An Open Letter to Rev. Franklin Graham from a “Small Church” Pastor

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Source: An Open Letter to Rev. Franklin Graham from a “Small Church” Pastor

Beyoncé is Not Racist or ‘Anti-Cop’/ And Neither were the Black Panthers

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Source: Beyoncé is Not Racist or ‘Anti-Cop’/ And Neither were the Black Panthers

“Community: A Communion Of Unity” ~ May 17, 2015 Sermon

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Sermon For May 17, 2015 ~ “Celebrating Community”

Romans 12 ( http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=298857033 )

“Community: A Communion Of Unity”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

A video of this sermon can be found online at: https://youtu.be/gPtkc5ka-dY

IntrovertExtrovertHow many of you have ever heard of the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory? It is a pretty standard questionnaire that seeks to determine a person’s basic psychological and social type. The first of the four scales that it references is whether or not someone is more of an introvert or an extrovert, whether they are more comfortable alone or in groups. I have taken the assessment several times and every single time I fall right in the middle, only a notch or two one way or the other. This feels so true to my own experience, for I am both an introvert and an extrovert... and everything in-between! To look at this positively, it means that I am as comfortable in a crowded community, addressing large assemblies, as I am in speaking with someone one-on-one or even in being completely alone with myself. I attribute any success I may have had as a pastor to this ability to balance these two worlds.

Of course, those of you who are astute will have figured out already that the opposite can sometimes be true: there are moments I am painfully uncomfortable in crowds and times when my skin crawls when I am alone. At my most brazenly honest moments, I see myself as a painfully shy introvert trapped in a chronically exposed extrovert’s life. But, thankfully, these have been few and far between, or at least I have been able to adapt to the dilemma in a socially acceptable way. When I have failed to manage this well, I ask your forgiveness.

ChristInCommunityAnd while both skill sets are helpful, and needed, in being a fully functioning pastor, it is the ability to be comfortable in, to nurture and sustain, and to promote community that I think is the more important ability in the 21st century, and an especially-needed trait in the Church. I say this for all those reasons social commentators and church pundits have been exploring and explaining ad naseum these last few decades, but also because I believe the ability to create and celebrate community is at the core of the Judeo-Christian faith and the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Commentators and pundits have pointed out that due to a variety of reasons, modern American/western civilization’s social skills have become less and less actualized and we have become a far more individualized culture. Robert Putnam’s ground-breaking social commentary from 1997, Bowling Alone: The Collapse And Revival Of American Community, highlighted how our human capital has become more and more focused on private good rather than public good, and how our sense of membership has become more focused on online philanthropy and cyber-activism and less on joining civic-minded groups and long-term participation in them. Added to this is the social media phenomenon where groups of friends, colleagues, even family members are focused, sometimes exclusively, on the small screen in front of them, seemingly to the exclusion of the people physically gathered around them, all the while connecting to others near and far via posts and tweets.

S

Small Group of Franklin Circle Christian Church serving together at the Cleveland Christian Home.

Small Group of Franklin Circle Christian Church serving together at the Cleveland Christian Home.

o one of the places where community is still in vogue, is still de riguer, is still common is church. Our faith communities are just that, communities, and while drive-in worship services and sermons posted on YouTube get some press, the idea of showing up to church remains the norm, and when we don’t do it there is still a sense of guilt, even if only passing. So my premise has been these last fourteen years of this congregation’s 173-year history, to focus on building community, nurturing community, sustaining community, and celebrating community. And these last five weeks I have tried to share with you how I have been doing that.

We first considered honoring diversity and focused on Isaiah 56:1-8. We then explored what it meant to liberate laughter, and used 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 as our guide. Next we focused on ensuring justice, and heard Jesus’ speech in the synagogue from Luke 4:14-30 as our own clarion call. Last week we discussed the need to nurture love, with Paul’s case for God’s love in Romans 8:31-39 central to the conversation. These four facets of healthy group life make it possible to truly celebrate community, and I have chosen my favorite scripture from when I began to be a part of the church community as a teenager, Romans 12, as my text today. Let me remind you a little of what I said in these past few weeks.

Watch Night Fun at Franklin Circle Christian Church

Watch Night Fun at Franklin Circle Christian Church

Creation is naturally diverse, and God was richly creative in the way in which humanity has been shaped. But given our human inclinations, we gravitate toward the familiar, the comfortable, and the easy – those just like us. This is not what God wants. Period. God created us diverse for a reason, because we learn and grow best when we are around those who are different from us. When we are reminded, cajoled, and invited to look out for those who are most different from us – even when we are accused of being “politically correct” by doing so – then we are better for it. Franklin Circle Christian Church was diverse when I arrived, but no one can deny that we are far more integrated and empowered as a diverse community today, in not only those who come to our programs and sit in our pews, but those who sit on our church boards and teams and those who envision our future.

HolyHumorSunday

Holy Humor Sunday at Franklin Circle Christian Church

Humor and laughter provide the lubrication and release valve (to create a weirdly mixed metaphor) for community life… but not just any humor and not just any laughter. Jesus made it quite clear that the foolishness in which God engages is never at the expense of someone else and always looks for the joy that can only come in building people up. Holy humor is humor that understands the true absurdity of life – where amoebas and giraffes, long division and black holes, Laverne and Shirley, Ponce de Leon, and Queen Latifa can all exist in the same universe. God-made-real-in-Jesus knew that if the divine being shouldn’t take her/him/itself too seriously, then we ought not to, either. Franklin Circle Christian Church is such an incredibly important and necessary community of faith, on the Near West Side of Cleveland, in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and in the warp and woof of humanity that we simply must laugh at ourselves and enjoy the ride!

GodBeforeGunsMarchAnd then there is justice, which just doesn’t happen, but must be ensured that it will happen. It takes hard work, sweat, and sometimes even tears to make sure that the compassion God had for humanity, the love Jesus had for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, is made real. We will be confident and unapologetic engaging in acts of charity and benevolence that cares for the least amongst us today, as we seek to empower people to be their own change agents and their own best advocates, AND as we seek to address the systemic causes of racism, poverty, ableism, disease, ageism, illiteracy, sexism, homophobia, and heterosexism. Franklin Circle Christian Church has long been on that arc of the moral universe focused on justice, but we must be vigilant lest we be torn apart by those who use false dichotomies and pit justice against compassion or advocacy against evangelism. We know that to do the will of God, follow Jesus, and build the Beloved Community requires doing justice AND loving kindness AND walking humbly with our God.

Ted & Mary Brogan celebrate their wedding anniversary

Ted & Mary Brogan celebrate their wedding anniversary

Fourthly, whatever we do, whether it be honoring diversity, liberating laughter, or ensuring justice… we must do it with love. Love is the very essence of God and is the ultimate charge Jesus has given to us, his followers. And this has been both the easiest task and the hardest challenge in this congregation. When one gathers folks together, particularly those who have been hurt by loved ones, disregarded by society, and ridiculed by the whims of the world, it is hard not to take out those injuries and offences on those closest to you, those who have opened their arms and hearts to you. But we cannot shoot the wounded! So communities like Franklin Circle Christian Church must love one another and the world around us all the more fully, passionately, even sacrificially. We must love those who are most unlovable, at least by the world’s standards, for that is what Jesus did. We must love humbly, knowing both the majesty of our place in creation and the minuteness of our place in the universe. Our love must be wrapped up with abundant forgiveness, of ourselves and one another, and we must ask for forgiveness as if our lives depend upon it… because they do.

Franklin Circle Christian Church Elders

Franklin Circle Christian Church Elders

And a community that is able to do these things, honor diversity, liberate laughter, ensure justice, and nurture love, as Franklin Circle Christian Church does and will continue to do, is a community that must be celebrated! This church is Good News to a world hell-bent on bad news. This church is a sign of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and will, if you let it, bring new life to those who are all but dead to themselves and to the world around them. This church is a city on a hill that cannot be hid, it is salt that brings flavor to a painfully boring existence for many, it is a candle that cannot, should not, will not be hidden. No! Proclaim it from the mountaintops! Run or roll or hobble or dance down the streets and avenues and proclaim God is alive and well and living in this community called Franklin Circle Christian Church to friend and neighbor and stranger alike! Celebrate Community, for you are a damn fine community to be celebrated!

Amen.

“Ham Sandwiches, Hashtags, And Handshakes” ~ May 3, 2015 Sermon

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Sermon For May 3, 2015 ~ “Engaging Justice”

Luke 4:14-30 ( http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=297508523 )

“Ham Sandwiches, Hashtags, And Handshakes”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

More and more in my life I have become extremely suspicious of dichotomies.  A dichotomy is a contrast between two things that are or are being portrayed as being One waycompletely different from one another.  Melanie Morrison, United Church of Christ minister, in her wonderful book, The Grace Of Coming Home, uses the phrase “mutually exclusive opposites” to capture this.  Classic dichotomies are: black and white, rich and poor, man and woman, body and soul.  I am not just hesitant to use them, but am downright cynical of them because quite often they are presented as undeniable fact or unquestionable truth when they are in fact thinly veiled attempts to promote a particular political, theological, or social position.  Sadly, quite often folks who make a habit of using such polarities condemn honest intellectual inquiry and ridicule anyone who might have an opinion or state a truth different from their perspective or that doesn’t fit one or the other opposing position or contrasting label.

OnlyOneWayConversations around justice, righteousness, and equality are rife with dichotomies, and they are perpetuated by people on all sides of the issues.  I have committed my life not only to casting doubt on the trustworthiness of mutually exclusive opposites, but to work diligently empowering others to think critically about important issues.  My call is for us all to disregard the many voices trying to convince us that it is this way or that way, that it is all or nothing, up or down, red or blue, right or wrong, my way or the highway.  I believe this not because of some innate rebel spirit – although I do have a bit of that blood in me – but because it is how I see God works, especially God made real in the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  My life is committed to helping folks see that ambiguity, mystery, exploration, evolution, and change are all grace-filled possibilities, and that the Divine actually specializes in leading us through such non-hierarchical, non-dichotomous places.

There are two misunderstandings and two particular false dichotomies that are perpetuated about justice issues that I think are extremely harmful to living life fully and which put our faith in danger.  One misunderstanding is seeing benevolence as the same thing as justice AND the corollary false dichotomy is thinking that you can have one without the other.  The second misunderstanding is that justice is purely political and not faithful, and the offshoot false polarity is to see work and advocacy for justice as being antithetical to evangelism and witness for the gospel.  Let me take these one at a time.

GoodDeedFirst, the misperception that benevolence and justice are the same thing.  Benevolence, also known as charity, philanthropy, and compassion, are the acts of kindness and service that help a person in the moment.  We have many such programs here at Franklin Circle Christian Church, from our Benevolence Fund to our Disciples Clothing Closet, weekend Community Youth Program, our Third Sunday Community Meal, and our end of the month Food Bag Ministry.  All of these are powerful and wonderful programs that help real people in real need.  But we must not confuse them with justice.  Justice asks the questions behind the service: why are so many people in need of clothing, a hot meal, groceries, something for kids to do on the weekend?  It’s running up the river to find out why there are so many babies falling into the river, to reference an old and much used story.

Senior Minister Dr. Jacqueline Lewis at a special service for Trayvon Martin at Middle Collegiate Church, New York City

Senior Minister Dr. Jacqueline Lewis at a special service for Trayvon Martin at Middle Collegiate Church, New York City

But the tendency is for people, and many congregations do this, to pit one of these against the other.  Some congregations, like ours, focus on benevolence and meeting the human needs of the moment.  Others focus on advocacy, learning about the larger issues of poverty, violence, sustainability, food-scarcity and waste, racism, sexism, homophobia and heterosexism, especially by talking with, working alongside, and empowering those who are most affected by the injustices and exploitation.  These congregations translate what they learn into letter-writing, lobbying, marching for justice, and even non-violent protest.  Our Anti-Racism Team does some of this important work.  What would it mean for a congregation to be comfortable with both service and advocacy, benevolence and justice?

The shame is that we – for reasons of ego and hubris or just plain limitations on time, energy, and vision – pit benevolence and justice against one another, rather than celebrate both of them.  A classic false dichotomy is perpetuated in the old saw, “give a person a fish and she can eat for a day, teach a person to fish and she can eat for a lifetime!”  I like to say, “Well, if you haven’t fed them for today they’ll never live long enough learn to fish!  You have to do both: give and teach!  Plus, if they don’t have access to a fishing pole or the water isn’t clean enough for the fish to live in it, teaching them to fish is pointless!  So it’s gotta be give, teach, advocate!”

bothandWe need to have a Benevolence Fund to get people in great need through the day, but we also have to be asking tough questions about the predatory tactics of Payday Lending companies, or what are the policies and fee-scales of local banks that might keep our low-income neighbors from ever having the chance to save up money, or why there are so few living-wage jobs in our city.  We need to have a healthy hot meal and bags of “lovingly prepared groceries” so that families don’t go hungry night after night, but we also have to ask what city laws and regulations say about having gardens in our front or backyards or that make it harder for smaller, ethnic grocery stores to easily open near the people they might serve, or why there are so few living-wage jobs in our city.  We need to have a place where our young people can come and be safe, and have a professional basketball coach teach them skills in the sport and in life and to get good food and loving guidance, but we also have to be asking the tough questions about whether or not all of our children are equally getting a quality education, about why we live in a society where our young Black and Hispanic youth feel celebrated when they look to a future in sports but ignored when they look to a future in science, or business, or health care, or about whether all of our youth, no matter what tone of color there skin is, are equally safe on our streets.  And we should ask why there aren’t more living-wage jobs available.

helder_camaraWhich leads me to the second misconception and false dichotomy.  The misconception is the accusation that justice is not faithful, but political.  Bishop Hélder Câmara is famously quoted as saying, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”  The moment that a preacher like me starts to ask the “why?” question, we get labeled a “radical” or a “trouble maker.”  The moment we start talking about gender issues we are labeled a “feminazi.”  When we describe people as Black, Brown, White, Hispanic, Asian we are told we’re playing the “race card.”  And God forbid we talk about realtime real life economics, for then we are promulgating “class warfare!”  I maintain that if I do so, then I stand in the grand tradition of most of scripture and the essence of who Jesus of Nazareth was!

There are two Hebrew words that are used to describe what it means to “do justice.”  One is mishpat and occurs over 200 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably.  It means acquitting or punishing every person on the merits of the case, regardless of race or social status. Anyone who does the same wrong should be given the same penalty.  But mishpat means more than just the punishment of wrongdoing. It also means giving people their rights.  Author and pastor Tim Keller notes, “Mishpat, then, is giving people what they are due, whether punishment or protection or care.  This is why, if you look at every place the word is used in the [Hebrew Scriptures,] several classes of persons continually come up.  Over and over again, mishpat describes taking up the care and cause of widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor—those who have been called ‘the quartet of the vulnerable.’” (1)

But the second word used in the Hebrew Scriptures for justice fills this out even better.  Keller says it well, “The word is tzadeqah, and it refers to a life of right relationships.  When most modern people see the word ‘righteousness’ in the Bible, they tend to think of it in terms of private morality, such as sexual chastity or diligence in prayer and Bible study.  But in the Bible, tzadeqah refers to day-to-day living in which a person conducts all relationships in family and society with fairness, generosity and equity.  It is not surprising, then, to discover that tzadeqah and mishpat are brought together scores of times in the Bible.  These two words roughly correspond to what some have called ‘primary’ and ‘rectifying justice.’  Rectifying justice is mishpat.  It means punishing wrongdoers and caring for the victims of unjust treatment.  Primary justice, or tzadeqah, is behavior that, if it was prevalent in the world, would render rectifying justice unnecessary, because everyone would be living in right relationship to everyone else.  Therefore, though tzadeqah is primarily about being in a right relationship with God, the righteous life that results is profoundly social.” (2)  That’s justice!

Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourners community and magazine, often tells the story that he once took two old Bibles and in the first one he cut out all the verses that dealt with the “sins” on which most churches of our day spend their time, energy, and money: homosexuality, abortion, etc.  He said you could flip through it and never notice the missing passages.  He took the other old Bible and cut out all the texts dealing with the poor, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant… and said it barely held together so many verses were applicable!

Jesus began his ministry making it crystal clear that justice, in all it’s forms, was going to be fundamental to his work of salvation.  Today’s text of Jesus’ proclamation in the synagogue, only days after his wilderness sojourn which began his ministry, is almost exclusively about justice:  good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, and proclaiming the acceptable year of God’s favor!  His words should sound familiar, in that Mary’s magnificat, sung upon learning of her pregnancy with him, speaks also of justice for the oppressed and a righting of wronged relationships.

And note, Jesus has little time for exploring what people did to get into the condition in which he found them.  When he found the woman caught in adultery about to be stoned, he spent no time examining her past, but pointed her to the future.  When people discussed who had sinned to cause the man to be born blind, Jesus ignored their finger-pointing, healed him, and sent him off into a new future of possibility!  Oh that we would spend less time blaming victims for their situation and more time righting the wrongs that got them there and empowering them to new life!

revolutionary-jesus2So the second false dichotomy is that we ought not be about the work of justice because it works against the primary call of the gospel to “go and make disciples.”  I cannot tell you how many times the work of justice and the work of evangelism are pitted against each other in mortal combat.  I tell you now this is a lie and no such conflict nor schism exists.  In fact, I believe with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength – and  is illustrated by everything that I’ve done in this congregation for the past 14 years –  the belief that a community of faith that is serious about benevolence and justice is a congregation that will grow and, more importantly, will “empower disciples to serve and glorify God!”  I don’t want to “make disciples of all nations” if those disciples don’t have a heart and a spine and a voice!  I don’t want to grow the church if it means the sanctuary is filled with a bunch of “know-nothings” who have no interest in their faith transforming the way they live in the world nor in taking their faith to the streets and changing the lives of those around them, even if they never darken the door of the church!

It blows my mind that anyone would think this radical and revolutionary Jesus, who called both everyday laborers and tax collectors into his inner circle, who treated women as equals, who acknowledged the faithfulness of eunuchs in the community, who listened to and healed foreigners, who refused to treat children as property, and who saw that God was calling all of creation to faithfulness and not just those who were the “in crowd…” it blows my mind that anyone would think this Jesus I follow would insist we never talk about changing the systems that keep people in subjugation and instead portray the faith as simply a personal, private, spiritual activity.

No!  Jesus wants us to make the ham sandwiches and feed the people!!!  Jesus wants us to Tweet the hashtags and get people out on the street in an uprising against injustices!!!  Jesus wants us to offer the seeker our hand in Christian companionship!!!  And justice means all of the above!  Ham sandwiches, hashtags, and handshakes!  May it be so!  Make it so.  Amen.

(1) Tim Keller, “What Is Biblical Justice,” in Relevant magazine, http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/what-biblical-justice  (2) Ibid———-

 

“Following A PC Jesus” ~ April 19, 2015 Sermon

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Sermon For April 19, 2015 ~ “Honoring Diversity”

Isaiah 56:1-8 ( http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=296437574 )

“Following A PC Jesus”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

To watch the video of this sermon, go online to: https://youtu.be/zXSHcRRcx5s

 

When the end of my short-lived marriage to my college best friend, Barbara, had been announced and word of my divorce because I had come out as gay began to work its way through our network of friends and family, I received a phone call one evening from the pastor of my home church. Ostensibly he was calling to check up on me, however by the end of the call it felt neither pastoral nor helpful. In it he would tell me that my news had caused my mother to have a “nervous breakdown” from which he had to help her recover. That report devastated me, and would haunt me for a long time. But the second thing I remember him telling me at first confused me, then angered me. This anger has lasted a lifetime.

 

bleeding-heart-liberalsIn that call the good pastor had not just insinuated, but had actually accused me of saying that I was gay because I had a “soft heart” and was always trying to take the side of those who were “down on their luck.” I was perplexed because this burning secret, this facet of who I am as a human being and with which I had struggled for almost all my young life he implied was a tactic, at best, or at worse a weakness that I had. He suggested that somehow I had the penchant for taking the side of the underdog, and the proclamation of my being gay and the subsequent complete capsizing of my relationships, my life, and quite potentially my future livelihood was a frailty of personality over which I, apparently, had no control.

 

It would be months, even years, before I realized the full import of his words. Of course, it was audacious to think that my decision to be honest about myself and the ensuing pain I knew this would cause my wife, my mother, and all my closest friends, classmates, and relatives, was the result of some young adult whim I had pass through my silly little head. I presume he was basing this on the conversations we had had the summer before when I was youth intern at my home church. In the middle of that summer, on July 4th weekend to be exact, I had preached a sermon that was, to be fair, less than well thought out on the evils of the Cold War and the need for America and Russia to get their collective acts together, forgive each other, and come back to the world table reconciled. I must presume that sermon – for which there was an expected fallout and public chastising – and the multiple conversations about my involvement in organizations such as the Disciples Peace Fellowship, Handgun Control, Inc., and several environmental groups was the basis for his evaluation of my “personality flaw.”

 

Of course, another way of looking at this was: I was gay. Thoroughly, consistently, constitutionally, completely gay, and my divorce and the reordering of my life was a difficult and woefully delayed but absolutely necessary response to the honesty I had come to acknowledge for myself and my world. It was the evils of a world of homophobia and heterosexism that had caused me to pretend to be other than who God truly created me to be and to try to build around me a false identity to be “just like all the other boys.” And the Church universal was complacent in that evil! I am who I am, and who God made me!

 

But here’s the thing that really angers me: there was also the implication that these social, political, and I would say spiritual commitments were passing fads, and also not part of who I am as a human being. This discounting of my deeply held religious beliefs and well-researched, prayerfully held, and thoughtfully lived-out values happens repeatedly and often. And it doesn’t just happen to me,Politically-Correct it happens all the time to people with similar commitments. One of the most frequent ways it is articulated, and I do not know where or by whom this catchy phrase was first coined, is by calling such values “politically correct,” or “PC” for short. “Oh that’s so PC!” or “You’re just being PC,” or “Well I guess I better be PC!”

 

I stand here this day to say that my commitments to diversity, to inclusivity, to hospitality, to equality, to fairness, and to justice have absolutely nothing at all to do with seeking to be politically correct, whatever that means! I call the world to cease and desist in using this phrase in order to belittle, discount, and seek to destroy the very real responsibilities I believe we all have to those who are oppressed, marginalized, and largely forgotten by society. I demand this because it is not some personality flaw by which I come to these, it is because my Jesus calls me to do it, and the moral arc of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures makes it a mandate for my life.

 

El Greco, “Christ Healing the Blind Man”

El Greco, “Christ Healing the Blind Man”

What if that good pastor had instead implied or even asked me, “Allen, are you doing this because Jesus is making you do it?” I would have to reply, “Well, yes!” Jesus calls me to be honest about who God made me to be! Jesus calls me to love my neighbor as I love myself! Jesus calls me to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit those in prison, and thus proclaim the acceptable year of our God!

 

So I say to you today, if it is politically correct to sit at table with prostitutes and tax collectors and treat them with the dignity God imparts them, just like Jesus, then I am PC!

 

The logo for the All Peoples Christian Church, Los Angeles, CA.  Find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AllPeoplesChristianChurch

The logo for the All Peoples Christian Church, Los Angeles, CA. Find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AllPeoplesChristianChurch

If it is politically correct to believe that foreigners and sexual minorities are capable of faithfulness and can be counted amongst God’s favored people, just like Isaiah, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to know neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free but all can be one in the faith of Jesus, with no human distinction defining them, just like the Apostle Paul, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to turn the other cheek, give someone my coat, go the extra mile, give to those who beg, just like Jesus preached, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me, just like Jesus preached and lived, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to look out and care for those who society sees as the very dregs of society, the orphan, the widow, the stranger from another land, the poor just like it says in the law of Deuteronomy, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to let justice roll down like waters, to be a restorer of the breech and a repairer of streets, to seek the welfare of the city in which we live, to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God just like the ancient prophets preached, then so be it, I AM POLITICALLY CORRECT!

 

There is a rich diversity with which God has permeated all of creation. Thanks be to God for our differences! But way back in that first Garden, as our eyes and hearts were opened just like the divine eyes and heart, we began to know this diversity is also complexity, and there are forces within each and every one of us if, left unchecked, cause us to treat this diversity with disrespect, even violence. We must be reminded again and again that we are only stewards of this creation, and never owners. And one of the most precious gifts we are charged with, throughout Holy Scripture and culminating in the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth, is to love, and to make love real by caring for creation, for our neighbors, especially those neighbors in need.

 

One of the guiding scriptures of my life is Luke 12:48: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Whether we like to admit it or not, this calls those of us who live a life of privilege, any privilege and no matter how much privilege, to be accountable for it to God. If this is not a mandate to care for those for whom the world determines is the least, the lost, the unloved, the lonely, and the less I do not know what is.

 

And if being responsible for the care of the world and loving my neighbor is PC, so be it. Me? I’m just following Jesus.

 

Amen.

“Signs Of The Resurrection: Peace & Forgiveness” ~ April 12, 2015

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Sermon For April 12, 2015 ~ Baptism Sunday

John 20:19-23 ( http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=295839885 )

“Signs Of The Resurrection: Peace & Forgiveness”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

Over the next few weeks we will be exploring the period of scripture which describes the time after Jesus’ resurrection and prior to the birth of the new church on the day of Pentecost.  It is also the time between the transformation of Jesus with new life and the ascension of Jesus, thus effectively taking him, at least in bodily form, from their midst.  I want to spend time delving into the way in which Jesus worked with his disciples to prepare them both for his leave-taking but also, and much more importantly, for the birth of the new church that was to come.

Let’s not be coy about this.  Clearly there are parallels between what is happening in scripture and what is happening here at Franklin Circle Christian Church.  I have just received news which has – quite frankly – given me new life.  But it means that I will be leaving you for another position in ministry, this time as a Regional Minister.  I do think that there is much to be learned from how Jesus and the disciples handled their situation that will offer us great wisdom and guidance in the coming days so that we might live into and through this transition with faithfulness and hope.

But that is where the parallels end.  Let me be perfectly clear: I ain’t no Jesus, nor do I have any pretensions with this new position that I am any more holier than I was before.  I am 100% human, and I am reminded of that every day of my life.  I sin, I miss the mark, I fall short of the glory of God, and I need all that God has to offer to get through each moment of my life.  If, by the grace of God, you all have seen Jesus working through me – in spite of me – or even with me, then “Praise be to God!”  But let us be very, very clear.  You know Jesus, and I am no Jesus.

And let me also say that while I will be viewing these texts in the coming weeks through the lens of a congregation, all of these sermons will be just as much about who we are as individuals before God.  How we live in community is connected to how we live as individuals, and vice versa.

So with that caveat, let’s get to today’s text.  Today’s text is almost always read the first or second Sunday after Easter.  It is the famous (or infamous) text depending upon how you look at it, of Jesus greeting the disciples in the closed room and Thomas, who was not with them in the beginning, questioning the other disciples as to the validity of their claim that they had seen the resurrected Christ.  Christ reappears and asks Thomas to touch his wounds and discover for himself that he is alive again.  There is no doubt why this moment has become the focus of these verses, for it is one of the most dramatic and tangible scriptures in all of the New Testament.  But this is not what I want to focus upon and why I did not have Larisa read it to you.

No, what I want to focus on are those few verses that describe what Jesus says to the disciples in between their awe and amazement at seeing him alive again and the moment Thomas arrives.  What does Jesus do first?  He grants them his peace.  Not once, but twice.  Previously Jesus had told the disciples in John 14 that he would leave for them a peace that was unlike the kind that the world had to give.  This is critical to hear and remember.

I think the first blessing of peace was to calm their troubled hearts, both from the sorrow of him leaving and the shock of him still being alive.  But the second benediction of peace was more of a mandate to be at peace, for tied with it was the charge to go out and be as Jesus had been with them.  Matthew will make this “great commission” big and bold, on a mountaintop with lots of fanfare about baptizing and teaching.  John simply records a second “Peace be with you” and then tells them that just as he was sent by God, so they are sent by him.  Peace is inextricably tied to our calling to go and be in the world.  We must be agents of peace in a world that cannot imagine peace, much less live it out.

And the next thing that Jesus tells them is to forgive.  After calming the disciples down, giving them the mandate to go and offer the peace he gives to the world, he tells us to forgive.  One of the hardest actions for human beings to do, Jesus makes his second request to his followers after he comes back from the dead.

And he uses this wonderful phrase, which I like better from older translations and from the Matthew text:  “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  Whatever sins you bind will be bound in heaven!  Whatever sins you loose, shall be loose in heaven.  WHAT POWER WE DISCIPLES HAVE!!!  And this is the power that will either save this church in the future or destroy it.  You, each of you, has the power to forgive or not forgive: how you use this power will determine your future and the future of this church.

That would be a cause for weeping and wailing if it were not for one thing.  In between the call to be at peace and be peacemakers, and the command to bind or forgive sins, is the giving of the Holy Spirit.  For Luke/Acts, this comes later, at the time of Pentecost.  But for John, it is in the quiet, dark, intimate, doubt and anxiety-ridden room with just Jesus and the disciples.

Jesus breathed on him, the ruach that formed creation and made the earth creature a human, the pneuma that came down from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, would be the very same breath that Jesus breaths onto the disciples immediately after Easter.  It is this breath that was breathed into each and every one of us upon our birth, at our baptism, and when we were called to participate in this church.  It is the very same breath that is given to every single leader in the church, from the child that lights the candles on Sunday morning as an acolyte, to the volunteer who sorts clothes for the clothing closet.

This Holy Spirit will be the very same Holy Spirit that will be breathed again into this church upon my departure that will allow you, A Chosen People, A Royal Priesthood, A Holy Nation, God’s Own Special People that will empower you to be both at peace and be the peacemakers God calls you to be, and to learn the art of forgiveness so that the work of God can and will continue through this congregation well into the future.

May it be so.

Amen

“Recognizing Resurrection Through The Tears And The Fears” ~ April 5, 2015 Easter Sermontags social

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Sermon For April 5, 2015 ~ Easter Sunday

John 20:1-18 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=295230253 )

“Recognizing Resurrection Through The Tears And The Fears”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

To watch this sermon on video, go online to: https://youtu.be/9yAlXojg9do

 

Alexander Ivanov (1806 - 1858) (Russian) (Painter,   Christ's Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection 1835 oil on canvas

Alexander Ivanov (1806 – 1858) (Russian) (Painter,
Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection
1835
oil on canvas

I love this version of the resurrection story, from John. It is such a beautiful look at this faithful woman, Mary Magdalene, so maligned by super simplistic misinterpretations of scripture, not to mention a long history of misogyny. Mary exquisitely comes to recognize the risen Christ as her beloved mentor. But even as much as I adore this scripture, I have to ask the question, “Why did Mary not recognize Jesus immediately?” Why did it take so much time before she realized this one standing before her was none other than the one for whom she had been mourning these past three days?

 

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You can find this button, and many other wonderful and empowering items to inspire you, at https://www.syracuseculturalworkers.com/products/button-girls-can-do-anything

Well perhaps she doubted herself, questioned her own ability to know what was truth and what wasn’t. When Mary rushed back to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple, she might have been acting in the way we tend to train too many of our young girls to behave, to doubt themselves and always go to men as a higher authority. It may just be this Easter story is calling us to empower girls, as well as boys, women, and men, to have confidence in themselves and rely on what they hear, see, and observe.

 

Or maybe Mary’s inability to see the resurrected Christ right away was due toGardener her own prejudices and biases. The text says she “supposed him to be a gardener.” What about him made her think he was a worker in the cemetery? What if Jesus came back looking differently than she had seen him when alive, with a different accent, darker skin color, or dissimilar in some other human attribute? We humans have a tendency to make snap judgments about the reliability of information based on completely irrelevant factors. It may just be this Easter story is calling us to look for truth from persons we might otherwise have discounted or avoided completely.

 

Arnold Böcklin's Mary Magdalene Weeping Over the Dead Christ.

Arnold Böcklin’s Mary Magdalene Weeping Over the Dead Christ.

I also wonder if Mary had become so enraptured in her sorrow that she, quite literally, couldn’t see clearly through her tears or hear clearly because of her weeping. Surely she had every reason to be desolate, having witnessed the torturing crucifixion of her liberator and redeemer, and now finding the humiliation of his body removed from its tomb. But isn’t it true that sometimes we find ourselves in patterns of grief that become so familiar, so engrained, that they pull our attention away from the present, and we miss the life that is happening around us? It may just be this Easter story is calling us, not to avoid nor truncate our grief, but to seek an awareness through the tears of what is going on around us, so that we might not miss the life God offers beyond the sorrow, perhaps even because of the sorrow.

 

Jason Puccinelli's "The Shape of Sound" is an acrylic mural that adorns the free zone area of the Seattle Art Museum.

Jason Puccinelli’s “The Shape of Sound” is an acrylic mural that adorns the free zone area of the Seattle Art Museum.

Could it also be possible that Mary was fearful about the future, wondering how she and the other disciples could possibly go on without the one who had taught and healed and loved them through so much? She may have also been apprehensive about how this diverse and scrappy band of disciples were going to continue such important ministries beyond the one who seemed to keep them focused and mediated their disputes. It is such a risk to be beholden to one person to keep a community sustained and healthy, but if the leader has done his or her job of empowerment well, the followers will discover the abilities were always there within them, and the importance of the mission will ensure their success. It may just be this Easter story is calling us to not be overwhelmed by our fears, but to trust the wisdom, skill, and grace that is within us to carry on.

 

We don’t really know why Mary took so long to recognize her risen friend, the resurrected Christ. What we do know is that, eventually, she did. And what a moment that was! In fact, that recognition propelled her to go, and tell the good news: “I have seen the Lord!” Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!”

 

Amen.

 

 

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