3,2,1

A Sermon for Proper 14; Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28, Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33 

I rarely title a sermon at this point; however, today’s title is 3, 2, 1; 3 news stories, 2 bible stories, and a revelation.

We start with the continuing Bible story of Abraham’s family and the state of the promise. A lot has happened in two weeks. So much so we’ll simply have to leave it at Esau and Jacob reconcile, jointly attend Isaac’s burial, and go their own ways. Jacob’s sons are grown the youngest are in their teens. Joseph, the first son of his favorite wife Rachel, is his favorite son. Jacob shows it, giving him a long-sleeved robe, which is a public sign of favor (Gaventa and Petersen). Joseph doesn’t help by telling the story of two dreams. We do not read those verses this morning, but both dreams indicate that his brothers will serve him and that they and their parents will bow down to him. Once again, the younger is favored over the older. We pick up the story with older brothers out tending sheep. Jacob sends Joseph to check up on them. It seems like a silly idea given the public nature of their strained relationship. And through the help of a stranger, he finds them. They see him coming and plot to kill him. Ruben, the oldest brother intercedes and convinces them to put Joseph in a pit for now; because he plans to rescue him later. However, led by Judah they decide to sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelite and Midian traders. Judah, may have seen a rescue opportunity here, or he may have been motivated by profit, we cannot really tell (Fretheim). In the end, Joseph is sold by his brothers to his cousins (remember Ishmaelites and Midianites are descendants of Abraham) (Fretheim) Joseph is sold to his cousins for 20 pieces of silver. We don’t read it; but, the brothers take Joseph’s special coat, rip it up, drench it goat’s blood and use it to tell Jacob that Joseph is dead. What was a sign of favor has become a sign of death. Yet again egregious, terribly frightful behavior puts God’s promise at risk. For the next 13 chapters, God is silent (Bratt).

We have 1 grim bible story. Now for 3 news stories.

On August 4, Religious News Service published a commentary about how Trump’s evangelical prophets are curiously silent about the RAISE Act, to reform immigration by deemphasizing family relationships. Their silence is curious because in 1980 Jerry Farwell wrote

The family is the fundamental building block and the basic unit of our society, and its continued health is a prerequisite for a strong and prosperous nation. It appears that the President’s house prophets either tell him what he wants to hear or forever hold their peace.

Mark Silk goes on to explore the story of Israel’s King Ahab’s effort to get King Jehoshaphat of Judea to join him in waging war against Ramoth. They consult Ahab’s 400 prophets who say God supports the plan. Jehoshaphat isn’t convinced and asks if there isn’t there another prophet. Well, there is, but Ahab doesn’t like him because he never says anything in his favor. Nonetheless, Micaiah is consulted. He too supports the plan. Strangely enough, Ahab insists that he tells the truth, which he does, painting of a picture of sheep without a shepherd. Stranger yet

19 Micaiah continued,

 “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left.

20 And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ “One suggested this, and another that.

 21 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’

 22 “‘By what means?’ the Lord asked.

 “‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.

“‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’

 23 “So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.” (1 Kings)

Ahab doesn’t believe the truth he asked for, imprisons Micaiah, goes off to war and is killed (Silk).

On August 8, the Washington Post prints a story about Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s evangelical supporters, releasing a statement saying the president has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He cited Romans 13 giving the government authority to deal with evil doers. It is a complex rationale. Christians in Germany debated this same passage about supporting the Nazi government in WWII. They split some supporting the government, others forming a resistance (Bailey); including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the author of Cost of Discipleship who was executed in a Nazi concentration camp, two weeks before it was liberated by US soldiers, and a month before the end of the War in Europe (Wikipedia). By the way, Romans 13 can also give Kim Jong Un the authority to govern (Bailey).

On Friday David Brooks, a New York Times columnist whom I greatly admire wrote a column arguing Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, should resign over the firing of James Damore, the author of the controversial memo about women and technology. His reason is not that he supports the memo, the reason is Pichai failed to stand up to the mob. It turns out Damore cited multiple credible scientific sources about the difference between men and women and how our brains are formed; the measurable differences in how men are interested in things, and women are interested in people. It involves the continuing conflict between the debate over environment and genes in shaping human behavior, which it is turning out to be far more complex and far more interrelated than first anybody ever thought. Multiple credible scientist backup Damore’s summary of the research.

Moreover, Damore makes sure to write that the research applies only to populations not to individuals. Brooks goes on to note that we live our lives as individuals, and it is true women in the tech world face a difficult challenge. He continues, there is real tension here between the competing truths of population science versus gender equality. Brooks acknowledges that the media did a terrible job of covering the complexity of the story and its competing truths. He states that Damore was hounded just as mobs on college campuses have been hounding speakers whose positions they disagree with. It doesn’t help that Google’s diversity officer also ignored the scientific subtlety of the memo and declared it to advance incorrect assumptions about gender.

For Brooks, Pichai fails when he chooses not to wrestle with the tension between population research and individual experience. Instead, he followed the mob writing

To suggest a group of our colleagues, have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not O.K.

which Brooks writes is “a blatantly dishonest characterization of the memo.”

The risk Brooks sees is that

We are at a moment when mobs on the left and on the right ignore evidence and destroy scapegoats (Brooks).

Brooks is right. It is as Matt Skinner wrote

We’re talking a lot right now about preaching in a culture of fear stoked by media, political polarization, and cultural panic (Skinner).

Now to connect the five dots. The story of Joseph, the whole story of Abraham’s family, raises the difficult question of how God works in the world (Fretheim). Is God the single cause of every action? Or is everything random? Or does God just make do, with halfhearted, risk free action or with the evil intentions of the likes of Joseph’s brothers, or the selfish intentions of Joseph, or the biased actions of Jacob, or the failed efforts of Ruben, or the profit driven efforts of Judah to avert death and gain wealth (Epperly) (Fretheim)? In part, we learn that evil and or sinful behavior can disturb God’s plans, but they cannot stop them (Fretheim). But, that does not mean we can ignore the abusive, oppressive, self-absorbed, greedy evil, sinful actions we see.

We also see in this story that if everyone one is guilty we ignore the role of family and community (Fretheim). There is such a thing as social / community guilt. If we turn God into an all controlling deity we negate our responsibility and encourage passivity in the face of evil (Fretheim). Neither Godly determinism nor Godly noninterference, or interaction grasps the truth. The truth is in the fifth dot; the boat.

Jesus has sent the disciples across the sea. After his prayer time, he sets out walking across the sea to catch up with them. They see him and are terrified he is a ghost. Jesus tells them “I am, ~ take heart, ~ do not be afraid.” They recognize him; well maybe. Peter asks, “If it is you” which is so close to what Satan says in the wilderness temptations. Jesus says “come” and Peter steps out of the boat and starts walking to Jesus, until he sees the wind, his heart is transformed, and he panics and cries out for help. Jesus reaches out for him and gets both to safety.

Once they are in the boat Jesus asks, “Why did you doubt?” We always presume Jesus is talking about Peter’s misadventure on the water. However, living with an artist, who favors icons full of images that suggest the true story, I was caught by the realization that the boat is an ancient symbol ~ of the church (Hoezee). It is plausible Jesus is asking Peter, Why, did you step away from your faith community? Why did you step away from the church (Richter)?

We can glean that when we face the winds of a tempestuous world, and as we have explored, they are wildly stormy at the moment, the place from which we should operate is from the God/Jesus/Spirit’s spigot of the strength the church. A further gleaning is that Jesus did not hesitate, immediately he reached out. In this, we learn that Jesus will never let you go. God has not, is not, and will never give up on you, will never give up on his church (Epperly).

 I had completed my writing Friday evening. Saturday morning as the news from Charlottesville broke, I knew I should add a post script. So, this is my post script, albeit, not following the previous end. However, before Charlottesville, a story from Princeton Theological Seminary.

Earlier this year a protest arose over the Seminary’s decision to award Rev. Tim Keller the Kuyper Prize,

because the Presbyterian Church in America does not ordain women or LGBTQ+ individuals.

After multiple phone calls including protesters and Rev Keller, Dr. Craig Barnes, president of the seminary, decided it was more important to hear Rev. Keeler speak than to award a prize, so the awarding the prize was set aside. Additionally, a preaching event featuring female and LBGTQ+ voices was organized. People were invited to attend both events. There were no disruptive protest on the days of the event.

Dr. Barnes notes that people who disagreed spoke to each other were a significant factor. He also believes that Princeton is a Christ Centered community, that we all belong to Christ, and as long as we are clear about that there can be disagreements, but everybody still belongs (Barnes).

Now to Charlottesville. If you do not know, White Nationalists organized a protest over removing a statue of Gen. Lee from a city park formerly named for him, now known as emancipation park. There was a large counter protest. For unknown reasons, the barriers separating the groups began to come down, the police retreated and the two sides engaged in a fight, in which people were injured, including a police officer. Later a car drove into a group of counter protesters. Everybody condemned the violence. Jeff Sessions, Melina Trump, Gov. McAuliffe, his Republican election opponent Ed Gillespie Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan, and President Donald Trump condemned the actions. But, no one is acknowledging how their previous language and behaviors contributed to the problem. It does. The white nationalist protesters chanted Nazi-era slogans and phrases like

 “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.”

Former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke said

We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back (Tiefenthaler).

How we act in response to events or words that offend us ~ matters. What we say in the face of what we oppose matters. Our actions that denigrate, exclude, or harm others is never helpful.

Charlottesville is not a single one-off incident. It is not the sole responsibility of the alt right or the left or whatever position we see the other as. Charlottesville is only the latest example of the breakdown in civil discourse lead by our National legislators who will not even speak to each other. It is the result of decades of increasing separation of people with opposing views. It is the result of the failure of the Church to take a stand in the public square, putting our theological differences aside, and proclaiming that everyone belongs to God in Christ. The result is we are losing the ability to talk to each other. And if we cannot do that; how can we negotiate our differences; if we cannot talk to each other how can we work for the common good of all God’s people?

So yes, we live in stormy times. And yes, we are called to be prophets, and speak the radical truth in the face arrogance, discrimination, oppression, and especially mob “they versus us” think. For there is no they, everyone is made in the image of God. And yes, we are called to courageously mediate the tension between complex conflicting truths of divergent views of the world. This means we are also called to listen respectfully and deeply to what “they” have to say and to be open to be changed. For there is no absolute truth, other than God’s love for all creation. And yes, we are to stand between any mob, to the left or to the right and their intended scape goat, bringing them, by our hand, into the safety of our boat, into the safety of the church. For there is no moment when God/Jesus/ Spirit is not by our side, is not by their side.

Finally, our 1 revelation. In our opening collect we ask for the wisdom and strength to think and do what is right. And we can always make the effort so long as we Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face (Ps 105:4) for his strength faileth never and his face is always shining upon you.

References

Bailey, Sarah Pulliam. ‘God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un,’ evangelical adviser says. 13 8 2018. <washingtonpost.com /news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/08/08/god-has-given-trump-authority-to-take-out-kim-jong-unevangelical-adviser -says>.

Barnes, Craig. What I learned from our seminary’s conflict about hosting. 16 8 2017. <christiancentury.org /article/what-i-learned-our-seminary-conflict-about-hosting-tim-keller>.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 14 A Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28 . 13 8 2017. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brooks, David. Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google’s C.E.O. 11 8 2017. <nytimes.com /2017/08/11/opinion/sundar-pichai-google-memo-diversity.html>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 13 8 2017. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. 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. Proper 14 A Matthew 14: 22-33. 13 8 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lose, David. Pentecost 10 A: Something More. 13 8 2017.

Richter, Amy. “Our Faith inside the Boat, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost.” 13 8 2017. Sermons that Work.

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

Silk, Mark. Keep up the good work, evangelical prophets! 4 8 2017. <religionnews.com /2017/08/04/keep-up-the-good-work-evangelical-prophets/>.

Skinner, MAtt. That Sinking Feeling. 13 8 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Smith, Mitzi J. Commentary on Matthew 14:22-33. 13 8 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Tanner, Beth L. Commentary on Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28. 13 8 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Tiefenthaler, Ainara. Car Hits Crowd After White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville Ends in Violence. 12 8 2017. <nytimes.com /2017/08/12/us/charlottesville-protest-white-nationalist.html>.

Wikipedia. “wikipedia.org.” n.d. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 13 8 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passover_Seder&gt;.

 

 

As the Lord Commanded Him

A sermon for Advent 4; Isaiah 7:10-16, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25, Psalm 80:17, 16-18

Boyfriend: “What would you say if I asked you to marry me?”
Girlfriend: “I’d say ‘DUCK’!”
Boyfriend: “Duck? Why?!”
Girlfriend: “Because my father will want to shoot you.” (not always romantic.com).

This just goes to show that some things haven’t changed a whole lot in 2,000 years. Mary is engaged to Joseph. That means a lot more than engagements mean today. It is a legal contract with stiff penalties for breaking the engagement. According to Deuteronomy (22:23-27)

23 If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, 24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

This morning’s Gospel story opens after Joseph has already decided what to do (Boring). Its opening is full of heartache (Lose). Joseph is a righteous man, which means he keeps the law but it also means he is a just man (Boring). Joseph is engaged to Mary who is unexpectedly pregnant. He decides to keep the law, but by quietly sending her home. In the face of a disgraceful situation, with all its heartbreak, Joseph’s makes a rational, gently ethical decision (Epperly). Though distasteful, his troubles will soon be over. Joseph heads off for a good night sleep.

We are always encouraged to get a good night’s sleep. I expect that was exactly what Joseph was hoping for. Only the dreams that come with a deep sleep can be so disruptive, they can change your world (Epperly). Ask Joseph. He falls asleep, deeply asleep. And then ~ then he dreams.

In his dream, he is spoken to by an angel, a divine messenger from God. The message turns his world over. Joseph is told Mary’s child is of the Spirit. He is not to be afraid He is to go ahead with his marriage to Marry, as socially unconventional and shameful as it is (Harrelson). The child will be named Jesus, and he will save God’s people from their sins. Perhaps Joseph in his dream remembers Isaiah: Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7: 14) Whether it be the angel or the citing from Isaiah there was some credence or importance to the message because Joseph … did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. (Matt 1:24)

It is Joseph’s actions that captured me this morning. He displays the obedience Paul refers to in Romans when he writes as part of being set apart for the Gospel … to bring about obedience of faith (Romans 1:1, 5) (Ellingsen). We already know Joseph is righteous because he follows the law. But, righteousness is more a quality of one’s relationship with God (Pankey). One measure of Joseph’s relationship is that he is also open to the divine mystical, this time a divine message in a dream (Epperly). We learn that he is righteous by his actions, that are counter-intuitive, and difficult; it is a near certainty that some of his neighbors whispered over fence lines. We have to learn from Joseph’s actions because Joseph never speaks; not in this story never ~ in all the Gospels does Joseph say a word (Hoezee).

Joseph’s actions reveal his mysticism. Part of being open to the mystical is to be open to divine power that is at work within us that is able to accomplish more than all we can ask or imagine, (Ephesians 3:20) (Epperly). I doubt that Joseph ever imagined that he would be the pseudo father of God’s son on earth. Being open to the mystical is to accept the unexpected. Jesus himself is unexpected. That God did not choose an accomplished priest, a Pharisee, a Sadducee or an accomplished politician is unexpected. But he chose a rather ordinary man with his own doubts and questions who wanted to do the right thing but needs angelic guidance to accomplish it is all the more startling to us (Lose). Think of how startling it is to Joseph. Joseph’s righteous mysticism allows him to be part of the apocalypse, the revelation of the divine secret for the future of the world known in Jesus’ birth. (Sakenfeld) (Allen).

Joseph’s face to face with the unlikely manifestation of the presence of God in the here and now is a model for all of us who encounter a divine message through an Angle, the Spirit, Jesus or God’s divine self (Allen). His acceptance and actions make him a part of the message that the birth of Jesus signals that the final transformation of humanity and the cosmos is underway and that the community, we, can remain faithful even in the face of conflict and chaos because they can believe that the transformation is already in process (Allen). Joseph’s story reminds us that it can be safer to keep God at a distance; because when we are in God’s presence, someone is going to tell us a truth whether we want to hear it or not. One the other hand it is Advent; and Advent is a time to see divine light, to reorient our lives to that light and to share the light, the light, of the truth of God’s presence (Lewis). This story also reminds us to be wary of those who speak of Christmas, or Jesus’s birth, without trembling at the mere thought of divine incarnation that God would come to us, in human form (Whitley). Mary was troubled. Joseph was troubled. To speak so lightly of Jesus’ birth as to not be troubled may demonstrate a shallowness of soil in which roots, cannot take hold.

Joseph’s story reminds us that God really is with you and there is a messenger with a special message, just for you. What are your dreams? what divine message is there? How is God communicating with you? what is your divine message? what is your calling? In the face of significant disappointment or heartache, how do you respond? With rational – ethical – gentleness; or some other way? Do you remain open to the mystical; open to more than we can ask or imagine? Joseph sets an ethical example for all of us. His behavior reminds us that ethics is acting in ways that follow God’s calling not social customs; even those we have long attributed to God.

Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent. In six short days, we will step into Joseph’s story. It will be our turn to receive and hear an angelic messenger. It will be our choice to fully live into the message, or not. It will be another opportunity to test God, to accept divine restoration, to be set aside for the Gospel, and share our faith in the divine mystery that has and continues to form our lives so that in all we do we bring grace and peace to all from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen


References

Allen, Ron. Commentary on Matthew 1:18-25. 18 12 2016 <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Boring, M. Eugene. The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X!! vols. App Olivetree.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 18 12 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 18 12 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. Advent 4A | Matthew. 18 12 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. The Good News of God With Us. 18 12 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Advent 4 A: God Really With Us. 18 12 2016.

not always romantic.com. shotgun-wedding. n.d. 16 12 2016. <https://notalwaysromantic.com/shotgun-wedding/21546&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. “Jesus’ other name.” 18 12 2016. Draughting Theology.

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

Whitley, Katerina. “God is With Us! Advent 4(A).” 18 12 2016. Sermons that Work.