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The Weird Way God Works

October 1, 2017

THE WEIRD WAY GOD WORKS

A Sermon Delivered

October 1, 2017 (17th Sunday after Pentecost)

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Ezekiel 2:1-7


2He said to me: O mortal,* stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation* of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. 4The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. 6And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house.

 

Jeremiah 1:4-10, 17-19


4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 
5 ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’ 
6Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ 7But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you. 
8 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord.’ 
9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth. 
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’ 17But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not break down before them, or I will break you before them. 18And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. 19They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.

Matthew 5:10-16

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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 underfoot.

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.

Acts 17:1-7

17After Paul and Silas* had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, 3explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah* to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This is the Messiah,* Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.’4Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the market-places they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. 6When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers* before the city authorities,* shouting, ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, 7and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.’

The “Reflections on Progress” events have concluded.  The eight surviving members of the Little Rock 9 have been honored, photographed, acclaimed by politicians, again.  They have been questioned by journalists, again.  The Little Rock 9 have, again, been recognized for the brave and steadfast ways they entered, endured, and survived their ordeal as the first black children to enter Little Rock Central High School in September 1957.   The festivities have ended.  People have returned to their routine pursuits.  

 

What happens now that this city, state, and nation has finished the sixth decennial exercise of civic, cultural, political, and religious posturing about our professed belief in racial equality and justice?  And what does this have to do with people who believe in the justice, truth, peace, and hope of God?

 

For the past three Sundays I’ve tried to shed some prophetic light about racial injustice in public education from the context of the 60th anniversary to commemorate the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School by the Little Rock 9.   This is the fourth and final sermon of the series.  Now that the hoopla has ended, let us ponder together how God works concerning injustice and oppression.  Doing so will help us understand what we need to know and do about the idolatry of racism and heresy of white supremacy concerning public education in Little Rock.  I hope this sermon will inspire us to ponder what people like us – followers of the Palestinian Hebrew prophet called Jesus – can do about racial inequality in public education now that public attention has shifted from Little Rock Central High and the Little Rock 9.  

 

The passages from Ezekiel 2, Jeremiah 1, Matthew 5, and Acts 17 are not like the celebratory and festive stuff we heard from politicians, pundits, and the other disciples of the white supremacy empire known as public education in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the United States.  Each of these four passages brings us face to face with the weird way God works concerning injustice, oppression, and empire.  

 

God works on injustice through prophetic people – salt and light people – not pawns of empire!  Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul are not remembered – in religion or otherwise – as agents of political, cultural, commercial, or even religious empire.  They are remembered as prophetic personalities.  These people somehow had the notion that God was up to something concerning the human situation of their times and locations.  Nationalism, economic oppression, militarism, and classism were some of the major forces Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul faced.  Somehow, they thought God had something to say to them and something for them to do that impacted their situations.  

 

Ezekiel declared that a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me.  He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you … to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have rebelled against me to this very day.  The descendants are impudent and stubborn.  I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.”  Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.  Ezekiel 2:2-5.  

 

Jeremiah claimed that the word of the LORD came to me saying, “… I appointed you a prophet to the nations…. Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD… Now I have put my words in your mouth.  See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant… But you, gird up your loins; stand up and tell them everything that I command you… And I for my part have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall, against the whole land – against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land.  They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the LORD, to deliver you.”  Jeremiah 1:5,7-8, 10, 17-19.

 

I dare not address the weird way God works without mentioning Luke 4:18-19, where Jesus read these words from Isaiah 61 when he returned to Nazareth at the beginning of his public ministry.  The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  Then we find these words at Luke 4:21:  Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That inspiration caused Jesus to deliver the Sermon on the Mount we read in Matthew’s Gospel.  That inspiration is what made Jesus describe the common people he lived among – people like us –  the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  

     

 Paul and Silas preached and led men and women from diverse backgrounds into prophetic community in the name of that prophetic Palestinian called Jesus at Thessalonica as we read in Acts 17.  The prophetic Palestinian Hebrew named Jesus had by that time achieved such an impact that agents of empire in Thessalonica said “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also… They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.”  Acts 17:6-7  

 

God works through prophetic people like Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul – salt and light subversives and outcasts from empire!  Salt is a sanitizing agent.  Light illuminates. God works through prophetic salt and light people – who are actually people like you and me – to make liberating differences for love, truth, justice, peace, and hope in the world. 

 

Injustice always requires both salt and light to be overcome.  God’s prophetic people are the forces of salt and light in society.  Prophetic people – yes, people like you and me – bring the salty and stinging message about the wickedness of white supremacy, racism, and other forms of oppression and injustice.  And we shine light on how to dismantle oppressive systems and restructure power in order to achieve justice.

 

But prophetic - salt and light – people are not pawns of empire!  They can’t be pushed around.  They don’t permit themselves to be positioned in order to satisfy imperial designs for oppressive power.  

 

Prophetic people also aren’t stage props for empire.  I doubt that Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul would have fought for a photo opportunity with the rulers of their time.  They were salt and light critics of the rulers, not pawns and props for ruling authorities and their unjust schemes and actions.  

 

Don’t expect truth about racial inequality in public education from agents of empire. Don’t trust insights about justice from people who have spent their entire lives sucking the breast of white supremacy.  Don’t think that white supremacist iniquities and inequities about public education will be exposed – let alone challenged and corrected – by politicians and preachers who have majored in white supremacy theology, white supremacy religious doctrine, white supremacy politics, white supremacy chamber of commerce initiatives and practices, and white supremacy education ideas and traditions.  

 

Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul illustrate how God calls prophetic people – the people Jesus described as the salt of the earth and the light of the world – to confront, expose, and lead the effort to overcome injustice.  God’s prophetic “salt and light people” have strange wheels turning in their heads.  They move to the beat of a different drummer and hear subversive messages.  God sends them to show up – often unexpected and uninvited – to speak unconventional and inconvenient truths.

  

The next weird thing about how God’s works involves repentance.  Whenever God sends salt and light prophetic people to address injustice, expect them to call for repentance.  Now that isn’t what we hear from the empire crowd.  The empire crowd likes to talk about things like reflection, renewal, reconciliation, and re-engagement.  Salt and light people call for repentance.  

 

Reflection without repentance is like trying to treat appendicitis by engaging in nostalgia rather than performing surgery to remove an infected appendix.  Our unjust situation in public education requires surgery.  We must dismantle and discard unjust system and policies.  Then we must restructure public education to produce fair and free education for all children.  That won’t happen as long as we fool ourselves by paying attention to people who engage in fraudulent reflections about the past and falsely claim those reflections amount to progress.      

 

Repentance about racial inequities in public education involves facing the truth that public education in Little Rock has always been poisoned by white supremacy and racism.  God needs need prophetic people to declare the salt and light message that repentance means dismantling the structures and arrangements of white supremacy and racism in public education that have always worked to deprive black, brown, and poor children equal access to the money, teachers, facilities, and programs traditionally reserved for children who are white and from affluent families.  

 

Repentance will require that prophetic people de-bunk the lie that justice is “color blind.”  Public policy has never been “color blind” in the United States, in Arkansas, and in Little Rock concerning education or anything else.  People who insist on “color blind” approaches to addressing racial injustice in public education are not going to expose and dismantle white supremacist structures and schemes.

 

And repentance will require that prophetic people present a counter-narrative for justice.  Our opposition to the immoral takeover of the Little Rock School District by the State Board of Education must be joined with salt and light approaches to dismantle unjust systems and establish just ones.  

 

Salt and light prophetic educators should help people see how to resist existing unjust systems and create subversive alternatives that produce just educational outcomes for the whole society, not merely children who are white and affluent.  Salt and light community leaders should help develop voter education and outreach strategies.  Salt and light religious people should help convert religious spaces into after school academic and social enrichment centers.  

 

Finally, God’s weird way involves sending prophetic people to declare God’s message of repentance in the face of rejection.  The Spirit of God told Ezekiel, “I am sending you to … a nation of rebels…. Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them. And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.

 

The Spirit of God told Jeremiah, “They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you…” 

 

Jesus told his followers, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  

 

Don’t expect the chamber of commerce crowd to join our call to dismantle the school to prison pipeline. Expect opposition.  Expect criticism.  Expect to be falsely accused of being a race baiter because you refuse to go along with the conventional myth about “color blind” policies.  Expect to be treated like Jesus, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Paul, and other prophetic salt and light people across the ages.  

 

We aren’t working for the empire.  We’re working for God.  We’re not looking for approval from the empire.  We’re living to do justice for God.  God has called us to turn the world of public education upside down.  God has called us to shake the foundations of white supremacy and racism.  God has sent us to be fierce agents of healing and hope for people who are suffering the effects of generations of racism, generations of false promises, generations of stolen resources, generations of unfair treatment, and generations of despair.  

 

God is sending us to be salt and light.  God is sending us to sanitize and illuminate public education.  God is sending us, yes, I said us!  As weird as it seems, this is the way God works.   

 

I’m glad God has called us.  I’m glad God is sending us demand that this community, state, and nation repent from its long history of white supremacy and racism concerning public education.   I’m glad we do not do this work alone.  God is with us!  

 

God is with us when people criticize and mistreat us because we are working to dismantle oppressive systems and practices that cause racial inequality in public education.  

 

God is with us when we struggle against the rich and powerful forces of empire.  

 

God is with us when we are falsely accused.  God is with us when fake friends abandon us.  God is with us even when religious folks denounce us.  

 

God works through prophetic people to overcome unjust and oppressive situations and systems.  God works through prophetic people who demand and actively work to produce repentance so that oppressive situations and systems are dismantled and restructured for justice.  God works through prophetic people who demand and work to produce repentance while facing threats, persecution, and other forms of opposition.  

 

This is the weird way God works to overcome injustice.  Let’s join God in that work.

 

Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2017