Category Archives: Spirituality

God’s Restoration Plan

Text:  Isaiah 12:1-6

(v. 1) You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. (v. 2) Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. (v. 3) With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (v. 4) And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. (v. 5) Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. (v. 6) Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Move 1
This brief chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah is a song of praise. Reminiscent of a Davidic psalm, this composition heralds the prospect of a reunited people, a “new Jerusalem,” and new world order. It points to the future Church and Kingdom redeemed and ruled by the righteous Messiah who will judge and save.

It speaks of a personal deliverance expressed in collective salvation. The content of the song is, therefore, spiritual and political. The song begins with acknowledgement of the exile experience as evidence of judgment. A post-exilic remnant seeks redemption in spite of spiritual and physical separation.  They also seek a political-economic restoration that attends a restored kingdom. Consequently, the preeminent grace of God’s salvation wins out and is worthy of thanksgiving praise.

As with many psalms set for worship, this song of praise evokes physical expressions that demonstrate the meaning of the sentiment “to give thanks.” The Hebrew word for praise employed here is yadah, which signifies the stretching out of one’s hands in thanks while singing. It is a confession of utter dependence upon God for the inferred gift, namely God’s deliverance. A people who were once scattered and symbolically disconnected from their God are now reunited, and thus reconnected to the One who has created them. There is an eschatological hope that has been fulfilled “in that day.”

Their profound longings for “home” are now met in a glorious family reunion made possible by a God who promised not to forsake them.  More importantly, they can bow before their true King without inhibition or recrimination. They can now wave their hands in joyous gratitude, for three essential reasons: God remembers, God redeems and God restores.

Move 2

First of all, God remembers. Verse one states: “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.” The original meaning of remembrance is “to re-member” or recollect. In other words, what was once literally and figuratively detached and incoherent is now connected and coherent.

One of the most egregious offenses that any Hebrew could commit was to forget who God was and what God has done. Likewise, the worst tragedy that any Hebrew could experience was for God to forget them. God’s wrath and judgment on a people resulted in a lack of memory of them, i.e. their abandonment and alienation from God and one another. Likewise, our African ancestors’ ultimate act of honor was to “keep alive” the saints in living memory. One is “forgotten” when their name and legacy are no longer mentioned. The fact that the remnant, once displaced and disconnected, has been re-collected is reason to give thanks.

It should also be noted that an act of remembrance can be a profoundly political act. There is a kind of “anamnestic solidarity,”1 to use Archie Smith’s term, in a communal worship that recounts their common past and collective salvation.

Black worship is a type of liturgical anamnesis, the opposite of amnesia. Anamnesis means “to recollect the forgotten past and to participate in a common memory and a common hope.”2 Authentic corporate worship takes seriously the scripture, “Where two or three are gathered in my Name, I am in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Christ becomes fully present as both redeemer and liberator. James H. White discusses anamnesis as an objective of the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, “No single English word conveys its full meaning; remembrance, recalling, representation, experiencing are all weak approximations.

Anamnesis expresses the sense that in repeating these actions one experiences once again the reality of Jesus himself present.”3 This certainly characterizes the spirit of the sentiment that an African American congregation has not “had church” until the presence of Jesus is felt in the house. Consequently, Thanksgiving is about “re-membering” who we are and whose we are. It is a defining feature of black worship that serves a psycho-social purpose in liberation and salvation. This enables black folk to shout, “Thank you!” in spite of receiving unmerited suffering, historically and presently. We remember to give thanks because God remembers us.

Second, God redeems. Verses 2-3 state: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Every Hebrew embodied a sacred identity derived from their relationship to God. Separation from God resulted in a fractured identity.  Before one could be restored, one had to be redeemed, and only God could redeem an alienated people.

Ed Wimberly describes redemption through John Wesley’s “therapeutic soteriology,”4 a key component of the evangelical enterprise that Africans in America first understood about the Gospel, as it was re-presented to an oppressed people. Sin, personal and social, separated individuals and communities from God. In the ancient worldview, to be disconnected from God is to not be a person.

A people who have been redeemed have a reason to give thanks: God has redeemed their privilege as a child of God and as a member of the redeemed community. I can sing, “I am redeemed, bought with a price. Jesus has changed my whole life. If anybody asks you, just who I am, tell them, I am redeemed.” (Jesse Dixon and the Chicago Community Choir)

Celebration
Finally, God restores. Verses 4-6 state: “Among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” This second “stanza” of the hymn signals a crescendo of appreciation for being redeemed and restored to privileged status as “royal Zion.”

The people of God are reminded to consider their present favor in light of their former plight. They have been restored, in the way that the book of I Peter asserts: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (I Peter 2:9-10). This is what the saints had in mind when they sang, “When I think of the goodness of Jesus and all he has done for me. My soul sings ‘hallelujah.’ I thank God for saving me!”

Move 3

And so Mt. Olive, God is our redeemer and the one who restores us.  God wants us to remember his acts of mercy and kindness by giving him thanks.  God wants us to appreciate just how far he has brought us.

He has brought us from slavery to emancipation, from emancipation to liberation, from liberation to freedom.  God has brought us from the outhouse to the white house.  That’s the kind of God we serve; I know I’m right about it.

And this redemption, this restoration is not a singular event.  Every time I turn around, God keeps on blessing me.  I don’t know about you, but God picked me up this week.  God lit a fire under me and caused me to get up from my chair of depression and put on me a garment of hope.  God caused me to see beyond my suffering into his divine plan for my life.  And I can truly say, thank you.

Thank you Lord for all you’ve done and continue to do for me.  Thank you Father for continuing to forgive me, bless me, and defend me.  Thank you Father for making a way out of no way.  Thank you Father for blessing me when I didn’t deserve a blessing; thank you Father for picking me up out of the miry clay and planting my feet on a rock to stay.  Hallelujah! Hallelujah to your name.  Praise be unto our God and His Christ.  I thank you Lord for this great salvation!

Is the Church Leading the World to Jesus Christ?

20151109_122835“Dear friends,
I’ve dropped everything to write you about this life of salvation that we have in common. I have to write insisting—begging!—that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish. What has happened is that some people have infiltrated our ranks (our Scriptures warned us this would happen), who beneath their pious skin are shameless scoundrels. Their design is to replace the sheer grace of our God with sheer license—which means doing away with Jesus Christ, our one and only Master.” (Jude 3-4, The Message Bible)

I look to the church to lead the world to Christ. What I see baffles me! I remember well how when I received a call to Christ and Christ’s gospel, I went to my beloved Willard W. Allen Lodge No. 108 and bid farewell to my brothers. They were happy for me that I had discovered my life’s calling and understood my decision to fully commit myself to the of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Is the Church transforming culture or is culture transforming the church? Are the two so intertwined until they are no longer singularly recognizable? Grambling State University has the Bayou Classic, a game that alumni and well-wishers look forward to each year. I daresay they have supporters committed to going to this one game even if they miss all the others. They prepare for it in advance to include budgeting, putting in time off at work, scheduling reunions, etc. It is of the utmost importance to them.

Do you as a supporter, no as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ have that one service, that one day you have committed to the Lord and refuse to substitute for anything else? For me, it is the Holy Communion Service. Despite what I have going on, it is my commitment to be at my church partaking of the Lord’s Supper with my members. I do whatever I can to keep this commitment above all others.

Jude warns us of confusing our commitment to Christ with that of our worldly pursuits and aspirations. I love the Lord and the Lord’s Church; never would I forsake her for obligations to any other group I’m affiliated with. Do you have such loyalty to your church?

The world stands in need of disciples of Jesus Christ leading the fight for their souls. They do not need associates, friends, comrades that flock to the same worldly pursuits as themselves. They who have not God, need those who do to become recognizable and distinct from any other group. The world needs our light to shine its brightest at this very moment in history. I urge you to consider whether your witness leads others to Christ or to something someone, some place, else.

In His Service,

Be Patient, A Change is Coming!

Text: Luke 21:5-19

Introduction

Votes were cast November 8th; the polls closed across the nation between 7-8pm; people waited patiently for the results, but even after votes were in, the winner was too close to call. People held their breath in hopes that their candidate would win. Then early Wednesday morning, we heard President-Elect Donald Trump would be our 45th President come January 20, 2017.

Shock, amazement, jubilation, despair, anger and joy filled the atmosphere. Millennials began protesting in the streets across the nation. Prophets of doom are being hired to speak in churches; news pundits and broadcasters are telling Donald what he needs to do next, as if he will listen to those who counted him out just a few months prior.

The world is in shock. They never expected Americans to elect such a brute of a man to the presidency. But this my friends is not the end. This is not the time for us to panic. World situations will continue to confound.

Jesus in our text addresses an impatient, stressed out crowd just like those in America today. Jesus talks to his disciples; not those in the world, but his disciples. And I pray today that you and I are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and can glean from his wisdom about what to do in tough times.

Move 1
His disciples’ questions about the future, reveal some impatience, some frustration about how they are going to make it in the coming days.
First, they are Impatient for Justice. They have suffered police brutality from the Roman Soldiers; been unfairly taxed to pay for government projects; incarcerated for minor infractions just for being Jewish; and murdered in the streets as if Jewish lives do not matter.
Second, they are impatient for validation. They know they are God’s children; people who have been blessed with gifts to help their people and the nation. Yet their dreams, hopes, and aspirations continue to be deferred.

Third, they are impatient for love. Hatred by the Romans is pervasive and can be evidenced by classism within the empire. Everyone has a place and moving up the social ladder outside their group is impossible. There is a place for the rich and a place for the poor within each ethnic and political group. No one can break out of the box that has been enforced upon them by the political powers of their community.
And so, they ask Jesus, the one anointed by God, to speak and lead them, “How much longer must we your disciples and God’s people contend with these unjust conditions?” They ask, “How can we stand in days like this?”

Move 2
Jesus responds in a way they least expect. Rather than tell them what will happen to the Romans, Jesus begins to tell them what will happen among their own community. Jesus says in Luke 21:5-6 (read). The things that are sacred to you; the things you hold most dear will be destroyed before change will come against your enemies. Jesus says you think God is going to begin his revolution with destruction of the Roman Empire, but not so.

The signs of change will begin with more deception and violence among your own people. In effect Jesus says situations must occur that cause God’s children to put their trust in God and not this world’s system of finance, government, and religion. Lord, have mercy!
Jesus breaks it down in Luke 21:7-19. Listen to the areas that Jesus addresses as signs that change is coming:

• False Christ will show up (v.8). People will begin to declare that they are the Messiah returned to deliver God’s people from bondage.

• Wars and rumors of wars will spread throughout the media (v.9). CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, continue to predict increased involvement in war against ISIS, Syria, North Korea, and the like.

• Civil Unrest (v.10). When Jesus says, nation shall rise against nation, he is referring to tribes, people groups (ethnicities). He is saying cultures will collide each fighting for the seemingly scarce resources on the earth that they need to survive.

• Natural disasters (v.11). And don’t we see that today? Flooding, fires, earthquakes, pestilences (incurable illnesses), and hunger abound.
That notwithstanding, Jesus says in Luke 21:12-18 that before any of these world issues take center stage, the people of God will be singled out for harsh times.

Listen to what Jesus says (read verses 12-18). Jesus says the people of God should be aware that things will get worse for them before they get better but a change is coming. Lord, have mercy!

Move 3
Jesus says there is only one way for God’s people, his disciples to get through these turbulent times of testing. He says in Luke 21:19, “By your patience possess your souls.” It is not a suggestion, it is a direct command from our commander in chief, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Protests do not trump patience; fighting police and destroying property will not trump patience! Jesus says activate patience as a weapon against injustice. Jesus says exercise patience and don’t live your life in panic mode as if the world is coming to an end because it is not yet time for God’s judgment of the world, God is getting his people ready to inherit the kingdom of God. Hallelujah!

Patience in this text is referring to “trials incident to service in the gospel.” In other words, as we follow the Great Commission, that of making disciples, we will be tested. For this word patience derives from the Greek word “hupomone” which is translated, “an abiding under.” It means that as we live out our calling as disciples, as we obey the command of Jesus in Luke 21:12-18, the things we suffer will be overcome by our testimony. How? Because the Holy Spirit will continue to empower us to think feel, choose, and imagine how great life will be in the coming kingdom of God as opposed to the trials we endure in this life.

Beloved, our task is to continue to stand for Jesus in the face of proclamations of doom and destruction. Our task is to be a witness about our great God and His Christ. And Jesus says that as we continue to confess Jesus as Lord, we will be empowered to stand. In other words, our test will not defeat us. We won’t look like what we been through, hallelujah!

Listen beloved, the world is destined for destruction; religious systems will become bankrupt; political systems will crumble; economic systems will falter; and ethnic groups will be divided into classes with no power. But God’s people and God’s word will stand forever. God’s people Jesus says will be unharmed because we have eternal life in Jesus.

Yes, they will arrest some of you, but hold on. Yes, they will talk about you and your stand for Christ, but hold on. Yes, they will put some of you to death, but hold on. Yes, relatives, parents, and friends will betray you, but hold on. Be patient, a change is coming

Let There Be No Strife Between Us

Text:  Genesis 13:8-9, NLT

8 Finally Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives! 9 The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” Genesis 13:8-9 (NLT)

Introduction

During his 10-year prison stay, Craig wrote to his family members on many occasions, declaring his repentance and asking for forgiveness – but no one answered. Because he was a minister and a leader in his community, his highly publicized trial had left a bitter taste in the mouth of his family. Upon his release, he continued to write, but no one in his family would communicate with him, even though he had been out of prison for more than two years.

 

Move 1

Abraham had taken Lot his nephew with him to the land that God had shown him.  Lot had been with Abram through famine and prosperity.  As relatives, they had endured much together.  Both of them had been prospered by God and all between the family seemed well.

Nonetheless, because of their prosperity both of them could not live on the same piece of property.  Abraham and Lot loved each other and got along well, but their employees were engaged in continuous conflicts over use of land, water, and resources.  This tension caused Abraham and Lot as close relatives to begin to withdraw from each other.  This conflict interfered with the special relationship they had always enjoyed.  Lord, have mercy!

Now let me add here that these conflicts had become so contentious they had become violent and Abraham knew that the situation had to change.  I’m so glad that somebody in the family, especially the one who has God on their side knows when to act.  Abraham did not sit idly by and watch the devil destroy his relationship with Lot and the rest of his family.  Abraham acted and moved to resolve the issue.

Abraham said again, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen.  After all, we’re close relatives!”  I wonder if there’s anybody here among this assembly of family and friends who have allowed strife to come between you and your relatives to the point that you no longer fellowship one with the other.  I wonder if there’s anyone here who no longer attends the family reunion or no longer goes to visit a relative because of strife.  Well, if you’re in the building I stop by to tell you, God says, “Let no strife come between you because God is able to bless each of you.”  Hallelujah!

Abraham makes the first move; Abraham decides to give Lot the option to choose whatever land he wants as long as they continue to remain close as relatives.  Lot reveals his heart when he chose “the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar.”  He made his decision because “the whole area was well watered.”  Water was like gold in the world economy today.  The one who controls the water controls the economy.  And it’s just like the situation in Israel and Palestine today; the one who controls the water controls the land.  Lord, have mercy!

Israel and Palestine have been feuding for generations because Israel insists on controlling the major water routes.  I wonder if there is anyone here this afternoon who is controlling things in your family and because of your control others in your family have been held back, held up, and kicked back.  I wonder is there anybody here who knows somebody in your family that won’t share the blessings God has given your family because they control that blessing.  I wonder if there is anyone here this afternoon who believes that you can stop your family member’s blessings because mother or father left you in charge of the property and the money.  Lord, have mercy!

I stop by to tell you this afternoon, you better be a blessing, because when you become a blessing to your family, God will do exceedingly abundantly above all things.  Can I get a witness here?  Anybody here every had the bless you in spite of…..in spite of what your relatives did to you…..in spite of what they said about you…..can I get a witness here?  Hallelujah!

 

Move 2

Well, let me move on.  I got to tell you three things about this text that demonstrates how friends and family should relate to one another.  Hallelujah!

First, families and friends should stick together.  You have heard it said, “Blood runs thicker than water.”  That means that when you are related to somebody you’re family.  You will not allow anyone or anything to come between you and family.  God called Abram out from his Father and Mother’s house.  God did not call Lot; but since Lot was Abraham’s nephew and Lot wanted to go with Uncle Abram, Abram allowed him to go with him.  Abram became responsible for Lot’s welfare and ensured that Lot had the same opportunities to be blessed that Abram had.  Lord, have mercy!

Abram did not try to keep Lot from the blessings that God blessed him with.  Abram shared all that God had blessed him with, with his nephew Lot.  And Lot became a wealthy and mighty man.  Hallelujah!  Abram knew that families should stick together and bless one another.  Can I get a witness here?

Not only should families stick together but families should settle any differences that come between them.  Notice carefully that it was the older family member that made the first gesture to settle the dispute.  Abram went to his nephew and made an offer of compromise so that the family could remain stable.

Somebody here this afternoon knows that you have been entrusted by your fore parents to watch over the family and to take care of your younger siblings, but you are acting stubborn and stuck up.  I stop by to tell you that as a child of God, you ought to make the first move.  You ought to give that younger person in the family the opportunity to blessed even if it looks like you might lose something.  Lord, have mercy!

Third, and finally, families should sacrifice for one another.  Abram had to sacrifice so that Lot could be blessed and move on with his life.  But the mnute Abram acted like his Father in Heaven, his Father in Heaven showed up to bless his socks off.  Lord, have mercy!

God said to Abram, “14 After Lot had gone, the Lord said to Abram, “Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. 15 I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants[a] as a permanent possession. 16 And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! 17 Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.”

The devil told Abram he was stupid; the devil told Abram you crazy; the devil told Abram if I were you I wouldn’t give Lot anything.  You the one with the blessing on your life; just run Lot away and keep what God has given you.  God never promised Lot anything anyway.

But I’m so glad that Abram looked at the devil and told the devil, “You just don’t know who you’re dealing with.  For I serve a God who is able to take care of me.  I’m the head of this household; I’m in charge of my father’s brother’s son.  And because he’s family, I’m going to resolve this issue.”  Devil, get thee behind me.  I will let no strife come between Lot and me.  Devil, my family is more important than my pride; my family is more important than houses and lands; my family is more important than silver and gold.  Hallelujah!

 

Move 3 (Conclusion)

You remember Craig; let me finish the story about Craig and his family.  Just after his release from prison, Craig returned to his community and formed a ministry that provided homes for the community’s homeless. Now, Craig was in the news again. Two years had gone by, and Craig had served faithfully without receiving any pay.

One night, as Albert watched the evening news, he saw a newscaster at a ceremony where, to his amazement, his brother Craig was being awarded the key to the city for the good work his ministry was doing in the community. Suddenly, Albert felt convicted, and he saw his brother’s life in a different light. He decided that he would pay his brother a visit.

Craig looked thinner than Albert remembered. He looked tired and withdrawn – no doubt the effects of a 10-year prison term. Albert stood in the busy storefront office and embraced his brother awkwardly. Then he said, “Craig, I apologize for not seeking you out sooner. I’m sorry I let your past mistakes keep me away. I wanted to be the first one in the family to welcome you back. We all got together, and we want to bless your ministry with a $1,000 contribution.”

Both men let their tears run freely. After Albert made that first move, love was victorious. A wave of reconciliation swept through their family.  Lord, have mercy!

Well,  because you and I were walking along the road of life when all of a sudden we came to a deep cavern in the road.  The engineers had left on a thin, spider web that stretched from one side of the cavern to the other.  The spider web was the only way over to the other side.  You and I had a spider web’s chance of making it over the cavern to the other side.  Lord, have mercy!

The cavern was the sin and iniquity that Adam bequeathed to us as human beings.  The spider web was our attempts to love one another and to do good in the earth.  We found ourselves unable to do good because whenever we tried to do good, evil was always present.  Lord, have mercy!  Can I get a witness here!

Many times that spider web had been broken by strife and offense between brother and sister, father and mother, relatives and friends.  Many times we had been walking across the cavern on the spider web only to get suspended over the cavern and find ourselves falling into the ravine.  We had no way to ensure the spider web would hold.  We were without hope and without God in the world.  Lord, have mercy!

But I hear a voice crying down through the ages, “Prepare me a body, Lo I come in the volume of the book it is written of me to do thy will, O God.”  And I heard the angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest peace on earth good will toward men.  For unto you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord!”  yes, he did.

He came not as an overseer or a judge; but he came as our kinsman redeemer and our Elder brother.  He came to settle the strife between us and God.  He came to sacrifice his life for our death.  For we were doomed to die and spend eternity in hell.  But Jesus came that we might have life and that more abundantly.  Yes, he came to make sure that you and me could make into the promised land.  Anybody here glad about what Jesus came to do.  Anybody here can bear witness that Jesus paid it all.  Anybody here knows that if it had not been the Lord on your side, you never would have made it.

I’m so glad that Jesus came.  I’m so glad that my elder brother made a way for me.  Are you glad this afternoon about what God did through Jesus Christ.  Well if you show enough glad, you ought to commit this afternoon to let no strife come between you and your family and friends.

You ought to tell the devil, because God is able, I’m able.  I’m going to forgive and bless my friends and I’m going to bless my family.  I’ll let nothing separate me from the responsibility to to love my friends and family.  I’m going to settle the issue today; I’m going to let go and let God right now!  Hallelujah!

Paul said it like this “All we like sheep have gone astray, each unto his own way;  and God has laid upon Jesus the iniquity of us all.”  Lord, have mercy!  Beloved, God reconciles people and all things to Himself through the sacrificial blood of Jesus. God’s plan to reconcile us to Himself reminds us that reconciliation requires that someone make the first move.

 

Faith to Forgive

Text:  Luke 17:5-6

5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  6He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

Introduction

The disciples when confronted with the necessity to forgive in a way that would transform their lives, said to Jesus, “Lord, Increase our faith.”  When God challenges us to do a new thing we often find ourselves believing that the faith we have is incapable of achieving the goals God has set for us.  Nonetheless, God continuously challenges us to reach higher, dig deeper, and go further than we think we can.  It would be unfair of God to ask, if God did not know that we could achieve what God calls us to do. [Let me interject right here that when God asks you to accomplish a goal, he has already calculated his involvement in its completion.]  Lord, have mercy!

Mustard seeds are the small round seeds of various mustard plants. The seeds are typically about 1 or 2 mm in diameter, larger than many plants such as poppy, columbine, potulaca and dandelion while relatively small compared to many others such as pumpkin, watermelon, apples, pine-cone or coconuts. Mustard seeds may be colored from yellowish white to black.

Mulberry trees are famous fruit treats tracing back to ancient civilizations.     The most impressive aspect of the mulberry tree is that is can grow up to ten feet each year.   White mulberries can reach 80 feet, and can also be pyramidal or weeping in form. Red mulberry trees may reach up to 70 feet. The black mulberry is much shorter, reaching only 30 feet, and unless trained tends to grow as a multi-stemmed shrub. The three species differ greatly in longevity.  It is unusual for a red mulberry tree to survive more than 75 years, while a black mulberry may produce fruit for hundreds of years.  In other words, a mulberry tree has deep roots and is not easily moved by humans or destroyed by disaster.

When outwardly compared to a mustard seed, the mulberry tree is much more formidable and awe inspiring.  The mulberry tree relies on its vast network of roots for survival whereas the mustard seed relies on God’s grace to grow.  One is not germinated while the other is fully grown and producing fruit.

Jesus insists that “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”  What an awesome depiction of faith.  If you start where you are, doing the will of God, before you know it, the faith you have will develop in such a way that you will be able to do things you thought impossible.  Jesus says develop your faith by using your faith.  You don’t get more faith by asking; you get more faith by doing.  Lord, have mercy!

 

Move 1

One day the great Michelangelo attracted a crowd of spectators as he worked. One child in particular was fascinated by the sight of chips flying and the sound of mallet on chisel. The master was shaping a large block of white marble. Unable to contain her curiosity, the little girl inquired, “What are you making?” He replied, “There is an angel in there and I must set it free.”
Every Christian begins his/her relationship with Christ with a measure of faith.  This passage introduces us to a clear path to setting this measure of faith free. The faith God put in you is enough for you to enjoy all that God has in store for your life.  Faith does not move your mountains, the God behind your faith moves the mountains.  Faith does not set you free; the God behind your faith sets you free!

 

Move 2

Jesus outlined three simple ways to release your faith. Three small steps to develop your faith.

First, forgiving those who repent.  Christians live knowing that people will offend us.  It is inevitable that somebody is going to offend you.  Saints, you do not prepare to retaliate, Jesus says you prepare to forgive.  Only through forgiveness can those who offend us receive God’s grace.  Jesus says in Luke 17:3-4, “3Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.  4And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”

 

Dr. F.B. Meyer tells of a meeting of a church which was seeking a revival. During the meeting an elder got up and said to the minister, “I don’t think there is going to be a revival here as long as Brother Jones and I don’t speak to each other.” He went across to Jones and said, “Brother, you and I haven’t spoken to each other in five years. Let’s bury the hatchet. Here’s my hand.” Shortly afterwards another elder got up and said, “Minister, I think there will be no revival here while I say nice things about you to your face and am disloyal to you behind your back. I want you to forgive me.” Soon others were on their feet settling old scores. Then says Meyer, God began to visit them. The meeting was crowded and a revival broke out that swept over the whole district.  There was time for confession and an offer of forgiveness and healing. There could be no forgiveness without repentance and confession; no healing without recognizing the disease.

 

Second, believing God can change those who repent.  Faith is acting on what we believe about God.  Jesus does not ask us to look to our faith to forgive others.  Jesus reminds us that how big or small our faith is does not determine the outcome.  God is able to take those whose offense was huge and transform that person into a servant of his.  God has a way of turning people around when you do what he commands you to do.  In other words, God develops your faith as you exercise your faith.

 

In Luke 17:5-6 the disciples look at their limitations rather than God’s abilities.  It reads, “5And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.  6And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.”

 

We have to believe in God’s ability to respond to the faith he has given us and act on that faith.  Years ago, two young men with a long history of delinquency and crime robbed a YMCA on the lower east side of Manhattan. On their way out of the building, they saw a young man at a telephone switchboard. They were frightened and assumed that he was calling the police. They seized him and beat him savagely with brass knuckles and a black jack. Thinking him to be dead, they hid him behind a radiator near the swimming pool and escaped.

 

Later that evening Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, was walking by the pool. She slipped in the young man’s blood, screamed and then found Donald Tippet’s body. He was rushed to the hospital where he lingered for days between life and death. Eventually he lived but one eye was so badly damaged it could not be saved.

 

Meanwhile the two young men were apprehended and brought to trial. Their past records assured that they would both get long sentences. However Donald Tippet did an amazing thing. He requested that the judge allow the two young men to be paroled to his charge. He wanted to give the boys a chance to change.

 

One of the boys blew his opportunity. He committed another crime, was caught and sent to jail. The other boy, however, was responsive to Tippet’s kindness. He went to college and eventually to medical school. He became one of our nation’s leading surgeons – an eye surgeon.

When Everett Palmer wrote of Donald Tippet’s amazing story of forgiveness and this surgeon’s accomplishments, he added, “I wonder if he ever performed one of those delicate eye operations without thinking of that night in the YMCA.”

 

Third and finally, Seeing forgiveness as our Christian duty.  Listen to verses 7-10 again.  “7But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?  8And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?  9Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.  10So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”

 

This parable gives us two types of responses to offense. The first one appears when the disciples come to Jesus and ask him to increase their faith. They give evidence of a church that believes it is their faith that makes the difference in someone’s life. They value church membership and fellowship more than evangelism and outreach.  This church is a little bit like the tavern called “Cheers” where everybody’s knows your name, and everybody’s glad you came, and everyone’s problems are all the same.

 

And this church likes it that way! There is a sense of community, a sense of belonging and caring, and we value it deeply. The prayer in this church is “God, give us greater faith, and greater blessings, and greater fellowship with our friends.”  But God don’t ask us to forgive others as you have forgiven us!  Don’t move us out of our comfort zone.  If you want us to do this, God you have to provide us something that we don’t have because we’re not prepared to do this.  Lord, have mercy!

 

The second response is dutiful forgiveness.  What Jesus tells the disciples is that forgiveness is hard work.  He uses the imagery of a slave serving his master. The servant has no right to demand anything of the master nor to expect to do anything but serve the master.

 

It’s not a comfortable image for Christian people, and perhaps that’s why this is not one of our most loved parables. We don’t like to think of ourselves as “worthless slaves;” we prefer to see ourselves as “special lambs.” But we cannot ignore the obvious expectation of Jesus in this parable; Jesus calls Christians to pack a lunch pail, put on a hardhat, and spend themselves by serving others.

 

Not just exhaust themselves in service, but do so without any recognition.  It is amazing that in the church today, people have to be recognized in order to serve the Lord.  Either pay me, applaud me, give me an award, or make me important.  Servant leadership has taken a back seat to selfless service.

 

Jesus admonishes us not to look for better treatment from those we forgive, nor to look for God to shout our names from his throne.  Jesus admonishes us to consider the act of forgiveness routine and to do so habitually simply because of what God has done for us.  How many do you know that want forgive someone unless that person caters to their every whim or demand?  How many people do you know that put requirements on their forgiveness?

 

Conclusion

I’m glad that God says if you forgive, I can use you to move mountains in people’s lives.  People want somebody to forgive them and to understand them.  People want someone who will offer them the unconditional love of God.  People have made so many mistakes, done so many wrong things in their lives, that when they come to church, they need somebody who will forgive them and offer them God’s grace and mercy to start again.

 

God wants somebody who will forgive the person who offends them.  God wants somebody who will allow him to change that person, and God wants somebody who will do so without any thought to compensation or reward.  Forgiveness given in this fashion can be the one avenue that God can use to transform a sinner’s life.  Forgiveness offered as a pardon for sins and offenses paves the way for “the goodness of God to cause a sinner to repent.

 

If you are here this morning and you stand in need of forgiveness, be bid you come.  If you have offense against someone and would like to repent before God, we bid you come.  If you want God to forgive you and to allow you his grace to begin again, we bid you come.  Jesus died for your sins and he stands ready to forgive you!  Will you come today?

How did you treat the poor?

Text:  Luke 16:19-31

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

 

Introduction

In 2014, Louisiana was ranked 49th among states in terms of their poverty population.  Overall, 19% of Louisianians live in poverty which means they make $23,834 or less for a family with four. The Income Inequality Ratio is 18.3% and ranks Louisiana as 47th in the Nation.  This refers to the ratio of the share of income going to the top 20 percent of households and the share of income going to the bottom 20 percent of households in 2014.  Despite these statistics, Louisiana had an overall unemployment rate of 6.4% which means that imbedded in this Capitalistic democracy are built in mechanisms designed to keep the rich richer and the poor poorer.[1]

Additonally, Louisiana has the fourth highest rate of school-aged children living in poverty among the 50 United States and Washington, D.C., according to 2013 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Only Mississippi, Washington, D.C., and New Mexico, respectively, have higher rates of poverty among children ages 5-17.[2]

The national average rate of school-aged children in poverty is 21 percent, but just 10 out of Louisiana’s 64 parishes have a lower rate than that. In Louisiana, 27 percent of school-aged children are in poverty, or 212,904 potential students.[3]

Knowing this how can the church refuse to support scholarships and programs designed to help our children graduate high school and college.  I believe its because they have so interwined the American Way with Scripture until their religion is so heavenly minded it is no earthly good.

And so this parable provides relevant lessons for us this morning. This parable helps us answer the questions:  How can a society rich in resources and opportunities still have persons languishing in poverty and despair?  In response perhaps one should look at the tension found in the word of God which states you reap what you sow and “He that lendeth to the poor, lendeth unto God.”  (Now might I add that the word “lendeth” could also be read as “He that leans toward the poor with aid and assistance in that which is needed, leans toward the heart of God.”  It is not a loan to the poor person per se, but an act done on behalf of God.  An act rewarded by God, not this world system.)   This tension exists because of the world system, known and taught in American schools and lived out by shrewd business habits with prooftexting and excuses for all the ills contained within this system.   In other words, interpreting the Scripture through a capitalistic, free market mindset automatically lends itself to error.  Lord, have mercy!

 

Move 1

 

James, the Moderator of the Jewish-Christian Church warned: “5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? 6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.”[4]

And so let us consider the lessons of this parable in the context of our subject for this morning.

First, you can’t help the poor if you can’t see the poor.  Luke 16:19-20 reads, 19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” And when I say “see” I’m talking about with the human eyes and with the understanding of their plight in your mind which compels you to act with favor toward them.

Note that this rich man never saw this man Lazarus.  This rich man lived in a worldly reality.  Lazarus represents a condition more than he does a person; he is poor; his represents poverty that often befalls a child of God.  But the rich man represents how this world’s systems rewards those who hustle, grind, and keep their minds on their paper.  And you can get so high in this world’s system until those in poverty become invisible and irrelevant.

Lazarus “was laid” outside his home each day which simply means that Lazarus became the rich man’s responsibility.  All the rich man had to do was acknowledge him, view him as a child of God and help him.  He was laid at his gate, right in front of him but this rich man had his windows tinted, rolled up, and hit the gas without even looking both ways else he would have seen Lazarus.  He was so busy being busy, he did not acknowledge the condition of Lazarus.  Some of us are so busy being busy, until we have no time to stop and see the plight of those right in front of us.  We do what I call drive by shootings without the gun; we see poverty, roll up our windows in fear and keep on driving.  And I say to you slow down and see your community, slow down and see your neighbor who is languishing in poverty.

Note also that the demon of poverty does not come alone; it brings sickness, mental illness, and despair. Poverty causes people to live a horrible life; watching those who have been blessed in the midst of a wicked society live as if they do not exist is a painful reality experienced by the poor.  Luke depicts Lazarus’ plight like this:  “21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” Can you see this man?  Are your eyes open to the plight of the poor among you?  But in this world system, How quick we are to defund indigent care programs, refuse to open clothing and food pantry ministries and refuse to aid the homeless.  Lord, have mercy!

Note also that this man’s name, Lazarus means, “God helps.”  So from his very name we see that this man though at the rich man’s home is not dependent on the rich man for help.  Though he is living out his condition of poverty, he is not depicted as having this rich man as his only source.  His name suggests he is leaning and depending on God for his sustenance.  He’s at this rich man’s door, but he’s looking unto the hills from whence cometh his help; his hope is in the Lord, God Almighty.  Lord, have mercy!  But let me move on……

Second, you can’t help the poor if you don’t believe that poverty is an unavoidable reality.  I suggest this morning that when Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always,” Jesus was in fact letting us know that poverty is an unavoidable human condition.  This world system creates gaps between the rich and the middle class and the rich and the poor.  This gap is unavoidable in a capitalistic free market society and if you’re going to see the poor with the right attitude you must subscribe to this premise, “the poor you have with you always.”

If you believe that people are poor due to a lack of education, a lack of being reared in the proper environment, or because they have been lazy, shiftless, and slothful then you will not be able to accept poverty as an unavoidable reality. If you can’t see how people can be poor in a society rich in resources and opportunities, you will not be able to accept poverty as an unavoidable reality.  Lord, have mercy!

Let me say emphatically with Jesus, Lewis Temple, the poor you will have with you always.  And that poverty will remain in some sectors of the population despite our best efforts to eradicate it.  That does not mean we should not fight this world system that produces poverty, we should.  What it means is that we should not lose hope as we fight this demonic condition when things do not change as readily as we suppose.

Third, if you are not generous toward the poor right before you, then you won’t help those far away.  In other words, if you pass by a poor person on the street right outside your home, you won’t travel distant lands on mission fields to help them either.  Don’t you get tired of hearing folks talk about going to Africa or India to help the poor, when they won’t give to the Salvation Army, the Church, at home?  Isn’t it irrating to hear people talk out of both sides of their mouths.  They say their care for the poor, but refuse to implement a food bank program or provide assistance to the Christian Community Action on the local level.  Lord, have mercy!

 

Move 2

Jesus says to us in this parable that if you don’t open your eyes to the needs right in your neighborhood, if you don’t believe that life produces poverty, if you don’t help those in front of you, you will have to give an account for that kind of unrealistic stewardship.

Luke 16:22-26 reads, “22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”

Beloved, stewardship demands that we look at this world system as juxtaposed to the kingdodm of God.  Despite the actions of the rich man, those who live in the kingdom of God should operate from a totally different perspective.  We should live with heaven in our view and even more importantly than that, we should live our lives based on the Word of God.

A man was driving his car, when he saw an old lady, stranded on the side of the road. He saw that she needed help. So he stopped his Pontiac near her Mercedes and got out.

He smiled, while he was approaching her, still she was worried, as nobody had stopped for hours. Moreover, he did not look safe, as his appearance was so poor and shabby. He could see, how frightened she was, so he tried to calm her: „ I‘m here to help you, don‘t worry. My name is Bryan Anderson“.

The tire was flat, so he had to crawl under the car. While changing the tire, he got dirty and his hands were hurt. When the job was done, she asked how much she owed him for his help. Bryan smiled. He said: „If you really want to pay me back, the next time you see someone, who needs help, give that person the needed assistance. And think of me“.

At the same evening, the lady stopped by a small cafe. That place looked dingy. Then she saw a waitress, nearly eight months pregnant, wiping her wet hair with a towel. The waitress had a sweet friendly smile, although she had spent on her feet the whole day.

The lady wondered how someone, who has so little, can be so kind and giving to a stranger. Then she remembered Bryan. The lady had finished her meal and paid with a hundred dollar bill. The waitress went to get change and when she came back, the lady was gone. She left a note on the napkin: „You don‘t own me anything. Somebody once helped me, just like now I‘m helping you. If you really want to pay me back, do not let this chain of love end with you“. The waitress found four more one hundred bills under the napkin.

That night the waitress came home earlier. She was thinking about the lady and the money she left. She was wondering, how the lady could know, how much she and her husband needed it, especially now, when the baby will soon arrive. She knew that her husband worried about that, so she was glad to tell him good news. Then she kissed him and whispered „Now everything will be all right. I love you, Bryan Anderson“[5].  That is a dynamic picture of what happens when we accept the fact that we are living in exile, that this world is not our home and its systems are not our systems.

 

Conclusion

Finally, Luke says we should govern our lives based on the revealed, written Word of God. Luke writes in 16:27-31, ” 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

Beloved, I know how easy it is to get caught up in this American system of success and fame, yet let me urge you to judge America by the standard of God’s Word.  If a person has not helped the poor before they are elected to office, don’t expect them to help after they’ve been elected.

In the kingdom of God, riches do not come from a capitalistic free-market system but true riches come from having a heart for the things of God.  I urge you today, to consider your attitude toward the poor and stop operating as an American and begin to act as a child existing in the kingdom of God.  Do it now because one day, you will give an account of your stewardeship.  And I ask will you be like this rich man or will you be generous in your stewardship as a Christian ought.

I trust that you, will continue to support those who mission is eradicating poverty right here and right now.  Praise the Lord!

 

[1] https://talkpoverty.org/state-year-report/louisiana-2015-report/

[2] http://www.nola.com/news/baton-rouge/index.ssf/2014/12/poverty_education_louisiana_ce.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] James 2:5-9, KJV.

[5] http://www.inspirationalstories.eu/stories/inspirational-stories-about-helping-others/

A Question of Priorities

38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. 40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:38-42)

 

Introduction

The scripture says “And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his Word.”  In other words, Mary and Martha had been listening to Jesus; however, Martha got distracted by the cares of this life.  Martha and Mary had both been listening to Jesus.

Martha heard the word of Jesus, fell in love with Jesus, and wanted to do something for Jesus in order to demonstrate her love. She was inspired by Jesus to impact issues of injustice, poverty, mass incarceration, racial disparity, and hunger. She wanted to serve Jesus in the world and set about being busy with many issues.  She was engaged in ministry on behalf of Jesus, and left her ministry to Jesus.  She left worship for work!  Lord, have mercy!

 

Move 1

Like Martha, the church is busy about many things in this world.  We have fallen in love with Jesus, we have been inspired by Jesus, and we seek to impact the world by doing ministry on behalf of Jesus.  We as a church are engaged in ministry on behalf of Jesus, and have left her ministry to Jesus.  Sororities, fraternities, clubs, civic groups, families and other organized organizations have been inspired by the gospel to work on behalf of the kingdom of God.  Many of these activities are both necessary and relevant if the church is to bear witness of Christ in the world.  Let me cite a few of our concerns.

First, Voter Registration and Voter Education.  Church and Civic leaders are promoting voter education in every city, town, and parish.  Unmarried women, people of color, and young voters are playing a crucial role in America.  Increasing voter participation will be a challenge. The Rising American Electorate—and particularly millennials—are showing less enthusiasm about the election than many other voter groups. That’s one of the findings of a new poll conducted in nine battleground states by our sister organization, the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund.[1]  Will we be open to diversity or shut down our borders? Over the next four years, will it become harder or easier to vote, get health care or a college education, and earn paid sick days and wages that support families? Will we be a nation where the will of the majority prevails or a country that works only for the wealthy and the powerfully-connected?[2]  Yet the work continues because the deficits are huge:  over four-out-of-ten Rising American Electorate members are still not registered to vote. And churches are playing a major role in this effort.

Second, Black Lives Matter.  These are our children, founders from among members of the LGBT-Q community notwithstanding; they are being arrested, investigated, and threatened by the powers that be.  For them the Black Lives matter movement is everything.  Black Lives Matter originated in response to police brutality and injustice in America that had seemingly no response from the Black Bourgeoisie and Church Leaders to such racial disparity.  They are protesting, agitating, and insisting that real, tangible change comes in America.  Its cry is no justice, no peace; and not just justice for straight people but all people.  Just recently, I received this correspondence:

 

Dear Earl,

I just started a petition titled “Take the Pledge: Join the Movement for Black Lives”  Here’s what it says:  Guided by love, we continue to stand together for justice, human dignity and our shared goal of ending all forms of state violence against Black people. We organize, occupy, demonstrate, march and chant for a new future: A future we can be proud of. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, who fought for their freedom and ours. Like them, we want a world where our lives matter.

We want an end to the war being waged on Black people, in all its forms. Some people fear change, and that’s ok. Many will attempt to halt our progress. That is not ok. Some will continue their attempts to undermine us, but we will remain undeterred.

For far too long, our unjust deaths have meant business as usual in this country. No more.

Our work remains undone until our lives are free of violence. That is the future we imagine.

Until that day comes:
We pledge togetherness— we will not allow ourselves to be divided.
We pledge to allow our thinking and actions to be guided by love.
We pledge to bring courage and power into our communities, and stop their flow out.
We pledge not to be controlled by fear, but instead by our dreams.

Join us, and pledge to do the same: Stand with the Movement for Black Lives.

– The Movement for Black Lives

 

This is important work; necessary work; and this new generation has taken up the gauntlet.  And the church would do well to help lead in this effort.  However, this is Sunday morning.  Are the concerns for black lives more urgent than our concern for worship of Jesus Christ?

Third, Eradication of Poverty and Hunger.  In 2013, the median household income for residents of Grambling was $19,657 compared to $31,912 for the entire Lincoln Parish and $44,164 for the State of Louisiana.  In plain English, over 2,000 of our residents are poor.  63.7% of Grambling residents have income below the national poverty level and of those the 18-24 year olds suffer most.  Grambling has got to do something to increase median wages and job opportunities in this city or they will be subsumed by Ruston in a few years.  Poverty creates choices from which irrational decisions are made; choices between food and medicine, education and shelter that those who do not live among the working poor never have to make.  Hunger is a major issue in this city and in this State.

“In cities across America, many low-income neighborhoods are also food deserts, areas that lack well-stocked and large grocery stores where people can find healthy food, and use food stamps, officially known as SNAP benefits, to purchase items.  On May 13, the Los Angeles City Council approved a plan that will require all of the city’s farmer’s markets to accept food stamps. The move means low-income families will have an easier time finding fresh vegetables and fruits that are often grown locally.”[3]

Yet the battle continues across the country.  “It’s already begun happening. In 2016, 500,000 to 1 million recipients will be officially cut from the “food stamp” rolls. Some reports say it could be more than 1 million recipients.  Before the end of the year, reports say, Tennessee will have eliminated 150,000; Florida will cut 300,000 recipients; North Carolina will chop 110,000 from the rolls. More than 40 states will see changes in the program.

It will happen because this year – with foolhardy confidence in the dubious proposition that the economy has substantially improved – the federal policies overseeing the program reverted back to guidelines established under President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform package.

These guidelines restrict adults without children to food assistance for three months. Adults without young children who want to receive nutritional assistance beyond three months must find full-time jobs, or perform 20 hours a week of volunteer work (also known as “workfare”).”[4]

These issues and others cause Christians to get up early, stay up late, and work countless hours to bring justice and equity in the land.  Christians are busy about many things; hallelujah!  And Christians are quite successful in making a difference in the world in these issues among many others.  Satan’s kingdom is coming down.  Satan’s work against the people of God is being destroyed.  Yes, the government has made concessions; hunger is being dealt with; marches and protest abound throughout the land.  We are winning these earthly battles.  Our voice is being heard; our work for Christ moves forward.  However, as important as that is, Jesus says, “Rejoice not in your success.”  Don’t swell with pride when you are victorious. Hallelujah!

I hear Jesus in Luke 10: 17-20 advising his disciples to not get excited about the gains they are experiencing dealing with issues in the world.  Let me read it for you again, “17 The seventy came back triumphant. “Master, even the demons danced to your tune!”  18-20 Jesus said, “I know. I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky. See what I’ve given you? Safe passage as you walk on snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the Enemy. No one can put a hand on you. All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.”

So then, work is important, success is assured, but that is not our highest priority.  The Westminster Catechism points us in the right direction.  It asks, “What is the chief aim of man?”  And answers with these words, “Man’s chief aim is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”  Mary points us in that direction.

 

Move 2

Mary did not get up with Martha; Mary continued to listen to Jesus.  Her relationship with Jesus was more important than the many things with which Martha had become engaged.  She wanted Jesus to get Mary to help her.  But Jesus without denouncing Martha’s work, gave preference to Mary’s desire.  Martha did ministry on behalf of Jesus; Mary did ministry to Jesus!

Mary knew that when you’re in the presence Jesus; it’s not time to work; it’s time to worship.  Worship is designed to get us to spend time with ministering to Jesus.  Put the rest of the world on hold because Worship can’t be divided.  You can’t worship and be mentally engaged in many other things.  God wants your undivided attention in worship.  Was it not Jesus who said in Matthew 11:28-30, “28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Mary chose to worship Jesus; Mary chose to sit at his feet.  Mary chose to give God praise for her Lord Jesus.  Yes, I wonder this morning did you come to worship or did you come to work.  Did you come to worship Him?  He is worthy of your praise.

Mary had worked with Martha on many issues during the week.  But when she came to worship, when the presence of Jesus was in the house, when a word from the Lord was going forth, she sat down and rested.  Mary, can you see her, sitting in worship just listening to the Word of God speak.  Can you see her being refreshed, renewed, and revived?  Beloved, I don’t know what you came to do, but I came to worship, I came to hear a word from the Lord.  I came to lay down heavy burdens and let the presence of Jesus fill me with God’s power and God’s Love.  I wonder this morning is there anybody here that came to worship the Lord!  You’ve been working all week long, handling the issues of life, but this morning, right now, do you just want to sit at the feet of Jesus and worship Him.  Do you just want the presence of God to be upon you and in you?  Hallelujah!

Martha and Mary show that if you’re going to be effective as a minister working on behalf of Jesus, then you have to make sure you spend time with the man Jesus Christ.  You have to do more than save our sons, register to vote, fight against injustice, you also have to worship.  And I stop by to tell somebody this morning that worship sets the atmosphere for victory in the world.  Worship gives you the power you need to defeat the enemy.  Worship ensures that your well does not run dry; work, eternal work issues forth from worship.

 

Move 3 (Celebration)

Worship was an integral part of the work we did during the Civil Rights Movement.  The night before each major march, the marchers would meet in a church for worship.  They would sing the songs of Zion that expressed their faith and trust in God.  Then some deacon would begin to pray a prayer of faith, and finally Dr. King, Dr. Abernathy, or Dr. Jackson would preach the unadulterated word of God.  Can you see them there, gathered together singing and giving praise to God.  Lord, have mercy!

It was from these settings that prophecy would flow.  Dr. King would be so enamored with Jesus until he could hear God say, “I might not get there with you; but we as a people will get to the promised land.”  The people would shout because spending time in worship was so inspirational.  Worship made the work worth doing; worship made the work successful.  And look where the Lord has brought us!  Hallelujah!

I’m reminded of another story and I’ll close with this one.

Peter and John were doing ministry on behalf of Jesus.  Their enemies, members of the Sanhedrin called them into question about their methods.  They had just seen Jesus heal a man lame from birth.  The entire town was celebrating the move of God.  This miracle caused people to give God glory and Peter and John gave the Sanhedrin Counsel the message that it was in the Name of Jesus that they had done this miracle.  The Sanhedrin became furious, threatened Peter and John with imprisonment, beatings and worse if they did not stop telling the world about Jesus and his resurrection.

When the Sanhedrin released them, they went back to the church and began to pray.  And the Bible says, “While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence. The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! . . . The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.” (Acts 4:31-33)

Mary reminds us that worship is our highest work.  Because in worship, miracles happen, prophecy flows forth, and God is glorified among us.  When we worship chains are broken.  When we worship, power to fight is granted. When we worship, we receive a word from the Lord.   When we worship we release the power of heaven to make the difference in our work!   Is there anybody here, ready to worship?  Hallelujah!

When we come to church, we come to worship Jesus Christ.  We come to thank God for what God has done through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  We come to glorify God and enjoy him together.  Praise the Lord somebody!

[1] Why we need fireworks at the voting booth this year.  (2016). Retrieved from http://www.voterparticipation.org/need-fireworks-voting-booth-year/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Equal Voice News.  (2016).  A Food Desert Win: L.A. Farmers Markets to Take Food Stamps.  Retrieved from http://www.equalvoiceforfamilies.org/a-food-desert-win-l-a-farmers-markets-to-take-food-stamps/

[4] Darryl Lorenzo Wellington (2016).  Why good jobs are needed in the food stamp debate.  Retrieved from http://www.equalvoiceforfamilies.org/why-good-jobs-are-needed-in-the-food-stamp-debate/