Rev. Dr. John Judson
June 24, 2018
Psalm 72; Matthew 18:1-6
They’re coming. They’re coming and you should be afraid. That’s what the flyers said. The flyers had been distributed in a white’s only neighborhood in Detroit. They’re coming, the flyers said. The blacks are coming. They are buying into your neighborhood and unless you want to see your home values fall dramatically and you have to live next to a black family, you better sell now. You better be afraid. And at the bottom of the flyer was the number for a local real estate agent, who would pay cash for your house. This was not the only way that real estate speculators got white families to be gripped with fear so that they would sell their homes. They would also hire black couples to walk up and down streets, stopping to look at homes that were for sale. Then the speculators would begin phone campaigns to spread the rumors of blacks moving into the neighborhoods. They were coming, the rumor would go, and so you needed to be afraid and sell.
They’re coming. They’re coming and we need to be afraid. This is what America has always done. They’re coming and we need to be afraid. The Baptists are coming so we need to be afraid because they are…and you fill in the blank. The Catholics are coming so we need to be afraid because they are…and you fill in the blank. The Irish are coming so we need to be afraid because they are…and you fill in the blank. The Italians are coming so we need to be afraid because they are…and you fill in the blank. The Chinese are coming so we need to be afraid because they are…and you fill in the blank. The Japanese are coming so we need to be afraid because they are…and you fill in the blank. We need to be so afraid of them that we should not let them live in our neighborhoods, go to our country clubs, go to our schools, date our children or perhaps even be allowed to stay. We need to pass laws against them. We need to lock them up. They are coming and we need to be afraid.
They’re coming. They’re coming and we need to be afraid. We need be afraid of those people coming from Mexico and Central America. We need to be afraid because they are…and here is the language we are hearing today…. murderers, rapists, invaders, criminals, job takers and an infestation. We need to be afraid because those mothers and their children escaping gangs, those fathers desperate to provide for their families, those young teens not wanting to be killed by or pressed into membership in gangs are coming. We need to be afraid of them. We need to be afraid of them so much that we needed to take away children as young as eight-months old from their parents…and then ship them to Michigan or New York where they are cannot speak with each other. We need to be so afraid that rather than giving them hearings to see if they might qualify under our laws for asylum, we have to lock them up and charge them as criminals. They’re coming and we need to be afraid.
Now, before I go one, I want to admit something to you. I don’t know what the answer to the immigration issue is. While I may have some ideas, I know that we cannot simply open the door and say ya’ll come. I don’t know how to fix the system of who we let in and who we don’t. What that means is that I am not choosing the platforms of any particular political party…but then what we are watching is that neither party seems to know what to do either. So that is something that I do not know. But my friends, there are two things that I do know.
The first thing I know is how Jesus felt about children. In the first century children were considered a burden until they were old enough to work in the shop or in the fields. There was no child-centric ethos. Children were not to be seen or heard. So, it was a stunning turnaround when the disciples wanted to know who was greatest in the Kingdom of heaven, and Jesus, rather than choosing some super-righteous Pharisee, chose a child. He declared in fact that all of us were to be as humble as children and not only that, anyone who put a stumbling block in front of a child, meaning to do something to a child that keeps them from fully living into their becoming full children of a gracious God, should simply fasten a millstone around their necks and go and drown themselves. And we need not stop here. Not only did Jesus welcome children, he welcomed all of those of whom people hated or were afraid; lepers, women with a flow of blood, tax collectors, sinners and even Roman centurions. Jesus refused to be afraid. He saw every human being as a child of God and challenged those around him to do the same.
The second thing I know is how a righteous leader is supposed to act…and let me say again, this is a non-partisan theological reflection. Each of you can do with it what you will. We see this in Psalm 72. Listen again. “May he judge your people with righteousness…meaning as God would do. May he bring justice to the poor. May he defend the cause of the poor, give deliverance to the needy and crush the oppressor…for he delivers the needy when they call, the poor, and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy and saves the lives of them. From oppression and violence, he redeems their life…” My friends this is what a Godly leader is supposed to look like. These are the things that Godly leaders are supposed to do. They are supposed to do them because this is what God does. God frees the captives. God cares for the least. God watches over the widows and the orphans. God’s leaders then are to be God’s regents on earth imitating their God in heaven.
So where does this leave us. It leaves us with struggling to find a balance between keeping our nation safe by insuring that real criminals are kept out, while those who need a refuge are allowed in. It leaves us trying to find a balance between insuring that our children are safe and that the children coming to our borders are safely cared for with their parents and not separated and sent to shelters far from home. What I want to do then is to offer you a series of challenges.
First, I challenge you to pray for those coming to our country; that they arrive safely and are treated with the respect due to children of God. Second, I challenge you to pray for those who are tasked with enforcing our immigration laws. They are under a great deal of stress as they are often conflicted with having to enforce laws they do not believe in. Third I challenge you to pray for and to contact your legislators, charging them with creating a fair and compassionate immigration system. Finally I invite you to come to Knox Hall and watch a video called, the Genesis of the Exodus (https://genesisofexodusfilm.com/thefilm/) which will help you understand who the refugees are and why they are coming. Those are my challenges to you for this week and I hope and pray that together, we can show the love of God in Jesus Christ, to all who seek to find and new and better life.
For more information about immigration our website click here.
Rev. Joanne Blair
June 17, 2018
In his book, How Life Imitates the World Series, Dave Bosewell described how the Orioles’ manager Earl Weaver handled Reggie Jackson in a game. You sports fans may remember this. Weaver had a rule that no one could steal a base unless he was given the signal. Well, Reggie Jackson was a powerful and fast superstar … a real force to be reckoned with … and Jackson figured he could decide for himself. In one game, he made his move without getting the signal and did, in fact, steal second base.
Weaver pulled Jackson aside later and told him why he didn’t give him the signal. The next batter in the lineup was Lee May … the second-best power hitter after Jackson. Now that Jackson had left first base open, the pitcher could, and did, walk May. The third batter in the lineup was pretty weak, so Weaver had to put in a pinch hitter, thus depleting his bench strength, which he needed later in the game.
Reggie Jackson saw his immediate situation, but the manager saw the whole picture.
Sometimes we think we know what is best, but God always knows what is best. More often than not, we just don’t know “the rest of the story.”
We all do it. So often we pray seeking to get God’s attention and tell God what we need or want. And we usually have some “very good suggestions” about how God might accomplish it!
We all do it. When we say the Lord’s Prayer, we frequently rattle off the words from memory and give little thought to what we are saying. We forget that God is the chief concern of this prayer, and not us. God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will are to be our leading concerns whenever we pray.
Last week, I was telling a friend of mine (who is not a church-goer) about the series we are doing on the Lord’s Prayer. Her response was, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.” How many times do we hear that when conversations touch on the subject of faith? When I asked her what it meant to be spiritual, she stumbled and said, “it means being a good person in the world.”
Well, it does for me too … with a little more detail. I believe that spirituality is discovering the connection that exists between God and me. And spiritual formation is building on that connection. Working toward transforming my life to be with Christ, trying to become like Christ, and living for Christ.
And I believe that the Lord’s Prayer is the revelation that teaches me. Christ, himself, laid out this path to spiritual fulfillment. Christ, himself, modeled this for us throughout his ministry.
And Christ, himself, invited us to join him.
“…thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”
To follow God’s will is often not an easy thing … and no where do we realize that more than in the Garden of Gethsemane. On the recent trip to Israel, that was the number one place I wanted to see. Touching trees whose roots were there at the time of Jesus, I sought to process Jesus’ struggle in the garden. Jesus didn’t want to die, and wondered if there might be another way. But then, he submitted himself completely to the Father’s will.
“Thy will be done.” What does it mean to submit ourselves to God’s will? It is a willing surrender. A willing surrender is not the same thing as a passive resignation. A willing surrender is an intentional decision that requires great courage, faith and trust … allowing us to live more fully with God in the present.
I repeat, in the present ... trusting that God is in control of the big picture.
When we linger in the past, or fixate on goals for the future, we miss out on what God is calling us to do, and who God is calling us to be right now. Of course we have goals. Of course we make plans. And I’m not saying that our plans and God’s plans can’t be in harmony … but I am saying that we always need to let God lead. Because this I can promise you: God’s will is always good.
To pray, “Your will be done,” means to recognize that God is for us, and wants only good for us ... all of us. To pray, “Your will be done” means to understand that we need to overcome the human tendency to center our lives in ourselves. To make us God-centered rather than self-centered. To pray “Your will be done” means to open ourselves up to being instruments of God, helping to usher in the kingdom.
To pray “Your will be done” is not to change God’s will, but that God’s will might be known and done by us.
To do the will of God on earth as it is in heaven means to embrace the ways of God. To willingly and joyfully embrace God’s will … even when it’s hard.
But how do we always know God’s will? We don’t. But we have some pretty good guidelines to follow. We earnestly pray, study scripture, trust, and learn to listen.
And we ask ourselves:
The ancient pagan Celts, and later, Christians, used the term “thin places” to describe mesmerizing places such as the isle of Iona. Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in “thin places” that distance is even shorter ... where we are closest to God. Where the gap is closed. “Thin places” are where we catch glimpses of the divine.
The Garden of Gethsemane was, indeed, a thin place for me. And I came to wonder … why can’t we be thin places? I believe we can.
God has a plan for creation and for humankind. And Thy will will be done. The question is, will we be the ones to do it?
Ms. Bethany Peerbolte
June 10, 2018
Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 6:9-13
Our focus from the Lord’s Prayer this week is “Thy Kingdom Come.” Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, God’s kingdom is an important piece. Matthew’s primary goal for writing is to show devout Jews that Jesus is the promised Messiah. To do this Matthew links Jesus’s life and teachings to the prophecies in the Old Testament. Matthew uses specific words from the prophecies about Messiah, his references things like the Passover lamb, the servant of the Lord, and Jesus being betrayed by Judas, deliberately. Matthew pulls images from the Jewish tradition, holds them up to his Jewish audience like transparent paper through which they can’t help but see Jesus as the long-awaited messiah. These prophecies were well known because they told Jews how to recognize the Messiah, where he would come from and what he would say and do.
Matthew’s task to link Jesus to the Messiah prophecies was not easy. The prophecies had developed a life of their own. After years and years of interpretation the religious community had all sorts of crazy ideas about the Messiah. They were looking for a conquering king who would inspire troops with speeches about God’s glory and the evil of the world. People were waiting for a mighty leader who would crush all other power and sit on a golden throne to rule over the Kingdom of God.
So… essentially Jesus…right?
Matthew does his best to show those ideas were wrong and that Jesus is indeed the Messiah the prophets had foretold. He starts the whole book off with a genealogy of Jesus that makes it clear he is from a line of kings, of David, and heir to the forefathers of Abraham. Jesus’ rightful place, his birth right, is a throne, even though he picks a donkey to ride around. Matthew’s task was tricky. The Kingdom was not just important to Matthew, Jesus talks about God’s Kingdom all the time. Mark opens his gospel with Jesus preaching the about Kingdom of God. In Luke, Jesus admits this is an obligation; he “MUST” preach the Kingdom of God because that is why he is sent. If the Kingdom of God is why Jesus was sent then we need to figure out what this Kingdom thing is. If the kingdom did not need Jesus to be a conquering warrior king then what does a kingdom looks like with Jesus at the lead.
One would think since the Kingdom is so important to Jesus’ message Jesus would be clear about it in his teachings. He isn’t. Jesus did not talk about the Kingdom in just one way.
At times Jesus says that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets were in the Kingdom. God’s Kingdom is something that has happened in the past. Later Jesus says the Kingdom of God is “within you and among you” so something that is active now in the present. But Jesus also tells us to pray “Thy Kingdom come” as if there is a need to still look forward to the kingdom actively coming into the world.
In the prayer, “Thy Kingdom come” sounds like hope for something still to come. A prayer that God will send the Kingdom in short time so that we may revel in the joy and surplus of the Kingdom of God. This is how the words would have sounded to the people who were waiting on the Messiah king and his kingdom. They knew they lived in a Kingdom already, but that was the Kingdom of Rome. The oppression, guilt, inequality, and hate that were in this kingdom were signs that they did not live in the Kingdom of God. The coming of the Kingdom of God was the very reason they were looking so hard for a Messiah, a new King, to crush the powers that were and bring about a perfect society operating solely within God’s will. A will that by no means included things like oppression, guilt, inequality, and hate.
Thy Kingdom come….soon…please! is their prayer. But when we take into account that Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God had existed with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets, and his teaching that the kingdom was within and among us we are forced to see these words not only a hope, but as a statement. Thy Kingdom, come. This is an invitation.
The Kingdom of God is not something we can pray into existence; the Kingdom is God’s work and it is already done. When God makes the covenant with Abraham he does not say if you follow my rules I will bless you. God says I have blessed you. When Jesus dies on the cross there is no condition upon which he will forgive our sins, God’s work through Jesus is just done. When Jesus says he is sent to tell about the Kingdom of God he is not saying he came to prophesy, to tell of something to come later. He was there to point it out already in the world. The Kingdom is here.
The concern then becomes, if we live in the Kingdom of God now, why is there still oppression, guilt, inequality, and hate. If the Kingdom of God is here, then the Kingdom of God does not look like we want it to. Again, we run into a problem of expectations. The supposed warrior King messiah did not show up, so maybe the Kingdom we expected him to bring is also different. Our expectation is that the Kingdom will overcome all power and be the only thing we see, the only sound we hear will be God’s voice. In reality it is a song that can be drowned out if we let it.
I’ve heard people say that the true accomplishment of graduating seminary is graduating with your faith. They say this because students spend so much time studying, analyzing, and picking apart scripture and faith practices that after awhile nothing holds much meaning. Everything you hold sacred is criticized and shown how small it really is. Weekly crisis of faith are common. One crisis I faced dealt with the Lord’s prayer. I had heard it so often, said it thousands of times myself, to the point where it became meaningless. Have you ever said a word so often, or written it down and suddenly are not sure it’s right? You aren’t even sure you are still dealing with an English word. That is what happened to the Lord’s Prayer for me.
I told a professor the struggle I was having with the Lord’s prayer, and she sympathized with me. She said I was free to pray something else because there were so many Christians around the world that at any given time someone else would be praying the Lord’s prayer anyway. As I tried to find my way back to enjoying the Lord’s Prayer I read a comment from William Barclay, a famous new testament interpreter. He said the Lord’s prayer has two great uses. One at the beginning of devotions, to awaken holy desires, and the other at the end of devotions to sum up all we ought to pray for.
I read this and thought: fine whatever, and turned on the TV. The show that came up was Star Talk with Neil Degrasse Tyson. He is an astrophysicist that has spent his career making astrophysics accessible to people like me…non-astrophysicists. In this episode he showed an image of the earth from space and pointed out the way the beam of light from the sun makes a circle of light on the surface of the earth. At the edge of that circle there is a transition from light to dark or dark to light, also known as dawn and dusk. He explained that at any given time there is a ring around the earth of places switching from light to dark or dark to light. A continuous dawn and dusk. One guest on the show was a musician and said that birds and bugs sing at dawn and dust, so this ring of dawn and dusk also orchestrates a continuous song that circles the earth at all times, just in different places.
William Barclay’s comments on the Lord’s prayer came back to mind, as well as my professor’s. If there are so many Christians in the world, praying this prayer at the open and close of their days, then there must also be a continuous Lord’s prayer being presented to God.
That is something I wanted to be a part of. I immediately prayed the Lord’s prayer. Before I began I thought about the person who was just ending the prayer somewhere in the world, and as I finished I imagined someone picking up the tune somewhere else.
The Kingdom of God is the greatest tune ever composed, but it is up to us to keep playing it. Every time and place where this tune is played, where the will of God is carried out, that is where the Kingdom of God is.
Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Just the seed, not the full-grown plant. A small vessel of potential that gets replanted every season.
So it is not wrong to pray “Thy Kingdom come” as a hope filled prayer. We do still need this Kingdom to come again and again. But we should also remember the Kingdom is here and we are invited to come and be a part of it.
Rev. Dr. John Judson
May 27, 2018
Exodus 20:7; Matthew 6:9-13
Her name was Margaret. I first met her when I was five years old and she, her husband and her son were already members of the church that my family joined. Her son, Brice became my best friend at church and eventually when we moved into their neighborhood became my best friend for life. Margaret taught me in Sunday school and even became my 8th grade English teacher, a task from which I am not sure she ever recovered. But the thing about Margaret, was that she was never Margaret to me, she was always Mrs. Wilborn. In fact, I did not know that her name was Margaret until I was in my twenties, when she began to insist that I call her by her first name. However, I was never able to do that. She would always be Mrs. Wilborn. I suppose in some ways it was out of habit. I had grown up being taught that you never called adults by their first names because it was not respectful. She had been my teacher, both of faith and of grammar and so she deserved to be called by her family name. She had earned a continuing respect, and that was how I offered it. Any of you have someone like that in your life? If so, then you have a sense of what Jesus is talking about when he says to God, “Hallowed be They Name.”
What I mean by this is that to say Hallowed be Thy Name, or holy be your name in prayer, means we are intent on showing God the respect that God is due. Let me say that again. To say Hallowed be Thy Name is a reminder to us that we are intent on showing God the respect that God is due. Let me explain. First, this idea is inherent in the phrase itself. To hallow something, or to see it as being holy, is to see it as being different or out of the ordinary in such a way that it is to be given respect and reverence. It means to approach it in a manner different from the way we would approach normal things in the world. Jews would have said the Temple was holy because it was not an ordinary building, but one in which one encountered the living God. So, one was to respect or revere it. They would have said the Torah, or Law of Moses, was holy because it was not an ordinary book. It was the Book given by God, and in it one could find God’s words and God’s commands. So one was to respect or revere it. The second half of the phrase, name, as in hallowed be They Name, simply refers to God. Name here is not a name like John, Bob, Sue or Helen. Name is a code word for the very essence of an individual. So, you put these together and you get that this phrase means to show God the respect that God is due.
This leaves us with two issues though. First, why does God deserve this respect and second, what does giving God respect look like? I suppose that many of us might say God deserves this respect because, well God is God, the Big “G”, the Man upstairs. And because God is God, God deserves our respect. What is interesting about the scriptures is that this is never the reason God is supposed to have our respect or reverence. Instead, God is to have our respect because God is Father. For those of you who were here last week, we discussed what Jesus meant by Father; that it meant we were to see God as the one who liberates and leads us in life. We see God acting as Father in the opening words of the Ten Commandments where God makes it clear that people ought to obey the commandments because it was God who brought the people out of Egypt and led them to life in the wilderness and beyond. Thus, God is to be shown reverence and respect, because God was the one who acted as Father. And this concept, that God deserves respect and reverence because of what God did continues. God is the one who keeps God’s covenant promises, who shows mercy and compassion to the poor, the widow, the orphan and the alien. God is the one who brings justice. God is the one whose steadfast love endures forever. The respect that God is due then is not because of God’s title on the door of heaven. It is because God has earned it by showing the love, faithfulness and compassion of the Father.
The second, and still critical piece then, is what does it mean to show respect? The answer, simply put, is that we are to listen to, learn from and follow the ways of God. Again, this returns us to Jesus’ words about God as Father. As the Torah makes clear, children were to honor their mothers and fathers. This meant they were to listen to them, learn from them and follow them…usually into their occupations and practices. We are to do the same. We are to listen to God and live in God’s ways of love, compassion, respect, justice and mercy. If we want to see what this looks like we need look no further than Jesus. Granted, if anyone were born into this world with the playbook of following God, it should have been Jesus. Jesus ought not to have had to look to the sidelines and ask, “Hey Dad, what play should I run?” Yet, Jesus did just that. Jesus spent hours and hours in prayer. He was constantly turning to God, seeking God’s guidance. In so doing Jesus was demonstrating what it meant to show God the respect that God was due. Jesus was listening to, learning from and striving to always follow the ways of God, even when it meant his death.
When you and I pray then, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name,” we are making a commitment to listen to, learn from and follow God, out of the respect that God is due. My challenge to you then is this, to ask yourself, as you come forward for communion, “How am I giving God the respect that God is due, for all that God has done for me?”