This past Sunday night (October 29, 2017) I had the privilege of preaching at New Livingstone Church (Pastor Ronnie Mitchell) during their “Solar Eclipse Revival: Where love covers hate.” My sermon, “A Call for Corporate Repentance” was based on a blog I had written a couple of months ago. I shared parts of the blog with Pastor Ronnie, and he asked that I build my sermon around that blog. That sermon is written below. I would really be interested in your thoughts:
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, people believed that their fates (for good or bad) were intrinsically intertwined with the fates of everyone else in their society. This shared sense of fate created a deep sense of community. For various reasons during this time, which comprised most of human history, people knew they were dependent on each other for survival. If something went wrong—a war, a tribal conflict, a drought, an earthquake—it affected everyone the same and so everyone pulled together to survive. If something went well—a successful hunt, a bountiful harvest, the birth of a new child—it affected everyone the same, and so everyone gathered together to celebrate. This strong sense of community created a culture of shared values, shared beliefs, and shared traditions.
One sees this sense of community all through Scripture. In fact, you see it in the very nature of God. God, by His very nature, is a Community—God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit—the Trinity. God is One Being existing in three Essences with each Essence sharing the entire Being. God, Himself, is THE Community of all communities!
This idea of community is seen in creation. God said it was not “good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), so He created woman, and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth…” (Genesis 1:28). “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:25). Marriage and family is the first community to which we belong, and it is a God-ordained community!
All through the Old Testament one sees people’s fates (for good or bad) intrinsically intertwined. The Flood affected everyone. The Tower of Babel affected everyone. God’s promise to (and through) Abraham affected everyone. And throughout their wilderness journey, one person’s sin affected the entire community. Nothing we do is truly a solitary action.
In the New Testament, upon seeing the baby Jesus, Simeon cries out, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-31).
This idea of community is further developed by the first Christians. The Book of Acts reads, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:45). The New Testament concept of community is illustrated by the Greek word koinonia, sharing all of life together; the good, the bad, and the ugly. A synonym for community is relationship. God wants a relationship with us, and He wants us to live in relationship with one another. In the words of one of my seminary professors, “You cannot be right with God and at odds with your brother or sister.”
Fast forward to life in the USA in 2017. A hallmark of our culture is individualism, and the victim of individualism is community. In his book, The New Evangelicalism, Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, writes, “The American church…has placed at the center of its theology and ecclesiology the primacy of the individual…Life and ministry in the local church, therefore, became the race to please the individual so that the pews might be filled” (pp. 29-30). This individualism is best seen in the commercialism and materialism that has deeply infected the church.
What happened? How did we get to the place where individualism replaced community? Some say it started with the great theologian, Augustine. He was the first theologian (and the most influential theologian in the West) to do serious personal reflection and introspection. His very personal book, Confessions, is the example given.
Most scholars, however, believe it started during the time of European, and United States, history called the Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason (1685-1815). During this time period, philosophy ruled. The thinking was that through science and reason, humanity could solve all its problems. This was a time of beautiful art, the birth of democracies, marvelous discoveries, and incredible inventions. All of which paved the road to the Industrial Revolution (from mid-1700s to mid 1900s). A major development during the Industrial Revolution was what sociologists and economists call the “division of labor.” Now, what affected you may not affect me. Or worse, a negative for you could be positive for me, and visa-versa. Now, more important than the whole, was what I, as an individual, accomplished. My rights, my happiness, my job, my skillset, my career, my family, and my paycheck, became the most important thing.
One can see this attitude infiltrate the church through the Great Awakenings of the 1700s, and the tent-revivals of the 1800s and the stadium crusades of the 1900s through the present day. A key component through all of this was an individual call for salvation by asking Jesus into your heart by reciting the “sinner’s prayer.” What was lost through this individualistic faith was the call to community faith that stands against injustice, challenging the power structures of the day, praying (and working) for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. The result is that right now, in the United States, we have more Christians then every, yet are having less influence than ever.
Our need for Revival
What we need is revival!
What we need is a God ordained, Holy Spirit inspired, fire and brimstone conviction revival that first brings us to our knees, and then gives us the backbone to stand up and once again be the CHURCH! A church that storms the gates of hell instead of sits in our comfortable buildings. A church that is more concerned about what is happening on the outside, in our communities, then on the inside, in our Sunday School classes.
What we need is revival. But first, what we need is a time of lament and repentance.
Notice that “revival” is a communal word. Revival happens within a group context. Revival is not about individuals confessing their individual sins, as important as that may be. Revival is about the church confessing her sins of subjugating her responsibility of being salt and light in the community to the government, or to well-meaning non-profits.
Revival is about the church confessing her sins of placing buildings and budgets and power and fame above the gospel of the present reality of the kingdom that preaches “good news to the poor,” proclaims “freedom for the prisoners,” recovers “sight for the blind,” releases the “oppressed” and possessed; and through it all proclaims, “the year of the Lord’s favor” (an adaptation of Luke 4:18-19).
Revival is not about me and you, but about us. Revival is not about saying the sinner’s prayer (as important as that may be) but about the church evaluating herself, asking ourselves, are we sheep, or are we goats? The reason this question is so important, and the reason we need revival so desperately, is because Jesus is coming, and He is coming soon.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46).
A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog called, Frustration and Disillusionment. I shared a little bit of this blog with Pastor Ronnie when we first met to discuss this revival. He told me that this is what my sermon should be. I wanted to preach something else, but I could not shake his words. So, here is part of that blog:
“I think, the reason we are where we are as a Church is because of our over-emphasis on individualism. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, for decades…we have placed the needs of personal salvation above the need for social reclamation. Don’t misread what I just said. Personal salvation is extremely important, but just as important is social reclamation. It’s not one or the other. It’s both. Jesus came to reconcile people to God. But He also came, announcing the kingdom of God, a new social order. We have concentrated on saving individuals while society has been left to go to hell. We preach individual sins and individual repentance, but avoid like the plague speaking out on social sins and calling for communal repentance…
I have been accused of being too political. I have been told to “keep to preaching the gospel” and stay away from social issues… But how can you read Luke 4:18-19 and Matthew 25:31-46, and not conclude that the gospel is social and political and individual?
Usually, when people say I am too political it is because they have heard me talk or write, about poverty, gentrification, and racism. All are social sins. My response is, “If I were speaking out against abortion (an individual sin) and homosexuality and same-sex marriage (individual sins), you would applaud me for my courage and conviction. But I talk about unrestrained capitalism and the death-penalty and livable-wages, and mass incarceration, you think I am being too political.”
And that’s the problem with the Evangelical Church today.
We need fewer people in the pews on Sunday, and more people in the public square, crying over the social sins that are destroying our country.
We have fought the wrong battles.
We have called out the wrong sins.
We have preached the wrong sermons.
We have lost our moral authority.
We need to listen to prophetic voices.
We need a time of corporate lament and repentance.
Only then will God send revival.”
So, as a group, as the church, what sins do we need to confess? Well, there are many, too many to name. Let me leave you with three, representative sins that I believe we need to confess.
- We need to confess our sin of focusing on the individual, at the expense of focusing on the community.
This is the sin of selfishness.
Listen to the Words of God through the prophet Jeremiah, and notice His emphasis on community: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters, find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you…Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
- We need to confess our sin of remaining silent in the face of mounting injustice.
This is the sin of apathy.
It has been rightly stated that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy. Listen to the Words of God:
- “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).
- “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (AND NOW NOTICE) “Come now, let us reason together says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:17-18).
- “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
- We need to confess our sin of retreating to our holy-huddles instead of attacking the public square.
This is the sin of fear.
When Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18), He was not telling us to play defense. He was telling us, the Church, to be on the offensive, and to attack the very gates of hell, because nothing, and no one, can defeat us! Instead of guarding our doors, keeping people from getting in, we are to be attacking the doors of the enemy, knocking them off their hinges.
Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Matthew 5:13). Few verses have been misinterpreted more than that verse. Most of the time, when people talk about being salt, they talk about how we are to be preserving and purify agents in the world. But that’s playing defense! In Jesus’ day, salt was an offensive weapon used by the military on their enemies. In fact, salt was such a high commodity, and useful weapon, that often salt was used to pay Roman soldiers. Thus, the etymology of our word “salary.” Armies would spread rock like salt (a natural resource, not a chemical compound) on the fields of their enemies, destroying all crops and contaminating the soil so more crops could not be planted. Salt, could deal a death blow to the enemy! But if the salt lost its saltiness, it’s only use was as gravel for roads and paths.
When Jesus says we are the “salt of the earth,” He is telling us that when a church moves into a community and a city, as the church becomes the church, the gospel is spread on the enemy’s field, killing all the enemy’s fruit, destroying all the enemy’s crops.
In other words, when the church is being the church, poverty can no longer destroy people’s lives in that community. When the church is being the church, addicts are set free and drug dealers are put out of business. When the church is being the church, prostitutes are made whole and mass incarceration comes to a halt. When the church is being the church, drive-by shootings are replaced with community gardens and neighborhood cookouts. When the church is being the church, there are homes in every community for every income level. When the church is being the church justice rules in places of power, people are healed, the oppressed our delivered, the hungry are fed, the naked our clothed, the homeless are housed, the uninsured are cared for, and the immigrant is welcomed with opened arms. When the Church is being the Church, the crops of the enemy are destroyed, and in its place, grows the fruits of the Spirit.
I want to be a part of that kind of church!
I want to pastor that kind of church!
But in order for that to happen there has to be a revival, and before there can be a revival, there has to be a time of corporate lament and corporate repentance.
The prophet Joel is speaking to us today when he says, “Declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord” (Joel 1:14).
A Corporate Lament and Repentance:
If you are ready for revival, say this corporate lament and repentance with me.
Our most Holy and Loving, and Just God. We stand here today as a small representation of Your Body, the Church. Lord, our hearts are broken, and we lament that we have not been who You created us to be. Like the people of old, we have been more concerned with building our own homes, instead of building Your house.
Our hearts are broken, and we lament, because we have let You down.
We, as Your people, confess our corporate sins.
We confess our sin of selfishness that has caused us to focus on individuals instead of focusing on families, neighborhoods, cities, states, countries, and the world. We confess that faith in You as has much to do with the community then it does the individual.
We confess our sin of apathy that has caused us to remain silent in the face of mounting injustice all around us. We confess that faith in You cannot be separated from standing up for, and caring for, the orphan, the widow, the immigrant, the poor, the hungry, the homeless, all who have been marginalized in our community.
We confess our sin of fear that has caused us to retreat to our holy-huddles instead of attacking the public square. We confess that we have played defense, when we should have been playing offense, attacking the gates of hell, pouring salt on the fields of the enemy.
Almighty God, we know You are a God of grace and mercy, and so, we ask You to forgive us our sins
In Jesus name, we ask these things. Amen.
And now, let us pray together,
“Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power,
and the glory, forever.
(Matthew 6:9-13, KJV)