SERMON for JUNE 7, 2020
Text: 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13; Matthew 28: 16-20
When the Elders of the congregation met this past Wednesday, as we have been meeting weekly since the beginning of May during this unprecedented time in our lives, we had thoughtful conversations about the state of our nation and race relations during these trying times. I want you to know that I came away from the meeting deeply grateful – grateful that the leadership of the congregation is committed to justice and to peace – justice with respect to breaking down the walls that divide God’s people – one from the other – and to peace – that is, following in the ways of the Lord Jesus Christ who commissioned His disciples in the words we heard in the Gospel lesson for today:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you… How do we teach? By word and deed – by example – through creating learning opportunities that embody the core teachings, principles, and values that we are called to share with one another – all for the glory of God.
What does Jesus command us – that we are called and commissioned to teach? Love God; love your neighbor as yourself. There it is – basic words – not hard to understand and repeat – yet not easy to live by. On our own, we will not succeed at either loving God or loving our neighbor. Be assured that God does not set us up for failure. God wants us to fulfill His kingdom purposes for creation. Thus, Jesus makes a promise – “and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
Yes – through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Risen Lord is with us – helping us to remember His commandments, infusing us with the courage and strength needed to follow where He leads and to follow through with His commandments. Love God – love your neighbor – so simple – or not.
In our discussion last Wednesday night at the Session meeting, it was clear that the elders of the congregation really wanted to do the right thing in God’s eyes – to demonstrate – in word and deed – not only wise leadership in these difficult times – but more importantly, their commitment to work for peace and justice. We all recognize that there is no quick fix for racism and injustice. The good Lord has shown us a way forward – yet 2000 years later – the evidence does not suggest that humanity has done a very good job of remembering or following what Jesus taught.
In addition to asking for God’s help in prayer, I recalled my seminary classmate, the Reverend Keith Paige, who is the Pastor of Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church in the Cherry Hill neighborhood of south Baltimore. Keith and I go way back as clergy colleagues, over 30 years, and he preached at my installation as Pastor of Granite Presbyterian in 2012. I can have frank and truthful conversations with Keith about matters of faith, race, and justice, and I deeply respect his commitment to pastor a church in a neighborhood that bears a reputation for being one of the most dangerous communities in Baltimore – a reputation that Keith asserts is itself undeserved and unjust. There are plenty of law-abiding, faithful, and hard-working people in Cherry Hill who are never considered or mentioned in the press, but that is another discussion – and not the topic for today.
Keith and I talked for more than an hour this past week, and I took over seven pages of notes. As an African American pastor in the predominantly white Presbyterian Church (USA), Keith has spent considerable time and energy reflecting on matters of race and justice. I give thanks to God that I am privileged to know him as a colleague in ministry and as a spiritual friend.
In summary, here are some highlights of what Pastor Keith shared with me, even as he acknowledged that he cannot speak on behalf of all African Americans:
First, there are no quick and easy fixes. There is no flash in the pan solution. After 400 years of racial injustice, African Americans get that point in a way that is almost impossible for white people to understand. Racism traumatizes the soul – starting in childhood – and when negative toxicity is internalized by individuals and communities for generations, it leaves deep wounds that are hard to heal. Some within the African American community want to avoid deep conversations because it is too painful for them, and they are not hopeful that much will change from having such conversations with white people. Nevertheless, Pastor Keith encourages us to pray – and pray – and pray – for God to show us a way forward, and to inspire us with some project that our congregations can work on together – coming alongside one another in a ministry to build relationships that will help to pave the way for difficult conversations down the road.
Way before we begin discussion about a joint project, Pastor Keith said – if you want to be of greatest help, when members of your family, when in-laws and out-laws gather, when people are comfortable with family in their own settings, if racism and prejudice are expressed – at that level – confront it – and stay with it – even when it makes everyone uncomfortable. Opinions may not be shared by others. Discussions may be painful, though transformative. There is risk that relationships may be broken to the point of no return – yet change starts to happen when we address racism and prejudice with people we know – which, according to Pastor Keith, in his words: “is how white people can do the most good for us African Americans.”
Let us start the conversations in our own homes and with our own families – and pray – and pray – and pray – for the good Lord to give us wisdom and truth as He leads us in the ways of justice and mercy. Let us never forget what Jesus taught us – in His words and deeds – as we seek to follow as His disciples.
In this pandemic, in the words of General Presbytery Jackie Taylor, we have been kicked out of our church buildings. In our nation, we have been startled out of our complacency. These are defining moments – so let pray and pray and pray – and seek God’s direction as we move forward doing ministry differently in the years ahead.
Four years ago, the Holy Spirit inspired me to write a reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan – and thanks to my sister Beth, my words were handed over to a gifted creative director and producer – Trapper Collova. Beth reminded me of the startling relevancy of my words and this prophetic video. Here is the four-minute video to conclude the message for today.
Words to "Who Can Send A Dove?" written by E. Terrence Alspaugh, July 10, 2016
WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?
Text: Luke 10: 25-37 – The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Who is my neighbor?
Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,
Doctor, lawyer, city police chief -
The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker,
The terrorist, the violent, the angry peacetaker -
Who is my neighbor? What can I do?
If given the choice, I would flee this zoo -
Of pain and suffering, evil and hate,
So throw me a line, Lord, I’ll take the bait.
Hindu, Muslim, Samaritan, Jew,
Black and white, politicians, too –
Yankee, Yazidi, and Southern belle,
Refugee families fleeing ISIS hell,
Asian, Hispanic, LGBT, and foe,
The corrupt and cynical and innocent as a doe.
“All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small… The Lord God made them all…” –
Kings and queens, servants and knaves,
Citizens, immigrants, rebels, and slaves,
The police and persecuted, prisoners in pain,
Wounded war veterans with flashbacks insane,
The tortured and tormented by disabilities disguised,
Hurting and alone while others blind-eyed -
Look to the powerful and privileged with boundless hope
As countless people struggle daily to cope.
The majority, minority, and all in-between,
With vices and virtues, visible and unseen -
If they are our neighbors, what can we address?
These complex issues that create such stress.
“All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all.”
Where is the love? Who can send a dove?
You and me, because from heaven above,
God sent us a gift –
That most divine lift –
When Christ Jesus raised high on a cross –
Bore the world’s pain, chronic suffering, and loss –
To free us all from hatred within –
To deliver us from the bondage of sin.
Jesus teaches and lives God’s ultimate way.
Yes, it is true – Jesus saves the day –
For you and me and all who feel –
Truth and hope and compassion so real -
That those near death, despair, and destruction,
Experience new life, repair, and reconstruction -
Hearts transformed, minds awakened,
Spirits renewed, assumptions shaken.
Thus heed the call,
To further God’s kingdom despite the fall.
Do justice, love mercy, and humbly walk –
With the Healing One who truly walked the talk.
So come to His table, enjoy the feast!
Welcome everyone, especially the least –
For His day comes again, in you and in me,
When we commune with each other and the Holy Trinity:
Praise to the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit,
The Eternal God, in whom there is no limit.
Amen, Amen, Amen, and Amen – let all God’s people say it again – AMEN!
Reprinted from July 10, 2016
E. Terrence Alspaugh