This Sunday, we begin our new worship series, Being Human: A Series on the Book of Psalms. These days, being human is a pretty overwhelming gift. Fear, joy, loneliness, exhaustion, love, hope, suffering, trust, anger—in this strange season of exile from our “normal” lives, everything it is to be human is intensified. Fortunately, there is a witness in scripture that speaks to our humanity. The book of Psalms is a collection of prayers offered to God by people of faith in all of life’s circumstances. When we read the Psalms, we see that it is good and holy to come to God in prayer with the whole truth of our lives—the holy and the unholy, the sacred and the profane. We see that we are not the only ones who struggle with our humanity. We see that our humanness won’t separate us from the God who loves us.
Sometimes, we catch a glimpse of a new and abundant way of being human. That’s the case in Psalm 133, our scripture for this Sunday. It’s a testimony to the innate gift of being human together—with God and with one another. The psalm praises God for the gift of unity with one another and testifies that it is the place of blessing and salvation. And in response, we’re trying something unusual in worship. I’ll be preaching a sermon on spiritual friendship with my great friend and fellow pastor, Eulando Henton. I hope you’ll listen in.
We have nothing to fear in our failures or in our humanity because we serve a God who knows us and delights in us, who meets us in our highs and in our lows and reminds us that we are not gods, but we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Yeah—this week we’re going to talk about that one, and, spoiler alert: the Bible doesn’t say that.
The Bible doesn’t say that because our God doesn’t operate that way. God clothes the lily of the valley and feeds the sparrow. God feeds disobedient, run-away prophets. God makes the rain fall and the sun set on the just and the unjust. Our Bible is full of stories of God helping those who need it, those who don’t deserve it, and those most of us would consider beyond help. So why are we so easily convinced otherwise?
It’s because we live in a culture where people who can’t help themselves are out of luck. But we are Kingdom people and we are called to another way. God most definitely helps those who don’t help themselves. And, if you are his follower, you are called to go and do likewise.
This week we are really excited to welcome, listen to, and learn from Rev. Cedric Lundy. A thought leader in Charlotte with a passion for Christ, people, justice, and reconciliation, Cedric is among the leaders of the “It Ends Now” movement, focused on leading Christians into increased action as anti-racists. In addition to having pastored multiple churches during the more-than 15 years he has been in Charlotte, Cedric is a director with Urban Promise, a ministry serving children and youth spiritually and academically with a mission to raise up a new generation of Christian leaders.
In addition to being a small-business owner (who doesn’t love a coffee-roasting business?!), Cedric also co-leads the Token Confessions podcast, where he and Sanchez Fair explore critical topics of faith and race.
Smetimes the things we think—about God, about ourselves, about the way the world works—harm us and cause us to harm others. But the reverse of this is also true: right thinking can leads to righteous action. Renewed minds heal wounded hearts.
This month we’ll be walking through a new “The Bible Doesn’t Say That” worship series to help us expose some of the lies that we believe which ultimately prevent us from living the abundant life Jesus has offers us. This week, we kick off the series with this saying—don’t hate the player, hate the game.
I know this is not a saying that many of us would say in church or during a bible study. But—we tend to believe it, don’t we? We tend to believe that God understands and forgives us of the fact that, sometimes, we gotta do what we gotta do. After all, we’re not the powerful people who make the rules, right? We’re not the ones setting up the systems—though we do get to benefit from those systems.
We say this as a joke, as a way of excusing serious choices. Until Jesus invites himself in to call us out—like he did Zacchaeus, a man who found a way to live a very successful life in a very corrupt system. For Zacchaeus, meeting with Jesus for a meal did more than change his heart, it changed his life. And this new birth caused Zacchaeus to quit playing games and to get serious about justice.
We know that we — those of us worshiping at The Grove, those in our extended communities, our neighbors across the nation, and our brothers and sisters in the Church worldwide — are facing hard times.
But Paul reminds us in his letter to the church gathered in Philippi that even in hard times, we can still rejoice. We rejoice not because of anything we have done or because of things that are happening to us, but in faith because we know that God is continually at work in us.
When we discover that we are more sinful than we ever could have imagined and that the sin in our systems is deeper than we ever understood, we can still rejoice.
We can rejoice because God is good and God is for us. We are not doing great things for God. God is working out a great act of salvation in our world and us. And where we are right now is not the end of the story.
Despite everything going on in the world and how little control we have, God is living and is at work . We can be a testament to the fact the way things are is not the way they are supposed to be and is not the way they are going to be.
Listen in as we learn together — not that sin is rampant. We already knew that. But that we continue to bear witness — not to the evil that is passing away but to the goodness of God that is made manifest in Jesus Christ.
And yet Paul continually encouraged them to rejoice—in the midst of the uncertainty, in the relationships they enjoyed, even in their suffering. Paul wasn’t telling them to cheer up. He wasn’t guilting them into expressing gratitude. He wasn’t encouraging them to close their eyes and play pretend. He was clearly acknowledging reality and teaching the church why, and how, to rejoice—anyway.
Rejoicing is an act of resistance. Joy is subversive. The powers and principalities of the false culture that is passing violently away would have us believe that joy is a scarce and limited commodity—available only to a select few at great price.
But we know otherwise.
Listen in and hear how the good news of the gospel makes it possible for us to authentically rejoice at all times.
This Sunday, we launch a new worship series at The Grove on the book of Philippians. Back in January, we chose one theme to trace throughout this letter from Paul to the church: Joy.
Now, in this season of loss, anxiety, suffering, and violence, joy doesn’t just seem elusive—it seems offensive. But, maybe that’s just because we’ve never understood joy in the first place. Our current situation may seem like nothing we’ve ever known, but it’s not altogether dissimilar to Paul’s conditions when he wrote this joy-soaked letter.
Plagues were common, war was omnipresent, the state sanctioned violence as the most expedient way to achieve control, and Paul himself was writing from prison awaiting his execution. Yet, he wrote about joy. Not joy he expected to feel someday, as a reward, but the joy he knew—even in the midst of pain and threats.
Never have we ever needed the joy of the Lord more than we need it now. Thanks be to God that, through the scriptures, Paul bears witness to a joy we can tap into, not merely when it is most likely—but when we need it most.
This Sunday is Pentecost, the day Christians remember and rejoice that Jesus kept his promise to us, pouring out his spirit—the Holy Spirit—on all of his people.
When the Spirit was unleashed, the gospel of Jesus began to spread beyond the small group of his disciples. When the Spirit came, cowering Peter became a mighty evangelist. When the Spirit came, miracles and acts of power came with it. When the Spirit came, the church was born. And for centuries, churches have remembered and celebrated this moment in history with passion and joy and loud shouts of praise.
But not this year. This year, our church building will be empty. Our sanctuary won’t be filled with our voices lifted in songs and shouts of praise. We won’t laugh and launch kites or gather around pot-luck tables, taking and rejoicing in the unity we’ve found in him.
This year, in our building, we’ll have a silent Pentecost.
And, uncomfortable and disappointing as that will be, maybe it’s right. Maybe all of our shouting and celebrations have been the wrong kind. Maybe it’s prophetic. Maybe this year’s silent Pentecost is a judgment against our silent churches. Maybe God can’t hear our pentecost shouting because our silence is deafening—silence in the face of injustice, silence in the relentless cycle of blood shed, silence in accepting the racist systems which kill our brothers and sisters.
But here’s the thing—our God is full of loving grace. Grace was never meant to free us from judgment; grace was always meant to free us for judgment, so that—in spite of our fear and weakness—we might be filled with His spirit of powerful redeeming, repenting, transforming love.
So, friends, this Sunday is different. It won’t feel the same; it won’t be the same. But we shouldn’t be the same. We will remember and rejoice in the promised gift of our savior that was given to change us, change everything. Together—even while apart—we will pray for the Spirit that fills us and resurrects us—and we will pray and pray, until there is something to shout about.
As we begin to move from Phase 1 into Phase 2 of lifting COVID-19 restrictions, we have to decide what parts of our lives we will pick back up again. This parable reminds us that the choices our culture celebrates are the very choices Jesus warns against in this story. So…how should we live now?
I hope you’ll listen in as we allow the words of Jesus to shape the next steps of our journey.