A Poor Single Mom in Haiti

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Reading from the Gospel         Matthew 16:13-20

When Jesus arrived in the villages of Caesarea Philippi,

he asked his disciples, “What are people saying about

who the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some think he is John the Baptizer,

some say Elijah, some Jeremiah

or one of the other prophets.”

He pressed them, “And how about you? Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter said, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah,

the Son of the living God.”

Jesus came back, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah!

You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers.

My Father in heaven, God himself,

let you in on this secret of who I really am.

And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are.

You are Peter, a rock.

This is the rock on which I will put together my church,

a church so expansive with energy

that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.

“And that’s not all. You will have complete and free access

to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door:

no more barriers between heaven and earth,

earth and heaven.

A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.”

He swore the disciples to secrecy.

He made them promise they would tell no one

that he was the Messiah.

 

Sermon            A Poor Single Mom in Haiti

 Barbara Brown Taylor shares a story about a woman

who walked out of her church

after a particularly rousing Sunday service

and bumped into a thin, sort of lost-looking man

who was standing on the sidewalk looking up

at the cross on the top of the church steeple.

She excused herself and started to walk away,

but the man called back, “Tell me,” he said,

pointing through the front doors of the church

she had just exited,

“what is it that you believe in there?”

She started to answer him and realized

she did not know the answer,

or did not know how to put it in words,

and as she stood there trying to compose something

the man said, “Never mind,

I’m sorry if I bothered you” and walked away.

(Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew)

 

How would you answer that question?

Seriously . . . if one of your neighbors . . .

or a co-worker . . . or a stranger . . .

or even your atheist nephew . . .

asked you what you believe in here . . .

here inside this building we call a church . . .

what would you say to them?

Do you have what some people call an elevator speech

all ready to say off the top of your head . . .

a short explanation of your beliefs

that you’re ready to tell anyone . . .

or would you instead be like me . . .

and have a brain lapse . . . a loss of words . . .

and finally start sputtering something like . . .

“well . . . it’s a church

and I believe in Jesus Christ in there . . .

surely you’ve heard of Jesus . . .

his dad created the universe . . . and Jesus is . . .

well you now . . . the Son of God . . .

my Savior and Redeemer . . . and friend and healer . . .

and he’s the King of kings and Lord of lords . . .

the Word made flesh . . . the Prince of Peace . . .

the Lamb of God . . . Emmanuel . . .

the Good Shepherd . . . the Way, the truth, the life.”

 

And you know what . . . I suspect

whoever I was talking to would say something

like that other fella said . . .

“Never mind, I’m sorry if I bothered you” . . .

as he or she walked away.

 

One day Jesus asked his disciples

a very simple and direct question . . .

“Who do you say I am?”

It wasn’t a trick question. He was sincere.

He wanted to hear from them . . .

out of their own mouths . . .

who they thought he was.

They were on a journey of discipleship . . .

they had watched him heal the sick and the lame . .

. feed thousands of people . . .

and teach in ways that just astounded them . . .

each word creating a hunger inside of them

for more and more.

But . . . did they really know who Jesus was?

So I wonder . . . here in this place . . .

where you have gathered this Sunday morning

to worship Jesus Christ . . .

who do you say he is?

After all . . . you’re all on a journey of discipleship

with Jesus . . . so who is he?

How would you answer his question?

 

Now before you do . . . think about this for a moment . .

. there are so many Jesus Christ’s in the world.

There’s the Jesus who’s been kidnapped

by American greed and power with the approval

of many good Christians.

After all . . .  Jesus provides the way for every blessing

you can possibly imagine . . .

all the wealth and happiness for you and your family

in every conceivable way . . .

there is joy and prosperity for you just around the corner

if you will commit your life to Jesus Christ . . .

and if you’re poor . . . just pray a little harder . . .

because a weak faith will never make you rich

and prosperous.

A weak faith will never heal your heart . . .

or bring you love . . . or cure all your illnesses.

And remember . . . Jesus has anointed the President

of the United States to make this country great again . .

. and if you’re not behind him 100 percent . . .

you don’t believe in Jesus Christ.

 

This is the Jesus of the Empire.

And he can make your life so comfortable . . .

everything is so simple . . . black and white.

 

There’s also the Jesus who demands justice . . .

swift and immediate justice . . .

the eye for an eye Jesus who give us permission

to fill up our prisons to overflowing . . .

the Jesus who says it’s okay to strap someone down

and inject a lethal dosage of drugs into their body .

. . the Jesus who condones systemic racism

because we’re so superior than anyone else.

 

There’s the Jesus who is as American as apple pie . . .

the Jesus who has blessed this land . . .

as the new promised land . . .

and tells us that might makes right . . .

because Jesus speaks English

and is as white as snow . . .

if you don’t look like me . . . don’t talk like me . . .

and don’t have the proper ID . . .

you’d better get on back to where you came from.

 

And . . . unfortunately . . . the institutional church

has even done its part in promoting

all of these various Jesus’ images . . .

through worship, through our giving and serving . . .

actually everything.

Sometimes the church does very little

to direct us out of our comfort zones

onto the way of Christ.

 

You see . . . there are all kinds of different Jesus’s . . .

all kinds of ways we’ve been able to mold him . . .

to manipulate him . . .

to misinterpret his words to fit what we want him to be .

. . so that we can continue to justify

how we live our lives . . .

to give us excuses for judging others . . .

for ignoring others . . .

for doing stuff we sure as hell know

we shouldn’t be doing.

So no wonder you might be confused

about who Jesus is.

How can you possibly answer his question . . .

who do you say I am . . .

when there are so many competing conceptions of him.

 

The same thing was true when Jesus took his disciples

to Caesarea Philippi.

There . . . in that ancient city north of the Sea of Galilee

. . . is one of the hearts of ancient Emperor worship

. . . pagan gods carved into the cliffs . . .

where the people worshiped the Roman gods . . .

the gods of greed and power.

And there . . . in that bleak place . . .

is precisely where Jesus chose to ask his disciples

that simple question . . . Who do you say I am?

 

Why do you suppose he did that?

Why do you suppose he chose that spot?

 

There is no doubt in my mind that he chose

that particular spot . . . because his life . . .

everything he taught . . . his very existence in this world

. . . was destined to collide with the powers of greed

and hate as depicted in that place. . .

it was Jesus versus the Empire.

And though the Empire would later hang him

from a cross . . . the resurrection of Jesus Christ

sealed the fate of those

who would oppose him . . .

both then and now.

 

Who do you say I am?

There’s an old phrase that’s often used

to describe Jesus Christ and why he came

into this world . . .

“To Comfort the Afflicted…

To Afflict the Comfortable.”

I think those words have a lot to do with

who we say Jesus is . . .

and what we choose to believe about him.

 

I have a new litmus test when it comes to

understanding who Jesus is in my life . . .

it’s quite simple . . . but it’s oh so powerful.

And believe me . . . the words I’m going to share

with you have a lot to do with

comforting the afflicted . . .

and afflicting the comfortable.

A couple of years ago Jen Hatmaker

wrote a book entitled For the Love

in which she writes about her faith

and how she, in her own words . . .

“filtered the kingdom through my upper middle class,

white, advantaged, denominational lens,

and by golly,

I found a way to make most of it fit!”

But then she was challenged by this thought . . .

if you really want to understand the Gospel

and what Jesus is really teaching us . . .

if you really want to know who Jesus is . . .

you have to use this biblical benchmark . . .

“If it isn’t also true

for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti . . .

it isn’t true.”

She goes on to explain. . .

“If a sermon promises health and wealth to the faithful,

it isn’t true, because that theology

makes God an absolute monster

who only blesses rich westerners

and despises Christians in Africa, India, China,

South America, Russia, rural Appalachia,

inner city America, and everywhere else

a sincere believer remains poor.

If it isn’t true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti,

it isn’t true.

“If doctrine elevates a woman’s married-with-children

status as her highest calling,

it isn’t true, because that omits single believers

(whose status Paul considered preferable),

widows, the childless by choice or fate or loss,

the divorced, and the celibate gay.

If these folks are second–class citizens

in the kingdom because they aren’t married

with children,

then God just excluded millions of people

from gospel work,

and I guess they should just eat rocks and die.

If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom

in Haiti . . .  then it isn’t true.

“Theology,” she writes, “is either true everywhere

or it isn’t true anywhere.

This helps untangle us

from the American God Narrative and sets God free

to be God instead of the My-God-in-a-Pocket

I carried for so long.

It lends restraint when declaring what God does

or does not think,

because sometimes my portrayal of God’s ways

sounds suspiciously like the American dream

and I had better check myself.

 

Because of the Haitian single mom . . .

maybe I should speak less for God.”

 

Those are prophetic words for all of us . . .

each and every day of our lives . . .

when we wonder about who Jesus Christ is.

We can try and fit Jesus Christ into a box

of our own design . . . and I’ve often done that.

But that’s not how Christ shares his love and grace

with the world.

We worship a God who knows no political boundaries . .

. who belongs to no particular nation . . .

a God who particularly cares for the poor . . .

the homeless . . . the lost and the forgotten . . .

the mentally ill . . . the immigrant and the refugee . .

. the abused . . . the dying . . .

and anyone in this world who is left outside the circle . .

. because God encircles everyone . . . including

a poor single mom in Haiti.

 

Who do you say I am?

You’re that God who loves me

as much as that poor single mom in Haiti.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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