- Published on Saturday, 09 July 2016 14:36
Homilist: Randal Wisbey
There is a certain and puzzling brutality present in the Bible. We see it in our Psalm today. The Psalm begins with a beautiful doxology of praise for God with dancing and music and victory. It then descends into vengeance and binding with fetters and shackles. This is in character with much of the Bible, but seems out of character with our contemporary ideas in Christianity of love, acceptance and forgiveness. Is there a place for brutality in the actions of God’s faithful? Are we tools of God’s justice?
These two questions must be answered separately. Yes, we are tools of God’s justice. No, there is not a place for brutality in God’s faithful. There is no place for brutality for several reasons.
The first reason is that in our judgments, as humans we make mistakes. On Wednesday of this week, Leon Brown was released from prison in North Carolina after spending thirty years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit. He wasn’t released because of prosecutorial misconduct. He wasn’t released due to an obscure point of law overturning his conviction. He was exonerated. We make mistakes.
The second reason is that there is enough brutality in the world already. There is no need to add to it. The consequences of sinful actions have enough brutality of their own. While we can and should as God’s faithful do our best to prevent injustice, the idea of revenge or giving people what they deserve is a human idea not a theological concept. We often slide into competitive thinking, identifying winners and losers when we think of justice. Today there is a tentative ceasefire in Ukraine. In my carnal heart I hope Ukraine wins in this conflict with Russia. But requiring winners and losers we obscure the tragedy of the fact that families are losing loved ones in a conflict over something as trivial as “who owns what”.
The third reason is that God’s justice is never a solo act. To use restaurant language, although it may be the entrée – it always comes as a combination plate! God’s justice is always mixed with mercy. God’s first response is always redemptive and God’s justice is always tempered by God’s love. Simply put, God loves people. God has a response to the brutality of sin. Save the sinner. Even if it costs the life of God’s son.
Our reading in Romans has two thoughts. The first thought is descriptive, the second thought provides context.
First, the context. The context of our actions is that salvation is near. So our response must be serious.
The descriptive portion points out that God’s commands are summed up by calling us to acts of love. The text goes on to point out that love does not “harm”. There is no brutality in love.
In a world where there is constant brutality in human interaction, Christians ought to seek a course of forgiveness, redemption and “oh yeah” love.
- Published on Saturday, 09 July 2016 14:31
Homilist: Mel Campbell
There are two miraculous events recorded in all four gospels: the resurrection and the feeding of the 5000. The latter was our reading from the gospel this morning. Rather than compare Matthew’s account with the other three, allow me to combine the four accounts. Think about what you bring to the story to better understand what you can take from the text. As I retell the event answer some of these questions in your mind.
1. Where am I in the story?
One of the 5000 men, one of the women, one of the children. Or maybe one of the disciples, or the small boy. If you identify with any of these why did you come? Curiosity, healing, or what . . .
- Published on Monday, 23 June 2014 07:42
Pentecost is a beginning. 50 days from Easter, it’s the day that we remember when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples with a rushing wind and tongues of fire. It’s the day that we think about what the disciples managed to do over the next hours, years, and centuries as they took the good news of Jesus first to the people gathered in Jerusalem for Shavuot or Pentecost, the Feast of weeks that celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai, and later towards the end of the earth. Pentecost is the birthday of the church.
But as we celebrate that birthday this weekend, I’d like us to spend some time thinking about the ways that Pentecost is also an ending. There are two Biblical narrative that I think come to their conclusion on the day of Pentecost. The first is the resurrection of Jesus.
But Easter was weeks ago…aren’t we past that yet? I think that Hollywood in general and Disney movies in particular may have spoiled some of the inherent tension present in the Easter resurrection. In our tendency to think of Easter as the Disney-ending to the Crucifixion story, we lose a lot of the complexity in the Gospels. We think that yes, there may have been some confusion at first about Jesus, and Thomas doubted for a little while, mostly we focus on the doubt-free joyous reunion between the disciples and the miraculously-raised Son of God. (The Son of God that we assume the disciples understood theologically about the same that we do, having the benefit of two thousand years of hindsight.) Easter is over. Jesus was resurrected. The disciples’ grief and confusion is resolved. The end. Roll credits.
- Published on Saturday, 09 July 2016 14:28
Homilist: Jennifer Helbley
Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24
We are impressed by big numbers. So when Jacob was told1 that his descendants would number as many as the dust on the earth, which was reminiscent of the promise to Abraham2 that his descendants would number as many as the sand on the seashore or the stars in the heavens, Jacob was dutifully impressed. The best estimate on total number of people who have ever lived3 (regardless of if they were descended from Jacob) is somewhere between 100 to 115 billion. This means that we still have a ways to go, even with the low estimate for the number of grains of sand4 on the earth. And a very long ways to go if you are counting stars or the higher number of estimates5,6 of grains of sand.
Conveniently, we do have a unit7 that has the right magnitude for this type of counting. It is a unit similar to a dozen, recall that a dozen items is 12 items. So instead of 12 we are going to count in units of 6 x 1023. I would tell this to you in something like billions, but it honestly gets extremely confusing at that point. So the 1023 means that there are 23 zeros after the 6. That is a lot of zeros. This unit is called a mole. There is a Mole Day8, celebrated on Oct. 23, because you know October is the 10th month. So if you are looking for something pleasant after contemplating The Great Disappointment9, there's always Mole Day to cheer you up. For estimating purposes there is one mole of grains of sand on the earth and one mole of stars in the universe. Good estimators say there are probably a few less grains of sand and a few more stars. So God wasn't joking around with small numbers when he was giving Jacob a population estimate.
And yet, here we sit with a little squares of bread and about 10 mL (sorry, I'm a scientist) of grape juice on the table to represent Jesus. How can such little items be chosen to represent someone who knew how to impress with grandeur? He DIED. And we commemorate it with little bits of food that aren't enough to sustain us.
- Published on Monday, 16 June 2014 07:57
Many times around the world, the Gospel has taken root in places prepared by the blood of martyrs. Today we read the story of Christianity’s first martyr, Stephen. Before he was killed, he had vividly LIVED the gospel, beginning in a very humble way by becoming one of the seven leaders chosen to supervise the distribution of food to widows in the early church. This was needed especially because they were being neglected in the distribution.
The problem developed in those early days because the Hebrews who were the native Jewish Christians, spoke Aramaic, a Semitic language. The Hellenists, Greek speaking Christians, were probably Jews from other lands who were converted at Pentecost. Those speaking Greek complained that their widows were being unfairly treated, probably because of the language barrier. (Makes me wonder why there were Greek widows. Did they travel with the Greek men for Pentecost? Then stayed in Jerusalem because they were converted? Interesting . . .) So that the apostles could concentrate on preaching and teaching, seven respected Greek speaking men were put in charge. Stephen being one of them. Rather humiliating first job – the widows!
Luke describes Stephen as “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (6:5) and “full of grace and power” (6:8) This is the portrait of a remarkable and godly man. He is also the first besides the apostles whom Luke specifically tells us “did great wonders and signs.” Because the Jewish leaders could only find charges against Stephen by being dishonest they resorted to false witnesses. The trumped up charges of these men ensured that Stephen was taken before the high priest and the Sanhedrin.