On this Memorial Day weekend, The Well of Dyersburg introduces its publishing arm, Resources for Diversity (www.resourcesfordiversity.com). Publications will soon be available for review and purchase. Some resources will also be accessible on the site as free downloads.
How fortunate for Mary, pregnant with Jesus, that she knew nothing about what her unborn child would grow up to endure: terrible temptation by the devil in the midst of great hunger, defection of close friends near the end of his life, ridicule, wrongful arrest, torture, and a death penalty monstrously enforced.
What a blessing of innocence, of not knowing, of simply enjoying whatever wonder and delight could be eked out of an uncomfortable ride to a barn on that first cold Christmas-card night with warmth from the animals, an attentive mate, and visitors bearing gifts.
But we know.
So it is not possible for us to simply shop ’til we drop— from the after-Thanksgiving-dinner starting bell to store-closing the night before Santa’s arrival— scoring presents for our loved ones. We are too aware of what happens after Christmas.
We cannot be too comfortable with the Hallmark version of the Savior’s birth because we are too mindful of the reason for Jesus. Yes, we know Jesus is the “reason for the season” but we understand more: the reason for Jesus was change.
Though many adored the sleeping babe, the powerful enjoyed the status quo. The babe born to save us all from being comfortable simply donating to Christmas baskets for the poor was in immediate danger.
Because his birth required the overturn of cultures of dominance in which increasing the wealth of the wealthiest is easier than securing living wages for workers, where healthcare— even for children of workers— is viewed as an arbitrary removable privilege.
While we exchange gifts and hug family members and share lovingly cooked food after we pray, holding hands around our tables, we don’t forget what the birth of Jesus means to us.
We know what is next. The justice work Jesus implores us to do. The organizing. The truth sharing. The voting. The turning upside down of the marketplace mentality that has found its way even into our places of worship. The sacrifices we are called to make. How we are to die to our human self-centeredness. How we are to break down walls not build them up.
We full well know that after a short while of cooing at the babe and grinning at each other as we sing carols, we know we are called to help carry the cross of the grown-up Jesus, the smelly bearded criminal encrusted with blood.
In Mark 13:9, Jesus is recorded as saying, “You must be careful. People will arrest you and take you to court and beat you in their synagogues. You will be forced to stand before kings and governors, to tell them about me. This will happen to you because you follow me. But before these things happen, the Good News must be told to all people.”
What is the Good News that will make some so angry they will want to arrest those bringing that news? Make no mistake, it isn’t the Good News of the Hereafter that will upset some people. No. That’s not why Jesus was crucified. It’s the Good News of a different kind of life for everyone equally in the Here and Now that many in power will receive as bad news. That will anger them.
It’s the Good News of healthcare for everyone, the right to marry as one wishes, equal wages for women and men and people of all races for the same work done, and of cooperation among nations of the world no longer based on military might. They are angry, but we do not stop.
We, followers of Christ, know what we are called to do. After Christmas.
*I acknowledge special thanks to my friends at Mt. Tabor in Jackson, Tennessee who tolerated the dreary first version of this sermon. After feedback and rewrites, it was presented again elsewhere and described by the second set of hearers a week later as “one of the best.” Though sermons are better when heard rather than read, I offer here some main points from it to followers of this blog.
A Sermon: The Greatest Love of All
Webster defines sermon as religious discourse delivered by clergy, and Dictionary.com includes in its listing a modern take on it: long, tedious speech.
Are sermons helpful? Is a sermon a show or a teaching? Is it useful teaching? Or is it typically a soon-forgot distraction for declining numbers of us, a familiar entertainment which might just cause us to nap like we do during our favorite weekly television show?
To avoid tedium, sometimes today’s sermons are dramatic productions that include video clips, the preacher singing, shouting, or even engaging in some athletics.
The ancient sermons of Jesus were far from tedious, though I don’t think he jumped around, sang, or whooped. Yet his teachings were rousers that unnerved listeners, made some angry, and never put anyone to sleep, as Apostle Paul’s did, as far we know.
What I admire most about the teachings of Jesus is their freshness, their newness. They never fail to give hearers fresh new ways to think about whatever they’re thinking about, new ways to understand and respond to traditions, fresh takes on avoiding divisive cultures.
My favorite is his sermon on the greatest commandments. I’m awakened by his insight that while we’re not God, we’re made like God and can (must!) love thusly. And I’m taken aback by the starkness of his clarification on how we can measure our love for God.
In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great, first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
In our contemporary vernacular, like is not a compelling word. Indeed, it’s a rather weak word: I like frozen yogurt. Susan likes to go swimming. Your brother, Fred, looks like my cousin Henry. A sermon is like a weekly television show.
But, on the contrary, Jesus used the word like to illustrate critical concepts. He used like to break down something he really wants us to get: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31). The kingdom of heaven is like leaven (Matthew 13:33). The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44). Using their everyday language and familiar experiences, Jesus helped his first-century listeners perceive truth.
What is that truth?
The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny mustard seed which, when planted by a farmer, can grow to be the biggest of plants, even a tree, that will be a place where birds can live!
What is that truth?
The kingdom of heaven is like the smallest bit of yeast which, when a baker mixes it with a large amount of flour, will cause it all to rise!
What is that truth?
The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure! Like a young sheepherder whose own family doesn’t see his king potential. Like a child, born in a barn, whose vast greatest is yet to be known.
What is that truth?
We are all made by God to be lovers of God; yes, we can! But the only true measure of our success at that is the measure of our God-like love for all others: our inclusive love of all our neighbors, a love as deep as the love we have for ourselves, our own families, our own countries. Yes, we can, and we must! All right theology, all purposes of God, every aspect of obedience and honor we show to God rest on that.
Don’t forget to set your clocks back one hour early Sunday morning. Then come to our first Sunday morning service at 11 AM on this Sunday, November 5th. Molly is practicing her solo. It is so beautiful! We meet at 416 North Sampson Avenue in Dyersburg. This Sunday we will have coffee, cupcakes, water, more singing, preaching, and a good time. There is room for everyone! Y’all come!
Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
‘Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.
Click here to listen/view a celebratory, contemporary recording session of this historic song. It’s fantastic! Allow 15 seconds for it to start. Artists include Al Green, Deniece Williams, Roberta Flack, Patti Austin, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Yogi Horton, Jon Faddis, and others.
The next monthly worship service at The Well of Dyersburg will take place on Sunday, November 5th, at 11 AM. Do come! Don’t forget to set your clock back one hour that morning. Coffee will be served. See you then. Everyone is welcome.
Hate may be stupidly persistent, but Love always wins.
Hate practices exclusivity, but Love’s inclusivity always wins.
Hate denigrates, but Love elevates—everyone.
Hate is self-righteous, but Love does not judge.
God is Love. Hate is evil.
To everyone in the whole wide world, Love sent us Jesus.
And anyone, everyone who believes in God’s Love is saved.
The Well of Dyersburg welcomes people of all races, all sexual identities, all ethnicities, all conditions, all abilities, all life stages, all income levels, all immigration or citizenship statuses. The Well of Dyersburg welcomes all.
Recently I posted an item on Facebook related to race relations in America. A friend saw it and had a somewhat heightened response. Running into me a few days later, that friend expressed a strong desire to become part of a group willing to talk about what she termed racial understanding, adding “We need to do this!”
That reminded me of one the best aspects of Church.
Just yesterday, I noticed another Facebook post uploaded by a different person who is from another part of the country but with whom I’m becoming acquainted through social media. This new friend posted a reminder of the time and place for the next meeting of “Racists Anonymous,” which she described as a group of people coming together “in a spirit of fellowship” with the goal of examining their “inherent racial biases without fear of finger-pointing.”
That, too, reminded me of some of the best of Church.
To me, Church is the place where we must be able to go and hear tough-to-hear issues and problems being presented but know that, although the raising up of such will cause us heightened responses, having the courage to face tough-to-talk-about concerns is not finger-pointing. And if any of us are tempted to do any pointing, Church is the place where we learn the importance of turning our index fingers back at ourselves. Indeed, Church is where we can examine hard-to-face truths about ourselves and be set free from them.
Church is where we must come together, all God’s children—racists, classists, sexists, ageists, ableists— with all the ists with which we are burdened.
Church is where together, in the light of the Spirit of Christ, we bring all our ists, all our isms, any gender or sexual identity phobia, every ethnocentricity, each selfish greed, and are reminded together that our God of forgiveness can and will empower us to forgive each other and to love justice and inclusion.
This Saturday at The Well, we will come together to talk, to listen, to practice pointing inward, to practice forgiveness and to receive it. We will hear God’s healing Word and pray for the courage to live as followers of Christ.
Whosoever will, come. All are welcome.