Love These People

A Sermon for 5th Sunday in Easter; Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35

 Years ago, I went to some sort of conference on some ministry program or another, you can tell the program is not what captured my attention. Truth is I’m no longer sure if I was actually there, or if I have simply incorporated it into my story, either way it is a part of my world view. The speaker walks on to the stage, right past the podium, all the way to the other side ~ turns around and walks all the way across the stage again; only then goes to the podium. Without any introduction, the first words are “If you are not here because you love these people ~ leave!” Everyone’s attention is captured; everyone instinctively knows the truth they have just heard, without love, what we do doesn’t matter.

So, I was a little surprised when I was drawn to Acts, and not John’s Gospel reading this morning, and its focus on love. Three phrases from Acts stood out:

  • What God has made clean; you must not call profane
  • not to make a distinction between them and us, and
  • who was I that I could hinder God?

I was all ready to start with who was I that I could hinder God until I read a blog post Without a Doubt on verse 12 not make a distinction between them and us. The author, my colleague Steve, got to digging around in the Greek and learned ‘doubt’ is a cognate or similar, translation to ‘not to make a distinction’ Further digging revealed that the Contemporary English Version translation is The Holy Spirit told me to go and not worry (Pankey).

And of course, Bobby McFerrin’s little song Don’t Worry Be Happy popped in my head. I was going to play it, but it is too long. The gist is, McFerrin runs through a list of life’s potential troublesome moments

you don’t have a place to lay your head,
your rent is late,
you don’t have any cash,
you ain’t got no style,
you got no gal to make you smile.

His advice is don’t worry if you do it will make your troubles double; so don’t worry be happy (McFerrin).

I got to wondering “What has Peter got to worry about?” He has just raised Dorcus, beloved disciple, from the dead, and many came to believe, which is great (Acts 9:36-43). Then He has a vision about forbidden foods, in which God says what I have made clean do not call profane (Acts 10:9-16). A vision can be an exciting thing, at the same time it can be a two-edge sword because God wants something. Then 3 strangers from the Roman centurion, Cornelius, show up asking for Peter (Acts 10:17-20). What could go wrong here? He goes to Caesarea (Acts 10:24) which is the capital of the Roman province, in the middle of Gentile territory (Easton). That puts him at risk of being seen as assimilating, adapting, to the majority Roman Empire’s culture, which is the opposite of God’s people being different (Peterson). Cornelius tells Peter So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say. (Acts 10:33) While Peter is preaching the Holy Spirit is poured out on the Gentiles (Acts 10:45). Peter’s response is to baptize everyone he can lay hands on, all of them gentiles. And then, like after every other church event, they share a meal, Peter sits at table with Gentiles (Peterson). There are all sorts of troublesome things here.

And trouble is where Peter is this morning. All I described happens in chapter 10. This morning’s reading is from chapter 11. Here Peter is called before a gathering of apostles and the believers, in Jerusalem, to explain what happened. He does so in a clear orderly way, focusing on God’s presence in every step (Gaventa and Petersen). Peter don’t worry, he’s happy, he knows he’s doing God work:

  • Going to Caesarea, to the home of a Roman Centurion, and breaking the barrier of separation between Jews and Gentiles, is doing God’s work,
  • preaching Jesus to Gentile, is doing God’s work,
  • baptizing all in Cornelius’ household is doing God’s work,
  • sharing a meal at a Gentile table is doing God’s work.

There are lots of things to worry about; but Peter don’t worry, he’s happy to be doing God’s work.

So ~ what about our troubles today? Today’s troubles:

  • There is a rise in religious intolerance; in the middle east against Christian minorities, and in India, Burma, and China against Muslim minorities.
  • There are all sorts of legislative machinations concerning abortion; a state legislator claimed pregnancy by rape is a gift from God (Stone), another lawmaker and former police officer, claimed that most rapes that he investigated were consensual (William).
  • There are all the troubles around immigration, beyond the issue of the wall, and increasing numbers of people crossing the border,
    • there are the continuing concerns with DACA,
    • the lack of workers in agriculture, construction, hospitality, and other industries who are no longer able to recruit the number of temporary immigrant workers they have in recent years.
  • There are threats to the economy, such as tariff conflicts, and Brexit.
  • There is a vague threat of war in Venezuela with the effort to bring about a change in government.
  • There is the threat of accidental war with Iran as tensions rise over the balance of power in the Middle East between Arab and Persian powers of Saudi Arabia and Iran, and their allies.
  • There are the conflicting ideas about changing rain patterns slowing the planting season, breaching levies flooding towns and farmlands, and stopping barge traffic on long flooding rivers.
  • There is the escalating violence in Blytheville.
  • And of course, there are the changes at St. Stephen’s

All these involve crossing some sort of boundary or another, some sort of change or another. They involve how we see others, how we judge others, perhaps unaware, perhaps intentionally, and they involve how we see ourselves, our traditions, our faith, our understanding of God as right or simply better.

We face the same challenge Peter did, thought without, at least so far, a divine vision. But even with a vision, we, individually and as a community, face the decision the apostles and the believers in Jerusalem faced. Knowing nothing we do can bear fruit without God (Mast). We ponder

  • does not changing hinder God?
  • does changing hinder God?
  • is this change of God?
  • is God the only arbiter, and/or judge?
  • is the direction unilaterally, singularly, directed by the Spirit?
  • is God cleaning hearts (Gaventa and Petersen)?
  • is the change loving each other, your neighbor, yourself, your enemy, your spouse, your children, your friends, your bus driver, your mailman, your pharmacist, everybody, as Jesus loved ~ loves ~ everyone, so that others know God/Jesus/Spirit’s presence in and through us (John 13:34-35) (Bates)?

In pondering we realize that loving as Jesus loves means accepting radical change in which God invites and enables us, to extend further, and embrace wider, so that individually and together we each become more (Ditewig). We realize how such love is hard, this it is never without sacrifice, pain, and challenges (Lewis).

These are challenging questions. They would take the heart of everyone, and there may come a day when our hearts fail; but not today. Today we don’t worry, today we be happy, today ~ we trust in God and in doing God’s work, after all, we do love these people (Wikiquote).


References

Bates, J. Barrington. “The Way of Love, Easter 5.” 19 5 2019. Sermons that Work.

Ditewig, Br. Luke. “Change.” Meeting Jesus in the Gospel. SSJE. Cambridge, n.d. Email.

Easton, M. G. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. Public Domain, 1897. Olive Tree.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 19 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.

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.

Lewis, Karoline. Real Love. 19 5 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Mast, Stan. Old Testament Lectionary — Axts11:1-18. 19 5 2019. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

McFerrin, Robert Jr. “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” Universal Music Publishing Group, 19 5 2019.

Pankey, Steve. Without a Doubt. 19 5 2019. <wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1310831034>.

Peterson, Brian. Commentary on Acts 11:1-18. 19 5 2019. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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

Stone, Michael. Missouri Rep. Calls Pregnancy By Rape God’s ‘Silver Lining’. 4 5 2016. 17 2019. <patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2016/05/missouri-rep-calls-pregnancy-by-rape-gods-silverlining>.

Wikiquote. The_Lord_of_the_Rings:_The_Return_of_the_King#Aragorn. n.d. 18 5 2019. <https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/The_Lord_of_the_Rings:_The_Return_of_the_King#Aragorn&gt;.

William. Missouri Lawmaker Says Most Rapes That He’s Investigated. 17 5 2019. <mavenroundtable.io/theintellectualist/news/missouri-lawmaker-says-most-rapes-that-he-s-investigated-areconsensual->.

 

 

 

The Temple, Jesus and Economics

A Sermon for Proper 16; 1 Kings 8:[1, 6,10-11], 22-30,41-43, Psalm 84 or 84:1-6, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69

I have never been able to take advantage of opportunities to go to Israel, to see the land promised to God’s people, to walk the way of Jesus, and visit sites of the early disciples. If I do, I think I’d like Curtis to go with me. Curtis shares part of what such a visitor might experience. You might visit the Garden at Gethsemane, see the Upper Room, one or more of Lazarus’ tombs (it seems there are multiple sites make the same claim.) You can even go to Cana and visit the site of that infamous wedding where Jesus changes an enormous amount of water into stunningly good wine. You can even try some “Cana Wedding Wine.” A visitor once asked the tour guide Is the wine from the time of Jesus? The guide answered,

Yes, in fact, this wine is from the time of Jesus Christ because now is the time of Jesus Christ. He is not dead, he is risen.

We hear those words every time we gather and share Eucharist. It is unusual to hear them in ordinary conversation. It is disruptive but transforming

to think about our lives through our practice of sharing bread and wine during Holy Communion (Farr).

 

Now I expect, you expect me to share a gleaning from John 6; and I will; however, I am going to set that up, by exploring the dedication of the Temple we heard from 1 Kings.

The background to the Temple dedication is the end of the 11-year struggle, of painstakingly precise work, to build the Temple as instructed by God (Mast). The biblical background is Genesis 1 and 2. Genesis 1 (26-27) tells us God created “humankind in God’s image” there are no limits to who is included (Galvin). Genesis 2 (18-22) tells us we are made to be in relationship with each other. Being a helpmate is not a hierarchal order. In Psalms (121:2, 124:8), God is referred to as our helper. The dedication

 is about the Temple and its place in the life of God’s people (Mast).

Solomon’s prayer has nine petitions that cover

  • difficult legal cases in which a person must make an oath (1 Kings 8:22)
  • various disasters that might befall the people of Israel
    • defeat in battle and subsequent exile (vv. 33–34);
    • drought (vv. 35–36);
    • famine, plague, or siege (vv. 37–40).
    • all of which is happening because Israel failed to walk in the ways of God, in short – sin, (1 Kings 8:22).
  • when a foreigner prays towards the Temple God will answer their prayers and that all the peoples of the earth would know God’s name and fear him (1 Kings 8:41-43)
  • victory in God’s cause (1 Kings 8:44-45)
  • if Israel pray towards the land, city, and temple seeking repentance while in exile God is asked to regard them once more as his people and maintain their cause. (1 Kings 8: 46-51)
  • and that God will hear the prayers of the people whenever they pray (1 Kings 8:52) (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson).

Solomon’s multipoint prayer is extraordinarily deep. It provides a way for everyone to seek the presence of God. It honors the divine promise that all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:3) (Mast). It is honest about the reality that the heavens cannot contain God, therefore, the Temple cannot; making the Temple

 a place [in] which the needs of the petitioner coincide with the willingness of [God] to respond (1 Kings 8:22).

It is inclusive; although the first five books of the bible have a negative view of foreigners, aliens, and, strangers, the Temple dedication prayer welcomes the prayers of all who seek God, including foreigners (1 Kings 8:41-42). It is perhaps the first of the 36 verses that command us to “love the stranger” not including the one that commands us to “love our neighbor “(Almquist). This verse emphasizes human relationships established in Genesis (2:26-27). The Temple prayer is even more honest in acknowledging that people will be in desperate need of divine attention because of their sins (1 Kings 8:62). It is the source of hope that the LORD our God will freely forgive, and freely save. (1 Kings 8:62). Solomon’s is a prayer that seeks shalom for all God’s people, and all of creation.

And yes, there is a however. The entire prayer is conditional; if only your [people] are careful in all they do to walk before me.

You know the general flow of the Bible story. You know the people are not careful in all they do. What they and their Kings do was evil in the sight of the Lord. Therefore, they are defeated; they are exiled. Benjamin and Judah return to the land. The remaining then tribes are lost to eternity. The Temple is rebuilt; but the political and religious leaders continue to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD. It is into this void, a way to the presence of the Lord, that Jesus comes.

It is helpful to remember that the background of today’s reading from John 6 is the feeding of the five thousand beginning with verse 1, we read a few weeks ago. The biblical background is from Exodus when God provides Israel manna from heaven, and they grumble. If you recall when Jesus proclaims himself to manna, the crowd grumbles (Hylen). John builds on wisdom traditions

that the nourisher is both the … the giver of food and the food itself and the tradition of the pascal lamb,

but even after they eat their fill the

crowd cannot believe he is the bread from heaven and source of eternal life (Gaventa and Petersen).

You remember the emphasis in John’s version of the Last Supper is the washing if the disciples’ feet. John 6 is the equivalent to Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s Lord’s Supper, in that here we have the foundation of our Eucharistic traditions. John presents all of Jesus’ life as the institution of the Eucharist providing the miraculous gifts of actual food and God’s Word (O’Day). Like Solomon’s Temple prayer, John says that

participation in the Eucharist creates a relationship between Jesus and the believer (John 6:56) (Harrelson; O’Day).

Also like the Temple, that cannot contain God, access to the Eucharist belongs to Jesus and to Jesus alone. In the tradition of the Temple, priests make sacrifices, however the sacrifice is offered by the person, and God’s presence is the work of God. Priests and faith institutions may have responsibility

to ensure that believers are provided with opportunities to participate in the Eucharist, but it is Jesus’ presence, … that governs the Eucharist. (O’Day).

Both the dedication prayer for the Temple, and Jesus’ difficult teaching that the Spirit gives life, through our abiding with Jesus point to our need, to everyone’s need for the human divine relationship because, as our forebearers did, we still fail to walk before God. Our needs are far beyond the 9 petitions Solomon’s prayer makes. Individually and collectively we need the assurance of God’s life-giving presence; we need to trust in God’s presence; we need to build God’s presence into every aspect of our lives. We need a relationship with God, and each other, as we order our houses, as we order our lives.

And yes, there is more to the story. Somewhere along my way I learned that ‘economy’ comes from a Greek word that means ordering one’s house. I went digging around to check it out and learned that two words ‘oikos’ or ‘house and ‘nomos’ or rule together mean “management of house affairs;”  at a national level the managing of the nation’s household affairs or economics. (Bible Hub; Thomas Nelson Inc). Managing our nation’s household affairs or economics has recently been the subject of lots of discussion. Three articles I stumbled across this week (I just love the wisdom of the divine muse) may help us to envision the scope of this reordering work.

Louis Hyman writes that nature of work always remains a matter of social choice. Up until the 18th century, people worked where they lived. In the 19th century people were brought together to work under one roof, which sets up industrial revolution. After WWII higher profits were possible, but not as important, in the lingering wake of the Great Depression, as the moral compact between employer and employee. Beginning in the 1970s a new, strictly financial view of corporation emerges and begins severing the moral compact between businesses and employees. The shift to temp employees, which began at the end of WWII when Elmer Winter established the first temp agency, sets up technological revolution. Hyman continues

we need to create new norms, institutions and policies that make digitization benefit today’s workers (Hyman).

And I would add these new norms should be like the Temple, dedicated to providing a link to God for ALL people, and like Jesus who is the Way to God for ALL people.

In his review of R.R. Reno’s Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society Neil Dhingra notes Reagan declaration,

 We believe in the workingman’s toil, the businessman’s enterprise, and the clergyman’s counsel.

 He notes how this trilogy has come apart, that

our unbounded liberty has created a distorted reality that cruelly neglects those whose “destinies [are] largely fixed at birth. Our liberation from social norms — our nonjudgmentalism — has come at a very high cost to the working class and poor.

He continues

authentic freedom comes from service to one’s neighborhood and family, from being a good coworker or teammate, from doing those things that matter.

Then he asks,

What if there was a place where you could go where you could break bread and whoever you were sitting with was family? (Reno; Dhingra).

I wonder what if there was a place like the Temple was intended to be? What if there was a place like Jesus’ presence is intended to be? What if the Episcopal Church was always at the best we can be?

Bernard-Henri Lévy sets out the principle that being human involves some sort of negation, meaning we have to take a step, a leap out of the natural or established in order to grow  (Lévy). Such a natural or established order might well include our economic structure. He continues

When we … commit ourselves to moving forward, to diving into the unknown and embracing our humanity in all its uncertainty, then we embark on a truly beautiful and noble adventure — the very road to freedom (Lévy).

If our moving forward is in the presence of God in the Temple or of Jesus in the Eucharist, all sorts of possibilities emerge. We can be assured that we can rebuild an economic order envisioned in Genesis 1 and 2, just we can we be assured that we can buy a bottle of wine from the Wedding at Cana. Not because there are lots of old bottles, not because we are so clever at walking in the ways of God, but because He is not dead, he is risen, the time of Jesus Christ is right here, right now.

References

Almquist, Br. Curtis. Stranger – Brother, Give Us A Word. 22 8 2018.

FARR, CURTIS. “Gifts of God, Pentecost 14 (B).” 26 8 2018. Sermons that Work.

Galvin, Garrett. Commentary on 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30,. 26 8 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&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 6:56-59. 26 8 2018.

Hylen, Susan. Commentary on John 6:56-69. 26 8 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Hyman, Louis. “It’s Not Technology That’s Disrupting Our Jobs.” The New York Times (2018).

Lévy, Bernard-Henri. “We Are Not Born Human.” New York Times 22 8 2018. web. <nytimes.com/2018/08/22/opinion/we-are-not-born-human.html>.

Mast, Stan. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: 1 Kings 8: (1-6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43.” 26 8 2018. 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.

Reno, R.R. “Freedom and Popular Culture.” 22 8 2018. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

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

Seow, Choon-Leong. New Interpreter’s Bible The First and Second Books of Kings Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections (NIBC) 2 Samuel 24:18. Vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon Press (NIBC) Deuteronomy 34, 2015. Olive Tree App.