Still I Rise

Pastor Rachel Livingston 

 I. The Authority of Christ

Who would ever deny our Lord and savior? Who would challenge that Jesus Christ is Lord?  It is so pivotal to the context of our faith.  For we know that Jesus Christ is Lord over our lives.  We live, think, and breathe it.  We know it to be true, because as Christians we hang our faith on the Christological understanding that Jesus is the head over us, that he is the central point of our salvation, and he provides our redemption.  We have dedicated our lives to love Christ, a person of our triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet one God, with all our heart, soul, and might – making Christ’s ways our ways.  But as we are so assured in who Jesus is, because our faith is built upon it, everyone is not so convinced and historically, during his time here on earth, people quite often challenged his authority.  The push and pull between Jesus and the Pharisees and chief priests is quite a common occurrence in the book of Matthew.  There was legitimate tension on the air, so thick it could be cut with a knife, as the chief priests continued to challenge Jesus on who he was and through what authority his ministry functioned.  Who are you? And with what authority do you do what you do? They must not know what we know, because if they knew who our Lord was, if they knew the glory that rest in the hands of this messiah, if they knew the grace and redemption that flowed from this man, they would not have challenged his authority, but bowed down because of his authority.

II. The Pharisees Challenged His Authority

As we see in our scripture, the chief priests, those that studied the law with righteous intent, those that focused so closely on the law that they promoted the meticulous obedience to it, those who had dedicated their lives to following the written law of Moses, these people, had focused so hard on the law, that frankly, they had become blinded to the living Word, the fulfillment of the law sitting in from of them.  They approach Jesus and directly questioned his authority. “By what authority are you doing these things?” Do they not know they are speaking to the Son of God, the Messiah, the one who brings salvation?  It almost seems as if Jesus is responding flippantly, saying, “Don’t you know? Are you so encapsulated with the law that you do not see who I am, that you do not see the movement of God within me? Do you not see the word put into action within the ministry of work I do? Are you so caught up in your own ways and your own teaching – your own meticulous study – that you are blinded to the movement of God in front of you, and what it looks like to apply the word of God in love, peace, and justice?” 

It is as if Jesus echoes the words that can be found in the poem written by Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise” – “You can write me down in history, with your bitter twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” – You see it is quite probable that in this instance Christ is saying, you are trying to tear me down, you want to break me and challenge my authority, and you can run my name through the mud, but if you only knew with what authority I speak, if you only opened your eyes to the authority I have been given – you would know what God is doing, what God is up to in this world. No matter what you do to me, or how you try to challenge me in public, you just don’t know the power and the salvation that is yet to come because you have been blinded by your own ideas of what God looks like and how things should function. You have not opened your eyes and because of that you do not see that all of humanity will reap salvation, because I will be torn down and still rise. Your work to tear me down may seem to prevail in your eyes, but through the power and authority of God I will rise, with redemption and salvation for all of humanity in my hand.  So as you trod me in the very dirt, with all that I am, still like dust, I rise.

As Christians we are removed from this moment  – but thank God that God was able to use what the world saw as destruction, and still rise – rise that we might be made whole, rise that we might be redeemed, rise that we might be valued as human beings specifically designed by God. Crucified and Resurrected – Still I Rise.

You see, the chief priests were so ready to challenge Jesus and to trip him up, to test him and to put him in a place where he would embarrass himself – they just knew that he did not know the law the way they knew the law – they knew that he would not be prepared for their questions – Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops, Weakened by my soulful cries? – but as they worked to see him broken, it was revealed that he knew the law more than they did, that he had far more authority than them, because as we know he is a living manifestation of the Word – he was given more authority than they realized, because he was the one and only God, the messiah, the savior of the world.

 III. Open Our Eyes That We May See

The reality is that the chief priests were so caught up in following the letter of the law that  they were blinded to the authority of Jesus; they were blinded to the lordship of Jesus Christ; they were blinded to the movement of God in the actions of Christ; they were blinded to the world’s need for the ministry that Jesus was doing; they were blinded to the souls crying out for the salvation that only Jesus could provide, they were so focused on chastising people to live according to the law that they were blinded to the love, peace, justice, and healing  that Jesus was doing; and they were blinded to the connection to God that people were receiving through the work of Jesus.  Even as Jesus tells a parable to teach them this theological message, the Pharisees are so focused on giving the right answer to prove themselves.  Granted, they are trying to deliver the right answer that would trap Jesus into invalidating his authority, but they were still focused on the small minor idiosyncrasies of the of the law and giving the perfect answer that would show their authority – that they failed to see what Jesus was teaching.  So, blinded that they couldn’t even see the truth, the word that Jesus was showing them.

Now the question lifted up this morning is: are we as blinded as the chief priests? A question we should always be asking ourselves – not to chastise ourselves, but to make sure we are challenging ourselves to open our eyes to where God is moving, that we might be faithful to where God is leading us.  Have we been so focused on law and order that we missed the wailing of the ground crying out, have we neglected to hear the mourning of the people that call for the liberation and redemption of Jesus Christ, are we so focused on the our ideas of respectability that we have ignored the ways in which people feel invalidated and so undervalued that they feel like their lives don’t matter, have we neglected to see the need of people for the love a savior who has authority? And what’s more dangerous, have we stood in the way of Jesus, the balm of redemption for all these rifts in the context of life? It is my worry that sometimes we are so focused on the ideas that we have of faith that we miss the places that need the movement of Christ, and what’s worse we miss the actual movement of Christ in the world.  Sometimes we are so focused on the rules of religion that say I must wear a certain thing; act a certain way; do certain things; impose upon the way people live their lives because it is not my understanding of what faith is; or focusing and enforcing certain things that we feel like are part of our Christian lives on other people, that Jesus never professed in his teaching.  Are we so focused on the minute details of the rules and regulations of religion that we are blinded to the need for Jesus or the ways that Jesus is moving in the world?  It is no secret that even this week it seems like the world is crying out for Christ, as just this week, the nation has once again erupted in civil unrest as parts of humanity wail in agony, feeling like the justice system has failed them and their lives are undervalued in the context of society; the nation has been made just a little more unbearable as both political parties have contributed to an uncomfortable political tension; and the world continues to be rocked by a global pandemic that has now killed more than 200,000 Americans. But where is Jesus moving –are we paying attention – and how is Christ moving to bring us liberation amongst the wailing of the world?   You see, sometimes we are so focused on who we think Christ is or how we want Christ to be that we place him in a box and fail to see where Christ is and with what authority he actually moves – we blockade the movement of Christ and challenge with what authority it functions – we are like the chief priests in that way. But we are challenged to open our eyes to where God is moving to join with Christ that we might help push the movement of God where it is needed.  

The difficult teaching that Jesus is professing is right in our scripture this morning.  You see, in the altercation, Jesus acknowledges they are so focused on the letter of the law that they fail to see the authority that is within him, and they fail to see where God is moving, they fail to see all the things that God is doing.  His words echo the statement – You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness but still, like air, I’ll rise – You see the Pharisees and chief priest could not see the authority and lordship of our savior Jesus Christ.  And no matter how hard they tried to tear down Jesus, it was to no avail because the work of Christ was going to prevail.  Their tearing down meant nothing, because Christ was still going to profess love, still heal the sick, still feed the hungry, still proclaim liberation to the captives, and still bring about redemption.  No matter how much they tore him down, no matter how much they challenged him, even though their work led to his beating, led to him being stretched wide on a cross, it led to his suffering, it led to him crying out in agony, it led to his death – still he rose – on the third day he rose, all power in his hands, with victory over death, providing redemption to the world you see that the work of God will still keep moving, despite the goal of the chief priests to tear down Jesus – and the uncomfortable message may be that the mission of God will keep moving despite any limitations we put on it – it will move even if we stand in the way – it may move without us.

IV. Will We Be Left Behind or Move With Christ?

And Jesus says, “Truly, I tell you the prostitutes and the tax collectors are going to the kingdom of God ahead of you.”  Therefore Jesus is proclaiming that you can challenge me but the work of God will still be done, the movement of God will still happen, the reality is, will we open our eyes to the authority of Christ and the ways that God is moving.  Even those they see as deplorable can see the authority of Jesus, and because of that they are led to glory by the ministry of Christ.  You see the movement of God will still happen, whether it happens with us or not.  But we have to open ourselves to where God is moving because we don’t want to be left out of where God is moving – when history is written we don’t want to be documented as the chief priests, as a hindrance to the work of Christ, but we want to be documented as the people of God working with God. This is our lesson today.  As the world cries out, are we blinded to the authority of God and the ways God is moving? Are we blinded by our own way of doing things, ignoring what Christ is trying to show us and teach us? You see, the  ministry of God is not bound by humanity.  Jesus says, whether or not you see it, the mission of God will still move.  Those we see as deplorable, which aren’t in fact deplorable but human beings redeemed by God, but yet defined as deplorable because we are caught in our own definition of God and what is good and respectable, will be able to see God more clearly than us because they have made themselves vulnerable to God, opening not just their eyes but their very souls to Jesus, and we on the other hand have not open our eyes to the God we claim as ours.

So the challenge is, will we open our eyes to see where Jesus is moving in the world, because if we don’t pay attention, God will move without us.  Maybe the real question is do we want to be like these chief priests and be left behind as Jesus is moving, or do we want to rise with Christ and move where God is moving. In the midst of heartache and pain are we moving with Christ as he rises to provide love, peace, and justice; in the midst of the ground crying out in pain and sorrow are we moving with Christ as he rises to care with genuine empathy for the people of the world; in the midst of a torn, tense, society are we going to rise with Christ as he brings peace and reconciliation. Because Jesus is saying to us still I rise, still I will offer grace, still I will bring redemption, still I will bring salvation, and I rise, I rise, I rise, now will you be with me as the people of God as I Rise?