The Rev. Dr. John Judson
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Genesis 14:17-24, Romans 6:15-23
There is a wide spectrum of television commercials. Some are funny. Others are inspiring. Some are direct and to the point. There are some however that are just plain creepy. And one of those creepy commercials for me is the one with the life-size puppets. The commercial has this ordinary guy who has evidently married into a family of puppets…and has a son who is a puppet. They all go around hanging from strings. What is being advertised is a cable company whose products do not need wires…or strings if you will. On the one hand we might suppose that this is very clever way of having people notice that this company can make your home a bit neater than it was before; that when you hook up all of your video devices to your television there will be no exposed wires. On the other hand though, I want to believe that the advertisers were trying to strike a deeper chord with the public. In this case I believe that they wanted us to associate their product with freedom. In other words, by choosing our product you will be the one who is free…and not bound by strings that bind others.
If that is the case, that they want us to associate their product with freedom, they would find a ready-made audience almost anywhere in the world. I say this because I believe that most of us in this room this morning, would love to live a life with no strings attached. We all grow up in a world with strings attached. As children the strings are pulled by our parents, relatives and teachers. They want us to dance to their tunes and expectations. As we grow older there are others who want to attach their strings to us; culture, the media, cliques of friends, spots teams, schools and the list goes on and on. When we emerge into the working world we have companies, clients, supervisors, corporate cultures and the like who want to make us do as they direct. When we have children, as one parent reminded me, we dance to their tune of homework, sports and friendships. Yet all along the way, from the time we turn two and learn the word no, we resist the strings and long for pure independence. Our lives are spent trying to cut the cords in order that we might be free to be ourselves; to live a life with no strings attached.
We see this clearly in our morning’s story about Abram. The background to the story is that there had been a battle between nine kings; five versus four. Initially the four defeat the five and in the process the four kings capture Lot, who was Abram’s nephew. Abram is not pleased so he rounds up his men and some friends and defeats the four kings, thus freeing Lot. Upon his return he is met by one of the defeated kings, the King of Sodom, who encourages Abram to keep much of the spoils of victory for himself. On this surface this appears to be generous. The King of Sodom says, hey Abram, I am happy to share with you what was originally mine. Abram will have none of it. For if the King of Sodom can say, look I made Abram wealthy, then Abram owes him loyalty. Abram will have to dance to his tune…and this is not what Abram wants. He desires a string free life. Abram therefore refuses the offer and merely asks that those who helped him receive something.
Freedom, the string free life, as I said a moment ago, is one of the great goals of virtually every human being. This is one of the reasons that the early church was so attractive. It allowed people to shed the strings of their cultures and find freedom in a fashion that they could have scarcely imagined. For you and me it is hard to imagine the cultural pressure that existed in the Roman Empire. People’s lives were governed by a strict and strictly enforced set of cultural values. To step outside of those values was to risk one’s life and livelihood. People were told what they could wear, where they could live, what jobs they could hold, how they were to interact with others and on and on. Everyone danced to the strings of the Roman culture. Along comes Christianity though and it proclaims that these cords have been cut; that there is freedom in Jesus Christ. Slowly but surely people began to gravitate to the church, because at least within the church, there was a freedom to become new and different people living new and different lives.
The problem with this image of a new string free life was that it led people to acts that were not Christ-like; that were in fact antithetical to Christian living. So Paul has to remind his readers that while they were free from sin, they were not free from God. In other words, there is no string free life. He writes, “But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves to sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that have been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” Notice that Paul uses the same language to describe one’s life before Christ and after Christ; the language of slavery, or in our case this morning the language of strings. In other words the only real question for the Romans was who did they desire to have pulling their strings? The idea of a neutral position of freedom from which people could choose to do or not do good was, for Paul, an impossibility. And I believe he considered it impossible because as a good Jew Paul understood the power of sin, and especially of the primordial sin of Adam and Eve. Their sin was the belief that human beings could be wise enough to choose for themselves the good; and we are all witness to the results of that choice.
Paul’s contention that a string free life is not possible is one of the most difficult concepts in his writings for most 21st Century people to accept. I saw this first hand at a presbytery meeting where a candidate for ordination wrote in her statement of faith that we all have free will. When I asked her about her belief, quoting from our morning’s passage, she looked at me blankly and repeated that we are all free agents capable of our own moral choices. Her answer showed that, we, like the Romans, want our independence.
If Paul is correct however, which I believe he is, that there is no string free life, the question becomes not will we choose to be a slave of sin or of God, it is instead will we choose to cooperate or oppose God’s control of our lives? My hope is that we will choose to cooperate and here is the reason. It is the reason that Tiger Woods has a ‘swing” coach. It is the reason that professional tennis players have coaches. It is the reason professional baseball teams have hitting and pitching coaches The reason is that if we are to become the best we can be in any endeavor we need someone outside of ourselves who can critique us and guide us into better practices. The same is true for being followers of Jesus Christ; we need God, to guide us from outside of ourselves so that our lives more fully reflect that of Jesus Christ. For you see, God created us to be human beings capable of living lives that reflect the love, grace, forgiveness, compassion and sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth. We, on our own, are not capable of doing that. If we allow God to pull our strings, to guide our lives, then we grow more and more fully into the image of Christ. This is called sanctification. Paul writes, “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.” Paul reminds us that being enslaved to God, or allowing God to take control is not so that God can make us mere puppets in some great play, but so that God can lead us to the fullness of life; so God can lead us to becoming more and more Christ-like; or as we said last week, to become more and more the kind of people who choose to be part of the League of Extraordinary Followers that God created us to be.
My challenge to you for this week then is this, to ask yourselves, How am I cooperating with God in such a way that I become more and more the person God desires me to be?
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
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Genesis 12:10-20; Romans 6:1-11
He was a standup kind of guy. Abraham was one of those standup guys that we all want to have around. And how do we know that he was a standup guy? We know because he only gave his wife away twice. A lesser man might have given his wife away three, maybe even four times. But not Abraham. No, he only gave away his wife twice, each time in order to protect his own life. In our morning’s story we read that Abraham went down into Egypt in order to escape a famine. On the way he realized that his wife Sarah, being beautiful, might cause him some issues, such as the loss of his life. So rather than risk everything he gave her away…and she was taken into Pharaoh’s house. Granted God was not all that pleased with this arrangement and caused Pharaoh to return her, but even then Abraham got to keep all of the livestock which Pharaoh had given him in exchange for Sarah. Not a bad deal. Ok, so this is not Abraham’s best moment. But what I hope that we will see is that in this story there is both good news and bad news.
The good news is that we discover that Abraham is just an ordinary guy and in fact makes us look good. I don’t know about you, but the impression that I was always given growing up was that all of the great Biblical characters were perfect people walking around with these halos hovering over their heads. Everything that they did was exactly what God wanted them to do. We were taught to revere them and seek to emulate their lives. As we see in this story and one other about Abraham is that there is much about his life that we do not want to emulate. While he certainly listened to God and was willing to leave his home and kin to seek the place where God would have him live, along the way his life was sometimes less than exemplary. What this means for us though is that if God can use an ordinary guy who gives away his wife, twice, in order to save himself then perhaps God can use us ordinary people as well. So, as I said there is good news in here for us ordinary people.
The bad news, remember I said that there is both good news and bad in this story, is that we discover Abraham is an ordinary guy and in fact makes us look good. I know that I had just told you that that was the good news, but it is also the bad news. It is the bad news because it allows us to look at Abraham, and in seeing that we are in many ways better than he is, be satisfied with our ordinariness. In other words, when we look at Abraham we can say, “Hey, I have never given away my wife, or my husband in order to save myself. I must be pretty good.” This sense encourages us to be OK with being just OK. After all, if we are better than one of the great patriarchs of the Bible then we must be good enough. Ordinariness becomes the watch word. We no longer have to strive for being better than we are. It would be like the San Antonio Spurs, when they lost to the Heat last year, saying, hey guys we made it to the finals. That is all we need. We don’t need to strive to be champions…see I did manage to get a Spurs reference in the sermon. That is the bad news that even as ordinary people God can use us.
This was the situation Paul faced when he was writing to the church at Rome. Evidently this was a church, like most of the other churches to whom he wrote, which believed that being ordinary was good enough. In the section of the letter we read this morning, what we see is that Paul makes it clear that when Jesus Christ begins to work in our life, that we become more than ordinary. We become extraordinary. We become extraordinary because the old person that we once were is crucified in Christ and dies. He writes, “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death…” (Romans 6:1-4a) Paul reminds his readers, and reminds us, that something remarkable has happened to us. The old ordinary person no longer lives. That person is gone. And for Paul this is not some metaphorical change…it is an objective reality of being changed from one kind of person to another.
The second half of this spiritual equation is just as important…that in Christ not only does the old self die but a new self is born. “But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:8-11) In other words, when the ordinary self dies we are given a new spiritual self. We become more than ordinary people. We become people capable of living lives oriented to God. We become capable of loving, serving, caring, sharing and sacrificing just as did Jesus. We become capable of being extraordinary people.
Let me be clear at this point, that when Paul links this death and resurrection to baptism, he is not suggesting that baptism is not a magic event that causes this death and resurrection to happen. Baptism is instead the recognition of what God has already done for us in Jesus Christ. So when we baptized our three newest members of the universal church of Jesus Christ this morning, we did so believing that God was already changing them. God was already making them capable of being extraordinary people.
In 2003 a movie entitled, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, reached the movie theatres. Based on a comic book series of the same name, it was not an extraordinary movie. Nonetheless it was the story of a group of men and a lady, who while on the outside appeared to be rather ordinary…and in fact sort of dysfunctionally ordinary, like Abraham, were in fact extraordinary individuals. Each had a gift or a talent which could be used for good or evil. They chose to use them for good…and in good movie fashion saved the world…for the moment. As we move through this sermon series on the People of God, what I hope is that we will see ourselves as the League of Extraordinary Followers. For on the outside we look like ordinary people…yet because of what Jesus Christ has done for us we are no longer ordinary but extraordinary and the task to which we have been set is to be part of Christ’s world-saving community; showing love, grace, compassion and care for the world as we work for justice and transformation both here and around the world.
My challenge to you then this morning is to ask yourselves, how does my life reflect the fact that I am part of the League of Extraordinary Followers of Jesus Chirst?
Rev. Amy Morgan
June 15, 2014
Psalm 8, Matthew 28:16-20
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Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
“To doubt is heresy, to inquire is to admit that you do not know,” and according to agnostic thinker Robert Ingersoll, “the Church does neither.”
But this has not always been the case.
Take, for example, the sorry remnant of disciples we read about today, trudging up a hill in the middle of nowhere to meet up with a flash-in-the-pan, has-been rock star who is supposed to be dead and inexplicably isn’t.
They meet up with Jesus, they worship him, but some doubted. Now, the last time someone doubted in the Gospel of Matthew – in fact, the only other time this verb is found in the New Testament – the hot-shot disciple Peter was sinking into the sea and being chastised by Jesus. “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
But today, Jesus has no words of judgment for the worshipping doubters. He doesn’t label them faithless heretics. Instead, he declares that all authority in heaven and on earth have been given to him. The disciples can doubt and question and misunderstand all day long. Because they don’t have the authority. No one is looking to them to be right, to know the truth, to have all the answers.
But over the next couple of centuries, all of that begins to change. By the beginning of the 4th century, we have presbyters and bishops and all manner of ecclesial hierarchy jostling for supremacy in matters of doctrine and discipline and order. And it is into this melee that an ambitious theologian named Arius inserts his questions and doubts.
By this time, the church was pretty clear about the fact that there was only one God, and that Jesus was to be worshipped as God. But how exactly all of that worked out was a topic of hot debate. Some people leaned in a direction that bordered on worshipping two - or when you factored in the Holy Spirit, three - different gods. Others took a position that compromised God’s power over creation. Still others held beliefs that diminished the importance of Christ.
So Arius took it upon himself to help synthesize all of these positions into a doctrine that declared Jesus as the “firstborn of all creation” but of a “different substance from God the Father.” This position ensured that Jesus was still worthy of worship and devotion but also allowed God to remain immune to change and death.
Despite the church’s clear teachings on the unity of the Trinity, Aruis constructed and promoted his position throughout the synod of Alexandria in eloquent sermons. He and his ideas gained popularity, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. The bishop of Alexandria caught wind of what Arius was promoting and had him banished. Arius didn’t let this stop him, however. He fled to the north and bunked up with his buddy and former classmate Eusebius and continued to find support for his position elsewhere.
The controversy was so destructive that Emperor Constantine demanded it be addressed at a Council in Nicaea in 325. Doubting, questioning, and disagreement within the church were politically problematic for the ruler of the Roman world. Arius’s misfortune in this debate was that the regions where his position was most popular also happened to be those places where, only a year before, Constantine’s political rival, Licinius, had been ruler. Arius’s defeat and excommunication paralleled the defeat and execution of Licinius as the authority of political power solidly usurped that of Jesus Christ. The church, as a political entity, needed authority, absolute truth, unified power.
And so, today, we have the Nicaean Creed, the very first creed in our Book of Confessions, with its affirmation that Jesus is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with orthodoxy or the Nicaean formulation of the Trinity. But the Arian controversy gives me pause. It makes me wonder what might have been. It causes me to be concerned that Robert Ingersoll had a valid critique of the church.
The word “heresy” comes from the Greek word “to choose.” What we, as Christians, over the centuries have labeled as misguided or wrong or outright evil is, in fact, simply people choosing for themselves what to believe or how to live their faith.
But that terrifies the established church, especially in times of turmoil. In the early life of the church, Christians were fearful for their lives and livelihoods. In the Reformation, Christians were fearful of corruption. And today, we’re fearful about the survival of the Christian faith itself. We have to seriously consider the possibility that the faith as we know it will no longer exist at some point in the foreseeable future. And so doubt, inquiry, heresy, choice are all dangerous things.
I once had the privilege of taking a master class with the legendary Broadway producer Hal Prince. In this class, he talked about the difference between a flop and a failure and between a hit and a success. A flop is something that the public rejects or fails to appreciate, but a failure is something that is possibly great but is somehow compromised. Likewise, a hit is a show that the public loves and is commercially prosperous, while a success is a show that is the best it can possibly be, done with integrity and passion.
By the time Jesus gets to the hill in Galilee, he’s a solid flop. Yes, you could argue that rising from the dead was a pretty major accomplishment, but notice that he only has 11 followers coming out to meet him. That’s right, the text is pretty specific – 11. That’s because one of them was so disgusted with Jesus’ performance that he left in the middle and sabotaged the event.
But it’s also clear that Jesus wasn’t a failure. He did what he came to do. He stuck with the script, he had the right intentions, and he gave a flawless performance. He was, in fact, a success. But his reward was not fame and fortune. No, his reward is all authority in heaven and on earth.
The church, on the other hand, has been a huge hit. Almost a third of the world’s population today follows the Christian faith. But I’m not certain we can claim to have always been successful. Throughout our history, we have given authority to governments, institutions, human reason, morality, doctrine, and charismatic personalities. And this has greatly impacted our performance. Maybe we have survived and even thrived for over two thousand years. But have we really fulfilled this Great Commission Jesus gave his first followers?
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me. Go therefore,” meaning that only by his authority can we do what comes next.
He tells these 11 dubious disciples to, first “go make disciples of all nations.” Now, there are two things we need to hear in this directive. The first is that “all nations” are included in this discipleship mission. Up to this point, Jesus’ message was considered to be primarily aimed at his own people, the Jews. And a Jewish messiah would have been a much easier sell to a Jewish audience. But Jesus meets up with his follower in a Gentile, meaning non-Jewish, part of the country, and sends his them out to disciple “the nations,” those people who have no context for what these Jewish guys are talking about, people who are happily following their own completely different and unfamiliar belief systems.
The second thing we need to understand is that disciples are kind of like interns. When we talk about being disciples of Christ today, there is this air of piety. If you call yourself a disciple, it must mean that you go to church every week and pray and read the bible every day, and love God and your neighbor and yourself in perfect harmony. Disciples are like gold medalists in the Jesus-following contest. Because everything in America is competitive, even our Christianity.
But that’s not what a disciple is. A disciple is a student, a follower, an intern. And if you’ve ever had an intern, you know that it takes a lot more work to get an intern to do something right than it would be just to do it yourself. Interns are going to make mistakes. They will lose your favorite stapler. They will make the coffee wrong. They will lose important phone messages. But Jesus is telling his disciples, his interns, to go make more interns. Why would Jesus do this? What a bad idea! This is clearly going to flop!
But the interns don’t have the authority. Jesus does. If they mess up, if they flop and even fail, that’s okay. Jesus has been successful, and Jesus has the authority. So it’s all going to work out.
Once the interns make more interns, they are supposed to baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Now, this little Trinitarian reference is really the only reason this passage gets placed in the lectionary on this Trinity Sunday. I know you all have Trinity Sunday marked in red ink on your calendars right along with “Rural Life” Sunday and “Small Membership Church” Sunday. For those of you who may not have looked at those calendars this morning, however, this is, in fact Trinity Sunday, the day that preachers are supposed to try to explain the inexplicable mathematics of three equals one and one equals three.
But rather perform the theological gymnastics necessary to explain what the Trinity is, I think it’s more important here to talk about what the Trinity means. Because the truth is, at the time that this text was written, there was no doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus wasn’t giving his disciples secret knowledge about the interrelated personhood of God, and he wasn’t establishing the orthodox formula for the rite of induction into the institutional church. There was no orthodoxy and there was no institutional church.
For Jesus, and his disciples at the time, baptism meant new life in relationship with God and the world. The Trinitarian formula expressed the interrelatedness of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but only insomuch as it could model the intimacy of relationship God desires to have with us and for us to have with one another.
Jesus is commissioning his disciples to go make more disciples, and go belong to one another.
And only after that are they to teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded them. Now, when we talk about obedience, all too often what we mean, or at least what people hear, is that the church has the authority to tell people what to believe and how to behave.
But the word “obey” found here in Greek literally means to keep in view or guard and protect. It isn’t a subservient word, but in fact, it is rather empowering. The things Jesus commanded are to be regarded as treasures to be protected, as something vulnerable and valuable that we need to keep an eye on.
And then there is the word “command,” which we all love. Because it should be super easy to pay attention to EVERYTHING Jesus commanded, right? Over 2,000 words of Jesus are recorded in the New Testament, most of them meant to teach people something.
The church throughout history has decided for people which words are actually commandments we’re supposed to follow and what those words actually mean in practice. And we’ve spent most of our time disagreeing about it. This is one place the church has gotten stuck on the question of authority because maybe Jesus has all the authority, but aren’t we the ones who are supposed to enforce it? Isn’t that what Jesus is saying here?
Perhaps there’s another way to look at it. The word “command” can also be translated “commission.” So when we talk about this passage being the great commission, it isn’t just the disciples who are being commissioned. They are commissioned to go make more disciples, to create relational community with them, and then help those new disciples keep that commission in their sights. They are commissioned to commission new commissioners.
Notice that nowhere in this commission does Jesus say “remember how I taught you to pray” or “don’t forget what I said about the fig tree.” Jesus knows the disciples will get it wrong, and that’s okay. That’s why he promises to be with them, always, to the end of days. The boss will be there to fix the things we break and smooth out the waters we muddy and help us find our way to the cafeteria.
The Jesus movement started with 11 confused, worn out, divided disciples. Some doubted, questioned, chose what to believe for themselves. They were heretics, in the best possible way.
But all of the disciples worshipped Jesus together.
They had no hope of accomplishing the monumental task Jesus set before them. All they had was this promise: “Look, I am with you always, even to the end of days.” Their only hope was to depend completely on the authority and power of Jesus. And that’s exactly what they did. They were persecuted and killed, imprisoned and ridiculed. They were a complete flop. But they successfully got the show off the ground. And they all fulfilled the Great Commission.
We may not throw the word heretic around much anymore, but we might as well use it when we mean it. Too often, we refuse to listen to people who choose for themselves what to believe. The third most populous faith group in the world after Christians and Muslims is “unaffiliated,” in other words, “heretics,” people who want to choose for themselves.
Perhaps fulfilling the Great Commission has more to do with welcoming the heretics in our midst than it does with teaching people in remote parts of the world about the doctrine of the Trinity. Perhaps instead of consuming our energies with debates over policies and procedures, studies and “seasons of reflection,” we need to recognize that we’re all interns and none of us are going to get it right.
And maybe welcoming heretics will help us do that. Because if we are wise and courageous enough to remember that Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth - not us, not this church, not the PC(USA) - perhaps Christianity can ultimately be both a hit and a success. Perhaps our own doubts and questions will lead us to deeper faith and reliance on the authority and power of Jesus.
My greatest hope for the church today is that we will eventually become a big enough flop to make us a success. As the growth of heretics outpaces the growth of Christians, perhaps a remnant will find its way back to a hilltop in the middle of nowhere and the doubters and believers alike can worship Jesus together and go out to serve him in the world. Amen.
June 8, 2014
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12: 4-13
Amy and Dr. Judson sometimes like to start their sermons with surveys and I think id like to do the same.
Its graduation season, and I have just recently graduated from Seaholm high school, right down the road, this past Sunday and I’m sure several of you in the audience know someone graduating this month.
So, here’s the survey part. By a show of hands, who has sent a graduation card to someone, ever? Great this is what I thought, several of you.
Since my brother and I are recent graduates, we”ve sent and received dozens of graduation cards and I can tell you from experience that they will probably go something like this; “follow your own path” or “you have what it takes to succeed”, or “this is just the beginning”.
Truly, I believe that today’s bible verse would make an excellent Hallmark card. (PAUSE) To summarize, the verse tells us that God gives us each different and unique talents but are all from the same God and are therefore equal. These talents should be used in unity with one another for the betterment of the world. So, if this is the case (which it certainly is), then why don’t we live in a perfect world? It seems to me that if we are all blessed with these talents then certainly our world should be a better place than it is now. Why does it appear that some people have no constructive talent such as members of the Taliban or other hate groups? Did God forget them? I believe that the fact of the matter is that although they are there, they may not exactly be present.
Thinking about how talents may not be so noticeable at first, I’d like to ask you all to take a journey with me three years back when I was just a wee little freshman, ending my first year of high school at Seaholm, For us Seaholmers, the Spring of 2011 started with an unexpected bang.
In one of the mens bathrooms, someone had vandalized a wall with racial graffiti. The writing consisted of something along the lines of “N-words” that should be lynched” followed by a list of five African American students at the school. The response was lightening fast. The police came to investigate, news stations rushed to the scene, Seaholm parent assemblies became a common occurrence and several pep rallys were strung together to fight the backlash and unify the school. With white students making up about 95% of the Seaholm community, we were quickly dubbed as racists. The school issued out buttons to students that depicted black and white people holding hands, so they could decorate their backpacks to display our intolerance of racism.
At first the situation seemed bleak . Nobody had any idea who had done it and other schools hated us for it. As a freshman baseball player, I have specific memories of being taunted as we left the bus to play an away game.
I felt it in my core; all my life I had been molded by good values and now I was being misrepresented because of a certain racist individual. Outside looking in, we appeared to be a bunch of affluent racists. However, on the inside, I can tell you that that was certainly not the case. Everyone was just as upset as I was. We felt judged and labeled just because we could proudly call ourselves “Maple Leaves”.
For a while whenever I met someone from a different school, this was one of the first things I was asked about.
Finally, and what seemed like against all odds, the identity of the person who had caused so much turmoil in our school community was revealed. And the identity of the person was nothing short of shocking. The student responsible was an African American senior at the school. In fact, his name was even on the list in the boy’s bathroom.
The immediate response from my peers and me was anger that the entire racism scandal had been fabricated and the damage was already done. Our school’s name had been tarnished and by affiliation, my name.
In reflection I realized that maybe there was more to the story. Maybe I had begun to judge unfairly just as I had been unfairly judged. From the outside looking in the student seemed confused and manipulative but in actuality I didn’t take the time to know him and do my best to understand. I certainly didn’t look for his talents.
Through our verse today, God has told us that no one is talentless and God has blessed all of us in different ways. Sometimes there will be misunderstandings as you can see from what happened at our school but that does not mean these talents are none existent. They may simply be buried for the time being and may need help getting to or are unclear at first but are nevertheless there. OUR JOB IS TO SEEK AND APPRECIATE THE GOD GIVEN TALENTS IN OTHERS even if it is at first not obvious.
And Maybe Hallmark could put that last line on a graduation card.
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
June 1, 2014
Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Peter 4:7-10
One of the things that I always looked forward to as a teenager was the arrival of the New Yorker magazine. Now, I did not look forward to it because of its insightful articles. I didn’t look forward to it because of the famous writers who graced its pages. No, I looked forward to it because of its cartoons. I loved their cartoons because they had the same wry, irreverent attitude that I had. There was always something just slightly offbeat about them in a way that newspaper cartoons seldom had. My favorites among those cartoons were the ones about the end of the world. There would be a man with a long beard, dressed in white robe carrying a sign that had something to do with the end of the world. It would say The End is Near and then there would be a twist in the cartoon. This week I went back to the web to look at some off those and here are two of my favorites. The first is a man with then sign, The End is Near. And then right behind him is another man with a sign saying, The End. The other was the same man with the sign, The End is Near, but this time in front of him is a man dressed in a pinstriped suit saying, “Yes, but what are your goals?” My guess anyone who has ever been in business gets it.
That one was my favorite not only because I sort of get it, but because I believe it is the perfect cartoon for Peter. Here’s why. Peter begins this part of his letter with a statement that the end is near. In a sense he is the man with the beard, the robe and perhaps the sign. Just so that we are all clear, when Peter speaks of the end being near he is not speaking about the world ending and everyone being transported off of planet earth. What he means is that soon, Jesus will return and set everything aright. Jesus will return and suddenly the world will look like heaven. We might assume then that Peter would tell his followers to quit their jobs, and get ready for the end. But he doesn’t. He gives them goals. First they are to love and love passionately. They are to love one another. They are to welcome one another. This means they are to welcome one another across all of the lines of wealth and class and status. They are to serve one another. This is an amazing goal…that someone who is a slave owner might serve a slave. The end is near…so let’s get busy.
The question that confronts us is why would Peter do that? Why would Peter, believing that the end is near not run off into the wilderness like the Essenes, or called for absolute purity as did many Pharisees? Why would Peter do this? The best answer I can give is that Peter did so because he understood that in the interim between the moment of writing that letter and the moment Jesus arrived, that people needed hope. And that the followers of Jesus were those who were to give it. The Jesus’ followers were to be hope-bearers. I realize that may seem a bit strange. How could this small community, by loving, welcoming and serving one another be bearers of hope? The answer to this question is that by so doing they are showing the world around them, the Roman Empire, what was ahead. They were showing the world that the kind of community Jesus talked about could be a reality. And in that reality, people…people oppressed and abused; people dominated and cast out; people who had been held captive and had no hope of freedom…could see that a better world was on the horizon. Hope-bearers…that is what they were called to be. That was their goal.
This is what you and I are called to be as well. We are to be hope bearers. We can see this in the very language Peter uses in this letter. He calls’ Jesus followers; he calls us a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. And the only reason that God called a people and made them a holy nation was that they had a job to do; a mission to accomplish. That mission was to bless the world. That mission was to bring hope to a hurting world. And my friends, we live in a world that needs hope. In a world in which school girls are kidnapped, hope is needed. In a world in which a young man can randomly gun down people, hope is needed. In a world in which hatred is spewed across the internet causing young people to take their own lives, hope is needed. And we can give it. We can show the world what hope looks like when we love one another; when we welcome one another; when we serve one another. We can show the world that there is something better…there is something real…there is something wonderful to be had and as Jesus followers we have it.
Andrew Solomon, an author and speaker, was saying that in the late 80s he headed to the Soviet Union to interview underground artists. He said that he expected to find people whose work was edgy and subversive. But that was not what he found. When he did not he asked the artist why not. The reply was that they were not trained to be artists but to be angels; angels giving back humanity to a people who had lost it.
You and I have been trained to be bearers of hope. We have been trained to given back humanity to a world in which it is taken from people in far too many ways. The question is, will we work toward our goal? Will we work toward our goal of being those who offer hope through love, welcome and service? So here is my challenge for you on this day, to ask yourselves, How am I bearing hope to the hurt around me? How am I bearing hope to he world?