Sunday, October 1, 2017
Sunday, September 24, 2017:
All Saints Sunday Sermon- 11.6.16
"From the Mouths of Slaves"
From my earliest childhood memories, I felt God tugging on my heart, laying claim on my life. That claim slowly grew into a calling to preach the Gospel: to offer a word of hope from Jesus, my Lord, to a hurting world where too many of God’s children are still stalked by the great Beasts of poverty, fear, oppression and despair. Since my twenties, I’ve known I had no choice but to preach that gospel, tell that good news, speak truth to power, no matter the costs to me personally.
The word “pastor” means shepherd. For 26 years, within the considerable limits of my own deeply flawed being, I have tried to be your watchful, attentive shepherd: at hospital bedsides, in the hour of suffering and death, entering the mysterious waters of baptism with you, in joyful celebrations of covenant marriage, in sacred moments of parent/child dedication, kneeling to wash your feet, sharing the overwhelming sense of Jesus’ presence when I confer the sign of the cross on your foreheads, rejoicing with Dr. Manley and FBC when we sang “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and announced “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good!”, from Religious Liberty Sundays to Christmas Eve carols and communion when we all lifted our candles out on the church steps to proclaim God’s joy to the world, on chilly Easter sunrises as we gathered at the foot of an empty cross to announce in hushed whispers of delight and wonder: “Jesus is risen; He is risen indeed!” I have tried to be your caring shepherd, and I have always respected the separation of church and state, careful never to use this pulpit to foist any sectarian political agenda. Indeed, among the highest compliments I have received was when one of you said, “When it comes to politics, Mitch Simpson is an equal opportunity offender: Sooner or later, he offends both the Democrats and the Republicans!”
I will not waver from that Baptist distinctive of Church/State separation. The wall between the Church and the State is a good wall, in no way denying thatour faith must always inform our political decisions. Butthere is another kind of wall that is evil, the wall that sows fear and hatred among God’s children, the kind of wall that cost Jesus his life.
Now, today, on this All Saints’ Day when we remember the faithful, common people who shaped our lives in Jesus’ name, who spoke truth to power heedless of the rage the Gospel always unleashes from bullies and tyrants, today I have no choice as your pastor but to keep lifting up the name of Jesus. Not to do so would mean I owed a profound apology to all those soldiers of the cross who have made plain for me the bidding of Jesus my Lord, He who is the way, the truth, the light. Not to do so would mean I immediately sullied my calling to be found faithful to the Way of the Cross. Not to do so would mean I’d have no choice but to resign as your pastor right now, today, and never again claim the risen Savior is Lord of my life. And so, on this final Sunday before we select the next leader of the free world, I am compelled to name, in your presence, some of those dearest to me to whom my apologies would flow should I shirk my calling.
My mother, Ruth Hill Simpson, who 67 years ago yesterday risked her own life to give me mine. I can still hear my mother entreating me: “Dare to be a Daniel, son.” No, she wasn’t suggesting I change my name. She was urging to live the same brave faith that prompted prophet Daniel to dare defy the King, the courage that led him into and then safely out of a lion’s den. Mother knew not all devouring lions are of the four-legged variety. She taught me early and often to respect women, and by her example she made it easy for me to respect motherhood. I knew never to be rough with a girl, never to take advantage, always hearing her admonition during my high school years when I would head out for a date: “Mitchell, you just remember that young lady is someone’s daughter, and you treat her the way you’d want a man to treat your sisters!” She never said “Don’t call women pigs or fat, don’t sexually assault them!” She didn’t have to. I saw the way my father cherished her, and I have tried to copy him.
My father, Claude Simpson, a Baptist pastor who dared to cross entrenched racial lines in southern Alabama in the years prior to the 1954 Supreme Court decision desegregating schools, who dared, as a former smoker himself, to take on the powers of Big Tobacco in rural PiedmontNorth Carolina in 1956, even though some of the meanest power brokers in our congregation raised and sold tobacco.
Another person I would have to apologize to is Betty, my wife, my rock, who has given me strength to go on as a pastor in the rough times when I dared to take on bullies and wealthy power-brokers who wanted to disrupt the beloved community of faith for the sake of their own egos, often at the cost of her own well-being, when it would have been easier to say “That’s it, I didn’t bargain for this when I said ‘I do.’"
Our children, who have grown up hearing my warning that “the crowd is false,” and, “incompetence rules supreme,” and, “the United States is just as vulnerable to fear-driven hatred and holocaust as Germany was under national socialism.”
The ladies of the Chapel Hill Baptist Church sewing circle. The Civil War was raging, and the Confederate army was running out of materials to make bullets to shoot into people so that they didn’t have to set their slaves free. The Confederate leaders sent out a plea to churches across the south, almost all of which had a big bell in those days. They send word to churches, including this church saying, “Would you be so kind as to contribute your big beautiful brass bell for us to melt down into bullets?” And the men of the church did that. But they did so with the small, tiny, little flaw in judgment that they did not tell the women. And the women found out about it and created a sowing circle in the church. They began to create and sell sown items. Eventually they made enough money to buy that bell back, before it could be melted, before its call to worship the God of History could be silenced, before the freedoms of the Baptist Church could be muffled on this corner, they bought it back. Next time you hear that bell ring, you just know that if you wimp out now, if you’re bullied by people who try to intimidate you in this election, then you owe those ladies an apology.
Someone else to whom I would owe an apology: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Though I never met him personally, we’ve dedicated the room where he spoke in this church in 1960 to him. It’s now where Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, the English as a Second Language class, the Chinese Church, the Chin Congregation, all meet each week. We have a plaque in that room, bearing his name and the words Dr. King spoke the night he spoke to this congregation, “We must labor together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools.”
Someone else to whom I would have to apologize today: Every member of First Baptist Church, all of whom bore the insult of the billionaire bully’s taunt “What the hell do you have to lose?” What do they have to lose under his reign? Only their dignity and their hard-won right to vote and be respected as being created equal, with certain inalienable rights.
Every person whose sexual identity makes them vulnerable to hateful fear-mongers who have never understood that “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”
Every free and faithful Baptist ever run out of town or imprisoned by small-minded zealots who insisted the Word of God had to be squeezed through the knot-hole of their limited experience and compromised intelligence.
The entire Chinese congregation who are worshiping right now in the Community Room of this church.
The Church at North Carolina, who would not have been invited or welcomed by any two-bit tyrant to share worship space in our church facilities or any of his hotels.
The Chin members of our congregation, who would never have been allowed to enter this country in the first place, though they have shown more courage in their little finger than the wealthy business man presidential candidate has ever imagined.
All our citizens, including children, slaughtered by gun violence, whose precious memory is pilloried by a sociopath bragging how he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and his poll ratings would continue to rise.
All the disabled Americans who struggle for dignity and kind treatment every day, who watch with broken hearts as an evil man mocks everyone like them.
In a perfect world, this fire-breathing monster would be countered by a political opponent above reproach, a vastly popular candidate who could move gracefully and without demerit among her constituents, making it oh so easy to trust her and vote for her and oh so difficult to find any fault in her. Such, alas, is not our lot. But make no mistake, little flock, the choice before us is not between political parties but between fear and hope, anger and acceptance.
For any of you who have not yet voted in the presidential election, carry with you when you enter that booth Jesus’ loving entreaty: “Do not be afraid.”
On his way to the cross, Jesus was admonished by the military and religious bullies of his day to silence his followers, lest their cries of “Hosanna!” should rally support for him and defiance of Rome’s cruel, violent empire. Do you remember Jesus’ reply? “If these should remain silent, the very stones would cry out against you!”
For me to remain silent on the dangers this clearly deranged man poses to my beloved country and all God’s children, for whom Jesus died on a cross, would invite the very earth, ravaged today by arrogant big business bullies whocontinue to rape our land and poison our water, to cry out in protest.
All my ministry life I have insisted that Hitler could have been stopped in his tracks if, on any given Sunday, every pastor in Germany had stood against him and his evil bullies, publicly denouncing his insane rage and malignant inferiority complex. If I had failed to do that very thing today, I would never again deserve to be called “Pastor.” If this cry by an anguished shepherd to his flock leads instead to my dismissal from among you, I look forward to one day hearing Jesus say “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were found faithful.”
“For all the saints who named your will, and showed the kingdom coming still, through selfless protest, prayer and praise, accept the gratitude we raise.”
May all who come behind us find us faithful, and may the eternal God of history protect and defend the United States of America. Amen.
Sunday, September 24, 2017: "Privileged Suffering"