Recently the website theundefeated.com posted a letter by the NBA’s Washington Wizards guard, John Wall. Wall wrote the letter to his dead father.
John’s father went to prison when he was two years old. Until he was 9, he visited his father in prison. To John, it was just a place. His Dad got out of jail but soon died. It would not be until later that Wall learned his father’s release was in part due to the fact he had liver cancer.
When his Father died, Wall went into a downward spin. But, something changed. Some people stood with him despite his attitude and poor decisions. He wrote,
Yet at some point after that low moment for me in basketball, everything started to click.
I credit some of the men in my life. The coaches who stuck with me, even though I was a handful to deal with. The teachers and school administrators who believed in me. And my stepdad, a man I didn’t embrace at first but is someone who I would do anything for today because of what he did for my family.
With everyone rallying behind me, I became the best high school player in the nation and had a successful college career that led me to be the top pick of the NBA draft.
While I encourage you to read Wall’s letter, it is vital to pick up on what John relays as the keys to the change in his future
The coaches who stuck with me . . . The teachers and school administrators who believed in me . . . and my stepdad . . . With everyone rallying behind me.
Many of us know stories like John’s. A young person, down on his or her luck, makes quite the turn due to the people who influenced him, stood by her and would not let them alone.
February is Black History Month. This Wednesday is the beginning of the Season of Lent in the Christian Calendar.
What would it mean that a mostly White congregation would come to worship and hear the pastor point out that it is Black History Month?
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention will co-host a one-day event on April 8. It will be the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Folks who gather will “reflect on the state of racial unity in the church and culture.” Yes, the ethics arm of the mostly Anglo SBC will commemorate the death of MLK with an event to consider what progress has been made and what work remains.
Maybe the better question is why wouldn’t we consider the part of the collective cultural history that gives us insight into the way exiles in Babylon might have felt – frail, weary and powerless. After all, none of us here know what it was like in the German concentration camps, on the Trail of Tears, or what life was like in the pre-Civil War South.
But, we have read these stories. Many of us have learned Israel’s story. So, why not lead off with the story of a young black boy whose experience represents what so many face. When I say many face, I do not mean to convey that the circumstances only fall to young boys of color. These stories remind us that all human beings experience life as frail, weary and powerless.
Our collective story is also one that includes great reaches for power. When we see folks, who struggle it is hard to resist the cultural mantra – if they would just pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Or, if they would get a job. Or, if they would make better decisions. Or, whatever it is that comes to your mind when we pass by those who appear to struggle to get by much less ahead.
As an aside, please know that I understand it is a much more attractive message when we tell people who have what they need how they may have a better marriage, raise better children, and learn skills to get a better job. But, that is not the Gospel. The Good News of God revealed in Jesus is not about how to help you make it better in life. That is something different. It is Jesus plus whatever advice on a subject important to you.
Good advice is important. But, it is not the Gospel. And, if there is anything I have learned in the long-haul of ministry it’s that we never come to the place where we don’t need to hear the Gospel. In fact, the very decisions we who claim to have trust in Jesus make indicate that we need to hear the Gospel more, not less.
Consider . . .
Consider how easy it is to mistake something else, or someone else for God revealed in Jesus.
Israel’s captivity left them uncertain whether or not to look to Marduk or another Babylonian god.
It is odd that we read the Old Testament and marvel at flood survivors, wandering patriarchs, pillars of fire, boys with slingshots, talking donkeys, and underwater prophets. But, when it comes to reading how argumentative, how disputatious, the prophets are when people become enamored of other gods and human systems we want nice.
We ignore the very way we attempt to make points with our children. When they venture into unsafe territory, we don’t point out how well they play sports, make good grades in math or advance in their reading. We point out the dangers. We don’t play nice; we point them to safety.
The prophet asked Israel, “with whom will you compare God?” “Do you not know, have you not heard?” It is as if the prophet gets right up in Israel’s business and challenges them to reconsider who or what they have trusted.
“Look up and see!”
Any allure Babylon might be, any temptation to give into the gods they shape out of materials is confronted by a God who takes the side of those who are weak, frail and powerless.
He reduces princes to nothing
and makes judges of the earth like a wasteland.
They are barely planted, barely sown,
their stem hardly takes root in the ground
when the wind blows on them they wither,
and a whirlwind carries them away
He gives strength to the faint
and strengthens the powerless.
Youths may become faint and weary,
and young men stumble and fall,
but those who trust in the LORD
will renew their strength;
they will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not become weary,
they will walk and not faint.
A careful reading of the Scriptures points to Jesus as God’s means to undermine the powers against us.
Consider that at Jesus’ coming it is made clear that what the prophet declared would be taken up in Jesus.
When Jesus is presented to the priest, Simeon, Mary hears him say,
Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed – and a sword will pierce your own soul – that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
That human beings pursue power for safety and security reveals the heart. It is challenging to live with a split allegiance. Jesus reminds us we will love the one and hate the other. What is surprising is that most often we scorn Jesus’ words in favor of the promises of others – who, indeed do not possess the power to make us safe, to keep us secure, no matter how many millions of dollars are printed to do so.
There is little wonder what prompted the opposition to Jesus. We see it today, even among we who are considered the faithful. Yes, we need to hear the Gospel again and again. The Good News that Jesus reveals not only our hearts but the heart of God for people.
God comes in solidarity with the frail, the weak, the powerless. He comes even to we who think we are invincible, strong and powerful. We who hide behind the images we create – the ones where we post our best photos, our most exciting adventure, and our most joyous experiences.us
Yes, it is Good News that in Jesus God comes to rescue us from the pretensions that we have it all together, that we can withstand any trouble and ride out any storm.
Living the Gospel calls us to solidarity with human beings, particularly those frail, weary and powerless.
When Jesus is found praying on the mountainside, he says,
Let’s go to the neighboring villages so that I may preach there too. This is why I have come. He went into all of Galileo, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
And there it is again . . .
Mark tells the story of Jesus that makes it clear that to rescue human beings from their captors requires someone to throw out the current powers, the reigning rulers. Demons, remembered, undoubtedly references unseen forces at play, but it also, for Mark, is a way of reminding us that opposition to Jesus takes its first line of offense in the seats of power, even those who one would expect would know better.
We must quickly note how this works out as those who had given themselves to human powers turn to stand with all others.
If Jesus comes in solidarity with those who are captive to power, the Apostle Paul will do no less.
When Paul declares that he becomes all things to all people, he is setting aside his cultural trappings in favor of coming alongside others to point them to Jesus.
Paul does not become an idolater to win idol worshippers. Instead, he puts aside his own cultural identity, even its religious trappings, to stand with, be with, others in hopes discover their rescue in God revealed in Jesus, the Christ.
Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23