Archive for May 2014
Mother’s Day Sermon at Shepherd of the Hills, Good Shepherd Sunday: Christ is the Gate, May 11, 2014
Shepherd of the Hills
Fourth Sunday of Easter May 11, 2014
Acts 2:42-47 Psalm 23 1 Peter 2:19-25 John 10:1-10
Christ is the Gate
Greetings on this Good Shepherd Sunday to you in the Shepherd of the Hills of Berkeley! This is the fourth Sunday after the Festival of the Resurrection so let us exclaim: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Halleluiah.
Christ is our gate to the abundant life. Can I hear a testimony? Our family certainly has one. Our landlord is selling our house, one that we rented for 22 years. But God sent us an angel in the form of a real estate agent named Florian Santos, who found us a reasonably priced house in the Hilltop Village. We are now moving into a Champagne house on a beer income. Our landlord is also a devout Chinese Christian woman, who through all these years only raised our rent once, really helping us, because even after receiving a doctorate, I have been mostly unemployed. But God is good. God’s been good to us all this time. All the time God’s been good.
But ours is not a gospel of prosperity and success. We face realities and suffer with Christ. In his first Letter St. Peter describes us who follow the Good Shepherd as those who do not return abuse, nor do we threaten those who make us suffer. We bear the sins of others in our body, so that the wounds inflicted on us for the sake of Christ begin the process of healing for many of those who God is still bringing into the flock.
The Good Shepherd teaches us about vicarious suffering. How can I explain that? We used to speak of mothers who were home-makers who tried to experience their husbands’ careers vicariously. Now it is the other way around for many of us unemployed men. My wife is the director of a mental health clinic in San Francisco and I try to vicariously experience her trials and tribulations as she tells me about them.
Now vicarious suffering is taking the sins of others upon ourselves and overcoming them. It is the exact opposite of scapegoating others by means of prejudice, bigotry, racism, and even conspiracy thinking.
In our epistle lesson, St. Peter attributes vicarious suffering to Christ. Christ takes our sins and those of others upon himself and forgives them by overcoming them in himself. Prejudice on the other hand takes the sins in our own hearts, many of which we are unconscious, and projects them onto women, Americans of African Descent, Jews, Arabs, what have you, and persecutes and discriminates against them, because we do not realize these sins are inside our own selves. In that way racism, for example, makes others into scapegoats, making them bear our sins, while Jesus did just the opposite. He himself bore our sins in his body and by his wounds, we are healed; by his stripes, we are saved. Our real love for our neighbors is not to gossip about their sins and shortcomings, but by covering them and bearing them as if they really were our own until they can be forgiven and overcome.
The militia movements that gather together with conspiracy theories are like that too. They claim that the threat comes from the government or immigrants or African Americans or what have you, and meanwhile they are training to inflict their violence on others. They project the violence in their own hearts on a target group. Often hate-mongering backfires on the perpetrators themselves. You may remember the case of the Neo-Nazi father down in Riverside, whose son shot him while he was asleep.
I wonder if you have any questions. Don’t forget. Taking the sins of others upon ourselves does not turn us into scapegoats. That’s because of the resurrection. The life of Christ overcomes sin, death, and the devil. The power of the resurrection makes us more than victorious! (The devil is just “evil” with a “d” in front of it, personifying evil. Devils just come to steal, kill, and destroy. Angels are ministering spirits sent by God to serve those who are being saved.) The Holy Spirit even overcomes addictions.
Now I could provide you with another testimony at this point but let me say, although it entails suffering, following Christ in this way is the gate, the doorway to the abundant life.
I stood up for some things I believed in during my seminary years and thus I was ordained in Berlin Germany four years after leaving the seminary. My fellow classmates received plum churches in Ohio, while I learned all about a whole other church system in Germany, traveled around the world, spent Christmas with Mother Theresa in Calcutta. When following Christ we have to face the cross, but surprise! We receive the abundant life. Just think of Joseph in the Old Testament. He was sold down the river into slavery, had to go through the school of hard knocks, but ended up Pharaoh’s right hand man.
Christ and Christ crucified is the gate, the doorway into life abundant. Like a mother is the gate through which a newborn comes into this world, so Christ is the gate, the doorway, into the new life, the abundant life, the life that overcomes sin, death, and the devil. The newborn from a mother comes into this world through her ordeal with a cry, and we enter the world in which God reigns through the contractions of suffering that give us the new birth of being children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. John bore witness when he saw the soldier pierce our savior’s side with a spear. “At once,” he said, “blood and water came rushing out.” (John 19: 34-35)
In the water and blood of our baptisms, Christ, mother-like, bears us up into an existence well described by “the Lord is my Shepherd,” our Good Shepherd 23rd Psalm: we are refreshed by the still waters of the Holy Spirit; in and out of the gate of Christ, we enter the lush green pastures that restore our souls; the Good Shepherd’s rod and staff keep us in the straight and arrow. Around the table he spreads before us, God changes our enemies into friends. With our hand planted securely in the hand of the man from Galilee, we walk without fear through the valley of the shadow of death, knowing our Good Shepherd is the gate, Christ is the door and gives us the keys to the house filled with many mansions, in which we will dwell forever.
In his wonderful pamphlet, “The Freedom of a Christian,” Luther writes that we become Christs to our neighbor. So let’s not be nominal Christians or those who give Christ a bad name. Many of us Christians have brought his name into ill repute. That’s why we pray, “Hallowed be thy name.” If we become Christs to our neighbors then we will be the people of promise, who are gateways to the abundant life. But it spells suffering and the cross. Have you cried your ocean of tears? I used to call that a baptism of tears. Christ with his passion and resurrection is the gateway to a renewal of your life. Remember “Christ is for you.” Thus it’s also your and my passion and resurrection as the gateway to a renewal of our lives, in which we receive ears that hear in order to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd and eyes that see, and a heart full of love and compassion.
Luther claims that born from Christ we all receive the new last name, Christ. Mine would be Peter Christ. The worship assistant would be Sam Christ. Gretchen Christ is playing the organ. Like a woman used to take the name of her husband, we now receive Christ’s name.
Luther called us all to be shepherds when he developed the slogan, “the priesthood of all believers.” The name “pastor” means “shepherd” in Latin. So if we remain nominal Christians who are not growing and maturing into the full stature of Christ, then we are thieves and bandits. (I remember a brother-in-law of mine, who always said he was making out like a bandit when he received a gift!) But rest assured, we always show our strength by bearing with those who are still weak in faith, those who can’t find their growing edge. We are all sinners and saints and like alcoholics, we keep on confessing that we are sinners so that we recover on the way to being saints.
I could show how the leaders in South Sudan are thieves and bandits willing to steal the lives of millions by a coming famine because of their power struggle. But our shepherds in Washington are also into a power struggle of full time campaigns that has overwhelmed their ability to govern and to provide much needed legislation. So for example, immigrants keep dying on our borders and millions of families keep being broken up by deportations. But on this Mother’s Day let’s speak about those mothers who really demonstrated their Christhood for us. I could speak about my mother, but what about yours?
(In the congregation people gave testimonies about their mothers. I also told about mine.)
Have you watched how the NBA MVP basketball player, Kevin Durant, gave a tribute to his mother? You can hear his speech on Youtube. He called her the real MVP.
So you and I have to go in and out of Christ the gate to feed on those pastures, drink those pure waters, sit around God’s friendship table and help others go through those dark valleys with all the hope and faith and strong – death, sin, and devil – overcoming life that Christ came down to us to bring. Amen.
The Hightower Lowdown had an article this month that really hit home, because I was a part-time seminary and community college instructor for almost ten years. See Lessons from corporatized college: Even PhDs are being squeezed out of the middle class.
Every semester one had to hustle for courses from five different community colleges. One time Diablo Valley Community College interviewed me back in October for three courses (a professor was retiring and they kept checking with me saying they were relying on me) that was for the Spring Semester and then a week before starting in January, they informed me that because I had once worked over 60% that the president had disqualified me. He was too frightened that they might be forced to make me a full-timer. That made it too late to get courses for that semester. That cost $9,000 while we were often living from our credit cards. Our balance at the time was $36,000! On top of that I had taken out $46,000 in student loans (we were a family of five) over the eight years of graduate school. When the banks capitalized the interest over the eight years that became $75,000 (when I include the Perkins Loans) and then the banks added $100,000 for the 30 years interest. After paying over $300 a month since 2002, my debt is still $166,000. Meanwhile I have mostly been unemployed the way many other PhDs are who have never received positions. We need solidarity among scholars!
I taught ten different courses. The first time a professor teaches a course, a great deal of preparation is required. The second and third times makes the course come into its own. Often after all that preparation, I only taught the course once and then had to start from scratch preparing another one. Imagine teaching the following courses: Ethics, Critical Thinking (Logic), Introduction to Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, History of Philosophy I and II, Sociology of Religion, Ethical Inquiry into Contemporary Societal Issues (the capstone course for Los Medanos), the Honors Course in Comparative Religions, and Western Civilizations, Part Two (the latter in Philadelphia). Often I would have to work writing lectures, preparing exams, and grading papers until 2:00 in the morning and then have an 8:00am class 46 miles away in Pittsburg, CA. I often got traffic tickets because I was dead tired and the police wondered why I became so upset. I had to appear in court and not my employers. For a while there I became quite desperate.
In our community colleges, when the state really supported education and rampant cuts did not occur, full time instructors were 80% while the part-timers were 20% of the teaching staff. Now it’s 80% part-timers and 20% full timers.
When you read Hightower’s article you will see how my experience illustrates the plight of many adjunct professors. We were simply called part-timers here in the Bay Area.
That’s why we opened a website called Scholardarity. We need solidarity among scholars, because they play off the full-timers against the part-timers so the instructors become divided and get turned into cheap labor after the most expensive graduate school education ever.
Having a “Sterling” reputation has come to mean something else. Despite our rampant denial, racism is still a systemic mountain in our society that our faith has not yet moved.
From the New York Times articles today (May 1, 2014, page A13): Lethal injections have not turned out to be the cure-all that some had hoped for. That comment, which I paraphrased, reported in the Times shows the contradiction that capital punishment represents. Immanuel Kant argued for capital punishment, saying it was required for having ultimate responsibility. But here it can be shown to violate his categorical imperative which relates morality to non-contradictory behavior. One reaction from Britain observed that we miss the point when only feeling remorse about the method, while it’s really about “the very concept of killing in cold blood.” That is what our society condones when capital punishment is planned and carried out by our government. Christians who argue for capital punishment, forget that Jesus, our own Lord himself died because of it, propelling us into his New Testament of undeserved mercy, grace, and forgiveness.