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Christ is the Rock: a Sermon at the Church Picnic, August 27th, 2017

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The Time after Pentecost  August 27th 2017

Isaiah 51:1-6 Psalm 138 Romans 12:1-8 Matthew 16:13-20

Christ is the Rock

This worship was taking place at Bethlehem’s annual picnic: What a wonderful thing to worship out here under the open sky in the temple made by God’s hands and not by ours: out here in the grass and under the trees, instead of in pews and under a roof of our making. So let us witness out here to Jesus Christ our Lord, the way Peter did. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”

How gracious Jesus was to Peter! Jesus answers, “And you are Peter” – or the rock, petros means rock in Greek, “and upon this rock [petra] I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” We know how shaky Peter was, how he denied Jesus three times and so often over-reacted. A little further on in our scripture Jesus has to say “Get thee behind me, Satan” to him! But Peter learned to stand on Christ the solid rock, upon which we also stand, as shaky and sinful as we also often can be. We know that Christ is the Rock and upon that solid Rock we can take our stand. All other ground is sinking sand!

It is important to realize that the place Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus asked his disciples who people said he was and more important still, who they said he was, was the center of pagan worship and the place of the Caesars. There was a grotto there where the god Pan was worshiped and where the Caesars named the city after themselves. So in effect, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God, the power and the glory and the dominion are yours and they do not belong to the Caesars ruling the Roman Empire. Because the one true God sent his Messiah into the world to save us, the way no earthly ruler can do. For us, Jesus also conquered death!

The Son of the living God was there when the world was created. Check out the Prologue of the Gospel of John. Yes, in the creation when God placed the sun, moon, and stars in the sky, the Son set them orbiting and spinning like a top in space and made it possible for the moon, which is 400 times smaller than the sun, to go to just right place to eclipse the sun, the way we saw it Monday! Did you get a chance to see it? We may have seen it at 90% after driving 40 miles to get out from under our cloud cover.  Then God knew to keep the sun, which has a corona with a temperature of millions of degrees in Fahrenheit, just the right distance from us to nurture and sustain our lives. Did that happen by chance? No God created the heavens and the Earth!

But the Son of God is close to each one of us and can be in our hearts, the way no earthly ruler can be, and save us, even through the valley of death and bring us into the kingdom of his and our Father!

“On Christ the solid rock we stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.”[1] We become living stones, hewn from the Quarry, the Rock of Christ, and we make up the living church and it is good to be out here, where the church building does not distract us from how we are the church. Yes, we are the living stones of the church.

I read the papers religiously, because Karl Barth said to read the Bible but also the newspapers to translate the Bible into our times. Look at this heading: “I worship Jesus, not Xi Jinping.”[2] The writer is a Christian in Hong Kong, who is going to jail because he opposes the way the Chinese government is co-opting Christianity, saying that to follow the government’s lead of “One Belt, One Road” their slogan, would also spread the gospel. Meanwhile they are restricting free speech, freedom of assembly and the democratic rights that Hong Kong had under Britain, but now is losing under China. The government of China is atheist and very worried to keep communism alive and they don’t like Christians. So in one province they started removing all the crosses from on-top of the churches. Then they started tearing them down, razing the churches down to the ground, pretending they had structural problems, to stop the Christians from worshipping. The Christian writer of this article, Derek Lam has been protesting these anti-Christian actions of the government. Now he will go to jail with other Christian activists like him, who dare to protest. Because he is going to jail, he can no longer become a pastor and he has had his heart set on becoming a pastor! Jail in the laws over there must rule it out, while Jesus sat in jail before his trial. Peter was imprisoned and sat in jail. What kind of a rule is that? But just like Peter witnessed to Christ, the Son of the living God right where the Caesars sponsored a pagan religion, Derek Lam is witnessing to Christ, right in the face of the powerful ruler of China, Xi Jinping.

Now the question: the government does not take the crosses off our churches in our society. The government does not tear down our churches so that we can’t worship. Why does one church after another close in our midst? Did we conform to the world rather than transform the society around us? Why did St. Philip’s close and have to join Bethlehem? Why did First Lutheran and our Savior’s have to join up to become United and we wonder what other churches will close? We have to ponder our witness. We have to say that it’s upon Christ the solid rock upon which we stand and all other ground is sinking sand. We have to become chips of the block, the Rock of Christ. Christ the solid Rock has to become the foundation of our lives and we have to figure out what makes the forces in our society be able to destroy our churches better and faster than the communists can do it in China.

My friend from Merced came and visited us Thursday. He lives right beside the new university there. Many of the students are in bad shape and there are many suicides. But they can’t get students to come to their church. So he is doing a meditation group, not calling it a prayer group and hopes to give students a spiritual basis, which they sorely need. Not to mention all the addictions and O.D.’s taking place in many parts of our country! People are missing a spiritual basis.  What is a spiritual basis, but Christ the solid rock upon which they can stand, because right now they are on sinking sand. My friends’ wife is in the church council. They talk about budgets, the conditions of the lawn, the church roof, and other things like that. Nothing the matter with that – but what about developing the spiritual basis that the people there and also the students need?

We don’t want people to come to our churches because we need them to fill our pews and make offerings, but because they need a spiritual basis strong enough to overcome all the negative forces in the our society today. They are in the sinking sand and need the power from on high, the angel power, that we get from the solid rock upon which we stand! So we need to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, like Paul says, and not be conformed to this world. We need to care about those out there so much that we witness like Peter to them about where their lives can be directed and sustained and unfolded into the living rocks who are chips off the solid Rock of Christ.

You know the story about the frog in water that was being heated on a stove. The heat was turned up only gradually and the frog never jumped out and got boiled to death. Our churches are like that in our society. It has become more and more ungodly, selfish, individualistic, materialistic, and before you know it, we have become conformed to the world, turned in upon ourselves and after we have lost our salt, what good are we to our solid Rock? What help are we to our society?

But as shaky as Peter was, Christ entrusted the witness to him, and by God’s grace, Christ also says to us: Blessed are you, because flesh and blood has not revealed our recognizing Christ, but the Father in heaven. And Christ promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against us. They will not prevail against Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Oakland! So let us witness to all those in need, those who are becoming casualties of our society, that Christ is the solid rock upon which they can stand, all other ground is sinking sand! Amen.

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[1] The well known hymn: “My Hope is built on nothing Less.”

[2] The New York Times, Friday, August 25th, 2017, Op-Ed page, A 23: “I worship Jesus, Not Xi Jinping.” 

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Written by peterkrey

August 29, 2017 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

White Tribalism is Evil. A Sermon for August 20th, 2017

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The Time after Pentecost  August 20th 2017

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 Psalm 67 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 Matthew 15:10-28

White Tribalism is Evil.

The times we are experiencing can leave us with a heavy heart. What reared up its ugly head in Charlottesville mocks everything Christians stand for, and can you believe?, some Christians support it. They are the blind leading the blind or worse. We don’t have to go far to prove it. It is expressed forcefully right in today’s lessons. Isaiah features the foreigner and it is easy to see that he is referring to immigrants. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Jesus cites this passage when he cleanses the temple:

My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples, but you have made it into a den of thieves.  (Mark 11:17; Mat 21:13)

Isaiah continues:

Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

Thus Philip baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch, forbidden in older scriptures by Moses. And even though they take us way out of our comfort zone, our Lord God is gathering Gays and Lesbians, Trans-folk and others whom we like to cast out of our midst. Our military has done a wonderful job putting together diversity and that makes us strong. Diversity enriches us and makes us strong!

Let’s consider history, in World War Two estimates are that from 50 to 80 million people lost their lives. Germans wanting White supremacy and Japan exclusively for Japanese made a bid to rule the world. Notice that by default, the United States and the Soviet Union became the two world leading powers: we, a diversity of many peoples and the Soviets, a European and Asian, Orthodox and Moslem power. Real strength comes from diversity not from some ethnic, clannish, and racial tribalism.

After all that murderous history, how could those demonstrators have spouted NAZI anti-Semitic slogans? Look at St. Paul. He writes that God remains faithful to the Jews, even if they rejected the Messiah Jesus. That rejection made their blessings overflow and become a blessing for us Gentiles, so that we too have become honorary Jews, through Jesus Christ our Lord. And God was faithful to us when we were nowhere near the faith we needed in the one true God. God also remains faithful to the Jews. In the words of St. Paul:

For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable!

How wonderful the God we worship! Even when we become disobedient, our gracious God remains at work redeeming us and will continue to do so as long as it takes. That wonderful God whom we worship has our back and loves us more than a doting mother loves her child. Then why not love God in return and love our neighbors and the strangers, immigrants, and even get out of our comfort zones and love the outcasts of our society? If we obey God, we will have everything to win.

Bigotry, racism, tribalism, and xenophobia go way back. In the Gospel lesson, we come to the abrupt realization that the Jews were brought up calling the Canaanites dogs! There was no love lost between the Jews and those people from Tyre and Sidon, and do you notice how Jesus led his disciples out of their comfort zones to be among them?

Joshua was ordered to annihilate them in a holy war. That is a very unholy command in the Old Testament. Jesus says, “You have heard what is said of old, but I say unto you, ‘love your enemies,’” etc. We read the scriptures begging the Holy Spirit to have us read it with the eyes and mind of Jesus Christ.

So in our story, Jesus turns around and lets this pesky, bothersome woman approach him. After all she is calling him, “Son of David.” “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!” She was screaming for their help relentlessly. The word used in Greek is krazo, referring to the unpleasant cry of a crow! Caw! Caw! The disciples ask Jesus to send her away, but Jesus talks to her breaking through all the walls and barriers between their peoples. Don’t forget that dogs were not pets in those days, they were rejected eye-sores and considered pests.

I remember a scene in a documentary about Gypsies, who are now called Roma and who have been persecuted in Europe for hundreds of years. From a hilltop overlooking a village, this woman screams: “You treat your dogs better than you treated me!”

A Jew wrote about his experience in New York when White people threw pennies down beside the swimming pool to see little Jewish children scramble to pick them up. A father rushed in to lead the children away, while the White people were laughing derisively, ridiculing them. They were trying to identify the Jews with money, filthy lucre, the old form of anti-Semitism. After all those millions of Jews, Gays, Jehovah Witnesses, and resisters died in those concentration camps, how could those hate-mongers spout those Nazi slogans again?

As Jesus explained, what comes out of those mouths defiles them and they have proven that they are a “basket of deplorables” unless they repent. The hatred and threats coming out of their mouths meant to intimidate and frighten us all, especially with militia openly backing them with semi-automatic assault rifles! That probably also frightened the police!

Jesus listened to the Canaanite woman and reasoned with her. She did not become offended but kept on keeping on despite being referred to as a dog. She knew that the man, who was in front of her, had an open heart, a heart open to all and that is why we say, “Let all the people praise you! O Lord, let all the peoples praise you!” Those are the words in our Psalm for today.

She countered Jesus with, “even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall under the master’s table.”

Sometimes we feel that crumbs are all we get and all we expect out of life! But let me tell you, the crumbs that we receive from Jesus are more sumptuous than the banquet tables of White privileged racists. A neo-Nazi Jeff Hall, who believed in and fought for an all-White society, taught his little ten-year old son to hate so well, that after he had punished him, his son took his dad’s revolver while he slept and shot him in the head. That happened in Riverside, CA on May 1st 2011.

Like Jesus said, when the blind lead the blind, they all fall into the pit. Look at the number that they did on President Obama obstructing everything he wanted to do. Some of it might have been legitimate difference in politics, but how much of it was racism? How beautiful that family, Pres. Obama, Michelle, and their two lovely daughters, and his administration remained without scandal, which has not happened in many presidencies. And this president makes it an ugly White, White House and even calls it a dump!

What is happening today is very dangerous, because our democracy has been dysfunctional. The democracy of the Weimar Republic was also fragile and Hitler’s thugs were able to overturn it.

Now another subject: We have to be capable of critical thinking. In the gospel lesson Jesus shows that he is a critical thinker. Don’t you understand, he asks his disciples, that the kosher laws do not make you ethical? That is something outward. We can take a shower, but have a dirty, rotten, filthy heart. Someone wearing a clean white T-shirt can be filled with hate and violence. What came out of those mouths in Charlottesville defiled those fellows, like Jesus said. Our society is saturated with violence already, but we have to prevent it from going to a higher level altogether. Like Hitler used the Jews, this administration has also scapegoated the most vulnerable among us for the sake of attaining power, cruelly tearing families apart.

How can some Christians be fooled by that? The prophet must ask again, “How blind can my servants be?” Jesus lifts up the most vulnerable. He champions the foreigner, the immigrant, the refugee, the outcast and declares: how great is your faith! And he provides her with the help she requested.

How blind we are: when the greatest refugee crisis since World War Two engulfs the world, we shut our doors. And who destabilized the Middle East? Remember Colin Power and the pottery barn rule? “You break it, you own it.”

Something demonic came out of the cover of the Internet and they didn’t even bother to wear hoods.

What does Isaiah say, maintain justice and do what is right and God’s deliverance will come. And foreigners, we could translate the word, and say immigrants, who participate in our society, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will also bring them to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer, for my house of prayer shall be called a House of prayer for all peoples.’” That does not sound like building a wall. It does not sound like White tribalism.

Tribalism in defense of powerless people helps by providing a little protection. That’s for the powerless. Tribalism of the powerful intending to victimize others is evil. White tribalism demonstrated by carrying torches and shouting NAZI slogans like “blood and soil” is evil. This country does not belong to White anti-Semitic supremacists. “This land is your land and my land.”

Like St. Paul said, “The gifts and calling of the Jews are irrevocable.” Jews are still God’s children and one day they too will turn to Christ and bring us all to the top of God’s Holy Mountain. As Abraham’s children, they have already brought countless blessings to the nations.

Let me end by just introducing the word adiaphora. It distinguishes what is essential from what is not and in the spirit of Jesus, it requires critical thinking. Our faith does not ask us to unscrew our heads, take them under our arm and not use them. Jesus explains that washing our hands before we eat does not make us ethical. It is a matter of hygiene. My mother used to say that we had to eat a wheel barrow full of dirt before we died. That really gives our immune system something to fight in order to prevent allergies. But if you serve people in a restaurant, you better wash your hands. And what’s more doctors have to wash their hands and some still forget to do it. Doctors used to work on cadavers and then deliver a baby without washing their hands and many women died in childbirth with infections. In this case, washing hands is no longer adiaphora, it is essential and those doctors did not know that by not washing their hands they used to kill many mothers who were giving birth.

Jesus was distinguishing hygiene from ethics. Just washing your hands like Pilate did after condemning Jesus to be crucified, did not wash the blood off his hands. Even if he had had dirty, unwashed hands and declared Jesus innocent and released him, then he would have had clean hands, as the saying goes, in the sense of having been righteous. Jesus asks us to be critical thinkers. “Can’t you see? Can’t you understand these distinctions” Jesus is asking us as well as his disciples. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by peterkrey

August 20, 2017 at 11:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized