Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Lord I want to be a Christian


Pastor Bob and Elder Geraldine Herrin

On a cold and rainy morning, I walk down Beverly Road in the Kensington neighborhood In Brooklyn to the Beverly Presbyterian Church. A pleasant neighborhood with old Victorian houses. Later l learn that it is also a culturally mixed community with many folks from the islands. And that later today, then streets will be filled  with children chasing away the devil as part of the Jouvier West Indies celebration….I am met by Elder Geraldine Herrin, a very active lay leader, who will work with me in the service…Here is my reflection:
Lord, I want to be a Christian…
Someone once said to me that there were two kinds of Christians…the ones who heard Jesus say, ‘Pick up your cross and followup me” and those who heard him say, “ I came that you might have life and have not abundantly” and that the two really didn’t understand each other. I’ve been  thinking that there’s more to it than that. That in order to have it abundantly, we need to pick up our crosses…while not forgetting joy…
Well, Lord I want to be a Christian…
Our brother Paul has a pretty good list of what it takes…let’s go over that again….you could almost do a sermon series with a sermon about each one of I read them, think back over the last week to anything that may relate to any of these…
9Let love be genuine;
hate what is evil, 
hold fast to what is good; 
10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
 12Rejoice in hope, 
be patient in suffering, 
persevere in prayer. 
13Contribute to the needs of the saints; 
`extend hospitality to strangers.
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 
15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 
16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 
17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 
18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 
19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 
20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Are there particular traits of a Christian listed in this passage that you find particularly difficult? How might you practice them this week?

But we have to live these things out in the real world…
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.    Really?
What does that mean strategically in our own time?…
Let me be personal a minute…a few weeks ago i came to the Roulette here in Brooklyn…there were over 500 people came out..a choir of over 50 people from three generations singing protest songs from three generations…black, brown white, Asian, gay, straight, bi, trans, young, old….it was moving …and they had information tables up from all kinds of partner groups doing good urban gardening and community organizing…one of the group was Gathering for Justice  started by Harry Belafonte and concerned with child incarceration…
But right now, they’re asking people to turn off the National Football League because Colin Kaepernick cannot get a job….last year, he decided not to stand for the nation anthem because of the ongoing crisis of African-Americans killed by police…and the fact that police are never indicted…so now no team will hire him…
I grew up in Pittsburgh, rooting  for the Steelers was a way of connecting with my hometown. Something my family would do every weekend. SO now next Sunday, what will I do?  I have to think about this…
See, we have to make these things real in the world we live in…
Like we all can get behind hospitality for strangers, right? Write our letters of protest related to our President’s wanting to ban immigrants and build a wall… we all have immigrants in our lives…it only gets REAL when we get to hard ones like “blessing those who persecute us..”
I mean really? How do we do that?  Jill Duffield of Presbyterian Outlook writes of being at the Charlottesville protests and a colleague of hers looked over to the other side…with the neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan guys…and her colleague said, there’s a lot of pain over there….and Jill felt ashamed that she had not felt any compassion for them….
Who persecutes you? How do you bless them? Do you pray for them? And what do you pray? Do I really want our President to change? What’s going on inside you?
Also note the conditional in the peaceful living part…
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 
Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, leave room for the Lord’s vengeance….
If you really want to be a Christian…if you really want to follow Jesus, it’s going to hurt…this is how much…when Jesus  tells Peter what’s going to happen, and note that his greatest enemy is not the occupying Roman army, it’s the religious establishment that has sold out to the Romans…
Charles Sykes in Sunday Times…in reference  Paul Ryan quoted…Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s play “ A Man for All Seasons” :  what profit a man to gain the whole world, but for Wales?
And Peter’s responds Jesus, O No Lord, not you…and Jesus responds get thee behind me Satan..
(In Jesus ‘ day, Satan was basically the  accuser and tempter…not so much the devil and punisher…)
Why did he say that? Because as a vulnerable human being he would  just as soon avoid the whole thing…
The passage concludes with …there are those in this generation that will not taste death before Jesus’ kingdom comes…what?
I’m not completely  sure…but I think here is where we get back to abundant living,…here we are back to JOY…
Rubem Alves said that he was tired of the politics (theology) of heart burn…that we can’t just project images of suffering … that numbs people…(or they numb themselves…) In the end, If you want people to believe in a better world, they need to see it, imagine it…we need images of beauty..and to be able to celebrate, in his words, 
Life in all its perplexity, paradox and most of all profound beauty…
In all this I see the smiling face of Archishop Tutu…who long before apartheid fell declared we have already won…and lived as if it were true until it became the truth…life abundant….

Lord I want to be a Christian…in my heart….

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