Small Acts of Love

A Sermon for Proper 15; Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18, Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Luke 12:49-56

I was all set. Isaiah opens with a love song. Anathea Portier-Young compares its beginning to Song of Song (Portier-Young). So, I was going to Sing you a love Song,      well quote a verse, you remember it

I want to sing you a love song
I want to rock you in my arms all night long
I want to get to know you
I want to show you, the peaceful feelin’ of my home (Murry).

 

Then I was going to follow Isaiah, I mean this morning’s prophecy, by singing a song of betrayal, The lack of justice and righteousness is a betrayal of God’s intent when humanity was formed from the dust of the earth, and drawn from bone and flesh (find cite). And like Isaiah’s song, these verses are songs of deception

Smiling faces sometimes
Pretend to be your friend
Smiling faces show no traces
Of the evil that lurks within …

(Beware) beware of the handshake
That hides the snake …
beware of the pat on the back
It just might hold you back …

They don’t tell the truth
Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies. (Strong and Whitefield)

And then I was going to expound on how all this compares to what I see as the fundamental shift (forever in the making, literally) that sets the stage for the 17 mass shootings beginning in El Passo through last Thursday, including multiple shootings in Philadelphia and Chicago (Gun Violence Archive). I had nearly 600 words sketched; I was halfway done.

And then Friday, the 42 anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, while I was running errands, on KASU, I was listening to NPR – Here and Now’s Jeremy Hobson interview Eugene Jarecki about his documentary on Elvis Presley titled, what else, ~ The King (Hobson).

Elvis

was born in Tupelo … where he was marinated in a poor community of farmers. Particularly, he was marinated in the black community as well, which affected him musically, culturally and socially.

Sam Phillips

… had been trying to introduce white Americans, to a black sound, which he understood had such extraordinary depth of contribution …. He was struggling and struggling…. And then along came this guy who, [is] this black sound with a white face. Phillips … saw a marketing opportunity, where for Elvis … there was a real genuine musical love and connection.

Jarecki goes on that for Elvis to do

music that came out of a black musical tradition, it was an amazingly courageous and daring thing for a white guy to be doing.

But it’s totally different to then look at the never-ending theft by white America of blackness and of stealing from black people their culture, … as we once [stole] their labor.

 

For example; Hound Dog was originally recorded by Big Mama Thornton, but never was received well by the white audience, and she never got credit after Elvis covered it (Hobson).

Andrew Lapin’s review notes

The film dwells not on the King’s hits but on all the career decisions he made that seemed to defy common sense, that slowly led to his undoing: enlisting in the military and shipping out to Germany at the height of his popularity; signing a record setting movie contract instead of developing his sound; living out his remaining years in Vegas feeding his pill addiction with another lucrative payroll.

… [L]ured by the drugs of fame and money, Elvis was eaten by the American Dream (Lapin).

Jarecki recounts that

Emmylou Harris [has said] — being a country boy and suddenly exploding into supernova levels of power and success — had never happened to anybody before. He had no role model (Hobson).

Lapin writes

And as goes the King, so go his subjects. “If Elvis is your metaphor for America,” in his story we see (Lapin)

the seeds of how America herself has gone wrong, and he’s like the battering ram of all that. He’s at the front of it taking the first incredible wave of seductions and undermining and abuse, from carbohydrates to drugs to consumption to vanity to violence (Hobson).

Like the biblical prophets, Jarecki is always political so the interview with Ashton Kutcher catches us when he says

“he believes his level of fame has eclipsed his talent, and how he shouldn’t by any rights be this much of a sought-after public figure” [making him] just another Elvis (Lapin).

All this comes together with Isaiah in a single snippet of Elvis’ music

Hey, now, hear what I say Oh, wow, you better stay don’t run away I need your love (Presley).

There is an argument that Elvis dies at 42 because at some point in his journey he ceases to get the love he needs that or any other night. He falls prey to the same arrogance that leads people of Judah to unleash such violence upon each other. How, as a people, they pervert the firstfruits of vineyard, a divine blessing to be tithed for the welfare others, calling to mind mutual obligation (Leviticus 18:12) so it becomes wild, and sour, denying themselves, their neighbors, and God of the love they need (Portier-Young). In a world where Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Shintoism and Yoruba all seek to define God in the in vision of their original conversion relationship, where we argue over the divine’s name (Yancy) and everyone is smacking everyone else with the solid truth of our conversion experience (Temple) violence, in mass shooting, in immigration disputes, in corporate greed, revealed in decisions that value profit over human life stories like the 737 Max debacle, ever-increasing drug costs, next to no economic stimulus from a trillion-dollar tax cut, in road rage and in “not in my back yard” prevails.

As long as justice is supplanted by bloodshed, there is the risk the vineyard, we, will be devoured, trampled, transformed into a wasteland overrun by briers and thorns.

As long as righteousness is supplanted by a cry, there is the risk that the vineyard, we, will be dry, devoid of life-giving rain from heaven.

As in prophetic tradition, I also see other stories.

A woman pinched a bottle of ketchup from a Perkins restaurant and shortly later had an accident. So, she replaced the bottle with two, confessing her action, and sharing her story. The restaurant owner posted the story on Facebook, saying she would have never missed the bottle. Heinz got wind of the story and offered to pay for the person’s car repairs. Heinz said the person has gotten in touch with them privately (Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc.).

Walter, a young black man, 1st day, at his job at Bellhop’s, was to help the Lamey’s move. The night before, his car broke down, so he started walking the 20 miles to the client’s house. 14 miles into his journey he is picked up by police officers, who believe his story, that he is walking to work, take him to breakfast, then to a shelter so he can get some rest, and finally to the Lamey’s Walter shared some of his story, including his Marine background, and moving with his mom to Alabama after Katrina. The Lamey’s started a GoFundMe to raise money to help replace his car, which they posted on Facebook. Bellhop’s CEO Luke heard of Walter’s story, drove to meet Walter and as a special thankyou gave Walter his Ford Escort (Hohman).

20 years ago, a stranger gave Mevan and her mother, who were living in a refugee camp near Zwolle, Netherlands, each a bicycle. For Mevan it was far more than a gift of money, it was a gift of self-worth. Recently she retraced her family’s journey from Iraq through Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Russia to Zwolle. She started looking at old men, in an effort to find her benefactor to say thank you. In a last-ditch effort, she posted a 20-year-old picture on twitter with her story and asked for help finding the man. 3000 tweets later his family recognized him and arranged a meeting. She got to see him, and thank him for his generosity to her, her family and another lady he taught Dutch to.

Mevan said

the “most important thing for me is how these small acts of kindness really helped shape me as a person and actually, even when things are very dark or bleak, there are these small acts of kindness that can happen between people and that can mean a lot.” (Da)

So yes,

 there are sour wild grapes, and yes hedges are in shambles, walls are trampled down, the land is overgrown with briers and thorns, a waste.

And yes

 it is parched for lack of rain (or drowning in it), and yes justice is supplanted by bloodshed, and righteousness is supplanted by cries (Isaiah 5:3, 5-7).

And yes

there are divisions beyond reckoning (Luke 12:49).

But ~

 there are other clouds that witnesses (Hebrews 12:2) to those who know the love song God/Jesus/Spirit sings to all people all the time.

So

there are the ways in which our voices, by acts, small acts, of righteousness and justice may join a swelling chorus and then who knows the story that will follow, as we follow in as we follow in Jesus holy steps.

 


References

Da, Chantal. 24 Years Ago He Gave a Refugee Child Her First Bicycle. 12 8 2019. <newsweek.com/24-years-ago-he-gave-refugee-child-her-first-bicycle-now-shes-finally-found-him-say-thankyou->.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 18 8 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.

Gun Violence Archive. https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting. n.d. 16 8 2018. <https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting&gt;.

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

Hobson, Jeremy. Legacy of Elvis Presley. 16 8 2019. <wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/08/16/legacy-of-elvis-presley>.

Hohman, Maura. CEO Gifts His Car to College Student Who Walked 20 Miles. n.d. 16 8 2018. <people.com/human-interest/walter-carr-walks-20-miles-to-work-ceo-gifts-car>.

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

Lapin, Andrew. Elvis Documentary Comes For ‘The King’ and Does Not Miss. 21 6 2018. <https://www.npr.org/2018/06/21/621068464/elvis-documentary-comes-for-the-king-and-does-not-miss&gt;.

Logue, Frank S. “The Cost of True Peace, Pentecost 10 (C.” 18 8 2019. Sermons that Work.

Mast, Stan. Proper 15C. 18 8 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Murry, Anne. A love Song. 18 8 2019. 18 8 2019. <https://www.google.com/search?safe=active&ei=vchZXbnJGsG0ggeCp6HYBQ&q=lyrics+i+want+to+sing+you+a+love+song+anne+murray&oq=lyrics+a+love+song+anne+murray&gs_l=psy-ab.1.0.0i7i30j0i30.7402.9384..19112…0.0..0.121.711.3j4……0….1..gws-wiz…….0i8i7i30>.

Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. New Jersey ketchup thief’s apology note goes viral. 10 8 2019. <wwlp.com/news/viral/new-jersey-ketchup-thiefs-apology-note-goes-viral>.

Portier-Young, Anathea. Commentary on Isaiah 5:1-7. 18 8 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Presley, Elvis. I Need Your Love Tonight. n.d. 16 8 2018.

Strong, Barrett and Norman Whitefield. lyrics smiling faces sometimes. n.d. Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC. 18 8 2019.

Temple, Gray. The Molten Soul. Church Publising Inc, 2000.

Tucker, Gene M. The Book of Isaiah 1–39. Vol. 4. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. 12 vols. OliveTree 2016.

Yancy, George. Dear God, Are You There? 7 8 2018. <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/07/opinion/gun-violence-god-philosophy.html&gt;.

 

 

 

A Decision to Make

A Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent; Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Decades ago Angie and I, well I, became intrigued with the BBC deceive story, Morse. We were, I was, disappointed when it ended in 2000, after thirteen years. I was excited to recently discover a prequel series Endeavour which is the beginning of Inspector Morse’s story.

Endeavor is a brand new Deceive Constable with the Oxford City Police CID. He is different than all other officers. He is an Oxford graduate. He sees the world differently, thinks differently, which helps him find clues and solutions that elude others. He loves classical music, he sings in an Oxford Choir. That and his struggles with basic police work complicates his relationship with other officers ~ and his Chief Superintendent. Only his boss Detective Inspector Fred Thursday believes in his potential.

In the second episode Fugue the Oxford police are seeking a serial killer Tom Gull, who is now masquerading as a police physiatrist, Dr. Daniel Cronyn. Gull has been seeking revenge on all the people involved in his conviction for murder. He was found guilty, but mentally ill. Having been declared cured and released he began his revenge killing spree. The last victim is intended to be Endeavor’s boss Inspector Thursday. Thursday faces down Gull on a rooftop while Endeavour makes his way around the roof behind him. After Thursday and Endeavour subdue Gull and he is taken away by assisting officers, Endeavour asks Thursday

How do you do it? Leave it at the front door?

Thursday replies:

Cause I have to. A case like this will tear the heart right out of a man. Find something worth defending.

 Endeavor mumbles:

I thought I had… found something.

Thursday answers:

Music? I suppose music is as good as anything. Go home, put your best record on… loud as it’ll play… and with every note, you remember… that is something that the darkness couldn’t take from you (IMDB).

We all know the parables about loss and celebration Jesus tells the Pharisees and the scribes. We know about the younger son’s bad decisions, the father’s over the top welcoming home and the older son’s anger at it all. We may not remember that it is the last of three parables, following the lost sheep and the lost coin, Jesus shares when the Pharisees and the scribes after their grumbling and saying,

This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.

Their grumbling recalls the Israelites “murmuring” against Moses in the desert (Exod. 16:7-12) (Culpepper). Though scripture warned against intimate fellowship with sinners (Keener and Walton), because what one eats and whom one eats with are key issues in socioreligious boundaries (Harrelson), their grumbling reveals their anger and judgment (Epperly).

You know the younger son resents his older brother (Lewis). He disrespects both his father and tradition, by asking for his share of the family inheritance early. He rejects Rabbinic judgments that protect the rights of parents (Culpepper) by selling it before his parents are dead, depriving them of food and shelter (Keener and Walton), think of the commandment to honor your father and mother (Ex 20:12). There is no doubt he is an outrageous, undesirable jerk (Hoezee).

The older son bears the burden of goodness (Epperly). Nonetheless, he is as judgmental as the Pharisees and the scribes (Hoezee). He resents his younger brother’s welcome home celebration. He rejects his relationship with his younger brother (Lewis) in answering his father this son of yours (Keener and Walton; Culpepper). He disrespects father in his reply to his father’s explanation for the celebration of his brother’s return by answering Listen and not a respectful “Father” or “Sir” (Keener and Walton; Culpepper).

The father stands opposed to the judgmental stance of the Pharisees and scribes (vs 2). He is always loving, always ready to welcome both his sons home. He also ignores tradition, it was regarded as unbecoming, a loss of dignity for a grown man to run (Culpepper) yet full of joy he runs to greet his lost son. His love is more important than tradition. This loving father crosses the threshold of his home twice. He crosses the threshold to run and welcome the younger son home. He crosses the threshold, a second time, to invite the elder son to the celebration  (Brobst-Renaud). In the father’s action, we catch glimpse of God/Jesus/Spirit who reaches into hell to rescue the lost, and who no one can defeat not even hell or death (Epperly).

It is significant that the parable is open-ended, the elder son has a decision to make. Will he join the celebration (Harrelson)? It is a stark reminder, that like both sons, we have decisions to make.

Speaking of decisions; Robert Muller’s report of his investigation has been given to Attorney General William Barr, as the Special Council law requires. For the last two years, pundits on all sides have been predicting what the report would say about this or that or another concern. All sides have excoriated the others in loudest most extreme ways possible. No-one side is listening to anyone else.

Now that the report has been given to William Barr, he has his lawful responsibilities to fulfill. In many ways it is the same song, 2nd verse, same as the first; and all sides continue to excoriate all the others in loudest most extreme ways possible. Few are bothering to wait and see what Attorney General Barr will include in his report on the report, or release to Congress and/or the public. No one is listening to anyone else.

I find this disappointing, mostly because what I have not heard or read is anyone pointing out that no matter one’s stance on the conclusions and/or recommendations of the report(s), it is the results of a justice system that is working. Yes, there were early morning raids, but they were conducted following defined legal processes with court-approved warrants. And no one has been dragged out of their homes in the dark of night to disappear forever, and no one has been locked away in a luxury hotel until they sign away wealth and power. Like the younger brother, we are rejecting traditional respect for our own self-interest. Like the older brother, we are dismissing any relationship with others who views differ from ours. Unlike the father, no one shows any respect, never mind love, for the other, or for all.

So, I wonder why so few people see or speak about what is going right? My fear is that they, that all of us – okay – most of us, are acting out the role of either the younger or the older son. All in all, the whole Muller Report story, from cause, through investigation, to the giving and receiving of the report and the continuing quote making for political advantage is enough to tear the heart right out of a nation. And so, ~ I wonder how we avoid tearing the heart right out of our nation and then Fred Thursday’s wisdom returns to mind

Find something worth defending. … put your best record on… loud as it’ll play… and with every note, you remember… that is something that the darkness couldn’t take from you.

What is worth defending will vary, and perhaps widely from person to person. Something that the darkness can’t take from you ~ well that brings us back to Jesus’ parable. In a world replete, full, of screaming voices, disregarding traditions, that have made us strong, rejecting relationships, with anyone who is somewhat different than we are we have our father, who stands in the vineyard where there is no past or future (Whitley), eagerly waiting to run welcome us home, because, by sheer grace (Culpepper), there is nothing, there is no darkness, that can take that love, in which everything has become new (2 Cor 5:21), away from you, or anybody else.

As is this parable, our political saga is open-ended; you, each and every one of us, has a decision to make about recognizing and accepting expansive fatherly love.


References

Bouzard, Walter. Commentary on Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. 6 9 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Brobst-Renaud, Amanda. Commentary on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32. 31 3 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 31 3 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. 31 3 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-4c-2>.

IMDB. “Endeavor.” n.d. IMDB.com. 31 3 2019. <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2716798/characters/nm1140345?ref_=tt_cl_t1)>.

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

Lewis, Karoline. A Resentful Story. 31 3 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

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

Whitley, Katerina Katsarka. “A Ministry of Reconciliation, Lent 4 (C).” 31 3 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/ministry-reconciliation-lent-4-c-march-31-2019>.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

To pluck up and to pull down.

A sermon for Epiphany 4; Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30

 

I was surprised that the phrase today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down. It is not the missional or love based thought Christians associate with the Bible. It is not about justice and reconciliation you often hear preached. It doesn’t sound like it meshes with the Jesus movement and the preaching of our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, I find so powerful. Perhaps the context of the reading will help.

Jeremiah lives in tumultuous times. The Babylonian Empire is on the rise. Israel splits, some seek to associate with the rising power, others seek to stay loyal to Egypt. In 597 BC Israel revolts against Babylon, triggering three invasions, that result in the deportation and exile of most of her people. The book of Jeremiah is a conversation between communal voices seeking to come to terms with the tragedy that destroyed so much of their life. It is intensely political. It is very focused on rejecting the thought that God abandoned Israel. It is biased towards exiles over those loyal to Egypt and those who were left behind. The first half of the book explains why Israel fell; the second half reveals how Israel can survive, indeed how they can prosper. The verses we heard this morning reveal that Jeremiah is not a self-proclaimed prophet, he is called by God, over his objections, just as Moses was. We hear how he will be a destroyer and a rebuilder (Harrelson).

At some point in my ponderings, I wondered how Jesus would go about pulling down and building up. You are familiar enough with the Gospel story to know he challenges many of the existing Jewish traditions. You know about his tirade in the Temple. You know he predicts that the Temple, the center of Jewish life, will be destroyed. You know this prediction includes it’s being rebuilt in three days. But how does Jesus actually go about tearing down and building up?

Today’s Gospel story and its first half from last week are an example. One trick is to see that the order is reversed, first Jesus builds up first, and then tears down. Last week Jesus read from Isaiah, how he is bringing: good news to the poor, release to captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and the year of Jubilee. It’s all heard with welcome ears, at last, God is acting to restore Israel. As one commentator notes, if only Jesus had stopped talking. His didn’t.

Today we hear that at first everyone is excited. We also hear him talk about Elijah being sent to the widow of Zarephath in a time of a great drought. He goes on to say that in Elisha’s day, of all the lepers in Israel, only Naaman is cured. Suddenly the crowd ruthlessly turns against Jesus. It reminds me of the shift in Holy Week from the jubilant welcome on Palm Sunday to the brutal “Crucify him!” on Good Friday. What we may miss, is the divine blessings Jesus names explicitly go to outsiders, by God’s direct action, tearing down Jesus’ hometown expectation of divinely selected privilege, right along with the ruling classes expectation for divine privilege.  So now we see, specifically, how Jesus tears down and builds up, in a particular instance. However, it is important for us to understand the principles Jesus stands on from which his action emerges. It is not motivation nor justification I’m pondering; it is his state of being from which Jesus acts that has my attention. Every now and again you look to the future to understand the past. So it is this morning.

The first remembrance is a training conference. I don’t recall where, or what the training was for. I’m not even sure I was there or if this is a story I heard. It doesn’t matter; it makes it the point. The trainer walks out onto the stage. There is no superlative greeting. There is no introduction of who he is. There is no announcing what the training is all about. The very first words spoken are: “If you not here because you love these people, leave!” There was an uncomfortable profound silence. I don’t recall anyone leaving. And the trainer did have our everyone’s attention.

And the trainer raises a good point. When we go, into the world, to minister to the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the poor, the oppressed, the blind, or the prisoners, why are we there? Are we there to punch our good deed card? Are we there to help someone?  or to meet a need? Are we there to be in a mutual relationship with another of God’s children? Are we there because we love them, as God loves us, a gift unearned and unmerited?

You can hear how all this emerges from Paul’s letter to the quibbling church in Corinth. Last week we heard him argue that all gifts are from the Spirit, that all gifts are intended for the common good, that all gifts are equally important. This morning we heard him proclaim that all gifts are useless ~ unless we use them in love. Paul is not referring to the romantic relationship between spouses, or the paternal love for children, nor the friendship love of fraternity, sorority members, or between fishing, hunting, gaming or other friendships. No, Paul is referring to love written in the scripture as ‘agape.’ It’s Old Testament roots are: “love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself (Deut. 6:5 & Lev. 19:18) (Sakenfeld). It’s New Testament roots are:  love of neighbor (Matt. 22:40), love of enemy (Matt 5:44), loving each other as Jesus loves his disciples (John 14:23) and love of God (Sakenfeld). As a familiar hymn says, love how deep, how broad, how high …  that the Son of God should take our mortal form for mortals’ sake (Hymnal 1982, 448). [pause]

Today our challenge is not so much who we welcome. After his visit Bishop Benfield remarked that we are the most diverse congregation in the Diocese. We are welcoming to people of all sorts and in all conditions. I’ve seen rich and poor, folks of all political stripe, folks in varying states of mental and physical health, you name the variation and I expect they have been welcomed by St. Stephen’s. The challenge we face is. How many of you know what I’m going to say? [pause] You are right. The challenge we face is: how are we going to proclaim the Kingdom of God right here right now? That is a building up question. The hard bit is the addition of a preface:  As our financial resources are playing out, how are we going to proclaim the Kingdom of God right here right now? In the context of today’s reading, how do we go about this discerning in love?

Way later in Jeremiah’s story, in the middle of a siege, that will lead to the conquering hoards once again ravaging Jerusalem, Jeremiah has a vision to purchase a piece of property from his cousin. He makes the purchase. And he does so because he knows God sees what he cannot see (Epperly). He does so because he loves God and his love engenders trust. The Greek word translated ‘belief’ also means ‘faith’ and also implies ‘trust.’ To love God is to trust God, especially when we cannot, for the life us, see the future.

In our annual meeting, you will be invited into a conversation the vestry, and I have just begun. For the moment know it will involve some tearing down, and it will include some building up. We may well experience an emotional surge similar to Jesus’ neighbors. My prayer is that what is spoken is spoken in love; that what is heard is heard in love; and that over the time to come, and it will be a fair length of time, our love for God engenders trust of God, that enables us to hear God’s call. It is my prayer that as we have lived through our baptism in our hospitality, that we will live through our baptism in our discernment (Bates). My prayer is we do not fear plucking down and building up, rather that we trust God to lead us into the life to come.

 

 


 

References

Bates, Barrington. “Living Eucharistically, Epiphany 4(C) – 2016.” 31 1 2016. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 31 1 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Epiphany 4CCenter for Excellence in Preaching. 31 1 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

—. “Old Testament Lectionary.” 31 1 2016. Working Preacher.

Lectionary Epistle. 31 1 2016. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Love Never Ends. 31 1 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Epiphany 4 C: Moving Beyond Mending Our Walls. 31 1 2016.

Peterson, Brian. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:113. 31 1 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Reese, Ruth Anne. Commentary on Luke 4:2130. 31 1 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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

The Episcopal Church, Hymnal 1982. 1982.

Tull, Patricia. Commentary on Jeremiah 1:410. 31 1 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

It works,

It is the commemoration of the March on Washington, when hundreds of thousands peaceably gathered to demand equal rights for all, as guaranteed by the US Constitution. May of us remember Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Some remember Mahalia Jackson’s inspiring version of “How I got over.” History teaches us the march was foundation in passing the Civil Rights Acts, and the Voting Rights Act.

What I did not know was that it nearly did not happen. David Brooks in his column this morning reminds us the idea for the March got no support from the Urban League, NCAACP or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and President Kennedy was concerned it would hinder passing legislation. Were it not for violence in Birmingham, the March may have never happened. But what Brooks shared that grabbed my attention is the deep theological underpinnings of the March, and the deeper self transformation necessary prior to the March. (Here is the link to article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/opinion/brooks-the-ideas-behind-the-march.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=0 ).

The connection to this weeks reading is from Hebrews (13:6) “So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” Trust in such truth allows one to walk into the gates of violent opponents “… willing to absorb the violence, absorb the terrorism, to face the music and to take whatever comes.”  i  And it works, it brings about social transformation twice as often as violence does.  ii  The extent that we are surprised by this is a measure of how much we have to learn about the power of God’s love for us, and through us.