Sharing the Lead: in Montgomery County 1-17-16

As we have said the POWER Metro Assembly last week was pretty inspiring. Inspiring enough that I decide to make my sermon in this “taking the Lead” series a reflection both on what we are doing with POWER Metro and what we are called to be through God’s love on Human Relations Weekend as remember the ministry and mission of Martin Luther King jr. I am not keen on some holidays like Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day, but this is a holiday I really appreciate. Martin Luther King’s birthday as a holiday challenges us to be who God calls us to be – for real. Listen for the word of God for you this day, from the Message:

Romans 12:1-8  1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life— your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what God wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. 3 I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what God does for us, not by what we are and what we do for God. 4-6 In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of Christ’s body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. 6-8 If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.

January 17, 2016

Sharing the Lead: in Montgomery County

My high school class in Cincinnati had about 1000 students in it – so there were about 3-4000 students in the high school, of which about 3600 were white. And I may be overestimating the number of Black students in the class. There were not many. When I was a sophomore, about 1968 or 69, Martin Luther King’s movement was had had a transforming effect on our society. We hardly knew it, because we white people were still scared and worried about what it meant, but segregation as officially sanctioned by society was coming to an end.

We’re still trying to end unofficial segregation and racism in schools and other places, but that’s another story. What I want to tell you about today is my attempt in my sophomore year of high school to do my part. I had a girlfriend that year, and we decided we would have a party where we would invite some white friends and the few Black people we knew in the school and we would make a dent in racism.

I don’t know what gave us the idea or how on earth we thought this was going to work, but the day of the party came and miracle of miracles, both White and Black classmates came – not many, but a few. And – no surprise – the white kids talked to the white kids and the black kids talked to the black kids. And Black guys were looking through my record collection, because the music I was playing was definitely not their favorite.

To my chagrin they found a record that they liked. It was the cast album from the musical Hair, and the song they liked, which admittedly had a great beat, listed all the derogatory words for a Black person you could imagine. Whatever I had imagined for our party this was definitely not how it was supposed to go. That story is still embarrassing to me. But I have made so many other attempts to deal with racism since then, and so many mistakes that this one is just one of many.

Our focus passage today from Paul’s letter to the Romans is a wonderful bit of advice that could have helped me out back then. In the New Revised Standard Version, Paul says, “Present your bodies as a holy and living sacrifice,” a phrase echoed in our prayer after communion, and which the Message translates “Take your everyday, ordinary life— your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

Paul calls on Christians to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Paul knows that our ordinary, every-day lives are full of idols – full of worship of all kinds of distractions. In our time those items are often the marketplace, our possessions, and our electronic obsessions. Those distractions keep us from complete devotion to God’s will and way, which Paul insists is the only antidote to idol worship.

Paul challenges us to accept God’s grace fully into our lives, by not misinterpreting “yourselves as people who are bringing [all] goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you.”

 

Part of how I interpret this in relation to my story this morning is that Paul is saying that the world does not revolve around us as individuals. “It’s not all about you.” My attempt to have a party to end segregation and racism was a good try, but that was part of the problem – I was trying to be good, trying to look good, and that was a big part of my motivation. Ending racism won’t happen by a one time party. It happens through the transformation and renewing of our minds, living our whole lives in a different way.

And this is why I am so excited about our participation in POWER Metro. As one of the charter members, we get to help shape this organization which has potential to make a big difference in Montgomery County. And at the same time, we will learn a lot about working with other people, about sharing the lead.

We will not be successful by conforming, but only by following God’s lead, working together with other congregations and finding a third way. This is a non-partisan organization, really. There are Republicans and Democrats, Jews, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims. This will only work by God’s grace and by working together with faith.

One woman in our church caucus last week challenged us to pair any work we do on education or the minimum wage with a concern for justice. Talking to her afterward, I understood better what she was trying to say. She was talking about her concern that the organization be ready to respond to racism wherever we see it, not just if it has to do with our chosen issues. She was asking us to be ready to become a ‘living sacrifice’ to “take our everyday, ordinary lives— your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

That is a big challenge. It’s not about having a party to look good. We will find ourselves challenged to live out our faith in a bigger arena than we ever have before. We will grow as leaders and we will make mistakes and we will learn from and with each other. We will find our particular roles and work together as a body to work for the realization of the dream.

Responsive Hymn: 3127  I Have a Dream