim the gospel that has been high-jacked by people who prefer to live in this world on their terms instead of on God’s terms.

Mirroring the self-giving love of God can help us recover our faith that has been co-opted by takers, by people who have used and misused the name of God for their own selfish gain

For if we mirrored the Triune God as self-giver, think of how everything would change.

Think of how our Christian faith would change. Our faith would not be about what we can take from God—healthier marriages, stronger families, deeper friendships, peace, security, comfort, a mechanism to overcome trials or to achieve a more prosperous life, or even gain an eternal life.

Our faith would be what we can give back to the Holy Giver—namely all that we have and all that we are, even if it is costly, even if it involves risk, danger and suffering, even if it involves the loss of relationships, stress on our marriages, sleepless nights, a tighter budget, even if it involves laying down our very lives.

Church. Church would not be about what we can take from it. It would not be about getting fed, experiencing some peace, attaining a blessing or receiving some inspiration to help us through the week.

Church would be about opportunities for self-giving. Church would be about feeding the hungry, working to bring peace, being blessing to our communities and inspiring the world. Church would no longer be a place that we go to on Sunday, but who we are every day of the week, the body of Christ, the very embodiment of holy self-giving love in the world. Church would not be a way to for us to get some Jesus. Church would be way we allow Jesus to get us to love our neighbors as we were created to love.

And our neighbors. We would look to our neighbors, not for what they can give us, not for what we can take from them, or how we can use them, but for what we may be able to offer them, especially those things that others are constantly robbing them of in order to support their dominance and superiority over them—their dignity, their equality, their value as human beings created in the image of God, their hope, their freedom, their justice.

We would look to our city, our state and our nation, not for what we can selfishly take from it, but for how we can selflessly give to it to make it a more just place for all.

The environment would not be something for us to take from, plunder and exploit for our own selfish wants, but something for which we sacrificially care for, respect, nurture and protect.

I believe if we would truly mirror the triune image of our God as givers instead of as takers, God’s kingdom would fully and finally come on earth as it is in heaven.

Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers can rebuild a broken world.

Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers can correct a distorted moral narrative.

Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers can heal sick religion.

Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers can bring down walls and break the chains of injustice.

Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers will erase racism and sexism. It will end sexual harassment and assault.

When we mirror the triune image God as givers, all hate, bigotry, and violence will pass away, and all of creation will be born again.

When we mirror the triune image of God as givers, liberty and justice and peace will come, and it will come for all.

When we mirror the triune image of God as givers, the words of the prophet Isaiah will be fulfilled:

Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
…[Then] they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:3-4).

A New, Unsettling Force of Inclusive Love

Poor People March Pic

Sermon Delivered for the Poor People’s Campaign – Arkansas State Capitol, Little Rock, May 21, 2018

For God so loved the world, that God came into the world to show us how to love our neighbors as ourselves—All of our neighbors, but especially our neighbors who have been pushed to the margins: the sick in need of healthcare; the immigrant in need of a home; the poor in need of a living wage; school children who just want to be safe and get a quality education; people of other faiths who hunger for respect; and people of color who thirst for their lives to matter.

Offended by the unsettling force of this inclusive love that proclaimed good news to the poor and liberation to the oppressed, that affirmed the rights of women and welcomed the children; afraid of this radical love that had the audacity to stand for liberty and justice for all, the privileged powers-that-be plotted against it, arrested it, and crucified it.

Three days later, there were stories of a resurrection, a resurgence of this love. Because that’s the thing about this love. This love will not be defeated. No amount of obstruction or collusion can conquer this love. No amount of hush money can silence this love. There’s not enough nails in Jerusalem, or bullets in Memphis, or lies in Washington that can assassinate this love.

But the light of this love is such a threat to the systems that feed the darkness, the darkness will still try to find a way to overcome it.

Discrimination will be legalized under the guise of religious freedom. Voter suppression will be carried out under the guise of preventing voter fraud. Racist voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and sick religion will be used to disengage and disenfranchise minorities. People with different faiths and different ethnicities will be demonized and dehumanized by Caesar himself. More prisons will be built. New walls will be erected. Families will be separated.

However, yesterday, I went to church. I went to church, and I heard some good news from the second chapter of the book of Acts:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they all came together in one place.

“They all came together”—black, white and brown; Gay, Trans and Straight; Democrat, Republican and Independent; Muslim, Jew and Christian.

And there came a sound, like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house” where they had gathered.

I believe the sound sounded something like:

“FORWARD TOGETHER—NOT ONE STEP BACK!”

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them… All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”

of a love that was so inclusive, so radical, so audacious, that despite their different languages, when they spoke out together, they were heard with a miraculous clarity by all.

But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.

They’re a bunch of sore losers, entitled whiners.

“But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live [and work] in Jerusalem [and Little Rock and Washington], let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose,

“No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall proclaim prophetic justice,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon [the poorest of the poor] both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall [proclaim good news to the poor and liberation to the oppressed]
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth…

In other words, God is saying:

“Through these people, through a new unsettling force of inclusive love, I am going to change the world!’

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs that were being done…

The moral narrative changed. Walls came down. Chains were loosed. A blessed community was formed. Racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia and xenophobia were relinquished. Voting rights were restored. Fair living wages were paid. Unfair incarcerations ceased. Affordable housing, healthcare and education were available. All of creation was respected and protected. Clean water was consumed. Clean air was breathed.

And liberty and justice came. And it came for all. Not just to one race, one faith, and one nation. It came for every nation under heaven.

Truth came for all. Peace came for all. Mercy came for all. Hope came for all. Love came for all.

Into the world’s darkness, light came for all, and darkness could not, cannot, and will not, ever overcome it!

I Pledge Allegiance

Poor People's CampaignDelivered at the Introduction Meeting of the Poor People’s Campaign at First Christian Church in Fort Smith AR, May 6, 2018

I

In America, I as an individual,have certain inalienable rights. As an individual citizen of this country, I have freedom. And with that freedom, I have a great responsibility. I have a voice. I have a vote, and I have the responsibility to make this country the very best that it can be. And that includes keeping our water safe, our air clean and our land pure.

Pledge allegiance

Our allegiance does not mean blindly accepting our faults, never questioning our past, and never second-guessing how current policies will affect our future. Allegiance means faithfully doing our part to “mend thine every flaw.”

It means being loyal, law-abiding citizens committed to our civic duty of voting in elections. However, it also means voicing opposition to laws that need to be changed and to elected officials who need be corrected. Civil allegiance sometimes means civil disobedience.

Like a faithful marriage, pledging allegiance means being loyal to our country in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, never giving up, never becoming complacent, never running away. It means perpetually praying for it, continually correcting it, forever fighting for it.

To the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands

The flag is not a mere sign for our country. It is the profound symbol of our country. Signs are limited as signs only give information. Signs do not have the power to stand for something. Only symbols can do that. Whereas signs invoke intellectual responses from the brain, symbols elicit visceral emotions from the heart and gut. This is the reason seeing the Confederate Battle Flag flying on the back of motorcycles this weekend turned my stomach. The flag is not a mere historical marker, label, design or brand but a powerful symbol that stands for something. Flags have the power to move us, stir us, and guide us.

One nation

Our flag stands for one nation. Although heritage and culture are important aspects of life in different parts of our country, they are never more important than the unity of our country. Abraham Lincoln and Jesus spoke truth when they said: “a house divided against its self cannot stand.”

We need to come together not as liberal or conservative, republican or democrat but simply as Americans who believe we can do better and be better.

Under God

Not under God because we are down here and God is up there. Not under God because we want some sort of theocracy like the belief of ISIS and other Islamic extremists. And not under God because we believe we were established to be a Christian nation like the beliefs of Christian extremists.

Rather, we pledge our allegiance to country under, after, second to, our allegiance to the law of God.

As people of faith, this is why our allegiance is not blind. The Commander-in-Chief is not our chief commander. The Supreme Court is not our supreme being. Our allegiance is first pledged to something that is bigger than our nation, even larger than our world.

It is an allegiance that informs our vote, rallies our civic duties, admonishes our obedience to civil law, and yet, sometimes calls us to civil disobedience. For the Christian, it is the God revealed through the words and works of Jesus who becomes our civil conscience. We believe the law of God revealed through Christ supersedes every human law.

Immediately following words from the Apostle Paul regarding good citizenship and obeying the law, we read that every one of God’s laws is summed up in just one law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said it this way: “On this hang all of the laws of the prophets “…that you love your neighbor as yourself.”

And just in case some are still confused to what “love” is, Paul defines love by saying: “Love does no harm to a neighbor.”

Jesus said, “There is no law greater.” It is as if Christ is saying, “If you don’t get anything else from Holy Scripture, you need to get this: ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” Yet, as evidenced by the amount of hatred, racism and violence that is in our nation today, much of it propagated in the name of God, this supreme law is widely ignored, disobeyed or rejected all together.

I believe it is when we first pledge our allegiance to this supreme law, that we have the opportunity to be a great nation. For when we love our neighbors as ourselves, when in everything we do to others as we would have them do to us, it quickly becomes “self-evident that all people are created equal with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Indivisible

When we pledge allegiance to the supreme law of God, when we pledge to love our neighbors as ourselves, we promise to work together under God to build bridges to overcome the gaps and barriers that we have created that divide us: racial, sexual, ethnic, political, economic, educational and religious. We pledge to come together, side by side, hand in hand, for the equality of all people and the inalienable rights of all people.

This does not mean that we are to never disagree with the beliefs or lifestyles of others. We can certainly love our neighbor while disagreeing with our neighbor. It is not hating our neighbor when we disagree with the flag that our neighbor flies; however, when we infringe on their life, their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness by supporting public policies or actions that treat them as second-class citizens, that do harm to our neighbor, that keep the poor poor while keeping the rich richer, it is certainly not loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. As our 44thPresident said in the eulogy of Rev. Clementa Pinckney: “…justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other. [Our] liberty depends on [our neighbors] being free, too.”

With liberty and justice for all.

We pledge to work for freedom and fairness not just for our educated, rich neighbor who can afford the best attorneys, and not just for our advantaged, abled-bodied and able-minded straight, white, Christian, English-speaking neighbors. We pledge ourselves to stand for liberty and justice for all. And according to the Abrahamic faiths, “all” especially includes foreigners, minorities, the poor, the differently-abled, all those who have been pushed to the margins.

All even includes people of every nation. For our love and our mission to stand for liberty and justice have no borders.

In response to a call to include the rights of the LGBTQ community as civil rights, one of my friends raised the following question on Facebook, and to avoid being obscene, I am going to paraphrase: “They only represent 2% of the population. Why do they matter?”

This was not just one lone, ugly, hateful voice, but one that was representative of the sentiment of many.

“They only make up 2% of the population. Why do they matter?”

For the Christian who pledges his or her allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all: LGBTQ+ lives matter; Black lives matter; Poor People’s lives matter, because according to everything for which this flag stands under the supreme law of the God of love, all lives will never matter, until all finally means all.