Our Witness to the Good News

On December 26, 2016, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

“Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2.7 Our Witness to the Good News As we gather for worship on this last Sunday of the year, which happens to be Christmas […]

“Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2.7

Our Witness to the Good News

As we gather for worship on this last Sunday of the year, which happens to be Christmas Day this year, I want to open my sermon with a line that I will close with and that is, our ending experiences of this year are not the totality of who we are, there is more be done.

Our gospel reading for today is only one verse, yet it is loaded with all kinds of intrigue and wonder: “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

Most are very familiar with this particular story.
But what of this girl named Mary? Who is she? Who are her people?
What is implied by the use of the phrase ‘gave birth to her firstborn son’? Could this imply that Mary had other children after Jesus?

She gave birth. Did she do this by herself? Were there no midwives around to assist with the birthing process? Who was there to assist with cutting the umbilical cord? Did someone at least sterilize something for a birth that was about to take place in a barn?

What is one to make of the bands of cloth? A new baby wrapped in rags that were probably used to clean the animals. There was nothing new for this baby, just whatever they could get their hands to wrap a newborn baby with to keep it warm.

And of all things, she placed a new born baby in an animal’s feeding trough. A trough that I would image had not been clean. Slop, leftover food and grain, still present for the last animal feeding, this is the place that this new born baby was laid after he was born.

Under some rather difficult circumstances, the actual birth and survival of mother and baby, may be more of the miracle of the story than anything else. This birth that took place was by no means under the best of circumstances.

And yet, here we are today, some 2,000 plus years later, remembering and retelling a story about a woman named Mary and a baby called Jesus who has changed lives forever.

Mary, a chosen woman of God, gave birth, that was good news!

Now, that was the black and white version of the story. Remember black and white TV —

Now the in color version of this same story would go something like this:
Girl, did you hear what happened to Mary. She done went and got herself pregnant before she got married. Now what kind of life is she going to have and what of that baby?

And you know what else, I’m not buying that story that she is going around telling everybody …about her not knowing what happened … the only way that might be is someone slipped something into her drink and took advantage of her. But honey the icing on the cake is this … the man she is marrying, well honey that is not even the baby’s daddy! What do you make of that?

Well, I tell you what, Joseph, that is a good man because he went ahead on and married Mary even though she got pregnant by someone else.
And Mary gave birth to a healthy baby boy and they lived happily ever after, for about 33 years … you have to come back at Easter to get that story.

Now if we heard this story in a cable news commentary it might go like this -– news flash, families are having to leave their current home to return to place where they were born, among them, a woman who is pregnant. Do we send them back because they are undocumented? Do we send them back because they speak a different language? Do we take them off the plane because someone over heard them speaking a different language. Is the woman pregnant or is it it someone dressed as a pregnant woman, in disguise who is up to no good.

If Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus were trying to get into any country today, would they make it? Would they be welcome? Would they fare better than a stable today?

In our own personal real life TV, we all want to live in a world where we can feel safe and live without fear. Fear of the other, the unknown, what can happen, what might happen are all things that are meant to divide us at a time when we need to be coming together. Maybe that is part of the good news of our gospel reading of the birth narrative, learning not to fear the unknown or the other. Mary and Jospeh faced a unwhole lot of unknown, and they faced it together.

Now,
I do not believe that our world would be safer by building up nuclear arsenals.
I do not believe that our world is safer when someone is arrested or shunned for speaking a different language.
I do not believe that our world is safer when we are treated differently just because of the color of our skin.
I do not believe our world is safer when women are to treated less than because of their gender.
The Christmas story of outcasts surviving, being chosen and loved by God, is not just a feel good message, it is a moral message, and a call to build a more just world.

The story of Mary continues to provide us with a witness of peace, love, joy and hope today, and it reminds us that we still have work to do, for the rest of this year, next year and in the years to come.

But for now let us take a moment to reflect on this year.
- for some it was a year of loss of a loved one; for others it might be been the joy of birth.
- fo some it might have been a year of change in relationship status, for others it might have been of year of finding new love — as we all learned about it on facebook.
- for some it has been a year of change; for others it has been a year of working to find stability.
- for some there may have been more downs than ups; and others more ups than downs.
- for some in the world it was met with bombings, natural disasters; and yet humankind in various areas rose above such tragedies to prove that we are still one human family.
And yet, we are still here.

For Sunshine Cathedral as a faith community it has been another year for as well.
- We have honored those who have made their transitions; celebrated love in marriage; welcome the birth of new life.

- We have journeyed with those who have questioned their faith; and we have celebrated with those who because of their faith journey now call Sunshine Cathedral their home and to each an every one, we say Welcome Home.

- We welcome 29 groups that call the Sunshine Cathedral their home and in just a a couple weeks that number will move to 30. We value the presence of all the groups on this campus including the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida and our wonderful partnership with SunServe and we still have room for more.

- We celebrate the installation of a new columbarium on our property, two new stained glass windows, the early completion of CC3 – paying off our property and the launch of CC4 to replace our pews with new seating. And we are grateful for our relationship with our own Sunshine Cathedral Foundation for working with us to make this a reality. And, we are not done yet with our brick and mortar work, we still have more to do.

- We celebrated the launch of a feeding program to help meet a human need. We still have more outreach to be done and we celebrate this knowing that we are making a difference.

-We have expanded our assisted living ministries, provided pastoral care to hundreds, offered grief support groups, worked to increase awareness about transgender issues, reached out to people in the Caribbean and Africa, and we’ve done even more.

- We celebrate and thank all of our donors for all that you have done to make this the wonderful year that we have had here at Sunshine Cathedral. And yet we know that our witness is not only just to this location, but our call remains to our community, near and far, who need us to be who we are.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.”
My friends, we are not only facing a new day but a new year as well.
As we prepare to face another new year, let us do so knowing that:
God will be our protection.
God will be our light
God will be the source our joy
God will be our joy and the strength of our lives,
And just like in years gone by, God will continue to keep us and never to leave us.

And let us not forget the wisdom of Howard Thurman:
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone…when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins:…to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace…to make music in the heart.”

Because, as you heard at the beginning, our ending experiences of this year are not the totality of who we are, there is more be done.
Amen.

Biblical Challenges to the Status Quo

On August 9, 2015, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Biblical Challenges to the Status Quo Rev Dr Robert Griffin – Sunshine Cathedral Sunday, August 9, 2015 Today’s worship places us at week 6 of our 9 week sermon series. Sermon topics have been based on the book Convictions: A Manifesto for progressive Christians by Marcus Borg. And, our series title is “What It Means […]

Biblical Challenges to the Status Quo
Rev Dr Robert Griffin – Sunshine Cathedral
Sunday, August 9, 2015

Today’s worship places us at week 6 of our 9 week sermon series. Sermon topics have been based on the book Convictions: A Manifesto for progressive Christians by Marcus Borg. And, our series title is “What It Means to be a Christian”. Today our topic is Biblical Challenges to the Status Quo.

People who read the bible do so for many different reasons.
Some read it to find comfort in times of discomfort.
Others may read it for spiritual insight, or for personal justification of a particular social view. Some use it as a weapon, a means of condemning certain people or behaviors.
Some use it as a rallying cry to go to war.
Still others read it for a look into ancient history.
Some read the bible as if it were a crystal ball, helping to predict the future.

With the bible being used for so many purposes, it’s no wonder we have so many views of what it says and means.

As a child growing up in a Missionary Baptist church, in Alabama, much of my awareness of the bible was based squarely in the roots of social justice.

Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Rev Howard Thurman, Rev Jesse Jackson, Rev Al Sharpton, Rev Gardner Taylor were among the greats preaching a social justice gospel declaring God’s love for all people, and I took that message to heart.

In those days, my exposure to theology was pretty limited to local preachers, to the luminaries I just mentioned, and to Baptist men. Since that time, my cloud of witnesses has expanded and must include Episcopal Rev Canon Ed Rodman (a professor and mentor of mine in seminary),
the presiding bishop elect of the Episcopal Church Michael Curry,
Bishop Barbara Harris (the first woman bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion),
AME Bishop Vashti McKenzie (the first woman bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal church),
Rev Dr Jeremiah Wright (the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago),
Rev Dr Jim Forbes (former pastor of Riverside Church in NYC),
And Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries.

So I continue to be influenced by voices of the Black Church experience calling for justice, equality, peace, healing, and prophetic action.

These great preachers find in the bible a witness to God’s all-inclusive love, and a call for on-going positive change in the world. Changing the world means changing the body politic, that is, the larger community, and that is political by nature. It isn’t necessarily partisan, and churches cannot and should not officially endorse parties or candidates, but we can urge the faithful to support programs, private and governmental, that are meant to feed the hungry, minister to the sick, care for the elderly, save our natural resources, and protect the rights of all people.

As our senior minister has said many times, such an agenda of caring for all people and affirming the dignity of all people is what Jesus called the kingdom, or kin-dom of God and it was considered a political message as much as a spiritual one, and for that, he was killed. So, to talk about Jesus is to challenge the status quo (as he did), and to challenge the status quo will also be considered to be somewhat political.

Now there are some who would say that I don’t want my church to talk about politics, justice matters or social concerns of the day. I just want them to teach the bible and preach about Jesus, hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Well, I have some news for you today. To talk about the bible and Jesus and community means you want to make a difference, you want to be an agent of positive change, and that, like Jesus’ ministry, will be considered political.

We will never campaign for one party or candidate over another, though as individuals we certainly have our favorites; but we will always speak out for the marginalized, the oppressed, the forgotten, the abused, the have-nots. We will speak out for those Jesus called the least of these, and that will mean challenging church, government, community, and individuals to care more and to share more.

We not only pray for the oppressed but try do something about the systems that keep people down rather than lift them up. That’s what Jesus did, so if you want to learn about Jesus, you are going to learn how we are meant, like him, to be about God’s business, the business of helping, lifting up, encouraging, and liberating the so-called least of these.

So, to say I am a follower of the teachings of Jesus, is to be political. To say, I am a Christian, is to be political…not because a certain form of Christianity should dominate government (it should not), but because to be Christian is to follow Jesus and to follow Jesus is to work to include those who have been left behind and to improve the lot of the least of these is a political endeavor; it’s also a spiritual endeavor.

Some of us can call ourselves liberal and others conservative, some of us will want to be in the thick of things and others will want to quietly support good efforts without drawing attention to ourselves, but whatever our personal politics, our faith must be about lifting up others, seeing the dignity in all people, and that will influence how we engage the world of politics. Whatever our political ideologies, let them be grounded in the spiritual conviction that love is supreme and that we must do unto others as we would have others do unto us.

Marcus Borg says it best, “Not every Christian is called to be an activist. But all are called to take seriously God’s dream for a more just and nonviolent world.”

Religion is always political. The religious pacifists who say we should never go to war…that’s a spiritually motivated call to action in the world of politics.

Those who use religion to oppose women’s rights or marriage equality, they are using religion to influence how they engage politics; and if we think that God’s all-inclusive love calls us to refute their message, then that puts us in the political fray.

It is simply not possible to be religious and non-political. If we have faithful convictions, that will motivate how we live in society, and how we engage society is by nature political.

The Crusades of the Middle Ages, the Inquisition, the religious wars of the 16th century that followed the Reformation…those were all religious people engaging in politics.

Even slavery, Jim Crow, colonization, and the Trail of Tear were justified if not motivated by religious views. And those who challenged those unjust campaigns were also motivated by religious views.

Dr King’s faith led him to challenge oppression, change the world, and give his life for the sake of others. His faith caused him to challenge the politically protected status quo. His spirituality was in fact political, as all engaged spirituality must be.

I am a minister and a veteran. I have served God and country, and in my mind they were not two different vocations. And those experiences motivate me to prefer peace to war, to value every mother’s son and every father’s daughter and to not want any blood spilt in the name of religion ever again. That is my religious view, and to speak it out loud is a political act. The two simply can’t be separated.

To recognize and atone for the genocide of the indigenous people of this continent is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

To see immigration as a human issue and to respond to the issue with compassion is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

To say that we can no longer destroy our planet for the sake of profit is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

To express regret and outrage when protected species are targeted and hunted for sport is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

To work to end the horror of human trafficking is both spiritual and political…it is also a moral necessity.

And, this work is at least as old as our sacred stories. From Moses telling Pharaoh, “Let my people go…” to Jesus declaring a Realm of God where all people have value, the bible is a story of challenging the status quo. Call it religious or call it political, but notice that it is the biblical message and let’s recommit to challenging the status quo ourselves.

Gays can get married but also be fired or denied housing for being gay…that has to change.

Women are often judged by their appearance rather than by their skills…that has to change.

The poor are blamed for their plight rather than being offered real help…that has to change.

Not everyone’s hard work is valued today…that has to change.

Transgender people continue to be demonized…that has to change.

The proposed answer to conflict is too often “let’s go to war”…that has to change.

Black bodies are routinely shot in our streets…that has to change.
Black Lives Matter, and it is a shame that we have to remind our nation of that fact.

If we would read the bible and follow Jesus, then we will continue to challenge the status quo…because more change is needed.

We need to:
Continue to speak about the integration of spirituality and sexuality.
Continue to speak about the fluidity of gender.
Continue to speak about marriage equality…it may be the law of the land but it is far from being universally embraced.

We need to continue to:
Address women’s sovereignty over their own bodies. Whether or not we agree with women’s choices, we cannot take their choices from them. Let’s get church and state out of women’s uteruses.

We need to:
Establish economic justice, because everyone deserves fair wages, adequate housing, health care, and education.

If we want to be doers of the word and not hearers only, if we want to be followers of Jesus and not just admirers,
then we must continue to challenge the status quo.

Following Jesus, our Way Shower, comes with a responsibility to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Sunshine Cathedral, we don’t argue much about Jesus; we’re too busy trying to follow him, and following Jesus means challenging the status quo and sharing hope with the world.

We are, as Borg said, called to take seriously God’s dream for a more just and nonviolent world.
That is, after all, what it means to be Christian. Amen.

I share God’s dream of a just and nonviolent world.
My hands are God’s hands blessing the world.
God is blessing me to be a blessing to others.
And so it is.

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