Jesus Christ calls us to be a joyful community that celebrates God's love, transforms lives, and is a force for justice in the world.

Faith + Love x 3

Faith + Love x 3
Sermon by Michael J. Adee
Biblical Texts: Micah 6: 6 – 8, Mark 12: 28 – 31
October 1, 2017

“It is in the telling of our stories that we find our way,” Isak Dinesen. Isak Dinesen is author of the internationally celebrated Babette’s Feast, Out of Africa and Winter’s Tales. Isak Dinesen is her pen name, her real name is Karen Blixen. I visited her estate, now a museum, in Nairobi when I was there for a human rights conference in June.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian author, who speaks about “The Danger of a Single Story,” in her writings and celebrated TED talk.

“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity. When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

It is in the telling of our stories that we find our way. Today we celebrate the story, the many stories, of St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church, and in particular we celebrate your being a welcoming and affirming More Light congregation.

Today we also celebrate World Communion Sunday with millions of Christians, believers, people of faith, people on a journey… across the country and around the world. A Presbyterian pastor, Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr began the tradition of World Communion Sunday at Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, PA in 1933. The Presbyterian Church (USA) adopted it in 1936 and the National Council of Churches adopted it in 1940.

Today millions of people will join us in lifting the cup and the bread…. people on a journey of life and faith… all of striving to find our way.

The Biblical texts from the Hebrew Scriptures, Micah 6: 6-8 and the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 12: 28-31 are parallel ethical texts, each with 3 ethical calls for the life of faith.

Micah 6: 6-8 asks the question — “What does God require of us?”
… to do justice
… to love kindness
… to walk humbly with your God

It is believed that Micah was a younger contemporary of the prophet Isaiah. Unlike Isaiah, Micah was neither of noble descent nor a native of the capital city of Jerusalem. Micah came from the common people and from the small village of Moresheth in the Judean foothills southwest of Jerusalem. Micah stands solidly with Amos, Hosea and Isaiah as a fierce champion of the pure worship of God and of social justice. The pure worship of God was a rejection of idols and anything that was counterfeit to the divine, to the sacred. Just when we might have thought that social justice was invited in the 1960’s, we are reminded of its central place and position within our faith tradition.

What does God require of us?

Walter Brueggemann, the OT scholar, says of Verse 8: The prophet summed up the legal, ethical and convenantal requirements of religion… or one’s relationship with God.

Justice. Kindness. Humility…. these seem in short supply these days. The lack of civility, the lack of empathy… the persistence of prejudice and bigotry… this is a challenging, perilous time… it feels like walking through a room full of porcupines…

It is often called the Great Commandment Text and there are 3 of them… parallel passages, stories and teachings…

Mark 12: 28-31 is considered the earliest one as the consensus of Biblical scholars hold to the Gospel of Mark as the earliest written Gospel. There are slight variations such as the Matthew 22: 31-40 text has the question being asked by a lawyer. In Mark the question is asked by a scribe. In Luke 10: 25-28, the question that is asked is “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” rather than what is the greatest commandment. And, in verse 29, after Jesus’ response, he asks “Who is my neighbor?” to which Jesus’ response is the iconic story of The Good Samaritan.

We are called to love God… to love neighbor… to love self

The consensus of Biblical scholars on these 3 Great Commandment texts is that they “define qualitatively the wholeness of the love God requires of us.”

Kathleen Norris…
“The great commandment, to love God with all your heart and soul, and your neighbor as yourself, seemed more subtle than ever. I began to see the three elements as a kind of trinity, always in motion, and the three loves as interdependent. It would be impossible to love God without loving others; impossible to love others unless one were grounded in a healthy self-respect; and, maybe, impossible to truly love at all without participating in the holy.” Kathleen Norris, Cloister Walk.

Visual image — a triangle… Love in the middle with “God,” “self” and “neighbor” at each intersecting point of the triangle.

Mark 12 — Love God. Love Self. Love Neighbor.
Micah 6 — Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God.
Faith + Love X 3
I grew up in a small Presbyterian church in southwest Louisiana. On a good day, we had about 50 people. I remember Sunday School… the little wooden chairs, the Bible maps, the Bible stories… We had a youth group of 4… When I got to high school, I sang in the choir with my Dad. We had 7 in our choir and Mrs. Alice Todd, the organist, directed the choir with her head…
This was the church that taught me faith… that loved me into faith….

This small Presbyterian church taught me that I was a child of God, unconditionally loved by God, and so was everyone else. This church taught me that evangelism, the good news for everyone of God’s love, grace and mercy, is connected to social justice. My father was Clerk of Session and taught Adult Christian Education. My Mother had lost her vision because of diabetes. She saw with her heart. Our church did not have deacons, so my Mom was in charge of pastoral care. Whenever there was an illness or death within the congregation, she would start calling church members with her braille list. Who would say no to the blind lady? Like magic, within 3 hours, 25 casseroles would arrive, at the house of the family in need. This was a wonderful church to grow up in…

When I understand myself as gay, and sought to reconcile my sexuality with my faith, I bumped up against the larger, more conservative culture of south Louisiana and encountered messages of silence and hostility. Those messages were “you can’t be gay and Christian,” “you can’t be gay and good,” and “you can’t be gay and expect a happy life.” I have been forever grateful for the foundational messages of love and acceptance from my parents and the church of my childhood and youth that helped me navigate the anti-gay waters of society.

St. Mark’s, please do not underestimate the importance of your public witness of being a welcoming and affirming, More Light church. In addition to taking a clear stand in your community as a safe and affirming space for LGBT people and their families, thank you for being part of changing history in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Thank you for sending overtures calling for ordination policy change and marriage equality. Thank you for connecting LGBT issues with all other social justice issues. As Audre Lorde reminded us, we do not live single issue lives.

While we appropriately honor this progress, the bending of the arc of history toward justice as Dr. King spoke of, we are also aware that in this time, being a Christian is complicated and problematic. The fusion of religion within politics has taken a toll on the essentials of faith and has introduced a number of idols into our public and political life.

I must confess that I find myself in a lover’s quarrel with the Christian faith as it is being expressed within the US and around the world in our time. And, I see 5 areas of concern that I believe we need to address in all the ways possible for us, within our spheres of influence, to restore Christian faith to the ethics of Micah, Jesus and Mark…

1. Christian exceptionalism. Truth exists only in Christianity, particularly in my version of Christianity. The fusion of patriotism with Christianity. Religious freedom being claimed as the right to impose my religion on you.

2. White supremacy. For some of us, even the saying or hearing of this term “white supremacy” is unsettling and provokes anxiety. Consider the dominant religious images, historically to now. Jesus and the Hebrew people who look like Norwegian Lutherans with blonde hair, blue eyes and white skin. And, this white supremacy goes beyond artistic and religious images…

3. Patriarchy. The persistence and invasiveness of patriarchy touches every part of our lives and society… gender, human sexuality… women and children… LGBT people… and men.

4. Natural family. The claim from fundamentalism… Christian, Jewish and Islam… that the “natural family” exists and should exist… is held up as the only morally-acceptable model… in faith communities, society, public policy, and at the United Nations. Such claims deny the existence and legitimacy of the diversity of families… the families in this congregation… and for many of us, families of choice that go beyond biology and legal status.

5. Empire. The origins of our country… introduced the marriage of capitalism and religion, and in particular, Christianity… has led to the genocide of Native American peoples, it justified the Atlantic slave trade and the oppression of African-American people, and it now, sadly, denies the existence of climate change, the value of science, and has allowed the “bottom line of profit” to overrule our humanity and taking care of the planet.

How might these 5 questions fare under the lens of Micah 6: 6-8 calling us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God? How might we understand these 5 questions in the light of Jesus’ teaching that we call the Great Commandment — that we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves?

Our own stories continue to be written… the story of faith continues to be written in our country and around the world… the story of our country and our global community continues to be written…

And, in this moment, I find encouragement and hope in the recent blessing from Dr. Emilie Townes, Dean, Vanderbilt Divinity School:

May you have resolute hearts to face the challenges ahead.
May you have souls that breathe freedom and celebrate life in the midst of the struggle.
May you have minds that shape loving relations with humor and passion,
and patience to not give up on building a more just society for all.

May this be so.