Wednesday, March 7, 2012

First Press and More!

I just got written up in the Greenpoint Star!  Read the article here.

Also, this Thursday, an art show which I helped organize will happen at St. Luke's Lutheran Church (259 Washington Ave, Brooklyn 11205) from 7pm-10pm.  The show is designed to bridge the art student community from Pratt with local Brooklyn artists.  Also, the band Zombi Jazz will be playing.  And there may or may not be interactive art on my part...check it out!

Finally, a sermon preached 3/4/2012 at St. John's Lutheran Church and Lutheran Church of the Messiah in Greenpoint on Genesis 17:1-16, Romans 4:13-25, and Mark 8:31-38.

Today we are going to talk about differences.
            Have you ever seen those cartoons in the newspaper where two nearly identical pictures are listed side-by-side, and you try to spot the differences between them?  Well, I'm going to try that with two verses of scripture.  The first is from Paul's letter to the Romans (4:19) that we just read, the second, is from Genesis 17:17, one verse after our lectionary reading for today ended.  Here's Paul: "[Abraham] did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb." Now here is Genesis 17, "Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, "Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?"" 

            Did you spot the difference?  Paul claim Abraham never doubts that God could give him a son, and Genesis 17 claims Abraham fell on his face laughing with doubt.  Do I have your attention?  Well keep listening, because we'll come back to this.
            See it's not the only theological difference of opinion in our readings today. Jesus thinks that he, the Son of Man, is going to be rejected, tortured, and killed.  Peter thinks this is a bad idea. Peter thinks it's such a bad idea to even talk about that he gives Jesus a piece of his mind.  And Jesus gives Peter a piece of mind right back.  And then Jesus goes on to say that whoever is ashamed of him, he will also be ashamed of them.
            Now I'll tell you what, I know a thing or two about difference of opinion and shame.  I went to college at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.  It's a great school, but what's important to know for this story is that the motto which the school prints on its mugs, and water bottles, and tee-shirts, is "Communism, Atheism, Free Love."  The motto started off as a joke in the 1930s, but it has, in large part, come to define the culture of school.  So let’s just say that on my first Sunday there as a freshman, when I woke up and told my dormmates I was off to church, I suddenly encountered a very clear difference of opinion. And my fellow students felt free to give me a piece of their mind.
            I heard horror stories about Christianity.  About pastors who wouldn't let anyone question what they said, about preachers who claimed that anyone different was going hell, about church councils who would publicly shun parishioners who didn't live up to their moral standards.
            And though I would protest that my experience of Christianity was completely different, my college friends couldn't understand why I would continue to identify with this religious tradition.  As one young woman put it, "Ben you're such an amazing person, it's a shame you're a Christian."
            "It's a shame you're a Christian." She was ashamed of me for being a Christian.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about those words, and in truth, they probably started me down the road to becoming a pastor, but that's another story.  For today, just know that for a long time when I would think about those words I would get angry, and I could never understand why she said them to me.  I’m it’s one thing to think those words, but to actually tell them to my face!
            But as I was pondering Jesus' words about being ashamed this past week, I saw the sexton of St. Luke's sweeping the stair, and I asked him, "How do you act towards someone that you're ashamed of?" 
And he said, "You know, I've never really thought about it, but I suppose I'm only ashamed of someone when I really care about them.  If I don't know them, or care about them, what does it matter to me what they do?  But if I care about them, then I can be ashamed; then I would tell them to knock off  whatever they are doing."
            "I am only ashamed of someone I really care about." The sexton's words were like the spirit speaking to me.  In that moment I realized that my college friends and I had a strong difference of opinion, but they were still my friends, they cared about me, they went to parties with me, put on plays with me, lived in overcrowded houses for really cheap rent with me.  They invited me into their lives and shared themselves with me. They cared about me. They loved me. 
            And because they cared about me, they didn't exclude me because of our differences, they didn't shun me or tell me to go away.  Instead they trusted in our relationship as friends and were able to tell me when what I believed didn’t make sense to them, confused them, made them uncomfortable and ashamed.
            Which is what we read in today's gospel.  Peter does a brave thing telling Jesus, his teacher, the man that a few verses earlier Peter called the messiah, that he's wrong.  Peter does it because he cares about Jesus.
            And in response, Jesus tells Peter that he's ashamed of what Peter said.  But he doesn't tell Peter to go away, or that he's not good enough to be a disciple anymore.  No Jesus tells Peter to get behind him, to follow him, to stay in relationship with him.  It's the same message he give to the crowd in the next verse, when Jesus invites them, "If any want to become my followers...." He's inviting the crowd to get behind him.  And in fact, in the original Greek, Jesus uses the same word ὀπίσω, meaning "behind," in his speech to both Peter and the crowd.
Because being a follower of Jesus doesn't mean always agreeing with him, or being happy about what he says, if it were, Peter would have been off the boat a long time ago.  It means remaining in relationship in the midst of difference and disagreement--a tradition that runs throughout the scriptures, both old and new.
            I started off this sermon pointing out that Paul disagrees with Genesis 17 about Abraham's reaction to God's promise of children.  But here's what I didn't tell you:  Paul isn't just making stuff up, he's quoting from Genesis 15, two chapters before today's lectionary text of Genesis 17.  Genesis 15 and Genesis 17 are the same basic story told two different times.  You see, just like how in the New Testament there are four gospels, each of which tells the same basic story of Jesus in different ways, so also throughout the Old Testament there are different versions of the same story.  The difference is, in the Old Testament, the different versions aren't clearly labeled.
            Those different stories are in there for a reason.  Within the Hebrew tradition there is a deep respect for scripture, even differing scripture, so rather than pick one version of a story over another, the compilers of the Old Testament would include both.  Likewise, in the first few centuries after Jesus there were some in the church who wanted to have only one gospel, or to make all four agree with each other.  But in their wisdom, the leaders of the church said, no, just as a building needs four pillars to support a roof, so too the church must be supported by four different gospels.
            They held to the belief that it is precisely the difference of views within scripture that makes it sacred.  Here are different communities in different times and places all trying trying to express the same thing, what it means to be human in relationship to God.  And when we bring these different views together we can begin to glimpse the larger picture.  It is in the commitment to a relationship of respect and trust in the midst of difference, that scripture reveals the depth of its holiness.
            A holiness that is present here in this place.  I have had the had the pleasure of attending a council meeting here, and let me tell you, there are some differences of opinion.  And praise be to God, people speak up when they have them, and have the courage to speak truth in love, knowing that neither person is going anywhere.  And that is a sacred relationship.
            It is the relationship that Christ proclaims to us today.  A relationship where we can be like Peter,  bold in our doubts, be bold in our confusion and our shame, even when it comes to what God is doing, and we can be bold in letting God know.  Because I tell you what, God is doing the same with us, and loves us every minute of it, and for that, I give thanks.  Amen.

1 comment:


Much better than the old Episcopal standard pre-sermon disclaimer "May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord."