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At St. Paul’s: “Our primary mission is to relate to, and minister to people who are living on the edge, who seek God’s will for their lives, struggling to find direction and purpose in a society that can be violent, insensitive and money-grabbing.”
Christ is Risen!
I don’t like labels. I defy labeling. I don’t want people to categorize me and
label me and then stuff me into the hole that they create for “those kind of
people.” I am the round peg that doesn’t fit in to any hole. Anyone else agree?
It happened the other day at the Maundy Thursday service. A guy came
in during the prayer and wanted to eat. I told him it was a service of
remembrance of the last Supper. He came in any way and sat down; for
about 7 minutes. Long story short, he said: all YOU pastors want the same
thing; go to a service and then you can eat. He was agitated that he had to
go to a service to get some fish. And he pigeon-holed me as the pastor who
manipulated HIM into coming to a Christian worship service so he could eat. I
got agitated too. He left with his fish dinner wrapped in foil. I fumed.
In a time when Christians tend to categorize each other as evangelical or
progressive, conservative or liberal, I don’t want to be labeled. I don’t want
to be criticized. But there is one exception: you can call me a follower of
Jesus. A couple of years ago when I was visiting with one of the greatest
pastors ever, Gordon Cosby, in Washington DC, Church of the Savior, where
Kathy and I lived and worked for the first nine years of our marriage, it was
a few months before Gordon passed on to GLORY, we were talking about
dealing with criticism. In the 1990’s he had been criticized by politicians,
businessmen and other pastors for purchasing an 80 unit apartment building
in a middle class neighborhood and turning it into transitional housing for
people in recovery.
“I got the most abuse from fellow clergy,” he said. “They could not understand
why I wanted to put 80 recovering people in one building. You will destroy
the neighborhood, they said. Gordon said: You are wrong; these are 80 Strong
resurrection people starting new lives.”
What Jesus are you following? Today we celebrate the Risen Jesus. The
one who lived, died and rose again! The one who brought life to all who
approached him. The one who healed a woman of deadly bleeding when SHE
touched his robe. The Jesus who turned the water into wine at the wedding at
Cana, and then spat on the ground to heal the man born blind.
I want to follow the Jesus of justice, the one who quoted the Law and the
Prophets to the priests, socialites and monarchs, ate dinner with tax collectors
and sinners, raised men from the grave and taught social justice for all people.
I want to follow the risen Jesus who shows us the power to overcome death
and darkness. He shows us that depression, addiction, abuse, evil cannot hold.
He is with us always. Let’s break that down. He has gathered a community of
believers that have the power to change society as we know it.
Let me say a few things about myself: I believe in the physical resurrection.
People saw him in solid form. They touched his wounds. It is because of this
physical resurrection that I celebrate Easter.
Another reason I celebrate Easter is because it is for all. Jesus doesn’t care if
you are black, white, red, brown, light brown. He didn’t care about your label:
Pentecostal? Catholic? Methodist? United Church of Christ? He cares only
about the Gospel. He cares only about your salvation; he cares about the cost
of discipleship; he wants to go get the one sheep over the 99 . . . he is forgiving,
doesn’t hold a grudge -- if we are following Jesus in life, when do we have the
time and energy to ever criticize anyone else or even take our focus off the
mission Jesus sent us to do for a moment?
Second. Jesus ended his ministry. He went willingly to the cross, and the
disciples took over. The Gospel was spread, not by Jesus, but by his followers
and descendants. This is something Gordon Cosby understood. He split apart
the church he and his wife built . . . Three different times during his ministry;
he told the members, go out and start new churches. And so he sent them out
by twos and threes to start their own communities. He said: my ministry will
end. Everything has to end, so other communities can begin.
Third: let me say that I believe the 12 step PRINCIPLES celebrate new life in
God. I overlook the fact that they don’t mention Jesus, but the Gospel message
is there. Clear as day: Came to believe that a power greater than myself can
restore me to sanity. And here is the one that is even more powerful: Step
11 – we sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact
with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and
the power to carry that out. I am a follower of Jesus who showed us the way to
improve our conscious contact with God . . . showed us how to pray, and we
have the solid ground of the Gospel and we have the Holy Spirit to help us.
We need all the help we can get. Look around. This world is a dark illusion.
We have “F’d” it up. It is death incarnate. There are lies all around us. Evil
lies to us and we lie to ourselves. Lies undermine the work of building God’s
kingdom. The lies of the world look just like the lies the Temple leaders told
Pontius Pilate and the tyrants of greed. And the system of Pontius Pilate is
still with us today. Look at the tyranny of oppression and hatred that causes
men to kill other men. Look at the hatred that caused 13 Cleveland police
officers to fire 137 shots into two people in a car they chased through our
city at speeds over 100 miles an hour. These are people the CPD are sworn
to protect and serve? No wonder People are hurting. People in our city see
only death. It’s on the news and in the streets. Its driving many people to
despair. People are crying out. They collapse into hopeless resignation. Death
seems to be winning. Easter seems absurd, it cannot be proven. Death seems
to be winning. That is why we are going to start contemplative prayer again
every week. We are going to pray and it will strengthen us and nourish our
souls. This will show the devil that we are not going to let violence and fear
overcome God’s light in this world. Darkness cannot overcome God’s light.
About 4 years ago, a friend of mine named Kevin, came to me to talk about
troubles he was having with his 8 year old boy and 11 year old girl. His son had
a firey temper and unruly behavior. Kevin, a single dad, was tormenting himself,
as if the boy had been infested with demons. Kevin was angry, fed up and literally
shivering with emotion. Because he was a self employed small business owner,
Kevin was hurt when he had to take off work to go to school and bail his son out;
the pain came directly out of his pocket. He asked me if I thought it would be a
good idea for him to talk to a shrink, to learn how to deal with his children. I said
that it couldn’t hurt. But go a step further, I said, and talk to some other people,
and parents about their experiences. I told him that we have a family in St Paul’s
who struggle with an autistic child and they are learning how to live a new way.
So he did, and he came back the next week thrilled and amazed that some
families were experiencing similar outbursts and frustrations. He then went a
step further; he bought himself a computer, went online and started chatting
with other parents around the country, and around the world. He realized that
he was not alone as he faced the challenges of his family, and he learned the
reasons behind the way his son behaved, and he learned how others coped with
it. He learned from parents about how autism has affected them; and he found
out what it was like to be in his son’s head. So now, he finds new creative ways
to deal with his son’s mood swings. He has learned the triggers for his son’s
outbursts, the attention problems and intermittent brilliance. Kevin is taking his
dose of reality head on, letting his heart be broken, and moving in and through
the darkness to a new life, a life of enlightenment.
I talk to Kevin every now and then. It’s been four years, his son is now 12. His
family is back together; his daughter is managing her teenage years, his wife is
clean and sober and his son is in a school with special classes, learning life skills in
an alternative setting designed just for him. And told me this story: one day when
he stopped in a gas station he went over to help a woman with car full of kids
and a flat tire. He peeked into the back seat, and immediately recognized that her
middle son had autism. He said this to her, and she grimaced and the boy gave
Kevin a questioning look. “Shush” she said to Kevin . . . she turned and told the
boy, "everything is okay.” And she handed him some money and said: “Why don’t
you go get something to drink at that store." And Kevin pulled her aside and said
to the mom, “how long have you known?” and she said about 2 years. And he said
“how long has your son known?” and she said she had not told him. And Kevin
said, “tell him . . . he needs to know that it is ok to be different . . . It’s like walking
around with baloney in your shoes, knowing that something is not right but not
knowing what it is. . .”
We cannot go about as if nothing is wrong. We cannot live a lie; we cannot deny
the dark and disfunctional reality that is all around us. We cannot pretend that we
don’t have an aching back, that the cancer isn’t there or that the heavy darkness
in our minds is going to go away by some miracle. Our awareness matters; our
consciousness counts. We have to make a conscious effort to follow Jesus. This is
a moment of faith. We are Easter people. Easter people follow the risen Christ.
What Jesus are we following? The one that rose on Easter morning; alleluia!
Christ is risen! Today we are celebrating the Risen Jesus. Jesus physically
rose from the dead, just like Lazarus; he doesn’t care if you are black, brown,
light brown, hetero , gay, child, Arab, Jew, Ukrainian or Turkish, whatever. And
he went to the cross for the strick purpose of saving souls. Salvation. He ended
his ministry so ours can begin.
In life, he was the one who cast out demons, quoted the Law and the Prophets
to the Pharisees, changed water into wine, healed lepers, raised men from the
grave and taught justice and love for all. In death, Jesus made the ultimate
sacrifice: he went willingly to the cross, knowing that God’s mission took
priority. Jesus showed us the walk of faith; a testament of courage and
strength. And He broke our hearts. In rising, Jesus shows us the power to
overcome death and darkness. He is with us always, from the beginning, when
there was only the Word, now in this moment when we are caused to sing in
praise and to the end of time.
And with that singularity of purpose, following God’s orders, it makes me
laugh when people call me a “jarhead” which is meant as a slander to Marines.
I laughed in his face. I am far from having an empty-head, only good for
following orders. But maybe for God, I could remain always faithful. Semper
fidelis to all.