Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Brandon Perkins-The Problem with the American Dream

This sermon was preached by a friend of mine Brandon Perkins and has been shared with his permission.  You can follow Brandon on Twitter @thePreacherPerk

The Problem with the American Dream
Luke 18:10-13, 18-25

      I have a confession, It’s a confession that I hope will not discount your trust in me to be your youth day preacher this morning. I, Brandon J. Perkins am an addict. That’s right I am addict.  However, before you throw me out of your church please listen to my predicament and how I arrived in my current state. I suppose my addiction can be traced to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA on July 4, 1776. It was there that Caucasian male colonists had been meeting in an effort to find a way to end the tyranny that they faced. When they emerged from their meetings on this fateful day they gave us a document whose words dripped with the double mindedness. On that document I read,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.[1]

It is these words that have both broken bonds and yet tighten shackles.
It these words that have both liberated and oppressed.
It is these words that have brought joy and the same words have brought sorrow.
It is these words that lie at the heart of my addiction.
These words are my drug because I am in fact addicted to the American Dream, and if you are honest with yourselves today you too are in fact addicted to this American Dream.
     The problem is this Dream looks good on paper. It looks good until you dig through the white supremacist patriarchal layers that make up its foundation. Those words that created this Dream were never intended for people who look like me. They were never intended for any Daughters of Eve. They were never intended for anybody that wasn’t White, Male, and Wealthy, and yet we have taken this dream and made it our own.

     Yes, those words have created a culture that sends us to school every day t learn what they want us to learn while devaluing critical thinking skills and an appreciation for all the peoples of the world. Yes, we take out tens of thousands in student loans trying to be what society calls “successful.” Yes, we become suspicious of men who look like us because society has said they are threat to our security. Yes, we listen to music with great musical rhythms and beats, but ignore the lyrics that degrade our sisters as they say, “you're an animal, baby, it's in your nature.” Yes, we tear down our sisters because they are not as light skinned as us and their hair isn’t as straight as ours because that is the definition of beauty that has been fed to us. Yes, we come to church because of habit and may never ask the question, “What does any of this have to do with my life.”  

     We have gotten hooked on the drug of the American Dream that tells us to Get Money, Get Status, and Get Religion while ignoring how, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” alludes so many of us. We ignore how these words have done more to foster separation, inequality, and a devaluing of human life than they have to foster community. We must ask ourselves this morning, “How can we as people of God deal with our addiction to the American Dream?”
Historical and Body-
     In our text this morning we see another person who has either subconsciously or willing ingested the drug of the Dream. It is not the American Dream, but the Jewish Dream. It is a dream similar to our dream. With the summer of Roman occupation was glaring down upon the backs of God’s chosen people this nation of people needed some hope. With injustice in the distribution of wealth these people needed something to hold on to. With a system designed for their demise and servitude these people needed to believe that things could be different. It is this environment that births this ruler who appears in our text.

We are not told if he is from the Jewish peasantry or the Jewish elite.
We aren’t told if he grew up on Wall Street or Blank Street.
We aren’t told if he grew up with the best education or no education at all. All we know is that now he is a ruler under the oppressive Roman Empire ruling over people who look like him.

     The problem with getting status is that we have to check who our loyalties lie with. You can go off to school and get a bachelors and masters degree (and you should as I am a huge advocate for higher education), land a job with the Federal Government, and end up signing off on policies that make it harder for folks who you grew up with to get into college. You can land a job with a Fortune 500 company and then see policies enacted that prohibit persons whom you love from getting affordable homes. You can become a doctor because of your desire to save lives, but then be forced to turn needy patients away because they cannot your hourly rate. You can become a preacher of this glorious Gospel, but then be lead astray to become a celebrity preacher on a reality TV show on BET, TLC, or Lifetime.

We have to check who our loyalties lie with.
Are we gonna serve people or are we gonna serve an principalities and powers with unjust policies?
     Here in this text with this ruler who has a great deal of status and power we find Jesus doing as he has so often done. The great Rabbi is teaching but more than that he is embodying how the kingdom of God should look. Growing up I remember hearing about the kingdom of God, but it was a kingdom that my grandma said was in the sweet by and by. It was a kingdom with three gates in the East, three in the West, three in the North, and three in the South. It was one with streets paved with gold. It was one where I’m told that every day will Sunday and sweet Sabbath will have no end. But the kingdom of God that Jesus is talking about in Luke 18 is not the one in the sweet by and by, but it is the one that He wants to see come on Earth. It is kingdom that we pray about as we say, “Our Father and Mother, Hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come, your will be done. On Earth as it is in Heaven.”

This kingdom of God takes seriously the present needs of humanity. Yes, I can hear Rev. Dr. James Cone say,

“What good are golden crowns, slippers, white robes, or even eternal life, if it means that we have to turn our backs on the pain and suffering of our own children?[2]

Yes, any religion that teaches us to spend our entire lives pursuing a Heavenly kingdom and forsaking our call to build one here on Earth is a religion not worth having.
     That’s why Jesus here in this 18th chapter of Luke spends time telling parables about widows looking for justice. He spends time telling us about the righteousness of the Pharisee vs. the Tax Collector. He spends times telling us to that kingdom of God belongs to the little children and that we should never hinder them from partaking in it. While Jesus is teaching us about equality and a new way of being here comes this ruler.
      Can you imagine the scene? Jesus is teaching a new kingdom on Earth in the midst of a poor population of people who need to have a reason to hope and believe that better days are ahead of them and then here comes one of their own who through some means has escaped a life of poverty and hopelessness. He comes in this crowd of poor people whom he shares a lineage with not dressed similar to them, but wearing the clothes of the Roman Empire. Then this sellout has the nerve to interrupt the teaching of Jesus and ask a question. Listen to his words again, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
     When you have ingested this American Dream, when you have ingested the philosophy of Get Money, Get Status, and Get Religion you reduce everything in life down to, “what do I have to do get what I want.” This ruler comes to Jesus and essentially says what formula do I have to perform to get into this kingdom that I’ve heard you talking about. When I was in the 11th grade I took Geometry, a class I hated and never really understood the meaning of. Nevertheless I did learn a thing or two about formulas. I learned from the Pythagorean Theorem, the formula for a right triangle in case you all didn’t know, that A2 + B2 will always equal C2. This ruler in our text is trying to figure out how he can solve for C and reach eternal life. Can’t you hear him saying…

“Look Jesus, I’ve got money I can give you, I’ve got a great job if you need a favor, I’ve got relationships with the High Priest if you want inside track to the Temple. Jesus I’ve got all these things I just need to know what I got to do to get this last piece of the puzzle.”

     Yes, this ruler shows us what happens when you reduce religion to your idol and you it view as something that you do to get something in return, and is that the same kind of religion that we perpetuate today. I’m glad this morning to be in a PCUSA church because as compared to other denominations I’ve preached in the PCUSA at least talks about justice, equality, and access. Yet, this morning I stopped by to say that we still got work to do because we haven’t quite figured out how this thing works.

Yes, we send kids on mission trips to foreign countries. Yes, we will partner with congregations to paint houses and mend fences.  Yes, we will even spend time working in food banks, and these are all great things. Yet, we when we do the things we so often leave saying, look what we did, look how much we accomplished, and aren’t we proud of ourselves. We have made all about us and it this kind of religion that I like to call 11 o’clock news religion.

     Yes, an 11 o’clock news religion is one that gets highlighted after the news anchor has informed us about which countries are at war, what person has committed a crime in our neighborhood, which Falcon’s or Braves’ player something great at practice or in a game, and what tomorrows weather will be like. It is a religion that gets mentioned as time filer for a news station. It is a religion that many of us will just completely bypass for reruns of Family Guy or American Dad. It is a religion that no one in the world seems to care about.

     That’s why the ruler is not rattled when Jesus begins his line of questioning about his keeping of the commandments. He knows what it means to not to commit adultery. He knows what it means to not murder.  He knows what it means to not steal. He knows what it means to not bear false witness against his neighbor. He knows what it means to honor his father and mother. He knows the commandments because all that he has is a religion of laws, rituals, and formulas. He has an 11 o’clock news religion.   
(Hit This)
But Jesus tries to push the man beyond a religion that won’t change the lives of humanity. Can’t you hear him say to the man,

“There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Jesus is in essence telling the man,
“Do something that makes the world take notice. Don’t just have an 11 o’clock news religion, but also a Breaking News religion.”

     On the evening that the Zimmerman verdict came out I was sitting in my apartment watching Sherlock Holmes on TV with my sister when during the regularly scheduled movie something happened. I got on Facebook as I so often do and I began to see post after post saying that we had a verdict. I turned to my Twitter account and began to see tweet after tweet saying we had a verdict and that he was found not guilty. I began to flick through the stations and movies that were on TV had gone off and now all I saw was reporters at the Sanford County Courthouse with the caption Breaking News flashing across the screen. I realized that when Breaking News is happening nothing else matters.

     That’s what Jesus wanted to see. He wanted to see a man who had sold out, got the great job, and the great money do something that would shake up the establishment.

Can you imagine the headlines;

“Former Chief Magistrate sells all that he has for the benefit of educating all children in Galilee.”
“Ex Roman Magistrate buys affordable homes for all in Capernaum.”
“Former Magistrate uses money for food programs in Jerusalem.”

Jesus told the ruler what he is telling us today,
“I want you to live your faith so well that the world has to stop and take notice!”

But how do we live a faith like this…

1) We recognize our past failures.
We have to acknowledge that we have often times made God fit into our box where we want the Divine to answer our prayers even if they are selfish. We have to acknowledge that some of our intentions are not for the betterment of the whole, but are for our betterment alone. We recognize that so often our religion is the religion of the Pharisee of v. 11 who said,

God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”

Yes, we recognize our shortcomings knowing that in order to go forward we must not embody the attitude of the Pharisee, but of the tax collector in v. 13. Yes, this tax collector saw the posture of the Pharisee but choose instead to stand a far off, and as he stood to pray he would not even look up to Heaven, but all he could do was lift his voice and say,

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

A repentant heart for our actions done and undone propels us into to our present responsibilities.

2) We recognize our present responsibilities.
We take the blinders off of our eyes and get off the drug of this American dream and see our world for what it really is. We become active at our churches such as this one and in our communities in programs that follow the example of Jesus of meeting real needs in real time. We tutor our classmates because we recognize that all of us can learn. We refuse to buy into the idea that we need the latest and greatest gadgets and clothes while our brothers and sisters in our own communities are doing without. We get involved in asking the serious questions about how and why the injustices that we see exist and then we plan as a church, community, city, and state, on ways that we can affect real change. We recognize that we give our whole selves mind, body, and spirit to the service of following Jesus and cannot rest nor tire until we see people come to the knowledge that Jesus cares as much about your present life as he does your eternal life.

3) We recognize that a new kingdom has come
Yes, when a live a faith that makes the world take notice. Yes, when we live a faith that recognizes that the Founding Fathers had it wrong, and that we should say, “All people are created equal and we are responsible for ensuring Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness happens for all of us.” Yes, when we live a faith that shatters the old American Dream, we can then cast a new one. For I heard the late poet Margaret Walker say in her poem “For My People,”

“Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a
    bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second
    generation full of courage issue forth; let a people
    loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of
    healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing
    in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs
    be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men and women now
    rise and take control.[3]

This is our charge, This is our calling, This is how we dream a New American Dream.

[1] “Declaration of Independence,” The History Channel website, (accessed Jan 2, 2013).
[2] James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 40th anniversary ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010), 137.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A reflection on Ephesians and Arkansas

Ephesians 3
This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given to me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.
 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. 

This passage from Ephesians is one that means a great deal to me.  So much so that I will carry it with me forever...on the side of my calf that is.  It is important to me because it is a reminder of my calling.  To be a servant of the gospel of Jesus Christ for all people.  The Gospel that is love and proclamation of justice.  This passage is not just a reminder but it continuously humbles me because it clearly declares that this calling is not superficial but it is of God, from God, and in God.  This is a calling given by the power of God in accordance with the grace of God!! How powerful, how amazing, how humbling, how awesome a calling is this??  Too many times I find myself wandering around wondering what is coming next...
In the last two months I left seminary, moved to Louisville and then to Arkansas, have bought a house and am reapplying to seminary.  I have no job and feel at times like I am wandering aimlessly in the world.  Then I look down at my calf and am reminded I am a servant of this gospel, according to the grace of God given to me by the working of his power!  
This journey to Arkansas has been crazy.  Had you told me even 6 months ago I would end up here  I would have laughed!  But my fiancé and I have prayed and communicated and explored all of the possibilities that were in our path and God led us to Arkansas.  I still wake up at times and wonder what am I doing? Why did I ever leave seminary?  Why Arkansas?  But I am called to be a servant of the gospel as much here in Arkansas as I was in Austin, Hanover, or Louisville.  
I am longing to be back in a theological classroom.  I long to be back in the pulpit.  These things will come.  Until then I am embracing Arkansas.  I am embracing the outdoors and am spending my time planning a wedding and picking paint colors for our house.  I am learning to slow down and I am enjoying the quiet time I have.  Soon enough I will be in a classroom being fed again, until then God has me where God wants me.  Making neighbors and friends.  Learning more about myself and preparing to spend the rest of my life with the man I love and for now that is okay...I am still a servant of the gospel of Jesus Christ and I am enjoying the ride we are on.

Peace be within you,

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Astounding teachings of Jesus...

"Now when Jesus had finished saying these things the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes." Matthew 7:28-29

After hearing the sermon on the mount referred to a few times this week and spending some time with it I have been stuck on the concluding remarks made in the book in Matthew.  I am stuck because I feel as if we forget how radical and powerful Jesus' words are in those three chapters of Matthew.  I feel as if we are not astounded enough at the teachings of Jesus throughout the new testament. 

Part of this is a guilt trip I have been on for myself.  The last 12 months have been crazy. I have been busy, sick, self indulgent, tired, depressed, annoyed, and at times full of myself.  I have not been reflective.  I have not been receptive.  I have not been myself.  I am not writing to make excuses for myself but I am writing because it helps me to be reflective of and receptive to the grace that is before me.  My life has changed so much in the last 12 months and I have tried to take everything in stride, but this week reality has started to sink in...I am living in Arkansas, getting married, changing seminaries, making new friends, and entering into an entirely new way of life. 

This week has been refreshing for me.  Church on Sunday, chapel (at my fiancé's place of employment) on Wednesday, church supper and Bible study on Wednesday, and now an entire morning to sit and write.  I have been surrounded by scripture and prayer, good conversation, laughter, friendship, and gentle souls.  It is in this context that I was reading scripture this morning and came across these closing remarks to the sermon on the mount.  

So I pose these questions to myself and to you:  When was the last time you were astounded at the teachings of Christ?  When was the last time the proclamation of the Word left you in awe?  When was the last time you let yourself be receptive to and reflective of the grace of God?  What would our days be like if we could do these things daily?  Are we scared to let Christ into our lives in this way?  

Astonishment, amazement, joy, energy, love, grace, compassion, faithfulness, obedience, life.  What would our days look like if we were full of these things because of our attentiveness to Christ's teachings?  

My goal this year is to blog 3 days a week based on lectionary texts for the week.  It is my hope and prayer that I continue to be astounded by Christ and Christ's teachings.  It is my hope and my prayer that I will continue to reflect on God's amazing grace, and receptive to receiving it over and over and over again.  

Peace be within you all,


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Vacation Pictures Part 3

Three Whooping Cranes including a juvenile (the darker one on the right) 

Closest I could get to a pair of Whooping Cranes. Beautiful birds

Snails in the marsh at Goose Island State Park (probably dinner for the birds)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Vacation part 2

Deer (Whitetail  I believe) sitting right by the road at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Mustang Island State Park-Reddish Egret scratching itself

Red Tailed Hawk (Dark Morph)

Turkey in a tree at sunrise (Aransas National Wildlife Refuge)

Sunrise the morning after storms moved through the area


Sandhill Cranes (Picture isn't great it was cloudy, but they are beautiful birds!)

Brown Pelican taking off out of the water

Beautiful Butterfly (I am a birder who is trying to learn butterflies, but I believe this is a Plain Tiger)

Little Blue Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron

A Live Oak Grove

The closest picture I could get (so far) of Whooping Cranes.  Beautiful birds.

Pictures from Vacation part 1

Great White Egret

Bottlenose Dolphin

Redhead Duck

Great Blue Heron

Lesser Scaup

Rockport Beach

Great Blue Heron

Black  Skimmer

Ruddy Turnstone