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sermon 7/27/14 D. Josiah Montgomery give them grace

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“Give Them Grace”
D. Josiah Montgomery
Preached at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Chicago
27 July 2014
Proper 12


“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are
called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28, NRSV).” In the name Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


An old Episcopal grandmother finally decided to read the Bible. She purchased a
large-print edition and read it cover-to-cover. When she finished, she pulled the rector
aside at coffee hour and confided, “I really enjoyed reading the Bible, but I was surprised
how much it quotes the Book of Common Prayer!”


Grace to you St. Thomas and peace from God our Father, and His Son, our Savior, the
Lord, Jesus Christ. Our Text for today’s meditation is taken from the Epistle and Gospel
just read.
“Let me tell you how to move a mountain, (that’s too hard for you to climb). Let
me tell you how to move a mountain, (one that hides the bright sunshine). (When your
hands are bleeding and torn), (and your feet are weary and worn); (when you try to climb
up), (but the rocks and reels make the going tough), just say move mountain, move
mountain, mountain get out of my way.” The words I just read to you may be familiar to some of you. Written by Margaret
Pleasant Douroux and recorded by Rev. Clay Evans and the Fellowship Missionary
Baptist Church just a mile away, it hit the charts and sold everywhere. Its words, tune,
and expression, had a meaning that was even beyond the non-verbal study of
communication. It was one of Spiritual power, anointing and perseverance.
Most of you know that I work as an Organist, given that I served as organist here
for two years when I was in high school. About a month ago, I asked the pastors of the
congregation I work with, to grant me a three-week vacation, so that I may enjoy the
beauty of driving through the country visiting friends and family. So for the past three
weeks, I have done just that, drove through the heartland of America, meeting family and
friends along the way. The entire time I was away from Chicago, I did not hear one
gunshot or firework. It was indeed a time to behold.


Just yesterday, as I began to burn incense and meditate in preparation for this
message, a terrible thing happened. I recounted it in a Facebook post:
As I was about to sit down to finish preparing my sermon, I witnessed the most
unfortunate occurrence. I heard the sequence of seven gunshots, resounding in quick
repetition. Then silence. The whole of my apartment building were enjoying the beautiful
day, neighbors socializing, people dancing and others enjoying the weather. After the
shots, everyone retreated to their respected places of comfort and shelter. Suddenly, there
was no one outside. Then, running, through the alleyway, a young man, of God's
creation, ran, pants falling, his face veiled with a black garment; only his eyes, hair, chest
and abdomen, were visible. Police cars blocking our streets and alleyways now surround
my neighborhood. The entire time I vacationed in the south, I heard not one gunshot or
firework. Chicago, when will this stop? I don't want to play another funeral, see another
body in a casket, or even imagine the sight of my own body laying at Rayner and Sons.2
Paul quotes: “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as
sheep to be slaughtered (Romans 8:36, NRSV).” Our beloved city, once the gem of
priceless beauty and culture has become the cornerstone of violence in America. Brothers
and sisters in Christ, I am convinced that people in our beloved and beautiful city are no
longer able to conceptualize how to move mountains. Alternatively, is it that they are
afraid or blocked from climbing the mountain? There are many possible answers to these
questions, but the key component is that there is a mountain stopping our people from
advancing.


Trusting in our own merit, we have allowed society to create test subjects of us,
and failed to raise up a society of educated, just and healthy citizens. Daily our children
continue to kill our children and sometimes, even their selves. We sometimes even
encourage such actions when we allow our children to watch television and play games
that enact violence. It happens when we tell our children how worthless they are because
we are upset with the other parent. It happens when we keep family secrets because we
are too ignorant to explain the reasoning in a better way. It happens when we don’t tell
our children where they come from or who their ancestors are because we say things like,
“well, why would you want to know that, they’re all dead.” We’ve got to do better!
It seems as though we are afraid of what will happen to us if we meet those who
we do not know. This is a fear that can only arise out of the social conditions and pain
that we have experienced in our families, social interactions and educational
environments. Is it possible to say that this is what has happened to our society?
In a speech given at Harvard, 18 March 1964, Malcolm X stated these words:
…the time that we’re living in…and that we are facing now is not an era where one who
is oppressed is looking toward the oppressor to give him some system or form of logic or
reason. What is logical to the oppressor isn’t logical to the oppressed. And what is reason
to the oppressor isn’t reason to the oppressed. The black people in this country are
beginning to realize that what sounds reasonable to those who exploit us doesn’t sound
reasonable to us. There just has to be a new system of reason and logic devised by us who
are at the bottom, if we want to get some results in this struggle that is called “the Negro
revolution.”


To support Malcolm’s premise, I quote the great Anglican Bishop, Philosopher
and teacher, Francis Bacon, who said: “and sometimes he that deals between man and
man, raiseth his own credit with both, by pretending greater interest than he hath in
either. And in these and the like kinds, it often falls out, that somewhat is produced of
nothing; for lies are sufficient to breed opinion, and opinion brings on substance.”4
American capitalism has created an African diaspora, not only in forced
immigration to this country and others, but in education, hunger, family life, support,

economic substance, but in most of all, the lack of love. However, we, us, our people, can
begin again if we seek the grace to understand how to love others and ourselves. “You
can always began again…Rock bottom don’t mean nothing to God; God made the rock,”
said the late Rev. Eugene Gray, when he was pastor of the First Church of Deliverance.
We talk about each other the way our oppressors have and continue to talk about
us. Furthermore, we, Christians, emulate white protestant capitalistic ideology and
characteristics in our own ethos; brainwashing generations of children, because we, black
Christians, who claim to be black liberationists, as James Cone said in his last chapter of
“For My People,” we have the “assumption that the problem of racism can be solved in
the United States without a socialist transformation in the political economy.”5 He further
states: “Apart from the racist practices of social, economic, and political institutions,
most blacks have assumed that American society is essentially just and consequently has
the best of all possible political systems.” We are so entrenched through indoctrination
into American capitalism, that we are so focused on those things that have nothing to do
with the advancement of the Kingdom of God.


Remember the joke I told you at the beginning of this sermon about the
grandmother and the bible? Saints, it is time that we indeed pick up the bible, read it,
meditate on it and claim it. Children are killing each other because we don’t pray like we
used to. We don’t even want to sing hymns like we used to, let alone read the bible. Our
prayer book even outlines the way we should pray the Daily Office, so that we can read
God’s word. Make a commitment today to do just that. There are no excuses for those
you that have computers, iPhones, iPads, other smart phones and android devises,
because I’ve got news for you: “There’s an app for that!” Yes, there are several apps to
help you pray as Anglicans and read God’s word daily. Lest you forget the VBS song:
The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-BL-
E. Amen.


In Romans 8, Paul tells us a story about how the “Spirit helps us in our
weakness,” and “intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God who searches the
heart, knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according
to the will of God.” Saints, God has already heard our prayers, yet we fail daily to hear
the answer. The answer is in the “giving of ourselves,” as St. Francis said, because when
we give, God rewards that generosity. That giving cannot be of malice, or conceit, of
negativity, but of grace through love by faith alone. The same way all of us become part
of God’s kingdom, is how we can stop the violence in this city, our state, this country, but
most of all, God’s World.


George F. Handel, when he composed the Messiah, took certain verses from the
book of Isaiah and quoted: “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and
acquainted with grief. He gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that
plucked off the hair: He hid not his face from shame and spitting (Isaiah 53, 53: 50, 6,
KJV).” My question to you is this: Are you willing to step out on faith as Christ did? Of
course not! We are scared; we are horrified, and petrified to step in the midst of the
battlefield. We have become depressed, filled with anxiety and fear, because that is what
we’ve been taught. In fact, I was that person. Most recently, after a series of health problems, I decided to make a dramatic
change in my life. I decided to eat a diet that consisted of poultry, fish, raw foods, soy,
eggs, cheese and water in addition to exercise. I stopped salting my food, instead using
vinegar and fresh pepper. I also started to used herbs and natural medicines, because
chemical medicines were making me tired, angry, bloated and fatigued. From this
change, my weight is decreasing, skin looks healthier, blood pressure lowered, and I have
energy to explore the endless possibilities of life again because I killed the depressive
anxiety that encompassed my entire body. I encourage you to even do the same. Because
as the scripture says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love
God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28, NRSV).
My bothers and sisters, the only way we can make a mountain move is if we step
out on true faith. Verse two of “Move Mountain” says these words: “Let me tell you how
to move a mountain, (when the climbing gets you down). Let me tell you how to move a
mountain, (when you’ve traveled your last round). (When your friends have left you
behind), (and your way, you cannot find); (when your prayer is for help,) (but you stand
alone feeling by yourself), just say move mountain, move mountain, mountain get out of
my way.” It continues: “If you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, just say move
mountain, move mountain, move mountain, mountain get out of my way.” It is confirmed
in what Bacon says: “Omnium quae dixerat feceratque arte quadam ostentator: for that
proceeds not of vanity, but of natural magnanimity and discretion; and in some persons,
is not only comely, but gracious.”6 This graciousness will have to come by us with the
giving of our time and talents to help our people in more ways than one.


In Reinhold Niebuhr’s, “Christ and Culture,” his last chapter, speaks about the
situation we are dealing with at hand in Chicago. Niebuhr states: Everyone has some
kind of a philosophy, some general worldview, which to men of other views will see
mythological. That philosophy or mythology affects our actions and makes them
relative.” He continues, “Our solutions and decisions are relative, because they are
related to the fragmentary and from measure of our faith. We have not found and shall
not fine – until Christ comes again – a Christian in history whose faith so ruled his life
that every thought was brought into subjection to it and every moment and place was for
him in the kingdom of God.” Now listen very closely as he states, “Each one has
encountered the mountain he could not move, the demon he could not exercise. And it is
evidently so with us. Sometimes the faith in His [God’s] goodness and power stops short
at the site of evil–doers among men, animals, or other powers of nature. And wherever
faith stops, there decision in faith stops, as well as reasoning in faith; there decision
unreasoning in unbelief began.”


For something written over 50 years ago, its message communicates as if it were
in a newspaper today. We have not faith because we have not grace. Niebuhr further
states: To make our decisions in faith is to make them in view of the fact that no single
man or group or historical time is the church; but that there is a church of faith in which
we do our partial, relative work and on which we count. It is to make them [our
decisions] in view of the fact that Christ is risen from the dead, and is not only the head
of the church but the redeemer of the world. It is to make them in view of the fact that the
world of culture—man’s achievement—exists within the world of grace—God’s
Kingdom (246).”


In order to fix the problems that we have with gun violence in this city, we have
to get our hands dirty with grace. We have to start being as nice as the Jehovah’s
Witnesses to our neighbors. We must be willing to make a sacrifice just as God gave His
only Son, to become the true atonement and propitiation for our sins. We must pray and
pray without ceasing and when it comes to what Romans 8:36 says, understand that Paul
said, “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 8:37-
39).


In conclusion, the other Niebuhr, brother Reinhold, wrote a prayer about grace.
Allow me to share it with you:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen. –Reinhold Niebuhr


Will you pray with me? Gracious God, we give you thanks that we are saved by
grace through faith in Christ Jesus, your Son. We also give you thanks that we can heal
this world through grace by that same faith which we have in Christ. Help us to persevere
against negativity, to heal our land, but most of all save our children and ourselves. If we
ever needed you, Lord, now is that time. May your peace illumine our heart with wisdom
and courage, to know Christ in a deeper way, and to truly make Christ known. May we,
with that peace of your Holy Spirit, be protected, to go anywhere in this world without
harm and be able to move mountains. This we pray in the matchless name of your Son,
who said that whatever we ask in His name shall be done. We speak it, claim it, believe
it, and proclaim that it is already done, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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