Jun 16, 2007

Sermon, "Same Tradition, New Conversation"

CHTH 70043





NEW TESTAMENT SELECTION: Galatians 1:11-16 (KJV); Hebrews 13:7-8 (KJV).

In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul in this passage is making a confession, in both senses of this term. He is confessing his sin, his mistake of loving the tradition he was a part of more than God. He also confesses his belief that Christ had chosen him to reveal God’s salvation to the nations. Jesus, in Mark 7, condemns the religious leadership because they had disobeyed God’s law in order to avoid helping their aging parents. When we look at the term “tradition,” the Greek word is [entole], which is synonymous with both tradition and ordinance. When the teachers of the law asked, “What is God’s greatest law, or what ordinance did their religious tradition center around, Jesus responded with the Jewish Shema, a prayer found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NIV); in addition, Jesus, using his religious authority as a rabbi, amended the Shema to include Leviticus 19:18.

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. [a] 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

18 " 'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Jesus Christ’s ordinance serves as Black Christianity’s creed that perfectly expresses our view of redemption, which reflects God’s plan for our salvation. J. Deotis Roberts says that “We have before us an eternal gospel, communicated through scripture, tradition, and witness of the Spirit in Christian life through the ages. […] He continues—“The black Christian is concerned about the relation between faith and life. His or her “ultimate concern” has to do with life-and-death situations.”p.3 of L&R The elimination of the web of sin and oppression that reigns in this world should be the goal of every person who adheres to the Jesus tradition; Love God, Love others, Nothing else matters.

I, like the apostle Paul, have a confession to make. I, too, was guilty of loving my religious tradition, the Baptist tradition more than people. I used to believe that the Baptist church was the only pure church of God; that my own Baptist tradition had all of the answers. That was, until I developed friendships with members of the Roman Catholic Church, United Methodist Church, African Methodist Episcopal, AMEZ, etc, etc. We have no right to condemn the religious leaders that Jesus rebukes in Mark 7 until we first come to grips with our own depravity. The modern age is filled with examples of persons who loved their tradition more than people. Think of the Reformation, and then the 100 years war after that. Remember the second Great Awakening, and then the Civil War that followed. Postcolonial and postmodern scholars are challenging the West’s traditional claims of the primacy of the individual and a disinterested objectivity in the search of absolute truth in the academic world. Postmodernism is about asking questions more than finding answers. For the Church Universal, this means that all of our traditional claims about God are now under scrutiny. External sources of authority, including the Bible, creeds, and other Christian practices need to be confirmed rather than these authorities wavering unquestionable power over communities and individuals. Emerging Churches p.23. Lesser emphasis is placed on institutionalized forms of religion and more emphasis on personal and culturally relevant versions of the Christian tradition. Evangelism, and therefore the great Commission and Great Commandment, become lifestyles, and not merely events. P. 80-1 Modernity consistently separated the sacred from the secular because God was viewed as distant; Postmodern Christians seek to overcome that separation with an emphasis on their search for God’s presence in their everyday lives.

I have had many conversations with postmodern, or Emergent Christians. They do not view Christianity as a religion filled with doctrine and rules; they only follow the Jesus tradition: Loving God, and Loving others, nothing else matter. Doctrine divides, and Jesus unites (as our Disciple sisters and brothers say, No Creed but Christ!) They would not live or die over battles having to do with worship styles; Jesus is all that matters. In the Black church tradition, we could learn from their approach. Jesus Christ, God’s revelation to humanity, and the Divine Yes to life and liberation who the Triune God revealed through His birth, his ministry which culminated at his crucifixion, his resurrection and ascension by placing him at the center of our tradition.

The emerging approach does present some problems to the Black church tradition. The emergent Christians I have encountered admit that the Emergent conversation (it’s not a united movement) has not gained popularity among African Americans. I believe that this is the case because the Black church’s one consistent affirmation: God is a God of liberation and that liberation involves the community and not just individual pursuits for God. Secondarily, I believe that we have become too attached to our religious institutions because in modern times, organization, rather than relationships, were prioritized. If we go back to the Galatians text, Paul admits that he had a change in conversation from his past; conversation, in Paul’s day, meant both his words and his actions. Hebrews 13:7-8 (KJV) says,

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”

Human tradition may die with humanity, but the Resurrected Messiah and his tradition are forever. We, as the African American Christian community, need to change the way we converse with the world without changing the Jesus Tradition: Love God, Love Others, Nothing Else matters.

I believe we must first start with the Black traditional view of the Triune God. The Christian Trinity is a God For Us, God With Us, and God in Us. God is for our freedom from the bondage of sin and wishes to liberate our wills in order that we may serve God. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross not only as a condemnation of human wickedness, but as an example of God’s ability to sympathize with human beings, even in death. Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God is with us in the good times and bad. The Spirit of Christ redeems and sanctifies us for God’s glory and plan for redemption. The Holy Spirit, God residing in us, fosters holiness and communion among the saints to achieve God’s ordained salvation. Christians serve the Trinity, a social God, a God that fellowships with Godself and with humanity; and the Triune God calls every Christian to social transformation.

Second, like the emergent Christians, we must emphasize Missional Christianity, or making Christian missions and evangelism a lifestyle. We must make decisions, as a community of faith, to find ministers who will reach out to those who are seeking God. We have to become seeker-sensible; otherwise we risk losing the church’s cultural relevance. This means we must trust the Holy Spirit to discern the various gifts that God gives us and members of our community; we need to allow the young painter, the rapper, and actress room to express themselves within the bounds of the church. The Black tradition and the Emergent conversation can work together because of our emphasis on helping the poor, lifting up the oppressed.

Lastly, we must always keep the Jesus tradition as the subject of our conversation: Love God, Love Others, Nothing else matters.


The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others by Scot McKnight

Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger

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