(Picture taken from https://scoutdog.files.wordpress.com/2007/12/looking-out-window-6-7-07-001.jpg)
Youse a stupid dog.
Wha yuh a look fah een?
Deh deh a look pon window…wha yuh tink?
Parousia nah start today, papa.
Yuh nuh see seh we nuh ready?
Bwoy mi tell yuh!
I think Jesus show up right ya now we’d kill him again.
In all a him glory (tell the story!)
We so fool fool, we see him and tink seh
Di big man fit di description.
Bwoy mi nuh know!
Yuh tink dem woulda stop and frisk mi King?
Have a picnic, put a fiyah pon a cross or wha?
Baptize wid di firehose.
Last supper wid skittles.
Iced tea a fi wi blood type.
Mi like him, me’d a show up as a dawg.
No mongrel to wi ting.
Deh yah a wait pon mi Shepherd still.
Leadership can be weary you know. You feel a conviction and move on it. Unsure if you’ll be headed up the mountain by yourself but you just know you have to go. There are other times where you feel provoked to move, not by gumption or a still small voice. No this provocation is from external pressure. And in spite of its weight, this pressure to keep up is unsuccessful in getting you to move. Something about it just does not seem right, so you stand still. Leadership, in every permutation, requires a willingness to listen. And even in listening there must be a discipline to listen for the right voice. Dr. King noted the multitude of voices; how many forces are at the proverbial table ready to speak up when decisions must be made. Cowardice asks, “is it safe?” Expediency, “is it politic?” Vanity, “is it popular?” But conscience asks the question, “Is it right?” Dr. King understood that “there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.”
Jonah fascinates me. This brother hears that he has to go to Nineveh and speak against the wickedness in that city and refuses to go. Jonah flees for Tarshish and from the Lord’s presence (Jonah 1:3). The ship he is in is met with a storm and Jonah is eventually thrown into the sea and takes up residency in the belly of a great fish for three days and three nights. After being thrown overboard and living in the belly of a fish, Jonah makes his way to Nineveh where the people repent and God does not destroy their city. This tale contains characters whose behavior is unexpected. Jonah, being the prophet after all, is the one we expect to model right behavior. And seeing that Nineveh was about to be destroyed for their iniquity, one would not be out of pocket to expect some reckless behavior once the story reaches Nineveh. But surprisingly we see a king who models humility for his people. The king joins his people in mourning; he rises from his throne, removes his royal attire and covers himself in sackcloth and ashes (Jonah 3:6). Furthermore, the king of Nineveh declares that all in Nineveh, human and animal alike, will participate in this solemn assembly. All must participate in this act of repentance.
You’d think that this incredible act of contrition–a whole city destined for destruction repenting!–would soften Jonah’s heart toward Nineveh but he is disinterested. The story ends with Jonah not feeling needed. He knew God was compassionate and abounding in love so he figured this outcome could have happened with or without him (Jonah 4:2). Jonah sets up shop to the east of the city and waits to see what will happen. Jonah wants the Lord to take his life but God makes a bush for him. A bush that gives him shade, a bush that saves him from his discomfort (Jonah 4:6). For the first time in the book, Jonah is actually happy. This happiness is shortlived as a worm attacks the bush and it withers. The elements of wind and heat over take the prophet and once again Jonah says to the Lord, “It is better for me to die than to live,” (Jonah 4:8, NRSV).
God calls Jonah out. Jonah is furious about the outcome, no longer wants to live and is mourning over a bush. God says to him if he is going to be outraged about these matters, then shouldn’t God be “concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:11, NRSV).
Now before we get comfortable in our seats of judgment, let us not forget that we are not far removed from such obstinance. How many times do we ignore the right voice? We let the phone ring. We take another aisle at the supermarket. We cross the street. We play the perverse game of “I hope they didn’t see me.” We find ourselves unwilling in moments to extend any kind of hospitality. We will not go.
I believe that we leaders today have a lot to learn from the book of Jonah. In light of the difficult times we currently inhabit in the United States, I have grown weary of leaders’ inability and unwillingness to address systemic racism. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has birthed two understandings in my soul. Some matters are suprapolitical. Issues of human dignity, providing security and sustenance for our children, and how we treat the “least of these” should not be political matters. It should not be politically expedient to further marginalize people. It should not be beneficial to maintain status quo if people are dying as a result. I have come to a place where politics pales to prophecy; where truth telling is all that matters because it is the only thing that sets us free.
Secondly, I view #BlackLivesMatter as a call to participate in God’s life. I hear the Christ of Revelation standing at the door and knocking (Revelation 3:20), bidding us to follow, compelling us to carry our crosses.
Doing this work, “the work our souls must have” (allusion to title of Emilie Townes’ chapter “Ethics as an Art of Doing the Work Our Souls Must Have” in the Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader, eds. Katie Geneva Cannon, Emilie Maureen Townes, Angela D. Sims) is costly. Taxing. Exhausting. We walk with hope and despair tightening around us making it difficult to breathe. But we press on because we know the talents we have received and we refuse to call God a liar. Refuse to live as if we are less. Refuse to live as if the deaths of our children and loved ones is an acceptable lot in life.
It is time for us as followers of Christ to take love and hospitality seriously. I love the image given in Revelation 3:20 where Jesus says “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me,” (Revelation 3:20, NIV). What does our world look like when the voice we listen to harkens us to show hospitality? What does the church become when we disrupt oppression and take up the pursuit of justice? What happens when our unreadiness subsides, we no longer fear ostracism or irrelevancy and outrightly refuse to impede justice? Friends, we are all called to participate in God’s life. Restorative justice is a significant aspect of this participation.
I pray for a radical redefining that buffers our stubborn ways into steadfastness. So many avenues where we are the Jonahs, unwilling instruments of God’s mercy, surly ambassadors of God’s everlasting love. Our actions articulate our understanding of the gospel far more than our words ever will. While our words drip honey, our treatment of one another–particularly the least of these–is a lemon juice gospel. “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up,” (Galatians 6:9, NRSV). We cannot have reconciliation without repentance. A repentance reflective of our trust in the God whose love is unstoppable. A trust that compels us to embodied worship. No more disjointed understandings; a full infatuation with God. The God who compels us to participate in God’s life. The God who compels us to focus on the least of these. Comfort the afflicted, speak truth to power, and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).
May we be changed and cease our rebellion against God and be so filled with God’s love that we, even we, become instruments of hospitality, ministers of presence in the most unexpected of places. May our understanding of who our neighbors are be broadened and may all of God’s children know us by our love, our commitment to being who we say we are, and no matter how difficult the situation or tempting desertion is, hold fast to our God and our neighbor and lovingly say, “We won’t go.”
In college I spent a lot of time in the student union. Any time traveler or sitcom flashback would find me in my college days doing something in the union. I had meals there, was always in meetings there, and during my days in student government, often slept there. There were weeks when I saw that place more than my dorm. Of all my favorite things in the student union, the best kept secret for me was a quote outside of the room named in C. Shaw Smith’s honor. Smith was the college’s first college union director and his words struck me so deeply I asked a friend on campus to text me the exact words so that I could share them with you. Smith said, “The campus is a place of serendipity, education itself is, because you get more than you meant to get. Serendipity–making an unsought for but happy discovery by accident. Coming to the union for a burger and having a life changing experience. Looking for a bridge partner and finding a partner for life.”
Getting more than you meant to get. There’s elements of providence in serendipity. The coincidence, the life changing experience, all evidence of the Spirit moving. Those of us who can attest to these episodes of serendipity can share the joy of these beautiful encounters. Conversations shared, events witnessed and participated in that you can just feel something click. Like, “Ahh, this is why I’m here.” You might have thought you were just getting a quesadilla but nah, serendipity brought you an encounter where someone asked you the right question.
How is God inviting you to participate in God’s life? It is presumptive I suppose to assume that you are invited to participate in God’s life but friends I am quite sure that you, yes you too are cordially invited to participate in God’s life. When we look at Scripture, we do not see a Creator who is unaffected by human history. God does not choose to sit on the sidelines of human history, God places God’s self in the midst; comforting the afflicted, delivering God’s people, reminding them, through presence and power that they are not alone.
In the gospel of John, Jesus promises not to leave his followers alone. He promises that the Father will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will teach them everything and remind them of what Jesus said. And so we see evidence of this promise in our scripture today as Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch were beneficiaries of this promise on their encounter with serendipity. Their getting more than they meant to get.
Funny things happen in the wilderness. Moses encountered a bush that was burning but not consumed, voices cry out from there, the Savior is tempted there. But in this instance, on this wilderness road between Jerusalem and Gaza, the Spirit compelled Philip to go over to the chariot. Now I often appreciate how relatable characters in the bible are. They often prove, as the poet Propaganda once put it, that God often “uses crooked sticks to make straight lines.” But in this instance Philip is not like us. He doesn’t hesitate or explain to the Spirit why he couldn’t or shouldn’t approach the chariot. Philip does not ignore the spirit’s prompting; he is infused by it.
Running toward the chariot. Philip does not lean on his own understanding. He hears and obeys. Conversely, the Ethiopian eunuch responds to Philip’s actions by inviting him. Their encounter blossoms. The Ethiopian eunuch goes from reading scripture he does not understand to asking a transformative question. “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” This transformation leads the eunuch on his way rejoicing. The Spirit snatches Philip and he finds himself at Azotus proclaiming the gospel as he passed through the region.I thank God for this moment of serendipity. This conversion story, the first of three individual conversions in this narrative, is a powerful example for us.
The Lukan account is unafraid to deal with difference. It does not fake color blindness nor does it look amicably upon assimilation. We have so much to learn from Acts. So much to learn about how we ought to treat one another, how we extend hospitality to the other. I fear what we would do in Philip or the Ethiopian eunuch’s shoes. The assumptions we would make. The prejudices we would harbor. The deafening silence of purposes unrealized and relationships never made. What happens when we lean on our own understandings? What is the byproduct of neglecting serendipity? Why ignore the Spirit and let unreadiness rule the day?
I often wonder and sometimes worry about those times I let serendipity pass me by. Those times I should have said something but didn’t, those times I should have acted but could not work up the gumption to do so. Sometimes we reduce our brokenness and only focus on the wrong things we do. There is not enough said about the moments we miss. The opportunities to be a blessing that we forsake because we feel unqualified, unready, unwilling.
We cannot afford to reduce the calling Christ places on our lives. The Spirit resounds; what does the Lord require of you? What does it look like when we love mercy? When we do justice? When we walk humbly with our God? What sorts of healthy dissatisfactions begin to blossom? What happens when our righteous indignation speaks truth to power? When our love of mercy is magnetic our doing of justice is further kinetic. We cannot walk humbly with our God without walking with the least of these.
I’m fascinated by the scripture that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading. This introduction to Jesus as a lamb silent before its shearer, one who was humiliated and one who was denied justice. I hear this and know this tragedy is held in tension with Christ’s triumph. I hear this and am reminded that Christ’s life, death and resurrection is the greatest act of empathy I could ever know. I hear this and endeavor to share this message of hope in Ferguson, in New York, in Cleveland and every town where our black brothers and sisters know the painful delay and dismissive denial of justice. I hear the Spirit resounding in the words of our fallen brothers and sisters and while the temptation to despair is formidable, the Spirit imbues us with hope. Hope that answers the question, “How long?” by the confident response, “Not long.”
Brothers and sisters there is no room on the sidelines of Christianity. Ideally, when one hears Christ beckoning them to follow, they realize that this following is an active thing. Discipleship is poorly performed passively. In Dr. King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon he assures everyone, in spite of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that they too can participate in God’s life. They too can be enabled to serve. Dr. King said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
It’s no secret that Dr. King did not live the life he planned for. As portrayed in the film Selma, he and his wife Coretta had hopes to be in a college town, leading a small church there with ample space for their four children to grow. As tantalizing as that dream was with its trapping and comforts, Dr. King realized that it paled in comparison to the leadings of the Spirit. On April 3, 1968, Dr. King told that crowd in Memphis, “Like anybody, I would like to live–a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
As aforementioned I am encouraged by the broken sticks. The cloud of witnesses who were used as God’s instruments. They were not perfect. Did not have it all figured out. In many cases they did not even sign up for this. But the bush burns, the daughter in law refuses to leave your side, the teacher compels you to become a fisher of men. As a mentor of mine once advised me, “God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”
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