The not-so-grand Canyon – sermon for Sept. 25, 2016

Preaching text:Luke 16:19-31

[Jesus said:] 19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
How’d it get to be so big, so beautiful? How were the walls carved out of red, yellow, white and brown rocks of the Grand Canyon? Many years ago, before we had the boys, Brad and I traveled out to Arizona to go hiking in and around the Grand Canyon. As we stood on the South Rim, gazing in awe and wonder, reading the signs describing the 1.84 billion year old rocks and the carving of the canyon by wind, water, tectonic plate movements from 6 million years ago, the ice age fossils, I overheard a different answer to the question of when, how, what made the Grand Canyon. A man explained to the people around him, that it was the Flood, the global deluge that we read about in Genesis ch. 7 & 8. Those rushing waters carved the canyon exposing rocks that were put there on Day 3 of creation only 6-7 thousand years ago.

 

Two very different explanations of the same phenomenon. Which is what could be going on in our passage from Luke’s gospel. That is, there two chasms 1. is what Abraham points out. And, as Barb’s thoughtful liturgy points out to us today there is another—a 2nd chasm. The great divide that exists in this world, in our lives—between the rich man and Lazarus—the not-so-grand canyon that divides the rich from the people in poverty.

 

In the gospel story Jesus tells, we hear of some nameless rich guy wearing fine clothes, eating fine food, and living in a fine gated home. Unlike our modern world, right at this rich guy’s door was put Lazarus, covered not in soft robes, but in soars, and starving to death. Some might see it as a sign of progress, that we’ve been able to put and keep the poor in their place, the rich separated by miles of expressway, gates, cards, cars, entry-codes, so that the rich do not need to really see the poor.

 

The very creation of this not-so-grand canyon can be one of the things that makes the division so deep. And much like the example of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, some

 

people still today create a false chasm between science/experience on one side and faith on the other. Some people see the systemic patters of oppression that entrap generations of some people — many people of color and others in poverty. Others, some Christians attribute the distance between rich and poor to the hand of divine providence. On that side, riches and success are signs of God’s blessing. Poverty and injustice are signs of, if not God’s punishment, at least somehow God’s will.

 

Now there are certain passages in the Bible that can be found to support this interpretation of the world. However, it should be quite clear to us, that this is not Jesus’ vision. The wealth the rich man received (inherited or was lucky enough to get)—the rich man’s wealth is not rewarded. According to Jesus it helps dig the deep chasm between the rich man and Lazarus. So in this story, after both men die, the rich man suffers in Hades while Lazarus is gently placed in the arms of Abraham. It is not only interesting, but I think important to note that Jesus does not tell us that Lazarus was good guy; nowhere do we hear that he is an example of the noble and godly poor. There’s nothing to say he earned his place in the bosom of Abraham. It is, according to Jesus, simply and significantly God’s will, God’s doing.

 

Jesus wants us to know that the not-so-grand canyons between rich and poor, between people of color and whites, between people in the US and so many other places. God didn’t dig these chasms. God is not the creator of canyons or chasms. That’s all us folks.

 

And if these divides are not part of some divine plan they do not have to be permanent and impenetrable. Do any of you remember, did anyone of you watch the tv broadcast from 2013 of Nik Wallenda crossing the Grand Canyon on a wire? We did, and of course Micah asked, “Mommy can you do that?” No! And, there’s no way I would ever ever even try. Unfortunately, that’s how we treat the great chasms in our world today. We take Abraham’s words as Gospel truth.

 

The Gospels themselves, though tell whole different story. A story of crossing chasms not for glory, but for love. Way before the amazing Flying Wallendas, it was Jesus. Jesus crossed the great divides not just between god and humanity, between the eternal and temporal. Jesus crossed the chasm between the great and powerful and the poor and insignificant. The incarnate God as Christ didn’t walk around wearing the purple robes of Roman royalty. He didn’t feast sumptuously on fine organic, free range food with the rich and powerful. He bridges the chasms to eat with hungry, the despised.  

 

Which is at the heart of what following Jesus is all about. Think about all that we already do cross the chasms of rivers of mountains. We do a lot to bridge natures divides, Jesus calls us to put the same energy, time, resources into bridging the divides between us. But this isn’t merely giving money to feed the hungry. You know, we could give food out much more efficiently if we just installed a drive through, like McDonalds and other fast food restaurants. It could save us and the people we serve much more quickly, and while that is a bonus. We couldn’t get to know the people who come here; we wouldn’t hear a part of their story; we wouldn’t be showing them the love and respect that the Spirit of Jesus pours into our hearts to live out with them. As author Sarah Miles says of Jesus’ church, says after having received communion one day, she says “I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome…And so I became a Christian…”[2]

 

Jesus crosses the not-so-grand canyons, not to be entertaining, not even for good publicity. Today, Jesus crosses the chasms of time, of space, of logic and reason to feed us the finest food of healing and forgiveness, food to strengthen and in-spirit us for the work ahead, to cross the chasms between rich and poor. For Jesus there is no divide too deep, no hole too wide, wealth, or guilt, or addiction, or trauma or doubt, no chasm can, as Paul says in one of my favorite passages from Romans—chapter 8. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. It is God’s will for all the children of Abraham, for all the children of God that no one will have to ask the question how did the divide, the chasm get so big. Amen.

Sermon for Aug. 28, 2016

Preaching text: Luke 14

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Wore a dirndl  for the children’s sermon and discussed what immigrants are.

Ok, so lots of us, our immigrant ancestors (grandparents, great grandparents, etc.) gave up their traditional outfits so you’ll not see women sporting dirndls and men lederhosen. However, there are more than just a few German-isms that have integrated— become part of our US culture. One that I noticed here in Milwaukee is the use of the word “by”. And I’m not talking about this sermon was written by me. I am talking about sentences like, “after worship let’s go by my house”. “Go stand by the door”. We use “by” instead of “to” or “next to” or “near”. Which is quite similar to the German dative preposition “bei”.

 

I guess that’s one of the immigrant gifts to us. That is what integration looks like. It is a two way street—give and take. Kind of like, “quid pro quo”. This for that, and that is how the world works. The English would use this quid to buy that—thingie ma-jiggy. Quid pro quo, the words are even ancient—so old that perhaps Jesus even heard them from the Latin speaking Romans who ruled his homeland. Quid pro quo—this for that. Give us your taxes, give us your land and we will give you Roman soldiers, law, etc.

 

Knowing this, perhaps we can read this passage from the gospel of Luke as more than Jesus giving us a lesson in etiquette—where to sit (recline) at a dinner party, who to invite to your party, oh and don’t forget to put that napkin on your lap.

 

I am pretty sure that Jesus was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed on the cross for using the wrong fork or for teaching people how to be humble and un-assuming.

 

Even here, there is something going on something revolutionary, something threatening. Even here Jesus is giving us an alternative world view. This time Jesus is upending the very basic order of society and basis of relationships both individual, familial, local and national. In the ancient world with it’s patriarchal system, everything from dinners, friendships to marriage and politics it was (and still is today) based on quid pro quo. It is so central, so powerful and pervasive system of living that we are still using the ancient Latin words. Quid pro quo. That’s how society functioned. I do this for you (invite you to dinner) and you owe me.

 

 

 

But here comes Jesus once again upsetting the apple cart. Turning the world upside down. Not only criticizing the way things are, but also giving us another way. Jesus says when you have food, just feed people—and not your friends. Following Jesus, our worth is not based upon what we can buy, but who we are by—who we stand next to and with. We feed the hungry, care for the sick and elderly, sit with the lonely, welcome the immigrant and refugee. In Jesus new world order, relationships and society itself isn’t built on quid pro quo. With Jesus, the only extreme vetting going on is getting to know people, sitting with them, sharing a meal—meeting them where they are, and sitting down right by them.

 

And that’s what Jesus is still doing today. Because this table isn’t mine, it isn’t yours, it isn’t Village’s, and Jesus says gather round, you tired, you who are yearning to be free, we are all wretched, we are all someone’s refuse. But in this place, God does not refuse any of us. Jesus welcomes us all, feeds us all, frees us all. Jesus comes to be right by you, right by me. Amen.

 

 

Sermon for August 7, 2016  

Preaching text:Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
1The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
10Hear the word of the Lord,

you rulers of Sodom!

Listen to the teaching of our God,

you people of Gomorrah!

11What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?

says the Lord;

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams

and the fat of fed beasts;

I do not delight in the blood of bulls,

or of lambs, or of goats.
12When you come to appear before me,

who asked this from your hand?

Trample my courts no more;

13bringing offerings is futile;

incense is an abomination to me.

New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—

I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

14Your new moons and your appointed festivals

my soul hates;

they have become a burden to me,

I am weary of bearing them.

15When you stretch out your hands,

I will hide my eyes from you;

even though you make many prayers,

I will not listen;

your hands are full of blood.

16Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

remove the evil of your doings

from before my eyes;

cease to do evil,

17learn to do good;

seek justice,

rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,

plead for the widow.
18Come now, let us argue it out,

says the Lord:

though your sins are like scarlet,

they shall be like snow;

though they are red like crimson,

they shall become like wool.

19If you are willing and obedient,

you shall eat the good of the land;

20but if you refuse and rebel,

you shall be devoured by the sword;

for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Sermon — this is an oral event, and sometimes what is preached is not exactly what appears on the page.
 

Sermon – Aug 7, 2016“I’ve worked this area for 12 years and didn’t know this was a church.” Said one of the police officers I met one night. I’m pretty sure that we’ve either heard or said about our little building here on the corner of Juneau and Edison that, “it doesn’t look like a church”.


 

Well, isn’t that exactly how we and the folks who came before us planned it? Some of us might be a bit proud that we don’t have the architecture of a traditional building—no stodgy steeple, stained glass or organ. No dusty hard immovable pews. We at Village Church bought an old bar/disco and turned it into this place of worship.

 

We don’t look or sound like a church. We don’t use hymnals; each week our liturgy (the words we say in worship, while following the same basic pattern) each week the words are different, so different that we can’t mindlessly race through the Lord’s Prayer – Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, (you get the picture).

 

Sure we don’t look like a church, still it’s always good to ask, “why are we here?” and now I’m not asking why you as an individual or as a family, but as a church. Why is the church here?

 

As our society changes, lots of people are asking why we are here?

 

Does God need our praise, our songs? No. The prophet Isaiah, 700 years before Jesus was even born. The prophet, the spokesperson for God declares:

 

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams

and the fat of fed beasts;

I do not delight in the blood of bulls,

or of lambs, or of goats.

 

12When you come to appear before me,

who asked this from your hand?

Trample my courts no more;

13bringing offerings is futile;

incense is an abomination to me.

 

Our God didn’t and doesn’t need our worship. God doesn’t somehow feed off our prayers and sacrifices. Our God is not like some cosmic person who will starve if not fed, who’s ego needs stroking. In fact, a little past what I just quoted. We hear God saying: 14Your new moons and your appointed festivals

my soul hates;

 

God’s soul hating are strong words, but the Hebrew can even be a stronger. It can be an idiom for feeling sick, stomach ache, nausea and what follows—for which we have our various words—puke, barf, get sick, vomit.

 

God doesn’t live off our words—nature (sun, moon, seasons, rains) aren’t the result of our sacrifices.

 

In the prophet Isaiah’s day, God is let’s say—less than pleased because the worship of the people of God did not impact the way they lived. Theirs was a land of economic divides of some “have’s” and a lot more “have-nots”. Of course, Isaiah wasn’t directing his words at the church per se that didn’t exist, but there were priests. Isaiah is speaking to them, and to the people, to the people as a whole, a society, a nation. Perhaps that is why we are here.

 

A different officer asked one night, why are we here, with a bar next door, across the street, kitty-corner from us—two doors down from a gentleman’s club. I responded after a few words about inclusivity, that well this is where Jesus would be. The officer liked what I had to say. And, I was pretty pleased with my self, until I got to thinking would Jesus this is just be sitting here on these oh so comfy chairs at 10am on a Sunday morning, when parking is a bit easier?  

 

Pretty sure he’d be here at 10pm or later, sitting at a bar, or outside, eating a piece of pizza, or talking with Superman who just sold him a hotdog.

 

Perhaps that is why we as a church are here.

To learn and to

learn to do good;

seek justice,

rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,

plead for the widow.

 

Not just us, but to remind if our people have forgotten and to tell them if they never new—that that’s what the sin of Sodom and Gomorrha [Gen 13:13; 18:20; 19:13; cf. Ezekiel 16:49]. It was greed; it was violence; it wasn’t homosexuality. To do good, justice, to rescue the oppressed, the orphan, the widow—the take care of the most vulnerable—not just with a bit of charity but with justice that changes the systems that create too many orphans and widows—that is what pleases God.

 

So why are you here as an individual as a family. There sure are plenty of other options and obligations.

 

I was at a bachelorette party yesterday afternoon (did a 5k obstacle course). At the end of our time together, they reminded each other that they had cross fit tomorrow at 10am. Sunday morning at 10am. Crossfit, like some other things creates and builds friendships, support networks; it is community. In other words, you don’t need to come to church to feel that you belong. In fact, I think that with some physical exercise/exertion done together as a group in fact helps build that sense of community, of bonding, and can be spiritually fulfilling.

 

We come to communicate with God. Have you never thought in a time of trouble or distress, I’ll go to church and/so that my prayers will be heard and answered.

 

But is this how it works? Coming and sitting here, does it amplify our prayers, requests, do we connect to some kind of divine network. Do with think we get better reception, more bars than in the bars all around us? The prophet tells us no, just because we give up our Sunday morning, give some money in the collection doesn’t make God listen to us.

 

Instead when our prayers, when our praise, when the words of the prophet change us show us God’s love for all, especially for those struggling, hurting, vulnerable—that is why we are here. To be cleansed from the lies, to free us from the false narrative of violence as the answer to all our problems, to wipe away the words and actions that make us feel dirty, (our sins, our mistakes, our complicity), to know that we are never forgotten. God isn’t distant, ignorant, and ignoring the pain we feel, the joy we glimpse. We are here to be changed, to be washed not just on the outside with a little water at baptism, but inside and out. God’s Word refreshes and renews so that it doesn’t matter what we look like—we are the church of Jesus, our savior, and the savior of this world. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 – 

Micah Brown (age 8) Child’s Sermon

Today we are learning about the Good Samaritan. So Jesus and a lawyer were talking about neighbors. The lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus answered with a story about a guy getting robbed. Several religious guys walked right past the guy. But later in the story Jesus tells us a Samaritan rescues the guy. People didn’t like the Samaritans, but the Samaritan is the neighbor and you should love everyone as your neighbor.
Last week my brother Nathan showed me a video of Mr. Roger’s. I heard his song “Won’t you be my neighbor” He reminds me of Jesus. He wants to play with everyone; he wants to care for everyone. He wants to be and he wants us to be a neighbor like the good samaritan. I have an example of being a good neighbor. At my childcare I read a book to two littler kids. Have any of you experienced being a good neighbor? think we should be good neighbors.  Amen.

Good Samaritan Sermon

​this sermon followed the Children’s Sermon presented by my son Micah.

 

It’s just that simple. Thank you Micah. It’s so simple that an eight year old boy gets it. Love God and love your neighbor. That’s what eternal life is all about. Love God and love your neighbor. Do you want to know the meaning of life? Love God and love your neighbor. Do you want to know what the purpose of your life is? Simple. Love God and your neighbor! But somewhere along the way, it (life) becomes complicated. It didn’t begin with the lawyer in our gospel, although some people would like to think so. The lawyer doesn’t create the problem—the complication. He just gives voice to it. And who or but who is my neighbor?

 

You see, life’s a beach, and we people really do like to play in the sand, to draw lines in the sand. On my beach, neighbors are those people on my side of the line. In my life, neighbors are those people close to me. And it’s a lot more complicated than location—the family, the couple, the man or woman who lives in the house, or apartment, or condo next door. There’s all sorts of things like rich or poor, or middle class, education, sophistication, professions, color, religion (or none), proximity of political persuasion. Yes, it can get complicated, but what can Jesus expect. Life’s a beach and if we don’t draw the line somewhere we’ll have as many neighbors as grains of sand. How practical is that if everyone is a neighbor and we love everybody?

 

 

So we ask again and again are black, inner city, young men really my neighbor? Are the police officers who ride on their Harleys and squad cars my neighbor? Is someone like the man and the experience author Rob Schenck describes at the beginning of his article: Should Christians Own Guns?  

 

 

 

 

The simple answer is yes.

 

But how? How do we love? That’s not a rhetorical; that’s not an academic question? This is THE question for us today especially after this past week with the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philander Castille and of Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens. And the really sad thing, this is just the latest public tragedy.

 

Jesus gave us an example—the good samaritan. A parable that played out

 

The neighbor are the men who stopped at an overturned van outside on a road in the West Bank. The van contained a rabbi and his family who were settling on land once owned by Palestinians. The men who stopped to help, one was a Palestinian who put an injured passenger in his car and then tried to direct traffic around the van. The other was a Palestinian doctor and his brother on his way into Jerusalem to break the Ramadan fast and pray as Al Aqsa mosque. The doctor and his brother helped as best they could. Pulling the seriously injured wife of the rabbi to safety. It did not matter that a Palestinian had shot at the van, killing the rabbi, the husband, and father who was driving. It did not matter that this family of settlers were intentionally taking land away from Palestinians. These Palestinians the doctor, his brother, and another anonymous driver were the neighbors.

 

This is an example like the samaritan, but just because we may not have such a dramatic experience does not mean that we are somehow off the hook. We are called to love. The love of which I speak is definitely not “sexy”. Anger has become as American as apple pie. It is acceptable and almost expected that we speak, post, and act with aggression—when “we tell it like it is”. There is nothing so sweet as righteous indignation.

 

But to love, to neighbor is to not fall into that trap. To neighbor is to be able to hear and say “Black Lives Matter” and know that it does not mean only black lives. That Black Lives Matter includes all lives, and at the same time speaks the truth although statistically white people are just as likely to commit a crime, that police are more likely to stop, arrest, and kill people of color. Black Lives Matter admits that racism is behind the impression that black men are more of a threat.  

 

For us right now—to love everyone, to be a neighbor is to post and say Black Lives Matter sign and even to participate in the Coalition for Justice rally tomorrow evening at Red Arrow Park. To love everyone to be the neighbor is to put up a Blue Lives Matter and welcome, feed, support the police. This is simple, and it is complicated. Might we offend someone? Most likely. That is the cross that Jesus calls us to carry today. Because we are witnessing to the call to love God and love our neighbor. This is what we need. This is what our neighbors need. This is what our friends and family need. This is what our country needs. It needs for us to, in our complicated lives, simply love God and love others, show mercy, go and do likewise. Amen.

 

 

 

Movers & Shakers – sermon for July 3

 “It looks like that’s where the water goes. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

 

That’s what Nathan said as we surveyed our campsite near Mammoth Cave campground. We were looking around to find the best place to put up our tent, and Brad liked the looks of this flat area of dirt in a shady spot under some trees, so we staked down the tent, blew up our air mattress, and laid out our sleeping bags, and headed out for a cave tour and dinner. Later that night, exhausted from our day of exploring we crawled in and zipped ourselves into the tent. The wind, lightning, and rains came later that night. Of course, I woke up and discovered that where the kids were sleeping was wet, so they got up onto the air mattress, and slept the rest of the night . We woke with the morning sun, to discover we weren’t just a bit damp. Our tent filled was with water; we were soaked and what was worse was all the mud.

 

This is what Nathan had tried warn us about, the potential for water/mud flooding downhill into our tent. But, he was just a 10 years old kid, so we didn’t hear his words, his warning. We didn’t stop to listen to him. We discounted him.

 

I can’t imagine that we would have ignored him if he were a 40-something park ranger—you know the men and women with the experience and with badges. We tend to pay a lot more attention to those folks—the authority figures, the experts, the bigwigs—the mover’s and shaker’s in the world.

 

Those are people whose names we remember. Names like the prophet Elisha who we read about in our first lesson. Elisha is a prophet in the kingdom of Israel. Now I just have to remind us that prophets in the bible are not fortune tellers or predictors of the future. A biblical prophet is someone who speaks for God. In this story from 2nd Kings, we have the prophet Elisha and his enemy—another man named what?:

 

 

_Naaman__. Naaman is the commander, the general of the armies of Aram—a country we hear a lot about these days—modern day Syria. These lands and these people the Israelites and the Arameans did not live in peace. Even and especially way back then. Naaman is the man who leads who has the power of the armies of the enemy.

 

Of course, just because a person has power over people, does not mean they have power over disease, and Naaman has some skin condition disease which the writers of the Bible all lumped together and label leprosy. It is true that position doesn’t protect us from the human condition. Everybody’s got something. Of course as a man of power and prestige the other thing he’s got is—slaves. The slave of his wife, and what was her name again? doesn’t have one – not told it (of course she has one).

 

Her mother and father the ones from whom she was stolen, who if still alive, missed her and grieved for her, of course they had given her a name—a name that through the millennia has been lost. Her name is lost but not her words. Today we hear her, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

 

Those could be simply dismissed as the words of the young—words of optimistic youth. Or these could be the words of faith, words of confidence and words of hope in the power of her God of our God. Some could say that this is the first miracle, that Naaman’s wife, that Naaman heard her, took her counsel, listened to her.

 

Of course, Naaman with all his power is still subject to the king; he can’t just ride off into enemy territory. With his king’s (superior’s) permission he travels to Samaria the capitol of Israel, with silver, gold, other gifts and a letter requesting that Naaman be healed. Of course, the king of Israel doesn’t like this one bit. What is he to do; he can’t heal Naaman, and if he sends Naaman unhealed he will look weak and offend he king of Aram. Will the enemy king use this as a pretense to war and attack.

 

Luckily Elisha gets the news and offers to heal Naaman. As Naaman and his entourage approach expecting an audience with this prophet, this man of God. However, Elisha sends out a messenger, probably yet another servant/slave with instructions—go wash not once, not twice, but 7 times in the river Jordan. Elisha doesn’t use any mystical words, gives him no magical potion, no special talismans or herbs. He doesn’t even bother to come out to see or meet Naaman.

 

Take 7 dips in the river Jordan on his way out of the country. Naaman is indignant. I can imagine him sitting high on his horse, “How could he?, doesn’t he know who I am?”. Well, Naaman’s servants certainly know who he is; so they tentatively gingerly approach him, use a familial respectful address, “father”, and convince him to just go ahead and give it a try. And you know what? Naaman takes the advice of his servants/slaves. He listens to them.

 

This could have been a completely different story if it had gone like our family camping trip—if the “little”, the insignificant, the powerless hadn’t spoken up and if they hadn’t been heard and listened to. When we think of movers and shakers we think of people like kings. But in this story, could the kings cure the man Naaman? No. In this story could the general go where he want, see whomever he want, do and order around whomever he wanted? No. Even Elisha the man of God would have had nothing to do if a young slave girl hadn’t mentioned his name. Even the words of the prophet would have fallen flat, emptied of their power, if Naaman’s servants hadn’t spoken up. Perhaps the Spirit isn’t just telling us a story of a man being healed of leprosy, but of people being healed of our prejudices and presumptions of who the movers and shakers really are.

 

And, one of the reasons, I love reading the bible is that is by no means the only story where the tables are turned and the movers and shakers are not the big wigs, the power players. God’s Spirit seems to have a real affinity for the nameless, nominal, normal average Joe’s—people like you and me, people like the guys who sell hot dogs on the corner, the people who come to our food pantry, the young people, children who come to worship. We should never presume that we as a person, or we as a church are too little—that what we do is insignificant.  

 

Just a couple of nights ago, all we did was turn on our lights, open our door, have some pizza (donated by Ian’s down the block) and other snacks, and we touched the lives of about 20 police officers—men and women who can become so pessimistic, so negative and jaded. They felt welcome and appreciated, hopefully they are better able to deal with the crowds, the people who drink too much, and others on our block. It’s not just officers—we don’t turn anyone away. We are present inside and out on the street.  

 

A church like little old Village church. Village church in the heart of a big, big, booming with construction is still a city, a people who are yearning, who need to hear words of healing, words of forgiveness, words of peace and love that can even cross enemy lines. We do not need to wait for big wig permission; we can’t let our size dictate our lives; remember Jesus didn’t send out thousands, but 70, in two’s. When the Spirit of God is in us, following Jesus and proclaiming the presence of God, it’s what we do, because the Spirit of God likes little places, little people like us—so let us listen for and let us speak out the words of God. Amen.

“For freedom Christ has set us free” – sermon for June 26, 2016

“For freedom Christ has set us free.”

Paul must be talking about us. About us Americans. We who are privileged enough to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. That’s what our history teaches us. Give me liberty or give me death—Patrick Henry declared in 1775. We wanted our freedom—to be free from taxation without representation, free from England, free from tyranny. We believe some things are just self-evident we have the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

 

In the words of another more contemporary great man.

 

I’m free to do what I want any old time

I’m free to do what I want any old time

So love me, hold me, love me, hold me

I’m free any old time to get what I want

I’m free to sing my song though it gets out of time

I’m free to sing my song though it gets out of time

So love me, hold me, love me, hold me

And I’m free any old time to get what I want

Love me, hold me, love me, hold me

But I’m free any old time to get what I want

I’m free to choose what I please any old time

I’m free to choose what I please any old time

So hold me, love me, love me, hold me

I’m free any old time to get what I want, yes I am

 

Those are words written by Mrs. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones – the British rock band. So, evidently the pursuit of freedom is not peculiar to this continent; it is not just an American dream. It is a universal desire, and as Paul tells us this morning a divine right given to us by God. For freedom Christ has set us free.

 

And, what better place is there to explore and experience what it is to be free than Las Vegas, Nevada. Most of you know that I spent 3 days there past week with my sister. So, you might imagine where as a preacher I could go with Paul’s list vices: fornication, impurity, licentiousness (which if you’re unfamiliar with this word, that has kind of fallen out of style means: lewd, immoral, outside the rule of manners, customs, and law), idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these—so forth and so on. Basically just about everything that built and continues to make money in Sin City.

 

Oh the temptation, what makes it so difficult is choosing, how can to pick one or even just a few from this Sin City menu. I’m talking of course about preaching, not indulging. I imagine innumerable preachers down through the ages pounding the pulpit or pavement about any or all. The thing is, Paul isn’t as focused on this list of vices as our lectionary or the pericope makes it seem. You may have noticed that someone has stripped quite a few verses from the section— 2-12. And, in those 10 verses, you will see when you go home and open your bible and read them, Paul’s subject is circumcision not sin. Paul is reminding the early Christians that Christ has set us free from circumcision, from the Torah law and commandment that circumcision was required to be one of God’s people. So, if Paul spends ten verses on freedom from this law and one verse listing obvious vices like fornication, sorcery, drunkenness, carousing are on the same list as jealousy, anger, envy, and quarrels, then perhaps there’s more to following Jesus than don’t do this, that, or the other thing.

 

For freedom Christ has set us free. The freedom of a Christian is not to be free to do whatever we, I want. You don’t have to fly to Vegas to see how our pursuit of happiness, how appeasing our attitudes, appetites and addictions enslaves us and others. It is not a stretch either to say that our country has become captive to one interpretation of the 2nd amendment—free to bear arms. Again these are merely the symptoms of a greater and “gravier” slavery.

 

Paul calls it flesh, but perhaps a better word would be self. For Jesus frees us from trying to save ourselves (through following the law of circumcision or any law for that matter). And Jesus frees us from ourselves, from focusing on our selves. As followers of Jesus we are not free to do whatever we want, we are not free from others, instead we are free for others.  

 

Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me to buy a semi-automatic. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me to be able to say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for you to beat anybody up, including yourself. From what I hear Paul saying in these words, is that Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me. Christ hasn’t set me free. For freedom Christ has set us free. Freedom means that we do not enslave others or ourselves for power, pleasure, or profit.

 

Freedom isn’t words on a paper, it isn’t everybody standing while somebody sings a national anthem, it isn’t God, guns, and glory—flag waving and fireworks.

 

Freedom looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Of course, these traits, these practices have fallen out of fashion. We don’t use these words to describe America do we?

 

Of course, can we honestly use those words to describe us Christians, as followers/disciples of Jesus? Each of us may know someone who displays, who lives these gifts of the Spirit. Now it would be totally awesome if you or I could have, could be each and every one of those. But aren’t we then setting ourselves up for failure and not freedom. How about we pick one, perhaps pick one for a week or a month and follow Jesus by focusing on one of those gifts of the spirit, hold onto it in your prayer and in practice of discipleship every day. Hold onto it till it has a hold in you so that together we can experience, share the freedom for which Christ has set us free. Amen.