Tag: action

Why Are You Standing There?

Acts 1:6-14 Angels-Talking-To-Disciples-After-The-Ascension-Of-Jesus
John 17:1-11

 

Ever feel like telling the angels in Acts or the Gospels, DUH! Maybe giving them a dirty look to boot? I know I do.

The disciples are speaking with the Risen Jesus, and then before their very eyes Jesus rises up and goes into the clouds. Quite naturally, the disciples stand there gaping up at the sky.

I’ve never seen anyone levitate. Let alone rise up into heaven. I think standing there slack jawed is about the nicest way I’ll look if I ever seen such. I might just have wet pants too.

But these two angels appear and ask, “Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?”

DUH!

This isn’t the first time the angels have been jerks, in my opinion. Remember when Mary is sobbing over Jesus’ empty tomb in John? Once again, two angels appear in white. And once again, they ask a question. “Woman, why are you weeping?”

DUH!

Mary, bless her heart, actually answers: “Because they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.”

In Luke’s version… just like in John… two angels appear to Mary at the tomb. And they, too, ask her a question. Only they ask her: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

… say it with me…

Duh.

Jesus is dead. Jesus’ dead body was left here. Mary’s seeking a dead guy.

We don’t have to read these stories and think the disciples and Mary and the women are wrong or unenlightened. We don’t have to think the angels are perfect. These stories are meant to be relatable.

And relatable means, to me, hearing these angels being kinda jerkish and asking questions that sound condescending, insulting, when taken just as they are.

But you know, sometimes jerkish questions do us good.

It is no secret I was scared and AM scared to be a pastor. In my mind, there is a lot less on the line to be a writer and a scholar of religion than to actually be preaching and sharing lives with people. I was speaking to a spiritual counselor about this once. I told her how I was scared of saying something wrong to a parishioner or in a sermon and harming someone’s faith. The counselor asked me, “Are you more powerful than God?”

Duh. Of course not.

She continued, “Then why do you think you’re the most powerful voice in someone’s life? You’re not. You’re going to say things wrong. But you’re not God. It’s vain to think you’re going to make or break ANYONE’S faith. Faith is a journey between a person and God. A pastor just gets to walk alongside that journey for awhile. But the journey is way, way outside the pastor’s control.”

Sometimes, jerkish questions help us a whole lot.

At the tomb in Luke, the angels’ question of ‘why do you look for the living among the dead’ leads them on to remind the women that Jesus is Risen. He isn’t dead. He’s not going to be in a graveyard. The women realize this from the question, and they go back to the apostles with the news. They’re the very first witnesses and testifiers of Jesus’ resurrection. A jerkish question from the angels wakes them up, shows them new possibilities, and moves them to action.

Just like a pointed question did the same for me.

In John, at the tomb, both the angels AND Jesus get to ask Mary why she is weeping and whom she is seeking. Twice, she states she is seeking the body of Jesus and doesn’t know where to find Jesus. The questions let us see and understand, and eventually let Mary see and understand, that the dead body of Jesus isn’t what we really are seeking. And if we’re seeking Jesus only in the past, dead, buried… we’re not going to find him.

Our Lord is risen, ascended, and returning. Our Lord is not buried and gone. But are we still only seeking him among the dead and not among those living today?

That brings us to those angels standing near the disciples who are catching flies looking up to heaven some time after Jesus’ resurrection. “Why are you standing there looking up towards heaven?”

Duh.

But their jerkish question has a point. Standing there and staring into heaven isn’t what Jesus commissioned us to do. They had just asked, ‘Is it now that Israel is going to be restored?’ And Jesus tells them no. And reminds them again that God’s message and restoration isn’t just for that ancient country, but for all counties — all people — everywhere. And again, Jesus charges them to carry this message of love everywhere.

Yes, he told us to keep watch. Yes, he told us to stay awake. But never once did he tell us to wait around for his return doing nothing. Rather, he told us to do greater deeds than he. Told us to carry his message everywhere around the world. Told us to do his commandments, to do God’s commandments, and to actively love one another.

So… the question gives the disciples and apostles direction. They go back to Jerusalem. They return to sharing their lives together in prayer, and study, and in good works, and in living the Christian Way.

As we heard today, as Jesus prayed over the last supper – he said to God, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world,” and so it is. Jesus is Risen. But Jesus is present through us to one another. Jesus is with God Our Parent, but has sent our Holy Advocate among us to remind us how to live Jesus’ teachings.

What does this look like in action today?

The first example I can think of is our offering today.

A second I think it speaks wisdom into our church woes. It’s no secret at all that churches are closing left and right. Attendance is way down from the height of the 1940s and 1950s. Most congregations operate in the red with their budgets and most congregations are strapped for people under the age of 50.

Like Mary at the tomb, we look in these once-grand buildings but find them empty. And we weep.

Like everyone staring up into heaven, we keep watching and waiting thinking that a return: maybe when the teens are adults and married. Maybe when the adults retire. Maybe when the retirees get lonely.

Some churches are trying to shake up things. You’ve heard of the churches with contemporary services and live music. You’ve heard of churches who worship outside, or worship over coffee, or even in bars. Some get rid of pews and some get rid of hymnals.

But in the end, even these churches find it is hard to keep being relevant to people’s lives. Their numbers may swell for a year or two, but then… things go back to looking drear.

The truth of the matter is – people don’t want to go to services to worship God.

Worshiping God isn’t important in their lives.

And I don’t blame them. That was me for years and years. Standing there staring into heaven felt nice once and awhile… like maybe an Easter or a Christmas service… but doing that weekly didn’t really get the house clean, or pay the bills, or make my day better.

The truth is… church wasn’t relevant to my life and it isn’t for most people.

And I think that’s what the angels are pointing out in our scripture, and even today… reflecting on the past is good, but fixated on it is not. It’s time to move on. Time to trust God, time to do as God asks, and welcome the new reality God gifts us. Reflecting on the glory years of our churches is good. But pining, wishing, for those years to come back is not good.

We won’t find the living among the dead. We’re not going to fill up this church or any church by changing little things or big things in our services.

You see, services don’t make Christians, services aren’t designed to and aren’t aimed towards people considering Christianity. We say prayers that aren’t printed, and we sing hymns not known in pop culture, and we use terms and phrases no one who isn’t ‘in the know’ understands.

Standing there gazing into heaven doesn’t spread the message to all of the ends of the earth. It doesn’t make our faith relevant.

What does?

Mission work. Out reach. Living a Christian life. When the apostles return and live lives of hope, of sharing, of community – people want to know more. Want to join. When a church has a mission, a purpose – people want to join in, and make a difference. When a church has an out reach, a program to assist the community – people want to participate.

The food pantry.

Foundation dinners.

5th quarter, Hope homes, One Great Hour of Sharing, the PIN fund, Vacation Bible School, donating our hymnals, donating time and resources here and there – these are mission and out reach.

Praying for each other. Giving each other rides. Sharing our garden produce and our clothes, our homes and our lives with each other. Knowing how each other are doing. Calling, writing, facebooking, loving each other… this is living a Christian life. This is community.

Church? Worshiping God? These are the results of mission work, outreach, and the Christian life. Church is not an ends unto itself. It is the human response to God’s presence throughout our whole week – our whole lives.

This is where we recharge. Where we stand gazing into heaven and smile. Where we sink on our knees at the tomb in wonder. This is where we pause, reflect, and praise God.

But church is only relevant, only meaningful, if we have been in relationship with God and working for God long before we entered the church doors.

So… let me play the role of the angels for a moment and ask a jerkish question…

Why are you here today? Is church relevant to you? If not, what is missing?

Amen.

None Too Small

ieshia-evans-batonrougeJeremiah 1:4-10
Luke 13:10-17

Crises are terrible, horrible situations – a time when things are a disaster, catastrophe, and calamity.

But did you know they’re also the turning point? Whatever happens in the future from that moment, for better or worse, is influenced by the critical time of the crisis.

City after city, we keep seeing a crisis appear where a cop shoots an African American dead. And city after city, riots and protests appear. City after city — after months of looking into it — the cops are never charged, and if charged, almost always found innocent. Last year, 102 unarmed black people were shot and killed by police — five times as many unarmed whites killed. Unarmed. No weapon. Another 200 some blacks were killed by police who did have weapons… now mind you, this pocket knife (1.5 inches) I have here is counted as a weapon. Whether these men, women, and even children, had pocket knives or automatic rifles isn’t counted. Of all these lives lost, a single offer was sentenced to jail on the weekends. All other officers walked free. (mappingpoliceviolence.org/unarmed)

Who has been shot? You’ve heard about 12 year old Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile who was asked to hand over his wallet and was shot dead for doing so — before his girlfriend and 4 year old daughter.

But… hundreds of other names never made national media. Did you hear about Bettie? She opened her door to the officers when they arrived and they shot her in the neck.

Or Keith. He had an unknown item which scared the officer watching him and so the officer shot Keith. It was a cell phone in his hand.

There was Chandra – hit by a patrol car. And Stephen – another patrol car hit him, too – as it responded to a non-emergency call.

And India – officers chose to shoot 30 rounds into her stopped car because they believed India’s boyfriend had a gun. Their shots killed India, her boyfriend, and only through a pure miracle missed their 4 month old baby sitting in a car seat with them.

There is a crisis. A crisis going on – with some cities’ police and justice departments abusing their power, racially profiling, and overwhelmingly murdering blacks. Non-whites in general are often targeted with harsher responses. Sometimes, this is the accepted way not just the police, but the entire city deals with its non-whites. Violence. Suspicion. Hate.

Don’t think I’m talking about the Deep South. I’m talking about right around here. Here in Fairfield County. We have people flying confederate flags, we have a very high Ku Klux Klan presence.

Ever heard of ISD Records? They’re based out of Lancaster, and listed as one of the 34 most dangerous hate groups of Ohio. (Southern Poverty Law Center). Their CDs include “No Remorse: Hitler was Right.” and “The Klansmen – Fetch the Rope” Our Lancaster. Supported by our community.

There is a crisis. And few white people — few of the people in power, few of those with the ability to change things or bring attention to the crisis — are noticing.

And so… there are protests. So you see roads closed off by Black Lives Matter activists; and see angry, tearful mothers leading chants. So you see young men who are being told their lives don’t matter, and they are better off dead because their only other option is prison – you see them respond with riots. So much anger is bottled up.

And this isn’t new. Not new history. Regardless of what the media says, or what anyone younger than 50 believes. Many of us here today lived this once, and here it is again.

Listen to these prophetic words of history: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

… there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust…

[There is] nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience [you’ve seen.] It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire… In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” … It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany…

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

These were penned by Martin Luther King Jr., in his letter from Birmingham Alabama jail, to the pastors who opposed his activism.

These words, minus some of the terminology, and location, are still true today.

Why are there protests and anger? Why is Black Lives Matter an organization and why are there sit-ins, demonstrations, and law breaking?

Because – there is a crisis going on, and only 1/3 of us suffer it. There is a crisis going on, and until it is a crisis for more of us, we will keep being lukewarm, white, moderates who delay and delay justice — therefore, making justice denied. Even though we mean well, and are sympathetic: justice delayed is justice denied.

Today – in our reading – Jesus and a lukewarm moderate square off. The leader of the synagogue is indignant. This woman who was healed was ill for 18 years – what was one more day? Six days of the week it’s good to heal and work to help others. Why couldn’t Jesus wait less than 24 hours? Why did he break the Sabbath?

The issue isn’t that the woman ought not to be healed. The issue isn’t that things need to change so that officers ought to treat all citizens fairly. The issue is WHEN the woman should be healed; and WHEN the cops will be held accountable. The issue is how long can justice be delayed?

Jesus said justice should never be delayed. The time is NOW. The kindom is near. NOW is the time for action. NOW the harvest is ripe. NOW we must act. For 18 years this woman was bent over and crippled.

What was one more day?

To the Rabbi who didn’t suffer — nothing.

To Jesus who knows how we suffer — everything.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Almost fifty years have passed. What is one more day of things not changing? In his day, he said 380 years have passed while blacks were treated as less than whites. What is one more day?

For many – one more day is nothing. Wait. To them, they do not suffer.

For us – for the Body of Christ – one more day is everything. Act now! We suffer!

Remember! “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We are one body.

But who am I? You’ve got to ask. I’m just me. Most of us consider ourselves plain ‘white.’ We don’t know any cops who are racists, we don’t know anyone who has been profiled, abused, or shot at by cops. In fact, this whole Black Lives Matter thing is a nuisance, a pain, someone else’s crisis and nothing we want to deal with.

I hear you.

*I* don’t know a bad cop.

But what I don’t know, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

When my ear tells me there is a bee nearby, I look for it with my eye. I don’t assume my ear is lying. When I taste a tomato, I don’t hold it to my ear and get mad it doesn’t sound like how it tastes. Different parts of our bodies experience life differently.

Our body, our Christ body, is crying out and pointing out what life is like for many, many non-Whites. Are we going to say to our eyes or ears we don’t need you? Shut up, go away, and keep waiting for another time for your justice?

Or are we going to listen to Jeremiah, listen to Luke, listen to our Christ who says: there is NO ONE too small. With God, we HAVE the power. We ARE the power to change the world. With God, all things are possible.

When is the time for justice?

When is the time for action?

When is the time to say no to ISD Records, to the KKK, to the mediocre, sympathetic but uninvolved moderate white life style we live? Now!

Now we wake up. Now we take action. Now we stand with our siblings who cry out that black lives matter, too! NOW we bring liberty to the oppressed, set the captive free, and proclaim the time of the Lord! Amen.