May 3, 2015
For First Mennonite Church of Denver
Vernon K. Rempel, 2015
Narrative Lectionary Bible Reading
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you.
For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish — hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.
Freddy Gray and…
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
It is the power of salvation to
Freddy Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown
To scared officers
to officers consumed by internal departmental dynamics
to disconnected wealthy folk,
all scared ones, self-protective ones,
anywhere there is confusion or ignorance or prejudice
it is the power of salvation – the gospel is
where there is pressing down of entire neighborhoods
where there is generational PTSD
It is the power of salvation to everyone who has faith.
I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish
We’re all in this together
Paul is saying:
I have found the gospel among Gentiles, barbarians,
Jews, the wise, the foolish
Salvation for everyone:
Baltimore and Ferguson and Staten Island and Aurora and Aurora again and City Park and Whittier and City Park West, Cole neighborhood, north-east Denver
Later on in Romans, Paul says:
For all have sinned…
depraved heart murder is the charge in Baltimore
all have sinned…
and then he also says
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor
angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We are all in this together
we all need salvation together
Barbarians, the foolish, the wise
Those lovely evangelicals
I attended a conference on Thursday
called Race, Reconciliation, and Immigration
It was put on by Michelle Warren
of the Evangelical Immigration Table
And it was evangelicals saying that
it is the character of God
it is the beauty of Christ
to understand the gospel
that we are all in this together
Warren noted that she was not going to either
throw politicians under the bus
or pump them up
they are not our hope, she said,
although she expends much passion
seeking legislative reform
our hope rather, she said,
and Danny Carroll said
as he joined the voices of the conference
is in the character of God
who cares for the poor
John Perkins was the morning’s feature speaker
he danced around the stage at age 85
telling about his birth into sharecropper poverty
and the power of the gospel in his life
And Noel Castellanos
said that we are not here for a political rally
to get us to choose sides
we are here to rally our hearts
to do God’s work
Evangelicals putting heart into politics
Not taking sides but letting ourselves be on God’s side
And who does God include on God’s side – everybody!
The gospel is the power of salvation to everyone who has faith
barbarian, Greek, you name it, the foolish
The thing that’s cool about Evangelicals
really doing the social justice gospel
is that they have often struggled
to get over to it
from a nationalistic religion that just
talks about getting saved for heaven
Noel Castellanos said
we evangelicals sometimes only work at
people’s celestial immigration status
and the also need help with their
earthly immigration status
It is the politics of Jesus.
Their spirit and tone reflects the wonderful
simplicity that has integrated complexities
into something new
It is social justice, but it is warm social justice
it has all the evangelical heart stuff,
love for God, love for Jesus
and a startling message of care for the poor
of seeking deep and long-term relationships
with people who are different,
people who are marginalized, invisible
It’s warm and loving…
There’s plenty of idea Christianity around,
of any kind.
Ideas about justice, ideas about salvation,
about what’s the right kind of church and so on.
But that’s cold soup compared to the warmth
of the heart
We’re not here for a political rally
but to rally our hearts for God’s work.
Not choosing sides, because God does not choose sides,
but God has immense care for the poor,
the immigrant, the incarcerated person of color
and for the jailer and the king
the wise and the foolish
So, the evangelical speakers said,
must we also have this immense care,
if we are people of God,
not as an idea, but because we live with this God
we want to live with God now
we feel God’s influence in our analysis,
yes, and also in our hearts
Whose side are you on
Marilyn and I were on a march for Arturo Hernandez
a few weeks ago
One chant we kind of had trouble with was
“Whose side are you on, now?”
And then we saw a sign we really appreciated:
“Standing on the side of love for the immigrant.”
Standing on the side of love.
That is a side we can put our hearts into.
Not the side of a political idea or an issue
but asking the deep background question
what would love have us do with everyone
involved in this picture:
the immigrant, their dear families,
ethnic communities dislocated from their roots,
the judges, the politicians, the police on their motorcycles,
ICE, a couple of church people trying to march along
what would love have us do
if we’re all in this together
if God is on the side of everybody
The power of the gospel for barbarians,
Greeks, elder brother Jews of Paul’s day,
the wise and the foolish
The sign had a web address:
it’s a Unitarian Universalist
initiative with a great website.
On the side of love:
I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish….
For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
So we see that even mighty Romans
the big book of Paul,
the one full of theology
lying right at the root of the church
there is this warmth of the heart
that Paul has
He in effect says
I’ve had help from everywhere on this.
I’m a debtor to Greeks and barbarians
but the thing is, it’s the power of the gospel
for salvation for everyone who has faith.
But now I want to take it one final step
Because for Paul, this gospel of love
is not warmth as sentimentality.
Just by making the lists that he does:
Greek, Jew, barbarian, wise, foolish
Paul is signaling that this will break hearts open
will break entire systems open
will come as a challenge to empires.
Paul knows that especially in Rome
the contrast will become painfully clear:
he is declaring a Messiah, an alternate allegiance
instead of honoring Caesar as Lord
This will be a problem
it will be great, great love,
but it will be a problem….
So here’s the last thing-
It will be disruption…
(From TED Talks To Taco Bell, Abuzz With Silicon Valley-Style ‘Disruption’ – April 27, 2015)
Linguist Geoff Nunberg
was opining about the word “disrupt”
this week on NPR
It is used satirically in the comedy “Silicon Valley”
as the title for a tech competition – The disruptors!
He points out that tech competitions
often in reality include “disrupt” in their names
“Disrupt” and “disruptive” are ubiquitous in the names of conferences, websites, business school degree programs and business book best-sellers. The words pop up in more than 500 TED Talks: “How to Avoid Disruption in Business and in Life,” “Embracing Disruption,” “Disrupting Higher Education,” “Disrupt Yourself.”.
He notes that it was first popularized in the 1997 book
by Clayton Christensen about how established
companies fail when scrappy new companies
turn out stripped-down versions
of their products at a low price-point.
For eg. Craigslist, Skype, and no-frills airlines.
That was the original business disruption.
But now it’s a good thing.
It’s what angel investors want to see
in tech innovations.
name a tech conference “the disruptors”
and they will come.
Nunberg continues by saying that
it’s not just details of a story like that
which make a buzzword.
It’s the emotional resonance.
He thinks it was used of him
when his kindergarten teacher sent home a note
about his classroom behavior — disruptive!
But now it’s cool.
Amazon and Uber are disruptive.
But also Procter and Gamble and General Motors
CNBC even called an iPhone case disruptive!
(it converts the phone into a gaming joystick)
The emotional resonance is echoed
in popular youth-culture shows like
Hunger Games and Divergent.
In Hunger Games, the authorities are corrupt
beyond belief and need to be disrupted.
In Divergent, the young woman who is the hero
doesn’t fit into any group.
Next there is an uprising!
And in both series, the key hero is female.
That’s disruptive of the James Bond narrative.
And such disruption brings us directly back around
to Baltimore and all.
Pressed down people will rise.
It is their God-given dignity as humans
that is at stake.
You may remember this Langston Hughes poem:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Hughes asked the right question
with his poem in 1951
and it remains the right question
64 years later.
Disruption will happen, should happen
to dreams deferred.
It is the will of God that all God’s children
live in peace and unafraid.
(Proverbs 3:24; Micah 4:4)
So disruption is a buzzword.
It’s already at risk of being tired
(and of course that’s the first time I’ve
paid attention to it, when it’s already aging out)
It may soon go the way of “thought leader”
and “change agent”, Nunberg suggests
But since I’m finally on the bandwagon,
I want to use it for the gospel.
The gospel is full of immense love;
and that love means disruption.
That love means saying we are people of Christ
more than we are people of the United States,
as much as this nation is a blessing.
That love asks clearly-spoken questions
Shirley Whiteside said on CPR this week
the thing that’s not being talked about
in our discussions of homelessness
is that people do not have a place to live.
People do not have a place to live.
Why in the wealthy world would
people simply not have a place to live?
That’s a gospel question.
It is love, not merely cold-eyed analysis,
not an argument, but love,
how so many people of color can be incarcerated
and how jails can be for profit,
motivated by quotas
Anthony Grimes – founder of Denver Freedom Riders
told the story of a young man – Dante,
who he ran into in Ferguson.
He asked him if there was anything,
anything at all that he could help him with.
Dante said, I want a sheet of paper that lists my rights.
Grimes asked – you don’t want food, money?
No, I just want something that shows
that I have rights.
Young men like Dante are getting thrown into
for-profit prisons all day long.
Grimes notes that corporations have found that
it is more profitable for them to have Grimes
in prison than out of prison.
And he said, we have to ask ourselves,
where do we want Dante – in prison or out?
Can we incarcerate ourselves enough
to find salvation?
I think Paul would disagree with that.
One way to make new connections for action
see the websites for
The Greater Metro Denver Ministerial Alliance
The Evangelical Immigration Table
Mennonite Mission Network
Mennonite Central Committee
one small new connection can make all the difference
The gospel is the power of salvation.
And the gospel is the love that Jesus
and that lives in our hearts
as the Spirit of Christ,
disrupting, opening prison gates, there for all people.