Focus: Love in an Age of Fear

A sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Easter: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20), Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19

Last Wednesday morning I was reading the New York Times, as I do every morning, well almost every morning. I was captured by a photograph. It was the eyes that grabbed me; at first, I thought he was blind, but no that wasn’t it. Then I noticed his right hand is bandaged, covered in a bright blue wrapping. He held a folder with a few papers in his left arm; which is in a sling and that hand is also bandaged, covered in a similar bright blue wrapping. The kippah (kih-PAH) or yarmulke (jɑːməkə) finally triggered the recognition, this is the Rabbi of the synagogue in Poway, Calif. attacked by a white American male terrorist.

The image is powerfully, eerily haunting. I do not often read letters to the editor, I read his. In part he wrote

I was preparing to give my sermon Shabbat morning, when I heard a bang, had a table fallen over or Lori Gilbert there to say Yizkor, mourning prayer for her mother, fallen? I went to went to see, and I saw the terrorist who killed her. He shot me, my right index finger was gone, my left index finger injured. The active shooter training kicked in; I ran to children in the ball room grabbing and pushing with my bloody hands to get them out. Almog Peretza, veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, ran after me to help get the children to safety; he was shot. The terrorist’s gun jammed. Oscar Stewart an Army veteran and Jonathan Morales an off-duty border patrol agent rushed toward the terrorist and he fled.

I do not know why I had to witness scenes of a pogrom (the massacre of a particular ethnic group) in San Diego County like the ones my grandparents experienced in Poland. I do not know why God spared my life. I do not know God’s plan. All I can do is try to find meaning in what has happened; and to use this borrowed time to make my life matter more. I pray that my missing finger serves as a constant reminder to me. A reminder that every single human being is created in the image of God; … a reminder that my ancestors gave their lives so that I can live in freedom in America; and a reminder, most of all, to never, ever, not ever be afraid to be Jewish (Goldstein).

The same day David Brooks, a columnist I regularly read, wrote An Era Defined by Fear. He begins “Another synagogue shooting.” And continues to explore how fear pervades our society and sets the emotional tone for our politics.

On Sept. 11, 2001 … a nation that had once seemed invulnerable suddenly felt tremendously unsafe. Since then we have experienced all manner of shootings, schools, city centers, rallies, churches, Mosques, and synagogues. Today’s politicians rise to power by stoking fear. Childhood trauma adds to our mounting fear. Traditional media and social media have responsibility for the rising fear [by their (our) use of fear to increase readership]. Fear itself has begun to take control … so that we are unable to hear good news. For example, we are in the longest economic boom in our history … nobody feels it. Fear stokes anger … anger stokes more fear. It drives out all thoughts of others. In an atmosphere of fear grand ideologies clash, and we begin to [speak and think] in binaries, oppressor versus the oppressed, good groups verses menacing groups (Brooks).

In the earliest days, before there was even a church widespread violence against the Way, was driving many Christians out of Jerusalem back to their homes in faraway places. Even as the Jesus movement was spreading to the ends of the earth, persecution was following. And Jesus acts again, he calls Saul, sends him blinded and disoriented, by divine light, to Damascus to meet Ananias. He also calls Ananias, who answers as Samuel did “Here I am Lord.” and Jesus reveals his calling. Ananias is fearful, he knows of Saul’s murderous tirades. Jesus tells him to be at peace, “I will be with you.” If Jesus had not sent Paul to Ananias Paul would never have figured what he was to do. It is Ananias who explains his mission, and introduces him to the rest of the faith and to the community of faith. Ananias lays hands on Saul, calls him brother, makes the Jesus movement story clear, and heals Saul’s blindness. He is the human means by which Saul is filled with the Spirit There are 3 gleanings to share this morning

  1. no one is beyond the saving reach of God/Jesus/Spirit
  2. conversion always leads to commission, – we are saved from and saved to serve, and
  3. A call is not simply a matter between ‘me and Jesus,’ it is something that requires the discernment, confirmation and direction of the community of faith (Campbell qtd. in Mast).

That work begins with Ananias and is the work of every congregation, and The Commission On Ministry in the Episcopal Church. Charles Campbell notes

The living Christ is ‘loose’ in the world … persecuted, ‘ordinary’ believers provide the gifts of discernment and enemies become brothers and sisters, and violence is replaced by witness (Mast).

This is the hope for the world This is the hope for our nation This is the hope for Blytheville This is the hope and the work of St. Stephen’s and all churches, all people, and all communities.

This hope, this work, appears in all sorts of ways. Rabbi Goldstein continues

the terrorist who shot up my synagogue called my people, the Jewish people, a “squalid and parasitic race.” No. We are a people divinely commanded to bring God’s light into the world (Goldstein).

He is right, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all of Abraham’s children, all of God’s people, are divinely commanded to bring God’s light into the world. We are all divinely created to be a blessing to all the people in the world (Gen 12:2-3) (Thompson).

Brooks notes that some people, notably Christians, believe the perfect love casts out fear. He is not so sure a Franklin Roosevelt is on the horizon; but this is not the end of hope. He is beginning to see how governance, people collectively trying to solve practical problems, people collectively just getting stuff done, might be the light the darkness of fear will not overcome (John 1:5). Fear will come in the night; but eventually you have to wake up in the morning, get out of bed and get stuff done (Brooks).

Getting stuff done looks a lot like feeding and tending God’s sheep, and that can be very difficult (Kesselus). Nonetheless getting stuff done is what Paul did. It is what Ananias did. It is what Rabbi Goldstein is doing, It is what we, individually, as a congregation, and as a community, are all about. It is how we individually, as a congregation, a city, county, state, and nation, open the eyes of our faith and behold Jesus’ redeeming work (BCP); by which we are a blessing that brings love into an age of fear.


References

Brooks, David. “An Era Defined by Fear.” The New York Times (2019). <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/29/opinion/politics-fear.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2Fdavidbrooks&action=click&contentCollection=undefined&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=3&pgtype=collection&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 5 5 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.

Goldstein, Yisroel. “A Terrorist Tried to Kill Me Because I Am a Jew. I Will Never Back.” New York Times 29 4 2019. web. <nytimes.com/2019/04/29/opinion/rabbi-chabad-poway-antisemitism.html>.

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

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

Kesselus, Ken. “Lambs and Sheep, Easter 3 (C).” 5 5 2019. Sermons that Work.

Mast, Stan. Lectionary Epistle Acts 9:1-6, (7-20). 5 5 2019. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Oden, Amy G. Commentary on Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]. 5 5 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. “Already Restored.” 30 4 2019. Draughting Theology.

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

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

Thompson, Barkley. “To be a blessing.” 17 3 2019. God in the Midst of the City. <https://rectorspage.wordpress.com/2019/03/17/to-be-a-blessing/&gt;.

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

 

 

 

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;.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continuing Resurrection

A sermon for Easter 3

Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48

Today is the third Sunday of Easter, one of my favorite. I recount a bit of the Gospel story in every invitation to communion “… to encounter our risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.”

I always look forward to the Emmaus story. I guess I’ll have to wait ~ let’s see 2 more years. But, today’s Gospel reading is from Luke; and this is the Emmaus story; it’s just the part after Cleopas and his traveling buddy, with their hearts afire, get back to Jerusalem. It’s just after their initial shocking opening gambit to the disciples, that they have seen Jesus, and his self-revelation in the breaking of the bread.

You know what happens next, Jesus appears, offers them shalom or peace, and they react with fear and doubt. When we look at all the resurrection and appearance stories there are all kinds of witnesses, from Mary, and Mary, Salome, and Joanna, to Peter plus 1, and Cleopas plus 1, who all witness some sign of Jesus’ resurrection. They have two common elements, well okay three if you count Jesus; first there is doubt, and secondly there is fear. I asked last week, I still wonder why are the disciples are afraid?

Have you ever thought that maybe they should be? Maybe we should be? David Lose writes “If you don’t have serious doubts about the Easter story, you’re not paying attention.” (Lose, 2015) At the least you’ve got to ask “What does it mean to your world view, when the dead don’t stay dead?” Perhaps the most disturbing answer is, as Jacob Myers notes, is that “Jesus’ resurrection means that what he said was true. (Mayers, 2015) Love your neighbor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, all that stuff about how we treat each other, especially the people we don’t like or think are somehow inferior, or unrighteous, or unworthy, all that … Jesus actually means it! I know we participate a little. But Jesus’ resurrection isn’t about a little, his resurrection is about a complete change in how we live our lives. He bears the marks of crucifixion on his resurrected body. (Mayers, 2015) We bear the marks, or should, in how we live our lives, (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015) every hour of every day.

We shout “Alleluia, Christ is risen!” and go about life, with a satisfied smile on our face. There is so much more to resurrection. (Jacobson, Lewis, & Skinner, 2015)

Let’s stay just within this morning’s text. Jesus unexpectedly shows up, offers the disciples peace, or shalom. You’ve heard me expound on this before, and know shalom is so much more than peace, how it’s really much closer to the perfection of all human interconnections; actually all human and creation interconnections. They exchange a few words, and Jesus asks them for something to eat, and they give him a piece of fish. Many expound on this as a sign that Jesus is real, and not a ghost. However, the very next thing Jesus does is to open the disciples’ minds to understand the scriptures, about the depths of Moses and the Law, and the Prophets, revealing how repentance and forgiveness is to be proclaimed in his name, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. He then tells them, “You are witnesses of these things.” If Jesus were really worried about the disciples believing he was real, he would have made the observation that he ate the fish.

He doesn’t. So perhaps everything that follows his request for something to eat, reveals what Jesus is really hungry for. (Kubicek, 2015) Perhaps Jesus is really: hungry for change, hungry for freedom, shalom and justice for all people, not just some, not just the priest, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, or the Roman occupiers, but shalom for all.

C.B. Baker, in Becoming Messiah, builds the intriguing case that Jesus’ and John’s time with Essenes revealed just how corrupt Jewish life was and triggered an intense a compelling drive to change it all. (Baker) Step one in Jesus mission to change the world, is his ministry in Galilee and Jerusalem. Step two is the resurrection. Step three is the disciples bearing witness, ~ and our bearing witness. So these fifty days of Easter, is not some long grand celebration that Jesus lives, nope, it’s really the time in which the disciples come to grips with being witnesses. Today these fifty days are a time for us to do the same thing. And it begins with our confessing our tendency to reduce the Christian faith …  to slogans, bumper stickers, four spiritual laws, forty days of purpose, or seven basic principles of this or that. (Kubicek, 2015) It begins with how we allow ourselves to be distracted with the easier matters of doctrine, and how we create crises around issues like sexuality.  (Epperly, 2015) All of this which distracts us are so much easier than risking self for justice for all; which looks like fair wages, realistic immigration policy, really family friendly policy and law, a critical review of traffic tickets for profit schemes. All of that which distracts us is so much easier than demanding that lives matter, white lives, black lives, male lives, female lives, adult lives, child lives, Christian lives, Jewish lives, Muslim lives, Hindu live, Buddhist lives, all lives, all life, matters. All that distracts us is so much easier than risking our possessions for righteousness for all because everyone is a child of God. And all this raises questions:

  • is shalom a greeting or a command?
  • what are you hungry for?
  • will you be satisfied with a piece of fish or will you be witnesses to the full glory of our Lord’s resurrection? (Kubicek, 2015)

I am glad there are fifty days, or how ever many days are left, of Easter. I am thankful, for the many – many unexpected witnesses to the resurrection. I sing praises for all the astonishing marks of resurrection. And whenever I see them, whenever I hear “Christ is risen!” my heart and soul echo in reply “Alleluia!” Amen ~ let’s make it so.


References

Baker, C. B. (n.d.). Becoming Messiah.

Epperly, B. (2015, 4 19). The Adventurous Lectionary. Retrieved from Pathos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly

Jacobson, R., Lewis, K., & Skinner, M. (2015, 4 19). Sermon Brain Wave. Retrieved from workingpreacher.org.

Kubicek, K. A. (2015, 4 19). Sermons that Work. Retrieved from The Episcopal Church.

Lose, D. (2015, 4 19). Easter 3 B: Resurrection Doubts. Retrieved from David Lose: http://www.davidlose.net

Mayers, J. (2015, 4 19). Commentary on Luke 24:36b-48. Retrieved from Working Preacher: http://www.workingpreacher.org/