Archive for April 2013
Fifth Sunday of Easter, April 28th 2013
Acts 11:1-18 Psalm 148 Revelations 21:1-6 John 13: 31-35
Love in Glory
We prayed today that “without love our actions gain nothing.” And we continued, “Put into our hearts your excellent gift of love, that made alive by your Spirit, we may know goodness and peace through your Son.” Love and glory are the subjects of our lessons today. There are the glorious new heavens and earth of Revelations, the glory given to God in our Psalm, and the glory that brought the Gospel to us Gentiles, the goodness of God like a cup overflowing from up there in glory.
The first part of the John’s Gospel lesson is all about glory of the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father and us in them through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus does not glorify himself. In the same way we cannot glorify ourselves by our own strength and effort. It is God; it is the Holy Spirit, who glorifies us, just like in justification. Jesus says, if I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies me. (8:54)
Jesus is speaking of his being the Son of God before the creation of the world: “So now Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had in your presence before the world existed.(17:5) The Holy Trinity existed, before this whole creation was a twinkle in God’s eye.
Notice that Judas just leaves to betray Jesus and he speaks of being immediately glorified. That’s because as soon as Judas leaves, Jesus knows that he has come to the point of no return and he says, “Now the Son of Man is glorified.” Meanwhile he will be betrayed, denied and crucified. It’s paradoxical, but the suffering we do for the Gospel is glory. That’s why we sing “In the cross of Christ I glory!” That’s glory for you and glory for me, the glory of the cross. In completing his mission here on earth, Jesus glorified the Father and God glorifies the Son of Man, us mortals, in Jesus.
When the disciples tell Jesus that certain Greeks wish to see him, Jesus again speaks about being glorified. (John 12:20-26) He is being lifted up over just being a king of the Jews, to being the Lord of all the nations and his glory increases by crossing that threshold. Similarly, Peter also sees that vision of all the unclean food that God orders him to eat. Like the missionaries used to sing, “What he feeds me I will swallow, what he feeds me I will swallow, swallow, swallow, everything!”
There used to be a time when foreign people represented a real threat of danger. In the Boston Marathon, it was not because the brothers were Chechen, but because somehow they had become radicalized with hatred for us. I want to get at something else, however. Now we understand microbes and dangerous bacteria, but in the old days people did not. For example, when the Europeans, who had many domestic animals came to the Americas, the Native Americans died in droves. They did not have immunity to the many diseases we caught from our chickens, goats, sheep, pigs and other domesticated animals. In the opposite way, when Europeans first went into Africa, nine out of ten used to die. They tried to stay on the islands off the western coast just to save their lives. Now that we know what causes diseases, we can be inoculated against those diseases and different people no longer represent a threat to each other.
Jesus is introduced to those first Greeks by Philip and Andrew (John 12:20-22). Then St. Peter is told that the Romans and Greeks are not unclean. Thus, ethnic cleansing is pretty much a sin aimed at the heart of Christianity and the racism of Whites in this country and the way we segregate ourselves from people of color undermines our Christian faith. We glorify God when we overcome our bigotry, prejudice, and racism. Racism is prejudice plus power, stacking our institutions up against people of color for their untold disadvantage.
Jesus says, “My Father is glorified in this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (15:8) and he continues, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” At the time, the Jews felt privileged, so Peter bore fruit among the Romans, baptizing the military centurion Cornelius with his whole household. Philip raced alongside the chariot of the Ethiopian Eunuch and set the Ethiopian rejoicing to hear the good news. Thomas went all the way to India and bore fruit for Christ there. We have to be careful because our White privilege can make us fruitless. The hard times we have come upon in this great recession and the way even our middle class is becoming impoverished, may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It may make us have to turn to Christ and get out of superficial material values and into real genuine love for each other. Just thinking about those firefighters who sacrificed themselves for the city of West, Texas shows that it is already happening. But God wants us to bear fruit, so we have to go to the highways and byways, like in our communal meal to obey the Word of the Lord!
God’s raising Jesus from the dead brings Jesus back into the presence of God in the glory of heaven. (cf. John 17:5) And Jesus goes and prepares a place for us in God to dwell forever in the blessed glory of the love and communion of the most Holy Trinity.
We may follow Jesus, but he says that we cannot follow him where he is going. But Jesus comes to us in order to take us there. Jesus is the Son of God who came from his divine origins in the Blessed and Holy Trinity and it is back into the glory of the Trinity that he returns and into which he will one day bring us.
I have avoided 25 cent words, but you may just want to hear them. The triune God who existed before our creation is called the immanent Trinity and when dealing with our creation, redemption, and sanctification to bring us salvation, we speak of the economic Trinity. In the communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Three Persons in one God, perfectly bear each another’s burdens, because the Son and the Holy Spirit also work with the Father in creation; the Father and Holy Spirit also work with the Son for our redemption, and the Father and Son help the Holy Spirit make us holy. The word for this perfect mutuality is perichoresis from the Greek or circuminsession from the Latin. I’ll give you a quiz after the sermon! In Greek “peri” means around and “choresis” comes from the Greek for dancing. So they even dance with joy to stand in for each other in creation, redemption, and sanctification! That is the glory of the most blessed Trinity.
From the loving communion of the Three Persons in the blessed Trinity, Jesus shows us the love that marks us as being Christians:
I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (13:34-35)
It is not because of the law that we love one another, but because of the love that Christ showed us. We love one another the way Christ loved us first. Here in our text is the only place where John says “little children” the way he does so often in his letters.
Our love is not experienced as sacrifice, but giving away our lives and living fully out of God’s grace, like the Blessed Persons of the Trinity, dancing to shoulder each other’s burdens in the joy of their complete unity.
In the online commentary, Brian Stoffregen mentions some congregations who fall pretty far short of the mark that should describe us Christians. He tells of congregations where the members won’t speak to each other, where members are in court suing each other; where they leave and attend other churches because something a pastor did. He mentioned one pastor who went into early retirement, at age 55, mind you, saying he no longer wanted to deal with those “clergy killers.” That’s what he called the members of his congregation! Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) said that sometimes “we have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” (Thoughts on Various Subjects: from Miscellaneous 1711)
I have often been unemployed because of my going to graduate school, and I come back among the pastors in their Bible Study and I sometimes can’t believe how burnt out, cynical, and down-hearted they have become. Sometimes a very un-holy spirit comes over a congregation. We need to keep on praying for the Holy Spirit. A congregation needs to be mission-based and not pastor-based, as if everything depended upon him. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and really present also for the pastor.
We need a vision of where this loving one another can bring us. Relationships can become more meaningful and deeper than even those we have in our families, which then can deepen as well. God in Christ through mission gives us an upbringing that begins where our upbringing left off, so that we mature into the children of God. The first Christians shared all their resources together so that no one would be in need. It did not work out very well, but we are still searching for a way to follow Jesus marked with the love he bade us have.
Let me end with an experience we had in Coney Island on the last day of our Vacation Church School Day Camp. We had two or three buses and after the children had been swimming in the pools of Jones Beach, we took them to some dunes where the teachers grilled sloppy Joes and refreshments for the children. When they had eaten, they went and played king of the hill on the sand dunes. Ordinarily, the bus drivers would say, “Round up the kids. Let’s go. We want to beat the traffic.” But suddenly they said nothing. We became transfixed. The whole scene with the children playing suddenly seemed to go into slow motion. Have you ever seen the picnic scene in the movie Bonnie and Clyde? It was like that: things going into slow motion. It was as if happiness transfigured the children and made us all bathe in a wondrous light that overcame our togetherness. Slowly it subsided and we pulled up the buses and we drove our precious cargo back home. We all saw how these rough inner-city kids were strangely changed there before our eyes! We have to know what joy lies before us in order to keep on keeping on so we get there. Amen.
 I thank Brian Stoffregen on CrossMarks, the online commentary, for listing all these glory-verses from the Gospel of John that made it possible for me to react to them in my own way.
 This should be sung to the tune, “Where He leads me I will follow.”
 Once a month Our Redeemer’s serves a wonderful dinner to fifty or so poorest of the poor. The members serve the guests who come and also clothes, tooth brushes, tooth paste, soap, shampoo, and many other items are donated to help fill their needs.
 This quotation also comes from Brian Stoffregen’s online commentary CrossMarks.
Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 21st 2013
Acts 9:36-43 Psalm 23 Revelations 10:22-30 John 10:22-30
The Calling of the Good Shepherd
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and we are the people of Christ’s pasture and the sheep of his hand. (Psalm 95:7) So our particular flock, our particular congregation is God, the Father’s gift to his Son, Jesus Christ and we belong to him and no one will be able to snatch us out of his hands. The Psalm 95 continues, “O that today we would listen to God’s voice! Do not harden your hearts!” (Psalm 95:7-8) We need to open ourselves to hear the voice of Jesus Christ, who knows us. Let’s listen for his voice calling us and follow him.
Now being a flock of sheep is a metaphor and all metaphors break down. We don’t want to identify completely with dumb sheep. That they are vulnerable, love to flock together, are good followers, and provide us with clothing and nourishment is the place where the metaphor holds, but it breaks down, because Jesus also called us his friends, so in an important way we have to also become shepherds. In that way we will follow in our Lutheran tradition of being “the priesthood of all believers.”
This is still the 4th Sunday of Easter so we have no Old Testament but only New Testament readings. Only a few weeks ago we celebrated the festival of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, “whom the God of peace brought again from the dead” in the words of our prayer. Thus the story in Acts is in the place of the Old Testament lesson. In the Acts of the Apostles, they follow the acts of Jesus and now the acts of this congregation will follow. In Acts we see how St. Peter followed Jesus in raising Dorcas, which is Greek for Tabitha, from the dead. Like Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, Peter raises Tabitha from the dead with prayer. Working in a hospital during our clinical training, I would hear code 99 come over the loud speaker and all the doctors and nurses would rush to a room and bring a person who had just died back to life. That makes me believe that intense prayer can also make God step into action and bring someone’s spirit back. My oldest brother Matthias is a pastor in Canada and he related how he prayed for a woman to return to life in her hospital bed and she did and he was very sorry later. She was not happy about it and she was not a very kind woman. She was not like Tabitha.
Authentic miracles involve signs that further God’s Kingdom, which was certainly the case in a Peter’s miracle. Tabitha was devoted to good works and charity. She was taking care of many widows, who were the most vulnerable people, the very-least-of-these in the society of that day. Widows had no rights and no means of making a livelihood. I was reading about a city in Afghanistan where men divorced or abandoned their wives, in one case leaving a wife with five children. Some of the women in that place were reverting to prostitution to provide for their children – not because they wanted to, but because they couldn’t see their children starving. They of course have no laws for dead-beat dads. Such laws would provide a solution, but only the men make the laws and the women experience their tyranny. In elementary school learning about our American Revolution, the Tea Party, Paul Revere and such, I heard the slogan, “Taxation without representation is tyranny!” Having to bear children without representation is much worse.
In this story she is sometimes called Tabitha and sometimes Dorcas, which means a “gazelle” in Greek. When she suddenly died the widows called Peter without delay, because she was really their shepherd upon whom they depended. They were weeping and showing Peter the tunics and other clothing that she had made. She was probably providing clothing for them to sell in the market place so they could manage a livelihood without begging and perhaps doing something that would be shamefully worse.
In Resurrection Lutheran Church in Oakland this Sunday, the women of the congregation, many from Tanzania and Uganda, will dance and wave colorful scarves in honor of Tabitha, for the way this woman stood in and provided for the widows and gave an example to the early church so that bishops later had to take special responsibility for widows, even giving them something like honorary positions in the congregations of the early church afterward. These enrolled widows served and were supported in the early church like deaconesses and nuns today.
We need women shepherds or leaders. Women can make a real contribution to society in ways that most men are incapable of making. Not women who become harder and more masculine than even men, like for example Demi Moore in the movie G.I. Jane. From time immemorial, women have known ways to avoid conflict, where men see no alternative. Remember the story of the Greek women of Lysistrata, who would not sleep with their men until they negotiated for peace in the Peloponnesian War? That made the war come to a quick close. Women bear a child in their own bodies for nine months and then give birth bringing a new being into this world and thus they tend to have a deeper attachment to life and nurture and love than men who have been brought up not to cry, to deny their feelings, and to detach themselves from them in order to be able to take lives and kill as warriors.
I remember a woman in the sixties who inspired us seminarians so much. She came to Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio with a message of peace. She spoke out against the Vietnam War and noted how in peace time the sons buried their fathers and how in war, the fathers buried their sons. Now we have to say daughters as well, because women too will be participating in combat.
Whenever we children cried at home, may father would say, “Don’t cry? Your mother will never become a soldier!” Now he could no longer say that to comfort children, because mothers do become soldiers and have to be able to detach themselves from the human feelings of tenderness, empathy, and nurturing love in that role as much as men do.
So many of us were caught up this week by the atrocity that took place at the Boston Marathon and all the news in the aftermath, involved in the shooting and killing of the older Chechen suspect and the capturing of the younger one. Those brothers were truly shepherds of death. They could not know and fathom the human suffering they were inflicting. They may have been able to detach themselves and be completely theoretical about taking out as many people as possible and putting a damper on the festivities and the proud marathon tradition of the city of Boston.
People can detach themselves from their human feelings and live outside of the joys and wonders of their bodies, detached from the happiness of children and the joy that new life brings. We have an elementary school at our corner and when they have school outings one class after another passes by our house. I sit out in the front yard and listen to their incredible excitement anticipating their outing! What joy, excitement, and happiness these children and their new life bring! Because a woman actually carries a new being coming into the world in her body until she gives birth, it tends to put the little baby into her heart and soul after it is born, while often the father has to find a way to attach himself to the new child and often avoids doing so. Like a detached father holding a crying baby at arms-length, not knowing how to draw it close to his heart to comfort it. There are exceptions, but mostly kindergarten, pre-school, and elementary school teachers are still women and men take jobs that they consider more valuable, which our society validates with higher pay, while the women have the more humble but really more important and valuable shepherding role, which our society, however, values very little, if the amount of income is a measure.
It is so difficult to build life up and so easy to tear it down. It is said that an engineer is worth six generals, because it takes an engineer to build a bridge, where anyone can destroy and take one down. Of course, in history the men did have to protect the community from its enemies. The people of a community have to be protected from being killed with impunity. But then, what should have remained defense soon escalates into aggression until it has become part of the problem and not the solution.
So we need protection and, of course, now women and men can be involved in it, because of our advanced technology. But how easy it is to pull a trigger and kill someone or to make a bomb out of a pressure cooker and brutally blow off the legs of marathon runners and how hard it is to bear a child, nurse a child, and support it with all the love and care and heart-ache involved until it grows up and just squeezing the trigger of a gun can wipe out that precious life so painstakingly brought up and supported throughout all those years.
We need protection for sure. But we also have to become the shepherds who have each other in our hearts and bear with each other until we are born again and grow and mature in the stature of Christ, the Good Shepherd. We can have each other in our hearts. You can have this congregation in your heart and find all kinds of ways to make it flourish, grow, and mature.
And shepherds can take on many forms. A CEO can lead an ethical corporation that pays its taxes, gives its workers living wages, health care, and pensions, rather than exploiting them by paying a minimum wage without any benefits. CEO’s can be good shepherds or very bad ones. My son, with his partner in Chattanooga, has opened two vegan restaurants, one there and one in Pensacola. All the help that they hire are musicians. He did not become a pastor of a congregation like yours truly, his father, but he has a whole congregation of those for whom he provides a livelihood and they can go out a play gigs with their bands, record music, and meanwhile they can work in his restaurants and make a living. Some call him Dad, because he is like a father to them although he is only 33.
You have called a good shepherd by calling a new pastor, but you will all need to listen for God’s voice. Not only your new pastor, but you too are challenged to grow and mature in the stature of Christ. Some of us have given Christianity a bad name, but if we become Christs to one another. His name is the one above every name. This congregation is challenged by God to become a place that shows others the way, the way to peace, the way to new life, the way to build up this creation. It is so easy to destroy it. “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it; but there is a Broadway-Times Square, El Camino Real leading to destruction and many are speeding on it. (Cf. Mat 7:13-14) We can bear each other in our hearts, but Christ goes even further and says, “I and the Father are one.” so continuing this creation with all the love and wonder and joy and happiness that can be involved.
Let’s end by all of us reciting the 23rd Psalm together. Hopefully you’ve learned this most beloved Psalm by heart. If I get stuck you can help me and if you do I can help you. It is all about the Good Shepherd and will help us understand how we can also follow in Jesus’ footsteps and shepherd people in green pastures, beside still waters, and restore their souls for the abundant life, which can be enjoyed in the House of the Lord forevermore:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…
The Conversion of Paul, the Redemption of Peter, and Ours, The Third Sunday of Easter, April 14th 2013
The Third Sunday of Easter, April 14th 2013
Acts 9:1-6 [7-20] Psalm 30 Revelation 5:11-14 John 21:1-19
The Conversion of Paul, the Redemption of Peter, and Ours
What incredible lessons we have today! We have the redemption of St. Peter and the conversion of St. Paul. Paul’s name was Saul of Tarsus and named after Saul who was the first king of Israel and a full six inches taller than any other man in Israel. Now Jesus named him Paul, meaning the little one in Latin, paulus, -a, -um. Jesus called Simon Bar Jonas the “Rock” or “Rocky” as we might say today, because Peter or petros means the “rock” in Greek. It is “Cephus” in Hebrew. Jesus may have intended the name to be funny, like calling an all-black cat “Snowball,” because Peter seems to be so shaky and act so impulsively. At the last Supper, “No you will never wash my feet.” Then he exclaims, “Not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” He’s naked in the fishing boat. When the beloved disciple says, “It’s the Lord!” Peter puts on his clothes and jumps into the sea. Disappears, perhaps ashamed, leaving the disciples to haul the net by themselves and then when Jesus asks for some fish, he pulls the net in with the 153 fish all by himself. He is also the first to accept the Gentiles as Christians, baptizing Cornelius the Roman centurion and his family. He is also the first to break the kosher laws and then when the faction from Jerusalem frowns on the Gentiles, he no longer eats with them, so St. Paul has to reprimand him to his face. When he is crucified at the end, he says, “No, not like my Lord.” So they crucify him upside down, if we can go by tradition.
But Jesus chose him to lead his followers and he did so, even though he must have been turbulent and torn in many ways within. Christ chooses us with our faults and all. Denying Jesus three times instead of being faithful was his big whopper, however, and Jesus did not just overlook it. He brought it up, so Peter had to come to terms with it.
Now consider St. Paul: What is more dramatic than the way Jesus stops Saul dead in his tracks and changes him into Paul, his missionary to the Gentiles? When in Western history “the Philosopher” is mentioned, they are referring to Aristotle; but when they write, “the Apostle,” they mean St. Paul. He is such a towering figure for the early church. But really because of his writing: Listen to what the Corinthians said of him: “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech is of no account!” (2 Cor 10:10) There he is the arch-enemy of those who follow the Way as Jesus followers were called, before they were first named Christians in Antioch. He probably had ambitions to become the High Priest himself, because he gets letters from him to be able to arrest and bring these followers of Jesus back to Jerusalem from Damascus. As a young man he had watched over all the coats of those who stoned Stephen and must have heard him pray: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” and watched him die. Those who taught that Jesus was the Messiah and that salvation took place through him and not from Moses’ law had to be rid of and wiped from the face of the earth.
His entourage in their unholy mission suddenly had a light from heaven flash around them and Saul fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him:
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?””
And the reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” The light had not only knocked Saul to the ground, but also struck him with blindness. Those with him had to lead him by the hand to Damascus where he did not eat or drink for three days. When he prayed, Jesus sent Ananias to lay his hands on him to fill him with the Holy Spirit. Something like scales fell from his eyes and his sight was restored. He got up and was baptized, and after taking in some food he regained his strength and the one who had hunted down, tortured, and persecuted the followers of Jesus, now publicly proclaimed him in the synagogues.
That was a one hundred and eighty degree turn and Saul now having become Paul had to learn how much he would have to suffer for the sake of the name that is above every name, Jesus. The whole litany of his suffering, his many floggings with rods, his being whipped five times, that means, five times, receiving 40 lashes minus one; being stoned and left for dead, imprisoned and shipwrecked – it can all be found in Second Corinthians 11:22-29. I remember once seeing a film about his missionary journeys and how those coming to arrest him were pounding at the door and the disciples lowered him in a basket from a window that was in the wall of the city, allowing him to escape the hands of his captors just in the nick of time. Being a saint is supposed to be boring and only sin is supposed to be exciting. That is a complete deception, because the mission of Christ is the most exciting and fulfilling life that there is. It is full of adventure – unless our faith has become nothing but a nominal thing, without our heart in it and without our zeal for the Beloved Community in this society filled with violence and injustice.
The number of large fish, 153 of them, in Peter’s story is very intriguing. Of course, there is the possibility that they counted the fish and that’s just how many were in the net. But the number stands out in a striking way so there are many theories about what it means. One holds that, known at that time, there were 153 varieties of fish in the Sea of Galilee. Thus the number stands for universality or catholicity, because “catholic” means universal. So all the different people of the whole world will not tear the net of the Gospel or divide the church. All the nations of the world will be captured by the net of the Gospel and pulled to shore by St. Peter to follow Jesus. In the prophets the nets are also designed to capture the nations of the world for Christ. We cannot yet fathom what that means, nor has the church come into its own as yet to order the nations on the way of peace.
One hundred and fifty three is a very unique number and if you will allow some arithmetic, like my philosophy last time, then just consider 3 times 3 times 17 = 153 or seven plus ten = 153. It is the third appearance of the risen Lord and Peter denied Jesus three times and seven disciples are listed. I just can’t find ten in the story. They are 100 yards away from the shore. Some say that the Ten Commandments are there filled by grace. So 3 times 3 times 17 = 153. Consider this: 51 times 3 also makes 153. Psalm 51 is the psalm in which David repents. Peter has to repent three times, so 51 times 3 = 153. 17+16+15+14, etc. all the way down to 1 = 153. Online one can find all kinds of operations that become 153, so that mission can be done in all kinds of ways in the presence and by the command of risen Christ to catch people in the nets of the Gospel and to bring them to Christ.
Peter denies Christ over a fire in the high priest’s court yard and it is over a charcoal fire that Christ asks him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep.” This Church has also been fishing through a night of many years without catching many fish. But when the risen Christ is present, after the day breaks and the dawn brings light, Christ tells us to throw the net to the other side, and the net get filled to bursting, but does not tear. I remember sending the 40 passenger GMC church bus out into Coney Island for the first day of vacation church school and day camp and 65 kids came back with it, hanging all over the bus.
Christ was not only speaking to Peter and while he was still hiding with shame, the other disciples had drawn the miraculous fish catch to shore. They had gone back to fishing for fish, but it was now truly a breakfast of faithful champions there with the risen Christ, ready to draw all the people of the world to him. So Jesus does not only challenge Peter, who merely denied him three times, but he challenges us who have denied him in our secular world countless times. Christ asks you and me: “Do you love me?” What about you? Do you love Jesus?
I was checking out the greatest commandment in the Old Testament and how Jesus quoted it in the New Testament. I was surprised. He changed a word. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” and the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mat 22:37 and 39). Jesus changed the word “might,” which we find in Deuteronomy to “mind.” So we have to love God, not only with our heart and soul but also our minds, because this world represents a real challenge and many minds have turned away from our faith.
Have you told God lately that you love him? Or have you told God lately that you love her? God, of course, transcends gender. The point is not that God became a man in Jesus Christ, but that God became a human being in Jesus Christ. And Jesus also speaks to you and asks you, “Do you love me?” What won’t we do when we’re in love? Just think: When you are filled with love, you will not count the cost; you will bear all things and your burden will feel light. You will give and give and do it with rejoicing. Finally you will even become the one you love: you, too, will become a Christ, another follower who knows the Way and knows 153 ways to invite others to join you on it. Amen.
Devotions for ORLC Council April 11, 2013
A New Pastor is the Way to Go
The text I chose for tonight comes from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 10:1-17. It is quite difficult and I will try to open it up for you. My brother Philip and I are writing a commentary on Romans so I have been working with this text a great deal. I chose it mostly because it shows how necessary a pastor who proclaims the Word of God, the Gospel is and the way you are about to choose your pastor for this congregation:
10 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
5 Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”[a] 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’”[b] (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’”[c] (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,”[d] that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”[e] 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[f]
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”[g]
16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”[h] 17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. New International Version (NIV)
Like those who rejected Jesus, we dare not be self-righteous or try to be righteous by thinking that the law is the way of salvation. Christ is the objective, the end for which the law existed, the New Human Being. Now, not the Ten Commandments per se, but the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount describe those who have received Christ and know that Jesus Christ is the way to salvation and through our faith in him, we also can fulfill the law, but in terms of the Gospel. Thus it is “no longer an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but if someone sins against you seven times or seventy times seven times, we forgive and overcome evil with good. The extravagant love that Christ taught us fulfills the law and what’s more, like a cup overflowing.
The emphasis on the righteousness of the law is upon us and our effort, while the righteousness of faith places the emphasis on God in Christ, the one who made the promise and can keep it, and whom we believe and trust until it comes true. We have to find a way through the wilderness of this world where there is no way. If we go by our efforts and our human strength and wisdom we will fail. But if we rely on the Maker of Heaven and Earth, God the Father of our Lord and Savior, then the right Hand of God will accomplish what is completely impossible for us.
The Word of God that is near us and in our hearts is: “Jesus Christ is Lord” and “He died and is risen.” In my website, I tried to say it with flowers. Nora received a wonderful bouquet of roses that I photographed with my smart phone again and again until they wilted and we had to throw them in the trash bin. In the reversal of the resurrection, my first photo in my website was of them in the trash bin and then all the way to their first day as lovely roses in full splendor once again. “The roses a-rose!” You say, “No way!” and really for us there is no way. But when the Right Hand of God acts, then like for the children of Israel facing the Red Sea and Jesus on the cross, God makes a way where there is no way. That goes for this congregation and its growing and experiencing a renewal again, as well as whatever you are facing with impossible issues in your life. “It would take a miracle!” you say. Yes, indeed, it would and God performs them every day.
So we don’t have to go all the way up into heaven, nor descend down into the abyss of Hell. Christ already has and Christ crucified and resurrected is in our hearts and we exist in him and we believe that he is risen from the dead and that we too will rise in him. Our Redeemer’s is the wonderful place where we call upon the name of the Lord so that we are saved.
This church is incredibly precious and a resource above all resources, a divine capital that puts money as capital to shame. The fountain of life is dispensed freely for those who believe and receive the promises of God. The issue here is Jew versus Gentile. For us it is European descent versus Latino, Asian, African Descent Americans, etc. – all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved and through Christ we have become brothers and sisters. None of us deserve anything, we all receive this gift by grace.
But how can people call on this life-saver, if they have not believed in him and how can they believe if they have not heard the wonderful news? That is where your new pastor comes in, but also yourselves, who have this word in your heart and tell others this wonderful news with your lips. You are choosing one to publicly proclaim the Word, who is Jesus Christ in this place! How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news! I was washing feet on Maundy Thursday and I can tell you many of us do not have beautiful feet. You would hate to see mine! Luther thought words had to have feet or how could they travel from ear to ear and get there all at once and at the same time? From that I thought, poetry is measured by feet so how beautiful the poetry of those who proclaim the resurrection of Christ! How beautiful is the language! How beautiful is the cadence of their poetry! Karl Barth leaves out the word “beautiful” and says how timely Christ comes to rescue us. Christ comes right in time! But through all the trials and all the rejection and all the troubles of this world, the beautiful feet of Christ find God’s way to us, right to our hearts, and we will not die, but live and continue as a Church, like a city on a hill, proclaiming that Christ died on the cross, but Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Pastor Peter D.S. Krey, Ph.D.
 If “You shall not kill” were expressed in the positive: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mat 22:37 and 39) then the law would come closer to adequacy. But it would still be a commandment without the wherewithal to carry it out. The grace and strength to do so comes from the Gospel, the promises of God. Interestingly enough, Jesus substituted the word “mind” for “might” or “strength,” found in the Septuaginta and the Hebrew Bible.
 Wilhelm Pauck, ed., Luther: Lectures on Romans, (Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 1961), page 300: “Even though one can interpret “feet” literally.., they signify more correctly their very words or the sound and the syllables or pronunciation of their words and preachings.” So Luther is referring to the cadence too. I wonder if the origin of dividing the lines of poems into different units of rhythm called feet, i.e., iambic pentameter, trochee, anapest, dactyl, spondee, pyrrhic, derive from this interpretation? Luther’s lectures were discovered in the Vatican, I believe, and were first published in 1908, making it difficult to argue his influence on the term from them. But Robert Graves and other Englishmen attended Wittenberg and may have heard of Luther’s interpretation. In the Rhyming Dictionary of the English Language, (London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., undated but after 1851 and before 1914) page ix: J. Longmuir relates the term to beating time with the feet or staying in step.
 D. Karl Barth, Der Römerbrief, (the fourth printing of the new revision), (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, Verlag, 1926), page 366.
Second Sunday of Easter, April 7th 2013
Acts 5:27-32 Psalm 118:14-29 Revelations 1:4-8 John 20:19-31
Believing without Seeing
Let me preach a sermon somewhat different from sermons as they usually go. The story of Thomas in the gospel of John is like the one about Mary Magdalene last time. These stories can stand by themselves and usually we preach about them by saying the angels rolled the stone away, but the disciples rolled it back because they locked all their doors cowering in fear. Or we speak about doubting Thomas in order to strengthen our faith. Or that the risen Christ brings the peace of God, so that with the Holy Spirit, that peace can spread throughout the world.
But the Gospel of John lends itself somewhat to philosophy, the way it speaks about truth and freedom, remember the text: you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. (8:32) Here in a similar way Thomas won’t believe until he has seen for himself and even more, until he has put his fingers into the nail-holes in Jesus hands and put his hand in Jesus’ wounded side. So let’s first look at the issue John is bringing up.
In the Scripture Thomas’ twin is never mentioned, so sometimes we say that we are really the twins of Thomas, because in our scientific way of thinking, we are right there with him wanting tangible evidence just like he did.
Going way back in how we know something, many of us, just like Thomas go by our senses: our touch and feeling, our sense of smell, taste, hearing, and sight. We think like he did that reliable knowledge comes from our senses. But our senses often deceive us. Our senses say that the sun goes around the earth and not the other way around, that our earth goes around the sun and that is a deception that humanity believed from the beginning of time until Copernicus only about five hundred years ago. We now realize that our earth is a planet going around the sun, but we used to think that the sun was like the moon, orbiting around our earth.
Because our senses deceive us, other thinkers believe that only reasoning is the way to reliable knowledge. But although reasoning sometimes helps correct places where our senses fall short, it can also run a collision course with reality, if it does not take account of observations we make and experiences we have.
Zeno is an old philosopher who argued that if you wanted to cross a room to get to a door, you first had to go to the half-way point. But before that you would have to get to the half-way point of that half-way point, etc., etc. In this way he proved by reason that you could not move at all and motion was illusion. We know that we can move across a room to get to a door and we observe motion all the time, so we say, so much the worse for reason. So later you have other thinkers who put these two ways of knowing together and mostly each one goes further in putting their fingers into the nail-holes in Jesus’ hands and their hand in Jesus’ side. This is especially true for the scientific method, where you make observations, you form a hypothesis and then test it by controlling variables and studying just one in an experiment. Slowly you come up with a theory about what is happening in nature and then you hope that other scientists can replicate your experiment so that the theory that you’re proving becomes stronger and stronger with their support.
Now here is the trouble with science. When you study a rock, for example, it just sits there, so it works pretty well. The rock is an object that you as a subject can study. But when you are dealing with other people, you are one subject observing another subject, who is meanwhile also observing you. The kind of an objectivity that science can have over nature is impossible for the humanities. But over and above knowledge, we can attain some wisdom that rivals the knowledge that science can attain.
Now when we speak about God and divine matters, like God being in Christ and the resurrection, then we go up another level. Now we rely not on reasoning and our senses, but on revelation. From it we learn that God is the source of yourself and myself as subjects. We are speaking about the light in which we see light. God is the origin of our life and thought and love out of which our consciousness springs and flows. Thus we have our five senses, as well as our minds that make our reasoning possible, allowing us to have experiences and make observations so that we have identities, have relationships, and enjoy living in society.
When we contemplate God we cannot have the objectivity of science and even our human wisdom falls short. “My ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts,” saith the Lord. “But as high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways over your ways and my thoughts over your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Now with revelation all we have to go on is belief, in the sense of faith and trust in the goodness and friendliness, in the love, joy, and peace involved in our encounter with the God, the Ultimate. And Jesus taught us how loving this God is and bid us to call him our Father and bask in the knowledge that we are God’s children. Thus he taught us to pray: “Our Father who art in Heaven.” So when we gaze up in awe at this universe, when we wonder at all the plants and animals, the trees and mountains, rivers and oceans, even the cities with their skyscrapers, and other products that human hands produced; even cars, airplanes, computers, and three-D printers that we produce when working together in corporations; and otherwise, the awe we feel when we gaze at master-pieces that are created by the hands of artists: God’s gifts are so overwhelming we become awe-struck!
In order to be honest, however, we have to admit that although we are the crown of God’s creation and wonders of divine handiwork, we did not create our wonderful existence, but we are creatures in it. Thus the psalm says, “It’s the fool who in his heart says there is no God.” (Psalm 14:1) And meanwhile the love of God is drawing all upward into growing and maturing, because we are challenged by the Ultimate, the source and ground of our existence to participate in continuing this creation.
We can participate in continuing the creation or we can participate in the destruction of this wonderful life here on earth that we have received as a gift.
Jesus said, “’And I when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to myself’ … to indicate the death that he was going to die.” (John 12:32) and many of the greatest minds of the earth and many of the greatest souls have beheld Jesus and realized that God was in him – reconciling the whole world, so that we can escape a nose dive of destruction and pull back into an ascent, in which we participate in the continuing creation, with which God is not finished yet and in which you and I are not finished yet: who you are and who I am are not finished yet. We are being called and sent by God into the great plan of salvation, which is another way of speaking about God’s continuing creation.
God began this plan of salvation by calling Abraham, continuing with Moses leading the exodus out of slavery into the Promised Land, and then, because Jesus is the Lord of all the nations, his globalization of the promises of God that were first made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and of course, Sarah, Hagar, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah, God’s promises to all the patriarchs and matriarchs for all the races, nations, and people of this world.
Jesus Christ is also calling us to participate in God’s plan of salvation for this world. The Risen Christ represents a breakthrough into a new Passover and Exodus, so that we even speak of a new covenant, now not only between the Jews and God, but between God and all the people of the earth through Christ. The risen Christ leads our new exodus out of sin and evil, death, and destruction into reconciliation with God the Creator, into goodness and love that has overcome the fear of death and knows that in the resurrection of Christ, we have a passage way through death itself in which we become more than victorious, in which we are made more than conquerors. We grow and mature to be able to lead people in our time on the way of salvation.
The risen Lord appeared to all those he had called, like he called us, in order to send us out with the Good News to all people. He comes right into their midst and says, “Peace be with you!” Jesus did this after he had already died. He was already on the other side; he had already experienced the Passover dying on the cross, and from the other side, he appeared to those whom he had called to send them out to show all people the way: love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, be a peace-maker, if someone strikes you on the cheek, turn your other one to him also. In other words, practice non-violence. Gandhi called it “doing the truth.” Have a change of heart; make your love, compassion, and forgiveness as extravagant as the amazing grace Jesus brought down from heaven.
Not even death made Jesus depart from those whom he loved to the end. Those words come from the vows that Ruth made to Naomi. Read that love story, called Ruth. Just look it up in the table of contents of your Bible and read that wonderful story. It comes right after Judges and is only four short chapters, just a few pages long. But the way Jesus says “my Father and your Father, my God and your God” and the way Thomas says, “My Lord and my God!” comes from Ruth and Jesus is revealing that God, the Ultimate One, the Creator, is hopelessly in love with the people of this earth and wants oppression, slavery, violence, wars, environmental degradation, and all things that inflict death and destruction to cease. God’s love in Christ made God die for us, dying to give us life, dying to give us a change of heart.
The word “mission” means “sending” and it will take many, many missions to save this sorry world. It will take many, many loving acts of kindness, forgiveness, love and compassion, and even a new human organization called the Church to bring about God’s plan. The trouble is that our church itself is captive to a large part in participating in the plan that continues the destruction of the creation and our Church has to bank on love and faith to such an extent that it is willing to send us on Christ’s mission from the other side of our dying, than means, making our baptisms real. We have to pass-over into the Promised Land and make an exodus out of a survival mode into mission. The survival mode that our churches are in is based on the fear of dying, while mission is based on our faith in the Resurrection.
It’s the resurrection that the founders of Our Redeemer’s trusted and believed in when they called believers together in this place here in South San Francisco. With your new pastor, you will be challenged to understand what faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ means and what it means that he sends you to participate in saving this creation. Because like Mary, Peter, Thomas, Paul, and all the other disciples, the risen Christ is your Redeemer, who did not purchase you with gold and silver or money, but with his own precious blood and now you belong to God. You are in this world but not of it. Your souls are in God’s keeping, and now you too have to become bold witnesses, who obey God rather than human authorities when they are bent on destroying the creation. You too are called to help the distressed and bring about the Passover from this culture of violence into the gentle and tender reign of God filled with God’s wonderful promises. You too, and I as well, have to take an exodus out of the fear of death, knowing that Christ gave us a passage-way though death into heaven. You and I are called into that marvelous kind of courage and into that strong life that knows of the love of the risen Lord, a love much stronger than death and one that death can never stamp out.
When you rely on the risen Lord, when you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, not seeing but believing, you will experience the promises of God coming true as if you had placed your fingers into the nail-holes in Jesus hands and you hand into the side of Jesus. With Thomas you will exclaim, “My Lord and my God!” and experience your sending to participate in God’s great love affair with this world. Amen.
Pastor Peter Krey