Letting Go to Move Forward with Expectation

Rev. Joseph P. Deck, III

December 10, 2017

My brothers and sisters, I believe God truly does have a sense of humor, a flair for the dramatic as He moves us from many of our social ills to a place of healing and deliverance.  This appears to be an intentional misdirection, further executed from an unexpected place outside of established norms! Let us take a brief look at a few examples.  According to the story of creation in Genesis, God creates people and then puts a tree in the garden and says do not eat of it.  May I insert a ph Deck equivalency here? That is like me going to the gym, working out daily, eating right, counting carbohydrates, counting calories, watching my fat intake, drinking good healthy “pH” balanced water, and you put a piece of homemade coconut cake in front of me for all eternity and tell me not to eat it.  I imagine my fascination with this premise would turn to hallucination and every time I walked by that cake, I would see a mouth on it calling my name to come and partake in all its glorious scrumptiousness.

I realize the good old Pope, whom I admire, does not believe it is theologically possible for God to tempt us and is pushing to reword the Lord’s prayer.  I get it theologically, but I struggle with it from my relationship with God and my relationship with God’s creation.  But God has a flair for the dramatic, a sense of humor, and deliverance from an unexpected place. 

In the Old Testament God declares that Abraham and Sarah, well into their old age, will have a child.  This is so incredibly ridiculous that Sarah, at the utterance of this decree, laughs.  I heard a preacher say Sarah was probably not laughing at having the baby in her older age; it was the thought of making a baby with Abraham! Later that laughter gave way to the frown of contractions as she delivered Isaac. 

There is the Biblical account of the boy who would be King by the name of David, who is so small he cannot fit the armor provided to him by the King of Israel, yet he picks up five smooth stones and puts one in a slingshot and defeats the giant Goliath!  According to scripture, God takes a small spirited group of Hebrews, 400 years in slavery, ill-equipped for warfare who defeat the powerful Egyptian army.  Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal, telling them to build an altar and ask their God to light it with fire.  When their pleas go unanswered, Elijah taunts them, saying maybe he is using the bathroom, and allegedly pours water on the altar, and calls on the name of the Lord; and fire consumes the altar.  God has a flair for the dramatic, uses humor, and brings deliverance from an unexpected place, out of established norms, to achieve an expected result.

It is in our frailties that our flawed humanity cries out to the necessity of divine intervention.  We have proven over time we do not have the capacity for sustainable agape love, we have not overcome greed, and we let competition be more valuable than cooperation for the common good.

In this Gospel accredited to John Mark, written from a Roman-ish perspective, we see the writer more concerned with what Jesus does as compared to what Jesus says.  John records an interesting paradox because the passage opens by saying this is the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the beginning of the good news!  But it appears to come from a source that is not credible.  Interesting how the same struggles we deal with today have a long history!  The bearer of this news is not one of the prophets who came out of the schools of higher education, polished and pedigreed from a wealthy family, driving the latest fully-loaded chariot.  Here comes John the Baptist, counter-cultural in every way, a kind of      pre- Shane Claiborne, wearing camel hair and a leather belt and eating biodegradable bugs.  Probably did not wear the latest haircut of the day.  This was a possibly visual protest to over indulgence. It is interesting that God chose one who did not dress in the traditional fashions of the day or adhered to the sheik dietary standards; he used John.  John understood being different or “other.” John had empathy for the marginalized.

He came with followers believing in this baptism he was espousing.

Point #1 - He brings credibility to his message from a point of reference that offered compromised agreement.

John quotes one of the prophetic superstars of the day, the Prophet Isaiah.  This buys him some time as he sounds the reason and validity of his call.  I believe this is important. Those who have gone before you, with the gifting and the graces, can help you walk the journey of your call.  They are credible because of experience, perseverance, and call.  I am grateful for the spiritual support team that was a part of my “call development,” mentors in this room, investors in the call financially and spiritually who believe in the merits of the call to birth the Institute of Radical Reconciliation.

Point #2 – Letting go is essential to moving forward

How would your life be different if you learned to let go of things that have already let go of you? 

From relationships long gone, to old grudges, to regrets, to all the could’ve and should’ve, to the dead friendships you still hang on to; free yourself from the burden of a past you cannot change

John was the big man on campus, he was creating and calling disciples, yet he understood the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few, or the one!

He moved the focus from him individually to the one coming with a different set of gifts to take the people to a greater place.  They were confessing their sins.

Separation from the Festival Center was not easy. I spent eight years here as one of the longest-tenured Executive Directors.  Together with the Board of Directors, we moved through some extremely challenging and difficult times to keep the doors open through the lenses of what is the call and relevance of the center.  The center was gracious in approval of a $50,000 matching grant that I have drawn down by 50%.  During the hustle of the startup phase it became apparent that I could not draw down salary, be provided medical insurance, and there wasn’t space for an office.

God was providing all the signs that I had to cut the umbilical cord, but I did not want to do it.  I rationalized and worried about ways to do it.  But I have learned that faith and call are not built upon calculated measures of risk.  I believe they are built upon understanding that the authenticity of the call and willingness to sacrifice for it will hopefully build up faith and belief that this is the thing you were created to do!  The separation had to occur, but a wonderful thing emerged, and sprouts of beauty began to spring up from the ashes of my fears.

Not being able to afford the exorbitant cost of COBRA, as a veteran of the United States Navy, I filed and was accepted for VA medical coverage.

It forced me out of my comfort zone and produced a new hunger that refocused the call in me.  I began to understand the work had to come from within the deep recesses of my being.  I had to prepare the way for the spirit to come and do a greater work.

Reid Temple AME Church believed in my call.  I have served as the Minister to Men in one of the largest mega churches in the World.  My call was shifting as I gained more confidence in explaining my passion and the importance of the need.  Reid Temple did the unthinkable!  They provided a salary, office space and resources to undergird the Call.  Why is this significant?  It is significant because it is difficult to engage middle-class, upper-middle class, and wealthy African Americans about racial reconciliation.  It is difficult to talk them out of the silos of comfort with degrees hanging on the wall, investments doing well, trust funds in place, real estate wealth that does not support sacrificing and rocking the boat to deal with race relations.

We need help, the incarnation is our roadmap, as the Word made flesh, Jesus came to an unprepared people in an unprepared place to help them accomplish the impossible.

Point #3 – You Cannot do the Work Alone, but bring the Right People

John said one is coming greater than I.  He had his mission group.  Jesus was coming with knowledge of the moral law, the ceremonial law (John didn’t do well there) and the civil law and would help synthesize them together.  John said I will baptize you with water, the symbolic cleansing, but I will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.  Getting our internal work together of confession, atonement, and forgiveness, is the cleansing that moves us into the fire of the Holy Spirit.  It is beyond our capacity to do without this passionate baptism!  We need help, and that help comes from the Holy Spirit to guide us when to “hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, when to walk away, when to run, and who to do it with!  My baptism by fire has thus provided the following open doors:

  • Gathering at Harvard School of Divinity where I took part in the journey of spiritual development and formation of young people who asked for guidance of elders.
  • Invited by the Harvard Fellows and the On-Being Fellows of Krista Tippet studios in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I joined with many leaders (spiritual & secular) to explore the ways we are building community through mentoring, relationship, etc. 
  • I was interviewed by the On-Being Fellows in the studio, speaking on the subjects of loneliness, separation, and isolation that is breaking down community and the effects it has on our relationships from the perspective of the Institute of Radical Reconciliation.
  • This past Monday, I was invited to a meeting hosted by my Bishop, James Davis, and Bishop Darrin Moore of the AMEZ denomination, and Bishop James B. Walker, CME Bishop with Presiding Elders, and Pastors or all three denominations putting together a strategy to deal with racism, white supremacy, and a March on April 4th, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.  I represented the Institute of Radical Reconciliation. 
  • There is an opportunity to link up with Rev. Dr. William Barbour and the new poor people’s campaign that he just announced to pool resources together and prevent duplication of effort.
  • I have taught a seven-week class to the Bread of Life Church, from the “Clergy Anti-Racism Toolkit”.  This toolkit was put together with input from the Institute of Radical Reconciliation and religious leaders around the world to address the awful domestic terrorism that took place in Charlottesville Virginia.  This course focused on resistance though reparative justice with the following three objectives:

Objective 1: How to respond to Actions of white supremacy, hate groups when confronted personally and institutionally;

Objective 2: Understanding of resources that go in my tool-belt and the development of actions plans;

Objective 3; Ways to bring healing and community building, obtained through key pillars of research, prophetic courage, resistance, protection, and healing

The last class this Thursday will be the launch of Radical Fellowship Dinners that have the potential to go international.  The theme comes from the Biblical Concept of Love Feasts done with light programming with primary emphasis on breaking bread together while breaking the chains of struggle that keep us apart.

Point #4 – Educate yourself to avoid repetitive obstacles

I have learned through the “Me too” movement that some of the worst sins do not smell like urine, are not in AA or NA programs, do not have tracks on their arms, are not sitting behind bars because they could not afford a lawyer, some of the greatest sins are committed by those who misuse power uneducated in social graces and proper use of power.

Often, I am hammered about the progress that has been made, from the election of Barak Hussain Obama, and the leaders of some of the ecclesiastical bodies such as Michael Curry, leader of the Episcopal Church.

May I invite you into the back-corner room where some black folk hang out and talk among themselves this morning.  This place is not the Holy of Holies, but it is a place where you hear the conversations that are on the pulse of black thought.  It is said that minorities rise to power when organizations are at the point of ruin and collapse:

  • Barak Hussain Obama, President of the United States: Horrible economy under Bush
  • Rev. Teresa Hord Owens, elected president of the Disciples of Christ: Major decline in membership
  • Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church: Major decline in membership/great schism over LBGTQ issues
  • The Reverend Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II serves as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the largest Reformed denomination in the United States: Major decline in membership, understands there has not been opportunities for women and minorities

Van Jones so eloquently termed it “White Lash” because when minorities are put in leadership, often it is because the organization is in a crisis. If the individual leads the organization out of the abyss, they are lauded and celebrated, but a “white lash” will occur, hence Donald Trump.

Conclusion

You must let go to move forward when you recognize help from unexpected places.  I want to thank Donald Trump for being my greatest marketing rep.

You must let go to move forward when you get out and vote and get your community mobilized to vote

You must let go to move forward when you move from talking about how difficult something is to do what others have done, accept your call, dream big, and trust God to help

You must let go to move forward when you have the courage to speak up and speak out when you know should

You must let go to move forward when you take the necessary sacrifices out of your head, mind, and heart, and place them in your hands to move from difficulty to achievement

You must let go to move forward when you forgive yourself, love yourself, and love your fellow human beings the same way

The bridge from intention to transformation is practice

As John preached he said, “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.”  Let us look to the Lord internally, to change what is happing externally, to make a world that has been radically reconciled!