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How Much Truth Can We Really Bear? Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 7/12/2015, Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, CA

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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 7/12/2015

Amos 7:7-15 Psalm 8:8-13 Ephesians 1:3-14 Mark 6: 14-29

How Much Truth can we really Bear?

Often I skip over the introductions in our bulletin, but I’m glad I read this one:

In Herod’s fear that Jesus is John returned from the dead, we have hope for the oppressed: that all the prophets killed throughout the ages are alive in Jesus. We are called to witness to justice in company with them.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr, Oscar Romero, and so many more recent prophets have lost their lives witnessing to the truth and finding themselves at loggerheads with those who wish to live a comfortable life of self-deception and illusion.[1]

Lies are the mother of violence while truth mothers life and love and more abundant life into existence.

Therefore, as much as we love our country, it has no claim to our ultimate faith. The United States of America stands under the judgment of the Kingdom of God like every other earthly power and when Manifest Destiny equates our country with the Kingdom of God, then prophets will stand up and put our country back into its rightful more humble place.

For example, when Pete Seeger, the late folk song singer sang the Vietnam War protest song, “The Big Muddy” on the Smothers Brothers TV show, the program was censured and not allowed to air. The song declared that Vietnam was a quagmire that would destroy us and that we couldn’t win. We lost 55,000 soldiers, who died over there. Another song goes, “When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?” We never seem to learn.

When Albert Einstein criticized our country for its racism in the South, way back before you were allowed to talk about it, we unleashed a propaganda campaign against him saying that he was really quite flaky, when not speaking about physics and he was not allowed to work in the Manhattan Project. Meanwhile his theoretical work made the whole project possible. He also said that “the unleashed power of the atom changed everything, except our way of thinking, which could make humanity drift to unparalleled catastrophe.” Now our top general says that Russia, a nuclear power, has once again become our main threat.

When Nina Simone took racism and lynching in our country seriously, she was no longer considered an entertainer. She had to continue her career in Europe, because she had gone out of bounds over here concerning what was permissible to say.

These are just some national figures, but speaking the truth in churches, schools, hospitals, prisons, and government will often get people into trouble, the whistle-blower rule notwithstanding. Therefore often we feel that we cannot afford to tell the truth. One could get fired and our family may depend on our income and it becomes a disruption of our lives.

Way back in the sixties before I had graduated and been ordained, people warned me to be quiet, but I couldn’t be, and it took four years after seminary to get ordained and that was in Berlin, Germany. But God puts truth-tellers through the school of hard knocks to give us an education that you can’t get in schools. My fellow classmates received plumb churches in Ohio and elsewhere, but I experienced another church system altogether in Germany and then I had the chance to travel around the world. What an education God provided for me; but it comes with some suffering.

Look at Amos. God called him to speak out. His words were too hard to bear and the royal prophet in cahoots with the king calls Amos a conspirator. But get the irony: “Bethel” in Hebrew means the House of God, not the House of Jeroboam. But the royal prophet calls it King Jeroboam’s sanctuary. For the royal prophet, it is not God’s temple, but the temple of Jeroboam’s kingdom. The temple, however, belonged to God and the kingdom of God, which was there above him to give Jeroboam a conscience, direct him, and correct him when he erred. Pr. Barbara mentioned a show about a CEO whose board can’t tell him the truth and the business comes crashing down. He asks, “Have I surrounded myself with “yes-men?”

In NAZI Germany, Hitler tried to make the church serve his Third Reich and he found German Christians who were willing to place his portrait in their churches, further his antisemitism, and place Germany over everything. Deutschland über Alles. Hitler was able to choose Bishops who were in the German Christian camp and confessing Christians lost their churches and were driven from their pulpits. Bonhoeffer, for example, had to lead a seminary secretly up by the North Sea. Thus we too should not be American Christians, but confessing Christians, who happen to be American. It might seem counter-intuitive, but when we are “American Christians” we betray our country.

Now Herod in our gospel lesson had his eye on his brother’s wife and she must have wanted to be with that tyrant as well. So Herod acted as if he was completely above the law and married a married woman. Now John the Baptist had the nerve to tell Herod, “What you are doing is wrong.” Just because you are the king does not place you above the law. And you can see what happened. It says that the tyrant liked to hear John but his words left him greatly perplexed. I wonder what was going on. Perhaps the king found him entertaining.

What kind of a king, however, makes that kind of an oath to the daughter of his new wife right after she provides an erotic dance? Tradition has it that Herodias’ daughter’s name was Salomé. Love did not seem to reside in that eroticism, but an evil spirit of hatred and revenge.

Look at old King David. He sees Bathsheba bathing on the roof of her house and has an affair with her. Then when her husband, Uriah, the Hittite, gets in the way, he had his commanding general Joab, make sure Uriah was killed in battle. It was all done hush, hush in secret until Nathan the prophet finds out about it and with a parable nailed David in his sin: “You are the man who committed this crime.”

David repented. Most tyrants just kill the truth teller. David repented and had to suffer horrendous consequences.

Even if it makes us suffer, let’s try to bear more and more truth, because it makes us more and more loving and just. When I myself could not bear some critique about myself, my ears would just shut down. I just suddenly could not hear what was said. Are you like that too? Such words might make us perplexed, but God will help us open up. And either way, when we try to live a lie and tell lies, we have to have a good memory and keep up a false front. So that way we have to suffer too. God’s Word is the truth. Luther said, “Those who hear God’s Word become like the word, pure, good, and just.”[2] I know that Amos has to come with his plumb line, because our hearts, according to Jeremiah, are crooked above all things and desperately corrupt.

When I worked in First Lutheran Church in Cincinnati before our Vacation Church School and Day Camps we would have a Leadership Training Laboratory. Near the end, after we built up and achieved a level of trust with one another, we would have to bring up things about each other. It was difficult. If you criticize some people, forget it: that is the end of your relationship. Let’s not be like that. Criticism given in love will improve a relationship. But always ask if a person’s self-esteem can handle it. Sometimes when we feel almost down to the ground, criticism will feel like rejection. In our Leadership Laboratory, some people had real problems with criticism, but some had real problems giving and receiving compliments, affection, and love. You know the old saw: the Norwegian farmer who loved his wife so much he almost told her.

We would ask: where is your growing edge? And we can ask ourselves that question, personally: where is my growing edge? I remember when we were children playing baseball in the street, a foul ball would crash through one of the windows of our house. Then one of us, usually me, had to tell our father that we broke a window. We referred to that as going to face the music. Sometimes we have to face the music when we have gotten into wrong ways. A self-destructive life swimming in lies leads to death and destruction. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and he will help us bear the truth and receive a life shaped by truthfulness once more.

But there are also on justice issues: where is my and our growing edge? In terms of our country we also have to grow in openness. We can’t live as though the ultimate in life is entertainment and pleasure, nor feel offended when the sins of our country are named; nor when at times we get on our high horse, fall off, and have to eat some humble pie. That makes us more human. There is a great deal of profit in heeding the warnings of the prophets among us. Their words lead to life and life more abundant, because after the cross comes the glorious resurrection. Amen.

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[1] Talking with my brother Philip Krey, he pointed out how Herodias resembles Jezebel’s grudge against Elijah and how the incredible luxury and eroticism of Herod’s party resembled the one thrown by Ahasueras (probably Xerxes) in the Book of Esther, where the queen Vashti refuses to show up. He contrasted this conspicuous consumption and eroticism with Salomé dancing the dance of the seven veils with Jesus humbly feeding the five thousand, that is, feeding the masses.

[2] From his pamphlet, Freedom of a Christian.

Written by peterkrey

July 13, 2015 at 10:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Receiving a Greater Share of Grace: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 5th 2015 Christ Lutheran Church

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Sixth Sunday after Pentecost July 5th 2015 Christ Lutheran

Ezekiel 2:1-5 Psalm 123 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 Mark 6:1-13

Receiving a Greater Share of Grace

What wonderful lessons we have today! I’ll be just touching upon all of them today. I finally understood what this Psalm is about. Think about how your dog might look at your hands when you are about to give it a biscuit: that’s the same way that we are supposed to look to God’s hands, so that we receive a share of grace. Grace, that is, God’s favor comes to us in many forms, of course, and eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor a heart been able to imagine the good things God has in store for those who love God and are called to the divine purpose.[1]

Ezekiel reminds us of the wonderful way God’s spirit stands us up, puts us on our feet and sends us with God’s message into our rebellious natures and bids us hear, reminding us like the last time, when we mourned and began repenting of our racist system that we are captured in and we look for ways to dismantle, so that we take down the walls that divide the races.

God can make unimaginably good things happen among us. Crimes and miracles are opposites. I like to show that we can experience equally miraculous power of love and kindness precisely in the reverse of a crime. The forgiveness of the families of the martyrs and members of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston was like that. Their forgiveness made it possible for the people in the South to mourn and repent. Imagine if they had called for revenge? Their response can make us Christians somewhat more proud of our faith. I won’t expand about how we responded to 9/11 and all the troubles it has brought to the world, especially still in the Middle East. On July 4th it’s all right to celebrate, so we don’t have to go into that disaster.

But imagine if someone received the grace to do something wonderful for love and life, to the same degree and intensity as that racist did against life by inflicting demonic hate and evil. When God provides us a greater share of faith and grace in our hearts – miracles filled with angelic power far greater that the crimes of the demonic can come about and we pray that God might use us!

Now when Jesus was in his hometown of Nazareth, he was amazed at their unbelief. His small town people took his greatness against him. You realize that for a while, Jesus’ own family considered him insane.

We can compare that town to a pool of water with no stream of grace entering it and no flow of water streaming out into a river to the ocean; like that a community can become stagnant, so that everything dies in it. We need the Holy Spirit to stream into our congregation like fresh water, so that random acts of kindness and compassionate deeds of love flow out, so that all the fish we’ve caught in this congregation come alive, receive fresh new life, and experience the miracles of healing.

Jesus does not succumb to the damper that his hometown people and family put on him. He goes into high gear in response to that unbelief and, multiplying himself by twelve, sends out his twelve disciples two by two and gave them the authority to drive out demonic spirits, which are the harbingers of crime. Today among other concerns, Jesus would order them to preach and teach anti-racism; preach against White privilege and supremacy, let Black and White, Native American and White, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, what have you – lock our arms together, like soccer players on the sidelines hoping for a goal during a penalty kick. And our goal is to become one.

We often confuse unity with conformity or uniformity. True unity is internal. Therefore “true unity differentiates; it does not confound” – to quote Teilhard de Chardin. When we are one heart and soul, we can be as different outwardly as we want to be. Uniformity means that we all have to be the same outwardly and then no one knows where our hearts are. A uniform can mean the license to kill and that is why police and soldiers wear them. Internal unity, being one heart and soul together, makes new life, abundant life, and love issue forth. True unity, like in marriage, can mean the license for life and love, we might say.

St. Paul speaks of someone he knew 14 years ago caught up into the third heaven. Back them they thought of sub-lunar, solar, and astral space; that means, under the moon, in the solar region, and among the stars. (Don’t forget back then before Copernicus they believed the sun, moon, and stars revolved around the earth in different spheres.) St. Paul, says, “Whether in the body or outside the body, he did not know.” He’s really not fooling us: he’s talking about an experience that he had himself. He was somehow lifted up into a place like paradise and heard things that are not to be told that no mortal is permitted to repeat.

You and I may also have had such experiences and they are very personal. That is why St. Paul tries to disguise the fact that it was his experience. But it has nothing to do with boasting, it just goes to show that God has a share of grace up there accessible to us, the power from above with our name on it, for random acts of kindness and compassionate deeds of love. When the freshness of the Holy Spirit flows into the water of our community with all the new life that comes about, then love and compassion overflow into all our neighborhoods around us. We really can’t even imagine what God can bring about in the miracles fashioned by all the angelic power God’s grace sets afoot. And that power is real and accessible to us by faith. Luther said, “Believe and you receive; don’t and you won’t.” He really said “Believe and you have it” which rhymes in German, so I make it rhyme in English. But it’s Glaubstu, so hastu.

I could also tell how St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) had an experience like Paul. Two years before he died he describes something like the experience of a beatific vision that made him stop writing. In the face of that experience, he said, all his words were like mere straw. His words held the theology that Catholics still cherish today – almost 750 years later. What an incredible experience it must have been to make words so valuable appear like straw!

Then there is St. Augustine (354-430) before him: his mother Monica prayed for him almost twenty years before he converted from the Manichaean heresy to Christian faith. Augustine converted when he heard the voice of a child saying “Tolle lege!” which in Latin means “Take and read!” And having a bible at hand, he read a verse from Romans that turned his life around.[2] But he and his mother had an experience like Paul as well. Just five days before Monica died, she and her son were leaning out of a window looking into a garden, in conversation about what eternal life with the saints in heaven would be like and they were thinking about the verse we started with: how could they imagine what eye had not seen, nor ear heard, nor what had never entered into a human heart? They talked tenderly “forgetting those things that were behind and stretching forward to those that lay before” – and suddenly lifted up, their hearts began speaking together among divine beings up in the celestial streams flowing from God’s fountain, the fountain of life, which is in God. Augustine writes that they ascended above themselves transcending their own minds, beyond the light of the sun, mood, and stars to the region in eternity where abundance never fails, into the first fruit of the spirit, and then descending they turned back and heard the noise of their mouths once again, heard the words they were speaking, where their sentences began and ended. They came back down to earth.

You can read about it in Augustine’s Confessions,[3] I’m only giving you a brief description of their experience, only to show how we can ascend in faith to a place filled with our share of grace and where that fountain of life can wash upon our whole community as well, so that Christ can send us as well to proclaim what eyes have not seen, nor ears heard, nor any hearts imagined, bringing about all those great works that God can do among us. Amen.

[1] 1 Corinthians 2:9. Origin believed Paul was citing a passage from The Apocalypse of Elijah. Perhaps Paul quotes an early lengthier Jewish version, because the extant versions do not seem to have these words, while they are also quoted but attributed to Jesus by The Gospel of Thomas: logion 17 and The Acts of Peter, 39, both apocryphal. Also cf. Isaiah 64:4.

In his Exortation to the Greeks, Clement of Alexandria [in the Loeb Classics (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1919-1979), p.207] has more of this citation, relating the passage to God’s power and glory inherited by the saints: “A glory ‘which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered the heart of human beings. And they shall rejoice in the kingdom of their Lord for ever, Amen.'” [I updated the language.] The Hebrew version of the Apocalypse of Elijah was abridged and thus this verse may have been a  prayer or a doxology in the version that St. Paul is quoting. But the tone of the apocalypse seems so very negative so that it is hard to believe these uplifting words could have come from it. It’s possible, of course, since Lamentations has the wonderful chapter 3. Epiphanius also ascribes Ephesians 5:14 to this apocalypse: “Awake, O sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” Perhaps St. Paul in this case was quoting the words from a song, because the latter citation very much resembles a song. In any case, a friend of mine, The Rev. Richard Miller of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, in Brooklyn made it the refrain of a new song.

[2] Romans 13:13.

[3] Book 9, chapter 10.