Sunday, February 5, 2017

WORSHIP IN THE AGE OF EMPIRE

WORSHIP IN THE AGE OF EMPIRE
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
First Presbyterian Church, Little Rock, AR
February 5, 2017 (Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany)

Isaiah 58:1-12
58Shout out, do not hold back!
   Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
   to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet day after day they seek me
   and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practised righteousness
   and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgements,
   they delight to draw near to God.
3 ‘Why do we fast, but you do not see?
   Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
   and oppress all your workers.
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
   and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
   will not make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
   a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
   and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
   a day acceptable to the Lord

6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator
* shall go before you,
   the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
   you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. 

If you remove the yoke from among you,
   the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
   and satisfy your needs in parched places,
   and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
   like a spring of water,
   whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
   you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
   the restorer of streets to live in.
 
Matthew 5:13-20
13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter,* not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks* one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

        According to the 2014 Religious Landscape Study by the Pew Research Center, the United States remains home to more Christians to any other place in the world, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven out of ten – identify with some branch of the Christian tradition.[1]   With this in mind, one wonders how the nation that is home of more people who claim to follow Jesus can be led by a leader – President Donald Trump -- whose policies, proclamations, and proclivities are so out of step with the life, ministry, and message of the most famous prophet in history. 

Welcome to the American version of worship in the age of empire. 

The lectionary lessons for today from Isaiah and the Gospel of Matthew shed prophetic light on a subject that is likely to be discussed by followers of Jesus, religious people from other traditions, and by people who are not affiliated with any religion now, and in the coming days, weeks, months, and years of the Donald Trump presidency.  In the passage from Isaiah, God speaks through the prophet to accuse a society known for its penchant for religious observances with being unjust.  The people in that society, like people in the United States now, are outwardly religious.  They observed the religious rituals, but their way of living was unjust. 

God – speaking through the prophet – lays out specific accusations of the gap between the religious claims of society in Judah and the realities of life in that society.  The society is a place of praise, prayer, and fasting.  Meanwhile, people are hungry and naked (homeless).  Workers are oppressed by employers.  Merchants cheat consumers. 

Ponder the divine command to the prophet.  Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet!  Announce to the people my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.  Day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinances of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.  

These words suggest that God knows the prophet may not want to boldly expose, denounce, and condemn the rank religious hypocrisy that is known.  The prophet may not want to shout about it, but may be inclined to speak of it in hushed tones.  The prophet might be tempted to not openly expose it, might have preferred to speak of it privately.   So there is striking contrast between what the prophet might have preferred doing and the divine command. 

Like the prophet in the lesson from Isaiah, prophetic people in our age and place recognize the gaping difference between engaging in religious rhetoric and rituals and living justly.  What are we to do about it?  What might obedience to the divine command to loudly engage in prophetic protest and denunciation about that hypocrisy look like? 

One recent example that rings true to our prophetic obligation is Rev. Dr. William Barber II (President of Repairers of the Breach, Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and architect of the Forward Together Moral Movement).  Here is what Rev. Barber wrote in an op ed column following President Donald Trump’s remarks at the first National Prayer Breakfast of his presidency.

President Trump's first appearance at the National Prayer Breakfast met awkward silence on Thursday as he began his comments by touting ratings when he was on "The Apprentice." Unpracticed in the public performance of piety, the candidate who was praised for "telling it like it is" made even his white evangelical base momentarily uneasy as he demonstrated the impotence of their religion to overcome his narcissism. Excused as a "baby Christian" during his campaign, the teen-like Trump continues to expose the hypocrisy of white evangelicalism.
As a preacher ordained to proclaim the message of Jesus, I know that the faith which embraces Trumpism is not my faith, nor is it the faith of many of my Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu colleagues. I do not doubt that it takes genuine belief to say, as Franklin Graham did, that Trump won the election last November because of a "God factor" for which the media and pollster could not account. But whatever you call that faith, it's not mine.
Anyone who prays should be clear about what they really believe.
A century and a half ago, as he led the faith-rooted struggle against slavery in America, Frederick Douglass wrote, "Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure and holy is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt and wicked."
This essential distinction was not reconciled following America's Civil War. In some ways it became more rigidly defined, as the Ku Klux Klan adopted a fiery cross as the symbol of its hatred and white Southerners determined to erase the work of Reconstruction called their crusade the Redemption movement.
In response to such hypocritical religious extremism, the Social Gospel movement emerged in America to challenge corporate greed and, in some instances, systemic racism. Long before "What Would Jesus Do?" was a wrist bracelet, it was an evangelical challenge to child poverty, labor exploitation, and homelessness in early 20th century America.
But as Kevin Kruse has documented in his book, "One Nation Under God," the corporate leaders who were the heirs of plantation capitalism became frustrated by the Social Gospel's influence on the New Deal. They wanted a religion that would affirm private property, individual responsibility, and laissez-faire capitalism. So they invested millions of dollars in organizations that would give them just that.
One of those organizations, known today as "The Family," is the sponsor of the National Prayer Breakfast. Funded by corporations and private family foundations, the annual event has gathered a bipartisan crowd since Eisenhower's administration to invoke God's blessing on America.
But conspicuously absent from those invocations have been faith leaders who continue in the tradition of Fredrick Douglass and the Social Gospel. While their memory may have been invoked on occasion, Dorothy Day, Ella Baker, Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel were never invited to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Trump's need to praise himself at a prayer breakfast might have passed as an awkward moment in civil religion if the actions of his first two weeks in office had not already inspired mass protests. But in the face of the moral outrage that millions of Americans feel, the awkward silence of so-called faith leaders as they listened to a braggart drone on about himself was revelatory. The President went on to say, essentially: the world is a mess. I'm here to fix it. The Bible has a name for this political position: idolatry.
The emperor had no clothes, but there wasn't a prophet in the house who was prepared, like the boy in the story, to point out the obvious.
But outside the Washington Hilton, on DC's streets, moral witnesses stood vigil in solidarity with the millions who've gathered across this nation, in our airports and on our streets, to challenge President Trump in the prophetic tradition of Frederick Douglass. Many well-intentioned Christians objected. "Even if we disagree with some of his actions," they asked, "doesn't the Bible still instruct us to pray for our leaders?"
Not the Book of Jeremiah. "Don't waste your time praying for this people," God says to the prophet. "Don't offer to make petitions or intercessions. Don't bother me with them. I'm not listening." Scripture is clear that there comes a time when religion that simply blesses injustice is heretical—an offense to the God who has made clear what true religion requires: to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.
Earlier this week Donald Trump marked Black History Month by acknowledging that Frederick Douglass "has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more." Many laughed at the President's apparent ignorance that Douglass died in 1896. But in light of the growing moral resistance in America, Trump may have misspoken prophetically.
It was, after all, Fredrick Douglass who said, "I prayed for freedom for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs."
God knows America needs our prayers. May we link arms and pray with our legs until the God of justice is as well known as the impotent faith of the National Prayer Breakfast.[2]
Dr. Barber understands what the lesson from Isaiah makes very clear.  Heretical religion calls for moral outrage, not quiet protest. 

We live in a society led by a leader whose policies, pronouncements, and practices directly contradict the life, conduct, and ministry of Jesus.  As followers of Jesus, we should not criticize those policies, pronouncements, and practices.  Shout out, do not hold back!  Lift up your voice like a trumpet!  Announce to the people their rebellion … [and] their sins. 

Protest openly and loudly.  Write letters to the editor.  Use social media.  Become part of organized and impromptu efforts that denounce the immigration ban issued by President Trump as wicked.  It is not merely unworkable.  It is wicked.  Say so, despite how unpopular it will be do be seen and heard openly condemning policies the new US president as being wicked.

As followers of Jesus, we should remind family members, co-workers, peers, and the public that the greatest danger to our societal integrity and well-being is not from “radical Islamic extremism.”   If the 2016 presidential election campaign revealed one thing with brilliant clarity, the greatest threat to justice in the United States, and now the world, is heretical white Christian nationalism.  White Christian nationalism is responsible for the election of President Trump.  White Christian nationalism is responsible for the racist, sexist, homophobic, materialistic, militaristic, imperialistic, and xenophobic events we are living through.  We must not shrink from calling that evil by its proper name.

In the Gospel lesson from Matthew, we are instructed that conformity to imperial norms, values, and metrics is the principal threat prophetic people face in life.  Jesus called it being salt that has lost its hygienic character and being light that is hidden under a basket.  Salt is used to preserve meat from rotting, but when salt loses its preservative character, it is worthless to the meat.  Light that is shrouded does not illuminate much, if anything. 

Our society and world now suffer from religion that has become “salt less”  and shrouded by devotion to the imperial aspirations of white Christian nationalism.  Refugees seeking asylum in the US and elsewhere in the world are suffering because of the imperial aspirations of white Christian nationalism.  Women, persons who are LGBTQ, racial and religious minorities, persons with frail health, and people vulnerable because of militarized law enforcement are threatened. 

What the world needs most from our religion is not different liturgy.  We need prophetic people to proclaim a different way to live.  We need prophetic people to be salt and light.  We need prophetic people to shout loudly and denounce heretical religion, whenever, wherever, and however it may show up.  

This is our mandate from God.  This is the way of Jesus.  This is what prophetic living means for our place and time. 

Amen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

EXPLAINING PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP IN ONE WORD

EXPLAINING PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP IN ONE WORD -- PSYCHOPATH
Justice Is a Verb!
©Wendell Griffen, 2017

President Donald John Trump has been in office less than a week.  In the short time he has been in office he has falsely accused the media of mis-representing attendance at his January 20, 2017 inauguration.  His press secretary has falsely asserted that the Trump inaugural marked the first inauguration when the National Park Service placed ground covers over the Capitol Mall.  President Trump told an audience at the Central Intelligence Agency that the media mis-represented his views about the intelligence community.  And White House advisor Kellyanne Conway defended Mr. Trump’s press secretary’s false assertions by saying the White House is asserting “alternative facts.”

One word describes the behavior we see in President Trump.   That word is psychopath.  Consider this definition from Dictionary.com for psychopath:  “a person with a psychopathic personality, which manifests as amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience, etc.”

Hmmm!

Reasonable people do not wittingly employ a psychopath for morally and socially responsible work.  Sadly, that did not prevent people in the United States who profess to care about the health and welfare of their families, fortunes, and nation from electing Donald Trump to the office of President of the United States.  Mr. Trump is now Psychopath in Chief, the role model for people who lie, cheat, mistreat others, prey on people who are vulnerable, and dismiss their conduct with jokes, shrugs, and brazen disregard for the harm they cause.

And that puts Mr. Trump’s inaugural address statements about what he termed “carnage” in the United States in perspective.  Carnage is a fitting word to describe the financial hardship Trump’s business dealings as a casino operator and real estate developer caused many people to suffer.  It is also a fitting description of the threatening future now facing our nation and world because of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

Psychopaths do not blame themselves for the harm they cause others.  Psychopaths blame their victims.  So, Mr. Trump blames the people who heard and reported the falsehoods he has repeatedly uttered for lying on him.  Mr. Trump blames the women who experienced and reported his sexual assaults and other acts of misogyny for what he did.  Mr. Trump blames everyone but himself for his antisocial behavior because that is what people afflicted with an antisocial personality disorder do. 

Yes, self-proclaimed “evangelical Christian conservatives,” self-proclaimed “values voters,” so-called “fiscal conservatives,” and people who profess to be concerned about national security and personal freedom elected a psychopath whose personal history shows his narcissistic obsession with his personal security, personal image, and sense of celebrity.  The current president of the United States is a psychopath.  

Remember that truth when Mr. Trump's policies cause harm.  Remember that truth when he denies that anyone is harmed by what he does.  Remember that truth when he blames persons harmed by his policies for the suffering they experience.  Remember that truth when he leads the nation and the world to become more miserable, less peaceful, and more fearful. 

Donald Trump is a psychopath.  He suffers from what mental health professionals call an “anti-social personality disorder.”  Yes, there is a clinical diagnosis for his pathology you can read about in the following link that explains the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths:  http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/02/12/differences-between-a-psychopath-vs-sociopath/.

Mr. Trump’s personality disorder is difficult to treat because people with antisocial personality disorders rarely view their behavior as harmful. As you will learn in the following link, there are no approved FDA medications specifically prescribed for antisocial personality disorder (ASPD):  http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/antisocial-personality-disorder-overview#1.

So what can we do?  The issue is not if President Trump's pathological personality and propensities will harm vulnerable people, pose a danger to the nation, and threaten the world.  Rather, the question is what will others do as this scenario unfolds.  Will senior White House staff and Trump Administration cabinet leaders cooperate with Mr. Trump's antisocial policies and behaviors?  Will the US Congress and courts rubber stamp those policies or exercise their constitutional "check and balance" duties?  Will the media expose Trump administration misconduct?  Will US citizens condemn that conduct, protest it, and ultimately put Mr. Trump out of office?      

The best counsel is vigilance, self-protection, and supporting one another.  We must protect ourselves from President Trump, not expect President Trump to protect us.  We must remember that President Trump, like psychopaths generally, has a propensity to charm, lie, cheat, and mistreat others without any sense of remorse, but with a sense of impunity.  That means we must constantly be on guard about his pathological tendency to do so. 

In the Bible, King Saul appears to have been afflicted by an antisocial personality disorder judging from his obsession about being more popular than David, his violent mood swings, and his impulsivity.  We read that Saul tried to kill David, his son-in-law (see 1 Samuel 18:10-11 and 20-29; 1 Samuel 19:8-15) and tried to kill Jonathan, his son, (see 1 Samuel 20:30-33). 

All of us, Trump supporters and everyone else, are at risk from Mr. Trump’s dangerous tendencies.  We are now part of the world’s largest support group.


Welcome to the Trump presidency.  Hail to the Psychopath in Chief!  Let's protect one another, the nation, and the world from a psychopath with a history of wrecking havoc on others, and the present capacity and authority to wreck havoc on vulnerable people, our nation, and the rest of the world.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

HOW THE US TURNED FROM BARACK OBAMA TO DONALD TRUMP

HOW THE US TURNED FROM BARACK OBAMA TO DONALD TRUMP
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is a Verb!

            Perhaps you and other people you know may be trying to understand how Donald J. Trump will succeed Barack H. Obama as President of the United States on January 20, 2017.  The answer to that question is multi-faceted and straight-forward, but not pleasant. 

The electoral answer is that Donald Trump received more votes in the Electoral College than did his chief opponent, Hillary Clinton.  While Clinton received millions more votes than Trump did overall, the President of the United States is determined by whoever receives the largest number of Electoral College votes based on choices made by voters in each state. 

Donald Trump is unlike Barack Obama.  Trump has a reputation for personal and commercial racism, sexism, xenophobia, bullying workers, and acrimonious dishonesty.  Obama has a reputation for thoughtfulness, concern about justice, equality, inclusion, and collegiality.  The people who voted for Mr. Trump obviously prefer policies consistent with his reputation and character than that of Mr. Obama.

In other words, the 2016 presidential election contest showed that people in Southern, Western, and so-called Rust Belt States (in the Great Lakes region of the United States) went to the polls determined to elect someone known for being everything President Obama has never been or wanted to be.   It will be interesting to observe how Trump supporters will respond when his presidential conduct resembles his overall personal history. 

White Christians who self-identify as “evangelicals” and self-styled white nationalists were key constituency groups for Mr. Trump.  These voters have supported politicians like Donald Trump for generations.  In 2016, the difference was that these groups voted in larger numbers in the states that mattered most in deciding the election outcome.

The United States will soon enter a period where national policies will be driven by a narcissistic white male supremacist with a known propensity for dishonesty, disrespect for people who are different, and idolatry of self.   It is telling that Mr. Trump received support from so many people who profess to being followers of Jesus, a Palestinian Jew who included women among his closest followers and treated them with respect, someone who was an immigrant refugee as a child (and probably undocumented at that), and a social progressive who was put to death by the Roman Empire based on false testimony fabricated by his religious enemies.     

The truth is that Donald Trump resembles more people in the United States than many people thought were around.  Some of us, however, have always known that the talk about the United States entering a “post-racial” era was hogwash.  We knew what people were really saying when they embraced the Tea Party and signed on to its rhetoric about “wanting my country back.”  Our elders warned us that “smiling faces tell lies.” 

White Democratic politicians in the South distanced themselves from President Obama from the beginning of his presidency.  Democratic office holders in Arkansas, Louisiana, and other southern states, who counted on help from Senator Barack Obama to win their elections in 2006, refused to campaign for his policies after 2008 even when those policies resulted in healthcare becoming more available and affordable for their constituents.

As the nation prepares to observe the holiday marking the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the last time during President Obama’s presidency, we should remember what Dr. King wrote about racial and social inequality in an essay published after his death.  In that essay, titled A Testament of Hope, Dr. King termed the problems of inequality and injustice as being “so tenacious because, despite its virtues and attributes, America is deeply racist and its democracy is flawed both economically and socially.”

Remember those words from Dr. King as the nation marks the King Holiday for the final time before President Obama leaves office. 

Remember those words from Dr. King next week as the nation begins a new era defined by the presidency of Donald Trump. 

And from now on, whenever someone asks how the US came to be led by a President named Trump after having been led by a President named Obama, quote these words from Dr. King:  “Despite its virtues and attributes, America is deeply racist and its democracy is flawed both economically and socially.” 


Donald Trump is proof that Dr. King was a prophet.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

HOW TO HAVE A HOPEFUL NEW YEAR

HOW TO HAVE A HOPEFUL NEW YEAR
Wendell Griffen, 2016
December 31, 2016 Watch Eve Homily
New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

Joshua 1:1-9
1After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, 2‘My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. 3Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses.4From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. 5No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.7Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 8This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. 9I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’
        In many ways, approaching the end of one year and the start of a new one places us alongside Joshua in this passage from the Hebrew Testament.  The year 2016 is almost over.  A second past midnight it will be, like Moses, a history of memories.  As the year 2017 approaches we, like Joshua, must balance respect for the history and memories of 2016 with the fierce urgency of the New Year, with all its possibilities, uncertainties, and challenges. 

This can be overwhelming.  Whether one is standing on the edge of the Jordan River at the head of a young nation after the death of its liberator and law-giver or sitting in a pew somewhere as the seconds, minutes, and hours mark the end of one year and the approach of a new one, we must confront emotions, questions, anxieties, and other issues. 

One thing is clear.  We can’t stay where we are.  We can’t “park” in 2016.  No matter what we’ve been through, and no matter how or why we are affected by what we’ve been through, we must move onward.  So let me share three suggestions.

God is with us wherever we go!  God had Joshua realize that God didn’t die when Moses died.  God was with Moses to accomplish a purpose – to bring the descendants of Abraham from slavery in Egypt to freedom in Canaan.  God assured Joshua that God would be with him to accomplish that purpose.  As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. (Joshua 1:5).  Look at someone and say, “God is with us.”

This is important to remember, always.  We are never forsaken.  We are never alone.  We are God’s people.  This is true at the end of every second, minute, hour, day, week, month, season, and year.  God is with us now.  God will be with us in 2017. 

Remembering that God is with us also reminds us that God is sovereign over time and the changes that come with time.  God is sovereign over shifting political and other circumstances.  God is sovereign, not time. 

Be strong and courageous!  Whenever we see the words, “Fear not!” in Scripture, we should remember that those words are a divine commandment, not a suggestion. 

Faithful people are courageous people because God is with us.  Faithful people are strong people because God is with us.  We are not strong and courageous in and of ourselves.  God is the strength for our living. 

As we are rooted and nurtured by God’s strength through the Holy Spirit, we are “more than conquerors.”  We will need and must rely on God’s strength in the New Year.  We will need and must rely on God’s strength as we encounter new challenges, fresh opportunities, and emerging realities.  

In a sense, the admonition to “be strong and courageous” is God’s way of telling us that we are part of an adventure with God!  The ancestors understood this, and often referred to life as a pilgrimage.  This mood is also seen in the South African folksong, Siyahamba (We are Marching in the Light of God). 

        Dare to dance!  Because God is with us we are able to obey the divine commandment to be strong and courageous.  Because God is with us, the New Year is not something dreadful to fear, but an adventure to be lived with God.  Of course, there are challenges to meet.  Of course, we will encounter opposing forces and occasional setbacks.  Through all these things, we are God’s people.  God is with us on the adventure. 

Because of this, we dare to dance!  We do not dance as people who are delirious, but as people who know the delightfulness of being with God on a divine adventure.  We dance as people who remember how God encouraged Joshua and so many others across the long and wide course of history.  We dance because God is sovereign, because God loves us, because God has taken part in our humanity through Jesus, and because in Jesus, God has overcome empires, overcome powers, and even overcome death. 

So dance!  Dance because God is with us! 

Dance!  Dance because we are part of God’s adventure! 

Dance, as children dance who know they belong to God!

Dance, with all God’s children!  And to help you dance, I ask that you pick up the African American Heritage Hymnal, and turn to # 164.  Read the lyrics to that South African Folk Song.

Siyahamb’ e – ku – kha – nyen’ kwen – khos’

We are march – ing in the light of God, we are marching in the light of God.

We are march – ing in the light of God, we are marching in the light of God.

We are marching, marching, we are marching, marching
We are marching in the light of God.

We are marching, marching, we are marching, marching
We are marching in the light of God.

We are dancing …
We are singing …
We are praying …
We are working …
We are suffering …
We are overcoming …

Amen. 

Please enjoy YouTube videos of that folksong being performed by the Mwamba Children’s Choir at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1KZbMprW8U and by the Soul Children of Chicago at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--BQ0PZSXpY.



Happy New Year!  I hope you’ll dance with God.

Friday, December 23, 2016

LOVE BEYOND SEASONS

MESSAGE OF CELEBRATION AND HOPE IN MEMORY OF THE LIFE, FAITH, AND MOTHERHOOD OF MRS. TAULESE OPAL PIERCE GREENE
Thursday, December 22, 2016, 11 a.m.
New Millennium Church
Little Rock, AR
©Wendell Griffen, 2016

DAUGHTER PATRICIA
SONS ANDREW AND AARON
DAUGHTER-IN-LOVE LATONIA
GRANDSONS CHASE, MARTYN, ELLIOTT, AND PIERCE
NEPHEWS AND NIECES
COUSINS
FORMER COLLEAGUES, STUDENTS, AND CHURCH MEMBERS
REVEREND CLERGY
SISTERS AND BROTHERS

        Thanks to God, Sister Taulese Opal Pierce Greene touched our lives in countless ways.  Thanks to God, Patricia, Andrew, and Aaron have summoned us to celebrate their sacred love and memories of Sister Greene in this place of praise, prayer, and proclamation.  Thanks to God, we have been loved, instructed, befriended, corrected, encouraged, nurtured, fed, and experienced what it means to be part of the Beloved Community because of Sister Greene. 

        Pat, Andrew, Aaron, thank you for being children who worked together so that Mrs. Greene received excellent care.  Thank you for working as a team.  Thank you, Pat, for diligently managing Mrs. Greene’s care and for faithfully communicating with Andrew and Aaron. 

LaTonia Greene and I are blessed to be Mrs. Greene’s “children-in-love” and parents to her grandsons Chase, Martyn, Elliott, and Pierce (named in the order of their birth).  Mrs. Greene has been our other Mom, so we will always cherish special memories arising from that relationship. 

Chase, Martyn, Elliott, and Pierce are why Mrs. Greene will always be remembered by the loving title “Mee-Maw.”  That title does not appear on the front of the bulletin for this service of remembrance.  Rather, it blazes with invisible and everlasting brilliance in the hearts and memories of her grandsons.  To everyone else, Chase, Martyn Elliott, and Pierce are known by their given names.  But, they are first, last, and will always carry the cherished title of “Pap-Paw’s and Mee-Maw’s boys.”

John Hale and Melvin Cunningham are Mrs. Greene’s nephews, sons of Reverend Greene’s sainted sisters.  But Mrs. Greene was loved so well by John (known by the family as “Pookie”) and Melvin that Pookie and Melvin are like brothers to Patricia, Andrew, and Aaron, and more like uncles to our sons than cousins. 

Mrs. Greene loved God.  She loved her immediate and extended family.  She loved her people, church, neighborhood, and the work of educating children.  Mrs. Greene loved music.  She loved art and beauty, and her favorite holiday each year was Christmas.  She decorated, baked, and rejoiced in Christmas holiday sights, sounds, tastes, touches, and aromas. 

So it is mystically poetic that she would transition from life in God among us to life in God beyond us during Advent season.  It is mystically poetic that we are celebrating God’s love for us as experienced through her long life in a sanctuary adorned with poinsettia, Advent tapestry, and Christmas candles. 

The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians which sets out Saint Paul’s brilliant exposition about agape` love—meaning unconditional, unapologetic, unwavering, and unending love—was Mrs. Greene’s favorite Bible passage.  At verse 13 of that passage, the New Revised Standard Version reads:  And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.  I title these remarks, Love Beyond Seasons.

Humans quickly become accustomed to marking life events by seasons.  We are in the Advent season of the Christian liturgical calendar, and the winter season of the solar year for the northern hemisphere.  Seasons mark the changes that come with time.  As time passes, the winter season ends and is followed by spring, summer, and autumn. 

As time passes, the season of childhood ends, followed by adolescence, adulthood, and our aged years.  As time passes, the school season ends and we become workers.  As time passes, the work season ends, and we retire.  As time passes, our retirement ends. 

Seasons are the way humans traditionally mark changes in our lifetimes.  We are accustomed to defining living as the events that happen during seasons, and accustomed to defining seasons by beginning and ending dates. 

Someone has written in Ecclesiastes that there is a season for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).  Indeed, that passage from Ecclesiastes is often read during services marking the end of life among us for people we know. 

I did not realize it until this week, but Mrs. Greene and Saint Paul disagreed with that assertion.  Yes, there is a time to be born and a time to die.  Yes, there are seasons of the year, and seasons among the years of our lives. 

However, at 1 Corinthians 13:8, Saint Paul flatly declared, Love never ends.  Although the writer of Ecclesiastes declared that there is a time to love, and a time to hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8), Mrs. Greene held fast to what Saint Paul declared, Love never ends! 

Mrs. Greene and Saint Paul challenge us to realize and live a life that is not marked by seasons, but by the season-less reality of love.  They had an advantage over whoever wrote Ecclesiastes.  They experienced the presence of God and power of divine love in Jesus Christ. 

In Jesus Christ, God shows us that life is not defined by seasons, but by relationships.  What happens in time is qualified by our relationships with people and the world.  Because of Jesus, Mrs. Greene and Saint Paul affirm that love elevates living beyond time, beyond locality, beyond the circumstances of our situations and beyond temporality.  Love is timeless.  Love is trans-seasonal; no, love is extra-seasonal, meaning that love is not and cannot be confined by any season, or by all seasons.

Notice, I did not say love is unseasonal!  The writer of Ecclesiastes declares there is a season for love and a season for hate—for being unloving.  But Jesus, Saint Paul, and Mrs. Greene declare that love is never out of season.  Love is never out of style.  Love is never out of order.  Love is never out of date.  Love is never out of place.  Love is never out of time because love is extra-seasonal, and cannot be shut in, held down, or otherwise limited by time and seasons! 

Mrs. Greene didn’t openly contradict the writer of Ecclesiastes.  That wasn’t her way.  Mee-Maw came at us from the side.  She told us her favorite passage was 1 Corinthians 13, a prophetic word about love that never ends, never gives up, never stops believing, never stops hoping, and never surrenders to hate.  Love never ends is an outright challenge to the claim that there is a time to love and a time to hate.  Both assertions cannot be true. 

And through her frequent references to 1 Corinthians 13, Mee-Maw said to us, to the students to whom she read that passage each morning, and by her living that there is a dimension of life called love that does not die!  Love does not die because love cannot die! 

Love never ends means that life is death-proof.  Because only people who live can love, people who love are death-proof!  People who are loved are death-proof!   

Love never ends leads to faith.  Faith, like love, transcends facts, time, seasons, and situations.  Faith, like love, never ends.

Love never ends leads to hope.  Hope, like love and faith, transcends facts, time, seasons, and situations. 

Mrs. Greene and Saint Paul declared that of the three—faith, hope, and love—the greatest, highest, sweetest, and most wonderful gift is love.  Love is the gift that keeps giving.  Love is the gift that inspires faith and hope.  Love is what makes faith worth trusting and hope worth our sacrifices.

And so Mrs. Greene and Saint Paul, inspired and illuminated by God’s love as revealed in Jesus, call us to realize that love, hope, and faith are endless, timeless, beyond seasons, and never die.  Love, like faith and hope, is death proof.  Love, like faith and hope, cannot age out, does not wear out, will not give out, and cannot be put out.  Why?  Because love, hope, and faith make us one in God! 

So we do not gather today to bid farewell to the woman who loved us, taught us, sewed for us, counseled with us, prayed for us, taught and played music to us, and fed us.  We gather in God’s name to celebrate and remember that God loved us through this woman who loved us in God’s life while she lived among us, and who loves us still in God’s life as she lives beyond us. 

We gather to declare that we are children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins, classmates, and church members, students and neighbors, and other beneficiaries of the love of God revealed through Taulese Opal Pierce Greene because of her love, faith, and hope in Jesus Christ.  That love is with us today.  That love has guided us through past years and situations.  And that love will never end, never stop, and never die. 

Rejoice in that love!  Thank God for that love!  Praise Jesus Christ whose life and ministry inspired Mrs. Greene in that love.  Beloved, now abide, faith, hope and love.   Take comfort from that love, now!  Share that love with everyone. 

Because love is from God, whoever lives in love is death-proof.  Because love is from God, and because whoever lives in love is death-proof, love makes us immortal!  Love makes us more than heartbeats and breaths.  Love makes us beings who inhabit a dimension not marked by seasons; a dimension called ALWAYS! 

Because God is love, In God, we are loved, ALWAYS.

Because God is love, we are citizens of ALWAYS, FOREVER, NOW! 

In 1976 the popular musician Stevie Wonder released what has become his signature recording, Songs in the Key of Life.  When we get to the repast in a few minutes you’ll hear a song being played as we encourage one another.  Here are the lyrics to As.[1]

As around the sun the earth knows she's revolving
And the rosebuds know to bloom in early May
Just as hate knows love's the cure
You can rest your mind assure
That I'll be loving you always

As now can't reveal the mystery of tomorrow
But in passing will grow older every day
Just as all is born is new
Do know what I say is true
That I'll be loving you always

Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky---ALWAYS
Until the ocean covers every mountain high---ALWAYS
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea---ALWAYS
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream

Did you know that true love asks for nothing
Her acceptance is the way we pay
Did you know that life has given love a guarantee
To last through forever and another day

Just as time knew to move on since the beginning
And the seasons know exactly when to change
Just as kindness knows no shame
Know through all your joy and pain
That I'll be loving you always

As today I know I'm living but tomorrow
Could make me the past but that I mustn't fear
For I'll know deep in my mind
The love of me I've left behind
 Cause I'll be loving you always

Until the day is night and night becomes the day---ALWAYS
Until the trees and seas just up and fly away---ALWAYS
Until the day that 8x8x8 is 4---ALWAYS
Until the day that is the day that are no more
Did you know that you're loved by somebody?
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left---ALWAYS
Until the earth just for the sun denies itself
I'll be loving you forever
Until dear Mother Nature says her work is through---ALWAYS
Until the day that you are me and I am you

We all know sometimes lifes hates and troubles
Can make you wish you were born in another time and space
But you can bet your life times that and twice its double
That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed
so make sure when you say you're in it but not of it
You're not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell
Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love
And maybe our children's grandchildren
And their great-great grandchildren will tell

I'll be loving you

Until the rainbow burns the stars out in the sky--Loving you
Until the ocean covers every mountain high--Loving you
Until the dolphin flies and parrots live at sea--Loving you
Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream--Be loving you
Until the day is night and night becomes the day--Loving you
Until the trees and seas up, up and fly away--Loving you
Until the day that 8x8x8x8 is 4--Loving you
Until the day that is the day that are no more--Loving you
Until the day the earth starts turning right to left--Be loving you
Until the earth just for the sun denies itself--Loving you
Until dear Mother Nature says her work is through--Loving you
Until the day that you are me and I am you--
Now ain't that loving you 

                                                                                
Mrs. Greene’s life and faith have given us a truth we must not forget.  Now faith, hope, and love abide—remain, continue, do not stop, cannot be shut down, persist, persevere, overcome, and are everlasting.  And the greatest part of ALWAYS is love! 

Thank God!  Hallelujah!  Amen.

God of always, thank you for the blessings you have lavished on us through your servant Taulese Opal Pierce Greene.  Thank you for her faith, hope, and love.  Thank you for the differences that faith, hope, and love have made, are making, and will forever make in us.  Thank you for delivering the soul we’ve been blessed to know and love as Mom, Mee-Maw, Aunt Taulese, Cousin Taulese, and Mrs. Greene from the burdens of life in you among us to the blessings of life in you beyond us where she is at peace  with Jesus Christ and the ancestors. 

Grant us strength for the living of these days of transition.  Thank you for blessing us with the fellowship of other relatives, friends, neighbors, and pilgrims of faith so we are not forced to bear this experience alone.  Help us to live for you in the power and peace that comes from faith and hope that you love us ALWAYS. 

We pray especially for Patricia, Andrew, Aaron, LaTonia, Chase, Martyn, Elliott, Pierce, and the other persons who have been most strongly influenced by Mrs. Greene’s love life of service, devotion, and dedication.  Grant us peace today, tomorrow, and always, we pray, through Jesus Christ. 

AMEN