Look at You!

Sermon preached May 22, 2011

Texts: I Peter 2:9-10; John 14:1-14

Well, here we are. The beginning of the end did not happen yesterday as predicted by Oakland Pastor Harold Camping. Yesterday was supposed to be the Rapture, that event that certain Christians believe in where believers are taken from the earth to avoid the horrendous and cataclysmic final days of life on earth. Apparently that was supposed to happen yesterday – to be followed by the end of the world on October 21.
The absurdity of such end times predictions masks the truth contained within those passages in the Bible which speak of an end to things as we know them and the beginning of a new world. The truth in those passages is that we long for, we deeply yearn for a better world, a world made right. Looking at the world as it is can be difficult and discouraging.
About ten days ago I was at a breakfast for Lutheran Social Services, a fund-raiser for their work with homeless teens. Mary Wright was kind enough to invite me. LSS does good work, and being on the board of Life House, another good agency working with homeless teen, I know how deep the need is. And there was a moment during that morning when hopelessness hit me. Most teens are out on the street because their home situation has become unbearable. Often parental addiction issues are involved. For a moment, I felt this tremendous sadness for such situations and I thought to myself, if people never feel on the borderline of hopelessness, I wonder if they are really seeing the world well.
This past week I was in Los Angeles for a conference on cross-racial, cross-cultural ministries within The United Methodist Church. These predominantly take the form of clergy from a non-European heritage pastoring congregations whose members are predominantly of that heritage. For instance, if the pastor here were, say, Korean-American, that would be considered a cross-racial, cross-cultural appointment. We have a few such appointments here in Minnesota, and there are more in other places in the U.S.
In any case, some of the stories I heard were disheartening. One pastor, Mexican-American, appointed to an anglo church in South Texas was told by a parishioner – “I was so disappointed when they took my country, now a Mexican has taken my church.” A young African-American pastor from Atlanta, a woman, shared a story about a 94 year-old in her church who shared with her after worship – “You are my favorite colored preacher. You are such a sweet colored girl.” I was in a small group with a man from the East Coast who began to share why he believed some anglo congregations might not be very accepting of pastors of color. It was due to their experience with young men of color in places like shopping malls – with their foul language and pants hanging down. Somehow the adolescent acting out behavior of boys of color tainted all persons of color including preachers. Oh that the world would change.
Beyond discouraging human conduct – whether in broken homes sending teenagers into the streets, or in racial prejudice, racial stereotyping, racism, beyond such things as these, there are those deeply painful mysteries of life which confront us, such as the death of a four and a half month old child, Sandy Lanthier’s nephew. The shadows of hopelessness creep closer. The clouds of despair gather. We long for a newer world. Bob Johansen in his book, Leaders Make the Future, writes, “Clear-eyed leaders will experience hopelessness” (40). So do clear-eyed Christians.
So what keeps us from giving up and giving in? We see all there is to discourage us, to bring despair and hopelessness near. What keeps us going? Johansen writes: “clear-eyed leaders will experience hopelessness,” then he continues: “but they won’t accept it.” Neither will clear-eyed Christians, but why?
Because there is more to the story than the signs of hopelessness. We see more than that. We understand who we really are.
Who are we? You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of the One who called you out of darkness into marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Look at you! That’s who we are.
We are people on the Jesus way, and here is the astonishing thing Jesus says about us. The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and, in fact, will do greater works than these. Look at you! That’s who we are.
Here I need to insert a footnote. I am sorry, a footnote in a sermon?! The other day, I was meeting with clergy colleagues and one said, you can’t just read John 14:6, about Jesus being the way, the truth and the life, and no one coming to the Father except through him without saying something about it. I was going to try, but after the insensitive and, frankly ignorant prayer offered by Bradlee Dean at the state legislature on Friday, I guess my colleague was right. So here is the footnote about John 14:6, a quote from The People’s New Testament Commentary: The text does not claim that adherents of all other religions are doomed if they do not make a personal confession of faith in Jesus before they die. The text affirms that all who come to God come to the God who has revealed himself in Christ. End of footnote, but the beginning of a much longer discussion, I hope.
We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people on the Jesus way, doing the work of Jesus, and maybe even greater work than that. Yes, we see the difficulties in the world, the profound hurt, the cruelties and disappointments that mar human existence. We know about addicted parents and abused children. We know about racism. We know about fear of difference, including difference in sexual orientation. We know about misusing religious language to foster division, maybe even hatred – sometimes it is the language of Islam, sometimes it is the language of Christianity, sometimes it is the language of Hinduism, sometimes it is the language of Shinto. We see all this and perhaps have moments where hopelessness lands for a few moments in our hearts, but we do not let it reside there because we also see more clearly and more deeply.
We trust that God is active in the world, even this world. We trust that Jesus is alive. We know the Christ Spirit within us. We see clearly and deeply. We see God at work and we see ourselves as God’s people on the Jesus way – and God’s people on the Jesus way, well we are up to something. God’s people on the Jesus way act hopefully, making a difference in the world.
Le Cambon, France during World War II was a place of resistance, resistance to the Nazis and to the collaborating Vichy regime in France. In the late summer of 1942 the pastors would encourage their parishioners in the Protestant church to search their hearts and conscience, and where there was a conflict between the civil law and Biblical morality, such as in the laws against Jewish people, the Christians need to follow Jesus. The people responded by sheltering Jews, and sending them into the country side when searches were conducted by the authorities. One afternoon in summer 1942, another search was conducted. Buses pulled into the town square to transport Jews for resettlement. Again, Jews were signaled and fled. One Austrian Jew, however, was arrested. He sat in one of the buses, surrounded by several policemen, and the villagers smiled at him as they passed through the square and stared at the empty buses – several policemen with one lone prisoner to be guarded. The eldest son of the primary pastor of the church gave the man, named Stekler, his last piece of rationed imitation chocolate cake. Others brought more presents, and soon the quiet little man had a pile of gifts beside him almost as big as himself. (Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, 112).
God’s people on the Jesus way, doing great things – engaging in acts of hope.
The school year is quickly drawing to a close, and this coming week there will be a party celebrating another year of mentoring at Lake Superior Elementary School. We, God’s people on the Jesus way, caring for children – doing the kind of things Jesus would do.
Thursday was Ruby’s Pantry night. Again, about 500 families in the Duluth-area were helped with food. Next month, Ruby’s Pantry is going to also have a location in Morgan Park. It will be separate from ours here, but our work helped bring this ministry to our area. Thursday night, a woman came from Poplar, wondering about getting a Ruby’s Pantry site there. We, God’s people on the Jesus way, feeding the hungry – doing the kinds of things Jesus would do.
Today marks the end of our Christian education year. We have had dedicated teachers offering their time, their talent and their love so that our children and youth would know the stories of Jesus, of the Jesus who invited the children to come to him – God’s people on the Jesus way doing the kinds of things Jesus would do.
Yes, there is a lot of pain in the world. Yes there is a lot of hurt in the world. There is cruelty and violence and hard-heartedness. We are not naïve about this. Beyond that, are the tragedies that befall us – a raging river, a tsunami, a tornado, death coming from no where taking one much too young. We stand with those in pain. We work with God in a hopeful spirit, doing what we can to alleviate the suffering we can. We work with God toward a better world.
Look at you!!!
We are… a chosen race – chosen to work with God in the Jesus way.
We are… a royal priesthood – invited to be near to the heart of God, near to God’s hopeful heart for the world.
We are… a holy nation – people formed and shaped by the biblical story and by its desire to see human lives more whole.
We are… God own people on the Jesus way, doing the Jesus work and sometimes amazing ourselves in what we can do with God’s Spirit.
Look at you. That’s who we are and in that we have hope. In that we have comfort. In that we have strength. In that we are challenged.
We are God’s people on the Jesus way. Look at you!