The Grip of Fear

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

Luke 4:18-19

After Jesus finished reading these words, he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 

Then, from his seat, Jesus said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 

The religious leaders that were present spoke well of Jesus and they were amazed at his gracious words. However, as the dialogue progressed, the leaders began to feel the sting of Jesus’ words.  He spoke to their lack of compassion, their absence of concern for the oppressed, their failure to provide for the hungry and homeless; Jesus confronted their failure to address the very real social and physical needs that existed among the people of their community. The leaders became increasingly defensive.  In reaction to these confrontative words they did what humans do when we do no have a true defense, when we have heard uncomfortable truth – they turned to hostility, violence, and vengeance.

More than two thousand years later the church is still hesitant to take up his mission.

Jesus stated that his calling, matching the prophecy that pointed to him, was to address the very real oppression, misery, poverty, hunger, homelessness – the pain of existing as marginalized people. 

At the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention, Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, brought forth a resolution condemning alt-right white supremacy.  In committee, McKissic’s motion was denied the approval needed to be forwarded onto the floor of the convention for a vote from pastors and other delegates in attendance.  The much needed proclamation would have been dead if it had not been for some white Southern Baptist pastors, who let go of their own fears, and joined the pastors of color, insisting that this resolution receive a vote.  These pastors knew that standing up to racism was a risk for which they would surely suffer backlash, and probably be blacklisted by many SBC leaders and faithful – they identified and named their fear deciding to take the risks  – it was the right thing to do. It was what Jesus would have done and it was what he was calling them to do in that moment.  Thanks to these that took a risk, confronted their fears and prepared for the consequences, the resolution did eventually get a vote and did pass. 

It is very human for our fears to stand in the way of us living out the call of Christ in our own lives.

Our gospel passage for today comes after Jesus’ experience with the harassed and hopeless – a large swath of humanity,  Jesus prepared his apostles for a mission to address the physical, mental, and social needs of society. He equated the desperate state of the existence which he had witnessed, to that of a person being skinned alive and the skin then being cast away.

As Jesus sent the apostles out, addressing his concerns for the marginalized people and  all of the periphery of humanity – this same section of humanity that he had highlighted back on that day in his hometown. He knew that once the comfortable lives of the powerful and entitled were threatened, there would be an uproar. He was fully aware that his apostles would be confronted with this same human guttural reaction.

The apostles were called to go to their own people, a people that were lost and divided.  A people looking for the Messiah but blinded by their own false prophets, corrupt politicians, and hardened religious institutions.  This was where the message would begin and then, it would go to the world. Ultimately it would brought even to us.

But first, going to their own would be the most difficult.  This group would judge them the most harshly, reject them the most viciously, and hate them the most blatantly.

However, there would be some that would would hear and see – 

Some would be freed,

Some would grab hold of hope,

Some would, for the first time, know love.

Some would finally find peace.

It would be these that would hear, and these that would accept – the words The Kingdom of Heaven is Near.

Jesus set our to prepare his apostles as they were confronted by their own fears.  He named their fears, the worst of the worst things that could happen.  He did not soften it, he did not deny it, he did not diminish it, he honestly named the rejection, the accusations that would be hurled, the fists would surely fly, humiliation was guaranteed – they was fears that could be named, and the names were intentionally verbalized out loud.

The worst of the worst fear – death, was addressed by Jesus as he said, do not be afraid of those that can kill your body but not your soul. 

Naming fears allowed the apostles to identify the worst, to know the extreme realities they will face.  The fears of answering Jesus call – a call of helping the oppressed and hurting, the marginalized, the abused, the neglected, the outcast, the hated. 

Later on, Jesus will name this calling – ‘Taking up our Cross’.  This is what  he was calling on the apostles to do and it is what he calls us to do even now, ..especially now

This term ‘Take up your cross’ would have been understood in the day.  It referred to the marginal people (primarily slaves and rebels) that resided within the Roman Empire who were the targets of the punishment of death on the cross.  These people, due to their social and legal status, were despised, hated, and often feared – their primary offense was that they did not align themselves with, or submit themselves to, Rome’s authority.   And, those who helped these people always knew that they too risked the same fate.  When scripture calls us to love others, care for others, show the compassion that no one else is willing to show to others, there is always a risk.  It always requires us to Take up our Cross. 

‘To take up the cross is to identify with those that threaten the empire.’

Warren Coats

I have a pastor friend, here in Norman, that is in the middle of experiencing the pain of Taking Up His Cross.  Recently, he attended a Black Lives Matter rally here in Norman.  While there, he was asked why he, a white male pastor, was in attendance at the rally.   His response was ‘It is where Jesus would be, it is where God has called me to be.’ He mentioned this experience to his church last Sunday and by the time his head hit his pillow Sunday evening, he had been alerted that four families in his church had already announced they were leaving the church because of his involvement with the movement.  This is painful for a pastor, this is threat to a church, this is the cost of Taking Up Our Cross

Jesus made an odd statement – 

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace’

It would appear that Jesus has a disconnect with his own words where he is announced at birth with peace; peace was the first words to his followers following the resurrection.  These two statements appear to be incongruent, they seem to contradict each other.

The truth is, these two statements are totally congruent and even dependent on each other.  At the time Jesus sent out his apostles, the Jews were still looking forward to the coming Messiah.  Their anticipation was that this Messiah would actually bring a political peace.  Not only would they not be oppressed or attacked, but, that they would become the world power.  The peace would be grounded in that human force of a nation that was the ultimate empire.

In actuality, the Messiah, Jesus, came for a peace for all persons regardless of nationality.  It is, and was, a peace that would be unacceptable to those who did not want to release their power, their control, their status.  Reaching out to, and caring for, the marginalized and oppressed is seldom welcome, advocating for the periphery of society is often a threat.

This was the complaint of the prophet Jeremiah. As he had spent most of his life proclaiming the coming attack and take over by the Babylonians, and some time jail, hated and rejected by even those he consider his friends.  All hoped for his demise because they didn’t want to hear truth God gave him to deliver. But, even as he complained to God he admitted that there was a burning deep within him that called for him to proclaim God’s truth, to go where, God led him to go, to speak the words that God gave to him to speak.  Even though he was gripped with fear, he knew that he had to Take Up His Cross, he could do no less.

This is God’s Highest Calling, to go to those living in desperation, to care for the marginalized, to be the compassion of God to those who have spent a lifetime of being dismissed, despised, abused, and hated.

This is the reason that Jesus pulled his, still fresh and in the middle of learning, disciples, out of school.  He moved them from mere students to the level of proclaimers, to being apostles.  There was an urgency that could not be ignored. 

‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;  it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.’

Jesus

Jesus was differentiating his call over the hope of an empire of the people.  He was heading off those who would try to rise up and take over.  Push Jesus to act  forcefully. Like Judas did. It is the highest calling, to sacrificially act with the embrace of Jesus, to name our fears and Take Up Our Cross to meet the same world that Jesus called ‘harassed and hopeless.’

It is our Highest Calling. 

The Lord has already told you what is good, and what he requires of you: do what is right, love mercy, seek justice for all,  and walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 

While German pastor and theologian, Detirich Bonhoffer, was imprisoned in a German concentration camp during World War II for his words and actions against the Nazi politicians and their atrocities, a fellow pastor visited him.  Shouting through the barbed wire fence, the pastor asked Bonhoffer why he was there, why had he not just stayed out of the political situation and kept his mouth shut. Bonhoffer responded by asking, “You ask why am I in here, the real question is how is it that you are not in here with me?’

Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A, sat on the stage of Passion City Church last Sunday with Pastor Louie Giglio and African American Christian Musician LeCree – to discuss the killing of Rayshard Brooks the day before and the burning of the restaurant where the death took place:  

“We’ve got a real bad situation. We don’t need to let this moment miss us. It has to hurt us. It has to hurt us. And we as Caucasians until we’re willing to just pick up the baton and fight for our black, African American brothers and sisters, which they are as one human race, we’re shameful, We’re just adding to it.  Our silence is so huge at this time.

We cannot be silent. I think before we start to jump into action we need a personal period of contrition and a broken heart. Not just criticize the people that burnt down that restaurant, we got  to have a heart for the Rayshard Brooks and others … We’ve got to have a sense of empathy of what led to this.” 

This is the tip of the iceberg of incredible amounts of frustration and pain that the whole spectrum of the African American community…. most of us white people are just simply out of sight, out of mind. We’re oblivious to it. We cannot let this moment pass.”

Isabel Wilkerson, author, The Warmth of Other Suns , who began calling for empathy in 2016, says:

“We may be clueless and awkward around the subject of race, but we know what the Gospel demands. That we keep working at being better neighbors.” 

The question for us, is how are we going to respond to our highest calling?  How are we going to live out the Greatest Commandment?

How are we going to love God and love our Neighbors as ourself?

In these past months we have seen the best and the worst of humanity. The best and the worst of those who call themself Christian. 

Jesus prepared his apostles by first showing them how God feels about oppression, misery and marginalization – It was undoubtedly a confrontation of their own prejudices and bigotry, then he helped them name their fears, then, they went out.

What will it take for us to have empathy for our fellow humans? What will it take for us to accept the call of Jesus?

Being Loud

Message – Being Loud 

06.21.20

The gospel passage read today is the most passionate telling of a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus Christ.  For in this short passage, using these few words, we see the motivation that propels Christ for the remainder of the gospel of as told by the disciple Matthew.

Jesus, after the beatitudes, and after being amongst the people, sharing in their pains and hardships, witnessed the oppression they were under, he had seen and addressed their sickness and disease, he had seen that which he could not ignore.  The pain of the human condition.

It is surely not an overstatement to say that this had been an overwhelming and exhausting journey that had now been experienced by God in the flesh

As Jesus retreats to the circle of his disciples, he expresses his summation of the the human experience.  

‘The people are harassed, they are hopeless,’ he proclaims.  

Other translations use words such as distressed and dispirited, fainting and scattered (ceased to be a people), carrying problems so great that they do not know what to do, confused and aimless.   

These two verbs, harassed and hopeless, come from the root words skulló (skool’-lo) and rhiptó (hrip’-to), in their raw form  mean to flay and cast aside.  Cast aside we can understand but the word ‘flay’ may be unknown  to you – it basically means ‘ to skin’ so in a verb form would be ‘skinned’.  Think flaying a fish.

While Jesus probably did not mean that flaying was literally taking place, the people would have understood as it had been known to be a practice of torture of living humans as well as a show of disrespect to dead humans.  This practice has been identified as existing as early as 800 years prior to Jesus birth.

The use of theses words, and of combining them together create a very potent and powerful image that represent, by Jesus, the pain and agony he had seen and experienced in his time with the people.

Jesus was devastated and pushed to action.

Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of the bible, The Message, describes the countenance of Jesus as ‘his heart was broken.’

It is significant that Matthew would document that Jesus uses these two images combined to present a visual the disciples would understand as he, of all the disciples understood the oppression of the Jews as he had been an employee of the Roman government.  He knew how they used fear to control and manipulate the people.  

It is out of this event, that God led Jesus to a mission of doing and not just a mission of telling.  It is at the point that the ministry becomes as much about now as it does about our life after this earth.  His message is not just doubt God’s act of love and sacrifice being the way to heaven but even more desperately about the way being an avenue to hope, peace, and love now, on earth.  It was the whole of his proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, and for his prayer, ‘Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.’

The impression of the human experience, the pain and agony in the lives of God’s people can only be described as pivotal. This revelation, while intellectually not new, but from the perspective of the flesh was seismic. God the father had used this moment to shape the ministry of Christ and to mold his passion.

He was there for the people. Any sacrifice he would make would be for the people.  His life was now being given to the people.

Jesus, now moved the disciples from mere learners to active doers.  For the only time in gospel of Matthew the status of the disciples is changed to apostles, they were now living out what they had seen Jesus do and teach.  Jesus was  sending them to do what he did when he encountered the misery of the human experience.

Jesus sent them out because it was a need that could not be ignored. 

Jesus sent the disciples, now apostles with a specific call, used very specific words and a very specific order.  He used the root word ‘Go’ but in a form that meant ‘As you have gone, also, tell them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.’

You see the ‘Go’ to tell was not their mission, it was a ‘Go to Heal’, and while you are ‘Going and Healing’ , tell them about the Kingdom.  This is significant because it shows us the passion of Jesus for our ‘now’ as much as for our ‘later.’

They had seen Jesus at life, a life of caring, a life of compassion, a life of hope, a life providing peace, a live of love.  When he was in front of the crowds and when he was just with them.

Jesus told them, on their ‘Go’ if they were welcomed in, if they were permitted to do the work of Jesus they were then to bring a ‘peace’ to the house. 

They were called to ‘GO’ and to ‘BE’ the ‘IMPRINT’ of Jesus.

This is our multi-dimensional God, the one who cares for us now, and forever.  

Modern Evangelicalism has made the call of Jesus a one dimension calling.  It is a ‘Say’ calling, tell about Jesus win converts for eternity.  It is easy and quick. 

Jesus statement of the lack of laborers has been used to propagate this one dimensional calling of Jesus.  Other aspects, aspects such as care, compassion, mercy, peace, and even love have all taken a back seat to the ‘tell’ the ‘say’. 

This is the call, to be ‘Doers’ because God is a compassionate and loving God, we know this because Jesus, the election, exact imprint of God, was a compassionate and loving human being.

The ‘Say’ the telling that the ‘Kingdom is Near’ becomes a natural privilege as the compassion and love have already been communicated by our lives. The communicated message then, just ties up the loose ends.

This is an act of living out the great commandments:

Love God

Love Others as Yourself.

Jesus directed his now apostles to go the the lost Jews.  He gave a strict instruction to not go to the Samaritan or the Gentiles.  This was not a slight on either of these groups, they will have their moment with the compassion of God.   Now, however, is the time of need for the Jews.

This time is not just because of the pain of their lives, it is even more needed because their division keeps them from being unified, from the greater power that comes with community.

Much like now they are also divided.  Like now they have slapped labels on each other.  Labels like liberal and conservative, progressive and fundamental, traditional and contemporary, boring and exciting, among just to name a few.  Just like today, these labels kept them from helping and encouraging  each other in their times of need.  They kept them from strengthening each other in their times of misery.

Jesus send the apostles to unify them.  Much like he proclaims his goal of unity in his prayer just before he was arrested.  

 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you  sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 17:22-23

They couldn’t help each other because they did not consider themselves brother and sisters with each other.  They had failed to remember the common element of their faith was to look for the promised Messiah and therefore they had missed Jesus.

Their politics, their chosen religious leaders, their own agendas had all kept them from seeing and addressing the pain of all their other same faith neighbors.  They could not see beyond the roadblocks of themselves.


Let explain it through a real life, this week, story.

Illustrative Story of justifying actions of cop and responding with accusation against the cope.  This is the problem – instead of us taking a knee to understand the pain expressed about this incident, we have ran to our own corners to defend our politics and stance.  It is not about Mr. Floyd, it is not about this police officer, it is about centuries of a people in pain that we have refused to make the sacrifice of our own roadblocks in order to cure and heal.

We are in a time where the entire world is sharing in a suffering that we do not have the power to overcome.  I am sure that Covid is not a judgement of God but that God is going us the opportunity to be apostles of God’s compassion, his mercy, and his love. In the midst of this shared struggle we are divided with many even dismissing the reality of the deaths and the pain.

Add to this more of the same racist tragedies have taken place with African Americans suffering unneeded loss and pain.  Our politics and out complacency ha has kept us from responding since the founding of our nation.  This, along with Native American, and many other people groups have been oppressed and persecuted.  The church outside of these communities have said little.  We have gone to our sides, we have said ‘NO’ to Jesus shock at the suffering and pain.

We have refused to consider the pain of the past of the African Americans  forced to come to America resulting in a passing down pain and misery generation to generation. We seldom accept the responsibility for the brutal treatment of the Native American, who also cannot help but down their pain.  When children began arriving at our borders unaccompanied by their parents we immediately complained about parents who would send their children on such treacherous journeys alone without any consideration of how bad their lives must be to permit their loved ones to go. We continue to listen to false religious prophets who lead us from compassion and concern and toward hatred and dismissal of the very pain that led Jesus to transform his disciples into apostles. 

Our call is not to speak but to ‘BE”. Our call is too be appalled at the human persecution of any group of people to such an extent that we cannot help but be appalled and outraged. Our call if to “BE” the compassion and mercy of Jesus revealing his love, peace, and hope to those who are oppressed and mistreated. Our call is to live our life out loud, it is time that we take an honest look and say “this is not right!’.  Our call is to live the life Jesus sent his apostles to live.  A life where our mission is to heal the hurting, to rescue the harassed and mistreated, to show mercy and compassion, to love and bring peace.  It is to let the imprint of Jesus be unavoidably seen in our actions, our heart, and then, our words.

What Do You Have?

oilShe was frustrated and somewhat angry, she was miserable and hopeless, she was at the end of her rope and there, in front of her, was her dead husband’s former boss.  She approached him and said, “My husband gave his all for you, he was your servant, and now he is gone. And, in return for his faithfulness to you, his widow and children, are now penniless and sliding deeper into a pit of despair.”


The boss queried, “What do you need?”

This was an easy yet difficult answer for the woman.  It was easy because the needs were all she had thought about since the loss of her husband.  The question was difficult because she was not sure where to begin.  It didn’t take long, however, for her to respond, “I’m about to lose my children.”

The boss followed with another question, “What do you have?”

This was also an easy yet difficult answer.  Easy because she didn’t have much, difficult because what she did have seemed insignificant and not worthy of being mentioned.

It was also difficult because relinquishing the little that she did have, regardless of how insignificant, was scary.

This is the story of Elisha and the widow documented in II Kings 4.  It is a story of the wife of a servant of Elisha following the death of her husband.  She was being hounded by creditors who were now about to take her children and sell them into slavery.

It is the story of each of us.

The widow was desperate.  She was hopeless.  She was mad.

Just like us.

When Elisha asked “What do you have?”, she replied “nothing, except a jar of oil”.

Oil was a forgettable possession since it seemed so meaningless.  At the same time, it was an essential possession, as was seen in the story of Elijah and a diffent widow. 

It was also forgettable, at least verbally, because giving over control of the only thing we think we have is difficult.  It is our basic humanity to hold on to it with all our might, not trusting anyone to take it away.  It was, and is, difficult because trusting often means things will not go as we hoped or planned.  It means we will give up control.

Ultimately, she handed over the oil.  In return, Elisha pointed out that she had so much more.  She had her children, she had other vessels and she had neighbors who also had vessels. In the end she saved her children, gave the neighbors back their vessels, and gained a security that permitted her to live, work, and survive.

All because she realized what she had and trusted it to one who could meet her need.

What do you have?