Jeremiah, Fredrick Douglass, and the Zoo

A sermon for Proper 24: Jeremiah 31:27-34, Psalm 119:97-104, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8

Before I get to my thoughts on Jeremiah, I’d like to share that Saturday a week ago was our granddaughter LG’s 5th birthday; I’m still not sure how that happened. All she wanted was to go to the Zoo. So, she, one friend, her brother D, her parents, Aunty L, Angie and I and our nephew, her uncle M, all went to the zoo. We were having a wonderful time. We saw all sorts of wonderful animals, some that are only out at night.

We had just finished seeing LG’s favorite, the Pandas when Angie realized her I-phone was missing. We logged into I-cloud with her ID, did the lost phone thing, and sure enough, we could see that the phone was still in the zoo. We blocked the phone, put a message on the screen that the phone is lost and to please call and used my phone number. Then our daughter, her husband and I went in search. We got disturbed when the phone seemed to be moving. We were challenged in deciding if we were moving toward the phone, or away from it. Then we started the alarm, which makes some obnoxious noise. After walking for a bit, seemingly making circles, on a whim I just called the phone and was surprised when someone answered, “Are you looking for a lost phone?” After some trouble with the alarm interrupting our call, the lady hung up and called me back. She told me who she was, and where she was, which, a bit to our surprise, given our directional confusion, was right around the corner. We got to the counter, I introduced myself, “Hi, I’m, Scott, the one looking for the lost phone.” The lady explained someone found it in the women’s bathroom and turned it in. She gave me the phone, I thanked her and wished her a blessed day, and we headed back to our crew.

The day came to an end when we were back at the Lions, where we were delighted to hear a roaring male Lion. He was so loud, our daughter thought he was wearing a microphone. You could understand how that roar could be heard across the African veldt. I was impressed with the Lion, everyone was impressed with the Lion, well everyone except Burt, he knew he didn’t want to meet the Lion.

Just two days before David Brooks wrote a column What Makes Us All Radically Equal. In it, he shares a bit of Fredrick Douglass’ story in which he held contrasting feelings about his experiences with white Americans as “moments of fury and harmony, despair and hope.” (Brooks). Drawing on David Blight’s biography he shared Douglass’ contrasting statements

I have no love for America, as such, and

I am an American citizen. In birth, in sentiment, in ideas, in hopes, in aspirations and responsibilities.

Brooks notes Douglass could withstand all the ups and downs, all the ambivalences, because of an unchanging underlying belief: in the natural rights of all humankind.

He continues that what sustains Douglass, and others,

is the belief that all people of all races have a piece of themselves that has no size, weight, color or shape, but which gives them infinite value and dignity.

They and all humans have souls (Brooks).

You might be wondering what the Zoo and Douglas have to do with Jeremiah.

We have been reading from Jeremiah since August 25th. It sounds like an endless prediction of destruction:

  • My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13).
  • Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you (Jeremiah 18:11)
  • For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation (Jeremiah 4: 27 a)
  • My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? (Jeremiah 8:18, 22a).

All this doom and gloom is because of Israel’s failure to follow God’s the Law, as revealed in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; that is seen in their failure to uphold social justice for widows, orphans, immigrants, and anyone else lacking social protection (Brueggemann 15-16). In short, they failed to treat everyone as if they had a soul, and it leads to the coming destruction of Jerusalem.

However, in the last few weeks, the readings tell

  • of Jeremiah buying a piece of family land in Anathoth, his hometown, that he is likely to never see. It is an act revealing trust in the future.
  • We hear God tell them that when they go into exile they are to build houses and plant gardens, to have children and give their children in marriage; they are to seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you … for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:5-7).
  • And this morning we heard that just as God watched over a time of plucking up and tearing down, God will also watch over a time to build and to plant, promising fertility to both Judah and Israel (Jeremiah 31:27-28), which was destroyed some 150 years ago (Mast). The time is coming when “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33b).

It seems that even though God will not be mocked, by the people’s self-indulgent behaviors, presented as the true faith, neither will God quit; there is hope (Brueggemann 32). It seems that there is something in all of us, that God will not give up on; and if God won’t then neither should we. And here we touch the Zoo story.

When we realized Angie’s phone was missing, my daughter, her husband and I set out to find it. When we saw, on the Find My Phone app, that it was moving, I could the sense that we, at least I, thought it had been stolen. Our pace picked up so we could get to the phone before it left the Zoo. There was an assumption about the quality of the person with Angie’s phone, and that assumption determined the feeling of our search. So, while I was impressed by the lion’s roar, I was actually more impressed by the phone experience. It reminded me that there are good people in the world; actually, that most people in the world are good. In our uninhibited determination to find an I-phone we, at least I, had forgotten that the person we sought has a soul. The lady who found the phone has a soul. The lady who held the phone for us has a soul. This is easy to remember, as we experienced the goodness that comes from a human soul.

But, if the person who found the phone had less noble, more self-interest intentions, the same is true, they have a soul. And this means is that had we approached them; we should have done so based primarily on the truth that they have a soul. Were we all to begin every person to person interaction from the divine truth, that the other has a soul, it would make a difference. Were we to begin every person to person interaction believing that the other has a soul I believe Botham Jean and Atatiana Jefferson would be alive; and that Amber Guyger’s and Aaron Dean’s futures would be very different.

Notice I said, “Were we all to begin every action from the divine truth, that the other has a soul…” These tragedies are as much grounded in our social failure to recognize that everyone is made in the image of God, is a reflection of God, has a God-given soul, as it is in any individual’s failure, including mine ~ at the zoo.

I am thankful for our fun day at the zoo; I am thankful for finding Angie’s phone; I am thankful for experiencing the lion’s mighty roar, and I am thankful for the good time we enjoyed as a family. But mostly I am thankful to have been reminded that everyone has a soul and every interaction we have with anyone begins here. And drawing from Jeremiah I have a renewed hope, that even when we fail to act this way, God will never give up on us, as individuals, or as a nation.


References

Brooks, David. What Makes Us All Radically Equal. 10 10 2019. <http://nyti.ms/28KGh5f&gt;.

Brueggemann, Walter. From Judgement to Hope. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 20 10 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.

Mast, Stan. Jeremiah 31:27-34. 20 10 2019. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Mayfield, Tyler. “Commentary on Jeremiah 31:27-34.” 20 10 2019. workingpreacher.org. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3020&gt;.

Miller, Patrick D. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Book ofThe Book of Jeremiah. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Song of Songs 8:8. Vol. IV. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. Olive Tree.

Taylor, Jemonde. “Returning to Pray, Proper 24 (C) – 2016.” 20 10 2019. Sermons that Work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost but Found

 

A sermon for Proper 19: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28, Psalm 14, 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10

Jesus’ parables of the one sheep and a coin are parables of lost and found. Years ago, before seminary was an idea, I got a phone call from Angie. The daycare had called, and our oldest daughter was not a school. They were checking because we had not called to say she was home that day. She wasn’t home. She should have been at school. They sent a driver back to her school. Angie called me; since I had a car phone, I left a client’s office, my briefcase on his desk, and headed to the school. Angie stayed put to coordinate. It turns out a substitute teacher had put G in the wrong place, and the van driver could not see her. Before I got to the school, the Day Care driver had returned to the school, found Ginny, and she was already playing with friends. She was found, and there was joy to go around. Not every story, of missing loved ones, ends like this.

Today is the 15th anniversary of 9-11. Do you remember where you were when you heard the story? I do. It started at home listening to the news as I dressed for work. I kept listening as I tried to work. After a while, I could not stand to be alone, so I went to the Sr. Warden’s office. Together we watched the South Tower collapse, and later we watched the North Tower collapse. Three thousand people died that day. Eleven hundred bodies have never been recovered (Hoezee, Luke). All week I have been wondering what we as individuals and as a nation lost that day, and in the immediate days and months that followed. With that has happened between now and then, I wonder what we have lost in the many, many years since. At times it has the feel of Jeremiah’s prophecy, which is a real bummer (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner).

Each verse from Jeremiah strips away an aspect of creation (Ellingsen). First water, then the wind, or spirit, the breath of God, followed by the light, and the land, and the people, and the birds, and fruit of the earth, one by one everything is laid waste (Portier-Young). Likewise, every event of that fateful morning: flight 11 crashing into the North Tower at 8:46, flight 175 crashing into the South Tower at 9:03, flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon at 9:37, the South Tower collapsing at 9:59, flight 93 crashing in a field in the Pennsylvania countryside at 10:07, and the North Tower collapsing, at 10:28; each event stripped away some aspect of our common identity (The History Channel).

This event, and those like it, compel us, almost force us to see the evil, we don’t want to see. And when we cannot, we are coerced to look again, this time, more closely, more critically, so that we will see the complexity of justice and discover “that evil is greater the sum of its parts” (Bratt) (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). There were some who pondered if such events are a sign of our not knowing, our abandoning God, as ancient Israel had (Jeremiah 14). Some pronounce that we are the fools who no longer believe in God, or at least that there are no consequences for ignoring God (Psalm 14), (Ellingsen). But, even as there may a truth in such doom, neither Psalm 14 nor Jeremiah’s prophecy leaves us in despair.

The Psalmist notes that the Lord promises to restore the fortunes of his people, and Jeremiah reveals God’s word “yet I will not make a full end” (Jeremiah 14:27). These words are reminders that as lost as we may get, we, and all of creation, are precious to God who will not allow us to completely destroy ourselves, each other or creation (Bratt). God, who promises this is not the fate, the destiny of human experience, continues doing what God does, even when it doesn’t look like it (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). And so we come to Luke’s recounting Jesus’ parables of the lost and found.

The story begins with Jesus is talking to sinners and tax collectors. The nearby Pharisees and scribes object. Sinners we understand, all of us can relate to sin. Tax collectors are more difficult; I like our tax collector. In 1st century Palestine, they are enemy collaborators, working for the occupying Roman Empire. They are also frauds, frequently collecting more than prescribed by the Empire (Ellingsen). Hence the objections to Jesus welcoming them.

There are some subtleties in Luke’s story. The emphasis of the parables is finding. It cannot be repentance because sheep and coins can’t repent (Hoezee, Luke) (Jacobsen). The action verbs reveal God’s agency; the sheep and coin don’t act, God acts (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). They story of the lost coin reveals that God is a relentless seeker. There is the story of Allan. Allan has been wandering from doorstep to shelter, to hostel and no one knows for how long. One night he stumbles into a Salvation Army Shelter. Someone comes through calling out for Allan Roberts. He looks up “I am, or I used to be.” “Your mother is on the phone.” “How, she doesn’t know where I am? “I don’t know, but if you are Allan Roberts your mother is on the phone.” She has made arrangements for him to fly home. “She hadn’t known where he was, she just called every shelter and hostel for months until she found him” (Hoezee, Luke). Allan’s mother is persistent; God is relentless. But why is God so relentless? One coin, one sheep, one person cannot be that a big deal? Or can it?

Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, teaches that neither the flock nor the sheep can be whole when separated. When we are separated from God, we are not our whole self (Epperly) (Benoit). The woman looks for the coin because all ten matter to her. Likewise, everyone, everything matters to God (Epperly). God is the champion of the lost (Hoezee, Luke). God is a seeker, everyone counts, you count. God wants to find you; God misses you when you are missing  (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). But unlike you and I, who have limited resources, tire out, get distracted, or lose hope, God is limitless; the divine can seek all the lost at the same time, without distraction, and with eternal hope.

 

So, to those eleven-hundred families, to any family, whose loved one’s remains have never been found, to those who are lost, you are not alone; God seeks your beloved, God seeks you. And yes, events like 9/11, and other tragedies, do reveal the existence of evil. They do expose the complexities of justice. And yes, the causes that are part of such catastrophes are interweaving. They reveal something of our and the other’s relationships with God and each other. But such darkness is not the end of the story, God seeks, you, God seeks all of us in the knowledge that everyone, everything will be found, and creation will be complete, will be whole once again.

There is a calling in all this. my colleague, Steve Pankey points out that when Jesus ‘welcomes’ sinners and tax collectors, the deeper meaning of the word is ‘receives,’ a far for intimate word. Jesus puts his purity, which today we would understand as reputation and or social respect at risk. Steve ponders if we should go beyond being a welcoming church and be a receiving church. He ponders if we are willing to follow Jesus and risk our reputations, are we willing to risk being changed by those who just might be lost (Pankey). I ponder if such a risk creates moments for all of us to find God in the other, only to discover, that through the eye of the other, God is in ourselves, and thereby recognize that together we are known to God, that we have been found and that there will be, there already is, great celebration here and in heaven.


References

ABC News. “Heroism of ‘Man in the Red Bandanna’ Detailed in New Book by.” n.d. abcnews.com. 11 9 2016. <http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/heroism-man-red-bandanna-detailed-book-tom-rinaldi/story?id=41864981&gt;.

Barreto, Eric. Commentary on 1 Timothy 1:1217. 11 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

BENOIT, ARLETTE. “Will you seek God today? Proper 19(C).” 11 9 2016. Sermons that Work.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 19C Jeremiah. 11 9 2016.

Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 19 | Ordinary Time 24 | Pentecost 16, Cycle C (2016). 11 9 2016. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary – The Seventeenth Sunday after. 11 9 2016. <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. Proper 119 C 1 Timothy. 11 9 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

—. Proper 19C Luke. 11 9 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Jacobsen, David Schnasa. Commentary on Luke 1:39-45. 11 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 11 9 2016.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Lost and Found. 11 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4706 1/3>.

Lose, David. Pentecost 17 C: Joy! 11 9 2016.

Pankey, Steve. “More than Welcome.” 11 9 2016. Draughting Theology.

Portier-Young, Anathea. Commentary on Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28. 11 9 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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

The History Channel. “9-11 timeline.” 11 9 2016. http://www.history.com. <http://www.history.com/topics/9-11-timeline&gt;.

 

 

 

Rekindled Hope

A sermon for Easter Morning: Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 118:12, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:19-26, Luke 24:1-12

It is a glorious day. We all have our Easter finest on. There are expectations for all sorts of joy-filled, exciting, happy moments throughout the day. But remember, this is not how the day begins for the Mary Magdalene and the other women. This morning does not feel mystical; this morning did not feel sacred, as mornings usually do. The customary morning prayers don’t help. Still, there is work to do; there is a burial to tend to (Johnson). The women lament as they walk the lonely dusty road to Jesus’ tomb.

Holy Week’s, Daily Office, Old Testament readings come from Lamentation. Chapter 2 verse 6 generally reads “festivals and Sabbath have been abolished.” Festivals are the community’s celebration of God’s presence, and their efforts to restore divine-human relationships. Sabbath is an individual’s and/or a family’s rites of celebration and reconciliation. They are gone. The people are cut off. As this morning begins, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women going to bury Jesus must feel cut off; their hope is gone.

Ti’kva, who is a cashier at Wal-Mart, is having a terrible day: she has relatives in Brussels and doesn’t know their fate. This is a 5-week shopping month and stretching 4 weeks of money to 5 weeks of groceries is always a challenge Her daughter lost her glasses, and even with a store in the store, with her working two jobs there is no time to get her an appointment, and it wouldn’t matter because there is no money for the glasses anyway. Ti’kva feels cut off; her hope is gone.

The women arrive at the tomb. The stone is rolled away. Jesus’ body is gone. They are perplexed. Why would the authorities do this? What could this possibly mean? What trouble is lurking? It’s one more blow to their hopes; they ca not even properly bury their friend (Johnson). Suddenly the tomb is full of sizzling light from two angels who simply just appear. They ask the women

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.
Remember how he told you…

They do remember! They remember Jesus’ macabre stories of how he will be betrayed, be given over to the authorities, crucified, and on the third day ~ rise again. They remember! It is the third day! The tomb is empty, so Jesus has risen! They run back to the rest of the disciples; full of surprise, excitement and growing hope they shout out

It’s the third day
remember what he told us
the tomb is empty; it’s empty,
It’s the third day!
It’s the third day!

The other disciples cannot believe them; they do not believe them. There never has been, and even now there is no reason to believe the dead rise to life (Craddock).

I don’t think the women are overly concerned. Their newly kindled hope empowers them to put themselves in a precarious situation by proclaiming the clearly preposterous story of Jesus’ resurrection. But that doesn’t matter, their new hope overwhelms the mystery and uncertainty of Jesus’ resurrection, empowering them to share their experience (Brown).

At this point, Luke has introduced the experiences of encountering the empty tomb. He has shared the women’s surprise. He has told us about the others’ doubt, and, however, impetuous Peter goes to see for himself, and that he is amazed and surprised. Luke has not yet spoken to belief. At the moment, all we know about is the women’s and Peter’s experience, their surprise and relighted hope.

Ti’kva’s day is furthered harried because it is unusually busy. There is no reason; it just is. James, a frequent customer, notices the unusually high number of customers. As most do, he generally ignores the crowd and goes about his shopping. He doesn’t know Ti’kva, which, by the way, means hope (Aish). He does know some cashiers by sight, not this one. It is his habit to leave all cashiers, in every store, with a blessing the simple one-word ‘blessings.’ This time, he tweaks it. He notices a Star of David hanging from Ti’kva’s neck and, making friendly eye contact, simply says shalom as he leaves. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees that Ti’kva beams; someone noticed, someone cares; there is hope. It’s a smile, that catches James by surprise, and changes not only his shopping experience but also his day.

A minute ago I said Luke has not yet written about belief. At this point, the story is about rekindled hope for the disciples. I’ve introduced Ti’kva’s rekindled hope. In the weeks to come, we will hear bible story’s that are all about growing belief. But for this moment, I invite you just to live in the rekindled hope. Allow yourself to be still, don’t worry about what all this means, don’t worry about what Jesus’ resurrection implies, don’t worry about explaining it all. I’d go so far as to say do not even worry about sharing

 It’s the third day
remember what he told us
the tomb is empty; it’s empty,
It’s the third day!

 with everyone you meet.

You might consider James’ story. You might consider offering everyone a simple ‘blessings’ or another divinely inspired, spirit fired word of tenderness. We might be surprised how a mutual exchange of hope changes the world. Hope arising from a surprisingly empty tomb has enthralled the world ever since. His tomb is empty; it is a blessing so be blessed.

And oh yes, Alleluia!

 


 

References

Brown, Michael Joseph. Commentary on Mark 7:24-37. 22 3 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Craddock, Fred B. Interpretation, LUKE A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING. Louisville KY, 1990.

Culpper, R. Alan. The Gospel of Luke, Introduction, Commentary and Reflections. n.d.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 6 9 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

JOHNSON, DEON K. “Practice Resurrection, Easter (C) – 2016.” 22 3 2016. Sermons that Work.

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

 

 

 

 

Blind As We Are, We Can See

A sermon for the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday: Luke 19:28-40; 41-44

There are all these people surrounding Jesus. They are shouting, waving palm branches, throwing cloaks and branches on the ground in front of him. Jesus is riding a donkey; it has never been ridden before. We don’t know if the crowd knows. Luke’s audience knows, and they catch the sacred implications; the quiet reference to the Temple sacrificial cult rites.  (Fretheim). Luke’s audience knows Israel’s history. They know Solomon rode a donkey before he was crowned King. The know the story of Elisha sending a member of the company of prophets to anoint Jehu King.  That the army’s commanders spread their cloaks for him on the bare steps as they proclaim their acceptance of Jehu being anointed King (2 Kings 9:1, 13). Luke’s audience knows how foreign warriors and royals have entered occupied or conquered cities. They have seen, the Romans ride in majesty. (Brueggmann). The people catch the reference to Zechariah’s prophecy that Israel’s “… king comes to you; triumphant and victorious … humble and riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9) (Harrelson).

The crowd’s shouting

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!

is eerily similar to the Angel choir singing at Jesus birth (Luke 2:14) (Gaventa and Petersen). This return of the King is joyous and hope-filled; it is real; it is happening now.

Who cares if the Pharisees object! What else would you expect? That is all they ever do. King Jesus knows God is present; he knows the earth herself knows who he is, and supports his coming. The crowd knows Jesus’ entry recalls the ancient foreboding prophetic oracles of judgment; they know, he knows righteousness.  (Hab. 2:9) (Olive tree). Everything is great; everything is exactly what the people, who have for so long been looking for someone to fight their battles for them, would expect (1 Sam 8:20).

And then Jesus begins to cry, he weeps.  His lament is for Jerusalem, implicitly for all Israel, implicitly for them, the people in the crowd, possibly Luke’s audience.  And us? What is it that Jerusalem is missing? What is it that we are missing? Other memories begin to arise. Jesus’s lament sounds way too familiar to Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem all those years ago (Harrelson). And since Luke is writing after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 7o AD, this story sounds much too close to this calamity (Fretheim).  We should know, we heard it just a few weeks ago; Luke’s readers know, they would have just heard it; it wasn’t all that long ago that Jesus said something similar, how he wished to save Jerusalem, but they weren’t willing (Luke 13:31) (Brueggmann). How can a vision of Jerusalem’s destruction fit with her new king’s victorious entry?

Looking back, Luke knows and shares, how the city, Jerusalem, Israel, the people were blind to Jesus’ true identity, to God’s true presence (Fretheim). Although they could see their world, they were blind to the truth that confronted them. They could see, yet were blind.

So I am wondering, how we see, but don’t? I am wondering, how are we seeking someone to fight our battles, war-like and otherwise, for us? I’m wondering, what else Jesus’ lament, which now includes Shiloh, Flanders Field, Guadalcanal, Selma, Little Rock, Memphis, the Tet Offensive, Oklahoma City, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ferguson MO., Paris, and Flint Michigan, includes? I’m wondering, when I, when we ~ failed to see God’s presence.

The final verses of Blind to the Truth read:

Now there’s laws that we must live by
and they’re not the laws of man
Can’t you see the shadow
Can’t you see the shadow
that moves across this land
The future is upon us
and there’s so much we must do
And you know I can’t ignore it
and my friend neither can you

Unless you’re blind to the truth,
blind to the truth
And you can’t see nothing
You’re so blind to the truth,
blind to the truth
But the judgment day is coming   (Fogelberg).

 

However, we should not be despondent.  Luke’s image is complex, despondent, and hopeful, all at the same time. Times are frightening; but, all is not lost.  Yes, Jesus’ lament expresses grief over past losses and acceptance of losses to come. At the same time, there is also the expression of love for what could have been, and for what can be; what is to be. There is the revelation of divine energy to carry on.  Jesus’ lament includes love that is available to inspire us and energy that is available empower us, for the week to come and all time thereafter. Judgment is always just over the horizon, but the love of God is right here, right now, look and see. And, remember ~ Jesus heals all sorts of blindness (Mark 8:22-26, Mark 10:46-52, Matt. 9:27-31;20:29-34, Luke 18:34-53) (Sakenfeld).  So blind as we are, we can see (John 9:25).

 

References

Bruggemann, Walter. New Interpreters’ Bible Exodus. Vol. 1. n.d. 12 vols.

Fretheim, Terence E. INTERPRETATION Exodus. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991.

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.

Olivetree. Olivetree Cross Reference. n.d.

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

 

 

 

Lament and hope

A Sermon for Proper 8

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24, Psalm 130,

Lamentations 3:21-33 or Psalm 30, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43

You know we are following the semi-continuous reading of the Old Testament. So we skipped the last half of 1st Samuel. However, I believe we need that back story, so hold on. Since last week: David and Johnathan, Saul’s oldest son, have become best friends. Saul tries to kill David, many times. David marries Saul’s daughter, Michal, yes after he tried to kill him. Michal and Johnathan help David escape Saul’s wrath. David flees to Gath, a Philistine city. Saul kills the priests who have helped David. David saves the Israelite town of Keilah from the Philistines; presumably not from Gath. Saul chases David through the wilderness. David spares Saul life ~ twice. David and his men serve the king of Gath as mercenaries. Saul consults a Medium to raise up Samuel for a prophecy that reveals that Saul, his sons, and the army of Israel will be given into the hands of the Philistines. Philistines do not want David to go to war with Israel with them, which makes sense because the next things we know David attacks the Amalekites for sacking Ziklag – an Israeli town. And, Saul and Johnathan, and his remaining two sons are killed, as the army of Israel routed by the Philistines at Mnt. Gilboa.

This morning’s reading opens with David learning about Saul’s death. And, immediately we skip a second story of that event. An Amalekite scavenger who comes across Saul, and kills him, at Saul’s request because he knew he was dying. The Amalekite takes Saul’s crown and armlets and brings them to David, hoping for a reward for bringing him the icons of Israel’s King.   (Brueggemann) (BIRCH) David does not celebrate the death of his arch-rival. He and all his men mourn and fast. The next morning David confirms the messenger’s story and has him executed for “daring to strike down the Lord’s anointed.” The story picks up with David’s Lament over Saul and Jonathan.

As you have heard, David has a very complex relationship with Saul. He is married to his daughter. He is Saul’s oldest son’s BFF. Even as Saul chases him through the wilderness, in a vain effort to kill him, David never forgets Saul is the Lord’s anointed, even though he is anointed, in Saul’s stead. (Garber Jr.) Knowing a bit about the complexities of their relationship, and the many faults of Saul’s reign, David’s lament sounds a bit one sided. Scott Hoezee notes David’s lament is similar to Ronald Regan’s and Richard Nixon’s eulogiesthat tell about all the good accomplishments but leave out the ugly stuff. (Hoezee) But such is the function of a lament.

A lament is a communal bewailing of some tragedy or calamity. (Sakenfeld) By emphasizing that Saul and Jonathan gave Israel hope in the face of the Philistine threat and pride in their identity (BIRCH) David publically acknowledges the grievous magnitude of the loss. All of Israel, from the troops and their families to the rich, affluent, and well-off are required to join the weeping. (Brueggemann) Walter Brueggemann believes this story is a model for us. (Brueggemann)  He continues:

The dominant ideology of our culture wants to silence all serious speech, cover over all serious loss and deny all real grief [that] will leave us numb, unable to hope or to care. … [leading us into] self-deception, pretending that everything is “all right.”

In an essay on grief, lament and hope, Emilie Townes cites the prophets. Through lament, Jeremiah teaches us to take responsibility for our actions. (Townes 86)  Ezekiel uses cataclysm and primal events where reason and rationality do not hold to invite us to explore reforming ourselves. (86) And Micah reveals the power of story to establish our true identity. (87) She notes that the language of unequivocal languish is the beginning of healing. (88) She agrees with Brueggemann that the “loss of lament is loss of genuine covenant relation with God.” In the mutual sharing of such deep raw emotions, such primal fear, we can open ourselves to God’s new thing in our midst. (BIRCH)

I chose to stay with the Old Testament track, and David’s lament, because I see this as a time for lament. And not so much because of Ferguson, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Charleston or any of the myriad of national or international cataclysms, but because of Blytheville. In my short tenure here we have faced:

  • Seemingly endless discovery of tax related troubles,
  • A continuing dispute with the county over jail fees,
  • The recent significant loss of jobs, related to the downturn in oil and gas exploration,
  • A related decline in tax revenues,
  • A rash of robberies,
  • The tragic killing of High School students,
  • And in the last week, something like 5

You may not want to scream, but I do! The pace is relentless. And some of the troubles are not of our making. But many are of Blytheville’s own making. Last week some local pastors met with Mayor Sanders at a weekly Pray for Blytheville meeting. They offered prayers for Blytheville, and our leaders. Later they drove the neighborhoods where the shootings occurred, again offering prayers. Yesterday, Greater Dimension World Outreach Ministries hosted a “stop the violence and put the guns down” event that included a gun buy-back. (At least that was the schedule last Thursday.) (Henry) Healing in the Hood is forming a teen summer work program. All these and other efforts, I am not aware of, are excellent. But they are not laments.

And now is a time for communal lament; now is a time for an unabated cry from our souls. Now is the time: to cry from the depths of our souls, without blame, and identify what we have lost; to cry from the depths of our souls, without blame, and celebrate what once was, celebrate what might have been. Knowing our losses, knowing our raw emotions, strips away false layers of “it will be okay” and leaves us open, vulnerable to the transforming presence of God. Therein lies hope, for us, for Blytheville, and for all God’s creation.


References

BIRCH, BRUCE C. New Interpreters’ Bible; THE FIRST AND SECOND BOOKS OF SAMUEL. Abingdon Press, 2001. CD.

Brueggemann, Walter. Interpretation. Ed. Patrick D Miller Jr and Paul J Achtemeie. Vol. Genesis. Louisville, n.d.

Garber Jr., David G. Commentary on 2 Samuel 1:1, 1727. 28 6 2015.

Henry, Tom. “Local ministry to sponsor gun buyback.” Blytheville Courier News (2015).

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is:2 Samuel 1:1, 1727. 28 6 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

Lose, David. Pentecost 5 B: Known and Named. 28 6 2015. <davidlose.net>.

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

Townes, Emile M. “Just Awailing and Aweeping: Grief, Lament, and Hope as We Face the End of Life.” Faith, Health, and Healing in African American Life. Ed. Stephanie Y. Mitchem and Emilie M. Townes. Westport, CT; London: Praeger, 2008.

Whitley, Katerina K. Sermons that Work – 5 Pentecost, Proper 8 (B) – July 1, 2012. 28 6 2015. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/&gt;.

I know what to expect

A sermon for Easter Day

Acts 10:3443, or Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 118:12, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-18 or Mark 16:1-8

Mary, Mary and Salome know what to expect. In the 1st century death was much closer to home. It was not unusual for what we call graves to be at home or in homes. It was also customary for family members to prepare bodies for burial. This is still customary today in some parts of the world; it’s a traditional and religious rite that complicated stopping the spread of Ebola. So it is not unusual for Jesus’ family and friends to tend to his body. They will have spices, and a linen shroud. They know that after three days well there may not be a stench, but the tomb is likely to be unpleasant. These ladies are witnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion, they know how their beloved’s body looks ~ they know it will be unpleasant. Death is common, a family experience. Burial is common a ~ family responsibility. Mary, Mary and Salome know what to expect.

I know what to expect. My dad’s a retired doctor. In high school I worked weekends and two summers in the local hospital, primarily in the Emergency Room. I was on teams that drilled holes in skulls to relieve pressure on the brain, that worked at a vigorous pace to save young lives smashed in traffic accidents. I was present when kids my age died. I was present when children died. In seminary my CPE time was at the Veterans Hospital in Atlanta. I’ve served as a volunteer chaplain in every hospital in every city I’ve served. I know hospitals. I know ICU units. I know what to expect. Part of a lung has been removed, the incision will not be three little laparoscopic spots, there are chest tubes, oxygen tubes and multiple IV’s. I know what to expect.

Mary, Mary and Salome don’t talk about how they are going to go about their responsibilities. They are concerned about the stone that traditionally seals a tomb’s entrance. In another Gospel Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener they know or should know someone will be there, why else the mistaken identity?

To get to G’s room, you go down the hall, and turn left. For three days, at every left hand turn, my first physical motion was to the right.

Mary, Mary and Salome know the stone can be moved, their concern is a distraction. I know my left from my right, right is a distraction.

The human brain is remarkable. It has developed ways to protect us from all kinds of danger, physical and emotion, actual, and possible. It’s why we reflexively react so quickly to quick shadows or flashes at the very edge of our peripheral vision, or jump at sudden noises. Neuroscience is learning that our experiences actually build brain structures. Danger and risk create structures rapidly, contributing to our survival as a species. Happy and joy create structure, far more slowly. And all these structures can be passed on from generation to generation. That’s why children are afraid of lions and tigers and bears, without being taught. A stone, and mistaken direction are brains trying to protect us.

Mary, Mary and Salome don’t see what they expect, what they fear. The stone is moved away, the tomb is open. And Jesus isn’t there; who is there, seems to be an angelic being with the astounding message that Jesus, once dead, is raised, and that he expects the disciples to meet him in Galilee. And yes, fear is an element of their response, but so is amazement. They came expecting death, what they experience is life, and hope beyond expression.

After correcting myself, I made my way around the nurses’ station and looked the short distance across the ICU to far corner to the open door, of a darkened room. With every step the soft light reflecting off the back wall the combine light of LED’s and displays of numerous devices add a gentle muted illumination. With every step her face grows clearer and clearer. Quietly I exhale. Slowly, softly one considered step at a time I allow myself to move into her presence. What I see is her sweet face, relaxed, her hair loving brushed, and soft breaths.

Even knowing what I know, I ‘m not sure what I expected; what I see, is my daughter precious, full of life. What I see is a smile break across her face as her eyes open and she recognizes me. There is no fear like amazement. There is relief, there is life, there is hope.

And that is why we are here today.  We all know life is full of dark, dismal abysses. Death, in all its many guises is ever present. It’s why we turn right, or flee the unexpected. We here today to have written in our hearts the light that is not over whelmed by the dark, the dazzling which triumphs over the dismal, the divine relation  that bridges the abyss. And like our Eucharistic sacrament, it is far more than a celebratory memorial. This is a reliving, this is a divine rewriting on our hearts and in our minds that the love of God revealed in the resurrection of Jesus is always present. Sometimes it is manifest as a displaced stone and a mysterious young man, sometimes it is manifest in a softly illumined smile, and sometimes, who knows, save its always there, the prevailing joy the triumphal hope for all forever and that sings Alleluia.

Advent, capitalism, Ferguson and hope

A sermon for Advent 1

Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37

We all know Advent is the time we get ready for the coming of Jesus the coming Christmas. But which one? Are we celebrating the Christmas 2000 years or so years ago? or are we preparing for the coming of Jesus  “… in those days…” Is Advent preparing to celebrate a momentous event of the past, or is Advent about preparing for a momentous event of the future?

Isaiah is looking forward, lamenting their behavior the prophet is expressing Israel’s desire for God to come down and show the divine face upon them. Psalm 80, expresses Israel’s full on panic attack, they know they’ve messed it up, and are pleading for God to come down and fix things. (Howell)

Our traditions also look to the past. Nativity scenes depict the glory of the first Christmas past. Even those of us who make the distinction between the 2nd chapter of Luke and the 2nd chapter of Matthew and have the Wise mean appear on Epiphany are looking to the past.

In Mark’s Gospel story Jesus is talking about the future, “after that suffering” “…when you see… you will know” “… you do not know when the master of the house will come …” Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians is also looking to the future as he tells them they “are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:7)

So some scripture looks to the past and some looks to the future. I recall many sermons about Advent which, much as the New Year, with its namesake the two faced Janus, looking to the past and future, look to both to the glorious birth of Jesus and to the glorious return of Jesus.

There is however, another view. Isaiah also says:

“… O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay,
and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.” (Isaiah 64:9)

Clearly Isaiah is talking about the present; well his present. There’s also a sense of the immediacy in Jesus’ “keep awake!” that implies a present possibility. In this week’s commentary Bruce Epperly writes [Advent] is a time of waiting, not just for Jesus’ birth, but for the transformation of our lives and the world.

His conclusion begins “Advent is about active waiting …” (Epperly) both speak to Advent being a season whose focus is, at least in part, today. Karoline Lewis goes so far as to suggest that we live Advent as though God’s presence is assumed, and that that reality therefore changes the meaning of our present. (Lewis) Timothy Warren believes Jesus’ “Be aware” implies being alert and cognizant of what is happening in our surroundings, (Warren) Mark Powell rejects ignoring Jesus’ future return since it cannot be known believing “we should think about it all the time!”  (Powell)

So ~ what would an Advent that emphasizes the present look like? I cannot imagine there would be any liturgical changes; purple would still be purple; blue would still be blue. I do not believe there would be any scriptural changes. I do believe there would be a shift in emphasis. And I mean shift, not change, because there are bits and pieces within our culture that exemplify a focus on God’s/Jesus’/and the Spirit’s continuing presence in our midst.

The first I’ll mention is David Brooks’ column The Ambition Explosion. Brooks is addressing contradictions of capitalism and culture.

He observes:

The real contradiction of capitalism is that it arouses enormous ambition, but it doesn’t help you define where you should focus it. It doesn’t define an end to which you should devote your life. It nurtures the illusion that career and economic success can lead to fulfillment, which is the central illusion of our time.

Capitalism on its own breeds people who are vaguely aware that they are not living the spiritually richest life, who are ill equipped to know how they might do so, who don’t have the time to do so, and who, when they go off to find fulfillment, end up devoting themselves to scattershot causes and light religions.

To survive, capitalism needs to be embedded in a moral culture that sits in tension with it, and provides a scale of values based on moral and not monetary grounds. (Emphasis mine) (Brooks)

Brook is correct. Much of economic debacle of the last ten years is grounded on actions that place profit above all other values. As Isaiah says: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.”

The final examples of using Advent to see God’s presence in our midst come from ~ Ferguson Missouri.

On Monday night as protesters gathered, a security fence is knocked over. Lt. Lohr stands between the police and protestors saying “Please don’t push the barricade down this isn’t going to help anything …” He and a protestor put the fence back up. Tuesday night, he meets protestors to talk about their presence on South Florissant. After their discussion Lt. Lohr agrees for them to use two lanes of the four lane street.

Late Wednesday night A Joshua Williams, a teenage protester whose face had been hidden behind a ski mask lowered his headgear, approaches [the] police commander and gives him a hug. Lohr says “Good to see you, man,” … “How’ve you been? How’s your mom doing? I saw her out here earlier.” Lt. Jerry Lohr, a commander of the St. Louis County Police was overseeing security at the Police Station. He never wears riot gear, even when he wades into a group of protesters to answer questions, resolve disputes or listen to a stream of insults. Protesters at the gates ask for him by name, so they can make complaints, about the use of tear gas or of officers being too aggressive in arresting a woman.

Lohr told Times reporters

Allowing people to talk on a one-on-one level does a lot as far as building bridges, … They may not agree with what I’m doing, but now they at least know my name and my face. I’m human again. They realize that I’m a person. I’m not just a uniform. “We have to bridge this gap, … It’s not going to happen overnight. This is going to be a long-term relationship, a long-term commitment, that both sides are going to have to make. (Fernandez and McDonald)

All social constructs like an economic system, such as capitalism, need to be rooted in moral grounds. So does the social construct of authority. I don’t know Lt. Lohr, but I believe his behavior is rooted in the moral ground that everyone, citizens, business people, police, frightened parents, angry protesters, and provocateurs   everyone, is a beloved of God and must be treated with the respect this truth evokes. Lohr’s behavior is exemplary of Jesus admonition to be aware because you do not know when he will return.

Finally I want to share with you part of Benjamin Watson’s Facebook post about Ferguson. Watson is a black NFL player, who decided to write about his very mixed thoughts on learning about the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Officer Wilson. I’ll not read it all, though I’ll provide a copy, it’s, by far, the best piece I’ve seen. Watson writes about:

anger, frustration, fear, embarrassment, sadness, sympathy, being offended, confused, introspective, hopeless …

and

[being] HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.

[being] ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.” (Watson)

the Gospel  ~   gives mankind hope.

That’s the Advent focus.

Amen.


References

Brooks, David. “The Ambition Explosion.” New York Times 27 11 2014. web.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurois Lectionary. 30 11 2014. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fernandez, Manny and Brent McDonald. “In Ferguson, Officer Defused Eruptions as.” New York Times 27 11 2014.

Howell, James. Commentary on Psalm 80:17,. 30 11 2014.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher. 19 10 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.

Powell, Mark Allen. Commentary on Mark 13:2437. 30 11 2014.

Warren, Rev. Timothy G. Sermons that Work. 30 11 2014.

Watson, Benjamin. Facebook. n.d. 27 11 2014. <http://tinyurl.com/oo9szxv&gt;.