“God’s Delicious People” Pentecost XII – August 23rd 2009
Pentecost XII – August 23rd 2009
Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18 – Psalm 34: 14-22 – Ephesians 6:10-20 – John 5:56-69
God’s Delicious People
Like St. Paul I would like to have you pray for me, so that when I speak, a message might be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel. After you’ve done so, please say “Amen.” Thank you! Oh Lord, open thou my lips that my lips can proclaim thy praise! Amen.
Some people used to think that a mother pelican ripped out her flesh and fed it to her fledglings. There’s a statue on the Berkeley campus of a pelican because of it. It turned out not to be true, but in a sense it is true of Jesus, and offensive as it sounds, he has fed us with his flesh, with his body and blood. He died on the cross for us, and like every piece of meat that we eat, an animal had to die for us to become our food. A lot of chickens had to die for our barbeque sandwiches yesterday. We do not like to think about that.
Here’s another hard thing to think about. The early Christians, in the days of the great Roman persecutions were actually considered cat-food. That’s pretty ugly, right? By that I mean, for the so-called entertainment of the Roman public, they were thrown into the arena to be killed and eaten by hungry lions and other wild animals. Others were wrapped in oil skins and set on fire to light up these so called games, which were really atrocities.
One of Augustine’s friends refused to go to the coliseum. When his friends finally persuaded him to go, he said he would hold his hands over his eyes and not look. When the crowd roared, he found that it was impossible for him not to look at the lions killing and eating the victims! The Christians in the arena were not such great shakes themselves. They signed to the crowd: “Today, us; tomorrow, you!”
In this world Jesus had to go down and entrench himself in the deepest offense and conflict, in order to ready and prepare his disciples to proclaim the message of peace, the Gospel of peace. I heard a pastor once explain, for spiritual reasons, he had to become a complete realist.
Now in the middle of this world, which is raging against God and the Messiah, God’s Son, we need to wear the whole armor of God. Fasten a belt of truth around your waist, let integrity be your bullet-proof vest, put on fast running sneakers to proclaim the gospel of peace, let faith be your trusty shield, put on a helmet for your salvation, and carry the sword of the spirit, that means, the Word of God. The word of God is a sharp two-edged sword, as it says in Hebrews (4:12). Like people wrap themselves in a mantle of rage (Isaiah 59:17b), we have to wrap ourselves completely in the love of the gospel, because how else can we be protected from the evil of our days?
The attacks on Jesus come from the outside and the inside and they also hit us in the same way, from the outside and the inside. We don’t have the blatant persecution, the way the early Christians had in Roman times. You just had to figure with your getting killed because you followed Jesus. You had to figure with the cross. They would really make you food for the lions. It was hard to stand firm for Jesus in that kind of danger. In Communist East Germany, when I worked in Berlin, if you were a Christian, you were not allowed to go to college, because they did not want superstitious people in college. If you took your faith seriously, they called you superstitious. Would you go to church if you knew it would cost your kids their education?
In the Black experience, the cross is still pretty real in our churches, but maybe not so much because we are Christian, but because of our race. Back in Coney Island, our vacation church school and day camp became too big for our little church, so we started renting public schools over the summer. I met with the German custodian and his staff of one school. We spoke German together and they signed the contract for our program. They loved me! On opening day, they discovered that our school was Black and Puerto Rican. They were so furious with me that they could have lynched me. I felt like I was living the gospel. I walked in the Spirit like Jesus, before his time had come, right through their midst, and the Spirit did not allow them to touch me. It was like a shield, a protection against them.
Pastor Lucy in the Pastor’s Bible Study, mentioned how an enraged woman full of negativity, was starting all kinds of conflicts and divisions among her people. Like one of my sisters says, when she dies, all republicans will stand on the right side of her grave and the democrats will only be permitted on the left. She was joking, however. Well Pastor Lucy had a trainer come and she said that his whole manner disarmed that woman. He remained calm and peaceful and slowly her rage melted and their conversation moved toward sound reasoning.
Barny Frank made us laugh this week. Charged with supporting NAZI policy in health care, although he is gay and a Jew, he said, “On what planet have you been spending most of your time? It doesn’t make sense for me to be speaking to my dining room table!” That kind of an insult is not what St. Paul had in mind of course. There are some real issues that need to be understood and debated.
Standing firm against attacks from without is hard, but sometimes it is harder to stand firm against the attack from within. These are our temptations and they are often more difficult to deal with than outright persecution. Don’t forget that Jesus is the word become flesh and here he is speaking as Jesus, the spirit-filled Word of God become flesh, who wants to come into our mouth in communion, as food for our hunger and drink for our thirst and into our hearts through our ears, to help us stand firm against these temptations. Because the assault from our world and the society in which we live is so subtle, our stand starts eroding. We become weaker and weaker. We attend church less often. We stop coming. We start melting into the world and as people of God, we really start sharing the same values as those of the world. Suddenly we realize that we are Christians in name only and we too are merely the blind leading the blind and we all fall into the ditch.
In Communist East Germany, they would close churches and make them into museums. We have the freedom of religion as a first amendment right and thank God. More than that, our churches are tax exempt, giving us not a little support from our society. But many churches have been turned into condominiums, dance halls, and many others have been blown up or torn down to make way for some profitable business.
At least fifteen churches have closed in our East Bay and Oakland area. Others have certainly grown and opened.
But look at our church, Bethlehem itself. We are not getting any new members. We need a new roof and that could take us down to just several thousand dollars in the till. At that rate, if we depended on money and business, we would have to close in three months. Our temptations have melted away our Christian convictions. What happened to our reaching out in love, and winning this area, with the help of the other churches here, for the kingdom of heaven? How fervently have we been following this man, Jesus, who connected heaven and earth, by the blood of his sacrifice for us? Have our inner temptations made us come to almost nothing?
This is good news. Because it is out of nothing that our wonderful God creates something, and we have to become a nobody before God can make us somebody. Without our backs to the wall, we usually will not turn to God for the help we need. We would rather rely on money and our human effort.
So let’s rejoice with our church in the welcome our church-wide assembly gave those who have been rejected because they are Gay and Lesbian. It’s a new day, because we are venturing in faith, where only the rejected have trod and the hard words of Christ will not make us turn back. We will accept the hard words of Christ and receive our brothers and sisters, whom our church rejected, back into our midst again. Together, we will come to communion and eat his body and drink his blood, because he has become food for us, and given us a new quality of life, and his life will come alive in us. What about getting Tamara and Pr. Megan to start a community garden and paint a mural on the Will Herzfeld Center that shows this community what we understand to be the meaning of life? Our Eightieth Anniversary should be a step forward, not a longing for the way we were in the past. Because the light of Christ has given us the light in which we can see the way, we can see the mission that Christ would have us do. What is this food that never makes us hungry again? Jesus said, it is to do the will of the Father and continue God’s work, God’s mission here on earth (John 4:34).
Do not wait for grants and the money and what not. We need to step out in faith, then Jesus will provide. Fill that community center with a new senior citizen center, celebrate the birthdays of the lonely and forgotten, share a meal together once a week, have nursing care, and go on trips. We have to die to our selves to let Christ come alive in us, and then we too will be food indeed and drink indeed for the starving, thirsty and parched human souls around our church. Let’s spend ourselves. Let’s pour ourselves out for the thirsty souls of our community. Let’s become living bread, like Jesus. Let’s become God’s delicious people. Amen.