Countering Culture

Countering Culture

Countering Culture

Luke 13: 10-17

I want to begin by thanking God and each one of you who’ve had a part in my serving Western Presbyterian Church these last 8 months. It is a privilege to minister to a congregation that has a heartfelt understanding of the needs of humanity and attends to those needs with acts of justice and compassion. When you look to the right or to the left, you see like-minded family. When I look out, I see a people created in the image of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit and bonded together as the body of Christ. I hope that you feel like you see your family.

This might surprise you – it did me – but polls tell us that in our country, 93% – nearly every single person – will affirm that there is a God. In spite of the data, anecdotal evidence suggests that a good percentage of those wonder from time to time, if not every day, “Does God care?” Our gospel reading this morning tells us quite definitively yes. As Jesus stood before the President of the temple that day and proclaimed solidarity through healing for the bent women, he stands before the most powerful of our day today and proclaims solidarity for the marginalized and oppressed, the aching and the hollow of today and lets us know that we are not alone. We are with a God who cares. One of the most powerful ways we know that this is true is through the work of the church as the arms and legs of Christ in the world today. That is where you come in, for each other, for the community and for the world: to make present the caring of God today. Like I said, it has been a privilege to serve you and learn more about what it means to be a church.

But the church has an uphill climb. We are climbing up against a secular culture that prioritizes playgrounds over housing. We are up against a secular culture that questions with its actions if not its words that all people should have a right to speak out and be heard. We are up against a secular culture that denigrates men and women, boys and girls, for their relationship preferences and resolve over who they will marry. We are up against a secular culture that dictates the definition of opportunity. Too often, the church yields the right of way.

It’s not difficult to think of an example. This past Monday, Facebook posts were flying over the 93rd anniversary of women’s suffrage. It’s hard for me to imagine not being able to vote. I can’t even think about what it would be like for me to not be able to make decisions about my own property, or work life, or health. Lady Gaga did an amazing job instructing those of us who’ve really never had to face any of this through her music video “Bad Romance: Women’s Suffrage.” If you haven’t seen it, really, Google the YouTube and watch it today. Last year, “Bad Romance” won an Emmy from The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for Best Informational / Instructional Program. “Bad Romance” praises Alice Paul and the generations of women who joined together in the fight to pass the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.
 In the fashion of a lagging indicator, it took another 10 years (to 1930) for the Presbyterian Church to affirm women’s right to become elders – and another 26 years to 1956 for women to be afforded the right to become ministers of word and sacrament. Reading an article written in tribute to Letty Russell, a feminist liberation theologian who was one of the members of the National Council of Churches inclusive language bible translation committee, I was reminded that it wasn’t until the mid-70s that there was even a charge for the bible to be translated in a manner, quote: “faithful to the intent of the gospel to be the good news for all people”1 – including women. This committee that Letty was a part of also produced the first inclusive language lectionary. That was completed in 1983. Apparently, “when the first volume was published…so much hate mail was received and some of it of such a vitriolic nature, that the FBI had to be called in to protect members of the translation committee.”2

Women earned the right to vote in elections in 1920 and women were still earning their voice in the pulpit and church literature in 1983.

A majority of the population in the United States doesn’t wonder if there is a God. The majority of the population wonders if God cares. The church has an uphill climb as we continue to answer this question. We have an uphill climb because too often, we have yielded the way. Rather than leading the march for the rights of all people, the church has too often stumbled behind secular culture, subordinating the rights of many segments of the world’s population out of convenient misrepresentations of the good news. Deference to a less than Godly interpretation of scripture has encouraged the church to lag in its decisions to affirm the rights of all people and effectively care for those against whom it is much easier to hold a bias: women, and people of color, people who are too old or too young, people who are queer, people who are financially poor, people who are mentally fragile, people who are physically less able. Deference to a secularly grounded mindset against the less privileged – a culture of injustice that continues to permeate society today – has dragged the church’s heart away from those who need us most – most assuredly many who are sitting here today – and enabled the church to become a week-end place of respite rather than a day to day carrier of the good news of Jesus Christ to the people of God. The church becomes a cautious voice, a hesitant voice, a patient voice, a diplomatic voice, and ultimately a delinquent voice while bias of all sorts are left un-confronted and suffering persists in clear and even less visible ways. It becomes a morally artful dodge that enables the church to put off for tomorrow what the dominant voices of the world would rather not address and correct today.

There are too many people in this world who are crippled by the bonds of church-enabled oppression. Their backs are bent by the weight of the biases against them such that their eyes can only see how close they are to the ground rather than how high they might otherwise soar.

50 years ago, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and addressed what he said would be recorded as “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation,” he was standing tall for the rights of all people to reach great, inalienable heights. Beginning his speech with an acknowledgement of the bias against black people and a recollection of the history of slavery in the United States, he reflected on the 100 years since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and proclaimed that “the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.” Recognizing that too many people were being denied rights in our secular and even ecclesial communities, he inspired us all to dream. He inspired us to dream of a day when bias and discrimination – especially against people of color – would be no more. He inspired us to dream of a day when all people would have the right to pursue happiness not as an afterthought to the hard realities of their day but as a platform for living that reflects each person’s privilege as a uniquely valued child of God.

This dream held a lot of people together in this world that continues to be dominated today by a culture of grave injustice. Now, 50 years later, it is time for the church to be reminded of King’s original emphasis for his speech that late August afternoon in 1963. As I think it’s a little known fact, I’ll give you a bit of the backstory.

(Forgive me if this is old hat to you.) Apparently, Dr. King’s emphasis on The Dream – his memorable, emotional refrain that has continued to inspire people for 50 years– wasn’t a planned part of his speech that day. As the story goes, King was so known for preaching about the dream from pulpits across the south that his close colleague called it cliché and trite and advised to take it out of his speech this time and to stick with the image of an uncashed promissory note. King planned to emphasize that people of color had descended upon the nation’s capital to cash the promissory note for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that had been guaranteed to them like it had been guaranteed to all people by this nation’s Declaration of Independence. People of color held a check and it was time for it to be cashed. According to reflections on that day, King felt that his speech was a little flat. Mahalia Jackson, the great gospel singer, was sitting nearby egging him on, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin. Tell ‘em about the drem.” The rest is history.

And as much as King’s speech has inspired so many of us to dream, the beautiful image of his dream seems to’ve waylaid too many of us from the prophet’s original intent for his day. Folks didn’t then nor do they now demand that their checks be cashed. The church has sat too idly by. Too many of us have had our eyes peeled toward the horizon, waiting for the dream to become a reality. Our very caring God encourages us to dream, but when a transcendent longing becomes a replacement for our fight to repair a very immanent need, the most pressing concerns of our day are left undone such that 50 years later, bias and discrimination against people of color remains “a shameful condition.” And just as Jesus stood before the leaders of the day unwilling for the bent woman to have to wait one more day to be healed, the time is now for the church to immediately stand counter to the secular culture of our day and work toward dignity and rights of all people. We must not allow there to be merely the dream of equality alive and well but the reality of fairness and compassion, healing and justice – salvation for all people here and around the world.

A majority of the population in the United States doesn’t wonder if there is a God. The majority of the population wonders if God cares. The church has an uphill climb as we continue to answer this question. We have an uphill climb because too often, we have yielded the way. Rather than leading the march for the rights of all people, the church has too often stumbled behind secular culture, subordinating the rights of many segments of the world’s population out of convenient misrepresentations of the good news. Deference to a less than Godly interpretation of scripture has encouraged the church to lag the secular world in its decisions to affirm the rights of all people and effectively care for those against whom it is much easier to hold a bias: women, and people of color, people who are too old or too young, people who are queer, people who are financially poor, people who are mentally fragile, people who are physically less able. Deference to a secularly grounded mindset has dragged the church’s heart away from those who need us most – most assuredly many who are sitting here today – and enabled the church to become a week-end place of respite rather than a day to day carrier of the good news of Jesus Christ to the people of God. The church has become a cautious voice, a hesitant voice, a patient voice, a diplomatic voice, and ultimately a delinquent voice while bias of all sorts are left un-confronted and suffering persists in clear and even less visible ways. It becomes a morally artful dodge that enables the church to put off for tomorrow what the dominant voices of the world would rather not address and correct today.

There are too many people in this world who are crippled by the bonds of church-enabled oppression. Their backs are bent by the weight of the biases against them such that their eyes can only see how close they are to the ground rather than how high they might otherwise soar.

The church must join forces in a counter cultural movement that affirms the work of Jesus Christ and the suffragettes, Letty Russell and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – all of those who have paid a great price to insure the rights of all people. As the hands and feet of Jesus Christ working in this world today, we need to demonstrate that yes, God cares. God cares for each one of us as uniquely crafted beings of God’s image. You and I need to regain confidence in Jesus who stood before the President of his day and demanded that a woman be allowed to stand up straight that day, not in spite of it being the Sabbath but because God’s saving work in creation made it so. In the same way, people of today who have been marginalized for a lifetime need to know that they no longer need to settle for the dreams of tomorrow. There is a fierce urgency upon us. It is the fierce urgency of now that we ban together to advocate for the rights of all of those who have felt marginalized by secularly grounded, convenient, oh-too-politically careful, unjust biases that continue to weigh on people’s backs.

May the good news of Jesus Christ, who stood up to the great forces of his day, give us food for our march against the unjust culture of our day that some far away goal doesn’t become a stumbling block for progress for the needs of the here and now. This is our marching order today. That all might overcome. Amen.

 

1 Farley, Margaret A. and Jones, Serene, Eds., Liberating Eschatology: Essays in Honor of Letty M. Russell. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999) p 5.

2 Ibid