In these times, we need leaders (in and outside the church) to move beyond the talk of being non-racist to actively challenging a society to be anti-racist. We need truth spoken in tough love. We want to believe that we live in a “color-blind” world and that racial bias has been overcome. It hasn’t. Racism takes on many forms, some obvious, others hidden. James Baldwin said, “We are trapped in history and history is trapped in us.” How can we get out of the trap of history?
Not by preaching moralism. Moralism with its “should not’s, stop it’s, and be better” declarations assume that humans have it within themselves to overcome their own tendency toward racism. That’s not working.
We preach Jesus. We proclaim the one who disrupted history with His coming in the flesh. It is only the power of Christ working through us that reconciliation can be a reality. As we are reminded that God works through Jesus, “to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:20-23).
In Jesus we commit our lives to the hope that God is working in the world despite the principalities and powers. And as your pastor, I encourage you to speak truth in love and act with boldness towards a world in need of God’s reconciling presence.
As Apostle Paul reminds us, “We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. (Ephesians 6:12-13)
Equipped with the armor of God’s love, stand your ground in the face of racism, speak bravely over the screams of hate, and shine God’s light against the forces of darkness.
On November 28, 1951, Corporal John Eldon Grady Anderson was drafted by the United States military. As the youngest of six children, his mother was insistent that he stay behind. It was just decade before that his mother had become a widow and the extra hands were of necessity on the family farm. Out of desperation, Sally Anderson walked through the cornfields of White County, Georgia to the courthouse to plead for her son to stay home. The United States military needed him defending freedom in the Korean War. His mama needed him shucking corn.
The draft board had the final word and my grandfather, Grady Anderson, was shipped to Alaska. A long way from red Georgia clay.
I am not sure if it was sympathy for a desperate mother or the bribe of a Southern buttered biscuit, but on November 14, 1953, my grandfather was honorably discharged from the United States Army. He went home. His heart belonged to a widow mother and her small farm in Cleveland, Georgia.
And yet, some did not come home.
This weekend is the unofficial start to Summer. We will pull the grills out of the garage and the homemade ice cream makers will start churning. Let’s not forget to say, “Thank you.” Those of us who “stay on the farm” cannot forget the price paid by those who were sent to the front lines. As individuals who have been gifted freedom, we must do our small part to continue harvesting the gift. And it starts with seeds of gratitude. So, “Thank you!”
It was too difficult for some. The commitment was too high. The weight too much to bear.
“Many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?'” (John 6:66, 67).
Peter speaks up. He acknowledges that there are some things in life worth sticking around for. Some things more important than popularity. Some things more important than the easy road.
“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life,” Peter replies (John 6:68).
Peter found someone worth following. He found a cause greater than himself. He found a purpose beyond popularity, success, and the easy road.
2017 graduates, don’t be afraid of the commitment. Don’t run from the difficult. Commit to a purpose greater than yourself and go all in. Some things are more important than the edited perfection behind an Instagram photo or 30-second glimpse at life on Snapchat.
And when you fail, cause you will, remember God is a God who sticks with us even when there’s nothing in us worth sticking with.
Class of 2017, my prayer for you is that you will never be caught off guard by your own success or knocked down by your own failure, but that you will stay true to the person God is at work shaping you into.
At the end his book, What Jesus Meant, Gary Wills writes, “Dark and mysterious as the whole matter of the Incarnation and the Passion, perhaps a single thing can help us think of them.” He then shares a personal account of a conversation that he had with his son. His young son woke up one night crying. He had a bad dream, a nightmare. When Wills asked what was troubling him, the little boy said that a nun in his Catholic school had told the children that they would end up in hell if they sinned. “Am I going to hell?” the little boy asked his father. Wills writes, “There is not an ounce of heroism in my nature, but I instantly announced what any father, any parent would: ‘All I can say is that if you’re going there, I’m going with you.’”
In the silence of Holy Saturday, Jesus says, “There is no place – no hell, no suffering, no threat, and not even death that if you are going, I am going with you.”
An artist who completes a painting can declare, “It is finished.” A carpenter who builds a house can assert as the new owners move in, “It is finished.” A writer who pens the last sentence of her debut novel says confidently, “It is finished.” A teacher who turns out the lights of her classroom after a long school year affirms, “It is finished.” “It is finished” are powerful words that speak of accomplishment and fulfillment.
They can also be words that speak of defeat. A spouse who walks out of a relationship declares, “It is finished!” A business owner who flips over the closed sign for the last time says, “It is finished.” A report that the cancer is inoperable sounds like “it is finished.” “It is finished” speaks to finality. It is complete. Nothing else is left to be done. It is finished.
On this Friday night that we call good, we hear, “It is finished” as some of the final words of Jesus on the cross. However we decide to take those words, defeat is not an option. The cross is not a defeat. His whole life leads up to the moment of him being lifted up and being able to declare in the affirmative, “It is finished.” We are told that when just like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness as a sign of salvation for the people, Jesus will be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life (John 3:14). It is only when he is “lifted up” that we will begin to understand who he is and who sent him (8:28). After he rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus pronounces, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified” (12:23). He continues, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (12:32). When Jesus states boldly, “It is finished,” he is not crying defeat but words of affirmation for a life lived on purpose.
On that cross we see through the window on the very heart and character of a loving God. It is finished. Peter sobs. Redemption found. It is finished. The women wail. Love fulfilled. It is finished. The crowd stands in silence. Heaven and earth clash. It is finished. The veil in the temple is torn. All are accepted. It is finished. Earth quakes. Heaven weeps. It is finished. The power of sin is destroyed. Satan has lost. It is finished.
Jesus finished so that we can begin. Our guilt he nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). He took upon himself our shame (Gal. 3:13). His death opens up the way for us to God (I Peter 3:18). His death on the cross shattered the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). It is finished, done, completed, accomplished, and fulfilled, so that; we can live fully, abundantly, and eternally.
True friendship is life-giving. It is life-sacrificing. True friendship is willing to be wounded for the sake of the other. Hours before he would be betrayed in the garden, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this; that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).”
Jesus was a friend of sinners. Jesus loves even when he is not loved back. A friend who ask nothing in return and yet, is willing to give all for our love. He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard because of whom he chose to call friend (Matt. 11:19). When Judas, the betrayer, shows up with a legion of Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, he responds, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for” (Matt. 26:50). The one who betrays, Jesus calls friend.
Jesus lays down his life for his friends. He bears the sins of his friends. Toward the end of his life, he says to his disciples, “I no longer call you servants . . . Instead, I have called you friends” (John 15:15). The cross is his claim that he has not given up on his friends. It is on the cross that Jesus befriends humanity. On the cross, Jesus dies a friend of sinners, so that we may become a friend of God. On the cross God battles for those he longs to call friend.
Jesus was crucified between two criminals. One of those criminals ridiculed and mocked Jesus. “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” He refused to see the possibility that this man hanging limp on the cross between him and his accomplice could possibly be the savior of the world. He refused to see that this man who had become the scapegoat for the religious leaders and the government officials could possibly be the one who will usher in God’s reign on earth.
Of course, we can’t be too hard on this criminal. Would we have noticed? Would we have picked up on the fact that this crucified man was the hope of the world? If we had witnessed this act, would we have claimed to see God’s very best?
I don’t think so. Why? Because this is outside of the way we have come to think about God. This would require us to move our God-defined boundaries. If we were going to see God in this, then we would have to re-define what we think about God, the world, and us.