Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-19
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who welcomes us. Amen
Today we have a very short gospel text
where the word welcome
is repeated over and over.
Now when we hear this word
we perk up a bit because “welcome”
is such an important concept in Christianity,
particularly because we are called
to keep expanding the community
Sharing the message of Christ
Growing the community
So when we hear this passage
as Professor Rolf Jacobson remarks
we hear it as a command.
We place ourselves in the role of the welcomers
who will receive the reward that Jesus is talking about
and yet when we back up
and look at the whole passage that this little chunk of gospel is a part of,
we realize that rather than a command,
this passage is a promise
and the disciples are not the ones who will be doing the welcoming,
rather they will be the welcomed.
Our gospel for today
comes at the end of what is known as The Missionary Discourse,
we’ve heard parts of it over the past two weeks.
Jesus summons his twelve disciples,
gives them power over unclean spirits
and then he sends them out
instructing them to travel light,
not to pack extra sandals or clothes
not even food.
as they travel they are to proclaim the good news
that the kingdom of God has come near
and to rely on the hospitality
of those they encounter for their livelihood,
it’s a very vulnerable position
and Jesus tells them up front
that it’s not going to be easy,
“see I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves” he tells them,
and predicts that they will be beaten and driven out of towns
that the message they bring will divide families,
that as disciples they are to take up the cross
and in following Jesus expecting to lose their lives,
but do not be afraid Jesus tells them,
this is something bigger than just yourselves
and at the very end, our gospel for today,
Jesus promises that despite all the hardships
the disciples can expect
there will be those they encounter
who will welcome them and take care of them
and in doing so these people they encounter
are welcoming Jesus and his father.
The disciples represent the full presence
of the one who sends them.
Those who welcome the disciples
are the ones who will receive the reward.
Jesus’ call to discipleship
is first and foremost a call to vulnerability,
to dependence on others,
a call to be present with others,
to accept their hospitality
and in that way bring the presence of God.
Now this is a very different picture of discipleship
and even evangelism than we are used to,
we’re used to being on the action end of things,
of going out and making things happen
Of doing things for people,
which sometimes turns into doing things to people,
We generally think it’s others
who are supposed to accept our message
and way of doing things.
But that’s not what Jesus tells the disciples,
he tells them simply, go and be among people,
to offer the message of the kingdom of God
and to expect that most people will reject it and you,
but some will receive it and you,
and that makes the whole thing worthwhile.
This is a hard for message for us
who are so individualistic,
who love to depend on ourselves,
who like to make things happen,
but sometimes it just doesn’t work that way.
of mind, of way of being
takes the small everyday presence of many people.
I’ve experienced this a little bit myself,
as a woman pastor.
This week marked the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women
in the predecessor bodies of the ELCA
and it took ten more years before a woman of color was ordained.
The big decision was made 50 years ago
but the culture didn’t change overnight,
it took years of my foremothers serving
to get to the place where I could pursue ordination
without my gender being the primary focus of my resume.
And yet along the way
there have been reminders
that it was not always so,
my seminary was built in the 1960s,
they didn’t anticipate female students,
so on the main classroom floor
while the men’s bathroom was just across the hall
the women’s bathroom was tucked back in a corner
by the office section,
and not all denominations ordain women,
I’ve been in some places
where I’ve been the first female clergy that people have encountered
and they haven’t quite known what to do with me,
especially on CPE where most of the patients in the hospital
were either Baptist or Catholic,
I often got ‘are you a nun?’ and ‘what do I call you? Mother?’
And I would tell them what to call me
And go on with my job.
My presence a stronger argument than any words
For women serving as pastors.
Some interactions are not so mild,
one of my friends,
upon meeting a new colleague out in the community,
(she wasn’t wearing clergy attire at the time,)
introduced herself and was treated warmly
but as soon as she got to the part
where she explained that she was the new pastor
the colleague withdrew his hand from the handshake
and refused to acknowledge her existence,
but her presence in that community
was a living testament to what the colleague rejected.
Jesus gives each of the disciples gifts
then sends them out to be the presence of God wherever they go.
Jesus gives each of us gifts
and calls us to be the presence of God wherever we go,
discipleship, evangelism is a way of life,
it’s not something we do on Sunday mornings
or at special times
and then go back to doing whatever we want,
who we are, how we live,
the way we treat others
all show those around us what it means,
for us at least,
to be in relationship with God
and when our actions fail to reflect the ways of God
One of the major critiques of religion
is the hypocrisy of those who practice it imperfectly.
People notice how we live
And yet if the expectation to live perfectly sounds impossible,
you’d be correct,
no matter how hard we try
we will never be perfect,
God knows this
which is why God offers us grace
in Christ who is perfect,
Offering forgiveness when we mess up and confess and repent,
allowing us the chance to grow in faith and life with God,
sending others into our lives,
to bring the presence of God
with their own God given gifts
To bring the kingdom of God near to us.
this is the life that Jesus calls us to live,
lives that give witness to the grace of God
who receives us as we are
and who encourages us to witness
to the kingdom of God with our whole selves
even as we are called to grow and be changed
by the witness of others we encounter along the way.
Rather than attempted perfection
I think the opportunity for forgiveness
and the commitment to growth, to do better
is a much more compelling way of life
The grace of God sets us free from the need to be perfect
and the accompanying fear of failure
The grace of God calls us to be vulnerable
To dare to be the presence of God
And to allow others
to be the presence of God ,
with their own God given gifts, to us
And Jesus knows that at times this is difficult
that some we encounter will expect perfection immediately,
or will reject the message of grace,
That in the process of living this way
we will lose our lives,
the lives where we’ve always done it this way,
but in losing our lives we will find new life,
and God promises
that there will be people along the way who will welcome us,
and encourage us,
even if it’s as simple as offering us a cold cup of water.
All this is possible because Christ first welcomes us,
And sends us out.
The kingdom of God has come near. Amen
3rd Sunday After Pentecost
Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who calls us
to take up the cross and follow him. Amen
Jesus does not hold back in our gospel for today
as he teaches about discipleship,
what it truly means to follow him.
to be a disciple says Jesus
means uncovering the things
that society would rather keep secret,
it means that some will want to do bodily harm to you,
that families will be divided,
That you will lose your life.
Jesus clearly wasn’t working with a PR firm
on his marketing for recruiting disciples.
It is not an attractive picture he paints
and I’ll admit in the past I’ve struggled with this passage.
And yet this year,
in the midst of all that is going on in our society and world,
I found this passage oddly comforting.
perhaps because the world is so uncomfortable now
and at its heart the gospel is meant to comfort the distressed
and to disturb the comfortable
And my life is generally speaking, comfortable.
But Jesus knows
that in the way of the world
comfort of one individual or group is achieved
at the expense of another individual or group
and the systems that are comfortable
will fight to the death to preserve their comfort.
Jesus has come to bring abundant life for all
And that means dismantling the systems that oppress people.
And the first step in that
is to bring out into the open
the things those in power would rather cover up.
“For nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered proclaim from the housetops”
We are in a time of uncovering right now,
what was remarkable about George Flyod’s death
was sadly not the way he was treated
but that it was recorded for all to see.
The holiday Juneteenth
has been observed since 1866
and yet many people are only learning about it this year
Scholars and epidemiologists have studied for years
in preparation for a global pandemic
and now after the proverbial horse has escaped the barn
the results of their studies are being widely disseminated.
And while it may be uncomfortable
for those of us hearing about these things for the first time,
imagine the relief of those who have known all along
who have been reduced to whispering in the past
that now are able to proclaim from the housetops.
Jesus lets us know
that no matter how hard we try to avoid certain topics of conversation,
they will eventually be brought out into the open,
and that is liberating, for everyone.
What we are experiencing is the next step on the arc toward the liberation of all.
And Jesus knows that this will divide people.
That’s what Jesus means when he says
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth, I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
The liberating message of Jesus
has two edges, law and gospel,
the law to show us how we have fallen short
and the gospel to comfort,
and actually these two are often the same message,
how it is understood depends on who hears them,
for those who have been comfortable at the expense of others
Jesus’ message of liberation will sound like law,
for those who have been oppressed
the message will sound like gospel, good news.
Jesus says that to be a disciple
we must take the side of the oppressed,
This is what the call to take up the cross means
the cross, was an instrument of state terror
designed to make a horrifically painful example
of anyone who tried to defy the empire,
Those who were crucified were killed
Because they were seen as a threat to the status quo
A threat to the comfort of those in power.
This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus
To openly talk about the secrets of society
To take the side of the oppressed
To take on the powers of the world.
Why would we want to be a disciple?
Because to be a disciple
Also means that we are known and valued by God
Jesus knows his message is difficult,
three times in this passage he says do not be afraid
and in the end affirms the value of each individual disciples,
“even the hairs of your head are all counted, so do not be afraid.”
to be a part of the Jesus movement
is to be a part of something much larger than yourself
and at the same time be known and valued for your own individual gifts and talents,
and it is because we are so valued
that we are able to take risks for others.
Paul picks up a variation on this theme in his letter to the Romans.
Writing looking back through the lens of the crucifixion and resurrection
He says “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life...The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Christ died and rose for us
To set us free from sin
being turned in on ourselves,
taking care of our own comfort at the expense of others.
In relation to God
the matter of sin has been taken care of by Jesus
but just because God forgives us
does not mean that we keep sinning
rather it means that we try to live without sin
and this is a daily struggle.
This is the essence of the baptismal life
The daily dying to sin
And rising to new life in Christ
All because God has unequivocally claimed us.
Today happens to be my baptism birthday,
33 years ago my parents brought me to the font
And God claimed me.
While it’s hard to believe
that that baby needed to be forgiven for anything,
what that moment did was start a lifelong journey
to live a life bigger than myself
and sometimes that means
setting aside my own comfort and security for the sake of others
just as Jesus set aside his own comfort and security
as he went to the cross for the sake of the whole world.
This is Jesus’ call to all of us,
to face discomfort, division and fear,
not because it might save us,
but that it might save someone else.
Jesus expects this of us
because it is exactly what Jesus himself did
but we do this
secure in the fact that we are known by God,
who values us and knows every last detail about us,
down to the number of hairs on our head.
We are in a moment in time
where we are being called to set aside our own comfort
and act for the sake of others
whether it is wearing a mask in public,
or taking the time to learn about
how the sin of racism infects the ways of the world,
challenging the powers that say some are more valuable than others.
And we are up for the challenge
Not because we are particularly brave
But because we are so thoroughly loved by God. Amen
2nd Sunday After Pentecost
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who dared to die for us. Amen
Welcome to the time after pentecost,
often called ordinary time,
symbolized by the color green.
In this green season
our scriptures and prayers
will point us in the direction of growth,
growth in faith, in discipleship, in understanding,
in what it takes to build the kingdom of God.
And this season will stretch on and on,
for the next few months,
it will be fall before we see a color on the altar
other than green
and that too holds true to the theme of the season
because growth takes time.
And growth is difficult at times,
do you remember growing up,
when you hit a growth spurt
and literally felt growing pains,
aches in your bones as they stretched toward your full height?
In his letters
Paul writes to a church experiencing growing pains,
to many he writes of specific difficulties,
the Thessalonians were afraid of church members dying
before the return of Christ,
the Corinthians had all sorts of conflict
and it seems like he just missed the Philippians,
in his letter to the Romans,
Paul is writing to a church
that he has never met
but whom he wishes to visit,
and because he’s never met them,
and realizes that he might never meet them
he presents his rationale for the gospel in a more measured tone,
Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham
and his main point
is that God does the work,
all Abraham did was trust in the promise, had faith.
For us, Jesus does all the work
and our role is to trust the promise, have faith.
That’s what is leading up to our reading for today
where Paul concludes: “Therefore, 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.”
We have peace with God! Paul proclaims,
given our sinful and broken relationship with God
it would be reasonable (using human logic)
for God to want to even the score,
punish us, make us hurt in the same way we made God hurt
“But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
God settled the score or however you want to put it,
and the end result
is that God has promised that through Christ
we will share in the glory of God.
We have been set free in our relationship with God
but that freedom does not absolve us of responsibilities,
rather it allows us to turn our attention
to the broken relationships of the world,
relationships that will insist that they are fine the way they are,
relationships that will resent and push back
against even the suggestion that they need to be examined,
which is why Paul says
that even as we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God “we also boast in our sufferings”
(asking our pentecost question)
what does this mean?
What does this mean for us today?
What it means is that we have work to do,
examining the broken relationships in this world,
to acknowledge them, understand them
and work toward healing them.
Sadly there are many candidates for this work,
but at the forefront right now
is the relationship between the white community
and the black community within this country.
It is a relationship that is broken
and has been broken for hundreds of years,
and it is also one that some will insist is fine
and will resent even the call to examine the relationship.
But this is exactly what Jesus has set us free to do,
it is what he did and calls us to do,
to go to the places that are hurting and in need of good news.
We heard in our gospel
that as Jesus went around all the cities and villages
proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God
he encountered whole crowds of people
that needed healing and hope
and “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few”
One person teaching and healing is not enough,
so Jesus sends the disciples out to do the same things
that he has just been doing,
and he knows it’s not going to be easy
or that everyone will receive their message
but that it is important work to be done
and he promises that whatever happens
they are loved and cared for by God,
they are free to take risks because God is their safety net.
We are free to take risks
since we are justified by faith,
we have peace with God,
which means that nothing can separate us from the love of God,
even if the work we do
in working on human relationships is difficult
and produces suffering,
but we know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Hope does not disappoint us.
It may be hard to look around the world right now and have hope.
But that’s only if we confuse hope with optimism.
Optimism looks at all the hard and difficult things of the world
and says, ‘I don’t know how but it will all turn out okay.’
Hope takes a hard look at the realities,
the seemingly insurmountable obstacles,
and says ‘nevertheless I trust that there will be new life.’
This week in my reading
I came across a passage which speaks directly to this kind of hope,
I have returned to a book I read in seminary
“The Cross and the Lynching Tree” by James H. Cone,
a prominent black theologian,
reading it is part of my own work
examining the broken relationships in this world
and working to acknowledge them,
understand them and work toward healing them.
I invite you to join me in this work
and will in the near future be offering some ideas for how you can join me.
In one part Dr.Cone describes hope in the black experience
as expressed through the spiritual “Nobody Knows”
He says “The first three lines accent despair;
Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen,
Nobody knows my sorrow.
Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen,
But the last line accents hope with an exclamation:
“Nobody Knows” reaches the peak of despair in its repetition of the first line in the third.
African Americans did not doubt that their lives were filled with trouble...Trouble followed them everywhere, like a shadow they could not shake. But the ‘Glory Hallelujah’ in the last line speaks of hope that trouble would not sink them down into permanent despair...In another version of ‘Nobody Know,’ the dialectic of doubt and faith is expressed with a focus on Jesus’ solidarity with the one in trouble.
“Nobody knows the trouble I see,
Nobody knows but Jesus,
Nobody knows the trouble I see,
...In the second version of “Nobody Know,” the source of the hope is Jesus, for he is a friend who knows about the trouble of the little ones, and he is the reason for their ‘Hallelujah.’ His divine presence is the most important message about black existence.” (pg 20-21)
Hope is the belief
that the future will triumph over
the often seemingly insurmountable hardships of the present.
Jesus is the source of hope.
He had compassion on the crowds,
he pointed out and preached against a broken system
and for his trouble he was crucified on a cross
he rose from the dead on the third day,
he is new life in spite of death.
And he did it all for us,
his life and death and life again,
so that we too could have new life,
peace with God.
As we look around our world
and see the brokenness and suffering,
Jesus, who has set us free,
calls out to us, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”
and sends us out to work for new life
grounded in the hope of the resurrection,
the hope of Jesus.
Hope that does not disappoint. 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.