Abbott and Costello, Peanut butter and Jelly, Sodom and Gomorrah . . .What the?

 

Abbott and Costello

Romeo and Juliet

Batman and Robin

Tom  and Jerri

Peanut butter and Jelly

Laverne and Shirley

Thelma and Louise

Shaggy and Scooby

Ketchup and mustard

Adam and Eve

Sponge bob and Patrick

Barbie and Ken

Bread and butter

Click and Clack

Divide and conquer

Jekyll and Hyde

Bonnie and Clyde

Bacon and eggs, well for some bacon and just about anything.

Some things just go better together.

There are so many famous pairs.  And, as you might have heard in that list, infamous as well.  This morning we read about a particular pairing.  A pairing of two cities.   Sodom and Gomorrah.  Even if you haven’t read the story from the 18th chapter of Genesis, you may be familiar with these two names as they are infamous for being examples of God’s wrath.  We are told already in chapter 13 that the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.

 

So eventually the outcry, the sin of those two cities becomes so bad that in chapter 18 God sends two of his messengers to check it out.  Upon entering the walls of the town they are greeted by a man named Lot, who begs them to come and stay with him at his house.  Soon word has spread that there are two strangers in town, and a crowd of the men start to attack.  And this is unfortunately where the link between Sodom and homosexuality comes in.

 

However, that’s not as simple as some would like it to sound.  A careful reading of the passage makes it clear that the crowd is out to beat, abuse, even rape and eventually murder the strangers.  Needless to say, that is not the same thing as being gay or lesbian.  What is happening at Sodom and Gomorrah just a sexual sin.  It is most importantly a sin against God’s command to show hospitality and welcome.  Remember this is the world before a McDonalds on every other corner, before there are motels and hotels.  Travelers are literally at the mercy of those they meet.  The proper response is to open your door, feed the stranger, give them your bed to sleep in.  But this takes a generous spirit that was shared by the people of Sodom and Gonorrah.  As the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 16 tells us: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.” 

 

Unlike a sin just a crowd of men could commit, this violent greed is something the whole community could be guilty of, so that there wouldn’t be even 10 righteous in the bunch. So that in passage after passage, and there are about 45 passages in the Bible where  Sodom and Gomorrha is paired with God’s judgement and destruction-an example of utter desolation.

 

Which brings us to our first reading for today from the prophet Isaiah, which if you were paying attention may seem to be a strange choice for us to read together on a Sunday morning.  After all, aren’t we here with offerings, with prayers. And while ‘re not sacrificing rams, bulls, goats, we do sacrifice our time and the many other things we could be doing on a Sunday morning you know like-soccer, shopping, coffee and the paper, laundry, running, ok– sleeping in.

 

But we a here, and shouldn’t it count for something?  Well according to the word of The Lord we heard from Isaiah, it does.  It counts against.  It counts against if worship isn’t paired with a changed life.  Just as important as what we do here for an hour is what we do every other hour.  The prophet Isaiah and prophet after prophet, up to and including The Lord Jesus is asking us, “How does what we do and say here week after week change what we do day after day?”  How are we working to make sure our city isn’t one of violence, but is of peace?  How are we doing our part to make sure that our country isn’t one of weapons and walls, but of welcome.  Because if it isn’t we’re wasting our breath, wasting our time, and worse wasting God’s.

 

Because some things just go better together, and that’s not just some catch phrase, it is the gospel truth.  For at the heart of the gospel of Jesus is the bringing together–the bringing together of the rich and poor, the outcast and the powerful, the hungry and those filled with good things, and ultimately the sinner with God’s love and forgiveness.  That is why our worship is not meaningless, because we believe that it’s not just tradition, not just convenience, not just habit that bring us together.  It isn’t because we have a sign on a wall somewhere that says that we are reconciling in Christ, but because God wants us gay and straight, rich and poor, black, white, asian, and everything else under the sun, immigrant, documented, and undocumented, young and old, victim and offender, all of us are welcome not just to sit in the sanctuary but to struggle together to change one another.  It is in this togetherness that we become more than stereotypes–the rich are not all out to get the poor, the poor are not all lazy.  The stranger moves from guest, to friend, to brother or sister in Christ.  When this happens worship is not offensive to God but is genuine. It is a pure expression of love for God, for the God of us all.  Worship that praises God’s giving,saving, proclaiming, sharing, God’s love lived really, lived fully, lived radically because in Christ, we people are better together.  Amen.

Sermon for Easter 5

 

You are what you eat. Well, this was probably more true to the people of Peter and Paul’s day than it is for us. I don’t know about you, but when I read about a sheet full of food animals floating down from heaven, I’m thanking God for delivery.

That wasn’t the case for the first followers of Jesus. You see they were Jewish, Jesus was a Jew, Peter was a Jew, Paul was a Jew. And one of the things about Jews is that they didn’t eat certain things. Now it wasn’t just a custom, like most of us tend not eat horse in this country. No, what Jews did and didn’t eat was decided by God. It ‘s part of the commandments, the laws of their faith, that Jews do not eat anything from pigs, no pork and no bacon. And that’s just one of a great very many animals that the people of God we forbidden by God to eat.

But it’s more than just a restricted diet. It defined who they were, with whom they ate, and with whom they didn’t. So, it wasn’t like they just skipped that particular part of the first century Middle East buffet table. The point was to actually make the Jewish people, God’s chosen people different, the laws were meant to make them distinct and stick out from their neighbors. They were to be ritually, clean, holy. While everybody else wasn’t. This was God’s commands. What they ate and what they didn’t defined their faith, defined who they were, kept them, the chosen people of God, separate and holy. So you were holy or not depending on how you followed God’s laws, and a big part of that was what you didn’t eat.You literally were what you ate.

And the Jews were not be like everyone else. Everyone else was doing it, was not a value, carried no importance for God’s Chosen People.

Everybody’s doing it, didn’t work with my parents either. But we tried it. When we wanted to do something, like were blue jeans to school or go to the dance on Friday night, we’d remind our parents that well, “everybody else is doing it”. My parents had their own phrase, they had their own comeback, do you know what it is? “We’ll, we’re not like everyone else”.

As I was growing up, that message was crystal clear. It was shared with us in the Winzer household in so many different ways, even if my parents didn’t use those exact words. The message was clear: we’re German, we’re bette than that, we’re better than them, Germans are superior. Driving into the cities of Allentown or Philadelphia, going through the neighborhoods, my parents didn’t keep their judgmental, prejudiced, and bigoted comments to themselves. They freely degraded the African Americans and the Latino family’s we saw. Of course, my parents didn’t actually call them African Americans, Latino’s or even Puerto Rican’s. It wasn’t till I went to college that I learned that Puerto Rico is not a foreign country, but a territory of the United States.

In so many ways, big and little, conscious and unconscious, I was told that I and my family, that people like me were better, we’re superior, more intelligent and that meant there was something wrong with people who were poor, or who looked different, who spoke differently, ate differently than me.

One day, years later when my parents were visiting my husband Brad and I early in our marriage living in Chicago we went shopping at a local grocery. This was something we did with a bit of fear and trembling because my father in particular didn’t keep his thoughts to himself but spoke his mind out loud. So we’re walking down the aisles, and he’s making comments about all the “ethnic” food until he sees his favorites, tripe, souce , head cheese, whatever right there next to the pigs feet and the chitlins. It was as if a sheet from heaven came down, and on it were not just these foreign things but his favorites as well. Here he was and he was as ethnic as those of whom he was just laughing at. He wasn’t the norm, he wasn’t special. He was the same as everybody else.

When it comes down to it, that’s one if the things we read in these verses. God wants all God’s children at the heavenly picnic blanket, around the table. The Holy Spirit was going even out to the Gentiles, among the unclean. And what’s really radical is that all these other people didn’t need to change, didn’t need to become like the Jewish Christians, didn’t need to eat, didn’t need to change who they were, they didn’t need to hinder the Spirit.

We too can ask ourselves as individuals as a church, who are we to hinder God’s Holy Spirit. Because God’s Holy Spirit is moving, in this place, and among us, God is calling for us all to make room around all our tables, whether it’s at this table of Holy Communion (our worship table), whether it’s downstairs at the Lao New Year Party, our fellowship tables, around our bible study, our council, and committee tables we are to be asking, checking ourselves, are we hindering God? Because this church isn’t here because of you, it isn’t here because of me or some church program. The Holy Spirit is here. The Holy Spirit is in our neighborhood, in our lives. The Holy Spirit is calling us to be the church right here. So, if as a church we ask only one question,it needs to be, who are we to be hindering God?

Now, I’d like to be able to tell you that my dad’s heart softened, that his eyes were opened. But in this life, I didn’t see that. However our faith tells us, and I believe that God can do great things. I believe that even my father’s prejudice and bigotry could not ultimately hinder the Holy Spirit. My belief, my hope is that in the new life pictured for us by John, from the reading from the book of Revelation that my father is gathered together and is standing before the throne of God, around the table of the feast of the Lamb that has no end, and he is rejoicing that next to him are all God’s children. That my father Donald Paul is with those he loved well, in this life, and most I importantly with those he did not, all joined together in the forgiveness, the love, the grace of God in Christ. Amen.

From those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away

I’ve always had troubles with these words from the Gospel of Mark 4. 25, “For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”  I know I am probably misinterpreting them. After last night, they are rattling around in my mind. I serve an urban congregation. We have a small youth group. This Spring they spent many hours reclaiming an old youth room in our building, cleaning it out and painting it. Through grant money we purchased an XBox Kinect. It was intended to enable them to play and be active. We put it all together, and the youth were able to use it at most three times. Last night, we discovered that it is missing–most likely stolen. We don’t know who did it.
Truthfully, I am angry. These kids really have so many limitations in their lives. In some of their neighborhoods, it is not safe for them to just go out and play. They can’t just go for a run or exercise.  They aren’t part of sports teams and leagues. Some haven’t even had gym class. They don’t have multiple electronics and nice computers. And when they do get something, look what happens.  It gets stolen

From those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

Our challenge, among so many others, then is to work to make the first part of that verse just as real, “For to those who have, more will be given”. Of course I’m not talking about game systems and stuff. I am talking about faith, perseverance, and even forgiveness.

Because of what happened, last night we talked about how desperate and sad it is to steal from kids, from a church youth group, and we prayed for whoever hurt us. Now, I’m not saying our anger magically disappeared. No, this is a process and a journey, and that’s why we are together. It’s more than a LifeSkill (the name of our summer youth activities); it’s a GodSkill.  I ask you to join us in our struggles, in our joys, and in our prayers.

Crazy

This is basically what was preached this past Sunday, June 10th

People were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” That’s what we heard, what I read just a moment ago.  This is pretty early in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has  been making a splash of teaching and healing; he’s even just called a set of disciples—students to follow him around.  He’s getting so popular he cannot even get a chance to rest.  He’s getting so popular people are getting worried.  Well in this instance it happens to be his family.  Others will get worried pretty soon, and it won’t be those who love him; it will be those who don’t.  So, the New Revised Standard Version tells us he’s gone out of his mind.

Now as I work on these scriptures in preparing for worship, for preaching often I take a gander at how others put things.  How they say it.  One of my favorites is Eugene Peterson’s the Message – usually does a pretty good job at translating and really making it connect.  Well this isn’t one of those times.  His translation reads, “They suspected he was getting carried away with himself.” That’s kind of like the cleaned up version from the King James , “he was beside himself”.  That’s like that good ol label polite folks used, you know “eccentric”.

Jesus isn’t just a bit bothered.  The folks around him; his closest family—his mother and brothers as it says in the Contemporary English Version, “They thought he was crazy”.  Cuckoo, wild, out-of-control, looney.

And if some alien studying the human race, studying American culture would happen to land in our good ol’ sanctuary.  I would hope he/she/it would think the same thing about us.  Well that we’re as they say,  “a bit touched”.

You see, worship doesn’t fit with what the world around us is all about.  I am not just  referring to lighting candles on a hot day in a room with plenty of electric lights.  And then on top of it having the leader put on a layer of a not-quite-high fashion robe—robes that the church adopted the ancient Romans.    There are the peculiarities of the what’s we do.  But these things are really as Luther called them “adiaphora” meaning the unimportant things – robes, candles, processions, all that is the frosting on the well put to frankly the cuckoo cake—the weird reality we call worship.

Preacher and author Barbara Brown Taylor has said  about worship: “It is one of the most peculiar things twentieth-century human beings can do, to come together week after week with no intention of being useful or productive, but only of facing an ornate wall to declare things they cannot prove about a God they cannot see.”

Worshipping the God of Jesus isn’t really normal according to our world’s standards.  Normal ison getting ahead,  begetting,  getting even, getting, and more getting.  But we step out of that world week after work to speak, to sing, to listen, to act into a new reality.

In our Gospel for this morning—Jesus calls us a new family.  Not based on blood and genetics, not based upon similarities, commonalities, share likes and dislikes, not shared demographics, color or cash, not even based upon all agreeing with one political party or another.  This new family reality that is gathered here today is based as Jesus says on those who do the will of God.

Doing the will of God, that is what makes us part of God’s alternative way—God’s kingdom.  Doing the will of God, lot’s of folks may have ideas on what that looks like, but we come here together so we can meet Jesus.  What Jesus does is what we do—we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, welcome the outcast (the weird), and we do the business of forgiveness.

If anything is more counter-cultural than forgiveness, I haven’t found it yet.  We live in a culture that if not glorifying  violence, considers it acceptable.  We live in a culture that survives by passing the blame, not taking responsibility and acting as if we are simply a bunch of individuals not impacted, shaped, and even controlled by the demonic forces around us.

Doing the will of God is freeing ourselves, freeing others from those forces.  So we step out and away, but not to hide, but to gather as a group and say, out-loud, not just with the glare of tv lights and camera crews but as a family—to proclaim something is wrong – not just to point fingers, but to admit our sin, our brokenness, our part in allowing racism, violence, poverty, to tear our families apart, and to tear the life out of our community, and the life out of children like Darius Simmons, whose funeral was held at All People’s Lutheran church yesterday.  Some of you may know that he had been part of St. Paul’s.  He had come to Community Night.  But even if he hadn’t,  he is our brother. 

We the people who worship the God of justice and mercy admit that the man who shot that 13rd old  is in need of healing and forgiveness.  Now if that doesn’t sit well with you.  You are not alone.  These are not easy words for me to say. 

And in a moment when we continue our worship, our turning to this God we can not see, we will be turning to ask,  I will be begging for forgiveness for my anger, my despair, forgiveness for my  feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.   Today you are welcomed to come to this altar rail, to use it to kneel in repentance, to kneel not just in sorrow, but to receive the gift and power of forgiveness.  That is what enables us to turn around, to turn our lives inside out and around, and to work against the forces and powers of evil in our lives and in this world. The world, Satan, all the powers of evil do not want  us to admit this pain; do not want us to own it, but what they really don’t want us to feel is God’s forgiveness flow—through us.  Satan, evil, demons of violence and despair just want us to think that’s all there is; there is no other way—that any other way is simply crazy. 

Well, if Jesus’ love, if Jesus power to heal, if Jesus’ power to save, if Jesus power of forgiveness  is crazy.  Call me crazy.  Amen.