Living Our Way Into the Promise
SLIDE 7: A WAY OF LIFE
Faith is not a creed, or a set of beliefs, faith is a way of life. When we talk about following the way of Jesus, we are not adopting a set of doctrinal statements about the divinity or humanity of Jesus, we are dedicating ourselves to living out the most difficult of the ways of Jesus: welcoming and accepting those who are different from us, loving our enemies, forgiving those who hurt us, turning the other cheek, sharing with the poor even when we do not have much ourselves, living a non-violent way of life. Following the way of Jesus is difficult especially because it is not practical by the world’s standards. Matthew 5 38 “The world says to you, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. Jesus’ standards of behavior are difficult.”
Sometimes I want to protest, “Jesus it is just too hard, you ask too much.”
And you know what Jesus says? “So, what, you follow me.”
SLIDE 8: LIVING AS IF LOVE & JUSTICE IS ALREADY ESTABLISHED
The author of the letter of the Hebrews compares faith to God’s call to Abraham to leave his kindred and the place where he was living and journey to a new land that God would show him. Those who choose to follow Jesus are asked to leave behind our old lives and make a spiritual journey into a new reality, where we begin living as if the Commonwealth of God is already here. Living as if the Commonwealth of love and justice has already been established is difficult, when all around us it seems as if hate, violence, greed and corruption are the norm. And that is why we return to the first verse of our scripture: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, (things hoped for, not things as they are), the conviction of things not seen. As Jesus implied in the Parable of the Yeast and the Mustard Seed, the Commonwealth of God is all around us for those who have the eyes to see, and those who are willing to engage in the acts of loving kindness that bring love and justice into the present moment.
SLIDE 9: COMMONWEALTH OF GOD AT THE SHARING TABLE
Where is the Commonwealth of God? It is all around us as people come to the Sharing Table to pray with and for each other and to share the presence of Christ in the Bread and the Cup. When is the Commonwealth of God? It is in the present moment, and it is also an unfolding reality as we embrace the way of Jesus.
Now I realize you may be skeptical of Jesus love talk coming out of the mouth of a straight, white, male, middle class preacher, when all around us we see evidence of racism, sexism, homophobia, violence and economic oppression. So, this morning I want to preach about the Commonwealth of God using the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who was no stranger to racism, violence and economic oppression.
SLIDE 10: LOVING OUR ENEMIES
Dr. King’s sermon on “loving our enemies” still is as relevant today as when he preached these words at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church almost 60 years ago.
“Love your enemy. In spite of questions and persistent objections, this command of Jesus challenges us with new urgency. Upheaval after upheaval has reminded us that our society is traveling along a road called hate, in a journey that will bring us to destruction and damnation. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world. Jesus is not an impractical idealist: he is the practical realist.”
SLIDE 11: CREATE THE BELOVED COMMUNITY
“Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of humankind, we must follow another way. This does not mean that we abandon our righteous efforts (against oppression). With every ounce of our energy we must continue to rid this nation of the incubus of racism. But we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege and our obligation to love. While abhorring racism, we shall love the racist. This is the only way to create the beloved community.
The Beloved Community was Martin Luther King’s vision of a society that was fully inclusive, non-violent, where economic opportunity was fully shared — the Commonwealth of God. So confronted again with socio-economic and racial conflict in America, how as followers of Jesus do we work toward the Beloved Community?
SLIDE 12: SIX PRINCIPLES OF NONVIOLENCE
Allow me to review with you the six principles of non-violence Dr. King put forth in his book Stride Toward Freedom:
- PRINCIPLE ONE: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.
- PRINCIPLE TWO: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.
- PRINCIPLE THREE: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people. The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people.
- PRINCIPLE FOUR: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.
- PRINCIPLE FIVE: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body. Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative.
- PRINCIPLE SIX: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win. Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.
SLIDE 13: UNEARNED SUFFERING
Allow me to lift up two important points from Dr. King’s six principles, that are controversial and central to his faith and the way of Jesus. The first is “unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities. ” None of us likes to suffer, and least of all when evil doers, who are inflicting the suffering seem to be getting away with it. There is a little unredeemed corner of my soul that gets a thrill during the movie, when the bad guy gets what’s coming to him. However, when people are willing to publically endure abuse in a righteous cause, their suffering can help to transform the world. Change never comes fast enough. We will always be impatient with the slow pace of social transformation. But all of the arrests and abuse endured during the Civil Rights Movement did bring change to our nation. The people who chained themselves to the gates of the Union of South Africa Embassy Washington and were arrested brought about a change in the United State’s foreign policy that helped to topple apartheid. As controversial as the Black Lives Matter protests have become, as long as they remain non-violent, they may still help bring about positive cultural change.
SLIDE 14: THE ARC OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE
The second point I want to lift up Dr. King borrowed from the 19th century Congregational minister Theodore Parker: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” The Commonwealth of God has not yet become an established reality in our world, but despite distressing setbacks we are on our way. Don’t give up. Don’t lose faith. Many of us will never make it to the promised land, but that does not mean that our contributions toward realizing the Commonwealth of God are in vain.
SLIDE 15: I’VE SEEN THE PROMISED LAND
And here I want to remind you of Dr. King’s very last speech delivered the night before his assassination:
“Well I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like any man, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
SLIDE 16: FORETASTE OF THE HEAVENLY BANQUET
None of us in this room may make it to the promised land. Like our scripture this morning says, “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. ” And maybe it is enough to know that the Commonwealth of love and justice is on its way, and we who follow the way of Jesus have had a part in bring the world a little closer to that reality. In the mean time let us take comfort in the Sharing Table of Jesus that allows us a fore-taste of the heavenly banquet . And when the Day of God’s Peace arrives, we will be part of those who greet that new day with joy.