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

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