Claiming our Identity
Text: Luke 4: 17-19
and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I had an interesting conversation the other day. A delivery driver was delivering some materials for that little construction project I have going on down the hill. It went something like this:
Driver: Are you the builder here? Do you build a lot of houses?
Me: Yes, I’m the builder, but I’m not a commercial builder. I’m just a guy building his own house.
Driver: That’s cool. How did you find this lot?
Me: The church owned it and I was able to buy it. (Pointing to the church behind me)
Driver: I’m not sure I’d buy anything from a church.
Me: What do you mean?
Driver: Oh, I don’t know. Churches just give me the creeps. They seem like a weird group of people. I’m just not religious.
Me: I know what you mean, but not everyone is the same you know. I know a number of people in that church and they are really OK.
Driver: Didn’t mean any disrespect, just the way I am. I’m sure they’re good folks. Where do you want this stuff anyway?
I didn’t have the heart to tell this guy that I was the spiritual leader of this weird group of people…
I mention this conversation because it is all too common and it happened again this week. I don’t know if you picked up on this in the news or not, but the Supreme Court upheld a bakery’s right to not make a cake for a same gender wedding.
Now everyone can relax because I’m not going to take a stand or have an opinion one way or the other on this Supreme Court ruling. I can actually see both sides and I would think it a hard decision to know what the right call is in this particular circumstance.
What I really want to focus on today is how the story about this appeared in the Lewiston Tribune this week and what that means for us as we try to move forward with our revitalization efforts.
If you take a look at the headline in this story-I hope most of you can read this from the picture I took of the actual newspaper, but if you can’t, let me fill in some of the blanks. The headline actually reads: “High court rules for Christian Baker”. Just in case you are not completely familiar with what is going on here, let me begin by saying that Christian Baker is not the man’s name. It is how he is described in the media. The man’s name is Jack Phillips. It is his Christian belief that he would not want to support a gay wedding in any way, and he is a baker, so he is described in the article as a “Christian Baker”.
I’m not sure how I feel about his right to legally oppress someone else, but it is his business and he can believe what he wants, even if it is misguided in my opinion. I find this story similar to cafes and restaurants in the 1950’s and 1960’s that refused to serve African Americans. Eventually that kind of discrimination became illegal. But that’s not my topic for today.
What I want to call your attention to is that there isn’t any mention anywhere in this article that Christianity is divided on this issue. There isn’t any mention anywhere in this article that many churches support equal rights for the LGBTQA community and this particular man’s opinion does not reflect all of Christianity.
And yet the headline reads: “Christian baker” as if the fact that he represents one sect of Christianity clearly defines all of Christianity.
I’m not sure there is much that we can do about this, but awareness of the problem and learning how to combat the problem, I believe is a key ingredient to our future growth and sustainability.
As the conversation I had with the delivery driver reveals, there is a lot of suspicion, distrust and just bad information that is very common among the younger generations. I believe that a lot of those attitudes are formed by news stories like the one I am pointing out. If you knew nothing about this church or about Christianity, you would be led to believe that Christianity as an entire religion is anti-gay rights. You would believe that all of Christianity and all Christian churches would be willing to oppress another human being based on their sexual orientation. You would believe these things to be true because you have never been told otherwise.
Unless we assume ownership of who we are, what we believe to be true, and celebrate our attitudes of diversity and allowing people to think for themselves, we will continue to get lumped together in the minds of those who do not know us. I would not expect that delivery driver I was in conversation with to recognize the church I pointed to happened to be United Methodist. I would not expect that delivery driver to recognize that as United Methodists we have a history of social action, social justice and a commitment to “think and let think.” I would not expect that delivery driver to recognize that the “church” he had in his mind in no way was an accurate picture of this church. The delivery driver had only one opinion of church – and it wasn’t very positive.
It is my belief that much of the reason for these attitudes is how Christianity is portrayed in the media. Stories with headlines like this one are all too common. The nuttier the TV evangelist happens to be, the more media attention he or she seems to garner. I saw a story last week on NBC News about a TV Evangelist raising money for a newer and larger and faster private jet; the one he had just wasn’t good enough.
If we want to attract a new generation of people to this church, if we want to engage the minds and imaginations of LCSC students and young families and persons active in our community, then we must find a way to stem the tide of inaccurate and negative media coverage. We must find ways to tell our story; we must find ways to set ourselves apart from the myriad of churches who do fit neatly into the media stereotype.
I believe this is one of the key ingredients to our revitalization efforts. We are not your typical church. We do not offer a typical church experience. When you come to church here, you will be challenged, you will be asked to think about your faith, and you will be pushed to reconcile your belief system with a global vision. This is who we are and we need to be proud and loud about this identity.
There is a tsunami of misinformation that we must fight against every day. If we fail to get the word out to others, we will fail to achieve any growth. If we fail to take ownership of our identity, we will have no clear identity that stands apart from the masses. If we hesitate to take up the banner that not all Christians think alike then our window of opportunity will close.
My conversation with the delivery driver and this headline are just two examples of the misconceptions that are out there and reinforced every day. I believe our best chance for long-term sustainable growth is to clearly define who we are as often as we can. We need to talk to people. We need to show up at events. We need to write letters to the editor. We need to become activists for the Christ we follow.
The ministry of Jesus is summed up in the text I read at the beginning of this sermon. This is what Jesus was called to do and it is what we are called to do. To bring good news to the poor and to let the oppressed go free; to offer release for those held in their own captivity and to offer enlightenment to those who are blind. This is our mission, this is our calling.
Hopefully, this is food for thought, but also a call to action. Answer the call. We need your help.
Go in peace. Amen.