It was an honor this past Sunday to be in the pulpit of Pilgrim UCC in Houston. The congregation is predominately African American and is ably led by Rev. Keith Edwards with Rev. Jasmine Quinerly as Associate Minister. They are a great team.
The title of my message was “Tried & True,” centering on the concept of “friendship” that comes from the Book of John. Undoubtedly you know the passage which reads as follows; “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Much of the sermon was grounded in a history lesson. The congregational side of our UCC ancestry was deeply grounded in the abolitionist movement. When the Amistad slave ship was overtaken by the slaves it carried and subsequently captured by the US Navy, it was former President John Quincy Adams who defended the former slaves before the Supreme Court. President Adams was, of course, a Congregationalist. Leading before the Civil War the Congregational Church was already starting schools for slaves in slave states around the country. I am sure you can imagine how well such a ministry was received. In 1856, First Congregational Church, where I once served, was founded as an anti-slavery congregation. New England folk literally left their homes and moved to Kansas to serve in the struggle against human slavery. The pastors and others actually carried their weapons to church.
The point that I am laboring to make is that friendship in the biblical sense is NOT a function of convenience. True friendship requires us to count another as more important than ourselves. Real friendship requires of each of us a willingness to speak up and stand tall in those times when a good person is being attacked and belittled by others. There are times when being a true and loyal friend may even involve physical risk. The fact remains, regardless of circumstances the joyful obligation of biblical friendship is that one does right by another even if the cost is steep.
Whether we are speaking of national or even world events, as Christians we do not have the luxury of standing down. While many of us may wish to avoid conflict in difficult times, such is not the Christian option. You may be thinking, “Here you go again Dr. Don looking for a rumble.” You would be right in that I do not fear conflict. Only death allows for the complete absence of conflict. But, to my mind, in this instance, I am standing on higher moral ground. Jesus knew the risks and he had a choice about continuing his missional journey on into Jerusalem. He could have turned away, avoided conflict, and enjoyed his life as a regional superstar Rabbi. However, the Bible tells us that he “turned his face towards Jerusalem” thus embracing his Creator’s mission.
There are simply and thankfully things in this life more important than our personal advancement and comfort. The Christian ethic is not an easy one and I for one would not have it any other way. So here is my Lenten message.
Stand tall, fear no one, speak your truth.
May God bless you in this season,