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Sunday, June 25, 2017

How Far?

It is enough to be like our Teacher, Jesus says. But that’s harder than we thought, and asks a lot of us. So it’s good that we are beloved of God.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
   The Third Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 12, year A
   Texts: Matthew 10:24-39; Romans 6:1b-11; Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69:7-18

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

It is enough, Jesus says, for the disciple to be like the teacher.

Be like Christ, and that’s enough. But how far are we willing to go?

A week ago I came into the office on a Friday. My day off, but I had a couple hours of things I didn’t get done.

As I was finishing, the door rang. Reluctantly, I went down the stairs and found a social worker and an older woman. The woman was homeless, had difficulty with the accessibility of some of the shelters, and this social worker, helping in her off time, was trying to connect her. We were their eighth church.

I told her we weren’t really set up for this, and the shelters we’d recommend were the ones she’d tried. And I sent them to Central Lutheran Church, where they have a restoration center designed specifically to help people who are homeless get off the streets. Help with shelters, financial advice, showers, clothes closet, it’s a wonderful program, and I refer people there a lot.

But as I walked back up the stairs, ready to finish my work and enjoy the rest of my day, this felt too easy. I can justify what I did. I just don’t think I was Christ. I could have taken her in at Mount Olive. But we don’t have a bed, or showers, or adequate coverage of needs. I could have accompanied them to Central, made sure someone was there to connect with, so we weren’t the ninth door closing in her face. Isaiah 58 says we truly serve God when we welcome the homeless poor into our houses. I could have offered to take her home. We have beds and showers, and could have let her stay until she could get settled more permanently. But none of these options even occurred to me until later. It was easy to say, “not here, but there,” and close the door and go up the stairs. That’s right – I didn’t even invite them in. We had this whole conversation at the door.

It is enough, Jesus said, for the disciple to be like the teacher. But how far are we willing to go to be Christ? How far am I?

After last week’s sermon about sharing the heart, the guts of Christ for the world, I had a conversation with someone who thought I could’ve gone further describing our complicity in the problems between police and people of color. I certainly could have. But how far are we willing to dig?

Are we willing to admit most of us live in safe, mostly white bubbles, where problems like this just don’t happen to us, and that’s part of the problem? Are we willing to look deeply into our hearts at the implicit racism there that we don’t want to see? Psychologists have long known that the majority of Americans, when asked, will give answers that say we aren’t prejudiced, or racist, but that when unthinking actions and attitudes are studied, a very different picture emerges, even among those who consider themselves enlightened. It shows most of us have deep-rooted bias and prejudice we don’t want to see or admit. Are we willing to peel away those layers? Dig deep into things that are really hard to get rid of, to be like Christ?

How far will you go?

There’s a struggle to raise the minimum wage in this state to $15 an hour. Our Neighborhood Ministry committee endorses this. But if Minneapolis, or St. Louis Park, or or Apple Valley, or Bloomington, raised the wages of city workers, where will that money come from? Will we who live in these cities pay more in taxes to fairly pay those who keep our cities clean and safe and beautiful? Are we willing to pay more at restaurants and grocery stores? Or will we go to the place that sells things the cheapest, not caring who made it or who worked to get it to us and whether they were paid fairly? How far will you go?

Our economy is unjust, and many work very hard and cannot make a living. The gap between the rich and poor is widening. Laws keep getting made that benefit the one percent, and, if we’re honest, benefit many of us, while making it more and more difficult for those on the edge to survive. The current health care plan in the U. S. Senate will benefit the wealthy of this nation while depriving many who are poor of adequate insurance and care.

But my pension is tied to the stock market. I get regular reports of how my money is growing. How willing am I to poke at this bear? To dig into the reasons that stocks are going up while more and more are falling short of basic necessities? Must I let go of my retirement security so that others can survive? Is that being like Christ?

The problems of our society Christ would heal are so deep and complex that we are complicit in ways we can’t even imagine most days. We’re much more comfortable confessing the petty sins of everyday life and calling it even, than we are taking a hard, close look at all the ways our lives are benefitting from others’ suffering. Taking a hard, close look at all the things we might have to let go of to be like Christ.

It is enough, Jesus says, for the disciple to be like the teacher. But Christ suffered and died for the love he bore in the world. Just trying to be nicer to folks and calling that Christly doesn’t really cut it, if we’re honest.

But God’s Word today helps us discern how far we’re getting toward being Christ.

We’ll know we’re getting closer to Christ when we understand Jeremiah’s anguish today and don’t need to be given context. When we hear Jeremiah talking about his best friends hoping he’ll fail, because he’s always all about this God stuff, or when he says not doing anything makes him burn up inside. When we can say, “I know what you’re saying, Jeremiah,” we’re starting to dig deep enough.

We’ll know we’re getting closer to Christ when we sing a psalm like today and don’t need explanation to understand what it is to feel overwhelmed trying to follow God’s way, like we’re sunk in a swamp. Or when we hear Paul say it is like a death to get rid of the things that are sin in us, the things not of Christ, and we don’t need someone to theologically explain that. When we actually think, “It is like dying sometimes.”

We’ll know we’re starting to dig deep enough when we aren’t shocked by anything Jesus says today. Not shocked that following Christ might lead to breaks in relationships with people we love, or lead to us being mocked by others. Jesus said if they call him the devil, we should expect that, too. We’ll know we’re getting to closer to Christ if we ever are called names for it.

We’ll know we’re closer when we don’t have to ask why Jesus calls this “taking up a cross,” because we have felt what it is to truly sacrifice.

And if we hear today’s readings and say, “It’s not like that for us these days,” that’s a pretty good sign we’re not scratching the surface of being like Christ.

But this is really overwhelming, frightening.

The more we dig, the more we find. The more we pull on threads, the more complex the web. That’s frustrating and scary, overwhelming and tiring. But that’s good news. Because now we can understand the rest of God’s Word today.

We can hear Jeremiah say, in spite of frustration and fear, “The LORD is with me. Sing to the LORD, who delivers my life.” We can hear the psalmist call out for God’s love. We can hear Paul say, yes, it’s dying when we peel away the depth of our sin, but we are joined to Christ’s resurrection. There is abundant life from this death.

And we can finally understand why Jesus says losing our life is actually finding it. As we dig deeper, become more like Christ, we find healing and hope and grace. Where once we protected ourselves and our privilege and our wealth, now in letting go of the things that are not of Christ, all people start to find life and hope. Including us. In letting go of things that are not of Christ, we find don’t need or want them after all. We want the life and love we find in becoming more like our teacher.

And best of all, when we find ourselves overwhelmed and frightened, we can at last hear Jesus’ grace today.

Because at the center of all these challenging words, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t fear things and people that can’t harm your soul. Don’t fear losing all this. Not only will you find life in me, he says, you don’t need to be afraid because you are beloved of God.

Look at the sparrows, Jesus says. You see how they bounce off the ground, fly around, and land again, only to bounce back up? How the whole flock does that all day long? Every single landing, every single bounce, God sees and loves.

You are as valuable to God as sparrows, Christ says. Everything, even your hairs on your head, God knows and loves and values. So you don’t need to be afraid.

So let’s dig together. Peel away together. Die together. Learn together how to be like our Teacher.

It’s complicated, it’s harder than we thought it might be, and it’s going to take a lot of wisdom. So let’s trust that Christ has put us together to help each other. And that we don’t need to be afraid, because we are God’s beloved.

It is enough to be like Christ because that’s where life is for us and for the world. We can share Christ’s heart, Christ’s guts, and act on them for the sake of the world because we are always in Christ’s heart, beloved of God, who died and rose to begin this new life in the world. From that heart, we can freely go and be God’s heart in the world. It is enough. It is how God is making all things new.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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