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3-27-22 — Two Sons — Luke 15:1-4, 11-32 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Luke 15:1-4, 11-32

Two Sons

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

One of the brighter spots of the pandemic was the show Ted Lasso. If you haven’t seen Ted Lasso, it is a comedy/drama about a character named Ted Lasso. He is a football coach at a small college when he accepts a job coaching an English Premier team, the soccer team AFC Richmond. The team’s owner essentially hires Ted to get back at her ex-husband. She believes that Ted will fail. The series focuses on redemption and personal growth and the idea that every one of us is on a journey. One of the background characters is a guy named Nate. Nate is what is known as a kit man, basically, he takes care of the equipment for the players. In the show, he is constantly being picked on by the players. They don’t appreciate what he does. Most of them don’t even know his name, and when they call him by the wrong name he doesn’t even correct them. He just shuffles around the locker room. As the series continues you discover Nate’s father is a bully. When Nate experiences some success his father doesn’t even acknowledge it. It is right in front of the father’s face, Nate’s photo is on the front cover of the sports section he is holding and an interview with him is being played in the background of the TV.  Ted keeps showing up in Nate’s life, asking him his opinion, and in the show we see Nate bloom. But what we quickly realize is it is never enough. While Nate has bloomed because of Ted, he has not done his own internal work. He has not figured out how to be a better person. Father Richard Rohr once said, “You can tell a lot about someone by what they do with their pain… do they transform it, or do they transmit it”. [1]

Our text today is probably one of the most famous stories in the bible. This is the third parable in a series; it follows both the parable of the Lost Sheep and the parable of the lost coin, where God is described both as a shepherd seeking out one lost sheep and a woman clearing out her house and sweeping to find one coin. The premise of these three stories is very clear from the opening chapter, men and women of questionable reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and the religious scholars are not happy because Jesus is treating them as old friends. Their grumbling is what triggers these stories.

These texts are so famous because you can put yourself in the story. We can all identify with the characters. We at times have all probably been the youngest brother, who runs away making a series of bad decisions but comes back seeking grace. Maybe at times, we have been the father who offers grace even at the point of embarrassment. Maybe at times, we have been the oldest brother who is angered by the antics of his younger brother and struggles with his wounds.

Many scholars view this story through the honor and shame paradigm. The youngest son heaps shame on his family by asking for his inheritance, akin to asking his father to die. He heaps shame again on the family by returning to his hometown as a failure. The father runs to his son; at the very least, this was not done in this culture; at the most, it brought shame again to the family. The other son is so angry about his brother’s behavior that he refuses to participate in the party; his anger consumes him. He brings shame by disobeying his father. His father, again breaking cultural rules, pleads with his son. It makes you wonder if the responsible brother even knew what he was angry about. Have you ever experienced a grudge where you don’t remember what initially caused it?

This story is about forgiveness. Many people misunderstand forgiveness, they see forgiveness as some form of weakness, but that is not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is a reestablishment of our power over the situation.  Forgiveness allows a problem no longer to have the same level of power over us that it once had. The implications of forgiveness are different for every situation. This may mean allowing someone back into your life or never allowing someone back in. This is what the responsible brother needs to learn. He needs to learn forgiveness. Maybe this younger brother has been a pain forever, but the responsible brother will keep reliving those moments and missing out on the joy — the joy of the family gathering, the joy of new opportunities, and the happiness his father is experiencing at the return of his son.

The other thing this parable reminds us of is how short life actually is. I recently read a piece in the Times called How Covid Stole Our Time and How We Can Get It Back by Tim Urban. He begins with a concept called Depressing Math. He made a little box for every week of life until the age of 90 and while it might feel countless it is just a few thousand. He then looked at a few activities he likes to do — in this case going to the American Museum of Natural History and going to the movies. He counted the number of times he has been to the Natural History Museum since moving to New York in 2009 at 3 times. He then realized that if he continues at that rate he will go 12 more times in his lifetime. Or the movies — he figured that would be hundreds of times, but when he added it up it was only 53. But where his depressing Math gets really interesting is when you apply it to relationships. As a parent, this was hard to read. He spent about 19 years seeing his parents every day of his life then he left for college and never moved back. Now he sees his parents about 10-15 days a year.  If his parents live till he is the age of 60 he will have 350 days with his parents since moving out. Essentially, he will only physically interact with his parents 20 years out of his entire life. He went on to do the same equation with childhood friends, realizing that had only hung out a total of 10 days in the last decade.  Depressing math is depressing, but it is also good news in the sense it can help us to prioritize what is important. These equations are not locked in. If you want more time with friends you can find another weekend. If you want more time with parents, or children, or grandchildren you dramatically increase that time with a little work.  [2]

Our stories are not locked in, God is perpetually inviting us to the feast, God’s grace is bountiful, it is embarrassingly extravagant.  No matter whom you identify with in this story, the one in need of grace, or the one needing forgiveness God is running to you at this moment.

[1] https://thecorners.substack.com/p/stopping-the-nate-hate?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjo5MTQ4NzAzLCJwb3N0X2lkIjo0Nzg3Njg3NywiXyI6IjFtZHVqIiwiaWF0IjoxNjQ4Mzc3Nzg5LCJleHAiOjE2NDgzODEzODksImlzcyI6InB1Yi0yMzczMyIsInN1YiI6InBvc3QtcmVhY3Rpb24ifQ.ViA0rb4fYCVclTSYdXJbhoSxzUHO5BSk0Oypkj6Dpoc&s=r

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/25/opinion/covid-pandemic-depressing-math.html

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3-27-22 Bulletin

3-27-22 bulletin

3-20-22 — Figs and Fruit — Luke 13:1-9 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Luke 13:1-9

Figs and Fruit

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

I heard this story the other day on the podcast called Hidden Brain. The episode is called You Can’t Unsend. The story featured a young man named William. William is from Central Pennsylvania and he is twenty years old. He is an incredibly gifted young man. He excelled at violin. By 9th grade his violin instructor was letting him pick his own music, he memorizes everything. He now plays in a professional symphony. He has won awards for physics and economics. He plays competitive golf. But he also made a mistake that nearly cost him everything. In the fall of 2016, he was starting his senior year of high school thinking hard about college. He wanted to go to a school that valued learning for learning’s sake. He decided he would try and get into Harvard. He didn’t really think he had a shot at it, while he was incredibly gifted, he had not been doing a lot of things needed to get into a school like Harvard.  He applied for early admission and one mid-December day at 5:05 pm he received an email telling him he would be attending Harvard that fall. The letter even included a financial aid package that he would not acquire any debt. For William, this was like hitting the lottery. More Nobel Prize winners are associated with Harvard than any other university in the world and every supreme court justice has either attended Yale or Harvard.

Later in the week, he received an invitation to a Facebook page for the graduating class of 2021. He began to get to know students on the page and make some friends. This led to a private Facebook group about meme culture. If you don’t know what a meme it is an image with a caption, but they are often unrelated concepts. Like a picture of a volcano in the context of a family gathering. Memes often point to a larger commentary on power or society. At times memes can be edgy or even offensive. Often, they are meant to shock people, it is kind of dark humor.  People in the group began posting edgier and edgier memes.  William went along with it posting some really terrible things.  In April he was contacted by Harvard telling William they were investigating this meme group and that he needed to respond to the admissions committee.  William wrote an apology and explained in detail what he did including photos of the memes he sent. The committee responded by telling him his application was under review. Nine days later he was told Harvard was withdrawing their offer of admission.

Word got out, people avoided him, his prom date told him his mom wouldn’t let her go with someone who got kicked out of college. Because he applied early action and didn’t apply anywhere else, he suddenly had no plans for the next year. The scandal made the news, the BBC, CNN, Fox News, NPR. William got a job, played in the local symphony, enrolled in math and physics courses in the local community college. When he applied to colleges he told every single one what he had done and what he had learned from his mistakes and he received rejection after rejection from Princeton, MIT, Johns Hopkins, University of Chicago, Stanford, Yale, Columbia, Brown.  Eventually, he was waitlisted at three schools, eventually attending one of them. While William regrets what he did, he doesn’t regret the lessons he learned and how things turned out. [1]

When we read our text, at first, it can be a little bit difficult to understand. But it fits nicely with our readings over the last several weeks. If you remember, two weeks ago, we looked at how Jesus was tempted with the empire of bread, power, and protection. Last week Jesus was told Herod was out to get him, and he dismissed the threat. The text today features Pilate, a governor so brutal that Emperor Tiberius at one point recalled him to Rome and put him on trial for genocide against the Samaritan people.

Jesus is preaching to a crowd and it almost feels as if someone starts reading headlines from a paper. The first is an act of state sanction violence in the Temple courtyard, where 18 people were killed.  The second event is some disaster. This tower may be part of Pilate’s new aqueduct that he had built during this time. This construction project mainly used slave labor and caused a riot when Pilate pillaged the treasury of Jerusalem to make it. According to Diana Butler Bass, some scholars have suggested that this tower may have been collapsed on purpose either by Pilate to keep the people in line or by the workers attempting to stop it. [2]

The crowd is asking whether these people deserved their fate. Essentially, they ask, “why do bad things happen to some people? Is it because some people are evil?”  In both examples, Jesus’ response is “No” and he then moves onto the central theme of Luke, repent and do deeds consistent with the life of faith.  Jesus, throughout the gospel of Luke, points to two outward signs of repentance, care for the poor and radical inclusion.

But before that, Jesus tells another story of a tree that bears no fruit. The owner wants the tree cut down. The Gardener begs to let it alone for one more year so he can show it some care,  put some manure on it and see what happens. One of the interesting things in Judaism is that trees had rights. According to Leviticus, the tree’s fruit can’t be eaten for several years; the first three years, the fruit is forbidden, the fourth year, it is set aside for rejoicing, and the fifth year the fruit may be eaten.  When we hear this parable, I think most of us believe God is the landowner, and it is a plea for divine patience. But God can’t break God’s command. The landowner in this case isn’t an angry God. The landowner is Caesar, Herod, Pilate. Murderers who destroyed people and land. Murderers who pillaged the land flowing with milk and honey. The Gardener is standing in contrast to the impatient landowner, knowing that things need patience, tending, and care. The mischievous side of me wonders if the Gardener was collecting the fruit and hiding it in order to fulfill the law of Leviticus. Either way, it points to the idea that violence can’t be met with violence. Empire only leads to violence and the Kingdom of God is a slow work that takes patience and care.

That is the invitation of repentance, that every single day we are given a new opportunity to show the signs of the repentance that leads to life. To show the world care for the poor and radical inclusion. We are given the opportunity to change our behavior and align it with the Kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/you-cant-hit-unsend/

[2] https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/sunday-musings-400?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjo5MTQ4NzAzLCJfIjoiMW1kdWoiLCJpYXQiOjE2NDc3Njc0MjIsImV4cCI6MTY0Nzc3MTAyMiwiaXNzIjoicHViLTQ3NDAwIiwic3ViIjoicG9zdC1yZWFjdGlvbiJ9.484pWRk0dXMT-p6HywXmgbD4hnTN1Qw-pTwVkoZJ1GA&s=r

3-13-22 — Threats and Warnings — Luke 13:31-35 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Threats and Warnings

Luke 13:31-35

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

The City of Jerusalem has seen a profound amount of bloodshed. Within the lifetime of many who knew Jesus, the Romans besieged the city and burned it, leveled the place, and began crucifying 500 hundred Jews each day. In 1099, Godfrey, Raymond, Tancred, and thousands of Crusaders broke into the Arab-controlled city and slaughtered the population. Ninety years later, Saladin took it back for the Muslims. Then in 1917, General Allenby took the city for the British. Firefights, wars, and terrorist attacks have been part of the city — a city in which three major religions call their home.  A city in which one of the best-known pilgrimages is the Via Dolorosa, “the way of sorrows.” [1]

In our text, the Pharisees come with a warning for Jesus. I think if Jesus was asked for a status update on his relationship with the Pharisees, he would probably say, “It’s complicated.” As the Jewish Annotated New Testament describes, Jesus shares at least three meals with Pharisees. The Pharisees are mentioned as part of the Christian Community in Acts, and they are not mentioned during the Passion Narrative. Instead, they seem to be repeatedly misunderstanding Jesus and his call.   Throughout Luke, the interactions with Jesus are very tense. He tells them frequently that they have neglected the poor and neglected justice; he warns his followers to beware of them. Josephus described how the Sadducees only had the rich on their side; the Pharisees had the crowds. So, when the Pharisee comes with this warning, it can be interpreted as an ominous threat or just another misunderstanding.  The Pharisees approach Jesus, telling him that Herod wants to kill him. This shouldn’t be news; Jesus had experienced attempts on his life before. In the gospel of Matthew, a different Herod made Jesus a refugee and had to flee for his very life to Egypt.

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is direct. He calls Herod a fox, which is not a compliment in this culture. Foxes are considered sinister creatures. He tells the Pharisee precisely what he has been doing, casting out demons, curing the sick, and that he will do it today, tomorrow, and on the third day.  Jesus is not running from danger, but he is running into danger.

One has to wonder if Jesus understood the future Jerusalem would face. He mourns for the city. Mourns that Jerusalem rejects him, mourns how they kill prophets and messengers from God. Even within this mourning, his response to a public threat against his life is to state how he would like to be like a mother hen who protects her chicks from a fox. Jesus continues to live into his purpose even as the danger grows. [2] Telling us that there are always foxes in this life and things will always threaten us, but there is always room under God’s wing.

On the internet and our TV screens,  we see bloodshed in another major religion’s home.  John Burgess, professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, writing for the Christian Century shares the following: to understand somewhat what is happening here, you need to go back all the way to year 988. The legend is that Prince Volodymyr chose to be baptized in Crimea and the Orthodox church became the official religion of the Byzantine Empire.  According to the legend, Volodymyr was so struck by the description of Orthodox liturgy that engages all the senses that he connected to God’s holy presence. When he returned to Kyiv, all his warriors and their families were baptized en masse in the Dnieper River. This state-sanctioned faith united the people, becoming part of the birth narrative for Ukrainians and Russians.  In the Middle Ages, Mongols swept through this area, destroying Kyiv.  With this conquest, focus of the Slavic Orthodox church moved to Moscow. With the conquest of Constantinople, mythology rose the Moscow became the Third version of Rome. The Polish/Catholic tradition influenced the Western portion of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church was dominant. Stalin oppressed these churches, and the priests and parishes had to go underground. The majority were forced to become Russian Orthodox. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian church made a comeback. Those churches began to display the Ukrainian flag and raised funds for the Ukrainian Army. These actions infuriated Putin and the Russian Orthodox church. [3]

We see the unprovoked attack on civilians on a neighboring nation; we have read stories of violations of the articles of war with the suspected use of cluster bombs and vacuum bombs.  We have heard stories of 2 million people fleeing their homes. Of the men from ages 18-60 staying behind and to serve their country. The women who are fighting alongside the men. These images and stories should cause us to mourn, weep, and cry out for peace.  While reflecting on this war, the Rev. Dr. John Burgess of the Pittsburgh Theological seminary noted that “for the Orthodox Church, Lent began on Sunday night. Typically, it begins with “a beautiful vesper service called forgiveness vespers.”  The war thus goes on even as Orthodox Christians “are praying for forgiveness from one another and from God,”[4]

It can be hard to know what to do in moments like these. We may cry out to God, wondering why God would allow more bloodshed. When we ask this question, we are in good company with the psalmist who said, “Why oh, why have you forsaken me” or “Why, O Lord do you stand so far off.” What scripture tells us is that Christ is right alongside all those experiencing these horrors. We can show solidarity with our neighbors affected by this war. We can give to organizations that are working to support the 2 million refugees already fleeing this war. We can pray for peace, pray for peace, and an end to violence. That God would gather these people all under the shadow of God’s wing.

 

 

[1] Green, Joel B. Connections A lectionary commentary for Preaching and Worship, pg 55.

[2] https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2022-03-07/luke-1331-35-3/n

[3] https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/russia-s-war-ukraine-about-religion

[4] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/story/there-is-a-culture-war-going-on-in-this-war-and-poor-ukraine-is-stuck-in-the

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3-20-22 Bulletin

3-20-22 bulletin

3-13-22 Bulletin

3-13-22 bulletin

3-6-22 — Tests and Temptations — Luke 4:1-13 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Tests and Temptations

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Luke 4:1-13

 

You may have heard of the Marshmallow experiment. This experiment has been done since the 70s, and it was thought to measure the willpower of a child. The way the experiment works is a child is left alone in a room with a giant marshmallow and told that if they don’t eat it, they will receive two marshmallows when the adult comes back 15 minutes later.

A lot has been made of this study, equating the self-control of a child has to higher test scores, a lower BMI as an adult, and all sorts of other positive outcomes. While much of this is true, within the last decade some researchers have begun to question what this test measures. A researcher named Celeste Kidd conducted an experiment in a family shelter where children were experiencing homelessness. Often these children are facing many adverse conditions, hunger, unsafe environments, and unpredictable moments. When Celeste administered the Marshmallow test, immediately all of these children ate the marshmallow in front of them.  But then she began to modify the experiment.  She placed children in an art room and told them they would work on an art project. She gave some of them a reliable condition and some unreliable conditions. A friendly adult would meet the child in an art room, and tell the child they were going to do an art project together. The adult would excuse themselves to get some supplies.   Those with the reliable condition, the adult returned with an armload of brand new crayons. For those children with an unreliable condition; the adult would return and apologize because there were no brand new crayons only old broken ones. After the crayons, the same adult administered the marshmallow test, and the results were pretty astounding. The preschoolers who had a reliable condition were able to wait on average four times longer than those who received the unreliable condition, and the majority were able to wait for the full 15 minutes. [1] One of the most significant determining factors in their successful completion of this challenge was trust if they could trust those around them, trust the friendly adult, and trust their environment.  Their ability to trust those factors shaped their outcome.

As we begin our season of Lent, we read a familiar text on the temptation of Jesus. Jesus enters the desert for 40 days. Luke tells us Jesus is full of the Holy Spirit as he is about to be tested or tempted by the devil. This setup is meant to evoke our memories. Memories of the Hebrew people lost in the desert. It is intended to stimulate our memory of that classic story from Job of God and Satan, placing a bet to see if Job will remain faithful facing a sea of tragedy. Jesus enters the wilderness to face three trials. One of turning a stone into bread, the second worshiping the diabolical one in exchange for the earth, and the third to jump from the temple and display God’s favor. Facing each trail, Jesus responds with scripture and trust. One faithful reading of this passage is the idea that Jesus was tempted in three ways, Bread, Power, and Protection and that Jesus overcame these personal temptations. I am sure most of us have heard reflections on this before.

However, there is another interpretation that Diana Butler Bass offers us. Instead of three temptation this is really one temptation in three parts.   Caesar at this point was the ruler of the known world, the Emperor of Rome. The Kingdoms of the Mediterranean are under him, and each of those inhabitants is required to worship Caesar as Lord and Savior.

The empire maintained control of their empire through two ways, through bread and protection. From about the year 20 C.E. to the sixth century, the empire supported a bread distribution to hundreds of thousands of people. This distribution of grain to poor helped to guarantee security and safety in the empire. The Roman armies were fearsome, conquering lands. They protected people. If you were ruled by Caesar you were generally secure, you had bread from the state and safety through the military.

Is this Jesus being temped again to be like Caesar? To replace one broken Roman system and replace it with a system headed by a good Jew like him. Would Jesus be a better Caesar? Wasn’t he called to announce the Kingdom of God on earth?  What we see is Jesus is not tempted to replace Caesar, instead he goes forth from the wilderness, breaking bread with the poor, healing outcasts. Before his death, he tells the governor his kingdom is not of this world. Jesus’ power was seen through love, service, gratitude, and humility. [2]

I think this points to a temptation we all face, not the temptation to rule the world, but the temptation to rule our own world. The temptation to build our world only around ourselves. The temptation to live in an echo chamber and only have our own opinions perpetually reinforced.  The temptation to not to listen to one another, to not hear from others’ experiences. The solution to these temptations is the same to go out from our wilderness and serve the world with love, gratitude, and humility.

In 2017 Max Hawkins was loving life. Max was going to work every day at Google in San Francisco. As he described it, every day he would wake up, have his coffee, and ride his bike to work.  He would eat lunch at the Google cafeteria with 4 types of Kale. Then he would return home and hang out with friends. After a while, he realized everyone he was spending time with was living a similar life to him. This bothered him. So he did what app developers do and he wrote some software. The software looked at public invitations on the internet community billboards etc. and then randomly assigned one event for him to attend. The first time he did it, he showed up to an event where he was the only English fluent speaker. He began randomly attending pancake breakfasts, open houses, salsa dancing lessons, and he even started to knit. Then for Christmas, he decided not to go home. The app chose a place for him to have dinner. It was a small event with about 10 people. As he said he was totally freaked out when he rang the bell because it was a home. A woman answered the door named Karena, she asked whom he knew. He explained the app and what he was doing. Completely unfazed Karena let him. Max stayed for about 6 hours ending the evening by singing Christmas carols with a group of strangers. [3] For Max this changed the way he saw the world, it opened up the wilderness for him.

 

[1] https://parentingscience.com/delayed-gratification-and-the-marshmallow-test/

[2] https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/sunday-musings?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjo5MTQ4NzAzLCJfIjoiMW1kdWoiLCJpYXQiOjE2NDY1Njc0NjAsImV4cCI6MTY0NjU3MTA2MCwiaXNzIjoicHViLTQ3NDAwIiwic3ViIjoicG9zdC1yZWFjdGlvbiJ9.RMwiO9j1Kkyic2xNVEoxQEmFJPnJVyx9-F_uYKrfH50&s=r

[3] https://www.npr.org/transcripts/531796329

2-6-22 — Leaving Things Behind — Luke 5:1-11 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

2.6.22

Leaving Things Behind

Luke 5:1-11

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

 

A few years ago, First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta developed a Business Incubator program called Epiphany. The program is an incubator and an accelerator for entrepreneurs with innovative ideas to address social challenges. People from their congregation and outside the congregation act as coaches. They coach these entrepreneurs on business formation and infrastructure, branding and marketing, digital operations, and funding. They also give them a grant to help the business. First Presbyterian of Atlanta has invested in an Automotive training center that focuses on students from age 15-to 25, teaching them life skills and automotive repair. They have invested in a coffee company that provides training for refugees; another company focuses on employing the formerly incarcerated. Still, another focused on housing issues in the city of Atlanta.[1] Many of these businesses are not faith-based but are doing God’s work through blessing their own community.

Our lectionary this morning focuses on the call of Peter. The lectionary skips over a few events. Without going into great detail about them, they are helpful to understand what we see in Peter’s call to follow Jesus and leave everything behind. This call isn’t as out of the blue as it might seem. Peter has been following Jesus for at least a page or two. Jesus steps in and heals his mother-in-law and many in the community.  Then he goes and begins proclaiming the good news to the local synagogues.

Following these events, Jesus begins teaching at Lake Gennesaret when the crowd begins to grow. He clearly knows Peter and borrows a boat from him, Peter sits in as Jesus teaches. Peter and his crew have been working all night. After Jesus finishes teaching, he tells Peter to put his nets in one more time. I am sure Peter probably thought this was a little ridiculous. But Peter lets down his nets. The catch is astounding; it is so large that another boat needs to be called in to help. This catch represents many things, a blessing to Peter and those who work with him, a benefit to the community that eats the fish, and God’s abundance given to the world.  Peter goes to his knees, and instead of calling Jesus master, he calls him Lord and begs him to leave because of his sinfulness. Jesus tells him to be unafraid, and Peter leaves his nets behind to follow Jesus.

This got me thinking about what does the church need to leave behind. Peter is asked to leave his nets. What nets do we need to leave piled up on our seashore? As I reflected over this past week, two things came to mind.

The first thing we need to leave behind is a narrow understanding of belief. So often in Christianity, when we say we “believe” something, we associate it with the truth.  It is usually a sort of litmus test. The assumption then is that you are somehow wrong if you don’t “believe” in the same way. But this is a misunderstanding of this word. In The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg wrote the following:

Prior to the seventeenth century, the word “believe” did not mean believing in the truth of statements or propositions, whether problematic or not. Grammatically, the object of believing was not statements, but a person. Moreover, the contexts in which it is used in premodern English make it clear that it meant: to hold dear; to prize; to give one’s loyalty to; to give one’s self to; to commit oneself. It meant. . . faithfulness, allegiance, loyalty, commitment, and trust.

 

Most simply, “to believe” meant “to love.” Indeed, the English words “believe” and “belove” are related. What we believe is what we belove. Faith is about beloving God. . . To believe in God is to belove God. Faith is about beloving God and all that God beloves. . .

To believe something is to give our trust, our allegiance. It does not desire a specific outcome; instead, it creates the possibility of becoming something different. A different person, a different community, a different church.  So, the question becomes, what are you going to “belove” into this world.  How will “beloving” change the way we interact with others. [2]

The second net the church needs to leave behind is the idea that resurrection always looks the same. One of the greatest gifts we have is that gospels give us multiple accounts of the resurrection. For example, the original ending of the gospel of Mark ends at verse 8. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James go to the tomb and find it empty.  A man in a white robe tells them Jesus is not here. He has been raised. The women flee the tomb in terror and amazement and refuse to tell anyone what they saw. A later editor added a fuller account of the resurrection to this gospel.  But we see this in the other gospel accounts as well, these same women meet an angel in others, sometimes Peter is with them, sometimes he is not, and in most, they meet Jesus as they are fleeing the tomb.  In each of these accounts, the author views the resurrection from a slightly different angle, emphasizing what they felt was of importance to their audience at the time.

The vision team has been diligently working and thinking about this resurrection process for our church community; in fact, we met three times over the last week and a half. As we know, the church has changed. The average age of someone attending a worship service at Eastminster is 74 years old, and the average age of someone pledging to the Church is 75 years old.  We know that these trends will need to be reversed for the church’s long-term health and vitality.  We also know that our church is a vibrant community for its participants. We also know that we can no longer rely on past methods. We need to seek out how God is actively connecting with our world here and now.

Depending on your perspective, the resurrection process for Eastminster will look different. For some of us, processing change might be terror-inducing. Some of us may want to flee and, in the process bump into a Gardner who is calling us to a new level of “beloving” and calling us to leave our nets behind and discover where God is moving in the world today.

 

[1]https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5e67ed0c2192f61504334cb6/t/61546f1f86ebe17eb3d1432e/1632923423223/Epiphany+One-Page+Overview+Short+Form+FINAL.rcl.pdf

[2] https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/sunday-musings-at-the-cottage-e83?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjo5MTQ4NzAzLCJwb3N0X2lkIjo0ODI4MDEwNCwiXyI6IjFtZHVqIiwiaWF0IjoxNjQ0MTYwMTYzLCJleHAiOjE2NDQxNjM3NjMsImlzcyI6InB1Yi00NzQwMCIsInN1YiI6InBvc3QtcmVhY3Rpb24ifQ.qYVvL8fXlbQ4eHdh01a1adxNBo1hs4QFMiJYnXz7ojc

1-30-22 — Joseph’s Son — Luke 4:21-30 — Rev. Joshua D. Gill

1.30.22

Joseph’s Son

Luke 4:21-30

 

 

Do any folks watch HGTV? There are many different shows, but they often feature very wealthy couples renovating a home with a budget that is way out of reach for the average American.  A show called House Hunters has even spun off siblings House Hunters International, House Hunters Gen Z, Tiny House Hunters. The premise in all these shows is that a couple is shown three houses over an episode. Then they pick one home to purchase. I am sure there is creative editing in the show. Still, you often see that their expectations are unrealistic, their budgets don’t align with their occupations,  and their concerns are not what the average American is generally concerned about.

There is another show called Bargain Block, and as Diana Butler Bass recently pointed out in a blog post entitled Is There a Doctor in the House? This show is very different. The show features Keith and Evan, a couple who renovated homes together in the city of Detroit. They try to use recycled materials and second-hand furniture and price their homes so they are affordable to local residents. When they sell a house, they sell it with all the furniture. What is truly unique about this show is that they live in the homes as they fix them up. They get to know a house with all its unique characteristics. They get to know a neighborhood and understand how it functions. These homes are not in good shape. I saw one episode where they purchased a home for 1,000 dollars. Whatever you imagine you can buy for 1,000, it was probably worse, but they moved in and got to work. They will purchase several blighted homes on one block and help to renew a neighborhood block by block.

As you may recall, last week, we reflected on a visit Jesus made to his hometown synagogue. Where he edited Isaiah 61 and said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This week we are going to look at how the crowd reacts.  He returns the scroll and then tells them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. The NRSV tells us they reacted with amazement, saying, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  The language here is a little ambiguous. This could mean amazement in like “Wow, that is awesome,” or it could be more like “Man, I can’t believe he said that. What is wrong with him?” Either way, Jesus takes it further after the crowd longs to see the miracles like the ones he did in Capernaum. Jesus introduces several new images. He describes that there were many widows that Elijah could have stayed with during the great famine, but he stayed with one who was outside the covenant. Many Jewish people had skin diseases, yet Elisha didn’t heal any of them; instead, he healed a Syrian General Naaman. Again, a man outside the Covenant and a representative of conquering Kingdom. The people are so enraged that they bring Jesus to a cliff to toss him to his death.

We see a lot of different things in their reaction. Some of this is probably pent-up frustration at Roman rule. These people have been kicked around so much they were angry. Some of this is perhaps blind nationalism. Remember, this is a Jewish stronghold surrounded by a sea of gentiles.  Some of this is because Jesus did not follow the script laid out for him, they want to hear how God will deliver them, and then they will be able to oppress the people who oppressed them.  They forget that they are broken people in the midst of a broken world.

This is a truth; the church often forgets this as well. For centuries the church has often looked at the world as an outsider, the idea of being in the world but not of the world. Many different theologies have arisen around this idea as Diana Butler Bass says, “liberal Christians with dreams of building the Kingdom of God on earth, progressives with a savior complex, evangelicals seeking to restore a “Christian nation.” Fundamentalists imagining a world under God’s dominion, each vision is shaped by the idea of the church having something the world doesn’t possess and can’t do.  Fixing, restoring, saving, building- what you have- is an intervention from some expert who doesn’t really know the neighborhood”.[1]

Professor Eddie Glaude recently remarked that this is how many of his Princeton students experience the world as “broken.” Climate chaos, economic inequality, democracy in turmoil, technology altering life, and a pandemic all point to this brokenness. His students fear that they may be broken as well.

Nothing will truly change until we realize that we live in a home that needs repair.  That we are like Keith and Evan, we can’t go home at night to a house that gleams, to a place where the plumbing isn’t busted, or wiring isn’t on the fritz, or the windows aren’t broken.  In Judaism, they often speak about a partnership with God to build a better and more just society. We often talk about saving the world in Christianity, and many link this to heaven. But a better theological and biblical understanding of the concept of “saving” is healing, restoring, and making whole. This is what Jesus is talking about that makes the crowd so upset. He is talking about saving, not the people they expect. But his “saving” healing, restoring, and making whole extends to the crowd, their neighbors, and our whole world. This is the invitation that we are invited to participate in this healing, restoring, and making whole. Part of our job as the church is to invite others into this work.

As a church, we need to seek out partners in unexpected places. Partnership who may not act like us, think like us, look like us but are seeking to heal, restore, and make the world whole.

 

[1] https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com/p/is-there-a-doctor-in-the-house?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjo5MTQ4NzAzLCJfIjoiMW1kdWoiLCJpYXQiOjE2NDM1NDcxMDcsImV4cCI6MTY0MzU1MDcwNywiaXNzIjoicHViLTQ3NDAwIiwic3ViIjoicG9zdC1yZWFjdGlvbiJ9.CueNyeammZbWuzFpzJhxpNx9Q4a49FPGCUgeJk4viEw