July 8, 2012
Good morning everyone. This morning I wanted to share with you my reflections of the past year. My discoveries, my failures and triumphs are on full display today. This being my first sermon, they may be displayed verbally as well.
Before I re-accepted Christ in my life, joined Church of the Saviour (COS) and the Discipleship Year program (DY) my life was a stagnant shell of what it could be. I was working, partying, idling but there was no spiritual growth whatsoever. That lack of spiritual growth left a gaping hole that led to deep bouts of depression. I believed in Christ, but I felt Christ did not believe in me, I felt those that believed in Christ were hypocrites, that everyone wanted to be Jesus, but no one actually wanted to put forth the work, the effort and endure the pain that Jesus gladly accepted on our behalf. So I adopted these codes that I would live my life by. Honor thy father, treat others fairly, work hard, no drug use, and etc.; Superficial edicts that I had come up with to govern my activities. I created an idol to grow into.
We all have done it. We look at who we are, are going to be or the deeds we have done and feed this god of ourselves. We keep building ourselves up to a point that the ideals or deeds themselves become secondary and our own self satisfaction becomes paramount.
During a fairly intense bout with depression which I look back on as me rejecting and doubting this idol, this false temple I had constructed, I was introduced to the COS. I instantly fell in love with these people that were fighting with their bodies, their resources and their faith to combat the injustices of empire. I joined a spiritual support group to wash the mortar and dirt from my soul and allow myself to be broken down in a safe place and not be judged for the person I had become.
Time passed and I started to attend 8th day faith community on a regular basis. I loved the messages that were given, the lamentations felt so genuine and I felt that these people just got it. I joined as a community member and it just felt right. I spoke with Dawn Longenecker and opted to join the DY program. It was a great fit for me. Going into a completely different environment and living interpendently with others was fairly new to me. I embraced this community and strived to make connections that would have never taken place whether due to generational, racial or socio-economic differences. Then something happened.
I hit a wall. A spiritual wall. The commitments the meetings and the need to please other and be involved took its toll on me. I stopped meeting with my spiritual advisor, whom I admire and respect, mostly due to the misperceived pressure that I felt. I didn’t feel that I was ready to undertake a mission. Not that I didn’t know some of the things that I felt needed to be done, but the fact that I was so afraid of failing or never taking off and what that would look like to the community. So I backed off. Retreated into my own mind to reevaluate my priorities. Though not a mistake. I feel that I also need to assess the fears of failure and accept them. The main idea is to not identify the fear since that’s been done. But to recognize and to release that fear. To me releasing fear starts with loving yourself to a point where you feel fear does not exist. Once you can get to that point. I feel that instead of being a failure it would be a learning experience that would prepare you for the next opportunity. Something that I learned of at Damascus Road is called “IRO” or “Internalized Racist Oppression”. The realization that my fear comes out of my thinking that my efforts will be in vain or that once I were to not succeed at a task or a mission that I will not be given another opportunity due to the fact that I am a young black male. After all, not much is expected or wanted of me, or that is how I perceive that society feels about me and I’ve believed it.. So in releasing that fear. It will knock down our mental road blocks and allow us or myself in this case to find and follow my calling and to also ressurect my soul. as in .
1 Corinthians 15:8-20 (Good News Translation
8 Last of all he appeared also to me--even though I am like someone whose birth was abnormal 9 For I am the least of all the apostles--I do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted God’s church.10 But by God’s grace I am what I am, and the grace that he gave me was not without effect. On the contrary, I have worked harder than any of the other apostles, although it was not really my own doing, but God’s grace working with me.11 So then, whether it came from me or from them, this is what we all preach, and this is what you believe.
12 Now, since our message is that Christ has been raised from death, how can some of you say that the dead will not be raised to life?13 If that is true, it means that Christ was not raised;14 and if Christ has not been raised from death, then we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe.15 More than that, we are shown to be lying about God, because we said that he raised Christ from death--but if it is true that the dead are not raised to life, then he did not raise Christ.16 For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised.17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins.18 It would also mean that the believers in Christ who have died are lost.19 If our hope in Christ is good for this life only and no more,[b] then we deserve more pity than anyone else in all the world.
20 But the truth is that Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised.
The reason I chose the passages that were will be read today was to illustrate and set to rest the doubt that you let alone Christ can be resurrected. Once that fear is laid to rest, then the real work comes into play. Figuring out what your path is can be a very daunting task and has been noted can lead to further stagnation or wandering just as the man that lay by the pool in bethesda.
The Healing at the Pool on the Sabbath (John 5 3:15)
. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids--blind, lame, and paralyzed.[c] 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews[d] said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.
We can get so caught up in our abilities that we fail to recognize the grace that god has given us. We focus on our deeds and become ungrounded and self centered. Its a slippery slope that we have to deal with.
It seems that I have a very sought after opinion on the COS due to the fact that I am one of two things that some feel has not had much representation throughout the COS, which is a young and black man. Though I am not as in tune with all of facets of the church I’ve been observing a lot while i am here and i want to say that I am thankful for the exposure to the work of God or the work that is being done for God. There are great things being done in this community that would not have been done otherwise But, I wonder where the passing of the baton went wrong. Why haven’t those that have been served taken interest in the very organizations that have assisted them? Have they not had the opportunity or have their ideas / involvement not been deemed necessary? Why have not more participants joined the COS? Though this is a concern, my adoration of the church has not waivered. The concept of the inward/outward journey has changed how I feel about my faith and Christianity. All around me, I see churches sprouting up and while visiting them, grow homesick for my simple church with about 30 to 40 people who all know your name. Not due to the fact that you were wearing a name tag, but the fact that you have gotten to know them on a more intimate level. When I visit these churches I hear all about self salvation and wealth. I call them the “church of I”. We have great ideals but i feel that there needs to be a lot more outreach within the programs of the COS to uncover these issues. We need to get an unfiltered sense of where we are from the people that we serve.
This is my question to you - I will not be here to fulfill it - but I hope to leave you resonating with this question; how can we do better at getting an unfiltered sense of where we are as a people, from the people we serve? And I hope you’re hearing between the lines what I’m saying...knowing that often it is people of color that we are serving. How can we in our various programs and congregations, get better at getting that unfiltered feedback that will help us to make the changes we must make, to make COS a place that more people of color, and more younger people in general will feel welcomed and able to fit in? It’s not easy to do because it will sting a little. It will not be easy to really see ourselves and face that we’ve not been totally hospitable to those who are “other” and who are younger than us. But who are better able to take self changing criticism than followers of Jesus? No one has ever truly followed Jesus who has not been put on a lifelong journey of dying to self, of taking up that cross of self examination and self change that leads to a resurrection of greater Christ-likeness, of a greater ability to be the embodiment of Christ-like human love to others.
I’ve been with you for what might seem a relatively short time to some of you, but to me it’s been a good chunk of time. Because I am black and young - the very groups you need to do better with, I’ve hoped to leave you with this honest reflection from my perspective. Thank you so much for creating the DY program and all the other works you’ve built, I hope I’ve added to their ongoing goodness.