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Redeeming the Stones (May 14, 2017)

Acts 7:55-60

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand Image result for beautiful stonesof God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

My Uncle Tom Melville, who was very dear to me, died two weeks ago. He had quite an influence on me as Iwas growing up. He was a missionary priest in Guatemala. He would come to visit us occasionally, and told exotic stories of his adventures in the jungles of Guatemala that kept all of us riveted. Stories of good people who suffered in poverty, their struggle with an oppressive government and powerful landowners, and his efforts to bring fairness and justice into their lives. Things that make the very best stories.

When I was about ten years old, I remember my Uncle Tom no longer being in Guatemala. He and his new wife, my Aunt Marge, had been forced out of Guatemala for opposing the government’s policies that kept the poor in poverty. They were also released from their vows as a priest and a nun.

They had gone from Guatemala to Washington, D.C. In protest of the Vietnam War and the U.S. support of a corrupt government in Guatemala, they, along with seven other people, broke into the selective service office in Catonsville, MD, removed almost 400 military draft records there, took them out into the parking lot, and burned them. All of the “Catonsville Nine,” as they came to be called, then stood in a circle praying and waiting for the police to come and arrest them.

Tom and Marge both served some time in federal prison for that. What I took away from that was that when you act with compassion for others who are powerless to act for themselves, there may be consequences. Rather than back away from acts of compassion for the sake of justice, you act anyway and take the consequences.

So when I read this story in the book of Acts about Stephen, it elicits a similar reaction from me.

Stephen was one of the seven people who were chosen by this fledgling Jesus movement to serve tables and do other tasks. The apostles, then, would be freed up to teach and share what this Jesus movement was all about.

Stephen, however, was pretty good at preaching himself. Some who were in power were upset, accused him of blasphemy, and incited a crowd. He stood up for Christ’s gospel of peace and compassion, and was killed by those who couldn’t see God’s vision in that.

Sometimes, when you act with compassion for others who are powerless to act for themselves, there may be consequences. Rather than back away from acts of compassion for the sake of justice, you act anyway and take the consequences.

All my life I’ve marveled at Stephen, whose convictions were so strong that he was willing to face death rather than back away. I still do, but as I grieve the death of my uncle, something else occurs to me. When you don’t see God’s vision of peace, justice for the least, and compassion, you can easily justify throwing rocks at those who do.

Like Stephen, my uncle faced significant consequences because those in power couldn’t see God’s work of compassion and justice being done by him. We could argue about whether or not his methods produced the best results—the same with Stephen, actually. Still, because they couldn’t/ wouldn’t recognize God, those in power could justify throwing stones.

Think about this: throwing stones is actually anything we say and do that doesn’t support the gospel of peace and compassion. We all throw rocks. We all oppose God’s vision in some ways. And we all justify doing it.

The stoning of Stephen is a big example, but there are all kinds of small ones too. Stones that we constantly tossing at other people or things so we don’t have to see the hard part of God’s vision of justice and love.

Any time I try to gain something for myself at the expense of someone else, I’m throwing a stone at them.

Any time I turn aside when someone else is hungry or hurting or in need, I’m throwing a stone at them.

Any time I’m not hearing the pain or sadness that someone else is speaking, I’m throwing stones at them.

Any time I throw blame, exclude someone who’s different, talk about someone instead of talking to them, put my own comfort and preferences ahead of someone else’s, I’m throwing stones. I’m acting in opposition to the gospel of peace and compassion.

Stones themselves aren’t bad, but we can use stones badly. We have a God who is forgiving and gracious, whose very nature is compassion and redemption. Today, God can redeem our stones of opposition, and allow us to use them instead for God’s vision of peace.

The very stones that were used to kill Stephen could have been used in good and helpful ways. Homes could have been built from those stones. Beautiful sculptures and artwork could have come from those stones. Roads could have been built. Even jewelry could have been made from those stones. They could have been used for beautiful, peaceful, compassionate purposes. They didn’t have to be used to oppose Christ’s gospel of peace with such violence.

We have a pile of stones in the back of the church. When you leave today, take one with you. Consider the many ways it could be used. And in the same way, consider how many different ways our words can be used. How many different actions we can take, how many different behaviors we can exhibit. How many uses there are for our money and resources. All of these can be used to oppose Christ’s gospel, or to reveal it. We have been given a new chance today for the stones of our lives to be part of God’s justice and compassion in the world.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2017 in Sermon

 

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You are Welcomed, Valued, and Respected in the Kingdom of God (though your politics may not be)–Nov. 20, 2016

Luke 23:33-43

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

When we think of a king, it’s usually about power. Which is a little different perspective than what we’re talking about on Christ the King Sunday.

Christ the King has Power, that power is used to help those who have no power: those on the edges, the homeless, those on the fringes of society.

Christ the King has might, that might is used in showing mercy to the least: those who live in the shadows, in fear, believe government is not for them.

Christ the King has Strength, that strength is used to love those who are different or who disagree with him.

Christ the King—who, while being mocked, ridiculed, scoffed at, yet revealed the reign of God in the forgiveness of those who crucified him. Who, while sarcastically being made fun of as one who cannot even save himself, was in actuality saving the world. Who, when asked merely to be remembered by a criminal, gave him paradise instead.

This is how Christ is King.

This is the kingdom he has brought to this world. A kingdom of love.

This is the way he rules over us. Ruling in acceptance and mercy.

This is the kingdom he calls us to reveal in the world. A kingdom where those who live in fear are recognized and held.

You may have noticed, but we are a divided country. We have known it for a long time but haven’t done much about it. We’ve seen it happening, but have ignored it or gone along with it or even pretended it wasn’t as bad as we thought. But it is. We’ve lived it among ourselves in various ways too—drawing lines that divide us into us-and-them groups. Though we’ve been divided for our entire history, reported incidents revealing that division have increased drastically in the past year.

As a congregation we embrace Christ as King. We make it a priority to proclaim and be part of this reign in the world. Which means a few things for us in this time of escalated division.

First—all are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place. One of this congregation’s values. Period. End of discussion.

All means all. No matter how you voted, or if you didn’t vote at all, this will be a safe place for you. Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Green, Socialist, non-political, you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place.

All means all. Which means that married, partnered, single, divorced, widowed, Lutheran, other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Mormon, agnostic, atheist, non-religious, you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place.

All means all. Which means that gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, unsure, you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place.All means all. That means whatever language you speak, whatever country you or your ancestors came from, whatever documentation you may or may not have, you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place.

All means all. Because Christ is King and we reveal his kingdom in this world, you are welcomed here, valued here, respected here.

But Christ as our King means something else too. Seeking to proclaim and make real his kingdom in the world also means that although all people are valued here, not all things are held with equal value here. In the kingdom of God hatred is not valued. Exclusion is not valued. Lying, sexism, homophobia, persecution of any religious group, sexual assault, inciting violence, judging those who hold different opinions are not valued in any place where Christ is proclaimed as King.

This isn’t about politics. It’s not sour-grapes about winners and losers in an election. It’s not red vs. blue, not electoral college vs. popular vote. It’s not about patriotism or protests. Nothing that temporary or trivial.

No, this is much more significant than that. This is about who we are as baptized children of God, called by God to be a light in the world.

Christ the King has Power, that power is used to help those who have no power: those on the edges, the homeless, those on the fringes of society.

Christ the King has might, that might is used in showing mercy to the least: those who live in the shadows, in fear, believe government is not for them.

Christ the King has Strength, that strength is used to love those who are different or who disagree with him.

Christ the King—who, while being mocked, ridiculed, scoffed at, yet revealed the reign of God in the forgiveness of those who crucified him. Who, while sarcastically being made fun of as one who cannot even save himself, was in actuality saving the world. Who, when asked merely to be remembered by a criminal, gave him paradise instead.

This is how Christ is King.

This is the kingdom he has brought to this world. A kingdom of love.

This is the way he rules over us. Ruling in acceptance and mercy.

This is the kingdom he calls us to reveal in the world. A kingdom where those who live in fear are recognized and held.

Know that you are welcomed, valued, and respected in this place. But some of the things our country revealed and supported in this election are not.

Check your politics at the door. Because in this place, among us, Christ is the King. And his kingdom of forgiveness and love will be proclaimed among us and by us. His kingdom of compassion and mercy will be revealed through us in this divided country.

Christ is the king. And thanks be to God for that.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2016 in Sermon

 

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Can One Have Faith without Justice? (October 16, 2016)

justiceLuke 18:1-8

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

I was talking to a teacher at an elementary school in Jeffco School District last week. She told me that the air conditioning and the heat don’t work in her classroom. The room got up to about 90 degrees early in the school year, and although the temperature in the room is OK right now, soon the children in her room will be freezing. Some have no coats.

She has spoken to the school administrators, who have been in contact with the Jeffco School Board, but as of now there is no money to have the heating system fixed.

At the same time, she told me about another elementary school in the district whose A/C went out earlier in the year. That administration also called the School Board and by the end of the day it was fixed.

One school’s student population is brown, speaks a lot of Spanish, and comes from poor families. The other school’s population is mostly white and comes from upper middle class families. Guess which is which?

This is an example of injustice in our culture, which includes our schools, businesses, government, and more. Injustice is when those who have more power use it to their advantage even as it harms those with less power.

And injustice is one of those things that the Bible speaks out against. A lot. Injustice is something that those who’ve been followers of God have always stood in opposition to. Always. Injustice is one of the things Jesus gets most angry about. Continually. Injustice is one aspect of this world that the followers of Jesus have consistently recognized as evil. Consistently.

And that’s what this parable is about.

A widow seeks justice in the courts of her day. Widows were those who were lowest on the social ladder. They had no power, no voice, no resources, and if they had no other family, no support. She has been wronged somehow and goes to a judge in order to attain justice. Her judge, however, is a man who readily admits he has no respect for God or other people. Yet this woman continues to seek justice from him.

Eventually, even this corrupt judge in a corrupt system grants her justice. If he does this just to keep a persistent woman from bothering him, imagine, Jesus says, how willing God is to grant justice to those who persistently seek it.

We are in a long line of God-people who have been called to stand up in the face of injustice. It is at the very heart of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It’s the DNA of our baptism. We stand with the victims of injustice and use whatever voice, power, resources, support we have to bring justice. The people who seek God always end up dealing with injustice because it is so opposite of God, God’s will, and God’s kingdom.

And sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it is frightening. Sometimes it really makes us uncomfortable. We stand in a long line of people who were frightened and uncomfortable when called upon to stand with those who are victims of injustice.

That’s why we are listening to those who are part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. And that’s why we need this partnership with Zion Baptist Church. They are the voices of our Black sisters and brothers who are victims of injustice. We need to listen. We need to understand. We need to persistently seek justice with them.

That’s why we are listening to the LGBT community. And why we will soon be considering how we can have a congregational conversation about becoming a “Reconciling in Christ” congregation—one that openly welcomes and supports our sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. We need to listen. We need to understand. We need to persistently seek justice with them.

That’s why our council is proposing we use some of our resources in 2017 to find more effective ways to stand with our children and grow them as disciples of Jesus. Not only do our children need us as advocates now, but the world needs them as fellow followers of Jesus who will also stand against injustice into the future. We need to show them. We need to be an example for them. We need to persistently seek justice on their behalf.

That’s why we give away 11% of our congregational income, most of which goes to the work of our own Rocky Mountain Synod. When all 163 congregations of this synod pool our resources, we are much louder in our voice for justice. We are much stronger advocates for those who are victims of injustice. We need to persistently seek justice together on their behalf.

“And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”

Then comes the question we answer with a resounding “YES!” When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

YES! Lord! YES. We stand in this time and in this place as part of the great cloud of witnesses who persist in seeking justice to your people. Forgive us where we are complicit in injustice. Encourage us where we seek justice. Empower us where we stand for justice. Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2016 in Sermon

 

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