PASTOR CHRIS’ SOUL IS BACK!!!- 008

Hey friends!
 
It is good to be back!  Going to start out 2021 with a new focus and attention to sharing my SOUL and engaging in the challenging topics of our time.
 
This week, I preached on “Identity Theft”.  Below, you can find the transcript and some additional thoughts on actions that we can take to reclaim the stolen identity of Christianity.  You can check out the video here:
 

LISTEN TO “HYMN FOR THE 81%”
 

 

Scripture: Luke 4:14-30 (Inclusive Version)

Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and his reputation spread throughout the region. 15 He was teaching in the Galilean synagogues, and all were loud in their praise. 16 Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. Entering the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his habit, Jesus stood up to do the reading. 17 When the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed him, he unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of our God is upon me: because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held   captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison— 19 to proclaim the year of our God’s favor.” 20 Rolling up the scroll, Jesus gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he said to them, “Today, in your hearing, this scripture passage is fulfilled.” 22 All who were present spoke favorably of him; they marveled at the eloquence of the words on Jesus’ lips. They said, “Surely this isn’t Mary and Joseph’s son!” 23 Jesus said to them, “Undoubtedly you’ll quote me the proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your own country the things we heard you did in Capernaum.’ 24 But the truth is, prophets never gain acceptance in their hometowns. 25 “The                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     truth is, there were many women who were widowed in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens remained closed for three and a half years and a great famine spread over the land. 26 It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but to a woman who had been widowed in Zarephath, near Sidon. 27 Recall, too, that many had leprosy in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one was cured except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 At these words, the whole audience in the synagogue was filled with indignation. 29 They rose up and dragged Jesus out of town, leading him to the brow of the hill on which the city was built, with the intention of hurling him over the edge. 30 But he moved straight through the crowd and walked away.

 

I am sure that some of you have either directly or indirectly, experienced real Identity theft.  I have family members and friends whose identities were stolen and it has created immense amounts of pain, financial struggle, and a real sense of violation.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2019 there were 3.2 million reported cases that involved some type of fraud that compromised someone’s identity.  And of the 23% that actually reported a loss, that 23% totalled 1.2 billion dollars in losses. 

Pretty staggering.  

Friends, we have had an identity theft taking place in our here and now.  It is not one of credit cards and social security numbers, but in a very real and dangerous way, it has happened.  And it has happened to Jesus.  This is not a new event, for it has been happening, sometimes in slow and methodical ways, and sometimes in jarring, visible ways.  We need look no further than the atrocity of the events at the US Capitol, and white supremacist ideology that justifies it’s violence in the name of Christ.

So as we see Jesus receive the Holy Scroll of the prophet Isaiah, unroll it, read the text that says  and proclaim  “The Spirit of our God is upon me: because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to those who are poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison 19 to proclaim the year of our God’s favor.

This is the section to be read for the Shabbat that week.  But as he concludes, he does something unimaginable. 

 “Today, in your hearing, this scripture passage is fulfilled.”

In that statement, Jesus is proclaiming that in his reading, it is to happen in that moment.  Good News, the Word of the Divine, is brought, not through the emissaries of Caesar, speaking on his behalf but through a rabbi of Nazareth who grew up down the street.  And it is brought, not to those who made the largest gift to the Temple or political contribution, not to the elite, with golden gilded castles and land, but to the poor.  To do miracles for the blind and the outcast, liberation from harmful leadership, and to say it is the year of God’s favor, Jubilee.  The Jubilee is a biblical concept, but also a real tangible, civic restructuring.  It refers to the redistribution of wealth and liberation of slaves every 50 years.  And Jesus has just proclaimed that this is the time.  Now.  When most imprisoned were because of the challenging of Roman rule, Jesus is claiming all prisoners must be set free.  Jesus is telling all of those that have filled their pockets, their bank accounts, their investments, that this is the season that wealth is redistributed for the sake of the impoverished, and they would have to give up some of their wealth for the sake of all.  

So you can imagine how this goes over with those in power, who have hoarded their wealth, who have told the impoverished to pull themselves by their bootstraps.  At this moment Jesus, is claiming his identity.  And not only that, he is re-establishing the identity of God.  For God’s identity had been stolen, by Caesar and corrupt religious and political leaders, whose singular voice was the only one that the people were to receive as the truth.  And as a result of his challenges, his affront to the collective infrastructure that would break people out of the complacence of neutrality, he is almost thrown off of a cliff (this is metaphorical, as there are no cliffs around Nazareth.)

Ironically, it would be but a mere couple of centuries before the Roman Empire would claim Christianity as it’s official religious banner and so the Empirical position of Christianity and this idea of Christian nationalism began.  For centuries, even millenia, some of the most politically powerful entities have claimed such power in the name of Jesus.  Through violence, genocide, slavery, racism, racial or ethnic supremacy, and all of the atrocities that humanity is capable of have at some point been done not just by someone who claimed to be Christian, but done as an expression of Christianity.  

So, it is fair to ask, “Why would anyone want to be a part of such a movement?”  Even this morning, there are pastors and Christian leaders around the country, at the US Capitol, the MN Capitol, and in their sanctuaries that are calling for violence toward those who are different from them, who they see as less than they, manifestations of the Unholy, and a threat.  When people see a flag that says “Jesus Saves” waving next to a flag that says “F- Your Feelings” next to an image of White Supremacy in the Confederate flag, storming the US Capitol to terrorize, claiming  Jesus is on their side.  When, months before, a legal demonstration for racial justice is removed with tear gas so that the president can stand in front of a church holding up a Christian Bible, and uses obscenities to describe others involved in peaceful demonstration lifting up racial justice and equity, but calls Christian nationalists with guns, bats, and zipties “special people”, what is someone seeking understanding of the Christianity to believe?

Well, you may be saying, well that is a small percentage of the country?  Really?  Is it?  Or you may be saying, “well, people know that is not me.”  How do they know?

If you feel that the identity of Christianity has been stolen, that a Credit Card has been made in Jesus’ name and people are spending in abusive action with the name of Jesus on the receipt, or that the God of Love that you claim in your life and cherish is being represented in horrific and antithetical ways, then let me ask you a question, what are you doing to get that name back?

Perhaps your response is, “Well, I am kind to others and I show the face of Jesus in that way.”  Great, but let me ask you, do others know that is where your kindness comes from?  Some of the kindest people I know on the planet are not Christian.  Christianity does not have the copyright on kindness.  In fact, as we have seen, some of the most visibly unkind actions are done under the mantle of free speech and Christianity.  

Does it matter if other people know you claim Christianity or a relationship with God, or life-modeling based on Jesus’ teaching?   Technically, no.  

Tomorrow we celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the leader that led this country to a different way of being with regard to race.  Keep in mind, Racial segregation, devaluation of persons of color was legal and endorsed by Christian churches for hundreds of years.  Whiteness adopted Christianity as it’s internal affirmation of it’s supremacy, not just ethnically, but Spiritually.

But Dr. King gave our country a voice and a new course to shift into, a movement that also claimed the voice of Jesus, the Hebrew and Gospel scriptures to claim a truer identity of God.  While Dr. King was not the first, he was a transformational presence that elicited the hate and violence borne of a culture caught in identity theft and seeking to take it back for self-focused arrogance. 

Dr. King was as powerful an orator as ever there has been. His words have marked history.  His approach of nonviolent protest and activism are the models of Jesus manifest.  But Dr. King was not one to shy away from conflict, nor was he one to tell people just what they wanted to hear.  While we, too, dream of a day that children from a Black family and children from a white family will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, there are other words that can be tougher to swallow.

Here these words from the Letters from a Birmingham Jail:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice”

“…shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

⁃ Martin Luther King Jr.

More devoted to order than to justice?  Lukewarm racial acceptance more bewildering than outright rejection?

This convicting wisdom calls into my soul in difficult to stomach ways.  But I believe this is wisdom, especially those of us who are White, who are male, who are opposite-gender oriented.  And in terms of our conversation today, claim the Christian faith as part of our identity.  If Jesus is our role model, the guiding presence in our life, then we do more harm by passive adoption with quiet and inactive conviction than those that do it falsely, for in doing so we enable the corruption of the identity.  Whether we be moderate, progressive, “woke”, liberal, conservative, whatever, a passive approach to avoid the uncomfortable allows that which truly harms to manifest, when we could very well quell such harm.  We just choose not to.  And thus our identity is stolen.

Back in Nazareth, Jesus is taking back his identity.  Jesus is recovering the identity of God, and does so through his ministry, and in his pain, suffering, death, and resurrection.  So what does that mean for us, Christians, White Christians, White Male Christians, whose legacy has been one of identity theft, to participate in the restoration of the authentic identity of the Creator, made manifest in Jesus?   

The Rev. Matthew Watly, pastor of   Kingdom Fellowship African Methodist Episcopal church in Silver Spring, Maryland, only 20 miles north of Washington DC, shared a response to the US Capitol riots that, while directed to his predominantly Black community, How should the righteous respond?  

Demand Justice

  • Take the risk of proclaiming the injustice done in all settings 
  • Claim your identity in more than a tweet.  While social media is a global platform, a lot can be said on social media that we dismiss.  It is too easy, too distant, too impersonal.

Full Investigation and Prosecution

  • Hold accountability
  • Demand systems that have adversely favored White communities be utilized to effectively hold to account all of those responsible for the siege, both in word and action.   

Rebuke Constitutional and Biblical Heresy

  • Name the Sin of White Christian nationalism as anathema and at the same time present a different theology, a different image of God, a Jesus with Brown skin,
  • Reclaim the Biblical text.  
  • Instead of passively approaching the violence of January 6 and so many other or distancing ourselves from it, how do we bring a fervent and wave the banner of Jesus over extraordinary and sacrificial love?
  •  a different understanding of the Biblical text that is authentic, relevant, and life-giving, 
  • a different activism that is based not on self-centeredness and religious elitism, but justice, mercy, and humility
  • Choose to center on the voices of the harmed and marginalized.  STEP BACK SHUT UP, LISTEN, AND PROTECT

Remain Righteous   

  • Do not compromise our conviction to the identity of Jesus 
  • Maintain a fierce love that is borne of bringing forth a world with the identity of our Creator at it’s foundation
  • Be sacrificial with privilege.
  • Do not be drawn into hate.

 
.  I end with another well-know quote from Dr. King,

So, here is your challenge.  In all the places that the identity of Christianity has been stolen, all of the hateful division, violence, and devaluation, what will you bring, will you be, will you do, to proclaim the model of Jesus that your love comes from?  How much discomfort, how much privilege, power, and worldly risk are you willing to take to drive out hate, and do so with the love of Christ?

Amen  
 
ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:
 I think that while there are many good literary resources for anti-racism, it is sometimes difficult to fully move the learnings from academic education to life mindset.  While there will always be an external “racism is happening to ‘them’ ” or Christian Nationalism is negatively affecting (fill in the blank group of people) because we identify outside of that context, the mindset shift is that helps me is that this is happening to “us”, not “us” in the usage as that we are the direct victims, but that the Created humanity that is suffering that I am interwoven with supersedes that of my or our physical attributes, and that my internal pain as witness to it is as though I am experiencing it myself.  
 
I think that mindset evokes a different type of active engagement.  AND it also holds us to account that some of the most important people for us to be in dialogue with regarding racism and Christian Nationalism are other White people and other Christians.  So in both cases, I feel it is important for us to be overt and also engaged with our racial and Spiritual peers.  I am often reminded that the sin of Racism is something that White people have to fix in ourselves, individually and collectively.  Conversely, we, as Christians have a responsibility to, in word and action, represent Christianity in all settings as something other than that which is seen in so many of the Nationalist and Fundamentalist movements, as they make a point of being overt and visible much better than we do.
 
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF, AS A WHITE CHRISTIAN:
When you encounter those that may use derogatory inferences or words, or talk about “those people” in Racially or Spiritually homogenous environments that you fit in with, how do you respond?
What are the feelings that are elicited for you?    
Do you ignore it?  Why?
Do you engage it argumentatively?    
Do you challenge with questions?  What are those questions?  
Do you assert yourself into naming that which is harmful, even when those who the harm is seemingly directed at are absent?
What are the risks?
What support do you need to push through those risks?
What does it mean for you to claim your faith, humbly and authentically?
 
 

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