White Washed, White Lies, White Jesus

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I preached this sermon at Goodson Chapel at Duke Divinity in February of 2016. I have reproduced it in light of the racial tension that has currently come to a boil among the faculty at Duke Divinity School. It’s a year old but it’s still true.

White Washed, White Lies, White Jesus

Matthew 7:15-23

As it is Black history month, I would like for us to consider for a moment a prominent black writer by the name of Phillis Wheatley. Phillis Wheatley is the first person of African descent, male or female, to be a published in the American Colonies. She is the progenitor of black discourse in America. Her work, published in 1773, was entitled “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.” Interestingly enough, her publication had two prefaces. The first was a letter from her Master explaining that Phillis Wheatley was his slave and apologizing for any defects in her writing. The second preface was an attestation by a group of notable white men, the then Governor of Massachusetts and other famous preachers and politicians, to verify that she wrote the poems herself. They wrote these words of her and her work,

WE whose Names are under-written, do assure the World, that the POEMS specified in the following Page,* were (as we verily believe) written by Phillis, a young Negro Girl, who was but a few Years since, brought an uncultivated Barbarian from Africa, and has ever since been, and now is, under the Disadvantage of serving as a Slave in a Family in this Town. She has been examined by some of the best Judges, and is thought qualified to write them.*

Note that they called her a barbarian from Africa and note that they called themselves, these notable white men, the best judges to determine her efficacy for poetry writing. It is troubling indeed.

But what is more troubling, I would argue, is Wheatley’s poetry. Take a look:

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negro’s, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

Here in this poem you can see she is articulating some pretty troubling theology, theology that would have been popularly propagated by preachers and theologians at that time. Theological statements like,

Africans were pagan people in need of saving.
Africans were descendants of Cain and their dark skin is the sign of Cain’s curse.
African people are naturally barbaric and need to be refined.

These are all lies. These are all theological untruths. Someone lied to her. Someone lied to her about herself, her people, her God and she believed these lies, internalized these lies and then reproduced these lies for the approval of her oppressors. They were so impressed with her ability to reproduce their racist theological rhetoric that they published her work. And this folks, is the beginning of black literary and theological discourse in America. Reproducing the oppressor’s lies for the oppressor’s approval.

Of course, we don’t tell these bold audacious lies anymore. In institutions where theology is created, institutions like let’s say… seminaries, it would be considered impolite to state out loud that African people and people of African descent are pagan, cursed, or barbaric.

In institutions where theology is created, like let’s say… seminaries, We don’t tell these big bold lies anymore. We tell little lies.

Tiny little lies.

Almost imperceptible lies. Flimsily little untruths.

What do you call a little lie?

Oh that’s right… white lies. We tell white lies here.

It’s little stuff.

Like how in our books and media St. Augustine is always depicted as a lily white Western European but we all know that he was North African. So he probably looked…oh I don’t know…African.

It’s little white lies like that.

Hardly noticeable.

Hardly worth mentioning at all.

It’s how we are always talking about racial reconciliation but when you walk into the Duke University Chapel, the most sacred place on the campus, you will find a statue of Robert E. Lee with the Confederate flag etched into his belt ( a symbol for so many black people of slavery and racial trauma) standing next to John Wesley.   We cannot have a conversation about racial reconciliation until someone reconciles that damn statue.

It’s the little things.

It’s the micro-aggressions.

It’s when you are offering insight in class and your peers and professors say with such shock and amazement, “My goodness, you are so articulate!”

As if black people don’t know how to speak.

It’s the little institutional decisions. It’s how the thoughts and the work uplifting voices of people of color, of people of the African diaspora are relegated to one lecture in a semester or an entirely different class and it’s not called just “Theology” it’s called “Black theology.” It is how the primary pedagogy overwhelmingly lifts up the voices of White German men or men with German sounding surnames as if

Martin Luther

John Wesley

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Walter Brueggemann

And Stanley Hauerwas

Were the only ones to ever say anything thoughtful about Jesus.

It’s the little things.

It’s just white lies.

It’s little white theological untruths.

And the temptation is to, like Phillis Wheatley, to internalize these lies reproduce them for the approval of the oppressive people who created the lies.

It is tempting to white-wash in the white lies for the sake of a better grade, or a better field education assignment, or a higher paying job after graduation. It’s tempting to distance yourself from the mumblings and grumblings of the low country black church because no one nods their heads in approval when you moan, “I know it was the blood, I know it was the blood, I know it was the blood for me”

But everyone smiles in exhilaration when you can sing, “Come thou fount of every blessing tune my heart to sing thy praise”

There is a constant and continuous temptation here to reproduce for this institution a white-washed theology, predicated on white lies, created in order to worship a white Jesus.

And Jesus, the Most High himself, has something to say about this.

In the text for today, Matthew 7 Jesus says,

‘Beware of false teachers who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Mat 7:15)

He goes on to say,

 “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…one day many will say to me ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ and then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Mat 7:21-23)

This is an incredibly significant text for students of theology.

Jesus is saying here that not everyone who claims to know Jesus actually knows Jesus. This is really important in your work. Not everyone around you who is talking about Jesus actually knows anything about Jesus.

There are people sitting next to you in chapel right now who don’t have any idea who Jesus actually is.

There are two hundred dollar text books that you will have to purchase where the writers have no idea who Jesus actually is.

There are professors standing behind their podiums who have no idea who Jesus actually is.

It is crucial for you to not just internalize and the reproduce everything that you hear in this institution.

It is crucial l that you listen to every sermon, listen to every lecture, read every book with a holy critical and suspicious lens.

It’s crucial. It’s not nothing. Because what you are doing here incredibly significant. You aren’t just writing papers here you are creating theology for the masses.

What you are doing is not nothing.

In fact it is everything.

You are creating the theology that undergirds our community. You are creating the theology that undergirds the presidential elections, the educational system, the justice system.

You are creating the theology that determines what bodies are legitimate and what bodies are illegitimate in society.

It’s everything. What you are doing impacts everything. It impacts even little Phillis Wheatley’s

little black girls who have the inclination to write poetry.

What you are doing here will influence what she thinks about herself, her people, her God.

And It’s up to you not to continue to spread false prophecies or rather, white lies.

It’s crucial that you maintain a critical ear, a critical eye on everything here because if you do not you personally run the risk of never knowing who Jesus actually is. It was here, in these hallowed walls of Duke Divinity School, where I learned who Jesus really is. I learned really complicated and esoteric ways to discuss Jesus here. I learned lots of 75 cents words on how to discuss Jesus but I also learned the truth of the uneducated elders in my little black church on the South side of Columbus. I learned that  they were right about who Jesus is.

When my bank account said that there was no way I was going to finish this degree I learned that these little old uneducated black folks were right when they said that Jesus will make a way out of no way.

When I was all alone and had no one to turn to I learned they were right when they said “Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

When my body was sick and my mind was troubled I learned they were right when they said that “Jesus is a bridge over troubled waters.”

I learned so much here about Jesus. In these classrooms. In these hallways. I learned deeply and intimately who Jesus is. But I think the most important thing I learned here at Duke Divinity School, despite the pressures of the oppressive pedagogy here, is this one inimitable fact about Jesus:

He. Is. Not. White.

 

Amen

Gay, Jesus.

An Epiphany Reflection.

Kim Burrell recently made a media splash for a pretty angry speech (I’m quite selective as to what I call a sermon) that made pretty incendiary claims about the moral integrity of the LGBTQ community. Her speech caught national attention when she was conspicuously dis-invited to perform on The Ellen Show. The “Burrell incident” is gasoline to an ever blazing fire of the Christian stance on homosexuality.

My initial thought when hearing the news was, “Jesus! Here we go again.”

I am of the general opinion that we are currently in a very critical time where people are dying.

We are drowning in the blood of and the tears for the slain from the plague of violence in our land (Reports on the Ft. Lauderdale shooting flood my computer before I could even publish this piece).

People are dying from hatred.
And Poverty.
And sickness.
And sadness.
People are dying.

Confused, scared, and anxious souls wander into the church looking to hear something, anything, to believe in, to hope for, to live for.
Looking for something to get from one day to the next, one moment to the next because
life is so hard.
Times are so hard.

Confused, scared, and anxious souls are waiting with baited breath for the Church to open its mouth to say something, to offer something of clarity, or comfort, or consolation.
And when we open our mouth to speak, out sputters the same diatribe on homosexuality.

My initial thought when hearing the news was, “Jesus! Why in this critical moment is the debate on homosexuality the reason the Christian church is making headlines?”
Why is this what’s at the top of everyone’s Facebook and twitter feed?

My initial thought when hearing the news was, “Jesus! What the hell does it matter?”
In this time, in all that is going on in this country, in this world what does it matter what two grown consenting adults are doing in their bedrooms? Why would that be point of anyone’s sermonic moment right now?

But then I had an Epiphany.

This matters. Talking about sex matters.
Because people are dying.
We are dying from a lack of knowledge, a lack of insight, a lack of understanding about our bodies and our sexuality.
People are dying
From sickness as STD’s conquer communities like the plague.
From sadness as relationships crumble beneath the weight of adultery.
From a lack of safety as rape and child sexual abuse numbers continue to climb.
Talking about sex, it matters.

But the peculiar thing is that whenever we take on the task of discussing sexuality, we can only get as close as identifying homosexuality as a sin. And so often, that’s it.

Personally, I would want to trouble our hermeneutics or interpretation of the Bible’s discourse on sexual sin but if we are to take it at face value, there is a sexual sin to tag each and every one of us. The Bible says that:

Sex before marriage is a sin. Even if you’re married now, according to the Bible You are no more exempt from anyone else who is held accountable for sexual misconduct.

Adultery is a sin. Cheating on your mate, although common, is a damnable sin.

Divorce is a sin. According to our good Lord and savior, Divorce and remarriage is a form of adultery and sin in the eyes of God.

Our Lord says even looking upon another with lust is a sin.

And with his words, we are all guilty of sexual sin.

The interesting thing about the Bible is that it is all written in the same font. The few bits on homosexuality, contrary to popular opinion, are not bold, italicized, or underlined. It is all the same. And we are all guilty.
We all stand accused.
We pretend, when we walk into church, that we have magically become Ken and Barbie dolls, devoid of sex organs or Porn Hub accounts. But if we take the Bible’s discourse on sexuality seriously, even the holiest among stands before God as guilty as the woman caught in the act of adultery. I have always wondered if we know this to be true why do we only know how to identify the gay community as sinners?

But then I had an epiphany.

I realized that we do not know what to do with this sin. We do not know how to talk about, address, or face it. We need someone to carry the weight of it for us. We need someone to take our sin and shame from us.
We need someone to die again and again for us.
We need someone to be the scapegoat.
The lamb who is slain.
We need someone to be crucified for our sexual sins.

We have chosen the gay community to do that for us, to be that for us.

We have chosen them to carry our sins as their own. To suffer the shame and ridicule that we deserve.

And so we have chosen them to be our salvation.
And so we have chosen them to be Jesus for us.

And so on this day as we celebrate the Epiphany- the realization of that our Christ came among us.

I have had an epiphany.

I have had the realization that our Christ is yet among us.
Our savior is here.
Still suffering for us. Still crying for us. Still bleeding for us.
Still dying for us.
Our savior is here.

And our savior is Gay.

Bringing Up the Rear: For Those Troublesome Women Preachers

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I preached this sermon at the North Carolina Women’s Preaching Festival. It is part B of a duo preaching presentation in which my sister in Christ, Rev. Kara Slade (coincidentally the coolest Episcopalian Priest you will ever meet in life), gave part A. We followed the Lectionary text for the day and purposefully chose the Pauline Epistle to make the statement that female preachers can and do find liberating and affirming messages in Paul’s writings.

Bringing Up The Rear

I Corinthians 15:1-11

  1-2 Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)

3-9 The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.

10-11 But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste. Haven’t I worked hard trying to do more than any of the others? Even then, my work didn’t amount to all that much. It was God giving me the work to do, God giving me the energy to do it. So whether you heard it from me or from those others, it’s all the same: We spoke God’s truth and you entrusted your lives. (I Corinthians 15:1-11 MSG)

A woman preacher is a woman in trouble.

There is that troublesome God who plucks us from the simple linear life that we created for ourselves and calls us into ministry.

There are those troublesome insecurities, that voice that rings in our heads “who am I to stand in front of people and speak. I am nobody.”

There is that troublesome glass ceiling that women have been hurling stones at for generations but that pesky glass is strong and hard to crack.

There are those troublesome stereotypes. The covert and overt messages that say “if you are going to be a woman preacher you have to look a certain way. Talk a certain way. Stand a certain way. Be a certain way.”

And then. And then. And then

There are those troublesome voices who say again and again to women preachers that you do not belong in the pulpit, you do not belong in the episcopacy, you do not belong in leadership in the church. And if you think otherwise then you are are just being troublesome.

That’s why I love this text in I Corinthians 15. Because Paul here is the exemplary model for every preacher but I would argue his words here are an exemplary model for women preachers especially.

why?

For a simple truth, a simple fact that we all know to be true about Paul: Paul was troublesome.

He preached the Gospel all over the Roman Empire. Without license, without approval, without permission. And he was constantly facing resistance from his fellow preachers.

“You little upstart, who do you think you are,” they would declare. “You don’t belong to our good ol’ boy preaching club. You are not an Apostle. Were you there to see Jesus walk on water? Did you see him feed the masses? Where you there when he died on the cross and revealed himself to us in the upper room?”

“Aha!” Paul replies here in this text. “It is just as you say. Jesus presented himself alive  to Peter. To his disciples. To James and to many more.

And then. And then. And then.

he presented himself alive to me! to me! to me!

It was fitting that I bring up the rear (I Corinthians 1:3-9 MSG).”

It was fitting that I, too, join this long legacy of Prophetic witness to the Holy Gospel.

He goes on to say that it was fitting not because he was so holy. Not because he was so worthy. Not because he had never made any mistakes.  But because God is so gracious. And he says in the text “And I am not about to let his grace go to waste (I Corinthians 10-11 MSG).”

And so he responds I’m sorry if proclaiming the Message is so troublesome to you. I’m sorry if I cause you trouble. But you see, it’s not me it is the troublesome God who is in me. It is the troublesome God who has sent me. It is that troublesome God who presented himself alive to me.

And don’t you see that similar to Paul, a woman preacher is a woman in trouble.

Every time she lifts her voice to preach the Message

she is troubling the still waters of the Church.

She is troubling how things used to be.

She is troubling our understanding of I Timothy and Ephesians.

So it is incumbent upon all female preachers to, like Paul, stand boldly and declare

I know I am a lot of trouble.

But you have to understand that it is not me.

It is the God in me.

It is the God who sent me.

It is the God who presented himself alive to me.

It is exactly as scripture says, Jesus died for our sins.

It is exactly as scripture says, he was buried in the grave.

It is exactly as scripture says, he was raised from the dead.

And it is exactly as scripture says, Jesus revealed himself to Peter,

and James,

and Paul,

And me! And me! And me!

Because it is exactly as scripture says in Joel 2, ” I will pour out my Spirit on all people and your sons and your daughters will prophesy” (Joel 2:28).

And so it is fitting that I bring up the rear.

Not because I am so holy. Not because I am so special. Not because I have never made any mistakes. But because God is so gracious. And I am not about to let that grace go to waste.

And so I admonish you today, you women preachers, to own your space in the long legacy of prophetic witness to the Holy Gospel.

Do not be afraid to bring up the rear.

What does that mean? Ultimately, that means do not be afraid to be troublesome.

For a woman preacher is a woman in power.

A woman preacher is woman in strength.

A woman preacher is a woman in audacity.

A woman preacher is a woman in trouble.

Breaking Rank: A woman wrestling with God

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Matt 8:5-13

I am a flawed preacher.

I know when you read that you think I’m referring to me- my personhood- I am a preacher who has flaws. While this is absolutely true and we will discuss that but no, what I mean is

I am a flawed preacher

in that

my preaching is flawed.

I’m not the worst preacher in the world. I’m a good story teller which is a hallmark of good preaching. I can describe the Biblical stories in such detail that you can almost smell the three fish and five loaves of bread being passed around to the masses. And I can make your mouth water, I can make you hunger for the miracles that Jesus can perform.

Or I can capture for you the temptation of Christ- when Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. I can make you see the red of the stone. When we think about a wilderness, we think of a forest but in the wilderness where Jesus was tempted there was red rock and nothing. No grass. No life. No trees. No place to hide. There was only red rock. And there was Satan. Standing there staring into his eyes. And I could describe for you the red of his eyes, red with the flames of hell’s fire that burned where his soul ought to be. I could describe the heat of his hatred toward Jesus as he attempted to compel Jesus to turn away from God. I could make you feel that heat on the back of your neck because he hates you too. The enemy hates everyone who is loved by God.

I’m a good storyteller but that isn’t what makes a great preacher.

And I am decent at discussing Biblical and cultural concepts, which is important for good preaching. I can contribute sociological, philosophical, and political polemics. If you listen to me Sunday after Sunday you can hear what I think. What I think about homosexuality, educational equity in public schools, the Justice system. If you listen to me Sunday after Sunday you can hear where I stand on the issues of this country, of this world. But that isn’t what makes a great preacher.

You see, what makes a great preacher – if you were to head over to my minister of music, Dr. Phillip’s church and listen to him preach or if you were to attend Myers Park and listen to Dr. Howell for several Sundays or if you were to listen to some of the historical greats

Gardner C. Taylor

Howard Thurman

Martin Luther King, Jr. – and I don’t mean his speeches, I mean his sermons. If you were to listen to him preach in that over heated and over crowded congregation at Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia- you would hear not a good but a great preacher. And what made him a great preacher was his ability to reveal himself. If you were to listen to him, Sunday after Sunday, you would hear about his family. You would hear about his children, how he got along with Coretta. You would see the man that smoked cigarettes way too much and loved women way too much.

You would see the man, the human, the fallible, the breakable man- you would get a glimpse of the man he was. The man that he was becoming. The man who was wrestling with God.

That is the mark of a great preacher.

I don’t do that.

I have a terrible habit of hiding behind the Biblical text. I can talk to you about the Bible all day. I can talk to you about Christian ethics all day but it is very difficult for me to talk about myself, to reveal myself. Of course, there is a reason for that. The first reason is that I began preaching when I was 15 years old. I didn’t have a great deal of life experiences to reflect on or reveal at that time. I wasn’t pulling from a deep well of wisdom and knowledge.

And The second reason is that I became a preacher when I was 15 years old. My first sermon was on obedience. Think about that for a moment. If you have a 15 year old in the household or if you can remember being 15, then you know that 15 years old is the height, the peak of teenage rebellion and here I was talking about obedience. Talking about the importance of submitting yourself to God, to your church, to your parents, to the authority of this world and when I punctuated my last period. And I closed my mouth. And I lowered the microphone. The congregation went crazy. And something happened. Something happened that changed the way that people perceived and interacted with me from that moment on- I became a preacher.

When you become a preacher, especially in the Black church, you become different. There is a great hope for your life fore all of the greatest black leaders were produced by the Black Church so you are held to a different standard. You are faced with higher expectations. You are put on a pedestal. You are important. When you become a preacher, especially in the Black church, you become an important person.

Importance and perfection go hand in hand. You are an important person, you are not allowed to make mistakes. There is no room for failure- which is why I had a 4.3 gpa in high school, a 4.0 gpa in college. Because you can’t fail. You can’t fall, dust yourself off and learn from your bad choices- to begin to add to a well of knowledge and wisdom. No. to be important is to be stuck in suspended animation and arrested development. To be important is to be incapable of revealing your bad choices. Your mistakes. Your failures. Your weaknesses. To be important is to be perceived as perfect.

But I don’t desire to be important. I desire to be a great preacher. And so I desire for you to get a glimpse of the woman- the fallible, the breakable woman- the woman that I am. The woman that I am becoming. The woman who is wrestling with God.

So allow me to reveal my first bucket of wisdom from my well of knowledge: attempting to be perfect does not in fact make you perfect. You can attempt to do everything right and still get it all wrong. There are moments in life when what is right is clashing up against what is right. Even and especially with Christianity your ethics will begin to collide with one another.

Your Christian ethics call for you to be a good Christian leader. You can go to church, Sunday school, Bible study, prison ministry, soup kitchens, read your bible, witness to your friends and your coworkers.

Then your Christian ethics call for you to be a good wife and mother or to work your hardest to realize those roles in your life. Because no matter how important you are, no matter how many feminist classes you took,  our Christian ethics still suggest that a woman’s value is placed squarely in her relation to a man and her relation to a child.

Then your Christian ethics call for you to get into the habit of submitting and being obedient to the man who is to be your husband, the head of your household, the father of your children. When your opinions clash

and you say “we are Christians. We have to wait.”

and he says “No. We. Don’t.”

your Christian ethics say defer, submit. obey. OBEY.  Your Christian ethics tell you to stop being the controlling black shrew, the overbearing black woman who attempts to call all of the shots in everything, to stop being the reason why black women can’t keep black men around, to stop being the reason that black women can’t keep black men from leaving.

Isn’t that what they teach you?

Isn’t it true

that no matter how important you are, you are only the stereotypes that are wrapped around you?

And your kind?

Think about it, President Obama is the Leader of the free world, he is in fact, the most important man in the world but to so many he is simply just another nigger.

No matter how hard he attempts to get it right, he will still get it wrong.

So what do you do?

What do you do when no matter how hard you try to get it right, you get it all wrong? What do you do when despite your best efforts everything still goes to hell?

Take a glimpse at the woman that I am, the woman that I am becoming. The woman who is wrestling with God.

What do you do? I think about Job. I think about the text that describes the moment in his life when everything is taken from him. When he lost his children. His health. His wife. His everything. And I always wondered why the next verse wasn’t “so he went to the liquor store and bought a bottle of whiskey and drank until he couldn’t remember what it felt like to hold his children in his arms when they were born.

and drank until he couldn’t remember how it felt when he was informed that they had died.

and drank until he couldn’t remember the look in his wife’s face when she said to curse God and die. That would have made it more realistic. Because that’s what people do.

What do you do? I think about Joseph. I think about how he was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, lied on a by a girl he wasn’t even checkin’ for, and thrown into prison unduly. I wonder why the next verse isn’t that he went to the drug dealer and got high. Got high until he couldn’t remember what it felt like to be thrown into a pit and watch his brothers, his own flesh and blood, walk away. Why the next verse isn’t that he watched porn until he couldn’t remember his dreams or the promises of God. That would have been so much more realistic. Because that’s what people do. what do you do?

That’s the paradox of the human condition. We respond to the pain and destructiveness of this world by doing painful and destructive things to ourselves. We respond to the brokenness of the world by breaking ourselves. And It gets to the point that we cannot identify the brokenness on the outside from the brokenness on the inside. It gets to the point that we cannot separate brokenness from brokenness. It’s the compulsion to hurt ourselves when we are hurting that we need healing from. It’s the reason that we need Jesus.

We need his power.

We need his healing.

We need his deliverance.

So that’s what we do at Church. We continuously get down on our knees to beg Jesus for his power, his healing, his deliverance.

But when you are an important person, trapped in a facade of perfection, it becomes difficult to get on your knees.

In our text today we find an important person, a centurion, who had the audacity to get on his knees.

He was a roman soldier seeking help for his servant. He was not just a regular foot soldier but someone important. He had soldiers under his authority. He had servants. He was a soldier of value. He was a man who had a future. He probably had a career path to rank up even higher than he was. If you have ever seen the movie Gladiator you know that a good soldier could even be recommended to become Caesar one day. He must have had a large  sword and a large shield (the bigger they are, the more important the soldier). Imagine, then, the spectacle when this man of high honor, of high value, of high importance breaking rank- throwing down his sword and shield- to bow down to an Israelite, to a nobody, to Jesus. Imagine for a moment how the masses of people would turn and look. And whisper. And speculate, pointing and staring and saying

“Look at that important person bowing down before Jesus.”

But he didn’t care what people said about him because he knew that only Jesus could help him. He was audacious and unapologetic.

He wasn’t afraid of speculation.

He wasn’t afraid of judgement.

He wasn’t afraid to break rank.

Because he needed help. He needed Jesus.

I can identify with this soldier. I feel like this soldier. So many have said to me that you cannot submit yourself  in this way. You have too many speaking engagements, you have too great of a career ahead of you, you who can one day be Bishop, don’t do this. You are too important.

But I can identify with this soldier, audacious and unapologetic. Unafraid of speculation or judgement, unafraid to drop my sword and shield and break rank.

Because I need Jesus. Because he is the only one who can help me.

My second bucket of wisdom from my well of knowledge is this (I only have two buckets by the way. The well is still not very deep):

It doesn’t  matter how big your title is, being a Bishop can’t save you.

It doesn’t matter how big your church is, being a mega-pastor can’t save you.

It doesn’t matter if you have a book that is on the New York Time’s Best seller’s list. Being a prolific writer can’t save you.

It doesn’t matter where you get your doctoral degree, your degrees can’t save you.

The only one who can save you is Jesus.

Take a glimpse at the woman that I am. The woman that I am becoming. The woman who is wrestling with God.

And so I will always break rank. And get on my knees publicly, before anyone and everyone. I am not too important to beg for his power, for his deliverance, for his healing.

And I could really get excited about the power of Jesus. His healing power. I could put him on the cross and whoop and holler until I punctuate my last period. But I am not ready for the conclusion yet.

Because I have neglected to mention the last component that makes for a good preacher. And that is prophetic witness. And I have prophetic power in spades.

I can speak up when something is awry.

The Church, the institution, is awry.

The Church is supposed to be the place where people should be able to come to throw down their sword and their shields and receive Jesus’ healing. The Church should be the soldier running to Jesus crying out “my servant is sick, please help!” Instead, too often, the servants are yelled at and ridiculed

“How dare you be sick! Don’t you know that you are my servant! You are the servant of importance, indeed, the servant of the Roman empire?!”

And the servants of the church, the leaders of the church, the members of the church, so often are not prayed for, lifted up, advocated for, but are instead broken even more.

I was raised by the church. I was produced for the church. I work for the church. I am the church. And I have been deeply wounded and harmed by the church. And so I stand in prophetic witness. I stand by, I stand with, I stand for anyone who has ever been hurt by the church. who has ever been burned by the sacred spaces where they should have found healing but only found more brokenness.

Take a glimpse of the woman who I am. The woman who I am becoming. The woman wrestling with God.

That’s why my peers do not come to church. That is why churches are closing down by the thousands. It’s not because of the music (believe it or not we like the songs our grandmothers sang to us). It is not because of the lack of technology (we have enough technology in our phones to satisfy us for a lifetime). It’s because the church is not a safe space to be broken.

That’s why Alcoholics Anonymous is a Christian organization that operates outside of the church. What do people do there? All they do is get healing. They get deliverance. Why is it that it is separate from the work of the church? Why is it that it is anonymous? Because The church doesn’t allow you to ache. to hurt. To be broken. Because if you can’t fake perfection here, you are not welcome here.

The simple answer is, like so many other disillusioned Christians, to just leave. That’s what millennials do, after all. When something is hard, or painful, or difficult, we quit. We press delete. That’s our modus operandi. To leave the Church and never look back. 

But me…

I want you to see me. I am a woman who, like Jacob, is wrestling with God. And I won’t let go.

I won’t let go until you protect my family.

I won’t let go until you touch my congregation.

I won’t let go until you restore the Church universal.

I won’t let go until you bless me.

Me. I won’t let go until you bless me.

It is me. It is me. It is me

it is me, oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

In the need of power.

In the need of deliverance.

In the need of healing.

Take a glimpse of me.

Of the Woman that I am. The woman that I am becoming.

The woman who is wrestling with God.

The Gospel According to Caitlyn Jenner

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I went to a carnival yesterday. My boyfriend and I were running errands in Matthew, NC and ran into a street fair. Every road was blocked off so we decided to just park and join in on the festivities.  As we walked toward the fair, there was someone standing on the corner protesting. One of those Christians, you know? He had a sign that said something to the effect of “America is going to hell because of science and homosexuals!!!” You all know me, I wanted to go up and talk to the man. But I was promptly told “you are not at work right now” so as I waited at the light to cross the street, using all the energy I had to hold my tongue, I witnessed a sad encounter between the man and a young woman. The woman, in great earnestness and with sincerity in her eyes, she said,

“You know, It’s not that I don’t believe in Jesus, I do not deny his existence. I just really want to know why are Christians so hateful? I have a really good friend, he’s transgender. Why, why do you hate him? You don’t even know him and you hate him!”

The man spouted off some trite tirade about sin and damnation and then the light changed and it was time to cross the street. I regret walking away from that conversation. It kept me up all night. I wanted so badly to tell the woman, “Listen, honey, the Christians who are yelling the loudest are not the best representatives of our faith, they are just the only ones we hear. I love Jesus. Jesus loves your friend.  And it is his great desire for me to love your friend as well. I don’t even know him… and I love him.”

It kept me up all night. Her poignant question rings as clear as a bell,

“Why are Christians so hateful?” 

It’s a good question. A question I pondered when I watched on the news, the story on repeat of Kim Davis, the Kentucky Clerk who refused to distribute marriage licenses to same sex couples.  I watched as the Christian community called her a martyr, which is an insult to the legacy of Christian martyrdom. She is a martyr only of her own ignorance and hatred.

The questions rings as clear as a bell. It keeps me up at night:

Why are Christians so hateful?

Being a Christian today, it’s discouraging. It’s disconcerting. Honestly, it’s embarrassing.

It’s embarrassing to be affiliated with people like the man at the carnival- yelling at the top of his lungs that homosexuals were bound for hell.

It’s embarrassing to be affiliated with Kim Davis, refusing to sanction two people who are in love.

It’s so embarrassing to go to church, to go to church conferences, and  listen to the archaic, uninformed, unimpressive conversations about homosexuality. As an institution, we the Church are so behind in our understanding of sexuality, homosexuality, in particular.

It is so exhausting to hear this tired conversation again and again, repeating this sames 3 or five verses condemning homosexuality.

We love to read these verses at the top of our lungs while not realizing that  in the same chapter we regretfully do not acknowledge the fact that

we also love  red lobster, that abominable shrimp is too good to pass up.

We also love our polyester blend, who really cares if we wear mixed fabric or not?

We also love our pig skin football. When God said “don’t eat pork, don’t even touch it” (Deuteronomy 14:8), surely he wasn’t talking about the Carolina Panther’s pig skin!”

The conversation about homosexuality is hypocritical, it’s uninformed, and it’s old. Ok. I said it. It’s so old. We have been having the same conversation for  the last 50 years, at least. The world has changed. The understanding of sexuality has completely changed.

I don’t know if you spend any time with teenagers but their understanding of sexuality, the sexual self, is completely different from our own formation. Whenever a teenager wanders into my office I say “how is your boyfriend… or girlfriend?” Who knows what is going on with them! A teen is crying about his girlfriend one moment and introducing his boyfriend to you the next.  There is a generation of people coming of age whose sexuality is so fluid. Things are different now.

And as quiet as it’s kept… that generation is not the only one. As much as we like to keep it a secret, sexuality is pretty fluid among our generation and our parent’s generation as well.

I mean you are as straight as they come… except that one time when you had too much tequila and woke up next to a man.

Or you love your husband and children so you don’t think about the three months in college when you had a girlfriend… it was only a phase after all…

We want homosexuality to be a clear cut, it’s a black and white issue. It’s a sin, being heterosexual is not a sin. We have the texts to prove it. But it isn’t black and white. It’s complex. It’s intricate. And as the Church, we don’t even have the language to even understand the different complexities of sexuality in society. That ends today. In this church we will, at the very least, consider the different fibers of sexuality.  so let’s begin:

First, there is sex. Sex refers to a person’s biological makeup. Sexual organs. Things like gonads, reproductive organs, and chromosomes. Are you born XX or XY? Sex seems clear cut but not even sex is not black and white like we want to make it. Many children are born with both sexual organs. Or not enough. Or neither. Doctors and parents make the decision about the sex of a child more often than you think. It happens all of the time. You probably didn’t know that because the thing about sex is that

it is none of you business.

People are always asking “is that a boy or a girl?,” but really it is none of your concern. What is going on underneath my robe- unless you want to buy me a house, a car, and put a ring on my finger- it is none of  your business.  And neither is anyone else’s sex.

Second, there is gender. Gender refers to the ways that we act out behaviors associated with our sex. Gender is the performance of being male or female. My gender is the reason why I am currently wearing heels too high to walk in. Gender is the way that girls try to sway their hips when they become preteens. Gender is what makes little boys puff out their chest to make them look tough even though crocodile tears are flowing down their cheeks. Gender is boys in blue and girls in pink. Gender is behavior. Gender is a verb.

Then there is gender conforming and gender nonconforming. Gender conforming or gender normativity is when a person identifies with their own biological sex and behaves accordingly. The princesses who loved pink, grew up to love pink, and raised their own princesses. The boys who loved dirt, football, and burps and grew up to raise boys who love dirt, football, and burps. That is gender conforming.

Then there is gender nonconforming. Gender non-conformity is when a person’s sense of self is incongruous with their biological sex. You have seen them throughout your life. When I was little, I had two older brothers. I dressed and played, and acted like them. I despised dresses. I wanted nothing more to run and jump and get dirty on my dirt bike with my brothers. We call that being a tomboy. It’s called being gender nonconforming. We all know gender nonconformists. Little girls who hate dresses. Little boys who rather be cheerleaders than football players. We have seen it. Why are they not welcome at the Church?

And then there are those who are gender non-conforming and find that they so completely identify with the opposite sex that they totally disassociate with their own gender-transgender individuals,- or totally disassociate with their own sex- transsexuals. Caitlyn Jenner is transgender. She was born a man, became a famous Olympian but then realized that the person that she is on the inside is female and not male. So she began to dress, behave, and assume the identity of the woman that believed she was born to be. Why is she not welcome at the Church?

Then there is sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is external rather than internal. It is not about your body like sex, it’s not about your identity like gender, it is about your affinity. It is about who you are attracted to.

Heterosexuals are who we all pretend to be (I said it). Heterosexuals are those who are attracted to the opposite sex. When a man loves a woman, when a woman loves a man.

Homosexuals are those who are attracted to the same sex. When a man loves a man. When a woman loves a woman.

Bisexuals are those who are attracted to both men and women. Bisexuals get no love from either heterosexuals or homosexuals. We all think they need to pick a team.

There are asexuals, those who do not perceive any sexual attraction to either males or females.

Sexual orientation is complex. We want to make it a black and white issue but it is not. Are people born gay or do they decide to be gay? The answer is yes. We all have the nephew who we knew he was gay when he was three years old at the family reunion when he wanted to dance with the girls instead of play with the boys. We knew when he was three, before he had any idea what sex was so of course we weren’t surprised when he brought his boyfriend home for thanksgiving, how could be we be? Come on you know you had that nephew!  Are homosexuals born gay? We all know that the answer is yes.

Do people decide to be gay? The answer is yes.  If a little girl was habitually raped by her stepfather from the time that she was 6 until the time that she is 16 and does not find safety or intimacy in the arms of a man is she wrong for deciding to find love in the arms of a woman? Of course you have your opinion but who are you tell her how to give or receive love? Is homosexuality a decision? yes.

It is not black and white. It is complex. You can be a male, gender non-conforming heterosexual. You can be a female, gender-conforming homosexual. You can be a female, transgender, asexual or anything in between and no matter who you are or how you identify you should be welcome at the Church but such people typically are not welcome.

Why? because…

Christians are not welcoming.

Christians are not hospitable.

Christians are hypocritical.

Christians are hateful

to those who are not cis gender heterosexuals. And

it’s discouraging. It’s disconcerting. Honestly, it’s embarrassing.

And the only reason that I do not leave this institution is because I am a company woman. And I believe in the product of my company. I believe in our product.  And our product is salvation. And we are selling our product at a very reasonable price. We are giving it away for free. I believe that the Church has something to give. serenity. and peace. and hope. and eternal life. We have the best product there is and his name is Jesus.

But we Christians, we the followers of Christ, We have lost our heritage. We have lost our identity entirely. We are the children of God. And God is love. How is it that we are marked by and known for our hate?

We have to reclaim our identity. We have to figure out again what does it actually mean to be Christian?

Paul, in the book of Galatians, asked the same question, “what does it really mean to be a Christian?”

Paul was preaching during a time when the Christian church was going through a major identity crisis.  The first Christians were a group of rag-tag Jews who believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah.  They believed that in order to accept Jesus you had to convert to the Jewish identity which included circumcision, a strict diet, and all sorts of rules that made a Jew a Jew.

To them, Christians shouldn’t eat shrimp (Which means No Red Lobster)

To them, Christians shouldn’t wear mixed fabric (Which means say good-bye to your favorite t-shirt because it is most assuredly 50% cotton and 50% polyester.)

To them Christians should not touch pork (Which means football season is canceled indefinitely).

Circumcision, eating shrimp, touching pork, these things don’t mean anything to you but to first century Christians, it meant everything. Being Jewish was everything. And they were so adamant about Jewish culture that it got in the way of spreading the Gospel because they came off as

not welcoming

and inhospitable.

and hypocritical

and hateful.

Paul says in Galatians that we must reclaim and hold fast to our identity. Our identity is not our customs, it is not our ancient beliefs, our identity is in Christ. And whatever we need to do to get this message of Christ to the rest of the world, that is what we must do. Even if that means changing the thoughts that we held dear, whether it be about shrimp or sexuality, it simply doesn’t matter. Even if it means letting go of the things that we think are the most important, whether that is circumcision or homosexual marriage, it doesn’t matter.

His words ring as clear as a bell:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God though faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free,

nor is there male or female,

for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-29).  

He says so clearly that it doesn’t matter if you are Jew or gentile. It doesn’t matter your race or ethnicity, it doesn’t matter your gender, sex, or sexual orientation. It doesn’t matter if you are

heterosexual

or homosexual

or bisexual

or asexual

we are all one in Christ.

It is time for us to heed the words of Paul and to put down our heritage of hatred and reclaim our heritage in the love of Jesus Christ. It is time for us to receive the Caitlyn Jenners of the world with welcoming, hospitable, sympathetic, and loving arms. For this is the Church. This is their home. We are all home here.

In Christ.

Amen.