Jesus Calling

a sermon on Matthew 4:12-23

 

At Bible study on Wednesday, the group noticed there are lots of dreams in Matthew. As if joining the party, I had a dream about today’s passage, which must have been lots on my subconscious.

I dreamed I parked by one of the Madison lakes and pulled a fishing pole out of the car. It’s not totally unusual that I’d have a fishing pole along. Somehow I ended up with a big spinner bait just sitting in the edge of the water and I hooked a nice little 12” bass (well, kind of a bass, though more silver in the dream).

If you fish, you know that sometimes a fish goes for the bait, then turns away from it but still gets hooked. This dream fish got hooked behind its gills. As I was going to remove it, the fish had turned into a person, with a great big hook stuck in their arm, so then I had to get the hook out of a human arm.

Though my dream envisioned it, that is not what Jesus meant when he talked about fishing for people. So if we’re trying to catch his meaning, we should probably throw out the line again.

I have to say, I was a bit grumpy at this reading at first. I’ve been telling you the past couple weeks that the season of Epiphany is about Jesus being made known to us, showing forth who God is, revealing the true God for us.

Picture1Well, as I first read this, it didn’t seem like it was revealing all that much about Jesus. Maybe the stuff from the prophet Isaiah, for Jesus living out in a rural crossroads of Galilee, pointing out that God could be found away from the centers of power, in unexpected places. But that’s not a very thrilling insight.

Further, the sense of calling seemed to be more about you than Jesus. I don’t think sermons should be all about you. I like sermons to be about Jesus. Don’t get me wrong: there’s a distinction. Sermons are both. But they should mainly be what Jesus is for you, what he’s doing for you, how God is loving you and giving you life and forgiving you and sustaining you and such. If it’s mainly a perspective of “here’s what you need to do” and maybe only includes Jesus “because he said so,” that’s not a sermon. It’s a lesson. It’s an instruction. If it’s said energetically it might be a pep talk. But if Jesus is mainly revealed as somebody who wants you to do things, that’s not very good, and he’s no savior, and you don’t need that news because you already have too much you think you should be doing or ways you should be different or whatever.

So if we’re not looking in this reading for what you need to do if you’re called by Jesus, not for an assignment you might not be living up to, and if this sense of fishing for people isn’t leading toward first aid in how to remove large fishing hooks from various body parts, then we return to the question: what does this say about Jesus?

As I was looking for what calling these disciples would show about Jesus, and therefore about God, it led me to think about who fishermen were in 1st Century Palestine, out in that rural crossroads around Galilee Lake.

Our perspective is skewed by living in Wisconsin, where fishing is boats finding quiet bays to spend some leisure outdoors time (or maybe solitary guys on ice). We might get a little closer if we think about fishermen as rough around the edges, smelling like worms, with slimy fish guts, people who maybe cuss in the boat, saturated in a couple beers.

Those Galilee fishermen weren’t out for the weekend getaway of recreation in nature. They weren’t trying to pull up a mess of perch for a Friday fish fry. On a list of occupations ranked socially in the Roman empire, fishermen ranked last. They were captive to the economic monopoly, as all fish were claimed under ownership of the empire.

So these fishermen couldn’t just catch some walleye to grill that evening. Rather, at least 40% of their catch was paid in taxes simply for the opportunity to try to catch fish (making it a really expensive fishing license). Most of the rest of the catch went to market, set to exploit the local fishers, often sold as processed salted pickled fish paste (sounds tasty, right?) to be shipped down that “road by the sea” that’s mentioned in our reading, making it maybe as far as Rome, far away from the hungry bellies that caught the fish in the first place.

It left the peasant fishermen and their families and village perhaps with the dregs of fish paste barrels, themselves as the remnant and dregs of their culture, eking out existence.

It’s this kind of person Jesus calls. Jesus wants to hang out with the peasants. The exploited. The struggling-to-get-by. Those far from power. The ones who have to work night and day just to survive because they’re so oppressed by the economy. This does tell us something about Jesus and about God.

More, the metaphor of fishing in the Bible can be about pulling something out from hidden places and bringing it into view, which was used about judgment and calls to justice. These folks fishing for people could be saying that God’s judgment will be in the peasants pulling the wealthy aristocracy, the comfortable oppressors, the full-bellied self-satisfied upper crust out to face justice, to reckon with God.

Setting aside the summer bass boats or those out this weekend with ice augurs and tip-ups, instead thinking about the God who in Jesus calls 1st Century fishermen, we might move it forward with a few examples.

One thought I had this week was while our Confirmation class was shopping for the Lussier food pantry. It’s good that we want to share, that we want to offer food to hungry bellies, that we teach that practice. But it is definitely odd and a change from Jesus’ time that we would think of church as the ones donating to the food pantry more than needing to use the food pantry, the poor people, working minimum wage jobs night and day maybe even serving us our food but still not able themselves to have enough. It’s not an exact parallel, but we should consider it for where Jesus is and what that means.

For observing Reconciling in Christ Sunday, I have also been thinking that the church has too often and still too much gotten this exactly wrong for LGBTQ folks. When society has been wronging and oppressing queer people, the church has jumped on the oppressive bandwagon. But Jesus is in the same boat with those exploited and struggling, so the church could have seen Jesus calling LGBTQ fishermen who, with the biblical metaphor, would then be pulling others out to be judged for exclusions and injustices and ignoring God’s blessing.

Again, for this gathering, there may be a typical sense that I as a pastor have answered God’s calling and am fishing for people. But then we get to the annual meeting and the proposed budget for 2020, and I admit that my salary and benefits are the single largest piece of MCC finances. While emphasizing that pastors are not overly-compensated either for the amount of education or for the amount of hours we put in, still my wages and place in life probably don’t make me exactly the category of the fishermen of Jesus who were eking out existence.

And yet, for being called by Jesus and being invited into the circle of those with whom God identifies, I also want to note this isn’t limited to one socioeconomic caste or to geographic displacement or to having earned enough bruises from unmerited suffering. If Jesus is calling out to those who are struggling to get by in life, it means he is identifying with and associating with you against all that would diminish and stifle your life, those forces that make you feel trapped and confined, that cause worry or even fear, that serve to enslave you and make you feel you can never live up to the standards.

As he called to fishermen in their workplaces beside the lake, he calls to you in daily life, in all the stresses and frustrations. He goes on to “proclaim the good news and cure every disease and sickness.” Jesus is out to stop what is bad. It is for those moments and in those reasons that God in Jesus comes to our world and wants to be known in your life, to pull out those hidden struggles to be judged by God as wrong, to set it right, to give you life. It is for this reason that he calls out your name.

 

Hymn: “You Have Come Down To the Lakeshore” (ELW 817)

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Mary Had a Little Lamb

sermon on John 1:29-42

 

Here’s some Dr. King to get us going:

I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute. He was born in an obscure village, the child of a poor peasant woman. He worked as a carpenter. Then for three years, he was an itinerant preacher. And he went about doing some things. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness…He just went around serving, doing good.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. They called him a rabble-rouser. They called him a troublemaker. He practiced civil disobedience; he broke injunctions. And so he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. And the irony of it all is that his friends turned him over to them. And while he was dying, the people who killed him gambled for his clothing, the only possession that he had in the world. He was buried in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend.*

Take that portrait of Jesus from Dr. King with what John the Baptist didn’t say: Behold! The lion of God greatly to be feared, who repays all for their iniquities!

Behold the shepherd of God who protects the flock and guides lost sheep!

Behold! The spacious oak of God, standing steadfast and immovable, overshadowing nations!

Behold! The key of God, unlocking all mysteries!

Behold! The soaring eagle of God, fast to rise to the heights of heaven!

Behold! The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle of God who fights crime with hip attitude!

Behold! The genie of God, for whom your every wish is his command!

Behold! The Avenger superhero of God, who with superpowers defends the innocent!

Behold! The judge of God, who examines and decides critically from on high the fate of all!

With a couple exceptions, those are not only possible images but biblical ones for how we might behold God. We could have both desire and reason to see God in all of these ways. So it is striking that we’re introduced to God today not in any of those ways.

Again, this season of Epiphany is about God in Jesus being made known to us. This morning we pop over to John’s Gospel for Jesus’ first appearance there. Last week we heard his first words in Matthew’s account, about a Lord in humble service, revealing peace rather than ferocious destructive leadership.

So as Jesus goes casually strolling by in his first entrance in John’s Gospel, John the Baptist points him out and indicates who he is. To be clear, he might’ve said any of those big Beholds! The Lion! The Judge! The Superhero Savior! John could’ve even more basically said, Behold! It’s my buddy Jesus. He’s a decent carpenter and not bad to have in the boat if you go fishing. Or Behold! It’s Mr. Goody-Two-Sandals, and you better watch your mouth around him because he’s holy. Maybe most obviously, John might’ve announced, Hey! I dunked this guy in the river and a dove rested on him!

For any of the possibilities, the way Jesus might have been introduced, the first reaction to him meandering by, John the Baptist declared “Look! Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

So let’s try to figure this out with some associations. Look at the lamb on the cover of your bulletin. Granted this is A lamb and maybe not The lamb. But if John thinks lamby things about Jesus, what do you think when you look at this little lamb?

lamb

Maybe Jesus was cute.

Maybe he was cuddly.

Maybe he was soft.

He might’ve liked grass.

But it seems to me that the main thing is that a lamb is small and fragile and helpless. There has probably never been a superhero lamb with a bestselling action figure, right? And we’d be pretty clear that if a lion and a lamb picked a fight, the lamb would annihilate the lion. ? (Just testing.)

Dr. King would point out that it shouldn’t stand up to kings or armies. Yet this Lamb did that, and has influenced life on earth more than all the others put together.

Jesus did it by being particularly lamby. I looked through the 196 times the Bible mentions lambs, and the most notable characteristic is not just that they are weak and vulnerable. They die. In the Bible, lambs are constantly getting killed. There are lambs as offerings for sin and Passover lambs marking deliverance from death.

From his first appearance, Jesus is pointed out by John the Baptist as one who is going to get killed. That’s an odd place to put our hopes for life. He is the Lamb of God, God’s offering or sacrifice to us, delivering from death, taking away the sin of the world. With sin and death separating us from God, God bridges the divide and draws you in. There is no longer anything that can disconnect you from God. In this way that we wouldn’t even want to imagine, God comes to us, to set it right. When we want to Behold God blazing in on our terms, by our standards, God shows up all sheepish as the way to come to us.

Because this victorious Lamb of God over our stubborn isolation reappears with our liturgical song, I want to share from the book of Revelation. I especially want you to hear that even there when the triumph is expected from the kingly lion in this heavenly throne room, all of a sudden a slaughtered lamb is there instead. He doesn’t change into a fierce Lion to kill others; he remains always the Lamb who was slain. A special treat from Revelation, here you go:

“Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered.” Then I saw a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered. I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (from Revelation 5:5-6, 11-13, 7:9, 12)

That was written for suffering people, feeling cut off and wondering whether their faith was right. They probably wanted a lion, a mighty king, some superhero. They get proclamation reassuring that the Lamb is indeed revealing a God who conquers by dying, that he is the answer for us and for all the world.

For any of your suffering, for anything that feels like it’s been inflicted on you or that you’ve done wrong, for all that you fear would cut you off from God, this final vision of the Bible and the weekly practice of our worship service knows that you join in the hymn of all creation, gathered around the Lamb who died to give you life.

If you feel like nobody, you’re invited to the party. If you feel you’re special, you’re invited to join the party. If you long for things to be different, you’re invited to the party. If you want to party and celebrate life, you’re invited to the party. If you’re a troublemaker, if you have too much, if you wish you had more, you’re invited in. If  you are climbing into the back of an ambulance, you’re invited to the party. When you need help, or when you’re ready to serve, you’re invited to the party of the Lamb. It’s a big party.

As Dr. King also declares for us, the fact that this new age is emerging reveals something basic about the core and heartbeat of the cosmos. It reminds us that the universe is on the side of justice. It says to those who struggle, ‘You do not struggle alone, but God struggles with you.’ This belief that God is on the side of truth and justice comes down to us from the long tradition of our Christian faith. There is something at the very center of our faith which reminds us that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant drum beat of Easter.**

Though, I’d remind Dr. King if I could, that Easter doesn’t undo the slain Lamb. He’s still Jesus. And it is his way of sacrifice and suffering and love that triumphs for you. The Lamb of God is vindicated and opening the party doors. With that, you join the angels and archangels, saints past, present, and future, earth, sea, sky and all their creatures in singing: “Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God. For the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign. Alleluia!”

* “The Drum Major Instinct” in Testament of Hope, p266

** “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” p141

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Baptism of Our Lord

sermon on Matthew 3:13-17

 

Watch This!

With my childhood, as I prepared to do something stupid, that phrase was accompanied by the reminder that show-offs always get hurt. On this day when we’re looking forward to a summer Boundary Waters trip, the phrase makes me think of teaching our young people to leap off of rocks and cliffs. Watch This! And then comes a big splash.

John the Baptist didn’t want to make waves, but Jesus would have none of it, saying Do it! It’s proper to fulfill all righteousness. John gives in and dunks Jesus. Making a splash with a different outcome of show-offs getting hurt as it points toward his death, Jesus leaped into the water of the Jordan River shouting Watch This! Though technically his phrase is less succinct; his Watch This is that it’s “proper to fulfill all righteousness.”

These are the first words Jesus speaks in the Gospel of Matthew. First words are important to pay attention to, just as the final words of Jesus are how this Gospel ends: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And remember I am with you always, to the end.” So these first words serve as a grand Watch This to everything that will follow.

To know what we’re supposed to watch from Jesus, I did some word searching this week with the “fulfilling all righteousness.”

Fulfill is a word that Matthew likes to use. Though we’re only a couple readings into this year of Matthew, we’ve already heard fulfillments as part of the formula quotations that Matthew uses at least ten times about Jesus. The first was before Christmas, that “All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son’” (1:22-23). Just after Christmas, we heard three more details Matthew saw as fulfilling Scripture (2:15, 17, 23). Most everywhere Jesus was going or what was happening to him seems viewed by Matthew as a fulfillment, all the way up to his betrayal, arrest, and death.

Matthew wants us to know that this is how it’s supposed to be, that this goes with who God is and what God wants. That’s a helpful reassurance when Jesus is killed—that it wasn’t a complete interruption or defeat of what God wanted, but was in line with it. Jesus fulfills God’s vision.

My word search found that fulfillment wasn’t only about old bible verses that Matthew says applied to Jesus, not only that the prophets were predicting Jesus or something. It’s also just a word for “full.” Nets are full of fish (13:48), and holes are full of dirt (Luke 3:5), and children are full of wisdom (Luke 2:40).

So that’s also saying that the full meaning is found in Jesus. He fills up biblical understanding. He fully shows what God wanted. He has all authority. Jesus is how God says Watch This.

But what about righteousness? Being full of righteousness doesn’t usually sound good to us. It sounds like being totally self-righteous, though that doesn’t clarify much of what Jesus and John were wanting us to watch while splashing in the water.

It is helpful to know that the same Greek word can be translated either as righteousness or as justice. Matthew sees Jesus coming to set everything right, to make it fair, to make it just as God wanted.

Of the seven times Matthew uses the word, five are in the Sermon on the Mount, so we’ll come back to them in a couple weeks as Jesus tells us in Beatitudes that those who hunger for righteousness or for justice are blessed, and you’re blessed when you’re persecuted for striving after it.

Which may mean Matthew is saying to us that even if it’s proper to fulfill all righteousness, all justice, maybe it’s not easy. This is the show-offs getting hurt aspect of when Jesus tells us to Watch This. Things going along with what God wants may still lead through tough times, through confrontations, even through death. Striving for God’s justice can be hard. Yet as horrible as it may be, what God is doing is not defeated or even very ultimately interrupted.

That may be a main part of what Jesus is saying here and what we watch for in his whole story. Eventually, even though Jesus is crucified, God is still working in it. As Jesus does things that challenge popular culture and maybe even would seem religiously or ethically dubious, still he is fully showing God for us, and showing us how God is striving to set things right, to include outsiders, to reach out to all nations, to heal the sick, to break down the barriers that would keep us from each other. What’s God want? Watch This!

Today, as Jesus says it is proper in this way to fulfill all righteousness, a very basic part of what he’s asserting is that he needs to be baptized by John. This is what’s right, John. So do it, even if you don’t like it.

Just before this, John had anticipated that the Messiah would arrive thundering with blazing fire to strip the forests bare, clearing the unrighteous out of his way, like an ax to clearcut with sharpened ferocity. The coming Messiah would be so powerful, John predicted, that John wouldn’t even be worthy to stoop down and tie his shoelaces.

It’s revealing to set that image alongside the Jesus who, in another Gospel, himself stoops to wash his disciples’ feet on the last night of his life. Still at that moment, the closest disciple Peter was protesting, saying he should be washing Jesus’ feet and not the other way around. Watch This can seem like something stupid is about to happen.

Here the greatest forerunner, John the Baptist, says he wouldn’t even be good enough to get near Jesus’ feet. John expected chainsaws and fire power. Instead Jesus shows up with a gentle dove. That is what God wants. Rather than taking charge and pushing others around, rather than clearing them out of the way, Jesus shows up and asks to be baptized by John, submits to John, humbles himself.

Now, a first reaction of ours is likely to be similar to John or to Peter: that Jesus is doing something stupid. We expect God to come blazing in. If what God wants is justice, then why doesn’t God blow away the oppressors? Why would God be subject to persecution? If God wants life, then why does God die?

These questions don’t get answered for us. They just get countered. If you predict that the powerful God will wipe out enemies, will hack away at foes, will ferociously eliminate what stands in the way, then you need to be reoriented to the God of the Bible, to the God known in Jesus, to the God marked by a dove and by love.

It is proper in this way to fulfill all righteousness. This is the right way fully to display what God wants, to embody it, to bring it to pass. Watch This.

Though this is about what we’re supposed to watch for in Jesus, it also offers a reminder in our own lives. When we are hankering after achievement and wanting to prove ourselves, when we wonder how well we measure up, we are met by Jesus, wading out into the water to take a dip and telling us to Watch This. It shows that righteousness isn’t self-righteousness, not about being show-offs in the old way, not about how rightly we live or how right you say things are going in your life.

With a splash of water and with all authority, Jesus declares that righteousness is fulfilled. We want to argue and make it different, but God says in baptism it’s all right. It is all fully right.

That is the declaration to you with a splash, too, in baptism, that there is nothing ultimately wrong, that you are filled up with everything right. Or, as the very voice of God declares in the story, in baptism you are directly called a beloved child of God. With you, God is well pleased.

As you emerge from the water, filled with that promise of new life, of things made right, you dive in to follow Jesus’ wet footprints through the rest of his story. You see the way of justice, of setting things right with and for others. As Jesus goes through death, you see that even those sufferings and obstructions of goodness won’t ultimately overwhelm the declaration of God’s blessing for you, God’s efforts on behalf of life.

You can take the leap and take your risks, and even if you always get hurt, you have assurance on the other side. And we keep returning for another splash of this water, to be reminded of that connection to Jesus, of his connection to and work for you, of that perpetual promise of love. Watch This: he makes everything fully right, and he is with you always, to the end.

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#RiseForClimate speech

(Woodland Park, Monona, Wis.) 41413813_10155856821403785_3385218520341020672_n

I’m Nick Utphall, a board member of Wisconsin Interfaith Power & Light (WIPL) and pastor at Advent Lutheran of Madison Christian Community way out on the west side (and in spite of the distance, still pedaled my bike here like so many of you today). But this used to be literally my old stomping grounds, as I brought kids from Vacation Bible School at St Stephens Lutheran Church – ELCA – Monona, WI just up the block into these woods to explore creation and be connected to what they could discover in God’s world, because we grow to save what we love, right?

I remember when this was re-opened to be an oak savanna instead of having clogged and invasive undergrowth. We further remember that the oak savanna was a symbiotic relationship in this area generations before anybody claiming to be Christian or with my sort of skin color or ancestry arrived in the area, that native peoples burned the undergrowth to continue spurring this sort of mutual beneficial ecological community.

We’re here today encountering the far opposite end of that spectrum: a mutually _detrimental_ ecological community. Or maybe we need to replace all those words. It’s not mutual, since we decided that humans are more important than any soils, waters, plants, or animals…and Americans more than other humanity…and those with huge financial interest and investments in fossil fuel corporations more than the rest of us. It’s not community then, because we’re not living in it together, but suffering the breakdown of all kinds of relationships and dependencies. And it’s certainly not ecological, because this is not the logic of caring for our common home.

All of that selfishly detrimental economic fracture can feel frustrating, that everything is unhitched and going wrong and that we have little direct capability to change it. After all, it barely matters a smidge that I pedaled here. Or that we attend to science as the real news. It may feel like we’re such a small group for what a huge global problem this is.

But I’m here to testify on behalf of the underdog and the importance of small actions and movements that do change the world.

We’re frustrated at our government. We’re upset that the President and his EPA administrators seem hellbent on rushing in the wrong direction. But I also confess I was frustrated at the previous President, who did too little while still encouraging worse behavior, bits of better conservation while expanding efforts everywhere we could drill or mine. Sure, that was better than now. It still wasn’t enough.

But I’m here to testify that we’re not waiting for any President. Today is about all of us overturning an old system, fighting for and fulfilling in places like Monona and Middleton and Madison the international Paris Climate Agreement. Here in Wisconsin, not only for ourselves but on behalf of the globe.

And I testify this personally because I’m a follower of Jesus. He is the historic epitome of grassroots revolution. It wasn’t from Caesar and the centers of power in the hegemony of the Roman Empire that change was going to come, that values of compassion would take a turn for the better, that life would win. It came from the poor peasants and outcasts in a backwater village by drawing people together, and courageously and sacrificially seeing what they knew the world should be, and who went on to subvert the ignorant control of the world’s allegedly most powerful empire. With it came the proclamation that God is on the side of life. God is on the side of relationships. God is on the side of shared wellbeing. With this vision, as we struggle and strive, as we Rise Up for Climate, Jobs, and Justice, the God known in Jesus is present with us to restore, to renew, and to recreate a mutually beneficial ecological community, across the earth, and right here in this place, now and for good. Thank you.

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For Peace in God’s World

a sermon on the ELCA Social Statement*, and Ephesians 2:13-19, Matthew 5:9,38-45; Psalm 85

It seems like the impetuses or causes to look at this Social Statement keep multiplying around us.

Just before I left for Guatemala, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton issued a letter quoting this nearly-quarter century old yet still-relevant statement, in part saying:

Citizens need to give careful attention to how we in the United States perceive our national interest…Sin’s power often makes itself felt in arrogant and self-righteous views of national identity, and in narrow, short-term, and absolute views of national interest…

In a time…when an idolatrous allegiance to one’s own community endangers our oneness, we must voice with clarity the powerful vision…to engage differences, not to ignore or fear them. The hope for earthly peace challenges people to strengthen their own particular communities in ways that promote respect and appreciation for people in other communities, for all share a common humanity.

Bishop Eaton was using the social statement in reference against the Supreme Court decision to uphold President Trump’s ban on travel from certain Muslim-majority countries. This is an example of how church interacts with our nation.

That news was overshadowing news of another vital issue, as a couple weeks ago we were finding outrage about how children were being treated at our nation’s border. The social statement applies to that, as well, calling our society and us ourselves to better behavior in loving our neighbors.

That news, in turn, surprised me as we came out from seclusion of the Boundary Waters since we’d gone in on the eve of the summit with North Korea and expected to come out hearing all about it. But even deliberations on nuclear disarmament seem to be forgotten. And that news, again!, obscured the ignoring diplomacy in order to reignite dispute with Iran. Such impetuses, begging our attention to look at this social statement continue to explode so rapidly around us.

Still, I selected this among the set we would look at this summer before those particular headlines, and for much more fundamental reasons.

First, Peace is exactly formative of who and what we are when we gather here. In the traditional and ancient liturgy, we begin with it in repetition: In peace, in Peace! let us pray to the Lord. Kyrie, eleison. It comes up over and over through the liturgy, to the final words that dismiss us into the world and commission us to bear out what we have practiced while together: go in peace. Go in peace.

Perhaps most noticeably and extensively, it is at the heart of the service, the crux of our gathering when we share the peace of Christ with each other. I should talk about it more, because it is such a key moment of what we do here. It’s so much more than a brief howdy. It recognizes that it’s not how well we’re doing in relationship with each other, but that we’re related in Christ, who reconciles us. It is especially important for me with those with whom I’ve had difficulty. If that makes you concerned for if I come to offer you peace, know that I figure we need it most deeply yet again with our closest neighbors, like family members.

But sharing peace also is the moment to see that familiarity is not what binds us. Nobody is a stranger or outsider, since it is Christ’s peace that brings us together. We need to keep practicing that and living into it, week after week.

Having that feeling from worship—so intimate and so expansive and so hugely different from what the world feeds us in hatreds and differences—makes this practice true for me. That sense goes back to my deepest and earliest connection to Christianity. I don’t say connection to God, since that’s inseparable and was established before I was born and was confirmed in my baptism at 3½ months old. But in middle school, I came to see the peacemaking as unique and valuable, that the earliest Christians refused to take up the sword of empire, and yet were the ones who remained in danger to offer nursing care. This nonviolence is far braver than the cheap bravado of threats. So I was a Boy Scout leading the pledge of allegiance over the loudspeaker in my school, but with a dedication to citizenship apart from the patronizing patriotism of militarization.

I was in 6th grade during the first Gulf War. Even though the social statement says we Lutherans support discernment about just wars, that war seemed wrong to me then. Later, I was on my internship when we protested by the thousands, then watched on TV Baghdad flashing horribly with shock and awe. It has continued ceaselessly for 15 years now. That’s a war longer than the whole time I’d been alive when I was coming to believe war is wrong.

This has remained at the core of my faith and was deepened in my understanding of the identity of Jesus. A friend and I started a seminary group called INViTE—Integrating Non-Violence into Theological Education. I wrote in my final seminary paper about how much more effective and cheaper (and, of course, faithful) it would be to take the ridiculous amounts we put into planes and missiles and nuclear devices—a project we name “national security” even though it is a spiral of escalating violence making us less safe—and invested instead in schools and hospitals and benefits for our foes, since what quicker way would there be to make enemies into friends?

To the ready claims that that’s naïve, the counter question is when sanctions and bombs and invasions actually achieve a truly positive result. And I would ask how in the world we could have faith in those destructive practices and still claim faith in the God of love we know in Jesus. We can’t fight terror without it becoming part of us. We can’t well make war while trusting in a God of peace. We can’t have ultimate loyalty to a flag and to God.

Even this morning, without weapons in our hands or camouflage on our backs, we are complicit. We’re complicit in sending others to do that work, often our young people who come home injured in body and mind. We’re complicit in funding with our taxes. We’re complicit in succumbing to idolatrous ideology. We’re captive to sin and cannot free ourselves, cannot liberate ourselves, are not independent.

We need the God of love and forgiveness, I realized throughout our time in Guatemala. I was proud that some of the MCC’s faithful observance of Independence Day was in a Spanish-speaking country whose poverty is in no small part because genocide came with our European ancestors, and violence supported our U.S. fruit corporations a century ago, and whose government was overthrown by our alleged “intelligence” agencies, with dictators and generals trained at our military schools for abuses of a 36-year civil war, ending only in 1996**. I need to cling to the loving, forgiving God of peace in Jesus because I was in Guatemala to help build a house for a poor family, but my country is—and so I am—complicit and responsible for them being poor to begin with.

I know that’s not a very pretty face on this. We often think of peace and quiet, serenity, peace with calm beauty, peace as a personal internal state. But like those early Christians, we realize this is a challenge requiring God’s promise and possibility for our dedication, our fortitude, our faith.

In Guatemala, I was reading words of Archbishop Oscar Romero from nearby El Salvador, assassinated by U.S.-backed soldiers while saying the Words of Institution in worship. One passage said, “Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent oppression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism.”*** In that spirit of inclusive energetic generosity, when Jesus instructs us not to resist evil violently, not to retaliate with the same vengeful destruction, he instead invites us into courageous nonviolent resistance that is powerfully creative in love.

If you’ve struggled with or wondered about Jesus’ words about being bullied, the background likely would help that a Roman soldier could force you to carry his pack one mile, but your first step into a second mile put him at risk for breaking the rules and so reversed who was in charge, taking the initiative away from the oppressor. Your cloak, an outer garment (Luke 6:29), might be a poor person’s last collateral, and if the rich demanded to sue for that debt, Jesus suggests leaving your tunic—essentially your underwear—as well and marching out of court buck naked in protest, shaming them in your nudity. Again, turning the other cheek is the opposite of submitting as a victim of violence. You could only be hit with the right hand (since the left was the toilet hand and could not be used for any sort of interaction). A backhand slap to the right cheek showed dominance, keeping an inferior in a lower place. But by turning a left cheek, you could only be struck by a fist, a denial of being humiliated and insisting on being treated as equals, which defiantly changed either the social structure or else the desire for the powerful to risk losing their upper hand. ****

We recognize similar creative courageous challenges confronting the rule of empire with bodies taking up a cross throughout history. This spirit of dignity and life and even humor in the face of what would take it all away is godly practice. Such is the reconciliation to break down dividing walls of hostility between humanity. Such is a “world about to turn.” Such is the desire to share grace and love abundantly, refusing to call others enemies or aliens, but to share the victory. Such is the peacemaking action of the children of God. Such is the enlivening of the kingdom of God. To me, this is Jesus, and I hope you’ll be part of it.

* http://elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Peace

** www.soaw.org/about-the-soawhinsec/soawhinsec-grads/notorious-grads/239-notorious-graduates-from-guatemala

*** The Violence of Love, p27

**** Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, Walter Wink, ch.2

 

PRAYERS

In peace, in peace let us pray to the Lord.

 

Lord, have mercy. For the wellbeing of the church of God, we pray that in these gatherings and enlivened by the liturgy of your church, you would give us faith and courage to be your children, by your Holy Spirit to mold and equip us to live as peacemakers, to practice sharing together what you would have us become and being a sanctuary in time of desperation.

 

We realize that battlefields cannot be fruitful farm fields, that our killing corrupts not only humanity but causes destruction for your creation. Make us your creative agents who bring about life for all.

 

For the peace of the whole world, we pray for the good for Afghanistan and Iran, for Iraq and Syria, for Palestine and Israel, for the Koreas, for China, Guatemala and Mexico, for all refugees who flee from a bad life and hope for better, and most especially for our nation and for us as citizens here, that we can break down dividing walls and strive on behalf of all our neighbors and seek creative solutions to sustain wellbeing.

 

For our personal peace, for our relationships that require reconciliation, for the threats to our own dignity or the ways we are complicit in dehumanizing others, for all that would threaten us, including fear and irrational striving for security, for the peace of our souls—body, spirit, mind.

 

For peace at the last, not only that we would be able to go in peace from this weekly worship, but that you sustain us in the peace the world cannot give so we trust we are in your eternal embrace through this life and far beyond it.

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The Church and Criminal Justice

a sermon on the ELCA Social Statement*

and Luke18:2-14; Hebrews13:1, 3; Psalm142;

 

These Bible readings help us enter the social statement or—better—to enter the whole situation of criminal justice.

We started with a widow pleading for justice, begging constantly for her case to be heard and to receive what she deserved, but the legal system ignored and disregard her.

While we likely see the widow as vulnerable, a lonely female at the mercy of perhaps a patriarchal structure, we should also be sure to notice that God’s identity is repeatedly defined through our Old Testament as the defender of widows. Widows are the poster children for God’s concern. Actually, I suppose orphans are the poster children; widows are the poster adults, for whom God is especially concerned. Repeatedly, “widows and orphans” define those who should not be denied justice and assistance. Refusing to help the widow and orphan is Old Testament shorthand for deserving of worst accursedness. That makes the unjust judge in Jesus’ story clearly despicable; he isn’t just ignoring a widow. He is ignoring God.

And that reinforces for us God’s intentions and redirects our attention. The subtitle to the ELCA’s social statement on the Church and Criminal Justice is “Hearing the Cries.” If we’re not hearing the cries, then we’re like the cursed unjust judge.

The second part from Jesus warns us again, against thinking we’re so proper and are doing the right thing in worship while shunning those who have done wrong, that we’re not sinners, thinking ourselves more preferable to God than others, including criminals.

Further on priding ourselves on not being like those, we had the stunning little Hebrews verse: “think of those in prison as though you were in prison with them.” We create a distance that causes difficulty in conceiving criminal justice. It can be hard to put a face on what is mostly an unknown reality for us do-gooder church-goers—or, maybe more specifically, us white folks.

I remember a time being sick to my stomach in court, I was so confused and terrified and had no idea how anything worked, what I needed to be doing. It was something I’d never had to deal with, but many in that full courtroom—many of them people of color, and people with much less education and less financial resources and even less English ability—were more at ease, because they’d had to become familiar with this brutal and rigid operation.

You may not have been in many situations of being arrested and the rest. Beyond that, this remains not our reality because it is so easy to remove from in front of us. Prisons are meant to keep people out of sight and out of mind. They’re left faceless and vague, disparaged as bad guys. Vulnerable people like the widow in the parable remain easy to ignore.

So as we’re “hearing the cries” in the words of the social statement, as those cries and our God call us to be aware and active, it seems helpful to wonder how we might put a face on this, to show us whom we must love, as we said in our words of confession.

In this congregation, you regularly have a couple possibilities. You are part of supporting the work of Madison Area Jail Ministry. With prayers and with every dollar you put in the offering plate, you are helping care for both inmates and the sheriff’s department staff in the Dane County Jail. In this work of more than 50 years, you might associate faces of previous chaplains, John Mix and Julia Weaver. You might now know Christa Fisher.

Your offering benevolences also contribute to Madison-area Urban Ministry, or MUM. For decades, MUM has focused on re-entry programs for those who have been imprisoned, to foster a transition into a society that often denies the tools and too much even directly inhibits the ability to re-adapt to life. Here at MCC, you might picture the face of Ken, our most regular Just Bakery vendor who has worked up to become kitchen manager. You might also have seen a new MUM program about urban gardening in the Cap Times*. With Ken, director Linda Ketcham, Nasra from last year’s women’s salad supper, and others, you are part of these relationships.

And you might have other faces you associate. One of my friends works at the prison up in Stillwater; I hear about the stresses of his job. In my role, I’ve gotten to visit inmates to talk on phones through plexiglass, some of them church members and some people who were looking for a connection and support.

For me, the clearest now is Department of Corrections #618778: Bruce Burnside, my first pastoral colleague and once bishop, arrested and given a 10-year prison sentence after he killed a pedestrian with his vehicle. I saw Bruce a couple weeks ago at Jackson Correctional Institution, on my way back from fishing. Though intimidated by all the guards and razor wire and getting buzzed through so many doors and being watched and questioned, it was good to see him. Even in his blue pajama inmate attire, he is still Bruce. His letter this week said the heat wave made the cell like a brick pizza oven, without the pizza.

I know it can be either easier to forgive or to condemn Bruce. You could say he should’ve known and behaved better. Or you could point to good things he did in his life and say that his crime was an anomaly, so he deserves leniency. Whether we’d think his particular situation is just or unjust, still it is the present reality. As always, it’s complex and sad and not something somebody should have to deal with alone. So I’m grateful he gets lots of visitors and cards and attention and is in prayers and on people’s minds.

But that makes me mention Lamont, Bruce’s cellmate. I think Bruce had said that sometimes Lamont would hear from his mother on his birthday, the only caring contact he had in an entire year. So Bruce’s step-daughter Janna started visiting. It began with seeing Lamont when she went to see Bruce. But Bruce told me Janna had been there the previous week and he didn’t even know it until after she was gone, having driven five hours just to visit Lamont. Janna is hearing the cries.

As important and useful as it can be to put a face on this issue and recognize the sound of a voice as you hear its cries, this social statement isn’t only about personal relationships and bonds. Neither is it the religious services we might give to perpetrators of crimes or victims or families or those who work in law enforcement, though the statement does offer care and concern for all those groups.

So I want to mention a few points in this 64-page document and highlight a couple aspects of how it considers we might respond to hearing the cries.

First, we can say that a Lutheran perspective is in favor of criminal justice. We aren’t anti-cop. We can’t say that every prison cell should be thrown open because God forgives. Lutherans see laws as a way to restrain evil, to provide safety, to foster life, and therefore as good gifts from God and a way that God operates in our world.

But we also recognize a “no” along with this “yes.” The criminal justice system as it currently stands may be reasonable and have plenty of dedicated workers and vital work. But all is not well. Most primarily, the social statement stresses that the system is too focused on punishment. That should not be the only aspect of criminal justice. Paying a debt to society or paying for a life taken away is only one metaphor, and certainly not the sole way to obtain justice and order and set things right. Restorative justice, alternatives to incarceration, practices of rehabilitation beg for our attention.

The social statement also enumerates many areas where, rather than offering solutions for society, this system perpetrates worse injustice. These include racial issues we’ve come to recognize somewhat more through the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which are also in the social statement on race (which we won’t get to take up this summer). There is mention of the death penalty, which also has its own social statement. There is drug policy. There is the criminalization of mental illness. There is disenfranchisement of 5.3 million citizens from voting, sometimes permanently.* There is the escalation of children getting tried as adults, and ending up in life without parole. And of children who are affected when their parents are taken away. The statement remarks on immigration detention, and we’re certainly hearing the cries more these days of those families separated at the border.

There is the crazy amount of money we waste on this, including for profiteering private prisons. In spite of that, the statement also asserts that economic benefits of reducing costs should not be our main motivating factor for change. Instead, it reminds us of our theological perspective, with a moral evaluation of what helps people, and the core belief that all people are created in the image of God and there is nothing that can change that central and eternal identity.

Finally the promise of faith is larger than anything inflicted on us, than any of our failures, than any fears of violence, than any of our suffering as victims, than any of our possible responses to set things right. Not just consolation, the statement reminds us, but empowerment, the promise in Christ of being reconciled to God, a time when every tear will be wiped away, and the promise that God will find a way to right all that has wronged us not only is hope for the future, but also gives us courage to cope with partial justice and to meet the challenges of a world harmed by crime.*

We hear the cries, and respond.

 

 

* http://elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Criminal-Justice

* http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/govt-and-politics/urban-agriculture-as-a-life-saver-planting-program-for-formerly/article_52f63a2f-3a89-50c5-872c-125707684189.html

* https://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/votingrights/wi_flyer.pdf

* see p21 for these

 

Social Statement excerpt:

One in 34 adults in the United States is under some form of correctional control and more citizens are
imprisoned as a percentage of the population than in any other country on earth. The U.S. spends 60 billion dollars every year for corrections alone. They who work in the criminal justice system often feel stressed to the breaking point. Concerned that so many cries—from victims, the incarcerated, their families, communities, those wrongly convicted, those who work in the system—have not been heard, the ELCA is prompted to speak and to act.

This statement devotes significant attention to reform and calls for a dramatic shift in public discussion about criminal justice. The dominant public view, underlying the current system, equates more punitive measures with more just ones. The limited success of massive incarceration in deterring crime has not affected the
prevalence of “lock ‛em all up” rhetoric in public debate.

Prevalent views such as “tough on crime” policies make it more difficult to see each person involved in the criminal justice system as a human being. These views effectively override the conviction that all people are created in the image of God and worthy of appropriate and compassionate responses.

The ELCA speaks in this statement from among and to its members, to those affected by crime in any way, and to those who work for the public good in various civil offices related to the criminal justice system.
Drawing from Holy Scripture, this church holds up a vision of God’s justice that is wondrously richer and deeper than human efforts and yet is a gauge against which justice in God’s world must always be assessed.

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“What does this babbler want to say?”

sermon on Acts 17:16-34

There’s something strange in this speech, but not how the crowd expects.

I do like the line “in whom we live and move and have our being.” There’s reasonable stuff on perceiving our Creator and connection to God, neighbor, and creation.

But it’s strange in its ambiguity, its lack of specificity. It seems to try to deal with a generic God, refusing to name anything more explicit. At our heart, however, we reside scandalously in a particularity. That’s ignored here, left indistinguishable, without Jesus.

Starting next week, we’ll hear from one of Paul’s letters and his actual words, and I hope you’ll notice it’s just thick with Jesus, through and through, absolutely grounded and inescapably reverberating with Jesus, in relationship, totally in love with you.

Even the story of Paul’s own conversion two weeks ago wasn’t just a transformational spiritual experience or cognitive comprehension of God. A voice immediately declared, “I’m Jesus, whom you’re persecuting.” That was clearly the focus, the main point and central identity, reshaping relationship.

That contrasts with today’s speech with only sidelong allusions and no direct mention of Jesus at all. Maybe when we hear about one who came back from the dead we think of Jesus, because we expect it in church after Easter. But if we’d never heard of Jesus, it’s tough to imagine this would offer much clarity.

Something I read this week noted this speech has long been a model for how we interact in interfaith settings, with other religions, or even for converting people. But, other risks aside, it’s tough to imagine what they’d be converting to, since this never seems to resolve or define. It remains somehow spiritual and not religious. Maybe that’s even part of its appeal.

Yet I can’t help but be wary of how it minimizes distinctions while manipulatively co-opting others’ beliefs. It shoots for a lowest common denominator, and fails to capture so much of what we identify in being created in the image of God, in sacrificial love, in proclaiming forgiveness instead of just rules for righteousness, in identifying with the least of these, of the God who abides with us through suffering and brings us through death. Those rather particular aspects for us get left out when we overgeneralize and we bypass Jesus.

I’m also concerned in the speech that the expertise isn’t with the ones who have been worshipping but in the religion-splaining one who says, “let me tell you what you’ve actually been doing.” This is the risk whenever we try to declare, “Well we pretty much all believe the same thing anyway.” Buddhists don’t need to hear they’re going to your heaven. Native Americans shouldn’t be told they have basically the same view of nature as you. There’s danger in how we treat the Old Testament/Hebrew scriptures for Jewish siblings who share them with us. I even have to confess some hesitancy about our African song liturgy, and that fine divide whether we’re being enriched by another’s experience and appreciating their identity, taking it seriously or just playing around to feel good about it.

That wariness pairs with the description in the reading of the Athenians, that they thought of themselves as cosmopolitan into wanting to be cutting edge and up-to-date and open-minded. If this applies to us, we run the risk of chasing flights of fancy, unmoored from any solid definition and lasting identity. Whether we’re talking about our taste in worship or our personal lives, we know we shouldn’t give in to fads and be distracted by the latest popular craze, so impulsive as to be unable to keep our attention on what is important and instead always wanting a change. If we define ourselves as too open, we may not hold to who we truly are.

A really helpful term for this set of dangers is “moralistic therapeutic deism.”* Somehow a trend develops that basically we end up with a disengaged God, with religion mainly for how we can feel good about ourselves. This little God is only involved for the sake of guidelines for our behavior—broad categories of “be nice to each other, respect differences, enjoy life”—and our practice becomes pursuit of our self-assured sense of success.

I’m actually hoping that sinks in a bit and strikes you. We too much suspect church is for learning how to be good people, that your investment here is supposed to pay off in increasing your happiness (and, if it doesn’t, then you’d be better off looking elsewhere), and that whatever is proclaimed here should affirm positions you already hold, your political loyalties or efforts in relationships. Church gets boiled down to a weekly pat on the back.

But that’s not our fundamental basis. Boiling this down, sorting through all the accumulated extras, coming back to our foundation and bedrock leaves us with Jesus. For us, that identity is rather specific and rather vital. We don’t operate by general metaphors of new birth emerging from the compost of old death. This isn’t love generally, not vague notions of benign warm spirituality.

We have the scandalous particularity of putting a name on all of this, on saying that when we look for explanations and engagements and hope, we are looking for God in the person of Jesus. It is his life, his death and resurrection, that bear the clearest witness for us. It is his teaching that guides us. It is his promise that sustains us. It is in him that we live and move and have our being, and simultaneously in us that Jesus lives and moves and has his being.

I want you to hear good news in that. I want you to be able to recognize that existence isn’t bound up in how you’re doing with some set of expectations. It’s not in morals or right worship or how well you’re doing at being happy. It’s not waiting for you to get it figured out and to sign on. If this is God, God must be big enough to be in whom we all exist. That means your existence is inseparable from God, from Jesus, from the one who wills life for you, whose work and dedication and passion in the universe is for your sustenance.

As the speech ended in Athens, some of the folks said they needed to keep pondering and hear more. Others scoffed and left. That’s still the case. This sermon might help some of you and others will simply walk away. You might claim that’s just fine, that everybody can discover their own answers and their own approaches to the divine. Or you might be troubled, knowing loved ones who aren’t plugged in to church, and you feel they’re missing out and wondering why the message didn’t work for them.

On either side, it invites us to evaluate why this is important. Do we look for church mainly as a social club? Or our outlet for doing good in the world? Is our practice here any different than another worshipping community, including next door in the Covenant Room? Why does this faith of ours matter? Why continue to deliberate over it and try to understand? How is being identified with Jesus important, vital, necessary for life?

With such questions and the speech’s language about judgment, I don’t want you to hear that as the verdict of whether you’ve done enough, understood enough, believed enough. Think about what it means to live in harmony with the universe, in accord with the one in whom we live and move and have our being, what it means to have a life shaped by and like Jesus, what it looks like to be invited to live with love, and our core definition as being loved.

There’s a different sort of good news in this identity. Whereas the Athenians, seemed to have a casual disengagement that could either take or leave it, that didn’t really seem to care if that was the shape of existence, for us finding ourselves with Jesus in this living, moving, breathing embodied relationship, it—maybe paradoxically—opens us to others, including to be conversant with new understandings.

Because relationship always means becoming something more, our faith shouldn’t be the same as it was last year or when we were younger. Far from the mindless rigidity of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” our trust and faith are honed with humility in relationship, in dialogue with other people, other religions and denominations, including in ongoing partnership here at the MCC. It involves engaging our time and place, of current struggles, of new insights from science. We have a unique and particular sense of existence, so we should and must pay attention to those new things, to be learning and continually re-evaluating.

Besides new questions, we remain with the old ones. A famous Roman Catholic statement on interfaith relations from 50 years ago said:

[People] expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir [our] hearts: What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what is sin? Which is the road to true happiness? What…after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?**

With those questions, you may be asking—as the crowd has it in the New Revised Standard Version—“What does this babbler want to say?”

The proclamation of Paul and of Nick, the word of God is this: If those seem like big questions you might be coming down on the wrong side of or losing your grip on, if you’re discouraged or confused, or worried about others, then remember with the God “who made the world and everything in it,” that there is no way to stray, because you are held as a beloved child of God, in whom “you live and move and have your being.”

And this one made known to us as Jesus, who forgives sins, who judges not based on your merits or understanding or efforts, but based on his passion and love for you, sees you as eternally beloved and worth giving up his life for, this one who was crucified, died, and was buried, and raised from the dead for you. That is the basis of our hope, the center of our identity, the shape of all existence. Alleluia! Christ is risen!

* see Almost Christian, Kenda Creasy Dean, p14

** Nostra Aetate, 1965 http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html

 

Here’s the reading, with the speech:
 
16While Paul was waiting in Athens, he was upset to see all the idols in the city. 17He went to the Jewish meeting place to speak to the Jews and to anyone who worshiped with them. Day after day he also spoke to everyone he met in the market. 18Some of them were Epicureans and some were Stoics, and they started arguing with him. People were asking, “What is this know-it-all trying to say?” Some even said, “Paul must be preaching about strange spirits! That’s what he means when he talks about Jesus and about people rising from death.”
 
19They brought Paul before a council called Mars Hill, and said, “Tell us what your new teaching is all about. 20We have heard you say some strange things, and we want to know what you mean.” 21More than anything else the people of Athens and the foreigners living there loved to hear and to talk about anything new.
 
22So Paul stood up in front of the council and said: “People of Athens, I see that you are very spiritual. 23As I was going through your city and looking at the things you worship, I found an altar with the words, ‘To an Unknown God.’ You worship this God, but you don’t really know who it is. So I want to tell you. 24This God made the world and everything in it and is Lord of heaven and earth, and this God doesn’t live in temples built by human hands. 25and doesn’t need help from anyone. No! God gives life, breath, and everything else to all people. 26From one person God made all peoples who live on earth, and decided the time and place for each. 27To seek God, each and every one of us may surely feel and discover that God is not far away, but near, 28for ‘In God we live and move and have our being’; just as some of your poets have said, ‘We are children of God.’
 
29“Since we are God’s children, we must not think that God is like an idol made out of gold or silver or stone. God isn’t like anything that humans have thought up and made. 30In the past, God forgave all this because people did not know what they were doing. But now God says that everyone everywhere must repent 31and God has set a day to judge the world’s people with fairness. And the chosen judge is a human. God has given trust in this to all of us by raising this one from death.”
 
32As soon as the people heard Paul say that a man had been raised from death, some of them started laughing. Others said, “We will hear you talk about this some other time.” 33When Paul left the council meeting, 34some of the people put their faith in the Lord and went with Paul. One of them was a council member named Dionysius. A woman named Damaris and several others also put their faith in the Lord.   (adapted Contemporary English Version)
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