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Sermon: Breaking Through

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Breaking ThroughLuke 3:21-22

Please pray with me…
Imagine with me. You have left your home in dusty Jericho. It is not just dusty because of the sand in the area, but also because of the ash flying through the air from the open fires upon which meals are made. Everything you touch has a think layer of dust on it. And your skin clammy with the beginning of perspiration becomes an attractive vacuum for the dust. It covers you, very thinly but enough to notice and to be annoying. The dust is everywhere.

So, you have left your home in dusty Jericho and and you move through the city and out into the wilderness. You have heard about this prophet who is hanging around by the Jordan. So you head toward the rising sun, east to the river as it nears its emptying point in the Dead Sea. In the few miles you are in the desert making the walk to the waters your mind begins to think about all that dust. All of that grime that is always everywhere. It never goes away. You scrub the house and it just returns. You wash your body only to have the dust dry on you skin before you are even dressed. It is the bane of your existence.

And as you wander in the wilderness you watch as dust devils dance in silhouette on the horizon. And your mind jumps to the chaos that is your life. The insecurity you have about feeding your family. The well being of your aging mother. They tears you shed for the death of your neighbor. The constant barking of orders from the Roman overseers as you work in the fields. The beggars, always there, Blind Bartemaus, will he ever find happiness. All of it spins in your head like the dancing of the dust on the horizon.

Then as you begin the descent into the valley carved by the ancient waters, waters crossed by Jacob after facing God on the Jabbock; waters crossed by Joshua and the people of Israel as they made their way to the promised land; the waters crossed by the Elijah and Elisha; the waters that washed away the leprosy of Naaman; as you begin your descent you see him. The prophet you have heard of, standing waist deep in the water. He is proclaiming repentance for the forgiveness of sins and people are running to him to be washed in the water.

You make your way to the rivers edge. You sit and watch. You pick at the dried and cracked dust coating your hands. Will it ever go away? Will this dust ever go away? You listen to the man in the water, but you are skeptical about his claim. How can it be that one dip in the Jordan can cleanse you? If you can’t even get your house in order, you can’t get your house clean, how will something like this clean your soul, clean your spirit, clean your heart?

There is just too much dirt in there.

Imagine with me. You leave your home in Indianapolis. You leave it and you know it is disarray. You know you haven’t dusted in days, in weeks, in months. There is a layer of minuscule matter coating every surface, and you see it every time the sun shines in the window. You watch it dancing in the sunbeams, taunting you. You see it, but why bother, really, it is a Sisyphean task, it always comes back. The dust.

It lingers there like the back log of bills waiting to be knocked down. You can almost feel the weight of it as it falls on you. And it gets under your skin. Every time you get the phone call from a collector of and alert from the bank telling you you are overdrawn, the dust collects. It builds up and up until you are about to break. You lash out at those you love because everything you see is dirty. It just won’t come clean.

The dust in your aching joints and muscles tries to keep you from getting things in order. You know that as you get older it gets harder and harder to move around the house. To get the cleaning supplies from under the counter. And you feel it every time you move. And you want to scream.

It collets on the bottles of vodka that you turn to when you think no one is looking, the bottles that sometimes offer you solace, but more often than not make a mess when you fight with family. Your need for the bottle adds another layer. You want to, but it is so hard to get clean.

The dust coats your skin. It cakes on and every time you try to get it off you end up with bleeding knuckles. No matter what you do you can’t get clean.

And so you leave your house covered. You leave your house and you step in the mud. You see the violence in going on around you – four dead in 10 days. You watch as bile bellows forth from those who seek to lead our country. They dehumanize everyone who is not like them. Right, Left, Tea Party it doesn’t matter – the discourse does nothing to increase the dignity of God’s children.

Covered in dust and dirt you find your way to this place. You find yourself in a blue padded pew. You don’t know why you are here, and you almost didn’t come because you thought you were not good enough. You were too dirty. Stepping in there would make you vulnerable and you might get shamed by people who have their stuff together.

You come in these doors and into the blue padded pew and you see that the person next to you is just as dirt covered as you. You look around and everyone you see has dust covering them.
You come into these doors and into the blue padded pews and you hear words. You hear these words. These words that were witnessed by the one who left Jericho that day so long ago. That one covered covered in dust who made her way to the Jordan to see the prophet in the camel hair tunic. You hear these words that changed her life forever. You hear the words you have longed for; words of hope; of promise. You hear these words this day seated int he padded blue pews:

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Well, sisters and brothers, we are all here today covered in dust and dirt. We are all here today with sin writ large on our hearts. WE are all here today with questions and uncertainties. We are here on the shores of the Jordan. And we witness all in one place and one time God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Sprit break forth into the world. Exploding from the heavens into our present reality – into our dusty and dirt word – Exploding into your reality saying to Jesus, I love you. I love you before you have even done anything. I love you and you are here to hear it. I love you.

And I’m here to let you know that that is the power of baptism. That is the power of the promise of God. That through these water all that dust and dirt you carry; the weight of the world, the sin of the hear, the hurt and anxiety – through these waters they get washed away. You don’t need to scrub until you bleed because in these water – God’s love does all the work. Because in the waters of baptism we hear clearly God say, I love you. I love you now. You don’t have to be perfect to come to these waters. You don’t have to do everything right. You don’t have to be busy doing work. No, I love you. I have loved you since before you drew your first breath and I will love you into eternity.
Through the waters of baptism comes new life; comes new hope. Cleansed in these holy waters you come out a new person. You come out marked with the cross of Christ forever and that is something that will never be taken away.

Now you may be about to say, Pastor, it sounds like you are saying that after baptism everything will be perfect. The dust is washed off and will never come back. Well, I am sorry to say, the dust does come back. You aren’t cured of hard times. They will still be there. You aren’t promised prosperity or fortune. You will sin again. People will still act like jerks. There will still be heartache and grief. After all it is still a dirty and dusty world. But what happens when you come out of the waters of baptism you come out of them with a new perspective.

You look at them the dust and dirt and say it ain’t that bad, because I know if can get washed off. You look at stress and confusion and say, I don’t have to go through it alone because I belong to God now. I belong to the church. I belong, because God loves me.

The aches and pains don’t go away, but they are transformed form instruments of torture into a ridiculous reality. Your getting old and this is what happens, but you aren’t getting old alone. You are part of something bigger when you come out of the waters of baptism. You come out as part of the body of Christ who has other weary travelers just like you and you can lean on each other. You can encourage each other. You can cry for each other. You come out of the waters of Baptism into the body of Christ that has younger and stronger people to stand long side you to lear from you; to help you; to grown from your knowledge; and to pick you up and carry you- because God love you. God loves you for who you are.

The stain of violence and putrid political rhetoric still will sully the streets. But instead of being worn down by it and carried along in the vocal hurricane you are able to say – this is not what the Kingdom of God looks like. This is not the eternal life I just was born into. You are given courage to be bold in the face of violence. You are given the voice to name the causes of violence; guns, drugs, gangs, sin, and broken systems that perpetuate the myth of redemptive violence. You are able to look at structures in place and call them racist because the disproportionately affects persons of color. You are able to say to your your candidate you are wrong. You are able to say that their platform does not reflect the kingdom of God. You are able to offer a different realty. The reality that is love. That is God’s love for all people. Let me say that again -God’s love is for all people. You missed it – God’s love is for all people.

Love that is for white people and black people. Brown people and first nations people and asian people. Love that is for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered people. Love that is for Jewish people. Love that is for Muslim people. Love that is for Hindu and Buddhist. It doesn’t matter who you are. God loves you. God loves you. I don’t think you hear me… GOD LOVES YOU.

When you come through the waters of Baptism you are able to come out clean having been bathed in God’s love. You come out of the waters someone new. Someone who knows the dust won’t stay put.

Someone empowered into a new way of life.

Someone ready to move mountains.

Someone ready to tear down wall.

Someone ready to reach out and love the ones everyone else says hate.

Someone who is ready to sit with the suffering; weep in the weeping; dance with the joyous.

Someone with a heart full of praise, singing Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless your holy name.
Someone who can’t help but shout the Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear.

Great are you Lord and greatly to be praised.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

You come out of the water as someone who can look to the heavens and hear God say, I Love You. I Love you. I Love you.

The doors of the church are open…

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Sermon

Sermon: A Tale of Two Kingdoms

A Tale of Two Kingdoms2 Sam 5:1-5, 9-10 & Mark 6:1-13

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In our readings this morning we encounter two expressions of kingdoms, both blessed and anointed by God, but one founded on the basis of earthly power on and the other rooted firmly in the power of the Divine. It truly is a tale of two kingdoms.

Lets Pray …  

For those of you who don’t know, last week Mae, the kids and I represented Emerson Ave. at the biennial Mission Summit of the American Baptist Churches, USA, the most diverse Protestant denomination in the United States. We gathered in Overland Park, KS with our ABC family from around the world: white and black; hispanic and asian; Native American and natives of the continent of Africa; all of the inhabitable continent were represented. The hues of skin in that convention center was a sight to behold – a rainbow of God’s creative power. And as beautiful as that is, our diversity is not limited to skin tone, gathered in KS were people of means sitting next to people on welfare; there were churches represented who have million dollar budgets and storefront churches with shoestring bottom lines. There were conservatives and liberals; people who hold that the Bible is the inerrant infallible word of God and people who understand the Bible to be a collection of myths; and there were heterosexuals and members of the LGBT community all gathered in that sacred space. The patchwork quilt that is the ABC-USA was fully present. Gathered to celebrate and enjoy each others company.

We saw friends we have not seen in at least two years. We rejoiced in each others company. We celebrated the work we were all doing in our respective communities. There were people I talked to who were encouraged by the work we are doing here at EABC…people I just met there, but had heard about us. Yes, people around the country are excited about the fact that we are becoming an active part in the community with the garden, with Lux Nova, with the Dance School, with the fact that we are open 7 days a week. They see that we are a small, but growing congregation. We are an example for some of how just being present, being hospitable and attentive to the needs of the community can grow a church with out spending tons of money on the next big program. We are an example of how to be church. People are paying attention to us, and more importantly – people from around the world, yes around the world, are praying for us.

But, even as we gathered and there was the air of celebration in our midst there was also something else going on. There was an air of revival in the convention center. And that air was stirring with a call for repentance. While we were in Overland Park, the Supreme Court handed down two decisions that alter the course of our nations history, and in our diversity you are right to assume that there were diverse reactions to the rulings regarding the Affordable Care Ace and Marriage Equality. Some were weeping with joy that they can not legally marry the person the love and others were mourning the fact that they feel the nation is leaving God behind. Honest emotions from both sides, both deeply held and honest.

While we were there, even as we were remembering the nine souls lost in Charleston, news was making the rounds of churches being burnt in the south, female African-American pastors receiving death threats. And in the middle of that news was the power message of the President reminding the nation of God’s Amazing Grace. All of these things brought a flood of emotions, from all over the spectrum, and in that myriad of emotions came a message that brought a sense of revival and a call to repentance.

Each speaker, preacher, named the fact that we as the ABC-USA had been brought together – in all of our diversity – for a time such a this. We have been brought together in Overland Park by the furious love of God. We have been brought together by the love of a God who in all of our diversity invites all to come and sit at the welcome table. We, in our disagreements are all ALL beloved of God and have a place in the Kingdom of God, and so a call of repentance was put forth. For us, as the ABC to repent of those things what get in the way of anyone being fully the person God intends for them to be. We seek forgiveness for our complacency in the face of such a furious love. We seek forgiveness and repent of our giving in to white supremacy, a world view that intentional or not allows for one people to say I am better than you. We seek forgiveness and repent of our failure to love people of God because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, because in the furious love of God – all are created in the image of God. We seek forgiveness and repent of our stubborn refusal to see that God’s vision for the world is so much broader and deeper than our own, and that even though we may disagree over things we are bound together by the love of a God who put on human clothes to love us even unto death.

And as these sins were named and as people began to give them to God, something happened in the convention center. I saw something I had never seen in a meeting of the ABC. I saw a fire of revival being lit. I saw people – even though they disagree theologically or politically – I saw people begin to look at the world in a new way. I saw people, myself included, begin to look at the world thorough the lens of God’s love rather than my own understanding of things. I began to ask questions that force me to always focus first on the commands of Jesus to love God and love neighbor. That is my job. That is our job. And it isn’t easy, it won’t be easy. And there are two ways it could go. A tale of two kingdoms.

The first way it can go is the way of the Kingdom of Israel. In Samuel today, we heard about the coronation of King David. We get the nice story of how the people came to him and crowned him king of Israel (he had already been king of Judah) and in this coronation the two kingdoms were united. What we don’t get is the story of how he became the king, crowned by the people. We know from a couple of weeks ago that Samuel came to him and anointed him when he was just a boy, and now, 10-15 years later he is finally being crowned, but he was crowned by the people out of fear and because they saw what happened to the Saulide line. All of Saul’s kin had been killed and the Philistine army was advancing. They knew David was a might warrior so they came and crowned him King. And the Bible says that David’s power became greater and greater and that the Lord was with him. 

We know that David was a man of great faith, the power of the psalms he wrote give us witness of his deep desire to be all God wanted him to be, but we also learn that David was a man who struggled with power. He knew how to use it and many times he used it for means that would please him and and increase his power. He would use his power to kill the husband of the woman he raped when she became pregnant. He would ignore his power when it meant dealing with his rapist son. David was a mirror to our own sin and longing. 

He built a great kingdom, but it wouldn’t last. Within two generations the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were once again split. The prophecies of Samuel to the people of the disingenuousness of their kings was coming true. Time and again the kings would worry about their own power and turn away from the face of the Living God. They would turn and rely on their own devices and not operate under the supreme law of Torah, to Love the Lord Your God and Love Neighbor. The loved self and put nation above love. While David was the exemplar of a Godly King, he was also the model that led to the fall of an empire because he – as we all do – split his focus on God and Self. And we see what happened, military defeats. Exile to Assyria and then Babylon. We see the line of the kings disappear into dust as first the Greeks and then the Romans over take the land of milk and honey. 

And as the Romans took over the promised land, into a back water community called Bethlehem – the city of David’s birth – was born another king, in the line of David, but poor, born of an unwed teenager girl, without a place to lay his head. This king was born and heaven and earth touched. This king was born and was anointed by the waters of the Jordan and called Beloved. This king was anointed to, instead of bring power and glory to Israel, he was anointed to bring healing to the sick, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, to proclaim the year of God’s favor. This king came in and brought with him a kingdom that is still standing 2,000 years later. 
Jesus ushered into the world the Kingdom of God. The ideal kingdom that God wanted for the people in the promised land all those years ago. The kingdom they turned down when they demanded a king be anointed, forsaking the King of Kings. Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God, and people did not like it. 

It was subversive and dirty. It touched the untouchable. It sat with the outcasts. It brought the tax collector and the zealot together at the same table. It healed the possessed. It acted in pure unadulterated love. The kingdom of God that Jesus ushered in ignored all of the rules, all of the biasses, all of the walls that people had built to separate themselves from everyone else and instead built a house of love where all could gather and eat.

And we see what happened, in his own home town he was rejected. He was told it was impossible because of where he came from – that poor woman Mary who had a baby before she was married, and that Joseph the carpenter who made stuff that was good enough for them to eat on, but was still an outcast because he did not divorce Mary. This bastard can’t be anything other than a charlatan. 

Jesus, in disbelief, acted in love and said to his disciples, “well, let’s go.” He didn’t fight. He didn’t argue. He didn’t demand that they do what he says, he just said, ok, let’s move on. Because in the Kingdom of God, in the Kingdom of Love, even in disagreement seeds of resurrection are planted. 

This is the second way we could go is the way of love. The way of radical, subversive love. The way that will get us accused of being race baiting, gay loving (note: in preached sermon I said queer loving in order to reflect the derogatory names we will be called for being allies. I apologize if this causes offense to any of my LGBT friends), , immigrant loving, “friends of sinners.” Dishonored our hometown because we are acting too much like Jesus, but his is the way of the Kingdom of God. This is the way of the furious love of God. Jesus never said lover the sinner hate the sin, Jesus just sat down and had dinner with friends and in that meal lives were changed. Because the love of Jesus, the love of God sees us all as friends and longs for us all to gather at the welcome table. The table of transformation of redemption of salvation. The table of love.
It is this excitement, this good news, that caused a wind of revival to blow in the Mission Summit. The wind blew across everyone in the place, regardless of race or ethnicity; sexual orientation; political allegiance; portfolio size; the wind of the Holy Spirit blew across the Mission Summit calling us to love one another as Christ loves us. Because it is in that love and only in that love that we will truly touch the Kingdom of God. It is a radical act that challenges us. It forces you and me to confront our own biases. It puts a mirror up to our own faces so we can take the splinter out of our eyes. This radical love, this furious love of God when it takes center stage is the foundation for the ongoing Kingdom of God.

When the love of God took center stage it transformed a killer of Christians into an apostle to the nations.

When the love of God took center stage it said there is no Greek or Jew, no slave or free, no male or female for we are all one in the Christ.

When the love of God took center stage it cave courage to the women in the gladiators’ arena facing their deaths with courage.

When the love of God took center stage it brought an empire to its knees and changed the creed from Caesar is Lord to Christ is Lord.

When the love of God took center stage it built a church that changed the social order and gave power to the powerless; the widow; the orphan; the minority and said you are equal.
When the love of God took center stage it blew its holy breath across the pages of scripture opening up the Word to everyone with the advent of the printing press.

When the love of God too center stage it said you don’t need to buy your way into heave, grace is free.

When the love of God took center stage it stood fast in a river in Amsterdam and claimed int he face of persecution that God loves me.

It crossed an ocean and said that religious liberty is for everyone; that slavery is evil; that women have rights; that former slaves have rights.

When the love of God took center stage it said, I have a dream that one day we will truly sing the words of that Spiritual, Free at Last Free at Last thank God almighty I am free at last.

When the love of God took center stage in Overland Park, it took what could have easily been a contentious and divisive Mission Summit and transformed it into a revival tent. 

When God’s love take center stage it reminds us that Jesus’ reaction in these days when people are shot because of their skin color, churches are burned, pastors receive death threats, people are allowed to marry the person they love gay or straight – Jesus’ reaction would be to “Love your neighbor.” Love without exception. Love with your whole being. It reminds us that if we follow Jesus we love our black neighbor, our brown neighbor, our gay neighbor, our straight neighbor, our fundamentals neighbor, our atheist neighbor, our Muslim and Jewish neighbors, and even our annoying neighbors next door. It reminds us that it is our job to love and God’s to judge. 

God’s love takes all of us and reminds us that through it all … in it all … each one of us is a child of God, created in the the image of God…created in the divine image of Love. Created to love with the furious love of God that envelops us all, ALL, like the winds of a typhoon. Consuming us, soaking us, redeeming us, all. ALL.

Thanks be to God.

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Sermon

Sermon: A Change in Perspective

The Giant in our Way1 Sam 17:1-23,32-49

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It has happened again. President Obama on Thursday said that this is the fourteenth time in his seven years in office that he has has to address the nation in the wake of a mass shooting: Birmingham, NY – 13 dead, 4 wounded; Ft. Hood, TX, 13 dead; Tucson, AZ, 6 dead; Aurora, CO – 12; Oak Creek, WI – 6; Newtown, CT – 27 most of them children; Washington, DC Naval Yard – 12 children of God slain; Ft. Hood, TX again – 3; Chapel Hill, NC – 3; and these are just some of the ones President Obama has lamented. The statistics are even more heart wrenching – our nation has averaged one mass shooting per month since 2009. And yet it continues.

It has happened again. This time in Charlotte, NC. (Ed. Correction, Charleston, SC) Cynthia, Susie, Ethel, DePayne, Clementa, Tywanza,Daniel, Sharonda, Myra – nine killed as they gathered for Bible Study, one left intentionally alive to tell the world the reason behind the shooting, “You have got to go,” he said, “I have to do it…you rape our women, and you’re taking over our country.” The terrorist who committed this act wasn’t speaking about personal issues with someone with these words. This coward was instead, worshiping at the feet of the giant who is still standing in the valley, taunting those of good will – he was worshiping at the giant of racism that looms large in this country. Despite appearances to the contrary – we do not live in a post-racial country. We live in a post Jim Crow country. A country where the giant of racism has been grafted into our national DNA. Whether we are aware of it or not. The Goliath is there in the valley demanding that we dare come and try to fight him. 

The Giant stands there taunting the church. But what the giant doesn’t know is that the church, you and me, if we are brave enough can knock the giant down. God is on the side of justice and right. God doesn’t let us go into this fight empty handed. Our perspective has to be challenged and our demeanor changed, but when that happens. The Giant will fall. 

 Let us pray…

I find it powerful, as always, how the Holy Spirit works. I chose to preach this summer on the story of David weeks ago. The lectionary prescribes the texts and the order of the story, and it happens that today we hear the story of David and Goliath. The flannel graph favorite. How many of us can picture either sitting in Sunday School or teaching Sunday School and looking on with awe as the boy David in his blue and white shepherd’s robes approaches the armored giant Goliath. How many of us sat on the edges of our seats wondering if the small boy – the one that as children we could really identify with – how many of us sat there in anticipation as the sling spun in the air, and were delighted with the appropriate thunk as the rock sunk into the skull of the giant. The little guy triumphs over the giant. It is the quintessential underdog story. 

The bible says the Israelites were terrified of this Philistine Giant. And rightfully so. 

You see, they had been fighting their mortal enemies for days, and not the armies had each seized the the high points on the opposite sides of a great valley. It would be suicide for either side to try to go down in the valley to attack the opposing army. They would be sitting duck, totally exposed in the valley. So, as was custom, the Philistines sent a solider out in to the middle of the valley to engage in one on one combat with a soldier of the Israelite army. This was done to save lives on either side and to determine whose God was the most powerful. 

They would fight to the death and the victor would lead his army to defeat and capture the opposing army. 
Now the soldier the Philistines sent out was not a great general or sleek soldier. They went one step further and send out a giant. Goliath. A mountain standing 9 and a half feet tall. Wearing armor that weighed well over 100 pounds, carrying a spear that weighed 15 pounds. 

It is understandable why the Israelite army fully believed the taunts coming from his mouth. For forty days, he stood in the valley, threatening and intimidating. He called them every name in the book, challenged their manhood, insulted their families. The Giant was winning with out even throwing a blow. 

The eyes of the Israel army only saw a giant who would slaughter whomever dared to be foolish enough to step up and fight him. From their perspective this giant could never be defeated. He was too massive. They did not feel equipped to fight the enemy. They felt small and insignificant in light of the giant problem before them.

They see the giant of racism standing in front of them and wonder how on earth it can be defeated. They see the news day after day listing the casualties of war. They weep as nine people are slaughtered by the giant – even as they pray.

The sense of hopelessness is a cloud covering them. A cloud shaped by the giant. The light shinning behind him casting a pall of darkness and despair over the nation. Over the church.

These past few days we have come face to face with the giant, the largest unspoken of giant in our national dna. From the first footsteps on this land the giant came. The early settlers knowing that their bloodlines were pure and the savage first nations people already here had to be tamed. The ships of slaves crossing the ocean, forced labor building the economies of both the north and the south. The roots of revolution started when the homeland outlawed slavery. The constitution declaring people kissed by the African Sun to be only worth 3/5 of a full human. The giant walks in the land – taunting.
The giant continues his jeering as once freed slaves are held now in indentured servitude, forced to sharecrop on the land they were promised. And as they begin to to gain power, a giant named Jim Crow comes to town. Christ is crucified again and again as the cross becomes the lynching tree – strange fruit swinging in the soft southern breeze.
The giant taunts and ridicules those who try to fight. Gunning down leaders like Medgar and Martin. Creating a school to prison pipeline that punishes the darker hued more than the ones of Philistine descent. The giant laughs as nine are gunned down worshiping their God. The giant bellows as the newscasters minimized the terror saying the murderer is a lone wolf, is imbalanced. He bellows as he hears them try every which way that this was not a killing that was racially motivated, even though in the killer’s own words – “I wanted to start a race war.” The giant mocks as the issue of race becomes a battle line of left and right rather than a factor of humanization. The giant enjoys watching as excuses are made for not trying to fight him. 
As he hears the cries of, “what can we do?” “That’s the way it has always been.” He chuckles as there are some who decide that there is no giant, because our Commander in Chief is a black man. The giant stands in the valley with his javelin in the air, sneering, ridiculing, causing his enemy to being to question each other. Causing them to turn on each other. 
In the midst of the hazing from the Philistine giant, walks a shepherd boy bringing lunch to his brothers fighting for King Saul. Sent by his dad to bring food because they have been at this stalemate for forty days he enters the encampment to hear the guttural cries of the giant. 

He sees the fear and uncertainty in the eyes of the kings army. He looks at them. He looks at the giant. Them. Giant. Them. Giant. Unsure of what their issue is, he steps up. 

“I will go and fight this giant.”
As he says this uneasy laughs rise up from the encamped army. Even the king laughs, “You are just a boy. Beat it. You don’t know what you are talking about.”

But David has a different perspective of the situation. He doesn’t see a mountain, but rather sees a man slow and weak. He sees that the giant, while obscenely huge in reality is quite weak and vulnerable. He sees that the giant did not come into the valley on his own, but was helped by an assistant. Leading his way. David saw the systems in place to make the giant tower over the people. David did not see a great warrior, but saw a man weighed down by over a hundred pounds of armor. He sees a man who is not nimble enough to evade the weapon of a shepherd. 

David has a perspective of the situation that sees the giant for what he is – a distraction. He sees the giant not as an impregnable fortress, but as a problem to be confronted and dealt with. He see the giant as nothing more than a weak man hiding behind his masquerade of power.

“Sir, I have fought and killed lions and bears. Let me go. I go not alone, but with the God of the fighting angels with me. This giant is something that can be dealt with, you just have to do it right.” 

“Fine, boy. Put on this armor.”
“I don’t need your armor. I don’t need another workshop on how do fight a giant. It just gets in the way of the real work.”

And so, David goes down in to the valley. He gets as close as he needs to fight the giant. He picks up a stone. Whirls it in his sling. It leaves the sling traveling at a speed of over 60 meters a second. The stone, before the giant can react, nails him between the eyes and fells the beast. 

The giant in our way is a huge and terrible problem. The giant of racism has been mocking people of good will since the ver beginnings of this country’s history, and to deny that fact is to allow the giant to win. It is to see things from the giant’s perspective. But when we stop and look a the giant from God’s perspective. When we look a the giant with analytical eyes, we see not a foe that we can let control us, but we see a problem that prevents people for living the way God wants them to live – as free people. As whole people. As people bound in community.

What the giant can’t see is that even as he seeks to divide us, God has already begun a time of renewal. The martyrs are laying int he battle field, Martin and Medgar, Michael and Tamir, Four little girls in Birmingham, Nine saints in Charlotte, and countless others having given their lives in the fight for freedom; having died at the hand of the giant these freedom fighters have taught us things. They have taught us that racism is a systemic evil, yes it resides in the hearts of humans, but it also has engrained itself into the very fabric of society. When the desk of a slain Black pastor is draped in funeral bunting in the stated capitol while above that desk of grief flies the Confederate flag – there are systems of evil beating in the soul of a state. The saints have taught us that the way to defeat the giant is to listen to their stories. To tell their stories. To meet our neighbors and learn their stories. And to enter the battle with humble hearts, and not the hubris of political allegiance.

When we look a the giant from God’s perspective we see an evil that can be over come. We look for ways to fight, and there on the valley’s edges we find the first stone – the families of those slain in Charlotte forgiving the killer of their kin. Radical grace; the gospel writ large. We look: an other stone, this congregation – look around as the faces in this place. Black and white; coming together to worship the God who created us all in God’s image. We have the perspective of deep and loving relationships that can be mutually educational. That can open our eyes even more to the persistence of evil. This stone can be the one to fell a giant if we face him together. Hand in hand, arm in arm. 

Another stone: leaders in the community who are working to build relationships across racial lines. Their work rooted in the reality that it is only through relationships that the giant can be defeated. On August 1, I invite as many of you as can to an event of encounter. As stone that can sail between the eyes of giant.
Another stone: we have the witness of history. The giant rears his ugly head again and again. Not just here, but everywhere. In Europe, migrants are being returned to their homes – even though death awaits them. In Burma, ethnic cleansing has been going on for forty years. In the mid-east, Sunni and Shia Muslims are killing each other; Arabs and non-Arabs fight. The witness of history seems to favor the giant, but in the middle of all of these battles there are David’s rising up, speaking God’s love, God’s healing. 

The final stone: we know what happens when David slings his stone. We know that David comes at the problem from God’s perspective and we see that David does not enter the fight alone. Those beaten down by the giant laugh at him. But that doesn’t matter. When we have the courage to call the giant what he is – Racism, many will call us race-baiters. They will call us antagonizers. They will call us alarmists. They will say that we are trying to start problems. 

Let ’em. Say it all you want, but you know what? It don’t matter. You can call us names. We come into this fight armed with he truth of the living God. The God of all humanity. We come like the shepherd David. Ready to fight because this is not the way things are supposed to be. 

The fight is long and hard. But when we go into it with the right perspective, it isn’t impossible and it isn’s daunting. It is about being the people of God in a place where the giants want to scare. 

God Goes with us. We are not alone in this fight. 

David said to the giant, “This very day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head…so that all the earth may know that there is a God….”

Ours is a righteous fight. It is the battle of good over evil. And when the church rises up and steps into the battle, the earth will know that there is a God

Thanks be to God.

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Letter to the congregation

Greetings Friends,

My heart is heavy, weary, worn. My spirit is angry, anxious, confused.

I am writing this letter to you the day after the news of 9 people being murdered as they gathered in prayer. They were slaughtered because of the color of their skin. They gathered for their Wednesday Evening Bible Study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and a terrorist opened fire on the group saying,  “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

Words escape us and all we can do is have the Holy Spirit intercede for us with groaning too deep for words. Our hearts break with our sisters and brothers in Charlotte.

And yet, my heart is heavy, weary, worn. My spirit is angry, anxious, confused.

The terror that happened at the Lord’s House yesterday was not an isolated incident. It was not the act of one man. Rather, it is one more thread in the twisted tapestry of racial violence that has been a consistent narrative in this land since the first settlers landed on our shores. The slaughter of yesterday is one more instance of terror inflicted against our sisters and brothers of African descent: there is an over 200 year history of Black Churches being the targets of bombings, lynchings, and shootings.

Even though much good has happened in the last 50 years, there is still a long way to go in reconciling our racial relationships. Just because we have a president of African descent does not mean we are in a post-racial America. The weeping in Charlotte is the evidence of this.

Still, my heart is heavy, weary, worn. My spirit is angry, anxious, confused.

As the storm of emotions courses through my being, I am grateful to be a part of a faith community that crosses racial lines. When I stand at the pulpit every Sunday, my heart fills with joy as I see the beautiful tapestry that is created when God weaves together a community that rests in Grace and Love. We are evidence that what is isn’t what has to be. We are a cornerstone of the Beloved Community.

And even so we have a way to go. We have relationships to strengthen. Here, again, we are blessed. There is an organization I have been working with named IndyCAN, and for the last year we have been addressing the issue of systemic racism in our midst. We have created a workshop called The Season of Encounter and I would like for some us to participate in the event on August 1 from 9-4. I will have more details later, but this is an opportunity for us to get to build and strengthen our relationships with each other and with others in our city.

When I think of these gifts, my heart beats a little slower, feels a little lighter. My spirit calms, nerves relax, and one thing becomes clear.

We worship a God who put on human clothes and was murdered innocently. We worship a God who was the object of racism. We worship a God who did not let those things become the story, rather our God changed the story – flipped the script. Our God brought healing to the broken hearted, help to the hurting, and turned death into life. Our God is weeping in Charlotte. Our God is crying in Indianapolis. Our God is there in the midst of tragedy undoing the tapestry of evil that veils the world, and weaving a tapestry of love that will bring us through to the other side.

It is this that brings hope to my heart and solace to my soul. It is the cross that gives me strength.

During this time, not only do I pray for our friends in Charlotte, but I pray for each of you and for us as a community of faith, that we – even in the darkness – can be beacons of light in the word.

God loves you. God loves you. God loves you.

Pastor Justin

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Sermon: When God Calls

When God Calls

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Click here for audio.

The summer of David continues this week, after the prologue of last week when we were introduced to the supporting cast of characters: we me Samuel the prophet of the Lord, Saul the newly anointed king, and the people of 12 tribes. We heard about how even when the people continued to fall away from what God desired for them, because of God’s faithfulness – God would find a way for them to be saved. There were going to be ups and downs, good and bad, it wouldn’t be a nice and smooth path, but in God’s faithfulness, nothing would separate them for God’s love.

This week we meet, very briefly the central human figure in this summer’s sermons series. We meet David. The boy who would be king. The boy who was just a few moments ago tending sheep and is now the anointed future king of Israel. This is a story of what happens when God calls. 

Let’s pray…

The stage is set this morning for the foundation to be laid for the story of the person in the Bible who’s name is mentioned most in the Bible. In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible David is mentioned 1,107 times and Jesus is mentioned 1,001 times. Over 950 verses in our Holy Book are dedicated to this man after God’s own heard. This man who was a boy, nearly forgotten by his father when the prophet Samuel came to Bethlehem to anoint the future king.

The story begins with the downfall of Saul. Saul is still king and will be for a number of years, but he as lost the Lord’s blessing. God will no longer speak to Saul, and Samuel will not see him again until they day he dies. The Lord has left Saul to fend for himself, so God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint the one who will who become king after Saul. 

Fearing for his life because he knows Saul is a jealous king and is drunk with power, Samuel seeks wisdom of how to go about this treasons task. He is told by God to go to Bethlehem to make a sacrifice, and when he does he is instructed to invite Jesse and his boys to the sacrifice. 

Now, a little background check about Jesse, he is the grandson of a woman named Ruth. Ruth is the daughter in law of a woman named Naomi. Now they became kin in the land of Moab which is outside of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Moabites were historic enemies of the Israelites, yet during the time of Naomi there were friendlier relations, as she and her family fled there during a famine. During this time, her sons married and later died in their famine induced exile. Ruth, one of the women who married one of her sons, returned with her to Bethlehem. There Ruth remarried Boaz and gave birth to Obed, Davids granddad. 

This the first strangeness in this saga of the once and future king of Israel. That he would not be of pure Hebrew blood. That in his veins flowed the blood of foreigners, and yet, when God calls…

Even so, the strangeness must have not been lost on Jesse as at the sacrifice, Samuel begins to go down the line of the sons of Jesse. Son number one: strong and handsome, royal looking, this is the one, right God. “No, Sammy. Keep going. Don’t base it in looks.” 

“Fine, Lord, you know. How about boy number two? He is smart and well read.” 

“Nope.” 

“Third one’s a charm, right?” 

“Keep on movin'”

So for seven sons this pattern of rejection happened. By now, Jesse had to be wondering if this was all a joke being played on him. Surely it had to be. 

At the end of the line, Samuel is just as confused. “What gives, God?”

“Ask if he has any more boys.”

So, Samuel asks Jesse, who replies that yes, but he is the runt. God can do better than him. He is out watching the sheep. He hasn’t even become a man yet. “Well, let’s see. Send for him.”

So Jesse calls for David to come in from the field, and sure enough he is but a boy. His cheeks red from the heat. His hair matted with sweat form being in the pasture with the sheep. His odor that of a shepherd. But his eyes told a different story. His eyes, opalescent, reflecting the generations gone before him, they told the story of what God had done. When the runt of Jesse’s litter came before the prophet of the Lord, Samuel knew. 

The old prophet made his way to the boy and emptied his entire horn of oil on his head. And as the oil fell down his face, they Spirit of the Lord fell upon the shepherd and he was the anointed king to come. 

His brothers stood in disbelief. His father fainted. The old prophet just went home. When God calls, sometimes you are left scratching your head. I can’t imagine the brothers reactions when they got home. Remember the reaction of Joseph’s brothers when he got his pretty technicolor coat? They wanted to kill him, and ended up selling him into slavery. I am guessing David’s brothers probably were not too kind to their little brother when they got home. “How could this runt be the king?” “He isn’t even a man yet?” “I saw him go crying to dad just the other day.” I imagine they would have a hard time with this.

And isn’t that the way when you see someone else getting something you think either they don’t deserve or that they some how did not earn? Or even worse something that should be yours? You just stand there in disbelief. You stand there confused – not just about why they were picked, but what does this mean for you? 

You get wrapped up in being one of the brothers. Wondering why things are happening for everyone else but you. Asking what it is that they have that you don’t. You get busy watching all that is going on that your self-doubt rises, that your envy grows. You get so wrapped up in being one of the brothers that you become deaf to the fact that you, too are called like David. 

It might not be that you are like one of the brothers, but rather that you feel even smaller than David. That you feel you have nothing to contribute. That because of your age you are either too young to be take seriously or your are too old to have any energy. You might feel that you have tried to do what you were called to do and ended up disappointed. 

Maybe you had a call, maybe you were called and you truly answered God’s call on your life, but now it seems nothing but empty. You feel the fire burning at the edges of your being and you are just waiting for the full effects of the flame to burn you you. You are tired. And you are empty.

There are lots of voices that shout out to us. Voices that are comforting and promising. Voices that are taunting and teasing. Voices that speak the words we want to hear, but not necessarily the words we need to hear. There are voices calling out to us. So many voices that in the din of it all it is almost impossible to hear God. But even in that cacophony of voices God is calling out. God is always calling out your name. Calling you to something greater. Calling you to be greater Calling to you be a king or queen.

God knew what God what doing when he called David. God knew people would wonder what was going on. God knew that that people would wonder how this boy could reign and lead God’s people. God knew that David would grow up in the court of Saul and experience deep, deep love in his friendship with Jonathan, and that he would be terrorized by a jealous Saul. God knew that David would have choices to make, and many times they would be the wrong choices. God knew that these poor choices would cause David’s family to be dysfunctional. But God also knew that even in the poor choices, David would listen for God’s call. And David would eventually return to God. David would turn and repent, tears flowing, begging to hear the voice of God. And God, faithful God, would keep calling his name. 

God keeps calling your name. God is, today, calling you to be the person you were meant to be. The person you are anointed to be. God may be calling you to ministry. God may be calling you to serve the church. God may be calling you to run for office. God may be calling you to something that I can’t even imagine. God is calling you. 

God can use you. God is calling you to be the person God has meant you to be. To do the things God has created you to do. 

When God calls and you hear it, believe me, your world changes and you see things in a whole different light. 

When I finally listened to God’s call to be a pastor, I had no idea what life you would look like. I never anticipated that it would mean I would end up in Indianapolis – a city I had only been to once in my life. I never anticipated that it meant I would have the privilege of meeting wise people who could share with me their sorrows and joys. I would never have guessed I would meet new folks who would speak to me and teach me through the language of art – my language. I would never have believed that I would be at a church that is growing each Sunday from 40 when I started to over 60 for the last six weeks – in a time when they say churches are dying. I would never, ever, have believed I would get to Baptize 5 people in one year – and the year ain’t done yet. God’s call on my life has taken me to places I would never have believed 6 years ago when I started seminary. When God calls…

When God calls, it can be a difficult thing to hear. It can be a hard journey, but we are never promised that it will be an easy ride. We are promised that we will not go alone. We are promised that when we listen to the voice of God all fear will fall. When God’s call is answered, however hard it might be, how ever difficult the call – when Gods’ call is answered – there will be strength for the journey. There will be light in the darkness. There will be hope in the times of despair. Because when God calls God doesn’t call you do work alone.

And so, God is calling. God is calling you. God is calling me. God is calling this church to be something extraordinary in this city. Calling us to be a beacon of grace and mercy. Of love and justice, healing and hope in a city that is hurting. God is calling us to rebuild this neighborhood. To be a voice against injustice; to be the voice of those the people in power iwll not listen to. God is calling us to fight. To Fight the powers that be and lift up the beautiful image of God in those around us. It is a challenge. It won’t be easy. It will take all of us working together using the gifts God has given us. It will take time, but God is calling us. And when God calls you can try to find one, but there are no excuses…

I’m too old, you are saying – God called Abram to a whole new life when he was 75. And told Sarah when she was 90 she was going to have a baby. 

I’m too young for God to call me – Well, we know that ain’t true – David was anointed king at 10. Jesus called the little children unto him and said the Reign of God was theirs. You aren’t too young.

I’m too short – Zacchaeus was a wee little man and wee little man was he.

I’m a woman – Come on’ now. Sarah. Ruth. Naomi. Rahab. Esther. Elizabeth. Mary. Priscilla. Aquila. God’s calling you.

God can’t use me. I can’t even get around. Last time I checked, God is the one who makes the lame walk. The blind see. The deaf hear. God is the one who restores our souls.

God took a stuttering shepherd, Moses, and made him the liberator of 

God’s people.

God took the runt of the litter, David, and made him the King. 

God took a coward, Jonah, and made him a prophet of love.

God took an an ostracized slave, Esther, and made her the Queen.

God took a backwoods prophet, John, and had him prepare the way of the Lord.

God took a persecutor of the church, Saul, and made him the greatest community organizer to ever live, Paul. 

If God can use these, God can use you. God is calling. God is calling.

Thanks be to God.

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Sermon: Always Gettin’ What Ya Want

Always Gettin’ What Ya Want1 Sam. 8:4-20, 11:14-15

Click here for the audio.. This might be a good week to do so, since then of the preached sermon differed from the end of the manuscript..

This morning the lectionary, that rhythm of readings used by many churches, begins the summer of David. I thought it would be fun for us to spend some time this summer joining in that journey. We will follow David through ups and downs, highs and lows, and we will be witnesses of God’s work through out this season. We will partake in the presence of the Almighty, as God lifts us David, and shakes God’s head in disgust – we will hear where God is doing the same with us, and through it all we will understand the ferocity of God’s love for God’s people – through the good and the not so good. 

So as this summer of David begins, you might be asking your self, “Self, Pastor just read the Scripture and we didn’t hear about David. Instead we heard about Samuel, the People, and Saul. What gives?” Well, friends…this week serves as sort of a prologue – a set up, if you will, for all the things that are to come.

This morning, as the Summer of David begins, I would like for us to spend some time on the subject of what happens when you Always Get What Ya Want.

Let’s pray….

Let’s set the scene, created the context upon which we will be spending our time this morning. As we begin this reading this morning, there is no nation of Israel so to speak. There are the 12 tribes of Judah, the people known as the Hebrews, but there is not certified nation state. Think of it as a confederations of states working who share a common identity, yet have no overarching national governing structure. When it comes to defending land or protecting people, it can be an iffy proposition to get some of the other tribes to help.

There have been a series of Judges lifted up by God to help lead the people through times of trial (usually of their own doing), in fact there is an entire book of the Bible that chronicles the exploits of these Judges. It is the action movie of the Bible. There is intrigue, there are battles, there are love stories…it is the book where some of our favorite and head scratching stories come from … The strong man Samson and his lady love Delilah, The warrior Deborah, and Gideon come to mind as epic stories of battle and intrigue, but then there are the head scratchers like Ehud and Eglon – the throne room killing (those of you in Wednesday Bible Study can explain that to some who might not know), we have the story of Jephthah having to sacrifice his own daughter…the Judges ruled the tribes, but when their need was done the settled back into obscurity.

Enter Samuel, the boy who spent his life in the service of God. He is called upon to be a Judge for the people of Judah. He is called upon by the people to fulfill a specific request. They have all gotten together at the Hebrew National Convention and created a platform and have decided that they need a King to unite the people and create a unified Nation State. They are tired of being a loose confederation of states and want and anointed leader to bring them together. They saw that Samuel’s two sons (next in line to be judges) were crooked and could be paid off by the highest bidder, the would let the Koch Brothers dictate their decisions and not the Voice of God.

Now, one would think that Samuel would be pleased at this…it would take some of the burden off of his shoulders, after all as a called prophet of the most high he would serve as an advisor to the King. However, that is not the case. Samuel is angry. He is livid. He knows this is a big mistake. You see, God’s plan never intended for there to be a King. God’s plan was that the people would trust God’s faithfulness…You know, the God who brought their ancestors out of slavery, the God who tore down Jericho’s walls, who raised up Judges again and again to restore them … That God…the plan was for God to provide for them, but noooo, now they were telling Samuel, that wasn’t good enough. They needed someone they could see to be their leader. So, Samuel, does what a good judge does. He says to the people, “Let me pray on it.” And he does. 

Well, God answers the prayers of the people. God says, “Y’all are gonna get what ya ask for.” Samuel tells them as much, but tries to convince them by letting them know it isn’t going to be a bed of roses. The king will have a draft in war time and your kids are gonna die, the king will take from you, he will uses your girls as “bakers,” he will enslave you…are you sure you want to do this. And like a child not quite comprehending consequences the answer is a resounding, “YES!”

And after a couple chapters of telling the story of the soon to be monarch, we see Samuel anoint Saul. King of the Hebrews. The people rejoice with gladness and praise to God. Samuel, shakes his head, “always gettin’ what ya want.”

****

The people want a king. They want that thing that the other nations have. The nations that are always attacking them…they want a leader they can see. They want to have the perception that someone is in control. That someone will get them out of the problems they have. The people want a king.
In my pondering and preparations for today it occurred to me that, even though we live in a democracy, we still love our kings. We are always putting a crown on something that helps to give us meaning. Be it our duly elected president, but even more close to home – all of the things we elevate to royalty. This happens not just on a personal level, but on so many levels. 

There are holes that we need to have filled, and the way we do that is by crowning something. Elevating it to the place of prominence.

At home we do it. Often times it is out of a sense of necessity or desperation. Like the people of old who were tired of being over run by the foreign forces, we get tired of the mountains of our lives. The mountains that grow so high that when the eventual avalanche comes we don’t know if we will survive. 

The mountain of bills that just seems to keep growing. You pay one off, only to have the hydra head sprout two new bills. We shuffle our resources as much as we can, You cut costs, you try to be responsible, but when there is no additional income, the cuts can only do some much before you are overwhelmed by the avalanche of anxiety. So you pray of a king. You try to find fixes that make sense, that will work. So the credit card application that comes in the mail gets crowned as the way to pay off the other bills, if you untie them maybe you can pay them. But you become enslaved by the 25% interest rate and soon the avalanche begins again.

You might crown the king of beers and bow to the potentate of chemistry to alter how we feel. Thinking that this newly crowed king will take away the problems, but you don’t see the manipulation of the crown royale. You don’t see how the addiction has become a prison and traps us, yes, other problems seem to disappear, but you don’t see the damage done by this ruthless king because he has blinded you with a false sense of security.
Churches do this when they elevate pastors to places of royalty. Sorry, to tell you, but we are mere mortals not miracle workers. The new pastor comes in crowned the one to save the church. The one to take all that has happened before and create a new land. Churches will throw money to programs and projects that worked in the past and haven’t worked in a decade, because at one time those programs were the shining crown jewels. And as they bow down to these kings, these ones, they begged for, they don’t see the world around them changing and the mission of the church changing. 

Politicians are crowned ever 2, 4, or 6 years to be the next savior of the nation. Each one comes to office wearing the crown. They come to office anointed by the electorate, only to get caught up in the worship of ideology and partisan politics. These kings are the ones who get drunk with power. Who begin to create policy that’s only beholden to the highest bidder, or is guaranteed to slaughter the enemy leaving behind only one choice. 

These “leaders” begin to worship their own image. They bask in the glory that has painted them the savior of their party. The prostitute themselves, selling their souls, and forget that they were once anointed. But like Saul, that anointing can be revoked.

And we do all of this not because we have intended to ignore God, but because we want to see something. We want to put our faith into something tangible. We want to trust that which we can see. That which we can know is there. And we, either on purpose or not, forget the faithfulness of God. We forget that through all of the mess, through all of the upheaval, God is always present and is there to get us through. To get you through. The faithfulness of God is the stead fast rock that will not be moved. And even when we crown kings to be the ones we follow, because we know the rest of the story – the story that those begging Samuel did not know – we have the possibility to depose the kings we adore and again stand on the steadfast rock.

We know, that even while the people forgot God’s faithfulness, God cold not forget God’s promise. God took their mess and even through it made something beautiful. Through their mess God made a way out of no way – God, through the line of a King they were never supposed to have came to earth – brought God’s kingly rule to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus we see the result of God’s faithfulness. We see the embodiment of what the Kingdom of God would look like…

God takes this line of kings and through them write the story of God’s faithfulness. We, looking at the rest of the story see how God, in God’s eternal love for God’s people, takes unexpected people – the screw ups – and creates the blood line of God’s incarnated self. We see how, even as a King was not God’s desired plan – God took that screw up and answered the prayers of the people – just not how they could immediately see it. God created the blood line that would lead to the true king being bore in the barn stall of bethlehem. The king who would would ride in to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. The king that would be crowned on a bloody hill and installed in an empty tomb. Through the bloodline of kings we get the king of kings.

In Jesus we see a king who does the opposite of that which Samuel warns – we have a king who sacrifices himself for his people, who does not enslave but liberates, we have a king who is not a king of battle but the lord of love. Through Jesus we get a peek of what what it is God intends for us. Life, freedom, and love. The hallmarks of the God who died of calvary’s tree. 

The people of Samuel’s age did not know what was to come, they just neglected to remember what had been. They were the children of a faithful God – there were the children who crossed a Red Sea, who wandered through the wilderness to the promised land – led by a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. They were the children who fit the battle of Jericho and lived through the time of the Judges – where were the inheritors of God’s faithfulness yet they forgot and wanted a king.

We have many crowned kings in our lives, but even through the illegitimate coronations – God is faithful. Let us remember that. Let us remember as we come together in worship – as we become part of the story of faithfulness. As we sing the songs of faith, hear the recitation of the Holy Word, as we pray for and with each other and as we eat the Holy Meal – let us always be reminded of the faithfulness of a God who uses even our screw ups to bring about all that is good. It is the faithfulness of God that fills us and sustains us. 

It isn’t the pastor who is going to make the church grow – it is the people of God working together and trusting in God’s faithfulness that will grow and redefine the church.
It isn’t on our own that you will get through the difficult times. The stiff upper lip will only get you so far. The false kings will only continue to battle against you, but it is God’s faithfulness that life up people to walk this journey with you. It is God’s faithful ness that will shine like a pillar of fire leading you to a land of healing and recovery, stability and abundance. And those things won’t be what they world says they look like, but they will be a place of peace that when you get there you will know surely it is God who got yo there.

It isn’t Fox News or the Koch Brothers that will give us true leaders of change. It isn’t the RNC of the DNC that are the arbiters of promise, but it is God faithfulness that will raise up leaders – that will lift up a Joshua or a Deborah; a David or and Esther; an Isaiah or a Mary that will speak truth to power. That will lift up the voices of the voice less. That will be bearers of God’s faithfulness.

Because God’s faithfulness promises liberation from captive kings – will release you from your Babylonia captivity – it will free you from the idolatry of ideology, from the obsessions of society. Through the faithfulness of God you have see the promise that is our future as followers of Christ, you have heard the promise that is to come when in the end we will be raised up at the end of days, but friends – the rest fo the story is that even now we are made free. Our king has come and has freed us from the chains of captive kings, the chains that enslave us and hold us captive. The king of kings and lord of lords has come to embolden the Holy Spirit in us. Because God’s faithfulness frees us to and compels us to be apart of this new and living kingdom. 

For our God is good all the time. All the time our God is good.

Thanks be to God. 

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Sermon, Uncategorized

Sermon: A Resurrection Prayer

A Resurrection Prayer

John 17: 6-19

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I don’t know if you have heard about the recent Pew Research Poll about the state of Christianity in the United States or if I have only been inundated by because most of my friends are church nerds, but this poll stated that in the year 2015 the number of people declaring themselves unaffiliated (not tied to any religion or faith tradition) grew from 16.1% in 2007 to 22.8% in 2014, and that number of professed Christians fell from 78.4% to 70.6%

Needless to say these findings have many crying that the sky is falling and wondering what will become of this country. Is the end near for the church? Churches are in a panic because they see this as a harbinger of years to come. Seminaries are wondering if they will have students to fill the seats. But, if you can’t tell from my tone, none of these are worries for me. Yes, the numbers are shocking, but in them I see hope and promise. I see an opportunity, and I hear Jesus’ pray over the disciples being prayed over us anew.

[Prayer]

In today’s gospel we find ourselves in the middle of Jesus’ prayer at the last supper. It is strange that we are hearing about an event that happened before the crucifixion on this the seventh Sunday of Easter. But if we hear his words, if we hear them as they were intended, this resurrection prayer is laying the foundation for the church to come. It is clearing out the rubble and the impediments of and laying a firm foundation upon which the church would be built. 

This prayer comes at the end of what is called Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. For the previous four chapters in John’s Gospel, Jesus has been spelling out what is about to happen. He has washed the disciples feet, sent Judas on his way, told Peter he will deny him. Jesus spoke to them about being the true vine of God, send from God. He tells them the world will hate them because the world hated him. Gathered around that table, their world is crumbling down.

Imagine what it must have been like to hear these words from your best friend. Some of us have in a way, when our mother tells us that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer or that you will have to have assistance in your own day to day lives. Some know the pain of loosing a child before her or his time, or are still struggling with the grief of loosing a parent.The pain is all too real. And most of us can relate to the soul crushing, spirit draining experience the disciples must have been going through on last night of Jesus life. It is all too real.

But in the midst of the crushed souls and drained spirits, Jesus begins to tell them that something extra ordinary will happen to them. That because of all these things, because of them, they are now co-workers in the work of God. They have been grafted into the vine of God. They will be given the gift of the Holy Spirit to help them in their new lives. He commands them to love one another as he has loved them, and when they do – the world will know whose they are. 

And then he prays for them. He prays that they will be strong. That they will remember that when it is dark, they are marked with the love of God and they are a part of God just as Jesus is a part of God. He prays that whatever fear they have will be allayed and that remember they have the one thing that the world can never take from them  – the authority of the Name of God. Love. 

Jesus sends the disciple out into the world, not away from it. They are sent into the places where love is absent in order to bring the love of God into those darkest of places. And Jesus pleads for their protection. He knows the road is hard and the journey dangerous. He knows that there are many who will refuse to hear the message they bring and will even kill those who bring it. And yet, Jesus prays that the disciples go into the world and be protected from the evil one. That they face the dangers bravely and boldly, secure and confident in the one who sent them.

And finally he prays that the disciples be set apart, sanctified in the truth. The truth of the name of God. Set apart in the world changing love of God. And set apart they are sent out. 

Jesus’ prayer lays the foundation for the church that is yet to come. A fledgling church that will have its brand new world upturned.

This passage from the Gospel of John was written for a community of believers no more than 70 years old. They were the second generation of believers and had seen the temple in Jerusalem destroyed – their center of worship. They had seen the beginnings of persecutions. That had experienced Rome doubling down on their oppression. This new community of believers is hearing these words of Jesus as their own world is in chaos. These foundation words. This resurrection prayer.

So this prayer of Jesus for his disciples is also a pray for this new community of the resurrection. A new community that formed after Christ rose and ascended. A community that settled at the corner of Emerson Avenue and New York in 1921. Jesus prayed for the community of disciples gathered here today. 

This resurrection prayer for this resurrection community is the foundation for the building up of God’s beloved community. A community that binds us together across lines of age and gender; race and sexual orientation. This prayer is a prayer that is for this church today. Jesus asks that God protect us, that God give us strength, that God give us a voice to be bold in this world. That we be more than just pew sitting people and that we go out side of this church and testify – give witness to the amazing love of God. He asks these things so that we may be united together, made strong in our story. That we  have joy in Christ. And in that joy we are set apart. We are sanctified in truth. 

When the people of God rise up in testimony to the love of God, to the redeeming message of God – change happens. This past Monday, the voice of God was heard loudly proclaiming, “everyone is worthy of redemption,” as the city council stopped the mayor’s bid to build a new criminal justice center. A center that would do nothing to stop crime, but that would be built on the premise that the beds would be filled – the 1500 additional beds would be filled. The thought behind this new jail was that we would keep the beds full. It gave no thought about the fact that what is needed is opportunities for those humans returning to life after jail. The money for the additional beds could have been spent on job training and half-way work. For mental health treatment instead of inmate warehousing. 

I, along with a coalition of churches and pastors called IndyCAN rose our collective voices and gave witness to the name of God – the Love of God and confronted the evil in this plan. We built a coalition of voters, we put faces to statistics, and we spoke the truth of a God who loved humanity enough to die for it in order to save it. And we changed the city council’s mind. They were set to rubber stamp the mayor’s proposal, but the refused to sit still and had to testify to the love of God. And the voice of God, the voice of love, won. The criminal justice center as it was presented by the mayor is all but dead. 

When the people of God rise up and speak with the authority of they name of God – walls come a tumbling down. When the people of God are set on the firm foundation of the resurrection prayer of Jesus – are embrace by this words – all things are possible. And we are sanctified in truth – in the joy of Christ.

We are enveloped in the love of God. Marked as holy, set aside for more than we can ever expect. We are the light of God’s love in a world that does not know God. And we are one. The body of Christ.

And yes, there are things that will try to take us down. The evil one is always trying to turn us away from God’s love and to trust in our selves as the sole authorities. This has happened since the earliest days of the church – the gnostic heresies that questioned the humanity of Jesus; the church becoming the church of the Roman Empire – immersing is self in the state; the ignorance that fueled the crusades and the inquisition; current interdenominational conflict. The evil one is always trying to tear the people of God away from the truth of God – the love of God. The evil one is good at making sure we trust in ourselves more than we trust God.

Our personal animus against each other; our idolization of the past; and our idols of the future; the way we thing change is the only thing or that things can never change; we trust our own narrow interpretations of scripture rather than being informed by 2,000 years of interoperation and tradition; we pride our selves on our exclusivity. Theses things that drive people away from the church – because we are more concerned with ourselves that the love of God.

But again, when we open ourselves up to the power of this resurrection prayer – when we allow ourselves the humility and the grace to realize that we are called by Jesus. When we are able to hear Jesus saying, “I love you. I have called you. I have called you as an individual. I have called you as a church. You are mine. You are good enough for this task, because I have called you by name.” When we hear Jesus praying for us – for us – our elders will dream, our young will see visions. They will cross lines and work together – hand in hand, arm in arm, giving witness to the love of God. And nothing will be impossible. 

When we open ourselves up the status quo, the mission becomes more important that the status quo. The doors are open and we go out. We don’t just sit hoping people will walk in to the church – we walk out into the world – set apart in the the truth of God’s love, marked by the cross of Christ, named beloved of God – we walk out and show everyone we meet that the love of God for us and for them is stronger than any evil that may come. And then maybe people will find their ways into our community – but we the onus is on us to leave the safety of the church. But even so, that is not the point. The point is that we are faithful to God’s promise. That we trust the foundation laid for us in the resurrection prayer of Jesus.

That we are witnesses of a God who so loved the world that he gave is only son, so that all who believe will not perish, but here and now begin living into the reign of God – the truth of God – the love of God and be saved by a God whose love knows no bounds. We are witnesses to the great joy that is the crucified, risen, and ascended Christ. 

In this prayer we are told we are part of God’s divine plan for the word. That we have bee call to a time such as this. Hear the prayer again with new ears:

I have made your name known -your name of love – to Emerson Avenue Baptist Church – the ones you gave me from they world. They were yours, and you entrusted them to me. They have kept your word. And they know that everything you have given me is from you.

I am asking on this church’s behalf, not on behalf of the world, but I am begging for those you have given me – those gathered at Emerson and New York – because they are yours. Your beloved.

All mine are yours and all yours are mine! and I have been glorified in them.

And now, I am no longer in the world, but the church is. I am coming to you. Holy God, protect Emerson Avenue in your name -your name of love – so that they may be one as you and I are one.

While I was with them, I protected them in your name and by your authority. I have guarded them and not one was lost…

But I am coming home, and I am saying these things so that they may have joy in them and that their joy be made completed – for they are yours. That church on the corner.

They have a tough task ahead because I have given them your word. But don’t make them complacent, don’t keep them from the world – send them out, but protect them, too, from the evil one.

Set them apart. Make them holy. Sanctify them in the truth of your name – in your love.

As you have sent me – I and sending you Emerson Avenue Baptist Church into he world.

Beloved, The foundation has been poured. we have a wonderous and difficult journey ahead. Can we do it?

Thanks be to God. 

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Sermon

Sermon: A Resurrection Fire

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A Resurrection Fire

Acts 2: 14-21

Last week we encountered the power of a Resurrection Economy, and how the world can be transformed by an economic system based in the human personality and in love rather than the world’s economy that denigrates the human personality and is only accountable to the highest bidder. 

This week, in the third Sunday of Easter, I will preach on the subject of a Resurrection Fire! 

[Pray]

The words we heard from Peter this morning are the first words preached by a pastor of a church. It is the day of Pentecost and those who had been gathered in the upper room have had the world altering experience of the Holy Spirit land upon them. Tongues of fire had burned their spirits and given them the power to speak in other languages. Like the prophet Isaiah, it was as if an angel flew to them with a burning coal in its hand – a coal removed from the altar – and their mouths were touched by the Holy Fire. The heard the call and cried, “Here am I – send me!”

Consumed by Holy Fire, Resurrection Fire, they leave the sanctuary of the upper room and start to ignite the world with the resurrection fire. The tell of the Good News of Jesus – who was crucified and risen. They speak to the world and burn into existence a new world. 

To those who could not hear the word – it seemed like these disciples had been dipping into the new wine a little early. Consumed by Resurrection Fire – they seemed drunk to those whose hearts were close – to those who tried to control a wild fire that seemed out of control.

But lightening had struck and a wildfire had begun to burn. And to those who could not hear – it was dangerous, but to those who could hear it ushered in a new and renewed world.

This resurrection fire burns like a wild fire. As the fire burns away it also lays the foundation for something new and beautiful. It nourishes the soil – the soil that was laid at the foundation of the word – it nourishes the soil and allows for new seeds to grow. It creates a place where the old soil is renewed and where new life can spring forth.

The wildfires we have seen on the TV for the last several years are heart breaking in their devastation. They are terror inducing for those whose homes are in the fire line. And for the most part they are human made – through intentional arson or unintended accident. They are fed by 100 years of forrest mismanagement. 

For a long time, the status quo was to put out a fire as soon as it started. Contain it so that it would not spread out of control. It wasn’t until the last 30 or so years that the benefits of wildfires was understood.

It wasn’t until some forestry folks in Yosemite Park realized that there were not many new Sequoia trees beginning to grow. And if they did sprout, they would soon be killed by the massive undergrowth along  the forest floor. Then a fire hit one of the Sequoia groves and in the aftermath they say an abundance of trees beginning to grow. 

It turns out that the cones from a giant sequoia tree will only open in fire. The heat causes cone to open and the seeds to fall to the ground. It is only through wild fire that some of the oldest and most massive trees in our nation can begin to grow. The fire destroys that which gets in the way of new life and nourishes the new.

Another analogy is that of the city. There are areas of cities that developers have determined blighted – or areas called the swamp. And instead of working with people in those communities, and trying to created a controlled burn – something that tries to revive the community – instead they come with with bull dozers and destroy that which is there. They build their new and shiny condos, they call it an up and coming neighborhood and yet the soil that was there. The very foundation of that neighborhood has been paved over. It serves no purpose. It is forgotten and as a result it fights back – trying to preserve its place.

In these newly forests of glass and steel – there are upticks in crime as the roots of the community – the people who had been there struggle to be seen – to be heard. And as they fight for their survival – the new members of the community begin to see them as invasive plants. Not seeing that they were the native plants who gave this place its beauty and diversity. And in seeing them as invasive plants they being to figure out ways to remove them. To displace them. 

And in doing so they form cliques and groups that create and us vs. them mindset. They begin to dehumanize those who were there first and claim the place as mine instead of ours. And as this happens they fail to set their own roots in a community and they begin to move away. They turn on each other. They turn on the new people who move in because they haven’t been there for the long haul. And the cycle continues. And anytime a change strike of lightening hits the land and the embers of a wild fire being to burn –  it is put out because it threatens the way things have been.

We have been conditioned to see fire as a threat, and the resurrection fire can seem threatening – like the end of the world. It will appear as if blood and fire and vapor of smoke – the sun covered by the curtain of smoky darkness – the reflection of the moon will be as blood – but through the resurrection fire will come the great and glorious day of the Lord. And in those days – those who are consumed by the wildfire – by the resurrection fire – will be saved!

But it is terrifying. It is unnerving. It is upsetting to see those things we love being consumed. Fearful that they will never return.

I hear the voices say that things aren’t they way they used to be. Or that we have to do things a certain way because that is the way it has always been done. Churches are notorious for these kinds of words. And, yes, it is out of love. Love for the institution; for the memories; for the sake of posterity. There is a memory of the way things used to be – when the sanctuaries were full. The choir loft has songs raising to the heavens. The Sunday schools were over flowing with children. The heart behind those concerns is the soil that can bring new life to the church, but the fears – the holding on to – the insistence on an old status quo is the underbrush that prevents new life from spouting.

When the desire to hold on to the way things were is stronger than the vision to move forward – the church begins to suffocate itself. And conversely when the church is all about moving forward with out nourishing itself in the rich soil of history – it runs the risk of growing but with out the deep roots and at the slightest hint of conflict will falter. Churches are like the forests or the cities. There is a symbiotic relationship between the what was, the what is, and the what can be. There is a dance that can only be described as Holy. And when the dance moves – when it finds the rhythm and begins to really move – something beautiful happens. The flames of rebirth begin to burn. When the partner of the past and the partner of the present begin their tango – the future is built and a resurrection fire beings to burn.

Beloved friends, Emerson Avenue Baptist Church is at a crossroad. We spent the Lenten season walking along the cross road with Jesus. We went with him to the cross of calvary. We were there as the women cowered in fear on the day of resurrection, and here we are. Here we are in this Resurrection season – the embers of resurrection fire beginning to burn. The embers are smoldering waiting for the breath of the Holy Sprit. They are ready. Are we? Are we ready to let go of the way things were? Are we ready for the Holy Sprit to take a hold of this place and lead us into the future? Or are we more content with the status quo – because it is safe, because it is comfortable? Are we ready to embrace our deep roots in faith, to learn from the wisdom of the elders? To embrace their witness, or we going to bulldoze over them and give no mind? Are we ready for this dance?

Are we ready for what the Holy Sprit has in store? Are we ready to take that next step? Are we ready for a resurrection fire to come an burn away that which has been stunting our growth – our spiritual growth as well as our mission growth? Are we ready for a resurrection fire to come and nourish the soil that we call home and being something new? 

The Holy Sprit is about to descend on this place and take us away. Are we ready? Like the song says – people get ready -there’s a train a comin’ – you don’t need no ticket you just get on board.

Because when that resurrection fire comes. When it comes it will rain down like the fire on the altar built by Elijah. It will come like the tongues of flame at Pentecost. It will come and:

Our Sons and Daughters will prophesy –

Our young ones will see visions –

Our old ones will dream dreams.

Even the unexpected ones will prophesy because God’s Holy Spirt will be so strong in this place – no one will leave untouched.

When the resurrection fire of the Holy Sprit is unleashed – it will be the beginning of a new day. It will be the unleashing of God’s great reign. It will be what carries us into the future boldly singing:

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow –

Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

Great is thy faithfulness!

Great is thy faithfulness!

Morning by morning new mercies I see;

All I have needed thy hand hath provided.

Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Thanks be to God!

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Sermon

Easter Sermon

On the Road

Mark 16:1-8

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(prologue)

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The resurrection story we just read from Mark may not be the one you are most familiar with. Where is Peter running to the tomb? Where are the angels? Where is the spectacular? The reading to day ends with the women frozen by fear and Jesus moving on the road. 

Now you may say, Pastor, why didn’t we read the rest Mark 16? Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene then the twelve. Then he commissions them and ascends to the right hand of God the Parent. Well, (It is Bible Nerd time) if you look in some translations, after verse 8 you see a note that says “shorter ending” and then around verse 10 “longer ending.” The longer ending of Mark was the accepted ending of the Gospel until around the mid-1800s when Constantine Tishcendorff discovered a codex or book of scripture at the Monastery of St. Catherine at the supposed site of Mt. Sinai. This codex had several differences between it and the common cannon of the day. One of the most noticeable is that the Gospel of Mark ended at verse 8, the ending we heard today.

But why not just keep reading? Well, it turns out once they were able to study the codex it turns out that it is the oldest of the existing manuscripts of the Bible. It dates to the mid-third century, around the same time as the fathers of the Western Church were beginning to nail down the cannon. It is the oldest complete manuscript we have. And it’s validity of Mark ending at 16:8 is confirmed by the second oldest complete manuscript the Codex Vaticianus which dates from around the same time.

It is thought the other endings were added not by the author of Mark, but by disciples of Matthew and Luke who thought that the Mark’s Gospel ended too abruptly and that it needed a similar closure as their gospels. And maybe it does, but for today, let’s see this ending for what it is…the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God – the opening words of the Gospel of Mark!

(Scene 1 – To the tomb)

The day did not begin with good news. The women solemnly gathered their oils and ointment. They filled their bags with new cloths and spices to anoint the body of the one whom they loved. The one who was crucified a few days before – who died a criminal’s death. The last several days had been a storm of emotions. The thunder and winds that accompanied his death were but weak symbols for the grief they felt. 

There watched from a distance as Jesus was lifted up like a common cut-throat; they watched as the one who rescued them, who welcomed them, who treated them as women of honor, was left hanging on a tree. He was so strong and yet compassionate; so fully of Holy Fire yet a friend; so tired yet so willing to listen – Jesus called them friends and now they watched – hearts breaking into a million pieces as he cried out.

They could not hear the words he said, but the moan they heard was one of total abandonment. In that cry they heard love poured out. They remembered how time and again Jesus healed the sick and exorcised the demons only to be ridiculed and taunted by those who were the religious leaders. They saw that no matter how hard he tried to show the Reign of God – everyone missed it. And now, from the distance, they see how such love is treated. The grief was accompanied by dread.

The dread brought with it fear. The words he spoke reverberated in their ears…”I will tear down this temple and rebuild it in three days.” “If anyone wants to become my follower let them take up their cross and follow me.” Is this what he meant? That they should suffer as he has. Fear slithered into them like a serpent through the grass. Grief, dread, and fear seared their psyche as they watched from the distance.

And now, days later they make their way to the tomb – wondering how they will move the stone sealing the door. Eyes cloudy with tears they did not realize at first what had happened, and like the sun making its way over the horizon early that morning it dawned on them that the tomb door was opened. The emotional triad climbed to stratospheric proportions as they saw the empty tombs – 10,000 questions filled their heads. “What happened?” “Is he still there?” “Was his body stolen to be displayed as a criminal?” Questions echoing then the empty cave as the entered in and saw a first the empty place where he was laid and in a flash they saw someone sitting there – who must have been there the whole time. 

He was the boy who had been following Jesus of late. They could not place where he came from, but he was beautiful. Young with the complexion of a divine being, he sat there in the tomb and said, “Shhh. Don’t be alarmed. Are you looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified? He has been raised! He’s not here! Look, see. But, go, tell his disciples and especially Peter, who denied him, that he is going a head of you to Galilee. When you get there you will see him, just as I told you.”

The grief, the dread, the fear drove them from the empty tomb. They fell to the ground weeping. Afraid. They did not tell anyone, for they were afraid.

(Scene 2: At our tomb)

The women, seized by fear told no one what they had seen. They were blinded by the tomb and all that death brings. They could not hear what the boy was saying, let alone believe that it was true. They were trapped at the tomb – stuck on death’s doorstep.

As we gather together this Easter morning, it is easy to cast blame on the women – how could they not tell, we ask? What was wrong with them? Friends we have had 2,000 years to process the grief. This, for them, was a fresh wound and the bandage had been ripped off slowly and the pain was all too fresh. We have the blessing of tradition and the retelling and retelling of this story to help us come to grips with the fact that the tomb was empty, and yet, even so how many times are we trapped at the tomb afraid to follow Jesus to Galilee?

How many times have we stood there silent when what is going on demands that we speak out? 

When we see a stranger being taken advantage of – or even a friends, How many times have we said, There but for the grace of God go I?

What about the time we watched as someone was beaten up when we were at school and we could not muster the courage to say, this is wrong? The time we sat in silence as the bullies prey on the weak? 

We are frozen at the tomb when he hear the cries for help and pretend that we don’t.

When the news gets so depressing that we shut off – 130 killed intentionally by a pilot, 147 Kenyans murdered by terrorists.

When the public discourse has become so divisive that anyone who disagrees with us is labeled the enemy and must be destroyed. Laws are passed that open up the slippery slope of discrimination, and pizza places are threatened to be burned down – all because there is a failure to see each other as precious in the eyes of God. It doesn’t matter on which side of the fence you lean – this fundamental principle is lost because we are trapped at the tomb.

We are trapped at the tomb to afraid to stand up to a system that disproportionately imprisons black and brown men – a system that determines how many prison beds to make by third grade reading scores. A system that is paid by how man beds are filled. A system that has privatized parole and drug testing, making it too expensive for a returning citizen to pay the fees, especially when there are no jobs open to someone with a record. We are trapped at the tomb afraid to name the injustice.

We get lost watching from the distance – we stand trembling at the tomb – afraid – just as afraid as the women because we can’t see it. We can’t hear the good news because there seemingly isn’t any.

(Scene 3: It’s empty!)

But while the women were cowering in fear, while we are paralyzed and afraid – the tomb is empty! You hear that, the tomb is empty! Jesus ain’t in it anymore. He has been raised and is on his way to Galilee! He is on the road home. He is calling for us to join him on the road.

While lost in our fear and afraid to take up the cross, something amazing has happened – Jesus has been raised and is continuing the work of the Reign of God. He wants us to join him on the road. He wants us to see the empty tomb and rejoice and come with him as he continues the work. He even leaves us a messenger to tell us that he is not there. He has been raised. But even so, the messenger’s voice gets lost in the confusion and chaos. But Jesus keeps on going, and will be waiting in Galilee. 

Jesus is going a head of us on the road to raise up the valleys and make low the mountains. Jesus is headed to Galilee to make the rough ground in front of us plain and the rugged road a broad valley. Jesus knows that the idea of resurrection is implausible – illogical, and he knows that it is hard to make sense of, and yet – there he goes – in front of us. 

It seems obvious that at least someone who was there that day so long ago overcame their fear and made their way to Galilee, or was it that when the looked up they saw Jesus there on the road. They say that he was in front of them leading them. That the risen Christ is proof that nothing – nothing is impossible of our God. I would like to think it is the later. That in their fear and through their tears they looked up and saw Jesus and in seeing him, their hope was restored. There ahead of them they saw the promise of the rebuilt temple. The temple that is a living connection between God and humanity.

And as they saw Jesus on the road and were empowered to take the steps toward healing, we continue to see Christ on the road.

As two mourning disciples were headed home to Emmaus, Christ was on the road.

As the persecutor Saul was on his way to arrest and torture the new people of the way, Christ was on the road. On the road reconciling the world to himself. On the road forgiving and renewing.

As the stones were being hurled as Stephen, Christ was ahead of him on road – welcoming him to Glory.

As Perpetua and Felicity were in the gladiators ring, and the wild beast charged at the, Christ was on the road ahead of them – giving them a message for the ages. The power of the Risen Christ is stronger than even death.

Move ahead ahead in time to the doors of Wittenberg and Martin Luther nailing to the them the 95 theses that began a reformation that fundamentally changed how the faith is understood, and there is Christ on the road promising protection during the upcoming trails.

There on the road is the Risen Christ when another Martin Luther, this one a King is leading and oppressed people to the promised land. Across the Edmund Pettus bridge, the risen Christ is ahead parting the sergeants of segregation.

Christ is on the road ahead, leading you out of the valley – away from the tumult of the tomb. 

The risen Christ is ahead of you making a way out of no way. Clearing away those roadblocks that keep you from God. 

The Risen Christ is there on the road as voices rise up against discrimination and call for reconciliation instead of retaliation.

The Risen Christ is there on the road ahead, turning over tables, as people, fed up with a status quo of the haves walking on the backs of the have nots, as the people stiffen their backs and say no more. We are not the playthings of those with power, but children of the living God. The God of life. The God who takes the shackles of death and smashes them forever. 

The Risen Christ is there on the road of sorrow and grief, building resting spot. Places of sabbath, of rest, of reflection and grace. The risen Christ there on the road with you.  

Beloved – This is the day that puts to and end, forever there roadblocks that keep you from the love of God. This is the day that being afraid at the tomb is turned into joy that empowers new life – a resurrected live. This is the day that the promise of Christ is fulfilled for Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!

Thanks be to God!

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