Sermon,  Sermons

Just Unity

Abiyoyo, Children’s Sermon VIDEO

sermon video

Recently, in conversation with a dear friend of mine, we shared with each other what it means to have accomplished something – what it looked like for each of us. It turns out, we have some overlapping ideas of what being accomplished means to us. For me, it manifests as having a particular variety of academic degree and publishing written work in the right journal or under a certain publishing company.

So, when someone says, for instance, “Zondervan just published my book on mindfulness in the workplace and I’m leaving on a book tour next week,” I feel like a loser because, sure, I have a published work, but it was through Wipf&Stock and without any sweet promotion deal. Or another person I know has a PhD from Princeton, so my doctorate from Denver Seminary seems less impressive by comparison.

What? You’ve secured a professorship and you lead worship and you have kids, and you’ve written how many books? I am such a slacker! What am I doing with my life?!

Paul says to the Corinthian church,

It has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you … each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom [a PhD], so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

First of all, that Chloe sounds kinda like a tattle-tale. Still, we are accountable to each other. And not much can be accomplished if we are arguing with each other over these little details that make absolutely no difference in the larger view – the Kingdom of heaven is near! “follow me,” says Jesus. “Repent!

I’m here with you and you are in the presence of God and we have to tell people about that, and heal their sicknesses – ‘every sickness among’ them! Follow me. Your skills and training, talent and personalities will be helpful along the way, but it is – just enough, and I am just so very pleased with you. Let’s do this thing together.”

That’s what Jesus says to us.

Last Sunday the weather was too frightful and the warmth of our house delightful, so we livestreamed a worship service from our home. I know many of you watched. If you didn’t and would like to fill in some bits, you can find both the video of the service and the transcript of the sermon on the church’s website.

This is the 3rd in our Just series on racism, and the UM denomination’s goal to address our conviction that racism is incompatible with Christian teaching. The 1st week I spoke about how justice and righteousness happens when we understand that God is unequivocally pleased with us. Last week we discussed how we bring about a just community when we have eyes to see, ears to hear that we are enough – we are enriched in every way: in speech and in knowledge of every kind! And we are not lacking in any. spiritual. gift. And that this is true for everyone. All are created in God’s image – through Christ, our Redeemer, sustained by the Spirit. All are enough. Just, Enough.

Today I want to focus on what was touched on last week: we are called to be saints together with all, in every place! Because we are called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ – together.

The problem that happens when people try to do something together, all with different ideas about how to do a thing, or varying levels of energy, is that, instead of recognizing the differences as just that: different, we start comparing and ascribing worth to those things. Whether I have a degree from one institution or you have training from another matters not one iota if you, filled with the Spirit of God, show effective compassion on a hurting soul – and I, Paul says, am like a clanging cymbal (twanging ukulele), without love.

We are enriched in every way: in speech and in knowledge of every kind! And we are not lacking in any. spiritual. gift. And that this is true for everyone. All are created in God’s image – through Christ, our Redeemer, sustained by the Spirit. All are enough. But we are more of who we are together. And we are only effective if we are unified in the project. But how can we be unified when we are quibbling over bits of doctrine that do not speak to God’s love and salvation through Jesus? How can we be unified if we are put off by the way someone looks, or where he lives, or if she has as much energy to do as you much as you or I do?

So let’s talk about the first point: Appearance. When we categorize people according to outward features it makes race a thing. But here’s the thing:

Race is not actually a thing. Science has shown that nearly all genetic variation is expressed via mutations, not inherent distinction between groups of people, per se.

Race is not a biologically meaningful category” Markers we ascribe to race are not genetically supported – they are based on socially derived indicators. This does not mean that racism isn’t a thing to us. Rather, racism is based on a fallacy.

Ewan Birney, Director of EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute, comments, “It is sadly all too easy to think race is somehow the everyday manifestation of human genetics but the truth is far more complex and interesting. Our collective genetic history is messier, richer and more complex than concepts of race…”

So I know I’ve shared that we used the 23andme service of DNA analyses of heritage and genetic health issues. For Christmas, we gave a kit to my mom. So one feature of 23andme analysis follows migration patterns . . . Some of those migrations of our ancient ancestry “can be traced through haplogroups, families of lineages that descend from a common ancestor. [One’s] maternal haplogroup can reveal the path followed by the women of [the] maternal line.”

I belong to the Maternal haplogroup V8. Apparently, Benjamin Franklin also belonged to the V line. And I guess it is a relatively uncommon ancestral pattern, from what the website reports. But, my mother’s DNA shows genetic heritages of the obvious United Kingdom connections, and Finnish, Dutch, and Swedish; it also shows Turkish, Angolan and Congolese, as well as, Ashkenazi Jewish!

I love that my genes bear witness to the reality that I am connected to so many cultures! I so wish my hair bore witness to the curly-haired Congolese link, but no such luck.

The situation we face now is a system that affords entire people groups a consistent reality of living in fear that their young men might be randomly pulled over and searched – and mistrusted regardless of the situation. I have never feared this. In fact, I have easily gotten out of traffic tickets that were warranted. And my husband? Oh, my gosh, the man can talk his way out of anything, it seems! But, my black friends? My kids’ friends of color? It is so obvious the difference in their treatment. My own son experiences it!

Now, we also have lots of friends in law enforcement – and know they see things for what they are, and are compassionate and just in their dealings with all people. Our police chief here in Durand is a beautiful example of this – known to pop over and shoot baskets with the resident youth of the Elm St. apartments.

But our system is obviously skewed. It is getting better, but we definitely have so much work to do. And we are meant to be a part of this. It starts in Durand. It begins in your neighborhood. And it continues through the way we vote, the activities in which we engage, the words we use when talking to our children and grandchildren. It matters. You matter.

13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? … 17For Christ did not send [us] to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom [or a sweet book deal] so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”

Just mercy.

“What if the aim of your art is not to humanize the other but to talk about the systems of power, and the people who benefit from them, that turn people into others in the first place?”

– Kaitlyn Greenidge

Public interest attorney Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, which represents people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced or abused in state jails and prisons. In 2018, EJI founded a museum and monument in Montgomery, Ala., to address the atrocities of slavery, lynching and segregation. “We need to create institutions in this country that motivate more people to say ‘Never again,’” he says. Stevenson’s 2014 memoir ‘Just Mercy’ is now a movie starring Michael B. Jordan.

Listen to an excerpt from an interview Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air just had with Bryan Stevenson. He is telling a story of one person’s experience taking part in creating a memorial to another’s lynching in her town.


Bryan Stevenson shares with NPR Fresh Air’s Terry Gross

Romans 12:5 “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”

My degrees and anything I’ve written always began as a means to promote the building of the kingdom of God, the kingdom that is already at hand, and to follow Jesus in the healing of every kind of illness. When I start comparing my book sales to another’s, or succumb to self-loathing because I didn’t finish the degree program that might have given me a better position or platform – then anything I do or say is a squeaky, annoying ukulele.

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose.” (1Cor1:10)

What is our purpose here? How can we be a part of making things right, being instruments of justice and righteousness? What would it look like for us to be united in this?

Perhaps going to see Just Mercy this afternoon may spark some creativity, maybe an inspiration from the Spirit? We are members of one another. We are members of our brothers and sisters who are so tired of having to navigate an entire society’s assumptions that just because of the color of his skin he can’t actually be the lead lawyer here. We are members together with the women who have to fight to get equal rights inscribed in our constitution. We are members together with the person who seems to be tired out more easily not doing much of the work, and the one whose dyslexic-processing brain with circular thinking that’s sometimes hard to follow.

There are so many ways we recognize difference. We are uniquely created in God’s image – each expressing God’s character in a unique way. It is crucial we honor those differences. AND, we are members of one another, and exhorted to “be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

Because when we are of the same mind and purpose, honoring difference while refraining from categorizing, belittling, scorning those differences, when we regard as holy and sacred our shared baptism and membership of one another, it is a unity that is just and righteous; It is just unity.

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