Dr. John Judson
January 6, 2018
Genesis 12:1-3, John 1:1-14
So, who is he? Who is this Jesus that we claim to believe in and follow? The scriptures tell us that Jesus is the savior, messiah, Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, rabbi, teacher, prophet, King, Lord, bread of life, sheep gate, shepherd, way the truth the life, bread of life, living water, light of the world, redeemer, lamb of God, true vine, King of kings and Lord of Lords and the Word made flesh. Later writers have said he is a demi-god, a good god as opposed to the evil creator god, a spirit who was never real, the world’s greatest salesman, greatest CEO and model for all small group leaders. He is the laughing Jesus and even what my daughter calls, Rambo Jesus. He is also the sender of crusaders, the hater of all non-Christians and the lover of all people. So who is he? The answer seems to depend on each of us. What I mean by that is that across the centuries we have made Jesus in our own image and used him to defend our own beliefs. This is the reason in the Civil War, Jesus was both the one who approved of and condemned slavery. But again, who is he? Though we could spend years unpacking this question, since I am time limited this morning, I want to offer you what I believe are the two critical understandings of Jesus that scripture offers.
First, Jesus is us. Jesus is fully human. What I mean by that is that Jesus experienced the absolute fullness of life. He experienced birth and adolescence. He experienced love, adoration and rejection. He experienced temptation that he had to work to resist. He had to learn and grow in both experience and outlook. He had to seek his own destiny. He was at times, angry, sad and frustrated. He showed compassion for some and righteous indignation against others. He was neither a card-board cutout of a human being nor was he an unearthly figure floating through life. And he experienced pain and death. What this means is that there is nothing that we will experience that he has not. He is the one who understands what it means to walk around in these mortal bodies enmeshed in complex cultures and relationships. Even so, Jesus managed to be the one who continually oriented his life to God, always seeking God’s will and direction for his life. He therefore becomes the model for life, the one whom we are not only to follow but try to emulate. Jesus is us.
Second Jesus is God. This reality is what is at the heart of John’s opening words about the Word was with God, the Word was God and the Word become flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. For many of us in the 21st century, this is the most difficult aspect of Jesus for us to wrap our heads around. In fact, in a recent survey of self-identifying evangelical Christians, a significant percentage did not believe that Jesus was God. But for the early church this affirmation was essential to the faith, and here is why. Only God can save. Let me say that again, only God can save humanity and so unless Jesus was God then regardless of all that he did in life or death, humanity would still be stuck in the mess sin created. One way I have taken to explaining this is to use the image of an operating system…meaning the software code that runs your computers, phones and tablets. The Biblical story is that God wrote the operating system of love that was to run creation. People were to love God, each other and creation. Human beings however introduced a virus, called sin, into the operating system and God’s desire for love was hijacked by hate, jealousy, violence and greed. Throughout history men and women, prophets, priests and saints have tried to restore the original OS but have been unable to restore the code. This is something only the original coder could do. This is something only God could do. Thus, it was necessary for God to become one of us, so that through his life death and resurrection, he could restore the original operating system of love, so that humanity could once again flourish.
So who is Jesus? He is the intersection where heaven and earth meet. He is the intersection where humans and God meet. He is, if you will, the person in whom Eden exists, meaning in him we discover what it means to be fully human and oriented toward God. And what it means for God to be the one who is oriented toward humanity desiring the restoration of creation. As such he is the one who makes possible the reprogramming not only of our lives but of humanity itself. This is why the Apostle Paul said that when we put on Christ, we become new creations. We become those who are no longer programmed by sin, but by Spirit (of which we will learn more next week). And there is no greater way to experience this intersection than at this table (the communion table) where we witness the fully human one dying for us, and the fully God one offering us new life through the bread and cup. The challenge that I want to put before you this week is this, to ask ourselves, how are we allowing that fully human and fully divine One to reprogram our lives, such that we reflect the love of God and neighbor that is at the heart of this mysterious intersection of heaven and earth?
Rev. Dr. Kate Thoresen, Parish Associate, Foster/Adoptive Families Partnerships
December 30, 2018
Ex.3: 9-15; Acts 17: 22-28
Joanne Blair recently shared a story about a seminary professor who always asked, “What do you mean?” Joanne went on to say that this was one of the most important questions she heard. And it stays with her to this day. Joanne went on to say, “No matter what you’d say, this professor would respond with, ‘What do you mean by that?’ We, as seminary students, would often be left stymied at times. And yet I’m so grateful,” reported Joanne, “to be pushed to more fully articulate my own vocabulary of faith. “
Today begins a new sermon series called “The Vocabulary of Faith.” What comes to your mind when you hear the words, God? Jesus? Holy Spirit? Salvation? This First Sunday in our explorations of our Vocabularies of Faith we’ll explore ways in which God reveals God’s self. How do we begin to articulate what God means to us?
If we asked people today, “What do YOU mean when you say, ‘God,’ what do you suppose they would say?” Are we referring to a particular name? Or do we refer to a particular characteristic of God or what? If we took a poll, we’d hear many different responses. A Supreme Being? Creator? Energy Force? The life-giving Jesus as the Face of God? A Spirit? Love? Light? What would YOU say?
We also would acknowledge that God is so beyond our human comprehension that we cannot comfortably fit God into a convenient box and talk about God casually. We worship a holy God of mystery, yet a God who is closer than our breath. The God who names you. Claims you. Calls you by name and seeks to be in relationship with you. We can only sense the paradox.
Let’s look at what God revealed to Moses in the story that Katie Blair read today in Exodus 3. In this setting God is speaking to Moses through the burning bush. God gives him the mission to free the Hebrew people from Egyptian captivity. Understandably, Moses has some concerns, the main one being how he will convince his fellow Israelites that this really is a mission from (and blessed by) God. (Oxford Annotated Bible) Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” - Exodus 3:13-15
“I AM who I AM” or YHWH is here introduced as God’s personal name for the first time. This is ambiguous and points to the mysteriousness presence of Israel’s God. Scholars have puzzled for years over its meaning. It could mean “I am who I am” or it would mean “The One who causes to be.” Here we sense a timeless Presence that cannot be held in the space of our own measures of time, yet is working in human lives and history. Notice that in verse 15 God also says, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. Here God then restates God does not hesitate to identify the divine self with displaced and oppressed people. This holy name is associated with marginalized people. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible)
This revealed name of God was considered so sacred that the Hebrew people would not pronounce the name itself, but referred to God as Jehovah, Adonai, Elohim, or LORD. As we can see here, God will not be completely understood, not confined to a conceptual box. As Joanne Blair says, “God is so much bigger than any of these; if we think that we can easily begin to define God then we are probably on the wrong track. God is so much more than our human comprehension.” Yet in the story of Paul at Athens we see that Paul first uses comprehension and logic to open the minds and hearts to God as revealed in scriptures and in Jesus Christ Paul here is portrayed as the first Christian philosopher, using Stoic and Jewish arguments (Oxford Annotated Bible).
He says to them, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown God. He uses recognizable tenets from both groups and points to God as the creator, an idea common to Jews and to Greeks. That God is near to all people is a Stoic belief as well as Jewish. Then Paul quotes another Greek philosopher whom the listeners would know, “It is God in whom we live and move and have our being.” He then adds that people can know the true God through Jesus Christ.
Theologians often refer to God as a Trinity—God the Creator, God the Son, Jesus, our Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit, the Sustainer. This Vocabulary of Faith series will explore these in greater depth. Stay tuned!
And yet even though God is so far beyond our human understanding, scripture still bears witness to God. The Bible contains almost 1000 references to God ‘s name or various characteristics of God. (www.Biblestudytools.com). Many of these point to a way that people have personally experienced God—as their Deliverer. Their Redeemer. A Light. A Shepherd who leads us beside still waters and restores our souls. The One who is with us. So what are we to say in all this? One clue comes from what the Psalmist wrote: “Be still and know that I Am God (Ps.46:10).”
This approach calls for the kind of knowing in a relationship; not necessarily based on logic or rational thought; but a deeper kind of knowing as you would know a family member or a close friend. There’s something about the essence of that person that you know that you can deeply trust. You know that they will be there for you and with you. There is respect. Love. A mutuality. People refer to this kind of knowing as those personal God moments in their lives. What was it like for you when something has turned out so well and good that you sensed that you could not have orchestrated that yourself?
A strong God moment for me happened when we were living in Florida. Our son Thomas had just been born. My father and mother had just moved to Texas from Michigan. I thought that we’d never see them—or so seldom since travelling long distances wasn’t easy with an infant. And then, Tom was transferred of all places in the United States to the Houston, Texas area. My heart and mind opened in wonder. It hit me that there truly is such a supreme benevolent force that is working for the good in ways so beyond our imagination or control.
I began to experience God as the “fount of every blessing.” And the more we sense those unmerited blessings and love in our lives, the more they want to pour out into others. What kinds of God moments have you experienced throughout the years? Something so good happening that you know you could not have caused it by yourself, yet you knew it was so right and better than what you could have possibly scripted yourself? You knew that somehow God is with you and blessing you?
So while we may not have easy definitions for God, we human beings, in our own humble ways can point to the goodness of the timeless, eternal One at work in our lives. And so, our challenge today is this: Recall a God moment in your life that has made an impression on you. Take time to wonder and relish that. Rest in it. And ask God throughout the week so open your eyes to other God moments that are happening so that you move closer to knowing the God who is. The richness and fullness of God’s perfect love await.
Let us pray: Holy God, You created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. And yet you reveal that you are mindful of us. (Ps. 8) Keep awakening us to your loving Presence so we may grow in our faith, hope and love and share that vocabulary with others. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Dr. John Judson
December 23, 2018
Luke 1:39-56; Matthew 1:1-6, 17
“One of these things is not like the other. One of these things doesn’t belong. Can you tell which of these things is not like this other by the time I finish this song?” How many of you can identify this song? Yes, it is from Sesame Street and helps children with the concepts of similarity and difference. I have to say that this is how I think about the four women in Jesus’ genealogy. Three are the same and one doesn’t belong. See if you can tell which one. Tamar, dresses like a Temple prostitute, sleeps with her father and has twins. Rahab, who is a Temple Prostitute, betrays her own people to save her family. Ruth, is a foreigner who ultimately scandalously offers herself to an older Israelite man. And finally, the blessed virgin Mary, who completely submits to the will of God to bring forth the messiah. How many of you would vote for Tamar? Rahab? Ruth? The blessed virgin Mary? Well if you voted for any of them you are wrong…because they are all the same. They are all ezers.
What is an ezer, you ask? To understand we must go back into the depths of the Old Testament. In fact, need to begin in Chapter 2 of Genesis, where God figures out that Adam can’t make it on his own and so creates for him, an ezer, who is named Eve. What is fascinating about this is that the term ezer is translated here as “helpmate”. The thought is that Adam needs someone to go around Eden picking up his leafy socks because he leaves them everywhere. This is fascinating to me because nowhere else in the Bible is ezer translated in that way. Instead, the term is translated as something like, strong deliverer or mighty warrior. It is a Hebrew military terms that is most often used to refer to God when God saves God’s own people. That’s right, in 16 of the 21 occurrences of this word, it describes God’s powerful saving work. It becomes clear that this term is not about being a helpmate, but about someone who rescues another amid danger. What I want to argue this morning is that all four of these women are ezers because they were all deliverers of their people.
Let’s begin. Tamar is the strong deliverer of her husband’s family. When her husband died before they had children, unless she acted it would be as if her husband never existed. So when justice is denied her and her husband, she acts powerfully and decisively to bring it about by sleeping with her Father-in-law, the one whom justice declares ought to father the child. Rahab understood clearly that the God of creation, the God who had led the people out of bondage in Egypt was stronger than her god, the god Jericho. So, when the Israelite spies arrive, in preparation for the attack on her hometown of Jericho, she risks her life to hide them in return for a promise to save not just her, but her entire family. She delivers then both the spies and her family. Ruth is the strong helper and protector of her mother-in-law Naomi. Because Naomi had no husband or sons, there was no one to protect or provide for her. She was completely vulnerable. Ruth, steps into the void as her ezer, her strong deliverer and protects her to the end of her days. All of which brings us to Mary, the blessed virgin, who is an ezer for the world.
One of the unfortunate things about the church is how it has sanitized Mary and turned her into an almost other-worldly saint. Images of her always depict her in blue robes, with a white head covering and a halo. You can almost hear the angelic humming in the background as she glides across the birth and death scenes in the Gospels. These images do not do justice to the ezer that she was. Here’s why. When Mary is approached by the angel on behalf of God, wondering if she would be willing to participate in this messiah birthing endeavor, Mary knows what this means. It means that the revolution has begun and that she is at the center of it. The revolution is the inbreaking of God’s kingdom which will wipe away all other earthly kingdoms. Listen to her words from Luke, “God has shown the strength of his arm (think ezer); he has scattered the proud in the imaginations of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel…” This is the revolution that will turn all things upside down and inside out. Mary is an ezer because she is willing to risk everything to bring forth the one who will deliver God’s people.
All of us here this morning are called to be Ezers, which I realize can seem a bit overwhelming. It can be overwhelming because when we think of ezers we often think famous people in the Bible or of other famous people who do great things. We may think of people like Rosa Parks, or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi, Harvey Milk, Mandela or Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. We see them as ezers who were “strong deliverers” of peoples and nations. They worked for justice on the macro-scale in a way most of us cannot. And this is why the stories of these four women matter. They show us that ezers also work on the micro-scale. They remind us that the only thing it takes to be an ezer is courage and a willingness to act for the right, even if it is only helping to deliver a single person. Remember that Tamar and Ruth acted as an ezer for individuals. Rahab worked as an ezer for her own family. Only Mary works as an ezer for the larger community. What this means is that when we teach a child to read in Pontiac or Detroit, we are being ezers who help to liberate them from poverty. When we feed children through shop and drop and our food pantry, we are being ezers who are liberating them from hunger. When we welcome all people into this place, we are being ezers of grace and love. You and I can be and are called to be ezers.
My challenge for each of us then this morning is for us to ask ourselves this question. For whom am I being an ezer? For whom am I being a strong deliverer or strong advocate? And if the answer is, I’m not sure, then simply ask, who around me needs an ezer and how can I be one for them?
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
December 16, 2018, 8:30 a.m.
Ruth 3:1-18; Matthew 1:1-6
Why is she here? Why is Ruth mentioned as one of only four women in Jesus’ genealogy? This might not be a question many of us have ever asked because Ruth’s story in the Old Testament is such a sweet story and parts of it are often read at weddings. “Entreat me not to leave you, but where you go I will go. Where you stay I will stay. Your family will be my family. And your God my God.” If any woman other than Mary should be in Jesus’ lineage, then perhaps Ruth is it. Yet, there is a problem here, and that problem is that Ruth is not an Israelite. She is a Moabite. She is a foreigner. She is the enemy. And in the time of Jesus, there was a visceral reaction from most Jews toward anyone whose family history was not purely Jewish. This was something that began when the Jews returned from exile in Babylon. The leadership under Ezra wanted to purge their community of all non-Jews so they could maintain a sense of religious and cultural purity. And this desire to have a pure and perfect family was alive and well in Jesus’ time. With that in mind, then why does Matthew include a foreigner into Jesus’ family when Matthew’s audience is Jewish; meaning people for whom a pure lineage would have been important? The answer I would offer is that it is intended to remind people that loving neighbor is not limited to Israelites but includes all people, which is at the heart of Jesus world-encompassing ministry. Let me explain.
In the time of Jesus, there was a great debate among the Jews in Judea about who was neighbor. There were groups like the Essenes, who were the Dead Sea Scroll folks, who believed that neighbor only extended to those in their immediate group, meaning those who lived at Qumran. Everyone else was their enemy and was to be hated. Another segment of society believed that neighbor extended only to other Jews. Gentiles then were enemies and were to be hated. Finally, there were those like Jesus who believed that all human beings were neighbors, because they too were created in the image of God. We see this in the end of Matthew when Jesus tells his disciples to go to all nations and share with them the good news of God’s love. The struggle for Matthew was that since he was writing to a Jewish audience, how could he convince them that the most expansive vision of neighbor was the right one. The answer, as I said, was to remind them of Ruth and her story; because in that story we see the scriptures offering an expansive view of neighbor. So, a quick overview of Ruth.
The book of Ruth deals with the issue of neighbor in two ways. The first is that it reminds us that those who are not part of God’s people, are good people; that God’s people don’t have a monopoly on loving neighbor. A quick overview. Once upon a time, a woman named Naomi, with her husband and two sons, moved to Moab because of a famine in Israel. While they were there the sons married Moabite women, one of whom was Ruth. All the men in the family died, leaving Naomi alone with her two daughters-in-law. Naomi decided to return home and told her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab because she knew they will not be accepted in Israel. Ruth refused to stay and demanded to go because she did not want Naomi to be alone. Once they returned to Israel, Ruth risked both her personal safety to provide for Naomi and her future, because what Israelite would marry a foreigner? In other words, Ruth had become the poster child for what it means to love neighbor, even though she was not an Israelite.
The second way in which the book of Ruth offers us a glimpse of what it means to love neighbor is in how Naomi and a man named Boaz treat Ruth. Naomi guides Ruth through the adjustments of being a stranger in a strange land. She tells her how to act, where to gather grain and how to be careful. Ultimately, she will also direct her toward finding a husband to protect her. Boaz, is a wealthy man. When he sees Ruth and then discovers who she is, a foreigner who knows what it means to love neighbor, he shows love of neighbor to this Moabite woman in several ways. First, he tells his reapers to leave wheat for Ruth to gather. Second, he tells his reapers not to harass her, which would have been a natural thing for them to do. Third, he invites her to eat with his workers. Fourth, he insures that extra amounts of grain are placed in her sack, so Ruth and Naomi will have enough to eat. Finally, at the climax of the story, he marries her. Yes, an Israelite marries a Moabite…and their great grandson becomes king of Israel. This, the writers of the book of Ruth say, is how we are to understand what it means to love neighbor; to see them as God’s good people and to treat them with the love that God offers to us. This is what Ruth is in Jesus’ lineage; to show that loving neighbor is expansive and not restrictive.
Human beings have always been suspicious of those who are not like themselves; of those who speak different languages, whose skin color is different, who have different habits and traditions. Our tendency is to exclude them from being neighbors so that we do not have to love them like we love those who are like us. Yet by including Ruth in Jesus’s genealogy, Matthew wants to remind his readers, that neighbors are all human beings, near and far. This is how we are called to live as followers of Jesus Christ. We are to live as those with an expansive vision of neighbor. And so that is my challenge to you on this Sunday, to ask yourselves, how am I treating all of those around me as neighbor, understanding there may be among them another “Ruth’ in need of our care?
The Rev. Bethany Peerbolte
December 9, 2018
Joshua 2:1-14; Luke 1:68-79
This advent we are looking at the women in Jesus’ genealogy as recorded in Matthew’s gospel. But in Matthews recording of Jesus’ heritage he mentions only a couple women. There are lines and lines of men, this guy is the father of that guy who is the father of that guy. In the midst of all these male names there are only a few women. But why choose these women? They must be prime examples of something. Matthew breaks up his rhythm of father and son to bring attention to these mothers, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Mary. They are held up as women worthy of being connected to Jesus. Worthy to be mentioned as branches on his family tree.
Last week we heard how Tamar held on to hope, showing that Jesus’ family tradition was to believe in the power of hope. This week we are looking at Rahab. A woman we know only a few verses worth about but is for some reason important enough to make the cut for Jesus’ genealogy. To know about Rahab we have to dig a little deeper and open our net wider. It has been a journey to piece together her life this week, through historical records and writings about similar women of the time period. What we can be sure of is what scripture records. Rahab lived in Jericho before the Israelites invaded. In any introduction of her she is linked to the profession of prostitution. We also know her home sits on the outside wall of the city, and that she has family that she cares deeply for. The rest of the details we must piece together.
Tradition holds that Rahab was beautiful. Jewish communities speak of Rahab’s beauty much like the beauty of Queen Esther. But if she is living on the outside wall of the city beauty was the only thing she was rich in. The community along the wall was a slum. It was the most dangerous part of the city, because if anyone attacked, they would be the first to die. The rich lived in the center, the poor along the wall. The fate of a beautiful poor girl is not hard to guess. The word we translate as prostitute more closely describes a temple sex worker. The Canaanite gods accepted sex offerings, so girls would serve in their temples for worshipers to give these offerings. Necessity must have driven Rahab into this profession too.
Some scholars believe her beauty attracted the attention of the King of Jericho and his gifts to her at the temple allowed her to buy a home and start a business. The business was similar to our wild west saloons. An Inn, bar, and brothel in one convenient location. It was also a hot bed of information, which men in authority would also pay well for.
So Rahab has earned her way into a little bit of power and money. Her hard work and smart planning has put her in the position to learn things from travelers and pass along the information to the city guard and even the King. Tales are told at her Inn. Tall tales of a group of slaves who escaped Egypt. The God they serve bringing horrific plagues on their enemy, even drying a path in the red sea for them to escape safety from their slavers. These are old tales and they have grown more fanciful over time. Then Rahab begins to hear new tales. Stories of great battles. Of the Israelites defeating great powers in Sihon and Og. Travelers are saying these are the same people in the stories about Egypt. The slaves that escaped. The God who scared pharaoh. Travelers begin to show up who say they have seen these battles with their own eyes and Rahab begins to wonder if the old tales are true. The battles they have seen had outrageous odds against the Israelites but somehow, they keep winning. The battles are getting closer to Jericho, so Rahab alerts the guard and the King. Tries to tell them these Israelites have a great God and Jericho must be prepared to offer peace or they will all die.
Her warnings are ignored. She is poor, and a sex worker, she is an outcast. A slave to the system she was born into. A thought grows in her mind, the Israelites made it out, their God does not ignore outcasts, their God listens and sets slaves free. As her allegiances are being tested she looks out her window in the outer wall and sees the Israelites set up camp on the other side of the river. They are here.
SO Rahab is poor, scrapping together a living. But her profession means she is well connected with the men in authority, and it allows her to know things before they are well known in the city. The spies know this too. Brothels and poor inns are a great place to gather intel. Buy a few rounds and you can get people talking about anything. Poor brothel owners are easily paid off if needed, so Joshua’s spies head to Rahab’s place to gather information. While they are there the word gets out that some Israelites have been spotted at her place. When the knock comes to her door Rahab thinks fast. She hides the spies under the barley she is letting someone dry on her roof and calmly answers the door. She knows the men and she knows how to lie to them. The guards know Rahab has always been a reliable source of information, so they believe her words and move on. The spies are shocked, this Canaanite woman helped them without even taking a bribe. They are thankful but skeptical. That is when Rahab reveals her intentions.
“I am an outcast in this country” She says “but I heard your God does not turn away from outcasts. All I want is peace. Peace for myself and for my family. All I ask in return for helping you is that you do not bring this battle to my house. And if your God will have me I will become a follower of the God of Israel.” That is who Rahab is, a woman committed to peace. Peace was not an easy choice for Rahab. She had to betray the people she grew up with. The only culture and country she had never known. That is a hard thing to do. To look at the only world you know and see that it is corrupt, to recognize the other side is the good side. That is the hardest part of peace, realizing we are not always the good guys. Every one of us has been the bad guy in someone’s narrative. We have cut someone off on the road, we have broken someone’s heart, we have betrayed someone’s trust. We have used harsh words when we talk to ourselves and to others. Our commitment to peace wans.
When the dust had settled on Jericho Rahab and her family joined the Israelites. Salmon, one of the spies, marries Rahab. It was probably the first time any man did right by her. This offering of love inspires her to repent and give her life to God. The Talmud, Jewish oral tradition, that recounts a prayer Rahab said soon after joining the Israelites. She is believed to have prayed: “Master of the Universe! I have sinned with three things, with my eye, my thigh, and my stomach. By the merit of three things pardon me: the rope, the window, and the barley. Pardon me for engaging in harlotry because I endangered myself when I lowered the rope for the spies from the window in the wall.” Her prayer recognizes that she is a sinner in need of God’s grace. A sinner who upon recognizing their fault did all they could to turn towards God’s peace and do what was right. She prays this prayer to shed all guilt and shame over her past and begin anew with a new life, a new community, and a new God.
She gives birth to Boaz, the man who is able to look past the fallen nature of Ruth and redeem her. When I realized Boaz’s mother was Rahab, a fallen woman, it made so much more sense why he loves Ruth. Rahab must have raised her son to respect all women because Rahab was so disrespected by men. She must have instilled in Boaz an esteem for the laws of the Israelites because that was the community that showed her mercy. She must have raised Boaz to honor God in everything, because the God of Israel had finally brought her peace.
Rahab’s inclusion in Jesus’ genealogy shows that Jesus is just as committed to peace as she was. It’s a family tradition. Pasted on from generation to generation. It shows that Jesus will be committed to bringing peace to this world, a peace that passes all understanding.
Our verses from Luke today are a prayer Zechariah prays over his son John. We know John as John the Baptist. Zechariah says that John will “go before the lord to prepare the way, to give knowledge of salvation to the people.” He prays for God to turn our feet towards peace. The Hebrew understanding of peace means more than just freedom from trouble it means wanting everything that leads to the highest good. And because we are sinners that means facing the bad in ourselves and repenting. John the Baptist’s job was to help people repent so they were ready for the peace Jesus was bringing. God can turn our feet toward peace but there is a mirror in that direction. A mirror that will force us to see things in ourselves we would rather ignore. SO we turn away, and stumble as we try to walk towards peace without facing peace. John was the one to hold up the mirror to the world. To show us where their lives were not aligned with God’s peace. We can pray for wars to end, for our family to heal, but until we examine our role in those competitions, we are only guessing at the direction we should be walking.
John encouraged people to look in the mirror, Rahab’s example tells us to look in the mirror. To clearly see when we are not on the side of peace and do all we can to change that. Looking in the mirror is hard but trying to walk in the opposite direction we are facing is harder, and frankly makes us look ridiculous. Face peace so you can walk in the way God has guided your feet.
Dr. John Judson
December 2, 2018
Genesis 38:12-19; Matthew 1:1-6
John Wesley Hodge. It is not a name any of you would be familiar with, but he is my great, great grandfather. He was an itinerant Methodist minister in Louisiana in the early to mid-1800s. I suppose his occupation ought to make me want to claim him as an ancestor, but I wish he was not in my family tree. I wish he was not because he not only volunteered to fight for the Confederacy, but he raised his own company to fight for the rights of Louisianans to enslave and debase people of color. I am not sure if he was a slave owner but having met some of his descendants, it is clear he passed on to many of them a deep hatred for blacks with racism a mile wide. It may be that all of us, given enough searching could find someone we would not want in our family tree; someone who reminds us that we are part of imperfect families. If we believe religious writers across the centuries, Jesus has those same kind of people in his family tree; people who make his family seem as imperfect as mine. Now, interestingly enough, the people who make his family tree seem imperfect are three out of the four women who are mentioned in his lineage: Tamar, Rahab and Ruth. They are portrayed as making his family imperfect because each of them have scandalous personal stories. What we are going to be doing over the next four weeks before Christmas is dig a bit deeper into the stories of these women to see what we can find, and to discover if they really make Jesus’ family imperfect or if there is something else we ought to see.
We begin with Tamar and the traditional telling of the tale. This tradition makes it clear that as my grandmother would say, Tamar was a hussy. The retelling begins with Tamar being childless and desperate to have a child. She was so desperate that she would go to any lengths to conceive, including seducing her father-in-law. We know this because when Tamar heard that Judah, her father-in-law, who was just over mourning for his deceased wife, was headed for Timnah to shear sheep so she laid a trap for him. She dressed like a prostitute, lay in wait for him and used her feminine wiles to seduce him. Her scheme worked, and she became pregnant. As my grandmother would say, what a hussy. She was, in other words, a sinful woman who crossed the bounds of decency and ought not to be mentioned in Jesus’ lineage at all. All of this poses a problem for this traditional reading. It poses a problem because King David named one of his daughters after her. It poses a problem because later in this story Judah will proclaim that she is more righteous than he is. And finally, it poses a problem, because the writer of Matthew, undoubtedly a good Jew, makes sure to mention her in Jesus’ genealogy. So, what gives?
What gives, is that Tamar was a woman who hoped in the justice of God and worked to make that justice a reality. Let me say that again. Tamar was a woman who hoped in the justice of God and worked to make that justice a reality. Now the backstory that is often left out. Tamar was married to Judah’s eldest son. The son died before they could have a child. The law, and the justice of God in this case, was that the next son would marry her and have a child in order that the older brother’s memory would remain alive. Son number two married her but refused to do his husbandly duty with her. He too died. This left the third son who was to marry her, but at the time of son number two’s death he was too young to marry. Judah told Tamar to go live with her parents until son number three was old enough to marry, implying that he would send for her and she could have a son to keep her husband’s, and remember, Judah’s son’s memory alive. Well, when the youngest son was old enough, he “forgot” to send Tamar an email or text letting her know it was time to come home. When she discovered this, she put her plan into action. And this is where hope comes in. Tamar could not force Judah to proposition her and sleep with her. This is something only God could do…so she hoped. Tamar could not force herself to become pregnant. This is something only God could do…so she hoped. Tamar believed that God was a God of justice, and so lived into the hope that God would act. The conclusion of the story is that God did act, she became pregnant and justice for her and her deceased husband was served. This is the reason Judah calls her righteous and David names his daughter after her.
This past Thursday I was having breakfast with David Paterson and he commented that the saying we often use, “It is what it is” he said defeats hope. It makes hope irrelevant. I have been pondering this for the last couple of days and realized that what we should say, is not, “it is what it is”, but instead “what ought to be, will be.” In other words, what God desires for this world is what we ought to be working for and doing so with hope that God will bless our actions.
This is what Tamar showed us. She showed us that what is, is not necessarily what ought to be, but that what ought to be, will be if we are willing to hope and act on that hope. This is also the message of her descendant whose birth we will celebrate in a few weeks. God did not look at the world and say, “It is what is” or “they are who they are”, but what ought to be, will be. And so, God sent God’s only son to teach, preach, heal and die for the world so that justice might live. Jesus is born into this world not to say, it is what it is, but to say what ought to be, ought to be.
The challenge before us then is to be Tamars. It is to be those who say what ought to be, will be and then act in hope of that reality. My challenge to you then this week, is this, to ask yourselves how am I being a Tamar in this world, hoping in God and working for justice?
Dr. John Judson
November 25, 2018
Isaiah 54:4-10; 1 Corinthians 14:1-5
A Red Rider bb gun and Ralphie are both familiar to those of us who have watched the Christmas Story at least once in our lives. For any of you who have not seen it, the story line is about Ralphie, a familiar name in this church, and his not so secret desire for a Red Rider bb gun. Like many of us he obsesses over the gun and does everything he can to get one. What I want to ask all of you this morning as we begin, is how many of you had your own metaphoric Red Rider bb gun, that you just had to have at Christmas? Ok, now that we have confessed, I want you to turn to your neighbor and in two minutes each of you share that one thing you had to have. Go…ok let’s come back here and out of Christmas wishes past, and remind ourselves that we are not alone. People from the dawn of time have wanted particular gifts, trinkets, beads or toys. And, as you might have guessed by now, so did the Corinthians…but the one gift they all wanted was a spiritual gift, speaking in tongues.
For most Presbyterians, the whole idea or concept of speaking in tongues seems a bit foreign. Most of us, I would guess have not ever seen it…any of you ever witnessed speaking in tongues? But while it may be foreign to us, evidently it was a regular part of worship in the church in Corinth. What it consisted of is individuals, at any moment, beginning to speak in language which was not only not their own, but was not a recorded language. Some people have called it glossolalia, or in a sense a language spoken by God and the angels. Though there were many other spiritual gifts, this was the one everyone wanted under the tree at Christmas, so to speak. Why would they want it? I think for a couple of reasons. First, it was pretty spectacular. It makes the speaker the center of attention. Second, it is, as I said a moment ago, supposed to be direct communication between an individual and God. Thus, it is hard to beat. For Paul though, speaking in tongues, was not the gift everyone ought to desire. Let me say here that Paul does not say, “don’t speak in tongues,” partly because he did, but the one gift everyone in the Corinthians’ church ought to desire is to be able to prophecy.
The thought of wanting to be able to prophecy might seem as strange to our ears as is speaking in tongues. After all, aren’t prophets those people who foretell the future? In other words, aren’t they sort of God’s fortune tellers? “Yes, I proclaim that the Lions will win the Super Bowl…in 2030” and “Is your auto insurance up-to-date? Good because you will need it next week.” So often this is our image of prophecy partly because at Christmas time we are always reading Isaiah’s predictions of the coming messiah. But that concept is not what Paul had in mind when he spoke of prophecy, because prophecy is also forth-telling, meaning it is speaking God’s great story of hope for the world to those who need to hear it, and then helping them live into that hope. Let me say that again, the gift of prophecy is the ability to speak God’s great story of hope for the world for those who need to hear it, and then helping them live into that hope. For Paul this hope story telling was more important than speaking in tongues because tongues only helped one person, while telling God’s great story of hope in Jesus Christ changed not only the lives of individuals, but the entire community.
The gift of this book (the Bible) is that it is not simply a set of moral guidelines, though it has them. It is not simply a history of God’s people, which it is. It is not simply a set of interesting stories, which it is as well. Instead, this book is God’s great story of hope for the world. It is the story of God’s creating the world and everything in it good. It is the story of humanities turning from God and yet of God sticking with humanity even when they ran away.
It is the story of hope when God saves God’s people from slavery. It is a story of hope when God brings God’s people back from exile. It is a story of hope when we read of God coming to be one of us so that we might become new people. It is a story of hope when we watch as God’s Spirit gives us gifts that we might become the living, breathing body of Christ, showing love and doing justice. In other words, is a story of hope. It is a story of the hope that all life can be made good again. It is the story of hope that we are never alone; that we are never abandoned. It is the story of hope that we can find authentic community in and with our brothers and sisters in this place. It is a story of hope that we have those around us to support us in our times of need. Prophecy is the ability to tell this story to those who have lost hope; to those who feel left out; tot those who seem adrift. This is the gift Paul wanted everyone to have, to be able to share with others, that there is hope. And if there is ever a time when we needed hope, this is it.
I say this because of what I have come to refer to as the Great Honey Baked Ham incident. This past Wednesday Cindy went to Books-a-Million at the corner of Southfield and 13 Mile Road. For those of you who have never been there, one of the other shops there is the Honey Baked Ham Store. Cindy described what she saw as the Hunger Games. People were screaming and yelling at each other. People were honking their horns and making strange hand gestures. People were arguing. It was all in all a frightening scene that somehow does not quite fit the day before our national day for giving thanks. And the context for all of this is we are in a moment of prosperity, where people have their own cars and can drive to a store where they can pick up a ham that they did not have to prepare and then have enough food on their tables. Yet they are angry and frustrated enough to just lose it in a parking lot. This is a society that needs to hear a word of hope that God is present and that all will be well.
So how are we doing with our gift of prophecy? If recent studies are any indication, the answer is not all that good. In his book Learning to Speak God from Scratch (Jonathan Merritt, Learning to Speak God from Scratch ; Why Sacred Words are Vanishing-and How We Can Revive Them (New York, USA: Convergent Press, 2018)), Jonathan Merritt, describes the slow but steady decline in our nation of what he calls, spiritual conversation; and what I will call, sharing God’s great hope filled story. Merritt uses recent national surveys to make his point. He shows that half of Americans had a conversation of a spiritual nature, less than once or twice a year and that sixty-three percent of Americans try to avoid having those conversations at all. Two of the reasons that we try to avoid those conversations are that people often get angry when we start talking about faith (any of you try this at Thanksgiving this past week) and because we don’t know enough about God’s great story of hope or the vocabulary of faith to make telling the story possible in order to share it. If either of those are your reasons for not sharing God’s great story of hope with someone who needs to hear it, then I hope you will plan to be with us after Christmas and through Easter. I hope you will be with us because Joanne, Bethany and I will be preaching a series on the Vocabulary of Faith, where we will be examining and unpacking the language of God’s great story of hope in which all will be well, in a way we hope will allow you to speak hope to those who need to hear it.
My challenge to you then is this, to pray that God would give you the gift of Prophecy, so that you can share a story of hope with those who need to hear it.
Dr. John Judson
November 18, 2018
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:7
She looked as frustrated as I felt. She had spent the previous three weeks, eight hours a day, six days a week, trying to teach me Tagalog, but somehow it had yet to take hold in my brain. When I signed up for the Peace Corps, I was excited about going to the Philippines, and making a difference. What had not occurred to me was that my brain was not one of those wired to learn a new language…especially one that had virtually no connection to English, Spanish or other romance languages. Sentences such as “Lakarin ako sa tendehan”, or “come with me to the store” did not flow out of my brain and off my tongue. The problem was that to be sworn in as a volunteer and stay for my two years, I had to pass the language test. The gift I was given was that the woman teaching me refused to give up. She believed I was supposed to be there, and through her sheer will, she taught me enough Tagalog to pass the test and become an effective volunteer.
Let me ask, how many of you have had a teacher like that. Someone who cared so much about you that they were willing to do almost anything to help you succeed? If you have, then you can understand the passion the Apostle Paul had for teaching the Corinthians what it meant to be Jesus people. I say that because the Corinthians had signed up for Paul’s basic Jesus People Course in how to follow the risen, reigning savior. As part of that course they had to learn a new language…the language of the love of God in Jesus Christ. This was a new language for the Corinthians because they had spent their lives speaking the language of Empire; the language of power, domination, class and cruelty. And unfortunately, even after several years of practice, they were still struggling with the language of love as much as I struggled with my Tagalog. We know this because the Corinthians were almost as selfish, self-centered, arrogant, rude, power-hungry and jealous of one another as they were when they began learning this new language. But Paul was not about to give up. And in this thirteenth chapter, he decided to give them a crash course in God’s language of love in Jesus Christ.
The first lesson was that love was patient and kind. Every five years Cindy and I try and go on a cruise for our anniversary. When we were on our cruise for our 30th anniversary, I was waiting in line for breakfast and lusting over what can only be described as a mountain of bacon awaiting me. In front of me was a woman who had eyed one particular, piece of bacon that she wanted. She said to the server, “I want that piece of bacon.” He pointed to one and she replied, “Not that one, this one.” Becoming angry, she said, “Can’t you see! That one right there.” Once again, when she pointed, and he couldn’t discern the exact piece of bacon, she loudly implied that he was incompetent and ought to get another job. The Corinthians would have appreciated the bacon lady. They would have because the Corinthians were intolerant of and impatient with those who violated what they saw to be the social norms and would respond with withering criticism. We know this because they made fun of and often refused to listen to Paul because he was not a great orator, not very good looking and was Jewish. This criticism of one another was tearing the church apart. What Paul tried to teach them was that the language of love was to be patient with, and kind toward, those who were different and did not meet the conception of perfection. They were to be patient and kind because Jesus had been and continued to be patient and kind to the criticizing Corinthians. Thus, if the Corinthians were to be Jesus People, speaking the language of love, they were to exchange their conception of perfection for patience, and their criticism for kindness. Consider for a moment what a different world we would live in if we all learned and spoke the language of patience and kindness.
The second lesson was that love is not envious, boastful or arrogant. Years ago, my parents received their first ever Christmas letter, long before they were in vogue. It was from one of dad’s Marine Corps buddies and was filled with the wonderful tales of this man’s brilliant and successful children. My parents just chuckled, but I got indignant. First, I was jealous of their success and second, I was sure that my brothers were better and smarter than his kids. In other words, I mixed those two sides of the same coin, jealousy on the one side and boastful on the other, meaning jealousy and boasting go together because we wouldn’t boast if we were not jealous of someone else. This mixing of jealousy and boasting was at the heart of one of the most contentious issues within the Corinthian church; that is, whose spiritual gifts were best? As a reminder from last week, in the previous chapter Paul had described how every Jesus Person was given certain spiritual gifts to help build up the church. Everyone had at least one and no one had them all. Rather than teaching people to celebrate each other’s gifts, Paul’s lesson created a competition to see whose gifts were better. It was a “My gifts are better than your gifts” situation and was tearing the church apart. Paul reminded his students that competition was the language of Empire. Jesus love language would set aside competition and allow for the celebration of everyone’s gifts. This love language would allow people to see each gift as unique and special and necessary for the family. Consider for a moment what a different world this would be if instead of speaking the language of envy and arrogance, we spoke the language of celebration and appreciation.
The third and final lesson is that love rejoices in truth. I’m not sure how many of you noticed that we had an election a couple of weeks ago. I’m also not sure if you noticed there were political ads, most them saying unkind things about people. And finally, how many of you noticed that many of these commercials simply lied. It made me wonder what lengths we have become willing to go to insure victory. Unfortunately, the Corinthians would have had no problem with this scorched earth campaigning, because they did whatever it took to win. I say this because the Corinthians were incapable of working out disputes among themselves. Rather than trying to find the truth or at least an agreeable solution to their arguments, they sued each other. Yes, that’s right, they would take each other to civil court and if we believe Paul, lie about the facts of the matter because winning was everything. And my friends, this was a church of probably no more than 30-40 people. Once again then, Paul tries to teach them that the language of love is not about winning, but that it is about seeking the truth and sacrificially serving one another. It is about seeking justice which builds up the community. This is the language of the love of God in Jesus Christ because it is the love God offers the world, calling for justice for all and a willingness to send Jesus into the world to give his life as a ransom for all. Love seeks the best for all. Consider for a moment what a different world we would live in if instead of arguing, we spoke the language of self-giving rather than of winner-take-all.
We live in a world where the language of Empire is all around us. This makes learning and using the language of love one of the most important things we can do. My challenge to you this week then is to ask ourselves, “How am I learning and practicing speaking the language of the love of God in Jesus Christ to everyone I meet in every place that I go?”
Rev. Bethany Peerbolte
November 11, 2018
1 Samuel 17:32-40; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
I spent this last Sunday in Washington D.C. I had never been before, because the school I attended started the annual 8th grade trip when I was in 9th grade. I have never liked history, but I do like musicals, so I confess I went to see the stuff that related to Hamilton. People talk about New York or LA as a place for dreamers, but I found Washington DC is a place for dreamers too. The dreams that had to be dreamed to make that place a reality are huge. The statues and memorials and Arlington and buildings all are there because of big dreams. I learned all sorts of fun things, most I will not admit I didn’t know before going. One thing I will admit learning, is that 8 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were younger than I am now. When my friends and I learned this we joked about what we were doing with our lives. It became a common theme to hear about amazing people who had achieved big dreams by the time they were 30. The joke wore thin and as I was sitting in the Supreme Court Hall it hit me, I was surrounded by statues of modern people. Chief Justice Roberts will have a bust made of him for the hall when he dies. What am I doing with my life? I can pretty confidently say there will never be a statue of me in the Capital.
Then I came home and read these words from Corinthians and I had a small panic attack. I know these verses are supposed to be comforting. They affirm that we are all given gifts from God and are especially skilled for our work in the world. It should build me up that I work with such an amazing group of Christians, all making up one body. But despite how scholars tell me how I should feel about these verses, I still only feel anxiety and worry. When I read these verses I think these gifts are amazing! Prophesy, speaking in different languages, miracles…people with these gifts have statues made of them…these gifts can change the world. Then I look at what I consider my gifts and the anxiety sets in. My inner monologue usually goes something like this “Yes I have gifts, I believe God gave them to me, but are they as cool as the gifts listed here. Will my gifts move the world toward the kingdom of God like a literal miracle healer would?” Then I think “okay maybe my gifts are just as big and just as important. The Bible says so so let’s go with that…but am I even using my gifts correctly. I never got a manual on my gifts. How do I know that I’m not shirking my gifts on worthless endeavors? And if the whole body is depending on me to do my part will the whole kingdom of God come crashing down if I don’t use my gifts exactly right, which I don’t know what is right, do I even know my gifts…” you can see how my anxious mind spins and spins over these simple “encouraging” verses. Fear took hold of me and I was paralyzed thinking about what God wants me to do with the gifts I have been given.
The Israelite army was also paralyzed with fear by Goliath’s challenge. By the time the Israelites faced Goliath they had become a great army. They knew how to wage war together as a unit but the Philistines played by different rules. They sent their champion out to challenge one opponent from the Israelite army. One hand to hand combat match to decide the whole war. This was not something the Israelites were comfortable with and so they retreated to their tents in fear to try and come up with a plan.
David arrives on the frontline bringing gifts to his brothers. He isn’t old enough to fight yet and so he spends his days watching sheep, a job his brothers were more than happy to leave behind. After David delivers his gifts, he hears Goliath’s taunts and is shocked. Not a single Israelite steps forward. As David goes around camp he hears that the King has offered his daughter to the winner, the winner’s family never has to pay taxes again. David can tell the King is getting desperate for someone to step up. David’s shock isn’t that no one has taken the King’s offers, David is shocked that not even one of God’s army is willing to fight. David looks around him at gifted men who are all paralyzed with fear.
David doesn’t care about the King’s offer, he is offended by Goliath’s lack of respect for God. When the King calls him to his tent David pleads his case to be the champion. David’s willingness to move is not because he isn’t afraid, he is willing to fight because he trusts his gifts and he trusts God. David has faced down a terrifying opponent before, bears, lions. He recounts these battles to the King as proof he can defeat Goliath. But it isn’t his arms, or aim, or sling that gives David confidence, it is God, who has rescued him before.
This part of the story is my favorite (Read 1 Samuel 17: 38-40) This is the part of the story that reminds me this isn’t a story about a small person stepping into unknown territory to take down a giant. David is small, but he is also uniquely gifted. He isn’t being asked to do something out of the ordinary, he is doing something he has done at least twice before. David turns down the big weapons that he is unfamiliar with, and even though it leaves him more exposed he knows he must do this his way. For David it all seems so simple because he has found a way only he can help. His gifts in this place and time are what is needed.
David and Goliath has become synonymous with the underdog win, of something small overcoming something huge. But I don’t think that is all this story has to offer. Yes it says to dream big and face the giants, but is also says dream small. After rejecting the sword and armor, David went to the river and found 5 smooth stones to place in his bag. 5…he didn’t load up his bag, he didn’t stress over their size, he knew what he was comfortable with and used what was around him. Using our gifts is not about finding grand gestures or making elaborate plans, we aren’t even really called to solve any particular problem. When the spirit gives us a gift we are asked to pick up the simple stones.
These stone might say to us “leave work 30 minutes early and spend time with your family,” another might say “call up an old friend.” There might be a stone laying around that says “invite the family whose loved one is deployed to dinner,” or “learn something new about a good friend.” These are the simple stones the simple moments that can truly shift the world.
As I sat in my fear this week I did what I always do when I’m immovable, I went on Facebook.
As I scrolled through my friend’s newsfeeds I came across a post that was out of character for a friend of mine. This friend, Kevin, is a late-night radio host in a college town. His job essentially is to play the hits and create a party atmosphere every night of the week. Kevin has always been a high energy person, so it is no surprise he excels at this. He is always pictured at fun events, doing crazy things for his fans, his picture on buses, but this post was not a fun picture. This post was a screen shot of a message Kevin had recently received from a long-time listener. This listener, he said, often called in to request songs and he has met them at events over the past year. The message was about the first time this listener called the radio station. When they called to request a song one night, they had plans to end their life. They were holding on to the last happy things they could think of and decided to call in a request a favorite song. Kevin did what he always does, answered, listened, and played their song. For him it was a normal interaction, but the way the listener recounts it in the message he told them to “keep your head up buddy” those five words shifted their whole world. Five simple words that seemed like nothing to Kevin, all in a days work, but God used them to bring down the giant in that listeners life.
The hope in Corinthians is that we all have gifts that can shift the world, not by making giants fall with big dreams, but by us picking up the stones around us. We don’t have to go out and find a huge problem to solve, we don’t have to put on someone else’s mannerisms, we need to find the simple moments where we can be helpful. We may even find that by doing what feels comfortable to us, making a meal, sending cards, looking into someone’s eyes and smiling might be the exact stone needed to bring down the giant.
If you have big dreams, great! Big dreams are the foundation of our country, but don’t miss the stones along the way. Don’t pass the simple moments that change the world. Dream small, AMEN
Dr. John Judson
November 4, 2018
Exodus 13:1-10; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
To self, “Hmm, I know I came into the bedroom for something. What was it?” To my wife, “Hey honey, why did I come into the bedroom?” “You went in there to set the alarm.” “Oh, right.” To self again, “Hmm, now what time was I supposed to set it for?” To my wife again, “Hey honey, what time was I supposed to set it for?” “Seven o’clock, dear.” “Oh, right. Thanks.” This is an ongoing interaction at our house. And when we have them I like to think that I have not forgotten something, but that I had un-remembered it. It may be that few if any of you ever have these same kind of interactions; that you un-remember things. You never ask, why did I come into this room? What am I looking for in the fridge? Why am I holding this? There are moments when I think that un-remembering is product of our own time and culture. That we are so busy and so distracted with our devices that we cannot focus. But this is not the case and we know it is not first because the command to “remember” is used more than 280 times, and because Paul’s words to the Corinthians are intended to deal with a bad case of un-remembering; of un-remembering the core of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.
This might not seem obvious when we first read Paul’s words of what we call, institution, of the Lord’s supper. These are words we are used to hearing on a regular basis when we come to the table. But if we were to have read what comes before and after them we can see why Paul thinks that the Corinthians had un-remembered the core of their faith. They had un-remembered it because they had become selfish and self-centered. Some people came with lots of food to church and stuffed themselves, while others went hungry. Others came to church with lots of wine, and they got drunk while others had nothing to drink. Some, who were wealthy and in the upper classes, came early and pretty much polished off the food that was meant for a communal meal, so that when the late comers, usually slaves and ordinary working folks arrived, there was nothing left to share. For Paul, this was a violation of Christian Faith 101, which is, we are a self-giving and not a self-serving community. This is where the words we read this morning come into play.
Though these words were probably the church’s earliest liturgy, meaning that they had been formalized for use when the church gathered for its communal meal, or love feast, here Paul is using them in a different context. In these words, Paul sees the very self-giving nature, not only of Jesus, but of God. He does because when Jesus says, “This is my body for you...” and “…this cup is the new covenant in my blood…”, he is telling his disciples that they will find new life and be part of the new coming Kingdom of God, because of Jesus’ own self-giving. And this self-giving is not only on Jesus’ part, but on God’s part because Paul understood that the history of God and God’s people was based on God’s gracious giving of everything from freedom, to manna in the wilderness, to the gift of the Spirit. This self-giving then was to be mirrored in the self-giving of people within the community. To have faith, in other words, was to faithfully give of oneself to God and neighbor. This is what the Corinthians had un-remembered, and of what Paul was reminding them. It is also the heart of what we are reminded of every time we come to the communion table.
This leaves the question though, why does self-giving matter enough for God to remind us every time we are together? It matters for two reasons. First it matters because it moves us from being spectators to participants in God’s great world transforming work. Both in Paul’s time and in ours it is easy to be spectators of religion, meaning we can stand back and appreciatively watch what happens in church without really being transformed by it. When we allow ourselves to be reminded of our call to be self-giving people, and we live it, then we become part of God’s recreative work…we become part of God’s work to recreate the world into a place or love, peace and justice. This understanding, then brings us to the second reason for self-giving…which is that in self-giving, the world is transformed into what it was and is, into what God would have it to be. The world is not transformed into God’s new creation by hatred, fear or greed. It is transformed by our self-giving just as we are transformed by Jesus’ self-giving. It is transformed by our self-giving; our self-giving great and small.
To that end I want to share with you an incident that happened this week at our local Kroger’s. My wife Cindy was going down one of the isle’s when she saw a woman in need of assistance, because she could not reach an item. Cindy walked up to her and asked if she could be of assistance. The woman said yes, and then after Cindy had retrieved the item off the shelf, said, “Thank you. No one has been kind to me in a long time.” I want you to think about that. Here is a person who evidently has not been shown kindness and who has felt the weight of the world’s disdain upon her. She feels somehow unworthy of kindness. And a simple act of self-giving, of awareness gave her a renewed sense of hope. This is what self-giving does. And this is what Paul reminds us we are to do.
This then is the gift of this communion table. It has been the gift to the church for almost two-thousand years. It was a gift to the people whose names we read this morning, helping them to remember whose and who they are. It is a gift to those who will come after us and light our candles. So, my friends, this morning we have a chance to once again remember whose and who we are as we come to this table (communion table). In the breaking of the bread and pouring of the cup we are reminded of God’s self-giving and of our calling to do so as well. My challenge to you then is this, as you take the bread and cup, ask yourself, how is this reminder causing me to live as a self-giving follower of Jesus Christ?