A sermon delivered by Pastor Anthony W. Wilcots[i] at the Bible Days Church in Houston, Texas, July 12, 2020
Our country is enduring a paradigm shift! 43 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits. As of yesterday, there were 62,653 new cases of the coronavirus, while more than 100,000 Americans have died of this growing global pandemic. To slow the virus, “social distancing” has become the order of the day. Much of our religious activities have been held on social media or what we call “online.” Virtual worship has become the “new normal”.
The question comes how do we do twenty-first century ministry in the new normal? How do we change? My honest answer is I am not sure, and I do not think anyone has the whole cookie of an answer. So, let me offer a small crumb of a contribution to what I think is a relevant inquiry.
A Fresh Approach
This new normal speaks to a new beginning, a fresh approach. The apostle Luke gives us a portrait of such a transformation. Our text says that Jesus has returned to his hometown. He had spent almost thirty years in Nazareth and the people knew Him. Jesus has gone back to the place where he was reared. Home is a comfortable place. It’s where we learned our first lessons, how to behave, how to treat others and the like.
You know when you return home, everyone wants you to be the same, no matter your trauma or triumph, no matter how you have matured or succeeded. If you were Pookie when you left, it does not matter that you are a published professor, you are Pookie when you return. If you were Gigi when you left, it does not matter that you are married with grown children and the CEO of your own successful business, you are Gigi when you return. Home wants to tie you to the place where you were when you left.
This is how I picture the church. It is a familiar space. It is a foundational place. It is home, the residence of the rudiments. It is where we learn about salvation, redemption, evangelism, discipleship, stewardship, spiritual disciplines, and many other religious tenants. But while the church is comfortable, it cannot remain the same. The church must follow the transformation of Jesus.
No Longer the Status Quo
Jesus read the passage that clearly indicates a change has been made. This new direction is such a sharp departure from the norms of His surroundings that His hometown marvels at His reading. The hometown hears a difference, but they cannot seem to accept this novel direction from a carpenter’s son. However, Jesus, Mary’s child, is no longer bound by the narrow methods of yesterday. He is not content with the hometown approach.
This was such a departure from the status quo. The change was so radical, so stark that He was almost unrecognizable. It was so different that someone inquired, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” He has changed! Maybe I need to say it the way one preacher framed it, “Yes, this is Joseph’s son, but Jesus don’t make cabinets no more!” Jesus was not content with the hometown approach. Likewise, the change of the church ought to be so transformational that the church is almost unrecognizable! The church ought to be so altered that someone would say with a twisted face “Is that the church?”
The old methods are what we are comfortable with. The status quo wants things to remain the same. This current President, Donald Trump, wants to keep things as they were. We hear this in his mantra, “Make America Great Again.” While the Confederacy, its flag and statues are symbols of oppression, slavery, and hatred; they are touted by this administration as the esteemed values and the rich heritage of America. It has been projected that in 2045, for the first time on these northern shores, white America will be the minority in this country. This is a desperate attempt by the status quo to cling to power and status.
Royal and Prophetic Consciousness
The ethicist, Walter Brueggemann, speaks to this preservation of the power structure in his celebrated book Prophetic Imagination. He draws tension between two quite different points of view. One is called royal consciousness which represents the entrenchment of the status quo by political, economic, social, and even religious forces (pp. 21-37). This vision is so pervasive, so widespread that the ruling class wants us to believe that it is the only path thinkable!
The second point of view is called prophetic consciousness which represents the liberation of the marginalized masses. It is the prophet’s assignment to combat the royal consciousness and show that God can and will bring about a different future, an alternative future from that envisioned by the ruling elite (p. 37).
Jesus makes clear that the core of His ministry will be service to people who are distressed: the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the oppressed. He boldly exposes the injuries that are being inflicted upon people as well as the injustices that are taking place. This is a focus on systemic and structural justice. Jesus is opposing laws, policies, and structures in the church (after all this was read in the synagogue) and society that oppress and impoverish humanity.
Because of our imposing and protracted context, it is so important that black and brown pastors “do theology.” In the commentary stage of my sermon preparation, I noticed that just about all the authors went out of their way to stress that this text is spiritual and not political. I mean, repeatedly, the authors said this passage is strictly a personal focus. I was taken by the number of authors’ commentaries that took this position. In other words, this text does not have a corporate responsibility or a social application. Somehow the commentaries are clear about personal iniquities but missed the corporate understanding of sin!
This is white privilege in academia. Western theology is understood as normative in its “individualistic” approach while theologies—with a social responsibility—are somehow considered less than. But the passage is clear, Jesus has come for the liberation of a destressed people. This means advocating against the systems and institutions that facilitate oppression. Jesus will not acquiesce in the face of evil. In Him there is no failure!
Jesus said he “came to heal the broken-hearted.” Did not our hearts break as we recently watched the murders of innocent unarmed black men, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks by white police officers before our very eyes. It was like a reality television show that actually involved death.
The new normal must find the church outside of its walls engaged in the service of the distressed. God does all things well! One does not need an academic degree or some certification, nor special gifts to participate in the service of the distressed. I encourage you to meet the needs of those around you. Such actions of liberation bring attention to our cause, to our church and to our Christ!
Luke leads us to believe that Jesus’ reading from the book of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah was so dramatic and so powerful that “all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on Him.” Jesus was bold! I believe that the church needs to find her audacity! We are the head and not the tail.
Audacity is a willingness to take bold risk, the ability to be daring. There was a time when this country was daring and audacious. We sent a man to the moon and launched robotic explorations to Mars and species beyond the bounds of our own solar system. Now exorbitant sums of money are given for tax breaks for the rich.
In the new normal the church is the audacious leader of society and not simply the guardian of morality. Because daring believers make up this audacious church, we can lead in the arts, we can lead in literature, we can lead in academics, we can lead in fashion, we can lead in business, we can lead in science. On this train we ought to be, we should be, we will be the engine of society and not the caboose. Yes, there will be some problems, yes, we will make some mistakes, yes there will be some sacrifices, but none of this should eclipse the bold and daring leadership of the church.
We are audacious because the Spirit is upon us! Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”. We ought to act like the Spirit of God means something. Everything changes when the Spirit comes. The Spirit is the means of transition! The Spirit is the means of transition! The Spirit is the means of transition! The Spirit is the means of transition!
Empowered by the Holy Spirit
We first saw the Spirit hover over the earth that was without form and void to change things. Then we saw the Spirit on the Judges like Deborah and Samson to empower the smaller over the larger. Then we saw the Spirit on the Kings like Saul and David to make mighty decision. Then we saw the Spirit on the Prophets who spoke to Kings and wayward people about changing their ways. Then we saw it on Jesus to teach the principles of the Kingdom, to do mighty miracles and to win our redemption. Then we saw the Spirit fall on the Day of Pentecost that we might be an outspoken witness for Christ. That same Spirit, not a different one, but that same Spirit now rest upon us!
The Spirit empowers us to be bold, to be daring, to be audacious! The people who raised me did not have degrees from the Ivy league, but they understood the importance and power of the Spirit. They used to sing:
“Send it on down Lord,
Send it on down!
Lord let your Holy Ghost come on down.
Cause we can’t do nothing till your Spirit comes;
Lord, let your Holy Ghost come on down.”
The new normal requires that the church make a dramatic change. The new normal demands that we serve the destressed in a radical way, and the new normal dictates that the church become audacious in her leadership.
1. Brueggemann, W., The Prophetic Imagination. 40th Anniversary Edition ed. 2018, Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 157.