What God Expects

I haven’t updated this blog in a while with sermons, though I’ve given plenty. I thought I’d start uploading the one’s I thought were worth reading, beginning with the one from this past Sunday. Below are the remarks from the greeting that opened the service and set the tone, as well as the sermon.

They were given at Warrenton Baptist Church in Warrenton, NC, where I am currently serving in an interim capacity.

The Christian Greetings

It says in your bulletin that I am going to deliver to you Christian greetings before we begin. The Apostle Paul when he greeted his fellow Christians did it this way – he said “Grace and peace be with you.” Mixed up in what seems to be a simple saying is a complicated reality. When the Greeks greeted each other, they would say, “Chi-ray.” When the Jewish people would meet each other they would say, “Shalom,” which is “eh-rey-nay” in Greek. When Paul greets his Christian sisters and brothers, he says “chi-reese” and “eh-rey-nay,” both the Greek and Jewish greeting, grace and peace. He was not just covering all his bases or just trying to be inclusive; no, he was making a profoundly subversive statement in a divided church. You might say that in a church where it would have been easier for Paul to say, “All Lives Matter,” he said, “Greek Lives Matter” and “Jewish Lives Matter.”

If you’ve been tuned into the news this week, you have seen some truly horrific things. Alton Sterling, a black man, was shot and killed by police while he was detained. He was shot, almost execution style, while he posed no significant threat. Alton Sterling should still be alive today. Philando Castile was shot when stopped for a broken tail light. While trying to comply with the officer’s orders, he was shot in front of his little girl and his girlfriend. Philando Castile should still be alive today. Five police officers were killed in Dallas this week, doing their job guarding a peaceful protest on behalf of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. They died and several others were wounded doing their job. They should still be alive today. It is insufficient in the wake of this week to say, “All Lives Matter.” We must, like the Apostle Paul, be specific.

When we ask for grace and peace, which is the Christian greeting, we must be specific. Racial tensions have always existed in our country because they have been a part of it since its inception. The United States of America did not have an immaculate conception or a virgin birth. This is not a new problem. Similarly, none of us were born exempt or apart from the racial crisis that plagues our country. We all have our part to play and we have all already played a part. If the Christian greeting is “grace and peace,” we need to seriously consider what that means in our day.

If “grace and peace” is a message that is distinctly Christian, we must not be afraid to be like Paul and be specific about the divisions in our society.

If “grace and peace” is the Christian greeting, as Christians, we must be able to say “Black Lives Matter” just as readily as we say “Blue Lives Matter.”

If “grace and peace” in its specificity to Jew and Gentile alike is the Christian greeting, we must know that we cannot say “All Lives Matter” when Black lives clearly don’t matter.

If “grace and peace” is a Christian greeting, we must condemn the violence in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights just as fast as we condemn the violence in Dallas.

I don’t say those things because I think I’m some sort of prophet. I don’t say those things because I think I’m self-righteous. I don’t get a high or some sort of great satisfaction talking about social issues from the pulpit. I don’t say those things because of any political persuasion. I say those things because I am a Christian. I say “Black Lives Matter” because I worship a God who said “grace and peace” to me.

Now, it’s easy to come up with enough objections and counter-points that we can safely ignore these deaths and move on as if nothing had happened.

It’s easy to say that Alton or Philando could have done something differently, come up with some excuse to avoid the horrifying nature of their deaths.

It’s easy to dismiss the concerns of protestors as naïve young people or ungrateful citizens, come up with some excuse to ignore their message.

It’s easy to tune into the news sources that tell us what we already want to hear, come up with some excuse to interrogate our fallen world.

It’s far more difficult, but far more Christian, to say “grace and peace.”

Hear these Christian greetings from the Apostle Paul:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Welcome to worship. Continue reading “What God Expects”

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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”