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Letting Christ get under our Skin: Third Sunday after Pentecost June 25th, 2017

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The Third Sunday after Pentecost

June 25th 2017

Jeremiah 20:7-13 Psalm 69:7-10, 11-15, 16-18 Romans 6: 1b-11 Matthew 10:24-39

Letting Christ get under our Skin

To get a doctorate you have to read many books. Reading books about African History was very exciting. That’s where I learned about William Wadé Harris, whom I brought up last week. That book began:

While every day in the West, roughly 7,500 people in effect stop being Christian every day in Africa roughly double that number become Christian.[1]

Perhaps it’s not only that we are Euro-centric but also because of the secular nature of our society, people want you to feature Europe where people are leaving the church over Africa where people are joining it. Here in the West the river of life flows against following Christ and to follow Christ we have to paddle our little boats against the current. Those who go along with the anti-Christian ways here, can lift their paddles and take it easy and the current will still let them get ahead. If you take a break, while you paddle against the current, you’ll find yourself way back down-stream and you may be exhausted, but no matter, now you have much further to go.

When boat-loads of German immigrants arrived on our shores, Lutheran Churches filled up and the pastors didn’t have to do any evangelism and their churches were filled with new members. When the Germans in White flight fled the cities, their pews emptied and that popped the question – were they really Christian or German?

I wonder if the same thing happened during the great migration of African Americans from the South to the cities of the North? In any case, now it is really much harder to fill our churches because we have to live our faith!

Because, living against the flow of an unjust society means the cross. We have to let the cross be planted firmly between our shoulder-blades – and poor Jeremiah! He figured being called to prophesy God’s Word would be a piece of cake, while it got him into all kinds of trouble. Before the words in the lesson we heard this morning, we read that he was beaten harshly. Then he was thrown into a pit and had to stand in mire all night. “Your words are too heavy.” He was told. “Go and prophesy in another country!” We used to hear: “America, love it or leave it!”

So, Jesus does not deceive his disciples. He tells them about all the trouble they are going to see. If they called Jesus a devil, they’ll call you devils when you really follow me. They called Martin Luther a devil. The unreformed old church said that his mother ran a bath house and a devil made her pregnant, and whoops! Martin Luther was born. I kid you not. They also did not believe he had written all his books. They argued a ghost writer wrote them for him.

But, don’t forget that the Catholic Church back then is not the same Catholic Church of today. Lutherans, Catholics, we all stand in need of reform.

Then Luther’s namesake, Martin Luther King, Jr., was called a trouble maker and they killed him, just like Bobby and John – but those two could not hold a candle to Martin. In Germany, there are Martin Luther King, Jr. Lutheran Churches. I don’t think there is one in the USA.

Our Romans lesson says that if we have been united with Jesus in a death like his, then we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

I’m already 73 and you too like me have gone through many a Good Friday commemorating Jesus’ crucifixion and many an Easter celebrating his resurrection. Now the question is: has that really spelled our baptism, the baptism of our own death in Christ and our resurrected new life in him – or is it only the calendar for us – do we only wear it like clothes and have we really not become the body of Christ? Is it just lip-talk or also soul talk for us?

Like those Germans off the boat, do we gather in church only because we are American? Now your meddlin’, Pastor! Let me meddle some today. It’s necessary to meddle so that Christ is not just our clothes we can shed and take off, if following him brings us trouble. A pastor among us has called for a day of repentance on July 3rd before we celebrate our country on the Fourth, because we should celebrate our country, but the way we are sinners and saints, our country has a wicked side as well as a blessed side of freedom.

St. Paul says, only when we have died to sin, can we really be free. Like Dr. King quoted that old spiritual: “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.”

The land of the brave and the free will not be able to have integrity without the freedom of Christ, that freedom from sin that the Holy Spirit provides us with the Gospel. But I don’t see too many people responding to that pastor’s call. (You may not even have heard it, of course. But would you take him up on it?)

Why not take the example of the Jews? They have a day of atonement. They used to put on sack-cloth clothes, throw ashes up into the air so it landed on their heads, and say: “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!” (My fault, my fault, my great fault!) and beg God for forgiveness.

In America we have to atone for the genocide of the Native American, for slavery, and of course for the bomb. We’re the only country that has dropped atomic bombs on two cities obliterating all the people. Now North Korea could soon threaten LA and San Francisco!

Andrew Jackson, whom some declare a hero today, made the Indians do a death march from the South to the West in what is called the Trail of Tears. Our generals said, it’s no good killing all the Indians. In grade school our teacher told us that in those days they said: “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” We also learned in grade school that the Indians scalped the settlers. It’s true. But scalping began with the settlers. You were paid a price for every Indian you killed, and you proved how many by turning in their scalps. In New England, the one who killed the most Indians inevitably became the sheriff of the town. In Haverhill, Massachusetts, where I grew up, there was Hannah Dustin Park. The statue of Hannah Dustin was in the middle. She was holding a tomahawk in one hand and the scalp of an Indian in the other. Three dead Indians lie all around her whom she killed in their sleep, because they had slammed her baby against a tree. Imagine  how a Native American would feel in that park!

So out West the generals said, we can’t seem to kill all the Indians; but if we kill all the buffalo, they will have to die, because they live off the buffalo. So, they killed all the buffalo. The Indians rallied around their ponies. So, the cavalry killed all their ponies. Yosemite was a most holy site for the Indians and when they made a last stand there, our soldiers killed them in a blood bath and now it’s our tourist haven. Most Indians on reservations are wretchedly poor and in very dire straits. Do we care? We just ran the oil pipeline right over them.

I don’t have to bring up slavery, Jim Crow, and the new Jim Crow of our time. You all know about that – way too well, better than me. But a real Juneteenth will mean to die with Christ and be raised back up to live with him. Our baptism cannot be one merely of water. It also has to have the word deep in your heart and mine, so we become dead to sin and alive to God. I’m preaching to myself too.

We have to take responsibility for the negative legacy of America, just like Germans have to for Adolf Hitler, the NAZI’s, the World Wars and the Holocaust. When we do, then with responsibility for our shadow side, we can celebrate the glory of the good side on our Fourth of July. You all know right well, that we should not forbid seeing the wicked side of our country, so that we act as if we are just a pure blessing to the world, an innocent country that dropped right out of heaven to bless the world.

Like for example, our drone strikes: Jupiter was thought to be a god who could kill a person with a lightning bolt from the sky, if the person displeased him. That’s what we do with drones over our enemy, striking them from the sky. We want to hit the head of Isis, Baghdadi, that way – if he’s not already dead. But he has many wives and also sex-slaves, who probably hate him more than we do and will we kill his victims too?

Well, all those things seem to be way over our head and beyond our control. But we can repent for our country on July 3rd so we can celebrate the Fourth of July more forthrightly and honestly.

It’s in the cross of Christ we glory. If we begin to suffer for the real liberating truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ, who sits at the Right Hand of God the Father, if we say, “Hey, this is not heaven we are living here and we can shape up if we repent and beg Christ’s forgiveness, then Christians could multiply here even faster than in Africa.

Let me tell you: suffering for the truth that we will go through cannot be compared with the fresh meaning that comes into our lives. And besides, suffering adds to the music of our witness.

We celebrate the boy-Prophet Jeremiah even today. We worship Jesus and realize that about two billion people in the world also do, because we figured out that He was God’s Son sent to us by the Father to show us the way.

Read the story of Joseph, next time you get a chance. It is found in Genesis chapters 37 to the end of the book: skip chapter 38, which is about Judah and Tamar. The story describes Joseph’s baptism, passion, death, and resurrection, just like Paul is talking about. At one point, this story never fails to make me cry. The young boy is kind of uppity and his father’s pet and Jacob, his old father sends him to see what his brothers were doing. The young Joseph probably felt like Jeremiah. “God, you deceived me! You showed me in a dream how I would rule over my brothers and even my father and look at me! Here I am down in a pit and they are thinking about how to kill me!” They were consulting with each other whether to kill him or not when Ruben persuaded them to sell him down the river into slavery, so to speak. Then, no sooner does he get on his feet, but a woman frames him and he gets thrown down into a dungeon. Now he’s deeper down. He could have been put to death any time, because the Egyptians felt superior to the Hebrews. They tended cattle and the Hebrews merely herded sheep and goats. Joseph pleads, “Remember me…” – how many prisoners do we forget in their cells and even those in isolation cells among us? But notice how God, in whose promises he trusted remembered him and lifted him up to save all of Egypt from starvation in the famine and how he saved the very souls of his brothers with his tough love. God baptized him with the school of suffering to prepare him to be capable to carry out God’s plan of salvation. Through your baptism of suffering, God is also preparing you, making you a fit instrument to do something God needs done for God’s plan of salvation.

So, Joseph was baptized with Christ’s death and resurrection. Really, Joseph pre-figured Christ. We have to do more than celebrate the Fourth, and even Good Friday and Easter. Christ has to get under our skin, so we begin to see the same things that happened to Jesus happen to us. It takes some friction. The rubber has to hit the road. Sometimes sparks have to fly, so we really see America the beautiful, so that through our own passion inside the passion of Jesus, we really see our lives take on the beauty and grandeur that we can’t even imagine today. Amen.

____________________________

[1] Elizabeth Isichei, A History of Christianity in Africa, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), page 1.

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Written by peterkrey

June 25, 2017 at 11:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Happy Fathers’ Day: Have you heard of William Wadé Harris? A June 18, 2017 Sermon

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The First Sunday after Pentecost June 18th 2017

Exodus 19:2-8a Psalm 100 Romans 5:1-11 Matthew 9:35-10:23

Happy Fathers’ Day

The lessons today are virtually filled with sermons. They are so rich and filled with our Christian truth, that they are overwhelming. When God brought the children of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt, He described it as carrying them on eagle’s wings. The eagles build their nests way high up in cliffs. When the little eaglets are about ready to fly, the little ones think that their father or mother have turned into monsters, because they nudge them over the edge of the nest into the drop. The little ones go into free-fall. The mama or papa eagle waits to see if they flap their wings and begin to fly. If not, they swoop down under them and lift them back up to their nest on eagle’s wings. How do you like that for Gospel? That is the good news about God’s loving us, because we are God’s children and God is teaching us how to be fathers and mothers and shepherds. Even helping us learn to grow into the full stature of Christ – because that is flying.

Like we sing, “I’ll fly away, O glory!” because the Papa eagle God will swoop under you and me and lift us up should we fail, if we should fall. So you see, Christ died for us while we were yet sinners and our journey in faith will not end badly in any free-fall, but God will swoop under us and lift us up, because Christ shed his blood for us, and just one drop of his blood is worth millions of dollars, it is priceless really – and that is what God paid for us. So can you imagine your value?

A pastor of homeless members, told us in Bible study that on Youtube he saw a teacher, who in front of his class held up a twenty-dollar bill. “How many of you would like to have this?” They all raised their hands. So he crumpled the bill up. The he asked them again, “How many of you still want it?” They all raised their hands. He put it down on the floor and stomped on it. “How many of you now want it?” They still all raised their hands.

The point he was making: you and I all have value, an incredible priceless value, because of the blood of Jesus. You and I might get crumpled up and beaten down by life, but you never lose your value, because Christ died for you – even while you were still sinners. Christ made you and me right with God, because the Son of God came down from the Father and paid the price, so you and I are free. Jesus Christ has already paid our bill. That’s what St. Paul means by justification by faith.

In our Romans lesson, Paul was talking from experience. He was a really bad guy. He was rounding up Christians and putting them into jail, like ICE today does with poor immigrants. Still under his name, Saul, he held everybody’s coats while they stoned Stephen to death. And he was glad they killed him. He probably wondered how that blasphemer could have said, “Dear Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”

But then on the road to Damascus, where he was going to hunt Christians and bring them back to be punished in Jerusalem, Jesus appeared to him. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” You know the story. The first Christians were afraid of him. But soon they realized that Jesus blood shed for him turned him into Paul, a pretty wonderful dude, who could say, “while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me!”

This is the incredible good news that we have to tell people of our time. The neighborhoods and the streets where we live are ripe with harvest and we pray that God send laborers into the harvest, so we bring in the sheaves, so we bring people under the great wings of the Papa Eagle, and they realize and know how much they are loved by God.

With the twelve disciples, named today, and even the seventy that Jesus called to gather in the harvest, the operative words were: “Proclaim the Good News: The Kingdom of Heaven has come near!” Now those are God’s Words and they do not return empty, because God’s Words bring about what they say. The words are like a pastor pronouncing a man and a woman husband and wife – they are now in a real marriage. When we proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven, it becomes real. God’s will starts happening on earth the way it does in heaven.

In World War Two, the Germans ran over France and really put an end to that country. They set up a Vichy regime, which was their puppet government, but France was no more. General De Gaulle, however, declared that France still existed, no matter that it was gone. He made treaties as if France existed, he stood up for France, and behold, after the war, France became real again and Charles De Gaulle became its president.

We proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven and today I proclaim that it has become very near to Bethlehem, very near to Oakland. Now the Warriors are merely a basketball team, but look at the selflessness demonstrated by its stars. They have a Kingdom of Heaven state of mind. You probably heard of the New York state of mind. We all need a Kingdom of Heaven State of Mind – and watch how the world becomes transformed into the place in which Jesus is the King, ruling over us from heaven at the Right hand of God the Father.

Let me tell you about an African who labored in the harvest to the amazement of every one of us in the faith. His name was William Wadé Harris, from the Grebo tribe.[1] He ministered during the time of the First World War, about 1910 and on, when the countries of West Africa were still colonies. Now he had been a teacher in an Episcopal school, but he became involved in politics. He seems to have raised the Union Jack, that is the British flag in a French holding, so they put him in jail. They locked him up in a Liberian prison. He had been raised in a Methodist minister’s family, so he was literate and like many Grebos, he had also been a seaman. While in prison he saw a vision. When he was released, he knew it was not about England or France, but the Kingdom of Heaven and he set about proclaiming it. He put on a white robe, held a Bible, a gourd rattle, and a water bowl to baptize converts. His wife thought he had gone mad and died of grief. Accompanied by two women assistants, he went from village to village proclaiming Christ. People said that God gave him a soul of fire. He preached and ministered through the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and Liberia and over 120,000 people converted to Christ. If people started worshipping his cross or his gourd rattle, he would smash it on the ground and get a new one. He wanted them to focus on the Kingdom of Heaven.

So many people were converted and followed him that the French authorities became frightened, clapped him in prison and deported him.

Imagine what God could do for us if our souls caught fire in the Holy Spirit. Forget if you are a Democrat or Republican or even if you are American. It is the cross of Christ and the already but not yet Kingdom of Heaven, the Beloved Community, as Martin called it.

And if people started worshipping the cross, we would have to smash it, like he would smash it, the way he would also smash his gourd rattle. These symbols have to keep pointing to the Kingdom of Heaven we start living together.

I’d say William Wadé Harris had father-power. Imagine waking up over 100,000 people to the love of God! telling them to learn to read, so they could read the Bible. We know how to read and do we read our Bibles? This prophet baptized them, while they were yet sinners and they flocked into churches to the amazement of the missionaries in the three countries.

Let us thank God for that worker in the harvest. Let us pray for us who work in the harvest. Let us pray that we stop being half-hearted, but that the Holy Spirit light our souls on fire and we receive the father-power to bring forth and bring up the children of God for the Kingdom of Heaven. Bethlehem, the Kingdom of God has come near and the Word of God, is not a mere and weak word, but a strong word that brings about exactly what it says. Amen.

_________________________

[1] Elizabeth Isichei, A History of Christianity in Africa, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), pages 284-285.

Written by peterkrey

June 25, 2017 at 6:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized