Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Road Trippin' With River, Day 3: Something To Smile About.

Day 3 of my road trip with River began with coffee (you already knew that) and a slow sleepy drive to Auburn Ave and the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. The house is quaint, even idyllic despite its somewhat urban setting. It is every bit as humble as I'd expected and secretly hoped.

It was a lot to take in. I guess the childhood home of a hero places them more on a common plane with us. But I did not feel closer to him. At least not there, not until the graveside. I had tears in my eyes before I even got to the granite monolith. 

River explored the tidal pool and the eternal flame while I thought about the man. He had the ear of the nation and he did not back down from the responsibility. Nor was he any less bold. He proclaimed the gospel and was brave enough, believed it enough to actually live it. 

We walked the 500 feet from the grave to Ebenezer Baptist, the church where MLK co-pastored with his dad and where his mother was shot and killed as she played the organ. 

River sat and I paced in the sanctuary of the church as we listened to one of the most powerful sermons MLK ever gave. I touched the podium he preached from, rested my hands where he must have rested his. It was very special to me, to be there, with River, listening to one of my heroes call the church to action, call me and River to action from the book of Isaiah. Here are the high-points of the sermon. You can read it in its entirety here.

"This morning I would like to submit to you that we who are followers of Jesus Christ, and we who must keep his church going and keep it alive, also have certain basic guidelines to follow. Somewhere behind the dim mist of eternity, God set forth his guidelines. And through his prophets, and above all through his son Jesus Christ, he said that, "There are some things that my church must do. There are some guidelines that my church must follow." The guidelines are clearly set forth for us in some words uttered by our Lord and Master as he went in the temple one day, and he went back to Isaiah and quoted from him. And he said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." 

"[T]he church is not a social club, although some people think it is. They get caught up in their exclusivism, and they feel that it’s a kind of social club with a thin veneer of religiosity, but the church is not a social club. The church is not an entertainment center, although some people think it is. You can tell in many churches how they act in church, which demonstrates that they think it’s an entertainment center. The church is not an entertainment center. Monkeys are to entertain, not preachers."

"Now I wish time permitted me to go into every aspect of this text, but I want to just mention a few. Let us first think of the fact that if the church is following its guidelines, it seeks to heal the broken-hearted. Now there is probably no human condition more tantalizing than a broken heart. You see, broken-heartedness is not a physical condition; it’s a condition of spiritual exhaustion. And who here this morning has not experienced a broken heart? I would say broken-heartedness comes basically from the trying experience of disappointment. And I don't believe there are many people here this morning under the sound of my voice who have not been disappointed about something." 

MLK at home with Coretta. I love this shot.

"[W]hen the church is true to its guidelines, it sets out to preach deliverance to them that are captive. This is the role of the church: to free people. This merely means to free those who are slaves. Now if you notice some churches, they never read this part. Some churches aren't concerned about freeing anybody."

"The word of God is upon me like fire shut up in my bones, and when God’s word gets upon me, I've got to say it, I’ve got to tell it all over everywhere. [shouting] And God has called me to deliver those that are in captivity!" 

"It seems that I can hear the God of the universe smiling and speaking to this church, saying, "You are a great church because I was hungry and ye fed me. You are a great church because I was naked and ye clothed me. You are a great church because I was sick and ye visited me. You are a great church because I was in prison and ye gave me consolation by visiting me." And this is the church that’s going to save this world. "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to heal the broken-hearted, to set at liberty them that are captive, and to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.""

Wow. Such passion, such power, such authority. Visiting MLK's humble little church, hearing that sermon about Christian responsibility for the poor, the broken, the enslaved it was gasoline on my faith's fire. And yet I stood there thinking about Atlanta's other churches, the megalithic modern ones in the Metro area. And I don't think the God of the universe is smiling. Not one bit.

I thought about quotes I'd heard from two of the largest mega-church leaders in Atlanta who are both purveyors of the prosperity gospel. I'll leave them anonymous because I am not attacking them, not exactly. It is enough to know that their influence is that large and their gospel that gilded and vacuous.

One is a pastor of a 
30,000 strong church who claims the money he spends is his own, but admits the church did give him a Rolls Royce, which he mainly uses for special occasions. He says. “Without a doubt, my life is not average. But I’d like to say, just because it is excessive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.”

The 200 thousand dollar mega church pastor's Rolls Royce. Not exactly the donkey that Christ rode into Jerusalem on. 
"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy." (Ezekiel 16:49-50) He also said: “My lifestyle does not come out of the church’s bank account." 

No sir, it comes out of the mouths of the starving. Geez.

According to another leader, a "bishop" at another 25,000 member church, "Jesus wasn't broke, and leaders of churches shouldn’t be either." The "bishop", heeding his own advice with religious fervor has earned millions in salary from his ministry. He owns a million dollar home on a 20-acre lot, and also has use of a $350,000 Bentley.

18,000 sqft House of a pastor. 
Mr. Bishop. Your theology is skewed by your lust for things of this earth. Jesus said in the gospel of Matthew, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." He did not even have the money to pay taxes, being a carpenter in a city under foreign occupation, he told Peter to "go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

Was it not Jesus who said it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven? Who said "But woe to you who are rich, 
for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry."

It is long since past time to divest ourselves from the things of this temporary life. To re-invest our passion, our abilities, our time, love and yes our money, into this world we are called to serve, for the world to come.

And if we did, I mean really did, hearts all in, pockets empty, the world would see the gospel, the world would desire it, there would be real church growth. Not to mention such a profound decrease in broken hearts and suffering and modern slavery and the sexual exploitation of children, the end of starvation, and nakedness, and little feet, disease ridden for lack of shoes. 

It's time to give God something to smile about.

River and I left the church around noon and had Indian food in Downtown Atlanta. Then we walked around a bit as I processed the morning's events before heading north to Rome to have dinner and coffee with my friend Rachel. I met Rachel in Haiti where she volunteered as a nurse at the clinic in Cite Soleil. She is a bundle of joy wrapped in Georgia clay. Our conversation tonight was deeply Christ-centered, as it always is with her, in the most authentic and refreshing way. I feel re-charged. Thirst-quenched. What a perfect end to such an emotional day. I'm still smiling. 

We're back at the hotel now. River is falling asleep to a sci-fi lullaby. I am thinking of the year and a half I was on radio. At the end of every show I would play U2's MLK. A tribute to the man who had a dream, the man who gave his life to that dream. A dream of equality. A dream of freedom. A man who surely made God smile.

It's midnight so I'll go. Til tomorrow then when we head up to Chattanooga and Ruby Falls. Hope you'll come along....

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