May 15, 2016
Anthem: Spirit, Come DownSenior Choir
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
In seminary, we read a book called Amazing Grace, by Jonathan Kozol. It is not about the beloved church song; it is an expose about the lives of children in the South Bronx, the poorest urban area in the country at the time. Reading it was difficult. It was an unflinching look at the intersections of poverty, drug-related violence, overcrowded schools, underfunded hospitals, the people working to try and make a difference among all of it, and how all of these factors impacted the children who lived there.
The central question with which we approached the book was not economic, political, or even social. The central question was, if it is not Good News here, is it really Good News?
The difficulty of this question is that it shines a bright light on all our pat answers and comfortable assumptions: assumptions about God and prosperity; about the church in North America and our social, economic, political systems that perpetuate poverty and allow some to thrive at the expense of the impoverished; about Jesus and race; about the Holy Spirit and the plight of children in rat infested housing.
Of course, we do not have to travel to the Bronx to see urban areas in desperate poverty. Detroit is much closer to us. And if we drop the word urban, we do not have to travel that far to find the effects of poverty around us. Under-education, under-employment, the insidious ways that illegal drugs come into a community both as a way to self-inoculate against the pain of poverty and offering the illusion of getting rich quick while fighting the system. If we have eyes to see, we will notice some of this just driving around.
Pentecost is the birthday of the church. It is the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples and the beginning of their ministry under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and power. And one of the first signs of Pentecost was that everyone around the disciples heard them preaching in the languages of all the people. People were in town from all over the known world, and they heard the Good News in their own words.
In the Biblical story, the division of the world was accomplished by the garbling of languages when the people were building their tower at Babel, to become like unto God. And at Pentecost, now the Good News is available in all the diverse languages of all the listeners.
Our world is still divided by languages. Now, our phones can now interpret foreign languages for us. We can type in a word or phrase and it will show it in just about any language, from Arabic to Zulu. We can speak into the phone and it will speak in the language of your choice. There’s an app for that.
When I say that Good News needs to be translated into every language, we have that already with scripture. My parents recently gave me a New Testament in Gullah, the language of the Low Country in the Carolinas, not unlike Creole. So we have scripture in every language, and they are even working on the made up languages of the Nav’i from the movie Avatar, and Klingon from Star Trek.
But we still need to make the Good News available in every language: medical, psychological, technological, financial, legal. Like Kozol asks of the South Bronx, if it is not Good News in these circumstances, is it really Good News?
When Mary and I were needing to be medical advocates for our children, the first thing we had to do was try and learn the language. How often do the technical terms make it so much harder to understand a diagnosis or a treatment, especially when the ones trying to hear it are already emotionally overdrawn? God bless people like Stan Moore, who help translate the world of dialysis into words that the people at the dialysis center can understand.
The propagation of pay day loan services and check cashing locations may have a little to do with some people’s distrust of banks, but how much more is it the lack of understanding the language of financing that allows most of us to access the bank, the credit union, the means of credit and savings. It is not about making everyone into day traders, but teaching financial literacy so that people can make better decisions about daily uses of money.
The CrossWalk Teen Center downtown is trying to translate Good News for kids who often have too many unhealthy options and too much access to bad choices, and not enough access to healthy food and healthy options.
We recently learned of the death of a young man who tried to access the mental health systems that would care for his depression and mental illnesses, only to be turned away by the very structures put in place to help him. What does Good News look like when there are cracks in the system big enough to lose a life in?
On the one hand, the love of God we know in the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, the love that compels us to love others by the Holy Spirit, is the very Good News I am talking about. On the other hand, there is no “one size fits all” way of making sure that the Good News is Good News “here,” in the particulars and the problems that are as individual and as different as each one of us is?
In our upcoming work this summer and this fall, we will be exploring two of these important questions:
- How do we, as individuals and as a church, hear the Good News of God’s love in Jesus?
- And how are we called to translate that Good News into action and love in our community?
It will require all of us to listen:
Listening to one another,
Listening for that still, small voice of God,
Listening for the blowing wind of the Holy Spirit,
Listening for the needs of our neighbors, our communities, our fellow children of God.
In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves,
both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
This is what we are looking to as we begin the work of reVision here at our church: that the Good News that we need, the Good News that our community needs, will be given by God, poured out upon all of us, that we can be people of real Good News in the lives of those around us.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Thanks be to God.