Biblical Challenges to the Status Quo

On August 9, 2015, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Biblical Challenges to the Status Quo Rev Dr Robert Griffin – Sunshine Cathedral Sunday, August 9, 2015 Today’s worship places us at week 6 of our 9 week sermon series. Sermon topics have been based on the book Convictions: A Manifesto for progressive Christians by Marcus Borg. And, our series title is “What It Means […]

Biblical Challenges to the Status Quo
Rev Dr Robert Griffin – Sunshine Cathedral
Sunday, August 9, 2015

Today’s worship places us at week 6 of our 9 week sermon series. Sermon topics have been based on the book Convictions: A Manifesto for progressive Christians by Marcus Borg. And, our series title is “What It Means to be a Christian”. Today our topic is Biblical Challenges to the Status Quo.

People who read the bible do so for many different reasons.
Some read it to find comfort in times of discomfort.
Others may read it for spiritual insight, or for personal justification of a particular social view. Some use it as a weapon, a means of condemning certain people or behaviors.
Some use it as a rallying cry to go to war.
Still others read it for a look into ancient history.
Some read the bible as if it were a crystal ball, helping to predict the future.

With the bible being used for so many purposes, it’s no wonder we have so many views of what it says and means.

As a child growing up in a Missionary Baptist church, in Alabama, much of my awareness of the bible was based squarely in the roots of social justice.

Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Rev Howard Thurman, Rev Jesse Jackson, Rev Al Sharpton, Rev Gardner Taylor were among the greats preaching a social justice gospel declaring God’s love for all people, and I took that message to heart.

In those days, my exposure to theology was pretty limited to local preachers, to the luminaries I just mentioned, and to Baptist men. Since that time, my cloud of witnesses has expanded and must include Episcopal Rev Canon Ed Rodman (a professor and mentor of mine in seminary),
the presiding bishop elect of the Episcopal Church Michael Curry,
Bishop Barbara Harris (the first woman bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion),
AME Bishop Vashti McKenzie (the first woman bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal church),
Rev Dr Jeremiah Wright (the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago),
Rev Dr Jim Forbes (former pastor of Riverside Church in NYC),
And Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries.

So I continue to be influenced by voices of the Black Church experience calling for justice, equality, peace, healing, and prophetic action.

These great preachers find in the bible a witness to God’s all-inclusive love, and a call for on-going positive change in the world. Changing the world means changing the body politic, that is, the larger community, and that is political by nature. It isn’t necessarily partisan, and churches cannot and should not officially endorse parties or candidates, but we can urge the faithful to support programs, private and governmental, that are meant to feed the hungry, minister to the sick, care for the elderly, save our natural resources, and protect the rights of all people.

As our senior minister has said many times, such an agenda of caring for all people and affirming the dignity of all people is what Jesus called the kingdom, or kin-dom of God and it was considered a political message as much as a spiritual one, and for that, he was killed. So, to talk about Jesus is to challenge the status quo (as he did), and to challenge the status quo will also be considered to be somewhat political.

Now there are some who would say that I don’t want my church to talk about politics, justice matters or social concerns of the day. I just want them to teach the bible and preach about Jesus, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Well, I have some news for you today. To talk about the bible and Jesus and community means you want to make a difference, you want to be an agent of positive change, and that, like Jesus’ ministry, will be considered political.

We will never campaign for one party or candidate over another, though as individuals we certainly have our favorites; but we will always speak out for the marginalized, the oppressed, the forgotten, the abused, the have-nots. We will speak out for those Jesus called the least of these, and that will mean challenging church, government, community, and individuals to care more and to share more.

We not only pray for the oppressed but try do something about the systems that keep people down rather than lift them up. That’s what Jesus did, so if you want to learn about Jesus, you are going to learn how we are meant, like him, to be about God’s business, the business of helping, lifting up, encouraging, and liberating the so-called least of these.

So, to say I am a follower of the teachings of Jesus, is to be political. To say, I am a Christian, is to be political…not because a certain form of Christianity should dominate government (it should not), but because to be Christian is to follow Jesus and to follow Jesus is to work to include those who have been left behind and to improve the lot of the least of these is a political endeavor; it’s also a spiritual endeavor.

Some of us can call ourselves liberal and others conservative, some of us will want to be in the thick of things and others will want to quietly support good efforts without drawing attention to ourselves, but whatever our personal politics, our faith must be about lifting up others, seeing the dignity in all people, and that will influence how we engage the world of politics. Whatever our political ideologies, let them be grounded in the spiritual conviction that love is supreme and that we must do unto others as we would have others do unto us.

Marcus Borg says it best, “Not every Christian is called to be an activist. But all are called to take seriously God’s dream for a more just and nonviolent world.”

Religion is always political. The religious pacifists who say we should never go to war…that’s a spiritually motivated call to action in the world of politics.

Those who use religion to oppose women’s rights or marriage equality, they are using religion to influence how they engage politics; and if we think that God’s all-inclusive love calls us to refute their message, then that puts us in the political fray.

It is simply not possible to be religious and non-political. If we have faithful convictions, that will motivate how we live in society, and how we engage society is by nature political.

The Crusades of the Middle Ages, the Inquisition, the religious wars of the 16th century that followed the Reformation…those were all religious people engaging in politics.

Even slavery, Jim Crow, colonization, and the Trail of Tear were justified if not motivated by religious views. And those who challenged those unjust campaigns were also motivated by religious views.

Dr King’s faith led him to challenge oppression, change the world, and give his life for the sake of others. His faith caused him to challenge the politically protected status quo. His spirituality was in fact political, as all engaged spirituality must be.

I am a minister and a veteran. I have served God and country, and in my mind they were not two different vocations. And those experiences motivate me to prefer peace to war, to value every mother’s son and every father’s daughter and to not want any blood spilt in the name of religion ever again. That is my religious view, and to speak it out loud is a political act. The two simply can’t be separated.

To recognize and atone for the genocide of the indigenous people of this continent is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

To see immigration as a human issue and to respond to the issue with compassion is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

To say that we can no longer destroy our planet for the sake of profit is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

To express regret and outrage when protected species are targeted and hunted for sport is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

To work to end the horror of human trafficking is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

And, this work is at least as old as our sacred stories. From Moses telling Pharaoh, “Let my people go…” to Jesus declaring a Realm of God where all people have value, the bible is a story of challenging the status quo. Call it religious or call it political, but notice that it is the biblical message and let’s recommit to challenging the status quo ourselves.

Gays can get married but also be fired or denied housing for being gay…that has to change.

Women are often judged by their appearance rather than by their skills…that has to change.

The poor are blamed for their plight rather than being offered real help…that has to change.

Not everyone’s hard work is valued today…that has to change.

Transgender people continue to be demonized…that has to change.

The proposed answer to conflict is too often “let’s go to war”…that has to change.

Black bodies are routinely shot in our streets…that has to change.
Black Lives Matter, and it is a shame that we have to remind our nation of that fact.

If we would read the bible and follow Jesus, then we will continue to challenge the status quo…because more change is needed.

We need to:
Continue to speak about the integration of spirituality and sexuality.
Continue to speak about the fluidity of gender.
Continue to speak about marriage equality…it may be the law of the land but it is far from being universally embraced.

We need to continue to:
Address women’s sovereignty over their own bodies. Whether or not we agree with women’s choices, we cannot take their choices from them. Let’s get church and state out of women’s uteruses.

We need to:
Establish economic justice, because everyone deserves fair wages, adequate housing, health care, and education.

If we want to be doers of the word and not hearers only, if we want to be followers of Jesus and not just admirers,
then we must continue to challenge the status quo.

Following Jesus, our Way Shower, comes with a responsibility to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Sunshine Cathedral, we don’t argue much about Jesus; we’re too busy trying to follow him, and following Jesus means challenging the status quo and sharing hope with the world.

We are, as Borg said, called to take seriously God’s dream for a more just and nonviolent world.
That is, after all, what it means to be Christian. Amen.

I share God’s dream of a just and nonviolent world.
My hands are God’s hands blessing the world.
God is blessing me to be a blessing to others.
And so it is.

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