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Good evening my friends! Welcome to Forest Hill Church and our annual outdoor, er, indoor worship. God bless you! Thank you for braving this weather and coming here tonight. You and I will give witness to something good in the Heights, something powerful on the east side of Cleveland. We have seen what the power of a storm can do this past week (how many were without power for a time?)
Now we will show the world what the power of love can do, the power of community can do!
Because we are living in a time that tries our souls—truly this has been a summer of great discontent. As the Psalmist writes: surely, “our enemies encamp against us… and our adversaries are rising up”…. So we need to rise up and show some joy and some truth!
It is a time of divisiveness – of powers and principalities that are trying to break us apart: black and white, Hispanic and Asian, gay and straight, Muslim, Jew and Christian, foreigner and American – and even among Christians we are separating ourselves and segregating ourselves by silly details.
And so you and I have to witness to what is right! We have become the high pressure system that will blow out all this storminess – so we can see clearly now, when the rain is gone…
It is time for a revival – (Yes, even in a Presbyterian church – especially in a Presbyterian church) it is time for the people of faith to rise up and be recognized, and to claim a voice – to ask for the Holy Spirit to inspire us – breathe into us so that we can conspire together – breathe with each other and then perspire – breathe out, giving our sweat equity to building the beloved community.
This is what tonight is about – a reclaiming of our call to be the people of God. To worship together out in the open and then to break bread together. We won’t fear or stumble and fall; rather we will lift up our faces, and seek the face of God.
We will be strong and courageous as we wait for the Lord – but in scripture “waiting for the Lord” is never passive – we have much to do while we wait: city walls to build, and a message to proclaim.
Now, I am pretty sure that most of you have made up your mind about your candidate for this year’s election. Am I right? This is not the time or the place to name names, not tonight – but just give me a show of hands of those who know who they are going to vote for in November – or maybe who you won’t vote for in November?
But how many of you will stand up for Jesus tonight? Republican or Democrat? Because right now, tonight, it is more important how you feel about Jesus then it is how you feel about Hillary or Donald.
What I am calling for tonight is that you and I stand up for Jesus. And when I say “Stand up for Jesus,” I don’t mean to dumb down the message; to start believing that the world was created 10,000 years ago or to deny science or hold to a silly literalism.
When I say “Stand up for Jesus,” I don’t mean to become judgmental and to look with suspicion at Muslims, or feel that those who call themselves secularists or atheists are the enemy.
When I say “Stand up for Jesus,” I don’t mean get narrow-minded and hateful about who loves who and all judge-y.
When I say “Stand up for Jesus,” I don’t mean to get fearful because this world is dangerous and we need to escape it.
When I say “Stand up for Jesus,” I mean the Jesus who knew the prophet Micah: God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God!
I mean the Jesus who knew the prophet Amos: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!”
I mean the Jesus who knew Isaiah: “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet… Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house… Then you shall call and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help and God will say: HERE I AM!”
When I say “Stand up for Jesus,” I mean stand up for and stand up with the one who became flesh and dwelt among us – that God is flesh and blood and takes on suffering and even death. We are not alone!
When I say “Stand up for Jesus,” I mean the one who serves the best wine at the weddings and the Jesus who preached this: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
The Jesus who said: “Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake….”
The Jesus who was not puffed up on his own “stuff” but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross.
The Jesus who calls us [not to be] conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.
That is the Jesus I am talking about. This is the Jesus we need to stand up for in this day and age. Because Paul was right when he wrote that our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness.
So then, what do we do? If you want to make a change in your life, and stand up then after the service come forward and we will pray… and come to church, and join with a group of people who will stand with you, trying to follow God, putting on the whole armor of God: the breastplate of righteousness… the belt of truth around your waist, as shoes for your feet …whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
That is the Jesus I am saying we have to stand up for. Because people are saying all sorts of things that are not true; proclaiming things that are lies, trying to stir us up against each other, trying to divide and conquer; trying to water down cries for justice with general bromides that sound inclusive but aren’t really…. Like “All lives matter.” Of course they do – Jesus loves all the little children…. but we have a racial problem that isn’t going to get fixed by watered down generalities.
It is joyful work to stand up for Jesus; but you cannot do it in isolation. As individuals we are powerless, in community we are powerful. Divided we’ve lost. Together with Christ, we will win the day.
A long time ago, St. Francis had a vision and heard a voice from God telling him to “rebuild my church!” St. Francis was standing outside of a ruined chapel and he took the visionary words to mean to physically re-build the structure and so he did; but God’s call was larger than that – God called Francis to re-build the church, the body of Christ – to call people to stand up and proclaim and live the gospel of peace – and that is our call tonight – we must rebuild the church, and stand in the breech and bring peace to our city – and identify with the oppressed, and share the wealth, and empty ourselves and not claim privilege.
For me the thing that holds life together is Jesus – he gives me my marching orders, He invites me to look at the world through the prism of grace and hope, of forgiveness and love, of a power that seeks to share power, of a wealth that is generously given away, of a hospitality that welcomes everybody!
I stand with Jesus and seek to follow him. We either stand for something or we will fall for anything.
Rise up, my friends, rise up! Do not be afraid, true loves casts out fear…. True love casts out hate … Be strong and let your heart take courage!
Help Jesus build the church that will heal the world, where all God’s children have a place in the choir.
God bless you!