People Get Ready - A Sermon & Call for Unity in the New Year -

PEOPLE GET READY Pastor April Blaine

Sunday, January 6, 2013

 

In the summer of 1963, singer and songwriter Curtis Mayfield stood among 250,000 others to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” Speech.

And like many people there that day – Curtis was inspired.

He was struck by this vision of the future, a vision deeply connected to the ones he had been taught about for years in the black church where he grew up – a place there were no more hiding places – where everyone despite their differences would be on level ground.

And as The country continued to face a time of turmoil – with the bombing of the churches and the assassination of JFK, Curtis Mayfield, who had been raised in the black church singing Gospel, found himself moved to write about the movement that he saw happening in the country.

And he wrote the words in early 1965 to this song –

A song of faith – a faith that transcends any racial barrier and welcomes everyone onto the train.

People Get Ready there’s a train a coming

You don’t need no baggage you just get on board

All you need is faith

To keep the diesels humming

Don’t need no ticket you just thank the Lord

And in a sense, The song itself, named as one of the 10 best songs of all time, nearly 50 years later – has done what the vision of its creator dreamed about – crossed across racial and musical genres.  It has been performed by Bob Marley, Rod Stewart, James Taylor, Eva Cassidy, Phil Collins and Paul Jackson Jr.  and in the aftermath of 9/11,  Bruce Springsteen sang it as a way to bring people together in unity.

A song of optimism and idealism – a song about what the future will look like – when we can come together – across all the boundaries that divide us and live in the way of God’s kingdom.

 

Many, many, many centuries before.

There were also some young men, learned men, living in a divided time.  A time of empire, oppression and violence.  A time where wealth and power and religion and ethnic differences continued to keep people divided.

These men were scholars – specifically – they studied the stars.

And in their studies, there was one star – brighter than all the others – a star so bright, that in ancient writings, it had been prophesied that this star was the indicator of a new king, a king of peace – for all people.

And these scientists, these academic men, left their land and followed the star.

They brought with them gifts and they traveled a great distance, probably over a great period of time to see this king – this king that was for all people.

And Just as Curtis Mayfield saw a vision of what our country and our world could be like when he heard Dr. King speak, so these men – in their visit to Jesus – saw a vision of a different kind of world, ruled by a different kind of king – a king for all people – and it was so compelling – that they,  men from another region, of another race, and of another religion – traveled for years simply to bring him their gifts and to lay eyes on this vision.

You can imagine them on their way home –

People Get Ready

There’s a train a coming

 

Today is Epiphany.  The day that we celebrate not just the coming of Jesus into the world, but the fact that this coming of Jesus – was for EVERYONE.  This baby, this incarnation of God into the world, God putting on flesh was the kind of event that was for all the world and will ultimately UNITE the world.

And as this baby grew, he began to teach people about this kingdom, this vision of a world where across diversity ad difference, people would come together and how they would actually be able to live as if it were true.

And when Jesus left his disciples, he left them instructions to go out into the world, to share this message with everyone – that by the way that they lived – that the world might know that God’s love, the story of God’s redeeming work in the world – was for ALL PEOPLE.

BUT –

After the early church began to spread across the region of ancient Palestine, there was a problem early on.

The movement of followers of Jesus had grown out of the Jewish population of people.   But it quickly gathered steam and began to include many, many others who hadn’t been raised in Jewish communities – these people were known as Gentiles.

But the problem was this – Jews had been raised with very strict restrictions about who they were to eat with and associate with and worship with.  In order to become a part of the Jewish group, a male would need to be circumcised – this was the only way they would be able to eat together and considered clean.

And so there were some debates early on about how the early Christians would handle this.

The letter to the Ephesians was specifically written to a people who struggled to find ways to bridge the gaps between them – who couldn’t seem to understand themselves as the same – who couldn’t seem to see how they were to be in relationships even thought they were SO different.

And the author of the letter, a great student of Paul – reminds them of the story of God they had been told over and over again – the story of God’s love for ALL people.

But the author reminds them one more thing -

that the way that Jesus intended this love to become known to EVERYONE was by everyday people, people of great diversity and disparity and difference and division – to board the train together – to be a community together, to show the world what this love actually looked like.

It wasn’t enough to simply say that God’s love was for everyone

The plan was that that CHURCH would be the primary way that God would show this love to everyone in creation.  In the CHURCH, the world would be able to see a glimpse of God’s kingdom and God’s love.

 

Here At Summit – we begin a new year together.

Last year, we began a bit of a tradition that we are continuing this year – of using January as a time where we might push ourselves to explore our faith more deeply and to talk about it in ways that we might not have done in the past.  Ways that might make us a little bit uncomfortable.

Last year, we talked about sexuality – how we have often mistakenly segregated this topic from our spirituality in ways that have made it difficult for us to talk about and integrate these things.  And some people told us we were a bit crazy for talking about this in church, but I think in the end, we all found that there were things we hadn’t talked about and hadn’t thought about that we needed to.

And so this year, we push into a topic that might seem less controversial – but might actually be harder to talk about.

MOVING BEYOND TOLERANCE – naming the racial and socio-economic differences that often divide us and seeking to build bridges

It’s a tall order.

Two months ago we were in the midst of one of the most divisive presidential elections of our time and the results of this election continued to reveal how diverse we are, racially, culturally, socio-economically, politically – but how within that diversity – we are still deeply divided.

– and I am convinced.

That we will never be able to move past the deep divisions that exist, that we will never really be able to solve the kinds of problems that are so deeply rooted in our society until we have real places where across our differences, we can exist in relationships and community.

And I am convinced that our greatest hope of that happening is through the church.

And there are few places that are more poised and prepared to do that kind of work in the city of Columbus, than the one you are sitting in today.

And so -  perhaps the greatest gift that Summit can offer the world – is to BE the church described in the letter to the Ephesians.

To be a place where people see something different – where people see a prophetic message of love and unity and radically, inclusive grace – a church – diverse in every way possible – living in love and community with each other.

Not just telling the world that God loves all people, but showing the world WHAT that means.

 

There are a few ways we will be working toward making this a reality this year.

First – we have a Leadership Retreat this Friday.  The members of the Leadership Team, Church Council, and the Staff will be spending a day away preparing and planning for the year.

A large part of our time away will be spent building the kinds of relationships that we know it will take to do this work.

Second – discipleship – we want to have some really honest conversations about what it means for each of us to be taking steps in our faith to help us do what God is challenging us to do.

Third – Worship – might get a little more challenging and edgy – starting next week.

The next few weeks are intentionally going to do that – we know that it doesn’t make sense to do that every week – but we’re going to ask you to stay with us.  We want to have some hard conversation as we start this year together that will help us stop pretending that we are something that we aren’t yet.  Even as one of the most diverse churches in the conference, we still have a long way to go in building the kind of relationships within that diversity that will make us look more like Christ’s church.  We have issues of race and class and age and culture that we haven’t talked about that have often kept us from really knowing and loving each other and being the church we could be.

Last – we will be giving you lots and lots and lots of opportunities to know and build relationships across the walls that divide us.  There will be classes, small groups, one-on-one conversations inside and outside the walls of this church.  There will be many, many opportunities for you to be honest about your own journey and grow in your faith along with others.

But whether you take those opportunities – whether you seek to know others and to be known in this community will be up to you -

Let me tell you – that as a pastor in the West Ohio Conference, there are around 1200 churches and there is NO WHERE I’d rather be than in this dynamic congregation at the start of a new year.

So – People Get Ready – there’s a train a coming