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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

I Have Heard of Your Faithfulness and Your Love, part 2
(This sermon was delivered at Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church on August 20, 2006)

(continued from a previous post on Thursday, August, 24)

The Holy Spirit and faithful churches. I had heard of John and Vera Mae Perkins and Voice of Calvary Ministries. I had heard of Habitat for Humanity and the Christian Community Health Association. I had heard of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California, St. Paul Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, California, Lawndale Community Church in Chicago, Illinois, and Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. I had heard of the simple way community in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia. In each case what I had heard of was their faithfulness to the Lord Jesus and their love for all the saints. And I wanted to learn from them and try to use my training to understand how the Holy Spirit was irrupting in all these places to remind the church in the United States of who it is we are following and what it is God is calling us to do and be.

Paul talks about this kind of irruption of the Holy Spirit in verse 17, saying that he prays that God will give the Ephesian churches “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” as they come to know this powerful Triune God. What had God been up to in the metropolitan area of Ephesus at the time that Paul wrote the letter? God’s own Spirit had been revealing to these churches the very heart and mind of God, the wisdom that transforms Christians and churches to become more Godlike, more Christlike, more Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. How can we know God unless God’s Spirit reveals God to us?

Thanks be to God, that we are not left alone to make our own way and try to find out what life is all about. I don’t mean we aren’t required to work at it and study to show ourselves approved, learning through our work and prayer. But all that effort would be fruitless in the face of a holy and almighty God if God did not first come to us. So Paul is praying that their faithfulness will result in an ever-deepening tutorial by the Holy Spirit.

Seeing with enlightened eyes of the heart, not just the eyes of scientific observation. What would result from that ongoing growth in wisdom, that ongoing revelation of God’s care for the world? Verse 18 says that it will be an enlightening of the eyes of their hearts. They will see not just with the scientific observer’s eyes trying to gather information, but also with enlightened eyes of the heart. Still, they will need to see with those scientific eyes, too, so they will not be deceived by the lies of the principalities and powers.

Most every time the powers make an attack on the rest of us, they make a public relations announcement to explain why what they are doing is really good for us. The world’s largest corporation announced this week that they would put a cap on salaries, in fulfillment of an internal memo earlier this year that predicted that their workers were going to start costing them more money for salaries and benefits now that many workers are staying with their jobs for longer periods, earning raises and increased benefits. But the company announced it by saying that they were doing this to help their workers advance to higher-level jobs. They said salary caps would be an incentive to apply for higher levels of supervisory or management positions.

Now you and I may be gullible sometimes, but we are not stupid. So the longer we spend thinking about this rationale, the more it does not make sense. No wonder the workers are not happy about it. The company has lots and lots of workers at the lower levels. Then there are far fewer jobs at the higher levels. It’s like a pyramid. So the workers see that they will either have to settle for fixed wages eventually or be the one out of five or one out of ten or one out of 100 that gets promoted to a higher level job. The other four, or nine, or ninety-nine, will be stuck. If they want higher wages, they’ll have to find a job somewhere else. And that makes the company happy, because they would much rather hire new low-wage employees to replace the ones who are making better wages and earning better benefits.

So we need to see with the eyes of the scientific observer, to uncover the lies of the powers and see what is being done to the people God loves. That last part of it is also why the scientific observer’s eyes are not enough. We also have to see with the eyes of our hearts enlightened by the heart of God who loves all creation.

You and I have driven through or walked by neighborhoods where houses are run down and mostly boarded up. Most of the time people see those neighborhoods as blights, as wastelands, as places where unknown and dangerous things might be going on. If any of you have been in North Philadelphia, in Kensington Heights, for instance, you would have seen an extreme version of that kind of neighborhood. North and South Lawndale in Chicago also has been that kind of neighborhood. Wayne Gordon, the pastor of Lawndale Community Church in Chicago, says that at two times in the history of those neighborhoods, their population reached half a million. But by the 1970s, Lawndale had declined from 500,000 to 100,000 residents. That means there were a lot of boarded up businesses and houses and apartment buildings and churches.

If you haven’t seen that sort of place, maybe you can imagine it. I saw it this year in Lawndale, in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, in Camden, New Jersey, and in Brooklyn, New York. In North Philadelphia there are boarded up, dilapidated, crumbling houses for block after block, mile after mile. Some places have vast stretches of bulldozed lots with a scattering of run-down houses still inhabited by the poor. Other blocks seem completely deserted.
Sister Margaret McKenna saw North Philadelphia with a different set of eyes. She saw run down houses which were the last resort of desperate people. She saw boarded up houses where crack addicts hid and practiced their deadly rituals of self-destruction. So she convinced her Medical Missionary Sisters to buy a small house on a corner for under $10,000 in the late 1980s, and she began to make friends with the addicts. She met a Black Baptist pastor who was working with recovering addicts and joined forces with him to create a plan to help recovering addicts pool their resources to live in community.

The people in this recovery community participate in Bible study, in community service, in life skills training, in sharing their economic resources and housing, in job training, in support groups, in training about alternatives to violence, and they live together as a close-knit neighborhood ought to live. The public lie about North Philadelphia is that it is a lost cause, needs to be bulldozed, is full of criminals, and ought to be redeveloped by speculators who think they can buy it cheap and sell it for a huge profit to professionals. But seeing the truth behind the lies let Sister Margaret and her partners see that the abandoned places and the abandoned people are God’s places and God’s people. She saw Jesus in the homeless addicts, and helped them have a place to stay. The community is called New Jerusalem Laura, a collection of houses and neighbors devoted to seeking and following God. We have to see with enlightened eyes of the heart, and then we have to be faithful.

Not being blinded by eyes of fear. We also can’t just see with the eyes of fear. Fear will blind us to the truth. Fear is the absence of hope, the absence of faith, and the barrier to faithfulness. We live in a time when politicians and business leaders and managers or supervisors are constantly playing on our fears. We have orange alerts and heightened security measures. We can’t trust people with a water bottle or a tube of toothpaste. We hear that pink slips are coming. Advertisements aimed to shake us up tell we need a security system on our cars and our houses. We have to change our passwords on our ATM cards so that people in a far away country will not empty our bank accounts. We have to delete unexpected emails to make sure someone we can’t see or don’t know is not taking over our home or work computers. Fear shuts us up. It makes us stand back. It closes us in.

But Paul says to let the Spirit open the eyes of your heart, transforming them through the wisdom of knowing God. A young preacher who grew up in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans ended up in Brooklyn, New York, and in a pastorate that other ministers told him would be a career-ending job. He pressed on because he felt the call of God, and didn’t let the fear of a ruined career drive his decisions. As he got to know his parishioners, he found that many had left or were not attending because they were afraid to be out in their own neighborhood to go to church. They were afraid to wait for the bus. They were afraid to walk into city parks. They were afraid to drive down city streets. There was no police protection. The neighborhood was under the control of drug dealers and organized crime. They were seeing their world through the eyes of fear, and they had good reason to do so.

Rather than just hand it over to the powers of neglect and harm, Johnny Ray Youngblood and his congregation began to plan for recovering their neighborhood. They confronted drug dealers and criminals. They bought property and got the drug houses and prostitution houses out of their neighborhood. They joined with other churches in an organization like Durham CAN and confronted city hall about police protection, city services, and affordable housing. And before long, the fog of fear was lifting in the sphere of influence of St. Paul Community Baptist Church. They saw through the eyes of the heart, led by the Spirit, and they responded with faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to see through the eyes of the heart and not the eyes of fear. We need to see through eyes enlightened by the Spirit of God, and we need to respond with faithfulness.

I could tell similar stories about Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., and the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, or about the Circle Rock Church in Chicago, or about the Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston. I heard of their faithfulness. They have been made wise by the Spirit who revealed to them the heart of God.

Getting beyond eyes of selfishness. There is another way of seeing that will keep us from doing what God wants us to do. We live in a culture dedicated to looking through the eyes of selfishness. With these eyes, we see people’s problems and say to ourselves, “That’s not my problem.” The world of marketing tempts these eyes by saying, “When was the last time you did something for just you?” Or they say, “You deserve a break today,” even though they said the same thing on that commercial yesterday.

We get so wrapped up in what someone said that hurt our feelings that we sit and mope and don’t even think about what we could be doing for someone with real problems. It reminds me of a poster I saw many years ago that said, “A refugee would love to have your problems.” Don’t you think people in Southern Lebanon might like to have your problems? Wouldn’t people in Darfur love to have your problems? Wouldn’t people sleeping on Durham’s streets tonight love to have my problems?

In San Francisco, California, I visited Grace Fellowship Community Church and the ministry partner they founded, Grace Urban Ministries. They are a Presbyterian congregation in the urban core of San Francisco. Founded in 1983 out of a mother church in Chinatown, they first began to minister in a suburban part of San Francisco. Their church included many Chinese Americans as well as some European Americans, ministering in one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the United States. Of course, Chinese Americans could be justified in pulling back from European Americans because of the history of mistreatment of Chinese workers in the U. S. But rather than self-centered eyes, they were looking through enlightened eyes of the heart and willing to seek reconciliation.

This church could have done like so many other churches in this country do. It could have settled into suburban life and waited to relocate if the community changed. But a decade after their founding, instead of moving away from the poor, Grace Fellowship Community Church relocated into the midst of the city where the needs of the poor were at their door.
Even after moving to a poorer neighborhood, they could have hired a few people to do the work and just showed up for preaching. We don’t know anyone who just shows up for preaching, now, do we? But instead they made a strong covenant of accountability to be involved in weekly Bible study, worship, and ministry. When Grace Fellowship has a churchwide retreat to pray and plan and cast a vision, over 90% of their members attend. They have as many at weekday Bible study as they have on Sunday for worship. Seeing with enlightened eyes of the heart, not with self-centered eyes, lets them demonstrate faithfulness as a real people of God with love for all the saints. We need to see with those kinds of eyes, and be faithful.

Hope and power when churches are faithful. Paul says in the next verse that enlightened eyes will see hope. It’s so easy for us to come to church and shout and get a charge, or even to quietly meditate in worship and gain strength, but then we leave to face the world with resignation that nothing is ever going to be different. We can cry out that we believe in God, but then say there is no point in trying to change the system.

Well I’m here today to say that our faith in God must be matched by our faithfulness in God. I have seen in this past year the amazing results of faithfulness. Prisoners are leaving their past of trouble and failure to become community leaders. Addicts are making themselves accountable to others and leaving behind their addictions. Doctors are turning down the big salaries they could have to serve at moderate wages in church-based community clinics. Blacks and whites and Latinos and Asians are putting aside their differences to worship together, to minister together, to recognize one another’s beauty and blessedness in the eyes of God. Faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ changes things. Seeing those changes is the seedbed of our hope.

Paul goes on in verse 19 to point out that we who are faithful can find out about the “immeasurable greatness” of God’s power. That power raised Jesus from the dead and seated him on the throne as Lord of heaven and earth. That power helped a few farming preachers and laypeople in Americus, Georgia, come up with a plan to use Christian moral practices to bring an end to poverty housing. That power led a church in Dallas to respond so quickly and effectively to Hurricane Katrina that the city of Dallas came to that Baptist church for guidance on how to set up their Katrina relief program. That power helped a rag-tag group of everyday folks in North Philadelphia to confront city government and the powers of the official church, even to the point of going to jail. They won a victory to keep housing for thirty homeless families. And that power of God led the judge to release them from jail because a young man explained to him that they were standing up for the homeless because Jesus was himself a homeless man.

And Paul says that the power of God has given Jesus authority above every rule and authority and power and dominion, above every name in this age and the age to come. Yes, in the age to come, and yes, in this age. God’s power is greater than the U. S. President and Congress, greater than city hall or the county commission. God’s power is greater than big oil companies and multinational textile firms. God’s power is greater than Google and Microsoft and AOL. God’s power is greater than MTV and BET and Disney and Time-Warner. God’s power is greater than crack or methamphetamines or white lightning. God’s power is greater than the pornography industry, the banking industry, or the fashion industry.

All of those pretenders for power are under Christ’s feet. Ephesians says all this is put under Christ’s feet, making him the head over all things. He is the top of the heap, the one where the buck stops, the Supreme Leader.

Yet we have to be careful about carrying on about Jesus’ being the boss, because we read in the Gospels how he leads. He’s not like earthly, worldly leaders. He leads with love. He leads with service. He leads with faithfulness. That is the kind of supervisor I want. That is the one I want making decisions that will affect my life.

And Paul says there is a reason Christ has been made the head of all things. It was not just to have a title. It was not to throw his weight around and show everyone he is in charge. Verse 22 says he was put over all things “for the church.” God’s power over all other powers is for the church. We can’t be just sitting around saying, “God, go fix it up for me.” God has given us this power. Are our eyes enlightened? Can we see what God wants us to do? Do we have wisdom taught by the Holy Spirit? If so, then faithfulness is what we must show. Faithfulness to the Lord Jesus Christ and love toward all the saints—that is what Paul had heard about. And now he is saying keep on that path, knowing that God’s almighty power has been given through Christ for the church.

If that is not clear enough, the final verse brings it home. The church is the body of Christ. We are Christ in the world. Our faithfulness must show Christ to the world. Our love must be Christ’s love for the world. Our view of the people must be Christ’s view of the people. Our care for the addict, the homeless, the heartbroken, the oppressed, the poor, must be Christ’s care for them, as he told us when he said the Spirit of the Lord is upon me and has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the Jubilee year of the Lord. We are Christ’s body. Not just a thinking mind, but a working body. We can’t settle for hearing some preaching and then taking that for all we are supposed to do. We have to be the body of Christ moving in the world, shaking things up, caring for people, making changes. It can be done because all power is in him. Paul says the church, the body of Christ, has the fullness of him who fills all in all. We are the bearers, the carriers, the hands and feet and mouths and strong backs of what Jesus is doing. Do we know it? Do we believe it? Are we going to be faithful to it?

Amen.

6 comments:

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Great sermon, Mike. I added your blog to my blogroll at my blog, Levellers. See http://anabaptist418.blogspot.com/

Welcome to the wild, weird, world of blogging.

MollieBoyd said...

This was a great article about faith. If we have faith in God we can overcome all of life's situations. To have faith is to have hope. to have faith is to beleive that God will do what he say he will do and his words are true. To have faith is to trust God. To have faith is to believe in the power of God and to beleive that we are led by the Holy Spirit, and that Jesus did die for our sins and he got up. Faith will take us to all of the places that God intended and faith will allow us to live out God's purpose for our lives. God is love, faith and power. If we love Him, we will trust Him. Thank You Dr. Broadway for this sermon. I was truly inspired. Mollie Boyd

Shani Smart said...

As Christians, we can become guilty of overspiritualizing and thus failing to deal with or address the present realities and problems that face us. In doing this we fail to remember that God wills to use us to do his work. We forget,as mentioned in your sermon, that He has given us the power and authority over the enemy. In Luke 10:19, Jesus tells some of his disciples, "Behold I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you." Pastor Youngblood was a good illustration and a testimony to this. Some would have just waited and relied on God as if He was to miracuously resolve the problem. However, he excercised the authority and the wisdom given to him by God. And he addressed the present reality. I really enjoyed this sermon. It was an eye opener and reminder that God has given us the power and the wisdom. But it is up to us to excercise it in carrying out His will.

Telika said...

I am enlightened by the literary analysis of the words faith, faithfulness, and believe in this sermon. I admit that I have thought that the presence of faith is possible without action because there are sundry of ways faith exist in human understanding. For example, my mundane faith in the green signal light prompts me to travel through it with no worries. I don’t doubt its mechanical capabilities. This sermon seems to assert, however, that there is no true faith without sincere, positive action to accompany it. I suppose if my foot pressed the gas (action) with intent to survive (faith),then this theory is mirrored in my practical, worldly example. Faith in God should prompt believers to positive action for the benefit of others. This sermon is effective in that it addresses the issue of faith in a way that compels the believer to have proactive faith.

Anonymous said...

I recently saw a documentary called The Ordinary Radicals, where many Christians around the country are interviewed about the way they practice works with their faith... people such as Shane Claiborne from The Simple Way, Tony Campolo, Brian McLaren, etc. It's worth checking out - http://www.theordinaryradicals.com/

Mike Broadway said...

I have seen it. It is an excellent documentary.

Mike

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