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Why the Church Is Not And Will Not Be Revolutionary

Why the Church Is Not And Will Not Be Revolutionary
I’ve always liked to think of myself as a radical. I come by it honestly. That my parents named me after the prophet Micah should have been your first clue. When I was a kid, our family aided refugees fleeing war-torn Central America. My parents blocked trains carrying nuclear weapons. They got arrested for demonstrating at military bases. Our Christian faith was always tied up in subversive activity, undermining the status quo and demanding a more just world.

When I became a Christian as an adult, I followed a similar path. I identified Jesus as the the ultimate prophet. He spoke truth to power and overturned the rulers of this world along with the tables in the Temple. For me, nothing could be more radical than the gospel. Jesus was a revolutionary.

In many ways I still believe that. Yet in recent years I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with this Jesus-as-revolutionary paradigm. For one, it’s often used to link Jesus to left-wing politics. As if he were just an exemplar the Democratic Party, or socialism, or anarchism, or whatever other ideology we want to project onto him. But this can’t be. Jesus isn’t a spokesman for human ideology. Rather, he is the power and presence of God breaking into the world, disrupting all of our belief systems and power structures.

In the wake of the 2016 election, I’ve been encouraged to see large parts of the church finding its voice and speaking up for justice. For far too long, much of the church has hidden its prophetic light under a bushel. But in the face of the growing blasphemy of the anti-poor, anti-life, and anti-earth policies of the Religious Right, millions are re-discovering the social justice implications of the gospel. They’re speaking about it in openly theological terms. This is a hopeful sign. It could point towards a revival in an American Christianity that is rooted in the gospel of Jesus rather than the idolatry of power.

In the midst of my hope, I’m also concerned that the “progressive” church is at risk of becoming a liberal analog to right-wing Evangelicalism. The rise of the Religious Right was a disaster for both America and the church. An emergence of a Religious Left could be just as much of a catastrophe. Binding ourselves to political expediency and the dictates of human ideology, we risk once again diluting the gospel into talking points for cable new shows and slogans for marches.

This always seems to happen. From the earliest days of our faith, the people of God have often chosen politics over our allegiance to Jesus. Why? There are many factors, but one big reason may be that we on the progressive end of the spectrum have fundamentally misunderstood the relationship of Jesus to the powers and principalities of his day – and ours.

For those of us who lean progressive in our political outlook, it’s very easy to see Jesus as a scrappy freedom fighter. He’s the underdog who triumphs in the end. Jesus has the courage to speak truth to power, and the truth is vindicated. How does this occur? Maybe it’s through the power of the people. Or historical inevitability. We’re not really sure. But in any case, the meek inherit the earth and “love wins.”

In this way of looking at the world, the powers and rulers of this world are strong, and Jesus is weak. Jesus overcomes the might of the powerful through his clever teachings, charisma, and great community organizing skills. The authorities can kill Jesus, but they can’t kill the revolution – because the power of the people don’t stop. In this vision, the kingdom of God is always an insurgency, forever nibbling at the edges of the kingdoms of this world.

That’s an easy way for progressives to understand Jesus, but it’s not the truth. Just as the Religious Right warps the kingdom of God when they conflate it with their favorite politicians and a right-wing political and economic order, the Religious Left is tempted to view the kingdom of God as synonymous with a politics of resistance, and perpetual weakness.

The gospel isn’t revolutionary. Revolution is about the overthrow of the established order. It’s about the weak, the illegitimate, the unacknowledged seizing power from those who have every right to wield authority. Revolutionaries are rebels who assert their legitimacy through brute force.

Jesus is no rebel. Jesus has every right to power and authority. He is the legitimate ruler of the universe. He is not a revolutionary who seizes the mantle from the powerful; he is the king. The apparently mighty rulers, politicians, business leaders, and celebrities who lord over our society today – they’re not the established authority. They’re rebels and revolutionaries against our true Commander-in-Chief!

If Jesus isn’t a rebel, but rather the Authority, where does that leave us? We’re not radicals or dissidents. We’re loyalists. In the midst of a darkened and confused rebellion, we remember who the king is. The kingdom of God isn’t about overthrowing the rebel institutions and power structures of this world; it’s about holding fast in our loyalty to our true leader.

That has a different feeling, doesn’t it? Very different from the partisan political clawing that’s going on right now. This world begs, cajoles, and shames us into joining their ideological camps. It seeks to pull us into a sisyphean game of “king of the hill.” But we know who our king is. We have the peace that the world cannot give. We engage the suffering, degradation, and pain of this world with the confidence that comes from being not rebels, but servants of the true king.

How might this shift in perspective impact all of us who identify as followers of Jesus? Both for those of us who hold conservative viewpoints, as well as those of us who lean progressive, what does it mean for us that this world’s political, ideological, cultural, and economic systems are fallen and in rebellion against the kingdom of God? What does it mean for us to be loyalists of the one true king of the universe? How might our shared identity as citizens of the kingdom of God serve to unite us across partisan barriers?

Related Posts:

Have Progressives Made Trump God?

For Radicals, Living in Peace and Quietness Can Be A Challenge

Where was the Holy Spirit Before Jesus?

Where was the Holy Spirit Before Jesus?
This is a sermon that I preached on Sunday, 6/4/17, at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Numbers 11:24-30, Acts 2:1-21, & 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13. You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (FYI, the spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

Listen to the Sermon Now

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Before the light. Before the day and the night. Before the teeming life in the sea and on the dry land. Before anything we could see or imagine, the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

There’s a long tradition of Christian thought that imagines that the Holy Spirit was somehow not present, not a tangible reality in the world, until after the resurrection of Jesus. To be fair to all those Christian thinkers, there are some passages in Scripture that point to this idea. In chapter seven of John’s gospel account, he writes that Jesus taught his followers “about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

I’m not quite sure what John meant when he said that at that time there “was no Spirit.” But I have to be sure he didn’t mean that the Spirit didn’t yet exist. Because we know that the Spirit of God has existed since before time began. This Spirit, this breath, was what hovered over the waters at creation. It’s this breath that God breathed into Adam when he gave life to our species. This breath was present with Moses in the wilderness and with Elijah up on the high mountain when he heard the still, small voice of God.

We know from our readings this morning that the Spirit of God did not somehow come into being after the resurrection of Jesus. She’s been with us all along. But scripture does teach us that our relationship with the Spirit of God has changed over time. It hasn’t always been the same.

In the beginning, at the time of our creation, we were children of God in the garden. We stood innocent and simple-minded before God. We didn’t have the knowledge of good and evil. The presence and breath of God was always with us, walking in the garden in the cool of the day.

Back in those first days, the spirit, breath, and presence of God wasn’t something we even thought about consciously. It was just reality. To live as a human being was to be immersed in God’s presence, awake to his life.

But as we all know, things changed. We got into deep conversation with that very reasonable, very convincing snake. He told us that we could be like God.

We could be like God. It was such a perfect lie – such a characteristic lie of the Devil, wasn’t it? Because of course, we were already like God. That’s how God made us. We were created in the image of God. We were filled with every good thing. We lived in unity with our creator. We reflected his beauty and love. The only thing denied to us was separation from God.

And that’s the great irony. The serpent sold us the thing we already had: The life of the Spirit. The living presence of God, hovering over the waters of our lives. We grabbed that fruit with both hands, only to realize too late that to grasp at God – to try to control God – is an act of separation from God.

So from that time onward, our relationship with God changed. We experienced separation for the first time. Our breaths were no longer his breath. The Spirit of God became something distinct, apart, distant from us. In our shame we turned away. We made clothes to hide our nakedness, to hide ourselves from the radiance that we had once experienced as totally normal.

Many years passed. Thousands of years. So long that human beings had almost completely forgotten our original connection and unity with the Creator. We forgot that our breath used to share the same character as God’s breath. That he breathed in us and gave us life as children of God.

By the time Moses came around, the Hebrew people had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. The Hebrews had forgotten everything. Like the rest of humanity, they were spiritual amnesiacs. And this is what I think that John must have meant when he said that in the days before Jesus’ resurrection “as yet there was no Spirit.” For all practical purposes, that was true. The Hebrews, the Egyptians, all the people of the world had so thoroughly forgotten who God was, forgotten what it felt like to live in unity with the Creator, that it was as if the Spirit did not even exist.

Moses had forgotten, too. It took a dramatic intervention in the form of a burning bush to get Moses to wake up to who and whose he really was.

For a while, this kind of revelation was just limited to Moses. The Spirit of God hovered over Moses. Moses spoke to Aaron, and Aaron spoke to the people. It was always three degrees of separation. When Moses went up on the mountain to talk to God, he didn’t have to convince anyone to let him go up there alone. The people begged him to leave them behind. “Hey, Moses, why don’t you go up there and talk with God in the storm cloud? We’re just gonna stay down here and try not to get struck by lightening!”

For years, Moses was the only one to talk to God. Moses was the only one experiencing the presence of God’s Spirit.

But the Spirit wouldn’t stay constrained to being in relationship with just one man. As cool as Moses was – as stylish as his wild-man beard might have been – the Spirit was gonna hover. She was gonna keep hovering wherever she wanted to hover.

And so, as we read in our Scripture this morning from the Book of Numbers, it’s not too long before the Spirit starts to break out from her relationship with Moses and starts involving more people. Moses is tired, and God knows that no one person is meant to carry the burden of God’s message all alone. And so Moses called together seventy elders of the people and laid hands on them, so that they would receive a share of the Spirit, too. And it says the Spirit rested on them, and they prophesied.

But there were a couple of guys who missed the meeting. I guess they missed the memo or something, because they didn’t know up for the ceremony. But the Spirit didn’t seem to care at all. After all, the Spirit hovers wherever she wants to hover. So while the other sixty-eight elders were up at the tent revival, getting their Holy Spirit on, Eldad and Medad started hollering and breaking out in prophecy in the middle of the camp!

Now Joshua, Moses’ right-hand man, saw that Eldad and Medad were speaking out of turn. They were running around, exciting everyone, and drawing a lot of attention to themselves as they praised God in the Spirit. So Joshua ran back to the Tent of Meeting and told Moses: “Eldad and Medad are running around prophesying. You’ve gotta stop them!”

Moses couldn’t believe what Joshua was saying. How could it possibly be a bad thing for more people to receive the Spirit of God? “Are you jealous for my sake?” he asked Joshua. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

So throughout the Old Testament we see this pattern. Human beings try to corral God into specific times and places and rituals. We try to confine him to a tent, a temple, a holy-of-holies. We say that he can only show up in certain ways and to certain people. Can the high priest talk to God? Maybe. Can an ordinary person? No way. God is too holy to touch the sinfulness of ordinary human life. Let’s leave this one to the professionals.

But the Spirit isn’t afraid to touch the creation. Throughout the Old Testament, God chooses all sorts of people to breathe his Spirit onto. Some of them are the people you’d expect – kings and priests. Others – like Amos, Micah, and Elijah – not so much. God shows up in ways and people that are unexpected.

The prophet Joel foretold something even more spectacular. For so long, the Spirit of God had only appeared to some people, some of the time. But there was a day coming, said Joel, when God would pour out his presence on everyone. Just like in the old days, the Spirit of God would hover over the whole of the creation, leaving nobody beyond the reach of God’s love.

Today, we celebrate the day of Pentecost. As Christians, we remember one specific Pentecost more than 2,000 years ago. It was a day when the Holy Spirit came with such power and universality that the early followers of Jesus said: “This is the fulfillment of Joel’s promise. God has poured out his Spirit on everyone!”

On that day of Pentecost, after Jesus had been raised from the dead and ascended into the sky, all of the disciples were gathered together in one place. And the breath of God started to hover like she hadn’t hovered in a very, very long time.

It says, “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

The prophecy of Joel began to be fulfilled that day, as God created the church of Jesus Christ. Through his breath of life, thousands of people were knit together into a new creation, a new community, a people who walked together with God in the garden. In the midst of this fallen world, the New Jerusalem had appeared.

As followers of Jesus today, this is a reality that we are invited into. When we gather in Jesus’ name, the Holy Spirit hovers over us. The breath of God covers us, comforts us, and leads us with boldness and power. The same Spirit that created the cosmos is at work in us, revealing a new creation that heals the ancient separation.

It’s significant that the apostle Paul speaks about the life of our community in terms of the movement of the Spirit. Our faith in Jesus is made possible by the Holy Spirit. And it’s through the Spirit, dwelling within and among us, that we are able to manifest God’s love to those around us.

This happens in many ways. There are many manifestations of the Spirit’s presence, and none of us has all of them. But each manifestation – whether it be wisdom or knowledge or faith or healing or prophecy or miracles or discernment or tongues or interpretation of tongues – all manifestations of the Spirit are given to us for the common good. The Spirit is still creating – guiding and empowering us to heal the world.

We are so blessed. We live in the age of the Spirit, in a time where the Spirit of God is once again hovering over the waters. She’s hovering over our lives as we seek to follow Jesus together. She’s present in our midst as we gather here, in our homes, or in any other moment when we need to be knit together in God’s love.

It’s easy to miss it. It’s tempting to think that the Holy Spirit is only showing up in the most spectacular, high-energy moments. I’ve often doubted the Spirit’s presence when there weren’t tongues of fire and obvious miracles. But I’m reminded that throughout Scripture and throughout history that the breath of God shows up in many different ways. As a whisper, as a rushing wind, as encouragement, as sudden revelation. The breath of God blows where she will.

Let’s welcome her this morning. Holy Spirit, come.

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Jesus Is Lord. Trump Is Not.

Jesus Is Lord. Trump Is Not.
This is a sermon that I preached this Sunday (11/20/16), at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. The scripture readings for this sermon were: Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 1:67-80.

You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (FYI, the spoken sermon differs from the written text.)

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I was raised in the Quaker community, so I didn’t grow up with liturgical seasons. My church growing up was actually more “high church” than most Quaker meetings, if you can believe it. We actually did observe the Advent season to some extent. I remember as a kid we had five candles up front in the sanctuary, and during worship we’d light one for each week of advent. We finally lit the fifth one at our Christmas Eve service. That’s about as intense as our liturgical calendar ever got.

Since I became a Christian as an adult, I’ve really come to appreciate what I would call the “basic” liturgical calendar – all the big holidays that fall between Advent and Pentecost. Observing Lent, Good Friday, Easter – these have all become a meaningful part of my life. They help shape the spiritual rhythm of my year.

Lately I’ve been preaching more frequently here at Washington City Church of the Brethren, and I’ve found the lectionary to be a sort of gateway drug for what I’d call the “advanced” liturgical calendar. The broader church recognizes all sorts of special days and festivals, way beyond what I ever imagined. There’s a special focus, theme, saint, or event to commemorate practically every day of the year. Growing up Quaker, I thought that there were maybe half a dozen Christian holidays. Turns out, there are hundreds!

So, today is a holiday, too. It’s one that I’d never heard of before I looked at the lectionary for this Sunday. This morning, we’re gathered together on the feast day of Christ the King.

But check this out, this is cool. Ordinarily, today is referred to as the feast of Christ the King. But the official name for today is: The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Pretty cool, right?

Today is the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent. Advent is all about preparing ourselves for the arrival of the baby Jesus, the infant King of kings. We’re getting ready to welcome the Word made flesh, who comes to us in weakness and vulnerability yet is the power through whom everything came into being – from the sun in the sky to your breakfast this morning. He came in weakness, but his power is limitless. Though he was willing to die for us, God has raised him up to live and reign forever. This morning, we declare that Jesus is the one true God and sovereign of the universe.

He is our commander and chief. He is our president. He is the reference point for all our thoughts and actions. He is the rightful recipient of our prayers, our hopes, our dreams, and our devotion.

He is powerful leader.

This morning, our scripture reading talks about the huge difference between the leadership of human beings, and this fierce, loving reign of justice that we find in Jesus.

This reading is really well-timed. The limits and pitfalls of human government are about as clear as they’ve ever been in living memory. Our country has been struggling for a long time. And in the last year we’ve watched our society straining under the weight of political divisions, violence committed against black and brown bodies, hatred poured out on immigrants, women, and the LGBT community, and a stubborn refusal to respond to the very real ecological crisis that threatens our future as a people.

There’s never been a time in history when we’ve been in greater need of the kingship of Jesus. There’s never been an Advent season when we should be more ready to hear the good news that Christ is here to govern us in truth, compassion, justice, and wholeness.

On this morning, more than most mornings, we dream of an earth restored. We hear the creation crying out for redemption. We hear the voices of the poor, the oppressed, those who are shoved aside in our society. We hear the reality of our own pain and hopelessness in the face of so much evil. In the face of national leadership that for so many years has shown itself to be blind to the destruction of the creation, and deaf to the cry of the poor.

We need a savior. We need a leader. We need our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

In our scripture reading this morning, we hear that God is angry at the oppression of his people. Through Jeremiah the prophet, God calls out the ruling classes of Israel, who have posed as shepherds but who in fact are only interested in shearing the sheep and eating their flesh. God is speaking to the evil rulers of ancient Israel, and he is speaking just as clearly to those who rule over us today: The politicians and officials, the celebrities and pundits – an entire system of governance through fear, confusion, and consumerist seduction. God condemns this system, and he promises that he will judge it, upend it, and replace it with the long-awaited reign of God.

Here’s what God says through Jeremiah: “Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock… I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer…”

“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

We are in the midst of a national crisis. White supremacy has captured the White House. The constitutional order that has sustained American democracy for centuries is under threat. The very fabric of our society is being called into question.

But we’re not the first ones to experience this kind of upheaval. And we don’t stand alone in the face of these challenges. God has promised to accompany us in these dark days. He has assured us that he will intervene in history to thwart the selfishness and evil of our human leaders. He has promised to raise up a righteous Branch (his name is Jesus).

God has declared that he will be with us, and that he will send us a righteous ruler to govern us, to heal our people and our land. But we can’t just sit back and wait for that to happen. It’s not an accident that we receive this word of encouragement through the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah. There can’t be a kings without prophets. As part of God’s plan to reign in our society, we are called to be his prophets in this generation.

That’s what our second reading this morning is about. Early on in the gospel of Luke, we get introduced to John the Baptist. Actually, we first get introduced to his parents. John’s dad was Zechariah, Israel’s high priest. His mom was named Elizabeth. They were both very old, and had never been able to have children.

Well, one day when Zechariah is ministering before God in the Temple, the angel Gabriel appears to him and tells him that his wife Elizabeth is going to have a son. Zechariah is astonished at this news. Understandably, he expresses a little bit of uncertainty about the idea that he and his elderly wife could possibly bear children. In response to his skepticism, Gabriel tells Zechariah that until his son is born, he will not be able to speak. And so it is. Zechariah comes out of the Temple speechless, and he stays that way for the next nine months.

When the baby is born, there is some discussion about what his name should be. Elizabeth wants to name him John, but all the men of the family think he should be named Zechariah, after his father. When Elizabeth insists on the name John, the men go to Zechariah – who’s still mute – and ask him what name he wants to give the child. Zechariah asks for a writing tablet, and spells it out for them, “His name is John.”

Now the scripture says that after he writes these words, “Immediately his mouth was open and his tongue freed and he began to speak, praising God.” Zechariah must have been really noisy, because it also says that all the neighbors heard it and were frightened. “What then will this child become?” they asked one another. “For indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.”

It’s at this point that Zechariah gives the prophecy that we heard this morning. This birth was a miraculous sign that the reign of God is breaking into history. “He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.” John would be a prophet of this new order:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people, by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

We’re sitting in darkness right now. We’re in the shadow of death. We need the dawn to break on us. We need a prophet to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Well, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is, God “has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.” Jesus is here with us. He’s ready to lead us if we’ll open ourselves to his kingship. If we’ll take on the very real risks that come with being his friends. In times like these, that’s encouraging to me.

Here’s the bad news. If we want to walk in the kingdom of God, the riskiness of discipleship isn’t going to stay theoretical for very long. This journey is going to cost us, just like it cost John.

Most of us know what happened to John. He had an amazing ministry. He touched the lives of thousands. And, just as Zechariah predicted, he was instrumental in preparing a way for the ministry of Jesus, who conquers the world and all its darkness.

John was a prophet. John spoke the word of God. Unabridged and uncut. He didn’t win popularity contests with the rulers. It’s not an accident that he spent his ministry living out in the wilderness beyond the reach of polite society. He was one of the most powerful voices in all of Israel, and yet he lived his life as an outcast.

John was also imprisoned for his witness. He ultimately died for it, when Herod ordered him beheaded. John was a prophet of God, and like so many other prophets before and after him, he paid the ultimate price for his faithful obedience.

The good news is that the reign of God is coming. It’s the power of invincible love that can’t be destroyed. But, as Jesus demonstrated for us, that unstoppable power is revealed in weakness, suffering, and even death. John died in Herod’s dungeon. Jesus was put to death on a Roman cross. The cost of discipleship is real, and each one of us has to consider whether we are ready to face the consequences of following Jesus.

We can’t delay our choice any longer. The false shepherds are devouring our people. The wolves are loose in the fold. God has promised us deliverance, a savior. Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe stands with us and sees all the way to the end of war, violence, intimidation, and discrimination.

But that eschatological reality doesn’t exempt us from the challenge of discipleship. On the contrary, it is precisely because Jesus has conquered the world through the blood of his cross that we must be willing to carry our own, in this time and place.

When we as Christians say that “Jesus is Lord,” we are by necessity saying that Caesar is not. The United States government is not lord. Donald Trump is not lord. The white supremacist regime that is currently preparing to take power is not lord. Just as John spoke the truth to the tyrant Herod, we must preach the word in this dangerous season.

Jesus proclaimed good news to the poor, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. He let the oppressed go free. He proclaimed the jubilee year of debt forgiveness. He endured torture and death at the hands of empire. He preached the good news all the way to the depths of hell. What will he ask us to do? Are we ready?

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It is a solemnity. It’s a solemnity because love is powerful. Love doesn’t play games with the truth. It doesn’t back down before hatred and fear. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Empires come and go, but love never ends. We have to ground ourselves in that.

These are heavy times, and this is a heavy sermon. But I hope that you feel encouraged, too. Because we are incredibly privileged to be the friends of the light in these days of darkness. John the Baptist knew that it was a joy and an honor to serve as a prophet of the living God. So will we. Through the pain, the doubt, and the uncertainty, we are being invited into the most joyful path that there is, the way of Jesus – our brother, our friend, our king.

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Trump Will Be President. We Must Resist.


Under a broken electoral college system, and in the context of widespread suppression of black and brown voters, the United States has chosen an openly racist, climate-denying, misogynistic, alleged sexual predator as its executive leader. With the appointment of racist zealot Stephen Bannon to Trump’s cabinet, white nationalism (for some reason referred to as “populism” by the establishment press) has been catapulted to the highest levels of our government. These are dark days indeed.

Since the election, I’ve been trying to reject despair and look for positive next steps that I can take in the midst of this nightmare scenario. One thing is for certain: Trumpism is not normal. It is essential that we not allow ourselves to get used to a world that embraces overt racism and xenophobia. These are times that call for faithful resistance to manifest evil that is emerging across our nation and planet.

It is also time for repentance. For those of us who have opposed Trump’s rise to power, we must acknowledge our own complicity in the economic systems that have fueled his rise. Income inequality, disastrous trade deals that benefit primarily the 1%, and a political system that is governed by big money and elite interests – all of these have been fully embraced by leaders in both parties. As we heed the call to resist this new, very dangerous administration, we must never forget the decades of elite bipartisan collusion that led us to this point.

Nothing has been more bipartisan than the creation of the military/industrial complex that is about to pass into the hands of the Trump regime. The drone-equipped surveillance state that Trump will inherit has been most fully developed and refined under the eight years of President Obama’s administration. Democrats polished the gun that is about to be placed in Trump’s hand.

For all of us who have been willing collaborators – or even just sullen bystanders – in this process, it is time for repentance. We must recognize and repent of of our willingness to tolerate endless war, unlimited spying, and repression of people around the globe. Even under the leadership of our first African American president, this state-sponsored terror has mostly targeted people of color – both within the United States and beyond its borders. For those of us who are white people, this calls for an extra layer of awareness and repentance.

As challenging as these times are, there is going to be a temptation to fall into one of two traps: Despair, and panic. On the one hand, we may become so overwhelmed by the loss and horror that we are witnessing that we choose to zone out and try to retreat into our own personal bubbles. This strategy is already being openly advocated by people like Garrison Keillor, who plans on withdrawing from public life and abandoning America to the wolves of Trumpism. This is a move only possible for the most privileged among us, who choose to ignore the struggles of people of color, women, and LGBT folk, and hope that the Trump regime won’t come for them next.

Besides despair and resignation, the other temptation we face is panic. Many of us are only half-joking when we talk about fleeing to Canada. There’s a sense that Trump’s regime will reshape the face of America overnight. But our answer must be: “Not if we have anything to say about it.”

And we do. We live in a perilous moment, but the friends of freedom, compassion, and justice are not without resources. The United States government and civil society still contain many checks and balances to slow the rise of authoritarianism in our country. Trump’s election has awakened millions of us to the threat that we’re facing. The time has never been more ripe for a real, positive change in our nation. 

We must have the courage to be agents of that change. Unbowed by fear of the unknown, by the threats and hatred being spewed by the white nationalist right, we are called to stand with the least of these our brothers – all those who are threatened by the rise of Trump.

Now is the time to stand up, organize, and resist. Not next month. Not after the inauguration. Today. As we speak, the Trump administration is planning out its strategy for the first 100 days of the new regime. So must we.

For all of us who seek to be friends of Jesus, now is a time to live out his commandment that we be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” I ask that you join me in prayer that leads to courageous action. May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ guide us into faithful witness in the face of darkness and oppression.

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This Wall Is Coming Down. Which Side Are You On?

This Wall Is Coming Down. Which Side Are You On?
This is a sermon that I preached at the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering on 10/9/2016, near Washington, DC. The scripture readings for this sermon were: John 16:29-33 and Zechariah 4:6

You can listen to the audio, or keeping scrolling to read my manuscript. (FYI, the spoken sermon is significantly different from the written text.)

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As the Second World War was nearing its end, the Nazi order was falling apart, and the Allied powers raced to carve up Europe and establish the conditions of the peace.

At war’s end, Germany was divided into four military jurisdictions. The Russians controlled the east, while the US, Britain, and France controlled the west. The German capital of Berlin was divided the same way, despite the fact that it lay deep within the Soviet jurisdiction of East Germany.

As you can imagine, tensions were running high from the beginning. Having a western military enclave in the midst of Soviet East Germany was deeply frustrating for the Russians, and the Soviet leaders did everything they could to push the western Allies out. Probably the high water mark of these tensions came in 1947 and 1948, when the Soviets closed off the roads to the city, hoping to starve the western powers out. In what became known as the Berlin Airlift, the US and its allies succeeded in holding out for almost a year, supplying the city with around-the-clock air deliveries of food and other vital supplies. By the summer of 1948, it was clear that West Berlin would remain under Allied control.

Still, West Berlin represented an ongoing problem for the Soviet-aligned authorities in East Germany. The western powers worked hard to make West Berlin a showcase of democratic governance and capitalist economics. With its shining buildings, modern jobs, and free markets flourished, many East Germans weren’t satisfied to watch from across the line. By 1961, about 20% of East Germany’s population had defected to the West – most of them passing through West Berlin.

That year, the East German government finally had enough. They decided to close the “West Berlin loophole” and end the massive brain drain out of East Germany.

It started as check points and barbed wire around the whole of West Berlin – 91 miles. Soon, they erected concrete barriers, walling West Berlin off like a city under siege. Over time, the East German government kept developing taller walls. They installed a broad “death strip” in the middle, where those trying to flee across the barrier could be shot on sight. By the time the wall was fully developed, it was massive – with concrete sections twelve feet high and four feet thick. Barbed wire, observation towers, and regular canine patrols sought to ward off any who would dare attempt entry into the forbidden city.

It wasn’t until 1989 that the standoff began to fall apart. In the face of widespread protests and a weakening Soviet grip, the repressive East German government was teetering on the edge of collapse. Even in this environment, it was a huge surprise for ordinary Germans and people around the world when the East German government announced that the wall would be opened for free movement of people, effective immediately!

In response to this dramatic news, the people of both East and West Berlin were out in the streets that very night, celebrating. That weekend, more than 2 million East Berliners crossed over to the west, holding one of the greatest street parties in human history. Ordinary people began to physically dismantle the wall with hammers and chisels. Berlin was free, and very soon all the rest of Germany would be, too.

And the whole world was left wondering – how did this happen? How do you go from shoot-on-sight, concrete barriers, and razor-wire bunkers to free movement, literally overnight? How could the Soviet-backed regime in East Germany that seemed so powerful, collapse under its own weight in a matter of months? In January of 1989, the long-time leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker had predicted that the Berlin wall would easily stand for another 50 to 100 years. How could he have been so wrong?

It makes you wonder what kinds of nonsense we’re taking for granted today. Think of some of the institutions, authorities, and economic forces that seem so invincible right now. Will they last another 50 to 100 years? Could it be that they’ll collapse in the next few months?

One of the things that made Jesus so special to his first disciples was the way that he could see beyond appearances. Jesus saw through the veneer of holiness and authority of the priests and religious leaders in his society. He saw beyond the bristling power and raw brutality of the Roman occupiers and their puppet dictator. While most everyone around him imagined the future as an extension of the past, Jesus saw that the past, present, and future have one sovereign author.

When the priests insisted that their systems of power and social control would last forever, Jesus predicted a day not too far off when the Temple would be laid waste. And when the Roman rulers threatened him with terrible torture and death, Jesus could see to the end of them, too. He saw past the pomp, grandeur, and violence of human ambition. He bore witness to the truth – to a kingdom that has overcome the power of death.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Take courage. I have conquered the world!” Crucified by the powers and raised from the dead, Jesus Christ has unmasked the rulers and authorities of this world who claim their own self-sovereignty and deny the power of love. Jesus has revealed the bankruptcy of the powers, the emptiness of their threats in the face of the all-powerful, never-ending, fearsome love of his Father. Our Father.

The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, but the spirit of this wall is alive and at work in the world today. There are millions of us in our country right now whose primary solution for the very real fear and grief we feel is to “build the wall!” How much we’ve forgotten. It wasn’t so long ago that building walls was recognized as a signature mark of authoritarian regimes and oppressive dictatorships.

And yet, this idea of building walls is nothing new. How many of you have actually seen the wall that divides the United States from Mexico? You wouldn’t forget it. It’s taller than the Berlin wall, for one thing – 21 feet tall, and six feet deep. On the US/Mexico border – today, before we “build the wall” – right now there are 580 miles of border fence. That’s six times longer than the Berlin wall.

There are many other walls throughout the world – walls dividing Gaza and the West Bank from the rest of Israel/Palestine. Barriers separating eastern parts of Ukraine from the rest of the country. Border fences holding back a tidal wave of desperate refugees who are seeking refuge in Europe. We live in the age of the high wall and guard tower.

But I don’t want to dwell here, reciting a litany of injustice. Because Jesus didn’t. Jesus was perfectly capable of delivering a stunning critique of the powers that be – both the local ones, and the big powers like the Roman Empire. Yet his most important message was not a criticism of the dying world of greed, selfishness, and human ambition. Rather than wallowing in the propaganda of Empire – reflecting on the apparent strength of the darkness that binds us and separates us from one another – Jesus offers us peace. Jesus offers us victory. Jesus offers us a kingdom that is right now, here in our midst. Jesus tells us, “Take courage. I have conquered the world!”

In preparing to speak to y’all tonight, I have felt very clear that the heart of the message is this: We don’t need to be afraid.

We live in an age of fear. Have you noticed? All the television channels are dialed up for maximum terror. Every news item, every advertisement, every weather alert, practically every piece of media that we commonly encounter is designed to tap right into our most base instincts – our lizard brains that know very little beyond fight, flight, and… another f-word.

We need to be real about this. I know that we know this. Intellectually, I think that every one of us in this room realizes that we live in a culture of fear and manipulation. But do you enter your day prepared? We are in a spiritual warfare here. The powers of evil – Wall Street, the Pentagon, cable news, Facebook ads – this whole culture is busy seeking to pull their false world over our eyes.

Don’t be afraid. Have courage. Jesus has conquered the world.

But stay awake. Stay awake with Jesus, and don’t be fooled by the siren-song lullaby of marketers and politicians. Stay awake and keep watch, because the Holy Spirit is on the move.

The Holy Spirit is here tonight. The same power that overcame the Berlin Wall is right here with us, ready to break down the walls that separate us from one another. From love. From the truth.

We can’t do this on our own. We can’t stay awake without help. We can’t see like Jesus sees unless he guides us. But the good news for those of us gathered here tonight is that Jesus can. He will guide us. “Take courage! He has overcome the world.” And we can, too.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts” – those are Zechariah’s words to us. The Lord of Hosts – that means, the “Lord of Armies” – he’s a conquering God. In Jesus we worship a conquering God. Not a conquerer like the world understands it – not a bloody tyrant of guns, germs, and steel – but a loving God who overcomes the darkness with light, hatred with love.

Still, I have to ask myself: Why did the Berlin wall fall when it did? How could it be that the rulers and authorities of East Germany were so confident in the oppressive order they had established? How could the leader of East Germany, the very year that his government would collapse, how could he predict that the wall would stand for another 50 or 100 years? And why did most of the world believe him?

We live in an age of wall and guard tower. We live in a time when there are so many Berlin walls that remain standing, seem invincible. Here in this city where we meet. Our nation. Our world stands divided on so many levels. Our friends and family – we ourselves – have been deceived. We have traded the truth for a lie. We’ve chosen to live in darkness and despair, rather than dwelling in the victory and power that Jesus promises. In this age of walls, barbed wire, vampire capitalism, and ecological catastrophe, it feels like the powers of death and oppression are eternal.

We are here tonight to declare that these powers have already been defeated. Jesus has conquered them. They stand naked and empty. Their authority has been stripped away by the blood of Jesus. Think of the Berlin wall the day before its gates were opened. Judging by outward appearances, it was as solid and fearsome as ever. But the Spirit of Jesus could see deeper. He saw to the heart of the matter. He knew with infallible, loving justice that that wall would fall tomorrow.

The injustice we see in the world today has already been conquered by the sacrifice and Spirit of Jesus. As his friends and disciples, it is our great privilege to walk with him in revealing the spiritual nakedness of Empire, and the spiritual emptiness of its walls. Each one of us is invited to take up a hammer and begin chipping away at the dead edifice that stands so fearsomely before us.

And, like the people of Berlin, we are called to the greatest street party the world has ever known. Even when it hurts. Even when it seems like we can never win. The Holy Spirit gives us confidence to be like Jesus in this world of walls, bombs, and guns. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.”

Take courage. Jesus has conquered the world!

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What Would You Do If ISIS Killed Your Child?

What Would You Do If ISIS Killed Your Child?
I recently read a blog post by a US Army chaplain, who talks about his struggle with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. In a military context, he regularly finds himself asked some version of the question: “If ISIS killed your child, would you pray for them?” His answer? “Yes, while I am on my way to kill them.”

I understand this answer. It’s my natural answer, too. When others wrong me, I want to strike back. I want revenge. There’s something deeply human in the idea that we can somehow restore a measure of order, balance, and justice to the world through violent retribution.

But for people like that army chaplain, and for any of us who claim Jesus as our Savior, Lord, and Teacher, this is not an answer that we can ultimately accept. Jesus has commanded us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us. The meaning of Jesus’ words are clear, unambiguous. If we take the Bible seriously – and, more importantly, if we take Jesus seriously – we must embrace the way of love for enemies.

Jesus’ actions are even clearer. Through his saving death on the cross, he demonstrates for us the way that God handles the sin, darkness, and horrible injustice that has spread like a cancer in our world. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners, apart from God. Jesus died for us when we were his sworn enemies. Jesus’ death was no accident. We killed him.

Yet God in Jesus demonstrates a reaction that is so foreign to our broken human nature. Where we rush to seek bloody vengeance, Jesus allows his death to become a doorway to forgiveness, healing, and transformation for we who have been the murderers.

In Jesus, we discover that our own rush to judgment and violence is a reflection of the fallen order – the darkness that God would free us from. When we become friends of Jesus, when we choose to follow him, we are led inevitably into an encounter with the cross – and that cross disarms us forever.

Nevertheless, we are called to a certain kind of warfare. The life of a disciple is full of struggle, since we are called to go against the grain of the surrounding society. History has shown time and again that many who choose to follow the way of Jesus will be subject to trouble, persecution, even death. In the midst of this challenge, our war is one of selfless love that stands firm in the face of hatred, evil, and darkness – exposing it to the light for all to see.

Violence, oppression, and all sorts of evil hide behind a veneer of respectability and authority. The role of the prophetic church is to issue an invitation to see what’s really happening behind the curtain. As disciples of Jesus, we are given authority to unveil Empire, challenging all the powers and principalities that twist our society and harm our communities.

And when they come for us, when they slander and attack us, we have only one defense: prayer for enemies, and the courage to continue our powerful witness in the face of social pressure, threats, and violence.

Is that the kind of church you belong to? Do you want to? I’d like to invite you to join us for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering (October 7-10). We’ll be exploring how we can actively, imaginatively, and faithfully follow Jesus in a chaotic and broken world. Registration is open now. I hope you’ll consider attending. Together, we can live more deeply into the way of courage, the way of the cross, the way of Jesus.

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How We Can Wage Peace Amid the Chaos
We’re living in a time when it feels like everything is ready to fly apart. Our political process is bursting at the seams. There’s violence in our streets, and fear in our living rooms. As if all this weren’t enough, we are faced with an ecological crisis beyond any human experience. The challenges of our age are at least as great as those of any other generation – and that’s saying a lot.

In the midst of all this tumult, it’s hard not to get swept up in reflex and reaction. We see problems and want to fix them. We see injustice and want to denounce it. Yet it seems that the increasing volume of our bitter arguments is only leading us on a path to greater destruction. We watch the dismemberment of our civil society, the arena in which we had hoped for cooperative solutions. Our emotional temperature is so high, it’s hard to imagine finding any unity.

Make no mistake, there are battles worth fighting. But as followers of the risen Jesus, the weapons of our warfare are different from those of the world. Our armor is the humble-yet-confident poise that comes from walking in intimacy with God. Our armaments are love unfeigned, a genuine concern for the well-being of even our enemies. This is no abstraction; it’s very a concrete, ethical concern that moves us to take great risks for the sake of love. Despite the cost, we are commissioned to answer the witness of God in those who seek to destroy us.

In these days of hatred and violence, the Holy Spirit invites us into a new, creative path. It’s a path that goes toe to toe with the powers of selfishness and fear that reign so openly in our society today. It’s a path that penetrates the lies and confusion. It’s the way of Jesus, who confronted the rulers and authorities once and for all, giving us power to become children of light.

There is a quiet voice in our hearts that says, “another way is possible.” Despite all the horror that this young century has offered us, there is a presence deep within us that cries out, “even so, come Lord Jesus!” It’s a fearsome voice, one that calls us into the midst of danger with no protection but the power of love.

Are you and I ready to respond to this invitation? What does it mean to participate in Jesus’ way of love, which overcomes hatred and division through the blood of his cross? How can we prepare ourselves to return good for evil – to speak the truth, even if our voice shakes?

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