WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR?
Isaiah 40: 3-9
GOSPEL of JOHN 1: 43-51
<<SERMON BEGINS with the video clip featuring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It can be found on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjlX7esSFII) with a search of Rev. King and the words Injustice Anywhere Is a Threat to Justice Everywhere.>>
<<Pastor Dave at piano playing melody from WE SHALL OVERCOME>> STATING
“We shall overcome, we shall overcome …
we shall overcome some day.
Here in my heart, I do believe.
We shall overcome some day.”
<<Again playing the melody from WE SHALL OVER COME>> I have friends who went to seminary with me who come from Haiti … I have been to the incredible nation called Uganda whose capital city is booming with wealth and culture … friends of mine are working this very day at clinics serving good people; proud people; people with a rich culture in Sierra Leone and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Together this church has celebrated my friend Eli from Liberia, a nation with a rich history of freedom, and has supported his work in a beautiful land in Central Africa. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere …but some refuse to take a stand …
<<Standing up from the piano moving to the front of the church>> This Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church here in the state of New Jersey has pastors from Mexico, El Salvador, and other nations south of our border. We have 150 multicultural congregations. This morning in our pews sit people who came from almost every country of the world or who have ancestors who came here. They do not despise their home nations … they do not declare that Norwegians have more value than those with brown or black skin nor do they disparage those from Norway. They do not use profanities to describe their land nor the homelands of others through racist taunts. This very day there are literally hundreds of thousands of good neighbors, hardworking people whose children have been born in this nation … who go to church who own homes … who have even joined our armed forces and who were invited to come to our nation and encouraged to stay by both past Republican and Democratic Administrations but now because they come from Haiti … and they come from El Salvador we will be forcibly sending them back to a place of danger where they have no homes, no work and no church within the next year.
This is a day that the United Methodist Church globally has declared HUMAN RELATIONS SUNDAY; this was done long before the racist words that have travelled the globe were spoken this past week … God declared that all humanity was made in God’s Holy Image … God in the Torah taught we are to love all of our neighbors and then Jesus very clearly and plainly reminded us that loving our neighbors is the SECOND greatest commandment and all other commandments stand on that one. Jesus taught true believers to care for the “least amongst us” and He met the poor, the disadvantaged and those individuals who were unwelcome by the powers in His time loving each of them and giving them value, love and acceptance.
So, this morning … WHERE DO YOU STAND CHURCH? God’s Word could not be more clear … at least for those who truly believe and proclaim Jesus the Christ as their Lord and Savior … God’s Word is abundantly clear that we are to be a people of justice … we are to be a people who refrain from hate-filled racist taunts, we are to reject actions designed to disenfranchise those who look or sound different than we do, and we are to love. But friends, God goes further in God’s requirements … in Scripture we are told to
“speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor.”
Church … I do not know about you but this has been a challenging and very sad week as we have witnessed an arrogance centered on hate and racism at a level that I have not seen in many years. The question on this weekend when we remember the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remains, are willing to speak out for justice or do we roll over and let injustice and hate be the reflection of who we are?
Our Bishop has offered a prayer for New Jersey’s churches this morning so let us pray the words of my friend Bishop John Schol:
Most holy and gracious Creator, Humbly we give thanks for you, a worker of wonders, a giver of life, the creator of us all. Thank you for reaching into the deep rich dark soil, for gathering gorgeous red clay, for taking handfuls of tan sand, and for gathering the warm brown earth to create your people. We are wonderfully made, each race, every person of every color reflects your image. Thank you for making us different and the same, for making us unique and like everyone else. Creator forgive us for hatred and bigotry. It is a sign of the continual struggle between good and evil, between honoring you as the creator and making the world after our own image. Give us the strength to love like you. Through Christ Jesus who taught us this same love we pray. Amen.
Our Bishop, like many faith leaders around the world including the United Methodist Council of Bishops, has responded to the language of hate with a reminder call to action … we are the people of faith who make a statement every week just by showing up at Christian churches either in person or online. We declare that we are different … Jesus is abundantly clear on how we are to treat strangers in our land … it has nothing to do with legal or illegal because Jesus, Mary and Joseph once were strangers in the land of Egypt … God transcends political philosophies and God says we are to welcome all strangers in your land … all not some … not just blue eyed blonde hair Scandinavians … even those with dark skins and languages that we don’t speak are to be welcomed into our homes and nation with love. So WHERE DO YOU STAND?
Our Bishop has issued a call to action, he writes to us,
“I call you to prayerfully change hearts and to act in concert with our Creator honoring every race, creed and people as a gift to be treated with dignity and equality. I call you to stand up when you witness injustice and anything that is not of God, and to let your voice be heard and your actions to be a testimony of the way of Jesus Christ.”
In our Old Testament reading this morning the words of Isaiah sound so much like the voices of the people of our churches …. Voices who quickly excuse their responsibility to answer God by declaring
“all flesh is like grass … all loyalty is like the flowers of the field. The grass dries up … surely the people are like the grass.”
There are church going people who would allow injustice and racism to prevail rather than raise their voices with the message of Jesus. They say their voices are useless … they cower before those who hate and are willing to accept whoever gets hurt as long as it isn’t their family or themselves. But the prophet Isaiah declared to God’s people during a time of trouble, which is no different than our own … “Go up on a high mountain … raise your voice and shout … RAISE IT DO NOT BE AFRAID; say to the cities HERE IS YOUR GOD!!!”
My friends this morning … Jesus is calling us just like He called the disciples! Faith … when you believe … when you listen to God’s Holy Words … when you understand that a relationship with God is ongoing … when you realize that one brief moment with a raised hand is not changing your life … the call is there just as much as Jesus call to Philip and Nathanael … to Andrew and Peter … to James and John … to Simon and Matthew … Jesus is calling FOLLOW ME … Jesus my friends … the MESSIAH.
Remember the words of Christmas PRINCE OF PEACE … EMMANUEL … KING of KING … LORD of LORD and to believe we must be people of action according to God’s Word … James writes,
“Are you slow? Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has NO VALUE at all.”
FAITH WITHOUT ACTIONS has NO VALUE AT ALL.
Church, I don’t think you are slow … I think you know … but this morning I want you to think about where you stand because on Friday there was a live online press conference held by agencies in Buffalo including Jericho Road where I worked … agencies that serve the strangers in our land … agencies that work with Africans, Asians, and Latino’s who are ready to work and assimilate. These agencies declared that no one’s home country is a BLANKETY BLANK HOLE … that people with black and brown skins have as much value with the Creator as those with lily white skin and blue eyes. But what troubled me were the posted comments of hate by all too many of those watching the press conference. I was at first sickened and then frightened that amongst our neighbors are people with deep seated hate … people willing to commit violence in word and action against people because of the color of their skin or their religion. And, it was not just attacks on Muslims but also on Catholics and Jews because both Catholic Charities and Jewish Family Services were part of the press conference. I could sadly see how the camps of Germany came to be … as I watched Americans spew their hate against people different from themselves through social media.
So … where do you stand? Who would you stand up for? Who are you willing to welcome?
Rev. King once stated,
“And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as polar opposites so that love is identified as a resignation of power. Now we have to get this thing right … power without love is reckless and abusive. Power at its best is love! And justice at its best is correcting everything that stands against love.”
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear. We love because God first loved us … if anyone says “I love God” and hates a brother or a sister he is a liar because a person who hate a brother or a sister can’t love God.”
So, church … are you fearful? Are you willing to go up on a high mountain and RAISE YOUR VOICE and SHOUT? Raise it loud and declare HERE IS YOUR GOD!!! A God of love … a God who sent God’s Son Jesus to teach us to love our neighbors, to die for our sins … who rose up out of that tomb to bring salvation through faith but faith is not real unless encompassed in love and works. WHERE DO YOU STAND CHURCH?
We’ll walk hand in hand, we’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We’ll walk hand in hand some day
WE SHALL and WE CAN OVERCOME HATE, RACISM, and INJUSTICE but we have to walk hand in hand to do it! …. AMEN
Watch a video of today’s worship service.
January 14, 2018