Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
16. August, 2015
Older Sermons may be found by clicking HERE
Sermon for 12 Pentecost
16. August, 2015
This is the sermon for the twelfth Sunday after Pentecost and the second Sermon in the “From the Waterways” series. The cutter Artful Dodger is still on the hard, as we now wait for what I hope will be the last of our mechanical rebuilds for awhile. Of course our extended stay in the NY – NJ area has allowed me some wonderful opportunities to catch up with old friends, and do some ministry I might not otherwise have had the privilege to accomplish. Our continued thanks goes out to Reconciliation Ministries Elder Al Daly and his wife Joan for their tireless patience with the two somewhat ragged sailors who have invaded their home!
The text for this Sunday is taken from John’s Gospel, the sixth chapter: Two brief verses – first verse 37: Everything the Father gives me will come to me and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away. And verse 45: It is written in the prophets, “And they Shall be Taught by G-d.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
To say that we are living in contentious times in the United States – politically, philosophically, financially and religiously polarized times may be a preposterous understatement. Now, our wholesale polarization may not be as unprecedented as we think – our national history – as is the case of many nations - is one of philosophical extremes and often opposing ideologies – what is new I think is that we live in times where we cannot escape the conflicts – we are reminded of them on a daily basis - through media of all kinds – even if we wanted to, we could not avoid the fact that we are a people at odds with one another in all kinds of ways.
But it’s the disparity in the church that is of greatest interest and greatest concern to me and truth be told then only the disparity in certain areas.
For example, even though I may wistfully long for the days when the pipe organ was the king of the American worship scene and the classical choir was the acknowledged voice of Christendom in the Western world, I am, to the surprise of some of my colleagues, not all that terribly interested in worship wars. Styles of expression come and go and the pendulum of cultural taste continues to swing. The issue of worship and the way in which we do it is important, but for all the time I’ve spent thinking about worship and researching its historical forms and writing about the topic, there are far deeper issues, far more intrinsically linked to our lives as followers of Christ. While I’m telling you what I’m not interested in, I also better go on record saying that issues of church governance and denominational polity, while fascinating to me, and again, are topics I’ve studied rather extensively are also not what I believe to be anywhere near close to the heart of the matter.
Instead, what I am talking about is what we consider it means to be a follower of Christ – who is in and who is out, so to speak. What I am profoundly concerned with is how we define ourselves as Christians and even more importantly, who we consider others.
We all learn a simple verse from the 6th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel when we are children: Seek first the kingdom of G-d… And I believe that in seeking first G-d’s kingdom – in learning to understand what that even means, the rest will fall into place.
So in Chapter 6, Jesus has been doing some pretty spectacular things, culminating in the feeding of a vast number of people, and now he has peoples’ attention. He’s got the ear of the crowd and He’s teaching them.
Or maybe he’s sorting them out, for it seems that right away, there’s grumbling. Some of Jesus listeners were upset with his claim that He – Jesus – was the bread of life; they were perhaps even more upset with His claim that He came down from heaven – that He alone had seen G-d. Particularly since some of them knew Him as the son of Joseph the Carpenter. And as Jesus listens to their grumbling He responds by saying something extraordinary – in my mind, perhaps the most extraordinary thing of all: [from our text for this morning] anyone who comes to me I will never drive away. Of all the audacious claims made by Jesus – and one would have to admit, His claims were bold to say the least – this one – if we think about it - surely ranks among the most outrageous. ALL who come to Him? No one rejected? How can this be. He prequalifies the claim at the beginning of the verse by saying that all the Father has given Him will come to Him and re-qualifies it in verse 45 by saying that everyone taught by G-d will come to Him.
We could spend a great deal of time talking about what that means. Much theology has been drawn up around these verses and the surrounding ones. Some have used verse 37 and surrounding as a proof text for predestination while others have used it as a proof text for universal salvation. That’s often the way it is – the texts – as I have said so often about the Parables – tend to read us – they tell us what we think. But for the purpose of this morning’s discussion, I’d like to focus in on what we probably can’t dispute in any logical fashion:
Jesus says He will never drive away any who come to Him and that those who come to Him are taught by His Abba. So if we were to begin to take that literally, it would mean that Jesus will not turn is away because of our race, or our sexual orientation… perhaps even harder to accept – Jesus will not turn us away because of what we have done – the sins we have committed; even the crimes we have perpetrated. Jesus it seems will never drive is away no matter what. That’s extraordinary.
Now we will get back to polarization for a moment – in my mind nowhere more keenly exemplified than in the church. You can’t worship with us because you are this; you can’t take communion with us because of that… you can’t minister in this church because of some reason of who you are, what you’ve done, or whom you love.
Surely you know what I’m getting at.
If not, I’ll spell it out: For some it’s divorce that’s a deal breaker. Been divorced ? Sorry, you can sit in the back if you want, but don’t think you can approach the sacred table. For others it’s sexuality. What’s that you say? The person you love more than any other has the identical chromosomal make us as you? Ummmm… sorry. We may love the sinner , but we’ve got to hate the “sin” and all. Once you repent and maybe have some therepy, come back and see us, and no, you can’t be a preacher… Committed a crime, have to register when you move to the community? Yeah, those doors are always open, but you know, the food pantry as around the corner – worship and fellowship is for… well… you… know… us.
Of course it all depends on where you are, but trust me, or find out for yourself - there’s always someplace to go and feel excluded if you really want. Are you black? Then you already more than likely know all about exclusion. But don’t worry white people – you can find places to be excluded from as well. Too poor, too rich, to young, too old… to liberal, too conservative. Don’t worry, we’ve got prejudice and loathing in just your size…
But Pastor, we’ve got to be obedient. People can’t just do what ever they want. You’re pretty liberal on this whole gay thing, but you of all people oughta know that it says right in Leviticus 20:13 that if a man – you know – does it – with another man, they both need to be killed… that’s G-d’s word!
And I suppose it is, if one is inclined to have a single voice understanding of scripture; if one really trusts that G-d somehow dictated His will to people to write down. But if that’s the case you might want to take note of a few others – not as – well – sexy – as the whole gay thing… but in fact far more prevalent in the lives of most good and respectable church goers:
The same much quoted book of Moses also prohibits cutting your hair in such a way that the corners of your head look rounded. Scholars are still debating what that means. But they do get that cutting your beard was really definitely prohibited. As was eating food offered to G-d after its been around for three days; and tattoos – instant ride right out the door. Extra-marital sex of any kind would get you in trouble particularly if you were a woman – in many cases it would get you killed. Oh by the way, eating shellfish of any kind was described in the same negative language as the aforementioned presumed reference to homosexuality.
Now if you take every word in the 66 book canon of the protestant church to be the exact word of G-d… well… it’s been a while since I’ve seen the Westboro Baptist church marching in NY holding up signs that G-d is bringing America to its knees because our soldiers have tattoos or cut their beards; I have yet to have someone come to my office to cry on my shoulder because they found out their bishop eats shrimp. Although to be sure, there are a few church bodies that adhere to those rules as well – in some cases even making adherence a so-called salvation issue – as in, “eat a shrimp, go to hell…” Let’s not even get started on pork and bacon.
Now while we’re at it, we might look at some other things in Leviticus that we seem to have missed:
To not honor the elderly is detestable.
To favor the rich because they are rich or favor the poor because they are poor is considered evil.
Telling lies and spreading gossip is mentioned in the same passage as being displeasing to the Lord, as is not leaving extra food for the poor and the wayfarer.
But Pastor, Jesus freed us from the need to follow all those rules and regulations, didn’t He?
Well, that’s one way to look at it. Or maybe He just freed us from the ones we don’t like – like Leviticus 19:33 that instructs G-d’s people not to create troubles for foreigners who come to our nation… or 19:18 where we are instructed not to take revenge or even hold grudges.
But this morning, as reprehensible as some of these “rules” may seem to some of us, and as good as others may seem to some of us, the rules not the issue.
I was of course tempted to throw our text about Jesus never driving any away – and a dozen other similar verses up against the Levitical prohibitions and suggest if the church is so bent on taking Moses at his every word, why wouldn’t we take Jesus at His? And I suppose for those of you who are literalists, I just did exactly that… But again the issue is not rules or even what is authentically inspired by G-d and what is merely human commentary or attempt to understand… What is significant is that in a world that increasingly cannot get along with itself, where religious people, perhaps more than anyone else argue over what is right and what is wrong, what is permissible and who can be saved and who cannot, Jesus accepts all who come to Him – those whose faith is rock solid and those who still remain doubtful or uncertain – all those taught by G-d – all those who in the words of 1st John 4:16, live in love… regardless of creed or nationality, race, orientation or politics…
So here’s what I would like you to take away from this, this morning… If we accept Jesus at His word – that He will never drive any away who come to Him – and I pray you will accept this… then we who profess to be His body on Earth, must also find a way to accept all who come to us, unwilling to lose anyone the Father has sent our way, forsaking our inclination to judge based on standards that we have set – for this business of Judgment – that derives from having “eaten of the tree of Knowledge of good and evil” leads only to death – societal and even individual. Instead let us learn of the Father to follow Jesus, to emulate Jesus, even to be the body of Jesus for all who would seek Him, even and including those who do not know to call Him Jesus, even those who call G-d by another name… For, again, all who live in love are His.
And if after all this, you still long for rules to guide you through a polarized, much divided world, consider this one from Paul’s letter to the Galatians – the 5th Chapter and 14th verse: The entire Law is summed up in a single command, “Love your Neighbor as Yourself.”