Rev. Jonathan V. Newton, Assistant Pastor
Metropolitan AME Church
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 (NIV Version). Final Instructions (from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica): 12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil. 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
On this last Sunday of Black History Month, the first Sunday of Lent, and the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Sons and Daughters of Allen, I’d like to pick up on the Sons and Daughters of Allen’s theme, “Reflections on the Past, Links to the Present and the Future” with a sermon titled: “Before I Let Go’.
I grew up in the South Bronx at a time when music was big, and I thought I was the world’s greatest D.J. There was a go-to song that I would play that was guaranteed to start the party off, or shut the party down” “Before I Let Go,” by Frankie Beverly. It is a timeless classic, and even though it came out 30 years ago, young people and old people still jump up and say “That’s my song!” It’s on my IPod in rotation, right now.
The song is about a deep love that is REAL; it’s about a strong, everlasting commitment; where devotion is plentiful, and commitment runs deep. It gives meaning to the words: “Til death do us part.” The words of the song say: “I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever let you go!” We all like to sing about this strong commitment, this unwavering presence.
If only it were true. Because if we look at our families, our churches, our fraternities, our communities, our public service institutions, it is apparent that, as a people, we are constantly LETTING GO.
Look at the high school dropout rate, the rate of incarceration of Black males, the high unemployment rate for Black people, the rising number of single parent homes, the declining number of marriages, the fact that some people are choosing to live with pets rather than partners, the empty pews in churches all over the country – it is clear that WE ARE LETTING GO. DC can no longer boast about being the Chocolate City. How many opportunities/relationships/ ministries/breakthroughs/triumphs have we lost because we let our guards down and WE LET IT GO?
More important than the material signs of our letting go is the way that we as a community are letting our identity go. We used to walk around and sing with James Brown – “I’m Black and I’m Proud!” But now, some people just can’t wait for Black History month to end. Some of us think we are living in a “post-racial” generation because President Barack Obama got elected. But the Secret Service had to augment security protocols at an unprecedented level because there were so MANY death threats against the President – BECAUSE he is Black. It ain’t all that “post-racial” ya’ll.
Things that once defined us as a Black community are not socially significant to us anymore; some say “Now, there are all kinds of different Black people; now, there are so many opportunities, why should we just identify with black-stuff?” Some think, “Why should I limit myself to the black community, the black church, black businesses, black schools?” But the reason we are UNIQUE, the reason we are SPECIAL, is because we have something that needs to be TREASURED.
After attending great schools for a number of years, it was when I went to Virginia Union to study Theology that I finally arrived at a school where the Dean said: “We are UNAPOLOGETICALLY BLACK.” We need to hold onto our history, take pride in it, preserve it, and never let it go.
If we consider the theme for today, it is clear there were some things that identified us as a Black community. We have always faced struggles, but we used to stand firm – by faith — and we should take confidence in the fact that: GOD HAS NEVER FAILED US YET. We stuck together as a people when we were COLORED, when we were NEGROES; but when we became “AFRICAN AMERICAN,” a lot of us were just out for ourselves.
In the scripture text, Paul wrote a letter to the church at Thessalonica. That church was founded on a solid Biblical foundation. They were new Christians, with new challenges, new questions, and new concerns about the return of Christ that made them consider letting go.
Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica was intended to give the church strength; to strengthen their faith to stand firm until Christ comes back.
We have the Norfolk State University Choir here with us today, and since I used to sing in a choir, I’m going to use some “choir terminology” to lay out some things that will HELP US NOT TO LET GO.
1. EVERY ONE CAN’T SING THE SOLO. In the scripture at verses 12 and 13: “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.” The lesson from the scripture is this: Every one can’t sing the solo. At the church of Thessalonica, there was order and decency and there were elders and leaders in the early church. It was not about status, it was about following God’s leadership. God asks us to respect the leaders so there will not be dissension in the church.
In his letter to the church, Paul is essentially saying that those who are putting their faces to the ground must be respected so we can maintain decency and order in the church. It’s about leadership, NOT SHOWMANSHIP. We need to step back, help the organizations that we are a part of, don’t get caught up in false expectations because we get so caught up in ourselves. That’s when we start to let go, lose faith in God, lean on our own understanding – that’s when we let go so we can pursue our own selfish ambitions; that’s when we get angry impatient and disruptive – that’s when we let go.
People want to know – “why isn’t the church doing this; why isn’t the church doing that?” Why don’t YOU do it? Then the church will be there for the people coming back from prison, for the children who need a parent, for the elderly, for the homeless. Stop worrying about who gets the credit; rid yourself of the belief that “everything has to be about me.” Our “Big Momma’s” and our “Pop Pop’s” wouldn’t let it be all about us; we had to get up and DO something!
2. STAY ON BEAT. We want things QUICK, immediate – the days of toiling day and night are gone. If we can’t see it from the start in the morning, we let go. But in choir terms, we need to “Stay on beat.” It’s a trick of the enemy, the devil, to create dissension and to get us “off beat.” We got hoodwinked, bamboozled into thinking we have it all together. Jesus is not interested in those who create negativity and dissension. The enemy sneaks around us, with gossip and dissension. We look at one organization and find 10 things wrong with it; another organization and find 12 things wrong with it. We need to look at an organization that has ONE thing RIGHT with it. We have to be active and dynamic. If we “lean on our own understanding,” we will become weary, selfish, angry – that’s when we let go.
If you don’t trust God enough to tithe, if you don’t trust God enough to make a difference in someone else’s life, you may already be letting go.
Every day, I see people outside, WAITING IN LINE TO BUY A CUPCAKE. But if you ask them to show up at a church meeting, a fundraiser, to feed the homeless, to help the elderly – they might be “missing in action,” because they may already be letting go.
In the scripture, Paul is saying, before you let go, you need to look at the person in the mirror. It’s like the song by the Rapper Ice Cube: “You better check yo’self before you wreck yo’self.”
3. KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE DIRECTOR. In verse 19, Paul says: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; avoid every kind of evil: keep your eyes on the Director.”
Sometimes, we get so caught up in what WE want that we don’t give God enough room to move. Gideon’s troops were whittled down from 25,000 to 300 so they would know it was God who had fought their battle. Everyone was worried that Jesus arrived too late to save Lazarus, but Jesus came, and Lazarus arose from the dead, right on time. The woman with the issue of blood touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, and she was HEALED. Whether you needed healing, peace, some bills paid, a door opened – whether you needed a counselor, or a comforter, you know He’s been there for you – SO TRUST HIM IN ALL THINGS. HE WILL DO IT.
I’ve seen it in my own life. I was studying for the Bar Exam. Most people know that you might go to law school, but if you don’t pass the Bar, you are never really a “lawyer.” I didn’t have the money to take the bar review courses, so I just got some books and studied on my own. Then I became terrified. I thought – how can I make it out here studying on my own? But God gave me a message – He used Mary J. Blige and the lyrics in her song “My Life” to get a message to me:
…[B]e at peace with yourself
You won’t really need no one else
Except for the man up above
Because He’ll give you love…
Take your time…
…don’t you rush a thing
Don’t you know, I know
We all are struggling
I know it is hard
But we will get by
And if you don’t believe in me
Just believe in “He”
I trusted; I prayed in Him, He brought me peace. I trusted, and He brought me through. And I passed that Bar Exam the first time.
In the scripture, Paul is letting us know that WE HAVE TO BE READY; Jesus is coming back and we want to show that, as a community that has come this far by faith, we STILL have faith. There’s no sitting back, trusting in our degrees, our connections, our muscles, or our looks. You need to “check yourself before you wreck yourself,” and see if He don’t bring you through.
And if Frankie Beverly didn’t do it for you, James Weldon Johnson penned a song for President Lincoln, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Sometimes we don’t get to the third verse of the song, but this is what it says:
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by thy might led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places our God, where we met thee;
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee…
Brothers and Sisters, we can’t let go of our history and culture; we are unique we are special. As we go through Lent it’s a reminder to us NOT TO LET GO. Jesus didn’t let go; he stayed on that cross and died for us, and he came back to watch over us.
And Brothers and Sisters: Never forget the Lord; never forget what He’s done for you; never, ever, ever, ever, EVER let go. …Amen