Rev. Dr. John Judson
June 28. 2015
Isaiah 66:18-23, Ephesians 2:11-22
They really disliked each other. In fact one might say they hated each other. The Jews and Romans had no use for the other and essentially wished that the other would simply go away. The Romans hated the Jews. They hated them because the Jews were atheists. I realize that this is a rather odd statement considering that the Jews worship the one, true, living God. But as far as the Romans were concerned anyone who did not worship the gods of Rome were atheists. The Romans also hated the Jews because the Jews did not fully participate in the cultural activities of the Empire. They did not worship at the temples. They did not offer sacrifices for the emperor. They did not engage in the festivals. The Romans hated the Jews because the Jews were the only religion that was exempted not only from worshipping the Roman gods, but was exempt from some associated taxes as well. This made them extremely unpopular and so there were anti-Jewish riots in many of the Roman cities such as Alexandria. And at one point they were so hated the all Jews were expelled from the city of Rome itself.
Likewise, the Jews hated the Romans. The Jews hated the Romans because the Romans were pagans. The Romans, rather than worshipping the one, true, living God, worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses. In other words they were idol worshippers. The Jews hated the Romans because the Romans were their oppressors. Even though Jews could and did worship freely there was no doubt that the Romans were their overlords. The Romans demanded heavy taxes of all non-citizens and restricted the rights of non-citizens, which included most Jews. The Jews hated the Romans because Rome was a culturally imperialistic empire; meaning that Rome pushed its culture on all its conquered peoples. This included things such as Olympic athletic games where all the competitors were naked and Roman theatres with their plays, both of which took place in Jewish territories. The Jews then to protect themselves built legalistic walls. If the Torah said to do “X” the Jewish community would do “X2”.
All of this might have been of little or no concern except for one small issue. That issue was that the Jewish people, the children of Abraham, were on a mission from God. Their mission was to bless the world, and as long as they remained behind the walls which they had created out of the fear of being absorbed into Roman society, they would never be able to fulfill their mission. It was into this situation that God intervened. God intervened by sending God’s own Son, to become incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth. This Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the messiah would live, die and be raised in order to break down the walls that had been constructed over a period of more than 500 years. This is how Paul puts it in his letter to the church at Ephesus. “In his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the wall that is the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances…” Let me be clear here. Jesus did not do away with the Torah, or laws such as the Ten Commandments. What Jesus did was to break down the barriers that those laws, commandments and ordinances set between Jews and Romans. And by so doing Jesus released into the world two great powers. These powers were peace and the Spirit.
The first power which was released was that of peace. I want you to notice the central place that peace plays in this part of Paul’s letter. Paul tells us that Jesus is our peace; that hostility is gone; that Jesus has created one humanity, thus making peace; that hostility has been put to death; and that Jesus came and proclaimed peace to those who were far off and those who were near. And this peace is not a Roman peace that is enforced by the edge of a sword; meaning be peaceful or else. This is not a Jewish peace of being dominated; meaning we need to act peacefully or we will pay a price. The peace that Jesus Christ brought, that Jesus made possible is a peace that literally takes enemies and makes them friends; that takes strangers and makes them family; that allows people who had nothing in common to live in harmony with one another. This is peace that is closer to the Jewish concept of Shalom in which all things are well as if the Kingdom of God has come and renewed the face of the earth. Jesus Christ made possible reconciliation among enemies so that a lasting peace might be possible.
The second power which was unleashed was that of the Spirit. Paul puts it this way. “So Jesus came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him, both of us (Jews and Romans) have access to one Spirit to the Father.” And this Spirit is not present to give us ecstatic experiences or to comfort us, but to make possible the reconciling work of peace. Again Paul, “So then you are no longer stranger and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints also members of the household of God…in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in him you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” In a sense what Paul is telling us is that not only are the walls down and human beings are capable of making peace, but that the Spirit of God empowers that reconciling work. The Spirit of God takes us from being strangers and makes us not only into one family, but into one temple of God. Humanity becomes the place where God dwells, binding us together.
So what does this have to do with us, you might ask? Let me begin with a quote. “We have a statue of liberty on the east coast given to us by a foreign community. But we need a statue of unity built by all Americans, for all Americans -- in every American community. Today, our nation is not united. This country is in trouble because too many Americans prefer not to know each other. Not to care about each other. […] Our country cannot go on like this.” Anyone know that quotation? It was offered in 1967 by Sargent Shriver as he was addressing the issues of race in our nation. It would be easy to say Shriver’s statement still describes our nation today. Yet if we are honest with ourselves we will admit that things have changed. There is no longer “redlining” here in Detroit, meaning people of color were prohibited from living in certain neighborhoods. There are no longer schools which are segregated by law, like the elementary school in which I grew up. All persons may now marry, whether they are straight or gay. We have a black president. Things have changed.
Yet if we are even more honest with ourselves we will admit that we are not there yet. We have not achieved a society that is united. We know this because in South Carolina there are those who continue to defend the Confederate Battle flag on multiple state flags. And by the way those battle flag symbols were only added in the early 1960s in the face of integration. As a Texan whose ancestors fought for the confederacy, I will tell you that those battle flags are not there to “honor” those who fought, but as a sign of latent racism. We know we are not there yet because there are politicians who are telling county clerks that they do not have to issue marriage licenses to gay couples even though the Supreme Court said that they did. We know we are not there yet because even if there is no legal segregation in our schools and neighborhoods there is de facto segregation which leads to inferior education for many of the poor in our nation. We know we are not there yet because we have politicians stating that all Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers. We know we are not there yet because of the Muslim woman who was denied a closed can of coke on an airplane because it could have been used as a weapon. We know we are not there yet because there are those whose entire careers are based on building walls and demonizing “the other.”
But there is hope. There is hope because the Spirit empowers us as followers of Jesus Christ to tear down walls and build bridges. There is hope because we know that peace is possible because we have seen it happen. One of the most powerful signs of that hope came on the steps of the South Carolina legislature. Two groups were squaring off over the Confederate Battle Flag. One group was composed of tough looking white men covered in tattoos holding the Battle Flag. The other group was young black men and women, who were calmly expressing their reasons for seeing the flag as a sign of slavery and racism. It was a moment ripe for conflict. Yet in the end one of the black men reached out his hand in friendship and the white man took it. Even though they did not agree, peace had become possible.
This is our task as the church. We are to be those, who while holding to our core beliefs, reach out in love and peace to those with whom we disagree. We do so in order to build bridges and help make this world a place in which all persons become one people and one nation, united in the love and grace of God. That then is my challenge to all of you, to ask yourselves, how am I building bridges in the places where I live, work and go to school?
Rev. Dr. John Judson
June 21, 2015
Genesis 12:1-3, Ephesians 1:1-14
The tryouts were over. All of us had done our best. We had run the bases, tried to prove that we could hit the ball, showed that we could catch the ball and that given a chance we would make a great addition to some Little League team. The coaches had taken copious notes and met in some smoke filled secret location to figure out who would take whom in the draft; some kids they probably fought over. Others like me it was “You sure you don’t want him.” But then the day arrived; the day of the draft when we would discover where we would end up. All of the boys gathered at the field and the coaches, one by one, called out the players who were on their teams. Excitedly we would make our way onto the field in small clumps. The coaches would then hand us our t-shirts and hats. Then in that moment, something magical happened. We were no longer just kids, we were ball players; ballplayers with dreams of glory and greatness. We were part of a team; part of something greater than ourselves. It was a wonderful day.
How many of you have ever been there? It may not have been Little League, or even a sports team, but you wanted to be part of something greater than yourselves and you got drafted; you got selected and suddenly you were part of a team. Maybe it was a fraternity or sorority. Maybe it was an academic team. Maybe it was a job you had always wanted with a company you always wanted to work for. Or maybe you actually got drafted and joined the military. If you have had any of these experiences then you have some idea of what Paul’s opening sentence in Ephesians is all about. What Paul was trying to tell the Ephesians and is trying to tell us is that we have been drafted by God, made part of Team Jesus and have been given appropriate attire that mark us out as members of that team. I know this may seem a bit of an over reach, but bear with me.
First God drafts us just like those coaches drafted my friends and me. Paul writes, “Just as God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love, he destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.” What this means is that God chose us long before we knew that God existed. This is one of the most difficult concepts for those of us in the 21st century to wrap our heads around…that God drafts, or chooses us and we do not choose God. I think our image is more like that of high school athletes who are approached by a variety of colleges, each trying to make their case that the athlete should choose them. Then the athlete makes the choice. We think that we are free agents who are approached by a wide variety of belief systems and we choose God in Christ to follow. What Paul tells us though is that even before the foundation of the world God had already drafted us and that our destiny was to become followers of Jesus. OK, I know I sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, “Luke this is your destiny”, but in some ways this is the image Paul offers. We are drafted by God in order to work for Team Jesus.
The second part is that God calls us over and makes us members of the team, just like those coaches called us onto the field. This is what Paul is talking about when he states, “In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…and with all wisdom and insight he has made known the mystery of his will.” All of these words suggest movement; movement from being those who are not members of Team Jesus to those who are. Redemption means that our relationship with God has been rebuilt and restored. We are no longer those who keep God at arm’s length, but that we move toward God, just as my friends and I did when the coaches called our names on that Little League field. Forgiveness is also movement. It says that we are no longer trapped in our old lives, and in our old ways of doing things; that we are new people who are capable of playing our positions on the team. Finally there is the vision of wisdom; that once we had no idea what God was up to, but now in Jesus we have been given the insight and wisdom we need to be part of God’s work in the world.
The final part is that God gives us a uniform just like the coaches handed us uniforms that marked us out as part of their team. Paul tells the Ephesians that they, and by extension we, “…were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;” I have to say that some of my most vivid memories are of putting on the uniform before a game. It didn’t matter if it was Little League, high school football, college soccer…or even our church men’s basketball uniform, all were these moments when my purpose became clear…to give everything I had for the team. This image is the heart of the seal of the Spirit. A seal in the first century was a mark which showed that the thing or the person who was marked belonged to another. This mark gave believers their identity. Paul tells us that this identity is what the Holy Spirit does for us. It sets us apart as being part of Team Jesus; as being part of God’s community of faith.
The question for us this morning then, is why have we been made part of this team? Why has God, out of God’s infinite love, made us part of this team? Some people say it’s so we can be better than others; holier than others; set apart from others. Some say that we are part of this team so that we can be saved and get to heaven; so we can be raptured out of here. Yet, if we allow the totality of scripture to speak to us, we will see that our role is to bless the world. When we became part of Team Jesus, we became part of the family of Abraham. And in being part of the family of Abraham we have become those through whom the world was to be blessed; and we are certainly living in a world that needs blessing. This past week alone we have witnessed nine people killed in a church in South Carolina and two block parties, one in Philadelphia and another right here in Detroit, where shooters killed and wounded innocent people. While we may be shocked by this we shouldn’t be. On an average day in America more than ninety people are murdered. We live in a world in which hatred, racism and fear rule our lives. What we are to be about then is to bless this hurting world.
As members of Team Jesus we are to bless the world by refusing to be caught up in the violence and hatred that consumes so much of humanity. We are to be those who offer up the antidote of love, grace and forgiveness in order that the world can be healed. This is a task that only we can perform. The government can’t do it. Helping organizations cannot do it. Only we, the church, Team Jesus can pour forth this kind of love into the world. The challenge I want to give you for this week then, is to ask yourselves, “How am I blessing the world as a member of Team Jesus, where I live, work and go to school?”
Who is Jesus? Who are You?
June 14, 2014
Psalm 2, Matthew 16: 13-20
Good morning, I am very excited to be here today and to get the chance to talk to you. For some of you who don’t know me I’m Bethany Peerbolte and I am the Director of Youth Ministries at this church. I also am a seminary student at Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit. On the Myer Briggs scale I’m an ENFP and I am happy its finally summer so I can get outside and disc golf again.
Now, that is a really brief look at who I am. There is a lot more back story, a lot more underneath, but I want to talk about the search for who we are. The question of “who am I” is one we as humans wrestle with our whole lives. Phycologist have tried to nail down the answer by developing personality types like Myer Briggs. They say this person is extraverted and this one is introverted, this person is a thinker and that person is a feeler. When I became an inquirer for ministry I had to sit for a 6 hour psychological exam with a barrage of test. With multiple choice answers and sentence answers some written some spoken. The results were a 15 page report about who I am. I’ll admit it got some things right, kind of scary right at parts, but do those 15 pages contain a full picture of who I am? I don’t think so.
We are obsessed with asking “who am I” in our culture. If you’re on Facebook I’ll wager a guess that you have taken at least one test to answer the question of “who you are.” My friends this week have taken tests titled “which Disney princess are you,” “which avenger are you,” “which 50’s song are you,” and “which type of puppy are you.” We get see the answers our friends get to these quizzes and we get to share our own answers. All these tests come with a nicely worded answer that no matter who you actually are it comes off as accurate and a huge compliment. I took a quiz to procrastinate writing this sermon, the title of the quiz was “which Starbucks Frappuccino are you.” I am the cinnamon roll Frappuccino which says “You’re very sweet and absolutely adored by everyone, you’re the boss when it comes to hugs and compliments, you’re very outgoing and make friends everywhere you go without even trying” Who wouldn’t want that to be the answer to who they are? It’s a glowing endorsement and all I had to do was answer 5 ridiculous questions. But if I’m completely honest with myself this has very little to say about who I actually am… except that I procrastinate.
Another way we try to figure out who we are or who someone else is is by asking what they do for a living. Graduates, I apologize in advance for the 8000 times you will be asked this summer “what are you going to do after high school.” This question is an attempt to get a “who are you” answer. The reason this question comes up is because we think we can figure out the type of person you are by what you will do as a job. Our society first labels us as our job, I’m guilty of doing it 2 minutes ago when I introduced myself. In reality who we are does not stop at what we do for a living, it’s not even our hobbies. Graduates, this can be a hard time because for years you have been wrestlers, actors, singers, basketball players. And while you may still do these things they will become less of who you are as an adult. Our faith gets a little closer to who we are but even that can be vague.
A true “who am I” question gets asked at 3am when there is something looming with the sunrise and you have to decide how to respond in 5 hours, 4 hours, 3 hours. “Who are you” gets answered in a split second decision in a crisis or when no one is looking. Are you the type of person who will pick up that trash, are you the type of person who will stop to help someone with a flat tire, are you the type of person who will actually read everything the professor assigns or just skim it and go find the spark notes?
To make things worse the answer to who you are is a moving target. If I asked the 5 year old you “who are you” I would get a different answer than if I asked the teenage you, and still another answer if I asked you now. I may even get a different answer next week. With how much we change in a lifetime it can be hard to really even know who we are at any given moment.
A crisis of self-identity can come at any time, and when we have to rebuild our answer to who we are seeking other’s opinions is valuable input. We find friends and family who know us well, who can remind us of who we are. Faith communities provide a place to seek advice from likeminded people, some who have even suffered the same identity shaking crises. We seek these people out rather than strangers because we know them, we may not know who we are at the moment but we do know them. We have seen them face challenges, we know their advice is good, and we know how they will respond to us. Knowing them helps us remember who we are.
What about God, how often do we check in to see who God says we are? We often forget this option or use it as a last ditch effort to regain identity. It’s so much easier to call someone than it is to slow down and listen for God. Maybe part of our apprehension is that we aren’t sure we know who God is. As Christians we are supposed to use Jesus as the model for who God is. SO the question boils down to who is Jesus? And do we know him well enough to seek him out and trust his advice.
When I went off to college I thought I knew who Jesus was. I had sat in a pew most Sundays of my life, done VBS every summer, Jesus was the ultimate best friend. Jesus is the good guy. But when I got to MSU my image Jesus was challenged. I can remember the moment I asked myself who is Jesus…really?
At any given time of day the Quad at Michigan State is crowded with students. The buildings around the spider web of sidewalks contain the introductory classes. When I went to my first class there was a man in the middle of the sidewalks on a box with a bullhorn. Now, I grew up in a small town. The largest event we had was a craft show, so we did not attract many sidewalk preachers. This was the first one I had met, and as I walked by him I heard some familiar words. Names like Jesus, scriptures I recognized, but intermingled were words like hell and damnation. They were linked to Jesus in a way that confused me. The Jesus this man was yelling about was not the Jesus I had met at VBS. How could two people with the same scriptures come to such different conclusions about who Jesus was? Did I even know Jesus? Had I missed something?
I, luckily, had already found a wonderful church just off of campus and was pleased to find many other students had issues with the Jesus the sidewalk preacher was talking about. I was relieved to hear that who I thought Jesus was, the good guy, was still an option, but the question had been raised. Who is Jesus?
In The NT reading today we find Jesus even asking this question who am I. Jesus has taken his disciples far away from the crowds to decompress. While he’s there he decides to check in and see who people are saying he is. He asks who do people say I am? The disciples give Jesus an array of answers. The people say you are John the Baptist, people say you are Elijah others Jeremiah or still others one of the prophets. Essentially the people have picked up that Jesus is one of the great teachers possibly even Elijah who is supposed to come and get people ready for the messiah, but they have missed who Jesus really is.
Have you ever been in a crowded room and someone yells out your name and you turn excited to see a friend and they aren’t calling for you, then you get that pit of your stomach. I sense Jesus has a pit in his stomach. Jesus is called all these other people but is not recognized for who he actually is.
But hope is not lost! Those people are just in the crowd here Jesus has his disciples, his closest friends who have heard every word and shared bread with him, who traveled on the road with him, surely they know who he is. So he asks, but what about you! Who do you say I am……..crickets. No one will make eye contact with Jesus, disciples are suddenly really interested in the bread on their plate. If they had iPhones there would have been a sudden alert they HAD to look at.
Then Peter breaks the silence, he says “you are the messiah the son of the living God.” Yeah Peter! Jesus must have been relieved.
For the moment Peter has done something none of the other disciples were willing to do. I say for the moment because this is Peter remember this is the same guy who walked on water and then doubted Jesus while standing on the top of a wave. SO he’s still got some work to do. But for the moment Peter gets it. How? With the help of God
Jesus points out that Peter could not have come to this understanding on his own. For someone to know who Jesus is takes more than flesh and blood, it is a knowing beyond the eyes and ears and brain. It take the help of God to really know Jesus. Peter didn’t phone a friend for the answer or consult a personality test. He slowed down and listened to God and discovered an understanding of who Jesus is.
The blessing that comes next shows us just how important it is to know who Jesus is, because by knowing Jesus Peter gets to see who he is himself. Jesus says that the church will be built around Peter and his understanding. Peter is now a leader, a foundation, a rock! Figuring out who Jesus is will shape who Peter is.
Peter shows us where our foundation of self should begin, with a reflection on who Jesus is. Will we get is wrong? YES, Peter gets is wrong in the very next verse but the blessing of becoming a leader remains. So our first step to shaping who we are should begin with a search of who Jesus is.
That church that helped me when I met my first sidewalk preacher was also the church that sent me on my first mission trip to Mexico. There the answer of who Jesus is took shape for me. Jesus is the one who gives piggy back rides even when your shoulders are burnt right where the kids are holding on. Jesus is the one who gets another load of supplies even though you are sore from head to foot. Jesus is the one who gives water to another even when you are thirsty yourself. Who Jesus is became interwoven with who we were and the work we were doing. It was an understanding of who Jesus is that inspired us to spend our spring break in Mexico, and not the Cancun Mexico our friends went to. The words of the sidewalk preacher made me embarrassed to be a Christian, but the work in Mexico made me excited to be a Christian. That’s when I began to answer who is Jesus and what does that mean for who I am.
This is not to say a fellow Christian won’t come up with a different answer to who Jesus is. The sidewalk preacher and I have very different views of who Jesus is, even though we have the same scripture to learn from.
Jesus warns of these conflicting images at the end of or passage today. Right after praising and blessing Peter for saying Jesus if the Messiah Jesus warns the disciples not to go around telling other people he is the Messiah. I always get frustrated when Jesus says this. Isn’t that the point Jesus? To tell other people? To be proud of who Jesus is and let the world know Jesus is Messiah. Sure yes, but! We heard a little bit of who people thought the Messiah would be in the OT reading today. If you were paying attention I hope you cringed a little. This psalm is an image of who people though the messiah would be, a warrior, fighter, and vindicator! The Messiah would vanquish Israel’s foes and raise God’s people above all others. If the disciples had gone out happily saying Jesus is the messiah many people would automatically associate Jesus with this expected warrior. That was NOT who Jesus was and Jesus did not want that expectation clouding his message.
Words are a great tool but people mistake words to mean things we don’t intend. We have all sent an email or text that was read the wrong way and we ended up in trouble. SO how do we take our understanding of who Jesus is and show him to others. If words can be confused how do we ensure the message is clear?
That is when our answer to who we are becomes most meaningful. Because who we are says an enormous amount about who Jesus is. If we take who Jesus is and allow it to shape who we are we can tell anyone about Jesus regardless of language or distance.
This is when John usually gives a challenge but since I work with teens I give them homework.
Seek God’s help in figuring out who Jesus is this week. I read a quote from a monk that said “spend 20 minutes a day with God. Except if you’re busy. If you’re busy spend an hour with God. Ask this week who is Jesus then take that understanding and make it the foundation for who you are in the world. May you go from here seeking a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and may that understanding lead to the blessing of knowing who you are yourself.
Rev. Hank Borchardt
June 7, 2015
Deuteronomy 10:12-22, Galatians 3:23-29
Where were you in the summer of 1967? If you were here you probably remember tanks in the Detroit city streets. Fires, burning in buildings. We knew that Detroit would never be the same. If you were an adult living here in 1967, what did you feel? Fear? Anger, anxiety. What? If you were watching it on TV perhaps the feeling was GLAD IT DID NOT HAPPEN HERE!
The riots captured our attention from across the lake. But Lake Michigan isolated those of us in Wisconsin from the real horror of it all. I was turning 30 in 67, pastor of a small Presbyterian church south of Milwaukee, incidentally chair of the city human rights commission, and we were looking at steps we might take to avoid such an occurrence in our town,
The riots also attracted the attention of the federal government, where president Lyndon Johnson did two things: first he called out the 82nd Airborne to aid the city police department and National Guard in maintaining order, and second he appointed a commission to look into the riots charged with the task of determining what happened (that was the easy part), why it happened and what must be done so as not to have it happen again (that was the hard part). The commission was chaired by Illinois governor Otto Kirner. The Kirner commission reported several months early due to the seriousness of the situation.
The Commission asked three questions:
Referring to the reports of earlier riot commissions for the 1919 riots in Chicago and the Harlem riot in 1943, Dr. Kenneth B. Clark said:
I must again in candor say to you members of this Commission—it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland—with the same moving picture re-shown over and over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations, and the same inaction.
That is old history, of course, but recent events in 2015 indicate that the problem is still with us. Events in St. Louis, Cleveland and Baltimore indicate that nothing much has changed. A month or so ago a TV reporter interviewed a young African American man who had participated in the riot and asked what it was all about. The man answered that it wasn’t the death of the person with a broken back from being placed in a police vehicle although that was the spark that set fire to the barn. It was the result of a number of years of pent-up grievances presented to city government with no response. Racial violence seemed to be their only way of communicating and venting their grievances. Nothing new!
That describes the situation. So, what are we at First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham going to do about it? Scripture and our faith demand that we do something. After all, we say we are Everybody’s Church and our little blurb every Sunday says we stand for mission INCLUSION and community. After all St. Paul says there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Greek (aaaaaaaand we might add gay nor straight, black nor white) we are all one in Christ Jesus This is what we say we believe so how then do we make that a reality for the metro area in which we live?
When Dr. Judson concludes a sermon he ends it with a challenge. I offer two. First, what can as individual persons do and second what can we do as a church around a thousand people strong? Here is an example of what one person can do.
In the 1960s there was a Catholic priest in Milwaukee named Father Groppi. He was serving St Boniface church on the east side of Milwaukee in 1967. He challenged the city to 100 nights of marches for an open housing ordinance in the city. (Open housing legislation prohibits discrimination in the sale, purchase or leasing of residential property.) At that point there was no such law on the Milwaukee books and it was one of the racial minority complaints. Passing such a law wouldn’t completely solve the problem but it would be something tangible and symbolic. The marches were huge. Black and white together. The Police, on their Harleys, were waiting for someone to step out of line so they could react, including watching the white lines at cross-walks. If anyone stepped outside of them you received a twenty dollar ticket. But it never happened because the people didn’t want conflict, they wanted change.
As we crossed next to the corner bar (there are very many of them) the marchers chanted NO MORE SCHLITZ. Drink Budweiser, it is brewed in St. Louis. This was as disruptive as it got under Father Groppi’s leadership. The ordinance was passed and peace reigned. No violence in Milwaukee in 67. This was the impact one person could have.
What can a church do? Perhaps it is time for another foray back into the city. How about we start or participate in an interracial city think tank where people gather to discuss Detroit’s challenges that affect us all?? Ecumenical Theological seminary could be the place. I have spoken with Dr. Murray the president and he welcomes the idea of an ecumenical think tank connected with the seminary in the old First Presbyterian Church of Detroit, just one idea among many. Or, maybe we could invite mayor Duggan to an after worship discussion in the fireside room asking how we can help him help the city. Lots of ideas. Just pick a few.
Detroit needs you Otto Kirner.
Well, Otto isn’t here, but we are! What will we do?
Rev. Dr. John Judson
May 31, 2015
Psalm 103:1-18, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
I want to begin with three quotes from the same individual. Take a moment, listen and then let me know who said them. “Winning is not everything, but wanting to win is.” “If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score?” “Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.” So who said these pithy statements? Yes, you are correct, it was Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers. What I have found over the years is that there are two reactions to these statements. The first is my reaction. I want to go around and chest-bump someone. Booyah…let’s get out there and win! The other reaction is people rolling their eyes and thinking, there’s too much emphasis on winning. We need to be happy with just playing. Right, which works well until, say the Olympics, when a member of our nation is competing; or when they win and our national flag is raised and the anthem played. Then at least for those of us who are US citizens, we are quietly chanting, “USA, USA.” I would argue that for most of us there are moments when winning matters.
The Corinthians would have understood this perfectly, for they were about winning; about coming out on top. Just so we are clear about this we need a quick history lesson…please no nodding off. The Corinth we are looking at this morning was not the first city of Corinth. The first and ancient city of Corinth had been utterly destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC when it refused to surrender during the Roman invasion. One hundred years later, Julius Caesar founded a new Corinth first because its location as a trading center was too valuable to lose and second because it was a place where decommissioned soldiers could go. What this meant was that Corinth was a “new world” if you will. It was a place where fortunes could be made or lost. It was a place where an ordinary person, with grit and determination could become wealthy. It was a place where winners were rewarded. And because of this it became the second wealthiest city in the Empire. Winning was indeed not everything, it was the only thing in Corinth…booyah.
This would not have been a problem for the Apostle Paul, except for one small detail; the Corinthians brought this same attitude into the church. Everyone was out to win, to prove that they were better than everyone else in the church; that they were top dog. This winning took several different forms. First, it became a competition to see who was best based on who they followed. Some followed Peter, others Paul, and others a guy named Apollos. Each group declared themselves the winners because they knew that they were better than everyone else. Next it came to wealth. Those who had wealth would flaunt it in front of the poor in the church, essentially declaring that they, the wealthy, had won. They were better. Finally they competed over who had the best and most important spiritual gifts. Though there were a multiplicity of spiritual gifts, each of which was important, people argued that theirs was the best; especially those who spoke in tongues. They knew that they were the winners. And so as you can imagine, this sense of winning is everything, was slowly but surely destroying the church. It was tearing it apart.
This then is the situation that Paul is addressing with this thirteenth chapter of his letter. This portion of this letter is neither a wonderful treatise on soft furry kitten love, nor is it a set of lyrics for a First Century love song. This is Paul’s reminder to the Corinthians that the ground of being for the Christian community is not winning, that it is love. He begins by reminding them that without love all of their other gifts are meaningless. It doesn’t matter if one can speak in tongues, prophecy, have great Biblical knowledge and incredible with…without love those are of no use. He then describes what this love looks like. It is patient, kind, humble and other centered. It celebrates the victories of others and the truth even when it hurts. It is willing to suffer anything for the other. Paul then gets all over them for acting like children who are always out to win, rather than mature adults who know how to love. And Paul does this because he gets it that this is how God works. God is the one who shows steadfast love. God is the one who forgives. God is the one who is self-giving. God is the one who sent God’s only Son to save the world. The best gift then; the only spiritual gift that mattered for Paul then, was love, a gift that was given to every believer by Jesus Christ. Love wasn’t everything. It was the only thing.
I realize that there are moments when making love the only thing is difficult because we live in such a winner take all world. When we are in competition in business to build the best and sell the most. When we are in competition with others for jobs and promotions. When we are in competition to be at the top of the class. When we are in competition on the athletic fields. Yet it is still possible to be rooted and grounded in love. It is possible to let love be real in our lives. And I know this is possible because I have seen it in Ernest and Sarah Krug, to whom we say goodbye this morning. Now, Ernest and Sarah, what I am about to say is not intended to give you the big head…to prove that you have won the, let’s show how people to love contest. I say this simply because you have shown us what love looks like. You have been patient and kind. You haven’t ever pushed your own agenda but have supported that of others. You have given countless hours at hospitals and hospices, in meetings and worship, in private conversations and larger groups. You two have been a model for us that shows you can be successful in life and at the same time allowed love to be your aim. Thank you for being a model for the rest of us.
At the same time I want to thank all of you for showing what love looks like. On this, my sixth anniversary with you, I have found you to be a congregation in which love lives. I say this because there are not small factions vying for power. There are no individuals who have to have their own way. And conversely, there are so many of you who share your time, energy and gifts with others in acts of love and compassion. You are a congregation that shows me what love looks like.
My challenge for you then this week is this, to ask yourselves, “How am I letting love guide all that I say and all that I do? How am I letting love be everything?”