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Understanding the Parables, Sermon for July 30, 2017

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Time after Pentecost – July 30, 2017

1 Kings 3:5-12 Psalm 119:129-136 Romans 8:26-29 Matthew 13:31-3, 44-52

Understanding the Parables

This morning we heard five parables that Jesus told to describe the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. They are not easy to understand. In Psalm 78, verse 2 is written:

I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will utter dark sayings from of old.

Jesus must have read that Psalm and made up parables. Isn’t it something to know that when we read a psalm, way back then Jesus read it too, and all our ancestors in the faith for these two or more millennia also read them? Scripture reading gives us a bond with all who have gone before us.

      I believe that Jesus made these parables difficult, so that his disciples would understand them, but not those who were not hoping and waiting with eager longing for the kingdom of heaven, those nailing down and protecting their comfortable status quo.

A note: Matthew is the Gospel written for Jewish Christians and thus he calls it the kingdom of heaven rather than the kingdom of God. Jews do not like to name God, because the name is too holy. Thus, throughout Matthew, it is the kingdom of heaven.

ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν in Greek.

We can get some help from this morning’s Psalm if we pray:

The unfolding of your words gives light.

It imparts understanding to the simple.

Like Dear Jesus, what is wrapped up in your words that helps us understand the nature of the kingdom of heaven? That kingdom over which you rule from the right hand of God the Father? Dear God, we pray that you would unfold your words so they shed light on your kingdom of heaven and you impart understanding to us who are simple – who don’t have a clue.

Now Solomon prayed for wisdom to govern his people. You know the story of the two women who fought over a baby. Two mothers were sleeping in the same house with their little babies. During the night, one laid on her baby and it died. She quietly took the live bay from the breast of the other sleeping mother and put her dead baby in its place. First the other mother cried and cried, but in the morning light, she realized it was not her baby. Fighting with each other, they were brought before Solomon. “Bring me a sword.” He said. Their fighting was such a nuisance. “I’ll divide the boy in two so both of you can have half.”

The real mother said, “O, please, my lord, give her the living boy, please don’t kill him!”

The other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.”

“Do not harm the child.” said King Solomon. “Give the first woman her baby. She is the real mother.”[1]

That was a way to figure out the truth that would otherwise stump us. It took some wisdom.

Looking at some of these parables makes me feel at a loss like that. Jesus is challenging us to understand what he is saying and if we don’t, then we do not have ears that hear, nor eyes that see, nor a heart that understands.

Our Romans lesson is different. It is pure Gospel clearly preached by St. Paul. We hear: nothing can separate us from the love of God and we wait with eager longing for being formed into the brothers and sisters of Christ. That is when we will become part of the new humanity in the form or the species of Christ. We will no longer be in the old Adam and Eve, but we will become the children of God; those God knew would respond from the time before the foundations of the world were laid; whom God predestined to receive the form of Christ, so that Jesus would be the firstborn of many brothers and sisters, the very family of God, the members of which he called, justified, and glorified together with Christ. Now nothing can come between us and the love of God. nothing can separate us. That’s pure Gospel!

But what is this kingdom of heaven like in which all the children of God live, move, and have their being? We have to know, because it starts here and now and not only in the sweet by and by. We can at least experience the previews of the coming attractions, if not the feature presentation. But what are its mysteries? What are its sevrets?

The mustard seed is the tiniest seed and it grows a large shrub. It’s like a humble tree and not a cedar of Lebanon, like one of our redwoods here in California. The old empires were compared to such proud trees, like with Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire. He said the nations of the world nestled in his branches for shelter like birds. Are you getting an inkling about how Jesus is describing his kingdom? It’s not like earthly empires, but a humble thing, an improbably tree, eight to twelve feet high, planted in a field, but considered more of a weed in some parts. The Babylonians Empires became the Persian one: they use the word “translated into.” So the Persian Empire translated into the Greek, the Greek translated into the Roman Empire, etc. We won’t go further, like for example, to the modern British Empire, over which they proudly said, the sun never set.

The kingdom of heaven is not like those earthly empires, the great military conquests of the Alexanders, Caesars, Napoleons, and Hitlers. No, from the tiniest seed and from the most humble shrub, the birds of the air will be able to make nests in its branches, the nations of the world will find a friendly shelter. Rich nations will help out the poor ones. No shock and awe, no mother of all bombs.

My father always started this song when the children left the grown-up worship for Sunday School:

Little drops of water, little grains of sand

Make the mighty oceans and the beauteous land.

Little deeds of kindness, little acts of love.

Make the world an Eden like the heavens above.

We had bible study before Vacation Church School and Day Camp in Cincinnati. Over the years, it became a fully developed Leadership Training Laboratory and in Coney Island we rented out whole elementary schools to run our large VCS and day Camp programs!

The tiny seed from the humble and disrespected bush, but then mustard is sure good on a hotdog!

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with or hid (the word is hid) in three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. Mixing, just makes me think of the little packets of yeast my mother would tear open and pour into the flour and water. But in those days, they had to hide the dough in a dark and dank place because yeast comes from molds in a fungus, feeding on the flour producing carbon dioxide. Those are the gas bubbles that make the dough rise. My other would have bread pans on top of all the radiators and when the dough started spilling over the pan, we would hit it to make it go back and rise again. Now number one, what is Jesus saying? You don’t feature leavened but unleavened bread. Nor a woman, nor something hidden. Bread and wine required fermentation in order to make wine and bread, and that spelled corruption. We use unleavened bread for communion, because the fermentation used to be associated with corruption, just like the alcohol produced from it. But a complete transformation results.

Jewish men used to pray, “Thank God I was not born a woman.” Jesus features the work of a woman in his kingdom. The Goyim were unclean, so the leavened bread represents them and the unleavened bread represents the Jews, the chosen people, who would not accept Christ. Jesus was called the Beelzebub, meaning a devil. Luther was called a devil, Darwin, we Christians thought was one for sure, and there is Sigmund Freud. Someone I knew called him “Siggy, the piggy.” What do you know! But three measures, using that moldy yeast was enough to bake 100 loaves of bread, a footnote said. Jesus is telling us that the faith of the Jews would become universal and transforming all of those who were formerly thought to be unclean, people from all over the world.

In a Bible Study in Saint Paulus, someone said, the parables make it necessary to do a mind-flip, because everything in the kingdom of heaven is turned upside down from the things in this world. So from a tiny seed there grows the tree of life; from a lump of moldy yeast, not corruption, but God’s righteousness rises one hundred-fold and filling and transforming the kingdom into wonderfully smelling bakery with warm and fresh bread for all the world.

That the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. Somebody finds it, then hides it, and overwhelmed with joy, then goes and sells everything in order to buy the field. The pearl of great price is like that too. The merchant sells everything that he had in order to purchase it. The passion for the Gospel and overwhelming value of the kingdom of heaven, makes a person joyfully give everything else up for its sake. One illustration in the commentary referred to a man meeting a lovely and beautiful woman, giving everything up and following her and vice versa, a woman, meeting a handsome and caring man, giving everything up and following him. The question these parables of Jesus pose to us is where is our passion for the kingdom of heaven. Hey, we say, “We’re quite comfortable in the status quo.” That makes us deaf, dumb, and blind, like those see nothing, hear nothing, say nothings.  Meanwhile St. Paul says,

I regard everything as loss, because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and regard them as rubbish, [just garbage] in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.[2]

With the health care and Medicaid crisis in the senate, I felt I had to do something and with my knee I can’t get out and demonstrate, so I decided to send an email to John McCain, saying how much I admired him and hoped he could overcome his ailment. Then I just said that medical bills are on a corporate lever and they would take down even middleclass people if they were uninsured. For my new hip, one miscellaneous hospital charge was $84,000. I did not put that in, but reminded him about how 2,000 people came to free clinics and some had to have 20 teeth pulled and others were also way sicker than they needed to be because they had no access and could not afford to medical care. I asked him to think of the people and not try to save the face of our rogue president.

When I saw him walk over to Sue Collins and Lisa Murkowski and give the drastic bill the thumbs down in the PBS News Hour, I was applauding him on the TV! I really don’t think my email did it, his governor also reminded him of the damage the bill would do to his state – but I just rejoiced in the fact that I had also gotten involved and done something. Just because we cannot do everything or something in one way, does not excuse us from doing something in the way that we can.

The dragnet of the gospel pulls us all in and we dare not say which fish are good and which are bad. Do not judge. Let the angels be in charge of that. Imagine condemning Saul, not realizing that he would later become Paul! Or when Moses murdered that Egyptian overseer, if he had been caught and executed! He was a murderer, King David was one too, and an adulterer, to boot, but nothing separates them and us from the forgiveness and love of Christ Jesus our Lord. Our sins also do not separate us, because Jesus loves us and that’s all we know. Amen.[3]

________________________

[1] 1 Kings 3:16-28.

[2] Phil. 3: 8.

[3] The sermon is getting too long. The problem of tradition the old and the new, and the householder who pulls out of his treasure what is new and what is old, really applied to Old Zion Church in Philadelphia and I dealt with it here: https://peterkrey.wordpress.com/december-2007-message-to-old-zion/ Jaroslav Pelican said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

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Written by peterkrey

July 30, 2017 at 4:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Our Experience in a Native American Reservation: a Sermon for July 23rd 2017

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The Time after Pentecost

July 23rd 2017

Isaiah44:6-8 Psalm 86:11-17 2 Romans 8:12-25 Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Our Experience in a Native American Reservation

You know that Wednesday through Saturday, Nora and I were in Montana in the Rocky Boy Chippewa Cree Reservation and we had quite an experience. There a meeting of the Native American Lutheran Churches took place. It is called the American Indian, Alaskan Native Lutheran Association (AIAN) and from the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice (EDLARJ), I am one of the liaisons to the Native American association. There is also an African American Lutheran Association (ADLA) as well as a Latino and Asian, Pacific Islander one. You may want to get in touch with and become involved in your African American Lutheran Association. These associations are working to make our church more multicultural and just.

The Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana is about two hours from the airport in Great Falls. The great grandfather of one of the leaders of this conference, Loni Manybears, helped build this Lutheran chapel and she has been Lutheran all her life. She is from the Cree tribe and the Chippewa tribe is also part of the reservation. The Chippewa are a medicine people, the Lakota are a friendly people, while the Cree are a spiritual people, which works nicely with our lesson, because they walk in the spirit. As St. Paul says, “For all of you who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”[1] and “Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”[2] The Crow Indians came and did a Pow Wow and representatives of the Blackfoot and Northern Cheyanne tribes also gave presentations.

Pastor Larry Thiele and his wife Darla from North Dakota were there. She does therapy for troubled children with horses. Horses seem to have healing powers, much like comfort dogs. Jonathan a Lakota from Grand Rapids inspired us with his Native ceremonial songs, while beating the drum in Indian rhythms.

The Indians are trying to reclaim their languages and identities, because both were stolen from them by White people. Jon called White people Wachitii, which meant the greedy ones.

When you begin to understand how spiritual these Indians are, perhaps because they are Lutheran too, (I sincerely hope) you can understand the question brought to Jesus: why are there so many weeds, people that have done so much evil to the Indians? Jesus used the metaphor of the wheat and weeds, while a Cree Elder used a different symbol. Evil spirits descended from sharp and pointy mountain peaks, while good spirits came down from round ones. He was telling us Indian stories in a holy site, because it was in a clearing facing a mountain shaped like a heart. Indians climb to the top of that mountain to fast and pray. Many Indians used this site to celebrate their sacred ceremonies.

Let’s join in with the Native Americans protesting the evil done to the indigenous people of our country, because slavery is not the only evil atrocity that White people in our system have perpetrated. The poor houses all around the church seemed to be filled with casualties, because of the historical trauma that they even now continue to experience. There are addictions, suicides, broken families and many broken people. A representative of the Northern Cheyanne, however, reminded us that good things also take place in the reservations.

Their children had been torn away from their families to “civilize” them. They were brought to boarding schools far away from the reservation and not allowed to speak their native language. If they were caught, the staff tore out their fingernails. One of the leader’s father and grandfather lost their fingernails that way. There are graveyards behind the schools because many Indian children died while they were trying to kill the Indian in them. Only recently did the boarding school movement stop in America and Canada and the Indians forgot how to be parents and have to learn it again.[3]

The Cree tribe are spiritual people, who continually emphasize prayer. We had three activities one afternoon. Some people chose to visit the reservation; some visited the Buffalo jump, where the Indians drove the buffalo off a cliff to get their meat and supplies. Nora and I with trepidation chose the sweat lodge. The elderly Indian woman leading it had smoked the ceremonial pipe and had prepared herself with prayer. The hut was covered by thick blankets and there were rods made of wood acting like ribs, visible inside, holding up the covering. A huge fire burned in front of the hut heating up stones. The rocks became very hot and with a pitchfork, men then shoveled some at a time into a pit in the middle of the lodge. You had to crawl into the lodge and happily there were rugs around the pit of hot stones. As we sat around the rocks the Indian woman asked each of us what she should pray for us for. I never realized that the whole sweat lodge ceremony was about prayer. She threw some sweet grass onto the rocks and then the carpets or blankets used for a door were pulled down and it became pitch dark in the lodge. When she splashed water on the rocks, she did it four times and hot steam covered us and stinging drops of water. Then she prayed for our concerns, remembering them all. They let Nora and me stay near the door, so that if we couldn’t take it, we could leave. When the blanket door is shut, you are in pitch darkness, like in a womb and the water crashes like thunder when it hits the hot rocks. The prayers become more and more fervent with each of the rounds, especially on the fourth and last round of prayer. Mercifully they let us crawl out after each round to recover. After the last round, you crawled out as if you were being born again. The whole experience featured hours of prayer. Then an elder told us Indian stories with a great sense of humor, making us laugh many times, especially about the way White people misunderstood and mispronounced Indian language words, which became the name of states and rivers.

One bishop there was part of the Osage tribe in Oklahoma, where they had been driven to the most arid land in the state, which no one wanted. Then they discovered oil under the Indian land and wanted it back. They negotiated and the government got 70% of the proceeds and the Indians 30%. Then many White men wanted to marry Indian women to get in on the money – Wachitii.

How did all the weeds get into our field? When they built a dam in the head waters of the Missouri river, they flooded the Missouri River Valley, Indian land, which they had lived on for centuries. The Indians feel like they are part of the land and without their land, they feel like they have to die. Like with Israel and Palestine, White people keep taking more and more of their land away, here for farms and ranches.

All the hurt they feel became a fresh wound with the oil pipeline run through their reservation and their part of the Missouri River. The pipeline goes right over their sacred sites and corporate greed just steam-rolled right over them again. The basic purpose of the Indians was to protest with prayer so that their land would not be contaminated. The pipelines of the company involved have a habit of breaking.

The Native Americans are trying to get the government to apologize to them for all the atrocities done to them. But our society will not yet own up to it. While their challenge is to forgive, the challenge for White America is to repent.

In the last meeting, Darla Thiele suggested that the Native Americans all show up in the church-wide assembly and forgive the White people for what they did to them, even though many do not even have a clue, and take care not to know the sorry history of the Indian dislocations and death marches and now the extreme poverty suffered on their reservations.

They would forgive and perhaps a truth and reconciliation movement could come about like in South Africa. The Indians would be willing to take the first step by offering forgiveness.

They protested against the Doctrine of Discovery and emphasized the de-colonization of the church, which I will take up in a future sermon. But I love the story about the Aborigine from Australia, who went to the Dover Cliffs of England and claimed England for the Aborigines. He figured if Columbus and the Europeans could claim America and act like they discovered it, then what was good for the goose was good for the gander.

It would be wonderful if we could become allies with the Indians and suffer with them in solidarity. They have been marginalized in their own country with their traditional spiritual ways. We will find that suffering with them will not be able to be compared with the glory of the coming of the children of God in the new creation. In their tears and sighs the Holy Spirit is praying for us to overcome what we perpetrated upon them. But we have to learn their stories. I gave you just a brief glimpse, but America, especially White people in America have to repent, show remorse and apologize for the genocide we attempted on them. They are still struggling with all their pain and hurt. Hearing their stories brought sighs too deep for words. Nora and I cried several times.

If Black people in America were to have solidarity with the Indians, we too could wait with eager longing for the coming of the children of God – for which the whole creation is waiting and experiencing contractions, for walking in the newness of life here in America. Let those children of God, be us Lord, and not only others. How blessed we would be if America could feature the happiness of our Indians! Amen.

________________________

[1] Romans 8:14.

[2] Romans 8:5b.

[3] On investigating this issue, it turns out that some Indian boarding schools are still open, but hopefully they are not as cruel as before.

 

Written by peterkrey

July 27, 2017 at 8:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The Sower and the Seed, July 23rd 2017, the Time after Pentecost

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Time after Pentecost July 23rd 2017

Isaiah 55:10-13 Psalm 65: [1-8]9-13 Rom 8:1-11 Matt 13:1-9,18-23

The Sower and the Seed

The Parable Song:

1. Let’s pray for God’s help again,

So no birds come snatch us away.

Let’s pray for God’s help again,

So the sun won’t scorch us by day.

2. Help move those rocks all around,

Sink your roots deep in the ground.

The choke-holds of thorns break apart,

Let the Spirit’s breath fill your heart.

3. The sower and the seed that is sown

Make Christ’s new garden your own

Filled with Christ’s fruit, oh, amen.

Let’s pray for God’s people again.

4. Now yield a bold hundred-fold

With ventures of faith yet untold.

Christ prays for the harvest, amen.

Let’s pray for God’s help again.

I’ll back to that interpretation of this Jesus parable. But I heard an interpretation that was very new to me. It could be called the prodigal sower, because farmers didn’t waste seed, and this sower seems to waste it on many of the wrong people.

Someone said to me, “You have to cast your bread on the waters.” I did not know what that meant and I found it in the bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes or the Preacher 11:1: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back.” That must be somewhat like karma, what goes around, comes around. It seems to be a waste of your bread (although when the kids threw slices of bread in the water during Day Camp, fish would jump up, snatch, and swallow it to the delight of the children.)

Now I’ve heard this parable interpreted in a similar way to casting your bread upon the waters: Jesus may well have been casting the Word of his Kingdom, his seed upon the waters, because it seemed a waste. He was getting all kinds of rejection; rejection from the scribes and Pharisees, from his own mother and family, who thought he had lost his mind.

But Jesus the Sower in this parable continues to cast his seed, his words of the kingdom of heaven even if some is snatched up by birds right away, some falls on the path, some gets scorched by the sun, some falls on rocks and can’t take root, some get their dear life choked out of them by weeds, like bad people they hang out with, and lo and behold, some seeds fall on good soil and bear fruit: 30 fold, 60 fold, and 100 fold.

So you see, this parable is about you and me. Understanding the kingdom of heaven makes you grow and mature and finally become a Christ. Sometimes I compare becoming a Christ to football. Each play, you know, could be a touchdown. Each of us could become a Christ. But we get sacked way behind the line of scrimmage, you make a few yards and get tackled, throw a pass and the receiver misses it, but then you suddenly see a player go the whole nine yards or even 90 yards for the touchdown – a person has become a Christ saving any number of people.

God’s Word does not return empty for all the obstacles that the world places in its way, even when snatched away by birds. But just think, birds can poop it out fertilized and the kingdom starts growing somewhere else, not in that field, but outside this church, say in your office where you work, in the supermarket where you shop, in the laundromat where you are doing your wash, in a demonstration where you make a politician take a stand saving the healthcare for millions of people.

This is the parable of the sower and the seed. Jesus talks about seeds, because they are baptized. This is what I mean by the seeds being batized. You have to plant a seed in a hole in the ground, like burying it in a grave, and then it bears much fruit. We set apart our lives, becoming buried in our baptisms, bringing new life and healing and help to many, many people because of it.

Now a seed is set aside, because you have to deny yourself. You can’t eat it. Think of Psalm 126:5-6: “Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, bringing in the sheaves.” The sower is crying over the seeds, because they are starving, but can’t eat the seeds or there will be no harvest.

Now here is the good news: consider one kernel of corn. You set it aside for a seed, plant it in the ground, water it, and tend it, and soon a shoot comes up out of the ground, much like a blade of grass. Then it grows and grows into a sturdy stalk with two or three sets of ears and when the silk up on top of the ear is dry, it is ripe and ready for picking. Lo and behold, have you ever counted the kernels of corn on one corncob? We had one left over from the other night. It was ¾ size and I counted 540 kernels! Now with six ears of corn, you have over 3,000 kernels from that one kernel that got baptized into a seed by being planted in the ground instead of being eaten.

Now you may think corn is something! Imagine an acorn that falls into good soil and grows up into an oak tree, say here in Oakland. It will bear many more acorns than that kernel of corn, which only grows that one plant or stock that year. The oak tree will bear huge numbers of acorns each year.

Can you see why Jesus scatters the seed, the word about the kingdom of heaven, from one village to the next, from city to city. The words certainly do not get planted well in many ways, but when it gets into some good soil, when it takes root and bears fruit, people enter the kingdom 30-fold, 60-fold, a hundred-fold at a time.

All that fruit is more than enough to provide for the sinners as well, those snatched by the birds, left on the path, scorched by the sun, choked by the weeds. The fruit borne by those in the good soil nourishes everybody or at least a good many with plenty of redemption, abundant grace.

So even if some people cannot be productive, they are covered by those producing fruit from the good soil. I often think of the woman who had MS that I visited in the hospital. She had become completely debilitated. She said, “Will you tell everybody that even though I can’t be productive, I still have value?” The abundant fruit of the seeds of the good soil provides for her too.

That’s why in health insurance, those who are productive have to cover those who have pre-existent conditions. The acorns from one oak tree can grow a whole forest.

So even if it seems that Jesus is willing to waste seeds, which no farmer would do at the time, he knows what he is doing. Some of it will take root and then watch how a whole new chapter of God’s Word opens and new blessings shower down from heaven over the people God loves so much, because:

Each play in football can be a touchdown.

Each kernel of corn planted and you have 3,000 kernels.

One acorn, and an oak tree bursting with thousands of acorns each year.

Acorns fed the Ohlone Indians for centuries as they used pestles to grind them in mortars, those round holes in the rocks. You can see those holes in rocks up above Indian Rock in Berkeley.

Now I ask you, what can one person bring, who takes root, with the Word of God deep in their heart, understanding it. We can’t even imagine it.

The parables that Jesus tells are about the kingdom. And he tends to flip things around from how the world thinks. Farmers do not waste seed. Jesus wastes the seeds. Flip a crime around and you get a miracle, a valley and you get a mountain. In our bible study, they called it mind-flip. People are capable of horrendous crimes: we can’t even fathom the abyss of evil. But flip it around, by God’s grace, people are capable of doing miracles, mountains of goodness, more than sufficient to overwhelm those valleys of evil. Because no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart been able to imagine, what God can do for those who love him and are called to his purpose.

Now we should not use this parable to label and Pidgeon-hole different people facing these particular problems. People snatched away by birds, by the fads of the day; on the path, to hurried to even live their lives; scorched by the sun, because of too much heat in the kitchen; on the rocks, just cannot muster up any more empathy; choked by all the cares and hardships of the world; no, these are all stages that we all go through. Sometimes our hearts are on the rocks. Sometimes we get snatched away from what God wants us to do and how God wants us to be. Sometimes we hang with the wrong people and we forget how much God loves us and how we have to bear fruit, because of the grace of God flowing through us.

And our fruit has to spill over outside of this church called Bethlehem. You have to spread the word of the kingdom where the birds can snatch it, on the path, where nothing grows, where people are scorched by rage, where you know there are rocks and weeds that choke the dear life out of others. But your seed will also hit fertile soil and wow! You and I can’t even imagine what can happen here!

So, we sing:  Let’s pray for God’s help again! Amen.

 

 

Written by peterkrey

July 17, 2017 at 12:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Songs in your Heart like in Movie Scores: the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost  July 9th 2017

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The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost  July 9th 2017

Zechariah 9:9-12 Psalm 145:8-14 Romans 7:15-25a Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Songs in your Heart like in Movie Scores

To explain the title of my sermon, it derives from working with our Luther Musical. We have many songs in our musical, but some say we should have music during the dialogue, even when the characters are acting, that is, even between our many songs. If you stop and think, there is usually music playing during movies which informs your feelings adding feelings to the story being told. Living our lives in the Gospel can be like that.

In the same way as last time, in today’s lessons we again hear God’s promise of the eternal kingdom over which Christ reigns, through which Christ commands peace, cuts off the chariot and war-horse and breaks the battle bow used in war. To translate for today, God commands peace, grounds gun-ships, destroys tomahawk missiles, and dismantles our arsenals of nuclear warheads. The Psalm reads: “Your kingdom is everlasting; your dominion lasts through all generations.” On the Fourth, last Tuesday, we celebrated our country which is only 141 years old. The age is no comparison. We pledge allegiance to the flag. In what sense do we pledge our allegiance to the cross of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace?

This question is tricky, because we have a humble king, Jesus, who is gentle and humble of heart. That humility is what the Prophet Zechariah meant when he said, he came riding a donkey and the foal of a donkey.

Now to clarify, Jesus did not ride on two animals. In Hebrew poetry, especially when it is liturgical, one line is spoken by the priests and then the congregation answers, saying the same thing, but just choosing different words. So, the point is Jesus’ humility and then his humility is emphasized, even a young foal of a donkey. Jesus did not come in riding high on a horse, for example an Arabian charger or an illustrious chariot, no Jesus came a riding on a lowly donkey.

I loved the bishop in Berlin who ordained me in 1975. All the church dignitaries met in Berlin for the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches. It was like the G-20 Summit now taking place in Hamburg. Back then I watched all the archbishops and bishops arrive in limousines, Rolls Royce’s, yes, chauffeured in all manner of expensive cars. My Bishop Scharf arrived in a little gray VW Bug, with his daughter, who was also a pastor, driving him. (Just as an aside: that is where Bishop Scharf and our presiding Bishop Bob Marshall of the L.C.A. negotiated my ordination in Berlin.)

Bishop Scharf just translated the humility of the little donkey into a little gray VW Bug. He translated scripture with his life and did not leave it merely with words, which is something for us to aspire to.

Last week our lessons were rather harsh and this week, therefore, we see Jesus dealing with the backlash of rejection. Many people of that day were not about to accept Jesus’ claims, let alone repent and live as if the Kingdom of heaven was near at hand; the very Kingdom foretold in the Psalms and promised to David. Now the Son of David, Jesus Christ, whom they were rejecting, is and ever will be proclaimed king of kings and lord of lords, calling one and all to live in God’s divine light.

Didn’t Jesus realize he was addressing the privileged, the long-standing chosen people of God, who were well educated and knew of their superiority, especially in their religion. They considered John the Baptist and Jesus to be irrelevant, but Jesus pointed out that in doing so, they contradicted themselves.

John preached repentance and declared the reign of God as an ascetic. He neither ate nor drank, as Jesus put it, and they said he had a demon. Jesus was not an ascetic. He told about the Good News with the joy of a marriage celebration! He attended the marriage of Cana and ate and drank. The disciples must have drunk too much, because as you remember that they ran out of wine. So they called Jesus a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners – as if they were not also sinners in need of repentance in order to live in the divine light of the kingdom’s everlasting reign.

So they condemned John for not eating and Jesus for eating, contradicting themselves.

Jesus compares their lack of response to children frustrated that other children will not play with them. (Interestingly, Jesus compares himself to the boys playing a marriage game. Mark and I centered our Luther Musical around marriage. I call it marriage spirituality.) In that game way back then, the boys played flutes while the children danced as if celebrating and having a good time in a marriage feast. Jesus sang the song of the Good News, rejoicing in his proclamation, and they would not dance to his marriage tune.

On the other hand, in those days, women were hired as professional mourners at funerals and little girls playing them, wailed and the other children were supposed to act mournful. Those are quite different games. We played cops and robber or cowboys and Indians. They played marriage and funerals in the market place: a different time and place.

But these people, feeling privileged, chosen, and self-righteous, turned their backs on Jesus and John, rejecting their call to repentance and Jesus’ happy Gospel that brings more joy into our hearts than a marriage celebration.

So, mind you, here in church, like the children of that day, our Gospel choir is designed to make you dance in the joy of the Gospel and mourn with repentance for the way we waste our lives in sin, lazy and sluggish about growing in faith, running after what is false, rather than what is truly fulfilling.

Jesus’ proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is near at hand is music to our ears and sets us dancing. You know how there is always music playing when you watch a movie, delving into your feelings through the whole story. In horror movies, the music often tells you when you have to be scared, but in the build-up of the suspense it often tricks you! Well, let the music you hear here, play in your heart this week while you live the story of Jesus translated in your lives for our time. Like living a Gospel movie, let the beautiful music of Bethlehem’s Gospel choir and Glen’s wonderful chords from his piano play in your soul as you live your life in the divine light of the Gospel of Grace this week.

Music sets your feet a-dancing. The music of Jesus underscores your repentance as you enter your new life, you walk in the newness of life, so that you also set other hearts dancing in your love, by your caring, your concern about them, your reaching out: whether for a homeless person or your kids; a refugee or your wife; an immigrant or your poor brother-in-law going through a separation. Why do people avoid marriage these days, unless they are gay?

Let the music of the Gospel play under your life – like you would hear it accompanying a movie. What an uplift of joy and rejoicing we experience more than for even a marriage celebration.

So, I see a member who has not been coming to church: “Hey, we miss you!“

They answer, “I’ll be there Sunday, unless anything else comes up!” Did you hear it? Coming to church is the last priority on that member’s list.

You meet another person, who has not come to church in a long while. “Hey, we miss you!”

“Pastor, Sunday is my only day of rest and I need my rest.”

Well, the problem that that child of God does not understand is that without the peace that passes all understanding, you will not be able to get any rest, nor will you be able to get things done when you work. God has made us for himself and “Our hearts will remain restless until they rest in you, O, God.”

     Jesus calls to such a one, such a person weary and carrying a heavy burden to himself to give them rest. Take my yoke upon you – as you attend church – and learn from Jesus, be his disciple, learn to be gentle and humble of heart from Jesus so that your souls get rest.

     You know how it is when you first lie down, how your heart is racing, beating hard. Then it slows down and you begin to feel relaxation and rest coming on and you can go to sleep. Jesus gives us the sleep of heavenly peace, because our hearts rest in the One who made us for himself. And we enjoy and keep this rest even when we work. That is the rest that refreshes us with real coping power thereafter. With it we can stride through great ordeals unimaginable, even as if they were mere trifles. There’s human rest after which we get tired. You know you wake up and you’re still tired and then we operate on low energy. But then there is divine rest, after which God works through us, and we never burn out, like the burning bush that does not consume its branches. Jesus is telling us about divine sustainability.

Take my yoke upon you! Now a yoke hangs two animals together so they both can pull the heavy load, impossible for one alone to manage. Well, you’re pulling on your side and you look over at who it is with you on the other side and it is Jesus pulling under the yoke right with you. Of course, it is really Jesus in your heart, the strength of your strength, the light of your life, the song of your soul that becomes your salvation.

That’s why Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light. He fills us with love, good faith, and trust, keeps our feet on the straight and narrow, and we sing, “He’s not heavy, he’s my brother!” The music of the Gospel is playing in your ear and you say, I don’t feel a burden, even doing the heaviest and most difficult work. You don’t feel an obligation. You sing, “I can’t help loving you!” All our actions become spontaneous joy, because we love the ones we’re with and it is a joy to be with them and if not, because some people are pretty difficult, we repent by caring for them with the patience from on high and the grace of God will still make all our burdens light.

Now privileged, superior, chosen, and entitled folks don’t get it. Jesus says, “Thank you Father, for revealing it to babes and infants.” The joy in the Lord is so obvious in children. They can be seen to play happily even during a war.

In our Luther Musical, we are going to have a court Jester, a fool, and he is going to be in doctoral robes. Highly educated, but does not get it. He will have a sign saying, “I’m highly edjumacated!” When we take Jesus’ yoke upon us, become gentle and humble of heart, then God fills us with divine wisdom from on high. That is the divine light of the Kingdom of Heaven for the children of God. Amen.

Written by peterkrey

July 10, 2017 at 6:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Dominion of Sin versus the Dominion of Grace: Pentecost IV -July 2, 2017

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The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost July 2nd 2017

Jeremiah 28:5-9 Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18 Romans 6:12-23 Matt 10:40-42

The Dominion of Sin versus the Dominion of Grace:

(over which, as God Promised, the Son of David, Jesus Christ rules forever)

Here we are on the threshold of another Fourth of July. I brought up the negative legacy of our country last time, but we should also celebrate our country for its blessings. I remember when I ministered in Berlin that I had to cross Check-point Charlie and go into East Germany many times. I always felt a huge sense of relief when I was back under the American flag. Tomorrow some of us will think about how our country needs to repent for its wicked side. But on the Fourth we should remember our many blessings and celebrate them, because our country also has a blessed side and we want God to continue to bless America.

My text for this morning is the prayer for today:

O God, you direct our lives by your grace, and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world. Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

This prayer captures our lessons well, because we have a dominion of grace and one of sin, an enslavement righteousness and justice or to sin. God’s Word brings justice, but not the revengeful, vindictive kind, but a justice filled with mercy. We have to be a people molded to welcome God’s word. That means we need to grow in our ability to hear the truth. And to welcome God’s word, is welcoming Jesus Christ, welcoming a prophet and a righteous person.

We pray that Christ direct our lives by God’s grace so that God’s words filled with compassionate justice reshape our world. What good is the blessing of our country’s freedom if we are slaves to sin? We pray that God direct our lives by grace so that we are redeemed from a life that is enslaved to sin, like selfishness, greed, corruption. Grace means receiving all kinds of blessings which we don’t deserve. It’s like despairing in a course that we can’t keep up with and then learning only one thing and finding that one is the only question in the test. That’s grace: we are sinful, but God looks at us through rose-colored glasses and sees no wrong.

A good metaphor for being enslaved to sin is the plight of an addict. The addiction ends up controlling a person’s whole life. I heard one addict say how he had to break into cars to feed his habit. An alcoholic gets down so low that he steals the grocery money out of his wife’s purse to get another drink, meanwhile his children have to starve.

When we are enslaved to sin, what good is our freedom? Thus we pray that God lead us out of our captivity to sin into a life directed by God’s grace. We might have freedom under a blue sky, but under the beautiful heaven of God’s grace, we have quality relationships filled with love, forgiveness, and compassion. And life blossoms; there’s healing and good faith and trust and reconciliation, and the solidarity of people spreads. Like Abraham Lincoln, who had a great soul, when asked about his enemies, said, “How do I destroy my enemies? By making them my friends.” Persons are featured in the dominion of grace and race, class, gender, sexual orientation fades into the background.

But enslavement to sin is rearing up its ugly head amongst us. My son in Chattanooga texted me the other day that Neo NAZI White Supremacists showed up at his concert bent on disrupting the event. He said that the police came and sorted it out. He said he wanted to punch them in the mouth, but he was no tough guy.

I said, let the police handle it and charge them with a hate crime. To punch them and get into a fight is just what they want. They want to provoke others to become violent just like they are. So, the point is not to get sucked into their violence, because it’s enslavement to sin.

What is troubling right now is that these kinds of hate mongers are being given a license to spread their hate and divisiveness right from our White House. That is really bad news for our country. When immigrants are scapegoated for a system that takes away from the poor and showers it on the rich, then hate for immigrants and strangers result. Using words that come directly out of our last presidential campaign, a guy yelled racial slurs at two young women, apparently Moslem because one was wearing a hijab, saying, “Go back to the country you came from.” Three young men defended them and the he knifed them, stabbing two to death and badly injuring the third. And that criminal’s last name was Christian! Can you believe it? He makes our name unholy! Evil words reshape our world into an evil place. Hateful actions are brought about by the powerful shouting hateful words and the wages of such actions are violence and death.

In our prayer, the welcome is for the Word of God. So, let our hearts welcome the Word of God. “Mold us into people who welcome your word and serve one another.” To welcome God’s word is to welcome Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God. And when we have welcomed God’s Words in our hearts, then we are in the presence of Christ. When we have welcomed Christ, then we have also welcomed God, the One who sent him.

Our lessons also say that we have to welcome a prophet, one like Jeremiah, who tells us what we don’t want to hear. I know that it is hard to hear too much truth; my own ears shut down when I can’t take it. But we can shoulder it together and help each other hear it. Because a prophet is telling the truth out of love. The truth mothers trust and love just like lies mother hate and violence. Without having respect for the truth and without developing a growing ability to hear it, there cannot be any trust and where there is no trust, people operate in bad faith.

In Jeremiah’s time the Prophet Hananiah prophesied good news – that the vessels that the Babylonians had stolen from the temple would be returned and God would bring back the exiles from Babylon. Jeremiah gave us the test for a true prophet – if the words he utters come true. In history of Israel, Hananiah turned out to be a false prophet and it was the doom that Jeremiah foretold that came true:

Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon took all of Judah into captivity, destroyed the temple and Israel was no more until Cyrus of Persia, that is Iran, defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return to Israel and restore the temple.

So, people had to hear the hard truth of the prophet.

Just like Al Gore was ridiculed when he said that global warming would flood the subways of New York. In one storm, in southern Manhattan, the subways were flooded, which has never happened before, and even the power grid was knocked out by the flood waters. Many still do not believe global warming is taking place and they ridicule Gore. But his words came true.

Scientists talk in durations of time, like for example, 68 million years. If we experience an eco-collapse, they figure it will take millions of years to recover. On the Fourth our country will only be 241 years old. Wouldn’t it be wise to listen to the scientists? Even if they are wrong, we would have taken better care of our planet. If they are right we a playing with the end of the world. Imagine erasing the scientific data off the government website and firing the scientists who are warning us!

Usually prophets are hated and persecuted. Jesus says, even if you give a cup of water to one of them, such a small gesture, you will receive your reward, because compassion will flood your soul. You will feel and experience the grandeur of being a human being, a real person, a true Mensch. And you will have a great big welcome in your heart for Christ, who died on the cross loving and saving us and who was raised on the third day and sits at the right hand of God ruling the dominion of grace with a heart of truth, full of love, forgiveness and compassion.

On the signs in front of our churches we often write, “All are welcome!” all are welcome who come as servants of Christ, who come to learn about trusting in God, who are sick of living a lie and want to be baptized by the truth. Neo-Nazis with demons in their hearts wanting to spread hate and be violent are not welcome. I mean someone like that white supremacist, whom I refuse to name, the one who killed the pastors and the others in that bible study in Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, he is not welcome. And another is not welcome even if he now lives in the White House.

What good times we had with President Obama, Michelle and their two lovely daughters just a short while ago and how proud we could be of the White House. Now, what a change! The racist undercurrents that have always been part of our society are rearing up their ugly heads, seemingly given a license to do so from the White House. The blindness of racism cannot see the good and champions hate speech and violence. The wages of racism is death, to interpret St. Paul.

So, let us pray that God direct our people into Christ’s dominion of grace, so that the eyes of the blind are opened, so love, compassion, and forgiveness become God’s gifts bringing life and life more abundant, even eternal life, as St. Paul says. “The wages of sin is death, God’s gift is eternal life.”

And mind you, Paul when his name was Saul, was like those Neo-Nazis to the first Christians. God stopped him in his tracks and changed him into a missionary of grace. Let’s pray for our White House and for those Neo-Nazi White supremacists that God baptize them with the truth so they die to their life of death, destruction, and violence, and God raise them up into God’s dominion of Grace, calling these demonic people out of the darkness into God’s marvelous angelic light. Let us pray the prayer for today together again:

O God, you direct our lives by your grace, and your words of justice and mercy reshape the world. Mold us into a people who welcome your word and serve one another, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Written by peterkrey

July 2, 2017 at 11:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized