It’s Not Complicated: Don’t Be Terrible

love it or leave it

People asked the prophet, “What is the one thing the Lord requires?” He responded: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Is that all? Really?

People asked Jesus, “What is the one thing, the one commandment that is above all other commandments?” He responded: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

Seriously? That’s it?

Micah and Jesus say: “Yes!”

Could it be that they understood when we make life more complicated than justice, kindness, humility and love, then terrible things tend happen?

When we make it more complicated than kindness, then we might excuse racist chants of “send her back.”

When we make it more complicated than justice, then we may ignore the harm done to the brown children of asylum-seekers who have been separated from their parents.

When we make it more complicated than humility, then we could overlook and perpetuate racial privilege.

When we make it more complicated than love, then we might defend hate, bigotry and discrimination.

When we make it more complicated that the main things that the prophet and Jesus said that it was all about, then we may be apathetic and silent when the President imitates the Ku Klux Klan by saying: “Love it or leave it.”

So, let’s stop making it so complicated.

Let’s be just. Let’s be kind. Let’s be humble. And let’s love all our neighbors.

And then, maybe, we will stop being so terrible.

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Time to Get the Hell Out

 

get the hell outIt is time to get going. It is time to move. We need to get the hell out of this country now.

It is difficult to leave behind what we have always known, but we need to do it, and we need to do it now. It is time to go. It is time to get the hell out of here.

We need to get the hell that is racism out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is sexism out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is selfishness and greed out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is xenophobia, Islamophobia, and homophobia out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is hate out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is demagoguery out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is White Christian Nationalism out of this country now.

We need to get the hell that is denial, silence and apathy out of this country now.

We need to protest it out, pray it out, preach it out, run it out, vote it out, or impeach it out. We need to love the hell out of this country. We need to love every anti-Christ part of it out. Now is the time for good people to get going, to start moving, to work together, to get the hell out of this country now.

Go Back to Where You Came From

go back to where you came from

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Go back to the time of Jim Crow when discrimination and segregation was the law. Go back to that place where people of color were terrorized with cross-burnings, church-burnings and lynchings.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time before women had the right to healthcare, the right to vote and the right to work outside the home.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time in history when human beings were sold and treated as property. Go back to that place where human beings were chained, shackled and whipped.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time when indigenous Americans were considered to be soul-less creatures who could be hunted, killed and displaced like animals. Go back to that time women like Pocahontas were kidnapped and raped by colonizers without remorse.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time when the state controlled religion in order to control people. Go back to that place where Christianity was used to support slavery, genocide, the castrations of gay people, and the hanging of women suspected to be witches.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time when Christians terrorized anyone who did not fall in line with their understanding of God and the world. Go back to that place where they put free-thinking women like Jan Hus and Joan of Arc on a stake and set them on fire.

Go back to where you came from.

Go back to that time before Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love our neighbors as ourselves. Go back to that time before the prophet Micah proclaimed that the one thing God requires is to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.

Please, go back to where you came from. Because this is 2019. It is not 1919, 1819, 1619 or any other dark time in human history.

Unless the Lord Builds It

grandaddy
My grandfather, Eugene Gaston Banks, Sr., served in the US Coast Guard patrolling the North Atlantic during World War II.

Psalm 127 NRSV

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

This is definitely true in marriage.

If a couple does not incorporate some of the basic tenets of the Christian faith into their marriage, their attempts to build a happy home will be in vain. Ephesians 5:20 reminds us that mutual submission in marriage should exist: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

If there is not some mutual sacrifice, self-giving and cooperation in a marriage, then there’s a pretty good chance that the minister who officiated that wedding wasted his or her entire weekend. Randy could have gone to that TCU – Arkansas football game! Howard could have played in that golf tournament!  And we don’t even want to think about what the parents of the couple could have done with all of that money they spent on the wedding!

Furthermore, as a Christian who seeks to be guided and defined by the love of God fully revealed in Christ, here’s the verse from Ephesians that means to most to me: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

If I do not love Lori with a self-giving, self-expending love that is revealed to us in the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross, then all the effort we put into our marriage is in vain. 

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

 This also applies to the church.

Like marriage, I believe the church should be built on the foundation of God’s love that was revealed on the cross.

One day, a very wealthy church member approached the new pastor after he preached a sermon on the inclusive love of Christ. He asked: “Pastor, we’re not going to be the kind of church that welcomes and accepts those people, are we?

By “those” people, I am certain he was referring to anyone who does not look like, live like, love like or think like him.

The new pastor answered, “Of course we are going to be that kind of church. For we believe that the love we are to model to others was fully revealed in the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross reaching out to all people.

The wealthy man replied: “I suggest that you do everything in your power to prevent that from happening, or I am going to take my family and my money to another church!”

This story, which by the way is a true story, a very personal story, begs the question: “Can a church practice exclusivity and continue to be a church that the Lord is building?”

I believe the answer has to be “no.” For the inclusivity that is revealed in those outstretched arms of our Lord on the cross is foundational to who we are as the church.

A church that does not love and welcome all people in the name of the Christ who died for all is not a church at all, but is only the worst kind of club. And every member of that club is wasting their time. They worship in vain.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.

I believe this most certainly applies to our nation.

If the Lord is not building our nation, if our security and foundation is not in the Lord, then those who labor for this nation and those who guard this nation do so in vain.

Where this becomes the most serious, of course, is when we consider our veterans, especially our veterans who have not only guarded this nation, but gave their lives for this nation.

At one point during the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC, we ran along the scenic Potomac River and what’s called “the Blue Mile.” This is a mile stretch of the marathon where fallen service members are commemorated in photographs along the roadway decorated with American flags.

As I ran the Blue Mile, I tried my best to read each name and their ages when they made the ultimate sacrifice. I did not see an age over 39.

As Americans, we owe it to them to do all that we can do to ensure their lives were not given up in vain.

We also owe it to every veteran who survived but nevertheless sacrificed much in service to our country, to do all that we can to ensure that they did not serve in vain.

In the 1930’s Henry Emerson Fosdick, the pastor of Riverside Church of New York, once talked about the seriousness of the Lord building and shaping this world.He prophetically proclaimed:

For myself, I shall try to stand for Jesus Christ as the interpreter of… life. In this world with its cynicism, its disillusionment, often its disheartenment, how men and women are needed to stand for him with the intellectual, personal, and social implications of his gospel. And it is going to be serious business standing for him in this generation.

Fosdick then tells a story:

It is said that a man once came to [the great artist James Abbott] Whistler, and asked his help in hanging a new and beautiful picture. The man complained that he could not make the picture fit the room, and Whistler, looking over the matter, said, ‘Man, you’re beginning at the wrong end. You can’t make that painting fit the room. You will have to make the room fit the painting.’

Fosdick says:

So when we carry into this modern world the picture of [the] life that Jesus Christ brought, we cannot make it fit the room. Put it over against our private morals, our disintegrating family life, our economic system… it will not fit the room. We must change the room to fit the picture. [And] that is serious business.

It is important to mention that since Fosdick inferred that we the need to renovate of our nation to fit the portrait of Jesus, Christian “Reconstructionists” have sought to rebuild or reconstruct America to fit their personal interpretation of biblical morality. You need to know that I am not talking about doing that. I am not advocating transforming our democracy into some sort of theocracy. And I am certainly not advocating dismantling the First Amendment.

I am talking about building upon that foundation that was laid in 1776 with these powerful words found in our Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Although I do not believe our nation is or was ever intended to be a Christian nation, I believe these words found in our Declaration of Independence, like the words inscribed in the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor…your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” are rooted in and influenced by the love of God revealed in that selfless, inclusive portrait of Jesus hanging on the cross with outstretched arms.

And for me as a Christian, it is this foundation that I believe should be preserved and built upon. This is what it means for the Lord to build the house and guard the city to ensure that the veterans who guarded this nation, did not do so in vain. And more importantly, that those who gave their lives for this nation, did not die in vain.

So, more than anything, what I believe our nation needs today is some Jesus!

I believe that means we must work to ensure that every person, regardless of their race, ethnicity, tax bracket, ability, and religion, is valued equally. That means we must stand against racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and Christian White Nationalism. We must speak out against Islamophobia, Xenophobia, trans and homophobia, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must work to ensure that every vote counts in our democracy. That means we must fight all tactics of voter suppression, voter intimidation and partisan gerrymandering, or else those veterans who served this country did so vain.

I believe we must work to preserve our fragile freedoms: the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must defend the rights of every person to live, to work, to love and to have equal protection under the law. We must work for affordable healthcare, access to quality education and to fair living wages. We must do more that send our thoughts and prayers in response to the mass shooting epidemic in this nation, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must be relentless in the difficult work of peacemaking, of reconciliation, of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. That means we must stand against tribalism and the politics of vulgarity, vitriol, and violence. We must agree that words do matter, and we must be willing speak up against words that stoke the fires of fear and fan the flames of hate, speak against any word that seeks to divide us rather than unify us. We must work with other nations to end perpetual war and the profiteering from war, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must care for our environment, to do what we can to reduce the number of wildfires on the West Coast and the number of hurricanes on the East Coast and the number of earthquakes in Oklahoma, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

I believe we must continuously work for, march for, fight for, and vote for the liberty and justice of all, especially for the most vulnerable among us, or else those veterans who served this country did so in vain.

This building-of-a-more-perfect-union was stated most beautifully in a poem written during the First World War by Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who was killed in action.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place, and in the sky,

The larks, still bravely singing,

Fly, Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.  Take up our quarrel with the foe!

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high!

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Let us pray together…     

Dear Lord, please keep our veterans in your care and grant them the peace that they sought to safeguard for others. As we continue honor our veterans, we also pray for peace everywhere. O God, teach your children of every race, creed and faith, in every land, the ways of peace, freedom and equality, so that those who have sacrificed so much for peace and freedom will not have sacrificed in vain. It is in the name of Christ Jesus, the prince of peace we pray, Amen.

Come and See

Statue of LIberty

John 1:43-51 NRSV

What are we doing here this morning? How did we get to this place? Why are we here this morning sitting in a worship service? How does faith happen?

Well, according to John, it all started one day when John the Baptizer saw Jesus walking by and said to two of his disciples: “Look.” “Look, here is the Lamb of God.”

When the disciples heard him say this, they immediately, almost enthusiastically, began to follow Jesus, spending the entire day with him.

The disciple named Andrew went out and found his brother, Simon Peter and said, “We have found the Messiah.” He then brought Simon to Jesus so Simon could see for himself.

This is how church happens. This is how we got here. We are here this morning because one person told another person who told another person who told another person about Jesus.

This is how our faith got started. It is the way our faith happens today. It is the way that faith has always happened. It is the way it is intended to happen. It is to be shared personally, person to person to person.

Our scripture text continues…

The next day, Jesus went out to Galilee and found a man named Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Then Philip, much like Andrew who went and told Simon about Jesus, went out and found his friend Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote: Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

And here’s where the story really gets interesting. Nathanael doesn’t respond with the eagerness and enthusiasm of Andrew or Simon when they first heard about Jesus. In fact, Nathanael responds much like we expect people to respond to Jesus today. He seems cynical, skeptical, dismissive, and even rude. We can picture him arrogantly rolling his eyes asking, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

We can picture this, because we have seen it. We’ve heard this before.

We heard it put in vulgar words this week referring to Haiti, El Salvador and nations on the African continent”

And we’ve also heard it if we’ve invited anyone to church lately, and I am hoping that all of you have invited someone, are inviting people! Because that is how our faith works. It is how church works. It is shared personally, person to person.

Do you remember hearing the cynicism? “Can anything good come from the church these days?” “Does anything good ever come from organized religion?”

Nathanael responds the same way most people respond to us when we bring up Jesus or the church these days.

However, notice how Philip responds to the cynicism of Nathanael. Philip does not respond in any of the ways I would respond. He doesn’t snap back, get defensive, or walk away disappointed or angry. I am sometimes tempted to start preaching a little sermon, defending God and the way of Jesus, making the case for following Jesus, arguing that the things that he had heard about Jesus, Nazareth, and organized religion, are not all true.

No, Philip doesn’t do any of those things. He lets Nathanael’s criticism roll off his back and simply answers: “Come and see.”

What is interesting is that this is exactly how Jesus one day answered Andrew and his friend when they asked Jesus where he was staying. Jesus said, “Come and see.”

Andrew went and saw, and he saw that Jesus never really stayed anywhere. He saw that foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8:20). He saw that Jesus was continually on the move, on a journey, teaching, leading, touching, healing, forgiving, feeding, giving, welcoming, accepting, restoring.

Jesus simply said, “Come and see,” and when Andrew went and saw, he saw that he had indeed seen the Messiah.

And when Nathanael dismisses Philip, Philip simply responds: “Come and see.”

Professor of preaching Michael Rogness points out that our task is “not to prove the truth of the Christian faith” to a skeptic or a cynic. It is not even to persuade others to become Christian. Our task is simply to say to others: ‘Come and see.’”[i]

And Nathanael came. And Nathanael saw this one who surprisingly knew him by name, this one who saw the good that was in him, this one who loved him and promised to open up heaven for him.

Seminary president David Lose remarks: “Such simple…and inviting words.” “Come and see.” Words, he says sum up “not only the heart of the Gospel of John, but the whole Christian life.” Because the Christian faith, he says, is “all about invitation.”

“It’s not about cramming your faith down someone else’s throat. After all, nowhere in the Bible does it tell us to ask anyone: ‘Have you given your life to Christ?’” Nowhere does the Bible tell us to go up to our neighbors and ask: “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?” “Have you been saved?” Or worse: “If you died this very day, do you know where you will spend eternity?” Or even worse: “God loves you and wants a personal relationship with you, but if you reject God, then God will send you straight to hell.”[ii]

No, we’re just asked to say (not to push, guilt or scare) but to say: “Come and see.” “Come and see for yourself what Christ means in my life.” “Come and see what Jesus has done for me.” “Come and see how Jesus informs my thinking, guides my life, gives my life meaning.” “Come and see for yourself the good things our church is doing in the name of Christ.” “Come and see.”

It is not our job to convert or to save; only to invite.

And here’s the thing. When we first bring up the subject of church, if they can see that we are truly being sincere, if they can see in our eyes that we are being honest and genuine, if they can see we are sharing from our hearts, we should expect them to be skeptical and cynical. We can fully expect them to dismiss what we are saying, or even make some smart-aleck response like: “I didn’t know anything good could come from church these days!”

And when they do, when they hesitate or smirk, we need to understand that that’s okay. In fact, in this world, it is to be expected. Because this good news that we are sharing—the good news that God, the creator of all that is, not only knows us by name, but loves us, sees the all of the good in us, gives God’s self to us, and promises to open up heaven for us—this good news does seem too good to be true.

Thus, we should completely understand if they pause at our invitation, if they look unsure, or even if they walk away. All we can do, all God wants us to do, is just say, “Come and see.”

Come and see a church that never stays put, but is always on the move. Come and see a church that does not invite you to come to church but to go and be the church, be the embodiment of Christ in this world.

Come and see a church who strives everyday to keep the dream of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr alive by being a pro-reconciling, anti-racism church.

Come and see a church that supports and works with local law enforcement and the community to build relationships and provide a safe place to converse about behaviors that adversely affect people of color.

Come and see a church that believes in religious freedom for all religions, not just Christians. And come and see a church that does not believe religious freedom gives us a right to discriminate or to do harm to another.

Come and see a church that invites and welcomes a Muslim leader of the local mosque to speak at a Men’s dinner to break down the walls that divide us, to build bridges and create friendships will all our neighbors.

Come and see a church where you brain does not have to be checked at the door. Come and see a church that believes science is real and caring for this planet is a God-given, moral responsibility.

Come and see a church that believes all people are created in the image of God, male and female. Come and see a church that values the leadership of women, ordains women, and believes women’s rights are human rights.

Come and see a church that is deeply rooted in the American dream, a church that was conceived by immigrants in the early 19th century, a church where the words of Emma Lazarus that are engraved in the foundation of the Statue of Liberty are engraved in our historical and spiritual DNA:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Come and see a church that hosts Christmas parties for the poor and the marginalized and purchases Christmas gifts to give to impoverished strangers.

Come and see a church that regularly sends care packages to widows and remodels apartments for the orphaned and is committed to the Word of God, and, with the prophet Isaiah, isn’t afraid to speak truth to power:

Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,

who write oppressive statutes,

to turn aside the needy from justice

and to rob the poor of my people of their right,

that widows may be your spoil,

and that you may make the orphans your prey! (Isaiah 10:2)

Come and see a church that serves its community by feeding the hungry, volunteering in the hospitals, tutoring the illiterate, and caring for those who are homebound or in nursing homes. Come and see a church that sends supplies and volunteers to give hope to survivors of natural disasters.

Come and see a church that seeks to be a place of grace, believing that none of us are better than others, and all of us, each one of us, including the pastor lives in sin.

Come and see a church who, without condemning or judging, genuinely welcomes all people to join their mission to be the Body of Christ in this world, and all means all. Come and see a church that believes we are all called to be ministers; we are all disciples called to build up the Body of Christ by inviting others to join us.

Come and see a church that believes that the grace of God extends to all and that there is nothing in heaven or on earth, or in all of creation that can ever separate any of us from the love of God through Christ our Jesus Lord.

What’s that you say? You don’t believe it?

Of course you don’t. We don’t expect you to. It sounds too good to be true.

So why don’t you just come and see!

O God, to all cynics who believe that nothing good can come out of the church these days, help us to say, “Come and see.” Amen.

 

Invitation to Communion

Now, I invite you to come and see a table that has been prepared for you.

Come and see bread that was broken for you

Come and see a cup that was poured for you.

Come and see the very life of God, the creator of all that is that has been given for you.

Come and see this love, this grace.  Touch it, taste it, consume it, for it has the power to change the world.

 

 

COMMISSIONING AND BENEDICTION 

Go forth as a church that is on the move,

A church that is committed to using all of our gifts

To work for peace and justice to flow like a mighty stream.

Go forth to share your faith, person to person to person.

Go forth and invite someone to come and see a church that

seeks to become the radiant hope that is needed in our world.

And as we go forth,

may we experience our God rejoicing over us and with us.

And let us go forth confident that

                        unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word!

 


 

[i] Michael Rogness, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2314

[ii] David Lose, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2314