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/