Made New

Justin Thornburgh
Emerson Avenue Baptist Church
Revelation 22:1-5
Ellenberger Park
24 August, 2014

Made New

These pictures from the pages of the Revelation of St. John are some of the most beautiful in all of scripture. If anything, John could paint a picture that triggers the divine spark in our imaginations.

These beautiful images are images of hope. Of that which we long for. They are images of a river flowing so freely and unobstructed that it has no rapids. Its current takes the traveler from the throne of God and the Lamb into the city of God. We ride on glass- looking into the river we see not only our own reflections but through the reflected images we see deep into the waters of space and time. We see all that was, all that is, all that is still yet to be. In this waters of life is the story of us – is the story of God’s through us – is the story of God with us.

Stepping into the city we notice something that we had not noticed before. We notice that the river is not flowing to God. Rather the river flows into the city from God. The river flows from God into the streets of the city bathing them in crystalline life. The divine spark touches every element of the city. The streets that were destroyed are made new. The eroding edifices – washed – shine like the stars. The river of live flows down the middle of the street towards a tree.

The roots of the tree are deep in the ground. Being fed by this overflowing river. And the waters of the river rise up the tree, combining their molecules with the molecules of the leaves in divine photosynthesis – and as the pules of life drives through the leaves the tree begins to bear fruit. Fruit that is never ending. Food with out end. No seed time or harvest. But always enough. Here in the middle of the city – the city made new – is the Garden of Eden. Made new.

A world without sin. Without war. Without the brokenness of Babble. And as we dine in divine light, there are no words on our lips other than praise for the one who brought us this far. Praise for the one who has marked us as God’s own. And as the day should draw to night – we discover that there is no need for rest for we are filled. We are in the midst of the giver of life. In deed, we have been made new.

Friends, these words are words of profound hope. The are the picture of the promise that one day – all will be made new. They are what was intended in Eden. And it is easy for us to get embraced by their beauty. It is so wonderful to hear these words. Especially when it seems everything around us in chaos.

Rather than a river of life, we have streets painted in the blood of children. Instead of eating from the tree of life, we don’t know if we are going to have enough to eat. Instead of everlasting light, the dark clouds surround us day and night and light is the elusive taunt of hope.

We hear words like these and we begin to build walls around us, hoping that if we do, we will be safe from all the trouble of the world. If we build the wall high enough, the fortifications strong enough – we will be able to gain access to this eschatological hope. This divine beauty. But what happens is that we being to divorce ourselves from the reality going on around us. We get so focused on Glory that we forget the reality of the cross – and that in the reality of the cross, we are already a part of this final scene.

You see, the message of the cross is one that breaks through our walls and fortifications. The message of the cross is one that rather than divorcing us from the reality of the world around us – draws us into it. In the reality of the cross, all things are made new.

In the reality of the cross, the rock filled rapids have been made smooth by a God who came to stand in the midst of the rapids.

In the reality of the cross, God’s own blood ran down the streets.

In the reality of the cross, a brown man raised his hands and was killed by the state because he refused to say that this is all there is.

In the reality of the cross, God came to live and die with us and in doing so made all things new.

Because in the reality of the cross, death is not the final answer.

On the cross hangs all of our grief, our pain, our humiliation, our sin, our brokenness. There hangs the powers of death and chaos. There hangs hate and hubris. On the cross God is with us. On the cross – the river of live begins to flow from the throne of God making all things new.

Because in the reality of the cross, death is not the final answer.

As the river of life begins to flow, it meanders is way through our mess. It begins to wash away the feelings of hate and hubris, pain and chaos. The river of life flowing from the cross washes the blood from the streets and makes its way into each of us.

Those of us gathered as the church have experienced the glory that is to come, and are not called to hide behind it. To sit wishing for it. But to be bearers of it. We have experienced being made new. We are not new beings. We are the same broken and mixed up people, but we have been made new. Through the reality of the cross.

We have experienced what it means to be told we are loved. To be held when we are hurting. To be carried when we can not stand. We have experienced what it is like to find a community that embraces us for who we are. And it is not ours to hoard.

These beautiful words are not just words of what is to come, but of what is. We are here as witnesses to it. Let us not be afraid anymore. Let us be those who have been made new.

When the streets are dark and bloody, we are to be the river of life helping rebuild community rather than erect walls.

When the dark clouds of depression overwhelm, we are to be divine light sitting in the darkness, present, holding, helping. Silent if we need to be. The divine light will pierce the darkness. We are just its bearers.

When the truth of racism, sexism, homophobia, any of the walls that we are told to build being to lay the mortar at our feet, we are to take them and say not in God’s name. We are to take the bricks of those walls and use to build a gathering place for all God’s children.

We have been touched by the reality of the cross and have been made new. We have seen the holy city. We have been tasted the river of life. We have been made new. Let us go and make all things new with the promise that what will be .. is.

Thanks be to God.


Heart Transplant

Justin Thornburgh
Emerson Avenue Baptist Church
Matthew 15:10-33
17 August, 2014

Heart Transplant

Jesus had just had a confrontation with the preachers and the officers. They demanded he tell them why his disciples did not was their hands before a meal as prescribed by the purity codes of the tradition. By not washing their hands first they were defiling their bodies and making them impure before the Lord. Why was Jesus, this supposed rabbi, allowing such sinning. Jesus challenged them by asking them, “is there not a commandment about loving one’s mother and father? Whoever speaks of their father must die. But you say, ‘I don’t have to listen to my father because I have been told do to this or that by God,’ are you not breaking the commandment? You are making void the world of God – for the sake of your own wellbeing. Isaiah was right, you hypocrites. He said, ‘this people worship me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain teaching human rules and doctrines.”

Needless to say, the Pharisees were flummoxed and the scribes scandalized. They left in a hurry. Then Jesus gathered those who were nearby and told them:

“Listen up folks, pay attention – it isn’t what you eat or how you eat that defiles you – it doesn’t matter what goes in your mouth, but it is rather it is what comes out of your mouth that makes you dirty.”

“Um, Jesus, You do know the preachers and officers were offended by what you told them? Right?”

Jesus replied to them – “Every plant Daddy has not planted is going to be pulled up.  Don’t worry about them – they are blind leading the blind. Eventually they are going to fall into a pit.”

“Jesus,” said Peter, “you know I am dense – explain this parable to us.”

Eyes rolling, Jesus began – “Ok, when you eat you put the food in your____.” “Mouth,” they reply. 

“Right, and after you eat what happens?”

“You have to go to the toi…..Ohhhh, I get it.”

“Ok, So what goes in doesn’t matter because it ends up in the toilet, but it is what comes out that matters because that comes from you heart. For out of your hearts come the evil intentions, murder, adultery, sexual exploitation, robbery, false testimony, and blasphemy. These are the things that defile a person, not what they eat.”

With that Jesus got up and left the safety of the sanctuary and wander to the land of Ferguson in Missouri. A land where racial tensions were high. A land where there was a real divide of “us” and “them.” A land where he knew the preachers and the officers would not be. A land in the margins where God had drawn him.

Just then, just as he stepped foot into town, a woman who was not of his tribe, came running up to him. Tears streaming from her eyes, and really undignified like, she started clinging to him and crying out, “Have mercy on my, Lord, Son of David; my baby is tormented by a demon.”

Sensing a teaching moment, Jesus decided to test his disciples. To see if they had even comprehended what he had said. He did not answer here. Instead he moved deeper into the troubled city. Half-hoping his disciples would respond to the call. Well, respond they did, they shoved her out of the way and rushed to Jesus, “what are we doing here? Send her away. She keeps hounding us.”

Testing them again, even thought he was pretty sure they didn’t get it, Jesus said, “I was sent only to help out the lost sheep of my race.”

Undeterred, she clung to him. “Lord, help me.”

Pushing the disciples to respond, Jesus replies, seemingly in contradiction to his own commands, “It isn’t fair for me to help you. Why should I take the food out of my own people’s mouth to help you? It isn’t fair. I can’t take their food and throw it do the dogs.”

The weakness leaving her legs, the woman stands tall and proud. Fierceness returning to he visage. Dignity filling her very soul. Enough is enough. She stands up and as she does, a smile crosses Jesus’ face. The disciples are afraid. He sees what they don’t – this woman get’s it. She gets that what is coming from the heart is stronger what what goes in the mouth. She has heard enough and is rising. “Yes, Lord,” she whispers with the power of a mother whose love for her child knows no bounds. “Yes,Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Embracing here – this untouchable – this woman who the disciples had initially seen as someone outside of themselves. Embracing here, Jesus pulls here into the family of God – acknowledging publicly here God given humanity – her imago Dei,  “Woman, Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And instantly her daughter stood, proud and strong. Dignity restored. Hope renewed. Life transformed.

*****

This week the heart of this nation has been tested. Like the disciples in the Gospel this morning – we stand in the midst of rising racial tensions. Tensions like the ones that separated the Canaanites, the historical enemies of the Hebrews, from the disciples of Jesus and Jesus himself. Racial tensions that gave the disciples the ability to refer to this broken hearted woman as a dog. Notice, they did not defend her? They did not speak up. They were in need of a heart transplant. 

This weeks the we have seen racial tension rise like they have not in years. In the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown, we have seen things most of us wish were still hidden. We have heard about corruption and systems that we would rather pretend just stay hidden at the margins of our society. Those of us with power and privilege are at a loss for why there seems to be so much anger rising from the streets of Ferguson. 

Those of us with power and privilege – basically those of us who are able to psychologically divorce ourselves from the reality of what is going on by switching the channel or ignoring the news – when we do pay attention struggle to understand what is going on. We see people destroying property. Having no self-respect. Making themselves look bad. We stand in the long line of power that either willfully or unintentionally has had an unfeeling heart toward those in the margins. Through our own prejudices or racialized polices that are inflicting unseen damage -unseen to us.

This isn’t a new story. It is happening to the disciples in the gospel this morning. Jesus has just confronted the pharisees and scribes and told them it is their words and actions that matter, not the rules and regulations. He has just explained what another prophet meant when he told the Hebrew people of old, 

“Thus says the lord, I hate, I despise your festivals,

   and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 

Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,

   I will not accept them;

and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals

   I will not look upon. 

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

   I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 

But let justice roll down like waters,

   and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. “

Stop talking and do something. He is telling them they need a heart transplant. Stop relying on your own heart. Stop worshipping your piety. Stop trusting in your own righteousness, and instead be implanted with a new heart. A heart that does not find false hope in “evil intentions, murder, adultery, sexual exploitation, robbery, false testimony, and blasphemy.” A heart that does not find rest in the status quo. A heart that does not look at the world as “us” and “them”. 

Jesus challenges the religious leaders (me), the powerful and the privileged, and even his disciples to stop relying on themselves and live with a transplanted heart. A new heart that beats justice. That beats equality. Be implanted with a heart that is beating with the blood of the creator of the Beloved Community. A heart that beats in tandem with our brothers and sisters. A heart that came into being when God breathed life in the the ones created in God’s image. Jesus reminds us all, that worship of God is manifest in actions, not words or self-righteous piety.

When confronted with the opportunity to act as people with new hearts, the disciples fail. They fail to see the woman who comes to Jesus as fellow child of God. They fail to know who she is and how she got to the point of breaking. How how her child became possessed by a demon. Not excuses, but history.

They fail to hear that since 1619, people of African descent have been subjects rather that persons. They fail to understand that for 150 years before the founding of the nation, people had been enslaved. The economic and physical infrastructure of a nation was built on the scared backs of a people – who like their Hebrew ancestors – were relegated to the status of property rather than person hood – and when that happened it was only 3/5 of a person. They fail to see that even after they were allowed to cross the red sea into freedom, there were vagrancy laws put in place to make it near impossible for the newly freed people to own land. And when those laws began to falter, might Jim Crow rose to take its place. Keeping free people subjugated to the will of the majority. And as Jim Crow began to fall, a new war was rising that would give rise to a for-profit prison industrial complex that determines how many beds they will need by looking at 3rd grade test scores. The disciples fail to see how the demon bored its way into the girls heart – emptying her.

The demon of mistrust. The demon of resentment. The demon history. Slowly it bored itself into her heart. Slicing her psyche. Causing her to mistrust. Causing her to resent the powers that have authority; to miss the hope in history. The demon has taken full control of her. Possessed, she has tried to fight the urge – she has tried to “stay in her place.” But as her screams have gone unheard, the voice of the unheard explodes. The disciples can not to see. 

Their minds are full of  reasons – justified and not. I wasn’t there. I don’t even live in that part of the country. That happened long before I was ever born. How can I have anything to do with what is going on? All rational reasons. Reasons that make senses – reasons I have used, but reasons that give rise to excuses rather than healing. Reasons that feed the demon, rather than seeing it for what it is – the power of death.

Through all of this, through all of the questioning for the mother and from the disciples. Through all of the back and forth a banter about who is to blame for the situations of unrest, through it all, Jesus walks into the operating theater of the margins to perform surgery.

Jesus steps into the land of the Canaanites, into the streets of Ferguson, Mo, into the streets of Indianapolis. Jesus steps into the margins, into those dark and hidden crevasses we would rather ignore. He steps into our pain – into our sickness. He meets us where we are. His hands gloved, ready to perform a heart transplant. Like all surgery it is going to hurt. It is going to take that which is broken and remove it. It is going to cut deep so as to remove all traces of brokenness. It is going to, though in the end, bring healing and renewed life. 

The events of the last week were, I pray, the beginning of a collective heart transplant for not only the nation, but for the Church as a whole. The all too silent church in the midst of such unrest. The church was silent in the aftermath of the violence, both against Mr. Brown and in the rioting afterwards. Violence is never the recourse that should be made. That should be the church’s answer anytime she is asked. Hear that, that way of the church is non-violence. Even when it seems that a violent response is the necessary answer. In the last 48 hours we have seen what happens when the threat of violence is replaced with the ethic of mutual respect – when the threat of a militarized police force is replaced by a heart willing to listen. Rubber bullets and tear gas have been replaced with hugs and a willingness to listen.

The events of the last week have opened wounds we thought had been healed. We see a grieving mother mourning the death of her son, to her it doesn’t matter the circumstance of his death – she just knows a mother is supposed to out live her son. We have seen a gas station burned to the ground and owners loosing their livelihood because their business happened to be where all of the events began. We have seen teargas lobbed and rubber bullets blasted, journalists arrested, people clamoring to be heard and resorting to violence in order to be heard. We all are crying out, “Lord, save me.” The events of the last week and opened wounds in all of us. 

Jesus gets that. Jesus is bearing the wounds of history, laying bare before us the brokenness – and collective misunderstanding of our history. Jesus is taking individuals, you, me, black, white, Latino, Latina, asian, LGBT, straight, and laying us bare. Offering us a chance at healing. Knowing often times we don’t know our own illness until we begin to feel sick. Until the wounds become so infected we can not ignore them any longer. Jesus is ready to change our hearts. To open our eyes – all of our eyes. It doesn’t matter where you have been on the subject before – we all need a change of heart. 

When it seems that Jesus is ignoring the please of the woman, she finds her power and is greatly rewarded. When it seems that we are abandoned by God – when our wounds are exposed, it is then that we stand collectively and say, “LORD HELP ME.” It is in that sense of absence that we understand our dependence on God and on each other. As Dr. King says, “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.” 

The love ethic of Jesus breaks through all of the boundaries of isms that we use to separate us. It is when we are laid bare – exposed and know we need healing that Jesus performs the miracle. That the love of Jesus breaks through the darkness of our hearts. That we begin to identify ourselves as persons of dignity and worth. That we begin to see others as persons of dignity and worth. That regardless of our circumstances, we are inescapably bound together. That we rely on each other – that we are to carry each other when we fall. That regardless of race or religion, gender or sexual identity – we are all created in the Divine Image. 

Jesus is testing disciples. Jesus is testing us. Do we stand on the sidelines of history, waiting for a prettier dawn, or do we stand as sisters and brothers – all – regardless of our differences, ready to step out in faith – in the love ethic of Jesus, ready to proclaim the gospel truth of the Beloved Community? Do we beat each other down or do we stand as people with new hearts – telling the world that God’s reign is a reign of peace and personhood? A reign that does not say, yes to the self-centered idol of me, myself and I, but instead reaches out of ourselves, reaches out as individuals into a community of sisters and brothers. Do we watch helplessly – throwing blame left and right, blaming police or protestors, history or time present time; do we make excuses for why we should not be involved, or do we go with Jesus, transformed and hopeful – hopeful that when the sun sets on the eve of hatred and avarice, it will rise again shining a new light, a light of reconciliation and redemption. Do we stand as wounded victims or a world spinning out of control, or do we stand healed – healed healers in the middle of heartbreak? This week the heart of the nation has been tested.

Thanks be to God.


Walks On

Justin Thornburgh
Emerson Avenue Baptist Church
Matthew 14:21-33
10 August, 2014

Walks On

The miraculous meal is over. The baskets are full – 12 of them. Jesus has sent the disciples away. He sent them back to the boat and to head to the other side of the sea. Jesus blesses the gathered crowd and sends them on their way. Sending them away with full bellies and overflowing spirits. And now Jesus heads to the mountain to pray. Like Moses and Elijah – there close to the clouds he spends time with the still small voice that is God.

After waiting a while for the Jesus, the disciple figure it is best to head back to the other side of the sea. This isn’t the first time Jesus has wandered off to pray, they knew he would catch up with them in the morning. The needed to get going because the fishermen among them could smell the change in the air. They knew there was a storm coming. And storms on the Sea of Galilee came on quickly and with ferocity. It is no small body of water – about the size of Washington D.C. On a good day it would take most of the day to cross, but with the storm brewing the disciples knew they would have to work hard to make it safely.

They pushed out and about a third of the way through the strong winds began to blow. They dropped the sails and began to use the oars. The twelve of them – six on each side began to rock in the rhythm of the swelling sea. The salty water stinging their eyes. For some – especially the tax collector – the bounteous gift of loaves and fish became food for the fish as he wretched overboard. The wind tossed the small wooden framed boat around like a bath toy in the hands of a sugared up toddler in the tub.

Then the rain and the lightening started. Molten arcs of burning electrons reached from the sea to the heavens. The pelting rain stung – it was coming down with such force. Thaddeus began his bailing duty. In a matter of minute the water – from the waves and the rain – had begun to fill the boat. Bucket in hand he began Sisyphean task of emptying the boat only to have new water fill the vessel.

The noise was deafening. The pouring rain on the sea. The pelting of the planks of wood on the boat. The roar of the waves outdone by the shriek of the wind. James and John along with Andrew and Peter were shouting to each other trying to figure out how to keep afloat. If these four were terrified – these fishermen who knew this sea like the back of their hands, how could the others be expected to keep calm? All hope seemed to be lost.

And then the other James began hallucinating. “Is that Jesus?” he asks to no one in particular. The others looked where he was and knew that death must be near for they all saw the ghost approaching thorough the pouring rain and rocking waves. Steady in the screaming wind. “It’s is a ghost,” another voice yelled. Panic filled the boat. The bailing had ceased. The water kept coming in. It was a moment of resignation when they knew they had lost the battle. There in the middle of the sea they would find their rest.

But then the voice. The voice they knew so well seemed to be with them on the boat. “Take heart, I AM, Do not be afraid.” And even though they couldn’t explain how, a sense of peace came over the boat. They saw Jesus. Peter leaning off the stern of the boat shouted at the the phantasm, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you.” “Come,” replied the voice.

With singleness of mind, leaving his terrified friends, Peter leapt out of the boat and on the the water and he did not sink. Tears flooded his sea salt burning eyes. His burning eyes focused on who he knew now was Jesus. Step after precarious step he walked toward Jesus, and then a Strong Wind caught him off guard changed his focus. He lost his sight and began to sink. “LORD SAVE ME!” And as water began to fill his lungs, a hand came down and pulled him out of the water. “Peter, Why did you doubt?”

****

I don’t know about you, but up until recently every time I heard this story it stopped there. Jesus seeming to scold Peter. Scolding him for not having faith. For not trusting in Jesus. This story for me as a kid was really cool. I mean, come on, Jesus was walking on water. But it was also very guilt inducing.

There were several times, at church camp, in the swimming pools, in the bathtub even when I tried to walk on the water like Peter. Now, is time for confession – please tell me I was not alone in this? Show of hands, who tried to walk on the water? I know at least one of you because we talked about it earlier this week. [Acknowledge the number]. Ok, now of those of you who tried – how man succeeded? That’s what I thought, I was the king of the splash down.

Now, how did that make you feel? For me, it made me feel like garbage. I believed in Jesus. I trusted in him. I went to church. I sang in Choir. I wore those really cheesy t-shirts in the 90’s. I was a Christian and I failed. I felt like Jesus was scolding me. “You of little faith. Why do you doubt?” When I tried to step of the water I was doing it in faith. What is wrong with me that I failed? Why wasn’t I good enough? I felt like garbage.

For so long we have been told that this story is about us. That is about our lack of faith. That we are somehow deficient and weak. That it is about us strengthening our faith so that we can walk on the water, so that we can move a mountain. How much faith is the faith of a mustard seed?

So, maybe if we lock ourselves up. If we draw into ourselves and pray more or go to church more or this or that our faith will increase. Then we will not get scolded by Jesus.

But church, if that is how we read this story. If that is how it has been ingrained into our psyches, then it misses the whole point of the story. It makes the story about us and our weakness and not about Jesus and his amazing power! This is not a story about Peter. It is not a story about us. It is a story about Jesus.

It is a story about the same Jesus who fed 10,000 and is now walking through a storm to get to those he loves. It is about a Jesus who, when Peter gets overwhelmed by the stormy winds, reaches out his hand and picks him up. It is about a Jesus who carries his friend into the boat and calms the storm. It is about the one whom the disciples – for the first time – say, “Surely this is the Son of God!”

We are characters in this story. We are Peter and the Disciples. Some of us are stuck on the boat in fear – and that is ok. That is where you are. Some of us are Peter who take that leap of faith and say, “Yes Lord.” All of us are those scared ones who are so overwhelmed by the storm winds in front of us it is hard to see Jesus. The storm winds that causes us to question. That draws our focus.

Church there are stormy winds that are always blowing in our lives.

The stormy winds blow when we are trapped by fear. When the violence around us is killing the children in our streets. When their blood rains down like the rain of the stormy sea.

The story winds blow when the news we see makes us long for the time when we will see Jesus’ return. The lives lost in Gaza. The bombs in Ukraine. The slaughter of the innocents in Iraq.

The Stormy winds blow when we cast blame for the worlds problems on the “other.” And don’t acknowledge our complicity. The fact that the bombs used to kill children in Gaza are made by us. The fact that the slaughter in Iraq stems from our ill-informed engagement. The fact that part of the reason there is violence on the streets is because the church has been silent for so long – so insulated that they did not notice the warning signs. So wrapped up in trying to survive that it misses its neighbors dying.

The story winds blow when the unemployment rate on the Near east side of Indy is near 15%. That one in three people in our neighborhood lives in poverty. That people returning from prison return to a neighborhood that has no options – and the only response is to return to crime to feed families.

The stormy winds blow when the number of prison beds is determined by 3rd grade test scores.

The stormy winds blow when children crossing our borders for safety are seen as vermin instead of the crying and grieving face of God.

The stormy winds blow when we are hit with the diagnosis what will change how we experience the world. That the angel of death is real.

The stormy winds blow when the bills have piled so high that there is no way out. That in order to survive choices need to be made that will either feed the kids or the line the pockets of the electric company.

The stormy winds blow when the cloak of invisibility covers us and we feel ignored and forgotten.

The stormy winds blow and as they do a voice cries out – “Take Heart! I AM! Do not fear.”

The voice of Jesus – the voice that healed the sick, fed the multitudes, challenged the authorities, that blew the cosmos into existence – the voice of Jesus cries out to us in the middle of the storm and we respond by stepping out of the boat. We respond in faith. “Precious Lord, take my hand.” We respond knowing and trusting that it is Jesus who calls us out into the stormy winds. It is Jesus who stands in the middle of the storm. It is Jesus who, when the winds distract us and we fall – it is Jesus who reaches out his hand and instead of scolding us say, “Why do you doubt. I am here.” It is Jesus who reaches out his hand and picks us up and carries us back to the boat. It is Jesus who calms the storm and brings us safely to the shore. It is Jesus who truly is the Son of God.

So, sisters and brothers. Don’t feel bad when you fall. When the stormy winds of life knock you about. Don’t feel that you are not worthy when your faith falters. When doubt and questions overtake you. Reach out out hand and cry with Peter. “LORD SAVE ME.” That is the act of faith. That is the acknowledgement that we depend on God rather than ourselves. That is what happens when we reach out our hands.

Jesus did not ignore or scold Peter. He does not ignore or scold us. He walks on water in the middle of the stormy winds to take our and and bring us to safety. “Precious Lord, take my hand.”

Thanks be to God.


Full Baskets

Emerson Ave. Baptist Church

Matthew 14:13-21 

3 August, 2014

Full Baskets

St. Ignatius of Loyola created a method of prayer that engages imagination. In this way of praying we are invited into the story of Scripture. We are encouraged to let ourselves become fully immersed in the Good News of the Gospel. As we enter into the story, we are to ask what does it look like, what does it sound like, feel like, smell like, taste like – Just as Jesus is God in the Flesh – this method of prayer invites us into the story as flesh and blood. And as we encounter the story – we begin to encounter Jesus and begin to have a conversation with him. I use this method of prayer a lot. It helps me become closer to the Divine. This morning, for the sermon, I am sharing a story that came from engaging the Holy Word this way. The story is called Full Baskets.

***

I was sitting there in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Not sure how I got there because it was me – 21st century me, there in first century Palestine. The synagogue was not a fancy place, in fact it was literally  a hole in the way with an awning – a sun-faded brown awning jutting about about 15 feet with wooden posts holding it up. There were mats on the ground. They dry and dusty ground and it was all men. I just sat there and listened as the prophets were being read – It was Isaiah. The prophet was telling us that we were to come and buy wine and milk – even though we have no money. He was telling us to eat what was good and to delight in the rich foods. Isaiah spoke of an everlasting covenant with the people of David and that that covenant would one day extend to all people. The rabbi told us that these words from the prophet were spoken to the exiles in Babylon. Those who were now in a pit of despair. Into that pit came these words of the prophet – words of ultimate triumph.

Words that were cut short when the local pharisees walked into the synagogue and began to challenge a quiet man sitting the corner. I hadn’t noticed him before, but once I saw him – I could not take my eyes off of him. He was a little larger than the rest of the people in the synagogue, but that wasn’t what made him stand out. It was that he seemed so connected to the earth. Grounded. The space he occupied was – I don’t know – sacred? Hallowed. There was something about his presence that let one know that this was a special person. And his eyes. Dark, deep, in them I could see all time and space. 

These pharisees, though, began to challenge him. Taunting him with a man I noticed when I came in. This man must have had a stroke or something. His left hand was for all intents and purposes dead. Just bones covered in flesh. The tips of the fingers were turning black and gangrenous. They almost looked like the fingers of a mummy. Like the the blood flow had long ago been cut off, and now they were a dried riverbed – cracked and parched. They brought the man in front of the stranger. These pharisees knew something about the stranger that the rest of us didn’t and they asked him if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Instead of being struck dumb like most of us are when we are asked a trick question – the stranger got a crooked smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. Almost like he was waiting for such a question. He responded by asking them if one of their lambs fell down a cavern on the Sabbath, would they not climb down to save it – or would they leave it until tomorrow, “How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep!” he said, “So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he told the man with the withered hand to stick it out and when he did, it was fully restored.

Then, I knew who this man was. My eyes were opened and I saw Jesus. I saw, King of Glory, but the son of humanity – reaching out and bringing God to the broken. And then Jesus got up and left the synagogue, and as he did about 30 of us joined him and began to follow him. We walked from town to town, watching him heal – doing that which he did to the man with the withered hand a thousand times over. We saw as he exorcised a man full of demons and reacted with horror as the pharisees accused him of being of the devil for being able to control demons. 

For several weeks we walked the Galilean sea side. I saw how horrible life was for those who were the dogs of the Roman empire. I saw who they were referred to as fools by both the occupying forces of Rome and their own religious rulers. That seems to me to be some of the reason they hated Jesus so much – he was disrupting their view of the Galileans. He was humanizing them and beginning to give them the power the elites did not want them to have. 

I saw how the priestly class – installed by the puppet King Herod, lorded all of the wealth and political power that would have given the people a sense of being for themselves. I reminded me of how powerful the corporate entities of today have become. With the money to buy our elections they are able to write laws that benefit their bottom line at the expense of those without the money. The same economic slavery that many of us are experiencing today was going on there in the homeland of Jesus. 

And it wasn’t just the priestly class. It was the occupying force of Rome that continued to perpetuate a pogrom of the poor. Their system of patronage where they would provide for your well being if you obeyed them, and even the slightest infraction would lead drastic consequences. I saw fathers pulled from homes because they owed their patrons money they did not have. The weeping of children rattled my bones as they were separated from their parents to become slaves far from home. My blood ran cold as I watched the innocent slaughter of livestock and the burning of fields. All in an attempt to keep the Peace. 

There in the land of our ancestors of faith, I had a hard time differentiating between then and now. I felt hopeless – the more things change the more the stay the same, I thought.

Those who were with me were following Jesus with the fervor of refugees release from pharaoh’s bondgae. Unlike the ancient Hebrews, though, they followed with a faith that was rooted in what they were experiencing. Through their tears and aching hunger. Through their punishing poverty, they saw something.

Within weeks there were thousands following him. Probably close to 10,000 – that includes about 5,000 men and then their wives and children. Families were uprooted and were following Jesus. He seemed to be about to start a revolution. SOme were talking of war – speaking of usurping the Roman Eagle. There were rumors of wars. Some were talking of a takeover of the temple – flushing out the puppet regime and reinstating the Levitical line. There was energy. There was hope. There was a fighting spirit.

A new day was on the horizon when the news came. At first we did not know what was going on, but then a buzz started up near where Jesus was and eventually the news made its way to us. Jesus’ cousin John had been killed by Herod. John had been preaching a message of repentance from one’s sins – he had been attracting crowds. He had been perceived as a threat – all these things that Jesus was now doing. Both of these men were speaking of something bigger that the temple and more powerful that Rome. And the mood of zealotry shifted to that of sorrow, fear, grief. A dark cloud cast its ominous shadow over those gathered; and the waves began to stir on the shore of the sea. 

Jesus, began to retreat. Where was he going? Why was he leaving us now? Now that we needed him more than ever. Where was he going? It didn’t dawn on us at the time that he may have been trying to grieve the loss of his cousin. We were only thinking about our needs. As we always seem to do. When things seem to not be going our way – we start to look for easy answers. We look to ourselves to take care of the problems. The dark cloud that covered us there begins to encase our hearts. We miss carrying the hurt in others because the hurt in us is so heavy. As always it becomes all about us. 

When Jesus began to retreat the crowd rushed to follow him, somehow I ended up near the front of the crowd. Suddenly Jesus turned around and I feared that we would be on the receiving end of a Divine Talking-to. That we would endure the wrath of a father who is scolding his sons for fighting. But when he turned around, there wasn’t rage or anger in his face. No, it was beautiful. His eyes were full of compassion. For many of us, this was the first time we had ever experienced this. When he looked at us – at me – the cloud around my heart rose. I sensed a peace so profound that it is hard to explain. It was like that moment when you come out of the water after holding your breath for as long as you can. It was that first inhalation of new, clean, life giving air. The oxygen refills the blood, and even your fingertips feel the tingle of revival. That is what it was like when the eyes of compassion touched my heart. 

I could see the complex emotions in his face – the grief of loss was still there, he always was so human, but so too was a sense of Holy Peace. A peace that surpasses all understanding. 

The sun was beginning to set and some of the disciples came to him to tell him to send us away so we could find food. The last thing the Romans would want was a 10,000 hungry peasants gathered in one place. It was a tinderbox for riots. It had happened before in Sepphoris. After the death of the current Herod’s father, Herod the Great, tired of being hungry and hungry for a new order a rebellion rose in the town of Sepphoris; quickly though it was quashed by the Imperial army and 2,000 of the citizens of the town were taken to Jerusalem and lined up along the road entering town and crucified. It was a real life horror story that did its job to strike fear into the hearts of the people – The disciples knew this and did not want anything like that to happen here. They wanted to send us away, but Jesus replied to their request – “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

The disciples were dumbfounded. “All we have are five loaves and two fish. We can’t feed them.”

“Bring them to me.”

I don’t know if he was talking about the loaves and the fishes or the people, but he looked toward heaven and prayed and like a mustard seed exploding into a tree which holds the birds, there was food. Lots of it. I don’t know what happened or how it happened, but he took fish from the baskets and loaves of bread – leaven bread, and kept handing them to the disciples who hand them to us and we just kept passing in on back. We took the blessing Jesus had given us and passed it along, and it just kept going. In the midst of our hunger. In the middle of our fear. In the heart beat our our grief. In the instant of our doubt. In the silence our our questioning – Jesus looks on this gathered crowd. This crowd of sinners and doubter. This crowd of poor and oppressed. Elderly and young. Able bodied and feeble. Healthy and ill. This motley crew of where when I look around the crowd I see each of you. Gathered there – receiving the blessing of the God of Compassion. The God who came to be present with us in Jesus. Jesus who in his own grief, still has compassion for us and gives to us the bread of life. Who care for our needs. Sees our pain. Knows our cries. 

Jesus sees us with compassion, not pity, but compassion that transforms into blessing. That feeds us and sustains us. Nourishes out and renews us. Fills us so much that we have leftovers to share. Full baskets of leftovers. Leftovers that don’t go bad, but renew and revive. Jesus turns around and sees us. Sees us with eyes of compassion. Sees us and feeds us.

Thanks be to God.


The Big Bang Theory

Emerson Ave. Baptist Church

Matt 13:31-33,44-52

27 July, 2014

The Big Bang Theory

Wow! It has been two weeks since I have stood here to preach. For those who were not here two weeks ago, we were blessed to have our friend Rev. Lisa Harris Lee bring us some Good News from the Master Teacher, and then last week I hope you all enjoyed the sing-along. But Here we are, back in the Gospel of Matthew. 

If you remember the last time I preached, we heard the promise of Jesus to bring about the Empire of God – all we need do is trust him. Depend on him and great things will happen. Had I preached the last two weeks, we would have encountered Jesus, breaking down what the empire of God is.  It is Jesus story time. It started with the parable of the good seeds. The Word of God is like seeds thrown out into a field. Some times it falls on unhearing ears and bears no fruit. Sometimes it is heard but not understood. And other times it is heard and bears good fruit. Jesus’ point being – spread the word – the seeds; don’t look for the good soil, just cast it out there and let God do the rest.

Then we would have heard the story of the field that had been planted with wheat, but in the night the enemy comes and sows weeds that look like wheat. Jesus says to let it all grow and save the sorting till the end of the process – because if you try to make the decision, you might throw away the good with the bad. He is speaking about, again, trusting God to do the work of sorting – we should just keep at the mission we have been given. Sowing the seed and harvesting the wheat.

These stories build to today’s series or parables. Jesus has been telling us what our job is, and now he is explaining what the Empire of God is like. And it isn’t something grand and glorious. Or at least that is what is sounds like.

The Empire of God, he says is like a mustard seed. It is like some yeast. A treasure found by a thief. It is like a fishing net.  All strange things to describe the Reign of the One who created the Cosmos.

Let’s look at this for a few minutes – 

A mustard seed. If you are sitting near one of the kids, look at their mustard seed. If you are not – they are tiny. Those of us who have grown up in the church have often heard about the mustard seed. Jesus uses it often as a metaphor – I think he may be a true Chicagoan with as much as he loves mustard. 

The mustard seed is so small that it was often sown out in field without the knowledge of the sower. Birds or mice could have dropped them into the wheat seed reserves and they are invisible in contrast to the other seeds. Enemies may have come in and tampered with ones seed reservers mixing in the weed with the good seed (sound familiar).  It would not be until it started to grow that one would notice that their field was infested with the weed – and it was considered a weed.  This small obnoxious – invisible seed begins to grow and fast  and take over the field. The mustard plant was considered an invasive weed like sumac or kudzu. 

Then Jesus compares the Empire of God to yeast. Yeast was considered a contaminant to the Hebrew people. Before passover, they would have to spend days cleaning their homes to rid the house of any sign of yeast. It is something that if it falls into certain foods will begin to ferment them making them inedible – or if inebriating. Yeast was considered dirty.

There is the treasure found by a thief and the fishing net. The Empire of God sounds kind of odd. Kind of — dirty. Subversive? Unremarkable. Hard to see  and ever harder to understand.

Most of us here this morning have heard the news about what is going on around the world and in our own streets. 

My heart aches for the lives that are being lost in Gaza – the children being slaughtered. I don’t care what side of the conflict one may be on – the fact that the disproportionate number of victims of the violence in Palestine and Israel are children in unconscionable. The indiscriminate bombing of a city the size of Detroit is bound to cost countless innocent lives.

The blood flowing on our streets, here in Indianapolis. The friend of 40 years beaten by a deranged ex. The police officer shot down. The innocent bystanders caught in a wave errant bullets. The blood in our streets tells the story of a community that has lost its bearings. That has sought insulation rather than communion. The murder rate here in Indy is astounding. And all that seems to happen is that people throw around blame. I hear, “Oh, it is black on black violence, so the African-American community needs to do something.” “There are not enough police – if only we had more then the killing would stop.” “It is just the drug users killing the drug users, so we will be better off.”  The problem is rooted in the fact that people are seen as small and as insignificant as mustard seeds.

The Empire we are ruled by sees us as mustard seeds and is blind to the potential that lies within. 

We hear of Fundamentalists in Iraq threatening Christians and bombing churches. These fundamentalists are misusing their Holy Scriptures to justify their actions, when in fact the message of the Quran is one that seeks to reconcile Christians and Muslims – it acknowledges the humanity of each. They are no different than Christians who for centuries have used the Bible to justify murder, war, bigotry, slavery, and oppression – They, both, think that the Empire of God is one of blood and dominance. They see the Reign of God being ushered in by sword when in fact it is found in a kitchen. Yeast.

There are the cries of the poor echoing in our streets. The working poor. Those who are working 60 hours a week and still needing to visit the food pantries. Those who want to get to work, but don’t have a way to get there. Those who have been out of work so long that they have lost any benefits that may have helped them stay afloat. Those drowning in debt. Those buried in medical bills. They are us. And the response from the powerful is to let them eat cake. 

In Mississippi, the state legislature has acted in such a way that the public education system is underfunded by $3.1 billion, meanwhile in order to keep Nissan they offered them $3.1 billion in tax cuts. You see, the powerful think it is better for corporations to benefit (and themselves in the end) rather than work to fund education for the poor.

Here in Indiana, the Healthy Indiana Plan – a medicaid supported plan to help the working poor is no longer accepting applicants. The powers say there is not enough money to fund the program; mean while Gov. Pence refused the federal medicaid expansion that would have helped these same people. Why? because taxes are bad. Because it is better to keep our money rather than make sure sisters and brothers receive essential care. Never mind the fact that the state is sitting on $2 billion.

Don’t worry, the other party isn’t any better with its constant acquiescence to the corporations who contribute to the campaigns. It seems that the Empire of America thinks it is a treasure to plunder – taking from those with less to give to those with more.  The current Empire sees the poor as thieves and the wealthy as the keepers of the power. But that isn’t what Jesus says. He says the Empire of God is treasure found by a thief.

We see the pictures daily of the children stuck at the southern border of this country. Some see them as leeches coming to prey on us – carriers of diseases. There are people who stand in front of busses full of children calling them vermin. Telling them their lives are some how less than their own. They want to cast a net to keep them from entering, but The Empire of God is like a net that casts out and takes in Good Fish and Bad Fish.

The Empire of God does not make sense. It isn’t what the disciples were expecting. It isn’t what Rome was expecting. It isn’t what we are expecting. There are some many songs that speak of golden crowns and the good things that will come, and yes – we have heaven to look forward to, Jesus keeps speaking of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Empire of God in the present tense. Is is something that is happening now and in the future. The Empire of God is near. The Empire of God is here!

The God who created the Cosmos from a Big Bang is the same God who is always creating . This is the God whose Empire is a constant Big Bang.  Taking what we see as useless and mundane and exploding it to something new and transforming. 

The Empire of God is like a fishing net that catches the good fish and the bad fish. It is a net open to all who swim into it. It does not discriminate. It does not close borders to those who are in need. It takes the time to get to know each person coming through the borders and hearing their story. The Empire of God take time to see the human face of tragedy. When the Empire of God is allowed to be present – there is a big bang and something new is created. A Community that sees each other as sisters and brothers – in different to country of origin.

The Empire of God is like a treasure found by a thief. The thief is snooping in his neighbors field and finds something so valuable that he is forced to sell all he has in order to obtain the treasure. We don’t know what that treasure is, but it was important enough that the thief was willing to let go of all that he was hoarding in order to take the treasure. 

The Empire of God is one where we trust in the abundance of the treasure trove of God and share all things. Where we, again, build community by caring for the least among us. Where we unburden ourselves with the weight of our egos and power and embrace the treasure that is life from God. Someone sacred and beautiful. Someone deserving of education and healthcare – even if it means I have to let go some something. The Empire of God is a big bang that explodes our notions of what is our and and what is God’s. It creates the knowledge that all is God’s and we get to share in God’s abundance.

The Empire of God is like yeast. Like yeast that is mixed with flour and becomes leaven bread. The Empire of God is not found at the end of a sword but in a kitchen. The empire of God is found around the breaking of bread. The sharing of a meal. The Empire of God is a big bang that creates the bread of life, and not the dung of war. 

The Empire of God is like a mustard seed. Small and insignificant it gets ignored and thrown aside. It endures years of systemic oppression. It gets referred to people as The Swamp. That piece of land where no living water enters in and those that live there begin to turn on them selves and begin to kill. The Empire of God is like a mustard seed – not so small and insignificant – it explodes into a plant that consumes the land. It is a big bang that in its forgoten-ness brings new life. 

The Empire of God begins with one person. One congregation. One community of faith saying that enough is enough and that life is too precious to be ignored. It is when people who have heard the Word of the Lord stand up and tell the powers “NO MORE!” When people, who have been through the fire burning all the chaff away stand together and say in a world of hate “We Love You for who you are-” that is the Big Bang of God’s Empire. When the church becomes the model for an upside down Kingdom where the least among us and the powerful among us gather at one table to eat – to share in the Body and Blood of Jesus – That the the Big Bang of God’s Empire.  When children and elderly are both looked at and seen as assets – for their exuberance and their wisdom. That is the Big Bang of God’s Empire. When the faithful explode from the safety of the sanctuary into the streets and homes; into the the schools and offices; into the town squares and hospital rooms; prisons and rehab centers; into the detention centers and halfway houses – That is the Big Bang of God’s Empire. 

The Empire of God is like a mustard seed. Small…at first, but explodes into something that can scarcely be imagined. Let’s imagine. Let’s be agents of Change. Let’s be part of the Big Bang.

Thanks be to God!


Dependence Day

 

Emerson Avenue Baptist Church

Matthew 11: 1-30 SAP 4A

6 July, 2014

Dependence Day

Even though we have just heard the Gospel according to the New Revised Standard version, as I was preparing the sermon for this week, I began to see that we really needed the entire context for the chapter to hear what Jesus is saying to us. The reading this week starts at v. 16 and goes through 30, but we really need to hear it from the beginning to understand it, so indulge me as I read Chapter 11 to you from the JAT Version:

Now after Jesus had finished teaching the twelve all the things we have spent the last two weeks looking at, he went on from there to proclaim his message in their cities; in their churches.

John, who was now in prison heard about all that the Messiah was doing and it confused him, so he sent some of his disciples to make sure he hadn’t messed up. They said, “Are you really the one who is to come, or are we to wait for someone else?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind are seeing. The lame are walking. The deaf are hearing. The dead are rising. And lastly and most importantly, the poor are having good news brought to them. Blessed is anyone who doesn’t take offense at me.”

So they went back to John and Jesus turned to the crowds who were with him and said these things about John: “What did you go into the church to look at? What did you go to see? Someone dressed in pretty robes? Someone in hip skinny jeans and a flannel? Look, they dress like that everywhere – fancy and hip. So, what did you go to see? A prophet? Ahh, yes. And I tell you, more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending a messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Amen, friends, I tell you, among all the people ever born no one has risen greater than John the Baptizer; and yet in God’s Empire, the least are greater than he. From the days of John until now; God’s Empire has been under attack by the powerful; and they use whatever means they can to take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen with their hearts.

“But I don’t think that is going to happen. Church, you are too busy bickering like little children, mocking and belittling each other. The boys say, ‘Why don’t you want to dance for us?’ and the Girls say, ‘Why don’t you play war so we watch?’ You see, John came and didn’t eat or drink and they all said he was of the demons, and the Son of Humans came and he ate and drank, and they say, ‘Look, he’s a slob and a drunk, a friend of hookers and thieves!’ But seriously, Listen, wisdom is vindicated by deeds!’

Then Jesus began to take them to town – especially the churches where he had done his greatest works – because they just took advantage and did not turn around and see things the way he sees them. ‘Woe to you, Church of the Suburbs. Woe to you Church of the City. For if I had done these deeds of power in the crack dens and in the strip clubs, they would have repented long ago. But I tell you, on judgement day, you would rather be there than where you are. You will be brought to death. For if these deeds of power had been done in Sodom, they would still be here. I am telling you, on that day, it will be better to be Sodom that you.’

Then he turned to pray, “Father, Lord of Heaven, I thank you because you have hidden these things from from the wise and the smart ones and have revealed them to the ones who understand their dependence on you. Such was your gracious will. All things you have given me by you; and no one knows me apart from you, nor you apart from me and anyone I choose to reveal you.”

“Come to me, all of you who are tired of all of this and are burdened with the weight of it all. I will give you rest. Here, take my yoke upon you, let me share the burden of it all. Learn from me; follow my lead for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you are going to find rest for your trouble souls. When I carry the yoke with you it is easy, and my burden is light.”

The word of the Lord.

****

I hope you didn’t mind that, but like I said – to understand why Jesus is so upset, I think it is important for us to understand what got him to that point. 

So, the last few weeks we have looked at heard Jesus preparing his disciples to go out and proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near – that The Empire of God is coming to trump the Empire of Rome. And as he was doing that others were gathering to hear what he had to say – especially those raised in the church – or rather the followers of John.  

As many know, John was the wild man in the wilderness proclaiming baptism for the forgiveness of sins and preparing the way for the Messiah – God’s anointed one. Like the Persian King Cyrus (also call the Messiah in Isaiah), this would be God’s chosen one to come and bring about the promised new Empire of God. Needless to say, there were those in power who wanted to shut John up, so they put him in jail. They took away his voice, and maybe then would stop rousing the rabble. 

John, knew, thought that it was too late – he heard the voice from the heavens announce the beloved one after he baptized his cousin. And yet, he was getting anxious – John was getting antsy – why wan’t Jesus forming the army to rebel against Rome. Why wan’t he declaring that corporations can’t be religious bodies? Why were quote/unquote “enemies” strengthening on the other side of the world causing a threat to this beloved land? So, he sent his disciple to Jesus to find out. Are you the leader of the new Empire or not?

Jesus, told them: Can’t you see? The world is changing. The forgotten one are given power. The poor are rising up. The dead are coming to life. The blind see. The deaf her.  God’s Reign is happening now. While everyone around is bickering and trying to see what isn’t there – looking for signs of the end times in the color of the moon, hoping for WWIII so Jesus comes back; watching while we destroy the planet – wondering why it is all so bad: Jesus has been there bringing life. Bringing restoration. Brining God’s reign to earth.

The disciples of John were satisfied, but the rest of the church just sort of chuckled at him. Jesus looked at them and told them that John was called a demon because he lived according to the laws of a Nazzerite. Jesus, himself was called a drunk because he dared to share the table with people the church cast out – hookers, LGBT folks, addicts, undocumented immigrants, adulterers, frail and elderly, hyper active kids, those who are not like us. He had to be a drunk to sit and eat with them. 

But Jesus says – pay attention to what is done as well as what is said, because I am doing what I say. Wisdom is made evident in my deeds.

Then we get to the appointed reading today – Jesus calling us bickering kids. Interested in pleasing ourselves and making a show of our power. Depending on ourselves to show our righteousness. 

Jesus has had enough. This isn’t Jesus meek and mild in these words. This is Jesus fed up.  Tired of all the nonsense that is going on in his name. 

He starts some serious truth telling: How can we even begin to show the world the new Empire of God when we are so wrapped up in ourselves? When we spend so much time sending out into the world mixed messages about who God is? Who Jesus is? Those one side are giving the world a God who is obsessed with what goes on in the bedroom, so much so, that one would think that is all God is is a great peeping tom in the sky, ready to strike down anyone who does some thing out of the so-called norm. They are held captive to a God who is obsessed with rules: that if deviates just a hair from the prescribed path, the fires of hell away. They cry out that “The Bible says,” when they have not read any of it beyond their favorite clobber passages. 

Jesus is just as fed up with the other side that has forgotten that discipleship is a path of walking with Jesus and not some morally ambiguous place that if it feels ok it must be ok. A cheap grace that says, Jesus loves you and everything is ok – which while true – is much deeper and more profound than that. Jesus is fed up with those who say, I am the final arbiter of what what is right and wrong, but because I go to church then it is all ok.

Jesus says, no to all of the individualistic intentions of his people. He says to turn around – repent – and see the world a God sees it. It is an interconnected web of being. 

A place where when Jesus gives sight to the blind – he his giving God’s eyes to us all – so we can see and name the injustices going on around us. So we can see the children sequestered at the southern end of this nation as refugees fleeing horrors – kids with stories that would make us tremble and not disease ridden scum that some say they are.

When he gives hearing to the deaf, he is giving God’s ears to us all – to hear the cries of God’s people. The cries of those who are in need of love that the world says they don’t deserve. The cries of those in prison. The cries of the prostitute as she comes home in the morning, feeding her children with the money her pimp didn’t steal from her. The cries of the boy who knows in his heart of hearts he should have been born a girl. The cries of the mother unsure of where the next meal is coming from. The cries of those the world has forgotten.

When Jesus gives feet to the lame, he is giving God’s feet to us all – to do the deeds he has give us authority to do. To leave the safety of our sanctuary. To move beyond the confines of our homes and into the streets. To go and make disciples. To teach of the God of grace and mercy; whose love surpasses all of our understanding. 

When Jesus raises up the poor and shares the good news; he is pulling us up out of the bad news of the world. He is giving us the Good News that God is present and active in the world in the places we might not see. God is binding us all together. 

That is what Jesus is saying, when he is saying we are missing his deeds of power. When it warns the church of the suburb and the church of the city that they are in trouble. He is telling them – telling us – that we have become so wrapped up in ourselves that we are missing His renewing,redeeming, reconciling, transforming, triumphant work going on all around us. We magnifying our microcosm, missing the macro transformation happing in our midst.

But This is Jesus, and you know I love that with Jesus there is always a but. He is reminding us that with them there is always hope. There is always a new way in. There is never a final no unless we decide that for ourselves. Jesus is always there to remind us; that once we are ready; once our sight has been restore; once our hearing returned; once our feet renewed; once our hearts reconciled – there is aways a second, a third, a millionth chance. 

Jesus is there with the prayer that transforms. The prayer the reminds us it isn’t all about us. That we known him and the one who sent him, when instead of trying to to it all ourselves we depend on him. Jesus calls us out of our egotism, calls us out of our short sightedness, our heard headed ways and into his bosom. As suckling child dependent on his nourishment. Dependent on the community he has formed; dependent and wholly unified and made new. When we are dependent on Jesus we are empowered to fully live into the Empire of God that transcends the empire we know. We share the life giving meal with sisters and brothers, our sisters and brothers and being to share the yoke of the burden with the one who sustains us. 

Jesus promises that when we depend on him, the burden will be light. There will be rest for our weary souls. When we gather at the Lord’s Table, we eat with he one who carries all the weight – we lay down our sword and shield at the rivers edge – gathered into a new and transformed body. We become part of the one who give us eyes to see, ears to hear, feet to move, good news to shout. Jesus does not leave us alone. Jesus does not desire that we fight each other, but calls us to be bringers of the Empire of God.  Fully dependent on his Grace. Fully dependent on his mercy. Fully dependent on his life giving love. Fully dependent on his promise that with him all things are possible. That we trust and be fully his, Fully God’s. And when we surrender it all to God’s transformative, restoring, redeeming, rejuvenating pules pounding power – we become who God has called us to be. The Body of Christ on the Earth. 

Thanks be to God.


In Solidarity

Emerson Avenue Baptist Church

Matthew 10:40-42 SAP3A

29 June, 2014

In Solidarity

(Scene 1: The Little Ones)

It all started when he called them by name: “first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.” It all started when he called them by name: Hunter and Wilma, Linda and Larry, Janice and Buddy, and even Justin, chief amongst the sinners – each one of us in this room – called by name. It all started when Jesus said our name.

He has told us to go out into the world with the message that the Kingdom of God is near – that it is here. To go into the margins of the world and be present with the least among us – the little ones. He has sent us out with the warning that discipleship is costly. That we need to go out into the world with our eyes open, knowing that to proclaim the message he is sending us with is a dangerous one. He has sent us out with the promise that we are not alone when we go – we go as ones whose hairs on our heads have been numbered – we go as beloved children of God. He sends us. He sends us out as prophets. He sends us out as the just. He sends us out as little ones – promising that in solidarity the reward will be great!

Jesus sends us out into the world telling us that if we are received as prophets – there will be a prophets reward. If we are received as the just – there will be the reward of the just. For whoever receives is receives Jesus, and whoever receives Jesus receives the one who sent him. Who sends us.

The prophets reward. That great and glorious…that…that…wait a minute! Hold on, doesn’t Jesus say – weeping over the city, “Oh Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to it?” Wasn’t John’s head served to Herod on a silver platter.  Wasn’t Elijah on the run for his life? The prophets reward.

Maybe that reward for the just will be better. Maybe, wait…There is that Job guy – who lost everything. There is Noah – who saw the world destroyed only to be left alone. There is Simeon and Anna; there is Abraham, whose reward was bickering children. Maybe the reward for the just isn’t much better. 

We see what happens to Jesus. Jesus with the prophets voice; always butting heads with the powerful. We see what happens to Jesus the one who is just; beaten in the court of Pilate – killed on the hill of the skull. We see what happens when people hear the message, “The Kingdom of God is here.” And we don’t like it. 

We don’t like it because it overturns what is expected. It knocks us out of being comfortable. It pulls us out of the safety of the sanctuary and into the presence of the little one. It forces us into solidarity with those that we don’t always want to see. Those we don’t agree with. It causes us to become the little ones ourselves.

(Scene 2: Wal-Mart)

Many of you know this past week I was in Chicago at Congress on Urban Ministry. This is a biennial meeting of Seminarians, Clergy, Theologians, and Activists from around the world. Every two years we gather spend time working on a topic that is of importance to those of us doing our work in the cities around the world. This year our topic was that of Economic Justice. We spent time  hearing stories from the little one: We heard from Brenda, an employee of Wal-Mart, who was fired after a fan fell on her. A fan she was putting on the self. She was two months pregnant and had to miss sever days of work because of the incident. She returned with all the required paper work and was still fired. We heard from Larry, who received a phone call in the middle of a workshop session telling him he was fired because he dared try to organize workers. We heard story after story from the little ones who are struggling to feed their families.

We heard how this company, whose six family members own more of the nations wealth that 47% of the country, pay their workers so poorly that they run workshops on how to apply for food stamps benefits and how to apply for medicaid. Effectively forcing the rest of us to pay for their food and insurance; rather than being a just employer and paying a living wage. This from a company whose gross profit in 2013 was 127 billion dollars…billion with a B. A company that can spare to pay a living wage. 

We heard story after story of how people – the littles ones – were asking for a cup of cold water only to have their request laughed at and ignored. Story after story of those who want to get out of the grip of poverty and are looking for and try to work are fired for trying to unionize and get humane treatment. We heard story after story of how even after working 40 hours a week a second job is needed to make ends meet. And as I heard these stories, I heard the words of Jesus echoing in my heart, ” and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

These words rang though the chambers of my heart as 200+ of us converged on the Chatham Square Wal-Mart and marched in solidarity with those who are on the ground fighting daily for the acknowledgment that they are not just faceless, nameless, employee numbers, but that they are dignified and and beloved children of God. These words echoed through the chambers of my heart when I heard the story of the store manager who met with the delegation sent into the story with a list of demands, and as they spoke of they human dignity afforded them as children of God, the manager began to shake and tears began to well in his eyes and they said that they saw the Sprit of the Lord in him as he promised to take the demands to his higher ups. 

“And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” That is the hope. That is the good news. That is the reward.

(Scene 3: In Solidarity)

You see, in the Hebrew tradition, the tradition from with Matthew writes, when there is a triad, when there are three things listed – the most important is always listed last.

We have prophets – going into the world speaking truth to power. Confronting, Wal-Mart – err..Caesar and proclaiming the message that the Kingdom of God is here. There are the prophets who stand up and say that it is not of the Kingdom of God that 6 people own nearly half of the wealth in the country. It is not of the Kingdom of God that people are forced to rely on the social safety net when they are working 40/hours a week. It is not of the Kingdom of God that in Marion county the minimum wage is $7.25/hr when just to get out of “poverty” a family of three would need $8.80/hr and to sufficiently meet their needs they would need $16.94/hr.  It is not of the Kingdom of God that people go into debt just to survive.

We have the just who embrace the ideal that belief is a lived ethic. That everything one does is a reflection of God’s sovereignty. That life requires more that just going to church every sunday. That belief is more than just saying, I have decided to follow Jesus. That one is obligated by their belief to do something more than sit and wonder how things got so bad. The just look at the world in a way that sees problems as deeper than just “those people” being lazy. That realize that we are more than just a collective of individuals, but rather are an interwove community. A community whose welfare is dependent on everyone being treated as a child of God. 

We have the important prophets and just ones. But in this triad it is the Little ones who are on top. It is the little ones who reveal to us the reward we are promised. It is in solidarity with the little ones we truly encounter the Kingdom of God! That we experience eternal life. That we drink that cold cup of living water – refreshing our weary souls. It is in solidarity with the Littles Ones that we see Jesus. 

When we were in solidarity with the Wal-Mart workers, I leaned over to a friends and said, “This is church.” This is church, because this is the body of Christ present with the little ones. Offering what we can to quench the thirst of injustice. Being present as a gathered community with those who are suffering. It was church because there was something Holy Going on. The little ones were being elevated. And it wasn’t the church going in as the answer – as the great white hope telling them what to do. No, it was the church standing with them as their backs were against the wall telling them they are not alone.

And that is what happens when we are in solidarity with the Little Ones. When we allow ourselves to become little ones. We see that we are not in this fight against injustice alone. We in it with an entire body. With the body of Christ. And it does not requires marching like I did. We have all experienced this at one time or another.

You have given the cold cup of water  when you were sitting at the bedside of friend or loved one – just being present. Just being in solidarity with them in that moment of need. 

You have given the cold cup of water when you were drenched with sweat planting tomato plants so a sister or brother could be blessed with fresh produce. In solidarity in that moment of need.

You have give the cold cup of water when you mentored the child that just needed a shoulder to lean on; when you gave a hug of welcome to the stranger who walked into the doors of this place searching for peace; when you just sat in silence – present with the one who had no words. In solidarity you have touched heaven. You have announced the Kingdom of God is here. Great is your reward. 

Jesus sends us out into this world as prophets, a just ones: he sends out out knowing that the path is dangerous and the way unclear. He sends out out, not alone, but together – giving each one of us the gifts we need to be be bearers of the Good News. He sends out as little ones, with nothing other that each other and the authority of Him, he sends us out to the little ones. He sends us in solidarity to experience the great fullness of God’s love. Giving and receiving. Touching and being touched. Giving a drink and in turn being given a drink.  “and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Thanks be to God.


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