“You Don’t Know Who You’re Messing With”

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2009 at 10:45 am

The sermon by Rev. Dr. Madeline McClenney-Sadler, Ph.D from Sunday’s NAACP anniversary event is now available on our website with her generous permission.

You Don’t Know Who You’re Messing With © All rights reserved.

Written by: Rev. Dr. Madeline McClenney-Sadler, Ph.D Permission Required for Use.
Sermon Title: You Don’t Know Who You’re Messing With
NAACP Theme: We Can’t Stop Now…The Struggle Continues

Location: Bethel AME
Occasion: NAACP 100th Anniversary
Date: Monday, August 23, 2009 – 5:00p.m.
Scripture: Gospel of John 18:28-38. Key Verse v. 30
[Offer–Opening Greetings, Thanks and Prayers, Well Wishes from Rev. Dr. Barber…]
[Read John 18:28-38 v.30 twice]

The Sermon:
The struggle continues because Inequity won’t retire, Racism won’t stand down, and Twisted Wealth fights against the poor. It seems Inequity, Racism and Twisted Wealth become more malicious in times like these. Similarly, the attitudes of those who cower to wrong power, resist fair play and swing [pause] with fear are way off. Even the attitudes of the Saints and those who love justice and fair play get way off at times. Therefore, I’ve come with a correction from Heaven because “I am Troy.”1 I am Blake. I am King J. and “I am–that I am.” That’s what God said to Moses after being told to deliver the Hebrew slaves. “Who shall I say sent me?” Moses said, and God replied. “I am–that I am.” Angels from Heaven….. please take your positions. Oh, let those who have understanding listen with supernatural ears today.
Americans have an expression that we use when someone is way off about something. It gives someone an opportunity to think twice. Or, it is a promise that a correction will be swift. We use it to poke fun, to boast, or to be dead serious. It is the kind of thing an athlete will whisper to a buddy before scoring the winning point. A parent will use it with a disrespectful child. A policewoman in plain clothes will use it if someone tries to rob her. Or, [Pause] Or, it is the kind of expression that a law professor from Harvard University may use with a Cambridge Police Officer who abuses his authority. It goes like this: You Don’t Know Who You’re Messing With. So, the title of the message this evening is: You Don’t Know Who You’re Messing With. It’s not a black officer. It’s not a Latino gang leader. As fine as this organization is, it’s not the NAACP. It’s God. God takes great offense when Inequity, Racism, and Twisted Wealth pervert justice. At that point, Heaven gets personal. God wants us to know Beloved, when we mistreat each other, we are not messing with human flesh, we’re messing with God. You Don’t Know Who You’re Messing With.

(click below for the rest of the sermon)

Officer Blake needs compensatory justice. Troy Davis needs a new trial. Michael Vick needs to be forgiven. And sisters with no prior records like Hamedah Hasan, in jail for minor participation in a boyfriend’s criminal activities, need to be set free early. Apparently, Injustice didn’t get the memo. And the Saints get so discouraged that we need to be reminded who we’re messing with too. We need to think twice or a correction will be swift.
If there were ever a time when we ought to look closely at a criminal proceeding in Scripture, it is now. The Criminal Justice System in the U.S. is so inconsistently just it can only be called unjust. Too many District Attorneys want harsh sentences for minorities. Too many Probation Officers violate probationers for minor infractions. We have a national mental health crisis that we solve with criminal justice. Adults and youth are literally losing their minds because our relationships are fractured. Husbands are attacking wives, parents are beating children, children kill parents, police abuse power. People are being kidnapped, carjacked, assaulted and attacked and law abiding citizens are fearful. Yet, the money for prisons is running out.
In our passage, this hearing comes right before Jesus’ execution. Still, we are not focusing now on Jesus’ tragic death. We are not too concerned about Pilate’s role in the whole affair. Instead, we take a close look at Jesus’ accusers–people who said “We know who Jesus is…Jesus is a criminal!” Yes, we are going to take a look at the angry middle class religious folk who saw Jesus as nothing more than a 1st century felon.
If there were such a thing as the six o’clock news in the first century, Jesus the felon would appear walking down a street escorted by the police of his day. Hand-cuffed, if you will. The announcer would tell us that the vandal who destroyed Temple property, who repeatedly broke the Jewish laws–the welfare king who relied on the generosity of unsuspecting middle class women to promote his suspicious doctrine; the man who would hang out in the hood with tax collectors and prostitutes…and claimed to be God– had finally been apprehended and was waiting for sentencing. Yes, in the minds of the felon’s accusers he was little more than a common criminal.
As we know, Jesus’ accusers didn’t know who they were messing with. How could they miss the fact that their salvation and the salvation of the nation was inextricably linked to what they thought about how they treated King J. If we are not careful, we could draw the wrong conclusions about how to treat today’s so-called criminals. God not only brought us salvation through a woman, in the form of a Jewish man; but also, God saved us by taking on the status of a common criminal. Do we even know who we are messing with? If we do not learn from Jesus accusers, we are in danger of repeating their mistakes. First of all, they were hiding from the truth; secondly, they let their position of privilege go to their heads, and thirdly, they were a mob looking for easy solutions.
{REPEAT} Let’s examine each of these behaviors closely.
You see the felon’s accusers didn’t know who they were messing with because they were hiding from the truth. Instead of seeking viable solutions to the problems he created, they took the easy way out and described him as a demon and a violent threat. The court records stated that he destroyed Temple property. He aided and abetted adulterers by mocking religious laws….“anyone who is without sin, cast the first stone.” With this statement, he helped a woman escape the death penalty. The rap that he rapped was a gangsta rap. He was always making drive-by threats against the status quo, predicting their fall and ruin, claiming to be the real light, resisting arrest by disappearing from a crowd. Yes, whoever they were messing with, he was a threat to civilized existence and had to be dealt with to the maximum extent of the law. The felon’s accusers hid from the truth. They could golf and watch Oprah from their hiding places. After all, the felon was just getting what he deserved. For the most part, they thought “the system was fair.” They had to hide, Beloved, because truth would require a change in attitude and behavior.
The truth in our day is that 60% of so-called criminals are going back to jail for minor probation and parole violations, like being late for an appointment. According to the Harvard Law Review the truth is that “discrimination exists against African-Americans at almost every stage of the criminal justice process.” And we might add, Latino Americans too. What most of us do not realize about tough on crime legislation is that “the new drug laws focused almost exclusively on low-level dealers in minority neighborhoods. Police found more drugs in minority communities because that is where they looked for them. [SLOWLY] Had they pointed the drug war at college campuses, “it is likely that our jails would now be filled overwhelmingly with university students.”2 The truth is, though African-Americans constitute 13% of monthly drug users, yet, we account for 74% of those sentenced to prison for drug possession. The reality is that the 3X laws—are not rational. A third strike means life in prison. We are locking up some people for 20 years for a nonviolent 3rd strike. Like, Jesus’ accusers we really don’t know who we’re messing with [Illustration of Garcia whose 3rd strike was stealing meat to feed his family].
Secondly, Jesus’ accusers didn’t know who they were messing with because they let their position of privilege go to their heads. You see the chief priests were the ones who wrote and interpreted the law–a class of priestly legislators, if you will. Being comfortable with privilege means the sins of your group and the sins of those around you whom you protect— are not really bad sins. If you are associated with the privileged people, your errors are not considered threatening to the welfare of the group, state, or nation. But the sins of people outside your group…the sins of common folk….are a burden to the powers that be. As a person of privilege you have influence with the Roman’s, you can call on the ruling party to execute your judgments.
You see beloved, who we see in jail does not tell us who the criminals are in a society. It tells us who is in control. A few of us are in control—the middle class, blue and white-collar workers, somewhat educated and somewhat religious folk–the chief priests of our day. We can travel to any prison in the world…and the only thing we will learn about the demographics of criminal activity is who defines it. A glance at Germany in the 1940’s and we would be wrong to conclude that Jews were criminals, however, we would be correct in identifying Nazi control. A glance at who was in South African prisons in the eighties and we would be incorrect to conclude that black South Africans were the primary criminals in that country, but we would be correct to conclude that the Apartheid party was in control. A look at U.S. prisons today tells us nothing about who commits the most crime, but it does tell us that poor people are in jails built by wealthy people making the laws. Yes, Jesus’ accusers were comfortable with privilege.
I wonder…. who would be in jail if America’s current prison population took over lawmaking for the next 10 years. What if today’s inmates–white, black, brown, and yellow–people of low income and no income, disenfranchised hopeless citizens and immigrants, what if they had a chance to make the laws. There would be new chief priests on the block. I believe we would all go to jail.
I say we would all be in jail because knowing a person was hungry without feeding them would constitute criminal activity. Voting for people who denied health care to struggling citizens would constitute criminal activity. If today’s inmates were in control, we would get a first strike for supporting legislation which helped the middle class and rich, but limited possibilities for the poor. Robbing a store for food because you are drug addicted, there’s no treatment, the church doors are closed, and you’re hopeless—would become a misdemeanor; however, walking by such a person without offering him a job or some help would be a felony. Strike two. Holding even a little stock in a retirement account from a company that produces high fashion shoes (like mine) with cheap foreign slave labor, would constitute a third strike, because the new government of former inmates knows that it is immoral to subsidize slavery. “Oh, but the company paid minimum wages” we might argue. However, paying someone enough to starve on is unlikely to be considered a mitigating circumstance to our ex-con legislators. With three strikes, we would all be doing life without parole.
Oh, it’s good to be a member of the privileged group. As long as we maintain our position, we can call everyone else a criminal. Our laws will favor the weaknesses of our group. Cheat the government. That’s a white collar crime. We’ll give you time to pay it back. Ruin working class peoples’ retirements with junk bonds…volunteer work is all you really need. You can wait for your court date from your NY penthouse. Buy cocaine and weed in the city–take it back to the suburbs—we won’t even look there. One white southern preacher admitted to his congregation last year, “If our children were going to jail like African-American children, we would have solved these problems a long time ago.”
Lastly, this first century felons’ accusers did not know who they were messing with because they were a mob looking for easy solutions. You see, they didn’t ask about Jesus’ parents. They did not want to know the critical figures in Jesus’ life who might account for his anti-social behavior. They were not interested in what moved him to vandalize the Temple one Sabbath. They had no desire to understand his sense of justice or injustice and how his mental state may have triggered his gangsta like hate for the privileged people and their laws. All that Jesus’ accusers knew was that he broke their laws….the laws of the priestly ruling elite…..and since he was not one of them and a threat to their way of life….the easiest solution was the fastest and most punitive….hand him over to the Romans….death by crucifixion. They thought they were educated people, but they were really nothing more than a mob.

Oh, I hear the Angels saying “You Don’t Know Who You’re Messing With.” Let me break it down. Get ready to mail the memo to Inequity, Fax the summary to Racism, send an email to Twisted Wealth. Let the Saints in the struggle be reminded of who they’re messing with. Because now…It’s Personal.
His name is Jesus. He was born under what the chief priests would have called suspicious circumstances. He grew up in a town called Nazareth. Like a poorly performing school district, an urban ghetto or trailer park, a rural shanty town, or secluded mountain enclave, there were people who thought that nothing good could come from Nazareth. But Jesus….was from Nazareth. According to the deposition of one witness, he was a homeless man who had no place to lay his head. According to another witness, he hung out with gang members called Samaritans. Hear me now, his own community was so embarrassed by his behavior that they disowned him. Turned him over to the authorities to be treated any kind of way.
But the only thing that really matters about this 1st century felon named Jesus is that he specialized in saving people with a record. Did I say specialized, I mean he specializes (present tense) in saving people with a record. And as far as Jesus was concerned everyone had a criminal record. King J was drawn to people with the worst records. Unlike his accusers, he didn’t hide from the truth about people’s circumstances-he investigated. He didn’t find comfort in a place of lofty privilege. He went to the streets. He didn’t have his disciples surround sinners like an angry mob. He demonstrated God’s love. Jesus loves people who have records. He asked Matthew, a dreaded and despised tax collector to be a disciple. He dismissed the case of a lady caught in adultery even though she deserved the death penalty. He forgave Peter for not testifying on his behalf. He told stories about second chances for sons who lived wild and were welcomed back home. Yes, Jesus is a savior for people with a record. If we don’t know this much about Jesus, then we truly don’t know who we’re messing with!
I am so glad…that Jesus specializes in saving people with a record. If truth be told…we all have records. Many of us have long and extended criminal records with that Judge on high… [Pause] Just because no one can look up your record, doesn’t mean you don’t have a record in Heaven. Therefore, we have a moral obligation to secure justice without delay; to work for peace and racial reconciliation without hesitation; to unite together in love without competition; to defend whistleblowers who fight for right; to mentor and coach people coming home from jail; to work for mental health treatment for those who are a danger to themselves and others and…. to tell the world that salvation came through a felon. Get the memo right now. If know one else cares, Christians must care what happens to King J and other men and women like him because….
Every time your criminal case comes before the Most High Judge….a 1st century felon stands up and says “Your honor I would like to have a word with you….” But the Accusing Bailiff [Pause] begins to read a list of your offenses .[Stern voice] covering up the truth, STRIKE ONE, stealing, STRIKE TWO, neglecting the elderly STRIKE THREE, pre-marital sex, STRIKE FOUR adultery, STRIKE FIVE, getting high, STRIKE SIX, never helping the poor, STRIKE SEVEN ……thinking your sins are not as bad as other people’s sins STRIKE EIGHT.
The bailiff turns and looks at you knowing that your time is up. But quick and in a hurry, that 1st century felon turned public defender….approaches the bench “Your Honor,” he says, “I would like to offer my life….for the life of the defendant.”

Every time we get frustrated with the felons of our day, whenever we want to throw everybody in jail, let’s slow our roll. Our salvation depends on a 1st century felon. Maybe there is something that a so-called criminal can teach us about Justice, Mercy and Atonement. Live out the Jesus story in your own life…and let his closing statements in your case be a guide …
In the Court of the Most High,
that felon turned public defender
looked at you preparing for Hell
and Jesus said [Slowly].
“Apparently, You Don’t Know Who You’re Messing With-”….
“Dry Your Weeping Eyes, Hold Your Head Up….
I’m a Savior for anybody with a record…..I’ve been there…This is Personal.


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