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God nah sleep

Zechariah 10 has been my comfort. A counter to the narrative that faith is anemic in times like these. Some take comfort in criticizing rage and pretend that God can be reduced to a justice less peace. This desire to preserve normalcy, this desire to have one behave one’s self while there are knees on our necks is borne in fear. Fear that your myopic readings of Romans 13 won’t be enough. Fear that you didn’t spend enough time with the prophets. All that book learning and you never took the time to see how much God cares about justice? You look for God in your things. You look for God everywhere but the margins. Where God always is. You speak of reconciliation. You have soothed yourself to sleep with the dream of bringing together. You refuse to acknowledge that reconciliation is the repair of the master-slave dialectic. You want to be woke now. You’ve commodified woke. Prolly will commodify non-commodifying soon enough. But all of it means nothing unless you confess. All of it means nothing unless you admit you are complicit. You cannot be the hero in this story, we already have One. Our hero hears our blood crying from the ground. Our hero weeps. And our hero nah sleep.

“Do You Want To Be Made Well?” (John 5:1-17)

The Problematic Pool Party

Calvary Gospel Tabernacle

8.30.2015

John 5:1-17

“Do you want to be made well?” Seems a bit silly doesn’t it? Of course I want to be made well!  But I wonder…if in like a parallel universe this brother might look at Jesus and say, “Meh, come to think of it, lying down… it’s not so bad! I’m fine, really! I’ve got a Good view right here! plus the cool off the pool is refreshing at times. Yeah, I might stay a while…”

 

I love this situation. There’s a bit of agency included in this encounter with the Christ. Not so much agency that it gives license to twist the gospel, or reduce the gospel into some sort of self-help, pull yourself up by the bootstraps message. No friends I believe we have a situation where once again our Lord calls us, even us, into community and responsibility for one another.

 

The man who has been suffering in this story has been suffering for a long time! Scripture tells us in verse five that he has had his infirmity for thirty eight years. This man was a staple of the area, time and time again seeking his healing in the pool but unable to receive it. When reading this scripture my mind was drawn to the brothers and sisters I have encountered in my travels. At Penn Station, both Newark and New York, it would be impossible to pass through and not see a brother or sister experiencing homelessness. A brother or sister in desperate need of help. Food. Shelter. Some recognition of their humanity. Some dignified gesture that reminds them that they are not forgotten.

On the subway earlier this week I sat and watched two separate occasions where gentlemen attempted to gather the passengers’ attention and ask for help. Some change. Any food. Leads on shelter. Clothing for their children.

Walking around my neighborhood in Brooklyn I encountered two more men. One in a wheelchair trying to find shelter. Another asking for enough change to get bus fare.

In the encounters this week, I fear that I fell among the number whom James addressed in James 2:15 and 16. ‘If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?

Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.’

You see I’m normally happy to give. A cheerful giver even! But I found myself with eyes glued to my book on the train, unwilling to open my wallet in public and give what I could. I gave a dollar to the brother in the wheelchair but found myself pretending to be unable when I really was unwilling to help more. The last brother was very polite and I wanted to help him too but I was unwilling to use my debit card to buy his fare. In all of these instances I felt my spirit bursting to grab hold of these brothers and love them; praying for them, encouraging them, showing the vitality of our faith, letting them know my works are grounded by the moving of the living God.

I made no such statements. My mind more attuned to my bank statement. Dollar bills held hostage by the tyranny of bill collection. And I paint this picture for you because I consider myself a good, charitable person. A nice guy even. Yet still I must wonder, like popular hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar wonders, “How much a dollar cost?” I’m not afraid that I’ve blocked my blessing nor am I fearful of any divine punishment as a result but I pray that God’s love pierced their situations in spite of my inaction. I am confident that my anxiety, my cowardice, could never build a wall high enough to impede the Lord from lifting them out of their circumstances. No doubt, this is the gospel but it is far from a license for complacency.

Brothers and sisters, in truth, we serve an awesome God. A God who continually calls us to participate in God’s life. Instead of seeing one another as an inconvenience how transformed would we be if we saw one another as an invitation to follow Jesus.

I wonder how many people we know in our own lives who are stuck like the brother by the pool. I love this story because I not only see Christ’s example but I see myself by the pool. I joked earlier about the parallel universe where the man is actually content where he is. But when I think about the ways I have answered “Do you want to be made well?” with complacency, fear, anxiety, or doubt, it is no laughing matter. If we are really going to be about this life and really trying to grow in our walk with the Lord then we need to be real about the ways that we too are attending a problematic pool party.

I would never go so far to call lupus and the difficulties that followed my illness a good thing but I saw so many examples where God used this tragedy to bless me. One example of this is learning to receive charity. We feel good when we help other people. There’s an extra puffiness we experience when we know we can reach out and help somebody. Maybe we even believe we are sowing a seed of some sort by helping somebody. I always wonder if I have unwittingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2) whenever I have helped somebody. But brothers and sisters, on the opposite end of that spectrum…it is not fun to need help.

Our culture teaches us to preserve our dignity at all costs. Some of us have been burned by needing help, ridiculed for taking a handout, seemingly suffocated under the weight of our shame. But receiving charity is not a mark of failure. No one gets anywhere by themselves. Both Thomas Merton and Dennis Brown agree, “no man is an island.” There is a strong sentiment within the culture to prove how much you are trying, that you are can do! But I submit to you that a crucial component of Christianity is reaching the limits of your agency. Where your try just is not enough, and you need to be made well.

This is beautiful to me because the man tried and it was not enough. Living with a situation like his for thirty eight years…that’s more than enough evidence to believe that this is his lot in life. That perhaps contentment in this stage would be wise. Save him from some heartache. Why try to get in the pool again? But thank God that this man’s story does not end there. He encounters Christ and Christ invites him to participate with God. It is a slice of being a co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17). Faith is participatory; we cannot afford to hold onto what we have whether that “have” is excess or doubt. We need to be available in order to be made well.

In verse 8, Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”


I wonder what we can accomplish when we believe in God more than we believe in our circumstances. It seems that faith always has to come with a level of absurdity. If I tell you I’m going to breathe my next breath you probably won’t be that impressed. But if I’m telling you that while I am in a hospital bed recovering from pulmonary embolism, some faith may be required.

We cannot be so married to our dignity, caught up in our sense of self that we forfeit these opportunities to participate with God. God is calling us to be made well. God is calling us to ask our brothers and sisters if they want to be made well. What’s realer than that?

Truthfully being faithful is difficult and I think we develop a sort of Stockholm Syndrome with our problems. The devils we know seem better than the ones we don’t. (Or as my great, late grandmother used to say “Never lef sure fi unsure.”) But what happens when we quiet our circumstances enough to hear the Master’s voice beckoning us to “Rise” take up our beds and walk. Don’t worry about where you will go, just get going.

In verse 17, when it is clear that some members of the community are offended by what the Lord has done, Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”

Everytime I see this verse, I think about Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir singing “God is working.” It is seductive and rather simple to write off your life, write off the world even, and stay convinced that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But I wonder what happens when we take the Lord’s Prayer serious enough to believe that God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:9-13). Not focusing on the situation (and surely not ignoring it, by and by) but believing that God is working, that God loves you enough to invite you to participate in that work and making yourself available so that “He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

I am convinced that we cannot follow Jesus by ourselves. To be Christian is to be in community. And the beautiful thing about the beloved community is that God continually calls us to love folks we may not even like. The least of these. Those the rest of society has the leisure to forget. We do not have that leisure.

We see in Deuteronomy 10, verses 18 and 19 that God “administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The Lord provides the example then calls us to be holy as God is holy.
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So where are we in this story? Are we going to be like our Master or are we going to care more about our sense of order more than one another? I pray that we guard our witness closely. It is conflicting, and rather silencing to say we love God when we do not show that love to our neighbors. In what ways are we forgetting that Sabbath was created for man and not man for the sabbath? (Mark 2:27)

Brothers and sisters, you do not need me to convince you of the world’s brokenness. The problematic pool party has too many attendees. Despair seems more logical than hope. Too many feel that it is over but praise be to God, we know the author of our story. And He intends far more than this. You are not defined by what ails you. You are not a prisoner of your problems.

May we see our Lord as our example and walk with such empathy. He got directly involved in the mess, he was not far removed. He lived His life worshipfully. May we open our eyes and pray with our feet so that we too may worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

“Here Lies The Dragon…” (Rev 12:7-12)

It fascinates me when I think about those peculiar bedfellows. Hope and despair.

How can we be victorious when it feels all is lost? Much more than mere feeling, or passing sentiment, how can we sing our song in a strange land? I confess that there are times when I feel all thumbs. When I can tell no one is buying what I’m selling and there are low points where I cannot blame them.

No one needs compelling evidence that there is evil in this world.

The news, our communities, our lives are filled with examples that convince. Freddie Gray‘s smashed larynx and nearly severed spine in Baltimore. Walter Scott shot in the back in Charleston. Tamir Rice murdered in Cleveland. Eric Garner and Eric Harris expressing with their dying words that they cannot breathe, to no avail.

I remember when I learned about the way crucifixion kills. I never gave it much thought coming up. I guess I just thought the nails piercing the skin forced one to lose too much blood on the cross. Coming up we always sang about the blood. Communion was about the blood. Movies and television shows always depicted Jesus shedding a lot of blood so I suppose I put two and two together.

While it is true that one loses a lot of blood when crucified that is not the primary cause of death. Crucifixion is an exceptionally cruel way to die because amongst the nails piercing your skin and the practice of breaking the bones (which Jesus was not subject to), asphyxiation is the primary cause of death. While on the cross, your body stretched out, breathing becomes a laborious task until it is an impossible task and breathing stops. It is a death void of mercy.

Leaves little wonder why Jesus in the midst of such agony would quote the psalmist in his plea, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We too must wonder if we have been forsaken. When this bitter soup is continuously reheated and the actors tragicomically fill their roles. Everyone fulfilling their duty to the zeitgeist. Eat. Sleep. Outrage. Repeat. Unfriend people on Facebook. Attend a march or two. Refuse to watch mainstream news. Ultimately feel overwhelmed, perhaps defeated but begrudgingly press on. Does our blood cry from the ground?

I am encouraged by my inability to excuse myself from God’s presence. The psalmist has found nowhere to go where God is not. The psalmist reveals that even when we make our beds in hell, God is there. God is in our streets, with us in the jail cell, in the paddy wagon, with us as we mourn, with us as we suffer.

This presence comforts me but perhaps you remain unconvinced of its significance. Perhaps you cannot see the benefit of God’s presence in these circumstances.

Victory as presented through a biblical lens is peculiar. Scripture speaks about swords being beaten into plowshares, lions eating straw and a time when the wolf and the lamb will feed together. These examples are hopeful examples, a time when we will have to study war no more but ring hollow in our landscape because our society is disinterested in turning instruments of war into tools of agriculture. Our society cannot comprehend why one would eat straw when one is an apex predator, fully capable of sinking one’s teeth into whatever one chooses. Our society has conditioned us to believe the lamb has gone for the okey-doke and it is only a matter of time before the wolf’s plan is fully revealed and that foolish lamb gets got. Our society has created a lens where anyone who concedes power is foolish, might makes right and just hospitality is weakness.

There’s no room for the gospel in that worldview. When one hears the gospel under those conditions they must hear a toothless message. Where turning the other cheek is no longer an act of endurance but is a capitulating act of cowardice. You hear that a lot in the struggle, don’t you? Where the struggle is reduced to either being a disciple of King and non-violence or a Malcolm X type of brother who ain’t with all that. The gains gotten through non-violence seem inconsequential to the hell still being caught that an alternative seems seductive. We reduce Malcolm to a righteous Rambo who kicks in the door and takes everything back. But this lens sees only what it wants to see. It has no room for gleaning lessons from the lives actually lived by these men and is often unwilling to broaden that lens to include the men and women through whom we have reached this point. There is a danger when we can no longer learn. When we’ve figured it out or made our world so small that our context has the only hell being caught.

And let us make no mistake: people the world over are catching hell. There is something cold and sinister about making someone legitimize their suffering. Why is my personhood disquieting? Why must I assert my dignity? Who made it ok for me to be irrelevant? Or silenced? It should not be subversive to say black lives matter. To live my life confidently, knowing that “I am not forgotten” as the singer says, “God knows my name.”

It is exciting to see our text today on a cosmic battleground. Michael, the archangel defeats the dragon. As a result the dragon and the dragon’s angels are thrown out of heaven. When we look at verse 9, where the dragon is thrown, the verb used to show Satan’s defeat, eblethe, we see that this verb is passive. It is a device used in scripture referred to as a divine passive. An action that is initiated by God. Michael represents God’s combat capabilities but this triumph over the devil is achieved by God.

When I first read Paradise Lost I was in awe of the swift defeat Lucifer received when he attempted to revolt against God. The character appeared shocked and dismayed; simply didn’t know God had such capabilities. The same is true and much more so in this text where a cosmic battle of majestic magnitude is won through an act of humiliation.

Verse 11 tells us that the ones who were accused by the accuser have “conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.” It is on this plane, in our terrain where this cosmic battle is won. An ultimate sign of shame, defeat, complete dehumanization is the device used to reveal real power. Christ performs the greatest act of empathy the world will ever know. Unwilling to be a sideline savior, Jesus offers himself and reveals himself as the Christ. It gives a greater understanding to the power of prayer, coming together as community and what is possible when the lordship of Jesus Christ is taken seriously. Here we see what happens when what is bound on earth is bound in heaven. Our tendencies are challenged. Our worldview is subverted. Every misconception of what power actually looks like is destroyed. Victory is found in the blood of the lamb.

I am mystified by verse 12. It is easy to create a perennial parallel here; rejoicing in heaven and running through the earth with my woes. The evil that we face on this plane is deadly; you don’t need me to tell you that. It is a cost we know too well. But it is not the end of the story. The devil is no match for God. Evil, no matter how ubiquitous, has not received a blank cheque. This hell we are catching is nothing more than the death throes of a system that is falling and cannot get up. Every lash it makes against us, another proof of its demise. It cannot last, it will not last, it does not have the victory.

Brothers and sisters we must live victoriously. Not guided by the boots on our necks nor seduced by tales of alternative means for power. New Testament scholar Eugene Boring notes “If Revelation teaches anything, it is that the power by which God brings the kingdom is the power of suffering love revealed in the cross.” Our Lord stands at the door and knocks; calling us to participate in God’s life. Live passionately for justice. Let your life testify to who God is, what real power looks like. Amen.

Mi nuh know

looking-out-window-6-7-07-001

(Picture taken from https://scoutdog.files.wordpress.com/2007/12/looking-out-window-6-7-07-001.jpg)

Youse a stupid dog.

Wha yuh a look fah een?

Deh deh a look pon window…wha yuh tink?

Parousia nah start today, papa.

Yuh nuh see seh we nuh ready?

Bwoy mi tell yuh!

I think Jesus show up right ya now we’d kill him again.

In all a him glory (tell the story!)

We so fool fool, we see him and tink seh

Di big man fit di description.

Bwoy mi nuh know!

Yuh tink dem woulda stop and frisk mi King?

Have a picnic, put a fiyah pon a cross or wha?

Baptize wid di firehose.

Last supper wid skittles.

Iced tea a fi wi blood type.

Mi like him, me’d a show up as a dawg.

No mongrel to wi ting.

Haffi purebred.

Collie.

Retriever.

Deh yah a wait pon mi Shepherd still.

Cleaning My Lens

The second sermon I delivered this summer while interning at All Souls Presbyterian Church. 

Chris Burton

7.13.2014

All Souls Presbyterian Church

Cleaning My Lens (Romans 8:1-11)

 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, ESV)

 

I’m a creature of habit. Once I get something I like I usually stick with it. I might have five favorite restaurants in town but that would mean I just get five different meals. I’ve been buying a clean version of the same sneaker for over a decade now. I’ve got other shoes that I like but always want a pair of crisp Nike Cortez in my rotation. My mom has been trying to get me to buy a new phone for a year now. It has a slight, very fine crack on the screen but it doesn’t bother me so I haven’t gotten it replaced. Even these glasses! I have had them for three years now, which is no good, but I like them and haven’t been straining my eyes too much so changing them has not been as much of a priority as it should be. Truth be told, I would not even have them if it weren’t for my time as a middle school basketball coach where one of my point guards obliterated an older pair during practice. They looked a lot like these and I’d probably still be peering over them to this day.

 

So yes, I confess, I get attached. I like what I like and I’m sure that I have developed a formidable resistance to change. This is not always good. Routines can afford us stability, and stability is socially acceptable but what do we do when said routine is a bit more constricting than mere stability? What do we do when we get stuck?

 

Our faults, our shortcomings, our sin, our shame. All these conspire within us, trapping us in a perverse cycle. We say things we wish we did not say, we do things that we know we ought not to do.

 

Last week we heard Rev. Keyes illustrate the inner turmoil using the apostles’ words. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15, ESV) Paul articulates the war that rages inside of us all. Knowing better and doing better aren’t always a packaged deal. Our actions can betray us. No matter how disciplined we are, and successful we have become, we are all susceptible to failure.

 

As much as I am moved by the poem Invictus, my relationship with Jesus Christ calls me to thoroughly disagree with the last stanza.

“It matters not how strait the gate,

     How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

     I am the captain of my soul.” 

I pray that I may never desire to be the master of my fate. I’ve tried it my way and have proven myself unqualified for the job. I have come to find no profit in being the captain of my soul.

 

Paul’s letter is good news for all us. You may not fashion yourself to be a creature of habit but the truth is, living life on our own terms is a recipe for failing habitually. Submitting ourselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ is an acknowledgment that we have no business being captain.

 

Let us look at Verses 3 and 4 once more:

 

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,[c] he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

 

Recently I began asking God to equip me to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit daily. Galatians 5:22-23 tell us that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV) It has been said that “The fruits of the Spirit, or effects of sanctification, which are begun in us, do not ingraft us into Christ, but declare that we are grafted into him.” 

 

There is nothing you or I can do to earn God’s love. There is no hope for us in and of ourselves. Our hope is in Christ. The kindness that we demonstrate, the love that we have, any and all of the fruits of the Spirit are there as evidence of the work God is doing in us. In my preparation I encountered this quote from William Barclay that resonates, “Because of what Jesus did, there opens out to the Christian a life no longer dominated by the flesh but by the Spirit of God, which fills a man with a power not his own. The penalty of the past is removed and strength for his future is assured.” (Barclay, William. The Letter to the Romans (Revised Edition) Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975 p.103)

Forgiving yourself because you have been forgiven. Step out of the shade of shame and walk in the Son’s light.

Bitterness can corrupt. I remember praying for God to give me forgiveness. I knew that I was at risk of phoniness, in danger of proclaiming a hollow gospel if I did not walk in forgiveness. I prayed for forgiveness so much that it became a part of my daily routine. From time to time I would imagine dry soil, almost like red clay and I’d see a tiller pulling up that soil, breaking its hardness. And I would see this image again and again. I didn’t correlate the two, my prayer and my vision until much later but I am confident that I am able to demonstrate forgiveness because of the good work that the Lord has done in me. Matthew Henry once noted that “By the Spirit the law of love is written upon the heart, and though the righteousness of the law is not fulfilled by us, yet, blessed be God, it is fulfilled in us.” I am free to walk in forgiveness because of the Spirit that dwells in me.

 

I believe that forgiveness is a central component of our faith. Through Christ we have been forgiven. How can we follow Him and not extend forgiveness toward others? I have no doubt that it is a process, a journey too arduous to complete on our own. But I am even more confident that it is one we can complete through yielding to the Spirit and forfeiting any claims to the captaincy of our lives.

 

We’ve heard the story from our Old Testament reading several times and it never stops amazing me to hear of Esau’s forgiveness.

 

Esau stands with Joseph, the prodigal son’s father and Our Father who chose to show solidarity instead of shame.

 

Living a life free from the burden of our failures isn’t done by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord.

 

Let us seek the Father daily. Ask for the Spirit to till our hearts and nourish us so that we bear the fruit that is pleasing in God’s sight.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

 

8 Things I Wish Jesus Had Never Said | RELEVANT Magazine

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/8-things-i-wish-jesus-had-never-said

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