Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pentecost 23 C Sermon at Christ Lutheran - Upper Darby, PA

On my way to church I listen to "On Being" and today's offering  of Tippet, E.J. Dionne and David Brooks I found exceptional.…/david-brooks-and-ej-di…/9001/audio…

The text follows:
We may no longer read headlines, but way too often we hear the phrase “Leading off in the News”.  Everyday KWY has the news on all day, 24/7, NPR has news in the first 5 minutes of every hour.  I would suspect that when a new and exciting rabbi came to town, it would lead the news of the town crier.  It would be the event that caused people to lay down their work and make sure that they got to synagogue.

Karl Barth is said to have said: "We must hold the Bible in one 
hand and the newspaper in the other." Actually, The Center for
 Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary has not been
 able to pin down exactly from whence that quote emanated. 
However, it is widely known that Barth made the 
Bible/newspaper connection frequently throughout his 
 illustrious career. They have, however, substantiated the 
following quotes…
In an interview from 1966, for example, he stated: 
"The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into 
thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with 
certain themes; they live in the world. We still need - 
according to my old formulation - the Bible and the Newspaper."
News junky that I am, over a period of time, I’ve come to love the Parables in Luke.  These pointed short stories seem to capture everyday life in the believing community in Palestine. Let’s do a bit of review going back to chapter 15.
Welcome to the Town Crier of the Villages that Jesus visited.
 Chapter 15 of Luke, has three parables strung back to back.  In the first story to tax collectors and sinners and the leaders of temple were all wondering about this Jesus [ I guess that would include most of us. ] First he tells a story about a man who has a lost sheep.  Leaving 99 this shepherd leaves to find the lost one.  Finding it there is great joy, and an illusion to finding and saving just one sinner.  It raises an interesting internal question, are we the lost who was saved or one of the 99 who awaited the return of the shepherd?  Either way there is joy.
A woman knows that she has 10 coins, but in counting, she is one short.  She cleans that house from top to bottom before Halloween or Thanksgiving or Christmas, just to find the coin, and when found again there is great rejoicing.
Then there is the frustrated millennial.  He knows he’s not going to inherit the farm, so he asks for his portion of the estate, gets it from his dad, lives on the border of the wild side and blow his inheritance.  Suddenly living on the outside isn’t as exciting as he thought. So swallowing his pride, working for his dad as an employee is better than being left out in the cold.  There is fatherly celebration upon his return, a feast to celebrate the lost, now found. Yet this story has a hanging edge, of a dutiful child for which there is no celebration but a sense of being taken for granted. Can he had his status affirmed,,, and still love his brother???
16. Then there is the episode of the continuing story of BUSTED.  Caught not keeping track of the assets of the household, the manager is sacked. Not yet thrown out on his ear, a way is found to soften his landing, but cutting the debts of his boss’s debtors.  He is considered shrewd for preparing a soft landing when he is thrown out.  This is not a lesson taught at the Wharton School of Business.  The lesson to be learned is one cannot serve God and Money, we can only handle one Master.
Jesus follows with a series of warnings about the everyday living that people do…  People are known to justify public actions… Pick a headline, attorney general asks for house arrest….Governor was informed of tunnel closing…. Didn’t know the critical nature of a wall falling in Downtown Philly…  That still doesn’t make it right in the sight of God… Scripture might call it detestable.
17.  A couple of weeks ago, we found Jesus meeting 10 men outside a village.  They couldn’t go in… They had leprosy…Jesus did his thing… a prayer, a command that they go see the priest in the temple..  While walking they didn’t seem to notice that healing had begun to take place and by the time the priests saw them, They were CLEAN.  ONE, ONE, a Samaritan noticed and went back to Jesus.  Jesus always asks the hard questions…weren’t there 10 you???  So Jesus, surprised that only a foreigner returns to praise God, says to the Samaritan, go, Your faith has made you whole.
18. Now last week, the lesson featured a woman, a widow who sought justice from an adversary.  We are never informed about the nature of the dispute, but it is apparent that the Judge ‘neither feared God nor respected the people.’ [and that’s a quote from scripture.]  The judge notes that he is has little choice in in granting her judgement, or….. she will wear him out.  Persistence sometimes is needed to get the job done, even in the life a Child of God.
Then there is today’s parable.  Jesus notes that he is telling this Story to and about … two people who were going to worship confident that they were children of God [ I beg you not to turn your heads to see who is sitting next to you, for my prayer is that we are not talking about anyone sitting here today….]  These two are called the Pharisee and the tax collector. One is a strict keeper of religious law and the other, a worker for the IRS of his time.  [Given that starting point, as a seminary professor I could be in serious trouble of being on the wrong side of the end of this story…]
The Pharisee had a firm grip on his religious assets.  Kneeling before the altar, He says out loud—“I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”  He has the audacity to even point out his attributes: “I fast twice a week and I give a tenth of everything I get.”  Modesty does not seem to be a part of his self-description.  
While scripture says that the tax collector “stood afar off and beat his breast”, I can imagine him or her sitting about two thirds back next to the wall and gazing out at the stained glass window and whispering almost under his breath…God be merciful to me, sinner that I am.”
Scripture indicates that the tax collector went home justified.  The Pharisee???? Not so much…  Jesus gives an adage to be a primary part of the lesson for the day.  “ For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he or she who humbles themselves will be exalted.” 
These lessons are for us even today.  These lessons lift up for us the question of how and when and how often we read scriptures.  Do we take the bulletin home and reread the lessons for this Sunday/this week?
It may not be the easiest thing to place ourselves under our own investigation of who we are and whose we are as children of God.  But I firmly believe that we reflect that relationship in each and every step of our everyday life.  That is both the News of the Day and the Good News as well as the continual presence of God in our lives, for remember This is our Father we are talking with and talking about.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

To Leilani, To Joel, To Jordyn, To Devon, and to all we have inadvertently failed:

Fifty years ago I was a student at Wittenberg University, a Lutheran University.  We used to joke about it being a "small Christian College, for exceedingly small Christians."  It formed me in many ways to be a minister in the Lutheran Church.  It taught me well about "Having Light and Passing it on to Others."

There were Professors and Administrators who encouraged me, nurtured me, and in retrospect - protected me as a student from 1962-67 as an undergraduate and from 1967-71 as a graduate student. In many instances- not all - my fellow students were my protectors.  I learned to navigate during a time of racial turmoil and the last draft-able war.

In many ways we thought that we had Overcome and that Some Day was now, with a few hiccups along the way.  We raised our children to be in a world where Civil Rights were a right granted by law.  Voting was guaranteed, equal opportunity was on the horizon.  Social mobility was a real possibility.  Our children were raised without the same warnings of foreboding that were routine in my childhood.

It is without suitable critique of Society and status in America that we sent our son off to the same institution from which my wife and I had graduated.  In the intervening 26 years we ASS-U-ME -D that all would be right for our second generation college student.  Schools change, people change, buildings look the same.  My son's fellow students were his antagonists.  The administrators sought witnesses to mete out justice.  Pastoral care oblivious, while custodial staff were able to diagnose the problem as I gathered my transferring student's belongings, when they recognized me from my time on campus.

As I move into observing the third generation of Jordyn and Devon who bear my name and to Leilani, whose post catalyzed this post, I ask for your forgiveness.  In the 60's we thought we gained our rights by law.  What we gained was limited to behavioral modification.  We did not achieve Attitudinal Adjustment.  If anything, the attitudes have hardened and achieved more demonstrable, visual expression.  Civility has become a lost art form.  Words more severe than those uttered by Emmett Till, which caused his death, have become part of the news and a political campaign, and no longer hidden away, or choked down, but loudly proclaimed.

To my child, my grandchildren, to all of their cohorts, please accept my deep apologies for not being honest about the "progress" we thought we had made.  For you living with portions of generations, who have assumed, learned, or been taught that equality is not for all.  But that is the Law.  That we can hold up to our fellow citizens.  With partners, we will continually have to work on attitudes that truncate equality.

Rich Stewart