I got very mixed reaction to this sermon. This was one of those that people either loved or hated. It was for me a rather personal sermon, as I revealed a lot more of my personal views on theology and religion than I had up to this time, pointing out my sincere belief in Liberation Theology. Again, I revisit the need to take a stand and also speak in political terms. As I said in the previous page, I am never 100% satisfied with any sermon I preach, as I preached this one twice in the same day and this version here was radically different from the previous version. The verses from Luke, I have adopted as my personal motto, as you will see them quoted on the first of my web pages. This was preached in February of 1996.
(Isaiah 26:4-12) -- Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal. He humbles those who dwell on high, he lays the lofty city low; he levels it to the ground and casts it down to the dust. Feet trample it down-- the feet of the oppressed, the footsteps of the poor. The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness. Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the LORD. O LORD, your hand is lifted high, but they do not see it. Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame; let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them. LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.
(Luke 4:14-19) -- Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed."
My subject this morning will be:
Let us pray:
Most Loving and Gracious Father. This morning we come to you in humble prayer. We pray this morning for peace in our neighborhoods, tranquility in our lives, unity in our communities and love in our hearts. We pray this morning for the souls of those who are not yet lost, but just have not had the chance to experience you and your greatness. Lord we know that everything you make is in perfect and divine order, but we ask this morning that you enable us to reach those who seem to be unreachable and approach those who may seem to be unapproachable. Lord, we just come to you this morning asking for your blessings and your strength to do that which you have ordained us by the Holy Spirit to do. We ask these and many other blessings in the name of your son, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
It's February. And that means it is African-American Heritage Month, which used to be Black History month, which used to be Afro-American History month, which used to be Negro History Week. And all in the shortest month of the year. But that's okay. We change the name of this month about as often as we change what we want to call ourselves.
In this month, we take time to remember those who went before us, who struggled on behalf of the blacks in this country who were prevented by an oppressive system, to fight for themselves. We also take time to remember this month that God is, and has always been on our side.
Now, in keeping with this subject, we look at the impact and influence the Bible, and Jesus has had on us as a community. Of all of the different issues and causes that the Bible addresses, one of the points that pops us in both the Old and New Testament are the issues of the liberation of oppressed peoples. A central theme of the major prophets in the Old Testament is justice and one of the things that Jesus taught is not only loving everyone, but treating everyone as you though they were your brother or sister. Paul, in the book of Romans tells us that we should associate ourselves with people that come from all different walks of life, that we are to shun no one in our arrogance. If you glance through the books of 1st Samuel, 2nd Kings, and in the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles, they all specially address the issue of oppressed people and how they should be viewed and treated.
But these two scriptures that I have read from this morning speak more directly to the issue of an oppressed peoples. In the passage from Isaiah, he talks about the fact that the oppressed will one day rise and overturn those who oppressed them. Isaiah also talks about the path of the righteous and how the Lord will forever be there with them and for them, and how the Lord will make a smooth path for them.
And in Luke, we have Jesus returning to Nazareth and teaching and worshipping in the synagogue when the scroll from the prophet Isaiah was handed to him, and Jesus read the words that I read. If you go a little further, to the 21st verse, when he finished reading the scripture, he then told them that fulfillment of scripture was done in their presence.
As we have studied the life and times and ministry of Jesus, we have often said and commented on the fact that Jesus did not go to preach just to the rich, the wealthy or the influential. Jesus was not a politician, per se, although some of his acts did have political overtones. But Jesus was more concerned with the spiritual well-being of all peoples, especially people who were suffering from a lack of spiritual inspiration.
We all know that our spirit is at it's lowest when we don't have enough money or don't have enough to eat or don't have a lot of clothes to wear. Faith is a powerful thing, but when the spirit is faltering, faith is not enough. Which I think is why Jesus often went directly to those people who were suffering though hardships. To teach to them that this life is not all that exists. That there is another life awaiting them. That through their suffering and faithfulness they would be rewarded by our Father in Heaven.
Many of the critics of Christianity and critics of Jesus say that this is hogwash. Why, they will ask, should we have to wait until we die to receive the heavenly rewards? They will also ask, why, if God is so great and so just, must anyone endure any suffering or any pain in order to serve God?
There are no easy answers to these questions. Then again, life is not easy. Christianity is not an easy religion. I have talked before about how sometimes it is hard to be a Christian and that would certainly apply to these set of questions. But I know from personal experience that God is indeed a loving and magnificent God. I know that God does not let the righteous suffer for no reason. But above all, I know that God loves me, and there are times, for me, when that is enough.
But those answers are not enough for some people. So, we take it in a different direction. We have to look at it this way. If you examine all of the things that you have accomplished or received in your life, what things do you value the most? What things do you take the most pride in? I am willing to bet that nine times out of ten, you are the most proud of the things that you worked hardest for. Or even moreso, you are proud of those things that you never thought you would get, but through what some may call a twist of fate or dumb luck, which we know in reality is the touch of God, you got them.
For example. One of the things that I am most proud of besides being in the ministry is being an Alpha. Not for all of the fun I had, not for all of the benefits, not for the fact that I can do a secret handshake with over 100,000 men across the world. But no, for 7 and a half weeks, I endured something that I can only call hell. I endured something that tested my mind, body and spirit. When I was a pledge, I learned, in perhaps a backwards way, what I could endure if I put my mind to it. But most of all, I learned that with prayer, I can conquer anything, because it was during my pledge process that I began to develop a regular prayer life. Because it was during that time that when I doubted myself that I began to feel the presence of God working within me.
I use this example because it speaks to the fact that God creates different experiences and different environments for us to learn and prosper and grow. If God gave us everything on a silver platter, not only would we never learn anything, but we would have no real reason to praise God, because things would come too easy to us.
See, that is why I believe that the oppressed in our society are among the chosen people. The oppressed are suffering. Oppressed people traditionally drown in their own despair and suffering. Now oppressed people are not just the poor, or the homeless or the disenfranchised. Oppressed people can be doctors and lawyers and accounts and even ministers. Whether we choose to admit it or not in 1996, all of us can be oppressed.
Rev. Wilson said this morning that we often do not like to deal with the issue of oppression and liberation in church, and I agree with him 100%. Those 2 issues do not make us feel good, it causes us to think about things we would prefer to leave outside of the church doors.
Historically speaking, the black church was the vanguard of the community. It was the place where people came to find out what was really going on in the black community, since the newspapers didn't always report everything. But now we have come to a point in our community where we are comfortable. Where the need to address such issues are not as pressing. Where we should sit back and worship and praise God, without dealing with the day to day problems around us. Well, we're not going to do that this morning.
When Isaiah wrote the words in defense of the oppressed and when Jesus stood in the synagogue and read the words and telling people that he was the fulfillment of scripture, what they were saying is that God is with us to help those people who may not always be able to help themselves.
Which is where another point of contention with Christianity comes in. Many people say that we are worshipping and I quote "the white man's God." The Nation of Islam loves saying that, and many other of what I would called black supremacists religions say the same thing. They also say that Jesus is a white man and was not involved in the struggles of the black man or has any idea of the plight of the black peoples in this world.
But when I point out these and other scriptures, I explain to people that God is the God of the oppressed and who has been oppressed more than black people. Blacks who were growing up in this country from the time of the early 1600's to the mid to late 1960's know first hand what downright oppression and racism is all about. Me, being for the most part a child of the 80's, I have no real clue as to what it was like to grow up during that period of over 300 years. Sure I can read books about it or I can talk to others who lived through it, but I have never experienced it.
But I have experienced God. I have experienced his love and his mercy and his saving grace. Because for all rights, I should not be here today. I should not be standing here talking to you right now. But it is only because I believe that I have been saved by grace and accepted the Son of God as my personal savior that I stand here boldly and attempt to deliver the word of God.
But does being a part of an oppressed group of people automatically mean that you will be rewarded when the day of judgment comes? Does it mean that you can rely on the fact that because life dealt you a stacked deck of cards, and because of that, you were unable to do more than what you were given? The answer to that is no.
Even though we as a people have been and in many ways continue to be oppressed, that is no excuse. I get tired of hearing people say that they had no choice in the decisions that they made. I get tired of hearing people talk about the limited options available to them. It makes me upset when people blame everything and everyone for their mistakes instead of looking in the mirror and admitting that often the reason that we got nowhere is because of our own faulty judgment. Because God makes opportunities for everyone, it is just a matter of whether or not you choose to follow God or follow yourself.
Because we are not the first people to suffer. We are not the first people who undergo hardships of an unbearable and an unjustifiable nature. If we look at the Moses and the Exodus from Egypt, we see what happens when a people who have been oppressed but their total faith in God. God delivered, or liberated, the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians. God was on their side. But there was a downside to the Exodus. They had to wander in the wilderness. A journey that would normally take 3 to 4 days took forty years. And it was because everyone in the was not ready to reach the promised land. Some of them had to die, some of them had to change their way of thinking before they could get to the land that God set aside for them. It was only when God saw that they were good and ready that he allowed them to walk into that land.
So we, like the Israelites, are a people who have God on our side. We are a people who, according to the Word that we have been given, can avail ourselves of the mercy that God has to offer. All we have to do is ask. And for those of us who are better off, all we have to do is put a little effort into helping those who are not as fortunate as us. But we are still wandering. We are still trying to put that total community faith in God so that we may be delivered.
As some of you know a couple of weeks ago, I was the victim of one of those crimes we read about but never think can or will happen to us. It was a crime that could have resulted in my being harmed, or worse, my life being taken. And when the word got out, either through me mentioning it to people or other people telling others, I was flooded by a variety of comments and words of support and uplift. But only two people, out of the two dozen or so people that I talked to said, "What are we going to do about this situation?" or "How can things like this be prevented?" Sometimes we would rather talk about a problem instead of acting to do something about the problem.
When bad things happen to people that we know, we immediately think of the effect on ourselves. How it disrupts out own personal level of comfort. Me, I got my car back. I've survived before and I will survive again. But what about the next person? Will they survive? Will they be as lucky as me? What can I do to try to make an impact so someone else will not be a victim the way that I was?
One of the things that has come out of my experience is that I and some of my friends have now decided to do something that Brother Cleveland was urging me to do a few weeks prior to his passing. We are getting involved. We decided that it was time to take our respective messages to the streets in hopes that someone will listen. I know that my message does not always get through here in church, and that is fine. I know that people do not always understand what I am saying. I go off on tangents, I have heard some people say. Then again, I could preach the best sermon in the world and have the most inspiring message ever, and some people will still tune me out just because of who I am. But you know what? That's okay.
Because I take those words that Jesus read in the synagogue that were written by Isaiah to heart. I have been anointed by God to preach the good news. And the news is that God is a God of mercy and of love and of justice and of peace.
I know that there are people out there who are not receiving the word of God and all of our posturing and lip service is not going to deliver the word to them. We are loosing children at an astonishing rate, and most of us sit by and watch. We comment and complain and cry out in disgust when something happens to one of our own, but as long as it doesn't affect us personally, it's okay.
A perfect example of this is the Million Man March. Now while I was a supporter of the March and it's goals, one of my questions that was never answered was what was going to happen after the March. How many programs have been or are being implemented? How many people are holding to the pledge that they gave in October in Washington? What is being done?
I've seen a couple of groups go out and actually do something, but of most of the people I know, all I've seen is lip service. A lot of lip service. All I have seen and continue to see is the same stuff that I heard before the March. This is too often a trend in our community. We get really excited about an ideal or a concept, then after someone carries it out, we stick with it for a while and then drop it. Sometimes we even decide to wait to see if it will be successful, and then we will throw our support behind it. Then there are other times we do not support the project not because it is not a good idea, but because of who is involved. Or even worse, we wait until the white folks decide to do something, and then we get upset because white folks are doing what we should have been doing all along.
We are at Instutional are fortunate. We have a nice church, and active ministry, and active pastor. Our church is paid for, we are not worrying about the lights being turned off or the water being shut off. We do some things for the community, like the homeless program. But are we doing enough. How many programs have come and gone in this church because someone was waiting for someone else to start something? How many times have good ideas come and gone because the person who the idea was mentioned to didn't feel like being bothered? And how many times have we verbally given our support to something and not to follow through on it, deciding to wait until next time?
It is time to stop waiting. The salvation of our own souls is directly connected to the salvation of others. It is time to start acting in the true nature of God. It is time to take a stand, take a risk and fight for ourselves, our families and our community. We don't have time to wait for someone else to do the work for us. We have to do it ourselves. The time for inaction has passed. God does not want us to wait for Him, but instead we must work for him. We must work to improve the kingdom of God here on earth.
Serving others is one of the ways we get close to God. When we ask the question, why are these things happening in our community, one of the answers is that we have failed in our God-appointed duties to help those who are not of us and with us. We don't like that to be said, but it is true. For every child that participates in a murder, in a drug deal, in a armed robbery, that points to a collective failure on all of our parts. The stuff that is happening did not start overnight. And it's not going to stop because of wishful thinking. It is only going to stop once we make a committed stand with God to go out and preach the good news, get active and get involved.
So if we are afraid to go into the ghetto, how are we going to save the ghetto? If we shun the kids who come into our church who look different than how we think children should look, how are we going to get to those children? If we are afraid to take that one step towards that person who needs our help, how are they going to receive the word of God? How many times have we complained about our children when we are the same people who want our children to be seen and not heard? How can we help them if we are not willing to work with them, without judging them and assuming that they all are beyond reach.
God is waiting for us to take a stand. God is waiting for us to take action. God is waiting for us to stop complaining about our problems and start doing something about them. God is also waiting for us to take some initiative. When God sent Jesus down to be slain, He didn't do it just to be doing it. There was a cause and a reason behind it. He did it because God is on our side.
So even though we are a people who have been oppressed, we can liberate ourselves from that mode of oppressive thinking by embracing God and accepting Jesus as our Savior. We are liberated by the fact that Jesus willingly let himself be put upon the cross and shed his blood as remission of our sins. And the remembrance of that event should be the inspiration to longer only give lip service. We all know that actions speak louder than words. If you believe in the salvation of the community, then get involved. If you believe in the salvation of our children, then get involved. If there is something that you don't believe in, speak out against it. If there is something that you want done, do it yourself. If you want to save a child, don't wait for the pastor or the minister to do it, start with your own God given ability to minister. If action is the key to the kingdom of heaven, pray to God for the key and open the door.
Let our actions speak so loudly that the earth will tremble and the heaven will ring with the knowledge that God is not only on our side, but God is right here with us. The time for waiting must end. We should not wait for another one of our children to die needlessly or for one of our elders to be the victim of a senseless murder. We should all stand up for ourselves and our community. We should stand up for not only our children and our elders, but our children's children, and their children. We should be standing up for an end to ignorance, to hunger, to and end to oppression, to a beginning of liberation, to lack of faith, to better housing, to all of the things that the black church used to stand up for. Because here is where it starts. Here in the church. Here with God. Here with Jesus. So we should be standing up for what is right and what is wrong. Stand up and get involved. We should be standing behind those people who are actually doing something. If you want your life to get better, stand up for God, stand up for Jesus. If you want to be saved, stand up and ask Jesus to save you. You can't go to heaven sitting down. You have to stand up for what God has recorded in His Holy Word. You have to stand up, for something. You have to stand up for something.
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