Let’s just take care of each other

A Sermon for Epiphany 3; Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21

It has been a strange week. Not so much my schedule, which did include 2 most all-day trips to Jonesboro; more than the trips the news seemed strange. I’d expected it to be all about the shutdown, instead the news was all about the revised, revised, revised version of the Confrontation on the Mall. You know the ever-changing story of the confrontation between a group of Black Hebrew Israelites, white teenage boys, and a Native American Elder. The learning bit for me was an opinion piece exploring the role of social media in inflaming a complex social interaction. David Brooks notes how social media:

  • rewards spreading the viral soap operas that are supposed to reveal the dark hearts of those who are in the opposite social type from your own
  • reduces the complexities of human life into one viral moment and
  • confirms our negative stereotypes of people we don’t even know

Brooks sees the danger in social media being the tail wags the mainstream media dog (Brooks, Destroy Lives). More than the event itself I was concerned about the seemingly reckless race to be first on social media, accuracy and the people involved don’t matter, just the clicks produced matter. But my concern didn’t stay there long

There was a story on NPR about the resurgence of Black Lung disease. Black Lung affects coal miners and is caused by breathing in the ever-present coal dust. It is debilitating, men who work for decades in the mines can no longer cut their own yards, or water their gardens. It is always a horrible death. It is the results of the mining companies’ not caring about the miners; as one said, They don’t care if you live or die, that’s the truth of it (NPR). This is just another example of our emphasis on the value of the commodity, and I’m sure it is coal and not human labor that is the commodity of concern. And since coal still produces about 30% of electricity in the US we bear some responsibility as we gain some benefit (TOXMAP FAQ).

Of course, the never-ending story of the shutdown of the Federal Government was never far behind. 800,000 thousand were either furloughed or forced to work without pay. As these worker citizens approach missing their 2nd paycheck, pressures mount. There is no money for house notes or rent, food, medication, daycare, children’s birthday presents, or the gas to drive to work. The President and cabinet members appear clueless, saying they don’t understand the problem. At the same time, the lack of services, these citizens workers provide, are impacting people. Flights are being delayed as air-port controllers, and TSA agents can no longer work without pay. In NW Arkansas the Federal Grand Jury meeting was canceled. Home sales are not closing because USDA and FHA offices are closed. Investors are less informed of the economic conditions because the usual and customary reports are not being produced. Projects cannot get started because permits are not available. Families living in assisted housing are at risk of eviction because Housing Authority and related funds are not available. It is pretty safe bet the lives of these worker citizens, or the everyday consequences isn’t a fundamental concern.

After I thought I was done, there was another surprise, a deal to open the government for 3 weeks (until Fed 15) was signed late Friday. It includes provisions for employees to be paid. It makes no provision for contract employees. I could not find any mention of what happens if a border security bill is not agreed to or passed. I suspect the growing delays at US airports put mounting pressure on everyone to give a little, I am yet to be convinced the lives of all citizen workers, employees, and contractors, or the everyday consequences, was a determining factor, for the President, or Congress.

Now we all know the shutdown, and its consequences, is happening because of the disagreement of how to manage immigrants, legal and/or illegal, crossing the US southern border. No one is talking about the risk of illegal immigration across our Northern border with Canada. Illegal immigration from Canada is up 64% from last year. Now it is a different problem. Those entering the US from Canada usually enter the country legitimately and then just don’t go home. A lot of it comes down to ignorance, naivete or love, Canadians lead all other nations in people who overstay their legal time here; 100,000 outstayed their legal welcome in one year. The Department of Homeland Security considers Canadian illegals to be a significant problem. Yes, it is true those who enter the US across our Southern border tend to sneak into the U.S. without any documentation. That may account for the significant difference in the political concern and media coverage. But there is the racial difference, those coming across our northern border tend to look like us; those who cross our southern border do not (Blackwell; Common).

And then Thursday it all came together. I read an article about Harvard classmates William James and Josiah Royce. James, as you might remember, is a philosopher whose ideas about a good life continues to be influential. Royce’s not so much. James grew up among the Boston elite; Royce was a child of 49ers who didn’t find gold and lived in squalor. James’ work was pragmatic in search of the empirical; Royce was an idealist, who sought the abstract and spiritual. James believed in tolerance; we live in a pluralistic society and should give each other the social space to thrive. Royce believed the good life is found in tightly bonding yourself to another, in giving yourself away, with others, for a noble cause. He acknowledges we are born into a world of causes, and he admired causes based on mutual affection. He saw that underneath different communities is an absolute unity to life, a spiritual unity, an Absolute knower, a moral truth (Brooks, Loyalties).

Royce’s philosophical world view aligns with today’s readings. Rediscovering Royce is a bit like the hearing the Law of Moses publicly read, after being lost for generations. It is an opportunity for people to rediscover their own center. That center is relationships. The relationship, between ourselves; between us and those who are not us; between all humanity and God. Strangely enough, relationship as our center is hard for us to understand; mostly because we prefer the simplicity of uniformity, rather than the complexity of diversity; even though diversity increases the probability of our thriving (Epperly; Blasdell). Through Royce, we rediscover the wisdom of the Jubilee tradition in Isaiah 61 that Jesus quotes, even as we realize it will not simply thrive, it will require graceful nurturing; and hard work (Jacobsen). In gleaning the vision of Isaiah’s transformative prophecy, we hear the depths of Paul’s radical teaching that our community needs every person and every person needs everyone in our community. We begin to understand that we need each other to know shalom and the community needs all of us for the community to be whole, to be complete, and to be at peace. And now we understand the silence in the room as Jesus sits down. We share their visceral sense of

Fulfilled.
Really, Jesus?
Here? ~ How? ~ Where? (Hoezee).

And then I received a final gift; a shared Facebook post. It’s from General Colin Powell. He was on his way to Walter Reed when the left front tire blew. It was cold, but he started changing the tire; the lug nuts were tight making it even more difficult. A car pulls over and stops; a man with an artificial leg got out. The driver had recognized Gen Powell, from his service in Afghanistan, where he lost his leg in civilian service. After introductions, he took the wrench and finished changing the tire. When it was all done, he took a selfie with Gen. Powell. Later that night he sent a message

Gen. Powell, I hope I never forget today because I’ll never forget reading your books. You were always an inspiration, a leader and statesman. After 33 years in the military, you were the giant whose shoulders, we stood upon to carry the torch to light the way and now it is tomorrow’s generation that must do the same.

Anthony Maggert

Gen. Powell replied

Thanks, Anthony. You touched my soul and reminded me about what this country is all about and why it is so great.

Let’s stop screaming at each other. Let’s just take care of each other. You made my day. (Powell)

Today and every day, is our opportunity to continue to fulfill scripture, to be one of the diverse members of one divine body, doing our best, with everyone else, in giving ourselves to a noble cause in mutual affection, taking care of each other, in the amazing variety of our reflections of God’s image, helping everyone, everywhere to know shalom: stability, safety, belonging, self-esteem, and transcendence (Maslow).


References

Blackwell, Tom. “Northern aliens: Around 100,000 Canadians live under the radar in U.S. as illegal immigrants.” National Post (2017). <nationalpost.com/news/world/northern-aliens-around-100000-canadians-live-under-the-radar-in-u-s-as-illegal-immigrants>.

Blasdell, Machrina L. Indispensable, Epiphany 3. 27 1 2019. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/indispensable-epiphany-3-c-january-27-2019>.

Bratt, Doug. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a. 27 1 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brooks, David. How We Destroy Lives Today. 21 1 2019. <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/21/opinion/covington-march-for-life.html&gt;.

—. “Your Loyalties Are Your Life.” 24 1 2019. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2019/01/24/opinion/josiah-royce-loyalty.html>.

Common, David. “U.S. on guard against rise in illegal border crossings as Canada rejects asylum claims.” CBC News (2018). <cbc.ca/news/world/national-illegal-border-crossing-us-from-canada-1.4863636>.

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

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary The Third Sunday after the. 27 1 2019. <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. Epiphany 3C Luke 4:14-21. 27 1 2019. <https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-3c-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 4:14-21. 27 1 2019.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Kim, Yung Suk. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a. 27 1 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Maslow, Abraham. “Hierarchy of Needs.” Wikipedia. n.d. 25 1 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs&gt;.

NPR. I figured-it-was-going-to-be-a-horrible-death-and-it-probably-will-be. Prod. National Public Radio. 23 1 2019. <https://www.npr.org/2019/01/23/686000458/i-figured-it-was-going-to-be-a-horrible-death-and-it-probably-will-be&gt;.

Powell, General Colin L. Facebook Posting. Facebook. 24 1 2019. 25 1 2019.

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

The Living Church. “Listen.” 27 1 2019. livingchurch.org. <https://livingchurch.org/2019/01/21/1-27-listen/&gt;.

TOXMAP FAQ. How much of the US electricity generation is attributed to coal? n.d. Web. <https://toxmap.nlm.nih.gov/toxmap/faq/2009/08/how-much-of-the-us-electricity-generation-is-attributed-to-coal.html&gt;.

Wikipedia. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. n.d. 25 1 2019. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs&gt;.

 

 

 

We just don’t get Jesus

A sermon for Epiphany 3: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a, Luke 4:14-21

 

Every now and again, well ~ more often than not, well ~ the point is we just don’t get Jesus. We know his story, birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. We know that our baptism through his baptism celebrates that we are God’s children. We even give lip service, and sometimes some thought to grace, unearned and unmerited which is all true. And when pushed, we might even relent and agree that grace is for everyone; terrorist, the scary old couple in the rickety house in the woods, Darth Vader and the followers of the Dark Side; even our own shadow side. But we still don’t get Jesus.

Listen again to the opening line of this morning’s Gospel: Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit. Filled with the power of the Spirit. What images popped into your mind?

  • grand preaching on the mountain?
  • flipping tables over in the Temple?
  • a person swooning then falling out having been slain in the Spirit?
  • the staccato rhythm of someone speaking in tongues?

Maybe it’s me, but I expect most images were grand and glorious, full of vigor. I imagine Jesus while actually making sense topping all the candidates in the presidential debates. I mean that is what Jesus is all about, being at the center of such wonder by which all people are drawn to God.

But this doesn’t fit the rest of the story. Jesus is home. He goes to the synagogue, just like he has always done. Maybe it’s his turn, or maybe the honor is extended to him because he is home, it’s no matter Jesus is given the scroll, a book in Jesus’ day, of Isaiah to read. He reads what roughly comes from Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed, go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He returns the scroll and then sits down. Where’s the Spirit? Where is the blazing call for righteousness? Where is the vim and vigor of a Spirit-filled, window shattering, foot stomping fire ’me up for God let’s go save the world inspired preaching? Where is the power of the Spirit?

It is there. It is just not exactly like we tend to think about it. When we read from the beginning of Luke, and we will see the Spirit in several people Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, and Mary (Reese). All of whom follow the Spirit’s lead by quietly doing what they are asked, or revealing something of who Jesus is. There is also John, who can get all fired up, remember “You brood of vipers!”? But that is not about Jesus; when speaking about Jesus his language is less “Go get ‘em.” and more “look over there.” It seems the Spirit in Luke invokes quietly serving God, at least for the most part (Hoezee). But we should not be misled, for there is a deep disruptive message in Jesus’ reading.

The Good News Jesus’ neighbors hear, is about God, finally, restoring Israel (Reese). The Romans et. al. will be thrown out, and David’s House will, once again, rule. But that’s not what Jesus says. Jesus’ promise is to the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. None of whom would be in the synagogue, because good Jews scorn them, and generally excluded them from life in the community. The Year of the Lord’s favor, is somewhat economically and socially Sabbath; it refers to a break every seven days, for everyone – slaves and aliens included; a break every seven years, for debt relief, and to fallow the land; a break every seven times seven years, when all leveraged land is returned to its owner (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). No proper Jew would object to a religious observation, a day of rest and honoring God; but all this social and economic justice stuff; well Jesus has gone from spirited preaching to meddling. The truth is, like Jesus’ neighbors, we have as much in common with the oppressors as we do with the oppressed (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner).

We are not alone in not getting Jesus. This morning we read again from one – no not one – first Corinthians. The church there is very different from what we experience as church. They, like us, are small. They are socially diverse, hence the problems of differentiating between people of differing social status. They are a minority sect, the followers of Jesus, in a minority religious sect, the Jews. There is probably more than one home church, but we can’t be sure (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner).

What we do know, is that they are divided over gifts of the Spirit and social status. The short version of what Paul says is everyone helping to make Jesus known, is what identifies them as Jesus’ followers. Unity in the midst of great diversity is how Christians are different; it is how we make Jesus visible (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner).

Paul can be maddeningly convoluted, and we’ve been reading snippets, so let’s cover some key points. Paul says they/we may not fight over Spiritual gifts or over ethical, social and economic differences, about who’s in and who’s out. He does not say unity is the same as conformity. The diversity in the church in Corinth, and here is a divine gift to be celebrated, in itself, it is a sign of the Spirit (Peterson). In unity in diversity, everyone is connected to everyone else; your well-being is connected to the community’s well-being; your well-being is connected to the well-being of every single person in the church. In such a connection, the least of these can assist just as those of higher social or economic standing.

Let me share a story a friend posted on Facebook. A beautiful, expensively dressed lady complained that she felt that her whole life was empty, it had no meaning. She went to visit a counselor to seek out happiness. The counselor called over the old lady who cleans the office floors and told the rich lady “I am going to ask Mary to tell you how she found happiness. All I want you to do is listen to her.” The old lady put down her broom, sat on a chair and told her story: “Well, my husband died of malaria and three months later my only son was killed by a car. I had nobody – I had nothing left. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I never smiled at anyone, I even thought of taking my own life. Then one evening a little kitten followed me home from work. Somehow I felt sorry for that kitten. It was cold outside, so I decided to let the kitten in. I got it some milk, and the kitten licked the plate clean. Then it purred and rubbed against my leg and, for the first time in months, I smiled. Then I stopped to think, if helping a little kitten could make me smile, maybe doing something for people could make me happy. So the next day I baked some biscuits and took them to a neighbor who was sick in bed. Every day I tried to do something nice for someone. It made me so happy to see them happy. Today, I don’t know of anybody who sleeps and eats better than I do. I’ve found happiness, by giving it to others.” When she heard that, the rich lady cried. She had everything that money could buy, but she had lost the things which money cannot buy. The happiness in life does not depend on how you are; but on how happy others can be because of you” (Jokers).

Next week is our annual meeting. We plan to elect a couple of people to Diocesan Convention, look at some financial information and talk about possibilities for our future. As important as they are they are no more than organizational questions. What I pray we can get to is the power of the Spirit. I pray we can get to prayerful discernment of how in our diversity, together we can quietly show how the kingdom of God is right here right now. And by ‘we’ I mean not only those who belong to St. Stephen’s, but those who belong to other followers of Christ, those who belong to followers of all Abrahamic faiths, and those whose seek spiritual awakening, but are put off by the organizational puff and stuff. I pray we discern how we and the whole world may perceive and proclaim the Good News; may perceive and proclaim the glory of his marvelous works. Then finally, we may actually get Jesus.

 

 


References

Ellingsen, Mark. 24 1 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Hoezee, Scott. Advent 3C | Luke. 13 12 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-   starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel>.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis, and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 24 1 2016.

Jowers, Phoebe. 22 1 2016.    <https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=expensively%20dressed&em=1&gt;.

Kesselus, Ken. “Parts of the whole, Epiphany 3 (C) – 2016.” 24 1 2016. Sermons that Work.

Lose, David. Epiphany 3 C: A Peculiar Power. 24 1 2016.

Mast, Stan. Epiphany 3 C 1 Corinthians. 24 1 2016.             <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Peterson, Brian. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a. 24 1 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Reese, Ruth Anne. Commentary on Luke 4:14-21. 24 1 2016.        http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.