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Sermon Madness 2022, Vol I: The Gospel and Social Justice

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  • Prefatory about Eternal Life for Jewish Folks moving to a study of some type, so we're working through this
  • There's not a whole lot better as a parent than being able to see birthday celebrations through your child's eyes
    • They're still young enough that growing older is acceleration and not inertia, so there's exhilaration
    • They also get a day to be right in the middle of the action - this isn't a children's world, so when it's their birthday, they see a world where it is catered to them. Such as it was last week with Frankie. A celebration at the restaurant, and her choice of the day.
  • This was an unexpected connection in the movie that Frankie decided that we'd watch for her birthday - Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
    • The story of a small shell with, you guessed it, shoes on.
    • Written as a documentary, we are with Marcel as he manages his life after his family had disappeared awhile ago, whose home has now been turned into an AirB&B after the separation of its owners.
    • The current tenant, a documentarian, begins to post online Marcel's requests for help to find the owners so that perhaps he can find his family again.
    • Over time, these videos go viral, and people respond... through selfies and stalking:
      • Trey Flynn, from Collider: "After a single night on the internet, Marcel is convinced of its connective power and believes there are so many like him out there... Marcel quickly becomes a YouTube sensation and decides to use the internet’s power to find his lost family... Unfortunately for Marcel, he has a rough awakening to the manipulation of the internet's power and the illusion of its connective allure. Thousands of fans turn into exploiters of Marcel, even using him for clout... Marcel understands what he seeks is authentic connection, a genuine community, but the internet isn’t that, 'it's an audience, not a community.'"
    • "It's an audience, not a community" was a like a hammer in my heart amid a deeply touching, brilliant, and timely movie.
      • In a world of transaction, we can treat everyone and everything as a consumable in which the ultimate end is well worn and body contoured easy chair where we can flip cultural channels, landing on what we want, and rating the rest through a simple press of a series of stars in our hearts.
      • "It's an audience, not a community" might make us wonder what we're missing, should we have the visibility for it. But, again, it's easy to put ourselves behind cameras that allow us to edit and delete what doesn't suit us, post personas, and prefigure our outrage to another audience. We're constantly on display or observing.
      • Meanwhile, needs of folks like Marcel become much like Stevie Smith’s poem “Not Waving But Drowning”: “Nobody heard him, the dead man, But still he lay moaning: I was much further out than you thought And not waving but drowning.”
  • The crux of the gospel is the Trinity's decision to get out of the easy chair into community.
    • I suppose God could have made the decision to stay in the heavens and watch us make our way through as best we could. Certainly would have been simpler.
    • But God chooses otherwise, as Paul writes in Philippians 2: "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 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."
    • We are all products of that decision to be in community with, and not just observation.
  • Justice is the movement from being in the audience to be in community. It is the realization of Marcel's hope.
    • Let's start with a more benign example here - going back to Frankie's birthday
      • I could have just done little bit observed that day. I could have watched her be who she is with what she can do.
      • But what would have happened had I done that? She wouldn't have lived a fuller, richer birthday. I would have been worse off for it, too.
      • So, instead, I was with her in community. We as a family heard what she wanted and we used whatever gifts we were given to make that happen.
      • She flourished on her birthday because of the decisions we made to be in community and not in the audience.
    • Whether OT or NT, the concepts surrounding justice always have a movement to be with, and a need to work towards:
      • Isa 1
        • Has a similar tone to Amos 5 - I'm over your performative "worship," instead I want you to learn to do good and seek justice - pursue it, get out of your seat and go find it.
        • What's different about Isa 1 though is a strong legal undertone in the language - admonish on behalf of, argue, advocate for the oppressed, orphan and widow. This isn't just yelling at a screen, but an intimate building a case with.
      • Luke
        • This is a familiar text to us of course. We sing it as children.
        • But watch again how this plays out of audience and community:
          • Zac is in a position in the text to feel comfortable in his easy chair - a chief tax collector and well off
          • He found himself a position in the audience for Jesus
          • Jesus, for his part, could have just had him stay there, but instead, brings himself into community with him
            • I MUST stay at your house today
            • If we don't get caught in the implications of hospitality, we hear something deeper happening - I am obligated to be in community with you. I have no other choice to inhabit a part of your world, in spite of the grumblings of my audience - "Woke Jesus goes to house of tax collector sinner" no matter.
            • And Jesus choice to be in community with leads Zac to a new kind of flourishing (personal and cultural change) - because Jesus was seeking the ones who felt lost. It's no longer and audience, but a community.
  • What changes for us if we see justice as a move into community away from the easy chair?
    • It makes us think a little more about what "woke" means.
      • It's become a derogatory statement against social justice (or whatever someone doesn't really like)
      • But what's the opposite of woke? Asleep? Stupored? Sitting in the audience safe and comfortable with a screen in front of us when the vibrancy of life is just out there if we're willing to touch the grass?
      • We can certainly have disagreements about what to do when we're in community, but it would seem each time we shield ourselves with "wokeness," we're just positioning ourselves deeper in our comfort whilst there are people desperate to find their families.
    • It makes us think more about the life in the church.
      • You've heard me critique in the past churches that are based on entertainment, and I still feel that way.
      • But, I also had a moment in my time off where I asked myself "why do I want to go back?"
        • I had enjoyed time at Chautauqua, family, and friends.
        • As much as I think I'm a serviceable preacher, I got to hear some better ones.
        • We are not replete with a bunch of professionals on payroll on Sunday - we're are volunteer led primarily. And so that means its imperfect, even in its goodness.
        • It means, though, that we are not a church that can survive on being a bunch of passive participants who lounge.
        • We must be more than a TED talk and Spotify playlist, which means the reasons to go back and to stay is a rich community that will welcome Zac, advocate for those on the margins, use our tools to find lost families, and celebrate with and not through. We must constantly and consistently get out of the audience.
        • Here's what I think the gift is, though: if we choose to be an audience church, we must be the best to command the attention, accolades, and likes. To be a community simply requires us to be authentically ourselves with whomever happens to be looking for a sycamore tree to climb upon.
    • That all costs us something. Anyone who has worked over a chair for enough years knows it a small grief every time you depart it to go on and do something else. But I'd rather pay for dinner and a movie to watch my daughter's face come alive. I'd rather spend the money for an ASL interpreter to ensure someone can be more deeply a part of community. I'd rather go lengths to the point of wokeness to have people participate in the gospel story because at least there would be no doubt as to whether I was truly alive. The cost is so minute in comparison.
  • The impact of this move of justice in your hearts is not one I can prescribe. It is too personal, too individualized.
    • If you have felt guilt about this, it’s worth a meaningful examination. Has it been baseless personal attacks, or is it the same guilt that plagues us when we know we should stop being a couch potato and do something? The latter brings us life.
    • If you’re out of your seat, the question might still be if it’s still performative – taking selfies outside Marcel’s house. The only way to answer that question is if you have advocated for the needs of the oppressed.
    • I’d encourage you to reflect on these things now, both because the world needs this desperately, but I believe this is exactly what makes the difference between building a new building and bringing new ministry to those who need it the most.

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