Yesterday, at the MCS Stewardship Conference, we heard a funny story about what happens when you don’t keep word and deed together. As the story goes, it was back in Reformation times when a group of princes were getting baptized in a German church, a baptism by immersion. And each of them as they were dunked under, held one arm up above water. Everyone thought that was a little strange at the time, but it wasn’t until later that they discovered their intentions. The princes had been thinking ahead to when they would be called into battle, and that that was the arm they would have to use to wield their swords. ‘This is our un-baptized arm,’ they said. ‘It’s okay!’ Sort of like crossing your fingers with your hand behind your back, I guess! Obviously, we can’t separate out our baptized life, in this way. The words and promises of baptism go together, and apply to what we do in our whole lives, all the time.
At their trial, the two disciples are given a chance to set the record straight, by which the leaders of Jerusalem expect they will renounce Jesus. But something had happened to them since the crucifixion and resurrection. As they reflected on it together in the upper room, they had been changed. Jesus had even told them that they wouldn’t have to worry what they would say when they were arrested and brought before rulers, for the Spirit would give them the words they needed. And now Peter, when asked “by what power or name he was doing this” preaching and healing, takes a deep breath, and it says, he was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Only then did he launched into his, Jesus is the cornerstone speech.
The anachronistic irony of course is that, the Temple where Peter is speaking from in this story, has long since been destroyed, and both Jewish-Christian followers, and the Jewish leaders, have been dispersed for some 40 or 50 years by the time the book of Acts is written. Acts is written to a new community some distance away from Jerusalem. Both, Jewish-Christian, and Jewish believers, are frantically trying to figure out how to put their lives back together without a Temple, without the ark of the covenant safely tucked away at the center of the Temple, in the Holy of Holy’s.
Jews and Christians came up with slightly different answers to this question after 70 AD, and not just out of thin air! But for the Jews, by going back to the tradition of the Ark of the Covenant being mobile, when it led the people on their 40 year journey of faith, in the wilderness. Now, after a similar crisis, the Jews became a faith of the book, the Torah, worshiping in synagogues, on their new journey, everywhere, throughout the world.
And the Christians remembered how Jesus called the Temple his father’s house, and that, when he was asked for a sign of his authority Jesus said, tear down this temple and in three days I will raise it up. No one had understood this cryptic saying before his death. But one of the “aha” moments the disciples had afterwards in the upper room, was that Jesus had been talking about his resurrection. Jesus, the stone that was rejected by some, was for them, the cornerstone of a new and mobile temple. Jesus had backed up his words with one very large deed, in being raised! Jesus is our ark of the covenant, our light and salvation, our breath of life, going before us, like a Good Shepherd, to lead the way, 24/7, by night and by day.
I have been challenging the Church Council, and all of us this year, to be on the look-out for where God is calling Unity to go, in these days. Perhaps a special ministry, or a defining identity that centers and energizes us? If you asked anyone in Edgewater about Unity Lutheran Church, what would they say about us? Are we backing up our core values and vision, with an active mission? Who are we? What are we becoming?
One little example: I heard this story this week about a mobile food project and restaurant on wheels, Enemy Kitchen, the brainchild of Chicago-based artist, Michael Rakowitz. On his food truck flies an Iraqi flag and he serves Iraqi food. The chef’s are Iraqi too, Jawher Shaer and his two sons, who own and run Milo’s Pita Place, a nice little restaurant in Rogers Park. The four servers on the truck, on the other hand, are all U.S. veterans of the Iraq war. And so, through this Enemy Kitchen project, Rakowitz has been using Iraqi food and culture to break down cultural barriers for several years already. One of the veterans, Aaron Hughes, has added his own twist to the project. Hughes served at Guantanamo Bay, where he said he learned not to trust the prisoners, part of military training, of course, even though it has long since been proved that the vast majority of prisoners there had nothing to do with Al Qaida, and many were swept up as innocent businessmen themselves. Hughes remembers how he was offered tea daily by some of those prisoners, but he always refused. So now he’s on the Enemy Kitchen food truck, and instead of the usual street art that aims to shock, his “Tea” performance is pure hospitality. ‘Each evening at sunset he’ll unfurl an Iraqi prayer rug, fire up a hot plate and begin the time-consuming double-boiler method of traditional Iraqi tea service. When he’s done, he’ll hand passersby cardamom-scented black tea in Styrofoam cups that he adorns with arabesque flowers.’ (Time Out Chicago) At Guantanamo, you see, the prisoners are allowed to keep only one possession in their cells, a Styrofoam cup for tea, which each prisoner decorates by hand, usually with flowers.
This ministry of Enemy Truck, and act of societal healing, is a “good deed” that begs for a word of conversation – on our part – which was exactly the aim of creator Rakowitz.
Together, through our words and deeds, and in the name of “the one who laid down his life in order to take it up again,” healing can happen – in our neighborhood, in our world. Each week, we are energized at this table when we receive the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, and remember the powerful words and deeds of Jesus. And so, let us take a deep breath, and let the Holy Spirit fill us. Jesus promises to give us the words, if we live the deeds we’re being called to. Where is God calling you? Where is God calling Unity? Go, let us be healers, as Christ has healed us – loving our neighbors, and even our enemies – and the words we should say, will be given to us.