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Speaking God's Truth to People Hooked on Lies

a sermon by Wendell Griffen, pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, AR

Ezekiel 2:1-5

2He said to me: O mortal,* stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. 2And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. 3He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation* of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. 4The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.

Mark 6:1-13

6He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary* and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence* at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

The lessons we ponder today from part of the call of the prophet Ezekiel and Mark’s account of what Jesus experienced when he returned to his hometown of Nazareth present some interesting realities. Ezekiel and Jesus were commissioned by God. They were sent to present God’s message to the people of their time and place.

In the lesson from Ezekiel, God described the people to whom he would be sent in very unfavorable terms using the words “rebels,” “impudent,” and “stubborn.”  Ezekiel was one of the Hebrew people who were captured and removed to Babylon at the start of the sixth century before the time of Jesus.  Ezekiel, like his fellow exiles, had seen the horrors of war.  He had lost loved ones.  He was forced to leave his homeland.  He was a priest of God who was forced to leave the temple where God was worshipped.

Ezekiel’s challenge was to call his fellow Hebrews living in exile to accept exile as God’s judgment on the systemic and prolonged wickedness of their society.  It would not be easy to tell people what they didn’t want to hear.  They wouldn’t want to believe that their plight was God’s judgment on their national character!  They would prefer to quickly get back to the way things were.

In the lesson from Mark’s Gospel Jesus was amazed when the people of his hometown refused to believe his message of repentance, grace, and truth and openly doubted that God’s power was operating through him.  They didn’t want to believe God would use someone they supposedly knew so well to do what Jesus was doing.

Ezekiel and Jesus show that God sends humans (Ezekiel is called “Mortal”) as agents of divine truth.  Yes, God sends people like us to do what people like Ezekiel and Jesus did.

·      God sends people like us to speak God’s words of repentance, grace, and truth.
·      God sends people like us to confront entrenched systems of oppression.
·      God sends people like us to tell and show a hateful society and world what love means.
·      God sends people like us to tell and show a greedy world about generosity.
·      God sends people like us to tell and show a fearful world about welcoming strangers.
·      God sends people like us to tell and show a despondent world the meaning of hope.
·      God sends people like us to speak God’s truth to people hooked on lies.

Like Ezekiel and Jesus, we will find that being sent by God to say, be, and do something doesn’t mean people will accept what we say, who were are trying to be, and what we are trying to do. The call to be God’s people of grace and truth is a call to faithfulness, not fame.  It is often a call to confront lies with divine truth.

This reminds us that we shouldn’t be measure our effectiveness for God by ordinary standards of outcome of what we say and do for God. Ezekiel and Jesus show that the issue for us is faithfulness to what God has called us to be and do, not the results of our faithfulness.

Ezekiel and Jesus show that God calls us to be faithful gardeners.
We are called to sow and cultivate God’s love and truth in the world. Like Ezekiel and Jesus, we’ll find that human hearts can be full of rocks, stumps, and weeds.  Like Ezekiel and Jesus, we will confront and expose those rocks, stumps, and weeds of pride, greed, fear, hate, and unbelief.  Like Ezekiel and Jesus, we’ll find that people often would rather keep their rocks, stumps, and weeds than accept the cultivating influence of God’s truth. We are called to plant, plow, and hoe. But God’s call that we work the garden doesn’t guarantee that the people to whom we present God’s truth will accept it and produce a crop of love, truth, justice, and peace.

No matter how much you and I do to represent God’s truth, people have the moral freedom to believe lies. People have the moral freedom to believe God wants them to mistreat others. People have the moral freedom to believe that God wants them to fear strangers rather than welcome and help them. People have the moral freedom to believe that God doesn’t want them to face the consequences of their persistent moral and ethical transgressions and derelictions.

In the United States people are hooked on lies about the supposed end of racism despite constant evidence of white supremacy and how it violates the gospel of God’s love, truth, repentance, and restoration. Days ago a man massacred nine black people who were studying Scripture and praying at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The alleged perpetrator of that event wrote a manifesto that explicitly expressed his desire to terrorize black people based on a doctrine of white supremacy espoused by a group that calls itself the Council of Conservative Citizens.

The Council of Conservative Citizens was formed in 1985.  Before that time it operated under a different name, the White Citizens Council. The White Citizens Council was a network of white supremacist groups that developed after the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education outlawed racial segregation in public education. Dylann Shock Roof, the man who allegedly massacred nine black worshippers at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church on June 17, 2015, was radicalized by the successor organization to this white supremacist organization.

The White Citizens Council was largely responsible for the resurgence of the Confederate battle flag throughout the South.

The White Citizens Council was responsible for organized efforts to intimidate black people who registered to vote in Mississippi by denying them credit, refusing to do business with them, and firing them from jobs.

The White Citizens Council was responsible for newspaper advertisements that denounced the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as having “well known” ties to communism.

The White Citizens Council was made up of plantation owners, doctors, lawyers, and ministers. These men controlled political, economic, and social power in the South.

Let’s be clear. The Council of Conservative Citizens is merely the 2015 version of the racist White Citizens Council with its sordid history of economic, physical, and social violence against black people and anyone else working to promote social equality.

Sadly, President Obama has not called out this group for its racist message. He did not associate the racist message and history of intimidation by this group and its White Citizens Council predecessor with violence against black people.

Sadly, President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch have not named the Council of Conservative Citizens as a terrorist organization despite its vicious message and history of organized violence against black people. Sadly, no chair of any committee in Congress has called for hearings on the activities of the Council of Conservative Citizens.

Sadly, Mr. Obama and other politicians have not reminded us that the Confederate battle flag was used by white supremacists determined to preserve segregation and intimidation of black people.

Sadly, editorial writers at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper (the only statewide daily newspaper in Arkansas) and other pundits insist on calling the alleged perpetrator of the massacre at Mother Emanuel as mentally deranged rather than purposely fed a deliberate message of hate, fear, and violence by the Council of Conservative Citizens.

We are seeing in our time what Ezekiel and Jesus experienced in their time. Intelligent people are refusing to accept the truth that Dr. Martin Luther King declared years ago in an essay titled A Testament of Hope published in January 1989, almost a year after he was murdered.

…Why is the issue of equality still so far from solution in America, a nation that professes itself to be democratic, inventive, hospitable to new ideas, rich, productive and awesomely powerful? The problem is so tenacious because, despite its virtues and attributes, America is deeply racist and its democracy is flawed both economically and socially. All too many Americans believe justice will unfold painlessly or that its absence for black people will be tolerated tranquilly.

…White America must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society. The comfortable, the entrenched, the privileged cannot continue to tremble at the prospect of change in the status quo.

…If we look honestly at the realities of our national life, it is clear that we are not marching forward; we are groping and stumbling; we are divided and confused. Our moral values and our spiritual confidence sink, even as our material wealth ascends.  In these trying circumstances, the black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes.  It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws—racism, poverty, militarism and materialism. It is exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.[1]

…Many whites hasten to congratulate themselves on what little progress we Negroes have made. I’m sure that most whites felt that with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, all race problems were automatically solved. Because most white people are so far removed from the life of the average Negro, there has been little to challenge this assumption.  Yet Negroes continue to live with racism every day. It doesn’t matter where we are individually in the scheme of things, how near we may either to the top or to the bottom of society; the cold facts of racism slap each one of us in the face.[2]

I wish President Obama had quoted Dr. King’s words during his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the slain pastor at Mother Emanuel, rather than led the congregation in singing “Amazing Grace.” That would have been a prophetic act.

I wish that Mr. Obama, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, and other state, local, and federal public officials would declare veneration of the Confederate flag, white supremacy, and the “heritage” associated with white supremacy, and official approval of that hatefulness as the root causes for the massacre at Mother Emanuel. That would have been a prophetic act.

I wish that religious leaders from every persuasion, but especially leaders of congregations that profess to follow the God of Ezekiel, Jesus, and Martin Luther King, Jr., would denounce veneration of the Confederate flag, white supremacy, and the so-called “heritage” associated with white supremacy as threats to national security and a violations of the gospel of God’s love, truth, justice, and peace. That would be prophetic action.

It is not enough for us to engage in masterful performances of political theater by singing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral of people massacred by hatemongers. We must name the root cause of the hate.  We must call our society to admit its racism and repent from it. Then, and only then, we can correctly speak of “Amazing Grace.” To speak of grace without repentance is to cheapen and mock the love and justice of God! Grace is free, but never cheap!

It is not enough for Wal-Mart and other merchandisers to remove Confederate flags from their inventories. We must challenge the mindset that caused them to purchase and stock items associated with racism, white supremacy, and inequality in the first place. We must challenge the mindset that allows business owners to make money by selling instruments of hate and symbols of death that terrorize others. We must challenge the greedy mindset that allows Wal-Mart managers and corporate officials to justify welcoming Confederate sympathizers to set up a demonstration yesterday, the Fourth of July, at a Wal-Mart store in Searcy, Arkansas.

It is not enough for us to compliment the grieving relatives of the slain for their gentleness towards the person who is allegedly responsible for their sorrow. We should also ask hard questions about why this society continues to ignore how people of color are marginalized, profiled, despised, victimized, terrorized by law enforcement actors and self-appointed vigilantes, blamed for our oppression, and then told to not be angry about it. Prophetic people should never urge oppressed people to deny their moral right to be indignant about injustice.

All these things are part of what we should do as people called to proclaim and live out God’s love, truth, justice, peace, and hope. As we do so, let us remember what Jesus said. Prophetic people are not called to be popular. God calls us to be faithful. Whether the world believes us or not, our faithfulness to God’s love, truth, justice, peace, and hope is the best hope God has for saving the world from addiction to the lies responsible for oppression, pain, suffering, and death.  Amen.

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope:  The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., (edited by James Melvin Washington, Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1989, p. 314-15.
[2] A Testament of Hope, supra, p. 321-22.

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