Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | February 14, 2016

2016.02.14 “Roll Down, Justice: A Lenten Biblical Reflection – Session 1: Child of God

Central United Methodist Church
Roll Down, Justice: A Lenten Biblical Reflection
Session 1: Child of God
Pastor David L. Haley
Romans 8: 31 – 39
February 14th, 2016

MightyFlowingStream copy

Note: This sermon series is adapted from the study, “Roll Down, Justice: A Lenten Biblical Reflection,” developed by the General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church, written by Faye Wilson and featuring the music and reflections of life-long Methodist and musician Mark A. Miller. http://gcorr.org/resources/roll-down-justice While I drew upon the suggestions of the study guide for each session, my reflections are my own. Before reading my reflection, please watch the video of Mark Miller’s reflection and music. – Pastor Haley

Session 1: Child of God
And there is no thing or no one who
They can’t separate you from the truth
That you’re someone, you are family
You are meant to be a child of God
– Mark A. Miller

“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8: 31 – 39, the New Revised Standard Version

 

Session 1: Child of God (video)

With his musical reflection, “Child of God,” Mark Miller has given us an answer to one of life’s most basic and difficult questions: “Who am I?” “I am a child of God.” By expressing this in music, he helps us not only understand with our heads, but feel in our hearts this absolute truth: “No matter what people say, no matter what the world says, no matter what the Church says, I am a child of God.”

In life, there are two primary narratives that shape us, and provide us with an answer to this most essential of questions, “Who am I?”

The first narrative, the most common, arises external to us, and begins before we are even born. “Who am I?” Am I loved or hated? Am I spoken to in an angry voice, or a loving voice? Am I held gently, roughly, or not at all? Sadly, we know what happens to children who not touched or cared for; they can literally die of emotional neglect.

As we grow, our acceptance or rejection is stamped into our souls. We are told by many voices – including those voices that count beyond measure, our parents – that we are stupid or smart, beautiful or ugly, graceful or clumsy, loved or hated. If you were to close your eyes right now, what can you hear your parents telling you? Even though your parents may be dead and gone, their voices still speaking in us, telling us, we are accepted or rejected, loved or hated, wonderful or worthless. Blessed are those parents who loved us, the greatest gift parents can give to their children.

Not only did their voices tell us who we were, they told us – by their approval or disapproval – how to think about other people. The late Shel Silverstein, the author and cartoonist, once published a cartoon that showed a happy toddler playing on the floor with his alphabet blocks. On his face was a huge smile; at that point in his life, with the innocence of a child, he loved everyone, and everyone loved him. Then enters his father, who opens up the top of his head, as if it were on a hinge. His father proceeds to fill the toddler’s head with every derogatory and hateful swear word to describe other ethnicities, races, cultures, and religions. As this happens, the happy child turns into a hateful, bigoted and racist person. Gone is the smile, replaced by a look that could kill. Silverstein’s cartoon is too close to the truth; sadly, once learned, it is a script that continues to play out in religious and public life, as we see time and again. That script, which some of learned – and some of us had to unlearn – may be playing in some of our heads right now.

As we enter late childhood and adolescence, the voices of our peers take precedence, either reinforcing or calling into question what we have learned about who we are from our parents. Are we one of the “in” crowd or the “out” crowd? Are we a jock, a nerd, or a nobody? Are we gifted or athletic or popular? Are we chosen first or last for the raised hand in class, the school play, the winning or the losing team?

About this time, society also begins to weigh in. Depending upon whether you are native-born or an immigrant, whether you speak English well, with an accent or not at all, whether your name is “normal” or difficult to pronounce, depending upon what color your skin is, you begin receiving messages about “who you are” in society: either privileged or suspect, whether you have an easy path or a difficult climb, whether others see you as destined for college or prison. The sad thing is, these judgments might be made by teachers, by police officers, by financial and employment officials, even by the Church, not on the basis of who you are, but what you look like and how you are dressed and the color of your skin. It doesn’t always happen, but it happens more often than we think, especially those of us who are blinded to it by our white privilege. Blessed are those – on the contrary – who give blessing and encouragement to those that others so quickly write off.

By the time we reach late adolescence – our late teens and early twenties – we have already been given many answers about who we are. At that time of our lives, that question becomes THE question that needs to be answered, not from what others have told us, but what comes up out of our own heart: “Who am I?” Sadly, as we who were once young adults but now parents know, sometimes that means rejecting the answers the people who love you most have given you, including your parents. It can be a painful time for everyone. Some of us – on the other hand – are still searching for WHO we want to be when we grow up.

But listen to me! All those voices telling who you are, whether you are shameful or wonderful; they are only one narrative. Because another of the most important narratives telling us who we are is the one that arises up out of us, out of our faith in God, out of our sacred Scriptures, and this is the narrative about which Mark Miller sings. This voice says that no matter who you are; you are a Child of God. And that is the deepest, truest thing about us.

Mark could have gone several places in the Bible for his reflection. He could have gone back to the Creation story in Genesis, where God created human beings in God’s own image, breathing into us the breath of life. Despite the story of the fall, that image of God in every human being was never defaced, never erased. It is still there, in every human being.

He could have also gone to the story of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. As the late Henri Nouwen said in his book, Life Of The Beloved, the words spoken by God over Jesus at his baptism, “You are my child, chosen and marked by my love, the delight of my life,” are also the most important words spoken about us, and reflect the most intimate truth about us. To hear God’s voice speaking these words about us in the deepest core of our being, as the deepest truth about us, can counter the most corrosive and hateful comments anyone can make about us, any names anyone can call us.

Where Mark went for his reflection was to the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans. If ever there was a diverse church, the Church at Rome had to be one: Jew and Greek, slave and free, rich and poor, people from all over the Roman empire. Reflecting not only upon the things that had happened to him, but all the things that can happen to us in life, Paul affirmed: “I am convinced that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

No wonder Mark Miller found that something to sing about: No matter what people say, no matter what the world says, no matter what the Church says, you are a child of God. Given all those other competing voices telling us who we are, telling us that we are shamed or blessed, this can be hard to believe, even harder to feel, and hardest of all to live: to see and treat others as the same beloved children of God we believe ourselves to be. This includes people who don’t look like us, people who don’t think like us, people in homeless shelters and mental institutions, and nursing homes and jails; it even includes our enemies. When together we reach the spiritual maturity to do this, to look beyond that which is superficial to see each person as a child of God, we become the Beloved Community God desires us to be.

Someday when our time comes to leave this wonderful life, and we lie on our deathbed, and we think about all the people we have been in our lives and all the roles we have played and all the things we have done – good and bad – and hear all those voices speaking again, may the Voice we hear above all, be the One Voice that matters most:

“No matter what people say,
no matter what the world says,
no matter what the Church says,
I am – you are – we are – a child of God.” Amen

 

 

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