3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the God who died for us. Amen
Our texts for today portray a God who
in the words of Walter Brueggemann
“refuses to be domesticated”
Brueggemann is a Biblical scholar
specializing in the Hebrew scriptures and a master of preaching,
I got to see him last month at the preaching festival I went to
and I’ve been working my way through a collection of his sermons.
One of them, titled “God’s Relentless If”
is based in part on our first reading from Exodus
where we join the Israelites,
freshly freed by God from the Egyptians,
are as they are Led into the wilderness
when they finally make camp
Moses goes up the mountain for further instructions
God tells Moses to say to the people
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on Eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom, and a holy nation.”
that sounds pretty good right?
To be God’s treasured people,
and here Brueggemann notes that
“Already with Moses, God has said that the status of Israel depends on an enormous IF”
God says if you follow what I say to you,
you will be my people
and though it is unspoken
the other side of the if holds true as well,
if you don’t you won’t.
The people heartily agree to God’s terms,
but it doesn’t work out as easily as saying yes for them,
because their actions must follow their words
and pretty soon they are building a golden calf
and starting the cycle
where the people break the covenant,
there are consequences and the people suffer,
the people turn back to God
and follow God’s ways for a while
until they get distracted and the whole process starts over again
all turning on that big IF.
in this cycle with the people
is characterized as overly harsh, vengeful even
but this is unfair to God
because what we witness in the stories
of the interactions between God and the people,
is a God who keeps promises,
who refuses to be domesticated,
taken as a push over,
(honestly, would we want it to be any other way?)
A God who loves the people so much
that God stays with the people in their suffering,
reaches out to them with prophets and judges,
offers them second chance after second chance
even while standing firm on the big IF.
Brueggemann concludes from all of this
that it costs to live in God’s world.
There are expectations and consequences,
and he notes
that when we try to domesticate or cheapen God
our neighbors become inexpensive.
When we try to tame God to fit our whims and desires,
to fit the way of life we want to live
we justify to ourselves all kinds of ‘if’ ignoring actions.
Right now, in the world around us
it seems that neighbors are inexpensive and only getting cheaper
Our neighbors with black and brown bodies are cheapened
as time and again they are judged according to their outward appearance
and not their humanity,
when fear is found to be a valid excuse
for violent interactions among people of all shades.
Our neighbors fleeing violence are cheapened
when they are refused entry into safety
and become targets of fear because of their homeland.
Our neighbors with whom we disagree are cheapened
when instead of listening we turn to violence.
Our neighbors who need medical care are cheapened
when money and profit is of more importance
than access to basic medical care,
and so on and so forth you get the idea
and maybe the covenant
God made with the people
all those years ago seems irrelevant
and we ignore it
but ignoring it doesn’t make it go away
we feel the consequences of our covenant denying actions,
the increased fear and division,
the news that we don’t watch anymore because we can’t handle another depressing story
we might even wonder where God is in all of this.
Where is God?
Right in the thick of it all,
where people are suffering,
that is where God is found.
Even as God stands firm on the if,
God loves us and reaches out to us,
assuring us that we are at peace with God,
because in the words of Paul to the Romans,
“God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
Jesus came into the world
in a time when neighbors were extremely cheap,
and he came to the people who were the cheapest.
he gave them hope by proclaiming the kingdom of God come near,
he gave them dignity by curing every disease and sickness he came across,
he felt sick to his stomach
when he saw how they were being treated
and how they had no one to speak for them,
so he empowered some of their own to continue his work.
He proclaimed a peace different than that of the Roman Empire,
whose peace was built on cheap neighbors
and whose emperors styled themselves Lord and savior.
Jesus’ peace is built on the reconciliation between creator and creation,
and God does the heavy lifting in the relationship
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly”
and through this act of grace
offers us peace with God,
which we receive through our faith.
Over the centuries
people have tried to explain exactly how this works,
how Christ’s crucifixion made peace for us with God,
and frankly, all the explanations fall short
but we trust that what God promises is true,
because our God is a God who keeps promises,
who refuses to be domesticated
even when the consequences of promise keeping are painful
and who continues to love and be present in the midst of the pain.
Jesus is God’s recognition
that we need help living in God’s costly world
especially because it is through us
that God works to transform the world.
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit,
we are God’s hands in the world,
so the only way that our neighbors will go from cheap to valued
is if we value them,
the only way that people who are suffering
will know that God is with them
is if we are with them,
the only way that people will get medical care
is if we give it to them,
the only way that people will know that God loves them
is if we love them.
And here we are back to that little two letter word
and the unspoken other side,
if we don’t they won’t.
It is costly to live in God’s world,
Paul recognizes that,
in the midst of his expounding on the glorious gift of God
he mentions suffering.
the suffering he talks about
is the suffering that comes
when the world reacts to people who dare to live as God calls them,
who value neighbors and call others to do the same,
and dare to hope that through them
God is transforming the world
one helping action at a time
We are God’s chosen people
Claimed by God at our baptisms
so we stand firm in the knowledge that
“since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” Amen
Brueggeman, Walter. The Threat of Life: Sermons on Pain, Power, and Weakness (Minneapolis: Fortress press) 1996.
 Brueggeman, 70.
7th Sunday After Easter
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who prays for us. Amen
Here’s the scene:
you know you’re going to die soon.
What do you say to the loved ones you’re leaving behind?
What do you want them to know? To feel?
To carry with them the rest of their lives?
And how do you tell them this once you’ve got it all figured out?
Or you’re on the other end of the good bye,
wondering how you will move forward in life,
who you will be in the absence of your loved one,
wondering what you are supposed to do without them.
This is the scene we find in our gospel for today,
Jesus knows he’s going to die soon
and this is his farewell address to the disciples,
it reveals what is most important to him,
what he wants the disciples to carry with them
even as he answers their as yet unspoken questions
of identity and purpose.
Jesus starts by saying once and for all
the purpose of his life,
what he wants the disciples to remember
- that God sent him, his son-
to bring eternal life to all-
that is why Jesus has been among them,
and in the event that they are unclear on it
he defines eternal life:
being in relationship with the true God
who is revealed in his Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ purpose has been fulfilled
in his relationships with the disciples,
relationships where he has communicated who God is,
through his presence among them
and this has not been a general presence
but a personal intimate presence,
one built on relationships,
it is a presence that participated in the whole range
of the human experience from life to death,
a presence who felt the pain of the mourning
and raised the dead,
a presence who felt the hunger of the crowds
and provided bread and hope,
a presence who became the life of the party
when the wine ran out,
who got to know the people he encountered
and who loved them faults and all,
Peter the blockhead,
Thomas the questioner,
Martha the overworker
and yes even Judas the betrayer,
Jesus loved them all
and saw them as a gift from God,
was honored by the relationships,
the people that God had placed in his care
and in the end,
in his farewell address
he gives thanks to God for them
And it is in this thanksgiving
for the gift of his disciples
that Jesus begins to lay the foundation
for the disciples’ future life,
a life without his physical presence
yet where they are still in relationship with God
because they are God’s,
he paints the picture a future
where they will be the presence of Christ in the world,
where their purpose will be to live the eternal life
given them by Jesus
and to share that eternal life with others
by being the presence of Jesus in the world,
in the same way Jesus shared it with them,
by building personal relationships
that reveal God as one who is intimately concerned
with the lives of God’s children.
Jesus knows that this will not be an easy identity and purpose to live out,
especially in the sadness and confusion,
the joy and wonder
at his death and resurrection
so he closes his prayer for the disciples
with a prayer for protection and unity.
He closes his prayer,
that’s how Jesus has chosen to give his parting message to the disciples,
through a prayer for them that they overhear.
It is a beautiful and intimate thing to be prayed for
and it is reflective of the intimacy Jesus has with both God and his disciples,
it also creates new life in the people who pray and hear the prayer.
Prayer is not just communication with God,
a checklist of requested items
but a time of relationship building
where hopes and dream are exchanged
and those involved are empowered to live into the new life
envisioned in the prayer.
Even as Jesus says good bye to his disciples
he creates new life for them,
just as he creates new life for us
for we are overhearers of the prayer too,
we are disciples,
Jesus prays for us
knowing what we need in his seeming absence.
Today we mark the ascension of Jesus to heaven
as we heard in our reading from Acts,
and we remember the promise that Jesus will return,
it has been many generations of waiting
for Jesus to return
and though Jesus has left us with our identity and purpose,
comes to us in the bread and wine at the table
and is present in the spirit
sometimes we can’t help but feel his physical absence,
and we wonder why,
just as when we lose a loved one,
we still miss them
and wonder what the future will bring
even as we live out that future.
These are the moments when we go back to the farewell,
we take time to remember and be renewed
in the memories of our loved ones who have gone before us,
who we are because of them
and our purpose in life after them,
and we are renewed in our convictions.
In the same way
we take time to remember Jesus,
to hear his prayer for us,
to be renewed in our identity as children of God
and Christ’s presence in the world
and our purpose of living and sharing the eternal life
of relationship with God
that has been given to us.
It has been many generations
since the first disciples
witnessed Jesus’ ascension to heaven
and yet here we are,
children of God,
living the gift of eternal life in relationship with the God
who Jesus revealed to us by the community of disciples,
Jesus’ presence on earth.
We remember with thanksgiving
those who passed the faith along to us
and the prayer that Jesus prays for us,
and so renewed in our identity as beloved children of God
and our purpose of sharing that relationship with others
we live into our eternal life in Christ. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.