Monday, August 26, 2019

Our Decision

(Carl W. Kenney preached this sermon on Sunday, September 25, 2019 at Liberation Station, home of Underground Church. It was the 40th anniversary of his initial sermon)

21From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, LORD!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" 23Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns." 24Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:21-24)

This scripture represents a radical shift in the teaching and focus of Jesus. It challenged the assumption of his followers. It turned their attention away from the privileges of being associated with Jesus to the responsibilities that come with being a follower.

People are excited. They cling to his words in hope of greater inspiration. They follow him in search of freedom.  They share with families and friends the wonder of his work.

He offers hope for the poor. He looks at a crowd of frustrated people and calls them blessed. He tells them the poor are blessed rather than cursed by things they find hard to control. He shifts conversations involving privileged by informing them last shall be first.

He challenges assumptions of power with parables regarding the least among these. He confronts religious leaders.  He violates customs by touching lepers and a woman with a serious bleeding condition.

He refutes the political elite with words involving a new type of Queendom

He restores sight to the blind and heals a variety of other conditions. He redefines inclusion. He respects women and affirms foreigners.

He doesn’t blame people for not having enough but encourages us to take care of strangers. He feeds them. He has compassion and redefines the boundaries of love.

it’s easy to follow Jesus until he changes the focus of his ministry.

The disciples of Jesus are excited.

They have a front seat

They are witnesses to the miracle of his work

They are the recipients to his transformative teachings.

Their lives are changed by the witness of his work. There’s no reason not to follow Jesus. the future looks bright. Thee madness will soon stop. They will soon enter Jerusalem where the momentum will increase. Taxes will be lowered. They will have their own king. The hypocrisy that ruled the religious system will be changed. They were excited until Jesus shifted everything with a question

It’s the same questions we are forced to answer. It’s relevant in helping us understand why we follow Jesus. What is it we seek to gain from his work and teachings?

Who do they say I am?

It’s a complicated question. It’s a question rooted in years of theological and historical interpretation related to the meaning and significance of their national identity.

it’s a question about power

it’s a question about who has the right to control others.

What do other people think about his work? What is their understanding of his teachings? How do they interpret all of it?

these are questions regarding the usage of his teaching. how can we use his power? how can we shift power in our direction.

Some say you are a prophet. Some say you are the Messiah. Some say you’re like John the Baptist.

There are numerous interpretations. What do you say? What do you think?

You are the Messiah, Peter says. You are the Promised One. The one to teach us about our ongoing role as a nation. Teach us what it means to participate in a world created to reflect God’s will. teach us how to use your power

Good Job Peter. Now that you know that, there’s more. There’s more you must see. Teaching you what it means to live together means I must show you more about what that means.

I must die. I will be crucified.

Peter’s response exposes our hesitation in moving away from the Good News.

The Good News of his teaching

The Good news of changed lives

The good news of healing

Problems fix



Peter’s interpretation of the Good news is the story of restored personal relationship with God. He understood the work of Jesus to place him and others in position to rule over others.

Peter wanted a new type of queendom

A kingdom like king David’s

a kingdom were men ruled

a kingdom with power in the hands of a select few

a kingdom defined by control over others

a kingdom with a military to protect an agenda.

Peter says no to Jesus’ shifted message. The new message involves the ongoing presence of evil.

it’s not all good news.

the shifted message involves bad news.

it’s a message involving Jesus’ personal struggles to maintain life due to his message. It's a message regarding what happens to people who speak on behalf oppressed people. What happens when you shift from talk about the benefits to emphasize the pain?

It’s a message about the dark side of life.

The dark side is the death of Z’yon Person and other children killed in the mean streets. The shifted focus forces us to examine all of the deaths. Today marks the anniversary of the eulogy of mike brown of Ferguson, Mo

400 years ago, kidnapped Africans landed in Hampton, Virginia to begin the business of legal slavery. Jesus begins a new conversation about the bad news.  in lifting the new emphasis, he is forcing a decision on the part of his disciples. it’s the same decision we are making today.


I.             The shift from celebration to death exposes the dark side

This is who we are. This is what people do. As much as we’d like to focus on the good humans do, there’s the dark side. As much as we hate the dark side. It’s always there. It’s there constantly reminding us of what can happen in a twinkling of an eye. It happens when we least expect it. It happens to remind us of the things we can’t control.

The death of Jesus is a reminder. It’s not a Good Friday. It’s a gloomy night. Another innocent person convicted. Another unnecessary execution. Another misunderstood person killed because of an unwillingness to fit in.

The death of Jesus uncovers the dark side.

The side that killed J’yon Person, here in Durham

The dark side was exposed on Friday in St. Louis where an 8-year-old girl was killed.

Over 250 mass shootings in America this year

Over 30 in Durham this year.

Is this the lesson of Jesus shifting the conversation from his work as a healer, teacher and prophet to talk about his own death? Do we need his tragic story to remind us not to get stuck in the holy dance while surrounded by all this darkness? Is it a challenge not to allow privilege to conceal the rest?

People can’t pretend it’s not there with sermons about the bright side of heaven and no tears and sorrow.

Peter says you can’t die. You have to preach Good news. Jesus says open your eyes to the other side.

The side where children die

The side where hate attacks innocence and destroys the Utopic vision for America. The side that used black people to make white people rich. The side that stole land from native Americans and robbed black people in Mississippi of more than 7 billion dollars’ worth of property.

the dark side using government to promote the agenda of a few

this is the dark side

the side were scriptures are used to elect a president

the side were hypocrisy show up to defend the biases of some men, some white people and people intoxicated by power

Is the death of Jesus there to remind us of things beyond our selfish intentions?

This is who we are.

this is who we have always been.

this is America’s story

Not all of us, but enough to challenge the good news

Not all the time, but often enough to force a stoppage of our praise.

Jesus forces a decision

We can pretend none of it is real

Or we can face the violence of his death

We can sing Hosanna on the way to victory.

That’s what the followers of Jesus did when he entered Jerusalem

They shouted Hosanna, Hosanna

Jesus stopped them to talk about death.

To remind them of the dark side

II.          Shifting from the good news forces a response to violent death

Begin by rejecting the assumption that it doesn’t impact us                                                                                          

It’s easy to distance ourselves from violent death. We can easily make it about those people.

It’s what black people do.

It’s what poor people do

It’s a function of having bad parents

There’s a vast distance between them and us and religion defines the dark side of crime

crime is a construction of their sin.

The death of Jesus forces a different conversation.

His life and faith aren’t enough to shield Jesus from the dark side.

Going to Sunday School isn’t enough.Attending Church every Sunday isn’t enough. Placing our children in private schools where the day begins with prayer isn’t enough. Not listening to hip-hop won’t help

The pain will find us

When it happens, we have to stop the processional of praise to feel the pain cause by another child’s death

It matters that congregations care

It matters that we her sermons about the dark side

It matters that we do more than pray

 It matters that we consider how faith culture impacts how we feel.

Jesus shifts the conversation from the good news to violent death to teach critical lessons about religion. We are not better than the victims of violence. We should avoid building walls to protect us from them.

It’s time to listen and learn.

It’s time to move beyond the comforts of culture

We can learn from others.

We overcome divisions created by cultural differences by participating in A life of consistent presence

When a child dies…our work is to be present

When any person is killed, our work is to listen

Our work is not to judge

Our work is not to remain locked in our churches to pray

Our work is to walk with them

Cry with them

Press the age-old questions…why Lord…how lord. When lord

Our role is not to hide



or to Take comfort that it’s not me and my family

Our work is to engage beyond the celebration of the life and witness of the good news. it’s to be present within all of the bad news

III.         Death demands a revised ending

The joy of the Christian story is the ending. Bad Friday is renamed Good Friday because of what happens on Sunday morning. The gift of the Christian message is trouble don’t last always.

Joy comes in the morning.

It’s what gives us strength.

It’s what helped the ancestors press forward during the heat of enslavement.

Yes, they were brought to the Americas 400 years ago on this day. It’s a horrible story.

Some didn’t make it.

Some jumped overboard during the middle passage.

Some would rather to be buried in a grave than be a slave.

Some ran in the direction of the North Star.

Some sought freedom

Some were lynched due to their disobedience

Some witnessed burning crosses upon fighting for equal treatment

It’s the dark side of the story.

Some never had a chance to revise the ending.

The descendants of slaves have a revised ending

We can shout today

We can sing new songs because we walk in the victory of our ancestors’ dreams

Its why some come to church.

But, not far away.

Within a few steps from this building

The blood of murder victims still stains the ground.

Not far away

The tears of hurting parents form puddles where the bad news first came

There’s pain in these streets.

Every death deserves a revised ending

The story of a resurrection

The story of good news

The story of dreams fulfilled

The story of victory secure.

Where is the revised ending for J’yon and his family?

What can we do to revise the ending of Shaquana Atwater, a 4-year-old killed in Few Gardens back in 1994?

The blood of murder victims continues to speak in Durham’s streets

How do we revise the ending?

What do we pray?

What do we say?

What can we do to revise the ending to all this bad news?

I begin by say, enough is enough

I begin by standing with victims

Monday, August 19, 2019

Seeking freedom in perpetual struggle

This is the sermon Carl W. Kenney II preached for the launch of Liberation Station, home of the Underground Church, on Sunday, August 18, 2019. As part of the ongoing work of these ministries, Kenney, the spiritual leader, will publish his sermons on the Rev-elution each week. 

Luke 4:16-21 16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18"The Spirit of the LORD is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor." 20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."


The journey from the wilderness to the temple reveals of myriad of hurting people. We pass them by. We watch them linger in misery without blinking an eye. We travel in the comfort of our privilege – headed to the temple to pray.

We watch them from a distance. On our way to the temple.

We witness their misery

On our way to pray.

We see the vastness of brokenness

We see the consequences of not enough

We see the torture of dreams deferred

We see homeless people with no faith

We see the torment of isolation.

People walking like zombies

Dead men and women walking

On our way to the temple

To pray.

To sing.

To hear words to validate our pretension

We witness the slow-motion movement of men and women walking in the streets.

Underpaid workers

Hungry children

Molested women

We watch them on our way to the temple

We hear the cries of racist indignation

Go back to where you come from

Lock her up

Build a wall

On our way to the temple

To hear good preaching

to shout when the holy ghost comes

To sing about trouble don’t last always

We witness the hypocrisy of our teaching.

On our way to church

I would like to use my sanctified imagination of the black preaching tradition to conjure a thought regarding the context for today’s scripture.

I imagine Jesus walking from the wilderness – to the temple

I imagine Jesus spending time alone to reflect, mediate and pray – before heading to the synagogue

I imagine Jesus engrossed in thought regarding what it means to be used by God -before going to Church

I imagine Jesus grappling with taking the easy rode before traveling down those tough streets.

I imagine he saw some things.

I imagine he felt something

With every step

With every sight

With each disappointment.

The sight of political corruption – high taxation, no representation

The smell of inadequate health care

The sound of deceitful teaching

Women, take your husbands abuse

Bring your hard-earned earnings to the church

Feed the system when you can’t eat

I imagine Jesus witnessing all of it

The brokenness

The frustration

The pain

The indifference

The silence

The assumptions

The privilege

On his way to Church, Jesus watched it

Did you watch it today, on your way to Church?

I like to think that Jesus felt what I felt while on my way to the temple

Did you feel it

Did you weep for the children?

Did you cry for the mothers isolated from their children because they’re trying to find freedom?

Did you cry when hearing about more hate filled public policies.

did you weep for the victims of gun violence?

did you cry

On your way to church

To pray

To shout

To moan

If not, why not?

Did your soul cry for an answer to the question how long because how long is taking too long

Why not?

Did you pause to consider the things you take for granted in the face of indifference

Why not?

I need my sanctified imagination to help me escape the lingering madness in my head.

I see Jesus walking, from the wilderness to a place of worship.

I see Jesus headed to the synagogue, not to pray, not for worship

I see Jesus headed home, to go to church, to make a point.

To make an enduring statement. To put an end to the madness

To share how he felt and to announce what he plans to do.

I see Jesus walking, from the wilderness, to Church, as was his custom, to set the record straight.

To talk about what he saw on the way, to the church, to fight for justice

He opens the scroll to one of the pages of the great prophet, Isaiah

The prophet who wrote, But they that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they will run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.

The prophet who wrote, Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.

The prophet who wrote, And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here I am! Send me.

He turned to the pages of that prophet and read

"The Spirit of the LORD is on me, because she has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. She has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor."

Then he rolled it up, after traveling from the wilderness

He took his seat, after making the trip from the wilderness to the temple

He looked at the church folk. He looked at the holy folks. He glared at the students of his faith tradition and says

"Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Do you hear him. I hear him saying, enough is enough. I’ve seen enough. I’ve heard enough. I’m sick of talk about freedom

Let’s do this thing. Let’s bust a move. Time to make that change.

Let’s fix economic disparity, that’s what he said.

Let’s repair the criminal justice system and undo the horrific injustices of mass incarceration, he said that.

Let’s create a system that allows everyone access to healthcare, it’s there in the text.

Liberate the oppressed

Then he tells them it’s time for Jubilee. It’s time to celebrate. Let’s have a party.

But how?

How do you celebrate freedom when living with perpetual struggle?

How do you celebrate with all this chaos?

With Donald Trump?

With the uncovering of expanding racism.


1.    Change the narrative

What we’re told, and what is said about us has significant bearing on how we approach life. Changing the narrative shifts the language used to define who we are

Changing the narrative exposes the lies of their definitions

Changing the narrative forces reconsideration involving history. It adds the parts taken out of textbooks about black history

Changing the narrative shifts the way we interpret scriptures. It places women in the middle.

Changing the narrative is both personal and corporate.

When I say BLACK LIVES Matter, that is about a historical interpretation. I matter now., I’ve always mattered. It changes the narrative

Liberation begins when I challenge being placed in potholes and labeled by a racist agenda.

Liberation begins when women talk about being absent from the Biblical text and being denied leadership because of their gender

Liberation begins when people say you have no hell to put me in and my relationship with God has nothing to do with the miscalculations in your imagination.

Freedom is attached to the promise in the text.

Jesus has seen enough. I’m changing the narrative of a woman dipping her bucket in the well. She’s not a ho, she a person

Jesus has seen enough, he takes the hand of a leper, and says be free

Jesus has seen enough, he uses the history of his people to teach a lesson, God told Pharaoh, let my people go.

This day, today, Is the day of jubilee.

No more walls used to define and minimize the humanity of people born a few miles away

No more public policies aimed at keeping America white

The work of faith involves changing the narrative regarding what it means to be human.

It’s an anthropological question

It’s a theological question

It’s an ethical question

It’s a question lifted in the Biblical text. It’s for us to witness.

Jesus says, I see the poor. I see the incarcerated. I see the homeless. I see LBGTQI and A. I see the isolated and I see all the people troubled in spirit.

I’m changing how you think about them

2.    Revamp the purpose

The purpose is participating in work offering liberation. Our work is about communicating wholeness. Wholeness is the answer to brokenness. Wholeness is the gift of completeness.

It’s the answer to the humans who construct limits to feel better about their place in creation. It’s the answer to language that places limits above freedom.

Limited dreams

Limited aspirations

Limited participation

Our purpose is to tear down walls that trap people into accepting less than enough.

Not enough money

Not enough access

our purpose is social justice work

our purpose is advocacy

our purpose is being present with victims of all forms of violence

rape victims

sexual harassment


institutionalized violence

violent housing laws

greed is violent

Or purpose is presence for everyone in this room and for those seeking liberation from the damage created by massive pretension.

3.    Expand the vision

Jesus has seen enough. Jesus has heard enough.

He walks into a room filled with church folks. Holy people. People who know the scriptures. People who measure the divide between sheep and wolves. The gatekeepers. The advocates of tradition.

Jesus walks into that space. After spending time in the wilderness. After witnessing the consequences of the churches neglect. He watches the spiritual refugees seeking a place to call home.

He offers a solution.

It’s time for a new vision. It’s time to move past a constraining narrative. It’s time to embrace wholeness for all who need freedom

it has helped some people to hear about the need for personal salvation. Some people need to know and feel a deeper relationship with God

it has helped some people to be active in the work of a local church. To work on the usher board, sing in the choir, teach Sunday school

it has helped some people to listen to a message about heaven. It helps seeking a place away from earth for the promise of a place with no weeping, no heartache, no more death, no more sorrow.  

it helps some people to memorize scripture

to learn church doctrine

to serve in leadership

But today, Jesus says, I’m expanding the vision

He tells them they have waited long enough

The time has come


right now.

it’s party time

How can this be true?

Because we are jubilee. we announce the change. we exist to celebrate change.

Not in the sweet bye and bye

Not in life after death


Right now

In the imminent here and now.

We affirm this because we are Jubilee

We represent the day of the Lord’s favor.

We bear witness to God’s changing agenda

We manifest the work of Queendom building

We are the advocates of peace.

We are the conveyors of a new vision

Let’s go. Let’s make that change. Let’s be that change.

Today. This text comes to life. Now. In this moment.

Friday, August 9, 2019

"Woke" is the language of black progressive solidarity: Checking white privilege

[Picture taken on the site where Michael Brown was killed on August 9, 2019, in Ferguson, MO. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was shot by Darren Wilson, 28, a white Ferguson police officer.]
Clarence Thomas messed it up for black people. Put another way, I miss the good ole days.

Back in the day, way before today’s “woke” generation, it was assumed that black people had a collective agenda. It felt good standing behind the virtuousness of a black monolithic expectations. For all that plagued black life in America, there was comfort in believing the brother/sisterhood were on the same page.

Clarence Thomas changed all of that by giving new meaning to Frantz Fanon’s book Black Skin, White Mask.  Fanon sought to present a historical critique of the effects of racism and feelings of dehumanization inherent in colonialism. Thomas introduced the reality of Black Skin, White Soul.

When Thomas was confirmed to the United States Supreme Court on October 15, 1991, it uncovered black America’s secret. Not all black people are progressive thinkers. There are black republicans, some of the most conservative ilk, who fight for causes and support people independent of the supposed black agenda.

Nothing has been the same since that day. Black pride and power came with a new verbiage to explain incongruities. He’s not really black. She’s not with us. They’re not our people. They can’t come to the family reunion. You can have her.

She’s not “woke” is another way of distancing the Clarence Thomas type black person from others who identify with the unwritten agenda of black solidarity. Black unanimity was understood and celebrated as part of the black cultural experience. It’s what happens when black people, from coast to coast, gather at family reunions and line dance to the music of Frankie Beverly & Maze. It’s the festivity of getting down with the get down during homecoming at an Historically Black College and University (HBCU). It’s the black homecoming long before BeyoncĂ©’ introduced black culture to white Americans

It’s a black thang, and you wouldn’t understand is jargon intended to address the people who agree with Clarence Thomas. Not all people get it. Not all black people understand it. Not all black people care about being black.

Being “woke” is another way of saying you’re not down with causes that impact black people. “Woke” is black talk aimed at censuring black people who don’t care about being black. It also applies to the embrace of viewpoints outside the purview of the unwritten, national, black manifesto.

You’re either with us black or seduced into a deep sleep. You’re either down with the televised black revolution or protecting the master’s property like Uncle Tom on the plantation.

Being “woke” is black talk. It is created, adapted, endorsed and inspired by cultural variance, nuances and concerns of black people confronted by the ongoing influence of white supremacy, institutionalized racism and assumptions of white privilege.

It’s a black thang, you wouldn’t understand.

White power, white supremacy, and all of its side demons are managed by the influence of cultural appropriation – the inappropriate espousal of customs, practices, ideas and language of black people. White people have taken “woke” and named as their own creation. White people have taken the continuing movement of black people to obtain and maintain progress and named it a progressive movement.

The search to undo the outcomes of slavery, post-reconstruction, Jim Crow legislation, voter repression and the ongoing quest to maintain white domination is the work of black progressive movement. Progress is the goal of the unwritten manifesto of the black collective vision.

Black progress is about sharing the wealth, getting our share and being outspoken about what black people deserve after years of deprived progress. What the black delegation doesn’t need is a gang of white progressives defining what progress means. These are labels created to assert power and privilege defined by white people who have stolen the language of “woke” to separate themselves from other white people.

Step back. Take notes, and please back away from asserting high levels of cultural appropriation in declaring the merit of black people. We got this. We’ll keep our folks in check.

In the meantime, check your white folks.

We good?