peter krey's web site

scholarship, sermons, songs, poems, weblog writing on Wordpress.com

Archive for November 2013

The Cross is the Way, Christ the King Sunday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo, CA November 24th 2013

leave a comment »

Christ the King Sunday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo, CA November 24th 2013

Jeremiah 23:1-6 Psalm 46 Colossians 1:11-20 Luke 23:33-43

The Cross is the Way

We have come to another end of the Church Year, because it is Christ the King Sunday and next Sunday a new year begins with the First Advent. So as we anticipate the birth of Christ we first have to get through his dying by crucifixion on today’s Sunday. The way to the new beginning is through the end. The way to the promised abundant life is through the dying Jesus, as the repentant criminal beside Jesus on the cross shows us.

We call Christ our king. Now of course we elect presidents and we do not have kings in this country who receive their power because they come from royal families. Still our presidents have powers that the kings of old could only have wished for and we just have to consider that there is an administration over the one of our president, which represents the rule of God, whose righteous branch is Jesus, whose reign cannot be identified with any earthly country and every empire, nation, kingdom, and even church will be judged by this Christ, this Lamb of God. Note how the Psalm states that Christ stops wars, while it implies that earthly powers start them, opening up the jaws of hell, swallowing the people God loves, and destroying God’s creation. So let’s be peace-makers, because our Savior is the Prince of Peace.

Driving up Tuolumne Street each Sunday morning to get to church, we pass the Catholic Church called, St. Basil the Great. “Basil” in Greek means “king” and “Basileia” means the “kingdom.” “Basileia tou Theou” means Kingdom of God. Basil was a very great bishop of Caesarea who lived in the fourth century. His name makes that church a permanent reminder that Christ is our King, and we accept God’s rule over us, through Christ, the Lamb of God, who is closer to us and knows us better than we even know ourselves, more forgiving, than we are even to ourselves, and fulfills God’s promises to us, the way no earthly president or ruler can. This rule of God over us is not a place, but our acceptance of God’s rule of righteousness over us and our being under the influence of the Holy Spirit so that wherever we are, every place through the quality of our relationships gets a taste of Heaven.

One of the women pastors this week was confronted by a young man, who declared that the Bible said women were not allowed to be pastors. He quoted First Timothy 2:12, “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” She knew that his father had left his family. “Who brought you up?” she asked.

“My mother.” he answered.

“And who was the head of your household?”

“My mother.”

“And what did Jesus say about lording it over others?

He did not know that.

“Well, men are also not allowed to lord it over others, not just women.”

That made him reconsider what he had said. He went into his room and later came out in drag! He was sure she was going to judge him, like most Christians would. I myself have to exercise my acceptance there, because that takes me way out of my comfort zone. But she said, “You are so beautiful in that dress.”

He was dumbfounded that a Christian pastor would not judge him. Meanwhile there is, of course, a whole chorus of Christians ready and glad to judge, who drown out the voices of the ones who follow that one who kept repeating, even while he was being executed brutally, “Father, forgive them they know not what they do.” Evidently the Greek implies that he repeated it, kept on saying it during the crucifixion, and mind you, like governors and presidents, Jesus Christ the King, has the right to pardon us the same way they do – with a forgiveness even more gracious.

Jesus demonstrates the almighty power of love there on the cross. We want to appear to be more than we are, but Jesus showed us the power of love, dying on the cross for us, while being unwilling to save himself. That is the power that makes us who we were created to be, not more and certainly not less. But we can wrap ourselves in layers and layers of things in which we can’t find ourselves. Someone wrote a facetious ad for Black Friday: “We guarantee one trampled consumer per store!” Our economy tries to convince us that having things fulfills us and makes us more than human. But it doesn’t.

Brian Stoffregen in the online commentary for this Sunday described what he believes Americans want in a Christ and that is not the one dying on the cross, unwilling to save himself because of his wanting to reconcile us with God and bring about our atonement as the Lamb of God, our Passover lamb.

“Jesus is not the kind of Savior we want… [he says and then he] presents a wonderful picture of our typical American Messiah — and it doesn’t look much like Jesus on the cross:”[1]

[Stoffregen is quoting Robert Capon.] . . . almost nobody resists the temptation to jazz up the humanity of Christ. The true paradigm of the ordinary American view of Jesus is Superman: “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It’s Superman! Strange visitor from another planet, who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American Way.” If that isn’t popular christology, I’ll eat my hat. [Capon says] Jesus — gentle, meek and mild, but with secret, souped-up, more-than‑human insides — bumbles around for thirty-three years, nearly gets himself done in for good by the Kryptonite Kross, but at the last minute, struggles into the phone booth of the Empty Tomb, changes into his Easter suit and, with a single bound, leaps back up to the planet Heaven. It’s got it all — including, just so you shouldn’t miss the lesson, kiddies: He never once touches Lois Lane.

You think that’s funny? Don’t laugh. [he continues] The human race is, was and probably always will be deeply unwilling to accept a human messiah. We don’t want to be saved in our humanity; we want to be fished out of it. We crucified Jesus, not because he was God, but because he blasphemed: He claimed to be God and then failed to come up to our standards for assessing the claim. It’s not that we weren’t looking for the Messiah; it’s just that he wasn’t what we were looking for. Our kind of Messiah would come down from a cross. He would carry a folding phone booth in his back pocket. He wouldn’t do a stupid thing like rising from the dead. He would do a smart thing like never dying.[2]

So we have to realize that the power we want cannot be the same kind that the world wants. Jesus is up there on the cross, stripped down, and hanging there, but contrary to all appearances he is drawing the whole world to God. Pilate said, “Behold this human being!” He was no superman and in the weakness of his forgiving love and his humanity, he was giving us a glimpse of the heart of God.

Jesus understood himself to be a king. When Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered “It is as you say.”[3] “Usually, when Jesus is called a king, it is by those who mock him: “The irony and pathos of Jesus’ death are that those who mock him declare his messianic identity and the salvific significance of his death but do not grasp the truth they speak.”[4] Like Pilate writing “This one is the King of the Jews” and posting it on the cross. The priests come and say, “No, write, ‘This one said I am the king of the Jews.’” Pilate responds, “What I have written I have written.”

So the soldiers played a cat and mouse game with Jesus. They put a seamless robe on him. Gave him a reed to hold as a stupid scepter and planted a crown of thorns on his head.

But God had become a human being in Jesus. God was demonstrating almighty love and forgiveness. And this love is reached through the baptism of our suffering and death. We enter the reign of God through the dying Jesus. Like last Sunday, Jan and I visited Duane Jensen, who loved the hymn, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” – so I played it on my trumpet in the hall, because his sick room was so small. And we sang only two verses and he wanted to sing three! And on the cross that repentant criminal saw through Jesus’ dying and realized where love, compassion, and forgiveness came from and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” And Jesus said, “Amen, amen, today you will be with me in Paradise!” We always say “amen” at the end of our prayers, Jesus would say “amens” before his words.

The repentant criminal says, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Remembering means much more than just thinking about it.[5] The poor criminal meant, “Pick me up. Hey, wake me up from the dead, too. Let me enter the wonderful gates of Heaven and be there in your gracious, loving, and forgiving presence.”

We will again come forward and receive the body and blood of Christ, who says, “Do this in remembrance of me!” That means more than just thinking about Jesus. We listen to Christ calling our name, Christ the Good Shepherd King who does not scatter but gathers up God’s sheep. When he calls, we come and respond entering his presence. We respond with our lives, so we don’t only talk the talk, which we sometimes don’t even do, but also walk the walk, in the loving, gentle humanity of Christ, finding our strength in that weakness. We enter the Way through the dying Jesus, who is unwilling to save himself. We walk on the way Jesus walked. Before we were called Christians we were called the “People of the Way.” Jesus’ followers were first called Christians in Antioch. Before that they were called the People of the Way. We enter the Way through the suffering and dying Jesus. We enter the way through the cross. And it’s not like it only happened in the past or like we could only expect it in the future, on the way today, here and now. We’re on the way when we enter and bask in our wonderful relationship with God, who takes our hand as we enter another preview of Paradise. Amen.


[1] From Robert Capon in Hunting the Divine Fox, quoted by Brian Stoffregen in CrossMarks, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke23x33.htm .

[2] Ibid., pp. 90-91; this book has been reprinted, along with two other books under the title The Romance of the Word: One Man’s Love Affair with Theology]

[3] Brian Stoffregen: CrossMarks, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke23x33.htm

[4] Stoffregen is quoting Culpepper (NIB) p. 456.

[5] I also picked up this thought from Brian Stoffregen.

Advertisements

Written by peterkrey

November 24, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Posted in Selected Sermons

Baptism Takes Us through It All, Nov. 17th 2013 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo, CA

leave a comment »

The Baptism of Liam Taylor Cole, 26th Sunday after Pentecost, Nov. 17th 2013 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo, CA

Malachi 4:1-2a Psalm 98 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Luke 21:5-19

Baptism Takes Us through It All

Because little Liam Cole will be baptized in our service today, it is good for us to be able to think about our baptisms, because they are so important. A whole denomination calls itself “Baptist” because there is so much meaning in that sacrament. Baptism gets at the heart of what our faith is about.

Many Christians who are completely inactive and hardly ever go to church get their children baptized. We pastors wonder if they consider baptism some kind of a life insurance policy. Let me tell you, baptism is far better than life insurance and even far better than winning the lottery, but it has to be lived, it has to take or it comes to nothing.

When we get older we watch how one week flies by after another and one year passes almost over-taking the year before. Children still experience time as if they had all of it in the world. When we grow older we know better, but we hate to think about it. As soon as we are born, we can already die, but some people live to be eighty, ninety, or even more today, but what quality did their lives have in their relationship and their love of others? When scientists tell of this universe being almost 14 billion years old, what do our little moments in the sun really mean? How does God’s eternity relate to such durations of time and how do our short lives relate to God in heaven? That is where our baptisms come in. Our baptisms take us through water; through earth, wind, water, and fire, which were considered the four basic elements of old, to the one who created this whole world and is the source of our lives and our one hope for the world to come. Death and all its forces, machinery, and powers are strong very amongst us and for the most part they over-power the forces of life. We often are not even aware of the death wish within us and how weak it makes our wish to live.  That saps our political will to make this a people-friendly world. Wrong and hate, abuse and slavery, violence and injustice, war and bloodshed, disease and natural disasters plague us. That is why Malachi calls us stubble (in the passage for today) and then calls out that for those who are baptized and revere God’s name, the sun of righteousness arises with healing in its wings. Really, the stylized picture of wings on a rising sun is an old Egyptian symbol as well and it can be found among the hieroglyphics inscribed on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples. I like to spell “sun,” “son” meaning that Jesus, the Son of God will rise, indeed, he rose from the dead, and with healing wings, will fly us through all this suffering and death into life everlasting in heaven with God.

If people really believed in the resurrection, they would flock to our churches and our churches would have to be larger than football stadiums to seat them, but of course only very few of us believe in God and life everlasting. And it is not easy to believe, unless you have experienced your baptism. That means your old self has died and your new self has been raised in the power of the source of our lives, that means, Christ, the one who cherishes our lives, the one whose blood made our lives more precious than silver, gold, rubies, emeralds, diamonds: no jewels or precious metals can compare.

And do you know: I think many people among us have had their baptisms take and are really living in the light of their baptisms. Our meteorologists would have warned us of a Typhoon, like Haiyan, but not many were watching out for those poor people when it hit Tacloban and those other islands in the Philippines. In that city Imelda Marcos has her 2,000 pairs of shoes, while allowing her people to go barefoot. Members of her family still rule that city and the region there and they seemed to have thought only of their own self-interest and how they could get rich. The government there seems to have been so slow to respond.

Where baptisms take, where believers die to themselves in and through their baptisms to live a new life for others, they care; they live a life of full of love and compassion and watch out over poor people, the marginalized and vulnerable. There in the Philippines, knowing they are right in the historic path of typhoons, where were those who should have watched over and warned the people, those who should have built shelters, who should have cared, so that so many people did not have to die so miserably?

We can’t be self-righteous, because a great deal of their troubles began when we colonized them and knocked the stuffings out of them. Some of our fortune has come at the misfortune of such countries. Our standard of living has been bolstered at the expense of former colonies. And what’s more, global warming is making hurricanes and typhoons into apocalyptic disasters. Some say that weather is too complex and we cannot argue that global warming has increased the power of these storms. But just stop and think a moment: it only stands to reason. Many ice caps and glaciers are melting. Ships can now sail through the Arctic over the North Pole. Greenland’s huge glacier is melting at a much faster rate than we would have ever thought. All that snow and ice used to be the earth’s air-conditioner, because the sunlight would strike it and reflect back out into space. Now there is more and more ocean which absorbs the heat of the sun; that increases the temperature of the oceans and heat fuels these storms. Big oil and fossil fuel want us to balance the news, but we dare not balance real science with ignorance and deception. It is terribly hard to accept the truth when it takes money out of our wallets. We do not just want to blame the transnational corporations. We ourselves will have to change our life-styles and live in a much more simple way and with our denial of reality we can postpone it.

We need a collective response very badly. In our Thessalonians passage, people were doing nothing, because they thought that the end of the world was at hand. St. Paul tells them to get to work or don’t expect to eat. We Lutherans teach that there is nothing we need to do to be saved. Don’t be deceived. That is because God does everything through us and we do not want to get into the way of the miracles God does through us. As Isaiah says, “For indeed all our deeds were God’s doing.”[1] Because when we have faith, we do not have to be asked to do something, the Holy Spirit moves us so we have already done it before we are asked. In the words of Luther, “Faith is a mighty, active, restless, and busy thing, which immediately renews the person, gives a second birth, and leads the person into new ways and into new being.”

When we merely emphasize doing then only our hands are involved. With Luther’s words we grapple with the reality that baptism is also a matter of the heart. In baptism the water breaks for a new birth, and a person with a new self – one full of love, compassion, and forgiveness for others comes into this world. We are dunked under the water so we can no longer breathe the air, but come up and breathe the Holy Spirit, inhaling God’s good faith and exhaling God’s loving-kindness.

We are entering into apocalyptic times. Like the stars really do fall. A meteorite hit that Russian town of Chelyabinsk in the Urals just a few hundred miles east of Moscow and injured over a thousand people. Now rocks are supposed to be on the ground; they are not supposed to fall out of the sky. This one came in like a fire-ball and shattered all the glass in its vicinity. Hurricane Katrina knocked out the City of New Orleans. Sandy flooded lower Manhattan, flooded the subways system, and put out the lights of New York. Typhoon Haiyan is the strongest ever recorded. There was a picture in the news magazine, depicting the city of Miami. With all its skyscrapers it stands right at sea level, meaning in a super-storm the ocean’s rise could flood the whole city….

So when our baptisms take, when we start living our baptisms, then we tell other people about the love of Christ, because we all need saving, now really in this world – which has really always been the case, not only for the world to come. We have to come together, because we cannot afford to keep ruining God’s creation the way we have been. Do you remember the science fiction book, Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke? A huge flying saucer with aliens hovers over the earth, and all the people on earth; we all have to give up our childish and self-destructive ways and cooperate or it would spell the end of the world. The aliens gave the earthlings no choice but to come together or perish.

Jesus is telling us the same thing in the Gospel lesson. The Son of Righteousness has risen above us and we can get under those healing wings or we can surrender to the forces of death. God is calling those of us who are baptized, to spread the news about God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. His blood shed for us means that bloodshed here can stop. Sin separates us from God and from one another. The blood of Christ forgives us our sin making it possible for us to proclaim God’s salvation and let God perform divine and wondrous miracles through us to save the people of the world in the precarious time we are entering on this earth.

Isn’t it wonderful that President Obama has sent an aircraft carrier and the Marines to help rescue the people in the Philippines with food, water, medicine, and shelter? Our baptisms do take! What a marvelous change to have our Marines become transfigured into angels rescuing the lives of all those poor people so desperately in need of help.

The baptized have already died with Christ and now live the transfigured and resurrected life in him, so we have nothing to fear. We can speak the truth. We can watch out over people. We can love and care for and reach out to the people whom God loves. A society that rises up in Christ should not have to see natural disasters take out all those people. We have the science to make our world much “safer for children and other living things.” We can’t afford to keep fighting and killing each other. Christ bade us love our enemies. In what we are up against, Christ shows us the way.

The Romans were oppressing the Jews severely in Jesus’ day. What did he do? He said, love your enemies. He meant the Romans, too.  Meanwhile the zealots of his day were making weapons to prepare for their rebellion against the Romans. You could see their fires up on Mt. Tabor and hear the clanging hammers on the anvils where they were slamming metal into swords as weapons. So in the lesson today, the disciples are overcome with awe at the beauty of the temple.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem. “Not one stone of this temple will be left over another. They will all be thrown down.” Jesus’ prophesy became true, because when the war broke out against Rome, the Roman General Titus tried to save the temple, but the soldiers set it on fire. When all the gold poured down between its stones, they did not leave one on top of the other quarrying the gold. They would hold a torch under an arch, the arch would explode and they would quarry more gold from among the stones. That’s how this prophesy of Jesus, unthinkable to the Jews of his day, became true.

Jesus wanted to save the Romans as well as the Jews. Jesus is the Lord of all the nations and the king of Israel. So a campaign of forgiveness is what Christ was all about, the love of enemies, the refusal to take revenge, the way of realizing that we are all sinners fallen short of the glory of God and we all need to live by forgiveness and out of forgiveness. Even if a people’s sins, just like ours are red as scarlet because of bloodshed, the precious blood of Christ has been shed for our enemies and for us and we need to proclaim the forgiveness that we can all receive in Christ’s name.

So let us celebrate another baptism, that of Liam Taylor Cole and let us realize that following Christ makes us very special people who not merely announce the salvation that Jesus brings to this world, but against all opposition, we witness to it, and like Christ is the Word of God, we too become the very words of God that make God’s salvation become true. Little Liam is also becoming a word of God, a love letter from God in heaven to his mother and father, Godparents and his whole family present here. When our baptisms take we all become words of Good like him. Not that we will not suffer ourselves and die, because we will. But we go through the suffering and death of our baptisms into the life where every hair of our head is counted and not a hair will fall nor perish, because through our witness here, we enter into the gates of heaven there and what’s more, Christ also brings more and more heaven to this sorry earth until, because we see what Christ saw before us, we shout thankfully, “Thy kingdom has come and thy will is being done here on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.


[1] Cf. Isaiah 26:12.

Written by peterkrey

November 18, 2013 at 11:57 am

Resurrection, November 10th 2013, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Vallejo, CA

leave a comment »

November 10th St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Vallejo, CA

Job 19:23-27a Psalm17:1-9 2 Thess 2:1-5, 13-17 Luke 20: 27-38

Resurrection

When we confess the Apostles’ Creed we say the words, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” When we say that about the body, the renewal of our congregation and renewal in our communities are included. Cities too: watch out Detroit is coming back!

When we receive the body and blood of Christ in communion, then we become the body of Christ. When we believe in the resurrection of the body, then a resurrection experience also happens in our congregation. A congregation experiences a kind of death when the pastor leaves. It is true that Pastor Barbara left St. Paul’s, but because of the power of the resurrection, you will not die, but live and declare the marvelous works of the Lord. You’ll get through this transition period. God still has great things for this congregation to do in the divine plan of salvation.

One aspect of the renewal brought by the power of the resurrection is our waking up, getting up, and standing up in the new life of this congregation. But as individual persons we also receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. More than just receiving noble blood, we now have divine blood flowing in our veins. We become sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ and children of God. Like with Adam and Eve, we can now also rejoice that we are flesh of Christ’s flesh and bone of Christ’s bone and Christ, the Word, becomes flesh in us. So as everybody Christ, we have received his body and so you and I also have the promise of the resurrection of our bodies. We will receive wonderful new physical bodies when we wake up beholding God’s face and receive new life in Christ. The way we live, move, and have our being in God, Jesus says, we will be alive in God, who is not a God of the dead, but of the living. Imagine being with and having relationships with Abraham and Sarah – and don’t forget Hagar, her Egyptian maid, and Keturah, whom Abraham married after Sarah died. We will come alive in the God of Abraham, the God of Sarah, and the God of Keturah, and of David, and of Mary and Joseph, Peter Paul, James and John.

So let us even now in living relationships come alive in the power of the resurrection so we experience renewal ourselves, renewal of our congregation, and renewal of our communities.

Resurrection of the body means getting into the Nitty-gritty, the power we have together to get the flame of faith burning again, so that the divine creative fire takes what is nothing and inhuman and makes something flourish from it, makes the community, like a field full of dry bones, get back to life and flourish in our full humanity before God once more. That’s where community organizing comes in. Surya, you’re the community organizer, pull us down out of theology and plant our feet on the ground. Amen.

In conclusion, remember that Jesus said, “If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them.” —Matt 18: 19, 20.

 

Written by peterkrey

November 12, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Posted in Selected Sermons

Star over Bethlehem, a translation of Stern űber Bethlehem

leave a comment »

 

Star over Bethlehem

1. Star over Bethlehem

Show us the way

Lead us to the crib again

Stand where it may

Please shine upon our path

To the manger mild

Star over Bethlehem

Show us the child.

2. Star over Bethlehem

Now you stand still

So that we all can see

God’s wondrous will

Imagine what happened!

No one thought it might

Star over Bethlehem

On that cold night

3. Star over Bethlehem

We have arrived

In this poor stall in which

Such goodness hides.

We’re filled with thankfulness

To our guide so dear

Star over Bethlehem

We’re staying here.

4. Star over Bethlehem

We’re going home.

Your warm and holy light

In us has shone

And all the happiness

We can’t wait to share

Star over Bethlehem

Follow us there.

peterkrey 11/07/2013

For Hannah and Silke

For the German lyrics and melody: Stern űber Bethlehem

Written by peterkrey

November 11, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Posted in My Songs, Translation

Marching with the Children for All Saints, Nov 3, 2013

leave a comment »

We sang, O When the Saints go Marching In, words from Louis Armstrong:

 

Oh When the Saints Go Marching In

We are traveling in the footsteps
Of those who’ve gone before
But we’ll all be reunited
On a new and sunlit shore.

Oh when the saints go marching in
When the saints go marching in
Oh lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

And when the sun refuse to shine

And when the sun refuse to shine
Oh lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

And when the stars begin to fall

When the stars begin to fall

Oh lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

Oh When Gabriel blows in his horn
When Gabriel blows in his horn

Oh lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

Oh when the trumpet sounds the call
Oh when the trumpet sounds the call
Oh lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

On that hallelujah day
On that hallelujah day
Oh lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

They are marching into heaven. The sun refuses to shine and the stars fall, because it is the end of the world and with Christ, our light of the world, the new world will begin.

Having th e children march sing “O When the Saints” can be followed by this marching chant that we used to do in ST. Paul’s Church School and Day Camp in Coney Island.

I don’t know, but I been told: echo.

Jesus’ got a heart of gold: echo.

To march with him is out of sight: echo.

Follow him and see the light: echo.

Sound off. one, two.

Sound off. Three, four.

Sound off. One, two, three, four.

The children could carry a cross and wave banners depicting the lamb of God and march up the aisle.

Written by peterkrey

November 4, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Children's Songs

The Saints of God, All Saints Sunday, November 3, 2013, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Vallejo, CA

leave a comment »

All Saints Sunday, November 3, 2013, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Vallejo, CA

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 Psalm 149 Ephesians 1:11-23 Luke 6:20-31

The Saints of God

It is wonderful and certainly an honor for me to bring you the word for a second time this week, this Sunday of All Saints. Now we are sinners and saints at one and the same time according to Martin Luther of old, and today, because you remembered the time change and on Halloween you had the Holy Spirit drive all the witches and goblins, zombies, demons, and devils, yes-sir-ee, had them driven out of you, so you should be slightly more saintly than being sinners this morning. I know they came out of me because I saw them all running outside in the street the other night. There were a lot of them out there so they must have come out of some of the neighbors as well. It’s something when our hearts are pure, good, and just because of the Word of God once more, when our better angels lift us up and fill us with forgiveness and love. So here you hear me getting serious.

When people wished me a happy Halloween, I said, “And a happy Reformation Day to you.” Luther picked Halloween knowing quite well that evil spirits had to be driven out of the church, if it was going to be reformed: the spirits of greed, the spirits of the power-hungry, the corrupt, and those who wanted in on the wealth that the church possessed in those days. It owned 30% of all the land in that day. The wealthy church owners of the day wanted nothing to do with the cross.

The new Catholic Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air. He refuses to live in the plush palace which is the usual residence of the pope and he just reprimanded and knocked a German bishop out of his see, his bishopric, because he spent many millions building himself a new residence, upsetting the people there. In the old days, a wealthy and powerful pope excommunicated some of the Franciscans, who criticized him saying Jesus was not wealthy and pampered like that on earth, so the pope also shouldn’t be. Now a Jesuit calling himself Francis after that great saint has become the pope.

The popes after the eleventh century said that Emperor Constantine had given them the rule of the empire as a donation. The document that they showed as evidence was a forgery. And you probably know that the Romans not only crucified Jesus, but persecuted his followers one after another. St, Paul was beheaded, we think, St. Peter crucified upside-down, and then the emperor Nero blamed a huge fire on the Christians so they were brought to the arenas and fed to the lions. It is quite an indignity, when we are on the top of the food chain and then become fed to animals. They wrapped hides soaked with oil around them and lit them on fire to provide light for the show. Our football players get brain damage, but at least we don’t feed them to wild animals for our entertainment the way the Romans would have done.

Now when the Emperor Constantine saw a cross in the sky before a major battle, he promised God if he would be victorious, he would become a Christian. With the cross he heard the words: “In this sign you will conquer.” He won and then he stopped the Christian persecutions and soon Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Now the only way you could get ahead, the only way you could have opportunity was to become a Christian. Soon a great many Christians became opportunists, whose Christian values soon dissolved in their opportunism.

When we read the lesson today in Luke, which is called the Sermon on the Plain, there is no opportunism there. It will smack you right in the face if you think our religion is a path to privilege, wealth, power, and the high life, which as the religion of the empire it became. Jesus declares the poor, the hungry, the grieving blessed and warns the rich, the satiated, the partying high-life people, that they will get the short end of the stick when the kingdom of heaven breaks in.

Really when a society has people that are filthy rich, then it will also have abject homeless people sleeping on doorsteps, on sidewalks under newspapers, and in the parks. They are the two different sides of the same coin, the same unjust society. Luther said, “There should be no beggars amongst us” and when Christians have maintained the values that Jesus Christ taught us, we would not have beggars on so many corners nor the homelessness everywhere.

In the online commentary, Brian Stoffregen explained how the word “blessed” (makarios in Greek) changed over time. First the word referred to gods, who were in another world of happiness and contentment beyond all human cares, labors, and even death. Then they called blessed those who had already died and were beyond this vale of tears here on earth. The blessed had to be in heaven, they couldn’t be here where there was so much suffering. Then they called those blessed who had become the wealthy and powerful elite and then those who had so many possessions that they seemed to have not a care in the world. Now Jesus calls us up short and calls blessed the poor, the hungry, and the grieving! You see how Jesus makes the first last and the last the first. He keeps on reversing the values that we accept from our society and gives us different ones.

Hey, we are called to be the saints not because we have done three miracles, but because we live out the compassion, love, and forgiveness with which Jesus fills our hearts.

Love our enemies; bless those who curse you; pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek offer the other one also.

Now the point is not to be an accomplice to your own abuse, but to have that power inside you that comes from on high so you do not have to react the same way some bully does. You don’t have to react on the same level as those who don’t realize that we have a Father watching out over us in heaven.

Following Christ means that we just don’t live and act the way everybody does in our society. When you hear someone justifying his actions by saying, “Everybody is doing it.” Then you can be sure it’s not ethical. We pray for our enemies. Now if our enemies in turn start praying for us, the way Christ says, “do to other as you would them do to you” then before you know it, your souls could unite in heaven and you could become friends. Abraham Lincoln said that the best way to destroy your enemies is to make them into your friends. Lincoln did not only talk about his better angels but also listened to them.

To be one of the saints following Christ we have to dance to the beat of a different drum, the one we hear Jesus playing in heaven. And it is not easy. It is really hard. And it takes a whole life-time to learn. Face it. It’s quite impossible. But when we wake up every morning with our minds stayed on Jesus and when we pray for the Holy Spirit and for Christ to be really present with us, then we can’t help being the Saints of God, we can’t help carrying out Jesus’ words, because with God all things are possible. We too will receive the glorious inheritance of the saints in light and we too in the here and now start seeing this world and all our neighbors in it with the eyes of our hearts.

So just let me describe just four saints who were also sinners too. Two of them were a married couple; the husband was a blue collar worker, a carpenter and construction man. Where all the workers on the construction site spit clams on the floor and cursed each other, and even often had seizures of anger, he never swore and always had gentle responses. He saw himself as a person who wanted to be gentle and kind. He said that he offered his physical cleanliness and the purity of his speech and language as an offering of love to others. He also called and sang for square dancing, wore his bejeweled cowboy shirt, cowboy hat and boots, and gave people a grand old time. “Swing your partners, dose-do, round and around you go.” His wife wasted away with Parkinson’s Disease and he cared for her lovingly until her end. A worker like that should have been raw and rough, because his work was, and his fellow workers were. But he was not like that. He was an incredibly gentle, kind, quiet-speaking, and a wonderful person. He was a sinner too. But today, I remember him as a saint!

Now this may even say more about him. He was married to a woman who had a mission. She always wanted to be a missionary, but when her daughter dated an African American boy and they went to Sunday School together, the church rejected the whole family and told them they were no longer welcome. She and her husband had five children, but she was determined to still fulfill her purpose. So she opened up her home and family as a half-way house to juveniles who were released from reform schools. We were never allowed to ask why they were imprisoned. So there would be four or five kids in the family in addition to hers. She would invite policemen to dinner so that they could relate together with the kids. If someone left a chair, anyone could claim it, and no one was allowed to say it was theirs. There was always coffee brewing and we students from the seminary would come and visit and talk with her and she would help us understand ourselves and what we were going through. From her little four year old boy, to all the other sisters and brothers, all her children, they ministered to these kids until they could get jobs and learn to walk on the straight and narrow. Often we seminarians would watch the kids and the family would go to a motel for a weekend to get a break from helping these very troubled kids. I could go on and on. I just want to remember that husband and wife as the saints of God!

The next person I want to feature today is the Governor of Ohio, John Kasich – I think Jerry Brown is a saint too, but let me tell you about Gov. Kasich, who said in a speech, “I’m concerned for the fact that there seems to be a war on the poor. That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy. And the very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked for the W.P.A.”[1] He just governed at cross purposes with his party and expanded Medicaid to cover 275,000 poor Ohioans. “The lady working down here in the donut shop,” he said, “that does not have any health insurance – think about that, if you put yourself in her shoes.” underscoring her vulnerability. The news article continues, “The governor, whose brother is mentally ill, spoke of how Medicaid would get more people into treatment, decreasing the homeless and prison populations. ‘For those who live in the shadows of life, for those who are the least among us…’ he continued, ‘I will not accept the fact that the most vulnerable in our state should be ignored.’”[2] This Republican governor is a saint illustrating the words of Jesus that we heard in our lesson. I’m certain that he is a sinner too, it may just be for his political advantage, but we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That does not stop God from loving and forgiving us, when we continue in God’s word and fight the good fight of faith for our whole lives. Be faithful until death and you will receive the crown of life!

The name of the last saint is Destiny. She is one of those who has gone on before us. She is much loved and remembered by her mother. She did not live to be 90 or even go to school and have a childhood. She was stillborn and only lived for a while in her mother’s womb. It’s like she died almost before she lived. But her mother still grieves for her and will not forget her, and names her with her living children. And we of course know that there is nothing we need to do to be saved. We are saved by grace and so is little Destiny. And what’s more, there are so many other little ones, who died the way she died, not yet having lived, who never even got a name. These are the saints with no names, but you can be sure they are named by God, when they enter heaven with all the others, sinners that we are, changed into the saints of God by grace.

So when we remember the saints, let’s remember those little saints as well. And we know that the bell sometimes chimes for those whose relationships with us were not happy ones. For some of us change starts happening in this life. For others nothing changed, the estrangement endured, it did not get better, the hurting did not stop, and now they have passed on to the other side. God was always there. Love did not win over here, but be assured God’s love will win over there. The love, mercy, and compassion of Jesus will win out over there for sure.[3]

But know that going to that place where a river of grace makes glad the city of our God, is where all the saints will receive their inheritance as the children of God around the table of the Lord, each with a place, and each receiving a goodly portion and not mere crumbs, not by no means, not anymore, that place that God fills with marvelously transforming love and forgiveness, where Christ is more than victorious over sin, death, and the devil. Down here we still struggle all the time, while they up there, in glory shine, where there are no more diseases, and where there’s no more fighting and bloodshed, no wars anymore. Where Christ is the light, the shining light and all the eyes of our hearts are enlightened, and we praise God with all the saints on that marvelous shore forevermore, yes ever and evermore. Amen.

 


[1] New York Times, 10/29/2013 p. A-2.

[2] Ibid., page A-16.

[3] I thank Chaplain Pandora Glover for the thoughts expressed in this paragraph.

Written by peterkrey

November 4, 2013 at 11:58 am