Archive for September 2009
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 20th 2009
Jeremiah 11:18-20 Psalm 54 James 3:13-4.3,7-8a Mark 9:30-37
Sermon Hymn # 474 “Children of the Heavenly Father”
(from the Green Hymnal: Lutheran Book of Worship)
The Surprise of the Cross
Jesus tells his disciples how he will be killed and rise again on the third day. He is trying to buy time, so he wants his disciples to keep his whereabouts a secret and he himself has returned to Galilee in secret.
I can understand this secrecy, because my father was an American citizen in Hitler’s NAZI Reich and he would always say to us, “Never tell anyone what we say here in the family.” And there he often had to go into hiding. Now when we came back to America, he still said it and sometimes it seemed like he even hid in the house, even though our situation had changed. That was being paranoid.
But Jesus was not being paranoid. He knew that it was just a matter of time and he would be arrested and killed and he told his disciples so.
Now they were so frightened they did not understand him. I imagine the disciples, when Jesus drove the demons out of Legion, all hiding behind gravestones until it was over and Legion had come to his senses.
If we read between the lines and put two and two together, we can surmise that the disciples were probably arguing about who was the greatest among them, because if Jesus was killed, they asked themselves, which one of them would take over in Jesus’ place?
That is why they were so embarrassed when Jesus asked them what they had been arguing about.
They certainly did not understand. We can look back and say perhaps Peter became their leader. But he denied Jesus three times; then he took the wrong side in the discrimination issue. At one point he no longer ate with the Gentile Christians and Paul had to stand up against him to his face. Perhaps Paul became their leader? People still have trouble understanding Paul and he had a thorn in the flesh. The Corinthians said, “His letters are weighty and strong, his physical presence is weak, and his speech is of no account” (II Cor. 10:10). They said that about St. Paul!
Was he the greatest? James, the brother of Jesus, took over the congregation of Jerusalem, but he wanted all Jesus’ followers to be circumcised and to become Jews.
The death of Jesus was going to make Christ rise in every Christian’s heart and his words were going to touch his followers in a more powerful way than even when he walked on earth among us, but the disciples at that time could not know that.
That is why Jesus said to them, if you want to be the greatest, if you want to be first; then you have to be last of all and the servant of all. He took the least of these, a little child and put it among them and taking it into his arms he said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me, does not welcome me, but the one who sent me.” God is in that child that we welcome. The Father in heaven is welcomed when we welcome, when we receive such a little child.
We dare not become sentimental concerning the children of that time. In those days and many times in ours too, children were considered non-persons. A Roman father had the right to beat and kill his son or sell his children. He would only have to pay a small penalty for it. Children were the most vulnerable and the most helpless and there is Jesus saying that those who would be the greatest had to identify with such a child, really become the last of all, really become the servant of all. To welcome such a one was to welcome the greatest human being on earth, to identify with a child, was to be capable of being a Christ, like Jesus leading all his disciples.
When the women brought children to Jesus to bless, the disciples wanted to turn them away. Jesus had to stop them. Men did not think relating with children good use of their time. They felt that they were more important than children and they relegated the care of children to the women and by and large we still do.
Jesus, you see, was turning the order of this world upside down, because God is just helplessly in love with this world and God will not allow that you have to be on top to be a leader, that you have to exercise your power, attain power, have influence, get on the road to wealth and success, even if you have to walk over dead bodes to get there. The Lamb of God heals the sick, brings people to life, makes people come alive.
When Jesus died for us on the cross, he connected heaven and earth in God’s love again. Now God’s will has to be done on earth just like it is done in heaven. But although we sometimes confess Jesus with our lips, we refuse the business about the cross and children. Say a family is moving. The children are not asked. The decision is made over their heads. They have nothing to say. Janusz Korczak, who ran a Jewish orphanage in Poland and remained with the children all the way to the gas chambers of the Treblinka extermination camp, wrote a child’s bill of rights, but that is way out ahead of us, where Jesus already was, but we have not yet followed.
For us to be Christ is to be first and we don’t hear the part about being last. To be great is to be served by everyone. Whoever heard of someone great having to serve everybody? If you are rich and famous, you don’t go to your doctor, your doctor comes to you. In the old days, family doctors came to your house and treated you. Today they are way too important for that. We also had visiting nurses. The nurse from our congregation still makes house calls and doing so she sets an example for our community!
You see it is much easier to confess Jesus Christ with our lips than to follow him by making ourselves last and becoming the servants of all. Mostly we contradict most of what Jesus stood for with our lives and we turn a blind eye to these words, because to be last and to be such a servant is a cross too heavy to bear. Let’s face it. This teaching of Christ is humanly impossible. But all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us. We have to beg the Holy Spirit to transform our spirit and to change our hearts. But then how can we survive? We become lambs for the slaughter.
This inward change is so very difficult. We would rather change what’s out there. For example, we voted for a new president so we have changed our administration in our country, but ask yourself, do you think we have really changed our hearts? We cannot expect Americans to have a change of heart, but we can expect that from Christians; whether we are republicans or democrats if we are Christians, we should have had a change of hearts.
Doesn’t identifying and having empathy for children mean having it for the most vulnerable and helpless people in our society? Immigrants are like that. They are like the powerless and vulnerable children that Jesus lifted up. How can we round them up, hold them in prisons, let them sicken and die there or evict them from our country?
Look, we stole the Southwest and Texas from Mexico fair and square. How dare they cross our border and live here once again? What if God forbids us from coming into the kingdom of heaven? The American flag is not over the cross. The cross is over the American flag and every country and its people will have to answer to the Lord Christ in the kingdom of heaven. When you welcomed that undocumented immigrant, you welcomed Christ, and not only Christ, but the Father in heaven who sent him to save us. Before God we are all aliens, like Abraham, called to be strangers in a strange land. Like Barny Frank asked, what planet have we Americans been spending the most time on recently? This planet earth belongs to God and all the countries on earth have to answer to God and Christ, who rules from heaven and God cares about the immigrants as much as for those who came over on the Mayflower. That is one story. Others came over on slave ships in a direct contradiction to the Gospel of Christ, in wanting to be masters and bringing others to be their slaves. Then there are the Native Americans, who did not realize that the new comers said they followed Christ, but all their actions would contradict him. In the name of Christ they did not make themselves last but first and did not serve others, but “lorded” it over them, putting the Native Americans onto reservations and enslaving the African Americans.
Being last and the servant of all is usually the last thing we want to do. I’ll be a Christian and take all the privileges attached, and you can take all the responsibilities. Being last and a servant of all, like a child, means to carry the cross. So the Christians in Europe took power and they let the Jews carry Jesus’ cross. They came to America and said, we are the Christians and they put the cross squarely on the backs of Black people and made the Native Americans the last people to be considered in our country. The cross is too much like failure. Let somebody else be a loser. “Nothing succeeds like success!” as we say.
Ah, but the children of the heavenly Father, have to suffer the cross. Carrying your cross is like digging your own grave. I remember a movie about the Mexican revolution, where a fellow had to dig his own grave before being shot by a firing squad. He said, “Hold it!” Went and picked up his sombrero, put it on, and tumbled into his grave when they shot him. I have fond memories of a theologian, Helmut Gollwitzer, whom we called Golly in Berlin. He said, When we try to carry out Jesus’ words, then like his, they nail our hands to the cross, so that we cannot do God’s will. And they nail the feet to the cross of the one bearing glad tidings of peace.
But Jesus did not only become last of all and the servant of all, he also laid down his life for us all. When we are baptized we suffer and die as well, the way Christ did. But the surprise is that when we thought becoming last and becoming that suffering servant was death, new life rose up through that death. Becoming a child of God brings certain suffering, but God blesses us through it. Golly said, God lets you suffer until you get the full blessing contained in it. When you become last and servants and children of God, then you will fail. But Jesus placed all your failures and mine into God’s hands, when he died for you and me on the cross. Your body that has become sick [is in God’s hands], your soul that has sustained such damage [is in God’s hands], Golly continues, your children [are in God’s hands], the years of your lives that you have senselessly wasted [are in God’s hands], your failed profession [is in God’s hands], your failed marriage [is in God’s hands], your bad parenting [is in God’s hands], all your burdens and all your needs, Jesus placed and still places them into the hands of his Father, who forgives you and receives and welcomes you as his heavenly children.
Once when I was young, I realized that to follow Christ I had to live a life in which it was impossible to survive. I turned away and said, I want to live not die. But I failed to see that I had chosen to die and not to live. Choosing to be last, the servant of all, and laying your life down for others, brings the cross. But the surprise of the cross is that it is the source of life.
I can preach for you here, but Jesus himself has to come and touch your hearts with the words from heaven and give you the faith to see life in that death and death in a false life. Golly quoted a Russian bishop who was before a firing squad, being shot by the Communist Bolsheviks: “Farewell to you the dead; I am entering life!” That takes faith. When you and I and Bethlehem place ourselves last and become servants of all, when we become joyful and helpful children, then it seems like we will suffer failure, loss, and die; but really God will make us the heavenly children filled with empathy and compassion for others. The surprise is that we will experience the adventure and thrill of fresh new life. Our eyes and ears will be opened and we will recognize the living presence of God turning death into life. Forgetting about our own survival, becoming the last, becoming suffering servants, ready to lay down our lives, places us in the presence of God, whom we left all alone, when we turned away concerned for our own interests, our own survival, our own thing. But out there in faith, we find God, whom we deserted but who did not stop loving and saving us.
Ah, who is the greatest? Those who become the least of these, those who become last, those who become helpers of everybody, those whose faith lets them lay down their lives with love, who awaken in the likeness of Christ, the greatest human being who ever lived on earth, leading many into the new life. Amen.
 Helmut Gollwitzer, Jesu Tod und Auferstehung, (Muenich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1956), page 61 and 63.
 Ibid., page 78.
 Ibid., page 80. (This citation is freely translated.)
 Ibid., page 97.
 Ibid., page 55: This is the actual core of sin, that we deserted God in his struggle [to save] the world.
Mark has put his dramatic reading on Youtube. For his Gospel of Mark, click on the URL addresses below:
These are three dramatic readings of this Gospel by my son, Mark Krey. The sound effects and music are not original but have been selected from various sources about Jesus Christ from antiquity and avant-garde music. The three recordings cover the first two chapters of this gospel.
Mark has now done all sixteen parts of his dramatic readings, which are easily found with the others.
The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 3rd 1982
Jeremiah 11:18-20 — Psalm 54:1-4,6-7 — James 3:16 – 4:6 — Mark 9: 30-37
To Receive Each other as our True Selves
Text: Then they came to Capernaum; and when [Jesus] was in the house he asked [the disciples], “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve and said to them, “Whoever wants to be the first must be last of all and servant of all. Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (Mark 9:33-37).
In our church we need to foster a friendly and gentle environment, in which people can dare to come out and be their true selves. It’s like everyone has to have a coming-out-party – and feel the challenge as well as the security, that is, the safeness to do it. So often fellowships which were Christian have been admired – and outsiders [observing them] have said, “See how they love one another!”
In the summer program in Cincinnati, I could not believe how the daughter of the minister spread her arms and asked, “Who needs a fuzzy?” I did not know what a fuzzy was. But I realized what it meant when someone feeling low ran over to her and got a real fine hug. At that time I did not have the nerve, nor the self-confidence to just run over myself and be hugged by this real fine girl. But how often do we just need to be hugged, do we just need to be stroked or gently touched, have our hands held, so that we experience bad and ugly feelings melt within us and we feel that we are joining the human race again.
But we do not only touch each other by hugging, holding hands, or stroking each other, we also touch each other with words, spoken gently right to the other person’s feeling, right into the person’s need. We touch people with our words or we bruise them and hurt people – or heal them with our words.
Let us try to receive each other as we are. Why make people have to be an image? Why put people on a pedestal? Why hide behind masks? Why have to use all our energy to try to act like someone we are not?
The reason is simple. When we show our true selves, we are very vulnerable. We are like children, who need to be received. Like children, when we burst forth as our real selves, we can be cut down, nipped in the bud by some unkind by-stander, whose false front is being threatened by our honesty.
From a few years ago in my clinical training, I remember the feeling among the patients and the staff of the Los Angeles Community Mental Health Center. Everyone participated in the reaching out and healing of one another. The love was so thick you could cut it with a knife! Sadly it has been in only a few churches that I have felt the same kind of reaching out and being there for one another.
How can desperate hearts be reached? The elderly woman who jumped out of the window this week attended our church a few times. We did not know that she would jump out of the window. Maybe nothing that we could have done could have prevented it. But it sure would have been fine, if she could have poured out her heart to somebody, if she could have shown her terrible fears to somebody.
To receive some one else is to receive their true self, whether they feel angry, ugly, nasty, or “feeling like a faded pair of jeans” – there is love, there is acceptance. God is there with us.
The world will not take friendly to those who be themselves. To survive is a miracle. But God is with those who reveal themselves as they are. And sometimes we don’t even know where to begin. We don’t even know how to allow our feelings to be present with us…, how to allow our feelings to show for someone else. But let’s take heart and do it. We might sin, but love covers a multitude of sins. Jesus himself became sin, so that we might be righteous.
One person keeps saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” He must be speaking about a person hiding behind a façade with an open grave in the heart. But then confess to God that our heart is dead. Then God will come and raise us up by God’s powerful life-giving Word. It is all right to die to ourselves, because we know that at the right time, God will raise us up for others in our true selves. And what an adventure it is to get closer in this way. We end up not only receiving the person, but the one who raised the person, the one who sent the person. Suddenly we see the face of God, because we have entered upon holy ground. Amen.
- Receiving a child
- Receiving our real selves in all our feeling, needs, and vulnerability
- The suffering, the cross, as a consequence, but the promise, the hope, the being raised up like a fresh loaf of bread – whereas the other choice is death-bound
- The true self has thoughts, feelings, and a being-there for others, a being-sent by God for reception
- and the one who receives a true self, receives God, sees the face of God
- Some people would rather choose power than to reveal their true selves. They make a weapon of their self, have a proud self, carry a vindictive existence.
This sermon had a different start that I did not preach, but what I preached built on it.
The first version: What kind of a person is this Jesus? Again he speaks of suffering and dying and takes our sense of order and turns it upside down. What can we make of it? I think it is easier to understand when we take the teaching about who is the greatest and place it first and then realize that the suffering and dying is the consequence of trying to be last, trying to be the servant of all – and doing this out of love.
How precious is a person? If we do not receive a person and the person does not receive us, then we can be passing others on the way down. The point, however, is to lift each other up.
Is a leader supposed to be above his or her people? Jesus says no. the leader has to be the last, the servant of all. This gives a very different spirit to our leadership and it does a number on the order understood and maintained by the world.
Jesus places a child in their midst. Men often feel too important to acknowledge children and to care about their needs. That’s why they often relegate women to take care of the children. Men consider themselves more important than women and children.
But Christ lifts up a child and says it is the most important. And we all have a child in us. This child in us is our true self and we need to welcome our true selves in one another. Our faith lets us be reborn. The Sunday after Easter is called, “Quasi modo geniti,” that is, like new born babes. And we have to grow up as little children and mature in our faith. Even if we are old, growing has to take place. And we need to receive each other, welcome each other.
The power factor cuts all this away. I do not show my feelings so that I can have power over you. I control my feelings so that I can control you. As Lenin said, “Trust is good; control is better!”
In our true self, we are honest with our feelings. Some suppress their feelings, so that they can take advantage of the poor, whom they consider peons, who obviously show their feelings, like children, and can therefore easily be controlled and manipulated as a result. Whalers hold a whale pup, until its mother comes in for the rescue. They then harpoon the mother.
We can make a choice and become our true selves, honoring our feelings. That choice is for a life with promise and hope. But suffering and the cross become a consequence. Just look at Jeremiah and Jesus. This world wants to be on top, even if they have to walk over dead bodies to get there.
Note: really, I reiterate, this first attempt at the sermon, is the preparation for the second version, with which I’ve here begun. I believe these words are as true today as I type them as they were in 1982, when I preached them.
Pastor Peter Krey
A Funeral in Coney Island (1977)
Let us take a passage from Romans for our text:
None of us live to ourselves or die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord; if we die, we die to the Lord; so living or dying, we belong to the Lord. Therefore Christ died and was raised to life again, so that he might become Lord of both the living and the dead (Romans 14:7-9).
We all belong to the Lord and heaven is where we actually live and find our rest.
We are visitors on earth. All of life can be gray and empty, but God’s divine self offers to live in us. God’s life in ours is genuine life in all its rich colors, because through God’s love, a rainbow of promises radiate over us and through us to others.
God has appointed a rendez vous with each of us and this is how God keeps it – with those who respond to the calling to be for others:
In the poor, God lets us experience riches,
In his prisoners, we appreciate God’s freedom,
In the confused, the direction for our lives,
From those that stray, the path of righteousness,
Among the lost, God shows us the way,
From the mentally ill, the health of the Spirit,
And here by the dead, the fulfillment of life.
By the Law of God’s love, through the very least, we receive the most precious gifts, and what’s more – a rendez vous with God-Self, so that no one is excluded; yes, all become included in God’s plan of salvation.
A Prayer by Karl Barth
Lord, our God!
You give life to us human beings and then you take it back again. For a while you hide it in the secret of death, to bring it back renewed and purified in eternal life. Look at us and hear our prayer! Let our shock, our fear, and our grief be gathered up in your peace. Gather all our thoughts up in understanding the good you will for us. Teach us to consider that we must die and until we do, let us be thankful for the hope that does not come to shame and will never disappoint us. All of this we ask you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
(I translated this from the German for Louise Yournin’s Funeral on November 5th 1980.)
A Grave-side Prayer of mine that dates back to Germany in 1974:
What a gruesome thing is death, which tears us human beings out of the land of the living. Death rules over a mighty kingdom and can send his messengers among us: deadly diseases, violence, persisting stress, famine, war, and pestilence, by which Death wants to destroy God’s marvelous creation.
But thanks be to God, because you, Oh God, have freed and redeemed us from the power of death. Through your resurrection, Oh Jesus, from the dead, you have received all power in heaven and earth, and death itself is not mighty enough to withstand the power of your love. You have forced death itself to serve life. You are Lord of the living and the dead and in your reign of mercy and grace, both the living and the dead are included.
That the dead who have died in Thee, Oh Christ, are not lost, for that we thank you. That we can comfort each other with this Good News, we thank you. Yes, we thank and praise you now and forever. Amen.
Pentecost XIV – September 6th 2009
Isaiah 35: 4-7a -Psalm 146 James 2: 1-10,[11-13]14-17 Mark 7: 24-37
Don’t Name a Sin what is not Sin
Once watching a documentary on Gypsies, now often referred to as Roma, I saw a young woman on a hill at sunset, screaming at the top of her lungs at a village below her: “You treat your dogs better than you treated me!” Her anger and her rage at her rejection went right through me. It was a cry from her soul against rejection, discrimination, prejudice, and bigotry.
The Jews in the time of Jesus considered themselves clean and righteous, (we would call them self-righteous) while they thought of the Gentiles, the Greeks and Romans, as unclean. The Gentiles had to be baptized to become cleansed proselytes, while Jews were clean and did not require baptism. They called the Samaritans dogs and probably even referred to the Syrophoenicians, like this woman in our story – as dogs.
The geography in our story is important, because Tyre, Sidon, and the Decapolis are Gentiles territory that Jesus seems to enter because he is so sick and tired of the self-righteous bigotry of the Jews of his day. Before our lesson in Galilee, Jesus had just confronted the Jews, the ones who called themselves the chosen people of God. He was challenging them to have more integrity. They are condemning Jesus and his disciples for not washing their hands before they ate. Jesus retorted, “You are a people who honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me. You teach human traditions rather than the commandments of God. For bringing a holy offering to the temple, the Pharisees seemed to give people an excuse for not supporting and taking care of their aged parents. Then Jesus said, there is nothing outside a person that going in can defile him or her, but the things that come out are what defile us and make us corrupt. Thus Jesus annulled the kosher food laws.
So whether you ate pork or only kosher beef, whether you were vegetarian or vegan did not make you moral. You could take three showers a day and you still might be full of prejudice. A drug lord might wash his hands before every meal, while having hundreds of people murdered. Jesus showed that hygiene and morality were two different things.
When our hearts are full of filth, taking a shower won’t clean them and the filth spills out of our mouths. It is corrupt to be bigoted and to name those who are different from us as evil, unclean, and non-human.
I believe that Jesus became so angry with the religious bigotry of the chosen people that he went right into Gentile country. Tyre and Sidon are Roman and Greek areas. The Decapolis, or the Ten Cities, were Hellenistic and Roman. That meant that you could go to the Greek theatre there, you could watch the games with the gladiators killing each other for your entertainment, and of course there were many temples for other gods.
I believe that Jesus was leading the holy people of his following into sharing a common humanity and saying that the bread of heaven, the wonderful teaching of Jesus, was also for the Gentiles and they were not unclean unless they were immoral, and truthfully the smug attitudes of the self-righteous can drive people to immorality. Luther spoke of self-righteousness as a monster capable of all manner of sins. Ah, we can become furious. But we can have no excuse. We all have to take responsibility for our selves and we cannot blame our acting out on others.
When the Syrophoenician woman in our story comes to Jesus, he starts breaking taboos. In Greek, Jesus uses the word, “little dogs.” I do not think he is slamming her with religious prejudice, but showing and introducing his disciples to the common humanity they shared as Jews with the Greeks and Romans, and even with this Syrophoenician woman.
Jesus says, “It isn’t right for me to take the bread from the children and throw it to little dogs.” Was he referring to the little demon possessed girl? Was he encouraging his disciples to draw closer by merely calling these very different people “little dogs”? The bread that Jesus is speaking about stands for grace and forgiveness and the very special relationship we have with the One true God and God’s Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit that fills us.
The desperate mother says, “But even the little dogs get to eat the children’s crumbs that fall under the table.” She uses a more inclusive word for children than Jesus used and she helped make the cross-over, which can be so difficult, easier for the disciples who were trying to forge a new relationship with someone very different from them. Jesus says, “For saying that, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.”
When we are crossing a bridge between very different people, it is most important to press on while being humble and sensitive to one another.
Now we usually just ascribe a miracle to Jesus as a common place. But the words here show that Jesus and the woman discussed what was going on with her daughter and Jesus gave the bread, provided the grace and forgiveness that healed the little girl.
This mother was not asking for herself, but for her daughter. Perhaps Jesus was using the word “little dog” or maybe “puppy,” for the girl. But don’t forget that dogs were considered pests in those days and we have no evidence that they had the concepts of dogs as pets in those days. Like some children have pet rats. I can’t get my mind around that yet.
Again, what the mother had in her favor was that she was not asking for grace and help for herself, but for her daughter. And think about it. She was even taking a stand for the little dogs that fed on the crumbs under the table. That kind of a stand for others, especially and literally, the under-dogs, quickly won over Jesus himself.
Now Jesus did not only break the taboo about the One True faith only being for the Jews and bringing grace and forgiveness to the Gentiles. He was also speaking to a woman in public. In those days men were not allowed to speak with women that way. In some Moslem countries, men still are not allowed to. In Saudi Arabia some young men try to get away with text-messaging women, but they can get punished severely if they are caught. In Jesus’ time, rabbis were told that they should speak as little as possible even with their wives. Back in the street, the man was educated and she was not. So if they talked, they could only be speaking about one thing, so their misogynous reasoning went. They said that any woman that approached a man in public had to be a prostitute.
I kid you not. Aren’t you happy that Jesus broke this taboo and we are no longer in that kind of a distorted society, which is so dreadfully set against women and is so dreadful for women? But that is how the people of that day thought and felt and Jesus spoke to that woman, discussed her daughter’s plight with her, and healed her, not caring what the disciples were thinking about it. He led them into fearful territory away outside of their comfort zones. Yes, he was crossing boundaries that made them very uncomfortable, but that is why we know and love Jesus as the Lord of life, the Bread of heaven for all people.
Jesus told us to look at the heart. When you go by the color of a person’s skin or by a person’s gender, then you make something that is not sin into sin, and sin and evil themselves are set free. The sin of bigotry, whether it has to do with religion, race, class, or sexual orientation, gets set free to raise havoc amongst us.
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. it is the content of a person’s character, that is, their heart, their sense of personal responsibility that makes them moral or immoral. Whether a person is rich or poor does not determine the content of their character. A rich person can be immoral, witness Bernie Madoff, who made-off with 65 billion dollars of other people’s money. Witness the Kennedy’s, who keep fighting for the underdog and for more justice for the poor and oppressed. It all depends on the change of heart brought about by the grace and forgiveness of God.
Most people in our society idealize millionaires and view poverty as a crime. In our society, if you are poor you are considered like a criminal from the get-go. Jesus teaches us that love covers a multitude of sins. In our society, money covers a multitude of sins.
We know that it is similar when we look at the racial issue. You can be a Henry Louis Gates, a Harvard professor or you can be an attorney with a father that is a policeman and a mother, who is a peace officer, and you can have just gotten out of the Navy and a white cop can man-handle and arrest you. That is what Jesus also confronted. They call sin what is not sin, and their sin of bigotry and prejudice is set free and they open the door for all kinds of evil and injustice to come out.
Now there is real evil, real uncleanness, corruption, and immorality. But to label a poor person, a woman, or someone of a different race in and of themselves immoral, names what is not sin to be sin and lets real sin rampage amongst us, come out of our hearts and raise havoc in our society.
Now this will probably take you out of your comfort zone, but I believe Jesus would cross this barrier as well today. Just because someone is Gay or Lesbian does not make them into sin. They too have to be judged by the content of their character. Jesus I believe would break that taboo today and say, only if they have a corrupt heart are they sinful, for very many cannot help their sexual orientation. To say that Gays or Lesbians are immoral just because of their orientation is to name sin what is not sin and can allow our sin to rampage unchecked.
So to follow Jesus we need to go to the heart. Are you giving your Christianity lip-talk, well then Jesus will give you some soul-talk. Let’s not only honor the Lord of Life with our lips, but also from our hearts. Let’s have our hearts draw close to Jesus our Savior, who broke all these taboos for us. Let’s cling to Jesus even when he asks us to have the courage to get to know people who are different from us, who draw us out of our comfort zones. Christ is full of grace and forgiveness for all people and our hearts have to beat with his heart as if they were one. Ours has to be the throbbing heart of Jesus within us.
If we name sin what is not sin, real sin will rampage amongst us. How will we take the speck out of someone else’s eye, when we have a log in our own?
To take easier examples, the Roman Catholic teaching that eating meat on Fridays was a sin can make people blind to real sins. We used to live among French Canadians when I was young. My mother also served us fish on Fridays, but not because we thought it was a sin to eat meat. She explained that it was on Fridays that the fish was fresh. Now a Catholic can eat fish every Friday, and can still be completely immoral. Just being a vegetarian does not make you moral and being a meat-eater does not make you immoral. The Hindus do not eat beef, because for them cows are holy and the Moslems eat beef, but do not eat pork because it is not kosher. So they kill each other because each names sin what is merely a human tradition, letting evil rampage between them. The Moslems had to flee the Hindus up into Pakistan and they have had armies facing each other since their religious prejudices tore up India.
Another example, when an innocent man is executed for rape and murder, as may well have happened, the real rapist and murderer is still out there doing those horrific crimes.
We have to name sin what really is sin: hatred, religious violence, prejudice and bigotry against those who are different from us. To follow Jesus takes us over boundaries that make us uncomfortable. To follow Jesus is to become challenged to our very core. In our baptisms we die to our old selves and Jesus raises us up into our new selves, giving us the upbringing of the children of God. If you think our new birth in Christ is easy and comfortable, then just ask any mother what it was like to give birth to a child. For the change we need, keep your eyes fixed on the cross of Christ. To follow Jesus is to experience the cruel rails of the cross. It is the only way to our glorious resurrection. Amen.