"Now Gather, Now Disperse", a sermon by Pastor Fred Kinsey
Readings for Day of Pentecost (C)
The season of sandcastles has arrived, or is surely about to, when families descend on beaches, and backyard sandboxes, and children fill their buckets and begin to build their towers. We gather and disperse in the great outdoors of summer, and sandcastles are the monuments we leave in our wake.
I remember – just barely-- playing in the sand with my brothers and sister and cousins from Texas, in the summers of rural Wisconsin. I still remember the very spot amidst tall pine trees that we considered our own personal sandbox, and have actually returned to it a few times over the years, half expecting my castles and towers to greet me and come to life! But, I found no such archeological evidence, and I question now the grandiosity of my creations, so well constructed in my tiny toddler mind! Now, sure only that we had gathered there, and been dispersed, when our moms said it was time to go, pulling us away kicking and screaming, as I recall.
And, I have been to Rhode Island beaches with Kim many times during visits to family there, and seen cities of castles, made all the taller and more impressive on the ocean’s edge, with the help of the salt water, like a mortar or tar substance to strengthen the layers and levels of the towers, as they reached ever higher. Yet they were also endangered by that same sea, as the tide came in, suddenly flooding their foundations or crashing their outer walls, and slowly but surely they were all washed away, despite the objections of scurrying children, determined to patch them up.
“Now the whole earth” gathered together, it says in our First Reading from Genesis 11, “in the land of Shīn’ar,” which would be named the city of Babel
. Since they had just migrated there “from the east” after the flood, they all had “one language.” And to express their unity, they begin to “build themselves a city, and a tower in the city,” very tall, saying, “let us make a name for ourselves.”
I suppose we could read into this story something like the building of the Sears, now Willis tower, or else the Twin Towers in NY. But the comparison is only accurate in the sense that “making a name for ourselves” is a deliberate decision to put ourselves at the center of the world, and, consciously or not, to keep God out of the picture. For the real reason the people of one language want to build, comes last in this story’s telling, when they say: if we don’t, “we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” It seems the city of Babel is mostly motivated by their fear of being dispersed, scattered, losing their unity – their self-crowned sovereignty. A legitimate fear, I suppose, like any child on the beach, afraid the tide is about to wipe out their creation, or their parent is about to pull the plug on their grand kingdom-making plans, in their tiny toddler minds, and scatter them to their homes.
So where is God in this story, we might ask? Actually, God is quite personally present, though, God can’t actually make out the puny little tower from the heavens, it’s worth noting, but must come down to find it. God is not really threatened that the tower would be some kind of stepping stone for humans to come up on the same level with the creator. But God sees what will happen to them, to all the people, if they keep going in this direction – “this is only the beginning of what they will do,” God concludes upon inspection. “So the LORD scatters them, disperses them abroad from there, over the face of all the earth…”
In a sense, they are not yet ready for their mission of being the people of God. So God saves them by scattering them and confusing their speech into many languages, so that they will not continue on their path of making a name for themselves, leading them farther and farther from the name God wants to name them with – chosen. God knows that gathering and scattering is our pattern, but God wants to give it a purpose!
Now, “when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all [gathered] together in one place,” waiting as Jesus had told them to do 10 days earlier at the Ascension. “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
And so it has been said that, the day of Pentecost reverses the story of the City of Babel – gathering people of many languages back together in one place, in order to release them, disperse them once again, this time having received an understanding and a purposeful unity, for a mission that God will give them, their mission as God’s chosen people.
They have been waiting patiently – well, fearfully too – behind closed doors in that Upper Room in Jerusalem. But they don’t make the same mistake of trying to make a name for themselves
. They don’t begin to build a sandcastle, or tower, to memorialize their own name and satisfy their fears. Instead they pray together, and they gather for the purpose of what Jesus promised them, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which gives them what they need for that day, the gift of other languages, but also a monument for all time, and for us in our day, a message and a mission God was bestowing on them, with Jesus the anointed one, the self-giving risen one, at the center. Even in their diversity, they were united by the spirit’s power to give them understanding and a message that, in Peter’s words, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And so all of us on this Pentecost Day are strengthened and unified, not by making ourselves infamous in sandcastles and monuments to ourselves, but to the extent that we are chosen and raised up and Sent with a purpose, by the power of the Spirit.
Can this help us as we are dispersed and sent out from this place? Are we better equipped to recognize the ones who ”babel”
today, and who desire to make a name for themselves, whether politicians or corporations, individuals and even churches? Are we ready to recognize those leaders who react out of fear, making decisions that blame others, or even attack them? Are we ready with a message of salvation, very near – on our lips
, that comes from the loving forgiveness we know in this powerful wind of Pentecost? Has this been a place of gathering for socializing on Sundays, but unclear about the Sending, the vision and mission we have been chosen to enact the rest of the week out in the community?
The Holy Spirit empowers us and Sends us. In these times, in this post-Christian world, we already know how it is no longer enough to believe in our hearts, and hide it away from our lives. How even if we keep our noses clean, it’s not enough, because the systems we live and participate in, contain the same self-centeredness that need transformation by the Spirit. Living out our faith, being sent by the Spirit, experiencing renewal in the church based on the words and deeds of Jesus, is fueled by the blowing wind, increasingly louder and more insistent, burning in our hearts so that it can no longer be contained there, but now rests visibly on our heads, like on the disciples, “a smoky mist,” compelling us to take responsibility for all our actions, individually and institutionally, to make God’s world into the vision of peace and justice, he died for.
Pentecost reverses the city of Babel story – and now it is safe to gather as one people, united in diversity. Here at Unity, we are united in our diversity too. And we continue to make it a safe place to gather, and to invite in other partners to this Community Center, a center for life and a diversity of languages. Immigrants from the east, speaking in languages from Africa and Asia and the Middle East, gather here; and residents from uptown and downtown, from north and south, east and west.
How can we build our sandcastles, to the glory of God, instead of monuments to our own glory? In what ways can our vast diversity in this neighborhood unite us and make us stronger, now that God has filled us with the power of the Holy Spirit? Does the water of baptism make us stronger, like the mortar of our childhood sandcastles? Can we build on the gift of the Holy Spirit that gathers us for praise and prayer, and scatters us back out to feed the community as Jesus feeds us here at this table?
Every week we are gathered in to hear God’s word and share Christ’s supper, and then Sent out by the Spirit to joyfully share the good news. Gathered and dispersed, gathered and dispersed, we pulsate like the oceans tides, and the powerfully creative winds, blowing through the pine trees of our lives. Breath in this breathe of life, deeply, and share it with the world!
"What does Oneness Take?" a sermon by Pastor Fred Kinsey
Easter 7C Readings:
If there is “oneness” in the church, the world will know God’s love, argues the Evangelist of John’s gospel. And then the actual oneness of the world to which we are called, in Christ, has possibility.
So what does it take to have oneness? How does the world perceive the church today? Do we love one another?
On this Mother’s Day, oneness just seems to feel more possible! Statistically, Mother’s Day is the third best attendance day of the year, they say, after Christmas and Easter. We can’t help but feel good when we’re centered on “one” thing, celebrating Mom’s, in this case. We’re more together. On the same page. After all, everyone has a mom! Even Harley riders, “love mom!” Though, everyone’s experience of who mother is to them, varies, of course. Being “mothered,” teaches us love and sacrifice, strength, leadership, and vulnerability – just to name a few traits we learn, that are a part of all of us. And, even when we lose our mothers, it never completely ends the relationship, but often makes it, still more complicated.
Even the tradition of Mother’s Day was born of conflict, I discovered. Julia Ward Howe’s idea of Mother’s Day was completely mission oriented – what can mother’s, what can women do, that is unique for them? In 1872 she rallied women to a “Mother’s Day for Peace,” having delivered a Proclamation called, an "Appeal to womanhood throughout the world," in support of, disarmament, if you can even imagine. Women, who so often bore the brunt of war back home when husbands were away fighting, and the consequences of conflict when they returned, and also when they didn’t, were the perfect ones to promote, pacifism, she argued. That was Julie Ward Howe’s mission.
But then Anna Jarvis came along a generation later, in 1908, to create a Mother’s Day more like we have today, simply wanting to fulfill her own mother’s wish, of honoring Mothers once a year, on their special day, with a personal hand-written card. And President Wilson made it official in 1914. But for Anna Jarvis, the holiday soon became too commercialized. And in 1948, after speaking out against Mother’s Day for some 30 years, she was arrested, ironically, protesting the very holiday she had helped create!
Last Friday, I hope you noticed, was the 127th anniversary of – wait for it! – “corporate personhood” in America. That’s right! And a small, but important organization, Move to Amend, organized rallies of protest around the country to begin the nationwide process of repealing its most notable example, the “Citizens United” decision. I’ve been waiting for this – this spark of protest and hope! It was the Supreme Court decision, Santa Clara Co. vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, back on May 10, 1886, that first opened the door to allowing corporations to be classified as “persons,” resulting in one of the most obvious reasons we are so divided as a people today. Corporate personhood is legal, but morally and ethically compromised, especially as we can see how it has snowballed into the greed and excess we know today. Our groaning word-less prayers
to the Holy Spirit surely are aimed at this evil spirit of divination
walking among us, this global-landless-nation-unto-themselves, a 1% that is virtually irreproachable, which is slowly but surely, imprisoning the rest of us, and tearing us apart. Working for oneness, if that is our mission as believers, is under threat, in so many ways. But because corporations never die, but legally have a quasi-eternal life of their own, it’s sort of like watching a zombie movie. And it’s time that we order it, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out
, and unbind us all.
We see this dynamic of slave and free, oneness and division too, in the story from Acts in our First Reading. Paul and Silas are making new relationships in Philippi, and it’s a tough slog for Paul, starting from scratch, in the diverse society of Greece. But God has led the way for Paul and his companions to meet a woman named Lydia, the business woman and proprietor of purple cloth, who receives the Word, and joins the Way. Having invited Paul into her home, and with her resources – as, she probably had some means, as a seller of the cherished royal and expensive purple cloth – she provides a mission start congregation for all those who are responding to Paul’s message of salvation. Lydia probably was unmarried, but she gives birth to something equally important, the First Christian Church of Philippi!
But it is also here in Philippi, that Paul, not unlike Jesus in Jerusalem, will be severely beaten and thrown into jail, and almost lose it all. It happens as a fluke, it seems. When Paul, intending to do good – although, he’s personally just irritated, and “had it up to here” with the slave-girls’ schtick, which actually nails who Paul & Silas are, with her shouts all over town, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation”! She is not wrong. But Paul, again, acting in the Jesus-like way of casting out demons, ordered the spirit of divination, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out of the slave-girl
. But the girl, with a talent of fortune-telling, brought her owners a great deal of money
. In other words, they used her, for their own personal financial gain. It was legal, but certainly by our standards today, not ethical, moral or acceptable, especially as followers of Jesus.
So Paul, does what he can, unbinding the slave-girl from her possession. Unfortunately, she is doubly imprisoned! As far as we know, the slave-girl, now released from the evil spirit of divination, is still slave to her ruthless owners. What will they do to her, now that they have lost this source of income? We see what they are capable of in lashing out at Paul and Silas, calling in favors from their friends in high places in city government, having them stripped, flogged and thrown into prison together, in solitary confinement. It was a near death experience.
But then, Paul & Silas begin to sing hymns from the bowels of the prison. And that’s when resurrection begins to happen. Like the earthquake at Jesus’ crucifixion, the earth moves and breaks open the chains of all the prisoners, and they are free! Or are they? They are free to go, so why don’t they? If they escape, Roman law says that the Jailer is responsible, no matter what, and his punishment is execution. And so this Jailer decides it’s better to commit suicide. And just as he is about to fall on his sword, Paul shouts out that, no one has left, don’t worry, all accounted for – in effect, saving his life!
The Jailer then goes to Paul, and like the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, is trembling with fear and amazement. And overcome by the power of God, becomes a follower of Jesus. The Jailer hosts Paul and Silas at his own home, washing their wounds. And Paul, in turn, washes his whole family in baptism – and the spirit of the Most High God, makes them one, as they dine at table together. And so the young church there is expanded now to, Second Christian Church of Philippi.
Those who once were imprisoned, Paul & Silas, the slave-girl and the Jailer, are now freed. And those who took their privilege of freedom for granted, her owners and the town’s authorities, look more like the enslaved. It’s a gospel story in miniature, from suffering and near death, to resurrection new life, baptism and meal. The lowly are lifted up, and the mighty brought low, as Luke says.
But I can’t help but think of the slave-girl, left behind. For Paul, and Luke the writer of Acts, she is not a concern, in a time when slavery in the Roman Empire is still legal. But in our country, having been through that malaise in our own history, it seems unconscionable that there is no hope for her to be freed. We know that the power of the Holy Spirit continues to call us into action. The civil rights era, of course, has deep roots in the African-American, and other, churches. And today, we see how far Marriage Equality has come. It’s something our congregation, and many in the Church, stand behind, where even a few years ago, such a thing was as invisible and expendable as the slave-girl.
So tomorrow, perhaps inspired by the Holy Spirit, the spirit of the Most High God, we will see the scales fall from our eyes, and begin to recognize our enslavement to “corporate personhood,” and begin to throw off the chains that hold us captive, and separate, and continue to pray for a greater oneness, that might ignite our faith in action.
Until then, we continue to sing hymns of praise and pray to God, that we, with a faith like Paul and Silas, a faith that never dies, a faith that never runs from conflict, and even reaches out to our enemies - is a faith for us - because we are confident that it comes from the Holy Spirit, that is always blowing and at work, to transform the world and set us free.
The Sixth Sunday of Easter (C)
Pastor John Roberts
Bringing Christ Home
I stood in my father’s hospital room and looked at him.
He had already been in a coma for two days. There would be four more.
I wanted him to wake up. Yes, because I wanted him to come back to us alive and healthier.
But also because it had been awhile since I had said “I love you.”
I tried to remember when it was that I had said those words to him.
My father and I were very different men.
Neither of us said those words to the other very often.
I said them to my mother often but dad was just not that kind of man.
At least that’s what I kept telling myself.
He didn’t wake up though.
And I have regretted not saying those tender words enough to him ever since.
My twin sons never got to know either of my parents.
But I did my best to tell them about their grandparents;
who they were and how I think they would have loved them so dearly.
And to this day, every conversation my sons and I have with each other
ends with those words I never got to say to my dad one more time.
I love you.
The words of today’s Gospel reading come from the last days Jesus had with his disciples
before his arrest and crucifixion.
Again and again, Jesus warns them that there will be a time soon when he will not be with them.
Again and again, he tells them to love one another.
Love one another just as he loved them.
Love one another like a servant who washes feet.
Love one another so much that you’re willing to lay down your life for one another because there
will be times when you can’t love one another.
Every year the Church makes us examine those times when the love and peace of God are interrupted
by loneliness, fear, or even despair.
The two great festivals of God’s beauty and power, Easter and Pentecost,
are separated by the Ascension of the Risen Jesus.
For the disciples, it must have felt a bit like God had been teasing them
with the presence of the Risen Jesus.
They’d gotten through the doubts they all had shared at the beginning with Thomas.
They finally believed that it was their Jesus who had led them to the
shores of Galilee to have breakfast with them.
They were beginning to feel comfortable to have him appear and then disappear and appear again.
But on the mountain of Ascension, they were told by the angels that they would never see him again.
They tried hard to remember those stories Jesus told them about the coming of the Holy Spirit.
But they knew that hadn’t happened yet.
For 10 days, Jesus was just absent. God was absent. They were lonely again.
Fear started to crack their faith again.
They were in between the good, faith-filled, beautiful and powerful times.
We know all about those in-between times;
the time between careers, between homes, between jobs, between relationships,
between healthy and healthy again; the time between the simple faith of our Sunday School childhood
and the complicated, sometimes doubting yet strong adult faith we have now;
the time between the certainties of yesterday and the promises of tomorrow.
We know what it’s like…….. to know that we have faith……. and yet to fear inserting our faith into daily life situations.
Paul and his companions knew all about this too.
Armed with new Christian faith and the zeal he had always had for God,
Paul and his companions taught the Gospel throughout Asia Minor
but in the 3 verses preceding today’s First Reading, we are told that the Spirit of Jesus
kept them from going to Phrygia, Galatia and Mysia.
They went to Troas….and there Paul had the vision described in the First Reading.
“Come to Macedonia and help us,” the man in the vision said.
So Paul, and Timothy, and most likely Luke and probably a few other companions left immediately for Macedonia; through Samothrace and Neapolis to Philippi.
And on the Sabbath day, they went out by the river, where they had supposed there was a place of prayer
and met Lydia.
Now Lydia is described as “a worshipper of God……from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth.
The first detail tells us she was probably Jewish (there were many Jews who lived outside of Palestine).
The second detail tells us she was not at home but in the big city of Philippi probably to sell her purple cloth.
And that detail tells us she was probably somewhat wealthy.
A wealthy, Jewish woman is the first one in Macedonia to receive the good news about Jesus the Christ.
And she and her entire household were baptized.
And her home became home base for Paul and his companions.
She brought Christ home and from her home, Christ was brought home to hundreds.
I will not leave you lonely, Jesus told the disciples.
I will give you an Advocate with the Father.
I give you the peace which the world cannot give.
I am with you always to the ends of the earth.
I have prepared a place for you.
I am the way, the truth, the life.
I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me.
I am the vine……….you are the branches.
And you will love me and keep my word,
and my Father will love you, and we will come to you and make our home with you.
And that home will be here:
listening to the Word; sprinkled with baptismal water; fed at the heavenly table
with bread and wine, body and blood.
And that home will be in your homes and in your workplaces and in your schools.
And that home will be in the silence of your cars as you travel.
And that home will be in the homes of your relatives and your friends as
you share meals and laughter and tears and hope and comfort.
And that home will be in the hospital rooms of those you love, even those
you haven’t said “I love you” to in a very long time.
And because I make my home with you wherever you might be, Jesus says to us;
through whatever circumstances you experience;
you will have my peace, the peace which the world cannot give;
the peace which is oh so much more than the absence of strife;
it is holy; it is wholeness; it is like a city that has no need for sun or moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God is its light; and its lamp is the Lamb.
When you hear the last words of today’s liturgy, listen very carefully.
Go in peace, this peace that can only come from the Risen and Ascended Christ.
Share the Good News in all the places where the blessed and holy Trinity makes a home for you.
Go to your Macedonia to find your Lydia
and in the Spirit of the Risen Christ make a new home for God and God will make a new home for you.
"Steps of the Change Agent" - Pastor Fred
Change happens gradually; not all at once; step by step
. I remember these words of my up-bringing. They were meant to be wise and cautionary in the culture I grew up in. My parents and teachers made clear, they weren’t against the change I was exploring, they just wanted to guard against the day they thought I would be disappointed – when I found out there would be opposition, even to a good idea, even to justice, or a message of freedom.
Their reasons were good and logical. Sometimes people needed time to get used to change. And, freedom
to one person, may be a loss for another. And, most of all of us learn to make due with what we have, and are suspicious of change anyway – we like to return to the comfort of what is familiar, more than we feel empowered to reach the new thing we first had desired.
I don’t know, maybe that’s the reason my parents were able to out-wait me, step by step
, when it came to getting that dangerous motorcycle, that would change my world!
But seriously, how we broker change is a funny thing. For example, looking back now we can see how this is the story women had to tell themselves when they sacrificed their talents as librarians and nurses, to bear fine broods of children, as full-time unpaid housewives in the 50’s and 60’s. Most mothers did, in those baby-boom years after the war, even though throughout the 40’s they had served in the work force: in factories and the military, as teachers and in so many other capacities. Step by step
- two steps forward, one step back – that’s how it goes.
Or, how Peter decides to explain the unexplainable, a sudden
change that happened to him, “step by step,” to the apostles, the leaders in the Jerusalem church, when they heard about what he had done.
When I read this story in Acts again, as well as our gospel today, I can’t help but think of all the steps
the apostles, and growing number of baptized followers of Jesus took, since coming down the staircase, step by step
, from the upper room. To get to this point, this turning point in the early church, was “staggering,” a story “on which the future of the church pivots,” as Walter Brueggemann describes Peter’s defense, in our reading from Acts.
In the upper room, is where Jesus held the Last Supper with his disciples, in John’s gospel, though John emphasizes the foot washing, as a sign of the love we are to have for one another, over the meal. In our gospel reading today, the foot washing has already taken place, and, “Judas had gone out,” after having been given the piece of bread from Jesus, to signal, he was the one who would betray Jesus.
In the upper room, is also where the disciples go, after the crucifixion, when they are afraid of what the authorities will do to them. They retreat to the upper room, and lock the doors! And presumably, they would have remained safe there. As long as they kept to themselves, and waited for change to happen, step by step
, in its good sweet time, no one probably would have bothered them. But as you may recall, someone suddenly
stops by. He doesn’t take the step
of knocking on the door, waiting for a response, and being let in. He has the key, of course – he has their number – and let’s himself
in. Jesus, appears,
in the upper room, bringing “peace,” in all the strange, unfamiliar newness, of the first born of the dead.
Peace and justice, even when they are delivered in a non-violent way, are not always received peacefully, however.
Peter, you might say, brings a peace
-deal to his fellow apostles – having returned from the Gentile city of Caesarea, where he broke bread, and ate the forbidden pork roast, with the uncircumcised Roman lieutenant, Cornelius, and his six brothers. It seems trivial and a bit weird to us, all these centuries later. But it is also no weird-er or less important, to how we live in the world today. We do the same in our own way, defining ourselves by our differences, our slights of others, assuming “we” are the “normal” ones. Diversity is one thing, but holding one group of people at arm’s length, behind barriers, walled off in an upper room of “separate but equal,” is another. Slavery, women’s rights, and Marriage Equality, all come to mind. Celebrating the colorful variety of human gifts and orientations there are, should be beautiful, and a joyful expression of what God has made. Whereas, defining difference
in order to keep one’s own privilege, or requiring they
slow down and take appropriate steps
, or stay holed up in their upper room, to keep my
purity intact, is something else.
Peter knows what he will be up against, so he tells it to his colleagues, step by step
, at their pace, not to push his own agenda, but to tell the story of what the Holy Spirit was doing, had already done. He wouldn’t have believed it either, just days earlier. But Peter’s story works on the apostles, just like it worked on him, just like Jesus walking right through the walls of our upper room fears and prejudices, suddenly convinces us, without the courtesy of a knock. I didn’t ask for this change either, says Peter, but “who was I that I could hinder God?”
The great thing about our faith is that we are convicted, as people who come from the same human pool of finitude as everyone else. No one is perfect, but we, as followers of Jesus, we have been redeemed and made new by the promise made to us in the death and resurrection of Christ. The change that the chosen Son brought happened at the right time, after many steps
in the story of God’s chosen people, step by step
in a long process, you might say. But, if it wasn’t for the courageous act, in a moment, by a prophet called by God, in the twinkling of an eye, on the first day of the week, the 8th day, and beginning of a new creation, by the One who continues to walk through the walls of our own fear, and deliver a dangerous word to us, “Peace,” would we ever change? If
the disciples had remained in the upper room, and never gotten over their fear, the Christian church would never even have been born. On the one hand, the upper room was a great incubator for Jesus’ teaching of having love for one another, as he loves us
. It was a safe place to take off his robe and get down on his hands and knees and wash the disciple’s feet. And, the upper room was a gathering place to hold the Passover meal, a remembrance and celebration of a people’s freedom, that moment of “staggering” change when they suddenly walked out of the slavery of their former lives, into a new day of liberation, which Jesus then transformed into a fellowship meal of forgiveness and life for all, the long awaited next step. But all of that would have been meaningless, if it stayed locked inside there.
Only after the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, did they open the doors on their own, and begin to share the good news. It was an incredible risk. But now they no longer feared death, because they understood they had been made as dead as they ever could be with Christ. In the promise of the Spirit, they had been joined to the death, and now also the resurrection of Christ, and the chains of fear were burst!
New life was happening all around them. No one was profane or unclean. Jesus had led them step by step, from their fishing boats in Galilee to power struggles of Jerusalem. It took Peter his whole life to get to this day, and then it happened in a moment. And so, in order for his fellow apostles to understand, he explained it step by step
. And when he finished speaking, they were tongue tied, and suddenly, in a twinkling of an eye,
“they praised God, saying, ‘then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’”
The Spirit is our agent of change, the same Spirit that empowered Jesus to appear to the disciples behind closed doors, as the risen Christ. Jesus doesn’t wait for step by step.
Agents of change don’t operate like that. “God sent Jesus at the right time.” That’s step by step
, the story we need to write looking back. But as God says in Isaiah, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” That is resurrection change. And we say with Peter, “who am I that I could hinder God?”
Easter 4C Readings
"The Interconnectedness of Creation"
When we, as humans, become disconnected from the natural world, we also become estranged from the realm of God.
Or, put the other way around, when we are one with God’s creation, living within our means in the cosmos, we are becoming one with the Incarnation of Christ, and actualizing justice and peace with our neighbor.
Amidst all the tragic news this week, in Boston and Texas, I almost missed the pictures of flooding, right here in Chicago. It was on the far SW side, where I saw the report of a man who was kayaking down the street where he lived, paddling by cars that were up to their windshields in a river of water! A reporter asked this leading question, “do you really have to use a kayak
to get around?” “Well no,” said the man, “not if I want to get out my waders!” It was a surreal picture!
And so later, when I saw the TV images in Watertown, MA of the hiding place of Suspect #2 on Friday, it all seemed to make sense. Like Noah’s Ark, moored on dry land after the deluge, the 19 year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was discovered in a dry-docked-boat in somebody’s driveway. The perfect picture, of being disconnected, from the natural world!
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, bridges this divide. On this traditional Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we take comfort in the Green Pastures he provides for us, the pristine waters, the pathways of righteousness, the healing oil, and an overflowing abundance of holy wine – all which make possible to us a confidence, trust, and hope, which is the foundation of our faith and spiritual well-being, even in the midst of life’s dark valley’s and hidden enemies.
Franciscan writer Richard Rohr put it this way, “Two thousand years ago was the human incarnation of God in Jesus. But before that there was the first and original incarnation, through light, water and land; sun, moon and stars; plants, trees and fruit; birds, cattle and fish, and ‘every kind of wild beast,’ according to our own creation story in Genesis (1:3-25). The sacred,” he says, “is established from the beginning and it is universal. We live in a sacred and enchanted universe.”
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we are reminded that, everything is interconnected – spirit and world; faith and being; insects, humans and permafrost. Or as Barry Commoner once said – a biologist by training, who along with Rachel Carson, called attention to the hazards of DDT, and was also a Presidential Candidate opposite Ronald Regan in 1980 – “Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. And, there is no free lunch.”
At Chicago Filmworks on Clark last week, I saw a documentary called, “Atomic Mom.” It’s about a daughter who walked with her mom on a difficult journey, back in time if you will, to when she was a researcher at Los Alamos, TX. Her mom was a scientist in the Army, who recorded the effects of radiation when they were still doing above-ground nuclear testing. The A-bombs rendered the land uninhabitable, land the government had simply appropriated from the Shoshone Tribe. She never gave the effects a second thought, back then. The government made everything top secret, no one talked to anyone else, and she concluded, even her very thinking became compartmentalized
Now, some 60 years later, when much of the information has been declassified, she agreed, with the urging of her daughter, to speak on camera. She was still quite stoic about it, but what brought out the emotions for her was remembering the tests on animals, especially dogs. “The one thing I just can’t do now,” she said, “is to go in the same room with my dog when he gets his trim.” It reminds her in a visceral way, of the bald spots and falling-out-hair of the dogs she worked with, that were sick and dying with radiation poisoning. “Can you imagine the suffering of the soldiers back then, who were lined up to absorb the atomic bomb blasts with only rubber bands around their pant legs – nothing on their faces or heads,” she asked?! But it was her memory of the dogs, for some reason, that brought tears to her eyes. Freed from the secrecy of “compartmentalization” the truth was revealed, in all of life’s true inter-connectedness.
Revelation, that most mis
understood book of the Christian scriptures, is full of atomic-like blasts, blood and guts. But we haven’t been very good at understanding what is revealed. As a people who are too often caught up in the sacrificial system of one victim after another, we have too quickly bought into the false salvation of sacred violence. That we should,
get on the right side of God to avoid punishment, or, buy into a “winners and losers” mentality instead of the grace of God, that we must
disassociate ourselves from God’s next sorry victims. John of Patmos, the writer of Revelation, would have been disappointed, if not appalled, at this interpretation.
Instead, New Testament Professor Barbara Rossing calls this chapter 7, a “salvation interlude,” in which John “delivers an amazing and hope-filled surprise: assuring God's people they are protected,” even within the deluge and tragedies of our world.
there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (Rev. 7:9)
these are those who will be singing in a loud voice, praising our Host at the Eucharistic Table, in the presence of our enemies. And in this vision of the realm of God, there will be no victims any longer. The last enemy, death, has been destroyed by the innocent victim
himself, by Christ, the sacrificial Lamb who is also our Good Shepherd!
Most of us don’t sing much anymore, save for, church, and, Happy Birthday, I suppose. Every new or old song is just one click away to download, and listen to. But I predict that folk singing will be making a comeback soon, because, we can’t do without the life-giving joy of singing with our own voices, and, if for no other reason than I saw it start at the Grammy Awards this year! The whole crowd of on-lookers that night, joined in on the, “Hey, Ho,” of the little known, off-beat band, The Lumineers, also singing the chorus “I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart.”
And so, in John’s vision, it seems interesting to me that the globally diverse crowd, singing praises to the Lamb in Revelation, was joined by these apocalyptic “four living creatures,” who were patterned after those in Ezekiel and Daniel. The “four living creatures,” said John of Patmos, “had eyes in front and behind, the first like a lion, the second like an ox, the third with a human face, and the fourth like a flying eagle, each with six wings, and they sang day and night.” It was natural that the vision John had, of the redeemed creation to come, on earth, included well voiced creatures, a unification of human and animal, in this sacred and enchanted universe
, we live in.
Our vision at Unity, we say, is to be an urban green space, welcoming everyone. But seeing, the four living creatures
have not showed up at our door step, thus far, we just welcome, people and their animals
! When we are one with God’s creation, we are becoming one with the Incarnation of Christ.
Tomorrow, of course, is Earth Day, the, Día de la Creación
, a day which itself is a kind of eschatological banqueting table, prepared in the presence of so many environmental enemies like, pollution, oil spills, the Keystone XL pipeline, rising ocean tides, and melting glaciers. We can no longer say, “we wait,” with eager longing for the vision of Revelation to come, if that means as humans, we are disconnecting ourselves from the natural world. For the result of this compartmentalization,
has been our own spiritual malaise, causing our estrangement from the realm of God, like a useless dry-docked boat. Everything is inter-connected, and so with every light we turn on, in how we grow and distribute our food, and how we fight our wars, we make a statement about how we are living out our faith, and confessing who we believe in. Everything must go somewhere,
said Barry Commoner, and there is no free lunch
– at least, not until we learn to live within our means, by living into this redeemed, holy and incarnational world, the realm where God is hosting, in a single peaceful kingdom, for all heaven and earth, the one joyful and never ending banquet. Yes, Christ’s Thanksgiving meal
is free, a holy communion that extends into our urban green space, and where we are singing to the Lamb, who is also our Good Shepherd. And one of those songs we sing, just might be, “Hey, Ho, I belong with you, you belong with me, you’re my sweetheart.”
What Difference Does A Resurrection Make?
My friend, Jasper Pennington, Episcopal priest in Ypsilanti, Michigan once told me that
when his parishioners complained about the amount of time they had to spend Sunday after Sunday in worship,
he would remind them that singing praise and falling on one’s knees in worship
was what they would be doing constantly in heaven.
So Sunday morning worship was just a rehearsal for where they hoped they would be one day.
To put it another way, Kathleen Norris writes in her Introduction to Revelation:
“I am attracted to the book of Revelation because it was Emily Dickinson’s favorite book of the Bible,
and because it takes a stand in favor of singing.
In fact, it proclaims that when all is said and done,
of the considerable noises human beings are capable of, it is singing that will endure.
A new song – if you can imagine – and light will be what remains. I find this a cause for hope.”
John the Divine had beautiful visions of heaven.
Saul and Ananias had visions of Jesus.
The disciples, gone back to being fishers of fish, not only saw Jesus;
Jesus fed them with a miraculous catch of 153 fish.
And John’s Gospel continues after today’s reading with, “There are also many other things that Jesus did;
if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world
itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
The other Gospels contain other miraculous stories of Jesus after the Resurrection
like his appearance to the two men on the road to Emmaus.
We are told that there were hundreds of other appearances by Paul in his writings.
How many times haven’t you wondered, “why can’t God provide me with a vision?”
or“why doesn’t God intervene in a miraculous way to solve the big problems of our world?”
Let’s look at the readings for today to see if there are answers to those questions.
In the first reading, we hear about Saul, the same Saul who last
week was not only an observer but an active participant in the death of Stephen.
Now Saul has been given the responsibility to find the followers of “the Way” to bring them bound to Jerusalem. While struck down by Jesus’ blinding light, Jesus asks Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?”
Not, why are you persecuting my disciples, my followers; but why are you persecuting Me?
This tells us that when Jesus’ followers are persecuted, Jesus is persecuted himself.
Jesus announces to Saul and to us that We are the Risen Christ.
After Saul, now Paul, is given back his sight through Ananias, Paul is baptized into the same community
that we have become through our own baptism.
It is significant that Luke, the author of Acts, calls us people of “the Way.”
Instead of being identified by our beliefs, we are identified by our actions.
Christian faith is a way of life; one that brings us out of what is comfortable and onto a road which
has both joy and challenge.
We are forgiven what is past. We are baptized into “the way” of new life – Easter life.
In today’s Gospel, Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John and two other un-named disciples
have gone back to Galilee to fish.
They fished all day and through the night and as the sun was rising, they noticed someone on the beach;
but they didn’t know it was Jesus.
The stranger told them to try one more time –this time casting their nets on the other side of the boat.
Remember, they didn’t know it was Jesus but they went out to fish anyway.
And when they did, they caught 153 fish!
That’s when they knew it was Jesus who told them “try again.”
Jesus invited them to “come and have breakfast.”
And while they were having breakfast, Jesus turned to Peter, who had denied him three times,
and said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Three times Jesus erased Peter’s denials by re-calling him to “feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep.” Finally, to all the disciples, the Risen Lord Jesus who knew that he would not be with them much longer said,
Try again when you have failed. Your sins are forgiven; so, follow me.
We are, of course, the descendants of Peter and the disciples.
And to us, the Risen Lord Jesus says, “feed my sheep and follow me.” Follow me on the Way.
Jesus tells us to cast our nets again and again and again not knowing whether there will be any catch to enjoy.
But Jesus is always with us; providing breakfast, lunch and dinner; with dessert to boot.
Our personal faith in the Jesus who sacrificed himself on the Cross for our sins has a firm place in our hearts.
We Lutheran Christians have a strong belief in the grace of God which grants us salvation and eternal life.
And when we sin; when we fall into the natural human condition, we know without a doubt that God will forgive us and make us one with God again and again just like Jesus did with Peter on the shores of Galilee –
three times wiping away Peter’s sin of denial.
When we gather to worship (as the Easter preface says) together with “Mary Magdalene and Peter,
with all the witnesses of the resurrection, with earth and sea and all their creatures”
we firmly believe that Jesus visits our very bodies with his Body and Blood and our whole lives are fed with strength.
But fed for what? Forgiven for what? Called to do what?
We are so often reluctant believers.
And when the Risen Lord Jesus calls us to follow, we don’t want to believe that we are being
told to put our faith into action.
We think it’s the pastor’s responsibility to preach, teach, heal and gather the faithful into the life of the church. But, like Saul become Paul, we have been chosen to bring the good news to the world!
Like Peter, we have been chosen to feed the little lambs and the reluctant sheep.
Like all the apostles, we have been chosen to walk “the Way.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to knock on doors or become antagonistic
about our Christian faith in conversation.
It does, however, mean that we should look for those opportunities the Spirit of Christ gives us.
Remember, when the disciples first saw Jesus on the shore of Galilee, they didn’t recognize him!
But they went out and fished anyway.
Sometimes, we only need to look for the opportunity to share the gospel with others
and we will know that it is Jesus standing on the shore to make sure our proclamation brings in
new faith to new believers.
Be open to what God can accomplish when you tell your story of faith! Look for those opportunities!
Maybe as you sling your nets of faith on the other side a few times, your nets will be filled to overflowing!
You can begin by praying.
Pray for our ministry partners: for Lutheran Social Services,
for Refugee One and the various groups that do ministry in our community
as they share our building during the week.
Pray for our missionaries throughout the world and for our prison and military chaplains
and realize that when you give your offering on Sunday, you support the ministry
of thousands around the world through the ELCA’s mission.
You can also participate in justice ministry by becoming active in the
Organization of the Northeast or by volunteering for phone banks to gain Marriage Equality in Illinois or by giving to the ELCA's Malaria Campaign to eliminate Malaria in Africa.
You can give your time to help your neighbor who needs your words of comfort and
hope during tough times of divorce or unemployment.
And, even though it might seem difficult, open yourself up to your
co-worker, your neighbor or even a family member to tell them that belonging to
a worshipping community like Unity Lutheran Church has made you stronger and healthier in your daily life.
You want to have visions like Paul and Ananias?
You want to hear the voices of the angels like John?
Put your faith into action.
Allow yourself to be Easter People! Look for the Risen Lord Jesus and say
yes when he calls, “follow me.”
"Marked for Life," Pastor Kinsey sermon
“What happened? Did somebody sock you in the eye?” I wish I had a nickel for every time somebody said that to me, especially when I was growing up. I never took offense at it, though. I thought it was a fair question. My stock answer was, “No, nobody socked me in the eye. That's my birthmark. God gave it to me when I was born.” Most adults weren’t sure what to say, or else they’d go into some story about themselves, when they got a black eye. It was the kids that usually understood, and took it in stride – “oh, okay” they’d say, and go on playing with their friends. Everybody has a gift, something that makes you special – it can become a burden, or set you free.
Jesus appears to the disciples who are in the upper room, behind doors that are locked, because they're terrified, that what happened to Jesus (on the cross), will happen next, to them. And, when he appears, Jesus doesn't knock! Which is frightening on a number of levels – how did he do that? Can that really be him? And mostly it produces a whole lot of guilt: oh shoot, he’s going to reject us for abandoning him on the cross, or he’s going to ask us why we didn’t believe Mary’s statement, “I have seen the Lord,” when she saw him alive in the garden. They know they deserve a good talking to, punishment even, though, what would that look like from Jesus!
So, there they were, frozen in place – scared stiff! Of course, Jesus has no weapon with him to punish them – no whip, for instance, like he had unjustly received, no sword, like Peter thought might help at his arrest – only his word. But even what he tells them, is unexpected, “Peace be with you.” That stunned them all over again! Apparently they weren't even sure it was him. So Jesus showed them his hands and his side, that is, the marks of the nails, and the spear. And overcome with emotion, they rejoiced when they realized it was the Lord, the Messiah!
These marks, the fresh scars of his crucifixion, were the confirmation they needed to connect the dots.
I don't mean, they were the marks they needed to understand it was Jesus so they could believe he had really been raised from the dead. But that it was really Jesus, the crucified one, that God raised!
An important difference! Though I suppose, it may not sound like it at first. What I mean is, for us, we have a hard time believing in anyone's resurrection, but that was less of an issue for the disciples. They hadn't registered any dis-belief when just a couple of weeks before, Jesus raised Lazarus from his tomb. The belief in the resurrection of the body was becoming quite common at that time.
What was impossible to believe was that Jesus, their Messiah, the one they had followed so fervently, could end up failing so fantastically, in the worst possible way, actually! Instead of conquering or putting up a fight against their enemies, their Roman overlords, Jesus appeared to simply give in, and let himself be executed in the most public, and humiliating way, on the cross.
So what Thomas couldn't believe, was that the God he knew, would lift up – redeem and save – such a humiliated and failed leader as the crucified one, Jesus. So when the disciples reported to Thomas, the first Easter evening, they had seen the Lord, just as Mary had said it first, his response was, show me his wounds from the cross, then I'll believe its him. In his conception of God, he didn’t think that was gunna happen!
What are the marks we bear in our lives that never heal over? Scars that have wounded us in life, that call everything into question? And how do we deal with them? Do we want to forget them? Deny and put make-up over them? Betray and lash out at others and blame the victim? Or do we wear them proudly, even open our hands and say, put your finger here... reach out your hand and put it in my side? Are our scars burdens of humiliation? Or marks of transformation and freedom!?
When I lived in Michigan, I had the nicest doctor. He took very good care of me, and I know he only had the best of intentions. But still, I was a little taken aback, the day he told me that it was now possible – that they had the technology and understood the biology, it was just a mutated cell, he said, and it was really quite a simple procedure. If I wanted, they could take away my birthmark. It was tempting, in a way, to think about erasing it from my face, becoming more presentable to others, less of a curiosity, less of a burden, or blemished character. After all, I don’t have to look at it all the time! So I thanked him and told him I’d consider it down the road. It was nice to know that was a possibility, I said J
But for me, it’s just been a part of who I am for so long, I’m afraid I’d miss it, or feel like I was cheating. For someone else it might be a fine thing to do. But for me, I’ve come to take pride in it being my gift from God at birth – my mark that’s like the artists who are known for intentionally putting one small imperfection in their art work, just as a sign that humans are not perfect, only God is.
We all have marks, and a gift, something that makes us special – it can either be a burden, or set you free, it seems to me!
Jesus was willing to take on a burden, a very heavy and costly cross, to reveal the way to life, for us, abundant life. All of the disciples failed at following Jesus in his most vulnerable hour, when he was showing this gift, to the world, his glorification. But seeing the wounds, the marks, on the One raised to new life, made a believer out of them, even Thomas. But the believing – “my lord and my God” as Thomas said in worshipful astonishment – was just the beginning. The cross and resurrection would begin now to transform him, as it does all of us who believe, even though we, all these years later, don’t get to see Jesus.
If this risen Lord, is the crucified one, it means he reigns as a whole new kind of king, not with some superior fire-power, some sanctioned sacred violence, but he comes overcoming the power of death and humiliation, in forgiveness and life. He is not a powerless victim, but a wounded-healer, arisen as a mark of justice and peace for all, even if it means it was created by having to undergo the suffering, treachery, and injustice we dished out! God and Jesus do not use violence to win, we are the ones who have done that.
And so we can believe, even though we don’t see Jesus’ bodily resurrection, like Thomas did, because we see Jesus in our neighbors, those who are our wounded healers for us, marked with signs of crucified victory.
This past week, in the wake of the CPS announcement it wants to close a record breaking 54 schools, as a mark of protest and freedom, overcoming humiliation, the CTU organized a bus tour through neighborhoods where kids would have to walk to their new schools, including one in Englewood. It was hard to miss the gapping wounds, where houses that were boarded up, far outnumbered those that were lived in. Passing by one of those abandoned houses, the front door was literally swung wide open. Congresssman Danny Davis, along for the walk in his district, remarked that he wouldn’t be surprised if homeless folks slept there. Another concerned mother said, somebody could grab my child and take her in there and no one would know.
Danny Davis was cautious not to be too negative about the School Board’s decision, but was skeptical, given that, "Education is based on the teachers being well trained, children being motivated, parents being stimulated, communities being activated…having all the materials that you need to work with,” he said, “that’s what will cause the children to learn better. I’m not sure that just being in another building is going to determine their ability to learn." Then it came to light, in addition to the mark of closing schools to save money, that there was another scar uncovered, a black mark of 100’s of millions of dollars being secretly syphoned off to specific favorite suburban schools, already financially much better off than any being closed in Chicago.
Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, said Thomas, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe. When someone wants to erase those marks, wash them away, or ignore them, it makes me suspicious. Thomas knew that those marks would tell him something important, something prophetic, and they were more life changing than he could imagine! That God raised the innocent crucified one, changes the world, because it changes us. We rejoice, and we become wounded-healers, a marked people, who live now by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus breathes on us. The burden of the cross is transformed in the resurrection, not by erasing its marks, but in changing everything, and revealing in the Body of Christ, the justice and peace we so desperately need.
The Resurrection of Our Lord/Easter Day (C)
Change is the hardest thing – not for God, but for us. We not only cling to traditions, but our physiology, our brain chemistry, scientists tell us, is wired against change. And Social Scientists, noting this as well, use the term “stasis,” the kind of pull we feel to always return, or stay with, what we know best, like the comfort of an old shoe. Of course the world changes all around us, whether we want it to or not. And so, Jesus gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we can adapt to change in this extraordinary and multi-faceted world God made for us. In addition, we know that in our post-modern world, everything is relative, so at any given moment, one tradition is not the same as the other. And each culture does not experience the world in the same way, and doesn’t enjoy the same power, as others do. And so our desire, our need, and our hope for change, varies greatly.
So, what does all this mean? And what does this have to do with the Resurrection of Our Lord? Let’s break it down, one issue at a time. First tradition: We all love tradition! I mean, who doesn’t like egg bake and Swedish coffee cake?! OMG! That doesn’t need to change, ever! Even if you come from a different culture that didn’t grow up with these treats, chances are you could adapt for a day! It just tastes so good, unless you’re a vegan or don’t eat refined sugar, I suppose. Hmm… But food traditions, we can largely either enjoy, or just say no to, and there’s no harm, no foul. Of course, there is that ham thing, and whether or not eating off the pig, and how it was raised, is ethical. Peter, in our 1st reading, was actually wrestling with something like this issue: Whether or not to eat foods that weren’t Kosher.
So, tradition can be good because it reinforces identity, and a sense of belonging, as when Peter was resistant to eating unclean foods, lizards and toads and camels, not because they sounded disgusting, but because it helped keep his culture together for over 2 millennia. By these traditions, they knew they were Jewish!
But, this tradition was also holding Peter, and the whole Christian church, back. The world was changing around Peter. Stuff happens! For Peter and those writing the stories in the book of Acts, it’s what was happening to the Temple, the center of Jewish identity, that was one of the major sources of change. The Temple had been desecrated and then destroyed, but Jesus, the crucified savior, his followers came to understand, had offered himself as a new, boundary-less temple, the risen Son of God, himself worthy of worship and praise, and a bridge-builder between peoples. I get it, said Peter! God truly shows no partiality!
It took Peter some time to change, and get to that place, however! He had to process the amazement
he felt, looking in on the empty tomb on Easter morning, to be ready, sometime later, in meeting Cornelius the Gentile Centurion, when he could finally say: “I truly understand that …in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Not just my culture and people, but all cultures and people are welcome to worship the God we know in Jesus.
And so part of Easter morning is waking up to a new, radical-inclusion of all peoples, a change that brings the hope of reconciliation, peace and justice to all. The resurrection means, our
becoming this Body of Christ, that lives and breathes radical-inclusion, a welcome and a hospitality, for all.
It is sometimes hard for us to accept this value which prizes inter-dependence over individual freedom. But it is a free choice, a choice of loving your neighbor as yourself,
over against, choosing to build up your barns and becoming rich
Americans, of course, have this belief that there is nothing wrong with getting rich, as long as you are a good person, someone who shares, someone who still cares, and you don’t forget where you came from. But we’ve also heard by now some of the statistics about income and wealth inequality which have been widening precipitously. A popular example is, if you take two of our richest people, people that we all know, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, together their wealth nearly equals what the bottom 40% of Americans have, or 120 million people; and, that part of the reason the rich are getting richer, is the political influence money can buy in Washington. And we now know it was Wall Street money, and the lobbying of “banks too big to fail” in particular, that was significant, if not decisive, in bringing down the economy in 2008.
But beyond that even, the result for us, backed up by recent studies, is that the rich are less ethical
than others, in the words of one researcher, and more apt to disregard the [well being] of others, because
to continue in the pursuit of wealth, quote: “causes people to prioritize self-interest and perceive greed as positive and beneficial.” Today’s super-rich have been characterized as “increasingly a nation unto themselves.” (The Progressive, March 2013)
But this kind of nation, or culture, is not the breaking down of walls, within our global village, but only finding a new way to build them up – to divide and create partitions, and partiality
. Getting rich can indeed hurt the rest of us, by entombing and killing off precious resources, and turning a blind eye to lay-offs, joblessness, and the working poor – issues Jesus addressed often.
Not only is this a failure of democracy, which threatens to pull us all down, but it’s an ethic of stasis
and greed that have wandered far from the influence and saving gift of the Holy Spirit we know in our resurrected and risen Christ. Change is hard enough for any of us, but perhaps hardest for those who have, most to lose.
When the women “went to the tomb at early dawn, taking the spices that they had prepared,” they were un
-prepared for the change that transformed the grave-site of Jesus. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.
Their first thought would have been, grave robbers, and indeed Jesus was not inside. But two men in dazzling clothes, angels,
were there, that announced, he had risen.
And asked, Why do you look for the living among the dead
?! Not a normal conversation you’d expect from bandits! Change is not hard for God and angels, only for us.
possible, however, even for us, when we as a people of faith and conviction, have a vision and a mission, that is ignited and fueled by the life and message, the death and resurrection, of Our Lord. Whether small things like, organizing a delicious breakfast of egg bake and coffee breads, and, transforming this sanctuary from plain and ordinary Lent and Holy Week, into a beautiful garden of spring flowers. Or in bigger things, like fore-seeing a plan to space share our building with mission-driven neighbors and once again fill it with life to serve our community. Or, even in really big things, like working for Mental Health Justice, quality low-income housing, the new Trans-House, and keeping our schools open and strong, in our neighborhood. Christ is risen, change, is possible!
“Remember how Jesus told you,” said the angels, “while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again?” The change that Jesus went through, in his life for us, included facing up to the powers of this world. So the question for us is: What change is harder to believe, that the stone of Jesus’ tomb is rolled away and he has risen? Or, that students in our schools, left with inadequate resources and high drop-out rates, and now having to face worse if their schools are closed and they also have to walk or ride through dangerous gun-ridden neighborhoods, can be resurrected and saved? Isn’t this what change looks like? People who are willing to stand up for our kids, and give them something better!? Teachers who are giving their all and then some?! Doesn’t the change we want, look a lot like the PCO after-school program here at Unity, that reaches out to “at-risk” kids and mentors them through middle school, high school and college, and makes sure they have the best chance for the abundant new life Jesus offers?!
Change is hard, by ourselves. But when we follow Jesus to Galilee, and join the culture of new life and the resurrection, the culture that truly understands that there is no partiality,
and the culture that has conquered death
, we are unafraid of change any longer! Amazing
is just what we see every day; angels are there to help us; greed is not all that tempting; and hanging out and working for the vision and mission of Jesus our risen Lord, is as natural, and delicious, as egg bake and Swedish Bakery coffee cake!
WORD MADE FLESH
“And God saw everything that was made. And God said, ‘It is very good.’”
But from that moment on, humanity went on to speak back to God. Everything is not good.
There are times when good people do good things.
We celebrate Nobel prizes for peace and local heroes who put their lives at risk to better the lives of others.
But everything is not good.
Power and fame become goals for teenagers and politicians; for corporate leaders and for gangbangers.
Being human, we believe, means choosing to do some things well and choosing to do other things
out of a hunger to make ourselves better by pushing others aside – even to hurt or kill.
That’s what it is to be human we simply say to ourselves;
as if to offer a perfectly acceptable answer for the sad, bad, and even evil things we find ourselves choosing.
But out of simple word, God chose to create sun and moon, planets and our planetary home.
Out of simple word, God created waters filled with living creatures and lands filled with plants, animals, and us. And out of simple word God chose to meet humanity’s life’s predicament.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him.
In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it……
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
From his fullness, we have all received grace upon grace upon grace.”
He rose up from being buried by water in the Jordan to have God speak the words:
“This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him!”
And, like a conquering hero, he told the devil that his days of power and control were numbered.
He quoted words of scripture to his family to reveal his mission.
“The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; release to the captives; sight to the blind;
freedom to the oppressed.”
He called out “follow me” and taught a new philosophy that the poor would inherit a kingdom;
those who hunger would be filled; those who weep would laugh.
He even said “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
But now, the Word who is part of creation’s goodness;
who became human in a stable; who taught and preached and healed and even raised the dead;
this Word incarnate is now treated like the enemy.
All those very human traits – selfishness, lust for power, fear of loss- seem to hover around him.
Judas, one his closest, brings soldiers and temple police with torches and weapons to arrest him.
And with simple words of identification (“I am he”) they fall to the ground.
But because he loves his own so much, he allows those powerless power-seekers to arrest him.
“I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me,” he prays to the Father.
Peter, another of his dear friends, has the opportunity to show himself as a brave disciple
but, instead, three times Peter declares with an oath, “I am not!”
Words, words, words!
Annas and Caiphas, men who know the words of scripture and who offer
sacrifices on behalf of the people in the Temple use words to trick the
Word-made-flesh into giving them an excuse to have him killed.
“It would be better to have one person die” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for Caiphas.
The Jewish leaders want to have this Jesus of Nazareth business finished!
Pilate challenges the Word-made-flesh to a verbal duel.
“Are you the king of the Jews?” “So you are a king?” “What have you done?”
“Don’t you know that I have the power?”
But when Jesus challenges Pilate to think about what is really true, all he can do is throw his
hands in the air and proclaim, “What is truth?”
So, in the end, Pilate puts on a show for the Jewish leaders.
He releases a terrorist because they will not allow Jesus to go free.
He allows the soldiers to beat Jesus; flog him;
place a crown of thorns into the flesh of his head; dress him mockingly in a royal robe and
orders him to be crucified.
Getting up from Gabbatha, the seat of power, Pilate gives in to the angry crowd.
Do you really have power?
Echoing through his mind are his own words“what is truth?”
Finally,Pilate is just happy that he is finished with Jesus.
It is finished, he fools himself into thinking.
But just to make sure he has covered all the bases, he commands a label to be placed
on the instrument of Jesus’ torturous death:
“Jesus of Nazareth; King of the Jews.”
He wants to be finished.
But he does not have the power to finish it.
Neither do the Jewish leaders.
Neither do the soldiers carrying out the punishment.
Neither do the disciples who run away and hide.
Neither do those few who stand at the foot of the cross while he hangs between two criminals.
The Marys are there: the wife of Clopas, Magdalene, and his mother;
and with them the disciple whom he loved.
“Woman, here is your son,” he breaths out to his mother.
To John, he speaks, “here is your mother.” And John remembers the night before
when, washing the disciples’ feet,
the Word incarnate gives a new commandment; a new word never spoken before:
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
Having taken care of those he knows he will leave behind, he offers one more word of broken humanity:
“I am thirsty.”
And then with the power and authority of the Word which was in the beginning with God at creation;
with the power and authority of God who so loves the world, with one word
It is finished!
It is accomplished.
What was planned from the very beginning; what all the power of church and state could not stop;
what has puzzled and confused people from that moment until this one; GOD DIES FOR HUMANITY.
Episcopal priest, Amy Richter writes:
“And so Jesus’ word, word of Word incarnate, this one word, which we translate as “It is finished,”
is the final punctuation on a sentence begun before all that is,
before we were knit together in our mothers’ wombs,
before the first light, first life, first spark, first dream, first bursting forth of creation.
The final punctuation on a sentence spoken in love, spoken across space and time;
through ages, prophets, patriarchs, matriarchs, sages, and in these last days, spoken to us by a son:
Words. Words. Words. Words of love spoken through teaching and preaching;
love reaching out, healing, embracing, lifting up;
calls “beloved” those whom humanity calls wrong.
Those whom humanity bullies and batters;
those whom humanity sees as poor, weak, small, outcast, sinner, “other”;
these now become sisters and brothers to one another; children of God;
those who would dare to lay down their lives for the Word-made-flesh because,
finally, with truth and power and authority and glory
IT IS FINISHED!
This is now a GOOD Friday.
The Word of God incarnate has spoken the word that sets us finally free:
IT IS FINISHED!
Jesus' Public-Private Reconciliation, Pastor Kinsey
The Three Days: Maundy Thursday (C)
God never wearies of forgiving sin, and giving the peace of reconciliation.
Behind closed doors, at the Last Supper, Jesus did not say or do something different than he had all along in public. As he taught and healed, and made his way to Jerusalem – the city that kills its prophets – he remained consistent and true to himself and his mission. On this night, in the upper room, just before his glorification, Jesus gave the clearest example yet of his forgiving love and peace, behind closed doors, within the intimacy of his closest friends. On the night in which he was betrayed
, he went the extra mile
and got down on his knees -as servants and slaves do- to wash his disciple’s feet
. “The last must be first,” Jesus had taught along the way. “Do not take the seat of honor, when you are invited to a dinner party, but wait to be called up higher.” And in Jesus’ parable about the great dinner
, when the important guests made feeble excuses not to come to the eschatological banquet, he declared that we should just go ahead and go out into the streets and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame
to feast at the communion table.
With words and demonstrations of love, Jesus taught and lived this example in all he did. And on this night, the night in which he was betrayed
, Jesus whispers in our ear, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer [but] I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another…”
Jesus calls it a new
commandment, but it is not new for him, only for us. For us, the sound of the term, foot washing, and even, forgiveness of our sin, can be jarring. So let's just say, in the words of our liturgy this evening, that in Jesus, we come to know that God never wearies of forgiving sin, and giving the peace of reconciliation.
Whether behind closed doors, or publically, this is good news to us. Not like the president of the Chicago Teachers Union who yesterday publically accused the Mayor of working behind closed doors to come up with the recommendation to close 53 schools, and thereby taking away the rights of students and parents; Or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who publically accused the President of devising, behind closed doors, a gut-less policy of not defending DOMA.
And not like any of us, really, who in our humanity, whether we admit it openly or not, usually default to, defending our own interests, enjoying personal independence and the virtue of needing no one. We like to be in control more than surrendering; and deciding behind closed doors what works best for us. Yet the community ideal, all things being equal says Jesus, is inter-dependence and inter-communion with all things and all Being. Therefore, God loves vulnerability! In Jesus, we see a God who, whether behind closed doors or out in the open publically, fully discloses – for the sake of the other, and for our abundant life in this global village we share.
Where are the leaders who have the courage for this Grace-filled model, to love one another as Jesus loves us? Though Jesus and the martyrs are continually being sacrificed from Jerusalem to Memphis, we are not disheartened, for we have the gospels’ and their eternal witness. Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, not as some kind of test if we can stand the smell of our neighbor’s feet, but as a jarring and powerful transformation of a well-worn, everyday custom, of a 1st century Palestinian tradition, that only servants
wash the feet of their masters
. “[But] That I, your Lord and Teacher,” said Jesus, “have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet… Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master… Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another…,” he says.
Jesus loved, by giving himself away – by losing himself. Genuine love always means losing oneself – in another's arms, in another's laughter, in another's tears, and in doing so, to find ourselves, and our true humanity. This was and is the love of Jesus, who lost himself and gave himself up for us in his public ministry, culminating on the cross. And in rising, the first born of the dead, he now lives in us who are his body, the baptized, gathered by his Spirit. The love that Jesus commands, he also gives. (Phrases in this paragraph from: "Proclaiming a Crucified Eschaton," by Frederick Niedner, Institute for Liturgical Studies, Valparaiso University, copyright 1998, pp. 10-14.)
On this night, the night in which he was betrayed
, Jesus, in the intimacy of the Last Supper, behind closed doors, shares with his closest friends exactly what he will demonstrate publically, on Good Friday and Easter, in his death and resurrection. He loves us, and asks us to love one another, and in giving ourselves away, we become leaders who lead by being servants.
The banquet is set before us. And, in the bread and wine of the Last Supper, just as in Jesus’ foot washing, we receive a new commandment
, celebrating that God never wearies of forgiving sin, and giving the peace of reconciliation