Change your hearts and your lives
Beloved: I want to give a warning that some of the content in today’s reflection talks about domestic violence and sexual assault. Please do what you must do for your own self-care if this is a trigger for you.
I thought that this morning I was going to talk with you about the line in the Gospel reading: But their eyes were kept from recognizing him….
It was the line that jumped out and stuck with me, and when I talked about the Word with my colleague Susan on Wednesday, it was the line that was resonating in her brain, so I thought: well, that’s that then. And it stuck with me because I wondered what was going on in that moment.
I think their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus because of their expectations. Their expectations of who God is and how God moves in the world. Their expectation of who they thought the Messiah was going to be and who Jesus was, who Jesus is….
Their expectations kept them from seeing God, Love in the flesh, revealed to them as they walked and talked, as they shared their story with a stranger.
I thought I was going to preach on this because I think this is our truth. How our expectations of God and of church prevent us from seeing God and love right next to us in the face of the stranger who joins us on the journey.
Expectations—they can fuel us forward or freeze us in our place.
Expectations can be sourced by fear or love, by anger or hope.
Expectations are shaped by what we consume and who and what we trust.
But, on Friday, I was struck by another line from our readings; this time from the reading in the Acts of the apostles. When Peter says: Be saved from this perverse generation. Another translation of the same line is: Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture. And one other is: Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.
All of these translations seem so apropos for our world, our nation right now…..perverse, corrupt….get out while you can.
This past week we heard the horrifying and sickening stories of people—all young people—being killed because of simple mistakes: Knocking on the wrong door; trying to get into the wrong car; mistaking a long driveway for a road.
I have done all of these things—more than once, in fact. Probably all, or most of us, has. So–what’s different now? Why these three senseless, sick deaths in the past week? Guns. An overabundance of guns. And the mentality that violence saves us. There are roughly 100 million more guns in the United States than there are Americans. We win the gun bonanza by twice as much as any other country. I know, I know that some people want to argue that guns are not the problem. People are the problem. But we keep giving people—the supposed problem—guns. Even at the cost of the well-being of our community. At the cost of now having gun violence as the number 1 cause of death to our nation’s children. Gun violence kills children in America more than any other cause. Something we can stop; something we can decrease; something we can prevent. If we have the will.
But when profit is God in a nation, as it is in the United States, then the profit of the gunmakers and ammunition producers, and the power they carry over our elected servants, is apparently more important than the lives of our children.
Through his parables, his conversations, his questions, Jesus continually challenges us to consider: Is your expectation that the individual is more important or is the community more important? In America it seems to be the individual. In the Gospel—In God’s dream, it is the community. Is it any wonder we don’t recognize Jesus who is in our midst, who calls us to a new way, who tells us to overturn the tables of the unjust systems we have built?
Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture.
About a month ago, Murray and I watched the movie: Women Talking. It tells the story of a Mennonite colony, based on a true story—where females—from little girls of four to elderly women—were knocked out with cow tranquilizer while they were sleeping in their beds. And then they would be sexually assaulted and find themselves bruised, bleeding and battered in the morning. Sometimes they would end up pregnant or infected. The religious elders told them it was the Devil or ghosts—and even chalked up the women’s story to fantastical imaginations.
Much like what we hear in the Gospel when the women who first witness the resurrection are not believed and they are told that their experience is just an idle tale. As one character in Women Talking says: They made us disbelieve ourselves.
Because women’s realities have been shaped by others’ expectations of them and for them since time began. Mostly because women were not the ones who told their own story, who wrote down their experience to be shared throughout time. Men have been the official historians and storytellers of truth. At least in the published, authorized version of things. Women have always been told their purpose by others: by the Church, by the job market, by their husbands, their fathers, by advertisements, by the culture. And while we now allow women to work outside the home, what that has meant is that women are generally expected to do both: home and work. And the structures, systems and institutions that women have been allowed to become a part of—for lesser pay, mind you; can’t have them make equal pay—those structures, systems and institutions haven’t changed to make room for women. Instead, women are expected to make themselves smaller, misshapen, in order to fit into these male-dominated, male-oriented structures.
While doors have opened for women in my lifetime, the rooms are still decorated and fashioned for men.
Think of it: the word that we were all supposed to accept as a “stand-in” for humanity is “Man.” It was all over our prayer books, songs, and liturgies…..For example, from the Book of Common Prayer’s Rite One Prayers of the People:
Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church and the world. Almighty and everliving God, who in thy holy Word hast taught us to make prayers, and supplications, and to give thanks for all men
This language is still in the Episcopal prayer book. It is still prayed by some. And when God was written about and described, by those male historians and storytellers, they made God male. So much so that many people still think God is male—or they can only imagine God as a male—and they are annoyed and uncomfortable if you use Mother or She or They…..
This past Thursday we hosted a gathering for Women Only in order to show the film Women Talking. We put it in our weekly email; I announced it in church, and we put it out on Facebook. But, I didn’t know what to expect. I was thinking that if 20 women showed up to watch and talk about the movie, that would be fantastic. There were 50 of us. 50 women! Younger and older and middle-aged. And what a conversation we had.
Because we are tired and angry and wounded by being seen only through other’s limited expectations. We are tired of our experiences not mattering enough. Enough to not change the systems. Not just to access the systems, but to recognize that this world was built by and for men, and it’s time to re-dream and re-build it for all of us.
Just as many folx are tired and angry and wounded because their loved ones who have been shot by assault rifles in first-grade classrooms don’t matter enough to change our gun laws. That we don’t really believe that the community’s welfare is more important than an individual’s wealth or a corporation’s wealth.
In today’s reading from Acts, when Peter is preaching at Pentecost and the folx who have experienced Holiness in their midst ask the disciples: What should we do? Peter tells them: Change your hearts and lives. Get baptized.
Baptism wasn’t a ritual, as we know it, in the church yet. Peter wasn’t talking about a ritual; Peter was talking about the true meaning of baptism: ending one way of life in order to live a new way. Or as Julia Gatta put it in her book entitled The Life of Christ: “The goal of baptism is to restore us to the human we were dreamed to be.” To replace our expectations with God’s expectations: Community eclipses individualism. Love defeats hate. Hope beats fear. Equity triumphs over privilege.
The women in Women Talking had to make a decision when the men violating them were finally caught and were brought into the town to be tried. They were given 24 hours to decide if they would forgive the men. The women saw it as three choices: Stay and do nothing. Or Stay and Fight to change the colony. Or Leave.
I think this is the same fight that is taking place within the Church. Stay and do nothing: keep everything as it has always been. Or Stay in the Church and fight to change it. Or Leave.
I struggle with these choices pretty much on a daily basis. Well, let me be clear. I am not interested in Stay and do nothing, change nothing. But I would never leave my relationship with Jesus, or abandon my hope in God’s dream. I cannot give up my absolute trust that this is the Way I, that we, are called to live……but when we try to live this faith out in a culture where there are more guns than people and women and their experiences are still doubted and diminished….it can be a long and weary road.
Recently I heard the priest Barbara Brown Taylor say this: “The church gives me a community to figure out what is happening to me in the world.” And, that, perhaps, is the biggest reason I stay and fight…..That and this loveliness from the 2nd chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah:
There’s a day coming
when the mountain of God’s House
Will be The Mountain--
solid, towering over all mountains.
All nations will river toward it,
people from all over set out for it.
They’ll say, “Come,
let’s climb God’s Mountain,
go to the House of the God of Jacob and Rachel and Leah.
God will show us the way she works
so we can live the way we’re made.”
Zion’s the source of the revelation.
God’s Message comes from Jerusalem.
God will settle things fairly between nations.
She’ll make things right between many peoples.
They’ll turn their swords into shovels,
their spears into hoes.
No more will nation fight nation;
they won’t play war anymore.
Come, family of Jacob and Leah and Rachel,
let’s live in the light of God.
Here we are at the 2nd Sunday of Easter and we dive deeper into what resurrection means: this “wait a minute….Jesus is what?” reality that happens after the cross.
In today’s readings we have two different attempts of making sense of Resurrection. Our reading from Acts takes place at Pentecost; in our church year calendar that is 50 days after Easter, ending the Easter season. For the Jewish people, it was the festival of the weeks, also known as Shavuot or Pentecost—50 days after Passover–and many pilgrims were gathered as Peter and the eleven stand to speak with those who had gathered in Jerusalem—many of whom had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion.
And after the great wind blew among them, and the tongues of fire landed on their heads–a fairly amazing event I would imagine—Peter begins to speak. And Peter does what humans often do after something unimaginable has happened: Peter tries to explain it—wrap it up in logic—connect it to prior knowledge. It’s what we do; we want to make sense of everything. Peter does his darndest to earn the people’s intellectual assent—probably thinking if he says just the right thing…..
He refers to the prophet Joel, to David the psalmist—-connecting what the people have heard and learned to what they have now experienced. Words, words, words to convince them Jesus is Messiah.
The story tells us that it works; well, something works. Maybe it was the wind and the tongues of fire dancing on their heads, or maybe it was the words, but the story goes on to say that 3000 people became convinced that day…..
Jesus takes a bit of a different approach. Jesus doesn’t primarily use words to convince; he goes with the sensory experience. Jesus invites the disciples to touch: Put your finger here….see my hands….reach out your hand and put it in my side. Jesus breathes on them, breathes the holy life-breath on them and says: Peace be with you. Three times in today’s reading. Peace be with you. Peace be with you. Peace be with you.
When it comes to something like life after death—living beyond dying—we probably need both: experience and words. Sensual and logical. And even then……we still don’t really know, really understand. Our heads, and maybe our hearts?, are too small to capture the whole of this Mystery.
Beloved: I don’t know what to tell you about resurrection. Oh, I am convinced of what Resurrection means to us right now—in this bit where we haven’t physically died but we experience the many, smaller deaths as we live and move and have our being. Like we talked about last week, I am certain that Resurrection happens: Jesus lives when we live Jesus.
But what does Resurrection mean for us when our bodies finally stop breathing? What does Resurrection mean for our physical deaths? I am not sure. Not completely. But I cannot deny that if we believe Gospel, then Resurrection means Love is stronger than Death. Love is stronger than Hate. Resurrection means that the worst thing that happens to us is not the last thing that happens to us. That somehow we shed these human bodies and we join the force field of Love that we know as God—the presence of Love which also contains those who have gone before us—and as we join God’s forever everafter—we still get to participate in the creative force of love that lives and moves and has its being in this Creation, this Universe. Somehow. That’s about all I can say about that. We have to find our Peace with the unknowing.
Now, if you believe in a bodily resurrection—that after he died, Jesus came back in a body and somehow, so will we—that’s faithful. But, if you hear the Gospel resurrection stories, and you really wonder or doubt or, even dare I say, find it impossible to swallow the bodily part—for Jesus or for anyone else—that’s faithful too. Because the important bit is that you are wrestling with what resurrection means, for you, for us, for Creation, —and you are scooping up and applying the Wisdom that is there. The Wisdom you can grasp. After all, the Bible isn’t so much a book of facts as it is a collective of Wisdom.
Actually, there is one more thing…something I was thinking in the shower this morning about Jesus’ post-death body….Maybe the Gospel insists, here in today’s story and in John’s stories after the Resurrection, like Jesus eating breakfast on the beach with the boys—maybe the Gospel insists that Jesus had a post-death body so that we would understand that we’re it. That these resurrection stories are just Jesus tagging out–like in wrestling….Jesus is tagging out and Tag! We’re it. Jesus’ living body in the world today.
Today Jesus says to us : Put your finger here….see my hands.
Beloved: Which wounds of Christ are you being called to touch and see?
Which wounds of Christ have you already tended? Because you have.
In the 25th chapter of Matthew, Jesus says:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
And the disciples ask Jesus: When? When did we see you? And Jesus answers: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ ………Put your finger here….see my hands.
And then there’s this juicy, wonderful bit of wisdom:
The Resurrection of Jesus undoes the injustice of Jesus’ scandalous death. Resurrection undoes injustice…..Imagine all the ways we can practice resurrection and undo injustice. The violence against Trans lives, the diminishment of immigrant lives, prisoners’ lives, impoverished lives, lonely lives, the willingness to accept the thousands of lives taken due to gun violence. Beloved: RESURRECTION undoes injustice! We are the living body of Christ in the world today.
Okay: one last bit of Wisdom that was written by Serene Jones and Paul Lakeland in their book Constructive Theology. It goes something like this: If the mission of God’s church is to be effective, then it is the message of Jesus that ought to be stressed rather than Jesus as the message. We will know God’s reign has come when folx look at the church and instead of saying: see how those Christians love each other….folx will look at the church and say: See how those Christians love us!
Today we hear our reality spoken in the Word.
People gather in hope; people gather in joy and cry out: Hosanna! which means Save us! We turn our eyes on Jesus and see the One who can save us.
And maybe, like the crowds waving their palms over 2000+ years ago, we expect Jesus to save us from the Empire, to save us from other people, from bad leaders and nasty situations.
But Jesus’ life and Jesus’ death reveal that what Jesus, what God’s salvation, saves us from is our selves. We are our own oppressors. To follow Jesus, to live and love as Jesus does, saves us from fear, greed, self-centeredness, apathy, prejudice, hatred, and division.
The cross clearly reveals that if we follow Jesus, we can be freed from our need for vengeance, retribution, and violence. Instead of getting caught up as a mob of fear and distrust, the cross calls us to refuse to participate in the constant and continuous human cycle of blood-letting. March 27, 2023 Nashville, TN
Their names are:
Katherine Koonce aged 60
Mike Hill aged 61
Cynthia Peak aged 61
Evelyn Dieckhaus aged 9
Hallie Scruggs aged 9
William Kinney aged 9
We do not have the time this morning to list all the names of the 10,332 people who have died due to gun violence, murder, accidental death, and suicide, in our nation in the first three months of 2023. 10, 332 in three months.
Those 10, 332 voices are crying out: Hosanna, Hosanna: save us!
But, like these crowds of yesteryear, too quickly and too easily we can turn from gathering in hope and joy and be swayed by fear and turn into a mob of individuals who seek and serve only themselves—who live and move from distrust and fear. Fear of change, fear of loss, fear that someone is going to get what we want only for ourselves.
Today’s story, this week’s story, is our story. And this Holy week story asks of us:
Who will you be?
Who will you follow?
What life, what world, are you willing to live for?
What life, what world, are you willing to die for?
What world are you willing to co-create with the One who hung the stars in the sky?
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.