Forgetting What Lies Behind and Straining Forward to What Lies Ahead

Transcribed from the sermon preached March 13, 2016

 

The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor

 Scripture Readings: Amos 5:18-24, I John 4:7-21, Philippians 3:4-14

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make us feel inferior without our consent.

I am a bit worried that in the anarchy of the internet and cable TV, we tend to sink to the least common denominator. Meanies and bullies, lazies and crazies seem to get more than their fair share of attention. It is a tough situation. One the one hand we want to call people on their BS – to say it is not alright. On the other hand it seems the bad news and the bad people draw all the attention and determine our mood. From whatever social or political leaning we may be, reporting and posting all the stuff we and our like-minded friends find offensive makes that annoying opposition seem more prevalent and more polarized than it may be in reality. The polarization seems to feed on itself, and the fear of the size and craziness of the opposition leads us to desire more militant and polarizing responses. Our negative focus becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy

What is the end game? Where do we want to arrive? What do we want to construct? We get where we want to go by painting a picture of it for people to have faith in. The first positive vote the Presbytery of San Francisco took in favor of gay ordination was on behalf of a real live human being, Lisa Larges. People were afraid of the change, they were afraid of the idea of gays and lesbians, of the propaganda put forth by the far right conservatives and the far left social anarchists. They were afraid of changing the interpretation of abstract theology. But Lisa, a blind lesbian, was so Spirit filled, loving, smart, and qualified in all respects that she simply loved people into the change. Even as people made vitriolic speeches against her, in her presence, she simply stayed the course, being and speaking the love of Christ. It became apparent that those who were against Lisa were not looking or sounding like Christ, while she was. What they were so afraid of was abstract, while her love for them was real. Lisa said, (and this is from my memory – oral tradition) “there was a time when I would have been excluded from the ministry because I am blind and because I am a woman. The church came to see God’s grace and overcame those divisions. Now I am excluded because I am a lesbian. But I know the love and grace of God, and I want to share it. God has given me the power to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I will do so whether you think it is proper for me to do so or not, whether you officially approve me or not. I will love you whether you love me or not. I do not need your approval to be a minister of God’s love, but I do hope you, the church I love, will recognize it.”

Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Before Paul becomes a Christian, he was a man of considerable authority and standing. He was compulsively obedient to the laws, and a militant punisher of those who were not. He hunted down heretics, tortured and killed them. He was a killer of Christians. And then he met Christ and everything changed. He lost his status in society, lost his manner of income, and now after spreading the Good News of Christ Jesus, he was in prison. So here he is suffering without and yet he says, none of that loss matters “because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus.” He knows God’s grace and love, and that will sustain him through anything. He is convinced that by God’s grace, no matter what has happened or will happen, he will reach his goal which is the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

If we have the hope and the assurance that the God of peace, love and justice will prevail – and we keep our eyes on the prize – then the swings of society, the hurtful words and behavior of others at our work or in our family will not deter us.

The future vision of the Gospel includes everyone. Jesus loves all and calls all to follow him along the Way. It is only by our choice that we are excluded, and Jesus will always give us a chance to change and come along in the next moment. Forgetting what lies behind, straining to what lies ahead.

A while back there was a TV program on the Bible and I think it was Noah who was played by a black man. Of course, some people became upset, and then a bunch of other people became upset that some were upset. The ignorance and racism is wrong and upsetting. But the joy and beauty of God’s children together is powerful, and we have to keep that in the front of our minds. Soon after this hullabaloo, I posted a picture of our Christmas pageant, with baby Jesus being played by a beautiful child. I do not post such a picture to be in opposition to something or someone, nor to get a pat on the back – but to confirm a very beautiful vision, a positive vision of where God is calling us to go. Far be it from us to claim we have arrived, that we will have no clogs or snags along the way – but let us affirm with joy the direction of our flowing stream. In his the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.

Let us be clear, we are not saved by the skin color of Jesus, but by his grace and love. Our skin color, ethnicity, nationality, class or gender does not matter one iota to God’s love. In one sense we are each uniquely created by God, in all our diversity. God does love the color God has created. God does not love one color and not another. Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child, so God will not forsake us. But as God cares for all, God cares when justice is stopped up in rusted lead pipes, or when righteousness is polluted by E. coli and chemicals. If for some reason a group of people are being poisoned by injustice, then God, in God’s nature, will side with the oppressed. As Gustavo Gutierrez pointed out, God has a “preferential option for the poor.” In those places where injustice and oppression are specific and explicit, God’s love will be explicit and specific. Black lives matter! If we are not poor or not black, it doesn’t mean God does not love us, or that we do not matter. That is not the question. The question is does what matters to God matter to us? And the answer to that question is not found in solemn assemblies or any formulaic statement like Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior by itself, but in our choice to allow the grace of God to give us the freedom to repent, and then allow the love and justice of Jesus to lead our way. If we gain confidence from the grace of Christ, then let us be confident. We know and believe the love God has for us. Jesus showed us. So have no fear. Perfect love casts out fear.

 

The non-violent movement that is the Church is driven by love, love for God and God’s truth, love for ourselves, our neighbors, for the oppressed and even our enemies.

The power of Martin Luther King Jr. came in his ability to extend love and positive expectation to his enemies. By doing this he made enemies friends and converts. But even if he didn’t convert the haters, he was insistent he would not be converted by them to hate. By God’s grace, his confidence was immense. King’s message was a constant invitation for people to join the side of justice and love. No matter where they were yesterday, he is calling them forward to a new day. He is using symbols and images Christians and Americans hold dear so that in his deconstruction people have a vision of reconstruction. He was not tearing down America, but building it up, calling it forward.

In the Letter from Birmingham Jail, King is responding to a group of clergymen who questioned the timing of the demonstrations. There were the racist haters on one side, those demanding justice on the other side, and a whole bunch of people in the middle. Many in the middle were sympathetic on the one hand, but wanted demonstrators to have more patience on the other. So, King, clearly angry, nevertheless draws them in:

There is a “Strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”

What is quite brilliant is that while King calls the silence of the many before injustice “appalling,” he leaves open the hope that among the silent are good people. Ignorant and afraid does not make them evil. He has left them room to be on the side of good, and by so doing has given them a challenge and a choice. Wake up and have courage to join the cause of righteousness and justice. King is brilliant in his use of the word “We.” He is choosing to be inclusive, and that puts the pressure on those who hear him to choose whether they are a part of the courageous and righteous “we” or not. King continues:

“We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy, and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice into the solid rock of human dignity.”

In my study of non-violent Christian movements this Lent, I have been struck by the importance of cosmic hope in the future, in the faith that God is marching on, that no matter what bad happens in this life today, the eternal joy and peace of God awaits us in the future.

In Our God is Marching On King preaches, “I must admit there are still some difficulties ahead…We will go with faith that nonviolence and its power transformed dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows…We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. That will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man. I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth pressed to earth will rise again.

How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever.

How long? Not long, because you will reap what you sow.

How long? Not long, because the arm of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. How long? Not long, ‘cause mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lighting of his terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on. He has sounded for the trumpets that shall never call retreat. He is lifting up the heart of man before His judgment seat. Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him. Be jubilant, my feet. Our God is marching on. “