Sunday Worship 8/2

SERMON Romans 9 1 5

One of my best friends was 16 when she lost her faith. She was in a youth group, and the youth leader told her that her best friend, who was Jewish, would go to hell if she didn’t accept Jesus. My friend left the church and hasn’t been back in 20 years.

And she’s not the only one. Many of my closest friends and family members, some of the kindest people I know, profess to be atheists or agnostics. Some of them have had bad experiences with church people which soured them forever on organized religion. Some of them weren’t raised in the church and see religion as causing more harm than good in our world today. Some of them simply don’t believe that God exists and nothing has yet changed their hearts on that matter.

It pains me that some of the people I love the most harbor such disdain or even no feelings at all for the thing I find most sacred and comforting in life. And I know I’m not the only one. Many of us who are left in the church of the 21st century have friends and family members who have left the church or see no reason why they should come in the first place.

And many Christians of the 1st century found themselves wrestling with similar heartache and swirling questions.

Jesus was Jewish. All of Jesus’ apostles were Jewish. The vast majority of those gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost- the majority of those 3000 persons who were baptized that day- were Jewish. The Church of Jesus Christ began as a Jewish movement. Sure, through the book of Acts the Holy Spirit makes clear that God wants the doors of the Church open to Gentiles as well, but most of the earliest Christians were Jewish. One of the earliest conflicts of the church was how to welcome Gentiles into the fold. Some believed that they should convert to Judaism first by being circumcised, before they should be allowed to be baptized. Thankfully, God said otherwise, and sent St. Paul on even further missions into Gentile territory, and before long there were more Gentile Christians than Jewish Christians.

Many Jewish communities viewed Christianity as a heresy for their claiming Jesus to be the Messiah of Israel. Early Christian communities were persecuted by their Jewish neighbors -even St. Paul himself was a violent persecutor of the church before God turned his life around.

And you can imagine the conflict in the church in Rome. All Jews were expelled from the city by the Emperor Claudius in 49 CE, this included Jewish Christians who were the majority of the church at the time. When those same Jewish Christians were allowed to return to Rome in 54 CE they found that the seeds that they had sown had born much fruit. The church had blossomed into a booming Gentile congregation.

But there was friction between Jewish and Gentile Christians -which Paul’s letter to the Romans addresses particularly in its earliest chapters. And there was also conflict within the families of Jewish Christians. Imagine being a faithful Jew in the first century, and your daughter or father or best friend comes home to tell you they heard the teachings of some street preacher and now believe a guy who was crucified 20 years ago to actually be the Messiah you’ve been waiting for! At best you’d think they’d joined a cult, at worst you’d be ready to drag them out into the streets!

Similarly, imagine being that early Jewish Christian. You’re the only one in your whole family who believes in Jesus. They’ve thrown you out of the house for what they see as your heretical faith. Your reputation is ruined. The only good thing left in your life is the time you get to spend with the Christian community, many of whom share similar stories of rejection and resentment from loved ones.

All of these challenges created some pretty heart wrenching theological questions for Jewish Christians.

Last week, Paul wrote that , “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

But the Jewish Christians were concerned, “What about all our friends and family who don’t believe that Jesus is the Christ -the Messiah? What will happen to them? Are the separated from God?”

Paul takes the rest of chapters 9-11 to answer these questions. He begins his answer with our reading from this morning, saying “I am speaking the truth in Christ- I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit- I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” Paul is anguished over this very issue -over his fellow Israelites not all accepting the news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Paul next puts forth a hypothetical bargaining, saying, “If it would help, I’d wish to be cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people.”

But Paul knows that’s not how God operates, and God certainly doesn’t justify anyone on the basis of another’s curse -Paul just spend the first 8 chapters of Romans describing how God saves us, God justifies us through grace alone!

No, Israel doesn’t need Paul to sacrifice his own salvation in order to save them. Only Jesus is the Savior, only the creator of Heaven and Earth is the Redeemer. Paul states in no uncertain terms that his fellow Israelites remain children of God through the promises God made to Abraham, stating, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them according to the flesh comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

This is not a past tense statement. Long before Christians were adopted into God’s family, Israelites were named God’s children and remain God’s children forever. Long before Christians gathered for worship or rejoiced in God’s promises, Israel worshipped and rejoiced in those promises of our God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and Israel will continue to worship and celebrate those promises forevermore. Because whether you’re Christian or Jewish, the truth that unites us is that God is faithful to God’s promises and nothing can wipe those promises of love and grace away.

So Jews don’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah? So what? The Jewish people are still embraced in the eternal promises that God made to their ancestors, which God continues to renew in every generation. Jews are blessed to be a blessing, and as Christians we have certainly been blessed by the rich history and traditions our Lord Jesus was raised in and we have inherited.

So your friends and family don’t believe in Jesus? Their stories are not over yet. Keep on living in such a way that they see Jesus through you. Give them a reason to thank God. Through the small seeds of love we plant, God is able to produce abundant fruit. God never stops tending and cultivating and bring into relationship those who were once far off.  Amen.

SERMON Romans 9 1 5

One of my best friends was 16 when she lost her faith. She was in a youth group, and the youth leader told her that her best friend, who was Jewish, would go to hell if she didn’t accept Jesus. My friend left the church and hasn’t been back in 20 years.

And she’s not the only one. Many of my closest friends and family members, some of the kindest people I know, profess to be atheists or agnostics. Some of them have had bad experiences with church people which soured them forever on organized religion. Some of them weren’t raised in the church and see religion as causing more harm than good in our world today. Some of them simply don’t believe that God exists and nothing has yet changed their hearts on that matter.

It pains me that some of the people I love the most harbor such disdain or even no feelings at all for the thing I find most sacred and comforting in life. And I know I’m not the only one. Many of us who are left in the church of the 21st century have friends and family members who have left the church or see no reason why they should come in the first place.

And many Christians of the 1st century found themselves wrestling with similar heartache and swirling questions.

Jesus was Jewish. All of Jesus’ apostles were Jewish. The vast majority of those gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost- the majority of those 3000 persons who were baptized that day- were Jewish. The Church of Jesus Christ began as a Jewish movement. Sure, through the book of Acts the Holy Spirit makes clear that God wants the doors of the Church open to Gentiles as well, but most of the earliest Christians were Jewish. One of the earliest conflicts of the church was how to welcome Gentiles into the fold. Some believed that they should convert to Judaism first by being circumcised, before they should be allowed to be baptized. Thankfully, God said otherwise, and sent St. Paul on even further missions into Gentile territory, and before long there were more Gentile Christians than Jewish Christians.

Many Jewish communities viewed Christianity as a heresy for their claiming Jesus to be the Messiah of Israel. Early Christian communities were persecuted by their Jewish neighbors -even St. Paul himself was a violent persecutor of the church before God turned his life around.

And you can imagine the conflict in the church in Rome. All Jews were expelled from the city by the Emperor Claudius in 49 CE, this included Jewish Christians who were the majority of the church at the time. When those same Jewish Christians were allowed to return to Rome in 54 CE they found that the seeds that they had sown had born much fruit. The church had blossomed into a booming Gentile congregation.

But there was friction between Jewish and Gentile Christians -which Paul’s letter to the Romans addresses particularly in its earliest chapters. And there was also conflict within the families of Jewish Christians. Imagine being a faithful Jew in the first century, and your daughter or father or best friend comes home to tell you they heard the teachings of some street preacher and now believe a guy who was crucified 20 years ago to actually be the Messiah you’ve been waiting for! At best you’d think they’d joined a cult, at worst you’d be ready to drag them out into the streets!

Similarly, imagine being that early Jewish Christian. You’re the only one in your whole family who believes in Jesus. They’ve thrown you out of the house for what they see as your heretical faith. Your reputation is ruined. The only good thing left in your life is the time you get to spend with the Christian community, many of whom share similar stories of rejection and resentment from loved ones.

All of these challenges created some pretty heart wrenching theological questions for Jewish Christians.

Last week, Paul wrote that , “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

But the Jewish Christians were concerned, “What about all our friends and family who don’t believe that Jesus is the Christ -the Messiah? What will happen to them? Are the separated from God?”

Paul takes the rest of chapters 9-11 to answer these questions. He begins his answer with our reading from this morning, saying “I am speaking the truth in Christ- I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit- I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” Paul is anguished over this very issue -over his fellow Israelites not all accepting the news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Paul next puts forth a hypothetical bargaining, saying, “If it would help, I’d wish to be cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people.”

But Paul knows that’s not how God operates, and God certainly doesn’t justify anyone on the basis of another’s curse -Paul just spend the first 8 chapters of Romans describing how God saves us, God justifies us through grace alone!

No, Israel doesn’t need Paul to sacrifice his own salvation in order to save them. Only Jesus is the Savior, only the creator of Heaven and Earth is the Redeemer. Paul states in no uncertain terms that his fellow Israelites remain children of God through the promises God made to Abraham, stating, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them according to the flesh comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

This is not a past tense statement. Long before Christians were adopted into God’s family, Israelites were named God’s children and remain God’s children forever. Long before Christians gathered for worship or rejoiced in God’s promises, Israel worshipped and rejoiced in those promises of our God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and Israel will continue to worship and celebrate those promises forevermore. Because whether you’re Christian or Jewish, the truth that unites us is that God is faithful to God’s promises and nothing can wipe those promises of love and grace away.

So Jews don’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah? So what? The Jewish people are still embraced in the eternal promises that God made to their ancestors, which God continues to renew in every generation. Jews are blessed to be a blessing, and as Christians we have certainly been blessed by the rich history and traditions our Lord Jesus was raised in and we have inherited.

So your friends and family don’t believe in Jesus? Their stories are not over yet. Keep on living in such a way that they see Jesus through you. Give them a reason to thank God. Through the small seeds of love we plant, God is able to produce abundant fruit. God never stops tending and cultivating and bring into relationship those who were once far off.  Amen.

SERMON Romans 9 1 5

One of my best friends was 16 when she lost her faith. She was in a youth group, and the youth leader told her that her best friend, who was Jewish, would go to hell if she didn’t accept Jesus. My friend left the church and hasn’t been back in 20 years.

And she’s not the only one. Many of my closest friends and family members, some of the kindest people I know, profess to be atheists or agnostics. Some of them have had bad experiences with church people which soured them forever on organized religion. Some of them weren’t raised in the church and see religion as causing more harm than good in our world today. Some of them simply don’t believe that God exists and nothing has yet changed their hearts on that matter.

It pains me that some of the people I love the most harbor such disdain or even no feelings at all for the thing I find most sacred and comforting in life. And I know I’m not the only one. Many of us who are left in the church of the 21st century have friends and family members who have left the church or see no reason why they should come in the first place.

And many Christians of the 1st century found themselves wrestling with similar heartache and swirling questions.

Jesus was Jewish. All of Jesus’ apostles were Jewish. The vast majority of those gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost- the majority of those 3000 persons who were baptized that day- were Jewish. The Church of Jesus Christ began as a Jewish movement. Sure, through the book of Acts the Holy Spirit makes clear that God wants the doors of the Church open to Gentiles as well, but most of the earliest Christians were Jewish. One of the earliest conflicts of the church was how to welcome Gentiles into the fold. Some believed that they should convert to Judaism first by being circumcised, before they should be allowed to be baptized. Thankfully, God said otherwise, and sent St. Paul on even further missions into Gentile territory, and before long there were more Gentile Christians than Jewish Christians.

Many Jewish communities viewed Christianity as a heresy for their claiming Jesus to be the Messiah of Israel. Early Christian communities were persecuted by their Jewish neighbors -even St. Paul himself was a violent persecutor of the church before God turned his life around.

And you can imagine the conflict in the church in Rome. All Jews were expelled from the city by the Emperor Claudius in 49 CE, this included Jewish Christians who were the majority of the church at the time. When those same Jewish Christians were allowed to return to Rome in 54 CE they found that the seeds that they had sown had born much fruit. The church had blossomed into a booming Gentile congregation.

But there was friction between Jewish and Gentile Christians -which Paul’s letter to the Romans addresses particularly in its earliest chapters. And there was also conflict within the families of Jewish Christians. Imagine being a faithful Jew in the first century, and your daughter or father or best friend comes home to tell you they heard the teachings of some street preacher and now believe a guy who was crucified 20 years ago to actually be the Messiah you’ve been waiting for! At best you’d think they’d joined a cult, at worst you’d be ready to drag them out into the streets!

Similarly, imagine being that early Jewish Christian. You’re the only one in your whole family who believes in Jesus. They’ve thrown you out of the house for what they see as your heretical faith. Your reputation is ruined. The only good thing left in your life is the time you get to spend with the Christian community, many of whom share similar stories of rejection and resentment from loved ones.

All of these challenges created some pretty heart wrenching theological questions for Jewish Christians.

Last week, Paul wrote that , “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

But the Jewish Christians were concerned, “What about all our friends and family who don’t believe that Jesus is the Christ -the Messiah? What will happen to them? Are the separated from God?”

Paul takes the rest of chapters 9-11 to answer these questions. He begins his answer with our reading from this morning, saying “I am speaking the truth in Christ- I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit- I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” Paul is anguished over this very issue -over his fellow Israelites not all accepting the news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Paul next puts forth a hypothetical bargaining, saying, “If it would help, I’d wish to be cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people.”

But Paul knows that’s not how God operates, and God certainly doesn’t justify anyone on the basis of another’s curse -Paul just spend the first 8 chapters of Romans describing how God saves us, God justifies us through grace alone!

No, Israel doesn’t need Paul to sacrifice his own salvation in order to save them. Only Jesus is the Savior, only the creator of Heaven and Earth is the Redeemer. Paul states in no uncertain terms that his fellow Israelites remain children of God through the promises God made to Abraham, stating, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them according to the flesh comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

This is not a past tense statement. Long before Christians were adopted into God’s family, Israelites were named God’s children and remain God’s children forever. Long before Christians gathered for worship or rejoiced in God’s promises, Israel worshipped and rejoiced in those promises of our God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and Israel will continue to worship and celebrate those promises forevermore. Because whether you’re Christian or Jewish, the truth that unites us is that God is faithful to God’s promises and nothing can wipe those promises of love and grace away.

So Jews don’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah? So what? The Jewish people are still embraced in the eternal promises that God made to their ancestors, which God continues to renew in every generation. Jews are blessed to be a blessing, and as Christians we have certainly been blessed by the rich history and traditions our Lord Jesus was raised in and we have inherited.

So your friends and family don’t believe in Jesus? Their stories are not over yet. Keep on living in such a way that they see Jesus through you. Give them a reason to thank God. Through the small seeds of love we plant, God is able to produce abundant fruit. God never stops tending and cultivating and bring into relationship those who were once far off.  Amen.

Sunday Worship July 26, 2020

SERMON Romans 8: 25-39

Can you believe all the good news in our reading from Romans this morning? Romans 8 contains some of the most famous, most comforting passages of scripture, and all that good news hinges on this verse:

“If God is for us, who is against us?”

If God is for us….. this would more accurately be translated as SINCE God is for us, which is to say, God IS for us!

God is on our side. God’s got our back. God is for us! And, because God is for us, and God already gave us the greatest treasure of all time -Jesus Christ- surely God will give us any and everything else we may need!

“Since God is for us, who else could possibly be against us? Since God is for us, what have we to fear?” And of course, the unspoken answer to Paul’s many rhetorical questions is NOTHING!

God is and will forever be “for us.”

Ours is not a God far off. Ours is not a God who is physically and emotionally distant. Our God does not leave us wondering about God’s affections…. Infact, sometimes the only thing we can be sure of is that God loves us!

Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Our God is like a loving, supportive parent, shuttling us around to sports practice, always showing up. Our God’s love is not contingent on how well we play. Our God continues to be “for us” no matter how low or discouraged we may feel. God uplifts us and encourages us. Our God is in the front row of the stands, cheering us on and on as we race through this life to the good God has in store for us!

Our God is like a loving, supportive parent, who wakes up before sunrise to shuttle us to music lessons every week across town. Our God is patient with us, encouraging and guiding us to practice what we’ve learned in faith everyday. God bears with us, smiling through the screeching we make while we’re still learning, and rejoicing with us as our lives begin to make beautiful music as we live our faith with consistency. God is with us in the front row of our recitals, celebrating our success and calling out for an encore! And God beams with pride as we take what we’ve learned through making the music of a faithful life and pass it on to others who don’t yet know how to play. God is for us, forever.

Paul writes, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God is for us. And because we trust all of this very good news, that God is on our side and that nothing will take God’s love away from us, we pray.

Prayer is an act of faith, an act of trust that there’s someone benevolent on the other side who listens.

In last week’s reading, Paul wrote that the world is groaning in labor pains, hoping for the day it will be set free from the bondage of decay and share in the glory and resurrection when Christ comes again.

Hope is an act of faith, an act of trust that the world as it is today is not how the world will be. We wait patiently for what we do not yet see.

But, we also pray to the one whom we know is on our side, who can do something to heal and redeem our world, just as we have been healed and redeemed.

I don’t know about you, but I feel overwhelmed by the weight of this moment in history. Sometimes I just don’t know what to say… or what to pray… and I definitely don’t know how to fix it. But, I know that God can and I trust that God will.

And I am comforted by these words of St. Paul, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”

I know a lot of people feel anxious about prayer. We all know we SHOULD do it. We know when we NEED it. We usually feel comfortable asking others to pray for us. But many people find it difficult to settle into a regular rhythm of prayer. We don’t make enough time on our own to pray, and we definitely don’t feel comfortable praying out loud around other people. The most common explanation given for this sense of awkwardness is that we simply don’t know what to say. We don’t want to sound dumb to other people or impious to God.

Well, let this passage from Romans alleviate all that worry! It’s not your words God’s hearing, it’s the Holy Spirit speaking through us! Not even the most eloquent prayer on earth has words worthy of the ears of God, but the Holy Spirit serves as our interpreter and intercessor. The Spirit carries our prayers to heaven and advocates on our behalf, so long as what we’re asking is in line with God’s gracious will. Paul writes, “The Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

A lot of times people get hung up on the concept of God’s will. Does this mean that God has a very specific plan that I need to know about before I can pray? No. But, does what you’re praying for line up with Christ’s teachings and with God’s vision of healing for our world?

Take these examples:

I enter into a state of prayer,  I offer up a few thanksgivings to be polite and then I ask God to please let football come back this season so that I won’t be bored on Sunday afternoons. Amen.

I woke up late, I’m running late, I’m speeding in my car, and I shoot a quick prayer to God to clear the traffic to trim a few minutes from my commute so my boss won’t get angry at me. Amen.

I enter into a state of prayer, I don’t know what to say so I just sit still and present with God, trusting that God’s with me, I feel God’s love and peace. And I simply whisper. Thank you, Amen.

I know a lot of people who are struggling right now, so I  enter into prayer, read off their names, hold them in my heart, and send them to God with love and hope for healing. Amen.

I’m anxious about an argument I had, so I enter into prayer and ask God for forgiveness for the ways I contributed to the break in relationship and ask God to help us reconcile and bring peace. Amen.

 

While God may not have anything against football, and while running late is not a sin, the first two prayers are self focused and not exactly in line with God’s vision for our world. But, the other 3 prayers -which are all very different from one another- each serve God’s purposes of healing, relationship building, and faith strengthening. Regardless of what words are said -or even if no words at all are spoken to God- the Spirit is present in these and other prayers like them beseeching God on behalf of our genuine needs and the needs of those for whom we’re praying.

God is for us. God wants to provide for our needs. God wants to support and encourage us through this life. God wants to spend time in conversation with us -or simply sitting in silence enjoying company with us.

Paul concludes his words on prayer saying, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love and serve the Lord.”

No matter what may threaten our peace or security, Paul promises what most of us who have lived in faith already know- God works it all out for us in the end. Just as NOTHING can separate us from God’s love, so ALL THINGS work together for our good, because our gracious God wants good things for us! God takes the brokenness in our lives and reorders it to serve our wellbeing. This isn’t just “when one door closes, God opens a window.” But this is, “I wouldn’t be the person of resilience and grace I am today if I hadn’t been through what I’ve been through.”

God works life out for our good. For since God is for us, who can be against us? Amen.

Sunday Worship July 5th

SERMON Romans 7 15 25a

Hello, my name is Laura, and I am a night eater.

As hard as I try, I just can’t seem to stop eating snacks after my kids go to bed at night. Granted, because we’re trying to eat healthier as a family most of the food in our fridge and on our shelves are pretty healthy…. But the other night I ate a whole can of spicy dill pickle almonds… a whole can! Try as I might, I just can’t stop doing the thing that throws a wrench into my good health. Similarly, I know I should get up at the crack of dawn and exercise like my husband does every morning, but I just can’t force my body to wake up early unless it’s Sunday morning and I have worship to jump out of bed for. I know I need to get back into shape after 3 months of quarantine, but I still don’t feel comfortable going back to the gym and I just can’t wake up early to work out. I know what I should do, but I don’t do it. And I know what I shouldn’t do, but I do the thing anyway. As St. Paul writes in our letter to the Romans this week, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.”

Of course mine is just one of many examples we face in the day to day of our flesh taking over control and leading us to sin, when we know perfectly well what we should be doing.

We know from all the books we’ve read and doctor’s we’ve talked to that we should remain calm  to best support our children when they’re melting down, but most parents blow up at their kids from time to time. I know I should remain calm, but I’ve definitely yelled at my kids.

We know we should treat with love and respect the one who means the most to us in the whole world -our spouse. But, in the heat of the moment, when disagreements turn into arguments, unkind words can be spoken that cannot be unsaid. While as soon as they leave your mouth, you wish you could take them back, we can’t unspeak an unkind word.

The Bible urges us repeatedly to control our speaking so that it serves to glorify God, but how many of us make casual sarcastic remarks, gossip, or speak carelessly causing harm to those around us?

Then there’s laziness and apathy and giving the cold shoulder, and any other modes of passive sinning we engage in as we navigate our relationships with our fellow human beings. We know we should do what needs to be done, but we don’t do it.

The struggle is real.

We all want to believe we’re ok, but these and many other sins of the flesh hold sway over us in 100 different perfectly ordinary scenarios. We may never kill anyone or have an affair, but we’ve all spoken without thinking.

Though we know we’re saved by God’s grace and that we have the assurance of eternal life with Jesus, we all still struggle with sin as a daily reality. We feel guilty. We beat ourselves up. We ruminate about “What ifs” and “If onlys.”  I know I do, and we know St. Paul struggled in this way as well, as he wrote, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of my God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law, well this is St. Paul’s law -whenever we want to do good, our evil inclinations take over instead. We are at war within ourselves -we want to do good, but we choose what we know is wrong instead. Everyone thinks they have free will, and that may have been true in the Garden of Eden, but according to Martin Luther -who was citing passages from Paul such as this one, we humans actually do not have free will. Even when we want to do what we know is right, we choose the wrong. We just can’t help ourselves but to sin! But we need not resign ourselves to a life of futility and shame, for Paul concludes, “Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In other words, where would we be without our Lord Jesus Christ? Thanks be to God because our guilt, shame, and what ifs do not have the final word on how we live as Christian people!

We have been baptized, just as little Austin will be baptized later this morning.

Therefore, through the water and the word Christ has given us the entire forgiveness of all our sin, forever!

Through Baptism, Christ gives us the gift of LIFE, not mere existence in the midst of guilt, shame, and anxiety, but REAL, ABUNDANT LIFE. The life given to us is a life rooted in the eternal promise that God loves us 100% -wretched humans that we may be- God loves us. And through the gift of Baptism, God cherishes us as God’s own children. God will never stop loving us and leading us toward righteousness and peace.

Because we are baptized, our human inclination toward sin is no longer our defining characteristic. We are first and foremost God’s beloved ones. And when we start seeing ourselves and speaking of ourselves as children of God instead of as our mistakes and our struggles, that re-identification changes us.

It is this truth that led Martin Luther, who famously referred to himself as a wretched worm, to write the following in a letter to Philip Melanchthon:

“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true and not imaginary sin. God does not save those who are merely imaginary sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but trust even more boldly in Christ and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will continue to commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where God’s justice will reign [forever].” Amen. 

Sunday Worship June 28

SERMON Romans 6 12 23

Martin Luther said of the book of Romans, “It really is the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that they should occupy themselves with it every day, as daily bread for the soul. We can never read it or ponder over it too much; for the more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.”

Today we begin a sermon series on some of the most powerful passages from Romans, and I pray that we may find in these words to be daily bread for our souls.

The letter to the Roman Church is unique among the Epistles of Paul. All of the other letters Paul actually wrote were written to congregations he himself had founded or at least visited before. All of the other letters are written to audiences with whom Paul had an established relationship, and all of the other letters address specific, concrete issues or questions that had arisen within those early Christian communities.

But the letter we’ll be spending the next several weeks on was the way Paul chose to introduce himself to the Roman Church. The book of Romans contains all the “greatest hits” of Paul’s teachings as a way of preparing the Romans for Paul’s first visit.

The Church in Rome at the time was a Church divided, as the Jewish Christian faction of the Church believed themselves to be the original followers of Jesus and the most honorable members of the congregation, while the Gentile Christians -the majority of the congregation- held all of the power and saw themselves as the most honorable members of the congregation.

To address the dilemma of this jealousy and division, Paul begins the letter by creating a great big web of condemnation for everyone! The first 3 chapters of Romans describes how no human has the ability to justify themselves before God, how none of the things that give us human importance or honor are actually important to God.  Paul writes in chapter 3, “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is Christ Jesus.”

Through creating this web of condemnation for the divided church, Paul highlights the importance of God’s grace. Because we are all sinners, our only recourse is God. We can’t rely on our works or reputation to save us, only on the grace of God, given us through Jesus Christ and our faith in him.

But, the world revolved around fear at this time, and so justification by God’s grace presented a dilemma. Paul’s critics argued that if a moral system built on the grace of God is really the way God operates, then what’s to stop everyone from just sinning the day and night away? If it’s God’s grace that saves and not our works, then why shouldn’t we just do whatever we want whenever we want? And wouldn’t God show even more grace and therefore be more glorified if we sin really, really badly? This is the kind of thing that Bonhoeffer referred to as “cheap grace.”

Paul puts it like this, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?”

Paul assumes that everyone reading his letter in the Roman Church has been baptized, and he reminds the Church that through the rite of baptism we all DIED in the baptismal font. We and the whole sinful life we were born into, we and the whole way this world works, were crucified with Jesus Christ on the day we were baptized. When we were lifted up out of the font, we entered a new world -we no longer live under the reign of sin, but in a new world where God’s grace is the final authority. All the sins we will ever commit were drowned in the baptismal font. Christ Jesus has covered them over with his own righteousness, so that when God looks at us, God sees only the perfection of Jesus Christ.

Our sins are covered over by grace, but they didn’t magically disappear. If they had, then each and every one of us would be as perfect as Jesus all the time. Our sins are covered, but not gone.

Working towards the righteousness of Jesus and against the sway of sin is the work of a lifetime for every Baptized child of God, not so that we can achieve salvation, but so that we can work with Christ to bring healing and salvation to the world today.

To work for righteousness and holiness is a tall order, something no sinner can do all on their own. But we received the Spirit as our helper and advocate on that same day our sins were forgiven. The Spirit’s work is to teach us how to live according to God’s grace so that good works come as easily to us as breathing. The Spirit’s work is to make us holy (that’s what Paul means when he talks about sanctification). And this takes personal and spiritual investment and the prioritization of God’s work on our parts. The Spirit does the work of growing faith within us and making us holy, but can’t do it if we don’t show up ready to grow.

Working for righteousness and holiness is the work of commitment and persistence. Paul tells us that our priorities and loyalties can lead either toward sin and death or to abundant and eternal life in Jesus Christ. Paul uses the disconcerting analogy of slavery to describe the way our loyalties and priorities compete with one another to rule over us.

Paul writes, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey: either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves to sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves to righteousness!”

According to Paul, we’re all slaves to something! Infact, we all RUN toward slavery… either slavery toward sin or obedience to the Spirit which is slavery to righteousness.

These verses would have been just as offensive to 1st century ears as they are to our ears today. While the system functioned differently to antebellum chattel slavery, slaves in the 1st century were the bottom rung of a society obsessed with honor and upward mobility. It was as countercultural in Paul’s day as it is in ours today to suggest that we humans run toward our own enslavement…. And even more countercultural, that one of those systems of enslavement leads to our own righteousness, because it is not based on violence, brutality, and death, but on God’s grace and life.

If we commit ourselves and our loyalty to systems and activities that lead to death rather than life -then we are sin’s obedient slaves. But Paul says that for the baptized children of God, this participation in the sin of the world is not our only option. The baptized have already died once to sin, and are called to drown the old sinful Adam within us every single day of life. We who are baptized in Christ Jesus are invited into a new, grace-filled way of life! We are called to run into the arms of our true Lord and master, the Holy Spirit, to obey the Spirit’s leading within us, to open our hearts and lives to all the way the Spirit is working and increasing faith within us, and to therefore grow in righteousness and holiness every day.

Paul writes, “Once you presented yourselves as slaves to impurity and greater and greater iniquity, so now present yourselves as slaves to righteousness and holiness… What advantage did you get from all the things of which you’re now ashamed? Now that you’ve been freed from the power of sin and enslaved to God, God makes you holy. Eternal life is the living wage paid to those who live for Christ.”

The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.  

Sunday Worship for 6/21

 

SERMON Easter in June Quarantine Reopening 2020

Matthew 28 “Because Jesus Can’t Wait, Jesus can’t wait.”

 Today, we remember the good news of Easter together and we share in the sacrament of Christ’s risen presence for the first time since March 8th. This is a very different kind of Easter celebration than we’ve ever had before…. I know I’ve never preached on the Easter story in June…. And we had a heck of a time finding Easter flowers for today as all the Spring bulbs we associate with this day of resurrection have long since faded from the landscape. Then of course, there’s no singing or special choir offering or egg hunt this year. And we’ll receive the bread and cup of Christ’s life from the safety of our own pews….. But even still, Richard and I have been so excited for this day to come! The day when we could once again see you and worship with you face to face. Today, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, by proclaiming the core truth of our worship life: every single Sunday is a mini-Easter, for Christians have been gathering to worship our Risen Christ every Sunday since that first Resurrection Sunday! 

It’s been a long 3 months, we’ve faced many a challenge, and the challenges of this time are far from over. But, one of our greatest gifts from God is each other. We weather the storms that come by finding comfort, strength, and joy in community. I couldn’t wait for this day to come, the day when we would cautiously gather together to look one another in the eyes with the love and peace of Christ and to proclaim in shared voice that Christ is Risen! And for that truth we praise God forevermore with our Alleluias! 

In this Easter story from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus Christ our Lord can’t wait. 

After 3 long days, days filled with grief and fear for his disciples, days filled with suffering, death, and the descent into hell for him…. After 3 long days, Jesus’ lifeless corpse is raised from the dead! He returns, just as he promised he would, and the earth herself quakes and shakes with joy and excitement. Jesus arises to the rousing applause of all creation! 

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (likely Jesus’ own mother) rise early on Easter morning, at the crack of dawn. These two women closest to Jesus- among his closest disciples- remembered what he had said…. Crazy as it had seemed at the time…. How he would suffer and die, but on the third day rise again….

Everything else Jesus mentioned had come true -he was handed over to the authorities, he was betrayed and beaten…. He was crucified…. What if, just what if he really had been raised from that death? What if all Jesus promised had come true? 

The Mary’s couldn’t wait any longer, they ran to the tomb, they felt the rumblings beneath their feet, and just as they arrive an angelic messenger descends to earth amidst the shaking and quaking and rolls the mighty stone away from the entrance to the tomb. 

The angel sits down on the tomb and proclaims to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’”

The women are filled with joy and fear -that’s the body’s natural response to a world-changing good thing- and they run off to tell the other disciples what had happened.  

And you would expect that that’s what would happen next in the gospel…. The women find the others, tell them what the angel said, they all travel to Galilee to be met by Jesus, he gives the great commission and ascends, the end…… 

Except…. 

Jesus. Can’t. Wait. 

Christ himself interrupts the expected flow of this resurrection story. Christ himself delays the spread of this message to the others…. Because after a day of unparalleled heartache, loneliness, and suffering, and after 3 long days dead in the tomb, he just couldn’t wait to see and greet his beloved disciples named Mary. 

These women were on a mission from God, they were running to tell the others, and Christ stops them dead in their tracks. Matthew writes, “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.” 

Though the angel had already told them Jesus was alive and that he had already left to meet them in Galilee, Jesus just couldn’t wait to meet and celebrate with his beloved ones. Christ knew what they’d been through too in these last 3 days -such grief and anger and despair- and Christ couldn’t wait to bring them face to face with the balm for all their suffering and sorrow. They hold him, and the worship him, and their hearts are healed.

Just as Christ can’t wait to see us -his beloved ones today, so the worship of Christ can’t wait for us to finish all of the errands and tasks and other commitments we may have. Our worship of Christ is not just our gift to Christ, it’s Christ’s source of healing and hope for us for whatever we’re going through. Whether we worship together in person or in our homes, Christ meets us wherever we are -just as he met the Marys on the road. 

 But we can’t stay in the middle of the road with Jesus forever, the gospel says:

10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”” 

 

The good news of the resurrection is too good to keep to ourselves! Just as Christ can’t wait to share his resurrection with the Marys, so Christ can’t wait for the word to get out so that all of his beloved ones would draw near to him in Galilee -the place where their mission started. 

Because Christ can’t wait to share his love and his risen life with us, so we have no time to waste in sharing Christ’s love and life with the world right now.

Like the earthquake that announced it, Christ’s resurrection changes everything. Both the angel and Christ himself say “Do not be afraid.” Because Jesus Christ is alive, there is nothing Christ’s beloved ones need fear in this world. We are emboldened by the good news of the resurrection to go forth into the world and to speak into existence a world without fear, a world where suffering and violence and death do not have the last word! 

Because Christ is Risen and Christ will find us wherever we are. Christ will turn our mourning into dancing and offer us his touch of healing and hope so that we can share his presence with others. Amen.

Hymn Sing Monday

Sorry about the flipped camera angle! I’ll get it right next week! Every Monday around 11am Richard and I will be recording a few hymns for you to sing along with at home, since we can’t sing together in church right now. Comment below with some of your favorite hymns so that we can include them in our rotation! Below are the lyrics to each hymn:

All Are Welcome
Let us build a house
Where love can dwell
And all can safely live,
A place where
Saints and children tell
How hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
Rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions;
Let us build a house where prophets speak,
And words are strong and true,
Where all God’s children dare to seek
To dream God’s reign anew.
Here the cross shall stand as witness
And a symbol of God’s grace;
Here as one we claim the faith of Jesus:
Let us build a house where love is found
In water, wine and wheat:
A banquet hall on holy ground,
Where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus,
Is revealed in time and space;
As we share in Christ the feast that frees us:
All are welcome, all are welcome,
All are welcome in this place.

 

Thine Be the Glory
Thine be the glory,
Risen, conqu’ring Son;
Endless is the victory,
Thou o’er death hast won;
Angels in bright raiment
Rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded grave clothes
Where Thy body lay.
Thine be the glory,
Risen conquering Son,
Endless is the victory,
Thou o’er death hast won.
Lo! Jesus meets us,
Risen from the tomb;
Lovingly He greets us,
Scatters fear and gloom;
Let the church with gladness,
Hymns of triumph sing;
For her Lord now liveth,
Death hath lost its sting.
Thine be the glory,
Risen conquering Son,
Endless is the victory,
Thou o’er death hast won.
No more we doubt Thee,
Glorious Prince of life;
Life is naught without Thee;
Aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conquerors,
Through Thy deathless love:
Bring us safe through Jordan
To Thy home above.
Thine is the glory,
Risen conquering Son,
Endless is the victory,
Thou o’er death hast won.
Go My Children With My Blessing
Go, my children, with my blessing, Never alone.
Waking, sleeping, I am with you; You are my own.
In my love’s baptismal river
I have made you mine forever.
Go, my children, with my blessing – You are my own.

Go, my children, sins forgiven, At peace and pure.
Here you learned how much I love you, What I can cure.
Here you heard my dear Son’s story;
Here you touched him, saw his glory.
Go, my children, sins forgiven, At peace and pure.

Go, my children, fed and nourished, Closer to me;
Grow in love and love by serving, Joyful and free.
Here my Spirit’s power filled you;
Here his tender comfort stilled you.
Go, my children, fed and nourished, Joyful and free.

I the Lord will bless and keep you And give you peace;
I the Lord will smile upon you And give you peace;
I the Lord will be your Father,
Savior, Comforter, and Brother.
Go, my children; I will keep you And give you peace.

Sunday Worship Pentecost 2A

SERMON Pentecost 2A Matthew 10

So, here we are again in “Ordinary time.” Since you’ve last been gathered with Richard and I in this space, we’ve jumped from purple to red to white to red to white and now at long last, the church goes to green just as York county does.

The term “ordinary time” is not meant to describe the boring part of the church year, but rather the ordinal time, when the weeks are counted in succession after the festival of Pentecost. The color is green because the stories of our lectionary focus on growing the disciples who have already been saved by the death and resurrection of Christ and have been equipped by the Holy Spirit to work for God’s kingdom to be as visible on earth as it is in heaven.

Yes, we are in ordinary time, but NOTHING feels ordinary about this moment in history. While transmission of Covid-19 is decreasing in our area and restrictions are loosening, the war with Coronavirus is far from over. For those of us still quarantining at home, every day may feel the same inside our walls, but when we switch on the tv we see the turmoil in our world. We see peaceful protests met with brutality. We see rioting and looting. We see so much division and hate….

The weight of this moment in history is heavy. Our Christian mission is to embody God’s kingdom into all this heaviness with diligence and reverence and love. But where do we start? How can we meet the enormity of the world’s pain right now with a word of grace and justice without making light of valid outrage about racism, brutality, or the genuine suffering so many people are experiencing right now because of the pandemic?

When we don’t know what to say or do, as Christians we are called to seek guidance in scripture and prayer.

Our gospel reading from Matthew says that while Jesus went around teaching and preaching the good news of the kingdom of heaven, he cured every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. When he saw the crowds who were gathered there to listen to him, he was gutted with compassion for them because the crowds were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

The Shepherd’s primary job was to provide for the sheep’s wellbeing and to keep the sheep safe from predators. By Jesus’ time, the Shepherd had become a theological metaphor for the way those in power were expected to treat those without power. Hebrew scripture speaks about the shepherds of Israel as prophets, priests, or kings. By the time Jesus gets ahold of this metaphor, he uses it to describe those who have physical or spiritual power over the masses. Those in charge of maintaining law and order amidst this crowd would have been the Roman occupiers, who were known for maintaining the peace through violent force. Similarly, the pharisees and temple authorities were charged with the spiritual care of the people, but instead of setting the people free with the good news of God’s covenant love, they held their power over the heads of their people, holding them captive to the letter of the religious law, only setting them free if the price was right or there was some kind of social incentive.

The crowds of people were stuck between Rome and the religious authorities of the day -both institutions which were meant to care for the masses, who instead actively harmed them. Jesus was dismayed when he saw all this. It says he was “moved with compassion, for they were like sheep without a shepherd -which is to say, destined for the wolves.” The word “compassion” in scripture is more accurately conveyed as “stirred up in the bowels.” Today we’d say that Jesus was “shaken to his very core” or that he felt “punched in the gut” when he saw these injustices. Jesus was gutted when he saw these beloved people left harassed and helpless by the very institutions which were meant to provide for them. The ordinary of his world was not as God intended it to be.

And so, Jesus rallies his troops to spread widely his work of bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth.

The scripture says Jesus, “summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease, and every kind of sickness.” Jesus sent his disciples out to do his work in his name. He gave them authority to cast out that which is evil, to cast out that which is contrary to God, to cast out that which sows discord and division and hatred, and to cure every disease and every sickness -not just of the body, but of the heart and soul as well.

We disciples today have been given that same mission and that same authority through the Holy Spirit whom we received at Baptism. We are sent out to care especially for the harassed and helpless. And we are tasked with casting out evil and hatred and injustice, and working to cure every kind of sickness of the body, mind, or spirit, for that is the work of Jesus himself.

Jesus sent the 12 disciples out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near! Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received this authority free of charge, so give it away without asking anything in return. Take nothing extra with you for the journey -no staff for protection, nor extra sandals or tunic for emergencies- but rely on the hospitality of the harassed and helpless to whom you are sent.”

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ initial mission is exclusively to the lost sheep of Israel, which he broadens after the resurrection when he sends his apostles out with the great commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Trinity and teaching them to obey everything that I have commended.”

Jesus’ first disciples are sent to the harassed and helpless of Israel, those weighed down by the turmoil of living in occupied territory with corruption woven through the temple system. For us today, our mission is to go to the harassed and helpless wherever we find them today, to care for whoever is in most desperate need of healing and resurrection.

Jesus sent his disciples to stay with those who were marginalized to bring Jesus’ peace and healing into their homes. Obviously, with Coronavirus restrictions, it’s not yet safe for us to stay with or even eat with others, but we can find ways to listen and learn and to give the power away that we’ve received.

All over the world, people gather as vulnerable sheep without a shepherd.  All over the world, the crowds of dispossessed cry out for healing and resurrection that only the kingdom of heaven come to earth can bring.

This is not easy or overnight work. Jesus tell us that when we are faithfully bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth, we will be challenged. Jesus says, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves, so be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves… you will be handed over to councils and flogged in your places of worship, you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and to all the peoples of the world. BUT… when they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speaks but the Holy Spirit who speaks through you.”

The long arc that bends toward justice is a dangerous and difficult road to travel. All of the things Jesus warned of in this passage actually happened to the apostles in the book of Acts, and have been challenging Christ’s church ever since.

In these turbulent, divisive times when we feel at a loss for words or we fear saying the wrong thing, Jesus urges us not to be afraid, for we are NEVER alone in this kingdom work. The Holy Spirit, the same Spirit by whom we’re able to cast out every kind of evil and hatred, that same Spirit remains with us always and gives us the words to say when we cannot possibly conjure the words for ourselves. While the work we are called to as disciples is difficult, we never work alone, and our work is never in vain, for inch by inch Christ’s kingdom comes to earth as it is in heaven.

St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Ultimately the work Christians are called to is the work of hope. Our work bears witness to the world that what we think of as ordinary is not what our gracious God intends, and that through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ so too there is always hope of resurrection for our world. Amen.

Worship for Pentecost

Pentecost 2020: A miracle in the hearing

Pentecost is the day when everything changed, when old divisions and prejudices were pulled down, and when humans who had nothing in common with one another were drawn together into one family by the Holy Spirit! Pentecost is the day we celebrate how God’s all-inclusive, barrier-breaking love changed the world and our affirmation that the Spirit is not about to take a lunch break!

Our Lord Christ was born, lived, and died poor and Jewish. He spent his life preaching and teaching love of neighbor and liberation for the oppressed. Those around him confessed that he was the Messiah of Israel, but our Lord Jesus Christ was not only the Messiah of Israel, he is Lord and Savior for all humanity! On the day of Pentecost, peoples from all around the world were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish harvest festival. The scripture says that there were people from every nation under heaven, “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphilia, Egypt, and parts of Lybia, and visitors from Rome -both Jews and proselytes- Cretans and Arabs.”

If we were writing about these events today we might say that there were, “Rich & Poor people, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Independents, Substance Addicted, Money addicted, Power addicted, Image addicted people, Black & White & Brown skinned people of every race and ethnicity, LGBTQ & Straight cis-gendered people, young and elderly people, married & single, athletes & couch potatoes, from rural, urban, and suburban lifestyles, and people from every other possible walk of life” -they were all there & all invited by God’s spirit to this ongoing resurrection party we call the church!

The Spirit chose this day to descend, to uproot all of these people’s primary allegiances, to change the way they understand themselves, each other, and God, and to give them new identities first and foremost as God’s beloved children!  The spirit that descends at Pentecost is indeed a disruptive, disorienting Spirit, as that Spirit works to re-orient everyone gathered toward God and God’s mighty works in the world.

The Spirit descended upon the apostles who were gathered in the upper room with all of God’s might and power -the rush of a violent wind- and the fire of the Spirit rested upon each one of them, and then shoved them out the door and into the streets to speak to all who were gathered in the city.

Now, while yes, the apostles were speaking to total strangers with the courage given them by Christ’s spirit, the true miracle of this story is in the hearing! The Spirit not only gave the apostles tongues of fire to get out in the streets and preach, but that same spirit opened the ears of those out in those streets to truly listen to the apostle’s message.

Every person gathered in Jerusalem that day heard the Word of the Lord proclaimed in the mother tongue of each, because God deems every culture, every race as equally beloved. Every human being is equally worthy of a place at Christ’s table -especially in this resurrection party called the Church! And as the Church, a key part of the baptismal promise we take on is to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. One thing we can say for sure -based on this Pentecost story and most of the other stories of Acts- is that God’s will is for human beings to be treated with equal love and respect both in the Church and in the world.

But our work for this kind of justice is far from done, dear church. In fact, weeks like the one we’ve just experienced, I wonder how far we’ve really come.

My husband can take our family hiking or biking or bird watching or stop to put gas in our car any time he wants -without once fearing that someone will call the police because he “looks suspicious.” He walks around our neighborhood every single morning at 6am, and no one shoots at him thinking he’s a burglar. And, as a white woman, I’ve never had the kind of trouble finding ministry calls that I’ve heard my dear siblings of African descent have had. Some of the best pastors and people I know come with thick accents and deep history. And many churches have missed their opportunities to have these best pastors ever because of their superficial preferences.

This double standard of the reality we find ourselves in in this country is white supremacy, and white supremacy is not only a sin -it is a whole demonic system. Our job as Christ’s church is to wage war on all the forces that defy and rebel against God. That means our job as Christ’s church is to end white supremacy and all of the racism and prejudices that go along with it, because God does not have favorites. God shows no partiality, and therefore all prejudices must be forbidden among God’s children.

Perhaps like me, you’ve found yourself crying or feeling as if you’ve been punched in the gut this week each time you’ve seen the image or video of George Floyd being pinned to the ground by a now ex-police officer kneeling his full body weight onto Floyd’s neck as he gasped for breath and lost consciousness -later dying at hospital. This picture is emblematic of the White Supremacy which plagues this country. A handcuffed man being further pinned down by his neck, a disgusting display of excessive force (from a cop with a history of this sort of thing) brutalizing an unarmed black man, while several other officers stood by and let it happen.

If that officer had been kneeling on the neck of a dog like he’d knelt on Floyd there would have been universal public outrage. But when a person of color is killed by police brutality half the country either shrugs or makes excuses as to why it’s acceptable for those in authority to act this way.

“At least it’s not me” or “It doesn’t affect me” is not an acceptable response. When one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. As the Church, we are a family first and foremost. George Floyd was our brother. We mourn his death, we lament, and we roll up our sleeves and work for justice and peace in all the world.

I know there are riots right now, and of course I don’t condone violence. But, your feeling about the rioting does not negate your Christian responsibility to work for justice on behalf of our black and brown skinned brothers and sisters.

I know there are good cops -this isn’t about those officers who do their jobs faithfully. Our Christian work for justice is about changing the structures and systems that allow brutality against minorities to continue unchecked. This fight for justice and peace is about systemic change that will benefit both cops and allow the communities they serve to feel safe and free to live with equal dignity in the world.

So you may be wondering, where do I start? What is the beginning step?

Well, dear 96% white ELCA portion of the Church of Christ, in a time such as this we are called back to our Pentecost roots! Pentecost was a miracle in the ears of those gathered in Jerusalem. The church was the minority on that day -just a handful of uneducated fisherfolk from rural Galilee. Of course, there were still some who stopped up their ears, closed their eyes, stamped their feet, and hardened their hearts from hearing the life-changing Word God was trying to share with them that day. They sneered and said, “Oh, Galileans, they must be filled with new wine! Tsk, tsk, drunk already by 9am!”

But, even with a few who clung to their prejudices, Pentecost was a miracle of hearing, for the Spirit opened the ears and the hearts of  so many of those gathered in Jerusalem that 3000 chose to be baptized that day!

To change the White Supremacy in our country, we need the Spirit of Christ to sweep in and disrupt and disorient us for a while. We need to let go of what we’ve experienced in our white suburban context, and we need to open our ears and our hearts to the stories and the pain our siblings of color are trying to share with us. We need to take seriously their fear and their anger, we need to listen and read and we need to learn how to serve our siblings of color. And above all, when we see racism and injustice in front of our eyes -whether it’s a racist joke being told at a BBQ or someone calling the cops on a black family at a park, we need to stand up and speak out and invoke the name of Almighty God who shows absolutely no partiality. When we advocate for people of color, we uphold our Baptismal promises to God. We stand with the oppressed because of our love of God and our love of ALL our neighbors, and the disrupting, disorienting Spirit stands with us opening ears and hearts. Amen.