• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

You are Human

Who Are You?, an eight-week sermon series for the new year on being and becoming our true selves, preached February 13, 2022 for the 930am Worship

Watch this sermon online at https://youtu.be/OpSJyrWDbh8?t=1094


Context

In this new year, Rev. Caitlan and I are doing an eight-week sermon series titled “Who Are You? Being and becoming our true selves.” So far, we have heard how we are Called, Gifted, Connected, Known, and Empowered. Let’s remember a bit of where we’ve been…


Called – God called you into being and is even now calling you to trust and cooperate with God’s purposes. That’s who you are.


Gifted – You have gifts to make a positive, even holy difference in this world. God gave you those gifts not to hoard them or enjoy them for your own benefit only, but to give them away for the benefit of all creation. That’s who you are.


Connected – What sets humankind apart from other creatures is that we are created in the image of God. Our God is a triune God, a God who knows relationship and connection inside God’s very self. Yes, we are individuals, but the connections between us are the more important. That’s who you are.


Known – When we try to be private, secret, anonymous, we defy a reality and deny a truth. We are known by God and are created with a deep, inherent desire to be known by one another. That’s who we are.


Empowered – In those moments when we aren’t sure, when we are tired, when we are frustrated or feel like failures, God comes beside us and gives us the courage and power to go farther, go deeper. That’s who we are.


Today, let’s wonder together what is means that we are also HUMAN.


Prayer


Scripture Luke 6:17-31

17 Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.


20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24 “But… woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.


27 “(So) I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on a cheek, offer them the other also; and from anyone who takes your coat, do not hold back even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone steals your possessions, do not ask for them back.


31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.


Sermon You are Human

One of the first music videos I ever saw on MTV was “I’m Only Human” by Human League. Do you remember it?


“I’m only human, of flesh and blood I’m made,

I’m only human, born to make mistakes”


Just a few years ago, Rag’n’Bone Man put out a popular song called “Human.” Have yall heard that one?


“I’m only human after all, I’m only human after all. Don’t put the blame on me. Don’t put the blame on me.

I’m only human, I’ve made mistakes, I’m only human, that’s all it takes to put the blame on me... to put the blame on me...”


In both songs, the artists are trying to convince themselves and others what being human means, they make mistakes. They are saying being human is an explanation, a defense, an excuse even for the mistakes we make when we hurt each other or do nothing to help each other.


Some of the verses we read today are also in Matthew, in what we often call the Sermon on the Mount. Here in Luke, we often call this the Sermon on the Plain. “Jesus came and stood on a level plain,” and spoke plainly to the disciples and people around him. He tries to tell them, tell us, who we are.


He says some of us are poor. We know that’s not the way God made us or wants our human community to be. God made enough in creation for all to have enough, but some are poor. Jesus reassures all the people, the poor will not always be poor. They will live one day in a human community where justice and equity are realities.


Jesus says some of us are hungry. We know that’s not the way God made this creation. God made enough for everyone to have enough to eat. When we are good stewards of creation, no one goes hungry, but some are hungry now. Jesus reassures all the people, the hungry will not always be hungry. One day, they will live in a human community where they have their fill and never again feel that pain.


Jesus says some of us weep with sadness, hopelessness, grief, so much so we’ve lost our path back to any sense of joy or passion. We know God gave us all our emotions for good reason, a full and wide breadth of emotions, but the way we do community with each other, some get lost in the colder, shadowy valleys and can’t find a way out. Jesus says the sad, depressed, grieving will not always be wandering there, dangling on the edge of tears. One day, they will live in human community where laughter and joy are easy and authentic again.


Jesus even says some of us recognize the problems with the way we are doing community with one another, and some are working on it, trying to help, to change habits or traditions, policies or laws that trap people in poverty, hunger, and sadness. Then he says bluntly, those that try are likely to be resisted, criticized, hated, or abused for their efforts. Jesus says to those who suffer such frustration and feel like change is impossible, not worth it, too hard, too expensive, too costly on their souls, that kind of resistance is a sign they are doing good, and they can dance with joy knowing they are seeing and moving toward God’s kingdom, just like the prophets of old did.


We ARE only human, right, born to make mistakes? We are only human after all. We’ve made mistakes and don’t like it when the blame for those mistakes bounces back upon us.


Now, look at what else Jesus says about the way we are doing humanity. Jesus says woe to you who are not poor but wealthy. You will lose what you’ve been collecting. Woe to you who have more than enough to eat. You are going to find yourself feeling those hunger pains. Woe to you who’ve enjoyed the luxuries and privileges of life without hardship, sadness, or grief. You are going to find yourself weeping and mourning. And woe to you who are enjoyed and appreciated by the people. You are going to find yourselves alone.


Jesus is describing for us where we are, what the journey toward real humanity looks like, what true human community and relationships will look like. If there are still poor and rich, hungry and well-fed, some with too little and some with more than enough, we’ve not yet become who we are and who we are created to be. If some feel pain and suffering and others walk around it, ignore it, overlook the suffering of their brothers and sisters, we’ve not yet become the connected community we are created to be. If some are working hard to help God’s kingdom become a visible reality now for all God’s children, and some are actively resisting them for the sake of their own preferences, we are not yet who God created us to be.


As human beings, we ARE unique in all of God’s creation because we were created in God’s image. In the image of God, God created humanity, male and female, God created us. God called us into being, gifted us, empowered us to be a connected community of sharing and cooperation. That’s who we are. That’s what it really looks like to be a human being.


But we choose to do something else with the will God has given us. We choose to eat the forbidden fruit. We lie to one another and cheat on one another. We choose to hurt one another, even kill one another. We choose to hoard more than we need, even if that means robbing someone else of having enough. Is this what it means to be only human, after all? Does being human mean we are designed to make these mistakes?


There’s an ancient Christian confession about Jesus. We name Jesus of Nazareth as both fully God AND fully human. We say Jesus is the epitome of humanity, what the fullness of humanity looks like. In seeing him, we see humanity. But Jesus didn’t make those mistakes. Jesus didn’t betray the will of God, lie, cheat, or hoard his gifts. Jesus did not make choices to preserve his power or grow his fame. Jesus deferred to God’s will and made choices that honored truth and life even when resisted or hated for it. To be human is to make the choices Jesus made.


And we, we are humans too. So what’s the other stuff? Jesus was fully human but didn’t make those mistakes the songs attach to humanity. But we do. We make those mistakes. So what is that about us that makes those mistakes? It's not our humanity. Jesus had that and didn’t make the mistakes. What is it about us that makes us lie, cheat, steal, hoard, hurt one another? It's not our humanity. The church term for it is SIN, not my favorite word because it is so often misunderstood and misused.


Our Pub Theology group is reading and discussing the book “Faith Seeking Understanding” by Daniel Migliore. In his description of the person and work of Jesus, he says this:


“Jesus is fully human. While the New Testament does not give us materials for a biography of Jesus, there can be no doubt that it refers to a concrete human being who is like us in all respects, with the exception of being ‘without sin,’ which is essentially alienation from and hostility toward the grace of God.”


It isn’t our being human that makes mistakes. Its sin. Sometimes, we are born into countries or cultures, born under systems and structures that perpetuate poverty, hunger, pain, and hate. That doesn’t mean we were born to make the same mistakes those who came before us made, or taught us to make. We were all born human. We were born called, gifted, empowered, and connected to make a world that doesn’t have those disparities, and as Acts 2 suggests, “44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at homes and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.” That’s the picture of humanity. That’s who we are, and who we pray to see when we look in the mirror. The other stuff, that isn’t human. That’s sin, the ways we have inherited, or been taught, or chosen to run from or resist the radical grace of God.


Another way we could say it this. Sure, we are human, now. But we are not yet fully human. For those times we follow the way, truth, and life of Christ, there will be significant resistance. What should we do when there is resistance? Fight harder? Mow our enemies down to make sure God’s kingdom comes to fruition?


Jesus, the only full human, gives us this advice. Do what he did. The reason he came was to show God’s love and mercy available to all humanity stained with sin. The very ones who insulted or attacked Jesus were the very ones he came to grace, love, and save. His response to sinners has to honor the grace of God he wanted them to experience, the fullness of humanity they were born to be. So he taught his disciples and us to do what he did, to love his enemies. To do good to, and show love to, and give blessings to those who bombard him with cruelty. He focused on being fully human even when humans attacked him with sin.


And so when the times came, he was bombarded, he could honor God, and the beauty of all God’s creation, even in his enemies, and he loved them, and showed them grace and returned to them no cruelty or evil despite the evil they did to him.


Should we find ourselves in the spot where we are being bombarded with cruelty, let’s pray we have practiced here in worship together, how to not respond in kind. Let's pray the reason we come here is so we never feel alone but connected, and when we make the hard choice to move toward full humanity, the resistance will not win. We have buddies and friends on this journey to full humanity. Let’s spend time looking at the poverty, hunger, and pain in the world, in our community, the church, our families, and even ourselves, and we try to show it grace. That’s what it means to be human, not the mistakes or the blame


To God be all the glory and honor now and forevermore. Amen.


Charge

I’m not prophet or messiah, you should go looking somewhere higher.

I’m only human after all, I’m only human after all. Don’t put the blame on me. Don’t put the blame on me.”


Benediction

And now, blessing laughter and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the world turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.

Let’s pray…

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