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Reclaiming Jesus

December 10, 2018

December 9, 2018 Sermon

 

Reclaiming Jesus

 

Isaiah. 2.4, Philippians 4.4-7, and John 14.27

 

Sandra Larson

 

Re-read these scripture lessons each day this week—and you will find greater peace that passes all understanding and greater harmony with God and people near and far.

 

As Interim Pastor, I am called to offer a variety of preaching styles and messages. Today, since the focus is peace, I am sharing excerpts from a declaration co-signed this Spring by 23 renown and diverse Christian leaders. It addresses our Christian ethical and political responsibilities. These faith leader ask all Christians to actively work for the goals of peace on earth and goodwill to all. This declaration is being circulated nationwide. Please share it with others.

 

I also want us to note that the founders of our nation provided for a separation of church and state. This separation is not intended to prevent Christians from influencing government. Christians have used influence in government since our country was formed. Separation of church and state was designated to protect all religious groups from government interference or persecution. 

 

The declaration - Reclaiming Jesus:

Christianity has been co-opted many times in history by political and religious leaders looking to justify inequitable laws, unjust social structures, and even terrible atrocities. This has become a critical discipleship issue of our time.

 

Jesus offers powerful alternatives to racial bigotry, nationalism, mistreatment of women, rejection of immigrants and refugees, abandonment of the poor, denial of truth, and dangerous replacement of public service and servant leadership with authoritarian and [predominantly self-interested] nationalism.

 

These issues pose pressing dangers. The soul of our nation and integrity of our faith are at stake. The Holy Spirit confers on us power to reach people and change the world when we take our faith into the public square.

 

With these thoughts in our hearts, a group of current and former heads of churches and leaders of faith-based organizations from evangelical, mainline Protestant, Historic Black, and Catholic traditions is engaging in discernment. Reclaiming Jesus is not a statement to sign — it’s a call to answer. These faith values must lead to concrete action. We hope others will join our efforts to Reclaim Jesus.

 

It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else—including nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender or geography. Our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. We pray that our nation will see Jesus’ words in us: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

 

The church’s role is to change the world through the love of Jesus Christ. The government’s role is to serve the common good by protecting justice and peace, rewarding good behavior while restraining bad behavior (Romans 13). When government is undermined by political leadership, faith leaders must speak out. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”

 

It is often the duty of Christians to name and warn against temptations, cultural captivities, false doctrines, and political idolatries—and even [to confess] our complicity in them. We do so here with humility, prayer, and a deep dependency on the grace and Holy Spirit of God. We feel deep lamentations for the condition of our nation. Our own hearts are filled with confession for the sins we feel called to address.

 

The kin-dom of God is a Christian’s first loyalty. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Our faith is meant not only for heaven but for this earth. What does loyalty to Christ require? We offer six affirmations and the resulting rejections of practices and policies that dangerously corrode the nation.

I.  WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). That confers a divinely decreed dignity, worth, and God-given equality to all as children of the Creator. Racial justice and healing are central to the mission of the body of Christ.

 

THEREFORE WE REJECT racism. In the face of bigotry, silence is complicity. We commit ourselves to help dismantle systems and structures that perpetuate white advantage. Doctrines or strategies that use racist resentments, fears, or language must be named as public sin. [This power abuse] goes back to the foundation of our nation and lingers on. Bigotry denies the Gospel.

 

II. WE BELIEVE that in Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class (Galatians 3:28). The body of Christ, where human divisions are to be overcome, is meant to be an example for society.

 

THEREFORE WE REJECT misogyny, mistreatment, violent abuse, sexual harassment, and assault of women and any other child of God.


We lament when oppression seems publicly ignored, and therefore privately condoned. We support women [and others], who help the nation recognize these abuses. We confess sexism as a sin, requiring our repentance and resistance.

 

III. WE BELIEVE that God calls us to protect and seek justice for those who are poor or vulnerable. Our treatment of people who are “outsiders,” or “marginal” is a test of our relationship to God, who made us all. If our Gospel in not “good news to the poor,’ (Luke 4.18), it is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

THEREFORE, WE REJECT the language and policies of [any] leaders who debase or abandon the vulnerable. Protecting the poor is a central commitment of Christian discipleship, to which 2,000 verses in the Bible attest. We deplore attacks on refugees. God makes the treatment of the “strangers” among us a test of faith (Leviticus 19:33-34).


We won’t accept neglect of the well-being of low-income families; and we resist attempts to deny health care to those who need it. We confess our growing national sin of putting the rich over the poor. We reject cutting services for the poor while cutting taxes for the rich. Budgets are moral documents. We commit ourselves to finding solutions for the common good.

 

IV. WE BELIEVE that truth is central to our lives. Biblical tradition includes speaking the Word of God to societies and speaking truth to power. “You shall not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16), is foundational to shared trust in society. Falsehood can enslave us. Jesus promises, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32).

 

THEREFORE, WE REJECT lying. Deliberate and frequent lying by [even a few] leaders can change moral expectations in a culture, accountability for a civil society, and even behavior of children.

 

V. WE BELIEVE that Christ’s way of leadership is servant-hood. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles (the world) lord it over them…but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20:25-26)

 

We must protect limits, checks and balances of democracy and encourage humility and civility. We support democracy, not because we believe in human perfection, but because we do not. Government is instituted by God to order an unredeemed society for the sake of justice and peace.

 

THEREFORE, WE resist autocratic leadership. Disrespect for law, not recognizing equal importance of branches of government, arrogance, dehumanizing hostility toward opponents, or neglect of public service and ignoring accountability in favor of personal recognition or gain – all raise our deep concern.

 

VI. WE BELIEVE that international community interests surpass national boundaries. “God so loved the world” (John 3:16). In turn, we should love and serve the world and all its inhabitants.

THEREFORE, while we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others.


We [are committed to work for] stewardship of the earth’s resources and for global development that ensures that all can flourish. Global connections are undeniable. Poverty, environmental damage, violent conflict, weapons of mass destruction, and deadly diseases in some places ultimately affect all. We need wise leaders to deal with each of these.

 

WE ARE DEEPLY CONCERNED for the integrity of our faith. [Individuals and even] the church always face temptations, to cultural conformity, and to racial, class, and gender divides and to misuse power. (Galatians 3:28)


To be “in Christ,” is to “not be conformed to this world, but is to be “transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable, and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)  


“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3)


And “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:38)


As to loving our neighbors, we would add “no exceptions.”

 

We commend this declaration to churches, and young [or disillusioned] people who wait to see what churches will do. We believe it is time to speak and act in faith and conscience, because we are disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus [assures us]: “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

NOTE from Sandra Larson: That’s the end of the Reclaiming Jesus declaration of 23 church leaders from many respected Christian denominations and organizations. I offer one more brief declaration from the Apostle Paul: “So, then, we must always aim at those things that bring peace and that help strengthen one another.’ (Romans 14.19)

 

Co-signers:

  • Bishop Carroll A. Baltimore, President and CEO, Global Alliance Interfaith Network

  • Rev. Dr. Peter Borgdorff, Executive Director Emeritus, Christian Reformed Church in North America

  • Dr. Amos Brown, Chair, Social Justice Commission, National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.

  • Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary

  • Dr. Tony Campolo, Co-Founder, Red Letter Christians

  • Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference

  • The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church

  • Rev. Dr. James Forbes, President and Founder, Healing of the Nations Foundation and Preaching Professor at Union Theological Seminary

  • Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary Emeritus, Reformed Church in America

  • Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale, Senior Pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church, Decatur, GA

  • Rev. Dr. Richard Hamm, former General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

  • Rev. Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Faith Community Organizer and Chairman, Community Resource Network

  • Rev. Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita, The Wesleyan Church

  • Bishop Vashti McKenzie, 117th Elected and Consecrated Bishop, AME Church

  • Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., Co-Convener National African American Clergy Network

  • Dr. John Perkins, Chair Emeritus and Founding Member, Christian Community Development Association and President Emeritus, John & Vera Mae Perkins Foundation

  • Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

  • Fr. Richard Rohr, Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation

  • Dr. Ron Sider, President Emeritus, Evangelicals for Social Action

  • Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder, Sojourners

  • Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, Director, NCC Truth and Racial Justice Initiative

  • Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Convener, National African American Clergy Network; President, Skinner Leadership Institute

  • Bishop Will Willimon, Bishop, The United Methodist Church, retired, Professor of the Practice of Ministry, Duke Divinity School

 

 

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