I recall the Annual Revivals at St. Stephen’s United Church of Christ in Greensboro during my years as Chaplain to Bennett (1988-92). With fond memories I re-live the ‘spiritual awakening’ we received those weeks as we ‘pressed our way’ to the Church house ‘early enough to get a seat’ in what would nightly be a ‘shaken together and running over crowd’. Jeremiah Wright was in town! Anyone who has ever experienced the ‘very right and reverend’ Dr. Jeremiah Wright in the preaching context is very clear about the ‘persecutions’ or maybe ‘crucifixion?’ This calling, as he is bold enough to struggle to fulfill, was given in his ‘birthright’. I commend to each of you an urgent reading of the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah, lest you be deceived. I give continuous praise, prayer and thanksgiving to God for ‘this messenger’ and very ‘rare breed of Man of God’. When it comes to the Word of God, I can hear the “old folks’ of my life saying while coming up, “ he ain’t never lied!”
By now you can glean that one of my most important sources is Paul Tillich who speaks, in a ‘time out’, as powerfully as any. He writes a message that he entitles— ‘Our Ultimate Concern’ for which he takes the text Luke 10:38-42. It too is published in ‘The New Being’.
Mary and Martha, he proposes, become the symbol for two possible attitudes towards life. “Martha is concerned about many things, but all of them are finite, preliminary, transitory. Mary is concerned about one thing, which is infinite, ultimate, lasting.” Concern means involvement. Concern requires a ‘part of us IN it’. At best concern has ‘our HEART IN IT’. Martha’s heart was as fully into ‘her distraction’ as Mary’s heart was in her ‘body bowed listening to Jesus’. Concern is often identified with anxiety. When we become concerned the ‘adrenaline flows’. There is even a bit of (self) ‘righteous indignation’ when ‘we be’ concerned. “Concern,” Tillich states, “provokes compassion or horror.”
In the documentary titled ‘The Bush Family Fortunes’, a young black man was interviewed who had been denied voting rights in the presidential election. His name was listed on the notorious ‘Florida Convicted Felons List’ that has yet to be reconciled. When asked if he had ever committed a crime he responded, “No. Never. I served in Iraq and have a perfectly clean record”. Compassion or horror?
Important to quote, even in length, is this statement. Tillich writes, “Every concern is tyrannical and wants our whole heart and our whole mind and our whole strength. Every concern tries to become our ultimate concern, our god. The concern about our work often succeeds in becoming our god, as does the concern about another human being, or about pleasure. The concern about science has succeeded in becoming the god of a whole era in history, the concern about money has become an even more important god, and the concern about the nation the most important god of all.”
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