LETTER TO THE JOURNEYANS
Care for some good news from heaven?
The title of today’s sermon is “Letter to the Journeyans.” I have four Bible texts I will share as we go along. This is my last sermon as preacher for The Journey. Jill and I, along with our three children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob, have been with you 15 years. I am stepping down as your preacher today.
We plan to give months of time and space to church leaders and stay in fellowship with you as we live in Tulsa area. Jill continues as Math Department Lead at Broken Arrow High School. I am going to work with the building business my dad started in 1958 and my brother currently operates, Taylor Homes.
One of The Journey Shepherds, who I affectionately call Brother John, built me a beautiful oak desk. John asked, “What are four of your favorite scriptures?” I told him, and he etched the references in the desk legs. The following are those scriptures, some of the many that have guided my preaching.
Exodus 34:6-7 is Moses getting re-introduced to God
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
When I learned this text, it changed my life. God introduces Moses to the God who was from the beginning pursuing humanity. God has always been pursuing in love, wanting all humanity to live in this love, allowing the consequences of sin be its own punishment.
Micah 6:8 is a prophetic call to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with the Holy
One of my Phillips Theological Seminary professors, Dr. Lisa Davison, recently offered this prayer for these times of upheaval in 2020. “We are the Divine’s children, trusted to be stewards of creation. We are the Holy’s people, called to make justice happen! We are the Eternal’s creation, challenged to love passionately. We are the Artist’s reflections, expected to echo the Divine love in all we do.”
I’ve learned as we pray the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday that part of our calling to do justice is to pray for God’s will in heaven to be done on earth. Sometimes God calls us to do something and we must obey. As I’ve come face to face with the worst white racist terror in U.S. history, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, when in two days 300 lives were taken, 10,000 black Tulsans were made homeless as 1,256 homes were burned down. Insurance claims were not paid, and equity and justice has never been done in our city.
So I started the 1256 Movement, a collective of people who believe the 1,256 homes burned down in the race massacre should be rebuilt. North Tulsa is a great place where so many wonderful people live. Yet there are too many inequities. This is part of the systemic racism we are coming to grips with in this national and local conversation on racism and anti-racism. One example is that black families have only half of the home ownership that white families have.
One reason for this inequity is because of redlining; banks have discriminated for a century. By working with banks, realtors, and black subcontractors, the 1256 Movement intends to turn the tide on these inequities. In the next ten years, the goal is to build homes for an additional 1,256 black families so they will enjoy the prosperity and hope that home ownership and equity can bring. Please pray for me and the 1256 Movement to move forward by listening and coming alongside black businesses and families to work toward these goals.
Jesus says, “No student is greater than the master” (Luke 6:40)
The Journey is not about me. The Journey is not about you. The Journey is about the life we find when we become a body where Jesus is the head, the master, our teacher. Jesus continues. When the student is fully trained, she will become like the master. Our Journey is to become like Jesus, from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor 3:18).
To the glory of God we’re showing the world that people of diverse backgrounds, gender, race can grow together as one body with Jesus as our Lord. Our staff, shepherds, and church family have been a close, loving, enjoyable, supportive, honest community to be a part of. We will miss serving in these roles deeply. I chose to focus today on a few real and symbolic acts of love you have shown me, but there are too many to recount here. You have literally washed my feet, loved and listened, financially and prayerfully supported my family, and I will never forget what you did for us. Thank you.
Jesus declares “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6)
We describe following Jesus as The Journey, The Way, where there is truth and life. We go where people can’t breathe and learn what it means to walk in the ways of life in the systems of our society that are unjust. God in Jesus Christ is the one whose life is our center, therefore we orbit around everything Jesus says, does, and calls us to be.
Even now the church and our world are facing new challenges. I want to remind you of our fifty year history as we look to the next fifty years as a church body.
In 1969 a group believed a church should be planted in East Tulsa. The church was known for being a good neighbor by reaching out to people in times of need. For two decades the church picked up hundreds of children on buses and brought them to church. Garnett Road was known for inclusion and love for the hurting, divorced, those rejected by society and other churches.
The church grew in numbers and influence the first twenty-five years, constructing a second building in 1980 on land on 31st Street between Garnett Road and 129th Street. In the second twenty-five years, starting in the mid-1990s, the church struggled, largely because of leadership failures and divisions. This second building was so large that it quickly became a burden for the declining membership to bear.
For the first fifteen years of the 2000s, the church rented out the church facility in an effort to use space better, raise revenue, and reach out to the community. In 2013, the church decided to end thirty-five years of debt in the building and land that had never been paid off. Leaders and the congregation did not know how God would get the church out of debt, but they cried out to God for help. The church did not intend to sell the building but opened hands and hearts to every possibility. In 2014, the building and 32 acres of land were sold to Union Public Schools to build an elementary school and health center for East Tulsa. This sale gave the church enough money to pay off one and a half million dollars of debt, start a mission foundation with one million dollars to send many missionaries over the coming years, and relaunch the church.
The church was relaunched in 2015 as The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ. Coming full circle, the church leased space in a school for Sundays. The church also leased a second location called the “Outpost” in a shopping center, where the staff prays and walks daily with East Tulsa neighbors. The church made clear decisions in the relaunch to invite women to publicly preach, pray, and serve as shepherds along with their husbands on the leadership team. With the new mission foundation, the church mission committee sought missionaries to support. Helping send forty missionaries, the annual support of missionaries by The Journey is more than any time in the fifty-year history of the church. Love, equality, and justice for all people is important in the life of the church and community. Worship is blended to engage old and young, with instrumental and a cappella music.
The church follows the leading of the Holy Spirit and word of God, inviting all people to the table of Jesus every Sunday, baptizing followers of Jesus, working toward loving and including people from all social, racial, economic ways of life. We believe this kind of love and presence of diverse people in The Journey honors God’s mission to all nations. The church includes Spanish prayers, songs, and messages to better serve the mission of Jesus in East Tulsa. Fifty years later, The Journey is still a group of Jesus followers who believe the church should grow right here in East Tulsa. What will The Journey be known for in the next fifty years?
“May your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears.”—Nelson Mandela
You are the church that remains and is facing the challenges of the next fifty years. I thank God for this heritage, and I’m calling you in the words of Jesus to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Fear not!” There is a video on this page made in 2016 by the Working Group on Constructive Theology that exhorts us,
“Jesus asked his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Scripture declares, “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?”
There are loud voices in our [world] delivering a different message today. They warn us that the world is filled with people who are so terribly dangerous that we must be afraid.
Those who desire power often promote fear, because fearful people are easy to manipulate. People who are scared will do almost anything, justified by their own anxiety. The cultivation of fear has enabled some of the worst seasons of human history—those times when ordinary people do terrible things. Theologian Howard Thurman wrote, “Fear insulates the conscience against a sense of wrongdoing.”
This church has a 50 year history of remembering, loving, and serving together across racial, gender, economic, political, and ethnic divides. Love is the first command. You and I, our church, Christianity, religions, all humanity is still yet to get this first command to love, right. Throughout our church’s fifty year history, the radical call to love all people is the most controversial thing we’ve tried. We need to keep trying another fifty years.
Please remember the ones Jesus remembers. The poor, immigrants, outcasts, ones people think are unredeemable. We know if Jesus can change hearts like ours over and over, there’s nothing he cannot do. Remember Tulsa ministries we partner with like East Central Village, remember Community Care, ACTION, OFEC, In the Spirit Church, Family Hope House, and Plumbline. Remember Predisan in Honduras, Ahava in Guatemala, Kibo in Uganda, and many other missionaries we partner with who serve those Jesus called us to all over the world.
Finally, I want to encourage the shepherds and staff to lead without fear, with passion and purpose to guide the congregation through this transition within and outside our church, through the challenges of our world. The shepherds have expressed a desire to learn more about how to speak against injustice and for a different world God has imagined for us. Remember this history I’ve recounted, the scriptures I’ve lifted up, the video as an example of speaking out in times of fear as you develop these stands against injustice and for the world God imagines in Tulsa and beyond.
By the grace and mercy of God, the church will continue to move forward with power of the Holy Spirit. We are called by these four texts I’ve lifted up today to live the life Jesus calls us to, to love mercy, do justice, walk humbly together as one body of many kinds of people with our Lord Jesus as our leader.
Only God can keep you from falling and present you before God’s glorious presence without fault and with great joy! To the Only God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be all glory, honor, power, and authority, for all time, now and forevermore. Amen.
Greg R. Taylor