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Category: sermon

“Do You Want To Be Made Well?” (John 5:1-17)

The Problematic Pool Party

Calvary Gospel Tabernacle

8.30.2015

John 5:1-17

“Do you want to be made well?” Seems a bit silly doesn’t it? Of course I want to be made well!  But I wonder…if in like a parallel universe this brother might look at Jesus and say, “Meh, come to think of it, lying down… it’s not so bad! I’m fine, really! I’ve got a Good view right here! plus the cool off the pool is refreshing at times. Yeah, I might stay a while…”

 

I love this situation. There’s a bit of agency included in this encounter with the Christ. Not so much agency that it gives license to twist the gospel, or reduce the gospel into some sort of self-help, pull yourself up by the bootstraps message. No friends I believe we have a situation where once again our Lord calls us, even us, into community and responsibility for one another.

 

The man who has been suffering in this story has been suffering for a long time! Scripture tells us in verse five that he has had his infirmity for thirty eight years. This man was a staple of the area, time and time again seeking his healing in the pool but unable to receive it. When reading this scripture my mind was drawn to the brothers and sisters I have encountered in my travels. At Penn Station, both Newark and New York, it would be impossible to pass through and not see a brother or sister experiencing homelessness. A brother or sister in desperate need of help. Food. Shelter. Some recognition of their humanity. Some dignified gesture that reminds them that they are not forgotten.

On the subway earlier this week I sat and watched two separate occasions where gentlemen attempted to gather the passengers’ attention and ask for help. Some change. Any food. Leads on shelter. Clothing for their children.

Walking around my neighborhood in Brooklyn I encountered two more men. One in a wheelchair trying to find shelter. Another asking for enough change to get bus fare.

In the encounters this week, I fear that I fell among the number whom James addressed in James 2:15 and 16. ‘If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?

Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.’

You see I’m normally happy to give. A cheerful giver even! But I found myself with eyes glued to my book on the train, unwilling to open my wallet in public and give what I could. I gave a dollar to the brother in the wheelchair but found myself pretending to be unable when I really was unwilling to help more. The last brother was very polite and I wanted to help him too but I was unwilling to use my debit card to buy his fare. In all of these instances I felt my spirit bursting to grab hold of these brothers and love them; praying for them, encouraging them, showing the vitality of our faith, letting them know my works are grounded by the moving of the living God.

I made no such statements. My mind more attuned to my bank statement. Dollar bills held hostage by the tyranny of bill collection. And I paint this picture for you because I consider myself a good, charitable person. A nice guy even. Yet still I must wonder, like popular hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar wonders, “How much a dollar cost?” I’m not afraid that I’ve blocked my blessing nor am I fearful of any divine punishment as a result but I pray that God’s love pierced their situations in spite of my inaction. I am confident that my anxiety, my cowardice, could never build a wall high enough to impede the Lord from lifting them out of their circumstances. No doubt, this is the gospel but it is far from a license for complacency.

Brothers and sisters, in truth, we serve an awesome God. A God who continually calls us to participate in God’s life. Instead of seeing one another as an inconvenience how transformed would we be if we saw one another as an invitation to follow Jesus.

I wonder how many people we know in our own lives who are stuck like the brother by the pool. I love this story because I not only see Christ’s example but I see myself by the pool. I joked earlier about the parallel universe where the man is actually content where he is. But when I think about the ways I have answered “Do you want to be made well?” with complacency, fear, anxiety, or doubt, it is no laughing matter. If we are really going to be about this life and really trying to grow in our walk with the Lord then we need to be real about the ways that we too are attending a problematic pool party.

I would never go so far to call lupus and the difficulties that followed my illness a good thing but I saw so many examples where God used this tragedy to bless me. One example of this is learning to receive charity. We feel good when we help other people. There’s an extra puffiness we experience when we know we can reach out and help somebody. Maybe we even believe we are sowing a seed of some sort by helping somebody. I always wonder if I have unwittingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2) whenever I have helped somebody. But brothers and sisters, on the opposite end of that spectrum…it is not fun to need help.

Our culture teaches us to preserve our dignity at all costs. Some of us have been burned by needing help, ridiculed for taking a handout, seemingly suffocated under the weight of our shame. But receiving charity is not a mark of failure. No one gets anywhere by themselves. Both Thomas Merton and Dennis Brown agree, “no man is an island.” There is a strong sentiment within the culture to prove how much you are trying, that you are can do! But I submit to you that a crucial component of Christianity is reaching the limits of your agency. Where your try just is not enough, and you need to be made well.

This is beautiful to me because the man tried and it was not enough. Living with a situation like his for thirty eight years…that’s more than enough evidence to believe that this is his lot in life. That perhaps contentment in this stage would be wise. Save him from some heartache. Why try to get in the pool again? But thank God that this man’s story does not end there. He encounters Christ and Christ invites him to participate with God. It is a slice of being a co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17). Faith is participatory; we cannot afford to hold onto what we have whether that “have” is excess or doubt. We need to be available in order to be made well.

In verse 8, Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”


I wonder what we can accomplish when we believe in God more than we believe in our circumstances. It seems that faith always has to come with a level of absurdity. If I tell you I’m going to breathe my next breath you probably won’t be that impressed. But if I’m telling you that while I am in a hospital bed recovering from pulmonary embolism, some faith may be required.

We cannot be so married to our dignity, caught up in our sense of self that we forfeit these opportunities to participate with God. God is calling us to be made well. God is calling us to ask our brothers and sisters if they want to be made well. What’s realer than that?

Truthfully being faithful is difficult and I think we develop a sort of Stockholm Syndrome with our problems. The devils we know seem better than the ones we don’t. (Or as my great, late grandmother used to say “Never lef sure fi unsure.”) But what happens when we quiet our circumstances enough to hear the Master’s voice beckoning us to “Rise” take up our beds and walk. Don’t worry about where you will go, just get going.

In verse 17, when it is clear that some members of the community are offended by what the Lord has done, Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”

Everytime I see this verse, I think about Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir singing “God is working.” It is seductive and rather simple to write off your life, write off the world even, and stay convinced that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But I wonder what happens when we take the Lord’s Prayer serious enough to believe that God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:9-13). Not focusing on the situation (and surely not ignoring it, by and by) but believing that God is working, that God loves you enough to invite you to participate in that work and making yourself available so that “He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

I am convinced that we cannot follow Jesus by ourselves. To be Christian is to be in community. And the beautiful thing about the beloved community is that God continually calls us to love folks we may not even like. The least of these. Those the rest of society has the leisure to forget. We do not have that leisure.

We see in Deuteronomy 10, verses 18 and 19 that God “administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The Lord provides the example then calls us to be holy as God is holy.
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So where are we in this story? Are we going to be like our Master or are we going to care more about our sense of order more than one another? I pray that we guard our witness closely. It is conflicting, and rather silencing to say we love God when we do not show that love to our neighbors. In what ways are we forgetting that Sabbath was created for man and not man for the sabbath? (Mark 2:27)

Brothers and sisters, you do not need me to convince you of the world’s brokenness. The problematic pool party has too many attendees. Despair seems more logical than hope. Too many feel that it is over but praise be to God, we know the author of our story. And He intends far more than this. You are not defined by what ails you. You are not a prisoner of your problems.

May we see our Lord as our example and walk with such empathy. He got directly involved in the mess, he was not far removed. He lived His life worshipfully. May we open our eyes and pray with our feet so that we too may worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

“Here Lies The Dragon…” (Rev 12:7-12)

It fascinates me when I think about those peculiar bedfellows. Hope and despair.

How can we be victorious when it feels all is lost? Much more than mere feeling, or passing sentiment, how can we sing our song in a strange land? I confess that there are times when I feel all thumbs. When I can tell no one is buying what I’m selling and there are low points where I cannot blame them.

No one needs compelling evidence that there is evil in this world.

The news, our communities, our lives are filled with examples that convince. Freddie Gray‘s smashed larynx and nearly severed spine in Baltimore. Walter Scott shot in the back in Charleston. Tamir Rice murdered in Cleveland. Eric Garner and Eric Harris expressing with their dying words that they cannot breathe, to no avail.

I remember when I learned about the way crucifixion kills. I never gave it much thought coming up. I guess I just thought the nails piercing the skin forced one to lose too much blood on the cross. Coming up we always sang about the blood. Communion was about the blood. Movies and television shows always depicted Jesus shedding a lot of blood so I suppose I put two and two together.

While it is true that one loses a lot of blood when crucified that is not the primary cause of death. Crucifixion is an exceptionally cruel way to die because amongst the nails piercing your skin and the practice of breaking the bones (which Jesus was not subject to), asphyxiation is the primary cause of death. While on the cross, your body stretched out, breathing becomes a laborious task until it is an impossible task and breathing stops. It is a death void of mercy.

Leaves little wonder why Jesus in the midst of such agony would quote the psalmist in his plea, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We too must wonder if we have been forsaken. When this bitter soup is continuously reheated and the actors tragicomically fill their roles. Everyone fulfilling their duty to the zeitgeist. Eat. Sleep. Outrage. Repeat. Unfriend people on Facebook. Attend a march or two. Refuse to watch mainstream news. Ultimately feel overwhelmed, perhaps defeated but begrudgingly press on. Does our blood cry from the ground?

I am encouraged by my inability to excuse myself from God’s presence. The psalmist has found nowhere to go where God is not. The psalmist reveals that even when we make our beds in hell, God is there. God is in our streets, with us in the jail cell, in the paddy wagon, with us as we mourn, with us as we suffer.

This presence comforts me but perhaps you remain unconvinced of its significance. Perhaps you cannot see the benefit of God’s presence in these circumstances.

Victory as presented through a biblical lens is peculiar. Scripture speaks about swords being beaten into plowshares, lions eating straw and a time when the wolf and the lamb will feed together. These examples are hopeful examples, a time when we will have to study war no more but ring hollow in our landscape because our society is disinterested in turning instruments of war into tools of agriculture. Our society cannot comprehend why one would eat straw when one is an apex predator, fully capable of sinking one’s teeth into whatever one chooses. Our society has conditioned us to believe the lamb has gone for the okey-doke and it is only a matter of time before the wolf’s plan is fully revealed and that foolish lamb gets got. Our society has created a lens where anyone who concedes power is foolish, might makes right and just hospitality is weakness.

There’s no room for the gospel in that worldview. When one hears the gospel under those conditions they must hear a toothless message. Where turning the other cheek is no longer an act of endurance but is a capitulating act of cowardice. You hear that a lot in the struggle, don’t you? Where the struggle is reduced to either being a disciple of King and non-violence or a Malcolm X type of brother who ain’t with all that. The gains gotten through non-violence seem inconsequential to the hell still being caught that an alternative seems seductive. We reduce Malcolm to a righteous Rambo who kicks in the door and takes everything back. But this lens sees only what it wants to see. It has no room for gleaning lessons from the lives actually lived by these men and is often unwilling to broaden that lens to include the men and women through whom we have reached this point. There is a danger when we can no longer learn. When we’ve figured it out or made our world so small that our context has the only hell being caught.

And let us make no mistake: people the world over are catching hell. There is something cold and sinister about making someone legitimize their suffering. Why is my personhood disquieting? Why must I assert my dignity? Who made it ok for me to be irrelevant? Or silenced? It should not be subversive to say black lives matter. To live my life confidently, knowing that “I am not forgotten” as the singer says, “God knows my name.”

It is exciting to see our text today on a cosmic battleground. Michael, the archangel defeats the dragon. As a result the dragon and the dragon’s angels are thrown out of heaven. When we look at verse 9, where the dragon is thrown, the verb used to show Satan’s defeat, eblethe, we see that this verb is passive. It is a device used in scripture referred to as a divine passive. An action that is initiated by God. Michael represents God’s combat capabilities but this triumph over the devil is achieved by God.

When I first read Paradise Lost I was in awe of the swift defeat Lucifer received when he attempted to revolt against God. The character appeared shocked and dismayed; simply didn’t know God had such capabilities. The same is true and much more so in this text where a cosmic battle of majestic magnitude is won through an act of humiliation.

Verse 11 tells us that the ones who were accused by the accuser have “conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.” It is on this plane, in our terrain where this cosmic battle is won. An ultimate sign of shame, defeat, complete dehumanization is the device used to reveal real power. Christ performs the greatest act of empathy the world will ever know. Unwilling to be a sideline savior, Jesus offers himself and reveals himself as the Christ. It gives a greater understanding to the power of prayer, coming together as community and what is possible when the lordship of Jesus Christ is taken seriously. Here we see what happens when what is bound on earth is bound in heaven. Our tendencies are challenged. Our worldview is subverted. Every misconception of what power actually looks like is destroyed. Victory is found in the blood of the lamb.

I am mystified by verse 12. It is easy to create a perennial parallel here; rejoicing in heaven and running through the earth with my woes. The evil that we face on this plane is deadly; you don’t need me to tell you that. It is a cost we know too well. But it is not the end of the story. The devil is no match for God. Evil, no matter how ubiquitous, has not received a blank cheque. This hell we are catching is nothing more than the death throes of a system that is falling and cannot get up. Every lash it makes against us, another proof of its demise. It cannot last, it will not last, it does not have the victory.

Brothers and sisters we must live victoriously. Not guided by the boots on our necks nor seduced by tales of alternative means for power. New Testament scholar Eugene Boring notes “If Revelation teaches anything, it is that the power by which God brings the kingdom is the power of suffering love revealed in the cross.” Our Lord stands at the door and knocks; calling us to participate in God’s life. Live passionately for justice. Let your life testify to who God is, what real power looks like. Amen.

We Won’t Go (Jonah 3)

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.”

Getting More Than You Meant To Get (Acts 8:26-40)

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.”

Brian Mooney

Educator, Scholar, Author

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