Pregnant on Christmas…

A pregnant girl is the focus of our preparations for Christmas. If not for Mary, there’d be no Child born unto us. Despite being an unwed teen mother, Mary comes to rejoice at her situation. And so, we give thanks that she was chosen to be made pregnant with the Lord, for our salvation.

We All Should Be Pregnant

We should all give birth to the Word of God. We should all be inspired by Mary to be impregnated during this season. Are you with child? Do you even want to be?

In this week’s message, I invite you to give birth to the Word and explain how that can be done. How would you respond to that challenge?

Christmas Greetings: Making Nice with the Dead

Even as a priest, I almost lost my Christmas Spirit.

Somewhere among all the Holiday Parties, TV commercials and my interactions with others, preparing for “the Season,” I just couldn’t take it.

You see – as you know: in our politically correct world, you can’t talk about Christ in the workplace, or at school. And, this conditions us to remove Christ from all public conversation. I mean, even Christian clergy give “ecumenical prayers,” which don’t appeal to the love and mercy of God through Jesus Christ.

We don’t want to offend anyone.

Christmas Greetings Must “Respect the Beliefs” of Others

And so, “Merry Christmas” has become as innocuous – as vanilla – as “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.” We’ll say “Merry Christmas” because it’s safe. I mean, after all, the holiday we’re to be happy about is called Christmas. So, we can’t get in trouble with the workplace/schoolyard authorities. We won’t offend the atheistic interest groups who want you to celebrate their unbelief.

“Merry Christmas” is safe. It allows us to toe the line: to fool ourselves into thinking we’ve found a way to be in Christ without offending the world.

We’ll say “Merry Christmas,” but will we wish the blessing of the Incarnate Lord? Will we pray the True Light shines in the lives of others – whether or not they want it?

Not everyone will accept that Light. Some will reject it. That’s their choice. Our choice and our joy is to share the gift of the True Light, Who has come into the world – for the life of the (whole) world.

Oh, what a joy!

To know that “unto us a Child is born, and a Son is given.” How can that joy be contained? How can any of us really be filled with that joy and then confine it to those private and safe moments of life?

Christmas Joy is Buried to Appease the Dead

Everywhere is death. Turn on the news: death. Watch your favorite television shows: death. Go out in the streets: death. Death suffocates us. And, we just want to play nice – hoping that death might leave us alone.

Rather than confronting the dead with the living God, in the hope they too might live, we bury our joy at the Incarnation of God. We make nice with a dead Society and dead people…appealing to the dead to comfort and bring peace to the living.

This time, let Christmas be different!

I pray this message emboldens you to rejoice, at all times and in all places:

Ferguson and the Failure of the Black Elite

Life is about story…the story people ascribe to themselves. The story that gives meaning to a people. Modern Jews have the Holocaust and their deliverance. It defines their identity and gives them a sense of purpose.

The Black American experience has also been a Exodus-type story. Dr. Albert J. Raboteau said that “No single story captures more clearly the distinctiveness of African-American Christianity than that of the Exodus.” Exodus gave our people hope that we would indeed “overcome some day.” From bondage in slavery to Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, what you see in the arch of Black American History is the story of a people, delivered from bondage and oppression despite incredible odds and immense opposition.

Isn’t that true?

Look at Isaiah 64. We can see our own experience in this story. We’ve seen the fire burn up the adversaries. We’ve seen this nation and the nations disturbed by the presence of the Lord in the midst of Society. The glorious works He has done through us, for us and for the life of the world has made the very earth tremble.

And we saw it tremble. We can still see it tremble, when we watch a good documentary on the Civil Rights Movement.

And because of what we’ve seen and heard about the Black Experience in America, we know there is none other who got us through except Jesus Christ! The Black Experience in America bears witness to the mercy of God, given to those who do righteousness and remember His ways (Is. 64:4).

We know that mercy. The history books bear witness to that mercy. The documentaries bear witness to that mercy. The personal accounts of those who were there bear witness to that mercy.

Yet we sinned and went astray. We got comfortable…integrated, assimilated and forgot or disconnected.

And then we see #Ferguson.Ferguson

We see Ferguson and we are faced with the reality that whatever remains of our Civil Rights legacy cannot protect our people from injustice. And so: we must march again…

The fact that Ferguson can happen shows us that all we can offer to God is like a filthy rag.

Isaiah 64:5 states: “We all are become as unclean, and all our righteousness is like a filthy rag…”

And, wait until you understand what the filthy rag is…

You see: this “filthy rag” of which Isaiah speaks isn’t like a man who’s working on his car and brings into the house, a rag soiled by motor oil. Yea, the rag is filthy. And, you mightn’t put it on your white furniture…but you’re fine leaving it on the floor until you get around to the laundry. You’ll come home and leave, walking pass that filthy rag. You walk past that rag many times, and only be reminded that you need to take care of that rag when you do the laundry.

That’s not the filthy rag the Prophet Isaiah is describing.

The filthy rag is a menstrual rag…it’s a pad…a tampon. I doubt anyone would leave a a used menstrual pad or tampon lying around the house.

I can imagine some of you are appalled. And, that is Isaiah’s point! That is what the Lord thinks of the righteousness displayed by the people.

Ferguson and IsaiahAbout that passage of Isaiah, St. Jerome says: “Whatever righteousness that we who are unclean in ourselves appears to possess may be compared with the rag of a menstruating woman.” Whatever righteousness we think we have is nothing more than a filthy rag of a menstruating woman.

On the same passage, St. John Cassian says: “…just as our goodness with regard to the goodness above becomes like evil, so our righteousness compared with divine righteousness is like menstrual rags.” Whatever righteous deeds we might enjoy bragging about is like menstrual rags when compared to the righteousness God requires.

Ferguson is a nationwide failure. As we see, cities across the nation are responding to Ferguson out of their overall frustration with an oppressive system.

Some will want to shift the discussion to our failure of educating, mentoring and etc. They’ll want to talk about single parent homes and the lack of male role models…high incarceration rates, joblessness and crime. Others will want to talk about what the system hasn’t done. They’ll talk about laws that haven’t been enforced, or those that need to be removed from the books. They’ll put up all sorts of excuses.

Yet, the reality of Ferguson is a glaring indictment that we have failed to finish the Movement. Clearly, we must have stopped short of the goal, right? This couldn’t be what the fight was about!

Ferguson YouthBut, we – the Black Bourgeoisie (or, “blackish”) – will keep talking about the crisis of Black youth: Blacks in the Inner City have yet to learn how to not give “the man” an excuse. They keep expecting handouts from Society. Or they have completely given up on a Society that has completely given up on them.

We believe that because we have seen the door to escape oppression that everyone would be able to make it out, when many of them can’t even see the door – much less reach it. But their failure to escape as we (think) we have ultimately threatens our own “blackish” security. Now, we’re uneasy while sitting with our White colleagues trying to reassure them that we aren’t as angry as those protesting in the streets.

We’ve detached from our community: physically, politically, economically. Physically, politically or economically, we have no stake in our community. And mentally, we’ve found ways to justify our tangible detachment.

But I can prove this detachment in a simple practical sense: Black organizations no longer meet at the Church.

We have detached ourselves from the only vessel (the Church) that can confront the power structure and effectively protect the “least of these.”

The Church was an actively engaged part of the Civil Rights Movement. We can romanticize that fact with all we read in books, see in film and hear from oral tradition. But, the real reason the Church was so involved was because the Church was the only place we could gather freely. It was the only place that was ours…that we controlled.

And, there was something about gathering as the Body of Christ. Even if it wasn’t planned…even if it were simply by chance: there was something about Black organizations gathering at the Church that gave them spirit-filled power to defy the odds.

Yet, we abandoned that legacy and now meet where convenient. If we live in the suburbs, we meet in the suburbs. Now that legal segregation is over, we are free to meet in libraries, recreational centers, schools and etc. We don’t have to meet at the Church. And, our struggle has lost its power.

So all we can do is watch…

As we see Ferguson in upheaval…as cities across the nation are in upheaval, all we can do is watch. Even those of us who feel the injustice and know that something must be done can only watch and react, with no direct and effective impact.

The Church – as the Church – has no active presence in the struggle. And, like Bob Marley said: there’s gonna be burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight.

And all we can do is march again…

Unlike the Jews coming out of the Holocaust, we weren’t serious about “never again.” So, Negroes will march 120 miles from Ferguson, MO to the Missouri State Capital for a press conference at the governor’s mansion.

Really?!? One Hundred and Twenty Miles! We can’t just drop by? We can’t just make a phone call? We have to march…still? One hundred and twenty miles?!?!?

Ferguson is the Failure of the Black Elite

Ferguson is our failure.

Because if we remember the goal of the Civil Rights Movement at all, how can we not admit that we have failed when faced with the reality of Ferguson?

The fact that Ferguson can happen shows us that all we can offer to God is like a filthy rag.

We may have monuments, holidays, movies, books and yearly conventions. But, all of that is a legacy of great accomplishment that no longer strikes fear in the system. As important as those accomplishments are, they don’t matter much in the face of the reality we now see on TV.

We want someone to “take us to the King,” but, this filthy rag is all we have to bring. So, we must realize that nothing we can do will improve our situation. When we view the results of our witness of the evening news, we know there’s no reason for God to come to our aid, than the fact that we are His creation. God should restore us, simply because we are His people.

We must admit that we’ve dropped the ball. The torch was either passed and dropped, or not passed and burnt out. But the reality of all that’s happened in Ferguson from August until now proves that we have failed.

So like the Psalmist says, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” Isn’t that what we want? To be restored? To be converted?

When we look at Ferguson, we must want to be changed…no? Don’t we?

And the change we seek is Incarnation: for Christ to be born among us. We want to again see everything as part of our Journey to the Promised Land. We need to reconnect the struggle to the faith…not with “religious leaders” who have left the Church. We need to struggle as part of the Church, don’t you think?

The Church is the gathering place for the people of God…the Body of Christ. It is the seat of Grace, giving grace to all who enter. There is something about being connected to the Church that gave the Movement a spirit-filled power to defy incredible odds.

Ferguson is Our Clarion Call

Black & Civic organizations should begin to hold their meetings at the Church again, so that the work of those organizations might be blessed by the presence of the Spirit, and we might be saved from the discord and strife we see in Ferguson and beyond. The reality of Ferguson should make it clear that the Movement has not reached its end. Clearly, the work isn’t finished…right?

We know how to do this. Our history is battle tested for doing this. So, it is time to pull our armor from under the bed, in the back of the closet, and the other places we stash our memories. We must dust off that armor, for the fight is not complete. Through the Church, with the Church and as the Church, Black Americans brought an oppressive Society to its knees for repentance. Is it not time for society to repent again?

Tupac Said It: Keep Ya Head Up

We always talk about the cycle of violence. You know, that global cycle of violence that is played out in the ‘hood and favela, the shanty town and the slum, at home and abroad. It results in war and rumors of war…global wars and domestic wars. 

With all the advances in technology, the only solution the powers that be can provide is more war. We have wars on terror and wars on crime…wars on drugs and wars on illegal immigration…we have wars on disease and wars on poverty. Yet, they all still persist.

It seems we have wars for the sake of having war. And every year the budget increases to provide more R&D to invent the next big killing device that will solve all of our problems. But the problems remain, and it’s like Tupac said: “they got money for wars but can’t feed the poor.”

Tupac Keep Ya Head UpIn his 1993 hit single, “Keep Ya Head Up,” Tupac encourages the oppressed and those who suffer violence to be hopeful despite hopeless times. What could be more appropriate in these hopeless times?

But why are the times hopeless?

Surely it isn’t because our Great Society is broke. Again, Tupac reminds us: “they got money for wars but can’t feed the poor.” And it’s true. We now have bombs that can strike thousands of miles away from the comfort of our own homes. Kids train for this new age warfare simply by playing “Call of Duty” type video games. Yet, we cannot train kids to take care of themselves and their family?

Before Tupac, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it. At the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice, Dr. King said that the Civil Rights Movement had come to DC to “dramatize a shameful condition,” and “cash a check” because although America had defaulted on its promissory note owed to the poor, he refused to believe that the bank of justice in the world’s leading nation could be bankrupt.

They got money for wars but can’t feed the poor?! Do you believe it?

Can’t be…impossible to believe. The only thing to believe is that if the powers that be wanted peace, there would be peace. So when the wise Tupac said to “keep ya head up,” he was indeed giving the right counsel.

Our help isn’t going to come from Left v. Right politics. The solution isn’t going to be found in the public or private sector. No government nor any corporation will establish the reign of peace and plenty. Only the true King of Peace can do that.

The wise leaders of the world recognized this King of Peace ages ago when they followed the star to where Jesus lay. African, Caucasian, and Asian: each of the world’s three peoples, descendant of Ham, Shem and Japheth, came to recognize this Child as the King who could bring them and their people lasting peace.

I mean, think about it: each of these three kings already had thriving kingdoms. What more could they need? They brought gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh – each of value in their own homeland. It would have required a great deal of money to travel. I mean, try to plan a trip across the country for just a weekend, at a moment’s notice – because a star appeared in the sky! Only the 1% among us can pull that off! Yet, they had enough wealth to complete the journey from their respective homelands to Bethlehem. And, their kingdoms were so well established that they could leave their subjects, so they could travel, and were able to return to a kingdom still standing! Think of leaving your children him for just a few hours…let alone an entire kingdom!

Tupac could have said the same to them: they had money for wars and all sorts of things, but lacked the power to free their people from oppression and violence. Yet, these three kings were indeed three wise men. They recognized their weakness, and came to bow down before the true King of Peace.

And, that’s why you can keep ya head up! Tupac had the right idea. Keep ya head up and look to the hills from where your help comes. Keep ya head up and look to the Lord, who alone is able to save, redeem and preserve.

I want to show you the lesson we learn from king Solomon, as outlined by the prayer of his father king David. So, I offer this sermon: “The King of Peace is Our Only Hope.”

New Years Eve 2013: From Resolution to Apathy

New Years Eve Resolution of FaithIt is that time again, folks! New Years is upon us. It’s time to make resolutions that will be broken in a few days, weeks or months.

I know: kind of cynical eh? But you know it’s true. Think about all the resolutions you’ve made over the years…all the habits you would break…all the new habits you would build.

Most of these New Years resolutions revolve around healthy lifestyle changes. Such changes are great, on their face. We should always strive to improve ourselves. Every gym looks forward to this time of year because people with the best intentions sign up for memberships that ultimately get little to no use. But, for some reason these new habits rarely stick and before you know it…we’re right back where we started. And this time with more junk, cluttering up our homes.

We make promises to friends that we’ll do better at keeping in touch. We begin with the best intentions. We might see an increase in communications for a while. Maybe a few more text messages. Maybe a few extra phone calls. Who knows…maybe even a few visits. Yet, even that fades and soon your distant relationships have settled into their usual patterns of indifference and neglect.

Maybe we want to improve our outlook in life? So, many of us make New Years resolutions declaring that in the coming year we will have a change in attitude. We’ll be more patient with family, friends and coworkers. We’ll be less occupied with our work and more concerned with our family relationships and personal wellbeing. We’ll be rid of road rage (if only…right!). But here too, the best laid plans of mice and men always seem to fall short. Before you know it, you’re right back into your typical cycle of unnecessarily long hours at the office and risking strain in the relationships of those you love.

With New Years Eve fast approaching, many of us will consider where we fell short in 2013 and what we wish to accomplish in 2014. But how do we keep from falling victim to that movement from New Years resolution to New Years apathy?

That New Years movement from resolution to apathy is not confined to our physical, emotional and relational conditions. It applies to our spiritual relationship as well. It plays out in our faith.

We’ll say that for New Years we will do better in our spiritual life. That we’ll pray more…that we’ll go to church more. Hopefully…we’ll say that our faith will mean more. Hopefully we’ll take stop of our spiritual life and see the areas in which we’ve come up short and superficial. Hopefully this New Years we’ll be able to cultivate a depth of faith worthy of the Gift given to us by God.

I mean, we have just come from celebrating the Incarnation of the Word of God…Christmas…when God the Word became flesh for our salvation. The celebration is meaningful for a little while, but there’s a reason we must continue to celebrate Christmas after Christmas…without end.

Before long, we will come down from our spiritual high. Before long we will return to our complacent, indifferent and apathetic faith.

So what will it take for this New Years to be different? What will it take for our faith and our praise to be deeper than superficial in this New Years? How will our praise be made pleasing to God?

That is the exploration of this sermon, and I appreciate your thoughts…