This weekend’s sermon is a response to the recent police/black lives matter conflicts from Baton Rouge, Dallas and here in Saint Paul. We took a break from our current ‘God In Us’ series to talk about this together.
Many people came to church this weekend with tired hearts over the July 5/6/7 shootings from Baton Rouge, Saint Paul and Dallas respectively. Right now people are increasingly polarized. Our amygdala becomes activated, triggering the fight or flight response, which does not help matters, as this state of mind has been scientifically shown not to be able to process ambiguity, or nuance. So the purpose of today’s message is to gently walk us back from that response, to help us navigate these difficult times of conflict and meet with all of our brothers and sisters in the loving name of Jesus.
The first and most important point to navigating these times of conflict is to remember our true identity in Christ. We are not our opinions, or our past experiences; we are defined first and foremost by Christ.
The second point is to remember that every one of us has a prequel– a back story which makes us what we are today. What were the past experiences that made officer Yanez quick to pull the trigger on that day? What was the prequel that informed the shooter in Dallas? Knowing these things does not excuse their actions. But it does provide context and explanation, which is the first critical step that can lead us to compassion and resolution.
The name of today’s message is “Expose the Powers” because this is the most important context for us to remember when thinking about why people do what they do. Paul in Ephesians 6:12,18 tells us that our battle is not with the flesh, but with the Principalities and Powers. Never has this point seemed more important to remember than right now.
The Principalities and Powers are referred to many times in both the Old and New Testaments. These were high ranking angels who were given authority by God over society, groups and systems. These angels fell and began to use their powers at cross purposes with God. These are the forces that are still at work all around us, which are at the heart of the broken and toxic systems that we all swim in.
Greg illustrates this point by drawing a person surrounded by multiple concentric circles. These circles represent the groups and systems we belong to in the world. In Greg’s drawing, the outermost circle is being human, then working inwards is (for him) being male, being American, being white, belonging to a the Boyd clan, his small group, his family, etc. Each one of these circles has been polluted in some way by the Principalities and Powers, and it affects our experiences all along the way. So we inherit the corruption of these circles and it becomes part of us, like streams and tributaries that feed into and pollute a river that we are swimming in. Some of these corruptions we benefit from (and others suffer), others we suffer from (and others benefit). Their defining feature is that they set us against each other.
This corruption affects us and the cards are stacked against us all in many ways. This is all part of our prequel. Of course we still have free will, but it is within the parameters of these forces that pollute our water.
In mainstream American culture, one of our primary characteristics is that we are highly individualistic. We focus on the individual at the exclusion of the surrounding backstory. This means we see the circumstances of a person’s life and we pin all of the results of their prequels on them. We assume they are in all their circumstances by choice. It means we blame people who are in bad situations or give credit to people for good circumstances. But the world is not this way. We are all equal in God’s eyes but in every other way the world is profoundly unequal. Why is one kid born into a wealthy white family and another born in Haiti? So much is defined by our surrounding circumstances and the corruption therein. Far more than choice, “Luck” is about as far as we can go in explaining it.
So this is the bigger picture that is going on behind the actions of each and every person. The Principalities and Powers and their corrupting influences are pervasive and real, and as Paul says, our job is to always be alert to them. This is a core reason why Jesus tells us in Matthew 7 we are not to judge or blame people. If we are angry, we are to be angry at the various circles of corrupted systems that encompass a person. But the person at the center, every person, is a beloved child of God. Our job is to honor that central fact alone. All judgment and blame is to be left to God.
So how do we fight the Principalities and Powers?
1) Prayer. Time and again we see that prayer makes a difference in the bible. Prayer is a force that fights the core cause of all the external wars between people.
2) Refuse to be co-opted by the powers. Even though there are systemic constraints, you still have your own free will, and we are not on our own in this battle. Jesus always fought against the powers– By how he lived, how he treated women and outcasts and centurions. That is how he revolted against the powers. His spirit is living in us! With him, we are able to swim upstream against the powers that surround us.
3) Finally, stay optimistic and remember our true identity. When our identity is in Christ we do not get swayed as much by the external distinctions such as being American or male, or white/black/Latino, etc. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we are all loved. And most importantly we must remember in times like this that no matter what the world looks like, torn as it is by the Powers, we must remember that Our King wins in the end! He brought us truly Good News and the story does have a happy ending.
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