Tag: Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ

Peace Be With You

John 20:19-31
Acts 4:32-35

Koinonia-Farm

Sister Sandra Schneiders tackles our first reading today and points out a different possibility in our translation of “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, and if you retain the sins, they are retained.” You see, in the second half of the sentence, there is no mention of sin in the original Greek. Additionally, what is possessive and what is objective changes. Therefore, we can also read this as “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, and if you hold close anyone, they are held.”

This fits with John’s theme. This is the Christ who came not to condemn the world, but to save it. The Christ who came to forgive sins and embrace the outcast sends us out to forgive sins and embrace the outcasts.

The Christ who came to call us out of closed doors into communities that are not safe but in need of forgiveness, and being lovingly embraced.

A young couple named Florence and Clarence Jordan read these words of scripture, and those of Acts we heard today, and they believed. They were Georgian farmers, and they looked around and said – we should be one heart and one soul. We should distribute our wealth so no one is needy. When our Lord was resurrected, he came back with his wounds, but the wounds didn’t stop him. No one is so hurt, so poor, so sinful they cannot help another. Indeed, Christ came back with a mission – to go out from the locked doors and embrace the world.

So Clarence and Florence unlocked their doors. They teamed up with Rev. Martin and his wife Mabel English and started Koinonia (coy-a-nee-ah) Farm.

The name Koinonia is an ancient Greek word, used often in the New Testament, meaning deep fellowship. The community was built around four core beliefs:

-treat all human beings with dignity and justice,
-choose love over violence,
-share all possessions and live simply,
-and be stewards of the land.

Koinonia farm was a commune, where the produce and work was held in common. If that was not radical enough, Koinonia farm was integrated with black and white families living side by side, working side by side, eating side by side and being paid the same for their labor. This was 1942; in deep south Georgia; when Jim Crow ruled.

But the Jordan and England families knew the same issues that plagued sharecropping white farmers plagued sharecropping black farmers. They knew raising a farming family is hard with white kids and hard with black kids. They knew – poverty doesn’t care what color your skin is. And far more importantly – God loves the color God made your skin — from bluish ebony to snowy white and every hue on the face of the earth.

Together, the families were able to support one another’s crops so that if one failed, another succeeded, and no one went hungry. Together, they learned about what is was to be white in Georgia in the 1940s. What is was to be black in Georgia in the 1940s.

They did this in the name of Christ.

But also in the name of Christ, the Ku Klux Klan began to attack Koinonia. The placed bombs in their farmer’s stands. They drove by shooting at workers in the fields. They rallied 70 cars to drive through the farms terrifying the families. In the name of Christ, the KKK demanded the farm shut down.

The Koinonia farmers refused to take up firearms and fight back. They believed in their values: treat all humans with dignity and justice. This includes your enemies and those that hate you. Choose love over violence. This includes carrying your cross and not taking up a sword. Share all possessions and live simply. This means also sharing the hate, sharing the danger, sharing the wrath of the KKK. And be stewards of the land. Good farmers. Good caretakers.

So, when they couldn’t sell at their stands without being shot at, or bombed, they began to sell their nuts by mail. Their marketing was “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia!” And they did. Lots and lots of pecans. You can still order their nuts to this day.

As the farm learned more about poverty, they realized even housing is outside the ability of many families to own. And so they began to invite families to build houses, and then live in them. The no interest loans the farm gave out allowed the families to have a house when no bank would support them because they were poor, or black, or known to be against the KKK. Out of this grew the program we know as Habitat for Humanity.

Four years into the program, the Fuller family of Koiniona moved to Zaire, which is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, to begin the same program there. With them went Rev. Roger Miller, my belated mentor, of the newly created United Church of Christ. And this program was successful, and moved on – and now a half million houses around the world have been built by volunteers and homeowners for families to own with no-interest loans.

You have roots in all of this.

Koinonia. Habitat for Humanity. That Holy Spirit that stood up against accusations and triumphed over violence, over evil, with love, and humor, is still alive. It triumphed in Jerusalem. It triumphed in Georgia and Zaire. It triumphs here.

We live in a community that has rumbles of racism still deep in its core. We live in an America that is hell-bent on forgetting we are a nation of immigrants, a tossed salad of cultures and races mixed together, and we are better for it. We live in a time when Jim Crow laws are coming back and establishing white, male, heterosexual American men as the ideal and all other “deviants” from this are lesser people. Women. Homosexuals. Non-Americans. Anyone with any sort of skin color OR suspected non-White-American ancestors. The KKK and the Alt-Right violent movement groups are growing.

We could be like those early disciples. We could close our doors. Lock them. Gather together and not go out.

But that won’t protect us.

Walls are not security.

Ignorance is not security.

Active here is the Ku Klux Klan. But also the Creativity Movement. The Women of Aryan Unity and Vanguard America. All are Neo-Nazi groups. Add too the Aryan Nations’ Sadistic Sons and the Traditionalists Worker Party. The Daily Stormer, a world-wide known website for Neo-Nazi news, is published out of Worthington. Anti-Muslim groups ACT for America and Soldier of Odin operate here. Mission: America, the Bible Believers Fellowship, and Pass the Salt Ministries work to promote hate crimes against gays and lesbians. In the name of Christ – doing violence!

But we are doing good work. Through education, through refusing these ideologies that take our sacred scripture and turn it into a weapon of harm, of hate, we ARE reducing the number of hate groups.

We’re loving the hate away.

When I first started here at Saint Michael’s, Lancaster had 3 nationally known home-grown hate groups. Now, we do not.

Because we, here in Fairfield, here in Licking, here in Ohio, here in this very room – we will not tolerate abusing the neighbor, the stranger, the foreigner and the alien among us.

To be Christian, to be like Christ, is to go out proclaiming: Peace be with you.

I bring you peace.

The angels told the women to tell the disciples to go on to Galilee to see Jesus. Go on. Keep working. Keep spreading the message of peace.

But here they are, huddled and scared. So Jesus comes to them. And again – tells them – go and spread the word. Forgive sins. Embrace people. Spread the Good News of love, peace, acceptance, forgiveness, and the unity of all kindred. All peoples. All nations.

And Jesus comes again the following week to tell them the same, again, and to gather up now Thomas to send him out, too. Spread the peace.

And Jesus comes again and again – here this very day – telling us the same – gathering us up and sending us out – go out to all peoples, all nations, and all kindred LIVING the Gospel. LIVING peace.

Jesus could have been furious with his disciples. They abandoned him. But instead, he gifts peace.

We could be furious with those who are different, physically or socially or culturally. But we are called to live in peace.

Go. Be the peace of Christ.

Go. Speak to relatives and friends. Don’t be quiet when someone tells a racist joke, or complains about “the blacks,” “the Muslims,” “the migrants,” “the immigrants,” or “the Mexicans.” Speak peace for and all people.

Be the peace of Christ.

Amen.

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Made for Good Works

John 3:14-21gandhi
Ephesians 2:1-10

Paul is writing to the little group of religious refugees in Ephesus.

He says, once — all of you — including all of us here at Saint Michael’s — were existing in the course of the world, following the ‘aeon’ or spirit of the air, the gestalt, or the common way of doing things. And the common way of doing things is disobedient to God. It’s full of trespasses and sins. We harm each other even though we don’t mean to just because we’re in the world. The systems we live in have racism, sexism, and ableism, agism, and all kinds of isms built into them. Without meaning to, we participate. Our clothes are made overseas in sweat shops. Our food is often gathered in by hands paid 10 cents a basket – almost slaves. Our electricity comes from the lives of men and women and kids who suffer from coal pollution.

Just by being – we are harming others.

And even if we die, we still harm others – because now we’re embalmed with chemicals, and our relatives burn fossil fuels to come to our funerals, and those fuels pollute the air, and water, and ground and…

You get the idea.

Living or dying, the “normal” way of the world is to harm others… even if we don’t mean to and don’t want to.

So we become the children of wrath, anger, and frustration. If we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, why put the extra effort into fair trade and local food instead of the cheapest food? Why bring your own bags to the store when they’ll happily give you plastic? Why conserve electricity. Or not litter.

The world, as it is, encourages us to follow our impulses, our short-lived desires, and have faith only in that which we can touch and sense with our bodies.

Paul says all of this made us dead.

Dead.

Not physically – but inside.

Dead.

Dreading to get up in the morning.

Dead. Depressed and seeking escape.

Dead. Not feeling generous, or merciful, or loving.

Dead. Just existing. Not living. Not thriving.

But, says Paul, God — rich in mercy — rich in love — reached out to us. We didn’t change. We didn’t do anything to merit this. God just in God’s love, and mercy, and grace chose to reach out and touch the world – touch us – full of sin and trespasses and stuck in these systems that force us to just keep sinning against one another – God reaches into this world, and picks us up one by one, and places us in a new world.

A world not ruled by the way things are.

A world instead ruled by the Messiah.

This new world lays atop of the world with the way things are, and we exist in both simultaneously. The new world, reigned by God, is a world of justice, and mercy, and peace. A world where it is possible to live in unified diversity. A world of light, and love, and understanding.

It is the world that one day will be the normal world, the way things usually are. But that heaven on earth is not yet here.

Instead, we get little glimpses of it, and invited to live into it now.

We’re the people with just a foretaste, a little snack, before the big meal.

And since we’re the snackers, it’s our job to get the house ready for the big meal. We know what is to come, and we’re to live that new world into fruition. Live like that new world is already here. Because the more we live like that, the closer by is the realm of God.

Paul says we — who stand with one foot mired in the way things are, and one foot in the realm of God — we’re created for this very work. Created at the very beginning to do good works.

I don’t know if Paul means when we are reborn in Christ, or when God first creates us, but I am confident Paul is saying we Christians have a mission, a purpose – and that is to live our lives in the realm of God.

Living in the realm of God is doing good, doing right, to ourselves and to others.

Now – works and deeds never save us from sin. No one can be perfect. Don’t think church and heaven and God are for the perfect. Paul is not saying earn your way into heaven. Remember? He said God already moved, already opened the door, and is welcoming us into the new creation.

Rather, Paul is saying when we live in that new creation, we cannot help but do goodness to one another. It is what we’re created to do. So keep encouraging it!

Truly, Church and heaven and God are for the sinsick, the people who are sick and tired of the way things are, and want change. The people who want sin to be no more.

We are saved from sin and harm and evil being the norm by God – who came, and showed the world that God is stronger than the sin and harm and evil we inflict on each other, or even God’s own son.

The Easter story is: God won. Jesus is resurrected. Sin, harm, evil, death are defeated.

This is what John and Paul are writing about.

We read today part of Jesus’ speech to Nicodemus in John. Nicodemus, you may recall, is the man who comes to Jesus in the middle of the night to ask questions. And in the book of John, Jesus says — remember Moses lifting up, exalting, the serpent? The serpent was a symbol of death. Yet, through it, came life. So, too, do I have to be lifted up – exalted – through a sign of death.

God defeated the serpent at the serpents’ own game. Defeated death through death. And defeats the way of the world, the way of sin, by entering the world and changing the way of the world to one of love.

Remember – “God so loved the world…” God so LOVES the world… that God’s love is transforming the “normal” from sin to love.

And we’re the people asked to participate.

That’s the condemnation, writes Paul. Judgment doesn’t come from Jesus, or the cross, or even God.

We are our own judges and judgment.

If we love light, and goodness, and Truth, if we want to work for harmony, and peace, and love; then we are already living into the new realm, the new reign, of God.

But if we love darkness, being evil, and lies, if we want to work for self-security, profit, and out of fear, then we don’t like God’s message. And we are choosing to live in the world ruled by the way things are right now.

That is our own judgment. We choose to live into the new world, or we choose to try to keep things the way they are.

John writes like it is super easy to pick one or the other.

But, I find it is SO hard.

Change is scary.

I like being secure and I’d like to be rich.

Sometimes, I don’t want to understand what goes into making my shoes because if I understand, and still choose this brand, then I am implicated. I am guilty. I am now choosing to participate in the sin of harming those workers in India and China.

Sometimes, I prefer the darkness. The not understanding. The not knowing.

Knowing, the light, is too painful. I’d rather my deeds not be exposed.

You’ve heard it said before that ignorance is bliss.

Yes, it is.

The judgement is whether we’ll give up that ignorance, and bliss, and choose the narrow path – full of heart-ache, and full of great reward – but not easy in the least.

Being Christian is hard work. It is heart work: the hardest kind. And changing the world is not easy.

I cannot help but wonder how my own little deeds have any effect on the world. What a penny? A jar of peanut butter? A smile? What are these tokens of kindness compared to the massive amount of harm occurring?

I am a single drop of water in a dry desert.

So Paul writes us encouragement.

Every dollar is made out of pennies.
Every forest is made out of trees.
Every house is made out of nails.
Every Christian is made out of single prayers.

In the body of Christ, no eye can say an ear isn’t needed, and no face say no “part we cover up” isn’t needed. Everything, every little bit, together, makes a difference.

And it all comes down to the little daily things we do.

Comes down to the very atoms of our bodies.

The atoms of the world. And universe.

Changing the world begins wherever you are.

For wherever you are, you are called to live into the realm of God and show it, and its victory, over the realm of the way things currently are.

Today we took an offering for the One Great Hour of Sharing. This helps organizations large and small all across our world.

Consider Sarah. She is a young mother, and was faced with an incredible challenge: her nine-month-old daughter couldn’t consume solid foods — or any food, for that matter — and as a result, the little baby wasn’t growing. Starving.

Willing to try anything, Sarah would feed her daughter new foods in the hope that her daughter’s body would finally accept some type of nourishment. Time and time again her hopes were dashed.

Enter Bread for the World, and the One Great Hour of Sharing, and WIC on Wheels of Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Enter the physical, and spiritual, and mental, and social powers of the World That Will Be. The world of generosity, inclusion, and love.

The mobile clinic brings services for young families directly to communities and offers services such as healthy foods, nutrition education and healthcare referrals.

The mobile clinic has been a godsend for Sarah and her daughter. It was there that Sarah was given a voucher for a literally lifesaving formula for her daughter.

Sarah’s daughter has gained strength, and her sensitive stomach has become more agreeable to some foods with the help of the mobile clinic’s nutritionist.

How was this child saved? Through a mother’s prayers, through the pennies we pay in taxes, through the money we donate to the UCC, through the people who volunteer and promote Bread for the World, through all of us who are living into God’s realm now that says no one – not even a young mother, who lacks transportation, with a sickly child, should suffer physically, socially with stigma or mentally with fear.

Pennies and prayers.

Or consider Ramona of the Dominican Republic. Ramona is a widow with three children who feared she would become destitute – and on the streets.
But things started to turn around when Ramona received and raised her first piglet. She gave four of that sow’s initial offspring to neighbors and sold eight, using the proceeds to invest in more animals. She’s sold over 50 pigs to date and made more than $4,000. Ramona’s business has thrived with help from her children and the day laborers she hires from among her neighbors. She now has nearly 100 animals and a brighter future.

Likewise, Juliana, mother of three, saw everything improve thanks to that one small gift. She has made $620 so far from selling piglets after giving six to neighbors. She’s thrilled that the money helped her send her two sons to school and pay for their school supplies, uniforms, backpacks, shoes and transportation.

Best of all, Juliana’s pig business has brought her back to her community. She used to be a domestic worker in the nation’s capital, Santo Domingo, and made the commute home only on weekends. Now, she earns enough to stay home, raise and sell pigs, and run a small grocery store she and her husband opened in their home.

The pig project is part of the Foods Resource Bank’s Dominican Republic Bateyes project. These programs are supported by One Great Hour of Sharing and encourage love of neighbor. Today, families are “paying it forward,” enabling more and more of their neighbors to make life-changing improvements to their circumstances as well.

The program works and is modeled after Heifer International.

Pigs. Pennies. Prayers.

Now consider, when you are an immigrant and disaster strikes, where do you turn for help?
Listen to one survivor’s words of the California fires last year: “The fire busted open the window in the house and woke us up. We left wearing our pajamas, not even wearing shoes. We spent two nights in a parking lot because the shelter was full. We finally came home and we had no food. [A man from the UCC church] brought food to our house so we could eat.

 

Another survivor said, “Gas stations were selling water for two times the usual price. We left our home with nothing. [The UCC] made sure we had food, water, information, whatever we needed.”
A third survivor added, “The people I worked for evacuated so I lost my job. [There are] seven people [in my family] and we’ve moved four times.”
Because these are immigrants, they were unable to receive support from FEMA or other relief organizations. But we are living into the world that could be, not the world that is.
So – we are called to help everyone.
The UCC of California became a safe place to find assistance, food, water, gift cards, holiday food baskets, connection to recovery resources and social support. They became the advocates of the most vulnerable.
Several women “were being asked to clean up fire damage at the hotel where they were employed and were not supplied with any masks or special gear. When they resisted, their manager berated them and threatened them with the loss of their jobs.”
With the help of the church, these women kept their jobs AND were given the proper gear to not breathe in the toxic ash.
Months after the fires, there are still scores of people who need assistance. Out of work since flames sent them fleeing their homes, many are dealing with unpaid bills and food insecurity.
So the church is still helping. Still sending people out, creating a supportive environment where everyone recovers from the fires together as a community.

People. Pigs. Pennies. Prayer.

The world changes with little deeds, and with how we live our life.
I leave you with two guiding quotes:
First, Mahatma Gandhi: “My life is my message.”
Second, Mother Theresa, “Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”

Who is the person nearest you?
Live your life as your message- the message of Christ.

Amen.

_________

 

Benediction

 

Sponsor a child . . . Plant a tree . . . Rebuild a home . . . Visit a prisoner . . . Be a mentor . . . Teach . . . Serve a meal . . . Bring water to the desert . . . Pray . . . Donate . . . the opportunities are endless. And they’re all right here. What part of our world is waiting for you to make a difference?

I Dare You

what-would-jesus-do-flipping-over-tables1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Two weeks ago I met with Liberty Union High school Superintendent Todd Osborn. He spoke to our Senior Citizens and myself about LU. With him were some of our seniors. They spoke about how many programs are at LU – active and social programs, like sports. Quiet and reflective programs, like chess club.

They were there to reassure us. One of them said,  “Nothing like what’s happening at other schools will ever happen here. If there’s a gun threat, our whole community would turn out with their own guns to take out that shooter.”

This week, two students threatened to shoot up the school. They were interviewed, and arrested.

Wake up – wake up! What is happening at other schools, in other communities, is happening right here too – with our own seniors. Our own kids. Our own babies.

“That shooter” is OUR shooter.

“That shooter” is OUR child.

“That shooter” who we were so confident the whole community would rally against, is not some outsider. It not some stranger. Is not some demon dropped into our laps.

That shooter is somebody’s kid. Somebody’s brother or sister. Somebody’s classmate. That kid is our grandchild, our nephew. Our niece. Our FFA member.

“Nothing like that is ever going to happen here” is not true.

We just had a brush with gun violence in our own school.

What are we going to do about it?

You’ve heard the story about a frog sitting in a pot of water. It will sit there, letting the water creep warmer and warmer, until suddenly it realizes the water is TOO warm. But by then, it is too late for the frog to leap out.

Gun violence in our country is warming water. The water has gotten warm enough that its threats are being felt in our own tiny community. How warm will we let it go before we do something?

Before we leap out?

You hear — it is mental health. That is why kids shoot up their schools. If this were the case, wouldn’t all counties have the incredible number of school shootings we have? We’re up to one every few weeks. Think of that!

It is not just mental health.

Why children are shooting up schools is complex. It cannot be simplified to just this or that. It is a combination of isolation, as Superintendent Osborn spoke about. It is a combination of bullying – which is made worse with access to instant social media. It is a combination of youth: death and mortality is a hard concept to just about everyone under age 30. It is a combination of our fractured society where people are numbers and not individual souls. It is more. It is complicated. It is nothing that can be resolved just with medication and saying anyone with depression is a potential violent threat.  struggle with depression.

No, the desire to harm your fellows is complex. Multifaceted.

However, solid evidence shows – although the desires are complex… the ability to actually follow through depends on a large part on access to guns – especially guns designed to kill multiple people in a short time.

The DESIRES are hard to control, predict, and work with. The desires are countered by the programs our teacher and staff and family and friends are implementing. We caught and acted on the voiced desires this time. We did rally together. We did listen. We are a community. The desires to harm are countered by our desire to stand together, to love, to truly listen to one another.

Desires ARE being addressed.

But access is not.

And this is a two-sided coin where we are only polishing one side.

I spoken with kids who have considered shooting up their schools. Their desire came from complex issues at home, at school, at life. Desires are complex. I don’t want to demonize any of our kids. They’re normal kids. Golly – I remember wanting to burn my own school some days thinking it’d get me out of a test. That desire is there. And when we’re young, desires are often very, very poorly thought out.

But the ability to follow through on that desire? The access to military style weapons?

I don’t know about our LU case, but in the case of those I’ve spoke with, the lack of easy access to guns stopped the horror. All the hoops and procedures needed to buy the guns they’d need, and the ammo, was too much. It would take time. It would take money. It would take someone to drive them. These teens’ impulsive desire faded as they aged, as family and friends and teachers and students built relationships with them. As they passed out of high school and out of the insanity that is called the hormones of being a teen.

Desires are complex.

And we’re addressing them.

But not access; and not our relationship with guns.

I’ve spoken with you all before about guns. You know I don’t think guns are evil, but are a tool. Like fire. Fire is neither good or bad. It is useful, and harmful, depending on who uses it and if they’re trained to use it and how they use it. You know I don’t think guns should be outright banned. We use them, especially in rural life.

The issue is we then, and now, are so reluctant to change our relationship with guns. Then, I said we’d offer thoughts and prayers… be outraged… but nothing would happen. I showed how already the world was moving on – publishing news on those murdered at the Jason Aldeen concert on the same page as advertisements for guns.

The children of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are leading a charge to change this. To change businesses when the law is too stalemated to change. To change how we relate with guns – to not host gun blessings in churches and to not worship guns.

We live by Jesus the Christ – not the Second Amendment.

We live by the Prince of Peace – not the idol called MY GUN.

So I dare you.

I dare you to cleanse our temple.

Jesus strode into the temple in Jerusalem and saw business as usual. Everything needed to run the temple was occurring – people were buying sacrifices, changing their foreign money for local money – doing normal life preparing for Passover.

We’re here. Doing normal life, preparing for Easter – which occurs in Passover. We’re doing everything we need for the traditions of our religion. We’re planning Easter eggs hunts and family dinners.

And Jesus strides in and is infuriated.

Infuriated – not because we’re celebrating. Jesus celebrates the Passover.

Infuriated – because dedication to God had been replaced by idolatry. The Temple and its festivals were not God. As Jesus said, there will be a time when you worship God neither here nor there – for we worship God wherever we are. God is not contained by a building. Jesus wanted them to know the Temple would be destroyed, but our access to God would not be.

Has our dedication to God been replaced by idolatry? How can we celebrate new life, cute bunnies and chicks, and spring colors while ignoring the snuffing of life, the little cold hands who used to cradle bunnies and chicks, and the spring flowers laid on fresh graves?

Jesus dared people to over throw their system, their government, even their own church, to get back to following God and God’s way.

Jesus dares us to do the same. To demand change. To enact change. To be change – even if we get the ire of our systems, our government, or our own churches.

Whatever is stopping you from following God is an idol. It replaces God.

Whenever an object is more important to you than the love of others – that object is an idol.

Whenever a human law is more important to you than God’s law to love God and love your neighbor – that human law is an idol.

We have a stumbling block. Something foolish. Something stupid. Something that makes no sense. It’s called a crucified savior.

A savior who loved others so much, he was willing to lay aside his angels, his sword, his gun, and die for others without a weapon or even a spoken defense.

A savior who loved God so much, he was willing to wholly submit to God’s message of inclusive, love, and radical earth-changing shift in priorities.

A savior who taught us that if we destroy our systems, our temple, our laws, our devotion to guns… even if we’ve spent our whole lives defending these things… That savior will resurrect us. That savior will forgive us. That savior will guide us. That savior will lead us. That savior will, and does now, and always will, love us.

Saint Michael’s, we almost had a Sandy Hook. A Rancho Tehama Elementary. An Umpqua College. A Virginia Tech.

We don’t because people listened to their youth and responded. Let us keep listening. Keep responding. Keep working together.

I dare you to repent, to turn back to God, to release idolatry, and to cleanse the sin of gun-worship in the USA.

I dare you to write to your politicians.

I dare you to speak with your family and friends.

I dare you to speak with your feet at rallies.

I dare you to speak with your money, and where you choose to shop.

I dare you to speak with your youths. Listen to them. Ask them about how they feel. Ask them for their guidance. For “out of the mouth of babes,” no?

I dare you to pray.

I dare you to act.

I dare you to love.

Love as Jesus loved.

What would Jesus do?

Tossing over tables, chasing people with whips, making a scene, and being political are within the realms of possibility.

So too is being crucified, scorned, mocked, arrested and beaten.

So too is living into the Reign of God now, and being resurrected, and given new, ever refreshing, ever fulfilling life.

What would Jesus do?

I dare you to do it.

Amen.

Caretakers of Love & Knowledge

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28

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I like reading websites full of weird facts, stories, and research. This week I fell down the internet rabbit hole of the Smithsonian Magazine online. I read about the Herero Genocide. Never heard of it? Me either until now. But it was where Germany perfected genocide, and tested out the methods used in the Holocaust.

 

The same arguments of social Darwinism and cleansing the world of inferior ethnicities appear in period debates about the Herero and the Jews, Rroma, and gays. The same methods of collecting into death camps and using the captives for labor, their bodies for experiments, and their bodies for profit occur. Indeed – when you look at the names of people involved in the Herero Genocide… those same names appear in the Holocaust.

 

So who are the Herero? They are a cattle herding people in West Africa. They joined with their neighbors in the early 1900s to try to expel the Imperial Germans who were raping their women and girls, stealing their cattle, and taking their land. The Germans debated what to do about the Herero problem, and their general decided the issue the decree,

 

“Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun or cattle, will be executed. I shall spare neither women nor children. I shall give the order to drive them away and fire on them. Such are my words to the Herero people.”

 

Their neighbors the Nama and the Herero themselves had their wells poisoned. People were driven into deserts. People were fed to sharks. Those that were captured were turned into labor slaves, or “comfort” slaves, or used as human guinea pigs in the name of medicine and science.

 

Why were these articles coming across my screen this week? Because the grandchildren of the few Herero who survived approached the American Museum of Natural History in New York and asked for hundreds of bodies. The largest collection of bones the museum owns are the bodies of the Herero who were sold for science and curiosity after the victims were murdered. The bones had been cleaned of flesh and muscle a hundred years ago with glass shards given to the still-living captives in the camps. They had to cut apart, desiccate, and then sell their loved ones away. These grandchildren came to ask for the bodies so the Herero story could be told, and funerals finally held. The museum and the Herero are in talks now about how best to tell the story and honor the dead.

 

You and I, everyone, we like to say we’re an advanced society.

 

The Herero, and later the Jews and Rroma and others, were considered ‘lesser’ societies. Backwards. “Sh*thole” societies, if you listen to some American leaders.

 

But it is our advanced society that has perfected mass murder. And recently perfected it.

 

Rev. Fred Craddock uncomfortably writes that “not believing in demons has hardly eradicated evil in our world.”

 

Evil is real. Evil is happening. Genocide is STILL happening today. What I described? Change the dates and the names, and it is happening in Dafur this very moment and 250,000 have died. It is happening in Syria, and Ethiopia, in the Congo and in Burma. ((genocidewatch.org))

 

We don’t really believe in demons much. When we read Jesus expelled a demon from the man in the crowd, we think ‘well, they thought it was a demon. But it really was just mental illness.’ Or Epilepsy. Or some other thing. Demon possession isn’t real.

 

Demon possession doesn’t need to be real. Evil is real. Evil is happening. And evil doesn’t care if we believe in it or not.

 

In Jesus’ encounter, we see what evil does. “People who suffer the effects of being occupied or “possessed” by demons lose their ability to control their movements and their voices; either they are immobilized or compelled to move destructively” ((Rev. Dr. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge))

 

The Herero were possessed by demons. Demons who were driving them into deserts, death camps, and slavery. Demons who stole their movements and their voices.

 

The soldiers who listened to their leaders were possessed by demons. They were immobilized, and thought they had no other choice than to follow orders. They were scared to speak up, scared to look weak, scared to lose their own lives.

 

The leaders were possessed by demons. They dreamed of money and cattle and land. They feared the natives. They were compelled to move destructively.

 

Evil has a way of being ‘the norm’ and that is when we get possessed – taken over – and lose our freedom and agency. Sometimes we give this up willingly. It is easier to say you did wrong because everyone else was doing it. Sometimes freedom and agency is stolen from us. And sometimes we don’t even realize we’re captives.

 

My voice is stolen when others speak at me, instead of listening. Who listens to you? Right now, plenty in my local and national government are speaking to the world for me, but it is not my message – a Christian message of love, tolerance, forgiveness and welcome. My voice is stolen and I am possessed.

 

Immobilized. Are we immobilized? We feel powerless, feel unable to really change things. Feel tired. Feel helpless. Feel as through there is too much pain in the world for us to actually do anything… we’re demon possessed.

 

The norm is evil. The norm is we’re compelled to be destructive. To ourselves – harming our health, our communities, our peace. Destructive. To others. Harming the balance of the world, and damaging the world whether we do nothing or we act. Compelled to destroy just by being.

 

Consider the lights here – we have clean electric energy, but it is only clean for us because down on the Ohio River are people living in the shadow of a coal plant, breathing its smoke, and taking the toxins for us.

 

We are captives to demons. Captive to evil systems.

 

When Jesus appears in the synagogue, it is a normal worship day like any other. People are there to hear the hope that their present world doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Jesus appears in as normal of a place as if he were to walk into Saint Michael’s right now. And those in the crowd were just like us here today – gathered in hope, in prayer, and carrying on the love and knowledge of God.

 

We’re caretakers. Safe guarding a treasure for generation to generation. We share with all our Christian, Jewish, and Muslim siblings the knowledge that God has revealed God’s self to us, and the way the world is — with present evil – with entrapping systems that bring us to violence after violence – this is not how things HAVE to be.

 

Today, just as that time 2000 years ago, we’re gathering in hope, while aware so much destruction has occurred and is occurring. But we have hope. We have love. We have knowledge God is working with us and will not let the divine dream die.

 

Whenever I think about hope, and Jesus, I like the image of a new sprout from the root of Jesse. The idea is that the tree, the lineage, of King David (Jesse’s son) has been cut down by the ancient Romans. But God will cause a new tree to grow out of the roots, out of a cousin or distant relative. It’s why the New Testament spends a lot of time tracing Jesus’ genealogy. Those are his roots back to Jesse to fulfill the prophecy.

 

You may picture a grand oak or maple.

 

I picture in my head a hybrid poplar. Okay, not any hybrid poplar but THE hybrid poplar named The 4th of July Tree. Picture a mulberry with poplar leaves and you’ve got the look of this tree. This little foot long stick was planted on year on the 4th of July, and by the 4th the following year, it was now two feet large. The third year it was up to my shoulders. The fifth year it now spread about nine feet high and wide. Year five it was a story large, and year six two stories large. In six short years it went from a foot to taller than the farm house. In six short years its roots went from its hole fifty feet away from the house to coming up through the house toilet. We cleared out the roots, but year seven… once again they appeared in the toilet bowl.

 

You know what we had to do. The 4th of July tree had to go.

 

So my family cut it down. We stacked the wood so it would season and chopped the base of the tree to the ground so we could mow over it.

 

One week later, there was a strange patch of grass. I went out to look and found that the stump had grown eight little six-inch trees. My dad said – don’t worry – when I mow, they’ll be cut down. Sometimes trees have a little bit of energy stored up in their roots, and they come back after the main trunk is cut.

 

So he mowed.

 

And mowed all summer.

 

And every week the tree came back from its roots.

 

This really befuddled all of us. How much energy did this tree store up in its roots? How long could it keep living without leaves and sunlight?

 

In fall, we went to split wood. But the woodpile was missing. In its place was a little woods of hybrid poplars. Each and every log had not just shot up on BOTH ends with new branches, but had also placed ROOTS. Long roots grew all over the seasoned wood and tall new trees shaded the green wood.

 

Dad decided it was time to gasoline burn all this hybrid poplar.

 

The pyre over the stump burned all day long as we split wood and tossed the bad into the blaze. Inside the hybrid poplar logs and stump roasted.

 

And the following week they all sprouted up from the ashes. The following spring, new hybrid poplars appeared in the grass everywhere a branch had fallen from mowing down the tree over and over and over again.

 

How much energy did this tree have?! It’s been twenty years and my mother is still finding bits of this tree growing.

 

When I think about the root of Jesse, I think about this tree. God’s has way more energy than we can even begin to fathom. Horrible things happen – genocides, murders, possessions of evil of all kinds big and small. We mess up. We hurt ourselves. We hurt each other. We hack and chop and burn and poison the life of the world… and yet… the tree comes back.

 

The ancient people in the synagogue were waiting for the tree to grow again. Jesus said — it is growing now!

 

We modern people in the church are waiting for the tree to grow again. And Jesus tells us – it is growing now!

 

It is always growing.

 

We are the caretakers of this knowledge. It’s our job to guard it, and pass it with love to the next generation. It’s our job to look evil in the face and say ‘not today! Not ever!’ We’re to speak with the authority gifted to us to “heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners” When is the year of the Lord’s favor? Now. Immediately.

 

Paul reminds us not to get puffed up with what we know, because there is always more we don’t know. Maybe demons are real. Maybe there are many gods and many lords. There is much we don’t know… what we do know is love. And love knows us.

 

And love — God– wants the world to know it is loved.

 

And that God can raise up new beginnings even out of stones, cut down trees, and desolated people.

 

Amen.

Do Not Fear

DSC_237012 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Luke 1:26-38

Do not be afraid.

This is a strange greeting, isn’t it? Yet this is how Gabriel, in the Gospel of Luke, says hello to Mary and Zechariah both.

Do not be afraid – this is the greeting the Angels give the shepherds.

“Each word of assurance offered by the angel is not without cause. Indeed, each instance is accompanied by an awe-inspiring, even unusual moment that reasonably sparks wonder and even fear. Indeed, the practice of offering a word of assurance at moments of supernatural wonder and disruption to the norms of daily life is something Jesus takes up in his ministry later in the gospel.” ((Shivey Smith))

Jesus will tell Simon – do not be afraid, from now on, you wish fish for people. To Jarius – do not be afraid! Just believe, and your daughter will be healed. And to the disciples, and to us, Jesus will say, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”

Do not be afraid.

It’s a strange greeting, but maybe one we should use.

Do not be afraid, it is Christmas Eve and the very God who crafted your bones from atoms, and the cosmos from chaos, who has numbered your head hair and set breath in the lungs of dinosaurs and humans alike – has come to us as a helpless baby who can’t even find his fingers to put in his mouth let alone walk, talk, or rule as our prince of peace.

Do not be afraid – God’s got this.

Do not be afraid – Mary – you are favored with a child conceived out of wedlock, to be born in a barn, raised as a refugee, condemned as a criminal, and murdered before your eyes.

But God’s got this.

Do not be afraid, Saint Michael’s – we have God’s favor, too. And it isn’t good times, and wealth. God’s favor isn’t an easy life and endless happiness. God’s favor is messier.

Like – new born diaper messy.

Like – 3-days dead Lazarus messy.

Like – empty tombs and locked doors and miracles and crucifixions and martyrs and loving that person you’d love to hate messy.

God’s favor is an invite to be part of the very re-creation of the world.

Do not be afraid – God’s got this – and God wants you to be a part of it.

Do not be afraid “functions as an invitation for Mary to do the unusual and the bold for the sake of the entire world because “nothing will be impossible with God”” ((shivey smith))

Do not be afraid is our invitation to step out and do the unusual and the bold too – because the house and kin-dom of God are now forever sure.

The unusual – that which isn’t to be mentioned in polite company – we’re to bring up those topics and causes, and live out that unusual way of reaching out to the outcasts, the marginalized, the vulnerable, the hated. Do not be afraid – you’re going to get filthy on the outside, but inside, you’ll be whiter than snow. Do not be afraid – God is with you.

We’re invited to be bold. To speak the words people do not want to hear. To preach love when everyone is throwing stones. To be God’s advocate when that is anything but popular. But do not be afraid – God is with you.

Anything is possible for God… God does miracles in the Bible, and is doing miracles now. So why does God bother with the messiness of involving us? Rev. Kathryn Matthews of the UCC writes, “we suppose that God could have chosen to save the world, to fulfill God’s promises of old all on God’s own; after all, nothing is impossible with God.

However, this humble but earth-shaking conversation [between Mary and Gabriel] tells us that God wants humanity to be part of the effort, even if it makes things much more complicated and even difficult (which it does): As Brian K. Peterson writes, “God apparently is not willing to do this behind our backs or without our own participation” (New Proclamation Year B 2008).”

Think about it – if you’re not invested into the world, will you care for it?

If you don’t have ownership, will you protect it?

I hear this time of year many people complain that kids have too many belongings, that everything is handed to them, and they don’t appreciate what they have then.

I hear all the time that said about my own generation.

There’s some truth to this, and it has nothing to do with age or generation. It has to do with investment.

I care more about those things I have spent time on, loved, prayed over, hoped for, and fought for. I care more about what I have tangibly put my hands on than what I have only a dim understanding of.

I care more about people I know, then those I don’t know.

You’re likely the same.

Maybe, God comes with this strange greeting of ‘do not be afraid’ and then leaps into humanity on humanity’s terms as a messy baby to get us more invested, more involved, with the cares of God – with the cares of re-creating the world into a place of love, hope, peace and joy.

Maybe we have a hard time loving the hard to fathom God of the universe… but we know how to love a baby, a child, a person. And so, God in the flesh, invites us to start loving others here.

And, maybe you can’t really care about a billion people you’ve never met… but you can care very dearly for your neighbor. And God says – yes! Do it. Love them deeply. Do not be afraid – I got this – But I want you to be a part of it, doing your own small part.
Here we are – our last Sunday of Advent, on Christmas Eve it’sself – what charity am I going to speak about?

Our own. Where we are doing our small part.

I’m talking about the moms and dads, grandparents, and aunts and uncles and friends and cousins in Baltimore and around the city who are sitting down today to eat a meal you donated.

I’m talking about the kids who don’t have to worry about if there will be breakfast tomorrow on Christmas morning because of you.

The Baltimore Thurston Food Pantry is our charity for today. It is messy. It is chaotic. It is God’s work in our community. It is an unusual and bold way God invites us to work alongside God.

Yes, there are food stamps. These takes weeks to apply and receive. People tend to like to eat every day and not once every few weeks.

Yes, there is emergency assistance. What if your emergency lasts a month – or two – before you’re able to find another job?

Yes, there are people ‘cheating the system.’ What does Tabitha do to earn a resurrection? What does Lazarus do? What have you done to earn God’s love?

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

God just loves you. And we’re called to just love others.

No qualifications asked.

Do not be afraid – God’s got this – and wants us to get involved too.

Needing a gift for that hard-to-buy-for-person who has everything? Now? In the final hours? Consider donating in their name.

From manger to temple, and from senate and house to our local food pantry – from the lowly to high and high to lowly – God is working, and inviting us, to make the vertical world horizontal, to be bold, to be unusual, to love justice and walk humbly and let our lives be our message of God’s radical love.

Amen.

Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone

luther95theses1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

 

Love a dead person? Worried they might be being tortured for their sins? Set those rests aside! Buy an Indulgence today! Only $5!

Tired of bad things happening to you? Buy an Indulgence today and get right with God! Piece of mind is priceless, right?

Planning a sin? Never fear! Buy your coverage for that sin now! Got a deal! Booklet of 5 for $5! Never be caught red-handed in a sin again!

See here? This is a Papal Bull – an official letter from the Pope – who is Jesus-on-Earth until Christ returns – and right here – for all you Germans who don’t read Latin – it says I – friar Tetzel, Grand Inquisitor, am telling the truth:

“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings / The soul from Purgatory springs!”

What did you say? Oh the money? The money is to be used to build upon Saint Peter’s Basilica! A most beautiful building of God!

Don’t you want to honor God?

Don’t you want your loved ones to stop suffering?

Don’t you want to cure the current woes in your life?

Get out your money!


It’s 1517, and nearby, the professor and monk Martin Luther watches Friar Tetzel with growing fury. He knows exactly where that money is coming from. It is being collected from moms who can barely provide for their children, and dads struggling to find word, and grandparents sick and worried. And it comes from well meaning friends and scared, uninformed, normal people.

And he knows where it is going. It slips off to friar Tetzel’s two employers – yes, one is the Pope. But the other is the Archbishop of Mainz, Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg. He had to pay an extortionate amount to the Pope to be appointed Cardinal. And now he’s paying his debts back with half the money Tetzel raises.

Luther listens to Tetzel, growing more and more furious, and remembering his trip to Rome seven years prior.

His Monastic Order went to Rome to argue in favor of more stringent requirements on monks. Along the way Luther saw Christianity of all its types across Europe. In places churches were like his own rural Germany — poor, struggling, and rarely assigned leaders who were well educated. In other places were churches who lived out the command to help the poor – and set up orphanages and hospitals. And in other places were affluent churches with well educated leaders. All of them part of the One Holy Roman Empire, all of them part of the One Holy Roman Church.

At long last Martin reached Rome itself – where the Pope ruled as Christ’s Representative. It was (is?) known as the holiest city on Earth; where the place between heaven and earth is so thin you just may hear angels’ wings. The story back then was that the city was literally built over the blood of martyrs and saints who were murdered for their Christian faith. And that holiness of those people so permeated the stone, was so thick in the air, that just being in the city makes a person more holy.

Young Martin Luther is so excited he can barely stand himself.

But… what meets his eyes is not heaven on earth.

Rome wasn’t just the capital of the Church, it was a capital of the Empire. And the position of Pope was not just about the Church… since the Church was also the Empire… the Pope also helped choose the Emperor. Therefore, being pious, being religious, and godly was not a requirement to be Pope. Having money, having connections, and being crafty WAS required.

Clergy copied their Popes (Martin saw 9 over his life time. Some holy, and sadly, many very unholy.) Some of the Popes Martin Luther knew had children, so their clergy had children. Openly, their vows of celibacy were ignored. Some of Martin’s Popes held drunken parties that lasted for days and featured little boys coming out of cakes…. and so the clergy were drunk and at parties and victimizing children.

While some churches were focused on hospitals, and orphanages, or just making ends meet enough to have a copy of Holy Scripture… here in Rome were palaces of gold and silver and jewels for the cardinals and popes. Here in Rome the great cathedrals were full of art and silks and marble. The richness here would save lives if it were sent to other places in the church. But instead, the wealth gathers dust among all the other riches.

Martin was deeply disturbed.

Back at home, the disturbed monk continued to think about the greed and sin he saw in Rome… and the attempts to be generous and holy he saw here in rural Germany.

And seven years pass. During this time, Monk Martin began reading the newly translated and available writings of Saint Augustine from 300 AD. Augustine argued the Bible, rather than church officials, is the ultimate source of religion authority. Augustine resonated with Martin Luther. Here, someone respected by the church– St. Augustine is a church father – gives a way to critique the church and its leaders. He argues scripture – scripture! – is more important than traditions, or the words of church leaders, or credos or dogmas.

So Martin begins to tell his students this, and read to them the works of Augustine. Martin believes the Church can right itself if it returns to scripture and changes itself to reflect scripture. He’s hopeful and optimistic.

Then this fateful day occurs – October 31st, 1517. Let me give you the background: The current Pope has announced it is time to work on St. Peter’s Basilica and sent out friars into the whole Empire to collect money for this. The way they did so was to sell Indulgences, which is absolution — forgiveness — to sinners in return for money.

And THIS Friar – Friar Tetzel – is preaching not just reduction of time in purgatory, but full release from purgatory and forgiveness of sins not yet committed.

THIS Pope and THIS Friar and THIS Archbishop are all concerned about money. Not the poor at all.

Martin has had enough. He writes 95 arguments, 95 theses, and, as legend has it, nails them on the Wittenberg Castle church’s front door announcing he intended to argue these points, and invites people to come argue with him. This is a scholarly thing to do. Come! Join Professor Luther in debating the pros and cons of Indulgences!

Come! Let’s talk about how to use St. Augustine to correct our clergy and get back on the right path!

However, what Luther was arguing wasn’t just about Indulgences… it was about who has power and authority… Scripture, the Pope, the clergy, the traditions of the church? Who is in charge?

And Martin was not known for being… soft spoken. He was a lot like John the Baptist. He was prone to saying things VERY strongly. So when he publishes things like: “Why does not the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus,” the richest king, “build the basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?” … word gets back to the Pope REAL quick.

And when Martin writes these things against Indulgences, and sends them to the Archbishop selling Indulgences…. Word gets back to the Pope about the heretic Martin Luther real quick.

Over the next several years, Luther would be examined, called to Rome, ordered to Recant, he’ll refuse. Still clinging to Scripture Alone, Martin will tell the people at the Diet of Worms, (not a literal eating of worms. It was a group of clergy called a Diet in the city of Worms): “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me. Amen.”

Luther would be branded a heretic. (Teizel’s preaching would be branded heretical too.) But Luther would be on the run for his life the rest of his life. And he’ll write against corruption in the church and teach that Scripture Alone is the final authority all his life.


Scripture is who guides us, classical Protestantism teaches. Not fallible clergy, corruptible church institutions, or traditions whose meaning gets lost over time. Scripture is all we need and is, according to Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

This led to ideas and teachings that have forever changed our world and affects us right now.

Because Scripture Alone is all a Christian needs to come to God, we are all a priesthood of believers. Every person can come to God without a mediator. No need for saints, or angels, or clergy. You can go to God directly.

It means many churches select their own clergy, or have no clergy at all… because clergy are tutors, not your connection, to God. I stand here today because of the reformation. You, Saint Michael’s, have chosen a woman as your pastor instead of having people elsewhere in the world give you a male pastor. Other churches are picking men, women, transgendered, and genderless pastors. Some pick highly education, some pick highly spiritual, some pick elderly and some pick young. This is because clergy shepherd, but you don’t need them. All you need is the Bible.

Which means you need a Bible.

In Luther’s time, books were rare and precious. Think of all the work that goes into it: you have to cut a tree or collect cotton, and cut it tiny, and wet it, and spread it out, and press it flat, and dry it into sheets of paper. And then you need a goose quill and a knife, and a bottle of ink made of oils and pigments. And someone has to sit and handwrite out every single line, word, and letter…. From Genesis to Numbers to Isaiah to Luke to Revelations. And someone then takes animal skin or fur, makes a thread, and sews page after page together. And someone makes a wood or metal cover to protect the whole thing. THOUSANDS of hours go into making a book.

And when very few read, and even fewer write (they were considered separate skills), this specialist work is not around often and takes more money than most anyone has.

Books are treasures. Literal treasures.

And the Printing Press changed all that. Now hundreds of hours could produce a book. And the power of who had access to scripture changed from only the rich, to now the rich and the middle class.

And by our time, Bibles are free, and everywhere – hotel rooms and pews, our personal homes and offices – our purses, our phones – everywhere. Elevating scripture means scripture is now available to be read – everywhere.

But you have to know how to read.

And learning to read your own language takes years, let alone learning a dead language like Vulgate Latin.

So, in part because of the Protestant Revolution, Bibles have been translated into hundred of languages and are continuing to be translated into new languages. You no longer have to be a scholar to read scripture.

But you do have to be able to read.

Here is the next major change Martin Luther’s insistence on Augustine’s authority of scripture – public education. Why do we require kids to learn to read and write? Why did the early Protestants insist on free, public, school for every child? Because they believed you MUST be able to read your Bible.

Public schools, public libraries, English in common languages, clergy of all walks and styles, and diversity among churches… all of this is related to that fateful time 500 years ago.


Now… Correcting ourselves with scripture, and scripture alone as the final authority, sounds good until we get into using scripture practically… and we add in the claims that early Protestants like Luther did: that scripture is Perfect, Without Errors, the Word of God, and doesn’t contradict itself…

See, Protestants like Charles Wesley, whom you know from the Methodist, admitted that parts of the Bible are… in error.

Scripture, until about 250 years after Jesus’ death, was a combination of oral and written histories and stories. It changed, it was letters, it was midrash, and adapted to the time and place and situation. Jesus quotes things which are not in our Bible, but in Jewish oral history – and our scripture references details of history that aren’t in any of our books. Take Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, for example. Was Adam created and then Eve, or were both created simultaneously? Depends on which story you read. And among the gospels… how many angels, if any, were present in Jesus’ empty tomb?

Sometimes, the scripture seems wrong because times and morality have changed. Deut. 22:28 advises any man who rapes a woman or girl who is not pledged in marriage owes her father money and owes the victim a marriage. Then, this was a charity – the woman would still have a man to care for her and wouldn’t be murdered for the rape… as she would be if she were a wife or fiancée. But nowadays? Absolutely not going to force victims of sexual violence to STAY with their abuser!

Charles Wesley advised we balance scripture with tradition, experience, and reason.

Luther advised cutting out the books and sections of the Bible that he didn’t like… like all of James… Hebrews… Revelations… and all that seemed non-authoritative to him. Other Protestant Reformers said no – and compromised on tossing out some of the Old Testament books, like Bel and the Dragon which we read part of today for the Children’s Message, but keeping all of the New Testament. This is why the Protestant Bible is missing the books known as the Apocrypha.

This isn’t the first time the Church has argued over what scripture is authoritative. The Church had did this in 250 AD, which is why it is missing the many more books that the Ethiopian Christians use.

If Scripture Alone is all that matters… which scripture?

If Scripture Alone is all that matters… what happens when we understand the same passage in different ways? Who is right?

If Scripture Alone is all that matters… what happens when different translators use different words for the ancient Latin, Greek, or Aramaic? Or different words in English for the same word in Greek like…. is it forgive us our debts or forgive us our trespasses? Same word in one language. Two different words in English.


As I said, the authority of scripture is nothing new at all. Not even in 250 AD. In our reading today, Jesus and the educated citizens get into a debate over scripture. Those who like legalism, a lawyer, tries to catch Jesus in legal rules. He asks Jesus – what is the most important commandment out of all of them? As we hear, Jesus summarizes all scripture into a passage from scripture… and one of his own. He uses scripture, applies it, and shows he can draw its root meanings out… not just the legalities.

Jesus then uses scripture to debate back in the same manner since he is speaking with a lawyer. It is said that the messiah will be a Son of David – a descendant of King David. And yet, Jesus points out, when David writes the Psalms, he writes YHWH LORD speaks to my Adonai, my lord… meaning that the Messiah was around during King David’s reign, and more than just a child of David, since David calls him lord. The messiah isn’t just any ol’ human descendant.

Knowledge of tradition and scripture, and his audience, allows Jesus to communicate who he is – not just any ol’ human.

When Jesus faces Satan – he fights Satan with scripture… and Satan uses scripture back against Jesus.

Scripture is authoritative. Important. And often the only authority another holds over themselves.

Biblical literacy is necessary for Christians and non-Christians alike because these texts have shaped and are shaping our modern world. Everything from our fictional books to the way we organize ourselves to our modern debates on homosexuality, abortion, guns, and immigrants is infused with religion – all drawing on different parts of this book.

And we’re called to come to it as Jesus did – with fresh insights, open ears, and ready to not get caught up in ancient and culturally-specific laws, but rather get at the gestalt – the Holy Spirit – of the message. Listening, as we say in the United Church of Christ, for the Still Speaking God who placed a comma at the end of the Bible, and invites us to continue to interact, and engage with God and the world. Invites us to write our own Good News of the relationship we live with Christ. Invites us to creatively take the scriptures and traditions handed to us and apply them to the very real needs of people this very moment.

But we got to know those nuts and bolts parts too… for when we run into the lawyers.

Still, in our lives, this is not who we are called to be. Rev. Daryl Ward writes on sola scriptura, “The Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation. But it also contains much more. We should not be making an idol of it. And we should not be putting semantics and legalism above the fundamental gospel messages of love and mercy. Otherwise we are not being like Jesus. We are being like the Pharisees.” Being like lawyers. ((http://www.ucc.org/daily_devotional_aside_from_that))

Paul tells the Thessalonians, “…we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition… we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God.” Much like Luther, Paul and his aides were opposed, but, because they trusted in God and God’s good news, they carried the message on. They sure didn’t please mortals, but they pleased God.

We are challenged to do the same. To dig into the words about God for the Word of God. To dig into scripture, and traditions, and creeds and dogmas, and pull forth where the Spirit is still moving and working and guiding us to use our rich heritage to love today’s world.

May we always be a reformed and reforming, a united and uniting, a loved and loving church!

Amen.

 

A Different Spirit

In honor of the baptism of Caleb.283

Numbers 13:26-33-14:11; 14:22-24
Matthew 28:18-20

The Israelites have traveled and traveled and traveled from Egypt and at long last, have reached the Promised Land… but they find it is already occupied. So they send in 10 spies to check out who is living in this area.

In our reading, the spies come back with the report that the people already living there are the children of Nephillim — angels or giants. They’re so big and strong that the Israelites feel like grasshoppers around them. Tiny little bugs! When they hear the report, everyone in the camp begins to fret and worry.

But Caleb stands up and says: hey! We should trust God’s promises. God says this is where we’re supposed to go, let’s go!

But no one wants to listen to Caleb.

Moses and God have a talk about what to do. God is upset – why do the Israelites keep not trusting me? Didn’t I do miracles in Egypt to get the people free from Pharaoh? Didn’t I do miracles at the Red Sea, and miracles in the desert with manna, and water, and birds to eat? This situation looks hopeless, but I AM GOD! I DO MIRACLES! WHY CAN’T THE PEOPLE GET THIS?!

God decides to order the Israelites to wander around in the desert for 40 years. And in those 40 years, everyone who is complaining and regretting leaving Egypt will pass away from old age. A new generation will return to the Promised Land and maybe they will believe God this time. But Caleb will live a long life and enter the land because he has a different spirit, a spirit that trusts God wholeheartedly.

Jesus, too, tells us to live with a different spirit in us. The Holy Spirit. A Spirit that comes upon us with our baptisms and keeps faith in hopeless situations, keeps trust in God through hardships and trials, and strives to live a life of love for God, and for others.

We’re called to live our lives in ways that make believers of all nations. Caleb lived this way. And our Caleb is called to live this way. No one is able to do it alone. It takes the whole body of Christ.

So you, who have the different spirit, the Holy Spirit, be the guide to disciple Christ’s newest follower – our little Caleb. Be his parents’ support, his sister’s assurance, his own encouragement. Live your life in a way that leads him towards the promised land. And remind him of this day – the day we affirmed he is baptized in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and he is a part of Saint Michael’s UCC, and a part of the Body of Christ universal.

Amen.