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Growing in our Acceptance, Sermon for Immanuel in Alameda 6/29/08

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost June 29th, 2008

Jeremiah 28:5-9 Psalm 89:1-4,15-19 Romans 6:12-23 Mat 10:40-42

Karl Barth, a very great theologian, used to say that you had “to do theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Pastor Heinrich Albertz illustrated the words of Barth quite well. I remember when I was being ordained in Berlin in March 2, 1975, the Baader-Meinhof Group of terrorists had kidnapped Peter Lorenz, one of the candidates running for the mayor’s office of Berlin. Heinrich Albertz, the Lutheran Pastor, who was a former mayor of Berlin,  had been required by the terrorists to accompany them from the prison to the plane, that to insure their safety. When Pastor Albertz boarded the plane with them, he had newspapers under his one arm and a Bible under the other. The picture was in all the newspapers the next day. He later said that the terrorists had seemed more like boy scouts to him. Seven of them had been freed from prison in the deal for them to release Peter Lorenz, the mayoralty candidate.

Thus I also read the newspapers to prepare for this sermon. What stirred me in them yesterday was reading about the new conservatives who are stepping in for prison reform, the poverty of the Third World, and for concern about climate change. Mark Earley, who used to work with Chuck Colson, had been for mandatory sentencing and now he is fighting to do away with it. He said that he had “an attitude-adjustment by God.” Another prison reformer was also conservative but now fought for prison reform. He said he had gone to prison for two years on a corruption charge. “I went in believing in God,” he said, “and I came out knowing him.” (New York Times, 6/28/2008, page B10)

I had been feeling empty and weak, wondering how to preach for you this morning – because truthfully, we are up against quite a lot, personally and all of us together in this country, and the witness of these conservatives stirred me up. Would that progressives also had an attitude-adjustment by God; that all of us could increase our faith and our maturity in Christ by saying we grew from “believing in God to knowing him.”

That’s why the prophet who foretells good days to come, who says, “Better days are coming!” can hardly be trusted, as Jeremiah makes clear. What does not proceed from that kind of a prophesy is our confrontation with the truth and the righteousness of our faith, which we cannot claim, but is only given us as a gift by the grace of God. When a prophet says, “Better days are coming,” then we do not need to repent….

But, ah, we do!

We need an attitude-adjustment by God and we need to grow and mature in our faith. I really believe what I said last time, that ours is a watered-down Christianity, which needs to become more concentrated, so that our sinful ways are thrown into bold-relief and we all realize that we are Kyrie Christians, who say, “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy upon us.”

The theme in our short Gospel lesson today is welcome and hospitality for the stranger in our midst, for disciples that our Lord sends to us, and you know that we have often welcomed angels without realizing it. But in the book of Wisdom (19:13-16) it states,

The punishment did not come upon the sinners without prior signs in violent thunder, because they justly suffered because of their wicked acts, for they practiced a more bitter hatred of strangers. (These verses go on to say that strangers were received with hostility and were then enslaved.)

How can we help not thinking about immigrants in our midst and how our welcome seems to have worn out? I do not want to make too much of this issue because I know there are two sides to it.

I believe God is speaking to us in the violence of our weather. Right now our country is pretty much a disaster area – with the Mississippi breaking one levee after another making one town after another look like New Orleans after Katrina. There are droughts in the Southeastern states, and about 850 fires in northern California. A violent thunder storm with its tornado killed four or five boy scouts and injured 49 others in Iowa, and that only looks at the climate, and not the violence of our human nature, and all the killings that we perpetrate on each other here in our society and in our wars abroad.

We need to repent. We need an attitude-adjustment by God! We need to grow and mature in our faith and realize that our faith becomes a life and death matter, and our dying to ourselves and rising up to walk in the newness of life, with Christ really present in us, is a gift offered us by God.

This kind of dying is a gracious gift of God, because it is dying with Christ, so that we die to our sinful ways and become alive to God and the abundant life God promise us. The abundant life is not promised to us by means of money; not by means of earthly power; not by means of sex. (That one is hard to hear when our hormones are raging!) Our faith starts growing when we surrender to God, when we start trusting God more, praying hard, so we immerse ourselves in this faith.

Why should Christ be present only here during worship and when we are having communion? We need to have that sense of the real presence of Christ out there in the community among others. Often you all act as if only the pastor represents God out there. We need to be reminded that we are the people of God living in the real presence of Christ. We are all sent out by Christ, all of us are Christians, who bring the presence of Christ – and Lord, have mercy! Often finding the presence of Christ in those we least expect and where we least expect Christ to be. Thus we find Christians growing in faith and maturity in prison, while our society outside grows more and more violent and ungodly. On the other hand, some return from prison more hardened as criminals.

Let me go back to our violent weather. I am not saying that thunder storms, tornadoes, floods, and fires are punishments sent us by God for our sins; not at all. But they intend to warn us to repent, to realize with old Martin Luther that we dare not be self-righteous, but let us beg God, let us pray to God to make us helpful, to make us a blessing, to make us live the Gospel in our modern technological and social wasteland. Let’s pray for God to help us speak the truth in love and never use the truth as a weapon, to stop our lying and to speak the truth, not to judge people by their appearances, but to see them with the eyes of your heart.

Pastor Roger was trying to get into the synod assembly in the Oakland Conference Center, but all the glass doors were locked. He could not get the members to open the doors. They saw a straggly beard, a leather jacket, a biker; but they could not see a pastor, who tries to make you see with the eyes of your heart. But when you welcome such a pastor, then you have the reward of compassion and concern that is rather rare in our society.

As the scripture says, when you receive such a pastor, you receive Christ, the One who sent him, and when you receive Christ, you receive God, the Father of us all, through whom we have all become sisters and brothers, we have all become children of God, who can call upon our dear Father in heaven in any time of need for help.

Often my heart goes out to the punk crowd. They flout every fashion rule imaginable. A knapsack, leather sleeves with studs, black sweater, pajama hanging out, then striped socks and sneakers of an other-worldly color. The black predominates though. Then the singer in a punk concert pretty nearly swallows the microphone and the aggressive music is so loud, you can’t hear the words anyway. Don’t you get the message? They want to see if you will reject them. They want to give you every reason to do so. They don’t want commercial success. They don’t want you to buy and sell their music.

But when I started speaking with them I found that some of them are protesting our society, the violence, and the many things that are wrong with it. Their black garb, from a Christian perspective, knows that our evil ways, our sinful ways, have to die, so that we can walk in the newness of life; there are no blessings without some suffering, telling the truth usually costs you dearly; there’s no crown without a cross.

The old song has it right: “I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometime!”

Let’s just grow in acceptance, as we welcome those whom Christ sends to us. Let’s overcome all the reasons we have for rejecting people who are different from us or who disagree with us. On the one side of an issue, let’s welcome the other side. On the other side, let’s welcome the first side again. Look at Obama and Hillary together! They are making a witness. Now politicians should not be making that witness to the church. The church should be making that witness to them. Did you see Obama and John McCain embrace each other at Tim Russert’s funeral? That is a witness, let me tell you, and it took Tim Russert’s dying to get them to do it.

Our reward for this welcome, receiving, hospitality, and this acceptance is that some of the truth, the love and compassion of the prophets, of the righteous, of Jesus Christ, and God the Father of us all, rubs off on us. Amen.


Written by peterkrey

June 30, 2008 at 6:51 am

Posted in Selected Sermons

One Response

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  1. Howdy!

    WORDPRESS says that our two blogs (at least our most recent posts) are related, so I came by to check you out. Please stop by my place and let me know what you think (and maybe add Jesus + Compassion to your blog roll so we can stay connected).

    God bless you!


    Compassion dave

    July 5, 2008 at 7:00 pm

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