All posts by Deacon Jonathan Holley

Down To The Cross

Friends, this week we have a meeting to attend. It’s not a business meeting, so no business casual attire, and no business class seats (or pews), with a window view from which we can look down upon the world, and our fellow humanity. We are traveling by foot, down an unpaved road, on a crowded street. It is a meeting with Jesus down at the foot of the cross. But before we get there some decisions must be made. You see for our meeting to take place we must decide to go with and stay with him there. This is not a moment of pomp and circumstance, but of abandonment and transformation. A decision to follow him, will mean checking your status, your pride and worldly education; (not brain) at the door. To follow him to this cross may mean death for us, but guaranteed death for him. Understanding the true Gospel of Jesus, in today’s nationalized, center left or far right, commodified religions is not easy.

His birth and presence challenged an empire. An empire which sought to acquire, control and define the peoples Worship. This society was numb to the pain, suffering and despair of this broken but beautiful world. We will talk about beauty another day, but today I want us to see the tragic murder of an innocent man named Jesus from Nazareth. The very same empire sent his mother, Mary, fleeing from her homeland to save the life of her newborn baby. Why? What had this child full of promise done? After some time away, for safe keeping he returned a boy, ready to become a man. A child full of promise, steeped in the knowledge of his purpose and mission, he began his ministry. He would not pass by the woman at the well. He would not allow a woman accused of committing adultery to be stoned. He would not allow the crowd on the banks of the river to leave hungry, and after showing them compassion and healing them he feeds the multitude with two fish and five loaves of bread. This caused such a disturbance to the religious, contemporary and earthly authorities’ way of life, that a plot to kill him was ultimately conceived. The empire which claimed and comforted that prominent religious community, struck at night. Attempting to hide their acts by cover of darkness. Jesus was there announcing a new “Kindom” (Rev. Starlette Thomas). Yes, as in those whom you oppose and oppress are my Kin, they are my family. And, as his time with us will be short, the Word made flesh demonstrated the power of God. The same power which will liberate us.

He does not come to bring peace, nor to enlarge our territory. No, he comes with a sword. He comes with a word, words which still keep the powerful up late at night, words which strike fear into the heart or mind of the rich and powerful: “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Something must be done. And with their hands wringing, and minds spinning, a trap is set. One of his closest friends will sell him out! An arrest is made. He will be beaten all night long and mocked. A show trial is had, and the verdict pronounced. GUILTY. Pilate tries to wash this man’s blood from his hands, but the water is powerless to make him guilt free. Just as our baptism with water alone does not, and will not guarantee freedom from our transgressions, or a guilt ridden conscious. His execution is scheduled for Friday morning. A rugged cross is made for him, a crown of thorns pressed in his head, and he is made to walk a road to a hill of skulls. Along the way a black man is seized and made to carry the cross behind Jesus. “Luke 23:26, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.” His unwitting participation paints a map for the journey we too shall take.

We too must be seized by the spirit, in order to carry this cross. It alone ensures the ultimate downfall of empires which mock God, as they brutally attack and oppress the innocent. Author and scholar: James Cone’s book: “The Cross and The Lynching Tree”, expresses the theological significance of this poignantly. As we make our way to our own meeting with Jesus; remember to pack light. Take nothing with you for your journey. No race, no class, no currency and no hate. Our Great High Priest became a sacrifice for the liberation of the oppressed. The Son of God, The Word made flesh, signs a New Covenant for us in his blood. To partake in this covenant requires more than rituals, or membership in good standing. It will require more than an allegiance split between God, career and country. It announces a reckoning; “Repent, the Kindom of God is at hand”. The Gospel makes reordering of our very way of life necessary. It will mean symbolically leaving behind the world which welcomed him not, and still holds hostility for the immigrant. It brings an end to the dominate social order and brings about the Reign of Christ’s Grace and coming Glory. This sounds like foolishness to some folks, yet 1 Cor. 1:18 says “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’” And as we find ourselves in this Holy meeting, at the cross of Jesus, may we come to see in God’s wisdom and righteousness, just how foolish and often cruel, this world so loved by God truly is. May we find the strength to re-prioritize, be re-educated, and renewed as we go with Jesus; down to the cross.

A Benevolent and Equitable Future

African-American History Month, 2021

African-American History Month in the year 2021. Now is the time we’ve set aside to remember, and also to honor the stories of those who crossed the Middle Passage, to the Americas and their descendants. It is critically important to state that without free African labor, the wealth of the West simply would not exist. The standard of life we have today, is the result of their hard work. They built the roads, bridges, and the railroads for “nothing,” as James Baldwin said. This is the first African American History month in the Covid-19 Pandemic. One in which African-Americans have suffered disproportionally when compared with other groups, while simultaneously having less than equitable access and distribution of the life-saving vaccinations. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people, have succumbed to the disease.

This past summer we witnessed, organized and marched in large peaceful protests around the country. There was and still is, a national call for Justice. This was in response to a series of violent acts committed against African-Americans. We have watched the video recordings, and read the news media coverage, of preventable, racially motivated murders. Among them: Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Aubrey, and George Floyd; just to name a few. We remember the excruciatingly painful and traumatic, eight minutes 46 seconds (8:46) video, capturing the knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd. The video captures and manifests the often overlooked brutality forced upon us in our daily life, the callous indifference with which African-American, and other Peoples of Color are treated.

We most recently watched in awe an Insurrection at the US Capitol. Carried live on TV, and as we saw that crowd waving flags, and committing various other acts of sedition, take over the US Capitol, and steal from its grounds. With few arrested and charged from that group. We know justice is not blind. Evidenced by the leniency shown to them by friendly prosecutors, and courts. In my opinion a fair reading of our current situation implies that our story, as a People is unfolding, but not uncertain. We have a firm foundation in our faith. And, against all odds, we are compelled to hope. That hope is that one day soon, we will see injustices finally come to an end. The times now call upon us to write a new chapter. In this moment each one of us has a part to play, a say, a vote. With all urgency we must do everything humanly possible to facilitate justice equity, to build capacity, or even economies, if such actions will secure the creation of systems which treat all people, all African-Americans as full human beings. In this new environment healing, reconciliation, and rejuvenation might finally take place.

The most effective way in my view to celebrate African-American History Month is to occupy our time, by doing all we can to ensure a bright, benevolent and equitable future.