Reclaiming Jesus

The Rev. Michael Curry, who was the preacher at the royal wedding last Saturday has gained a lot of public attention for the sermon he delivered. It focused on a Biblical theme that is near and dear to the harts of Christians: love. God is love. It is impossible to speak of our faith without speaking of love. Bishop Curry’s words were gentle and inspiring an he had a huge worldwide audience for his remarks.

But preaching at royal weddings is a very small slice of the work that Bishop Curry does. He has been busy and vocal and very involved in a lot of other important actions of the church. As presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, he often speaks to the faithful of his denomination on important theological, moral and social issues. He also confers with religious leaders from other denominations and joins with them to advance Christianity in our time.

Today, he will join with other Christians for a candlelight vigil in Washington, D.C. With him will be some other important Christians whose lives and work have been deeply important to me. Rev. Dr. Water Brueggemann is a beloved minister of our United Church of Christ and a prolific Old Testament Scholar. Perhaps no single other person has had a deeper influence upon my Biblical Studies and preaching. James Forbes is a professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary whose books have deeply influenced the ministry of many working pastors. Rev. Dr. Otis Moss is the pastor of the largest and fastest-growing church in the United Church of Christ and the head of the National African American Clergy Network. He is an amazing preacher whose gifts of oratory and rhetoric have gained him international attention. Father Richard Rohr is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation whose teachings have been used on many occasions in our church. Rev. Jim Wallis is the founder of Sojourners. Bishop Will Willimon is a professor at Duke Divinity School. These are remarkable and incredibly important leaders and teachers in the Christian Church and they gathered with other Christians in an important Ash Wednesday retreat this year. From that retreat has come a statement addressed to all Americans called “Reclaiming Jesus.”

Their assertion is that politics are undermining theology and the church is called to speak out when the behavior of political leaders is contrary to Christian faith. They quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”

Although Christian leaders are commonly called to speak the truth in love to our churches, the statement from these great leaders and elders of the church is one that should not be ignored. It speaks directly of six great biblical truths and rejects six trends in contemporary American politics.

Because each human being is made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26), the statement rejects the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation.

Because we are one body in Christ (Galatians 3:28), it rejects misogyny, mistreatment and abuse of women.

Because how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick and the prisoner is how we treat Christ (Matthew 25:31-46), it rejects the language and policies of political leaders that attack immigrants and refugees. It reminds all Christians that God makes the treatment of strangers a test of faith (Leviticus 19:33-34).

Because truth is central to the moral lives of all people and because the ninth commandment prohibits false witness (Exodus 20:16), the statement rejects the current pattern of lying that is invading our political life.

Because Christ’s way of leading is servanthood and not dominion (Matthew 20:25-26), it rejects movements toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule.

Because Christians are called to go among the nations making disciples (Matthew 28:18), the statement rejects “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ.

The statement expresses the deep concern for the soul of our nation brought about by these times and the current political climate of our country. It reminds us all of the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The statement concludes with a commendation to all pastors, congregations and young people:

Our urgent need, in a time of moral and political crisis, is to recover the power of confessing our faith. Lament, repent, and then repair. If Jesus is Lord, there is always space for grace. We believe it is time to speak and to act in faith and conscience, not because of politics, but because we are disciples of Jesus Christ—to whom be all authority, honor, and glory. It is time for a fresh confession of faith. Jesus is Lord. He is the light in our darkness. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

I cannot ignore these important teachers and Christian leaders. As I prepare to preach my last sermon before a three-month sabbatical, I am deeply aware that what I say is important. Furthermore, their statement will become a guide to my study, thoughts and prayers for the next three months. I am not by nature, nor have I been in my pastoral ministry, one to take sides or to make political statements from the pulpit. However, I understand that it is necessary to take risks and to speak body for the faith that we share. As the statement says, “It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else - nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography - our identity in Christ precedes every other identity.”

I join the authors of the statement in their prayer 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).

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!