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.

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