In the name of the loving, life-giving, liberating God. Amen
This has been a week when once again scripture and God’s name has been all over the news. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry started the very public conversation following his stirring witness to the power of love at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry Windsor and Megan Markle. Everyone, from The Sunday Telegraph in England to Saturday Night Live here in the United States, was talking about Bishop Curry’s testimony to love’s redemptive power. Jim Wallis, an Evangelical Pastor and Founder of Sojourners, said in his remarks at a Worship Service in Washington DC on Thursday, May 24, that he had not heard the name of Jesus spoken so many times from so many places in 20 years.
This week we heard a different voice calling on scripture and proclaiming God’s blessing on our country’s action known as “Zero Tolerance.” This policy has resulted in the separation of small traumatized children from their parents at our border with Mexico as they plead for asylum in our country. Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted a portion of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome to imply that our allegiance should be to our government because it is ordained by God. What Attorney General Sessions missed in his reading from Romans is found just three verses later “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 10Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13)
The question we face is this: Who is Jesus Christ for us today? What does it mean and what is required of us, to follow Christ at this moment in our history?
The story goes, that our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry called Jim Wallis, and said he was tired of just responding to the news that children are being taken from their parents at the border and sent to places unknown, the news that we will no longer accept women fleeing abuse as a condition for refuge in our country, the news that there seems to be no viable route to ending gun violence in our schools, churches, and homes, the news that as a person of color your rights are suspect and often denied. And that was just in one week. Bishop Curry wanted to take action.
So they called together a group of “elders” in the church. You can see the persons who participated in the development of this document on our webpage. They include Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk; The Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus of Columbia Theological Seminary; The Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Former Senior Pastor of Riverside Church in New York and currently Professor of Preaching at Union Theological Seminary; The Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, Director of the National Christian Church; and Bishop Vashti McKenzie, Bishop of the AME Church; and many others.
They came together on Ash Wednesday to pray, to lament for the state of our country, and to confess their complicity in our deep sins as American people. In this time, they composed a letter that spoke directly to their desire to repent and return to following Jesus. They called this document and what has become this movement, “Reclaiming Jesus.”
They recognize that this is a bold statement–“Reclaiming Jesus.” So, they are inviting followers of Jesus to read and pray and wrestle with these statements as they reclaim what it means to be a follower of Jesus today. What does it mean that Jesus is our ultimate authority above all others. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) we state that while our relationship with God is deeply personal, it is never private, and it is meant not only for what lies beyond this life, but for our time right here and now on earth.
I was fortunate to be at the “Reclaiming Jesus” worship service and procession to the White House because I was in attendance at the Festival of Homiletics that week in Washington D.C.. It was an incredible week and this was an ultimate high point to my time there.
More than 3000 people, gathering in the National Christian Church, Lutheran Place Memorial Church, and filling the entire steps up to the NCC, prayed and sang, and then later walked in silence in a candlelit procession towards the symbol of our nation’s governance, imploring God to open the hearts of our leaders to God’s loving and life-giving Spirit. I feel called to share this with you so that each one of you can ponder in our own hearts how the Holy Spirit is speaking to us in this time and in this place.
I am going to do something new, with your prayers. For the next few weeks, I am going to share with you one by one, the statements made by these elders of our faith so you may listen for how God’s work of love, justice, and liberation is working in our story, and how this movement of the living God may inspire us to action in the world.
These statements begin with what these group of elders believe and then, in this belief, what they must resist. The first statement of “Reclaiming Jesus” is:.
- WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). That image and likeness confers a divinely decreed dignity, worth, and God-given equality to all of us as children of the one God who is the Creator of all things. Racial bigotry is a brutal denial of the image of God (the imago dei) in some of the children of God. Our participation in the global community of Christ absolutely prevents any toleration of racial bigotry. Racial justice and healing are biblical and theological issues for us, and are central to the mission of the body of Christ in the world. We give thanks for the prophetic role of the historic black churches in America when they have called for a more faithful gospel.
THEREFORE, WE REJECT the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership. We, as followers of Jesus, must clearly reject the use of racial bigotry for political gain that we have seen. In the face of such bigotry, silence is complicity. In particular, we reject white supremacy and commit ourselves to help dismantle the systems and structures that perpetuate white preference and advantage. Further, any doctrines or political strategies that use racist resentments, fears, or language must be named as public sin—one that goes back to the foundation of our nation and lingers on. Racial bigotry must be antithetical for those belonging to the body of Christ, because it denies the truth of the gospel we profess.
WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image and likeness. From Genesis 1: 26-28, we hear of God’s creation of humankind. In verse 27 we read: “So God created humankind in his image,in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” In God’s image and likeness each one of us was created. The possibilities of this are breathtaking to imagine. The creation story is imprinted on our very being. We might ignore or distort, but the mark is always there. No matter what we do, we are made of a part of God’s joy, God’s intentions, God’s love, and God’s beauty just by existing on this earth. We are God’s, and so God is ours.
We are made in the image of God who creates goodness. Before there was evil, there was goodness. Before there was the Fall, there was Original Blessing. Genesis 1 is brimming with goodness and blessing. Deep within each one of us is the seed of goodness. It may not always come forth, but it is there pulsing, waiting to burst forth, to bear the good fruit that is intended.
We are made in the image of God who makes new things. In the Book of Genesis, God created something new each day for six days. He was an innovator at the world’s beginning, calling forth abundance and beauty each and every moment. In our reading from Paul’s second letter to the Church in Corinth, we hear that God continues to make things new. We are never abandoned, for the love of Christ “urges us on.” In Christ there is new creation. Everything has become new. Frederick Buechner, writes, “Using the same old materials of earth, air, fire, and water, every twenty-four hours God creates something new out of them. If you think you are seeing the same show all over again seven times a week, think again. Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again. And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again, either.” We are always being made new, offered new possibilities, sent new challenges, offered fresh hope, shown new ways of being in God’s holy creation.
And we are made in the image of God who sees all of this in each one of us. In the story of Creation we hear seven times, that God pauses to reflect on his handiwork. “And God saw.” Well before his work is done, he steps back to behold all that is taking shape before his eyes. God lingers over his creation—every leaf, every wing, every stream, every being. God observes. God attends. God notices. We are made in the image of a God who pays delighted attention.
And in our first reading today from 1 Samuel we hear that God does not see as humans see. The prophet Samuel was certain that God intended for him to anoint the oldest, the tallest, and the most handsome of Jesse’s sons as king over Judea. But God tells Samuel that God does not see as we see. God looks on our hearts.
God is not blinded by the superficial or the external. God sees the Ruach in us—the Breath of God that gives us life. God sees who we are and knows that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) That each one of us are created in God’s image and that God knows that each of us are “very good.”
And therefore, we must resist all that tells us that some are not made in God’s image and therefore are not worthy of dignity and God given equality. The people in our prisons are made in God’s image. The children being held in cages and tents on our borders are made in God’s image. The people who escape war and death in flimsy life boats praying for safe harbor are made in God’s image. And when people suffer, Christ sees and draws particularly close because that is what Christ does, Christ reaches out to comfort those who suffer. As followers of Christ we are called to resist any idea, any action, any system that denies the innate possibility for goodness, that ignores the redemptive power of God’s love, and that creates dangerous and life-denying situations for some in our world. White superiority is a lie! God has created each of us in God’s loving, life-giving, liberating image and God sees the heart and recognizes the divine within.
Made in the image of God, we are challenged daily to open our eyes to the movement of God’s grace within us. To recognize our own belovedness and to look for the belovedness of others. We are to be aware of our learned perceptions of appearances that constrict our ability to see God in others. And we are to pray to be able to see beyond our crippling prejudices to be open to the power of God’s salvation working in our own lives and in the lives of people who share this place.
We are invited to recognize our potential for goodness and to recognize the goodness in others. To bravely embrace the love that has been planted within us so we may share that with the world. None of us are “one story”- none of us are only our worst judgement or our thoughtless behavior. Goodness is in each of us if only we look and welcome its appearance.
And because Jesus lived and died and rose again for all, we are called to open ourselves daily to the new possibilities beginning in us and in our family as God’s children. Because Christ is alive, we can be empowered to be liberated from our “old” ways of seeing so we may experience God’s “new heaven and earth?
What do you hear God saying to you as a child made in God’s image? Can you embrace your own beauty in the eyes of God? Can you recognize and greet the belovedness in others? May in prayer, work, study, and rest we listen for the love that is eternal and ponder how we follow Jesus.