The Resurrected Shepherd

I delivered this sermon on my last Sunday at First Baptist Church in Henderson, NC where I was the pastoral intern earlier this year. The sermon came in the midst of a time where we were talking about, as a country, things like minimum wages laws, the drought in California (and what it meant for our food!), and the conditions of food workers. The passages were Genesis 4:1-10, John 10:11-18, and 1 John 3:11-24.

LogoBWG

“What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”

“I am the good shepherd […] I lay down my life in order to take it up again.”

“We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.”

In the first passage we heard this morning, we heard a tale of greed, deceit, and murder. There were two brothers, bound together by blood. Both of them worked with food. They brought offerings to God, charitable offerings meant to assert their faith in and reliance on God. But when one grew envious for God’s favor, he killed the other.

Cain approached his brother Abel and told him, “Come with me. Let’s go outside and see what the world has to offer today.” Abel, suspecting nothing, cheerfully accompanied his brother. In the field outside, the brothers were once again bound by blood … but this time the blood was Abel’s crying out from the ground.

Cain in the moments following Abel’s murder exhibits no immediate remorse and he even denies it. He told God, “I don’t know where he is. Am I my brother’s keeper?” But God knew what Cain had done. God heard Abel’s cry from the blood-soaked soil, ground that would never properly yield food again.

“What have you done?” God asked Cain. “Listen, your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”

Listen, your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! Can you hear it? Abel’s blood still cries out from the soil. The earth lurches with his pain, and yet his voice goes unheard. I cannot help but hear Abel’s cry today, because Cain still murders Abel. The story is caught in time, endlessly repeating itself all over the world. Continue reading “The Resurrected Shepherd”

Advertisements

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 “Rejecting Jesus”

Sheep and Goats

This sermon was given at First Baptist Church in Henderson, North Carolina on Christ the King Sunday in 2014, the day before the verdict in the case of Michael Brown’s death was announced. 

Christ of Marynoll by Robert Lentz, OFM
Christ of Marynoll by Robert Lentz, OFM

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 God my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation for 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.

The Gospel according to Matthew (25:31-46, NRSV)

Today marks the end of the Christian year. We are in a place of anticipation. We are ready for Advent to begin. We are ready for the Christmas right around the corner. The leaves have changed and the weather is getting cooler. It’s coming. But here at the very end of the Christian year, we pause. We pause and we celebrate Christ the King.

        Christ — the King.

It is a funny little holy day forgotten as the hype for Christmas mounts. We already see Christmas trees, Santas, wrapping paper, and ornaments in stores — and Advent has not even started yet. We may get absorbed in the deals to be had on the American Black Friday. We are swept up in end-of-the-year quotas, goals, and assignments. Yet, we must pause this morning and contemplate a different reality: Christ — the King.

In a perhaps more inclusive sense, this Sunday is also named for the Reign of Christ. We come to contemplate the Kingdom of God, that dimension of the Kingdom that comes at the end — the Reign of Christ. We know that Christ has come, Christ has died, and Christ has risen, but now we come to a day when we contemplate when Christ will come again. We consider the final stage of the Kingdom of Heaven when Christ will reign.

That’s fine. That’s great.

        It’s fine and it’s great because it’s in the future. It’s far off. It’s not something due in the next two weeks, so I can put it off. We stick the Reign of Christ in a far and distant land so as not to let it impact our lives, let it touch our lives.

In the meantime, we put other gods on the throne. Continue reading “Sheep and Goats”