“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
The world we live in is in a chaos, much like the formless void that God created from:
1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)
We were managing ourselves somehow through the Covid-19 pandemic, wearing masks, being isolated due to home lock-down, and the fear of catching virus, which could possibly mean serious illness or even death. And now, we have also curfews imposed by the city in an effort to curtail the looting and protesting in response to unjust murder of an African American man, George Floyd. Last Sunday was truly a challenging time for me. I wonder if it wasn’t that way for most of us. It was Pentecost Sunday, time when we celebrate the continuing acts of Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit. I heard 3 sermons before I heard a service and sermon that addressed issues at hand, the protest, the racism, and opposing movement, black lives matter, and fires burning cars, police stations, and stores.
“Protests around the world have broken out since the May 25 death of Minneapolis resident and black man George Floyd, which occurred after a white police officer, caught on video, was seen kneeling on Floyd’s neck while arresting him. Three other officers stood by while Floyd could be heard saying “I can’t breathe.” While the four officers have been fired—and the one captured kneeling, Derek Chauvin, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder—a combination of centuries of systemic racism, ongoing outrage at police, the coronavirus outbreak, and mass unemployment have fueled unrest across the country. Over the past five days of protests, police were captured deploying tear gas, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets on protesters and journalists, along with numerous incidents of physical violence. One woman in Brooklyn, New York, was roughly thrown to the ground, while an NYPD SUV was seen driving through a crowd of protesters. A Minneapolis photojournalist was permanently blinded in one eye after taking a rubber bullet to the face.”
It is true that church is not a political entity and the church should not be used to promote political views of particular kind. But as I heard in sermons this past week, George Whitfield, one of the founding fathers of evangelical churches, and evangelist Billy Sunday preached on the Gospel and stuck to Gospel without speaking the truth of the Gospel into the context of things occurring in the world at the time. George Whitfield wrote that the slavery was necessary for the economy as whites were too fair skinned to do the work the slaves could do. He preached to the souls of the slaves and to slave owners. But he left slavery in the hands of the world to be kept live and well. It wasn’t the Holy Spirit moving the slavery movement, it was the winds of capitalism and economic interests driving the slavery movement. Francis Gremke wrote to Billy Sunday to say when he had held revival upholding the segregation laws of the nation, that he was shying away from difficult issues at hand. Friends, if we don’t speak up and act against the injustices and unjust killings, in fact what amounts to genocide of black brothers and sisters, who? If not now, when?
“What is it that you wanted me to reconcile myself to? I was born here more than 60 years ago. I’m not going to live another 60 years,” he said. “You always told me that it’s going to take time.”
“It’s taken my father’s time, my mother’s time, my uncle’s time, my brothers’ and my sisters’ time, my nieces and my nephew’s time,” he continued. “How much time do you want for your progress?” – James Baldwin
Last Sunday on Pentecost Sunday a preacher preached that the lectionary was on target. As the fires were burning in the streets and in our hearts, we were also celebrating fires and acts of the Holy Spirit. And I see the same is true of lectionary, selection of bible readings according to the church calendar. Our lectionary reading started with genesis, the creation of the world. The world was created from formless void. And human beings were created in the image of God, man and woman were created.
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday and we celebrate triune nature of God. Not three Gods, we don’t believe in polytheism. Three in one. Unity in diversity. Each person of the trinity different, but working together. The message found in the bible this morning, includes the gospel reading which has the great commission, Jesus commissioning us to go make disciples in the nations in the name of the father, and son and the holy spirit. How can we make disciples of all nations, if we do not believe that people we are trying to share gospel with are not our equals? In the past, yes, missionaries have evangelized to indigenous cultures and tried to colonize them, meaning to make others more like “us.” We tried to give language and culture and teachings in the name of making disciples of all nations. Some horrible and atrocious acts have been committed in the name of the church, as you know. We have to know our history, especially Church history, so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.
But today, it seems each generation is having their own civil rights movement! Previous generation had Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Emmett Till, literal lynching of black people, Jim Crow laws, and segregation trying to pass of separate but equal. Our generation is quickly growing a list of those who were killed due to their race as well. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd just to name three murdered black human beings in the past few months. Friends, we have to do better. We have to do better not because of political reasons. We have to do better because if we say we are followers of Jesus, we must live, act, and speak as followers of Jesus.
“The flag is drenched with our blood. Because you see so many of our ancestors were killed because we have never accepted slavery. We had to live under it but we never wanted it. So we know that this flag is drenched with our blood. So what the young people are saying now is give us a chance to be respected as a man. Because we know that this country was built on the black backs of black people across this country. And if we don’t have it—you ain’t gone have it either cause we gone tear it up. That’s what they’re saying. And people ought to understand that. I don’t see why they don’t understand it. They know what they’ve done to us. All across this country—THEY KNOW WHAT THEY’VE DONE TO US!” – Fannie Lou Hamer
As I said, I heard a great sermon this past week, one that recounted how in the past, preachers, well-meaning theologians George Whitfield and Billy Sunday, stuck faithfully to the Bible, to the gospel, but neglected to speak out against injustices of their times. If we turn our eyes and hearts away from black lives matter or the protests against police brutality, especially in the way blacks have been getting killed, we would be committing the same mistake as George Whitfield and Billy Sunday. We, as Christians care about black lives matter. Why? Because black lives matter TO God!
Are we sure about this? Absolutely! God created human beings in the image of Godself:
26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness (Genesis 1:26)
In “our image” means triune God, in all of its diversity and differences but united as one. The sermon I just mentioned, presented the relevance and power of racial reconciliation this way: in Christ, each of us are reconciled to God. As the body of Christ, having been reconciled to God, we are also reconciled to each other. As Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, this means to love one another and to live in peace:
11Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. (2 Corinthians 13: 11-12)
You know how we pass the peace of Christ after we say corporate prayer and are assured of our forgiveness? We are passing the peace at that time because having been forgiven by God, we also forgive one another, we also love one another. We love, we forgive, we fight for one another, why? Not because it is politically correct, although it is for sure politically correct. Not because we are whatever brand of Christians you feel proud to be: whether conservative, liberal, or radical Christian, you believe yourselves to be, it doesn’t matter. If you are a Christian, then pursue the things that grieve God’s heart, and fight against those things to eradicate them from the world. And pursue the things that please God, things that God loves, to promote God’s glory and presence in the world.
How can we know how to live? What does God’s Word teach us? And if someone has the Bible by their side, does this mean they are doing the will of God? If the church, the body of Christ, does not lead by example how to live as children of God, then will fill in the gap? President Trump held up a Bible for a photo opportunity a few days ago in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church across the street from the White House. He had just given a speech about law and order in response to protests against the murder of George Floyd. The Episcopal bishop of Washington, The Right Rev. Mariann Budde was “seething” when she spoke about the event:
““The Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, was seething.” She was speaking in response to the President’s visit to the church. “I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop,” Budde said.
“She excoriated the president for standing in front of the church — its windows boarded up with plywood — holding up a Bible, which Budde said “declares that God is love.”
““Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence,” Budde of the president. “We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.”
“In a written statement, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, head of the Episcopal denomination, accused Trump of using “a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes.””
You see, the Bible can be held up by anyone in front of any church. You could even be the President of the United States of America holding up a Bible in front of a church. But we must ask and answer for ourselves, what was the life and ministry of Jesus like? What would God have us do? We each have to answer for ourselves how God is calling us, and at times it will be necessary to act together in discernment through prayer and leading of the Holy Spirit to act as a church. I am not advocating a particular action or a particular view point as the definitive Christian position. I am calling us to the nature of God as unity in diversity, the act of God in creation to create in God’s image, and the call to make disciples of the nations. I am calling us to pause, to ponder and to meditate on these acts and attributes of God to be stirred up, to be woken up, and to be moved by the Spirit of the Living God.
Make no mistake friends. God weeps along with us, God’s heart breaks when our heart breaks, and God is present with us in our homes, in the streets, wherever we are. Black lives matter to us because black lives matter to God! What will you do? What shall we do to promote justice of our God who loves us even while we are sinners? God accepts and loves us as we are. But God is not then wanting us to stay the way we were when we met God. We are to strive for the things that move God’s heart. Will you? Will we? Or are we too afraid and tired from the pandemic to get out or to open the ears and eyes of our spirit to do what the Holy Spirit is calling us to do?
Let us pray, O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Startle us with the grace, love, and communion of your unity in diversity, that we may live to the praise of your majestic name. Awaken in us the humility to serve wherever creation is broken and in need, that we may follow in the way of our brother, Jesus, die as he did to all that separates us from you, and with him be raised to new life. Amen.