Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 27, 2016
“The Evil Acts of Men Exposed to the Light of Day is Hopeful”
Isaiah 2: 2-4
In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3 Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
Do you remember dial-up internet? Staring at the screen, listening to that sound which cannot be replicated. Come on, come on, come on! Only to then stare at the screen waiting for an image to download half an inch at a time. Excruciating.
Having to wait often raises our blood pressure, tempts us into acts of road rage, causes words to vomit out of our mouth that we would never say at any other time. Most of us hate to wait.
Isaiah presents something remarkably similar. He starts his prophecy in a very dark time. A time for which the people of Judah and Jerusalem should have been very embarrassed. Isaiah even describes the faithful city of Jerusalem as a whore. The first chapter of Isaiah is written like a refrain for “if only you would...” If only you would “defend the orphan and plead for the widow.” If only you would “seek justice, rescue the oppressed…” If only you would “cease to do evil, learn to do good.”
It’s a bleak time. They have turned a blind eye to the needs around them while maintaining a kind of lazy observance of religious duties. God, Isaiah said, is tired of it. Isaiah warns the people that God will turn a blind eye as they are dragged off from their homes by their enemies to live as strangers in an alien land. Their best days are behind them. But all this calamity can be avoided. “Come, let us argue it out, says the Lord.”
And then Isaiah writes the beautiful words of hope we read this morning, “In days to come, swords shall be beaten into plowshares.” But such hope cannot be untethered from the reality the people created for themselves.
You’ve got to deal with the first chapter of Isaiah first. It’s classic wrath of God stuff – for good reason. Isaiah presents a God who is tired of waiting. Not exactly like how having to wait often raises our blood pressure, tempts us into acts of road rage, causes words to vomit out of our mouth that we would never say at any other time. Because God is not tired of the inconvenience of standing in line or being on hold in a voice mail loop. God is tired because the poor would not suffer even one more day if only the people would fulfill God’s command to seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow. Isaiah presents a God who is tired of waiting. Not tired of the hassle and the hustle of small slights and inconsequential snubs but because it seems like no one gives a damn.
When we get angry about having to wait, most of our anger is about inconvenience. We tire of wasting our time when could be doing something else. Our blood pressure rises because we are better than that. God’s anger comes from systems that tangle the poor up in red tape.
I am privileged to only wonder and stand in detached fear for what is coming for our friends and neighbors who are targets of the new presidential administration. I can’t imagine the terror of children who leave for school unsure their parents won’t have been taken away during the day. The hateful schoolyard rhetoric. All the groups who wait in justified anger and real fear and understandable depression. What promises are going to be fulfilled? Are they just threats? This stuff is real. And ultimately temporary, but at the expense of families whose children will become orphaned. Widows will suffer. And many more. So much has been promised and yet so much unknown. And there is only so much we can do.
Nelson Mandela did not see his 27 years of waiting for release from his prison cell as a waste of his time. 27 years in captivity, 10,000 nights of loneliness and separation… But they were simply the in-between time in which his strength and focus, vision and determination were forged so that he could preside over a free nation. He said “It was during those long and hungry years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people. [Because of my waiting,] I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.” That is how he became the president of the whole nation.
Which makes me think of how important it will be to get out of our own bubbles and listen. What led to this present moment? So that one day we can be a whole nation with justice for all. In days to come, swords shall be beaten into plowshares. And neither shall they learn war anymore.
Someone remarked this week that they were glad that Advent begins with the word “hope.” I have more fear than hope, they said. And when the week begins with a conference room full of men doing straight armed Nazi salutes, such fear should be real. Even worse. People who excuse it as not a big deal. When a tiff at a Broadway musical generates more attention than 800 hate crimes and acts of violence, such fear is justified. Unnerving. Alarming. And motivating. And ironically, hopeful. Evil in the light of day can be stopped more easily than that which is enacted in the dead of night. Evil in the light of day is hopeful.
Perhaps I should be grateful that Advent has arrived just in time. We need a pregnant pause. A time to remember that what is will not always be. And that is a very good reason to be hopeful.
Think of all the possibilities that lie in in-between times like these. Imagine that moment when the house lights dim and the curtain rises. That moment of anticipation. Sitting on the edge of your seat. Of course, it first took some waiting, stuck in freeway traffic to get to a parking garage without enough spaces, standing in a line without enough ticket takers, crawling over people already in their seats. Moments of inconvenience yes, but imagine that moment between when the house lights dim and the curtain rises. The pregnant pause after all that trouble, the moment that comes and all the possibilities that come with it. In days to come.
Or the in between moment when the plane has finally reached its place in line on the runway before the engines finally roar to life, ready to lift us skyward. That moment of anticipation. Of course, that was after we stood in zig zagging security lines for an hour and boarding was delayed a few times. And our seat number was the last one to be called. But then, after all that trouble, minor inconveniences, comes the moment when the journey finally begins and all the possibilities that come with it. Hope-filled waiting. Weeping shall last only the night, but joy shall come in the morning.
Not waiting is often what gets us into trouble. Reacting instead of using the time to get prepared. A rise in blood pressure instead using the moment to calmly deepen our resolve.
Last Sunday 90 of us gathered in groups to begin getting prepared – ready to defend the orphan and plead for the widow. Isaiah said, if only you would seek justice and rescue the oppressed, cease to do evil and learn to do good. We identified areas of passion and this week we will begin the process of organizing. If we don’t have your email please make sure you add it to a notepad by one of these signboards.
We enact this pause in time liturgically in the season of Advent. Advent, which means coming, necessitates waiting. But the texts are full of admonitions to use the time to get prepared. And so shall we.
In days to come fear shall become hope. The evil acts of men exposed to the light of day is hopeful. It’s what we don’t know that should scare us. Use this in-between time to build strength and deepen your determination. Anticipate that moment when the time is right to act. For then, we will be ready for our anger to become a force for love.
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 20, 2016
“Let’s Not Just Wait and See, Let’s Watch and Get Prepared”
Luke 23: 33-43 – New Revised Standard Version
“(This is the gospel reading assigned by the lectionary for today)
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“I am crushed.” That’s one of the sentiments written on these sticky notes. After my sermon last week I invited people to state their feelings. That was one along with:
Despondent, concerned, depressed, confused, helpless – and that was from just one person. More:
Many of the notes had dual sentiments like that, such as:
Almost 100 sticky notes, most with multiple words – some with as few as one, some with as many as 10. No wonder last Sunday felt so intense. There were at least 400 to 500 different feelings all being expressed at once.
Syrian-American poet Mohja Kahf wrote:
Feeling calm. You folk forget,
I’ve lived in ameriKKKa before. Lived to tell.
Think one election is enough to get me down? Psh.
Roots dig deep in winter, drink nourishment underground.
Good in the world doesn’t drain out overnight.
This ain’t the apocalypse, just the same old business
a little more naked than it has been in a while
and now we have a few more tools stored away
in the vision cabinet for making plans.
This isn’t optimism, just Sisyphus speaking.
I know this boulder from before, and I’ll push it again,
only this time I have more friends,
know better how to hunker my shoulder to it.
Never expected it to get any lighter, and if it did for a minute, that was a breath we can use for the next heave.
This is not the end--
ain’t no end to a spiral; struggle is struggle is all.”
No doubt that many of the emotions on these sticky notes are still at play this morning. But in the end, we will get to a place of acceptance. But what do we accept?
To say we accept means we understand that we have a very clear mission: To articulate and advocate and act for the kind of open, inclusive, just and compassionate world that Jesus not only proclaimed but for which he gave his last breath. The Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
One of these sticky notes had one simple word: Privileged. By which I can only guess means that they realize the depth of their privilege to be shocked. As well, privileged; as in, we get to choose how we respond.
In our text today, three times Jesus was told “Save yourself.” Once by the religious leaders, once by the soldiers, once by the criminals hanging on crosses on either side of him. I wonder if those three statements – save yourself – were supposed to remind us of Peter’s three denials. I do not know him. I do not know him! I DO NOT KNOW HIM! But with his last breath, Jesus replied that saving himself was not his purpose. And Christian folk, neither is it ours.
Let’s go back to the beginning. After his baptism, the Spirit sent Jesus out into the wilderness to test him:
Three temptations. I recognize them, especially the one about wanting things to be easy. To have no cost. And three times Jesus refused. He knew his purpose and returned from 40 days of testing and began his ministry by stating:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Spirit has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
The Spirit has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
He died trying. And his movement might have died right there too. His disciples hid behind closed doors because they were afraid. No doubt, as well, they were feeling angry, lost, bewildered, stupid, and a whole pile of sticky note emotions more. It took them awhile before they were willing to venture back out. It took Thomas even longer to accept it because for a while, he was paralyzed by doubt.
But then, 50 days later, the Holy Spirit descended on them and hundreds more who had gathered for the Festival of Pentecost. The Spirit alighted on them as if tongues of fire, many languages were spoken as if one. The experience propelled them to create a movement so powerful that people felt compelled to give up everything they owned in order to create a common pot where everyone without had enough and those with some didn’t have too much. That’s how the Church started.
And in that way, the start of the Church is really remarkable – fear becoming strength, bewilderment becoming energy, anger becoming hope. Not for myself, but for everyone. Especially those whom Jesus particularly loved. Anyone left out – the poor, the oppressed, the foreigner in your midst.
The new church lived into Jesus’ redefinition of greatness. As he said, the one who wishes to be great must be servant of all. Again, concern about saving yourself was not as important as standing with others. All of which makes the degree to which the church moved away from that clear and common purpose an even greater tragedy as it sought power and control for itself over the people whom Jesus particularly loved.
Anytime the church, then and today; any time Christians have craved power and authority in order to win, it has denied Jesus. It has betrayed Jesus. Betrayed for another 30 pieces of silver. The very reason Jesus said he came among us was to bring good news for the poor, not to leave them behind in some Ayn Rand fantasy world. Not to lock people up for profit but to release them from captivity. Not to turn a blind eye to white nationalism and white supremacy, not to give a wink and a nod to racism and sexism and Islamophobia in order to “win.” Jesus was betrayed by 81% of evangelicals for a seat at the table. Denied. I do not know him.
Now, to be fair, that’s not because one political party won and another lost. The Kingdom of God is not the possession of Democrats or Republicans or Libertarians or anyone else. But, in this case, the reason for all these sticky notes is that the winning candidate laid out such explicit plans for division and exclusion – exactly the kind that have necessitated dry cleaners to extend their hours in order to clean all those dusty white robes kept in the closet.
And all I can say is: “Father forgive them. Didn’t they know what they were doing? And the people stood by watching.” Repent!
Do not deny and betray Jesus. But we could do that too. It’s a big temptation. We could watch as Muslims stand in line to get registered. Or we could register as Muslims ourselves. We could watch and shake our heads as homeless camps are swept away. Or we could stand in the way. We could watch and hope that LGBTQ rights aren’t chipped away or we could make sure they’re not.
We could go along with all this talk of “populism.” But that might as well be standing beneath billboards all over the country proclaiming that White Lives Matter More. After all, as Jim Wallis of Sojourners wrote, “The media’s new focus on the genuine grievances of the forgotten white voters painfully reveals its own racial bias. Whole communities of color have long been forgotten and left behind.” And all the others now at risk. Do Black Lives even Matter at all anymore?
Friends, the poet said, “Roots dig deep in winter.”
Our first task is to go deeper in our faith. Now more than ever, to nourish and challenge and practice your faith. Be purposeful in your worship and devotion for you and your children – not when it’s easy or convenient but because it will save lives, including yours. Because only then can we lift up truth in a way that can be sustained, in a way that we don’t wear out or give up. Too much is at stake.
But you are not alone. This is your church. And if it’s not yet, claim it. This is our church and we need each other to maintain the persistence necessary to love and protect our neighbors. And not just as Christians, but how do we work together with Jews and Muslims and people of conscience to save lives? What coalitions and alliances will extend our ministry?
Diana Butler Bass posted: This morning, a Muslim vendor at the local farmers market cheered me up. She was amazing. "There's nothing new here," she said. "It’s all just in the open now. And that's an opportunity for good people to do good."
Good people who voted one way and good people who voted another way can now get together and pursue the same vision regardless of party or religion. Denigrating each other and creating further division is not helpful.
We could say, “Let’s wait and see.” Or we could say, “Let’s watch and get prepared.”
It’s time to begin making our plans! To articulate and advocate and act for the kind of open, inclusive, just and compassionate world that Jesus not only proclaimed but for which he gave his last breath.
So, speaking of getting prepared, I was talking with Hal Simmons this week and he asked, “What are we waiting for? People are ready. Let’s get organized.” We discussed that our church’s existing ministries address at least four of main areas that are under some articulated threat: 1) homelessness and other issues of poverty and economic justice, 2) interfaith relations with Jews and Muslims, 3) LGBTQ rights, and 4) racial justice – Black Lives Matter. There are of course other passions that we share, such as immigration, the environment and climate change, gun violence, ending misogyny the enables a rape culture, Palestinian affairs, and more.
We want to offer an opportunity today to gather with others who share a similar concern for some aspect of social justice about which God may be calling us to act. We have set up five areas – 1) homelessness and other issues of poverty and economic justice 2) interfaith relations 3) LGBTQ rights 4) racial justice 5) other passions
I invite you to choose one, go to that corner and gather in a circle to share why that issue really matters to you, and then pray. We’ll take down your contact information and then hold a gathering of anyone who wishes to act in that area – to brainstorm, and collaborate, plan how we might work together in the name of Christ to stand with all the people Jesus particularly loved.
Let’s not just wait and see. Let’s watch and get prepared. By the love of God, in the name of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, let’s gather into a force for good.
 See last week’s sermon http://davidbahr.weebly.com/blog/may-the-intervention-of-the-holy-spirit-save-us-from-an-apocalyptic-nightmare
 Can’t find the exact citation. But to learn more about her: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/mohja-kahf#poet
 Luke 4:1-11
 Luke 4: 18-19
 Acts 2
 Acts 2: 45
 Matthew 20: 16, Mark 9: 35
 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-stark/the-betrayal-of-evangelic_b_12911888.html, http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/november/this-is-what-it-looks-like.html
 Participate with the http://interfaithallianceco.org/
 Join organizations such as https://www.aclu.org/issues/lgbt-rights or http://www.thetaskforce.org/
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 13, 2016
“May the Intervention of the Holy Spirit Save Us from an Apocalyptic Nightmare”
Luke 21: 5-19 – Common English Bible
“5 Some people were talking about the temple, how it was decorated with beautiful stones and ornaments dedicated to God. Jesus said, 6 “As for the things you are admiring, the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”
7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will these things happen? What sign will show that these things are about to happen?”
8 Jesus said, “Watch out that you aren’t deceived. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m the one!’ and ‘It’s time!’ Don’t follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and rebellions (and rumors of wars), don’t be alarmed. These things must happen first, but the end won’t happen immediately.”
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other. 11 There will be great earthquakes and wide-scale food shortages and epidemics. There will also be terrifying sights and great signs in the sky. 12 But before all this occurs, they will take you into custody and harass you because of your faith. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will provide you with an opportunity to testify. 14 Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. 15 I’ll give you words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to counter or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed by your parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends. They will execute some of you. 17 Everyone will hate you because of my name. 18 Still, not a hair on your heads will be lost. 19 By holding fast, you will gain your lives.”
Every time an apocalyptic text like this one comes up in the lectionary, this one every three years, preachers collectively groan. How many times must we explain that we live in different times or that the apocalypse or rapture or Armageddon or the End of the World are interpretations or metaphors.
But we moderns should take caution. These ideas resonated to a community living in an oppressive realm under a tyrant named Caesar. I should not cast doubt on people whose lives were under such literal threat of violence. I should not blame them for texts that are hard to preach. To them, this was not a metaphor. It wasn’t just in their imaginations.
It’s not something I could imagine – until Wednesday morning when I could picture images of deportation forces rounding up Mexicans. And Muslim American citizens standing in airports around the world banned from returning home. Women walking out of Planned Parenthood in handcuffs.
Just to be clear, this is the vision Americans chose. Was it just all hyperbole? Apocalyptic images that we shouldn’t take seriously?
Well, schoolyard bullies have taken it seriously. Feeling empowered, they have been taunting and harassing their black and brown classmates. Bullies of every age have felt empowered. Jeremy told me about a teacher at South High School who called the ADL on Friday because one of her 16 year old students, who is a Somali Muslim refugee, now a U.S. citizen, was in line at Starbucks. A white man in line behind her said to her, "Your days here are numbered."
This same thing has been repeated over and over again across the country. In the first 48 hours, the Southern Poverty Law Center collected over 200 reports of hate crimes. And obviously only a fraction of incidents get reported. Members of our own church were told this week “We know where you live.” Metaphorically? Or by people who now feel free to intimidate and threaten violence?
Even before Wednesday, we have already seen Mosques burned, Synagogues defaced, and black churches bombed. Is that just the stuff of apocalyptic metaphors? Americans were presented a very vivid vision of the country and chose one that is utterly frightening.
One candidate prevailed over another in an election this week because that is what happens in a democracy. I can handle that. We can be adults about that and accept the results.
But Americans elected a man who set the stage for his rise in politics by appealing to white supremacists. Birthers who could not stomach the idea of a black man with power. A man who then announced his presidency by calling Mexicans criminals and rapists. And then, anytime he started flagging in the polls, stated the next most racist thing he could come up with. David Duke called Wednesday the most glorious morning in his life.
The winning candidate ran willingly and happily on white nationalism and won a vast majority of all white voters – men and women. He turned understandable economic resentment, after all, the system really is rigged for the benefit of the wealthy; he turned understandable economic resentment into racial resentment. By design, anger was turned into hatred.
What did white America get out of this deal? Freedom to express as much hostility toward minorities as they wish. Freedom to be vulgar, to assault women – whether they are our daughters, mothers, or wives – because it’s no big deal. Freedom to mock people with disabilities and discard any other form of “political correctness.” And a perverted notion of religious freedom that extends only to a particular narrow version of Christianity. In order to win that freedom, sadly, nothing was so egregious, so vile, so repulsive, that it couldn’t be forgiven by evangelicals.
This is the choice Americans made this week about the kind of country we are, and what we aspire to be. Not metaphorically. This is the stuff of apocalyptic nightmare.
Some may say, “Well, in the end, it’ll be OK. Don’t get too worked up about it.” But if you can say, “It’ll be OK,” then you probably don’t have much to lose. It’s not going to be OK for everyone. We’ve got to understand that urgency and move through our grief so we can stand alongside those who are truly at risk.
Many will no doubt protest that this election was not about race; had nothing to do with race. They will claim it was simply a desire for change by any means necessary. It’s probably true that we were looking at four more years of absolute gridlock and dysfunction. What could break the logjam? The explanation was given that chemotherapy has to kill living cells too. But then explain why the KKK is planning a victory march in North Carolina on December 3rd.
I am not ready for platitudes about how it’s all in God’s hands. Take the longer view. It’s happened before; it’ll happen again. That may be the case, but real people face real threats right now.
DaShawn Mosley from Sojourners was among those who said he saw it coming. He asked why so many white progressives couldn’t see, couldn’t believe that “every time African-Americans get a little bit closer to equality, a wave of white resentment comes hurtling around the bend to wash all of the progress away.” How could we be so naïve?
Columnist Leonard Pitts called this election a ‘slap down.’ “A slap down to women and people of color and LGBTQ folks. A vicious and painful reminder “’so that we’ll know our place.’” Yet as Pitts added, “To those who wish to crush my spirit and the spirit of others like me, hear this – It will not work.”
How did our apocalyptic text end? Jesus said, “By holding fast, you will gain your lives.”
Or as the NRSV says – By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Or the NIV – Stand firm, and you will win life.
Or The Message – Stay with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end.
So my friends, hold fast to your vision of the Kingdom of God. Racial justice, equality of opportunity, the dignity of the poor, safety for the immigrant… Through your grief, through your anger, though you may be despairing, hold fast.
Now more than ever, act like Christians who follow the teachings of Jesus. Hold fast to values of Jesus. He stood alongside the vulnerable and marginalized, he went out of his way to include the outcast, often to call out the hypocrisy of religious types. And so should we. Demonstrate the values of compassion and civility, but don’t forget how he overturned a few tables too. He had a reason for some righteous anger. But as well, he wept. He wept. He wept over the City of Jerusalem. “Oh would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
My friends, stand firm: Don’t joke about moving to Canada or Costa Rica. Stay here and stand up for the people Jesus loved, the planet on which we live. For the sake of the kind of people we are and want to be, stay with it. Hold fast.
My friends, practice endurance: Figure out what you must do to unshackle yourselves from hate. Don’t hate Trump. Don’t hate his supporters. You must be ready to stand for love in your community. You must be prepared to lead a movement of fierce love within your own family. Jesus said they may hate you. They may betray you. But be undaunted by injustice. Grieve today but get ready to rise up with love to be a force for good.
Rise Up because you are stronger and braver than you know.
Rise Up because, like Queen Esther, you were made for “just such a time as this.”
Rise Up and know that if you stand firm on this vision of the Kingdom of God, you will not only win your own life and gain your soul. You will save the lives of those put at risk. Stay with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end.
But like with all grief, some days that’s too much to ask. Some days I just want to lay on the floor and engage in the biblical practice of lamentation. Like biblical Rachel who refused to be comforted. "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." Weep if you must. That is OK.
But remember. That is a luxury not all of us have. Some of us have found ourselves exponentially more vulnerable today. Religious communities under attack. More backlash against the LGBTQ community. It’s already here and more is coming. This is the vision our country chose. An apocalyptic nightmare.
In the days ahead, know that much will be demanded of you, of us. And to whom much is given, more is expected.
But we are not left without the resources to do this. Jesus promised that another would come after him. We not only have the teachings of Jesus, we have an Advocate, a Comforter. The Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, their fear was replaced by courage. Shut doors gave way to proclamation. Generosity exploded. And every doubt was driven away by a faith full of love.
Pray for this kind of intervention of the Holy Spirit in your life.
Pray for the intervention of the Holy Spirit so that the tongues of bullies are tamed and the spirits of the victims are lifted and that your voice and the voices of allies are emboldened. Pray that the matches of arsonists won’t light; that the paint of the spray cans malfunction…
Oh God, we pray. Send your Holy Spirit upon the United States of America
 https://www.thenation.com/article/donald-trump-has-unleashed-a-new-wave-of-bullying-in-schools/, https://theconversation.com/why-the-trump-effect-could-increase-bullying-67831, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/news/local/2016/11/11/school-officials-grapple-bullying-harassment-incidents-after-election/93639328/
 Luke 19:42
 Esther 4:14
 Matthew 2:18
 John 14:26
 Pope Francis
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 6, 2016
“They Are Still Alive”
Luke 20: 27-38 – Common English Bible
“Some Sadducees, who deny that there’s a resurrection, came to Jesus and asked, 28 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a widow but no children, the brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first man married a woman and then died childless. 30 The second31 and then the third brother married her. Eventually all seven married her, and they all died without leaving any children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? All seven were married to her.” 34 Jesus said to them, “People who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy to participate in that age, that is, in the age of the resurrection from the dead, won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. 36 They can no longer die, because they are like angels and are God’s children since they share in the resurrection. 37 Even Moses demonstrated that the dead are raised—in the passage about the burning bush, when he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. To him they are all alive.” (References to Deuteronomy 25:5; Genesis 38:8)
Did anyone drive a black car to worship today? Be careful driving home – at least until you get back to the city limits. It’s illegal to drive a black car in Denver on Sunday. Do any of you have an ice cream cone in your back pocket? Good thing you’re not in Georgia, unless it is Monday through Saturday, when it’s perfectly acceptable – lawful – for you to carry an ice cream cone in your back pocket.
Who would come up with these? But do a google search for absurd laws and you’ll find plenty of doozies. Some strangely specific, like, in South Dakota it’s illegal to sleep in a cheese factory overnight.
Some nonsensical, like, whale fishing in Nebraska is illegal – not to mention impossible.
Some laws are sort of odd but understandable, like, using goldfish as bait in Minnesota is illegal. But that doesn’t explain – why aren’t you allowed to get a fish drunk in Ohio?
Some laws still on the books are disturbing, like, it’s illegal for a woman to cut her hair without her husband’s permission in Michigan.
Or like one of the ballot issues in Colorado this year: slavery is unconstitutional except if one is convicted of a crime.
Every state has their own version of absurd laws. In some cases you can kind of guess what prompted the law: Like, in Louisiana, you can be fined $500 for having a pizza delivered to an unsuspecting neighbor. That kind of makes sense. And certainly something must have happened to explain, why is there a law in Iowa that a one-handed piano player must perform for free? Or that you can’t play golf with explosive balls in Massachusetts. That makes sense, but do you really need a law for it?
The Bible has plenty of its own examples of absurd laws and rules, or at least, outdated ones and certainly created in a vastly different context than our own. Some laws were about hygiene. Some were dietary laws. Some laws helped to shape a common identity. And some laws sought to protect vulnerable citizens, like widows. That’s the only explanation that makes some kind of sense here: If a man dies and leaves a wife but no child, his brother is obligated to marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. So… maybe protecting vulnerable people wasn’t the only reason. As scholars note, in a deeply patriarchal society, this was the only way that the eldest brother’s name could continue – in essence, giving him eternal life.
The Sadducees posed the absurd extension of this law, “Tell us, Teacher, what about this: There were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman died. In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?”
Questions have many functions. Questions may be posed to gain knowledge or understand a situation better. They can also be posed in order to win an argument or attempt shame an opponent. Not answering a question makes the person asked seem like they have something to hide. The one asking usually has the advantage because they have taken the power to shape the conversation.
The Sadducees are not asking Jesus a question in order to understand better. They don’t even believe in the idea of resurrection, unlike their counterparts the Pharisees. The Sadducees were simply looking for ways to entrap him. Now, Jesus had already proved adept at such strategies, for example, brilliantly answering the question about paying taxes to Rome. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, give to God what is God’s.” That silenced the religious authorities who stood there with their mouths open. So they came back and tried another one. Jesus appeared just as wise and calm this time.
You can picture them snickering as they asked. The Sadducees might have thought their question was funny; that they were being clever. But their wealth and power and prestige in the community insulated them from the real pain in this story about a woman passed from one brother to another after another. But that’s about as funny as groping and kissing and tic tacs, “locker room talk.”
We can laugh about absurdities like laws against whale fishing and ice cream cones in our back pockets, but this was the stuff of real life, where women really were property you could do with what you wanted and served as the convenient butt of jokes. Gee, come to think of it, how much times have changed and haven’t changed…
Remember, the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection so they had a vested interest in making the situation seem absurd. In fact, you can even imagine the whole crowd standing there listening, poking at each other and laughing too.
But questions about resurrection or an afterlife or heaven are not absurd. Sophisticated people in our modern times may think of them as outdated, a holdover from a more primitive time, but I have questions too.
Like, on this All Saints Day, where is my father now? And what happened to my nephew after he was killed in a tragic farm accident when he was only two years old? The pastor at Ryan’s funeral explained that “God wanted another flower in his garden.” I wanted to get up and walk out. I’ve also heard variations on “his soul was too pure for this world.” And “he’s in a better place now.”
Setting aside the distress of those statements, upon the death of a loved one, we all have questions. We all search for answers and meaning. We need that. My dad lived a good life, not perfect, but he was a decent man who took care of his family and was active in his community and cared deeply for his church. He deserves something good. But, I have questions, like, what age is he? When he died, did he start whatever comes next at the age he died, perpetually 88 with a bad hip and a weak heart? Or did he revert back to a handsome young farmer? Or when he was a new dad? On his first trip overseas? Is Ryan perpetually two years old, never progressing farther than the sandbox in the backyard? Or, what about reincarnation? These aren’t absurd questions to me. But they also not the place to start.
Since the Sadducees brought up Moses, Jesus deftly used Moses to respond, calling forth the revered names of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus explained to them, Moses spoke at the burning bush of the Lord as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God didn’t say, “once upon a time, long ago, I used to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I remember them fondly, but now they’re dead and long gone.” No, God speaks in the present tense to announce that God was, is, and continues to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus explained, to God, all of them are still alive.
Everyone listening stood there stunned. He said nothing about resurrection. Nothing about a place called heaven where the dead gather in eternal rest. He said, to God, they are all alive. How could they argue with that?
It’s human of us to want to know where and what the dead are doing now. It’s also very human to want rules created so that only some people “get in.” Things like “You have to have been baptized.” You can’t have taken your own life. You have to have said the right words, first confessing “I am a sinner.” We have arguments about whether pets are allowed in or if they have a separate heaven. All to the point of absurdity, right?
Puritans created something called the “Halfway Covenant.” Some nonsense about being able to baptize the infants of church members who couldn’t describe having had a conversation experience. In this Halfway Covenant, those infants could be baptized, but would not be allowed to take communion until they could report their own conversion experience. Presumably because of the fear of what would happen to unbaptized children if they died.
For some people, heaven is a reward to be won for meeting certain criteria, just as hell is the punishment for having failed. But to understand the grace and mercy of God is to see just how absurd this is, as silly as the Alabama law that makes it illegal to wear a fake mustache to church with the intent of making people laugh.
I don’t know where my father is or my nephew or anyone else. But Jesus assures me that God is still their God. To God they are still alive. They still belong to God. And to belong to God is to have life. To have life is to be real. And they shall always be real to me, in whatever form I choose to remember them.
I encourage those for whom heaven makes no sense whatsoever to picture their loved one doing exactly the thing that gave them most joy in life. So, if I want to picture my father, it’s not in a puffy cloud floating around but sitting in his boat throwing a line into the water. Not pulling out a fish, but just casting out at whatever may be, or not be. There, he was at peace. And that brings me comfort. In fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald said heaven is “a trout stream where no one else has even been allowed to fish.” The late-great comedian Robin Williams said heaven is “having a front row seat to Mozart, or Elvis,” or whatever your taste may be.
If you thought of your own loved ones, what can you picture them doing when they were at their happiest?
Is there a resurrection? Jesus didn’t answer that question, nor many of the others we may have. Instead he points to a God whose faithfulness is beyond time, a God of infinite possibilities, whose grace is inexhaustible, in whom we all live and move and have our being, now and forevermore.
 The New Interpreters Study Bible
 Patrick J. Willson, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4
My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and a Travelling around the world