Draw Near to Justice

Image Credit: Daily Theology dailytheology.org

December 16, 2018 Advent 3

Luke 3:7-18

This is the time of year that many people live for. The festivities and parties. The lights and the pageantry. The giving and the receiving.  While we may be in the season of Advent in the church, many others are in the season of indulgence. Spending beyond their means so that they can attempt to bring joy to a friend or family member.

It is in light of this that we continue to wait in Advent. We wait to rejoice in the birth of a baby that is going to change the world. We wait for the light that is to be born into the world that calls out the darkness. We wait with bated breath for the hope promised to us by our ancestors.

With this,we find ourselves in the third week of Advent. How wonderful it is to be greeted by the insults of John the Baptist, “You brood of vipers!” Wow, he know show to wake us up from our complacency. He continues to call us out of our comfort zone and into the reality of this world. He attempts to pull our attention away from the office Christmas parties and the twinkling lights. Through John the Baptist we are called to live alongside our neighbors and draw near to the justice found in Jesus.

John the Baptist was the voice crying out in the wilderness. He causes us to sit up straight and pay attention because the message he must share is so much different then others we have been hearing. He speaks with a voice of resistance. A voice that is not afraid to proclaim the message he has been given to share. This resistance will eventually get him killed.

While John resists those in authority, our society tends to resist the gospel message in parts.I will be bold to say that many live lives of apathy. It is much easier to just sit back and worry about yourself then it is to step outside of your comfort zone and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or welcome the stranger. We may know we need to repent of this apathy, yet it is so much easier to sit down and relax.

The people that are listening to John are thirsty for instruction. They want to know what they should do. This has not changed much over time. The early Israelites were also asking for a king and someone to guide them and tell them what to do. It continues in the Israel of John’s time as they want to know what they should do when he calls them out of their complacency and desire to stay where they are at.

It is easy to look in the past and think that it was better then and want the same thing today. However, as John cries out in the wilderness, it is a reminder for us that we too are called out of our complacency and our drawn near to the incarnate God. The Son of God was born human so that we could connect in relationship and get a glimpse of the great mystery.

John’s message comes as a sign of grace for us in a world that is broken and needs the love God has promised to all of creation. A love that John points to in his proclamation.A love that is born into the world so that all will come to know God and be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Bearing good fruit is part of the message that John shares. We all want to bear good fruit. When those that chose to follow John the Baptist ask, “What then should we do?” he pulls his answer from the law that came before him. You must share a coat if you have two! You must not over-tax people and only take what has been prescribed!You must not extort through threats or false accusations! We too, should be following these instructions of John the Baptist.

However, our redemption does not hinge on these actions. The promise of Jesus following John the Baptist to baptize in the Holy Spirit connects us with something much greater. It is here that we encounter the grace of God that washes over us regardless of our actions. God’s love for us was made clear in the death of Jesus and we are given hope through the resurrection.

We are drawn near to justice this advent season because of Jesus. Through the grace that we receive in baptism and being fed at the table, we should desire to bear good fruit, not because we have to, but because we want to. Because we desire to encounter God in our neighbors and the stranger. The awesome thing is that Trinity does a fantastic job of this through our various ministries, including MCREST and the bags we recently filled for the Detroit Rescue Mission. By doing so, we speak boldly to the voices of injustice and proclaim more boldly with love. May you continue to be bold in your proclamation of love this holiday season.

Let us pray. God of justice, you raise up the sinner and fulfill the promise of resurrection. May we continue to be embraced in your love this season and respond in acting in justice for all of creation. Amen.

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Where Do Your Feet Take You?

barefeetwalking

August 13, 2017

Romans 10:5-15

The selection from Paul’s letter to the Romans opens the possibility for us to discuss a dirty little word that scares us in the Lutheran church. It is a word that makes people cringe whenever they hear it. At times, it can make people uncomfortable and anxious. Well, maybe not all people, but the majority would agree.

So, are you ready for it?

Are you sure?

The word is EVANGELISM!!!

Believe it or not, even though the word is part of our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, it still scares us. Are we really expected to talk to people about our faith? Do we really have to share about Jesus? Perhaps we think we are just comfortable sitting right here. If people want to come to our church, they know how to find it.

I will admit, I may be exaggerating just a little. However, most of the mainline denominations take the same approach to evangelism. Perhaps it is the word that scares us. When we hear evangelism, we are reminded of those in the greater church that have co-opted the word and call themselves Evangelicals. Our Lutheran theology is often very different and is focused on grace instead of hell and damnation.

To evangelize, means that we are going to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Within it, you can find the word angel. An angel is a bearer of good news to those in our bible stories. Who wouldn’t want to share good news?

That good news is present with us all the time. In Jesus Christ. I like the Message’s translation of Romans 10:8,

The word that saves is right here,

as near as the tongue in your mouth,

as close as the heart in your chest.

 It is this good news that we are called to share with all those we encounter. Paul is learning this as he continues his ministry and wonders what will happen with his Jewish brothers and sisters. Evangelism is not about conversion. As much as we think we can make people follow Christ, that is impossible. Evangelism is about sharing the good news of Christ. It is about introducing people to the hope and wonder that is found in the bible. It is about living into the mystery that guides our lives daily. Evangelism can look like inviting people to church. To come experience the word alive and well in this place. Evangelism can look like inviting a friend to help you go serve food to the homeless. Evangelism can take on the image of those protesting in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend. Ensuring that the love of Christ is for all, and making sure that those voicing hatred are not the only people being heard. Evangelism is about sharing our belief in the way that we know best.

Once we have that word of Christ on our lips and in our hearts, we can go out and share it.  It is a beautiful thing. As Paul concludes our passage, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.”

Those feet have a lot of miles on them. The feet of God brought the good news to Elijah in the silence, and in turn Elijah spread that good news to the people of Israel. Jesus’ feet brought good news to the disciples as they were anxious in the storm. They in turn journey forth to bring good news to others. Paul’s feet brought him to the many churches that were beyond the Jewish territory and people were encouraged to continue to spread the good news forward.

Where do your feet take you? Perhaps it is to speak up for the injustices in the world. To stand beside those in protest to hatred and racism in Charlottesville. It may be to spread love to those in your neighborhood. Your feet may even take you to social media to reach out to friends and family.

Are we expected to be perfect? Of course not. We are going to stumble while on our feet. Look at Peter, he fell face first into the water. Jesus was there for him when he cried out. Jesus is present for us when we cry out.

 

 

It isn’t Easy to Follow Jesus

teachings-of-jesus-christ

January 29, 2017

Matthew 5:1-12

I don’t know about you, but I have always been a little anxious when starting something new. Whether it be a new school year with new teachers, or a new job with several new people to meet. Perhaps, I may have even been a little anxious when receiving a call to Trinity. There is an anticipation of the things to come and a wonder to how everything is going to work out.

I have to imagine that is the feeling that the disciples were having when they followed Jesus up the mountain. They knew there was something different about him, and they were anxious to find out more. I’m sure they had butterflies in their stomachs as they waited for what was going to happen next. As Jesus goes to sit down, the disciples would have known that he was about to teach, as this was the common practice at the time of rabbis and other teachers.

This teaching will continue for the next three chapters of Matthew, although, we will only get through chapter 5 in four weeks. Imagine being able to sit down and take in everything that Jesus has to say.

And so, it begins. Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount, not with a quaint little story, but getting right into the essence of what it means for them to be a disciple. Being a follower of Jesus is not easy.

This lesson on the beatitudes is part of scripture that many of you are probably familiar with. You have probably heard the beatitudes several times and possibly in different variations.  The teaching begins in a way that the disciples were probably not quite expecting. They have not known Jesus very long, and now he sounds kind of like a revolutionary. In all reality, they are living in land occupied by the Roman Empire. The culture in the first century celebrated wealth and military might. Jesus, on the other hand, lifts up those on the other end of the spectrum as blessed.

Have we as a society changed much in the 2000 years since Jesus? The characteristics that Jesus names as blessed are those things that we quite often do not want anything to do with. We steer clear to avoid them in all manners of ways. To be broken or poor in spirit, I don’t think so. We fear those things that bring us to mourn. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is an awful lot of work, can’t you just tell me what to do or think. To be pure in heart is easier said than done, plus doesn’t it take the fun out of things. And, who wants to get in the middle of a conflict and try to keep the peace. If we get this far, you’re telling me that I could get persecuted, reviled, and scorned. Isn’t there an easier way?

There are times throughout history where there is a need for revolutionary people to step up and lead. Jesus was the ultimate revolutionary 2000 years ago, as he brought hope and compassion to his followers and ultimately an unbreaking love that sent him to the cross. Martin Luther was a revolutionary as he started the reformation 500 years ago, steering people back to the grace of God.

Martin Luther King Jr. is a person that we can feel closer to as far as time in our own country. He was seen as revolutionary to some and sought equality for all and knew what the church was called to. He writes in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” “There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society… If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning…”

His words may seem harsh to some, but in all honesty, they are not much different than the counter-cultural message that Jesus brought to his disciples and ultimately the world. Karoline Lewis says, “In the Beatitudes, we hear a call to action to be church, a call to action to make Jesus present and visible and manifest when the world tries desperately to silence those who speak the truth.”

So, where are we to go from here? Jesus has shaken our foundation and everything that we have tried to avoid is now what Jesus deems blessed.

We are called to follow him. Follow him up the mountain and sit down and listen to his teaching. For in the learning is our first act of discipleship. We too are blessed when we follow Jesus and proclaim the Good News throughout our community in our words and actions. The Message translation may give us another take on the beatitudes:

 3“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘careful,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11 “Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.

12 You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

 

It is in the beatitudes that Jesus teaches us that being more is greater than having more. May you learn how to be with Jesus. May he guide you in your prayers and meditations. May he bless you as you do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

Jesus is for Everyone?

homeless_feet

Luke 4:21-30

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tony Campolo, a well known sociologist and pastor, tells a story of a time that he was in Hawaii and could not sleep at night/early morning due to internal clock being use to another time zone. He gets up and is feeling a little hungry, so he decides to see what he can find to eat in the very early morning in Honolulu. Being a busy city and everything you would think he could just walk out of the hotel and find someplace open. That was not the case, however, and it takes him a while until he comes along this little side street and finds this local greasy spoon open.

The gruff owner greets him as he walks into the diner that has no booths and just a long counter with stools. After seeing the gentleman at the counter in his greasy shirt and apron, he is not quite so sure if he is hungry anymore. He sees some donuts at the far end of the counter though and says he will have a donut and coffee.

While he is sitting there eating his dirty donut and drinking his coffee in walks a loud group of eight or nine provocative, loud prostitutes. As he is sitting at the center of the counter, they sit to both sides of him and he is all of a sudden feeling uncomfortable. As the conversation continues amongst them one of the women says that tomorrow is going to be her birthday. After getting some razzing from the group, she says she does not expect anything, she has never had a party for her birthday before, why should she now.

Tony stays until the group leaves and finds out the name of the diner owner is Harry. He suggests to Harry that they should throw a party for Agnes, the prostitute that professed it was her birthday. Harry thought that was a great idea and insisted on making a birthday cake and Tony would get decorations so that they could decorate the diner the following morning before the group came in again. Harry’s wife got the word out to everyone that knew Agnes so that when Tony returned the following morning the place was bursting to the seems with prostitutes. They waited for Agnes to come in with her and friends, and when she did, she could barely stand up that she was so shocked and in awe.

Harry presented her with a cake as she was in tears. It was so beautiful that she did not want to cut but wanted to take it home to show her mother, but promised that she would be right back since she just lived a few doors down. As she left Tony was left standing there in a room full of prostitutes not knowing what to do, until he asked the group to pray. They prayed for Agnes, for her health, for her life, and for her salvation. He prayed that her life would be changed. After he finishes, Harry looks over to him and tells him that he didn’t tell him he was a preacher. Harry asks, “What kind of church to you belong to anyways?”

Tony responds, after thinking about it for a moment, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.” Harry mocking says, “No you don’t. There is no church like that. If there was, I would join it.”

If this message was carried to the people during Jesus’ time it would have most likely incited a riot. After last weeks gospel lesson when Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth to preach we were left hanging to hear the response from the people. At first they are amazed and spoke well of him. Then he speaks again sharing stories from the Hebrew Bible where God was present with Gentiles in the midst of the struggles of the Israelites.

These are not stories that the Israelites want to be reminded of. These are not the stories that build up a nation. This is not the hope and promise that they were expecting when Jesus comes to preach and be with them. This was not a sermon that they were expecting, nor wanting. They were in fact so angered that they nearly drove Jesus off a cliff and yet he managed to get away.

So, what is it that they were looking for? They were expecting a Messiah to come and make everything right. In that moment right there. They wanted people to pay for the wrongs that they had done and for a Messiah to bring them salvation. They sought justice. Perhaps not the justice that is present in Jesus.

Richard Rohr this past week has been discussing justice in our world and where God is within it:

Poor theology has led most people to view God as a sometimes benevolent Santa Claus or as an unforgiving tyrant who is going to burn us in hell for all eternity if we don’t love him. (Who would love, or even trust, a god like that?) Psychologically, humans tend to operate out of a worldview of fear and scarcity rather than trust and abundance. This stingy, calculating worldview makes both grace and mercy unimaginable and difficult to experience. (1)

Many of the people then, and even so today, hope that Jesus comes bearing justice that looks retributive. This justice comes to us with the understanding that if you do this, you will get that. In a way, an eye for an eye justice. This is the justice that is most common in our legal system today.

The biblical notion of justice is much different as can be seen in the stories Jesus shares this morning. During the famine in the time of Elijah, he only was sent to the widow at Zarephath in Sidon to be cared for and her supply of meal to make bread never ceased to empty. Elisha chose to call for Namaan the Syrian to come to him so that he may cure him of his leprosy. God brings healing and wellness to those whom have not necessarily professed their faith in God.

The justice that comes to the people of God in the bible is one that is restorative. Even when the prophets chastise the Israelites for turning their backs on God, God returns to them in love that is irrefutable. God’s justice comes to us in a way of love that is forgiving.

This justice that Jesus brings into the world is radical! While it has always been present through God, it has now taken physical bodily form in the Son of God. Jesus comes bearing a justice of love for those that are downtrodden and have nearly given up all hope. His purpose of bringing up the justice of Elijah and Elisha is to inform those of Nazareth that he comes not just to them bearing the news of hope and love, but to the entire world!

This is our stumbling block. We stumble over who is in and who is out. We argue for justice to happen, a retributive form of justice. Yet that is not the practice of the kingdom of God. For us to move ever closer to the kingdom of God, we must open our hearts to the restorative justice that can be found in God’s love for us and all people.

Just maybe, we can reach out as Tony Campelo, to a people that are persecuted and hurting. Just maybe, we can be that sign of hope for them in a world that shouts discrimination. Just maybe, we can come bearing the kingdom of God to someone that has not yet experienced it.

(1) Richard Rohr Daily Meditation, https://cac.org/retributive-justice-and-restorative-justice-2016-01-26/