On April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King was shot on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. Seven months later Richard M. Nixon was elected President of the United States—on the theme of law and order.
Fifty-two years later, on May 25th, George Floyd was suffocated on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota. At this time it’s uncertain who will be elected President in six months, but what is certain is that at least one side of the political debate will be using law and order as a plank in their platform. For some the phrase “law and order” means peace and stability. For others, it’s code language for racism and oppression.
I recently watched the 2016 Netflix documentary entitled 13th. It is a 100-minute film that explores the history of racial inequality in the U.S. prompted by the inclusion of a clause in the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (guaranteeing freedom from slavery) that states, “Except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” It focuses on the fact that today our nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans due to repeated application of this clause throughout the decades. It’s a sobering and seminal piece. As one person, who watched it with me said, “It’s better to refrain from drawing any conclusions or making any substantive reform suggestions until you’ve had sufficient time to ruminate on what you’ve just witnessed.” Sage advice! We could all do with some productive rumination.
Winston Churchill once said, “The further backward you can look, the further forward you are likely to see.” And when it comes to political tension and social unrest no truer words have been uttered. However, the parallels between the state of our nation in the late 60s and early 70s and today are breathtaking. As Yogi Berra would say, “It’s déjà vu all over again!”
At the height of political tensions in 1972 Larry Norman released an album that marked the dawn of an entirely new genre of music. In 2013 his album was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in its National Recording Registry. It was the first album of this genre ever raised to such prominence.
They said of it, “Larry Norman is articulating a widespread sentiment, then and now. Most of the album vents the social discontent of a day in a sixties-style articulation against the backdrop of scriptural imperatives.”
Having grown up in San Francisco, the oldest of four, Norman wore his hair long and rode a motorcycle; but otherwise he was straight as an arrow. He grew up in a black neighborhood a few blocks from Haight and Ashbury Streets. He said of himself, “I don’t really sing rock ‘n’ roll. I sing black music, but I’m white.”
But more than the product of his heritage or ethnicity, Norman was a committed Christian who examined the state of the world through a biblical lens and offered a cogent alternative to anger and despair. In fact, it’s the same alternative that Apostle Peter offers in this Sunday’s text: 1 Peter 2:11-17.
In his second song on the album, Larry Norman profiles, in poetic language, the heart of his alternative to anger and despair. He entitled the song, “The Outlaw”. It’s a musical tribute to The Outlaw who changed everything for him—even his perspective on himself, his culture, and his purpose. Here are the lyrics:
“Some say he was an outlaw that he roamed across the land
with a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
No one knew just where he came from or exactly what he'd done
But they said it must be something bad that kept him on the run.
“Some say he was a sorcerer, a man of mystery
He could walk upon the water, he could make a blind man see.
That he conjured wine at weddings and did tricks with fish and bread
That he talked of being born again and raised people from the dead.
“Some say a politician, who spoke of being free
He was followed by the masses on the shores of Galilee
He spoke out against corruption and he bowed to no decree
And they feared his strength and power so they nailed him to a tree.
“Some say he was the Son of God, a man above all men
That he came to be a servant and to set us free from sin
And that's who I believe he is 'cause that's what I believe
And I think we should get ready 'cause it's time for us to leave.”
There are three lessons both Larry and Peter learned from the Outlaw. And each of these lessons enabled them to stand while all around them others were falling into the bondage of sin and hatred. It’s these 3 lessons Peter profiles in Sunday’s text. In a message entitled, “Living It Out”, we will dig in deeply.
In preparation for Sunday’s message, you may wish to consider the following:
1. Download 13th and ask yourself as you watch it, “How does my standing in Christ (as a living stone) inform my perspective on the time and place in which I live?”
2. How does “The Outlaw” challenge my self-absorbed racial biases?
3. How does “The Outlaw” enable me to live as a responsible citizen of the Kingdom of God while still living in the kingdom of this world?
4. How are 1 Peter 2:9 and 2:11 related?
5. What tangible building, made of stone, is Peter referring to in 1 Peter 2:4-5, when he analogies the church to it?
6. What mind-blowing realities come to your mind as you wonder what Peter is saying?
7. How does 1 Peter 2:11-17 flow from Peter’s awesome insight?
8. What’s the implication for you in being called “a sojourner and exile”?
9. How will honorable conduct lead others to glorify God?
10. How does bondage to Jesus breed absolute freedom to live for the sake of others?
It’s Independence Weekend! See you Sunday!