Putting the Protest Back in Protestant
A sermon preached by
First Baptist Church of Palo Alto
Sunday, 29 October 2017
Text: Romans 1:16-17
The year was 1517, Martin Luther wrote a scathing 95 Theses attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practices. Much like today, money and capital had infused themselves into the institutional church, they were trying to sell tickets to heaven, literal “get out of hell free cards” to absolve sins – in religious speech: indulgences. For Luther, the religious trappings of the day had become far removed from the Biblical stories so central to their faith, he also knew that it wasn’t up to any institution to set you right with God, but it was up to you and me – each and every one of us.
Luther’s timing couldn’t have been better. Just a few decades before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, which made it possible to spread information to mass amounts of people like never before.
Martin Luther wasn’t the only one using these new technologies to reform the church and many reformers didn’t think Luther went far enough.
One man that I’d like to introduce you to is Thomas Müntzer. He served as a pastor in Zwickau, a town in which great social tension existed between the upper classes and the early miners’ guilds. In his pastoral work he echoed the prophetic witness of our Hebrew and Christian scriptures by siding with the oppressed, the common people and workers being exploited for their labor. While Luther was busy working with the privileged and powerful to enact reform, Müntzer was among the common people, the poor peasants who work sustained the vast Empires of domination and control. Müntzer understood the peasants to be God’s elect, for they didn’t have or abuse power in the ways of the Catholic and Lutheran leaders. He joined the peasants in Hegau and Klettgau to work alongside the peasants revolting in 1524 against the nobles over rising taxes, deflation, and austerity measures.
He’s quoted saying, “Justice for us, brothers and sisters, justice for anyone who is held in servitude, forced to work for a starvation wage, anyone who has faith and sees the house of the lord sullied with images, and children being washed with holy water like dogs under a fountain”
Munster understands liberation from the principalities and powers of evil is found in the liberation of all of God’s people and not merely those in power rejecting some Catholic doctrines.
For it was less Luther and more Müntzer who put the Protest in Protestant. Mind you our very denominational heritage is rooted in a revolution, in protest, in radical organizing from the margins and from the bottom up.
In light of their new technologies these revolutions and reformations were made possible. As San Franciscans, we know a thing or two about inventions being that we are in the heart of the Silicon Valley, the tech capital of the world. We’ve gotten used to the spreading of ideas through the dot.com boom and now in this next wave of techies and their coded inventions. We’ve got it a little easier than Luther and Müntzer, through the internet we can transmit messages all around the world in a matter of seconds.
According to list Twitter published, #Ferguson was the most used social-issue hashtag in the 10-year history of the platform, while #BlackLivesMatter was third.
It wasn’t until 2005 that YouTube videos sharing was invented, we suddenly were able to see the tragedies of injustice all around the world, happening in real time as if we were right there in the action.
I watch police choke and murder Eric Garner as he screamed “I can’t breathe,” then there was Michael Brown, an 18-year-old boy lying in the middle of the street after being shot and killed by a white officer named Darren Wilson. His body stayed in the street for hours. He was unarmed, officer Wilson was not indicted. 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot over 16 times with his hand in the air and back towards the police, Tamir Rice was only 12 when he was murdered on video by the police, Walter Scott was 50 years old when he was running in the opposite direction of the white officer who shot him, Philando Castile was recorded by his girlfriend’s phone when the police murdered him in front of their baby girl who said, “Mom stop crying I don’t want you to get shooted!” – in 2017 there have already been 5 police shootings that murdered black people caught on tape and virally shared on the internet.
Because of these videos the Movement for Black Lives has been able to organize and speak the truth to power in ways like never before. With the video evidence to prove the racist violence and police murders of black lives the movement has become a growing force to be reckoned with.
2000 years ago before YouTube and before the printing press they had letters they would write on scrolls and send off to various communities in hopes of spreading the most information to the most people at one time. Paul wrote a bunch of letters we have collected here in our Bible, all of which work in the same way as YouTube videos and Printing Press Pamphlets: to share information in hopes of sparking radical social transformation.
Paul writes, For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
Paul writes years after Jesus but both find themselves sharing the same message: the inclusion of gentiles within their Jewish religious tradition. Much like the battle of inclusion for queer people in the church has been a struggle and a shock for those within the religious institutions holding up homophobic ideas, the shock of including a gentile outsider into your Jewish tradition would have been a lot stronger than a mere reformation. Jesus had started a revolution.
Paul declares, I am not ashamed of the Gospel! He doesn’t mean the “say a prayer to get into heaven gospel” he means the boundary breaking gospel of inclusive and radical love, a gospel where the Jewish religion was challenged to include all people, of all backgrounds, creeds and colors.
Faith here is also an interesting word, the original Greek is Pistis which I think we’ve talk about some before. It’s better translated not as Faith but as Faithfulness, it’s an active verb, it’s something you do. We can read this text anew, “The one who is righteous will live by faithfulness.”
We won’t live with some faith-filled idea in our minds, we will embody our minds dreams into the material world for the good of all people. For this is the Gospel! The inclusion and centering of the outsider as the insider. This is the Beloved Community.
In Jesus ‘day he was transforming the Jewish religion to include Gentile outsiders and started the movement of Christianity, in Martin Luther’s day he was transforming the Christian tradition to open the gates again to scripture and soul freedom, he put the protest in protestant and started a movement, in our day we are transforming social relations by revealing the terrifying reality of racism and building movements that seek to abolish racism of all expressions both individual and systemic.
One way our church is doing so is through our SURJ chapter, Showing Up for Racial Justice, is a group that organizes white people to support the work the black community organizers have already been working on for many years. We learn how to dismantle the racism within our own selves while also actively participating as allies in the Movement for Black Lives.
We have a rapid response training around immigration and migrant rights coming up that will be hosted in our Parlor by SURJ. We will encounter the ways immigration policies are caging migrants in prison like encampments, how racism infuses the policies, and how we can dismantle the walls being built around our hearts and homes toward people migrating to the US. We will learn what it means and how to Show UP for Racial Justice.
As the church on the 21st century it is our calling to bring justice and healing to the world, and I think we should do so in the light of Müntzer and Jesus, of Hewey Newton and the Black Panthers, or Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers, or Alecia Garza and Cat Brooks with the Movement for Black Lives. May we say yes to God’s call, may we fight the systems that build crosses rather than bear the weight of them.
May we follow Jesus into the revolution of love he is calling us all into, right here, right now!