Women's 501(c)3 of Galilee, sermon by Pastor Fred Kinsey
Readings: Pentecost 4/Proper 6(C)/Lectionary 11/June 16, 2013
Simon says: welcome Jesus. Simon says: recline at table with me. But then, Simon is appalled at the sinner’s behavior – weeping, bathing him! Simon has Intel on her – she is “the enemy.” Simon says: don’t let her touch you! Simon says: bad Jesus! Simon says: you’re no prophet! Simon disapproves. Take off your crown, he says. Turn in your scepter!
Did you ever play that game, Simon Says? Simon says: touch your nose, and you have to touch your nose. Simon says, touch the top of your head with your left hand – and you touch your head with your left hand. Jump up and down! And if you jump up and down, you’re out. You only do what Simon says, if Simon first says, “Simon Says!”
Simon, a rich leader in town, invited Jesus to dinner at his house. At such a banquet, the guests would lie comfortably on their side on pillows, with their feet pointing away from a common space in the middle where the food was served to them. These were open air villas, and it was not uncommon for the uninvited to gather around just outside where they could see in. And at Simon’s house, a woman in the city, who was a sinner,
saw her chance to come near to Jesus. And standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with ointment from a jar of alabaster
she brought along.
From the very beginning, Christian interpreters have jumped to conclusions about this woman’s sin: basically that she must be a harlot. But today, thanks to Feminism’s fresh perspective, and research, we find that’s not likely what her sin is. First of all, she comes to Jesus weeping, and as sensual as it might sound that she has let her hair down to dry her tears on Jesus’ feet and anoint them, this was also the very common practice of grieving women, and women who had been shamed by the system. And, to point out the obvious, no one, not Simon or Jesus, describe her sin as that of a harlot in the story, but instead, what her sins are, seem left open on purpose by Luke, that we, the reader, might be allowed to fill in the blank of our own sin, as we come to see ourselves in her – after all, there but for the grace of God go we.
Simon Says: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him — that she is a sinner." Simon is confident in his Intel that he thinks he has on her, though he doesn’t share any details, only that in his open disdain he is happy to have it known to all that he condemns her, and believes Jesus – if he wanted to show his Prophetic Intel skills – should have shunned her. Simon Says: bad Jesus, don’t let her touch you! But Jesus doesn’t do what Simon says! He doesn’t play Simon’s game.
In the wake of the NSA Intel scandal this week, President Obama, and the leaker, Edward Snowden, agree on one thing at least, that the country deserves a conversation on privacy vs. safety. Did the Administration follow the provisions of the FISA Court? Is a countrywide collection of metadata a violation of the 4th Amendment? Does the government’s use of it, even if they don’t listen to actual conversations, actually protect us from terrorism? Do we really know anything, seeing the powers the government has under the Patriot Act for collecting Intel are totally classified? Is this data collection any different than giving up our credit card and Social Media information? This is a good discussion to have!
And more to the point for us. What are people of faith supposed to believe about the NSA’s huge data mining? And what does the bible and Christian tradition tell us about privacy and Intelligence? When our cell phones reveal where we’re at all times, and patterns of calls can discover impending corporate takeovers, sensitive medical information or reporter’s sources, is this acceptable? It is
a technology that has caught the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – “the mastermind of 911.” But doing this to everyone? So much of this process is classified and secret, and we are asked to just trust the person in the Oval Office. And, maybe today you do, but who’s to say the next one in charge won’t use these broad powers to monitor groups s/he considers “the enemy?” That’s exactly how the FISA Court came in to existence during the Nixon Administration. And since 911, the system was subverted and has been used against the Quakers, for instance, and also in the last couple years against Occupy Wall Street.
“It's remarkably easy to use connections made through cell phones and social media to convince people that they're being watched 24/7,” says Daniel Schulz, an Intel watcher. “This makes dividing and conquering a snap,” he says, through “a visit from the police or, even better, an anonymous e-mail or call.”
After Jesus forgives the woman who anointed him, by declaring that “her faith has saved her,” and sends her to “go in peace,” Jesus departs as well, to go “through other cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the realm of God.” And, “the twelve were with him,” Luke says, “as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.”
Simon Says: don’t have any contact with, “them.” They look suspicious – women who were sinners, who had evil spirits and infirmities
, but Jesus doesn’t do what Simon says! “The twelve were with him” too, but it’s these women “who provided for [all of] them out of their
resources.” This counter-cultural group of redeemed outcasts, like some kind of traveling circus, are sponsored and paid for by this, Women’s 501(c)3 of Galilee
. Two of the women, Mary Magdalene and Joanna, were also at the cross of Jesus, on Good Friday, when all the others had abandoned him.
Jesus says to Simon: Simon, look at them, really look. Your Intel on them is not only wrong, it’s not the way to the realm of God, or the creation of the new community of God that’s emerging here among us.
“Historically,” says Daniel Schultz, “[although the collection of Inel] is what… States have been about. It’s not blackmail they're after, or even evidence of seditious activity. It's convincing people that they can't trust anyone.”
In the end, a life of faith, means living our values even when it's costly. If it’s our connections to others that make us human, what we need is to work to build stronger communities – to build trust, and refuse to fear our neighbor.
Metadata Intelligence can be great for Social-Media community making, but disastrous for real communities, where real people need to connect and be supported, need to love and be loved, to share art, ideas, and humor, or just hang out together with a beverage of your choice.
Simon Says: our safety is worth demonizing and ostracizing others, even if it turns out that innocent people are dehumanized, or victims of violence. Jesus Says: the realm of God is not like this. Instead, says Jesus, God wants us to widen the circle so that the outcast, those who have been filled with shame because they alone have been named and called out as “the sinners,” may be let in, to show the rest of us the log in our own eye, and so increase the love we all have for Jesus, who teaches us to invite everyone, the whole community together in hopefulness. These women get it, the Women’s 501(c)3 of Galilee, who provided for them out of their resources.
I don’t think we’ll get to the beauty and complexity of forgiveness and the grace of God until we are somehow given to see that Jesus is really on the side of the sinner. When you glimpse this, it’s always breathtaking. Paul Tillich says, “Here we approach a mystery, which is the mystery of the Christian message itself in its paradoxical depth.” Jesus, of course, doesn’t do what Simon Says. He doesn’t play that game. Instead, what’s earth-shaking, is that the mighty are brought low, and the humble are raised up. And we all meet together at dining tables of grace and love, forgiveness and celebration, sharing of the one loaf, one body.
The Holy Baptism of Claire Elizabeth,
Readings for Pentecost 3/Proper 5(C)/Ordinary 10(C)"Compassion Community," Pastor Fred Kinsey
I’ve got a pretty cast iron stomach. When it comes to food, bring it on, I’ll try anything! Hot and spicy – sure, I can take it! Anchovies on your pizza, let’s do it! Three course meal, and 4 trips back to the desert table – you bet! Leftovers need to be eaten that no one else trusts anymore? I’m your man! I’ve always got room for more, and you’ll never hear a complaint from this gut. My innards are strong, and I never heave my cookies.
In the raising of the widow’s son at Nain, Jesus seems strong, and the story seems pretty straight forward. Weeping mother? No problem, Jesus resuscitates the son with a commanding word, “young man, I say to you, rise!” The one who will himself be raised from the dead, demonstrates his power over death, right?! And so, the funeral procession ends abruptly, before they even reach the cemetery, and all the people glorify God saying, “A great prophet has risen…” …pun intended!
Straight forward story, except for one little word, compassion. “When the Lord saw [the widow from Nain weeping for her only son being carried out in the funeral procession], he had compassion for her.” This word, compassion, has a rather long and complex history. But suffice it to say that in the earliest Greek literature it designated the innards of the sacrificial victim ripped out during a ritual blood sacrifice. Now, that turns my stomach a little! Others have suggested, from the Hebrew root of the word, something a bit more palatable and also more inclusive: a churning of the intestines or a turning of the womb. Others simply define it as having pity or mercy on someone; to be viscerally moved; to feel deeply in one’s gut or womb. And so, Jesus literally has a gut reaction, a physical sense of pain, in sympathy for the widow. Jesus has compassion in his womb, you might say. Or finally, and most up to date, from dictionary.com, compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”
It’s probably not by accident that the Gospel of Luke describes the object of Jesus’ compassion, this nameless widow, using the pronoun “her” three times in just one sentence: “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”
And so the reason that Jesus is moved to action for the dead son, is because of what he sees in the grieving mother – she who has lost doubly, now. First her husband died. Now her only son has died too. And widows without sons, have no financial footing, no social standing in the community, and often had to turn to the Temple Tithes to feed themselves. This only son was her last hope of a stable home, and honor amongst her own, before almost certain destitution. And when Jesus saw her and the son being carried in funeral procession, he felt a strong feeling in his gut, a sour churning, and deep sympathy, that moved him to alleviate her loss and shame.
Like the Good Samaritan, in the parable Jesus will later tell in this gospel, one who Luke says also had compassion, in his case for a man left-for-dead by the side of the road, Jesus also goes out of his way to intervene, and doesn’t just pass by on the other side of the road. Jesus comes near, to address the weeping woman, and touch the funeral bier, and to restore the widow’s only son, that they might be family again.
E. Louise Williams, a writer from Valparaiso, IN calls this “womb-love,” the kind of “love that knows that mother and child are inseparably connected. It is love that desires the child to grow into the fullness of life, that knows when to hold and embrace, [and] when to let go and… to push the child out of the nest into the world.” It is the kind of love and wisdom that parents and extended family have who bring their child to the font for baptism. It is the longing we all have for belonging to a community and a support system, that is connected by the authentic visceral feelings deep within us, and a strong compassionate desire for protection and support of one another.
Is this the reason perhaps, why we are paralyzed and still in shock, or angry and depressed at the continued Great Recession, and its intolerable inattention to jobs so many continue to suffer? This too, is something that turns my stomach, and causes consternation and deep pain! How can we be community when so many are suffering? How can we, as a caring community, walk on the other side of the street and avoid the unemployed and under-employed among us? How can we throw billions of dollars down rabbit holes of protracted oversea wars, and allow and enable the rich to get richer, while austerity is imposed on those who have less and less? Answers are ready, available, and at hand: e.g., a Wall Street, or “Robin Hood” sales tax, like the rest of us are subject to in the market place, would begin to restore justice. Infrastructure, like bridges and roads, are crumbling and in dire need of workers; affordable housing is in great demand; and alternative energy jobs are begging to be created to help save us from climate change. But without this little word, compassion, has it all become too complex, too overwhelming? Without compassion – a reaching out in sympathy – where is the authentic desire to move us to action?
In the early church, as a reaction to the compassionate outreach of Jesus toward widows, orphans and immigrants, the community welcomed and included these persons of marginal social standing, and, more than that, began to create jobs for them. They were made deacons and leaders in their communities and supported as if they were family, and in effect, the church wiped away the stigma of outcast, poor, and stranger. The gathered community was its own support system. Everyone was welcome, and every one willing to work for the building up of the whole, following the compassionate example of Jesus, had a place at the table.
Do we have compassion? Do we recognize it in ourselves? Jesus suggests that deep within, each of us has this capacity for sympathy-in-action. Compassion is like a seed germinating in the womb, planted by God personally into each of us. And it grows and awakens who we are called to be, a churning and turning of our spiritual awareness and life.
Without compassion, this sympathy-in-action, where would community come from? The creation of community, and web and strength of life-giving connectivity, is nurtured and made possible, by this initial and deeply implanted seed of caring-compassion.
If compassion is sympathy-in-action for the person in need – the widow, the outcast, the stranger, the poor – Jesus, the resurrected giver of new life, calls us to be co-creators in community with one another, and to have compassion in our life-giving womb and guts. Jesus gives us birth for compassionate-community through his life-giving Spirit, and here today, through water and the word. And we are baptized, all of us, in a new life, and therefore called and set apart from the world – a world that would use us up, divide and split us up, and not even notice or care when our support system, our community, has been decimated or taken away.
But today, we celebrate this compassionate love, as the love of parent for a child, and the life-giving miracle we all have planted within. We don’t need a cast iron stomach for compassion, in fact we probably want to feel a kicking and stirring within, to feel God’s churning and turning us, creating us to be a reaching-out and connecting people, for the gestation and restoration of a just and life-giving community.
"Centurion and Call to Service,"
Pastor Fred Kinsey
Second Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 4(9)C
Whether the Scouts or with Soldiers, it’s the training that creates the camaraderie, and the trust, in what is sometimes simply called, “the service.” I can’t speak personally for the military service, but I experienced it in scouting, especially at our camping Jamboree’s. Pitching tents together, cooking meals, being tested on the mission statement and core values, reading maps with your compass, and acquiring other survival training skills, is all very empowering. Working together in ‘service’ of one another – rewarding! When we took care of each other, we felt there’s nothing we couldn’t do.
And in between all the work and trust-building, out there in the wilderness, we had some fun too. Like when we stealthily launched the camp-fire breakfast’s left-over gooey-oatmeal, off spoons, at a neighboring tent! That’s about as dangerous as it got in my scouting experience.
Jesus, of course, never had the pleasure of joining Scouting, or the military. But training; and camaraderie; and trust; were strong elements of his mission, and purpose, and work, too. And so he understood immediately the discipline and level of trust the Roman Centurion had in him, when he sent his friends to request Jesus’ healing services, even from a distance, for his servant, near-death. Luke’s gospel doesn’t shy away from including those who are “in the service.”
But preaching about soldiers, I know, is often criticized for not reflecting soldiers’ real experiences in war – just as most in civilian society seems to get it wrong. Iraqi war veteran, Logan Laituri says, “Our culture too often thinks in binaries: good and evil, us and them, hero and villain. But war isn’t like this,” he says. “War builds soldiers up, and breaks them in half, and sometimes they can’t tell which one is happening to them.”
Laituri quotes a West Point ethicist, who lectured at Duke Divinity School in November of 2011, that, “there is both beauty and tragedy in war,” he says. “It is that charity and monstrosity, that exist side by side,” says Laituri. One day a soldier might see a friend abuse a detainee; the next the same friend jumps on a grenade (to save his squad). Is he a sadistic monster or a chivalrous hero?”
It is often said that American troops are among the best trained soldiers in the world. Like the Centurion in our gospel, they too, follow orders from above, and without question carry them out. And to help avoid a conflict of interest, our military’s Commander-in-Chief must be a civilian, and, to further guard against misuse of power, war must be declared by Congress, and not by the Commander-In-Chief, the President - by Constitution anyway. All of this requires, from us, more discussion, of course. But the point I’m trying to make is, that even though our leaders took us to war in Iraq on false pretenses – for better or worse, the Soldiers mostly followed orders and performed as they were trained. When you talk to veterans about the sacrifices they made, they are usually as humble as the Galilean Centurion who sent friends to tell Jesus, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof
. You see, the Roman Army, was very well trained, too. And the Centurion understood that “he was a man set under authority, with soldiers under him;” as our gospel says, “and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes.” The ‘chain of command’ is the backbone of any well-trained military.
Another Iraqi veteran, Derek Burchill, tells his story of returning home after being called up from the Minnesota National Guard. Burchill explains that [since being home] navigating traffic in Minnesota is unsettling …stopping -- even slowing down -- could be deadly [In Iraq]. "They would send little kids out in the middle of the road, so that the convoys would stop,” Burchill explained. “And that’s how Soldiers not on the move became sitting ducks, wide open to insurgent attacks. So, [after that],orders came down the chain of command that 'you don't stop for anything, even including little kids,' which is really sad,” says Burchill. “But it was our lives or theirs.”
I don’t think this
is the kind of training and fierce loyalty to the chain of command that Jesus is amazed
at, with the Centurion at Capernaum. And it is worth noting here, I think, in light of Mr. Burchill’s experience, that the month of June is now designated as PTSD Awareness month, which is a big step for the U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs. Because in one fashion or another, people have been pushing for this kind of service for at least a hundred years now, since the so-called, “War to End All Wars.”
Other soldiers like to emphasis the up-side, like the many kids they befriended, and sharing American candy with them. Or how they helped build roads and other infrastructure in Iraq during the efforts of the counter-insurgency. The picture is murky, not black and white. And so, who bears responsibility for all this? How do we count the costs? Who is responsible, when everyone is just following orders up and down the chain of command? What is our role in a democracy? What is our responsibility as a people of faith?
What Jesus is amazed at in the Centurion, is the trusting faith of a humble man of service, who happens to be a Roman soldier. It’s interesting that at the time Jesus entered Capernaum, there weren’t any occupying troops in that region of Galilee, and so this Centurion was probably a retired vet – a pensioner. When he was on active duty, as a commander of around a hundred soldiers, we don’t know what kind of a military man he was, but as a retired vet, he obviously had a very generous, trusting and believing side to him. In the words of the Jewish elders
in town, it was he who built a synagogue there in Capernaum, for he loves our peopl
e – which sounds something like the rebuilding efforts, the U.S. soldiers point to, as an accomplishment and point of pride.
is willing to build, are coalitions of people in service to one another. And to build them with anyone who will recognize the realm of God that is coming near in his presence, regardless of socio-religious boundaries. Healing is an important sign of God’s realm among us. And the healing power of God reaches out to all – without distinction
In the gospel of Luke there is a threefold encounter of Jesus with the military service. In the very beginning of Luke, as Jesus has just come on the public scene, a soldier came to him on behalf of the whole military service, asking, ‘And we, what should we do’ about the nearness of the realm of God? Jesus said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’ (Lk 3:14) Our retired Centurion in Capernaum, in the middle of the gospel, seems to have taken this advice to heart!
Military honor codes, the chain of command, training, camaraderie, and trust, remain important. But when these fail, as Jesus knows, due to extortion, threats of intimidation, and lies to cover up misdeeds, can we face up to the truth of what we have done? In the unusual case of sacrifice by a young American soldier in Iraq, who blew the whistle on corruption in high levels in the ‘chain of command’ -Private Bradley Manning- we know we can’t be nostalgic, or romanticize war. If the training of our soldiers was taken advantage of in this corruption, how do we hold each other accountable to such failures?
It is rather significant, isn’t it, that a Roman Centurion at Capernaum, an outsider, is welcomed as a believer, and becomes an example that Jesus employees in his training of all those who would be followers and disciples. “I tell you, not even in [my community] have I found such faith,” he says. Jesus trains us for the realm of God by always welcoming the stranger as an honored guest, just as “Abraham and Sarah entertained angels unaware,” because they were well trained by their faith community. And so we too practice this service of radical hospitality, which includes all those who come to us in dialog and discussion, in peace and when seeking healing.
Our training, is a training for service to one another, which we learn by a daily engagement with Jesus, the one who is always our host at the table. We are the guests, whether we are walking through these doors and sharing the meal for the first time, or the 5,000th time. And at that Last Supper, Jesus trained all his followers to wash one another’s feet, as a sign of how we are to be ‘in service’ to one another. Just as Jesus loved and served us; just as the Centurion had a confident trust in serving, and being served, we are invited in to the realm of God to create camaraderie, love and trust for one another.
At the end of Luke’s gospel, there is another Centurion, the one whose orders are to execute criminals on crosses. But at the cross of Jesus, his testimony is in service of the whole world, totally obliterating our binary, black & white ways of thinking. When Jesus breathed his last, the Centurion proclaims, “Certainly this man was innocent.”
How we live in service to one another, is of vital importance. Jesus’s service to us is to offer pardon and healing to all, as a way to build trust, and camaraderie. Jesus’ service to us, offers a love that is stronger than death.
"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.