Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Newness of Life"

My final sermon assignment in preaching class was to write a funeral sermon.  I wrote this as the sermon I wish I had preached at my Great Aunt Sandy's funeral.  I am sharing for my family as we continue to think about her from time to time and wonder what we might continue to take away from her death.  

Isaiah 25:6-9

Romans 6:1-11

“Newness of Life”

I entered the room and immediately noticed Sandy was in too much pain for hugs and too frail for the traditional moment of sitting on her lap and playing Sandy-Clause with her.  Her mouth was chapped and she had a bucket of ice she was using to provide moisture to her lips.

I recognized this point in the process from my time as a nurse aide,

Sandy was in the process of dying,

Sandy was near the end of her life.

 With tears in my eyes I approached her bed, knelt down, took her hand, whispered in her ear “I love you, Sandy.”  She squeezed my hand and woke from her nap as if she had been waiting on me.  With tears in her eyes she said, “I love you too kiddo.”  I kissed her forehead and she smiled and asked, “Will you wait with me? The preacher is coming and I’m going to be baptized.” 

“You don’t have to do this you know?” I said.

“I know” she replied “But I had planned to just before my diagnosis, and now I’m out of time. I want to.” 

I kissed her head once again and assured her I would be there all night until she wanted me to go.

We talked about life,

about the fear of dying,

about the short but full life she lived

before the preacher got there.

  When he did, my family, all of us gathered around her bed in that ICU and watched something magical happen. 

The preacher looked her in the eyes and said, “Sandy, we’ve already had this discussion, but gathered here with your family today I ask you again:

“Do you accept our Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior and welcome him into your heart.”

“I do.” she said with a smile.

The preacher took his small bottle of oil and anointed her head saying the familiar words “Sandy, child of God, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

We all stood around in that tiny ICU room that evening full of tears and laughter and sorrow and joy.  After that moment though, Sandy was different.  She didn’t complain about her pain, she didn’t shed anymore tears, she didn’t throw herself the pity party I would have after getting the news hours earlier that time was running out and death was imminent.

Instead Sandy told stories,

 she laughed, she cracked jokes,

and she shared family stories she wanted to be passed on for generations.

As Sandy stared death in the face she did so with the newness of life she found in her baptism-the newness of life promised in the scripture we read earlier from Romans.  As I reflect on the beautiful transformation I witnessed that night in the ICU with Sandy, I reflect on the beautiful transformation of our world in relationship with God. I reflect on the transformation of our lives when we too walk in the newness of life found only in our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

When we gather here to celebrate the life of Sandy we also gather to celebrate the resurrection of Christ because it is in His resurrection that we have the chance to live as Sandy did.

Forgetting the sorrow,

 forgetting the heartbreak,

forgetting the tough days, forgetting the regrets,

and looking forward to the moments of love, acceptance,

and inner peace that comes with knowing that

you, I , we

 have been set free from the guilt, the shame, and the brokenness of our sinful nature. BECAUSE IN CHRIST WE ARE A NEW CREATION!  We are invited to live as such.

If there is one thing that we can learn from Sandy and the way she carried herself in those final moments of life, it is that the newness of Christ is real.  It is powerful, and it can give us great hope that the powers of this world are worthless in comparison to the power of Christ.

Here we had Sandy staring death in the face, in the final hours of life, and she leaned into Christ, took a leap of faith and said No More! She decided moping and being scared was not what she was called to and after her baptism she took to heart this newness of life, leaned into the promises of God and shared the Good News with each of us around the bed. 

As we leave this place

As we leave and head to the cemetery to put Sandy’s body in her earthly resting place,

As we say the words, ashes to ashes, dust to dust

As we bid our farewells

As we remember our favorite moments

As we tell our favorite stories

May we remember the newness of life Sandy has shown us

May we make the choice to walk in that newness as she did

Staring our mortal lives in the face and proclaiming that Christ holds power

Christ has overcome our brokenness by granting us reconciliation

Christ has overcome our sorrow by showing us love

Christ has overcome death in his resurrection

Christ has granted us a newness of life and invited us to live into that life not just in the final moments of life, but today, and tomorrow, and the next day.

So as we leave this place and this day where we shed tears, share laughs, and mourn the loss

of our dear friend,




and aunt,

may we do so trusting in the promise Sandy gave us a glimpse of,

 that is trusting in a life that proclaims Christ’s power in word and deed.

Sandy wanted all of us to trust in that newness, in that promise, in all of the promises of God.

So let us lean in as she did, laughing, sharing stories, and proclaiming the power of God in our world.

Let us lean in and trust the promise of God to make us clean and set us free from our sins.

Let us lean in and bask in that newness in mind, body, and soul as we journey in this life-never knowing what each day will bring.

And may we challenge each other to accept this newness and live as Sandy inspires us to-lives of service, humility, and love for the sake of Christ in our world.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Missing the Point

Sermon for Sunday October 11, 2015 Harmony and First Presbyterian Churches Johnson County Arkansas.

Text: Mark 19:32-45

 I’ll never forget the day we were given a tour of an active Mountaintop removal site in Eastern Kentucky.  We walked around and were given a driving tour of what used to be a beautiful mountain.  There were sections where rock trucks bigger than any vehicle I have ever seen were carrying pieces of the mountain away.  There was another section where elk were reintroduced to the mountains.  There was a tree farm.  There was something that looked like grass, which was also painted with fertilizer. And as we ended the tour we got back to the front of the site and I stood looking out over the destruction of the coal mining operation on one side and the beautiful Appalachian mountains on the other when our guide came up and said “Did you see the elk sitting over there? Beautiful reclamation site isn’t it?” It took every filter I had inserted for the entire trip for me to not say, “No, sir, actually this is obscene.  We take apart mountains and attempt to put them back together, disturb the wildlife, and you want to call it beautiful?” But instead I shrugged my shoulders and said “yeah, beautiful.”  As we headed to the car (most of us in tears) I took one last look at the destruction around me and thought to myself “We as Americans, as consumers of energy, as followers of Christ have missed the point of the creation story. We have failed to be good stewards of this earth.”  I’ll never forget the feeling of emptiness that came with the feeling of missing the point, of failing to understand God’s plan for creation, of failing to have the courage to say something to our guide about how I really felt that day as I stood on the reclamation site. 

 As I read the texts for this morning I couldn’t help but come back time and time again to the disciples and their continued pattern of missing Jesus’ point.  You see this is not the first or second time Jesus predicts his death. This is the third time he does so.
The first came after Peter’s Declaration that Jesus was the Messiah, when Jesus rebuked him and said, “Get behind me Satan!”
The second was after he healed a boy possessed with Spirits… and scripture says the disciples did not understand his predictions and were afraid to ask him any questions.
The text from this morning is the third and final prediction of Jesus death and resurrection.

The text tells us that they were already on the road to Jerusalem when Jesus took the twelve aside from the larger crowd to make this declaration, he tells them that he is going to be mocked, spat upon, flogged, and killed.  And James and John respond by taking this as an opportunity to ask if they can sit at the right and left hand of Jesus. The conversation continues and the disciples get angry with one another and finally Jesus tells them it is not about who gets to sit on the right or the left it is about living a life of service.  It is not about being the greatest; it is about becoming the lowest.  It is not about having the answers or the solution it is about serving. It is about waiting on people, giving them the basic necessities to live, learning what their problems are, listening to them, loving them, and giving them all that they need. 
Jesus predicts his death and resurrection and then tells the disciples that this life is not about being great.  He has made it clear throughout the Gospel of Mark that this life-that is the life of following Christ-will be one of suffering, maybe even to the point of death.  And after he is gone it will be a life of service, of putting the needs of others, even strangers before the needs and the desires of the self. 
And Jesus didn’t just command his disciples or us to cast our needs and desires aside to serve others-Jesus did it. Jesus healed the blind, those with leprosy, and the hemorrhaging woman.  All of these would have been considered unclean or deserving of their afflictions.  Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners.  Jesus didn’t look out for himself or put himself before the needs of others, he served. He served selflessly.  Even to the point of death.
The disciples were on the road to Jerusalem.  On the road to Jesus’ betrayal, death, and resurrection.  The disciples knew they were following the messiah, the anointed one who would change the world they knew, but they couldn’t comprehend what Jesus was telling them.  He was telling them he wasn’t the messiah they expected.  He was telling them that sitting at his right and his left was not going to look the way they thought it would.  He was not going to go out in a glorious reign of power that overthrew the oppressive systems of the time.  There would be no end to war, no deliverance of God’s people from enemies, and no immediate divine intervention that turned the world as it was upside down.
No.  Jesus was going to suffer at the hands of humans. He was going to be ridiculed, spat upon, beaten, and nailed to a cross.  Jesus was going to die hanging on that cross with two criminals at his right and left hands.  He was going to be buried in a tomb just like any other human being.  But unlike any other he was going to rise from the dead, overcome death, and reconcile humanity to the One who created the universe. 

John Calvin in a sermon during passion week said: "In truth, though death in itself was cursed in its nature, yet when the Son of God was put to death, the angels worshiped Him as their chief and sovereign prince. And if we consider the power of His death and the fruit that comes from it, we will find it not at all a curse, but it will be the fountain of justice, life, and salvation."

Christ’s death is the fountain of justice, life, and salvation because in his death we were given true life.  Not a life seeking to be the greatest, not seeking to be at the right or left hand of the messiah, but one of service to humankind. One of being Christ in this world. 
We reflect that service in the work we do here:
[Work of the Churches]
These are great ministries and do great work.
The questions we have to ask ourselves are: What is our motivation? Is it to feel good? Is it to seem good? Or is it pure self-sacrifice, putting the needs of others before ourselves?
What more can we do in our world?  What more can we do in this place? How can we reach out to those who are unclean or afflicted? How can we serve those with addictions? How can we help those who have fallen on hard times? 
How can we share the Gospel with those who haven’t heard it? 
How can we as a church and individuals continue on-reminded of the death of Christ- living into that fountain of justice, life, and salvation?
I was speaking recently with a group about sharing the gospel with those who don’t know the story.  It came up in our discussion that many of us didn’t know people who needed to hear the story of salvation in Jesus Christ.  I think the same can be said of those who need to be served.  We may not know them on a personal level, but are we willing to step out of our comfort zones to get to know them? To get to know their needs? To serve them as Christ would have?  It is easy to sit back and send money or supplies but are we willing to build lasting relationships?
In my time in Eastern Kentucky we built some relationships with some wonderful people.  We spent an entire week listening to stories and hearing how life and culture are in the mountains.  We learned how coal mining is crucial to the survival of the people of the mountains in Eastern Kentucky and how more and more jobs were leaving because mountaintop removal was becoming the new way of doing things.  What we found on our listening trip was a group of people who loved the mountains, they loved life in Appalachia, they had loved ones who worked in the mines, and to them life was indeed beautiful on that mountain. 
At the surface beauty isn’t always what we expect. For the disciples beauty was not in sitting at the right and left of Jesus as they expected but it became caring for God’s people.  The point was not to be the greatest but to humble oneself in service to the least.  It is easy to miss the point in our world.  It is easy to get caught up in the flashy ideas, new technology, and next greatest thing.  But what if we decided to get caught up in the business of humility? What if we stepped out of our comfort zones and befriended the strangers who are different or “other than” us? What if we began to tell a story of a man who was so concerned with the lowest of the low that he followed a road into Jerusalem, onto a cross, and out of an empty tomb so that all the world might know and have an intimate relationship with the greatest of the great?  What if we stopped missing the point and started seeing the beauty?  What if we consider the power of Christ’s death and the fruit that comes to us from it-the justice, life, and salvation for all of God’s people. 
From the strip mines of Appalachia to Ferguson, MO
From the delta to the lower ninth ward of New Orleans
From third world countries to war torn cities
From those ravaged by addiction to those stigmatized with intellectual or physical disabilities
From the rich to the poor
Whether black, white, brown, red or otherwise
What if all of God’s children were seen as people worthy of our reaching out to. Not as charity cases but as children of God who deserve authentic human relationships and the opportunity to learn about living in a relationship with the God who created them. 

The disciples may have missed the point of discipleship but we don’t have to.  Who are the “other than” people in our lives? Are we willing to step out of our comfort zones to truly serve God’s people? 
May we be willing and able for the sake of Jesus Christ in our world.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Encountering the Human Jesus

I haven't posted a sermon or a blog in a long time...so here goes nothing...weird format of part manuscript part notes, sorry for that, but it's what I'll preach from tomorrow. 

Sermon preached at Harmony and First Presbyterian Churches of Clarksville, Arkansas on 10/11/15
Text: Mark 14:32-42
 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’ 

I have to admit that when I read this text from Mark I find myself thinking “Jesus why are you being so rude and mean to your disciples?”  But as I dig into the text I realize time and time again that in this text we do not meet the superhero Jesus we expect.  We do not meet the Messiah the disciples expected Jesus to be. What we encounter in this text is a Jesus who is human. He is dirty, scared, tired, and grieving what is to come. In this encounter we cannot help but to be drawn into the story and to allow ourselves to experience and identify with the same emotions the disciples and Jesus experienced.    

This passage in the Gospel of Mark is important because it is the turning point of the Gospel. Throughout the entire Gospel of Mark we find the disciples stumbling along and failing to understand who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing. Look at Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus rebuking him, or the transfiguration when Peter wants to build a monument to remember the moment. Despite having good intentions and falling short time and time again the disciples keep following Jesus and keep trying to understand the best they can.  For 14 chapters Jesus’ disciples follow him from town to town, they are rebuked by him, they stand alongside him when he is approached and questioned by religious leaders, they do tasks he asks which they think are impossible, and they stick with him through it all. 
In the 14 verses just before this text Jesus makes 3 predictions:
1-Betrayal of Judas
2-Dessertion of the 12
3-Peter’s denial
In the 36 verses immediately after this text all 3 of the predictions come true.

And in this particular moment in the story we find Jesus and all of his disciples in Gethsemane,
Jesus is no longer making divine predictions but instead he is having a moment of humanity, a moment where the weight of what is coming down the road at him head on is weighing on him.  So he takes his inner circle of friends for moral support while he has an intimate conversation with his Abba, his Father, and he tells them he is very sad and asks them to remain in a particular place and keep watch.  The disciples then fall asleep. Unfortunately we are not given much clue to why they fell asleep or if they prayed at all before falling asleep. The only thing the text gives us is that their eyes were so heavily burdened, or oppressed that they could not stay awake.
 This might be the one time in scripture that we see the full humanity in Jesus as his vulnerability is revealed to us. Jesus places all he has left in the hands of his disciples while he attempts to make sense for himself of what is coming.
 From this mindset - from fear and shock and sorrow - he asks that God would simply take the cup from him.  He asks to be spared from all that he has predicted.  And in the midst of asking for all of this, he realizes that God’s will is what will carry all him down the road ahead.  It is not his own understanding or doing, but the divine plan and purpose of the world.  After acknowledging this, Jesus returns to his disciples to find them asleep. He is perplexed and comes across as angry. 
This cycle of prayer and return continues until Jesus says that it is enough and the “time has come.” These three words set the tone for the entire passage.  The reader can see Jesus going through the stages of grief (depression-I am very sad to the point of death, anger-disciples can’t stay awake, bargaining-take this cup, and finally acceptance-leaving Gethsemane and walking the road of suffering all the way to death on the cross) In the midst of this divine story of journeying towards death and resurrection we get a human Jesus, falling on his knees before God and asking human questions.  It is in seeing these things we can truly understand, believe, and identify with a Jesus was truly human.
This passage from Mark is intense.  It is full of raw emotions.  This is not the Jesus we normally think of when we read scripture or talk about Christ and the work of Christ in the world.  This Christ is…too human.  Too emotional. Too messy. But isn’t that the Christ we need in a time such as this?  In a time where every time we check the news we are brought to tears because the world is so broken?  When headlines read 11 year old boy shoots 8 year old girl over a puppy?  Where parents live in fear of sending children to school because they are not sure they will come home alive?  A world where the justice system seems more like a continued cycle of injustice? A world where forgiveness is absent? A world where war, poverty, and injustice reign?  Isn’t this the time and place where we need a Christ who is on his knees praying and begging us to stay awake with him while he prays?  Isn’t this the world where we wish we might hear ENOUGH ALREADY, ENOUGH!! Isn’t this the world where we so desperately pray that God’s will be done and that all people learn to participate in the love, mercy, and justice of God? 
In these 10 verses in Mark we are met with a very human Jesus and his human disciples.  His disciples were so physically and spiritually exhausted that they could not stay awake as Jesus had asked them to.  Yet Jesus still came back time and time again and asked them to wake up, to pray, to keep watch with him. 
Jesus returns to us time after time and day after day and we too are invited each and every day to wake up, to keep awake to the tasks of discipleship, to follow Christ, to participate in the ongoing work of Christ in the world, and to pray.  In a world such as ours it is easy to become discouraged. It is easy to feel the walls caving in and the darkness becoming overwhelming. It is easy to long for and want a superhero Jesus to return and fix everything around us.  But today we met by a dirty, tired, scared, and human Jesus who reminds us that the story does not end with “enough” it does not end with “the time has come” the story does not end with the failure of the disciples, it does not end with our faults, our fears and our failures.  It continued on and continues on. Jesus left Gethsemane and journeyed to the cross where he took on the sins, the brokenness, the despair of the world and died so we might know what it is to live reconciled to the God who created us and calls us by name.  The good news today is that even as we often journey the road of despair, betrayal, and desertion of God like the disciples did that day, even though we journey in fear, grief, anger, and darkness we have a Savior who journeyed to the tomb which is now empty.  We journey with Christ who is willing to get on his knees and pray and cry with us in this broken world so that the hope of light might shine through the darkness. 
It is in this journey we are invited to participate in the ongoing work of Christ. We are invited to proclaim the good news, to reach out to those imprisoned, to welcome the stranger, to lend hand to the refugee, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, to love the unloved, to be light in a dark and broken world.  The good news is that Christ lives in each and every one of us.  The question is: are we willing to participate? Are we willing to get dirty? Are we willing to look at the raw emotions of humanity and stare them in the face with the hope, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ? Are we willing to fall on the ground and pray with raw and honest emotions so that this world might look and be different than it is? 
            We may not have encountered a superhero Jesus in the text this morning.  But I believe we have encountered Jesus.  We encountered the Jesus who is right for this time and place in our history that is the one who challenges us to wake up, to pray without ceasing, and to participate in the work set before us.  This human Jesus is someone we can identify with because we see that just as we lament the way the world is around us Jesus laments with us. But Jesus does not call us to stay in that lament, instead he calls us to find it within ourselves to say enough is enough, it is time to go from here, it is time to head towards reconciliation, towards grace, towards love, and towards a world that is very different than the one we are standing in. Are you willing to journey from Gethsemane? Are we willing to say enough is enough? Are we willing to step out in faith and find ways to do something about the way the world around us looks and acts?  I do not have all the answers on how to fix this broken world but I know with God all things are possible and with one another we can begin to make a difference here in this place.  So what do you say friends? Do we go home and fall asleep? Or do we wake up and walk with Jesus?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Holy Week and RFRA

I’ve struggled to write all week because I have had a lot of anger.  I did not want to write angry, so I put it off and wrote off and on constantly editing what I was trying to say.  Today I realized the anger is not going away because we live in a world full of hatred and brokenness.  On Monday afternoon I drove to Little Rock to participate in a protest against HB 1228.  This piece of legislature gives people in the state of Arkansas the ability to discriminate and refuse service to people based on what they are calling their religious freedom to do so.  

I write because I am struggling to understand.  The main examples given have been florists and bakers who do not want to provide services for same-sex marriages. The argument is that some believe homosexuality is a choice; a way someone chooses to live their life in this world is a sin and “against their religion.”  I have many thoughts on this and on discrimination and hatred in general but I will try to keep them brief. 

I will start by saying even if something is against your religion you still do not have the right to discriminate, alienate, and refuse to treat someone as something other than human.  Period.     

I have found over the years that those who often take this stance are people we label as “conservative Christians.” As a Christian and as a seminarian I have spent a lot of time reading scripture and studying theology and at no point have I ever found that scripture has told me to reject, discriminate, or mistreat someone because I do not agree with them.  What scripture has taught me is that in all things I am to love my neighbors and serve all of God’s children.  I am to treat them as children of God-with dignity and respect-because anything less would be a sin.  What I have learned in scripture is that from the time Adam and Eve were sent from the Garden for disobeying God and sinning against God, God has been at work trying to reconcile the broken world to God’s self.  Discrimination, hatred, alienation, intolerance, lack of compassion, promotion of fear, violence, and isolation of others are all unacceptable because to participate in any of these is to treat someone as less than human.

Today in my tradition we celebrate Maundy Thursday, the night when Jesus ate with the ones who would betray and deny him.  The night when Jesus told his closest friends and bearers of the Gospel that his end was coming.  The night we were given the command to love one another.  On this night we remember. We remember that Christ's death was not just for our own selves but for the sake of the world.  Christ did not die for me and for my friends but for my enemies and for strangers.  Christ died not to condemn the world but to save it.  The Religious Freedom Restoration Acts being passed by states like Arkansas do not reflect the Gospel I have read and studied because they condemn, they alienate, they promote the treatment of those who are not like me as less than human, and they take away people's dignity.  They promote hatred and intolerance in the name of the One who told us to love all people and to serve all people so that the light which overcomes the darkness might shine through.  Tonight I remember that even those I disagree with are children of God who command me to love.  And so I lay aside my anger and I pray that somehow and in some way God might open all of our eyes to see God's own extravagant grace and embrace of all the children of God.  For in doing so I know the world can see the light and we are people of the light. 

I think it is only appropriate that we struggle with these things this week because there is something about the cross and resurrection that speaks to us and says God has been in that darkness with us. And because we are resurrection people, we see the light, we know the light, we can feel the warmth of the light somehow in some way breaking through even the darkest dark.  We feel it hit our face and that glimpse of hope carries us into the next day, the next week, the next month, knowing and trusting that in our darkness God is still present somehow and somewhere.  May God break through and shine light into this world so that we might love and serve all of God's people as God has called us to do in Jesus Christ. 

Peace be with and within you all,


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, http://www.history.com/topics/declaration-of-independence (accessed Jan 2, 2013).
[2] James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 40th anniversary ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010), 137.