Sermons

July 21, 2019

Posted by on Jul 23, 2019 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pentecost 6   July 21, 2019 Psalm 15, (Colossians 1:3-6,9-10,15-20)  Luke 10:38-42   Listening to Jesus *************************************************************** Mary has chosen the better part– sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him –  which will not be taken away from her. Not by Jesus, anyway.  But when you and I try to do like Mary – best be prepared for resistance. It’s like a law of human nature – when we try for more time with Jesus – we inevitably encounter obstacles…. When we try to carve out more time with Jesus, sitting and listening for his word – it’s almost funny – how life and busy schedules conspire to make this more difficult than we imagined… When we try to cut back on part of our routine to make more time for Jesus… any activity we try to cut back on pleads – protests – and argues against giving up even fifteen minutes of our customary routines. It’s like second nature for us to believe what we’re doing is more important – than just sitting and listening. Even listening to Jesus. Who, after all, tells us elsewhere – not to be just listeners to the word of God – but be doers of God’s will. And yes – We know we’re saved by grace, not by works – but we also know the scriptures say good works are the fruit of faith – and we sure don’t want to be found fruitless… So we agree with Jesus in principle… But – I’ve been remembering… A pastor friend sharing a story – of a church she served that took in a big portion of it’s annual budget from one large fund-raising event that raised a quarter of the annual budget. Everyone appreciated the funds that came from the event. But producing it took an enormous amount of time and energy over many months of the year – and the health of the church was suffering. So… My friend, the pastor, developed a bible study based on the story of Martha and Mary… And led her bible study in a church meeting – saying “Jesus said – ‘Martha, Martha – distracted by many things, and missing what’s most important! Mary’s chosen the better part – Jesus says…” And the more pastor Marietta (we’ll call her) got into the story-telling, the more visibly anxious the head of the Fund-raising Team (Marcelle, we’ll call her) was becoming. But – pastor Marietta kept pushing the envelope, saying – “Martha, Martha – you’re worried and distracted by many things. Your sister Mary chose the better part…’ Heading for  her intended conclusion – “Get with Mary – do the one thing necessary – take more time to be with Jesus….” But just as the pastor is reaching the conclusion of her bible study – the project leader exclaims – “I’m sorry! But – this time Jesus is just wrong!” *** Most of us are probably too polite to say Jesus is wrong. But it does seem like most people’s lives – mine included – most of the time – look more like Martha – than like Mary, chilling-with-Jesus. And no wonder – I mean, really – isn’t Martha’s also doing what Jesus says to do? Welcoming visitors – practicing hospitality – making sure Jesus and his disciples...

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July 14, 2019

Posted by on Jul 23, 2019 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pentecost 5  July 14, 2019  Psalm 82, Deuteronomy 30;11-16, Leviticus 19:17-18,33-37; Luke 10:25-37   How to inherit eternal life ***************************************************************** An expert in the religious law asks “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus asks back –“What’s written in the law? What do you read there?” (Like – ‘How do you hear the law speak to your question?’) The man says immediately “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind” – giving the short version of a passage from Deuteronomy (6) that observant Jews say several times a day every day – adding from Leviticus (19:18) “and love your neighbor as yourself.” Rabbis and teachers of Israel were used to combining the commandments to love God and neighbor. The lawyer’s answer was pretty much conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom isn’t always a bad thing. Even Jesus starts off with conventional counsel – as he tells the man “Good answer – do this and you will live.” A condensed version of our reading from Deuteronomy 30 today where we’ve heard, “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God… loving the Lord your God… walking in his ways… then you shall live…” Love the Lord your God – love your neighbor – you will live… is pretty much the theme of the whole book of Deuteronomy. (The part about living forever might be implied…I don’t know. But the lawyer who asked doesn’t have a follow up question about eternal life…) Both the lawyer and Jesus quote familiar scripture. We’re told, first, that the lawyer is testing Jesus, then that he wants to justify himself. But we never hear the lawyer or Jesus disagree with the other. If there’s a dispute, it’s unspoken. But we have been told the religious leader is testing Jesus. So we often assume he’s trying to out-debate or find fault with Jesus. But – what if the lawyer just wants to test and see– is this Jesus guy as good as people say? Or – what if something in his life is making him question what he’s doing or what he believes – and he’s testing to see if Jesus might be able to help him find a better way. What if this lawyer, who, yes, is testing Jesus – actually wants to learn from Jesus? So, remembering the advice of Rabbis of old who said – always give the other person the benefit of the doubt – and considering the advice of some contemporary scholars – who remind us the students of the Rabbis of old were expected to test their teachers with hard questions, and be tested back – I’m wondering if when we also hear that this lawyer testing Jesus wants to justify himself – maybe we should consider the possibility that he wants to justify his now slightly shaky faith against his own doubts and fears. What if he’s asking Jesus “who is my neighbor?” because he used to know – but now he’s not so  sure? So – I’ve been trying this week to see our lawyer friend in the story as an honest seeker –someone who’s heard people say Jesus is a prophet from God –  and also heard people...

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July 7, 2019

Posted by on Jul 12, 2019 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pentecost 4 July 7, 2019 (Ps 30, Galatians 6:1-5,14-15) 2 Kings 5:1-19a Practice Grace **************************************************************** Naaman is a powerful general, highly respected by his employer, the king of Aram. (Aram is an ancient name for Syria). Naaman has led the Syrian army in many a battle and won many military victories. He’s got slaves and lots of money at his disposal. And – he’s also got leprosy. (The term leprosy in those days covered a wide range of diseases and skin disorders, and seldom meant the Hansen’s disease we now call leprosy. Naaman’s leprosy’s probably not life-threatening, but it’s at least causing great discomfort, anxiety, and social adjustment problems.)… An Israelite slave girl, taken captive on a Syrian army raid, serves Naaman’s wife. This girl tells her mistress “there’s a prophet in Samaria (another name for Israel) who can cure your husband’s leprosy.” His wife tells Naaman, who tells the king, who assumes this Israelite prophet must work for the king of Israel. He sends a letter with Naaman to his counterpart in Israel, asking him to heal Naaman. The Israelite king, like nearly all the kings of Israel, is a flagrant idol worshiper. He knows of Elisha, who has accompanied his troops and saved his armies from major disaster through his wonder-working powers, yet – the king fails to even think of Elisha now, as he interprets the Syrian king’s letter as an act of aggression. (‘There he goes again – trying to start another war with me.’) The kings of Israel and of Syria and Naaman are all portrayed by the biblical narrator as darkly humorous characters – idolatrous, ambitious, and clueless. And Elisha, knowing all these characters all-too-well – nonetheless still tells the king of Israel – “send him to me, so he’ll know there is a prophet in Israel.” And Naaman pulls up at the house of Elisha, with his entourage of horses, chariots, and servants, hauling a huge amount of silver, gold and expensive clothing. Expecting to have to pay handsomely for his healing. And expecting to be treated as visiting royalty. But Elisha won’t even come to the door. He just sends a servant with instructions – “go wash in the river Jordan seven times and you’ll be cured.” Naaman is outraged. Feeling dishonored and disrespected, he’s ready to go home and wash in a Syrian river – much bigger and far-better-looking than this pitiful muddy Jordan stream. But his servants reason with him – “father, if the prophet told you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you do it?” Finally convincing him to take the dip in the river as instructed. And when he does, Naaman comes out of the waters, cleansed and healed…. If this was the end of the story we’d have yet another classic biblical healing narrative. The kind of miraculous healing Elisha and his teacher Elijah have both done for widows and children. But we know this is not a typical healing story – as we remember – this story is referred to by Jesus in Luke’s gospel (800 years later) as a precedent for his own ministry to the Gentiles – people outside of Israel. But – what’s up with this enemy general with Israelite slaves – getting healed from leprosy by an Israelite prophet? While there were,...

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June 30, 2019

Posted by on Jul 2, 2019 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pentecost 3   June 30,2019 Psalm 77, 2 Kings 2:1-2,6-14; Luke 9:51-62, Galatians 5:1,13-25   For freedom Christ has set us free ***************************************************************** For freedom Christ has set us free… stand firm, therefore, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery – the apostle says. Then, just a few verses later he says – you were called to freedom, only don’t use your freedom for self-indulgence – but through love become slaves to one another. Stay free. Don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery. And – Become slaves to one another through love. Isn’t this a bit of a contradiction? Let’s do a little very quick review of the background context of this letter to the Galatians – which has been a tremendously influential letter, especially in Protestant theology. Our doctrine of God’s free grace as the source of our salvation flows straight from Galatians (and it’s cousin, the letter to the Romans). Salvation by grace and faith is a huge theme in Galatians – but Christian freedom is actually the main theme of the letter, and our first verse today (Galatians 5:1) works as a theme statement: For freedom Christ has set us free. But – Free from what? What kind of freedom? Exactly how much freedom? Bible scholars are still discussing and debating virtually every line of Galatians, still trying to figure out what was going on when Paul wrote this letter – addressed to a cluster of churches in the region of Galatia in Western Asia, to the North and West of Israel. What we’re most nearly sure of is – some Jewish Christians with some connection to the Jerusalem church (how much of a connection is debated) have come to the Galatian churches saying non-Jewish church members must be circumcised – and obey all or some of the law of Moses, including Jewish food laws – if they are to be considered Christians. Some, perhaps many, in the Galatian churches have now believed these missionaries. And Paul is furious. He’s absolutely sure adding any non-essential-to-the-gospel requirements to the gospel of Jesus Christ risks damaging or even destroying the faith of people whose faith is still fragile or shaky.  He argues angrily, creatively, strenuously – that freedom for non-Jewish Christians absolutely non-negotiably includes being free from the law of Moses. The law is for Israel, not for Gentiles. Non-Jewish believers need to know the law but they are not subject to the details of the law… And here we need to know or remember – this is the same religious law that Paul used to teach, as a member of the strictest Jewish sect, the Pharisees, and a persecutor of the Christian church in his former life. But now here’s Paul, calling  the law a yoke that binds allwho attempt to live by it in slavery. Insisting that the law not only cannot bring salvation – trying to obey it will enslave us in fruitless effort…like running on a treadmill… going nowhere. And we need to know the issue really isn’t about circumcision (elsewhere in the letter he’ll say twice “neither circumcision nor un-circumcision matters) nor about dietary laws – the issue is making anything other than the gospel itself an issue. Contrary to what we may have heard elsewhere, the bible tells us – the...

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June 23, 2019

Posted by on Jul 2, 2019 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pentecost 2 June 23, 2019   (Ps 42, I Kings 19:19-21, Galatians 3:23-29)  Luke 7:36-50 **************************************************************** Your faith has saved you, go in peace, Jesus says to this woman crashing the party, washing his feet with tears and drying them with her hair. Well – Jesus never was known for his table manners… and…           Jesus is a dinner guest today in the home of Simon, a Pharisee. Pharisees are usually adversaries of Jesus in the gospels. But not always. Jesus has raised someone from the dead earlier in this chapter, now he’s being called a prophet. Simon’s at least interested enough to want to check Jesus out. Now a woman known in the community as a sinner comes in with a jar of ointment. Picture a banquet-type-meal with guests reclining, according to Roman custom, eating from low tables, sandals off, in a large home, probably with an open courtyard… Neighbors would often come listen when a guest speaker was present at a banquet. The welcome however, wouldn’t normally include people regarded as beyond the boundaries of religious norms – especially when the host’s a member of the strictest religious sect. But this woman, known as a sinner, has heard Jesus will be at the banquet – and she enters, welcome or not – intending perhaps just to anoint Jesus quietly – but as she gets close to him she bursts out crying, can’t stop, and perhaps without thinking, lets her hair down, starts washing Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair. Kissing his feet, anointing with ointment, causing a scene. For a woman to let her hair down in public then would be like wearing a bikini to church today, though probably worse… Simon, the host of the dinner party sees her at the feet of Jesus and thinks to himself, “if this he was a real prophet he’d know what kind of woman she is…” Jesus reads his mind and says, “Simon, what do you think? A man had two debtors – one owed fifty thousand, the other five thousand. Neither could pay – so he cancels the debts of both. Which do you think will love him more?”   Simon replies, “the one forgiven more, I suppose.” “Good answer,” Jesus says. “ Do you see this woman?” Like – really see her? Did you notice what she was doing? Because – “I came into your house as your guest, but you didn’t wash my feet or anoint my head or greet me with a kiss.” In those days of foot travel on dusty roads offering water for foot-washing was expected. Foot-washing’s rare now, but a kiss on the cheek or forehead’s still common practice in many parts of the Mideast today; the equivalent of a handshake for us. Anointing with oil wasn’t always expected, but the point is –  “You gave me no proper greeting,” Jesus says, “But she washed my feet with her tears, anointed my feet with ointment, and kissed my feet. And her sins, which were many, have been forgiven – so she shows great love – while the one who’s been forgiven less – (or thinks he’s been forgiven less) – only loves a little.” We’re never told what Simon, the host, thinks or says in response to Jesus saying this....

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June 16, 2019

Posted by on Jul 2, 2019 in Sermons | 0 comments

Trinity Sunday  June 16, 2019  Psalm 8, John 16:12-15, Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31; Romans 5:1-5  **************************************************************** Jesus tells us he’s got many things to tell us – many more things than we can bear to hear… And one of these many things we can’t quite bear to hear yet – just might be church doctrine – including the awesomely intricate beautiful doctrine – of God in three persons, blessed Trinity – the One – and – the Three in One – we’re celebrating this Trinity Sunday… Doctrine can be endlessly fascinating once we get into it… Or sleep-inducing, if we don’t see how it matters. And I’m not saying doctrine’s ever easy – or that I’m much good at it. Almost all I remember from my seminary Introduction to Theology class is that our professor let us rewrite our papers as many times as we were willing – and would change the grade on our paper every time it improved. Which wasn’t hard to do, since our teaching assistant, who graded our papers wrote helpful questions and comments on your paper – which, if you took seriously, made it relatively simple to get a decent grade after three or four tries. Which is a bit like how I understand the work of the Holy Spirit – whom I picture as, among other things, Jesus’ Teaching Assistant – since Jesus tells us in John’s gospel (ch 14-16) the Holy Spirit will remind you of everything I’ve taught you, and guide you into all truth. (And I am the truth, Jesus also says.) Jesus tells us we should be glad he’s going back to God the Father – so the Spirit will come… And I can’t help loving Jesus’ description of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls (depending on translation) – our Advocate, Comforter, and Counselor… So when Jesus is preaching his last sermon in John, all through chapters 13 through 17 – it’s as if Jesus is channeling God the Father – and – preparing us for the Holy Spirit – who will be channeling Jesus for us… And I wouldn’t be surprised if God the Father turns out to be channeling Jesus and the Holy Spirit, simultaneously for us also… Since Jesus tells us even though God shows up as three persons – God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost – always God is still fundamentally One. And part of the difficulty of doing Trinitarian theology is that it’s often hard to be sure which person of the Trinity’s directing at a given time… and… At the risk of sounding irreverent, ridiculous or both – I’m reminded of a pair of great jazz pianists, composers and arrangers, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.  Ellington, the extroverted (and very heterosexual) band leader, often called introverted (and gay) Strayhorn his alter-ego. The two had very different personalities – but on their recorded piano duets (playing for example Strayhorn’s composition (You must) Take the A Train– if – you get to uptown…) you can’t always tell them apart. They absorbed each other’s styles so very thoroughly – that even they couldn’t always tell which of them was playing which part, when, in retrospect… (Was that me playing there or was that you?…) Which comes to mind this week, as I’ve been thinking about – how...

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June 9, 2019

Posted by on Jun 11, 2019 in Sermons | 0 comments

Pentecost  June 9, 2019  Psalm 104, Romans 8:14-17, John 14:15-17, Acts 2:1-21 ***************************************************************** Imagine gathered disciples singing prayerfully soulfully, many times – Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us – Spirit of the living God fall afresh on us Till suddenly without warning the Holy Spirit floods the zone, fills the room with God’s presence…With a sound like a wild stormy wind and what appears to be flickering tongues of fire dancing on disciples’ heads – And the Spirit speaks through disciples, enabling all to speak the praises of God in many languages – Alleluia, thank you God, Alleluia, thank you Lord…  a strange and beautiful sound – that works as a summons – for many to come and listen… As believers, altogether in one place now – are praising God passionately, speaking of God’s mighty deeds in many tongues – understanding each other across borders and boundaries of language and culture… Quite a hard act to follow – this wild scene in the book of Acts… Not that this first Pentecost after the resurrection was meant to be replicable in any literal sense. Nothing happening here at Pentecost was ever planned by people. From the get-go the giving of the Spirit is God’s work, not ours. To this day the Holy Spirit is a mystery we can’t explain… Yet – little Pentecosts keep happening… The Holy Spirit has fallen afresh on gathered disciples of all nations – many more times than we can imagine. We may not hear the sound of rushing wind now, or see dancing tongues of flame, now, or receive the gift of speaking in tongues that we don’t know (or didn’t know we knew).  But the Spirit dwells in us and among us, even now – God’s gracious gift to all who believe and follow Jesus… And if we ever find ourselves not noticing the Holy Spirit’s presence – we’re invited again to remember – that one thing those first disciples did get right – (one of the rare things Jesus told them to do that they actually did right away –)  which was – to wait. Wait in Jerusalem, in their day. Wait wherever we are, now. Wait till God sends the Holy Spirit… Wait and pray… Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us… Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us… A simple prayer. Simple. But – One of the harder things for most of us to do is… Wait… Wait attentively… For the Holy Spirit… without submitting to distractions… (And if you’ve figured out how to do this on a regular basis–tell me how you do it) Because I still get distracted, way too easily, by way too many things… Yet – sometimes, I (even I) – even if only for five or ten minutes – I sometimes do manage by grace to hear the Spirit whisper – Peace – be still… And obey. *** We don’t know exactly how long those first disciples had to wait for the Spirit. There’s fifty days from Passover in the Jewish calendar (Easter in the Christian calendar) to Pentecost – so we could say they waited fifty days. And it’s ten days to Pentecost from the day of Ascension, where Jesus says again – ‘wait for the Spirit in...

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Ascension Sunday June 2, 2019

Posted by on Jun 7, 2019 in Sermons | 0 comments

Ascension Sunday   June 2, 2019 Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke 24:48-53, Acts 1:1-11 *************************************************************** The book of Acts begins with a retelling of the last scene in the gospel of Luke –  Luke, our narrator’s way of letting us know that Acts is volume two of the story of Jesus and the early church. In Luke’s gospel, first, then again in Acts, Jesus shares quick reminders and final instructions with disciples… then vanishes into clouds of holy mystery… as… In the last scene of Luke’s gospel, disciples worship Jesus, now, for the first time. I imagine them singing a first century version of the Charles Wesley hymn: Hail the day that sees him rise, Alleluia! To his home above the skies – Alleluia! Christ, awhile, to mortals given, Alleluia! Re-ascends his native heaven, Alleluia! Jesus tells his followers – wait here in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom you’ve heard me talking about… The Spirit will fill you with power and equip you for ministry. Then you’ll be my witnesses, starting here, moving out to Judea and Samaria – then to all the ends of the earth, as the Spirit leads… Meanwhile, wait right here, till God the Father sends the Holy Spirit. I’ll be watching over you from my Father’s house… And we can almost hear the angels sing as Jesus comes to sing with them – ….Christ has conquered death and sin, Alleluia! Take the king of glory in, Alleluia! Ascension is a joyous celebration, now, in retrospect, for the church. But at the time, and again, maybe even more so now, as pollsters tell us – the fastest growing religious group in America is the so-called Nones ( N-O-N-E-S) – people who say they belong to none of the religious groups they know of – this huge transition in the story of Jesus and the church that we call The Ascension needs unpacking… And it may seem a stretch for our imaginations, but – to follow the story line we need to mention the role of angels. The word angel meaning literally messenger. Angels keep showing up at key moments in Luke’s gospel and the book of Acts. (Today let’s skip over other appearances to remember just in the last chapter of Luke, two angels in dazzling bright clothing appear at the tomb of Jesus early on the first Easter morning – asking the women who have come to anoint the body of Jesus – “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? Don’t you remember what he told you – about him being handed over to sinners who will crucify him – then, on the third day he’ll rise again?” The women do remember now – but – the disciples they tell the good news to don’t believe…Till they see Jesus for themselves, still bearing the marks of the cross… Now, as the story continues, just as we see Jesus rising into the heavens – two angel messengers, again, in bright clothing, again, appear – asking this time – “Why do you stand looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has just been taken up into heaven will come again the same way that you’ve seen him go into heaven…” And – “Why are you standing looking up?” is...

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May 26, 2019 – Sermon

Posted by on May 31, 2019 in Sermons | 0 comments

Easter 6    May 26, 2019    Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10,22-22:5; John 14:23-29, Acts 16:6-15          Where to? ***************************************************************** A rabbi’s walking down the street one morning in the Russian village where he lives. A soldier asks “where are you going?” “I don’t know,” the rabbi replies. “What do you mean you don’t know,” the soldier says. “Every day for 25 years I’ve seen you leave your house and walk down the street to the synagogue to pray. What do you mean you don’t know where you’re going? You’re going to jail now, for not answering my question properly.” And the soldier takes the rabbi to the jail – and the rabbi says – “As I said… I didn’t know… where I was going.” Pastor Sandra shared this story with our prayer group last week. She found it in a book on prayer, The Breath of the Soul, by Benedictine monastic Joan Chittister. And this darkly humorous and all-too-serious story makes a pretty good point of entry for our story from Acts today… Where the apostle Paul and traveling companions have set out on a mission trip, heading for the Roman province of Asia (in what’s now the northwest part of Turkey – Asia Minor – not the much larger Asian continent). But the Holy Spirit has other plans – and blocks the missionaries from going where they thought they were going… So – re-calibrate – re-calibrate – we can almost hear the spiritual GPS re-calibrating their route… As the travelers try now to go Northeasterly to the region of Bithynia… But the Holy Spirit again blocks them from going where they thought they were going… Again it’s recalibrating time  – and not knowing where to go now, the travelers pause in the port city of Troas… Where, in the night, Paul receives a vision, in which a man of Macedonia pleads – “come, help us over in Macedonia…” And without delay they sail across a corner of the Mediterranean Sea quickly to Philippi – a major city of the province of Macedonia – and a Roman colony. (A reminder the  Roman Empire is in the business of colonizing all political, economic, and cultural life throughout the Mediterranean world.) And the travelers, to their credit, listen well to the Spirit – and adjust their travel plans accordingly… And a deeper, less obvious kind of re-routing of the journey is also happening, we notice. As now, after a few days, in which they’ve probably been praying and observing – the mission group makes its way to the riverside outside the city gates, where they find a group of women at prayer. They speak the gospel message to the women, and one them, Lydia, listens especially intently – decides to be baptized – and all her household’s baptized with her. She insists now on hosting the missionaries in her home. And we notice… In Paul’s vision it was a man of Macedonia who pleads with him and his companions to come and help… But now here in Macedonia, there’s no  Macedonian men waiting to hear the gospel. Instead it’s the women of Macedonia who listen and accept the gospel – outside the gates of the city, by the riverside – not in a temple, church, or civic center. Signaling we’re in less-charted spiritual territory...

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Easter 5, May 19, 2019

Posted by on May 24, 2019 in Sermons | 0 comments

Easter 5, May 19, 2019 (Ps 148, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35) Acts 11:1-11 ************************************************************* The church in Jerusalem hears the news – a whole bunch of new believers have just come to God! – So we’re all singing alleluia – right? Well, not exactly. Actually, the first thing we hear from the church council is a rebuke of the apostle Peter – (Like–) “What were you thinking? Visiting uncircumcised men – and eating with them?” Which should certainly have us asking – what’s going on? Why is the church not enthusiastically unanimously welcoming newcomers to the faith and the table of fellowship? Of course we weren’t there at the time… so we’re listening close, now, as Peter re-tells the story, step-by-step – recounting events that take up the whole previous chapter in the book of Acts… As Peter tells a condensed version of the story – starting with his vision of a blanket full of kosher and unkosher animals all mixed together – and a voice from heaven saying “Get up Peter, kill and eat.” Peter replies “no way, Lord, I never eat unkosher food.” But the voice says “Don’t call profane anything God has made clean.” And the vision repeats three times in all. (And we see yet-another happening-in-triplicate-thing-with-Peter – who famously said he didn’t know Jesus three times in one night –  then at breakfast on the beach told the risen Jesus “yes, Lord I love you” –  three times…) And as Peter now retells the story for the church, he says “as soon as I got this vision, here comes three men (– yes, three again – ) sent to fetch me to share the gospel. And the Spirit told me to go with them and not make distinctions between us and them.” So what’s with this strange vision of foods on a blanket? And what’s this got to do with making distinctions between people?  A biblical background note may be in order: The ancient food laws described in Scripture in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 list foods that Jews can and cannot eat. Fish with fins can be eaten. Shell fish, shrimp and lobster cannot. Animals with a cloven hoof that also chew their cud you may eat. Animals that don’t chew their cud, like pigs and camels – you may not eat. Chickens and ducks you may eat – but eagles, buzzards, osprey, cormorants, hawks or any bird of prey you may not eat. No eating of reptiles of any kind – nor insects – except for the locust and the grasshopper – you may eat them if you choose. But – What’s the purpose of all these food rules? Many theories have been elaborated over the centuries. Some teachers of the Law have said foods like pork and camel are bad for our health and-or subject to contamination, that’s why we don’t eat them. Others have pointed out pigs were often worshiped by local pagans, so we don’t eat them, partly to show we’re not pagans. Some rabbis of old said the food rules are either arbitrary or so mysterious that only God knows what they’re for – but either way, they’re given by God – so we keep them – even when we don’t understand why. The explanation I like best –...

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