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How a small group of people can make a difference
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Pastor Devin Strong

Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church

One of my resolutions for 2023 is to do more reading. This is a challenge for me because my workdays are often long, and my reading is slow, but I feel so much more fulfilled in mind and spirit when I am reading regularly. The book that I just finished is called, How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon by Frank Thomas. Of course, the title grabbed me. Even after nearly 32 years in ordained ministry, I still wake up wanting to change the world, so I had to read this book!

Thomas is an African American professor at a protestant seminary in North Carolina. He is deeply concerned about racism and other injustices in our country, but the author never prescribes what the content of that dangerous sermon should be. Rather, he makes a distinction between moral preaching and political preaching, saying that we should regularly aspire to the former and steadfastly avoid the latter, though he admits that the moral can lead to the political. For example, preaching that God loves and values all people equally is a matter of moral integrity, but a political sermon would be encouraging the congregation to vote for or against particular policies that, in the preacher’s view promote God’s moral agenda.

More specifically, Frank Thomas believes that the church needs to be a place of vast moral imagination because moral imagination was Jesus’ priority. Many of the people that followed Jesus were desperate for him to kick the occupying Roman Army out of their country and return the land to Jewish control. When the crowds cheered for him as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, people definitely hoped that the Lord would march into the Holy City and throw the bums out. But Jesus doesn’t do that, which has more than a little to do with his death the following Friday.

Jesus does not engage in what, from a Jewish perspective, is a very reasonable political request, perhaps because he knows that even under religious authority, God’s people committed plenty of sins. Instead, the Lord spends his days telling stories about lost sheep and lost coins, about an unexpected foreigner helping a wounded man on the road, about shocking generosity, and about surprising people being invited to banquets. With each of these parables, God’s Son is trying to stretch our minds and hearts to get us to think differently about the world than we have always thought.

The church needs moral imagination today. We need to stop assuming that the rich will always get richer and the poor will always get poorer, that black people and white people are too different to really get along, that one serious illness could lead you to financial ruin, that real changes to protect the environment are impossible, and the survival of the fittest is the way it has to be.

Instead, we need to widen our minds to believe that with God’s help, a small group of people can make a difference, that people from different backgrounds can listen to and learn from each other, that putting others first doesn’t mean that we are less, that there are in fact enough resources to go around, and that real power is actually the ability to change someone else’s life for the better.

Moral imagination is the ability to live into a different story, and if you and I truly start doing that, it will be dangerous, indeed.

God Love You, and So Do I!

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