Reclaiming Jesus: Affirmation #1

10 07 2018

ReclaimingMy next series of blog posts are shortened versions of sermons that were part of a 6-part series I preached at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church during the months of June and July 2018.  They were born in a new statement of faith written for the American Church in light of the difficult days we find ourselves in under the administration of Donald Trump; and they build upon important passages of Scripture around which followers of Jesus can find great unity in a time of such significant national polarization.  The creedal statement is titled “Reclaiming Jesus: A confession of faith in a time of crisis’, and it can be found in its entirety at reclaimingjesus.org.

 

The document was created and signed by some of the most faithful Church leaders in America today: Black, White, female, male, mainline, independent, evangelical, and progressive.  Acknowledging one another as siblings in the great human family, they all came together around a commitment to reclaim the teachings of Jesus – people like Old Testament Scholar Walter Bruggeman; long-time evangelical author and speaker Tony Campolo; presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and preacher at the recent royal wedding Michael Curry; and Otis Moss and Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-conveners of the National African-American Clergy Network.

What these people from very distinct and diverse Christian faith traditions have affirmed is that today, because of the attempts by so many to exalt political gain above Christian teaching, the Church’s identity in Jesus Christ must be lifted up as first and foremost in our lives.  These saints have sought to remind us that as the Church of Jesus Christ, we are HIS followers before we are followers of anyone or anything else.  And so when particular political platforms undermine our theology, or when the teachings of certain segments of the Church stray from a consistent Biblical or Gospel ethic, we must speak up.  We must boldly and apologetically take a stand to reclaim our faith, and seek to move things back in alignment with the teachings of Jesus.

You see, in case we’ve forgotten this, neither of America’s political parties has the corner on the market of Biblical or theological faithfulness.  That is not the goal of either the Republicans or the Democrats.  But that is . . . or at least that should be . . . the goal of the Church.  Biblical and theological faithfulness is OUR job!  And so this sermon series is not about Republicans or Democrats: it’s about us.  It’s about the Church.  It’s about the risen Body of Christ in the world today, and our role in dealing with the crisis of moral and ethical leadership that is confronting us; for we the ones who need to be leading the resistance.  We are the ones who need to be speaking truth to power; and we need to be doing whatever we can to minimize the harm being inflicted upon our nation, and our world.

To this end, this new confesssion lifts up six affirmations, that when understood as foundational to our life together, like any good confessional statement, have the potential to unite people of faith everywhere.  And the first affirmation is this:

“We believe each human being is made in God’s image and likeness; and racial bigotry is a brutal denial of the image of God is some of the children of God.  Therefore, we reject the resurgence of White supremacy and racism in our nation . . . we commit ourselves to help dismantle the systems and structures that perpetuate White preference and advantage . . . (And) any doctrines or political strategies that use racist resentments, fear, or language must be named as public sin.”

Now as I’ve said before, one would think that this issue would have been resolved by now.  The American war against slavery ended 150 years ago; and righteousness won that war . . . or so many of us thought.  We learned way back then that a house divided cannot stand; and the house that I’m referring to is not America.  You see, contrary to what many would like to believe, the house that Scripture is referring to in this morning’s passage is not this country or any other.  The house being referenced here is the Church: Christ’s body in the world.  And while the Civil War was an attempt to bring some unity to the American house, the Bible really isn’t so much interested in national unity, as it is in Christian unity.  And in light of where our nation is today, the Church’s first and perhaps most important affirmation is that each and every one of us is made in God’s image and likeness.

This confession, along with the newest creed in the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Confessions, The Belhar Confession, makes it clear that racial bigotry is an evil that must be eradicated from our world.  And this is where Christian unity can begin.  Followers of Jesus, and people of faith everywhere, must be united in affirming that White supremacy, preference, and advantage, and all the other markers of the systemic and structural racism that plagues our nation today, are nothing less than public sin.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that the Church is called to be “the conscience of the state.”  And so our goal is not to become one with the state; or to even ‘take over’ the state.  Rather, we are to be the state’s conscience, holding it accountable to a higher standard, and modeling as best we can the way of the Christ.  We – you and me – need to be boldly proclaiming that the wonderful diversity of human skin color, is nothing more than that, different human skin color!  It in no way determines one’s value, or worth; and it certainly does not ever lead to second class status for anyone.  The dance that we do together – Black, Brown, Yellow, Red, White – is what creates the glorious rainbow that is God; and the whole American idea of a ‘melting pot’ can and should help us to incarnate the New Testament concept of family.

Jim Wallis, President and Founder of Sojourners, who played an important role in the formation of this creed has said that . . . “the soul of the nation, and the integrity of our faith are at stake.”  There can be no division when it comes to our need to confront racism, America’s “original sin”!  And it begins when we learn to be allies with people of color.  Our hearts need to be breaking over all that is breaking their hearts.  And when their sons’ lives are prematurely cut short by overly aggressive policing, and when their daughters’ lives find their way into the pipeline from school to prison: we need to be the ones who stand up and say “No more!”  When Black people are told that “All Lives Matter” and yet that has not been their reality: WE need be the ones who stand up and say “Black Lives Matter.”  When Brown people are labeled murders and rapists: WE need to be the ones who stand up and say “In American, we’re ALL immigrants!”  And when people of color are compelled to speak up and take a stand, or a knee for that matter; we dare not condemn their frustrations.  Rather, we need to be standing, or kneeling, right alongside them!

No, the Christian house will never know uniformity.  We in the Church will never be one on every political issue that faces our nation.  But we CAN know unity around the ways of Jesus.  And one of the first steps toward that unity involves our reclaiming the teaching of Jesus that all people have been created in the image of God, and that all people are dearly loved by God.  Everyone is part of God’s family; and any practice, policy, or political platform that denies this reality needs to be challenged by all who dare to name Jesus, as Lord.


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