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.

This at Last

godsnotfinished

Genesis 2:18-24 NRSV

Americans have always had a high regard for independence. We believe in a staunch individual ethic that leads people to step up, step out, and stand on their own two feet. We look up to those who are able to look after themselves, to take care of number one, to be responsible, to be independent. And we tend to look down on those who are dependent on others for their survival.

This is arguably the greatest virtue of our society, the aspiration of every boy and girl. Study hard, grow up, move out on your own, and get a good job, so you can become self-sufficient, self-reliant, self-supporting. And bookstore shelves and YouTube videos labeled, “Do-it-yourself” and “Self-help” are filled with books and videos to help us keep our independence. Anything else and you are considered to be a failure, worthless, no count, lazy, good-for-nothing. Yes, in our society, independence is what it is all about.

Many grocery stores now have “self-checkout” lines that are almost always available no waiting. If you are smart enough to check your own groceries, if you have good ol’ American wherewithal and work ethic, if you are responsible and have learned to really be independent, if you have elevated yourself to a place where the assistance of a Wal-Mart cashier is truly beneath you, then you’ve earned the right not to wait in line.

Independence. It is what makes turning 16 and getting your driver’s license so wonderful, and it is what makes the day the doctor or your children take the car keys away from you so dreadful. It is what makes owning a home the American dream, and what makes the thought of moving into nursing home a nightmare.

Perhaps more than any other day, we fear the day we lose our independence. It is the reason we save for retirement, eat right, take our vitamins and exercise; so we can remain independent to the bitter end.

This is why coming to church can sometimes be confusing, and oftentimes, challenging. We come to church and open our Bibles only to discover that God’s ideals and virtues are oftentimes very different from our own. We come to church to reaffirm our beliefs, only to have God call those beliefs into question.

On the very first pages of our Bible, we learn that the first thing that God said was “not good” was, guess what? Our independence.

“This is not good,” says the Lord, “I will have to keep working, continue creating, to make you a partner, a co-equal, someone on whom you can depend to help you be the person that I have created you to be.”

So out of the ground, the Lord formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air.

And then the man searched high and low. He became acquainted with each creature so closely, that he was able to name each one. But out of all of the animals that he encountered, and out of all of the birds that he watched, he could not find a single suitable companion, a partner on whom he could depend, a co-equal with whom he could share a mutual relationship and an intimate communion.

But God did not give up. God was not finished. God was intent on helping the first human be the person he was created to be. So God kept working. God continued creating. However, this time, not from the ground; but from the man himself.

As the man slept, God removed one of his ribs and used that rib to make a woman. Instead of forming another human being from the ground, God split the first human being into two beings and then presented her to the man. It was then that the man said:

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;”

This at last is the relationship for which have been searching.

This at last is the beloved communion for which I have been longing.

This at last is my partner, my companion, my confidant, my sister.

This at last is my equal with whom I can be mutually connected.

This at last is someone on whom I can depend.

This at last is what I have needed to be the person that God has created me to be.

This at last is one that I must love as myself, for…

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

 

This is why we are to love others as we love ourselves. And this describes every man and every woman. We are co-equals, mutually connected and bound together.

This should describe the moment patriarchy died, the moment misogyny and sexism, racism and bigotry, became implausible. However, we know all too well that this is not what happened.

The good news is that this is not the end of God’s creative story.

The good news is God was not finished with God’s new beloved community. God knew that an even greater communion was needed if we were ever going to be the persons that God has created us to be. So God kept working. God continued creating. And, this time, God took it one step further.

God looked at God’s beloved community. God saw the good in it, but also the wicked in it. God saw the sexual assault. God saw the domestic violence. God saw the hate, the mocking and the crowds cheering it on. And God knew that it could be so much better.

So, God, God’s holy self, decided to join the community! God came to be with us, and God came to be one of us. God came to show us the way. God became flesh. God became bone. And God’s beloved community called him “Jesus.”

And one night, as Jesus sat with his beloved community at a table, he took bread and broke it, and blessed it, saying, “This is my body.” Then he took the cup, saying, “This is my blood.”

And here we are this morning. We have gathered here this morning at a table with Christians from all over the world, mutually connected, depending on one another and communing with one another, but also depending on and communing with a Savior, singing together in one voice:

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;”

This at last is the relationship for which we have been searching.

This at last is the beloved communion for which we have been longing.

This at last is our partner, our companion, our confidant, our brother.

This at last is someone with whom we can be mutually and eternally connected.

This at last is someone on whom we can truly depend.

This at last is what we have always needed, all we will ever need, to be the persons that God has created us to be.

This at last is the One who reminds us that we are all interconnected by the love of our God who never gives up on us, who keeps working and keeps creating until the whole creation understands that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, but we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

One day, I was talking with someone who was dying with cancer. He told me that his illness had demonstrated to him the things that were truly important in life. He said, “And the funny thing is, that they are the opposite of what I always thought was important.”

He said: “I never knew how many friends I had until I got sick. And I never realized just how important they are. Jarrett, the truth is, ‘We really do need a little help from our friends.’”

Before his illness he admitted that what he had valued more than anything in the world was his independence, “but no more,” he said, “no more.”

Then he said: “Maybe that is why God created us to depend on one another. It is like some kind of training.”

“Training?”

“Yes, training,” he said, “because the most important thing in this life is to reach a point where we learn to be dependent on God, to reach to a point sometime before we die, where we have truly put our lives into the hands of God.”

It was as if he was saying: “No more! Because, now I see it. Now, I get it. In my most vulnerable, most dependent state, now, I know it. This at last is what life is all about!”

This at last is why we are here: to learn be in relationships; to learn to depend on one another; to learn care for one another; to understand that at last we are all related; we are all equal; we are all united; we are all one;

And as we depend on each other, we learn to depend on the One on whom we can depend on forevermore;

the One who came to us at last;

the One who came to be with us and for us;

the One who came to show us how to be the people God created us to be;

the One who is still not finished;

the One who is still creating and recreating, working to transform this world God loves by calling disciples, ministers and prophets, male and female, in every country on every continent; We learn to depend on this One:

This at last, Christ, our brother, our teacher, our Lord and our Savior, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.[i]

[i]Inspired from: This at Last!, An Intergenerational Liturgy for World Communion Sunday, Nineteenth Sunday of Pentecost year B, was written by the Rev. Dr. Laurel Koepf Taylor, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Eden Theological Seminary, Saint Louis, Missouri.

 

The Baptisms of Lydia and Traci

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Acts 16:9-15 NRSV

I believe the baptism of a certain woman named Lydia, and the baptism of a certain woman named Traci, have much to teach us this day.

Luke tells the story the baptism of Lydia. It begins with Paul and Silas sharing the good news of Jesus in Troas, an Asian town situated across the Aegean Sea from the European district of Macedonia. Paul has a vision of a man in Macedonia pleading: “Come on over and help us.” Convinced by the vision that God was calling them to go and proclaim the good news in Europe, without hesitation, they sailed to Macedonia, went through Samothrace and Neapolis, eventually settling in the leading city of Philippi.

While they were there, Paul and Silas heard about a group of women that had been gathering for worship down by the river outside the gate. So when the Sabbath came, they went and found the women, sat down with them, and engaged them in a conversation.

Then Luke says that it was obvious that this one woman in the group, this woman named Lydia, was really paying attention to what Paul had to say. And then he says some very remarkable things about this woman. First of all, he points out that she is an Asian business owner from Thyatira. Secondly, because he says that “she and her household” were baptized, it’s evident that she was the head of her household.

Now, remember, this is the first century. It’s not a period known for women working outside of the home. Females were treated as second-class citizens and even as “property.” Males were the leaders, the heads of business and the heads of households. And yet, here is a woman who is the head of both.

And since she is the only one who is pointed out to be really paying attention to what Paul was saying, she also appears to be the head of that community of faith which gathered there each week by the river.

And this says Luke, this baptism of a foreign woman who shatters all cultural expectations, this baptism of a woman who lived life two-thousand years ahead of her time, the baptism of this woman as the first European Christian, is the result of a vision from God that came to Paul.

So, what in the world was God trying to say to Paul and Silas through that vision of a man saying, “Come to Macedonia, because I need some help!”

Could it be that God was saying: “Paul and Silas, I know you are clear across the sea on another continent, but I need you to get in a boat right now and set sail to Macedonia. I need you to come over here to Europe, make your way through Samothrace and Neapolis, all the way to Philippi, and help me, once and for all, show the world that through my love revealed in Christ Jesus who continually lifted up the status of women, elevated the foreigner, accepted the Eunuchs, and did something almost daily to shatter all cultural expectations, destroying the stigma of status, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality, that in my kingdom, there no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. Help me clearly make the statement that in Christ all are one.”

It is as if God is saying, “I know people have heard the stories of Jesus calling women to be counted among his disciples. I know the word is out that Mary and Joanna were the first ones to proclaim the good news Easter. I know many have heard about my disciple Tabitha and her works of kindness and gifts of charity. And I know that folks are hearing about the good work of sister Phoebe leading the church at Cenchreae; however, I am still afraid I am going to need some more help here in Europe. Because I have this bad feeling that if I do not do something as radical as making the first baptized Christian on this continent a strong woman like Lydia, some of these Europeans, not to mention their descendants, are still going to argue, even two-thousand years from now, that a woman has no business being at the head of a communion table, or being the head of a household, or even being the head of her own body.”

“And I know people have heard the story of the Good Samaritan, that despised foreigner who proved to be a holy neighbor to the Jewish man who who was beaten and left dead on the side of the road, but I have this terrible inkling that if I don’t make a foreigner the first European convert, some Europeans, not to mention their descendants, even two-thousand years from now, may still harbor all kinds of prejudices against those who are not of European descent. So, get yourself over here to Macedonia as fast as you can and help me baptize this certain woman named Lydia!”

I believe Paul may have Lydia in mind when he penned the following words to the church at Ephesus: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; …and has broken down the dividing wall… So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2).

Then, there is the baptism of Traci. Like Lydia, Traci is also a certain woman; however, fortunate for her, she has joined a church that has learned a thing or two from Lydia. For, here at Central Christian Church, the gifts of women are valued just as much as the gifts of men. Traci will be encouraged here to use her gifts to freely follow Christ wherever the Spirit leads.

Traci is not a foreigner. However, since she was not raised in our church, she was a stranger, an outsider to most of us. Therefore, I believe the baptism of Traci reminds us that we have been called by God to reach out beyond our walls and embrace others like Traci who did not grow up in this church, or any church for that matter, so that they will no longer be strangers.

It is as if God is saying: “I know people have heard the Great Commission of the Risen Christ to “be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” making “…disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…” But I have this bad feeling, that if I do not stir the hearts of people like Traci, and draw them into the renewing waters of the church, enlarging and changing the congregation, then the church might be tempted to become so comfortable with the status quo that they grow apathetic, just uninterested in reaching out to welcome the stranger.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. told a story at the recent men’s retreat that reminded me of something that happened to my wife Lori a few months before we came to Oklahoma. Rev. Jackson said that he went to a Popeye’s Chicken restaurant one night to get him some chicken. He went through the drive through and ordered a Chicken Combo plate. And lo and behold, the person working the drive thru window told him that they were out of chicken.

Lori had the same experience with a Bojangle’s Chicken and Biscuit restaurant in North Carolina. She went to Bojangles, which is similar to Popeye’s or a Golden Chick, to get her some chicken, only to be told that they were out of chicken.

Lori came home and said, “I am so mad. Bojangle’s Chicken and Biscuits told me that they were out of chicken. She said, “I can understand if they run out of the mashed potatoes. I can maybe even sympathize a little with them if they run out of biscuits. But Bojangle’s, like Jesse Jackson said of Popeye’s, has got no business running out of chicken!”

The baptism of Traci reminds us what the church is all about. If a church is not continually working to break down dividing walls and to build bridges and relationships with those outside the church, with the goal of having several baptismal services a year like this one a year, then the church is like a Rib Crib opening their doors for business when they’re fresh out of ribs! Might as well close down and put a chain on the doors.

After Lydia is baptized, notice the first thing that she does. She extends a gracious welcome to Paul and Silas inviting them stay at her home. Her words following her baptism remind me of our identity statement as Disciples of Christ, “We welcome all to the Lord’s table as God has welcomed us.”

I was on facebook Friday night, and I read these words from Traci’s timeline that are so so reminiscent of Lydia’s words: “Please come and visit Central Christian Church. The service starts at 10:15 am. It is a great church.”

Lydia and Traci remind us that each person in this room who has been baptized, who has been welcomed by God through the gracious hospitality of Christ, should feel compelled by the Holy Spirit of Jesus to go out from this place and welcome all people.

Through the baptisms of a certain woman named Lydia and a certain woman named Traci, I believe God is saying to each of us: “Go out, reach out, tear down a wall, build a bridge, connect, engage, get on facebook, get in a boat if you have to, travel through the streets of places like Samothrace and Neapolis and Philippi and Enid and North Enid and East, West and South Enid, because I need some help! I need some help sharing the good news that all are welcome at my table.”

Response to Viral Video Attacking Farmville Central High School

FCHSTo avoid fueling the fire, I have been asked not to respond to the insanity surrounding Farmville Central High School regarding the reactions of Christian extremists to a vocabulary lesson set in an Islamic context. I do not always do what I am asked; however, this time, I am acquiescing. The following is my non-response:

Sometimes the actions and words of others can be so ludicrously ignorant and unreasonable that they are unworthy of any thoughtful response. People who make obviously uninformed and phobic statements regarding the race, gender identity, sexual orientation, political affiliation or religion of another do not merit serious debate. It is like arguing with someone who does not believe in gravity.

Click here for WNCT story.

A Personal Thought on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

martin-luther-king-on-pulpit-robert-casillaWhen I moved to southern Louisiana to preach the gospel, my church had a policy to close the church office on Fat Tuesday (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday), but not on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I immediately changed the holiday policy stating: “I believe that churches should especially honor the MLK holiday. After all, he was a preacher who was martyred for preaching the gospel of Jesus!”

So, for me, today is a day to remember not only the sermons of Martin Luther King, Jr., but to also reexamine my own preaching, or lack thereof.

I have always believed that there is a lot of correlation between what happened in Memphis in 1968 and what happened in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. I truly believe that if you love all people, and live your life trying to convince others to love all people, then there will always be some people, probably religious, who will want to kill you.

Today, I am reminded that if my preaching does not take grave risks by offending and outraging those who do not believe that God’s love expands past the lines of race, class, religion, nationality and sexual orientation, then I am not preaching the gospel of Jesus.