There are populations of people in our country and around the world that are screaming for order. Who could imagine that the shouts erupting from the streets of Florida are similar to the shouts of Afghan people who have lost loved ones? The cries that are rising from the deepest parts of the soul are the same cries that have been erupting for millennium. Humanity, irrespective of nationality, gender, sexual orientation or religion have with all of us, this innate action to cry out for wrongs to be made right. For life that is now out of balance to be placed back into some semblance of normalcy.
We shouldn’t be surprised at the varying levels at which men and women have gone about seeking to be heard and the response to those calls for action. The streets have been flooded with protest, children have walked out of schools, mothers have wailed because the fruits of their womb have been crushed and others have sought opportunity to push their own agenda. I say that we should not be surprised because what we see is humanity acting and reacting in accordance to its first nature. Humanity is acting in accord to its first nature by rushing to judgment, demanding action outside of the law and placing a minimal dollar amount on the life of child. Humanity is reacting in accord to its first nature by increased rhetoric, ignoring the call for personal responsibility and providing a platform for persons who only profit from increased chaos.
What we fail to realize is that the seminal issue is the heart of man. And the heart of man fails foremost to acknowledge that humanity does not govern itself. We conduct our lives as if laws are subjective and we are free to do whatever we want to do. As we can see from Florida to Afghanistan, the universe was not designed to have creation govern itself. We want order only when we are threatened. The reality though is the order that we desire and cry for, does not originate from within us but outside of us.
The order that so many are crying for will not be achieved by bounties, screams, court martial or the zealous threats of an outdated feline organization. The order that is longed for as a people and that will have people live in peace is the order or rule of Christ.
Jesus Christ resurrection signaled the reordering of things on Earth. The empty tomb is the answer to the cries and shouts of people from Florida to Afghanistan. We just need the courage to look in and be amazed at the reality of death being overcome. And if death, that one human experience which reminds all of us we do not govern ourselves is prevailed upon, then we have confidence that lesser events can be prevailed upon as well. This is why he is not only Lord of Heaven but Earth as well. Christ moves upon the chaos of our lives and declares, “Behold, I make all things new.”
By what means then does Christ make all things new? He uses men and women who are his disciples to lovingly and powerfully address this world and reorder this world to reflect the kingdom of God. What can we compare the kingdom of God too? The kingdom of God can be compared to a great room that holds a great table of food, drink and deserts provided by wealthy business owner. At this table the Soldier and the Afghan are invited to dine together; the Black Panther and the Klansmen break bread in laughter. And those who refuse to come in stand and gawk through the windows because they refuse to believe these can sit together at peace and there is one who would give out of his own wallet to see this occur.
Order, true order that is desired will be arrived at when we Christians love one another and those outside the house of our faith. It is only by love, that people will know those who are at peace and those who persist to remain in a state of anger and chaos. This will involve a very deliberate act of dying to the passions of vengeance, vitriolic language and getting by on the cheap. Love requires that we honor one another as if we were honoring our own selves. Love requires that we give up what is dear to us in order that something greater maybe achieved. In this deliberate act of love which will confound the surrounding culture, persons from Florida to Afghanistan will know that we follow Christ. They will see us bring renewal of relationships at all levels in a manner equal to the nature of Christ himself.
The order and renewal that is desired will occur not in acts of power and anger but in love that reflects the kingdom of God.
The Womb, The Streets and The Church
The violent death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman has gained the attention of media outlets and concerned citizens. Trayvon who was 17, sadly lost his life at the hands of George Zimmerman in Florida on the night of February 26, 2012. Trayvon was unarmed and Zimmerman was not.
This story of a young African American man losing his life to an act of violence is not strange news to our country. The outrage that is rightly felt by his parents and relatives is not some type of new emotion as thousands of mothers have screamed over the loss of their child. That is right. In our inner cities, thousands of Rachels have mourned the loss of their sons due to violent crimes. We should not only be outraged at the death of Trayvon, we should be outraged at the fact that “94% of black homicides both victim and assailant are black.” [i]
We must sit in that for a few moments. While Trayvon’s death was tragic because he was unarmed and he was a minor, we should be outraged that his death is a blip on a larger and more devastating problem of black men killing each other. There will be another black man killed this week, this month and this year. He will have the beauty of his God given life, power and creativity extinguished by the hands of one whose complexion and inner design is strikingly similar to his.
Will there be outrage though? When the next young African American man is killed by an act of senseless violence, will Jane Velez Mitchell dedicate a week of her show to that man? Will that young man’s story be told across the printed press of USA Today, LA Times or the Democrat Gazette? Will the Justice Department dedicate man hours towards investigation? Will we upon hearing the news, pick up our phones, tweeting and Facebooking our outrage?
Or will we shrug our shoulders?
The homicide of Trayvon and thousands like him is similar to another violent act that occurs not on our city streets, but in the wombs of African American women. African Americans are close to 30% of the abortions that occur in our nation while we are 13% of the population. Abortion which has been framed as woman’s issue and most recently a contraceptive issue, is in all reality an issue of how we view the dignity of a human.
There is very little outrage concerning the violence that is committed to African American children in the womb. The discussion has moved from one of life to one of convenience in regards to persons who have successfully convinced our nation that utilitarianism is greater than human dignity. We have moved to this position today because we have determined as a people implicitly and explicitly, that life is not the gift of God but a disposable product that can be discarded because it impedes our plans or threatens our comfort.
This is why Trayvon and thousands like him have experienced violence on the streets.
This is why millions of nameless children have experienced violence in the womb.
Their blood cries out from the streets and blood soaked front lawns of our communities. Their voices groan from incinerators, bio-hazardous bags and dumpsters.
So where will the outrage come from? It must come from the one institution that has the foundational understanding of the preciousness of life and its eternal character. The local church that is present in the African American community must move to radically teach and live out a Good News that is addressing the sins of the community. The local church must embrace the cries of these victims of violence and suffer with them because we are Christ in this world.
The Exodus narrative understood by our grandparents must now be understood in a new way. New pharaohs exist in our own community with names such as Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, 50 Cent and B.E.T. who seek to keep their own people under the burden of violence, misogyny and materialism. Their examples have led to the continual enslavement of a people and the fattening of their own coffers. A new task master exists in our community today as Planned Parenthood under the guise of reproductive rights facilitates millions of boys and girls being thrown into the river Nile and their facilitation continues to be profitable.
It is this context into which the local church must speak. The local church that resides in the African American Community must have the courage to be the prophet sent by God to declare freedom in Christ to men captive to senseless violence and the warning of judgment on those who refuse to submit to God's kingdom. The local church is to be the visible and tangible Word that has become flesh, who is willing to accomplish great works provoking people to say, "God is with us!"
In the shadow of God’s kingdom and the presence of his Church, violence is not an option in the womb or on the streets. We will serve Trayvon and the unborn best when we as a people determine their deaths are not the next cool issue to grab on to for a fleeting moment. We will honor their humanity and the God in whose likeness they were created when we embrace their pain and we challenge the pharoahs and taskmasters of today with power of a resurrected life.
[i] Anthony Bradley, editor, Keep Your Head Up: America’s New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, & The Cosby Conservation, Crossway: Illinois, 2012.
There are numerous communities that exist in our world. Communities are brought together because of a common language, behavior patterns, message and goals. Communities exist because there is an idea or vision that has united them to such a degree, that to be outside that community is unnatural. Humanity has been created to exist not alone as a wandering nomad moving from one existence to the next. But humanity has been created to exist in relationship with others. Men and women have been designed to unite around a commonality for the benefit of all involved in that community.
Religious communities further demonstrate, persons from a variety of contexts can exist in some type of symbiotic relationship in which worship patterns, family maturation, the passing on of knowledge, and the highest honor is bestowed upon its founder. The religious community understands that they exist in a universe in which this life moves in the presence of a great and powerful shadow. It is with that understanding of living in the presence of one that is greater and the use of that knowledge to shape the community and the larger context we gather tonight.
The concept of community is not foreign to our faith. The God of Heaven and Earth existed in perfect community prior to the creation of all things. We understand from Scripture that Father, Son and Holy Spirit abided together in eternity. Out of this perfection, God determined create this tabernacle we call the heavens and earth, created mankind and with man, God was in communion. Communion with God was sadly broken as Adam our earthly father sinned against God and God justly banished Adam and his bride from His presence.
This would not be the last word though. As we see God actively setting the stage to reestablish what Adam decisively threw away. And so, God calls Abram, singling him out to be a blessing to the nations. God comes down and chooses Moses to rescue the descendants of Abram out of slavery to be his “treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” God peals back the veil and commands Moses to create a tabernacle based on the pattern he had seen. With this tabernacle, God arranges the Hebrews around all four sides and in this community of rescued Hebrews, God dwells in the midst of them. Later on we see, King Solomon build a temple and in that temple, God’s shekinah glory fills the place and once again at Jerusalem, God is in community with His people. Yet because of sin and rebellion, the temple is destroyed, the people are enslaved. God is gracious, the people return to Jerusalem, a temple is built...yet there is this anticipation of God visiting His people once more to fulfill the promise of Ezekiel of new hearts and His Spirit dwelling with the people. The Old Testament pattern shows us that God is intent on dwelling with His rescued community.
The church or the ekklesia (called out assembly), is that unique rescued community and stands above all other religious communities. We rise above all other religious communities because our community is founded on who the Apostle Peter calls “a cornerstone chosen and precious.” The Apostle connects our community, this “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” as one whose complete existence is dependent on the risen Christ. Peter applies the Old Testament declaration that was given to the rescued Hebrews out of Egypt to the rescued Church whose people are both Jew and Gentile. Therefore, we understand that the community of faith with her worship patterns, discipleship and declarations of God’s Excellencies, has as her center; the resurrected Jesus Christ. He is Emmanuel; God with us. And the Word became flesh and dwelt (tabernacled) or “lived” among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
God Himself is the center of the Christian community.