Saturday, January 31, 2015

Soul Food Sunday, the Super Bowl, and the Kingdom of God

Sadly, we have to cancel services tomorrow because of the inclement weather.  I hope everyone will come to Soul Food Sunday next week Feb. 8th, 2015.  It is as close to the heavenly feast as we will ever get here on earth.  Nonetheless, here's my sermon for tomorrow, and in case you are wondering, I edited this sermon with Rev. John Adams at Krug Park on Friday.  I got to try the Espresso Oak Aged Yeti, and the Zymaster No. 5.  Both are delicious but they are completely different.  I could smell the coffee aroma of the Yeti while the glass was still sitting on the bar.  It's taste is dark and rich like a a great french roast coffee.  The Zymaster is bright and herbal, but not bitter.

The readings for the sermon are 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, and Mark 1:21-28.

“Food will not bring us close to God.”
May only God’s word be spoken, and may only God’s word be heard. Amen!
So when St. Paul writes, “Food will not bring us close to God,” it’s obvious he’s never been to Soul Food Sunday here at Church of the Resurrection.  I mean truly if it is even possible for a meal to rival the Eucharist as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, it’s Soul Food Sunday.  Truly in both the spiritual sense and in the hardening of arteries sense, we are brought in closer communion with God through Soul Food Sunday.  Truthfully, I can’t tell you how glad I am that this reading is not happening next week on Soul Food Sunday. 
However, it is quite interesting that we have this reading, where Paul writes about idolatry is falling on Super Bowl Sunday. 
Now, y’all do not get me wrong, I love football.  I never played organized football, but even in my “band geek” days I watched the game closely, and remain quite enthralled by the sport.  But, let’s be honest.  We are in God’s house, and it just will not do for us to lie to ourselves.  Football is an idol in America.  It is even beginning to compete with soccer as a worldwide phenomenon.  In addition to idolatry the super bowl brings a host of other sins along with it.  Did you know that wherever the super bowl is held that city becomes a hot spot for sex trafficking the week of the game?  Not to mention that worldwide some estimate that over 10 billion dollars will be gambled on this one game.   Last, but the one I actually practice every year during the game is gluttony.  How much fat and cholesterol-ridden food and alcoholic beverages will be consumed tonight in celebration of the game.  But that is not the gluttony that I am bothered about.  The real gluttony is the NFL’s gluttony for profits, which we have seen exposed a lot this year.  Despite the commissioner’s critics calling for firing, despite his active mishandling of domestic violence situations while being quick to fine players for wearing the wrong color shoes or wearing the wrong brand of head phones, despite all this the commissioner remains safe in his job because the owners are pleased by the billions of dollars of profit he has brought in.   The abuses that go along with a glutton for profits, so prevalent in American Corporate culture, is no more evident than in the NFL. 
So, what makes Soul Food Sunday so great and the Super Bowl the height of idolatry?  Could it be argued that I am contradicting myself by praising one and critiquing the other? 
Well, it will come to without a shock that Paul and Jesus give us answers today.  It’s almost like I was setting us up via rhetorical devices to make a point.  Anyway, Paul writes, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”  Here he is talking about the knowledge of God, but cautions that being “puffed up” by ones own knowledge is dangerous. He’s counseling against arrogance.  Paul contrasts arrogance with love writing that “Love builds up.”  Soul Food Sunday builds up.  It builds up community because so much love is put into the food that people are literally consuming love.  It builds up because I can thing of several people who are currently members whose first impression of Church of the Resurrection was Soul Food Sunday.  It builds up because it is really easy to invite someone to Soul Food Sunday who has never been here before.  It builds up this community because it is an evangelism tool that enables us to share our best selves our love for God and each other.
Jesus exorcises the demon in our gospel reading today, but what wraps around this miracle in the text is even more important. This story sets up an ongoing and increasing conflict in the Gospel of Mark between Jesus and the ruling classes, in this case the so called “scribes”.  Jesus’ critique is ultimately about economics.  Being ritually pure enabled one to participate in the society in the Jesus’ day.  If you couldn’t participate, you couldn’t make a living.  The scribes were one of a handful of classes involved in the temple system that controlled access to purification rituals.  They were ones who could say who was clean and who wasn’t.  Overtime this power had gravitated not to the most devout but to the economically powerful.  Sound familiar?  Similarly the excesses of the super bowl are endemic of an unequal power structure.  For example and in addition to the things I have already mentioned, the NFL will fly members of both political parties to the super bowl and I promise you they won’t be sitting in the nosebleeds. 
On the other hand, everyone who shows up to Soul Food Sunday gets fed.  It doesn’t matter if you have been a long time member, or a first time visitor, the mayor or a junkie walking in off the street, everyone is welcome to Soul Food Sunday table.  Not only welcome, but please take a plate home with you too.  That expression of abundance, this holy sacrifice of time, talent, and treasurer to lay on a spread, the gift of those who labor to set the table and clean up afterward, these holy endeavors are emblematic of the kingdom of god. 

Now, let me be absolutely clear.  I am not saying you can’t enjoy the Super Bowl.  However, we do need to be aware of all that comes with the game and the NFL.  Furthermore, we should be just as excited for Soul Food Sunday in particular, and for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in general as we are for the Super Bowl.  So, I will tell the world, and I hope you will too, to come practice the Kingdom of God at Soul Food Sunday.  Amen!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Stout Disguise

This past Friday I was joined at my watering hole by my colleagues The Very Rev. Craig Loya, and Rev. John Adams.  This brilliant brothers of faith of mine join me in the passion to perform the art of preaching at the highest levels.  They have been joining me for a few months on Fridays with their sermons in tow.  We pass our texts around and offer critique, advice, and encouragement for our rhetorical offerings.  Oh, and we drink beer together too.  Speaking of which:

This is the Master of Disguise by Stone Brewing, so named because it is a Imperial Golden Stout.  Stone brewing wanted to try the inverse of a Black IPA, a former novelty turned common part of the canon of beers.  There are coffee and cocoa flavor and it dense like a stout.  However, my favorite part are the pepper notes that give it a bight without being bitter.

While the disguise works for beer, the opposite is true for preaching.  You never want to disguise ideas or yourself while preaching.  In fact, I would say the number one key to preaching--the very top of the list--is authenticity.  It is imperative to be yourself in the pulpit.  The same person that interacts with the congregation at coffee hour and the hospital bed has climb into the pulpit and proclaim the good news.

My dad, one of the best preachers I have ever had the honor to hear, once told me "Don't you dare preach something you don't believe.  The moment you preach something you don't believe, is the very moment you will lose all credibility with the congregation and they will not listen to a thing you say in or out of the pulpit after that."  Consequently, it is better to say, "I don't know" then to try and pawn off an inauthentic answer.

So, go try the Master of Disguise, you'll be glad you did.  However, in the pulpit, leave the disguise at home.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Burning Rosids Redux and MLK

So for the National Championship game, where the Buckeyes of the Ohio State University completely halted the excessively fast offense of the Oregon Ducks, I had Matt's Burning Rosids Smoked Cherrywood Saison from Stone Brewing.   I have had it before and written about it here.  It's just a delicious beer.  Complex flavors held in perfect balance give this beer a satisfying start, middle, and finish.  I highly recommend it. 

Anyway, that was the National Championship game, which was so joyful, but I had to recover quickly and get back to the grind.  The Church of the Resurrection, where I serve, emerged from the joining of two congregations, one black and one white.  So my sermon for the weekend of MLK day has to be well prepared.  This year, I preached on Psalm 139 and reflected on a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.   The text is below.  

“Lord, you have searched me out and known
Whatever you have wrought:
My rising up and sitting down,
You know my every thought.”

May only God’s word be spoken, and may only God word be heard. Amen!

In the early 20th century Germany there was a lutheran pastor and theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was categorically opposed to the Nazi Regime.  He became part of the German resistance movement against Hitler, and was jailed and eventually executed.  During his imprisonment he treated his jailors and guards, his captors and eventual executioners with such respect and kindness that they were astounded.  However, his demeanor apparently only told part of the story.  He wrote a poem near the end of his life that gives us a fuller picture of what was going on with him psychologically.  It is entitled “Who Am I?”

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!  This morning we sang part of Psalm 139 that speaks of God’s intimate knowledge of us.   Tomorrow is the national holiday celebrating Dr. King because his birthday was January 15th.  The feast day for Dr. Martin Luther King is April 4th. The Church sets feast days for saints, especially martyrs killed for their faith, to the date of death.  Nonetheless, with the federal holiday occurring, I found myself pondering this psalm, the notion of identity and this poem by Bonhoeffer.   

We can’t think of Dr. King without thinking of the struggle against racism.  His legacy begs us to understand the sin of racism deeply and with a thuroughness due his sacrifice.  There are many facets to the sin of racism, and the facets shift and change depending on the particular expression of the sin.  Therefore, the Jim Crow laws of the deep south in 20th century were a particular expression of racism, a physical manifestation of the spiritual sin.  One of the facets or aspects of that sin was a distortion of identity.  The law mandated that blacks were second class citizens.  From the water fountains to the voting booths, black folks by law were considered less.  This caused, among other things, a distortion of identity.  
Now we know that black folks are not worth less than white folks.  It may seem like I am stating the obvious when I say that, but in 1954 it would not have been obvious.  It would not have been obvious to white folks and it would not have been obvious to black folks either.  Hence why we read about the awakening of black consciousness during the civil rights movement.  That’s why we see pictures from the civil rights movement of black men holding signs that read “I am a man!”  Black folks were claiming their identity as children of God, standing up their lives matter just as much as any other.  But before the movement, the manifestation of the sin of racism known as Jim Crow had distorted the identity of black folks into thinking they were less.  It had also distorted the identity of white folks into thinking they were more.  

I think Bonhoeffer wrote that poem to make it clear that even though he choose to treat his jailers affably, they were still imprisoning a human, a child of God.  It was was one of God’s children that they would walk naked out into the cold and to be hung by his neck.  Just as Bonhoeffer took strength from knowing his identity did not iminate from the fallen powers of this world, rather it was caught up in God...just as he took strength from that, he also claimed and proclaimed his true identity.  

We can face crises of identity in our life, both as individuals and as the community of the Church of the Resurrection.  We may be told we are less, not smart enough, not good looking enough, not straight enough, not well mannered enough, not rich enough.  The powers that be might tell our community we cannot  grow because we are located in the wrong part of town with an aging building and no parking.  Bolox!  My brothers and sisters, our true identity is caught up within God and is expressed and revealed to us in  the loving power of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  

Now, we may get lost and wonder who we are.  We may be tempted by the powers that be to buy the degrading message they are selling.  But my brothers and sisters, when we are lost, when we are in doubt, we must receive communion.  See, it is in receiving the Body and Blood is Jesus that we remember we are the body and blood, the hands and feet, the heart beat and the mind of Christ in the world.  It is in receiving this most sacred meal that we are reminded of our true identity.  It is in humbly being fed, that we are uplifted to feed.

My brothers and sisters, come to this table today and freely receive this meal.  Come to the table today and be given strength as well as solace.  Come to the altar this morning, my brothers and sisters, and be fed with the spiritual food of the body and blood of Jesus Christ; so that, you may then go out remembering your true identity. Come to this table and receive the body of Christ; so that, you may then go and in word and deed proclaim to all their true identity as children of God.  Go that you may share the soul force as Dr King called it, the loving power of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Amen!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Epiphany and Heresy

Today is January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany, the official end of Christmas.  The church season of Epiphany is one of deepening understanding, of achieving greater insights, and especially coming to know--deep in our bones--who Jesus the Christ was.  We seek to know Jesus, not as a mere name or figure from history, but to know His true nature both human and divine. Through this exploration we come to realize a bit more of the divine aspect of humanity and human aspect of divinity.  

One of the stories commonly read during Epiphany is that of the Wise Ones who visited Jesus and brought him gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.  Now, we actually don't know how many visitors there were.  Tradition says three because of the assumption of one gift per visitor, and we assume they were men simply because of the patriarchal nature of society back then.  In truth we do not know how many there were, nor their respective Gender.  But we do know they went to great lengths to learn about Jesus.  They march right into King Herod's' court, arguably and reasonably one the more paranoid rulers in history, and ask where the new king was born.  Rulers really don't like their authority being questioned, but the Wise ones were willing to risk their heads, literally, in order to learn.  Furthermore, let us not forget that they traveled a great distance to get to Bethlehem.  Travel was much harder, and much more dangerous back then.  The lengths these visitor went to are extreme.  

That passion, that drive, that willingness to journey, risk, and persevere, that grit, is something to which we should aspire.  We should be willing to seek Jesus no matter what.  Jobs, family, entertainment, sports, government, even church should not stand in our way of seeking to learn of Jesus and to seek to be in Jesus' presence.

So those are my thoughts on Epiphany, now Heresy.  In this case Weyerbacher's Heresy Bourbon Stout .   My Sermon Workshop Friend, Rev. John Adams, brought some over to the house as a Christmas present for the viewing of the Sugar Bowl, where The Ohio State Buckeyes soundly defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide; for which I was much pleased.  Anyway, I have had the Heresy before, but I forgot how delicious it is.  It is one of the smoothest bourbon stouts I have ever had.  The flavors are ridiculously well balanced.  Coffee, cocoa, oak, bourbon are harmonized into a symphony of rich delight.  It's 8% ABV, makes it decently strong but not so over powering that it tastes like rubbing alcohol.  It tastes like beer not booze, if you will. 

So, in the cold dark of Epiphany, I highly recommend holing up in a comfy chair with a bottle of Heresy in one hand, and one of the Gospels of Jesus Christ in the other.