I think we should require everyone who wants to hold public office to read the Letter of James, especially the third chapter: "How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire…a world of iniquity…a restless evil, full of deadly poison." And then we should issue every voter a fire extinguisher.
So this morning, we ask, “What would Jesus say about this country’s original sin of racism?” This isn’t just an academic question. It hits much closer to home than that. What would he say in response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville? What would he say about the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson or Trayvon Martin in Florida or Oscar Grant in Oakland or earlier this year Stephon Clark in Sacramento? What would he say about the despicable bullying of an African American student that took place in a dorm room in San Jose?
That’s wise because there is something you cannot give him, no matter how much you love him, no matter how hard you work, how carefully you plan, and how diligently you save. You can save your energy, because it is something that has already been given to him. With absolutely no effort on your part, the divine life has been implanted in him. Baptism is our way of recognizing that God has already given Lincoln everything he needs to be all that God created him to be. Your job is just to help him discover this truth and to help him hold onto it for dear life.
I’ve always wished that I could have a long, unhurried conversation with each of our high school graduates before they go off to college or work or whatever. But they are so busy these days. I hardly get the chance to ask them what they are thinking of majoring in when what I really want to do is ask them what they are going to be believing in. Since they probably don’t want to have that conversation with me, I’ve decided to write them a letter, even if they never take the time to read it. Perhaps their parents will and possibly it will make them feel better about letting go. I know it will make me feel better. So, here it is:
What is left? After all, Jesus left, and the work of the kingdom was not finished yet. He still needs a body here on earth, so he drafted us. (Imagine that!) The Church is the Body of Christ and Christ is our last best hope for peace in the world today, which is why I want to cry when I think about what we have done to his body! Every time we exclude this group or that group, it is like cutting off a limb or ripping out a vital organ. We are all members of the body, so the foot can’t say to the hand, “I’m better than you.” The ear can’t say to the nose, “I have no need of you.” The lungs can’t say to the pancreas, “You are ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’ We don’t want you.” A fully functioning Body of Christ needs all of our bodies and all of our stories. To be a recognizable image of the all-loving God, we need all of our lives and all of our loves. I’m still waiting for the Church to be the Body of Christ.
When you eat this bread and drink this cup, remember that God created the whole universe through Christ, through the Word, as it says in John 1: “...All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” And that means that everything that is, every minute bit of matter, every living thing, every cell in every body already bears the imprint of Christ. Before we are ever baptized or come to this table, we have Christ in us. All of us. The only problem is that we don’t know that. In too many bodies and souls, Christ is there, but he is languishing there, starving for our attention. Over these past five weeks, Jesus got my attention. I asked for the renewal time because I realized that the Christ in me was hungry and needed to be fed. What about the Christ in you?
But that’s not the conclusion I came to. Leaving the movie, I realized that Mr. Roger’s neighborhood is still around. You can find it in lots of cities and towns and even out in the country. You can find it at Willow Glen United Methodist Church. I heaved a great sigh of relief when I realized that church is one of the last places where it’s still OK to be a nerd, where you don’t have to be hip, where you can wear your old sweaters and the same sneakers every Sunday. Church is where you don’t have to move fast or be on the cutting edge of anything. Church is where being a little slow and behind the times doesn’t get your show cancelled. And church is where we still think we can make the world a better place by loving children and making them feel loved.
You may remember that in several places in the Bible, God says, “Vengeance is mine” [Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30] not because God likes to get angry at us and punish us, but because God wants to take that hate away from us and turn it into something that can actually help us. That’s what God did last week in Texas. And when you think about it, isn’t that what Jesus did for us on the cross? Didn’t he take our anger and turn it into love? Didn’t he take the vengeance directed at him and turn it into forgiveness? Didn’t he take all that energy that we have put into destroying the world and convert it into a power strong enough to save the world?
So for your spiritual wilderness survival, I suggest that you get yourself a sturdy, water-proof copy of this book and stash it in your backpack, so you can read the psalms on a regular basis. As you read about all the good things God did for Israel, you’ll start thinking about all the good things God has done for you. Then you can say: “With God’s help, I met that challenge. I triumphed over that trial. That crisis didn’t kill me. That trouble taught me a very valuable lesson. I can readily see that God was with me then, and I’m going to trust that God won’t abandon me now. So, I’m not going to focus on all the horrible things that have happened to me, some of which happened because of me. Instead, I’m going to give thanks to my God who has wondrously loved and cared for me.”