Rejecting Jesus

Pictures-Protests-Ferguson-MO

Photo by Scott Olson at Getty

I gave this sermon at the 2015 National Festival of Young Preachers, hosted by the wonderful Academy of Preachers, on January 3rd. It is a second look at the passage in Matthew’s Gospel about the Final Judgment. You can find my first sermon on the passage, given at First Baptist Church in Henderson, NC, here. While I do like the first version of the sermon, I may favor this shorter, but firmer, Version 2.0. I think it absolutely necessary for white preachers to be speaking truth about race and issues surrounding it in the United States. To some that is obvious truth, but to others it is not. There is a strong tradition among white (mainly liberal Protestant) Christians in the United States of remaining silent in the face of racialized injustice. We assume our mental ascent to higher ideals and virtue makes us exempt from the consent silence affords oppressive systems. This sermon is particularly for my white brothers and sisters who have, intentionally or not, missed Jesus staring them in the face – just as I so often do.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”

And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

Then they also will answer, “Lord when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”

Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Matthew 25:31-46, NRSV

We like to be uncomfortable with this passage. It’s almost fashionable to be uncomfortable with this passage among my peers. We don’t like its (how did the sermon guidelines put it? …) “belligerent and divisive language.” We like to be inclusive, ecumenical, and friendly. We don’t like to be judgmental! Judgment has gone out of vogue and we avoid it like the plague. We love, then, to be uncomfortable with this passage. It is my contention, however, that many of us in this room are all too comfortable with this passage and we may not even know it.

This is a sermon for my brothers and sisters who look like me. This is a sermon for the church I grew up in and the church in which I will serve. This is a sermon for white people, a sermon for my white church, because my white church has become way too comfortable with this passage — at least the first part of it anyway. And unless any of you think you are going to be exempt from this sermon, I’m talking about liberals and conservatives, rich and poor, urban, suburban, and rural. I’m talking to white folk, because we have a problem.

The problem has been around since the time we started calling ourselves white and it has become especially obvious, at least to us, in recent days. From Jamestown to Michael Brown, we have loved all too much the separation of the sheep and goats. We have perpetrated this unjust judgment based on the myth of race.

Let me tell you a story. Continue reading

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Part of the Jesus Mafa project that is a response to New Testament lectionary readings in Cameroon. Retrieved from Vanderbilt.

Part of the Jesus Mafa project that is a response to New Testament lectionary readings in Cameroon. Retrieved from Vanderbilt.

On this past Sunday, the Second Sunday of Advent, we read the opening verse of Mark’s Gospel, where it describes the coming of John the Baptist before Jesus’ ministry.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make [God’s] paths straight.'”

Mark 1:1-3

This Advent, the events in Ferguson and New York City have been constantly on my mind. I have frequently been frustrated with Christmas themes all around and sometimes even angry in church at no one in particular. The incongruity between this period of the year and what is going on in the world are great beyond words: how are we to hope in the midst of so much despair? But hearing this passage, I began to wonder how connected Advent and current events might still be.

What would it mean for us to go out and proclaim, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make God’s paths straight!”? What would Advent mean to us if our (I’m speaking mostly to the white folks now) response to tragedy in this season was not avoidance, but “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of God!”? How might white Christians find themselves converted if their response to injustice was not defensiveness or silence — or, heaven forbid, consent — but “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight the paths of God!”

Lest we forget, John the Baptist’s message was not one of warm fuzzies. It was one of dire need for repentance. We would do well to hear that message today, those of us who sit with the privilege of being able to turn off the news and step away from the injustices rocking our nation. We would do well to hear that message of repentance today, especially those of us who have turned a deaf ear on the cries of the oppressed in the past. We would do well to hear John’s message of conversion today, those of us who have ignored or even harmed our black brothers and sisters for years on end. Continue reading

Why we can’t wait this Advent

“Mother of God, Mother of the Streets” by Robert Lentz, OFM

 

Michael Brown was shot by Darren Wilson while unarmed. No indictment. Eric Garner was choked to death by another white police officer while unarmed. No indictment. John Crawford was shot and killed in a Wal-Mart while shopping for a pellet gun. No indictment. Tamir Rice, a 12 year old boy, was shot by Cleveland rookie cop Tim Loehmann. Will there be charges? The odds are not good.

We enter the season of Advent in this context. It is impossible to ignore. We enter Advent, a season I have been told repeatedly is about waiting. Waiting. Advent is supposedly about waiting for Christ to come back. But in Advents like this one, that’s just not good enough. It’s like every box in the Advent calendar has a worse story inside. Waiting. That’s just not good enough. Continue reading