Friday, May 25, 2018

Prophets of a Redemptive and Transforming Love

Sermon for SMHP, Year B, Pentecost, May 20, 2018
Acts 2:1-21
           When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
           5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
           8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
           14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “People of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
           18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

           According to Genesis, Chapter 11, when people began spread across the earth, they spoke one language.  But they decided to settle in “the land of Shinar”—in Mesopotamia—and to build a tower that reached up to God.  The tower came to be called the Tower of Babel, because it was built on the site of Babylon. 
           God was not pleased that the people were trying to build the tower and control their destiny thusly, the story says, so God decided to “confuse their language” in order that they wouldn’t understand one another and wouldn’t be able to work together.
           Explains a lot, doesn’t it?

           When the day of Pentecost came, Jerusalem was filled with people…people from all over the known world.  They spoke all of those different languages that God had laid on them back in Babylon.  There were also these twelve guys—eleven of the original disciples, plus Mathias, who had just been chosen by the casting of lots to replace Judas Iscariot.  They spoke Aramaic, knew Hebrew.  Matthew the tax collector surely had some fluency with Greek.  As far as we know, none of them spoke the language of Phrygia or Pamphylia.  But those folks were there in Jerusalem that day.
           In London yesterday, a biracial American married a prince.  Maybe you heard about it. 
           It was a lot like that Pentecost day.  The people inside the room were mostly what you would expect—lots of British aristocracy, with enough British and American celebrities to keep things interesting.  They spoke mostly English.  But outside the doors of the cathedral is a community in which 250 languages are spoken.  London is the most linguistically diverse city in the world.
           The presider for the ceremony was, of course, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.  He speaks lovely British English.
           The preacher was an English-speaking Anglican too…but a different sort.  Michael Curry is the first African-American Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA.  And he can preach.  Before he was presiding bishop, I saw him at the Festival of Homiletics and was enthralled.
           Yesterday, the world was enthralled, by a sermon gifted by the Holy Spirit to a royal couple and the rest of the world.  Curry set the tone by quoting from Martin Luther King:
"We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this whole world a new world. But love, love is the only way."

           It was a wedding sermon.
           But more than that, it was a Pentecost sermon.

           When the day of Pentecost had come, there were some apostles, still all together in one place. 
           They were there because the last words they heard from Jesus were a command to “remain in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
           They were probably also afraid.  Jesus told them to stay in the city.  He didn’t tell them to lock the doors.  But we get this wrong all the time.  We stay where it is safe because we’ve been told to stay together.  But together in the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean safe.  It should not mean safe.
           They were locked up together, awaiting the promised power, and fearful of the power of the Roman authorities and the power of the Jewish authorities…
           …and, I suspect, of the redemptive and transforming power of love…the redemptive and transforming power of love which Jesus had shown to them, and which Jesus had charged them to share with the whole world.
           They were locked up there in that room because they knew that when they shared the gospel of God’s profound love for the whole world, it would change their lives.  It would change the world.
           The gospel does that, right? 
           I think those apostles were holed up in that room because they weren’t quite sure they wanted to change the world.  Changing the world is difficult and even dangerous.  Dr. King preached about transformative love and nonviolence and it got him killed.
           The apostles were rightly concerned about what might happen to them if they went out there and did what Bishop Curry did yesterday. Called the world into the redemptive power of love.
           When that power came down, as Jesus promised it would, there was no mistaking it.  There was no looking away from it.  There was no pretending that you didn’t hear it, or you heard something else.  Because it spoke directly to the heart of every person there. 
           And then it spoke through the mouth of The Rock.
           “People of God,” he said, “this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17’In the last days it will be,’ God declares, ‘that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.’”

           People of God—God has called us to be prophets of love.  Prophets of a love that redeems and transforms the world.  We can ignore that calling.  We can turn away, we can hide away, we can throw away the calling which God has placed on our hearts, but sooner or later, the Holy Spirit is going to get us. 
           Sooner or later, we are must throw off whatever keeps us from prophesying in God’s name and speak out for love. 
           Because only the power of love—the redemptive, transformative power of love—is going to carry us through this time of division and chaos, into the new day we all want.
           And we do want it, right?
           We do want to change the world, right?
           Then we must open our minds and our bodies to receive the Spirit, and to speak the words of love God has given us. 
           We must find a way to hear what others are saying, even when it sounds like a different language.
           And we must find a way to speak so that we may be heard.  Words of love, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Welfare of the People Will Be the Supreme Law: Remarks for the Launch of the New Poor People's Campaign

          My Sunday School class has been studying Scripture and Poverty, in preparation for the Poor People’s Campaign and this Forty Days of Moral Action.
          It was not news to us that the Bible has a lot to say about wealth and poverty, but as we dug into it, we were struck by just how much there is.  Over 2000 passages in the Bible directly address how a people should live together, and how they should share the resources which God has given them.  ALL of them—EVERY SINGLE ONE demands that it is the responsibility of every faithful person and every institution to care for the least among us, and then to work for a world in which, in the words of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, “the powerful are brought down and the hungry are filled with good things.”
           Inside the Missouri statehouse are 197 senators and representatives, almost all of whom claim to be faithful Christians.  People who have studied the same commands my folks are studying on Sunday mornings.  They know that God has commanded all Christians…and Jews…and Muslims…to “Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
          Yet the people of Missouri are suffering because this legislature chose not to expand Medicaid.  Chose not to rein in predatory lenders. Chose to pass anti-union bills like so-called Right to Work.
          The people of Missouri are suffering because the majority in this legislature, this “Christian legislature” does not judge righteously.  They do notdefend the rights of the poor and needy.”
          What do you call people who know the commands of God and choose not to follow them, choose instead to run in the opposite direction, all the way to the bank?  You call them false Christians.  Hypocrites.
          On this day in Jefferson City, Missouri, I declare this:  False Christians, you are on notice.
          I am tired of having you speak for me! We are tired of having you speak for us!  We are most especially tired of having you speak for Jesus.  If he saw the legislation you pass, he would throw a table.  He might throw ten or twelve!
          "Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law."  That’s what it says on the wall in the Missouri statehouse.  But we are here this morning because we know, don’t we, that that is not what is happening inside the Missouri statehouse.  And we are here today to say enough!
          Enough false doctrine!
          Enough privileging of wealthy special interests above your people, the people of Missouri.
          Enough predatory lending, enough poor healthcare, enough housing discrimination, enough union-busting.
          The welfare of the people will be the supreme law.  You are on notice.

You Will Be My Witnesses

Luke 24:44-53
                44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Acts 1:1-11
                   In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
                6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.10While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

           If the four gospel writers were a family, Luke would definitely be the Mom.  Matthew would be the rather authoritarian dad, Mark would be the kid who tells breathless stories…and John would be your hippie uncle.

           Luke would be the mom.  Luke begins his gospel with a sense of nurturing the reader:
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. 
           It’s written to “Theophilus,” which literally means “lover of God.” So it could be a dedication to a particular person.  Or to all of us.  The gospel has certainly served the latter.
           Then he goes on to tell stories about women.  Many more stories about women than any of the other gospels.  The story of the birth of Jesus is seen through two women:  Mary and her relative Elizabeth.
           Oh, men still feature prominently in the narrative.  It’s a gospel…about Jesus and the twelve guys he hangs with.
           But in setting out to create “an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled,” Luke also makes his narrative about us…in a way that none of the others do.  Luke didn’t just write a gospel, did he?
           No.  He wrote a whole book called “Luke-Acts.”  The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.  Taken together, they form a literary creation longer than the major epistles of St. Paul.
           We have the singular experience of being able to walk across the Luke-Acts bridge this morning.  We have the last words of the gospel and the first words of Acts, a pair of lessons which tell a story told nowhere else.  Luke, as if he understood that he was the only one reporting on the Ascension, tells the story twice, each time with different emphasis that makes sense for the context.

           The end of the gospel is the end of a gospel.  It feels like an ending, even though we know that Luke continues the narrative in Acts.  In his last moments with the disciples, Luke tells us, Jesus lifted up his hands and conferred on them…
           The Benediction.  That final priestly act.  He blesses them and sends them to the city, where they stay in the temple worshiping and waiting for what is going to happen next—waiting for the power to come.
           Luke tells the same story again to open The Acts of the Apostles.  But it is subtly different from the final blessing in the Gospel, isn’t it?  Why?
           It’s not an ending.  This is the beginning of the story of how the Apostles carry the work of Jesus beyond even their wildest dreams.  How they become witnesses, not just “to these things” as the gospel lesson says.  The instruction in the book of Acts is “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 
           You will be my witnesses!  You will give all for my gospel!
           And they did.  They proudly wore the title Witness into the world.  Anybody know the Greek word?
           Marturia.  They became the martyrs of Early Christianity because Jesus commanded them to be witnesses—literally “Martyrs.”
           In the bridge between the Good News of Jesus Christ, according to Luke, and The Acts of the Apostles, also according to Luke, is the call to take all that Jesus said and did and carry it into the world as witnesses…martyrs, willing to give even our own lives for the sake of the gospel, as he was willing.
           We ourselves cross that bridge every time we come into the sanctuary to worship and prepare ourselves for witness, just as the disciples went back to the temple and prepared themselves for witness—marturia.
           Here in this place, Jesus himself stretches out his arms and blesses us, just as Luke described it.  It is an act of such great love, an act which calls to mind the loving arms of all who have loved us.  Our mothers, our fathers, our families chosen and otherwise.  The friend who calls just when you need to hear hir voice. 
           Jesus stretches out his arms and blesses us.  He meets us here in the place of worship, our temple, where he reminds us of our call. 
           You will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 
           For some of us this week, that list will include Jefferson City, where we will raise a holy ruckus to demand justice and equity in our state and our country.
           For others there is witnessing to do at home, at work, in relationships.  One form of witnessing today in particular is to give thanks for the love you have received from your mother, and for any who have been mother to you.  Another might be reaching out to one who cannot do that today and reminding that one that they are loved.
           You will be my witnesses, says Jesus.  Jerusalem, Judea, Jeff City.  Home, school, work, the store, the DMV.  Witnessing to how God has loved us like a mother, and a father and a friend and a lover.  Witnessing to the hope that is within us—hope in a new day of peace and justice for all.  Witnessing to our Lord and all that he did once and will do again, and all that he does in us and through us…every single day.
           Speak, children of God!
           Sing, children of God!
           Witness, children of God!

Sunday, May 06, 2018

As I Have Loved You

Sermon for SMHP, Year B, Easter 6, May 6, 2018

                9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in God’s love.  11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.  12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 
          15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not
know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.  16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

           In the midst of the debates on “sexuality,” which were about a couple of questions within the vast expanse of human sexuality—can we ordain gay and lesbian pastors and will we marry gay and lesbian couples—in the midst of that debate, people started to say funny things.
          It happens, especially in the midst of fraught debate on difficult issues.  The first time I heard it was in a sidebar conversation at our pastor’s text study.  Then at the synod assembly.  Then at the churchwide assembly, where it was framed the best.  A man got up to the Red Microphone—that’s the “Against” Microphone.
          And he said this:  “What I am sick of hearing about with this issue is love.  Stop with all of this mushy love stuff.  That’s not what this is about.”

          Everybody look at your bulletin Insert.  See the gospel lesson for today?
          What word appears nine times in the eight verses in this lesson?   [Love or loved]
          The word “love” appears forty-nine times in John’s gospel alone.  Usually from Jesus, and often as a command, as it is in verse nine—“abide in my love” and verse twelve:  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
          Forty-nine times, Jesus makes the love the center of his instruction to the disciples in this gospel alone.  When he is asked, “what is the greatest commandment?” how does he answer?
          “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”
          Love is exactly what this is all about.  It doesn’t even really matter what the “this” is.  It’s love.  That’s not a “liberal” perspective.  That’s a gospel perspective.
          Even Paul, who wasn’t always the warmest and fuzziest of apostles, knew that love was at the center of our life as Christians.  In 1 Corinthians 13, the text you have likely heard if you’ve ever been to a wedding, Paul writes:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude… 
          If I make policy in the church but do not have love…
          Want to be a good Christian?
          Want to be a good person?
          Then for God’s sake, center your life in love. 
          And if you are wondering exactly what “centering your life in love” looks like, look no further than today’s gospel text, which describes the two most important ways to do that.
          “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”
          The twofold instructions on love start there.
          Abide in my love.  Why “abide?”  Why not just say “love each other?”

          The sort of love to which Jesus calls us is deep.  It doesn’t just manifest in nice things we do for each other when we feel like it.
          It manifests in the nice things we do when we just ain’t feeling it.
          It abides.  What does “abiding” look like?

          We are called to love each other always.  To treat others with love always. 
          Everybody got that part?  Good.  Because that’s the easy part.  You can do that part without moving around much.
          What’s the second of the two-fold instructions?  See Verse twelve again.
          “Love one another as I have loved you.”
          Turn to someone nearby and talk about how Jesus showed us love. 
          àWhat does it mean to “love one another as Jesus has loved us?”  How has Jesus loved us?

          [Collect responses]

          Following Jesus, being his disciples—it all rests on this.  Learning to love one another the way that he loved us.  With a deep and abiding love—one which holds fast through the storms.
           And by being willing to stand up and step out for the neighbor in need.  To lay down our lives, in all of the ways which one can do that—by sacrificing our time, our money, our attention, our affection, whatever we have—for the sake of the neighbor in a spirit of love.
           It’s not mushy.  It’s real and it’s trying and it’s fulfilling.
           And it is absolutely what all of this is about.

Keep Christ in Breakfast

Sermon for SMHP, Year B, Easter 3
Note that we are picking up early, the last part of the Road to Emmaus story.
           As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 
              36While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
                41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence. 44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.  49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

           I wanted to start back with the part of the story which is left out of our lesson for this morning, because Luke’s story of the events which happen after the resurrection of Jesus is really all one long story.  Our text for this morning picks up at verse 36, which begins “While they were talking about this…”  In order to understand it, we have to know what the “this” is in that verse.  So what is it?  What were they talking about there in Jerusalem?
           Jesus joined some pilgrims walking to a village called Emmaus, a village which appears in scripture exactly one time, in this story.  A village that the geographers can no longer identify.
           An ordinary place.
           Jesus walks along with them, but they don’t know it’s him, so they tell him all about the extraordinary things which have happened in and around Jerusalem over the weekend, which has just ended.  And this is where we pick up the story.  They approach Emmaus, that unremarkable town, and Jesus moves as if he is going to continue up the road.
           But they prevail upon him to stay.  It is almost evening, and they have a comfortable place to stay and some food.  So Jesus accepts their hospitality, comes inside, takes a place at the table, picks up a loaf of bread and breaks it.
           Ordinary bread.  An ordinary meal.
           And in the breaking of the bread, they recognize him.

           There are ten distinct stories about Jesus sharing food with others in scripture.  They range from this story of table fellowship with a few pilgrims in a little town, to the time that Jesus blessed five loaves and a couple of fish and the disciples passed out food to some ten thousand people in the town of Bethsaida, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
           The biblical scholar Markus Barth once calculated that “In approximately one-fifth of the sentences in Luke’s Gospel and in Acts, meals play a conspicuous role.” 
           One fifth.  If Luke, the evangelist who set out to write “an orderly account” of Jesus, focused that heavily on table fellowship and the ordinary moments in which people ate and drank together, I daresay we ought to pay attention to it as well. 
           We ought to take note of the fact that Luke’s resurrection chapter, some fifty-three verses, contains not one but two stories about Jesus eating.
           Jesus eating is important.
           The other people at the table are important.  The type food is less important, which is important.  Bread.  Fish.  The ordinary food of the people of Jesus’ age.  And every age before and since.
           In the first of these stories, told in Luke, chapter five, Jesus calls a tax collector named Levi to be one of his disciples, and then Levi throws a banquet for Jesus. 
           We have no idea what was served at the banquet.  But we know who was there!  “A large crowd of tax collector and others,” according to Luke.
           “Tax collectors and sinners” according to the Pharisees who question the disciples about the dinner.
           In the next story, in Luke seven, Jesus potentially redeems himself by dining at the home of one of the Pharisees, Simon.  Let’s pick up the story at verse 37:
37And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’
           Even when he is in “respectable places,” Jesus is drawn to the ordinary people.  People like us.  People who know they are sinners, and know that they need to draw near to Jesus, because he is the one who can help them turn their lives around…and offer them grace and forgiveness when they fall short.
           Jesus became incarnate to eat with us.  Not to be the King of the Pharisees.  Or The King of the Jews. 
           God is already the King of the Jews.  Always has been.
           Jesus was certainly the greatest of the Pharisees, the greatest of the rabbis, the one who could do theology because it was quite literally in his DNA.
           But God did not send The Son to take on our nature and our lot in order to provide a special guest for our banquets.  Read the stories about food in Luke—this is abundantly clear.  The banquets are moments in which Jesus reminds us that his mission is to the least of these.  To all of us—every station, every situation.

           It is a lesson we have been slow to learn.  Two thousand years later, we tend to invite Jesus into the big stuff, the big moments.  We set aside a day, call it “The Lord’s day.” 
           Isn’t Tuesday also The Lord’s Day?  Or are the other six days just about us? 
           We’ve gotten good at inviting Jesus into the big moments.  Oscar speeches.  Thanksgiving Dinner.  There’s a whole movement dedicated to “Keeping Christ in Christmas.”
           Here’s the movement I want to start:  “Keep Christ in Breakfast.”
           Because I gotta tell you, it’s pretty easy to “keep Christ in Christmas,” and forget what he taught you by Boxing Day.
           Look it up.
           Our world needs some things right now, wouldn’t you agree?  Our state, our nation, are in the hands of an evil that is well versed in Christmas Jesus, but not too familiar with breakfast Jesus—the one who ate with sinners and tax collectors.  The one who fed hungry people in Bethsaida because that’s just what you do.  The one who turned banquets into object lessons on loving our neighbors.  All of them.
           What our world needs is people who wake up every morning with their minds “stayed on Jesus,” as the old gospel song says.  People who invite Jesus to share their breakfast, and their lunch and their whole day.  People who are walkin’ with Jesus and talkin’ with Jesus.
           Our world needs people of theological depth, and that means spending time with Jesus.  Time in prayer.  Time cracking open our Bibles during the week.
           And most importantly, keeping our Jesus lenses tuned on the world.  Looking for those inbreaking moments of incarnation that are happening in our weeks—I promise.  Just as Jesus showed up in unexpected places in the first century, he shows up in unexpected places in the twenty-first century!
           This week he showed up with Syrian civilians who were terrified by the sound of bombs going off near their homes.
           He showed up in the immigrants who come looking for a safer home for their children.  He stopped to eat with a mother trying to feed her children on a Burger King salary.  He rested a while with a husband who is terrified that Medicaid isn’t going to pay for his wife’s medicine.  He was with you, in moments of sadness and fear and joy.
           I know that Jesus was in those places because those are the places where Jesus always chose to put his body.  Places of pain and sadness, and places of joy and unity.  And all the ordinary places in between. 
           Jesus ate a piece of fish with his disciples *not* because he loved fish so much.  Frankly, they were all probably pretty sick of fish.
           But he ate a piece of fish because that’s what they were doing, and he wanted to be there with them.
           Where Jesus puts his body matters. 
           And since we know he wants to be where we are, where we put our bodies matters.
           So let’s invite him to breakfast, and remember that he is incarnate with us all day.  He is with us, and we are reflecting him.
           Keep Christ in breakfast.  And the whole day long.  The world will be better for it.


Unwise and Untimely

Sermon for SMHP, Year B, Easter 2, April 8, 2018
                19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
                26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

          This is a painting of an event.  Want to guess what?
          This is the fifteenth station of the cross at St. Mary’s Basilica, Minneapolis, MN.
          If you know it’s resurrection, you can see it…maybe…
          One of the things that John’s gospel in particular makes clear is that it can be difficult to see and comprehend the Risen Christ.  If you were here for the Easter Vigil, you heard the text which precedes this one, in which Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb.  What happens when she sees Jesus?
          The tomb was empty.  So she assumed NOT that he had risen from the dead…but that someone had stolen his body.
          Then she saw two angels…and assumed they had taken Jesus.
          Then she saw Jesus himself…and assumed he was the…gardener.
          Finally he called her name and she realized who he was—her rabbi…the one who had taught her with his words and with his body.
          Later that day, Jesus appeared to his disciples.  He appeared in the room with them—a room that was locked, John tells us.  Appeared and greeted them in the way of Middle Eastern peoples:  “Peace be with you.”  “Shalom ala CHEM”  “As-Salaam alaykum.”  This is still the standard greeting for speakers of both Hebrew and Arabic.
          Jesus appeared inside a locked room and announced peace.  Then he showed them his hands and his side.  And it was then—John tells us—that they recognized him.  When they told Thomas—the one brave enough to actually leave the room—about it later, he too demanded to see the marks before he would recognize Jesus.
          How do you think we would do if we were in that room?  Would we recognize him? 
          Do we believe that he dwells among us today? 
          Do you believe there are signs of the risen Christ around us today?
          How do we recognize him?  What does our text teach us about recognizing Christ in our midst?
          He bears wounds.
          He announces peace.
          We don’t always see Christ in our midst, do we?  In fact, sometimes we avoid him.  We careen around the wounded ones in our midst, fearful that they will want something from us.
          We ignore the ones who announce peace, because they might be asking us to make changes, to stand up and speak out.
          The risen Christ in our midst is not a neutral being.  He comes to announce that the kingdom of God is in our midst, but it is still being built. 
          And maybe we might all want to grab a hammer.  Or some a hammer and some a nail.
          Sixty-five years ago, a black Baptist minister began to preach a gospel of peaceful resistance to the white supremacy which had governed our nation since its inception.  He stood in the midst of a troubled nation and demanded that it face its past.  He stood in the midst of other folks who were now called “civil rights leaders” and asked them to risk their own bodies in order that other bodies might one day be free of racism.  He spoke of a wise Indian prophet named Mohandes Ghandi, and of Henry David Thoreau, and he devised a system of nonviolent civil disobedience which spoke truth to power in a new way, a profound and efficient way.
          [Slide]  Thousands caught his vision, and began to participate in the freedom rides and the boycotts and the marches.
          Many more did not.  The might of the status quo pushed back against Dr. King with anger.  And with dogs…and fire hoses.  King and his followers were beaten and even killed.  And still they marched—bearing their wounds and announcing peace for all.
          Then came the friendly opposition.  The calls for caution from persons sympathetic to the cause, but captivated by the allure of the status quo.
           On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks had refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, sparking a boycott which lasted nine months and nearly crippled the Montgomery public transit system. 
           On June 5, 1956, the federal court in Montgomery ruled that any law requiring segregated bus seating was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed “equal protection under the law” to all native and naturalized citizens of the United States.
           The courts were taking up other matters of discrimination, but their progress was slow, and Dr. King and other civil rights leaders continued to stage nonviolent protests in Alabama. 
           In January of 1963, eight clergymen in Alabama had issued a bulletin they called “An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense,” which stated that change was being addressed in the courts of Alabama, and people should wait for that change to take effect.  In the meantime, they wrote, “the decisions of those course should be peacefully obeyed.” 
            In other words, progress is imminent.  Well, not imminent.  But promising.  Well, not promising.  But there will be progress.
           Someday.  Until then, y’all be patient.
           Dr. King didn’t wait for someday, and the movement for civil rights in Alabama continued, with marches and actions and civil disobedience.  So in April of 1963, the clergymen issued a letter directly to Martin Luther King.  The courts have been making some progress on civil rights, they wrote, and “responsible citizens have undertaken to work on various problems that cause racial friction and unrest.”
However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.
           They urged all citizens of Montgomery, which was then the focal point of the civil rights movement, to refrain from joining in with public actions led by Dr. King and others.
           [Slide.  Slide.]
           In their midst was a vision of Christ, wounded by years of slavery, segregation, and lynching.  Wounds visible to anyone who simply reached out to touch them.
           But like most of the country, they refused.  They got up and locked the doors, certain that someone else—a federal judge?  The Congress?  Jesus? –would solve this problem without the inconvenience and disarray of public actions.
           [Slide]  In August of that same year, Dr. King stood on the National Mall and captivated the nation with the words “I have a dream.”
           But before that, he was in a jail in Birmingham, where he used a borrowed pen and every scrap of paper he could find to write the finest epistle since St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In that letter, he spoke with understanding to the white clergymen, but noted that when people were in pain, caution must not rule the day. [Slide]

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” King wrote.  “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
           The risen Christ stood in our midst in Birmingham and Montgomery and across this nation, announcing peace and showing the wounds of years of inequality and inequity.  Fifty years ago last week, Dr. King was taken from us, but his spirit lives on, every time we heed the call to speak of peace and gaze upon the wounds in our midst.

Poor people’s campaign.

It is my hope, people of God, that when they speak of us someday, they say that we were unwise and untimely.  And we preached the good news of Christ, arisen.