I returned just last night from the Philippines, where I represented ABCNJ at a historic event for both Filipino Baptists and American Baptists. The occasion of my journey was the 75th Anniversary Commemoration events of the executions of 11 American Baptist missionaries in the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army in the Philippines during WWII.
Below is an edited version of Pastor Wesley Allen's sermon shared in worship on October16 at Central Baptist Church of Riverton-Palmyra, focusing on Matthew 5:5-6.
It’s in passages like the Beatitudes in which we see how much Jesus’ teaching undermines popular truth.
We live in a society which views a desire to wield power as a worthy calling. This understanding also acknowledges sacrifices of both ethics and morality to achieve power are a reasonable price to pay. These sacrifices are, after all, what gains people a seat at power’s table. It is the powerful who “get things done.” Therefore, if we want to get things done, one needs to be as close to power as one can possibly get. In our current election cycle we see this embrace of power happening before our eyes.
A good many Christians are brushing off the vile and nonsensical behavior of Donald Trump, lost in his promises of power and influence. In so doing we have seen Christians leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. & James Dobson abandon their claims of election’s past, which demanded only moral Christian people were acceptable as president.
It’s movement seen in the Democratic arena as well. Hillary Clinton has been invited to preach in churches as barely disguised campaign stops. And she is equally trumpeted among believers who feel a more progressive movement is what God wants for the country – despite some serious warning flags regarding her integrity. Whether progressive or conservative, Christians are siding up to power in order to make certain when the chips fall their voices will be heard and their agenda implemented.
Jesus will have none of it. Instead, he says the meek will inherit the earth 1. With this statement Jesus pulls the rug out from the argument for a Christian to pursue the coattails of worldly power.
Now, “meek,” in our culture, is often met with the objection it is “wishy-washy” and unassertive. But meek does not mean “doormat.” Rather, it refers to someone who is unassuming. That is to say they are not self-promoting, nor are they infatuated with the trappings of privilege. Can meek people still point out injustice? Certainly. Must meek people accept abuse heaped on them and never say, “This is not OK?” Of course not. Being “meek” does not mean being a victim. Nor does it mean sitting back while other people are victimized. It’s an understanding when we stand before God’s throne “smelling ourselves” is not a good idea.
It’s interesting to note the earliest extra-canonical Christian writing we have, called the “Didache” contains a direct reference to Matthew 5:5. This book was probably an early Christian discipleship tool written around the year 100, and in it’s third chapter the unknown author says “…be humble 2, for the humble shall inherit the earth 3.” This direct reference is then followed by some exposition on what it means to be humble/meek. It wonderfully reveals the attitude our early brothers and sisters in Christ had about their relationship with power. Being “meek” meant not associating with lofty, and refraining from either becoming arrogant about one’s position or exalting oneself in shameless self promotion. In short, it is the opposite of the current Christian penchant to court those who wield cultural power. Jesus’ words were something on to which our early brothers and sisters vigorously held.
And there is something significant about the meek which is worth pondering. The deepest desire of someone who is meek isn’t power, or security, authority, or wealth. It’s righteousness, the establishment of right relationships between everything in the created order one to another, and between the created order and the God who made all things. Because this for what a meek person must inevitably “hunger and thirst,” Jesus offers them a wonderful blessing. Their desire will be satisfied.
You see, there’s something interesting about power. Both the desire to obtain and the desire to hold on to it can do terrible damage to our souls. When we seek power, we begin to discover enemies. Throughout history, enemies have been labeled as sub-human, a threat to societal stability, and as objects worthy only to receive vengeance.
In our country we’ve seen this happen over and over, and I’m not speaking only of the national level. This past week Governor Christie of New Jersey had a criminal summons issued against him over “Bridgegate,” which was a political reprisal against someone who’d slighted the governor’s office. In the past few months Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, the person who is supposed see the law upheld, was indicted on charges of criminal conspiracy and perjury 4. Many of the actions with which she was charged came from her desire to punish her political enemies.
This is, sadly, what happens when we become infatuated with our own status. In the halls of political power – and all the way down to our local churches, clubs, and civic organizations – people who fight their way to the top inevitably try to clear the field of all challengers. They think then they’ll be satisfied. The problem is, there’s always another challenger. So the search for satisfaction becomes an endless game of “king of the hill.” And satisfaction never comes.
Contrast the desire for power and control with Jesus’ words. People who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” have ceded all authority to the Lamb who sits on the throne — the Lord Jesus Christ. And, because of this, when new people enter our field of view we don’t see challengers to our grasp on power. After all, we don’t have any power on which to grasp! Rather, we see people for whom Jesus has died, and who bear God’s image. Rather than try to defeat them as threats, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness instead seek to invite strangers to experience the “joy of the Lord.”
This is how the Church grew in the first centuries of it’s existence. The earliest Christians were a minority of a minority religion, Judaism. But they didn’t keep to themselves. They held no power, nor did they have hopes of obtaining it. And they did suffer under Roman hostility. But they thrived. They saw in the strangers of the Roman Empire the very people for whom Christ came to earth — Roman officials, slaves, women 5, Jews, pagans, and even barbarians were invited to experience the incredible fruits which Jesus’ teaching and sacrifice had borne into the world. And, despite being politically and militarily powerless, the Church grew. Through Rome, and beyond its borders, the Gospel of Jesus Christ declared, “The meek would inherit the earth.”
And there is absolutely no reason why it cannot be so today. May we remember to be meek in this world, hungering and thirsting for the only desire which can ever truly be filled — the establishment of righteousness. And may the church of Jesus Christ grow, not so we can wield power, but so we can demonstrate a much more satisfying virtue in this world.
- Matthew 5:5 ↩
- This is the same word used in Matthew 5:5 for meek ↩
- Didache 3:7 ↩
- Among other things. ↩
- Women are part of this list because in the Roman era women were simply to do what their husbands told them. The early evangelists, however, saw women as beings worthy of hearing the Gospel as full persons. ↩
"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together" Collosians 1:17 (NRSV)
The recent horrific acts of murder and terror in Paris, Beirut, Nigeria and Mali have reminded us that we still live in a world inhabited by violence, hate and evil. These recent and almost simultaneous upheavals of violence and hate have shaken the foundation of our faiths, our trust in the moral order of the world, and our confidence in the basic goodness of humanity. As we try to find a semblance of meaning, and long to be caught up in a centrifugal force that can wound as tightly back into the center in this decentering disruption of rage and violence, fear is covering many places like thunder clouds. And here in the United States, as this phenomenon takes place and is inevitably mixed into the quest for power during an election year, the public discourse that consumes all the news broadcasts throws into bold relief the deep ideological fissures in our culture. As a pastor and student of culture and society I cannot but look at life, and the world, through theological eyes. And what I see through those lenses during these days of grave social disruption concern me very much as to how the voice of the church is being heard - or not heard. In the midst of the din of absolutizing public conversations about fear, and the deluge of rhetoric that exploits that fear for personal gain, it is no wonder that it is also a time of great moral confusion for many of us.
Why are Christians disagreeing over an issue that the biblical texts address when they are reading the same Bible? Or for that matter, why are Muslims disagreeing over an issue that Koranic texts address when they are reading the same Koran? Why are politicians disagreeing over an issue that the U.S. Constitution addresses when they are reading the same U.S Constitution? For any of us - especially Christians, for I am one - to think that these binary understandings of the world and morality can be resolved by simple argumentation - or simply impugning, invalidating and demonizing those who disagree with us - misses the critical role that our ideological habitat plays in shaping the way we understand the world, life and all its complexities. Prior to the utterance of words that come out from our mouths and minds over a particular issue, comes the work of the ideological filters that reside in our assumptive worlds - our ideological habitats - in melding, forming, refracting, conforming and particularizing reality so that it correlates to the ideological habitats wherein each of us dwell. And so is it uncommon for readers of the same sacred text to disagree over its meaning? No. More decisively, is it uncommon for readers of sacred text to pick and choose certain passages to prove the rightness of one's perspective while dismissing or glossing over other passages in the same sacred text? No. Is it possible that we do so - not in the quest for truth but, perhaps unwittingly - to justify one's own ideological perspective? Yes. So which way is it to "true North?"
As human beings our perspectives are inherently limited and provisional. In John 5:33-40, we find a very important teaching of Jesus on the method by which we arrive at the deeply held convictions that form our understanding of the world around us. The religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees, were "experts" on the reading and interpretation of the Torah. But as they are often recorded in the gospels, they always accused Jesus of violating the Torah - the Law. In this passage in the Gospel of John, Jesus unpacks and exposes what really is at the heart of their arguments, and what ultimately is at stake when we do not examine the purpose and design of our perspectives. Jesus was explicit in saying that he did not come to change nary a "dot or tittle" in the scripture. Rather, he came to "fulfill" it. In this passage he affirms to the Pharisees that, indeed, the scriptures speak about life. Then he introduces a radically new hermeneutic: "But you do not come to me that you may have life!"
Fear dislocates the equilibrium of our inner worlds and awakens the yet unredeemed spaces of our humanity. In the chaos we instinctively seek order, and in that desperation to restore order the path of least resistance is to find someone on which to blame the "dis-order." While acts of terror and murder have tragically occurred in these recent days in other parts of the world, it is understandable that the recent acts of murder in Paris have dominated the news because it is Paris. The attacks took place during the massive migration of Syrian refugees to the west, inflicted by murderers based in Syria. And so it has become easy to stigmatize an entire race for the sins of a few in the midst of the chaos. Broadcast and social media are saturated with debates on how we in the United States should respond to the Syrian refugees. Binary worlds have once again been created - compassion versus national security. But are they exclusive of each other? Is this a false choice? What really lays in the crucible? And being it an election year, the political peddlers of fear are having a brisk business these days and, frankly, I have been appalled by some of what I have heard recently especially from the mouths of professing Christians. Even the incarceration and internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry during WWII are now being invoked as a moral precedent for how to treat Syrian refugees!
Pope Francis from the Vatican said recently, in his grief, that in a world that still wages war and refuses to seek the path of peace, the festivities of the "Christmas Season" becomes a charade. Let us not forget that above everything else, even "beyond the sacred page" (from the great hymn, "Break Thou the Bread of Life") , Jesus calls us to come to him, the Word become flesh - because in him everything is held together. Do our actions look like Jesus? Do our words sound like Jesus? Does our compassion look like Jesus? Do we love like Jesus? The Advent Season is upon us - a sacred time for Christians as we enter into the spiritual discipline of preparing for the coming of the Prince of Peace. In a time of great disconnective energy, the audacious proclamation of the gospel in the Book of Collosians is muted - that in Jesus Christ, in him, everything holds together. So we are to "unmute" the voice of the gospel. As followers of Jesus we are called to be peacemakers, obligated to do what is good and just, to be aspirants for what is beautiful, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God.
Proclaim, hear and do!
The Greater Delaware Valley Association and Oaklyn Baptist Church invite you to join Jonathan Cronkhite from Homes Devoted for a day-long adventure meant to re-shape the role the home plays in faith development and growth. For many years what goes on at church has been thought to be what impacts happenings at home, but this is actually a new way of thinking. A more classic understanding of discipleship is actually the reverse. It used to be understood what goes on at home is what impacts the church. This seminar, meant for parents of any age children, will encourage participants to return to this more rich and classic understanding of discipleship.
Don't miss this great opportunity!
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[label style="info" icon="calendar"]Date[/label]
Saturday, April 25
[label style="info" icon="info"]Location[/label]
Oaklyn Baptist Church 29 East Bettlewood Avenue, Oaklyn, NJ 08107
8:30 to 9am – Registration and refreshments
9:00-10:30am – Session 1: The Ultimate Goal of Parenting
10:45am-12:15pm – Session 2: Fairy Tale or Father?
12:15-1pm – Lunch
1-2:30pm – Session 3: Parenting Techies
3-4:30pm – Session 4: Digging Deeper
Pre-Registration – $25 (register now at eventbrite)
At the Door – $30
(Partial scholarships are available, use the "Contact" tab to submit a request )
The Ultimate Goal of Parenting
Our greatest goal as parents is to help our children love a great God. So, why are the majority of children growing up in the church growing out of faith? We look at scripture and statistics, combined with 20 years of personal ministry experience, to delve into breaking this trend. You will leave inspired and equipped with simple ideas you can apply immediately to make God known in the midst of daily family life, living out Deuteronomy 6.
Fairy Tale or Father?
Children hear about the great miracles God did in the past: parting the Red Sea, Daniel in the lions’ den, Jonah swallowed by a whale, etc.. Do they see what God is doing now? Is God a fairy tale? Make believe? Something we grow up and grow out of? Learn how to encourage your child to pray and to see God answer prayer. Holding a child’s hand, in faith, as he/she approaches our heavenly Father, initiates a relationship of trust, obedience, and blessing.
If a stranger knocked on your front door hoping to find your child alone, you would notify the police and take extra precautions immediately. Yet only 19% of our children’s electronic devices are protected from such a threat. Over 50% of exposure to “bad stuff” is occurring through cell phones. The majority of our children stumble upon it accidentally AND takes place in our own homes simply because we left the front door unlocked!!!. Technology is everywhere, but many parents are not aware of the possible dangers or of how to safeguard them.
“Faith comes from hearing; hearing the word of God.” (Romans 10.17) How will our children grow in faith? By teaching them the Word. How can we have effective family devotions with our young children and teenagers? How can parents teach the Bible, when they may be new to faith themselves? This session offers practical advice that will help parents persevere through the trials of scheduling and executing one of the most important disciplines: reading the Bible together.
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Fresh Expression’s second gathering was held at the First Baptist Church of Hightstown. One of the key subjects centered on discipleship. A quote from Missiologist Alan Hirsch's The Forgotten Way was central to the conversation,
When dealing with discipleship, and the related capacity to generate authentic followers of Jesus, we are dealing with that single most crucial factor that will in the end determine the quality of the whole-if we fail at this point then we must fail in all the others.As we consider fresh expressions of church, it is crucial that we reexamine how discipleship is developed in our ministry context. Many people view discipleship as simply a component of church life, especially for new believers. It may be limited to Sunday school classes, books, lectures, conferences, and other forms of formal, institutional instructions. While these methods of discipleship may be helpful to spiritual formation, they are not the only ways. These forms of training usually take place within the confines of a classroom where students are merely passive recipients. Discipleship, as Jesus demonstrates is one that is modeled and embodied by the leader. The students in a trusting and genuine community follow in the steps of the leader/mentor. As Jesus and his group of twelve journey together, understanding of the Kingdom of God and their role in their community become more evident. In the context of authentic relationship, discipleship takes shape. For Jesus, it is an intentional, purposeful labor of love. Effective and fresh expressions of church in our context, then, will be the fruit of discipleship. May, we, the leaders, humbly walk together with our students and experience the power and glory of our living Lord.