October 25, 2015
This morning’s sermon: Spiritual Boldness.
Jesus’ path during his life on earth required boldness..but different from the boldness we might identify today which is often enshrouded in domination of one person or group over another….
or simply is an exercise of displaying or boosting up the ego --- the boldness Jesus displayed was a spiritual boldness, meaning it wasn’t about him, it was about the God he served, and the people he served. He boldly stood up against injustices, looked out for the most vulnerable.
He did not back down from those in powerful positions whose policies and methods of enforcement perpetuated the systems which lead to this marginalization.
But it wasn’t in order to shame those in power or who were enforcing this system, but it was so that they might recognize their own misguided steps which were leading toward any divisions, in order that they might be reconciled to those who were being oppressed, in order that there might be togetherness oneness
The message of the gospel --the good news--is not a complicated one.
It is where salvation is achieved not by separation, but by coming together, reconciliation with God, and reconciliation with one another.
But sometimes bringing people together is controversial…
sometimes it requires significant sacrifice, suffering..
And this is why it is about spiritual boldness…
you go about this mission of bringing folks together, tearing down dividing walls, righting wrongs,
it might get you in trouble.
It certainly did Jesus.
Three times in the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells his disciples, what I am doing some people aren’t going to like-
“the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’
Three times he tells them this.
Their responses I find quite curious
After the first
You must not do this, we won’t allow for it! Says Simon Peter.
After his second prediction
Disciples argue about who will be the greatest!
after his third prediction
two disciples make a special request..
pulling Jesus aside so the others don’t hear them…
sorry to hear you’re going to go through that stuff...man, sounds rough.
But you said you’re going to be raised from the dead..and be in glory right.
We’ve been good to you right?
“Will you do for us whatever we ask of you?”
What do you think about us...sitting at your right hand and your left hand--you know the good seats--VIP--in your glory?
If I was Jesus, I would have been pretty agitated…
have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying? you knuckle heads.
Can you drink the cup I am to drink?
Can you be baptized the way I will be baptized?
Will you take the path I am to take?
The path I will take requires courage...and boldness, says Jesus.
It’s not puffing ourselves up, but humbling ourselves before God and serving serving serving..
this is spiritual boldness.
As people on the way of Jesus, our mission and purpose is really no different from his.
We are to be about reconciliation…
tearing down dividing walls, and bringing people together.
The situations we face may be different in our day from the ones Jesus faced, but there is certainly a lot of hate, division and oppression---
wherever we turn there is work to be done.
As we have done the past few weeks we are looking at figures in our society who making significant marks.
This Sunday we look at someone from a little closer to home, who has worked to overcome divisions and oppression that is part of our not too distant Past.
A congressman, John Lewis, who represents the 5th district of our state--which is the area near the state capitol building--a majority african american district where he has served since 1987.
He was interviewed by Krista Tippett on her program, On Being, in January of this year...in the midst of what has seemed a significantly racially charged time... (most of the references and quotes in this sermon come from this interview)
But the conversation was not so much about the present day, but to look at the stories of division and suffering and reconciliation of the past, so that we might continue to be about the works of Jesus in the present.
Representative Lewis was in his early 20s when he began to work for voting rights in the state of alabama, which helped lead to the voting rights act of 1965.
He put his body on the line to confront policies and systems which led to oppression and marginalization.
He’s been arrested over 40 times...and remains in office!
Born in rural Troy Alabama, very poor. His father was a sharecropper.
As a boy, he was aware of segregation and racial discrimination, and didn’t understand why, and didn’t like it. when he asked his parents and grandparents about it, they would said, “That’s the way it is. Don’t get in the way. Don’t get in trouble.”
He didn’t really follow their advice..mainly because he attended church, he says.
Lewis says it was because he attended church, read the bible, and learned from the way of Jesus he thought, maybe he was supposed to get in the way, and get into trouble, for the sake of God and others.
Around the time when he was 15, the schools were supposed to be desegregated, and he wouldn’t have to ride a broken down bus to school and he would get new books. But that didn’t happen for him.
At that same time, he heard of Rosa Parks,
of the lynching of a 14 year-old boy in Mississippi, Emmett Till, wondering if that could happen to him, he heard Martin Luther King on the old radio, stirring up trouble preaching about nonviolence, about peace, about reconciliation,
about the capacity and ability to change things.
He got involved in the movement.
Studying about how to bring about social change.
Learning about nonviolent resistance--
"making eye contact, wearing coats and ties and dresses, no slouching, no talking back, being friendly and courteous.
Doing role-playing--having someone harassing--name calling, pulling you out of your seat, kicking and spitting on you.
continue to make eye contact...look them in the eyes,
see they are human and let them see you are human."
"If you are getting beaten, protect the most sensitive part of your body, roll up, cover your head…
give the impression, you may beat me, but I’m still human."
Lewis was beaten when he marched across the bridge at Selma. beaten unconscious he was sure he was going to die.
It’s hard to imagine this being a short 50 or so years ago
Where this: Slide of March
|John Lewis front right|
Resulted in this: Slide of people
We would call the work of Jesus which lead to his suffering and crucifixion a work of love.And Lewis says that above all, the civil rights movement which lead to much suffering and even death, "was a work of love."
Lewis wonders if we are afraid to say, “I love you.”
"Maybe people tend to think something is so emotional about it.
Maybe it's a sign of weakness.
And we're not supposed to cry.
We're supposed to be strong, but love is strong. Love is powerful.
The movement...was love at its best.
That you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I'm going to still love you.
Dr. King used to joke sometimes and say, 'Just love the hell outta everybody. Just love 'em.'"
That is spiritual boldness...just love…love your enemy is what Jesus said,
...because hate is too heavy a burden to bear.
Lewis calls it: "evolving to a spiritual plane, where we are not ashamed to say to someone:
'I love you,' 'I'm sorry,' 'Pardon me,' 'Will you please forgive me?' 'Excuse me.'"
Slide: Pilot Light Fire Cracker
Lewis admits that the journey of reconciliation is long and the results may not come as quickly as people may like, but for those involved in this work, he says it’s better to be a pilot light than to be a firecracker….
"if you’re a pilot light, you’re going to be around, but if you’re a firecracker you’re here one moment and gone the next. "
50 years after the march in Selma and the Freedom Rides going to Montgomery
There was a recent commemoration of the events in Alabama, which resulted
Not by being met by billy clubs and dogs and arrests.
Instead, The chief of police of Montgomery, Kevin Murphy, met John Lewis and issued to him his badge, and a public apology. Chief Murphy said his department brings the truth of the past to new generations of Montgomery policemen as part of their training..
Lewis reflected on this act of spiritual boldness by Chief Murphy:
"It was a very moving moment to me. You know, I cry sometimes and sometimes I think I cry too much, but they're tears of gratitude, tears of appreciation, joy, happiness, of seeing something about the distance we've come and the progress we've made. What the chief did was so meaningful.
When he gave me his badge, “I said to him, I'm not worthy. I wanted to say to him, you don't have to do this, but he did it. It says something about the power of love, the power of nonviolence that it happened to move us toward a reconciliation."
When we look at Jesus life, he really was about getting in the way, making a little trouble..good trouble. Being spiritually bold for God and for others.
Think about where you are, and where you see yourself needing to make change for the better, bring people together…at work, in your families, in the community where you see hurt, brokenness, division…How might God be calling you to serve, to love, to help the process of reconciliation?
think of just being the pilot light...keep burning, keep focused.
Keep the focus on the other end of what may come from any suffering..because it was after the suffering and death of Jesus, came resurrection, new life, and new beginnings.
Thanks be to God. Amen.