Philadelphia

A Sermon for Proper 17: Jeremiah 2:4-13, Psalm 81:1, 10-16, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Luke 14:1, 7-14

Streets of Philadelphia

I was bruised and battered, I couldn’t tell what I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
I saw my reflection in a window, I didn’t know my own face
Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin’ away
On the Streets of Philadelphia

I walked the avenue, ’til my legs felt like stone
I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone
At night I could hear the blood in my veins
Just as black and whispering as the rain
On the Streets of Philadelphia

Ain’t no angel gonna greet me
It’s just you and I my friend
And my clothes don’t fit me no more
I walked a thousand miles
Just to slip this skin

The night has fallen, I’m lyin’ awake
I can feel myself fading away
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss
Or will we leave each other alone like this
On the Streets of Philadelphia

This morning’s reading from Hebrews begins ho philadelphia meno (Olive Tree) Let brotherly (mutual) love continue (Pankey). It has always been disjointing for me to put the title next to Springsteen’s words and realize that on the streets of brotherly love we are gonna leave him wastin’ away that no angel gonna greet him and will we leave each other alone like this. (AZ Lyrics). On the streets of philadelphia, on the streets of brotherly love how can there be such angst? how can there be such despair? how can there be such death? It’s a disconcerting to know that in the city of brotherly love in any city here in Blytheville, where we see and speak of ourselves as a place of brotherly, mutual love, that our neighbors ~ are wastin’ away and ain’t no angel is going to greet them, and that we leave each other alone like this.

Chapter 13 is the beginning of the letter’s summary. It begins with a plea for philadelphia, for brotherly, for mutual love to continue. The implication is there is the risk of division. It is a challenge to face the truth how we, of God’s church of so many flavors, split ourselves up. We start with big divisions Christian, Jew, and Muslim. Then we subdivide: Protestant, Catholic, Anglican; reformed, Orthodox; Sunni, Shai, Sufi. As you know, making divisions continues in the secular side of life. We divide by where we are from, we divide ourselves by the color of our skin, we divide ourselves by the language we speak we divide ourselves in almost every imaginable way. The immigration debate is about the divide between outsiders and insiders. The continuing racial issues is a divide, with deep roots, where one group has declared another unworthy. The debate about gender issues; reflects the male and female divide, and also the divide about gender identity. We divide ourselves by wealth; we believe, at least we act as if, those with more are somehow blessed, and those with less were somehow sinful and are receiving their just reward. Our propensity to divide up is seen in social etiquette; we gossip about who gets invited to what. The next time you go to a wedding dinner watch people responses at the seating chart when they see who gets to sit where, it doesn’t take words for folks to express their thoughts.

We are not so different from first century Palestine where seating is connected to social status; closer to the head table, the higher social status; and the higher the status, the greater the chance for gain. Jesus teaching on social etiquette has nothing to do with seating arrangements. Jesus, as is Hebrews, is trying to raise our awareness of others; and how we are always dividing ourselves up into camps. And how our camp is always right which requires another, all others, to be second or less (Ellingsen). This first or second scheme leads us to living life as some sort of balancing act, where this action is measured against that action. We are always seeking to tip the scales in our favor, or to at the least to keep them balanced. Such behavior leads us

to leave God behind and change after worthless things,
until we become worthless ourselves. (Jeremiah 2:5b)

Truth is we also try to balance out righteousness and sin, mostly to ensure we get in, but occasionally trying to keep someone else out.

This is not how God see the world (Lewis). With God in Jesus there are no seconds. Both Jesus and Hebrews challenge us to look beyond self and be open to the holiness in others. When we take the risk we will be surprised by who is holy, and who invites us to come and see.

We are fortunate we don’t have to go far to look into the night sky and see the wonders of the cosmos. Look carefully, sometimes with the help of amazing gadgets, and we will see the amazing diversity of the cosmos. Every star every nebula, every galaxy is different. Here on earth, there are differences. There are difference amongst humans. In and of themselves the differences are not a problem, God knows they are there, just as they are present in the cosmos. The trouble is how we use them to divide ourselves, pitting one over the other, castigating the other as somehow defective, unrighteous or otherwise unworthy. Jesus and Hebrews entreat us to live in brotherly, in mutual love. We are challenged to “learn to live in disagreement and find God in discomfort, and remember, that even when the music changes, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

When you are unrecognizable to yourself, and don’t know your own face
God in Jesus is never gonna leave you wastin’ away
On the Streets of philadelphia

God’s angel is gonna greet you
you and me my friend
as we walk a thousand miles
Just to slip this skin

As the night is falling, as you are lyin’ awake
feeling yourself fading away
God will never leave us, so we are never alone
On the Streets of philadelphia.


References

AZ Lyrics. “Streets Of Philadelphia” lyrics. n.d. 28 8 2016. <http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/brucespringsteen/streetsofphiladelphia.html&gt;.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 17 C | Jeremiah. 28 8 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 28 8 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – Pentecost 15 – August 28, 28 8 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 17 C | Hebrews. 28 8 2016.

—. Proper 17 C | Luke. 28 8 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 14:1, 714. 28 8 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 6 9 2015.

Lewis, Karoline. God’s Pro Quo. 28 8 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Mast, Stan. Lectionary Epistle. 6 9 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Olive Tree. NKJV Greek-English Interlinear New Testament. Olive Tree Bible Software, 22014.

Pankey, Steve. “Losing philadelphia.” 28 8 2016. Draughting Theology. <draughtingtheology.wordpress.com/2016/08/24/losing-philadelphia/>.

Peeler, Amy L.B. Commentary on Hebrews 13:18, 28 8 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

PortierYoung, Anathea. Commentary on Jeremiah 2:413. 28 8 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Rice, Whitney. “What Seat Do You Choose? Proper 17(C).” 28 8 2016. Sermons that Work.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Shame to Prophecy

A sermon for Proper 16: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, Hebrews 12:18-29, Luke 13:10-17

Saint C’s is a centuries old congregation. The building is majestic, built of massive granite blocks she towers over the town. The patina of her copper sheathed steeple has been the landmark by which people oriented themselves longer than anyone can remember. Her members are proud, all the community leaders are members, their families have been attending for generations. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, bankers, business owners are replete at any service. Sunday ushers have worn pale gray morning coats that are carefully passed on from one generation to the next since her founding. St. C’s is a magnificent church.

Charles has fallen on hard times; actually harder times, all his life has been hard. He grew up poor. School was not valued in his family. As a young adult, he was able to get by on hard manual labor, which there was plenty of until the day he was hurt on the job. His medical treatment tended to the immediate injuries; however, there was no follow-up care. The lack of money, transportation, family or neighborly support, and willing doctors all conspired against him. Unable to work it wasn’t long before he became a shameful dishonor to his family. He left. There wasn’t any place for him to go, so Charles lived on the streets. He subsisted on meager coins that people would give him, mostly to get him along down the road. He rummaged through trash for food that had been thrown out. He rummaged the county trash heap looking for scrap he could sell for a pittance. The bright spot in his life was church. Every Sunday he would find one group or another to worship his Lord with.

No one ever knew why; no one ever asked why, but one Sunday morning, when a dark gray sky framed the world, the morning’s first sun rays lit up St C’s towering steeple like a shining beacon and drew Charles to her. He waited until the stream of people thinned out; straightened his ramshackle coat, did his best to fix his hair with his hands, and made his way through the front doors, down the right side aisle, to a vacant pew up front. Someone pointed him out to an usher, who went to the head usher, who stopped the procession in the side hall and called the police. The response was quick. Four officers made their way down the center and right aisle. One from each side approached, there was no conversation, they simply took hold of him by each arm, lifted him from the pew and dragged him out by the center aisle. Charles didn’t resist or struggle; all he did was cry, “All I want to do is worship my Lord!  All I want to do is worship my Lord!” When the shameful presence of a street person gone, St. Curmudgeon began her regal worship.

 

Centuries upon centuries ago Luke shared another story of shame. A woman crippled for nearly two decades, unable to walk or stand up straight comes into Jesus’ presence. He calls her over, gently lays his hands on her and tells her “You are set free from your ailment.” It’s curious language for a medical condition; you’d expect or Jesus to say “healed from” or “cured of.” It’s almost like her condition was some sort of being, and in 1st century Palestine such conditions were considered to be the affliction of a demon (Epperly). It’s also curious to hear that she “was straightened up” as the Greek more correctly reads, implying divine action is involved (Jacobsen).

The synagogue leader objected, and accuses Jesus of breaking the Laws governing Sabbath. In fact, he is taking advantage of a very narrow understanding of the 613 rules governing Sabbath, which is as much a day of delight and serving the purposes of God, as a day of rest (Hoezee). The leader’s behavior appears to be a public effort to shame the woman, the crowd, and Jesus. It doesn’t work and in the end, the leader is publicly shamed when Jesus notes its allowable to release oxen or donkey to go drink. In releasing the woman, Jesus brings honor to her and to God. The crowd gets it as they rejoice at “all the honored things” Jesus was doing (Pankey).

Jesus also honors the woman when he calls her “daughter of Abraham.”  Recognizing her as a daughter of Abraham creates a moral obligation to restore shalom, peace, wholeness of life, healing (Jacobsen). Being freed from her infliction, demonic or medical, also restores her to the community. A closer look at most of Jesus’ healing and you will notice that most, if not all of them, result in a restoring of the person to their community. It’s such a prominent notion I believe that restoring people to their families, and community should be part of a modern practice of medicine.

 

There is a prophetic element in this story. It is revealed not in Jesus’ words, but through Jesus’ behavior. The power God offers Jeremiah is known in service, mercy, healing and reconciliation. It is important, and perhaps a bit unsettling to understand God offers the same power and calling to us (Helmer).  It is even more unsettling as we recognize the urgency implicit in God’s telling Jeremiah “today I appoint you…” (Bratt). There is urgency in our call also.

Once you’ve recognized the prophetic element in Luke’s story we might just wonder “What is God, Jesus or the Spirit is calling you to do?” [i]. This question is far more expansive than we might realize. In Jeremiah’s day God’s reign is not limited to Israel; in our day our prophetic calling is not be limited to our church, our neighborhood, or our community; our calling may take us to places and to people in whose presence we are not comfortable (Nysse).

Yes, it is quite a shock to realize how God’s vision is so much more expansive than our vision. It is natural to doubt our abilities and to fear the way ahead. Remember God reassures Jeremiah “Do not be afraid for I am with you.” It is also helpful to remember all this is really sharing your relationship with God, just as it is, not as what you imagine everyone else thinks it should be, and then inviting the one you are with to come and see.

 

[i] Borrowed from African Bible Study Method

References

Bratt, Doug. Proper 16 C | Jeremiah 1:4-10. 21 8 20016.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scriture Notes Proper 16 | Ordinary Time 21 | Pentecost 13, Cycle C (2016). 21 8 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary Pentecost 14 – August 21, 2016. 21 8 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Helmer, Ben. “The Power of the Spirit, Proper 16 (C).” 16 8 2016. Sermons that Work.

Hoezee, Scott. Proper 16 C | Luke 13:10-17. 21 8 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 13:1017. 21 8 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Daughters of Abraham. 21 8 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Nysse, Richard W. Commentary on Jeremiah 1:410. 21 8 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Pankey, Steve. “[New post] Honor and Shame.” 21 8 2016. Draughting Theology.

 

​A death, A diagnosis and A band

A Sermon for Proper 14: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, Psalm 50:18, 23-24, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, Luke 12:32-40

Last week it was Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The week it was Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Last week it was JB, RW, and JT; this week it was a death, a diagnosis, and a band.

 

He was a mean crusty old coot. Nothing she and her family ever did was right. Nothing ever measured up to his expectations. None of their desires to improve themselves, nor any of their aspirations for their family measured up against up against his plumb line of life.

Still, when the diagnosis of cancer hit hard, she was the one who refused to lie to him. She was the one who firmly yet compassionately told him that he was not going to get better, or get out of here, or go home, he was dying. She was the one who listened to whispered regrets. She was the one who wiped his tears. None of which mattered the next morning, nothing she ever did, nothing they ever did ever passed muster.

And then he died. She saw the familiar SUV turn the corner and park in the Funeral Home’s lot. She watched the usual and customary exit ritual. As he walked across the grass, she rushed towards him. There was no greeting; she flung her arm around his neck and cried. Quietly and deeply, she cried, oh so deeply she cried.

In the cloudless blue sky of a Delta morning she held tight, she dares not let go. As hard as the time had been, she knew the routine; she knew how to negotiate it. The waters were dangerous, but her map was accurate. And now, with the patriarch dead, everything was unclear. No one could know how the family’s relationships would resettle, you never can. As the thermometer pushed 100, she held on.

He was surprised by how tightly she clung. He was surprised by how calm he was. He kept his breath regular, deep and calm. He stood straight and still. He felt her shake as she sobbed. And only on the Spirit’s breath do the words come to him. Only to her does he whisper “It is amazing how much you love the one who annoyed you so much.”

 

The call was expected; the timing was not. He left the meeting, so he could speak privately with his brother. He knew the circumstances; he knew what the conversation would be about; he thought he knew how to navigate the conversation and be there for his brother. His brother walked through the past week; all the tests, all the decision points, all the unknowns, everything. At every point, the protocol was correct, decisions were correct, even as they now created some complications. Last night’s decision to go home and tend to other matters is sensible; they expected to learn the results of the latest tests in the morning. The timing was off. The doctors came that evening. Alone, his son and wife heard completely unexpected words “cerebral palsy.”

Actually, his brother’s first words were “It’s cerebral palsy.” He was unprepared. There are things you simply cannot be prepared for. He knew the experience of his first 20 plus years in business were useless. Then it was his responsibility to know the symptoms, know the answers and to execute the necessary corrective plan. In short, it was his job to do. For the last twenty-five years, his vocation was to be. At times he spoke. At times presided. At times he was the manifestation of divine presence. But beneath all of that, the vocation was to be. And now miles of separation prevented that. All the technology of wires, and fiber, and wireless were completely useless; he simply could not hold his brother in his arms in a loving hug. It was a lonely, fearful thing to hear his brother fall into the arms of a loving God.

 

For more than a decade she and her husband lead their church’s band. Every Sunday they coordinated, and made music and sang praises to God. Every Sunday, with love and purposeful preparation, they created musical moments in which their colleagues, friends, family and the strangers among them, might encounter the transforming love of God. But no more.

Both their parents were aging. Both their parents needed their attention. Weekday responsibilities and distance so shaped the context that weekends were the available times for them to honor their parents. And so they do. They have given over to others the work they so love.

At times she blogs. Friday morning, she blogged about their decision. A high school friend who sometimes reads her blogging saw and read this one. He was caught by her words “As I ramble through my first churchless Sunday in I can’t remember when my heart is heavy and tears well unbidden.” Immediately he knew the connections. The words of the prophets spoke with the clarity God intended. His impulse was to share. He demurred; for good reason, he knew the depth his friend’s faith, even when they disagreed on one point or another.

Well, he tried to demur. However, the urging would not go away. And so, as is his custom, he writes through a private channel:

I read your blog this morning. I am reminded of the prophets, who, after criticizing    empty worship, point towards God’s desire which includes care for God’s people. Tending to parents in waning years fits the bill, and you will meet the prophetic understanding of ‘church.’  Moreover, in John 9 when asked who sinned Jesus replies “No one. this man was born blind. Let the work (glory/presence) of God be made known” again you are making God’s presence known. You are not churchless; you are simply in another manifestation of church.

He was not surprised she replied; although the words were more than expected.

Thank you, for taking the time to read my post today, and for writing such words of encouragement.  I did need those so much!  We know we made the right decision with regards to our mothers.  Change is never easy, but knowing God walks with us is a comfort and a blessing.  Thanks again, my friend

 

This morning’s reading from Hebrews encourages us to have faith. The author provides us an example, Abraham. Abraham trusted God and ventures forth into the wilderness with no map and no real idea where he was going. The journey is long, decades longer than expected. He questioned God, more than once, about the promise of countless heirs. He and Sarah did see their son; they never saw a people more numerous than the stars of the night sky. But still they kept the faith, they never lost their trust in God, as shaky as it got. And they were, for the most part, honest with God about his timing.

Luke tells of Jesus telling the disciples to be prepared. He challenges them to know what matters most. He challenges them to be ready for God’s appearance. And in the last bit share with them the curious notion that God’s presence is to serve them.

You can be prepared, but not for everything. You cannot be prepared for a death, a diagnosis, and a band. We’ve been told by various preachers that we can always keep our faith. There are deaths, and diagnoses and moments when faith ~ belief, and trust are shaken; badly shaken; beyond the of point doubt. There are moments when we stand over and see into the very depths of the abyss.

Both Jesus and Isaiah are clear, standing over and staring deep into the abyss of doubt and rejection are to be shared with God. God wants you to share all the depths of your soul, no matter how offensive you think God may think they are. Because God knows that in those moments, you will glean brilliance of a single point of love and light of life.

Your map may be worthless. Your faith may be shattered. Your trust may have faded with the passing of long – gone years. Being prepared may have vanished in the heat of the sun. But you are never alone; those you love are never alone. God’s love bears all things, endures all things, God’s love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)

Last week it was Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The week it was Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Last week it was JB, RW, and JT; this week it was a death, a diagnosis, and a band. The week to come? is not ours to know, except the eternal love of God, in Jesus Christ by the whisper of the Spirit.

 

References

Adam, A. K. M. Commentary on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16. 7 8 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. CashMax fees break state law, NLR says. 7 8 2016. <arkansasonline.com/news/2016/aug/05/cashmax-fees-break-state-law-nlr-says-2/>.

ASHLEY, DANAE. “Listen to Love, Proper 14 (C).” 8 7 2016. Sermons that Work.

Bratt, Doug. Old Testament Lectionary | Isaiah 1:1, 10-20. 7 8 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 7 8 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Hardy, Quentin. Wasting Time on the Internet? Not Really. n.d. <nytimes.com/2016/08/07/education/edlife/kenneth-goldsmith-on-wasting-time-on-the-internet.html>.

Hoezee, Scott. Lectionary Epistle | Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16. 7 8 2016.

—. Proper 14C | Luke 12:32-40. 7 8 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Treasured Possessions? Part Two. 7 8 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Thompson, Erick J. Commentary on Luke 12:32-40. 7 8 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Wines, Alphonetta. Commentary on Isaiah 1:1, 10-20. 7 8 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.