Archive for the ‘Before Old Zion’ Category
Living the Gospel Story – Easter VII – May 27th 2001
Acts 16:16-34 – Psalm 97 – Revelations 22: 12-14, 16-17,20-21 – John 17: 20-26
Today we heard another gospel story from the Acts of the Apostles, written by St. Luke. Do you remember last week how I said that when we are doing the mission of Jesus Christ our Lord, then the same stories fill our lives the way they filled the life of Christ: Jesus is betrayed by a kiss. He has his feet washed by a woman, who dried them with her hair, and anointed him the Christ. Sometimes we are so familiar with these stories, we don’t realize how powerful they are.
The story about Paul and Silas is also a gospel story and we can see what magical music it adds to their witness. Paul is annoyed by a slave girl, whose spiritual powers are being used by her owners to make money. We should never use our spiritual gifts for that purpose. Paul drives the devil out of her. The owners take it hard and throw Paul and Silas in jail, after beating them with rods. Talk about suffering for the gospel! “They are given a severe flogging,” it says, and then with their feet locked into stocks, they are clapped in jail.
Did Paul and Silas moan? No, they felt like it for sure, because they must have been sore all over. But they started praying and singing hymns, to which the other prisoners were all listening.
Do you see the power of the Spirit? Do you see how they used rejoicing as an antidote to their suffering?
And when the earthquake struck, you would have thought they would flee. It was now easy to break out of the prison. No, in the spirit they even saved the life of the warden, who had helped to torture them.
This gospel story comes right out of the Spirit of God busy with changing the hearts of people. when Paul and Silas started singing in that hell-hole of a prison, it changed into a place of wonder through which people could enter the gates of heaven.
The warden recognized the promises of God, the life of promise Paul and Silas represented and he wanted to be saved. There is the warden and his family eating with the prisoners and washing and treating their wounds! Each are filled by a love from on high that was ready to lay down his or her life for the other. St. Thomas tells of transubstantiation. Could this be called trans-institutionalization? In any case their hearts made that prison melt into a church.
This love is at one with Jesus, the Son, who laid down his life for us; and the Father and Holy Spirit, who are inside each other, bound each to each in a heavenly circle of love capable of changing all our hearts and filling them with the same love.
Let us pray that the whole house of St. John’s Lutheran Church become such believers and such lovers of God! Amen.
A woman called on the telephone this week and asked, “Can we buy your church?”
“No,” I asid, “we worship in it.”
“Really?” she said. “The way it looks, nobody is there.” That was a blow. Do we look that way to the people who come by? I started asking questions about who they are and their ministry. They are only seven weeks old as a church. They meet in a park on 78th Street, going where the spirit leads them, witnessing in the street. They target the fellows selling drugs for conversion and their young men keep witnessing to them until they join their fellowship. She said that they had grown to be 150 believers in seven weeks!
Wow! You see how God’s arm has not grown too short to reach into our world, into the streets of Oakland.
I said, “we have a somewhat poor and depressed neighborhood and we have only gotten a few members over the years.”
“Poor and depressed?” she responded. “I’ve been doing evangelism in Haiti and you do not know what poverty is!”
I hope we send a delegation to them from our church and let their fire catch hold of our hearts and make them burn for the gospel of Jesus Christ for the sake of saving the lost. Let us start the gospel story of St. John’s. Let us start living it. We have to work in the day, because the night can come in which no one can work.
Prayer will get us there! Trinity Lutheran Church has done the healing service, starting it with prayer-warriors. They had 135 attend their anniversary service.
We have to get ready for Pastor Otto Bremer’s memorial service and we want to stand there and witness to Jesus Christ and the justice and peace he stood for.
Prayer will get us there! Christ will reveal our mission and the power of prayer will put us all into a living story of the gospel. Will it ever be exciting! Like the story of Jesus, like the story of Paul, like the stories of all the saints, who witnessed for Jesus Christ before us. Believe the gospel for us! Believe the promises of God! Prayer will get us there!
This summer our neighborhood is going to know that St. John’s is here. We want to have this place humming with vacation church school and day camp: humming, singing, and most of all living the new story of the Gospel, which is really the old story we have loved so well.
I wish I was a prophet, who could already tell you the story. But I can’t, because we have not yet lived it and witnessed it. But I can tell you how it will start: “One time there was a church, called St. John’s on 55th Avenue in Oakland….”
It would be interesting to compare this sermon with the one preached for Zion of Baltimore, October 1, 2006 and posted two days later, 10/03/2006. It presents some interesting ideas. To the right are two pictures of the interior of St. Phillip’s, die Phillipusgemeinde in German. Hopefully I will get a chance to translate this sermon at some point.
This sermon tries to show the continuity of Jesus’ ministry in the Acts of the Apostles and the congregation of St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church in Coney Island, New York. A brochure from 1977 is also here.
In those days, I was the chair of the Community Council and Hamma School of Theology was facing some critique, because we had just been through the sixties and 1970 was not that far removed.
I was working in First Lutheran Church in Cincinnati during the summers and there I experienced racial rioting. I got beaten up very badly walking through the streets one evening and afterward I would have trouble finding my way to places that had never been a problem before. It takes a while to recover from almost having been killed. I got lost very badly trying to find the Dayton Counseling Center, but in the first session with the Rev. Grover Criswell, I could feel myself getting better.
On the last page: Morry Knauss had had a horrendous motorcycle accident, I believe, and had recovered despite a very dire prognosis, only to become stricken with terminal cancer. He was the Knauss’ only son and the grief was heartrending.
The manuscript is quite hard to read, so here is a transcription:
A Homily Preached for Hamma School of Theology, the Alumnae, Pastors of the Ohio Synod, and the Community
Dec. 7th 1970
The text for my words is written in the first epistle of St. Peter in the 9th verse of the 2nd chapter:
“But you are a chosen race, the King’s priests, the holy nation, God’s own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you from the darkness into his own marvelous light” (1 Peter 1:9).
This little text tries to build up a guy’s ego in a small way. To me it’s a “sola scriptura” kind of an experience, sometimes.
What does Hamma mean to me? What do I have to contribute to it?
I don’t think Hamma is an institution with a consumer mentality. It does not ransack the country or the state for shiny products, sprinkle some tinsel on them, and send them out to sprinkle tinsel on others, like Tinkerbelle. At Hamma I have found a deep commitment that takes the new students that arrive as they are. Hamma does not take only those students who will succeed. She also takes those, who are a great risk, and has the trust to invest in them her very existence. When she does this she realizes that she might fail – and all the painstaking labor with and for an individual in training might be lost.
But in this kind of a movement, because this whole country is in a crisis and at a cross roads, (wherein her institutions are being shaken) – I find the feeling of a steadfastness. The men who are the teachers of this school are willing to standby – where lesser men would fold up. I have watched them standby while someone comes out of terrible self-obsessions into a new light filled with the warmth and the glow of the concern of other people and enabling a concern for others. Hamma gives of her Lord and Savior somehow in, with, under, and thru her curriculum.
Deep, deep inside me there is a commitment that bids me proceed on this pilgrimage, this outward journey to a new life – and to help others along the way – those who have not stumbled over the same obstructions so many times before and have not yet found the way thru such a hang-up to a greater growth and maturity beyond. So arm in arm on our way we support one another in this struggle together as we follow after our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I can’t say that this struggle started for me at Hamma. That would not be true. But when there was no hope for a future and no direction for a man to turn, this school stood by with faithful trust and even respect. In each experience of acceptance, I found myself a little startled, a little surprised by the recognition of an acceptance which I could not often muster for myself.
So the verse I read you is a verse my father gave me for my confirmation. I would like to change that word a little to “affirmation.” Within this verse I find a few words that affirm myself and my existence. And they make me able to affirm and celebrate your existence before me; celebrating together the mighty acts of God.
What’s more, Hamma has done much to take this old and hardened Lutheran and remove the monster from his sky – and try to show him again and again something of the love of God by introducing me to his Son – Christ Jesus. Somehow God loves us and that’s important.
Because you know, there’s a start, a beginning…and a future opens up in an affirmation, a great big “YES” a resounding “AMEN.” So together we celebrate our existence here, giving each other a great big OK….knowing full well that in doing so we declare the wonderful acts of God who is at work for our salvation, calling us out of the darkness into his own marvelous light. This is our proclamation. Amen.
Peter Krey, Dec. 7, 1970
Pentecost VI: July 16,1995
1 Kings 19: 14-21 Psalm 16 Galatians 5:1, 13-25 Luke 9: 51-62
Receiving a Shiny, Brand New Person:
In the Freedom of Christ
St. Paul presents us with the Magna Charta of Christian Freedom. “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand fast, therefore, and do not submit to the yoke of slavery again.” You know about how the nobles of King John gathered around him and made him share some freedom. That is what the Magna Charta is about. Also notice how St. Paul immediately bids us to become slaves as well. This freedom gives the power of love which turns us into slaves for one another. That’s why Luther in his treatise on the Freedom of the Christian Person spoke of the two sentences: “The Christian person is the free sovereign of all subject to no one. And the Christian Person is the dutiful servant of all, subject to everyone.”
Luther feels that the freedom of a Christian is more precious than political freedom or any freedom of the flesh. What St. Paul calls the “freedom of the flesh,” we might refer to as “material freedom.” An example of an experience of material freedom: when a teenager gets a car, a new freedom is experienced, an ability to get where you are going. It feels like almost anywhere. And that is freedom. But that freedom cannot hold a candle to the freedom we receive from Christ. Political freedom is an important value; it is a downright need, and countries that are controlled by others politically and economically, find that the dominating country fills the needs of its people first, and usually at the oppressed country’s expense. Political and economic freedoms are very important, but again, they cannot hold a candle to the freedom we receive from Christ. “If the Son sets you free, then you are free indeed.” Thus whomever Christ sets free is truly free. “When you continue in God’s Word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth is the person, Jesus Christ. A life in Christ is a life in truth. Thus it is Christ, the Truth, who sets you free.
Mostly in our day and age material freedom is valued over the freedom of Christ. But reading Luther’s commentary on Galatians can change one’s mind. For Luther one drop of the freedom of Christ is worth more than an ocean of material freedoms. One needs to see this freedom with spiritual eyes. Common sense pretty much will let us down here. According to Luther, the “freedom for which Christ has set us free” is enormous and infinite. Not even speaking in the tongues of men and of angels, or of women and of angels, for that matter, gives us a language adequate to its description. Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor can we at all imagine the beauty of that freedom. For Luther that gift of freedom means instead of law and sin, instead of death, and facing the wrath of God – forgiveness of sins, righteousness, eternal life, and a God who is forever gracious and kind to us.
From Luther one can get the conception of “a heaven full of grace.” He writes that “God stretches an immense heaven of grace over us….” and does not count the sins against us, that we committed. Because we take hold of Christ in our hearts by faith, Christ opens this heaven full of grace to us. That is having much more than a new car and the experience of freedom it gives us. Or a new house with a swimming pool, with the freedom to go and take a dip. Or having a thriving business with the money you can roll in. And that is having much more than a free country. The freedom of Christ is that freedom out of which any country can have a new birth of freedom. But what’s more, it is more than just the freedom a new possession can give us with its powers, but it is the world given to us in a fresh creation, our lives, our relationships with those we love, and it is all we are, but under the smiling promises of God – with the immense heaven of grace stretching out over us, knowing that God’s full heart of compassion is beating with love for you and for me, not because we are such “cool people” or nice guys, or so wonderfully creative. Not at all. But because we are sinners. Christ loves us even though we are still the sinners that we are. Even though we are the ones who have fallen short, we are the ones who have fallen on our faces, or just in short, we are a fallen people – Jesus died for us – and paid the precious drops of his blood for us, for you and for me. Those precious drops of blood put us into God’s precious presence, and together we live in a little bit of God’s precious time, with God with us, and the freedom that spells for us.
Just think! The freedom we enter by faith is really Christ entering us – and Christ being ours, our very own. We are speaking about the very Lord of the Universe. Christ in us and that precious life is ours. Christ here in worship in a little Oakland church. What matter that it is a small congregation in a large building! Christ comes and gives christself to you – and you grasp and take hold of this Christ in faith – and yours is the freedom for which Christ has set you free.
Now this is radical freedom. We are no longer under the law. But then Paul says: Do not use this freedom as license, as an opportunity to gratify the desires of the flesh. When we hear that the law is no longer over us, we figure that anything goes. And in come the powerful desires of the flesh. But not so is it to be understood.
We are therefore to walk in the Spirit and not give in to the desires of the flesh. As soon as we give in to the desires of the flesh, we go back under the law and our freedom is lost.
Oftentimes people want to maintain that Paul is speaking only about sex by the term, “desires of the flesh.” And certainly the latter can be one example of gratifying the desires of the flesh. But when you look at Paul’s catalogue of these desires, only the first three refer to sexual matters, then he lists idolatry, sorcery, making enemies, fighting, anger, quarrels, factions, envy, etc.. The flesh to Paul means the whole person turned away from God and neighbor. Spirit means the whole person turned toward God and neighbor. Thus a person in worship for purely selfish reasons is gratifying a desire of the flesh, and sexual intimacy communicating the wonderful love of God can be pure in the Spirit.
One of the favorite tricks people like to play is acting as if sexual sins are the only ones in order to divert people from seeing sins related to power and greed, as well as sins that relate to false and unloving spirits. According to Luther the young are more tempted with sexual sins, the middle ages with those of power and property, and the elderly with spiritual sins. Now in reality the latter are the very worst. After spiritual sins, those of power and greed come next, and sexual sins are the least evil. Here a caveat is necessary. It is now possible to spread AIDS and therefore sexuality can now inflict a slow but inevitable death upon a partner. Luther did not know about AIDS, but syphilis was rampant in his day. People were dying of it. One thinks of Ulrich von Hutten, who was a leader of the Knights’ Rebellion, and later died of this disease. But just how many more people get a slow death because others devour them economically and use them for their purposes politically. “If you devour one another, take care you are not consumed by one another.” And when we contemplate spiritual sins, such as the false spirits of nationalism, militarism, racism, patriarchy, and capitalism, then we are speaking about millions upon millions of people lost.
The so-called “Christian Serbs” are falling upon the U.N. designated safe-areas, cutting men’s throats, even those of boys and youth, and raping women, even twelve and fourteen year olds, in one case, and doing this because they hate Moslems! They speak of “ethnic cleansing!” Their false spirits are as dirty as those of the NAZIS. That evil there has to be stopped. And we Christians have to speak up for those Moslems, because Christ loves them too, and died for them. Serbia is flouting the U.N. and is not only taking us into the time before the Cold War, but could well be opening the refrigerator door to an ugly future filled with religious and ethnic wars, that will make the capitalistic-communistic confrontation that has just closed look like child’s play. Let us Christians stand up for those Moslems and say, “No more!”
So racism, religious hatred, and religiously inspired violence are spiritual sins far worse than the other categories, and often the perpetrators of these sins along with those who perpetrate the ones revolving around greed, try to hide them by acting as if sexual sins were the only ones. In our ignorance we are easily fooled.
Notice how a brand of fascism is growing in our country with the militia Movement, the conspiracy theories, and bigots who are planning race wars in our country. Read the Turner Diaries which are being used as a guide for these false spirits. It even describes how a government building can be blown up by a manure bomb. The suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing had been selling this book for $5.00 each.
Today the sins looked at are pornography, abortions, homosexuality. In the attack on sexual sins is hidden some much more evil spiritual and power sins, sins that could set our country back, and rob our country of its integrity and the little soul it had.
Luther felt gratifying the desires of the flesh were to forget the poor and not open up opportunities for them, not give and share from what we have in abundance so they can live.
Pornography means evil. In that sense, that war over there in Bosnia and Serbia is pornographic and has to be stopped. The mean spirit against the poor and the immigrants in this country is pornographic and has to be stopped. So is the militia movement, and the ugly face of fascism. And the demeaning and depersonalizing illustration of human bodies as well, in sexual relations for the sake of profit, where men and women become completely dehumanized, give away or are robbed of all their dignity: that pornography has to be stopped. Human love and the bond holding together families and the community becomes lost when the most intimate expression of love becomes images sold on the market for profit.
When freedom is used for license to satisfy the desires of the flesh, the freedom of Christ is lost. That means we go back under the law, and get the wages of sin, which are paid out in death. But for all who take hold of Christ in faith, receive the freedom for which Christ has set us free, and with it the forgiveness of all our sins. With the immense heaven of grace stretched out over us, God will pardon us, because we accept Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. Now no longer do we live, but Christ loves in us. No longer are we the world, but the Kingdom. We can even be God’s own most favored nation. But right now we really need to pray against very evil spiritual clouds threatening us as they race across our sky, clouds full of hate moving over us. God help us! Amen!
For freedom Christ has set us free. No longer do we live, but Christ lives us.
Jeroslav Pelikan, editor, and Walter Hansen, Associate editor, Luther’s Works Vol. 27″ Lectures on Galatians 1535 Chapters 5-6 and Lectures on Galatians 1519 Chapters 1-6, (Saint Louis: Concordia publishing House, 1964), p. 86.
Homosexuality per se is no sin, because it seems God created us more diverse than we thought. But sins can be committed in homosexuality as in heterosexuality.
Pentecost XIX (Proper XXI) Sept. 28, 1997
Numbers 11: 4-6,10-16,24-29. Psalm 19: 7-14. James 5: 13-20 Mark 9: 38-54.
Needing to be Cruel to be Kind
Children’s sermon: I taught the children how to march, and taught them to chant in step with their time:
Two, four, six, eight:
we think Jesus Christ is great.
Eight, six, four, and two:
Jesus died for me and you.
Marching song, each line is echoed by children:
I don’t know, but I been told.
Jesus’s got a heart of gold.
He teaches us to do what’s right.
to march with him is out of sight.
Sound off. Sound off.
One, two, three, four,
One, two, three, four.
The sermon is about those difficult sayings in our Gospel message which speak of cutting off an arm, leg, or tearing out an eye. What does Jesus mean? I have some brutal stories the point of which, is to illumine Jesus’ meaning: we need to get into a new life-adaptation, and we have to do what it takes to stop our adaptation to and our acceptance of death.
Simon Tshenu Farasani of Venda, South Africa, told me about the torture he had to undergo when he refused to buckle under Apartheid. He told me about when they would hang him on poles on the bare ankles and wrists and let him swing there until he became unconscious with pain. He told me that at one point Christ took over and bore the pain for him.
What does it take for us to get out of the forces that make us die, and into a new adaptation of life?
Mad Max in a wretched scene at the end of the movie finally brings down the merciless villain, who did not spare his many victims. He chained him to a car about to explode. He gave him a hack saw and said: “If you cut the chain, the car will explode before you are done. If you cut off your leg with it, you will save yourself.”
His whimpering proved he would not choose life, through all that pain, but would die. He was not like some wolverine, or some animal caught in a bear trap, that would chew off its paw, its leg, to escape and break free.
Did you hear that the demonstrators, who were trying to save the giant redwood trees from being cut down, were pepper-sprayed before they were arrested? What an ugly thing to do! The police should know that over forty persons have already died from the effects of pepper spray. They were not using it on criminals, but on people who want to save the trees for future generations, who should also be able to admire them, who do not think profit is the bottom line. It seems that even the giant redwoods have to fall before the almighty dollar. And the giant redwoods stand like symbols for people that are bulldozed under for the sake of more profits, immigrants torn from their families, welfare mothers cut off from their sustenance, and down-sized workers – who cannot find reemployment.
One way of understanding downsizing in corporations is that they are pruning the vine, much like we prune back the trees in front of our church. Do-nothing workers, who do not bear fruit, get laid off. Even fruitful branches are cut back so they bear more fruit. But that might not be the real motivation for downsizing. It may be just another way to press down the people to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
Don’t go gentle into that good night. Don’t adapt to dying and adjust yourself to it. Once I had to struggle with a woman who had discovered she had a tumor in her breast, but would not go to the doctor until it was too late. Choose life, although the way goes through pain and much suffering. But there is hope beyond it. There is no hope if we adjust ourselves to dying.
We can be like children, who fight and holler, and don’t let a person get at the splinter in their finger. Now it does hurt to have it taken out. But that is pain with recovery on the other side. But an infection is much more pain. We hold the child, and take out the splinter.
To relate a more humorous story: if you read Sweet Thursday
and Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck, then you know how the high-brow doctor can’t get together with Thursday, even though they need each other, love each other, and could make their life together. She finally gives up on him, and packs her suitcases to leave.
Now there is a whole community of homeless, who are all involved in their love story. One of them is an idiot, who feels the incredibly heavy burden of responsibility to help them. He goes up on a hill to think what to do. It is difficult, Steinbeck says, because his ideas tend to get into a traffic jam in his brain. His ideas had to work themselves out of gridlock. Suddenly he realized what he had to do, and crying with pity for himself, that he had to do it, he took a baseball bat, and went where the doctor lay sleeping, and struck and broke his arm with it.
Thursday heard about it, just before stepping into the Greyhound bus, came rushing back, and nursed the doctor to health, and thus they were married.
How to pull out of the forces of death and dying, and to get into a new life-adaptation! Sometimes you hear of a person, a real specimen of health, real buff, to use a youthful expression, with perfect limbs, life, and plenty of money – and he jumps off a building, killing his whole body, committing suicide.
Then you hear of a person who loses an arm, a leg, or both legs, or an eye – and suddenly, whack! They enter a new life. They realize they had taken their whole body for granted, and had not appreciated anything in life.
What good is a dead congregation? What good are people who are the living dead? Who are really corpses, but who refuse to lay down? Who have eyes that don’t see; ears that don’t hear; hearts that are not moved by compassion, without rage against the injustices – and compassion without rage is said to be impotent!
What will it take for us to be the salty kind of congregation that seasons our whole community and gives it the gloriously delicious taste of living to the glory of God and in the enjoyment of God forever?
What will it take to adjust to children coming into worship, not knowing how to act in church, disturbing us so we cannot hear, and distracting us? What will it take to get up an hour earlier on Sunday, and get here for Sunday School? And what will it take to have new members come in, have them sit in our seats, places we have sat for ages, and have them take the positions we have held, take our places? Why not remain cozy and comfortable in our old habits and ways? No way!
Let us rise up into a new life-adaptation in this congregation, whatever we have to cut off, so that life prevails, and salvation, and justice, and renewal. The living children of God need to be born in all the travail, labor pains, contractions, in the laying our lives down on the line the way a birthing mother does, to usher in the new congregation and its new members. Amen.
From the Prayer:
What good are arms if they do not carry out the will of God?
What good are our feet, if they do not walk in the way of the Lord? What good are our eyes, if we don’t see the beautiful world and ourselves that God made, a precious gift, filled with God’s love?
Communion blessing: What good is our whole body, if it is not the body of Christ? Pastor Peter Krey
Dylan Thomas’s poem.
Good Shepherd Sunday
Trinity Lutheran Church, Fort Bragg, California
Jeremiah 23:1-6 Psalm 23 Ephesians 2:11-22 Mark 6:30-34 and 53-56
Standing Out in Bold Relief
Driving to Fort Bragg yesterday, we could do nothing again but marvel at the glorious countryside – the Anderson Valley, Mendocino, and Ft. Bragg. The beauty of this area stands out by being such a gift of God. I believe God uses the beauty of this nature: the holiness of the redwoods, the glory of the seashore – to invite us all to become the wonderful commonwealth that St. Paul writes about.
From it, however, we are still far off. We are aliens and strangers to this beautiful commonwealth, but the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ can lead, guide, and direct us by the cross, so that as a people we become taught and healed to be righteous by Jesus; healed of all the evil that clings to us, so that as followers of Jesus, we become so beautiful as this countryside.
When I was back in grade school, so many years ago, one of my teachers introduced maps in bold relief with so much enthusiasm that I still feel somewhat thrilled by these words today. Bold relief maps were not just flat and two dimensional, but in the place where there were mountains, it was raised up; where there were valleys, it was indented, and you could see the blues of rivers and lakes and the ocean.
Those of us who follow the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, need to stand out in bold relief as well, raised up as mountains of faith and lowered down in love and compassion in the beauty of our savior, who even surpasses natural beauty. “Fair is the sunshine, fair are the meadows;” but our beautiful savior is fairer, according to that beloved song.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads us to that beautiful commonwealth from the right hand of God just the same way as he did back there in the time of our lessons, when he sent out the twelve disciples, two by two, and they came back and gathered around Jesus telling him all the things they had done and taught the people. Jesus’ teaching raised them in faith and lowered them in love, so that they stood out and attracted so many people coming and going among them, that they did not even have time to eat. So Jesus said, “We need time alone. Let’s go to a deserted place, because we need rest.”
God needs us to rest, so that God’s gracious work can happen in us. The righteousness of faith needs to raise us, the love of God needs to fill us, because our ministry has to be sustainable, replenished as we rest and God ministers to us. Thus renewed we can again share this faith and love with the people of God, so we stand out as the beautiful people of the wonderful commonwealth of Jesus, the King of Righteousness, the righteous Branch, foretold by Jeremiah.
As our story continues, we discover, lo and behold, there is no rest for the weary. When the crowds saw Jesus and the disciples head off in a boat, they could tell where the little company was going, ran ahead and were waiting for them when they arrived at the shore.
Thereupon Jesus did not say, “Disburse them! I want a free-speech zone! It’s my day off! I’m on vacation. Push off from shore, we’ll lose them!” No, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, so he taught them many things.
Jesus will feed them with real bread later, all 5,000 of them. But the lesson is also pointing out that his teachings are the bread of heaven. “We do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3; Mat. 4:4; Luke 4:4). The word is the logos, interestingly, it is the same important word celebrated by the Greeks in their philosophy meaning “reasoning.” But for us it of course, stands for Jesus, but when Jesus uses it, as he does so many times when he explains the “sower and the seed” parable where he interprets the seed to be the logos, he means reasoning filled with faith, love, and the Holy Spirit. By his word we are raised up into the beautiful commonwealth governed by that King of Righteousness, that righteous Branch, Jesus Christ our savior, who died on the cross for us.
The bread of life, to repeat, is Jesus’ teaching. But we certainly need our daily bread. That is why Jesus puts this request into the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” We need good nourishment. Too much of the physical kind just makes me gain weight of course. How much, however, we need the special education Jesus gives us! Our lesson says, he taught the people many things. His teachings are food indeed, and with them Jesus raises us up into the beloved community, into which we unfold into our new selves, washed in baptism, fed by the word, so that we stand out in the beauty of sharing love and forgiveness and service. Jesus’ teaching is the manna from heaven and when we gather to be nourished by it, we grow.
Education really changes us and usually we do not even notice it when it happens. Suddenly we realize we have changed “by the renewal of our minds.” It never occurred to me that even while Jesus was ministering the disciples were also going about doing miracles and teaching people like Jesus. But Jesus sent them out and they were ministering the way he did – and in our lesson they come back and tell Jesus what they had taught the people. And the gravity of so much love attracted so many people, Jesus and the disciples cannot even meet their own needs: that is how much the people crowd around them.
Thank God! Trinity Fort Bragg has the same Good Shepherd, whose righteousness, love, and compassion for the people stand out in bold relief against the apathy, the debauched partying (of the Herodian crowd that sealed the fate of John the Baptist), the corruption, the readiness to take life, and cold calculated bloodshed, and the lie that anything goes when you can appeal to security. Herod even justified the slaughter of Bethlehem’s babies for the sake of security.
Jesus does not emphasize security. He breaks down the wall of hostility, because he became vulnerable. He was willing to go to the cross to break down the dividing wall, not to build one; to reconcile people, not write them off and make them fair game for killing; not to injure, maim, and bomb them to smithereens.
We certainly are far off from the commonwealth of Israel – to use St. Paul’s words. We are in very dark times, very much outside the beautiful commonwealth, aliens and strangers to it, indeed.
With the words, “the commonwealth of Israel” Paul means the spiritual Israel. I am not making a judgment on the flare-up of the war in the Middle East right now. Jesus is about the Gospel. The nations are under the law and reason. But that should not seal off the nations in a special compartment. While the nations use cold, calculating reason, which is all too ready to inflict terrible injuries and destroy life, the reasoning of the Gospel is filled with good faith, love, and compassion, that raises us up into the beautiful commonwealth.
What can be said is that the nations are at loggerheads with the reign of God and we see how far outside of it, how they rebel against it (see Psalm 2), and how far off we are. How we are not putting hostility to death, but fanning its flames to make it become more alive. . . as right now – as we speak – missiles fly and bombs fall and lives are being taken and the beauty of the earth is being changed into a landscape of ugly craters telling of new hostility and hatred, because we have all let loose the dogs of war.
Let Jesus teach us many things. His body which is our church, our community, has to stand out in bold relief from those whose sole concern is worldly bread, irrational security, and those who make the concerns of the nations ultimate. But Jesus shall separate the sheep from the goats, so our nation had better pay homage to the King of Righteousness, our Zedekiah, which means our “righteous Lord,” the Righteous Branch, our Messiah, Jesus Christ. Both the Greek word “Christ” and the Hebrew word, “Messiah” mean the one that God anointed and sent to rule over us. The Good Shepherd came to lead, guide, and direct us on the way of life. He did not come to take away life, but to give life and life more abundantly.
As the King of Righteousness he came to proclaim peace to those near and to those far off. The Righteous Branch brings the reign of God by showing us the way of life. It is not one of security but vulnerability – Jesus goes to the cross. He offers his life for the sake of reconciliation. He demonstrates the greatest love the world has ever known. If we could only learn what he taught us, then our nations would be turned inside out and we ourselves would discover how beautiful we become: America would be beautiful “from sea to shining sea” – when we have compassion, when we give our lives, spend them, pour them out, feed others with ourselves, until the point comes, where we even have to seal our love with our blood, so the love letter of God gets to the right address, so that the wall that divides enemies is broken down, and the friends of God become as beautiful as this God-given countryside. As Abraham Lincoln said, “How do you destroy your enemies? By making them friends!”
We have to be taught by Jesus and we have to teach others so that the reign of God becomes real among us – by a change of hearts and minds, because the Good Shepherd is our peace, we are touched by the cross, this vulnerability, this love that is victorious, because it heals, renews life, washes, feeds, enlivens, makes us beautiful.
Let’s stand out in bold relief! Be raised as mountains of faith, empty out in valleys of love and compassion, find our security in the vulnerability of the cross that puts to death the hostility that divides enemies and makes them friends of God, who sent Jesus, the Righteous Branch, and we pledge our allegiance to the reign of God, our crucified and risen Lord, who showed us the way of life that goes through the cross into the glorious resurrection of the beautiful commonwealth of the children of God. Amen.
Pastor Peter Krey, July 23rd 2006