Betwixt and Between

A sermon for Easter 7; Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36, 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11, John 17:1-11

Today is a bit of a betwixt and between day. Thursday is the prescribed day to celebrate the Ascension, the story we read in Acts this morning when Jesus ascends into heaven to be at the right hand of the Father. It is one High Holy Day that many congregations do not celebrate because it is in the middle of the week; moreover; it floats around from one day to the next because it is 40 days after Easter Sunday and no matter how hard anyone tries when you divide 40 by 7 (the days in a week) you get a remainder, so Ascension Day moves around. The other end of betwixt and between is Pentecost which is next Sunday, when the Holy Spirit arrives (at least for Luke); a celebration many mark by wearing all manner of red clothing and others by commemorating the birthday of thre church. But today we are betwixt and between. But, there are at least three excellent phrases in the reading from Acts we should at least take a closer look at.

The first is Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?

One commentary notes:

They have had three years hearing Jesus teach and witnessing his deeds of power. They witnessed the crucifixion. They saw or were told about the empty tomb. And lastly, they have had 40 days of specific prayer and instruction with Jesus preparing them for their work to come. And still, they have one more religious-political who’s going to be in charge question (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner; Harrelson).

To which Jesus says It is not for you to know; ~ its none of your business. His answer and the unexpected time since then ought to make it very clear, that God’s plan for restoring Israel is not what anyone expects, that it will not “erupt from the heavens in the twinkling of an eye” nor is it not for a select few to know (Wall). God knows what God is doing, that’s enough for us to know. Jesus goes on to say

 You have work to do here and now, go be my witness to the end of the earth, and I will send the Holy Spirit to help. (My paraphrase.)

To borrow a phrase from John’s Gospel story now is the time to work the works God has given us to work (Osvaldo).

After this the disciples witness Jesus ascend into the heavens. Now comes one of my favorite bibles verses: They stood there, staring into the empty sky. (Acts 1:10, The Message). How many times do we get caught up in some sort of speculation about what’s going on in the life of the church or about what God/Jesus/ Spirit is up to and just stare into empty space rather than get about working the work (Bratt)? There are good reasons, well at least there are good excuses. We might not have a clue what to do. We might be overwhelmed by the size of the task, after all the ends of the earth is a long way away no matter where you start. And there is plenty to be afraid of, threats abound; then and now. In places, Christians are physically threatened and or face death. In the United States, there is enough political instability to make us uneasy. In many places, including the Arkansas Delta, there is enough economic uncertainty, to distract us. And we should face the truth that we may be facing our personal fears. Staring into empty space may be just that, or it may be what pondering how to undertake what the unknowable is. Either way, we are not alone.

We are not alone because Jesus does not send disciples or us as individuals out to be witnesses. The ministry of continuing Jesus’ ministry is a task of the community of disciples that share a unity that mirrors the image of the unity between Jesus and the Father that John captures in Jesus’ prayer so that they may be one as we are one (John 17:11). The fact that there has always been intuitional factions does not mean there is not Christian unity. In Acts 1:7 Jesus lets us know that God’s plan is not about political or earthly structures. In John 17:11 Jesus lets us know that unity is relational. And if you go all the way back to the beginning, Genesis teaches us that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Remember we are Christians, and as Christians, we understand stand God as Trinity ~ 1 in 3 and 3 in 1, a divine model of community; therefore, we are made to be a community that reflects the divine community.

The final, and by chance 3rd, phrase to pay attention to today is in the final verse they were constantly devoting themselves to prayer. If you ever been stumped, and if you ever wonder what Jesus would do ~ the answer is pray (Logue). It is a lesson the disciples learned because prayer, constant prayer, is a foundational piece of their community life. As Episcopalians, we have an abundance of prayer resources. The oldest is in The Book of Common Prayer. If you look in the table of contents, on page 5, you will see 5 forms of daily prayer, 2 of which have 2 forms and also Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families which offers short forms of prayer for morning, midday, early evening, and at the close of day. Beginning on Page 809 you will find 70 prayers for all manner and occasions. If you ever need to pray for something go there, there is something you can use to help get you started; it is a wonderful powerful resource (The Episcopal Church). There is Forward Day by Day that offers a scripture verse and short reflection for every day (Forward Movement). There is The Society of St. John the Evangelist’s Brother give us a word that offers a daily email with a short reflection, and the occasional seasonal online reflections and forms of prayer (SSJE). From now till Pentecost they are offering Thy Kingdom Come in response to and in collaboration with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s call to prayer (COE). We are often dismissively referred to as those people with the book. We are ~ those people with the book; a book of prayer, that is one of many ways we as a community can constantly devote ourselves to prayer where ever we are. Our prayer life is important, not because it lets God know what in our hearts, God already knows that. Our prayer life is important because it is how as individuals and as a community we do not let the current concerns of the world, or our passionate commitment to mission, replace our abiding relationship with Jesus. The oneness of the Father and Jesus is their abiding relationship. Our oneness with Jesus and the Father is our abiding relationship with them and each other (Wall). It only makes sense that the abiding place (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner) the Father has prepared for us is the same place the work God has given us to work is ~ right here, right now.

Jesus has ascended. The work we are to work is right here. And the promise of the Spirit is right around the corner.

 

References

Bratt, Doug. Easter 7 A: Acts 1:6-14. 28 5 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 5 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Forward Movement. “prayer.” n.d. forwardmovement.org. <http://prayer.forwardmovement.org/forward_day_by_day.php?d=26&m=5&y=2017&gt;.

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

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 28 5 2017.

Logue, Frank. “Learning from Proverbs – Proper 18(B).” 28 5 2015. Sermons that Work.

Osvaldo, Vena. “Commentary on John 91:-41.” 20 3 2017. Working Preacher. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

SSJE. Brother, Give Us A Word. Cambridge, 23 10 2015. <http://ssje.org/word/&gt;.

The Church of England. n.d. http://www.thykingdomcome.global. <https://www.thykingdomcome.global/&gt;.

The Episcopal Church. The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.

 

 

 

It’s just good business

A sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter: Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:7-18, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21

 

The author of the 1st Letter of Peter writes

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.

This is exactly what Paul does in Athens. He has seen all the idols around the city, and it upsets him terribly. But, there is also this idol to an unknown god; which is a customary just in case practice (Harrelson). It is an opportunity Paul seizes. He does not shout at the people. He uses their culture, to witness to them (Benoit). Paul recognizes that God is uniquely present in every place, in every human story, so it does not matter the that people worship the unknown god; because it is really God in Jesus. Athens is the home of Socrates, great Universities and Philosophical schools of the Epicureans and the Stoics (Wall). Paul makes use of those customs in shaping his speech. He begins by noting how religious Athenians are; perhaps a bit tongue in cheek (Ellingsen). He quotes Epimenides, and Aratus well-known philosopher-poets (Harrelson). Then he introduces God who is not local, who is not bound to a specific place, who does not require human offerings, and who is the true source of all life (Gaventa and Petersen). Paul emphasizes God’s universal judgment and salvation for all. He welcomes all Athenians into the life giving, life changing presence of God through Jesus Christ. He does all this with the help of the Spirit. So, can you. Here ends the lesson.

Well almost.

 

I think our challenge today is not to defend the source of the hope that is in us. I think today’s challenge is to put the hope that is in us to work. This involves telling the truth about our community locally and globally (Bratt). And the truth I am beginning to see is deeply disturbing.

At Friday Families, we watched Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Throughout the story, Lord Cutler Beckett makes all kinds of inhuman decisions and actions, from killing Elizabeth’s father, to entrapping, enslaving, betraying, lying to, and blacking mailing most every character he encounters, all in the name of good business. The United States is the leading economic force in the world. We are not merely the largest, we set base standards of right and wrong. As a nation, we are remaking ourselves in the image of “It’s just good business.” We are leading the unmaking of humanity in the name of “It’s just good business.”

A couple of observations. We have commoditized agriculture to the extent that the few corporations who own the patents on seed stock are controlling who plants what. Farmers can no long save back some seed from crops they grew for seeds for next year because they don’t belong to them, they don’t own the patent. It constrains farmers’ prosperity, but it’s just good business.

We have almost completely commoditized university education through student loans. These loans are government guaranteed made to individuals from major financial institutions who sell education as the way to a bright future; which it can be. But These public and private Universities are not accountable for the results; it’s just good business.

There are some changes emerging in University accountability. But, they are cost reduction efforts by the states, not a careful examination of how best to provide education for all the people; it may be another form of its just good business. We have completely lost sight of John Adam’s (our second President) ideal that educating its people is a primary concern of any nation, any government (McCullough). The current trend is to abandon all public education and allow the market to improve a declining education system. Is it good for education? The results are very mixed, as it is for public schools. But we go that way because it is good business.

We have nearly commoditized our health care system. The efforts to make health care available to most Americans are primarily focused on insurance. There is an inspired change to shift the vision of health care from an individual event in a single person that a provider or providers diagnoses and implements a defined protocol to fix toward a system that understands that everything is interconnected when it comes to nurturing good health. You may not know that 50 to 80 percent of health care outcomes have nothing to do with medical providers but is determined by social drivers of health. Can you get back to the doctor, can you get your prescriptions filled, can you get your bandages changed, do you live in standard housing, do you have clean water, can you eat healthy? All these things determine health. There is a move among providers to invest in improving these social drivers. However, as far as I can tell it is limited to large systems with potential saving to fund these investments. More importantly is the complete lack of conversation about the behaviors of pharmaceutical, equipment, and supply businesses in health care They determine the cost of health care, and they are doing so largely without moral consideration. EpiPen’s cost increased ten times in ten years, without any change in medication or mechanics; it was just what the manufacturer believes is good business (Layton).The cost of Daraprim (a 62-year-old highly effective drug that is the standard treatment for a life-threatening parasitic infection) rose from $13.50 to $750 a tablet, (Pollack) because the new owner believed it was justified. Experts believe it is just economics (Seidman). Once again, it’s just good business. True there was dramatic pushback in these cases, and changes were made. But, the troublesome observation is that anyone, any business could ever allow such egregious decisions to be ever considered never mind brought to market.

Recently there has been a lot of conversation about driverless cars and trucks in the news. There has been some conversation about the impact of the potential loss of millions of jobs; taxi drivers, Uber drivers, Lyft drivers, truck drivers and delivery service drivers. Some conversation about guaranteed income for all citizens is popping up as visions of a worker-less artificial intelligence economy dance in our imaginations. But no one, no one is talking about the loss of human interaction. How many stories of a passenger or cab driver helping the other have you heard? How many times have you seen a car or a truck pull over to help a stranded driver? You may remember that in fall of 2015 I was coming home from Little Rock and blew the timing belt in my SUV. I was able to get off the road. I called AAA, they recommended a repair shop and dispatched a wrecker. When the wrecker arrived, I asked the driver if he could get me to a hotel. He looked at the work ticket and then recommend a different repair shop because there was a hotel across the street. In part, the recommendation was made because of the original repair shop’s location. Would a driverless wrecker have been able to do that? Would an AI desk clerk offer a toothbrush as I checked in because she asked how my night was?

There are all sorts of human interactions that advanced technologies and Artificial Intelligence will eliminate. It all may well be good business, but it is remaking humanity. Business has become the forest of idols in which we increasingly live and move and have our being. Paul would be aghast. So, should we. Paul acted, so should we; and Paul is our model.

Paul did not rant against the culture or the many, many idols to numerous gods. We should not blindly rant against technology. I cannot; I use a lot of technology every day. I preach from a tablet, a technology, that is still changing things. What we should do is start the conversation about where is God is all this. How does the business opportunity respect the image of God in the customer? How does the business opportunity reflect the image of God to the customer and the world? Does this inject religion into business and politics? Yes, it does, but Paul’s speech is every bit as political as well as religious, for the worship of the gods was as political as it was religious (Aymer). If we take our faith seriously; if we see the image of God in everyone, and the image is there, no matter how suppressed or hidden, if we are serious about witnessing God’s universal judgement that brings salvation then our religion, our faith must be the foundational value for every thought, word, and deed.

Can we ignore it all this and hope for the best, believing that “it’s just good business” will eventually lead to life nurturing decisions; after all religious based decisions do not have a good history of universally life nurturing? We can; but, at the very end of World’s End Lord Beckett eerily walks through a maelstrom of cannon and musket fire, and flying bits of shattered ship mumbling, “it’s just good business” until he is consumed by erupting flames as his ship The Endeavor explodes. Make of the imagery of searing flames what you will.

Is it difficult and risky to inject religion into business and politics? It is. It was for Paul. Yet Paul spoke, in part, because the other advocate, the Spirit, was with him, every step of the way. You also have an advocate who stands with you and goes with you everywhere. The Spirit is also with you.


 

References

Aymer, Margaret. Commentary on Acts 17:2231. 21 5 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Benoit, Arlette D. being a Witness for the God We Know, Easter 6 (A). 21 5 2017. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Bratt, Doug. Acts 17:22-31. 21 5 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 21 5 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 21 5 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 21 5 2017.

Layton, Chris Woodyard, and Mary Jo. “Massive price increases on EpiPens raise the alarm.” 22 8 2016. usatoday.com. 20 5 2017. <https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2016/08/22/two-senators-urge-scrutiny-epipen-price-boost/89129620/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. A Paraclete Kind of Life. 21 5 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

McCullough, David. John Adams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Pollack, Andrew. “Drug Goes From $13.50 a Tablet to $750, Overnight.” 30 9 20015. NYtimes.com. web. 20 5 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/21/business/a-huge-overnight-increase-in-a-drugs-price-raises-protests.html?_r=0&gt;.

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

Seidman, Bianca. “Drug price increases 5,000 percent overnight.” 21 9 2015. cbsnews.com. 20 5 2017. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/generic-drug-price-increases-5000-percent-overnight/&gt;.

Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.

 

Teeth Gnashing, Ear Covering, Anxiety Moments

A sermon for Easter 5: Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14

 

I am in a quandary this morning. Today is mothers’ day. It is also the Sunday we read about St. Stephen being martyred. Stephen is a good man. He is one of a few who are chosen to ensure Greek-speaking Christians got a fair share of daily food distribution. He is far more than a counter clerk or table waiter. Stephen has a powerful Spirit and an eloquent voice. He is not afraid to share the first, with skillful use of the second. His verbal joust with the Freedmen’s synagogue leads to false charges of blasphemy and an appearance before the council. There he there he openly talks about Israel’s history of failure to follow God’s law, naming the Temple authorities, Pharisees, Sadducees, and historical figures all the way back to Moses. His fearless spirit, eloquence, and power stir up such passions that the Jews stone him to death. (Sakenfeld) In addition to Stephen’s personal qualities, he is also a mother’s son. And I know she would be proud of who he was. So, how am I to preach about a son’s death, and pay homage to Mothers’ Day. Maybe by reflecting on how Jesus and the disciples say good-bye; because Stephen left us with more than a story of spirit and strength; Stephen leaves us with the challenge to live life differently (Lewis). To do that we begin by being honest with ourselves, by examining the behaviors of Stephen’s adversaries

We pick up the story in mid-action. After the Stephen is taken to the council, he retells Israel’s history, with an emphasis on their unfaithful behavior. Then he charges them:

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it (Acts 7:51-53).

That sent the crowd over the edge. Luke writes “[they] ground their teeth at Stephen.” Grinding teeth is a sign of the anger of those who oppose God’s servants; an example is Psalm 37:12 The wicked plot against the righteous, and gnash their teeth at them. Matthew uses the phrase to tell about those excluded from the kingdom. and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42). Here it is an expression of righteous outrage (Wall). This is one of those biblical expressions that does not get proper attention. We tend to envision it as something an actor might do to express a feeling. But it is deeper than that. I know several people who have dental problems because they grind their teeth. The causes can an abnormal bite, missing or crooked teeth, a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea; but it can also be caused by stress and anxiety (WebMD). I’m not casting any judgments, but stress and anxiety can be related to stubborn refusal to acknowledge the truth you just do not want to face. I suspect people’s habit of clenching their teeth as a physical expression of an extreme effort to control anger qualifies for biblically grinding teeth.

A bit later we hear they cover their “uncircumcised ears” referring to a stubbornness that prevents the council from hearing the true word of God Stephen spoke (Sakenfeld). When you think about it, they have doubled down, by covering their ears so they cannot hear, with ears that are already unable to hear the truth.

This is another expression that reveals common behaviors. Our kids could never hear us call them unless it involved something they were excited about. Angie tells me I never hear her unless she is saying “dinner is ready.” You get the idea; we are very good at not hearing what we do not want to know.

We now have two traits to look for in our self-examination: anger expressed in grinding or clenching teeth, and voluntary deafness. I expect all of us can tell at least one story involving us clenching our teeth or choosing not to hear. I am sure all of those stories involve some sort of emotional angst, some deep sorrow or trouble. This raises the uncomfortable possibility that we are not all that different from the mob that stones Stephen. Maybe we are not; but, ~ we can be.

Part of my seminary experience was Clinical Pastoral Education. It is a program where you go to a big hospital, or some large ministry center to learn how to be pastoral. What you do not know go going in is that this is not a skills development experience. CPE, as it is known, is about developing the self-awareness that allows you to identify your physical response to past experiences which provoke an emotional response that gets in the way of your immediate pastoral relationship. For ten or fifteen years of my 23 years in ministry, I have spent some continuing education time exploring Family Systems Theory which puts the same events into a theoretical and practical structure of our family history. The short-hand for all this is getting to know yourself so you can control yourself. Jesus has a similar idea, with a slightly different emphasis.

A point of order here; story order that is. The lectionary is structured in such a way that we are experiencing a flashback. This is not a post-resurrection story from John’s Gospel; this is a pre-crucifixion story. This is the night before. Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet. He has revealed that one of them will betray him; which introduces all kinds of anxiety. He has told Peter that he will deny him, not once but three times. “Troubled hearts” is very much an understatement. Nonetheless, this is where Jesus starts.

I expect Jesus starts by naming the disciples “troubled hearts” so they could recognize their emotional angst. Jesus did not have ten or fifteen years, and neither did the disciples. Jesus’ next step is to focus on the relationship steps. He and God know each other so well, they are one. Jesus and the disciples know each other very well. Their relationship is so tight that in knowing Jesus they also know God. Jesus is encouraging his disciples, and that includes you ~ and me, to remember their relationship, to keep their belief in him and through that, they are in a relationship with God; not might be, not can be, not will be, but are in a relationship with God ~ right here, right now.

The shorthand for these verses is that the words ‘house’ or ‘dwelling place,’ ‘the way’ and ‘I am’ are all traditional Jewish references to a relationship with God or the revelation of God (O’Day). All of them are inclusive. This means the phrase “No one comes to the Father except through me” is not a road map any more than Thomas’ understanding of “the way” is a road map. It recognizes a particular way of being in a relationship with God, i.e. through Jesus; it does not express an opinion about or exclude, any other relationship with God (O’Day). Jesus’ saying, “I am the resurrection and the life” marks the beginning of a new age, and assures the disciples “nothing, not even death, can separate Jesus and his “own” from God” (O’Day).

One defining characteristic of the God-Jesus relationship is trust. Jesus trusts God enough to die. All this is Jesus’ effort to help the disciples trust God as much as Jesus trusts God; in this particular moment, but also in the moments to come that as we know, will be nearly as anxiety producing. It is also Jesus’ effort to remind us to trust God/Jesus/Spirit in the midst of our teeth gnashing, ear covering, anxiety moments. Jesus is assuring the disciples he is still the way to the peace of God. The rest of the bible story reveals the truth of Jesus’ assurance.

Today, this story is assuring us that Jesus is still the way to the peace that passes all understanding. It is not easy to remember. Which is why we need a faith community to help us remember when worldly affairs drive our anxiety meter to the top. And helping each other is one of the greater works, Jesus assures us we will do. We will help each other, and others, and we can help them because we remember the us-Jesus-God relationship connection is:

  • our strong rock,
  • our castle safe hold,
  • our tower of strength.

Now we flash forward; all the way forward to this very moment. Our world is as troubled as the disciples’ world is troubled, each in its own particular way. Jesus asks the disciples to believe, to trust him just as he trusts God. Through the story, they shepherded we know Christ died. Through their continuing story, we know Christ is risen. Through our mutual trust in the story, we now shepherd we know Christ will come again.

So, do not be afraid, be believing.

 

References

Aymer, Margaret. Commentary on Acts 7:55-60. 14 5 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Bratt, Doug. Easter 5 A Acts 7:55-760. 14 5 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 14 5 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 14:1-14. 14 5 2017.

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on John 14:1-14. 12 3 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher Saying Goodbye.” 14 5 2017. Working preacher.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

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

Wall, Robert. New interpreter’s Bible The Acts of the Apostles (NIBC) John 21:25. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols.

WebMD. oral-health/guide/teeth-grinding-bruxism. n.d. 10 5 2017. <http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/teeth-grinding-bruxism#1&gt;.

 

 

Gateway-Jesus

A sermon for Easter 4: Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10

 

My studies this week lead me to a slightly different reading of the 23rd Psalm. It goes like this.

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.

3 God “keeps me alive (LeMon) and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4 Though I walk through the darkest valley, (Mast; Harrelson) I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.

6 Only goodness and mercy shall pursue me (Lewis; LeMon; J. Clinton McCann) all the days of my life and I will continually return to Yahweh’s presence, my whole life long. (LeMon)

We hear way too much about Jesus the Good Shepherd, LLC. Long ago they secured the 4th Sunday after Easter’s imagery. Then they laid siege to stain glass windows, and murals, and painting, and sketches and all thing images. And they are wonderfully transformative. However, today, Jesus does not say he is the good shepherd, Today, Jesus says he is the gate for the sheep (J. Clinton McCann). Jesus is the gate into the sheepfold for the safety of the flock. Jesus is also the gate out of the sheepfold so the flock can go out into the word as stewards of Jesus’ ministry (Hoezee). Jesus is the way the flock has abundant life (Lewis). The Jesus gate is not to exclude people (Johnson). The Jesus Gate is the way the flock goes into the world and shares the news of abundant life with all the world.

What is the abundance life Jesus offers us? There is a dangerous belief that wealth, health, riches are a divine blessing that comes from right belief (Lewis). This is nothing like John’s definition of abundance in his Gospel story. John defines abundance as

  • Jesus as life, and the life was the light of all people (John 1:4)
  • the divine gift through whom that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (John 3:1)
  • the resurrection through whom even those who die, will live” (John 11:25)
  • knowing the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God sent (17:3)
  • hearing the Gospel stories “so that you may believe… and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

Abundance is the interdependence of care, and it is driven by knowing God wants all the world, all of us, all of you to thrive (Epperly). Abundance is a divine gift for the whole community right here and right now; not sometime out in the future in some unknown place (J. Clinton McCann).

Part of understanding divine abundance is remembering today’s Gospel story is the continuation of the story of Jesus healing the man born blind. When we finished reading this story, a couple of weeks ago, the Jewish religious authorities have driven the man out of the village. Jesus pursues him, into the dark valley of rejection, and when he meets the man the man confirms his return to God in Jesus. The religious authorities are behaving like Old Testament Kings, who did not seek the common good for all of God people (Johnson; Harrelson; O’Day). The first three verses of this morning’s Gospel tell us who the shepherds are not (Harrelson). So maybe we can learn something about abundance by naming the things that it is not. For that, we can go back to the 23rd Psalm.

Verse 4

Though I walk through the darkest valley I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

reminds us that even though we face real threats, we should not fear them; because verse 5

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; * you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.

reminds us the shepherd’s provisions are enough (J. Clinton McCann) They’re abundant. This reassures us that we do not fear anything. We don’t need to fear others; we don’t need to fear immigrants because all of us, all of them are part of the flock, part of the divine community. We should be wary of principalities and powers that seek to gain power over us, by dividing us, telling us resources are scarce. There is an abundance of resources. There is even an abundance of government resources; it is simply how they get divided up and used that creates the images of shortages.

Last year the State of Arkansas Legislature passed a $100 million tax cut. This year they passed a $50 million tax cut. After the general legislative session was over this year, it was announced there is a $70 million shortfall, and therefore this year’s budget will but cut. The cuts come from category B items, where are lesser important items. Here is what is in there: a Medicaid allocation of $88 million; $23.7 million for the Department of Education, $5.2 million for the merit adjustment fund; $4 million for the Department of Correction; $3.5 million for the Department of Human Services’ Behavioral Services Division; $2 million for the Department of Higher Education; and $1.5 million for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (Wickline). Mr. Governor, you can keep my $25 a month to heal the sick, pay the counties fees due for state prisoners, to improve care for the mentally ill, to improve teachers’ pay and benefits, to improve colleges and technical education and to continue to develop Arkansas economy so it can provide all our neighbors with full-time sustainable wage jobs.

I mentioned the $50 million tax cut passed this year. Again, just after the session closed it was announced there is a $43 million shortfall for next year’s budget, and there will be spending cuts there. To my knowledge, the special session, that is going on now has not and will not address these issues. What they have done is to pass legislation that requires officials to request a Federal waiver to reduce the income cap Medicaid eligibility. It will be lowered from 138% of the Federal poverty level to 100% of the poverty level. For a single person, Medicaid eligibility drops from $16,243 annual earnings to $11,777 or $981 a month. If you make more than $981 a month, you will no longer be eligible for Medicaid. The plan is for these people to be moved to the Insurance Market Place. Not a bad idea. They will be eligible for premium tax credits, and their premiums will be limited to 2% of their annual income, about $235 a year or $20 a month. Sounds kind of reasonable.

The average one bedroom apartment rent in Blytheville is $351.00; so now we have $630 a month; and out of that we have to pay utilities, car expenses (because if you are AR Work you have to be looking for a job, or have a job or be involved in some sort of state defined activity and that are, which is not a bad idea, but you have to have transportation to get there) and you have to buy groceries and all that other sort of stuff. (AverageRent). You can see how an additional $20 a month can lead to very difficult decisions; do I eat? do I buy my medicine? do I put gas in the car, do I pay the water or power bill? The plan descriptions I have read say nothing about copays or deductibles which insurance marketplace policies all have.

Here is my question: Through our elected officials are we behaving like the Pharisees who chased the newly sighted blind man out of town? Are we behaving like Israel’s Kings of old who continually took advantage of the people, the flock, they were anointed to tend?

Abundance is not who’s first? It is not America first; it is not Blytheville or Osceola first; it’s not or Arkansas first; it’s not even Christians first. Abundance is about the mutually interconnected community that holds all our needs together in a loving balance. It is a balance, that is something like quantum physics; which teaches us, the basic building blocks of the universe are particles that only exist in relationship to each other. And if you break that relationship, which physicist can do, both particles disappear. At the most fundamental level of being, I need you, and you need me, and each of us needs everyone else. If any of these relationships are broken, we all are less for it.

There is an amazing abundance in the sheepfold, opens to us. It looks a lot like a tangle of relationship each with the other, each knowing that God lovingly created them from the dust of the earth, and loves them and desires for everyone to prosper. There is an amazing opportunity in the world outside the sheepfold Gateway-Jesus sends us into, to share the resurrection story of abundant life for all right here, right now. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to share directly. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to be actively involved in changing ill-directed trends in our community’s life. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to tell elected leaders what we believe, knowing they will not like it. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to vote. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to love the one next to us by letting them know they are beloved of God and welcome into the sheepfold. Sometimes sharing the resurrection story of abundant life requires us to shout out:

Christ has died

Christ is risen

Christ will come again.

 

References

“average-rent-in-blytheville-ar.” n.d. https://www.rentjungle.com. 6 5 2017. <https://www.rentjungle.com/average-rent-in-blytheville-ar-rent-trends/&gt;.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 7 5 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 7 5 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Frank. “The One I Feed, Easter 4 (A).” 7 5 2017. Sermons that Work.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 3:1-17. 7 5 2017.

  1. Clinton McCann, Jr. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on John 10:110. 7 5 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

LeMon, Joel. Commentary on Psalm 23. 7 5 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher Abundant Life.” 7 5 2017. Working preacher.

Mast, Stan. Easter 4 A Psalm 23. 7 5 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

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

Wickline, Michael R. “State to cut budget 70m.” arkansasonline.com 29 04 2017. <http://m.arkansasonline.com/news/2017/apr/29/state-to-cut-budget-70m-20170429/&gt;.

 

 

 

See the Presence of the Resurrection Promise

A Sermon for Easter 3: Acts 2:14a, 36-41, Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17, 1 Peter 1:17 23, Luke 24:13-35

For 60 years, a mysterious unnamed monk has wandered around the world protecting an ancient scroll that holds the key to unlimited power. It is time for the Monk to find a new scroll keeper. The unnamed monk is inadvertently saved by Kar, a streetwise young man whose only interest is himself. They become reluctant partners as they and an equally hesitant Russian mob princess, known as Bad Girl, struggle to find, face, and fight the ultimate enemy, in a harrowing effort to save the world from the scroll’s most avid pursuer (IMDB). At the heart of the story is an ancient prophecy that the protector of the scroll is revealed as one fighting for justice while cranes circled overhead, fighting for love under a palace of jade, and rescuing friends he never met with family he never knew he had.

The Monk is looking for a situation that was the same as when he became the scroll’s guardian 60 years ago when his mentor is killed, by the evil man who pursues the scroll today. He realizes fulfilling the prophecy will be different when he recognizes that the Palace of Jade is Jade, otherwise known as Bad Girl; that the cranes overhead are the construction cranes above the site of the final battle for control of the scroll where Kar defeats the evil man seeking the scroll to use its power for selfish purposes, while Jade frees other monks who were imprisoned and left to die by the scroll’s ultimate enemy, thus rescuing friends with family she never knew. The Nameless Monk sees that the prophecy is being fulfilled, just in ways that he could never have imagined, and he passes along the scroll’s hidden secret and its guardianship to Kar and Jade (Wikipedia).

Jesus is dead; crucified by the Romans at the behest of Jewish officials. The same day that Mary discovers the empty tomb, two of Jesus’ disciples (or should we say former disciples) are walking to Emmaus. They walked through the valley of death. Their lives and hopes are in utter shambles (Hoch). Along the way, they meet a stranger. We will always wonder if they did not recognize him because they were so busy looking elsewhere, or if their eyes, like Pharaoh’s heart, were hardened (Ellingsen). Everything they had experienced or been taught made it almost impossible for them to imagine God’s work in Jesus crucified (Lose).

The stranger doesn’t know about Jesus’ death. Cleopas and his traveling partner wonder how was it possible that there is anyone who didn’t know what had happened to Jesus. That his followers, had not just lost the one they loved, but also the one who was going to restore David’s Kingdom, throw the Romans out and make life worth living (Whitley). To Jesus’ disciples, this was headline news. But to most of the people, it might have been casual news. It was really nothing more than another Roman crucifixion. And those happen all the time (Hoezee). Regardless of their questions, they share all of their story. A story that reveals that their expectations were that Jesus was the hoped for a prophet; Moses’ successor (Luke 24:19) (Harrelson). Their expectations show us their lack of awareness of who Jesus’ really was. When their story is over, Jesus shares with them a summary of the whole of Jewish history and religious thought. His teaching offered them a new lens for engaging Scripture, although they could not recognize it; at least not yet (Gaventa and Petersen).

At the end of their journey, the disciples offer the traditional but not expected hospitality, and invite Jesus to stay. At dinner, Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and gives to them. The disciples remember the taking, giving thanks, breaking and giving bread and fish when Jesus feed 5000 out in the country (Luke 9:16). They remember Jesus taking, giving thanks, breaking and giving the bread at the last Passover meal (Luke 22:17) (Hoezee). Jesus’ actions at the dinner table in at Emmaus provokes powerful memories. The guest becomes the host (Culpepper). Luke tells us that these words and gestures open their eyes and that they recognized Jesus (Gaventa and Petersen; Whitley). Allan Culpepper notes that Aristotle taught that recognition is a change from ignorance to knowledge; it can lead to either to friendliness or to hostility; recognition determines the direction for good or ill the futures of those involved (Culpepper). For the disciples recognizing Jesus allows then to see a whole new future.

Immediately after this, Jesus disappears. Dinner is over. The inspired disciples head back to Jerusalem.

You know all about this Emmaus journey (Epperly). Every day, you walk some form a road that you are uncertain about. You wonder about your destinations or are perhaps you are concerned about your future, about our future. You know from the Emmaus story that every day Jesus meets you on your road, in the ordinary places and experiences of your lives, in the in-between moments of your lives, and in the places where you retreat to when life is just too much (Culpepper). The question is: Are our hearts, ears, and eyes open? Can we see the world not constrained by our presumptions? Will we be able to see beyond the limits of our betweenness (Lewis, Betweenness) Will we be able to find composure when we are distraught? Will we be able to be calm when we are frantic? Will we be able to recognize safety and hope when we are desperate? Will we be assured or re-assured when we are distracted, (Hoezee)? The deepest question is: Do we trust our faith stories enough to be really honest with ourselves and name our pains, our grief, our losses. Do we trust our faith stories enough, to know that naming our pains, our grief, and our losses allows God/Jesus/Spirit to empower us to transcend them so that they can no longer define us (Lose)?

The disciples knew their faith stories of Moses and the prophets. You know your faith story and the promise that you are heirs to Jesus’ resurrection. The disciples saw Jesus take, bless, break, and share when he feed thousands with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish (Luke 9:16). They saw Jesus take, bless, break and give at their last Passover supper (Luke 22:17). You share in taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing, in every Eucharist. You have everything going for you, that the disciples had going for them.

Actually, you have more, because our faith story is very clear that God is not static, not bound by yesterday’s revelations or the church’s creeds, scriptures and structures.
God is alive, on the move, doing new things and sharing new insights with people, with us all the time (Epperly).

The unnamed monk knew the possibilities of his guiding prophecy through ancient traditions. That knowledge shaped how he saw the world. Only when he is able to let go of what he thought, he is able to see that the prophecy is different in today’s world and then he is able to recognize cranes over the fight for justice, the house of Jade, and the one rescuing unknown friends with undiscovered family. Only when the disciples were able to let go of Moses, and the prophets are they were able to see that take, bless, break and give reveals the new hope. It is only when we are able to let go of what we were, or think we were, that we will be able to see the presence of the resurrection promise, in this moment, that offers new life and new hope.


References

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 30 4 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 30 4 2017. 12. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Hoch, Robert. Commentary on Luke 24:1335. 30 4 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. Easter 3A Luke 24:13-35 . 30 4 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

IMDB. Bulletproof Monk. n.d. 28 4 2017. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0245803/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. “Dear Working Preacher Betweenness.” 23 4 2017. Working preacher.

—. Dear Working Preacher What Things? 30 4 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Lose, David. Easter 3 A: Dashed Hopes and Surprising Grace. 30 4 2017.

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

Whitley, Katerina. Seeing through Doubt, Easter 3(A). 30 4 2017. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Wikipedia. Bulletproof Monk. n.d. 28 4 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulletproof_Monk&gt;.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I Believe

A Sermon for Easter 2: Acts 2:14a, 22-32, Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31
 

I should have known better. After more than 37 years, I just should have known better. Early last week, Angie told me about a nurse, who made a replica of Van Gogh’s Starry Night out of medicine bottle caps. I didn’t believe her. Aren’t all medicine bottle caps white? And don’t they come in just a few sizes. I just didn’t believe it. I should have known better. Later that day she brings me her I-phone, held it out for me to see, as she shared “Here it is!” Who knew there were so many different shades of blue and yellow bottle caps? Who knew someone could be so inspired to sort them all out and glue them so meticulously on canvas size board? Now I know better. Now I believe.

We read from the Bible every week. But we never read a book from beginning to end, and that is our loss. It is like reading bits and pieces of your favorite novel, you get the high points, but you miss the subtle interactions that fill in missing pieces and fill out the richness of the story. Last week I mentioned finding who you are as a character in a bible story as a study method; and that I had seen a character I’d never seen before. The same is true today; kind of, because it’s not a character, but a structure of John’s Gospel. I don’t recall if it was in seminary or college, but I had written a paper, and for whatever reason, I had to go by the professor’s office to pick it up. My professor congratulated me, because I had gotten an A; then said, because the way you structured your paper, I thought you were going in a very different direction (and the way said it let me know that was not a good choice) my professor went on to say he was surprised and glad I came to the conclusions that I did. It was the first time I ever realized that the structure of a paper or an argument could give meaning. The same is true in literature, and the same true of writers of the books of the Bible, and the same it is absolutely true of John the Evangelist.

When the first of John the Baptist’s disciples follow Jesus, they ask him where he is going, and Jesus replies come and see. It is one of my favorite bits of scripture. A few verses later Philip tells Nathaniel we have found the messiah Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth (John 1:45). Nathaniel answers Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Philip replies Come and see. (John 1:46) A bit later Nathaniel meets Jesus and comes to believe he is the messiah (John 1:49).

A little bit later in chapter 4 after his disciples return, the Samaritan woman leaves Jesus at the well, and returns to her village and tells everyone about Jesus and wonders if he can be the messiah. They follow her back to the well. And after a brief conversation, they invite him to stay with them; and he does, and many came to believe in him (John 4:41).

In John 9 Jesus heals a man born blind from birth. When he returns from the well of Siloam, where Jesus sent him, his neighbors are conflicted, wondering if he really is the man that was born blind. Some of them tell the story to the Pharisees, and they are also divided, some reject the idea because it is the sabbath, some wondered, it has to be a man of God who can heal the blind. (John 9:16) At the end of the story, the man meets Jesus a second time and proclaims his belief in Jesus (John 9:38).

When Jesus goes to Bethany, because Lazarus has died, he meets Mary, who, along with her friends mourning with her, go to meet Jesus. Some of them wonder if he, who healed the blind man could not have kept Lazarus from dying (John 11:37). And after Jesus calls to Lazarus and he comes out of the tomb many of them come to believe (John 11:45).

There is a general pattern in all of these stories. Person A has an encounter with Jesus and at the least wonders if he is the messiah. That person shares their story with Person B, who is doubtful or does not believe. And later Person B meets Jesus and comes to believe (ClarkSoles).

We see this pattern in this morning’s gospel story twice. First, the disciples have been with Jesus for 3 years. They witnessed everything he said and did, well most of it. And some witnessed his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Mary meets the risen Jesus and runs to tell the disciples. A bit later most of them have locked themselves away in a secure, undisclosed location. Jesus shows up. They do not recognize him, they are terrified, and both of those little facts tell us they did not believe Mary. He shows them his hands and his side, at which time they recognize him and come to belief. Some of them tell Thomas, who was at another undisclosed location, but he doesn’t believe. A week after that Thomas and the disciples are gathered in the first undisclosed location, and Jesus shows up again and shows Thomas his hands and side, at which time Thomas come to believes (ClarkSoles).

You can see the encounter, share, doubt, invitation, encounter, and belief pattern we see throughout John’s Gospel in Thomas’ story. But, there is a significant language bit that expands the possibilities of this pattern. It begins by understanding that Jesus never says “doubt.” He says: do not be unbelieving, but believing, and this is important because John ends the chapter, and some think the original Gospel:

But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).

 But wait there is more! because some authorities translate the sentence

But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 Either “come to believe” or “continue to believe” are real possibilities (O’Day). The significance is that this story is about believing, about coming to belief, and about continuing to believe.

And yes, there is a powerful evangelism story here, which is why I have always been drawn to the phrase “come and see” which I believe is the quintessential evangelism tool, a simple invitation. But, this pattern, this character is even more complex.

Sometime this past week, I read the guest column titled The night I learned to take chances. It is about the two brothers who were sons of a minister who required them to memorize bible verses. Which they did, even if they did not understand the meanings. When the youngest was 17, their parents divorced, their mother went to live with her sister, and their dad just disappeared. They did their best to supported each other and eked out a meager existence. One Christmas they decided to hitchhike from Long Island to Dallas to go see their mom. On the way, they got stranded on a snowy interstate. As they were waiting for promised help to return, for the first time ever began to talk about their life. It the conversations gets tense when the author said to his brother we [are] basically disposable to the people who were supposed to love us. His brother retorts we know that all things work together for good to those who love God (NKJV Romans 8:28) which got them to sharing bible verses they had memorized all those years ago. The youngest shared Isaiah 43

 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you . . . Because you are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you.

 Years later, as president of Princeton Theological Seminary, he realizes

I don’t keep taking chances in offering leadership because I expect to succeed; I take them because I know I can handle it if I fail. What’s the worst that can happen? Will I be alone, broke, and abandoned? Been there. Will I make humiliating mistakes? I tried hitchhiking on a closed interstate. And at the bottom, I found the relentless love of God who was with me and always will be, no matter how deep the waters (Barnes).

What the story reveals is where most of us live most of our lives; which is somewhere between believing and coming to believe what Karen Lewis calls betweenness (Lewis). The story reveals that life is hard; that life is risky. And so is faith (Warren). If you stop and think about for just a minute, believing in resurrection makes no sense, it really never has, it is hard to believe in resurrection (Hoezee). And because our faith is grounded in the hard to believe in resurrection, is why we come together as church (Lose).

Each of us has a Jesus story to share. At one time or another, all of us are going to be between and need to hear somebody’s story. A story that will remind us, of the astounding truth in scripture that God … sent the Son into the world in order… that the world might be saved (John: 3:17), that we might be saved; it also reminds us that the bible is here so that we may come to, or come back to, or continue to believe. And also, John reminds us, that we who have never seen the risen Lord, and yet believe are blessed, every much as those who saw Jesus (John 20:29). So, today, you may need to hear my story. I know I have needed to, and have heard your story. 20 years’ experience has taught me that you never know how your story, how your invitation to come and see Jesus’ hands and feet and side, in all its many forms will impact a stranger’s life.

Christ is Risen
[hand to ear]
The Lord is risen indeed!

There is no better story to invite a friend or stranger, struggling in the in-betweenness of life to come and see.

Amen.


References

Barnes, Craig. “The night I learned to take chances.” 26 4 2017. christiancentury.org. <christiancentury.org /article/night-i-learned-take-chances>.

ClarkSoles, Jaime. Commentary on John 20:1931. 23 4 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 23 4 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 23 4 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Easter 2A . 23 4 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

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

Lewis, Karoline. Betweenness. 23 4 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Easter 2 A: Thomas, John, and the Reason We Gather. 23 4 2017.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

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

Warren, Timothy G. “Doubt Strengthens Faith, Easter 2(A).” 23 4 2017. Sermons that Work.

 

Go and Be

A sermon for Easter Sunday: Acts 10:34-43, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Colossians 3:1-4, Matthew 28:1-10,

Many years ago, some decades ago, I joined a Christian formation class; I forget its exact name. but I will always remember the principle bible study method. You read a gospel story, and as you are reading it you listen for what character in the story is you? It does not have to be a character that is named in the story; it can be one you see, hear, for yourself, or you just imagine is there. The reflections are how are you this character in the gospel story? and how is this character you in your story? You share all this with your group. The group cannot challenge the character. They can ask for clarity. They are to share with you, their react to you and your character both in the gospel story and in your life. It takes some practice and some time; however, but it is an excellent way to study the bible; it is an even better way to learn about yourself.

Occasionally, I’ve used this method in sermon preparation. Occasionally, I have preached from that character’s perspective. Today is a new experience, because, I see a character I have never before seen, in the Gospel but, I know, has been in the Easter story from the beginning. This morning my character is the tomb, a place of death, darkness, and chaos. I do not see myself as the tomb. I hope you do not see me as the tomb. But the tomb is a very present in the world today; as it has been for all time.

The tomb is manifest in the many ways death, darkness and chaos are present in our world. There is chaotic political leadership here and abroad. There are threats from and toward N. Korea. There is the confusion and fear that brought on and are caused by Brexit. There are the threats emerging from Arkansas’ plan to execute 7 prisoners in 11 days, just because a drug is about to expire. It is supposed to be the initial anesthetic; however, the drug not designed to be an anesthetic. The State is forced to try to use it because no manufacturer of anesthetics will sell anesthetics to any state prison system that executes prisoners (Arkansas Online). All of this is on hold because Saturday morning, both a state and federal court injunction suspended all this and there was another injunction this morning. But the underlying concern of the State of Arkansas’ behavior is still a threat, still a source of confusion and fear. There is fear for our community; there is fear and concern for our schools, our churches, and maybe even for St Stephen’s. And I am sure all of us have individual concerns and fears as life goes on. The tomb is a very real, a very powerful presence in all our lives.

So, today, when we celebrate the empty tomb, does the continuing existence of the tomb, death, darkness and chaos. diminish Jesus’ resurrection or the promise God and Jesus make to us for eternal life? No, because the truth is that the empty tomb fuels the new-found Easter hope. Yes, the tomb, death, darkness, and chaos do continue; but they are not the end of the story. This morning I experience the empty tomb that provides us two little all-empowering verbs: do and be.

The first verb: ‘do’ is an inspiration from Martin Marty’s column about Reinhold Niebuhr and his theologian siblings. Marty explores the Niebuhrs as “public theologians,” and reflects on the growing number writers who are wondering Where are today’s Niebuhrs? He suggests we would learn much more if we were interested in what Reinhold did. Marty grounds his observation in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Borrowing from Martin Heinecken, he asks

Did the Samaritan take that poor victim, strapped to his ass like a captive audience, and hand him a tract or preach a sermon? No, he did what the situation demanded, and that was good (Marty).

Everyone is seeking to find their way through the midst of our current chaos and anarchy. Marty suggests that we should assess what the situation demands, and then address it by doing what the situation demands. He puts to very practical use Reinhold’s (Niebuhr) Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference

It is an awesomely powerful call to do (Marty).

The second verb is ‘be’ and it is an inspiration from Stephanie Paulsell’s article Life together as an empire collapses. Paulsell draws from David’s Brooks models of resisting the Trump administration. If this is an authoritarian threat, then we should follow Bonhoeffer and hit the streets. If this is an incompetence threat, then we should follow Gerald Ford and restore public norms. Paulsell thinks we are in the third possibility a corruption moment and that we should follow St. Benedict and create new forms of community (Paulsell).

Benedict lived as the Roman Empire was collapsing. One response to that collapse was the proliferation of monastic communities, walled enclaves that provided safety from the gathering storm and cultivate humility, mercy, and forgiveness. But a key factor in Benedict’s rule is the insistence on welcoming every guest that comes to the door with honor and respect. For Benedict, the monastery was not a refuge, but a community that bears witness to the sacredness of our common humanity.

Knowing that [w]hen your open space for people to encounter the mystery of their creation in the image of God, they become more finely attuned to the dignity of others.

The continuing threats of the tomb, death, and chaos are very real; they diminish the humanity dignity of all people. Benedict offers a path of resistance, to see and welcome the stranger as Christ (Paulsell).

I hear Benedict calling us to be a monastery, a walled safe community with an open door – welcoming everyone. I hear Niebuhr calling us to use the power of the empty tomb as courage to change the things that we can. Yes, I am suggesting it is time for you, time for us, to go into the darkness of this world in the face of the dehumanizing power of death and chaos, and be the open door welcoming all who are drawn to you, and who are drawn to us.

What better Easter surprise than the empty tomb being the power that defeats the tomb, death, darkness, and chaos in our lives.


 

References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 1A Matthew 3:13-17 . 8 1 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Marty, Martin E. “Niebuhr and the situation.” 5 4 2017. religionnews.com /2017/04/05/niebuhr-and-the-situation/. <religionnews.com /2017/04/05/niebuhr-and-the-situation/>.

Paulsell, Stephanie. “Life together as an empire collapses.” 12 4 2017. christiancentury.org. <christiancentury.org /article/life-together-empire-collapses>.

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