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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.


Written by peterkrey

June 25, 2017 at 11:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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