By Joe Kendrick
In a few days my wife and I will welcome our second child into this world.
His name will be Duncan.
I am not entirely certain about the world we are welcoming him into; it is a broken world. It is a world torn apart by hate. It is a world torn apart by fear. It is a world torn apart by greed. It is a world torn apart by injustice. It is a world in which my profession has become irrelevant. It is a world in which the place I enter on Sundays has become irrelevant. It is a world dependent on politicians to provide its best hope for the best future.
In his lecture at the Festival of Homiletics in May, Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III proclaimed the need for homiletical DJs. “The DJ,” Moss said, “is the keeper and proclaimer of the sound of the culture. The DJ is versed in several traditions, a lover of several traditions, and the DJ breaks the social construction barriers that say these types of music don’t go together. The DJ fuses music that isn’t supposed to go together: jazz and rock, blues and opera, folk and rap. The DJ breaks down those barriers by finding a commonality.” Moss transitions and tells the crowd of pastors and preachers: you are homiletical DJs.
Moss acknowledged that the church has become irrelevant because we chose to be an institution instead of an organic body, daring to grow. Yet, we are relevant because we are the only ones to utilize the language of love, forgiveness, grace, and redemption. When we lose that language, we move into obscurity.
The idea of love, mercy, forgiveness, grace, and redemption have been muted in civil discourse. Our politicians do not use this language. They do not run campaigns of forgiveness, grace, redemption, or love. They do not stand in the middle of their aisles and hold hands with other politicians of a different color or even a different party. They yell and fight for disunity, and for party loyalty. The only place in America you will ever see people of different political parties, different theology, of different nationalities, of different races is in a house now irrelevant in the communal life: the church.
Every Sunday across America you will find people who shouldn’t go together, who shouldn’t be together, and who shouldn’t talk to one another, joining hands, reaching across their aisles as the broken body of Christ is passed, the split blood of Christ is passed, and together that partake in that a scared ordinance of Communion.
On Sunday, if you visit a local church, you will find the language of forgiveness, grace, redemption, and love. And you will find a young man, a young woman, an old man, or an old woman standing before them, doing their very best to remind them they are all God’s children.
This week has been a terrible week for our country.
It began with the murder of an African-American man by the name of Alton Sterling who was shot by police officers while pinned to the ground by the officers. Less than 48 hours later, another African-American many by the name of Philando Castile was murdered by a police officer, after reaching for his concealed carry permit. And then another 48 later five police officers, one by the name of Brent Thompson, (the other names not yet released) were murdered by citizens during a Black Lives Matter protest, similar to the other peaceful protests that took place across our country. Before the attack, Dallas police and the protestors were seen walking side by side, the police blocking streets, and several taking pictures. Each one understanding the beautiful rights of our free nation.
Two men were murdered, each having a gun, their right according the state and federal laws. One had a concealed handgun permit, the other allowed to open carry in the state of Louisiana, and five officers murdered protecting the right to peacefully assemble.
Several were also injured.
That is what happened in less than four days in our country.
Across the globe, the Islamic State bombed several Muslim holy sites, and car bombed a mall in Shia district of Baghdad, killing close to 300 innocent women, men and children, and injuring over 200 more.
That is what happened in our world this week.
Former congressman Joe Walsh sent a tweet calling for war on the President and all Black Lives Matter participants.
As I said, politicians don’t use the language of forgiveness, grace, redemption, and love. They use the language of thoughts and prayers.
But we do.
Those who follow Christ are commanded by Christ to utilize on a daily basis the language of forgiveness, grace, redemption, and love. While others may use those words, and practice those words, they do so from a worldly moral perspective; we are commanded to use those words in an ethic that brings the kingdom of heaven to earth. We use those words as we pray on earth as it is in heaven.
Those words define community.
In chapter 10 of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus entertains questions from the crowd. A lawyer stands up, “Teacher, what must I do to gain eternal life?”
Jesus answers, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”
The lawyer thinks for a moment and responds without hesitation, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus answered, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
But the lawyer wasn’t done. He wanted to prove he was right, wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus then tells the story of a man who is beaten on the dangerous road to Jericho. He lies there, naked, bleeding, and dying. Eventually a priest walked by. He saw the man lying there and passed on the other side. A Levite came by the same spot. He too saw the injured man, and passed by on the other side.
You can see the crowd is on pins and needles with this story. If the priest or the Levite, those called by God to help others, walk by, who then will help the man. Jesus then says that a Samaritan came by, and when he saw the man lying there, he took compassion on him. The Samaritan went to him, bandaged him, and took him to an inn on his own donkey, and cared for him. He paid the innkeeper to look after the man until he returned, promising to pay back any additional costs.
The crowd is stunned. And then Jesus asks the lawyer, “What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man beaten by thieves?” The lawyer answered, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
“Go and do likewise.”
We are blasted with the narrative that we cannot trust our neighbors. Democrat and Republican candidates insist on distrusting our neighbor based on their skin color, their ethnicity, their gender, their sexuality, their political party, and their religion. Twenty-four hour news media such as Fox, CNN, and MSNBC shape that narrative. One tells us that we cannot trust police while the other tells us we can’t trust anyone who isn’t white. And that narrative has found its way into our pulpits. The preachers in America have forgotten the pulpit is the place where we spin the records of a Christ who broke down social barriers, who told us that the law of the prophets hang on two commands, “Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor.”
Our neighbor’s life matters:
Our black neighbor’s life matters.
Our Hispanic neighbor’s life matters.
Our Muslim neighbor’s life matters.
Our gay neighbor’s life matters.
Our police neighbor’s life matters.
Our neighbor matters.
And we will love our neighbor as we love ourselves, how we love our neighbor shows how we love God; for we are formed in how we love God. Therefore we will love the Lord God with all of our heart, our being, our soul, and our strength.
On this hangs all the laws and prophets.
Only then will these terrible weeks be transformed into the holy day when God dwells with the people; when justice finally rolls down like water; when there are no more tears, no more death; when violence has been casted into the lake of fire with Satan; when the day war ceases; when the moon and sun no longer need to shine because the lamb is its lamp, God’s glory its light.
So let us spin the old jazz records of Amos.
Let us spin the hip hop of Isaiah.
Let us spin the rock of Matthew.
Let us spin the country of Jeremiah.
Let us spin the blues of Lamentations.
Let us spin the punk of Psalms.
Let us spin the folk of Luke.
Let us spin the old vinyl of a Christ who showed us what loving our neighbor really is; for as he hung on the cross, surrounded by neighbors crying and neighbors rejoicing, he loved his neighbor, saying, “Father, forgive them.”
Because their life mattered to him.
And the world will know we are his by our love. So go forth and love your neighbor. Love them when they fail to return your lawn mower. Love them when they throw trash in your yard. Love them when they put a Hilary or Trump sign in their yard. Love them when they party to long into the night. Love them when they shoot off fireworks at midnight. Love them when they are a pain. Love them when they are mean. Love them when they spread rumors, and mistreat you.
Love them. Love them. Love them.
That is the music of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That is the music of our faith.
So spin that record.
Play again, Sam, and play it loud.
“Neighbor! You will know I am a follower of Christ by my love for you. For you matter.”