Douglass Blvd Christian Church

an open and affirming community of faith

n open and affirming community where faith is questioned and formed, as relationships are made and upheld. 

How to Start a Revolution (Matthew 5:38-48)

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Jesus calls his followers to play by a different set of rules—not one that surrenders, but one that requires great imagination and courage to shine a bright light on an oppressive system that thinks violence and resignation are the only possible options, to subvert an arrangement that only understands domination and submission, to challenge the human habit of thinking in binaries.


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What Is the Cost of Community? (Matthew 18:15-20)

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But if I trusted that people love me enough to tell me the truth—even though that’s sometimes hard to hear—that would be something to be a part of, wouldn’t it?

Wouldn’t we all love to be part of a community where trust was the defining characteristic—where I could be who I really am, without fear that my honesty about myself would be thrown back in my face, without fear that someone was hatching a plan to shame me or run me out?

What would it be like to be part of a community where each sheep is important enough to God (and to the rest of the flock) not to be left behind?


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Why Supporting Dreamers Isn't Optional for Christians

By Derek Penwell

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the Dreamers (DACA—Deferred Action for Child Arrivals), and the response to them by some in the government. The push to remove foreign born children who were brought to this country as children on the part of politicians who claim to be Christian strikes me as profoundly problematic.

Let’s say you’re walking down the street and you see a man unconscious in the middle of a busy intersection. He looks lost and helpless, unable to move out of the path of oncoming traffic. What do you do?

Well, you have a few options:

  1. You could initiate an especially aggressive background check to make sure he’s a man worth saving, and then, as a condition of his safe rescue, require him to sign a statement swearing his intentions toward you are innocent.
  2. You could await confirmation of his country of origin, in order to ensure that you don’t save the wrong kind of person.
  3. You could seek to ascertain his religious affiliation, promising to help him if his religious commitments align with ones you find acceptable.
  4. You could decry the general state of lawlessness that produces situations in which people are abandoned in less than safe conditions, vowing to write a strongly worded letter to somebody in authority, or to vote for someone who speaks about these kinds of situations with the requisite forcefulness.
  5. You could feel sorry for him, but remember all the other responsibilities you have that would prevent you from taking action to save him.
  6. You could argue that there are many more people in dangerous situations that you’ve already walked past, and that if you help this one guy, it would be tantamount to turning your back on the imperiled people who (let’s be honest) you’ve already turned your back on.
  7. You could argue that helping this man in trouble would set a bad precedent, only incentivizing the kind of lax oversight that allowed him to be abandoned in the middle of a busy intersection in the first place.
  8. You could go on cable T.V. or Twitter to convince the world that with all the other things we have on our plate, saving stranded people is a distraction we can’t afford.

Or, you could get him out of harm’s way, and then worry about getting the other stuff sorted out—trusting that the system in place for screening imperiled people, which has an almost flawless track record for getting it right, will do its job.

Of course, if you happen to follow Jesus, you’ve already bumped into a similar scenario in Luke 10—the Good Samaritan. Part of the biting commentary implicit in the parable of the Good Samaritan is that the religious leaders in the story—which is to say, the people who, as a function of their faith, have the biggest responsibility to set aside their own fears to help the abandoned stranger—are the ones quickest to ignore the man lying exposed in the street.

So, here’s my question as I reflect on the current DACA crisis: How it is that some Christians can so unselfconsciously bear to reenact the parable of the Good Samaritan, having apparently learned all the wrong lessons from it?

Jesus tells the story of a Samaritan coming to the aid of a stranger in answer to the question: Who is my neighbor? The final answer to that questions turns out not to be the religious leaders who ignore the abandoned man’s plight, but the despised Samaritan. I imagine Jesus didn’t get a lot of amens after telling that story. Too radical. Insufficiently censorious of a person everyone knew didn’t have any rightful claim to God’s favor.

The reason Jesus’ story was so scandalous when it was told was because it contrasted the self-serving neglect of the religious elite with the compassion of a Samaritan—a group of religious rivals to whom Jesus’ listeners would have reflexively felt superior.

A few things emerge from this parable that seem especially appropriate to remember as we decide how to treat Dreamers fighting for the only home many of them have ever known:

  • No matter your religious credentials, the test of your faith is not your doctrinal purity, but how you treat others—especially those who are most vulnerable.
  • Regardless of the nature of your fear, the primary responsibility of those who follow Jesus (especially leaders) is to care for the powerless.
  • Christians don’t get to assume as a result of their faith commitments that they possess some kind of superiority to foreigners.
  • In short, when in doubt, embrace your fears and help anyway.

That You May Demonstrate . . . (Romans 12:9-21)

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Because Paul’s not interested in making people into better individuals. Paul’s not seeking to bolster anyone’s self-image.

No, what Paul is about, what worship is about is making us into a community of people committed to living like Jesus. And living like Jesus isn’t me, just as I am, with a little bit more niceness. Living like Jesus isn’t a matter of fine-tuning my otherwise pleasant demeanor. Living like Jesus isn’t a strategy; it’s a complete reorientation to reality in the world God desires to create—a world where dreamers don’t have to fear that they’ll wake up to find that the people in the only home they’ve ever known don’t want them anymore, a world where trans people aren’t singled out for ridicule and persecution by their own government, a world where women are masters of their own bodies—not subject to the capricious edicts of males.


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What Does True Worship Look Like? (Romans 12:1-8)

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You see, worship involves conflict with the way the powers and principalities attempt to rule this world, which too often centers on keeping the powers and principalities in charge, and everyone else scrambling to hold it together.

Worship is about reimagining the world the way God does—a place of peace and justice where no one has to go to bed at night fearing a knock on the door, the collection agent on the other end of the line, the bully at the end of the hall, or the sheriff and his 'tent city.'


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The Mercy of Bread (Matt. 15:21-28)

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And once you eat this meal, no one can ever again be expendable. Once you sit at this table, there are no more untouchables.

No more hating people, just because society tells us it’s ok to hate them. No more ignoring people different from us, just because we have laws that allow us to do that. No more being silent when the voices of hatred and fear are raised against our friends and neighbors. No more looking the other way because we’re not affected . . . because we are affected, just as long as any of our human family are affected.


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Playing Host (Matthew 14:13-21)

I’d like to suggest to you that Matthew sets up the story of the feeding of the 5,000 intentionally as a feast, a party hosted by Jesus, a life-giving party in which those who have nothing receive everything they need. But this party that Jesus hosts contrasts sharply with the party hosted by Herod just verses before—a party for those who already have everything they need—a party complete with extravagance and excess, all for the benefit of those who know nothing but benefit. But instead of giving life, Herod’s party deals in death. Just ask John the Baptist.

Matthew shows us something about the way the rulers and the powerful of this world usually operate: there’s often more than enough for everybody to enjoy, but somebody always ends up dead. But when God gets the world God wants, though scarcity seems to rule, there’s more than enough to give life to everyone.


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The Kingdom of God Isn’t Always Good News (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52)

When we say 'reign of God' in church, it sounds like good news. It sounds like the voice of justice clamoring against discrimination faced by our transgender neighbors. It sounds like the voice of compassion raising the alarm about kicking people off their healthcare. It sounds like the voice of those who shout in solidarity with all the women looking to make their way to the clinic without being harassed. It sounds like the voice of a river whispering to be spared the devastation humanity has wrought in its pursuit of progress. It sounds like the voice of an African American man unjustly accused crying out for justice in a world that has too often withheld it. It sounds like the voice of Malala resisting the Taliban. It sounds like the voice of Jesus challenging all the unjust systems that attempt to thwart the new world God has in mind.

When we say 'reign of God' in church, it sounds like good news. But to Caesar, to the powerful, to the people who always come out smelling like roses, to the people who benefit from a nice, orderly system that they alone control and benefit from—it doesn’t sound like good news at all. It sounds like the end of everything that has consistently given them advantages that most people will never enjoy.


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What I Have Promised You (Genesis 28:10-19)

God is determined to see the world God intended at creation, and God’s choosing up sides. And, for whatever reason, God chose you to change the world. I don’t pretend to understand God’s draft day strategy, but God’s decided to put you on the team with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Not a sterling start, I think we can all agree, but that’s God for you. God chose a skinny, no-name Galilean carpenter to build the franchise on. In God’s crazy way of looking at things, you make all the sense in the world.


Technical difficulties in the middle were a bummer. But you'll get the gist of the story.

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Holding Out for Something Better (Genesis 25:19-34)

The story of Jacob shows how God is busy seeking to disrupt, to turn upside down the world that the people in charge find comfortable—a world in which it’s taken for granted that the first shall be first . . . and the last shall be last. A world in which the powerful and the favorite sons assume that God uses the wisdom of the wise to shame the foolish, and the strength of the strong to shame the weak.

But in God’s vision of the way things should be, those who’ve been born with the deck stacked against them are now the ones God seeks to make whole.

Those who’ve always been too easy to ignore, too easy to exploit occupy the places of honor.


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The Cost of Following Jesus (Matthew 28:16-20)

Keep this in mind when you bring your children to church: You may not be prepared for the consequences. It can be dangerous to have your children hang out with Jesus because, if they do, someday they might just hear his voice. They might drop their nets and follow him, and then one day head out into a world that doesn’t want to hear what they have to say about how God wants to see the world work.

They start talking about things like loving gay people and trans people the same as everyone else, and looking out for poor people (even the ones everyone else says don’t deserve it), they start talking about things like refusing to be silent when black men and women die in the streets—just because of the color of their skin, and not cooperating with authorities who want to split up the families of undocumented immigrants . . . they start talking about stuff like that, stuff they hear in this place in the middle of Sunday morning worship . . . and take it from me, they’re going to run into people who don’t like it. They’re going to make respectable people uncomfortable. They’re going to make the people in charge nervous.


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The Creatively Maladjusted (Acts 2:1-21)

I’ve spoken with Christians who’re convinced that it’s not politically expedient to call for a beloved community that protects African Americans and LGBTQ people, that includes our Muslim neighbors, our refugee neighbors, our immigrant neighbors—even though this constituency recognizes, as Dr. King reminds us, 'the natural impatience of people who feel their hopes are slow in being realized.' These timid folks believe that taking any kind of a stand will be heavy-handed and disruptive, while failing to realize that, if the Holy Spirit is in our midst, heavy-handed disruption of the existing unjust order is not the thing we wait for the right time to pursue, but the very thing we lead, empowered and emboldened by the Holy Spirit who breaks in on us with an apocalyptic mini-tornado, the one who sets the shape and trajectory of our ministry.

The prophet Joel says to all the people made prophets by God's Spirit: 'And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.' And there’s nothing politically expedient about that."

Apologies for the sound hiccup.


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You Will See Me (John 14:15-21)

We live in a world where people of color need someone to stand up and take some blows for them from a world that has too often focused its violence and hatred on their bodies, where undocumented immigrants need someone to stand between them and a system designed to devour their families, where Muslims need people like us to stand arm-in-arm around their mosques to keep out the forces that want to consume them, where LGBTQ people need someone to stand by their side as they seek to make their way through a world that too often would rather they just go away, where people need all of us to stand up for their children and their parents with pre-existing conditions.

You want to know what the Holy Spirit looks like? You want concrete instead of abstraction? Look for the advocates.


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A Different Reality (Acts 7:55-60)

But I would like to suggest that it is impossible to live the Christian life correctly without making any enemies. In fact, if I’m a Christian and I haven’t made any enemies, maybe I’m not doing it right.

Why do I say that? Because we’re struggling against the powers and principalities. The very existence of a people who serve the Prince of Peace in a world defined by its ability to wage war puts us automatically in the cross-hairs of those who have a vested interest in promulgating war as a way of achieving peace.

In a world that specializes in putting locks on doors to keep people out, we cannot but appear to be threatening when we go to the doors, tear the locks off and invite everybody to come in.


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