In a city that is known for its love of material pomp and flash, I have to remind myself often that the kingdom of heaven advances in ways that are quite unexpected. God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise (1 Cor 1:27). He does not reveal his glory through the vehicles that we think he should. Rather, he reveals his glory by whatever means that he wishes, and he needs no worldly equipment added to him to make it work.
I know personally that this is true because the greatest sermon I’ve ever heard on the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17 didn’t come from some big name preacher. It didn’t come from a high powered academic. It came last Friday from a formerly homeless man named Sonny, who considers it his calling in ministry to deliver the gospel to the poor and homeless of Houston, Texas.
What does the world say about Sonny? That he is a small, fifty-something African-American man with little to no money, little to no influence, and little to no impact on the world. But what does God say about Sonny? That he is the light of the world and a minister of the gospel waging a cosmic battle against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). I’m going to go with that one.
I met Sonny after he preached at a mid-morning church service for the homeless near downtown Houston. Without looking down, he went through 7 bullet points on John 17 with hardly a stutter. He had no notes, and when he looked at the Bible it was out of courtesy and humility, because he had the chapter memorized. Emotion poured out of him. He yelled over the wind for half an hour with all the rhythm and flow of a spoken-word poet. Like only a black preacher can do, he seemed to be delivering music rather than words as the tone of his voice rose and fell in pattern. I knew I was experiencing something that I would want to relive over and over again, so I pulled out my iPhone and caught a clip of the sermon. Here are two minutes of Sonny’s sermon from Friday, July 26, 2013.
I knew this was more than the rambling of some deranged street preacher. This man knew the Word of God in a deep way. I assumed that somebody who is somebody had to have taught him and trained him in the Word, whether a seminarian or otherwise. I was wrong. I asked him who trained him in the Bible and he said, “My earthly father but mostly the Holy Spirit.” Sonny never went to seminary. He simply trusted God for the knowledge he would need, and then he checked himself against the findings of another trained person (his father, in this case) to make sure that his theological and biblical findings weren’t incorrect. And to make a minister of the Word, that’s all it takes.
I also found out that Sonny had a minor stroke a few weeks ago. His doctor told him he needed to take it easy. And if you watched that video clip, you know that advice went as unheeded as the doctor knew it would.
Sonny preaches every Friday morning at 9:45 a.m. at James Bute Park at the intersection of McKee and Runnels in Houston, Texas. There are no buildings, there are no microphones, and there are no well-dressed people. Good thing none of that is required.
There are about 50 churches in New York City whose only meeting places for Sunday worship are public school facilities. (This is normal for many small churches). But I was completely shocked a few months ago to learn that the city was moving to pass a law that would make these worship gatherings illegal. By creating a sloppily-written piece of legislation, NYC authorities intend to allow basically any organization to meet at these schools on weekends EXCEPT the church of Jesus Christ. If the legislation (which has been blocked by a U.S. District Judge for the time being) goes final, a weekend KKK meeting at these public schools would be allowed, and a worship service by followers of Jesus Christ would not. No, I’m not kidding.
Now, let’s keep our eye on the ball here – this is not a political blog. And it’s also not an overly dramatic blog. But let’s call this what it is: persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Right here. In America. “One Nation Under God.” Hard to believe.
A typical reaction to these things is to say, “Ah, it’s not so serious! The churches can meet someplace else!” Well, probably not, but even if that were true, it is not the geographic meeting place I’m concerned about. It is the fact that the government of our nation’s most prominent city has raised its fist directly toward the body of Jesus Christ. And if you are a Christian, I believe you have to do something about it. It takes half an hour to write and mail a letter to the mayor of New York. It takes half a minute to tweet at him. And it takes half a second to bring your eyelids to a close and start to pray.
Beware the attitude that says you need not speak out for your brothers and sisters.
I’m reminded of Martin Niemoller, a German church official during World War II. Read the rest of this entry »