“Are you a casual Christian, a casual Muslim or a casual Jew, or are you a person who is committed to your faith? Is it a casual, take-it-or-leave-it faith, or are you a committed person?” asked the Rev. Frank M. Reid III at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. “People say the United States is a Christian nation, but we have never been committed to the practices of Christ. We use [“Christian nation”] as a cloak for our religious insanity.”
Reid’s text was Psalm 37, verse 5, and his sermon title was “The Power of Commitment!”
According to Reid, Michael Gerson, Washington Post op-ed writer, interviewed him shortly after the Freddie Gray funeral, or as Reid called it “the Freddie Gray awakening.”
Gerson wrote in response to a Pew Research study that millennials were leaving the Christian faith in great numbers.
“Were they leaving a casual Christianity, or were they looking for a committed faith?” Reid wondered. “What goes on in the mainline churches is not commitment to Christ. It is a take-it-or-leave-it faith.”
When he was 13, Reid’s father gave him a copy of Quaker philosopher Elton Trueblood’s book, The Company of the Committed.
“It changed my life,” he said. “It is impossible to follow Jesus Christ without being committed.”
James Baldwin, he said, addressed the problem and challenge of commitment in his essay, “My Dungeon Shook,” in The Fire Next Time. Written to his nephew, also named James, Baldwin told him there was no reason he should try to be like white people or have them accept him. The really terrible thing was he had to accept white people and accept them with love, for that was the only way white people could be released from the trap they were in. That trap included thinking black people were inferior to white people. White people had no other hope of getting out of the trap.
“To act is to be committed,” Reid said. “It is to be in danger. That means to put yourself in danger — danger of losing your self-definition, danger of losing your privilege and assumed power. When you are committed to God in Jesus Christ, it changes your life.”
Reid said he wondered how Africans, introduced to Christianity through slaveholders, became committed Christians.
“When they were told that they would always be slaves, that their condition could never change, how could they sing, ‘And before I would be a slave, I will be buried in my grave and go home to Jesus and be free’?
“This was not a casual faith,” he continued. “It was a commitment. Like the conversation between the chickens and the pigs. The chickens were congratulating themselves for their contribution to breakfast. But the pigs said, ‘Yes, you made a contribution, but for me to give bacon is to make a commitment.’ There is a difference between a contribution and a commitment.”
In commenting on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me, Reid said he wished Coates had read The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. Dubois. In Dubois’ chapter on the sorrow songs, “He found the real spirit of the New World. They are the soul of American music and the most beautiful expression born this side of the sea. They have been misunderstood but they are the singular spiritual heritage of America.”
Reid said that the spirituals reflect the black church’s commitment to the Psalms.
“It is the great songbook of the faith,” he said. “Psalm 37 reminds us to fret not, but commit our way to the Lord.
“If you commit your life to God, God will give you light in the darkness,” Reid continued. “Life because Jesus came to give us life and life abundant, and love, because God so loved the world that he gave us his only son. Paul writes in I Corinthians that love never fails.”
He said, “When you commit your way to the Lord, you can sing that old song, ‘Why should I be discouraged, his eye is on the sparrow and I know he’s watching me. I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free.’ Keep on singing. The best is yet to come. Commit your way to God and God will give you life, light and love.”
The Rev. Carmen Perry presided. Joe Abi-Khattar, a 2015 scholarship student with the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons and a student at the University of Balamand, in Lebanon, read the Scripture in English. Guy Karam, also a member of the 2015 IOKDS Chautauqua Scholarship Program and a student at Lebanese Canadian University, read the scripture in French. They read Matthew 26: 21-26. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, conducted the Motet Choir. The Choir sang “If Ye Love Me” by Philip Wilby with text from John 14: 15-18. The Mr. and Mrs. William Uhler Follansbee Memorial Chaplaincy supports this week’s services.