What Is Love (take action)

Sermon for Jubilee Baptist Church

August 30, 2020

HL Holder-Brown

Texts: Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Romans 12:9-21:

12:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;

12:10 Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

12:11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.

12:13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

12:16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.

12:18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

12:20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”

12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Matthew 16:21-28:

16:21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

16:22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”

16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

16:25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

16:26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

16:27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.

16:28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Sermon:

(If you want to listen to the sermon you can do that here)8294A5A2-C304-4A87-B02E-02A72A1DB219

What is Love (This one is for Jakob Blake)

So…Peter. God bless Peter but he really does have those moments where he has to stick his foot in his mouth. He says what’s on his mind–without any hesitation even when he should keep his mouth shut.

But, Jesus always seems to know how to put him back in his place. This time, he even calls him Satan. Now, here Satan doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus is calling Peter the devil. Satan in the Greek just means adversary. Peter and Jesus have different goals in mind for Jesus’ life and Jesus wants Peter to shut up and let him do what he’s going to do.

Naturally, Peter goes from proclaiming that Jesus is Lord one minute to getting called Satan.

Peter didn’t want Jesus to die. Of course not! No one wants their dearest friend to die and especially not Jesus–the very one he just called Lord. But Peter also missed the point of what Jesus was doing. Peter is a rock but he’s also the rock that definitely doesn’t think before he speaks. And sometimes, he acts without thinking. (Please see that one time he pulled a sword on a dude and chopped his ear off)

So, what does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus? Because Jesus is in essence saying that his followers should be willing to take up an instrument of death and follow him. Jesus, defier of the Roman government, was about to be murdered by the state in one of the most painful ways possible and he asks his followers to be willing to do the same. 

Jesus: What if we healed the sick, provided homes for the homeless, freed slaves, and helped the poor!

Roman Empire/Religious Leaders: This is a threat to our power; crucify him.

If that doesn’t sound familiar to where we are today. When I say, take up your cross, this is the vision of Jesus I picture. 

When three trans women of color can get attacked in the streets without anyone doing something about it, when a Black man can get shot 7 times in the back by a police officer, THIS is what I mean when I say take up your cross, and follow Jesus. 

The Empire doesn’t like it when you challenge their power or try to reallocate that power so that others have a fighting chance. I do not mean to suggest here what many evangelical pastors would, that you have to be willing to proclaim Jesus and convert everyone to Christianity even if it kills you. 

Death doesn’t have the final say here. Jesus knows there’s hope beyond this in Resurrection and restoration of the world as it currently is. There is hope here.

Dr. James Cone, in his classic work The Cross and the Lynching Tree compares the cross to another symbol of death, “the lynching tree”  in the Jim Crow era when he notes: “In that era, the lynching tree joined the cross as the most emotionally charged symbols in the African American community–symbols that represented both death and the promise of redemption, judgment and the offer of mercy, suffering and the power of hope.”

What I think is going on here is that Jesus is asking people to live life in a radically different way than they have before. The world doesn’t have to be this way! It can change.

Cone continues by added that, “Both the cross and the lynching tree represented the worst in human beings and at the same time ‘an unquenchable ontological thirst’ for the life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning.” (Cone, 3)

Last time you heard from me, I talked a lot about what the kin-dom of God looks like. We concluded that it looks a lot like Love–the kind of love that is liberating and radical, kind, and world-changing.

In chapter 12 of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul is following up on this and even quotes Jesus’ words on how to treat our enemies. Paul expounds on Jesus’ words about enemies by reminding his audience that if your enemy is hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.

If love is to be liberating, it means feeding the hungry even when the ones who are hungry wouldn’t do the same for us. It means that liberation is coming for everyone and especially for those who desperately need it the most. 

Romans 12 is almost a sermon unto itself. “Let love be genuine…hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” Let your love be real. Hate evil. Hold onto what is good in life. Take care of each other. There are lots of action verbs in this passage. “LOVE one another.” “Bless those who persecute you” “Live in harmony with one another.” It’s anything but passive and requires something of us.

***this is a rant***

It literally costs you nothing to say the bare minimum of “right things” that make you sound radical and social justicey. Love looks like changing the world and living in solidarity with folks who have less privilege. 

What have you used your privilege for today that can change the world for those of us with less privilege tomorrow?

Leverage your privilege so that you’re using it for good. If you’re just saying words and not enacting change, then your words are clanging cymbals. I demand more than words. So much more. 

I demand this of you and of myself that we are doing more than posting on social media (although that certainly has its place too)

This makes me reflect back on Hunter’s sermon a couple weeks ago about Jesus and the woman he called a dog. Because when you preach about how people deserve more than crumbs, you can’t just give them crumbs in your own life by not actually doing anything about the world we live in.

It requires not only making a seat at the table for everyone. Sometimes, it requires building a whole new table altogether and imagining a world that is infinitely better. Where you don’t have to add chairs and make people sit together when some at the table have all the power and others have none. As Kaitlin Curtice suggests in her book Native, sometimes what we need is to build the table outside, where there’s so much more room for everyone.

Sometimes, also like Jesus, you have to flip those tables over because religious leaders are exploiting folks who have come to worship. Or protesting police brutality and standing in solidarity with Black people, with trans people, against state sanctioned violence. And sometimes, that shit can get you killed. 

This is getting into what John Lewis called “good trouble” by resisting the way things are and refusing to accept anything less than justice. It looks like putting your body on the line in front of those who would cause harm.

I have to wonder if preaching about this is enough sometimes. If my words and the words of others will motivate you to action (if you aren’t already involved) or not. In the words of Brenè Brown, “I’m not here to be right; I’m here to get it right.”

Whatever you do, taking up your cross requires action. It is anything but being a passive bystander as injustice is perpetuated. Don’t be like the “white moderates” Dr. King referred to in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. 

As Dr. James Cone says, “It is one thing to teach theology (like Niebuhr, Barth, Tillich, and most theologians) in the safe environs of a classroom and quite another to live one’s theology in a situation that entails the risk of one’s life.” (Cone, 70)

Taking up one’s cross to liberate others is messy, hard, and holy work. I believe it is required of those of us who truly say we are in solidarity with the poor, with workers, with Black and Indigenous people of color, with queer people, with the disabled. 

The kin-dom of God looks like love. It looks like taking up your cross and following Jesus to the middle of the fight, and that love looks like solidarity and justice for the oppressed. May we all begin doing or continue doing that holy work together. May we strive for resurrection and the restoration of a world where we all can gather at the table. Amen.

Benediction:

I dwell in Possibility – (466)

BY EMILY DICKINSON

I dwell in Possibility –

A fairer House than Prose –

More numerous of Windows –

Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –

Impregnable of eye –

And for an everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –

For Occupation – This –

The spreading wide my narrow Hands

To gather Paradise –

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