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Monthly Archives: June 2020

Message from Pastor Ray on June 28, 2020

 

Who could imagine that a strip of cloth could divide a nation? It is.  Face masks are at the center of the on-going political and culture war.

There was a battle in Orange County, CA.  Dr. Nichole Quick, Health Care Agency officer for the county, mandated the wearing of face masks in public in late May. She immediately received email death threats and was falsely accused of being unqualified and inexperienced in public. At one public meeting, several angry people showed up with posters of Dr. Quick’s face with a Hitler mustache and swastikas.  Dr. Quick resigned from her position several weeks later, and the mandate was adjusted to a “recommendation.” Face masks lost the battle in Orange County.

There was a battle in Springfield, IL. Illinois State Representative Darren Bailey refused to wear a face covering during the Special Sessions in April. The legislature had passed a resolution requiring face masks, but Rep. Bailey resisted. In the end, he was voted out of the chamber by a vote of 81-27.  Face masks won the battle in that State House.

What is going on? What is the big deal? Why is there so much resistance to wearing strip of cloth over your mouth and nose when the overwhelming majority of medical experts point to the evidence that when two people wear face masks and maintain physical distance of 6 feet, there is almost no possibility of transmission of the virus?

Is it ignorance and denial? Some people say, “The virus isn’t that bad. It’s not serious.” But if you know someone who has contracted the virus, they will tell you different. Is it arrogance? Some people say, “I’m young and healthy so it won’t affect me.” But the virus is increasingly infecting young people and healthy people.  Is it fear? Some people say, “If this continues, I’ll end up homeless and hungry! Open up the economy now!” But those states that reopened quickly are experiencing a surge in cases and are deciding to enforce more restrictions.

Maybe it is all of the above, but I believe the issue goes deeper. It actually goes to the heart of our society. Our culture is so focused on individual freedom that we no longer see that we have communal responsibilities.  People in this country make their decisions—including the decision to wear a mask or refuse to wear a mask—on the basis of perceived self-interest and the exercise of individual rights. In many people’s estimation, individual freedom and the right to choose must be preserved at all costs, even if it means death for someone else. Unfortunately, even churches have been guilty of asserting their constitutional right to freedom of religion in order to defy orders. We have chosen to act as if freedom is the right to do whatever I want and to pursue my own interests. Period. The freedom that Christ announced is not an invitation to exert rights and privileges, but the invitation to choose to live in right relationships with others. Christ gives us the freedom to choose love—a love that does no harm to one’s neighbor but instead looks out for the needs, concerns and interests of one’s neighbor. It is the freedom to give up my individual rights for the collective good.  It is the freedom to live as the interconnected body of Christ—members of one another expressed in mutual care and mutual benefit.

If we continue to act only out of concern for protecting individual rights and freedom—to “bite and devour one another” without concern and love (in the words of Galatians 5:14-15), we will self-destruct.  It is only when we covenant together for community benefit that is expressed through the protection those who are most at risk and vulnerable that we will experience the fullness of life—God’s beloved community.

Our nation, our world, is at a crossroads. Will we wear a mask or will we refuse to wear a mask?  The answer to that question goes far beyond a face covering. The question (and our answer) strips away the façade of our religion and reveals our true values—our guiding beliefs. The answer to the question reveals whether we love our freedom more than we love our neighbor. The answer reveals whether we value our individual rights more than our communal responsibilities. The answer reveals whether we seek own interests and exert our own sense of privilege to build up our own power or whether we serve our sisters and brothers to raise them up. The answer reveals the truth about who matters and who doesn’t, who is deserving and who is undeserving, who is essential and who is expendable, who will be called holy and who will be called abominations. The answer reveals whose stories we tell and whose stories we silence, what history we honor and what history we hide, and which symbols of the past we believe should be torn down and discarded and which ones should be preserved and honored.

This pandemic is showing us the truth about ourselves—and it is not very attractive. It is showing us that our hearts are masked and we are unwilling to listen and see. It is time to hear and heed the word of Christ and follow his example, expressed in Philippians 2.  “Have this attitude that was in Christ Jesus…”  Though he equal with God and having the rights of God, he gave up his privilege, taking on the role of servant to the least and the lost, finally giving his life. This is our call.  And only by following Christ in the power of the Spirit, becoming servants to one another, will we be raised up together to experience God’s beloved community.  May it be. May it be. Amen.

Pastor Ray’s message from June 21, 2020

 

Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers, stepfathers and mentors!  Your role in creating a home with a solid foundation is of incalculable value.  The foundation is key whether it be the foundation of a family or a nation.  Jesus told a parable in Matthew 7:24-27 about a wise and foolish builder, but the parable speaks to the need for having the right foundation.  That parable is happening before our eyes. Let me explain with a parable of my own.

Hundreds of years ago, a beautiful house was built that became the envy of every household in the world. Its grand pillars and impressive design had become a standard for other houses.  Each generation that followed was proud of what their forefathers had built, and they did everything they could to preserve it. It seemed indestructible.  Storms had battered it again and again. It had been buffeted by winds, pelted with hail, and threatened with torrential rains. But the house had survived.  After each storm, repairs were made. Cracks in the walls were filled, sanded and painted. The exterior bricks were tuckpointed. The roof was replaced. The chimney was reinforced.  Every time the house survived a storm, the household gained confidence that the old house would stand forever.

But today, the old house is collapsing. A storm stronger than any felt in at least two hundred years is raging. This storm is exposing the truth about this old house. As beautiful and impressive as it is, this house was built on a faulty foundation.

Throughout the generations, the household thought the foundation was strong.  In fact, the household told stories of how the first generation of builders had built the house on trustworthy, absolute, self-evident pillars—truths that would protect and preserve the house no matter what.  But the truth is: the foundation was flawed. It was not a foundation of rock, but a foundation of sand full of dead men’s bones—a foundation mix of genocide and enslavement and dehumanization and marginalization held together by a distorted religious narrative.  God had ordained it to be.

But now, the old house is collapsing. Its season has ended.

How foolish to think that the truth would remain hidden forever!  How arrogant to think that a house can be built by founding itself on ‘God talk’ while ignoring the word in action.  How conceited to believe that strength comes from professing the truth without possessing the truth. This old house is collapsing. It will fall with a mighty crash.

But do not mourn for this house. It must fall.  Instead, rise up in hope; for a new house is being built.  And beneath it is a stronger, lasting foundation—the foundation of justice, righteousness and truth in the inward parts.  No longer can we accept godly platitudes mixed with ungodly practices. No longer can we be placated with façades of goodness that conceal hateful hearts and evil intentions. No longer can we tolerate the sludge of “church-ianity,” or whitewashed piety.

The new house will be built on what James calls “genuine religion.”  (James 1:27) Genuine religion mirrors the heart of God who welcomes the shunned and the shamed, protects the weak and the vulnerable, and provides for those who are essential but have been treated as expendable. Genuine religion rejects the “wisdom” of a corrupt world that grasps for power and profit, and treats people with contempt. Genuine religion listens to the cries of the oppressed, sees the conditions of the harassed, and rises up to take action against injustice.  Genuine religion raises its voice in the street and cries out with the prophets, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”  Genuine religion seeks shalom and pursues it.  Genuine religion loves not only the neighbors that look like me and think like me and live like me, but also the ones who don’t. Genuine religion hears the word and does the word.  The house built on this foundation will be blessed. This house will stand firm.

On Friday of this week, we celebrated Juneteenth, the Independence Day of the last slaves in Texas following the Civil War. This year’s celebration was unlike any before it. On Saturday, we also participated in the online March on Washington for Moral Revival organized by the Poor Peoples Campaign. More than 30,000 people gathered online to make a new commitment to  the poor and the marginalized.  On Saturday, Humbolt Park and Riis Park were filled with the celebratory music and culture of Puerto Rico in all its glorious diversity. And throughout the week, we continued to march for justice for George Floyd and others who have been the victims of excessive use of force by racialized policing. This is the storm.

The storm has arrived. The day of reckoning is upon us.  The old foundation cannot remain intact when the storm of justice flows.  It’s time to let the old house collapse so the new house – God’s house – built on liberation and equity can be built and occupied. And then – finally – all of us will be free.

Amen.

Pastor Ray’s message on Sunday, June 7, 2020

 

Today’s Gospel text is often referred to as, “The Great Commission.” It is Jesus’ final instructions to his disciples outlining what they are to do next.  It has become the church’s mission statement, its marching order, and the articulation of its fundamental goals.  As such, it has also become an evaluative tool, used to measure its effectiveness and success.

The Great Commission has motivated the church to send missionaries throughout the world to declare the Word of God in every language and establish cells of the body of Christ in every nation.  From the beginning, Jesus’ apostles went out to declare the Lordship of the Risen Christ and challenge the earthly and spiritual powers of oppression and death that held people in bondage. The disciples cared for the sick, fed the hungry, clothed the naked and provided for the poor in the authority and name of Jesus. And the followers of Jesus changed the world.

Let’s take a minute to take notice of what the Great Commission does NOT say.  It does NOT say, make converts.  The Great Commission isn’t about getting butts in the pews, but feet on the ground. It is not to have people who can quote a creed, but who are being transformed by the power of the Spirit.  It does NOT say make disciples of “some nations”. The Great Commission is not exclusive but inclusive of every nation, ethnicity.  It does not allow us to pick and choose who we want inside the circle and those we want to keep outside of the circle. . It does NOT say, teaching them to obey “a few” of the things I have taught you, but ALL. It is not selective for one’s own comfort or ease. Jesus taught some hard things. We are to obey those too.

The goal of the Great Commission is clear: MAKE DISCIPLES. Disciples are committed followers of Jesus who live under the LORDSHIP of Jesus Christ. Disciples are students who put into practice what they have learned. Disciples are not just hearers of the word; they are doers of the word. Disciples don’t just hold up a Bible; they open it. Disciples don’t pick and choose the commands they like and discard the rest. Disciples don’t justify themselves or excuse themselves; they confess their continual need for God’s mercy and grace and are changed to be the change.

We have a problem. We have plenty of church-goers, but few disciples. We have lots of people who can quote the Bible, but apply it selectively. And we have plenty of people who have decided that allegiance to Christ is synonymous to allegiance to America.

For generations, we have been baptized into a form of Christianity that holds the Bible in one hand and the American flag in the other. We have connected Christian faith to American greatness.  And our discipleship has been a commitment to the American dream.  And we have taken the Great Commission as a command to take the American Way to the ends of the earth by any means necessary.  The Great Commission has become the Great Oppression in our hands.

We have used this form of Christianity to justify genocide and slavery. We have used this form of Christianity to authorize wars and covert operations against those we call our enemies. We have used this form of Christianity to oppress.  We have used this form of Christianity to coerce conversion by force. And the reason? We have failed to recognize who is truly the LORD with all authority.

This week, we were faced again with the long history of our failure to live out true discipleship—obedience to ALL the commands of Jesus—especially the command to love our neighbor as ourselves. This week has not only a day of reckoning for the politicians and the police, but for the church. For too long, we have been on the side of oppression. For too long, we have been on the side of division.  For too long, we have been on the side of racism.  For too long, we have been comfortable with Sunday mornings being the most segregated hour in America. For too long, we have chosen to be blind to our participation in the systems that destroy life—especially our economic system that values profit over people.

It took the vicious murder of George Floyd to open our eyes as a nation to the systemic racism that has infected our politics and our religion. I had a long conversation this week with some missionary friends from Spain. They were seeing the news and watching the protests, and they asked, “What are the churches doing?”

Here’s what I hope the churches are doing? I hope the churches are on their knees, repenting.  I hope the churches are recognizing their complicity by their silence. I hope the churches are finally standing up in solidarity and chanting “Black Lives Matter.”  I hope the churches are recognizing the truth about themselves—that they—no, WE—have failed to be the example of God’s inclusive love and God’s radical  upside-down transformation of the world where the last are first and the first are last. I hope the churches are waking up to the need to do justice and not just charity. I hope the churches are rejecting the faith that has been built upon the foundation of Manifest Destiny instead of the Lordship of Christ.

I hope.

I have hope. Last week, hundreds of people of faith marched through the south side in protest and in peace.

There IS an army rising up to break every chain! There are singers that are singing the songs of liberation. There are dancers who are dancing upon injustice.  This is what the church must do. This is what the Great Commission looks like in action.

And the mountains will tremble and the darkness will flee and the river will flow and the people will be set free by the power of Christ, the Risen LORD.  Amen.