Acknowledging ‘White Privilege’

privilege and racismThe words ‘white privilege’ have been bandied around by pundits, the media and in general conversation, and while many of us accept that it exists, we are not sure what it means. The best definition of ‘white privilege’ that I have found came from a class in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts:

a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.

The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

White privilege is about not having to worry about being followed in a department store while shopping. It’s about thinking that your clothes, manner of speech, and behavior in general, are racially neutral, when, in fact, they are white. It’s seeing your image on television daily and knowing that you’re being represented. It’s people assuming that you lead a constructive life free from crime and off welfare. It’s about not having to assume your daily interactions with people have racial overtones.

White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level”.[1]

To quote African -American author, James Baldwin, “Being white means never having to think about it.

Many of us at Saint John’s benefit every day from our ‘white privilege’. We don’t even acknowledge that we have it, and indeed, enjoy a life that people of color can only dream of, but do not often attain. Life’s path is smoothed for us; the entire world is set up to give us every advantage, allow us to come out on the top. Moreover, we don’t want to talk about the fact that we are privileged, or even think that our privilege directly affects the lives of millions of people of color. We do not have to worry about whether our children will return safely as they walk home from school, or if they are driving, will they be stopped for the most minor of offenses and jailed. I have an African-American friend who does not drive in Bexley because the police consider ‘driving while black’ a reason to stop him. We don’t have that worry. And even if we are stopped by the police, we don’t fear that we will be assaulted or shot. We don’t have to teach our sons how to avoid harassment when they are doing nothing wrong. People don’t cross to the other side when we walk down the street, or hold tight to their purses when we pass by.

Racism is about much more than our feelings toward one another, or about differences that we can fix with talk of tolerance or color blindness. The story of race is an ideology of difference that shapes our understanding of ourselves, the world we inhabit, and the communities in which we live. Racial thinking assigns value to human beings who are grouped within artificial categories. We do not need to embrace contrived notions of racial differences, in the name of inclusion, but to examine to the depth of our hearts how we really feel about people of color. Tolerance is not acceptable; we must search until we can truly look at any other person as equal to ourselves. By minimalizing another person, we are dehumanizing not only them but ourselves.

In light of the murders and shootings of people of all colors in the past few months and most recently, we, may be appalled or anguished, but may not see these events are directly related to the long-standing racism in our nation stemming from slavery. Progress for people of color has been slow, and halting; cultural attitudes and habits have changed at a glacial pace. We think we have made progress, but we have become so used to the ‘racial divide’ in our nation, that in many cases, we do not even realize it is there! The sad and shocking thing is, these killings will continue. Too much of white America doesn’t see the problem. Many subconsciously believe that the shooting victim(s) “deserved it”!

None of this means the situation can’t change. However, until the white people in America can see clearly this injustice occurring, and realize the freedoms and values that we as Americans believe in are not available to everyone, it will continue. Until it tugs at our own sense of fairness and justice, a lot of white people in America will remain unmoved to act. Denying the impact of white privilege on this country’s judicial system creates more injustice, more inflamed rhetoric, more grief, more rage. . . and more deaths!

I saw a sign held by protester at a rally that said: ‘White Silence is Violence’.

Truly, if you do not listen to others who are not like you, keep silent when disparaging words are spoken, don’t hold people accountable for their discriminatory conduct, you are just as complicit in racism as those who hold a gun or burn a cross or lynch a man.

White people are in a position of power in this country because of a long-standing power structure that they control. In the opinion of many, much of the political unrest that we are now experiencing stems from the fact that we fear we are losing that control. Are we brave enough to use our ‘white privilege’ to correct that system or power structure? Are we, as white people, willing to do what it takes to stop the systemic murder of young black men, the institutionalized school-to-prison pipeline, the deep, bleeding wound that is racism in America. It is a hard pill to swallow that, in many ways, white people are the source of the problem and only we can change it! People of color may yell, scream, cry, plead or demand justice, but until we are willing to get really uncomfortable with our own participation in a racist society, nothing will change.

Don’t delude yourself that you do not have the power. You may say ‘I’m not racist — I have black friends! I’m a good person!” You may not be rich and you may truly struggle with daily aspects of your life. You probably are a good person, and you may have black friends. BUT, you still benefit from institutionalized racism.

Andrew Rosenthal, a writer for The New York Times, stated:

“The point of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not that the lives of African Americans matter more than those of White Americans, but that they matter equally, and that historically they have been treated as if they do not.[2]

Speak with people of color, listen, to learn — or perhaps more appropriately, unlearn the racism that has been instilled in us by our country. . . and our churches.

It’s time for white people in America — especially the white American church — to start putting action behind our prayerful social media memes. The unfortunate reality is that America has a really big race problem, and it is white people must take the leadership to fix it. We, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, should be leading the charge, not arguing about the semantics of whose lives’ matter’.

I call on ALL congregations, but especially white congregations, to unite in protest, to refuse to stand in silence, to speak out against racial injustice, to examine our individual lives and attitudes until we understand our participation in racism, and wipe it from our lives!

We must build a society where we no longer see people of color bloodied and broken. . . or dead, due to racial violence.

We must ensure that our children do not take on the racial attitudes and habits that we were so subtly taught.

Join me in acknowledging, understanding and shedding the mantle of our ‘white privilege’.
 
 
[1]      The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

[2]      Andrew Rosenthal, “The Real Story of Race and Police Killings“, The New York Times; September 4, 2015

 
Written for the Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 July 2016

OF One Heart and Soul

Acts 4:32-35

This is Formation Eucharist Sunday, I am going to start the ‘grown-up’[1] sermon with some of the points that I made to the children in the first service.

This is the first Sunday after Easter, and Jesus is no longer there to lead the disciples or the people. They are all sad and kind of lost and missing Him. We heard in the Bible reading from the Acts of the Apostles today that the people who followed him began to live together like one huge family. The way they could share stories of Jesus so they wouldn’t miss him so much. Stories always remind us of a person who is no longer with us, and makes us feel better. In this new big family they created, no one owned anything, everything anyone had belonged to everyone. They shared food and clothes and all their possessions. That is pretty amazing!

Think for a minute about all your toys and things that you like. Can you imagine sharing them with every other child? Think about how your little brother or sister may get peanut butter in the hair of your favorite doll, or break your favorite car or truck. That doesn’t sound like very much fun, does it?

Well, one of the main things Jesus taught us was that we are to care for and share with each other. Do you remember the verse in Matthew:

Do unto others are you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12)

We all want to be good followers of Jesus, showing other people the love of Jesus. Sometimes we do a good job of it, and other times not so much. But you know what? God loves us anyway. Isn’t that great? As long as we try to be good examples, even when we don’t quite make it, we are all beloved children of God, even if we are 95 years old!

And Jesus asks us to share. I have a flower for each of you. Aren’t they pretty? Flowers are the sign that Spring is here(or at least we hope) – and another sign that, like all living things, Jesus rose from the dead. Lots of people really like flowers because they brighten up a room, smell good, and make people happy.

Don’t you like to be happy? Who doesn’t like to be happy?

So, like Jesus taught us, we should share with others. I want you to take a flower, and when you go back to your seat, give it to someone that you would like to make happy. It could be your parents or sister or brother, or maybe someone that you think could really use it to cheer them up.

This is what sharing is about and what our community here at Saint John’s should be like: some place where we care for each other and share our love. We hope, by doing that, we can help the whole world to learn to love and share.

So, pick out your flower – there are so many kinds in the vase. Take one that makes you happy, then give it to someone else – and make them happy!

Sometimes children, and adults, don’t grasp the significance of striving to live as one large family. But, as we heard in the reading from Acts, that is what we have been commanded to do. And I would add to that, that we need to live together in a Christian community which lives out the teachings of Jesus. We all need to put our faith into action.

But, what does “faith in action look like?” Fortunately, we have the acts of the early church recorded for us in Scripture alongside the words and deeds of Jesus in the gospels. So, if we want to see what we ought to be doing today and why, we only need to look at Scripture. In the fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we heard:

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

When the early followers of Jesus, before they were even known as ‘Christians’ lived together, they were a small number and it was easy for them to do this. But there are fewer communes and intentional communities today, an exception being the group of Episcopalians and AmeriCorp interns who work and live together in Franklinton, which follow these instructions. Most of us can’t go as far as that in our modern lives. We don’t all feel called to pool our money and move in together. But this picture of the early church should still move us to be a certain kind of people. These verses in Acts 4 should challenge us to carefully consider what it does mean for us to be a community that shares life together – taking care of one another and those less fortunate – the homeless, the abandoned, those suffering.

When we pray the Prayers of the People, we ask

“comfort and heal all those who suffer in body, mind or spirit; give them courage and hope in their troubles”.

We pray this weekly, but what do we do to help God accomplish this? How do we reflect God’s love in our personal and communal lives?

So, what does it mean for us to be a life-sharing community? First of all, it means that we embrace a common purpose. Acts 4:32 tells us that

All the believers were one in heart and mind.

A ‘Christian’ sense of purpose. A determination to spread the gospel of Jesus, and try to live into his teachings and commandments. And very casually inserted in the middle of these passages is the reward for living a shared-life:

And much grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:33)

So today we must ask ourselves who are Christians living here in America: “How are we reflecting this model in our churches today.” Are we preaching and singing one thing, and doing the opposite? Is the Kingdom of God furthered by our service? I would think, if this were so, there would be great power in the church today. There would be powerful witness to the resurrection of Christ in the life of the church. There would be great grace flowing from her to a hurt, rebellious and dying world. There would be people added daily to church membership. There might even be true miracles in the church. But if our churches are divided by race, riches, and culture, then what are we preaching? Should we expect great power in a church such as this? It seems to me that we need to seriously reconsider who we are as a church. Another word for reconsider is “repent.” Do we really want a powerful spirit-filled and led church, or are we happy just to be a fading mirage of what the church once was?

We all need to search our hearts and decide what we want to be, personally, and what we want Saint John’s to be for our community and world.

Let us pray together as the children prayed.

Dear God, you have created a world that is full of beauty, which you tell us to share with others. Thank you for sharing this beautiful world with us! Sometimes, when we don’t feel like sharing, forgive us. Help us to be nice to all those whom we meet and show them the love of God that you showed us!  Amen.

 
[1] Emphasize with fingers in air
 
Note: except for scripture, text in italics is part of the children’s sermon, “Jesus Tells Us to Share”, Saint John’s Episcopal Church of Worthington & Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 8 April 2018
 
 
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church of Worthington & Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 8 April 2018

Jesus Tells Us To Share

Acts 4:32-35

This is the first Sunday after Easter, and Jesus is no longer there to lead the disciples or the people. They are all sad and kind of lost and missing Him. We heard in the Bible reading from the Acts of the Apostles today that the people who followed him began to live together like one huge family. That way they could share stories of Jesus so they wouldn’t miss him so much. Stories always remind us of a person who is no longer with us, and make us feel better. In this new big family they created, no one owned anything, everything anyone had belonged to everyone. They shared food and clothes and all their possessions. That is pretty amazing!

Think for a minute about all your toys and things that are special to you. Can you imagine sharing them with every other child? Think about how your little brother or sister may get peanut butter in the hair of your favorite doll, or break your favorite car or truck. That doesn’t sound like very much fun, does it?

Well, one of the main things Jesus taught us was that we are to care for and share with each other. Do you remember the verse in Matthew:

Do unto others are you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12)

We all want to be good followers of Jesus, showing other people the love of Jesus. Sometimes we do a good job of it, and other times not so much. But you know what? God loves us anyway. Isn’t that great? As long as we try to be good examples, even when we don’t quite make it, we are all beloved children of God, even if we are 95 years old!

And Jesus asks us to share. I have a flower for each of you. Aren’t they pretty? Flowers are the sign that Spring is here (or at least we hope) – and another sign that, like all living things, Jesus rose from the dead. Lots of people really like flowers because they brighten up a room, smell good, and make people happy.

Don’t you like to be happy? Who doesn’t like to be happy?

So, like Jesus taught us, we should share with others. I want you to take a flower, and when you go back to your seat, give it to someone that you would like to make happy. It could be your parents or sister or brother, or maybe someone that you think could really use it to cheer them up.

This is what sharing is about and what our community here at Saint John’s should be like: some place where we care for each other and share our love. We hope, by doing that, we can help the whole world to learn to love and share.

So, pick out your flower – there are so many kinds in the vase. Take one that makes you happy, then give it to someone else – and make them happy!

And then we will pray.

(children pick out flowers)

 
 

Let us pray.

Dear God, you have created a world that is full of beauty, which you tell us to share with others. Thank you for sharing this beautiful world with us! Sometimes, when we don’t feel like sharing, forgive us. Help us to be nice to all those whom we meet and show them the love of God that you showed us!  Amen.
 
 
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church of Worthington & Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 8 April 2018

Your Guide to Social Media Safety

This is a composite of articles gleaned from the internet and tech professional about the use of social media and how to keep yourself and your data safe. Hopefully, these will assist you in making decisions about your future use of social media.

Note: the articles in this collection do not necessarily reflect my opinions, but are hopefully presented in an equal manner to all sides.

Several months I published a blog about the use of technology in the church. It contains some warning about security and effective use of various social media tools. It can be read at Technology – A Blessing or a Curse?

Each article will be noted by its link so it can be read entirely independent of the others.
 

 
 
The Rev deniray mueller, Legislative Liaison, Diocese of Southern Ohio, 1 April 2018

In Three Days

Mark 15:48

Today is Easter Sunday – the Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus which brought salvation to the world, and all of us. This is the day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

This past Thursday, called Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, nearly 2000 years ago, Jesus was arrested by the high priests of the Jewish temples because they were jealous of the powerful following he was developing. They also feared the message he preached – one that said everyone was important to God. He was then questioned by Pilate, the Roman ruler, who wanted to release Jesus because he could find no fault with him. Throughout the questioning, Jesus remained silent until the end. Then he said one of the most significant statements that foretold his future:

‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’ (Mark 15:48)

As I am talking about Easter and Jesus’ resurrection, Saint John’s people will be passing out little Easter nests with three jelly beans. The nest represents the coming of Spring, the renewal of the earth and birth of new creatures. And the three jelly beans remind us of Jesus’ promise that the physical structure of the temple may disappear, the power structures of all men, but a new temple will arise. That temple is the resurrected Jesus who showed us life everlasting.

The number 3 is used 467 times in the Bible. We know from the Holy Week reading that Jesus prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane that God would remove this burden from him; we know that

  • James and John and Peter fell asleep three times while Jesus was praying;
  • that Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed;
  • that there was three hours of darkness from the time that Jesus was nailed to the cross until he died.

And more importantly, Jesus was dead three days before he was resurrected.

So, let these 3 little jelly beans remind you of all that!

Also remember that throughout the Bible we are reminded that each of us are children of God, beloved by him, no matter our shortcomings. And, also, that our bodies represent the temple of God –where we try, to the best of our ability, to live worthy lives according to the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus suffered a painful and humiliating death to show us that death is not the end of life, but leads to an eternity of love in paradise.

This is the story of Easter.

Let us pray:

Even before the dawn breaks, you are with us. Even while our spirits are broken, you rebuild us. Though we are too weary to run, you renew us. Though we are too slow to believe but quickly ardent in idolization, you remain our God. When we barely remember our names and all hope seems lost to the grave, you love us forever. Now the eyes of our hearts are opened and the song on our lips is pure joy. Beloved Resurrection!

Amen.
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden Ecclesia Ministry, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 1 April 2018

Remeber Those Last Words

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Lord, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my mouth and in the thoughts we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen.

This week that the Christian world calls ‘Holy Week’ commemorates the last – and most important week of Jesus’ life – for in this week, he moved intentionally from glory and praise to a painful death and martyrdom; from celebrations and acclamations of his divinity; from betrayal, abandonment, torture, mockery, humiliation and death. And then finally the resurrection!

If Jesus had not risen from death to appear to his disciples, we might not remember him at all – and if history did recall him, it would be perhaps as just another interesting, non-conventional Jewish prophet. But we are headed this week to Sunday – and to the resurrection of the Son of Man and the Son of God, and all that means for us. On Sunday we will joyfully celebrate the promise and assurance of eternal life that Jesus of Nazareth revealed to us all.

In this final holy week of Jesus’ life, he spent most of his time teaching his disciples the important lessons for life that he came to show: peace, forgiveness, and the need to love and serve one another to the end.

It was an important time in the Jewish religion – the week of Passover – and Jesus came to Jerusalem with his disciples to observe this high holy day. On this night, Thursday night, he gathered his friends, his disciples for the Passover feast.

Tradition has it that they gathered in the second story room of the house of John Mark’s mother – John Mark being the author of Mark’s Gospel.[1]  During this Passover Seder feast, Jesus demonstrated so many of the things he taught the disciples to do and be.

One thing that he did that has always stood out in my mind, was that he washed the feet of his disciples as they entered the Upper Room. It was the custom that when guests arrived at a home, a servant of the house removed their sandals and washed their feet – feet tired, sore, and dirty from rocky paths and streets. This menial task was beneath the dignity of the master of the house, so a servant did it.

But our Redeemer was a King like no other, and just as he had entered Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey, rather than on a war horse, just as he was greeted by peasants with palm branches rather than legions of soldiers with swords, so Jesus became a servant to his friends, and washed their feet.

After the Passover dinner, he gave his disciples a ritual feast and asked them to remember him always by sharing a meal – the breaking of bread and drinking of wine.

On this Thursday night, Jesus knew full well what lay ahead of him – he knew Judas would betray him, that even Peter would not stand by him, that all his disciples would abandon him, hiding in a locked room, full of fear and cowardice. On this night he prayed for strength, he asked God, his father, to spare him, but knew it could not be.

Jesus knew if his teachings and examples were to go forward, his disciples would have to do it, and ready or not, he kept showing them what to do. He told them:

You can’t say you love me, if you won’t love those I suffered and died for!” (1 John 3:14-18 & 4:7-12.)

Jesus then went willingly to his trial, sentencing, and crucifixion in preparation for his resurrection for all humankind.

For anyone who has traveled the end-of-life journey with someone they care for, they have learned that near the end, the person leaves a message for those who survive. This is something that is extremely important to the dying person – something they want their loved ones to remember them by. It is always important to remember the last words of the person who is about to die; they usually spend their last breath saying things critically important to them. And finally, on this night, Jesus’ last words to them were:

“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. You must love each other like I loved you.” (John 13:34)

So tonight we remind ourselves what this world would be without love – we remove the music, the art, the flowers – and finally the light. We leave this place in darkness and silence – for our world and our lives would be dismal and fearful indeed, had Jesus not come to earth and shown that love and service, forgiveness and compassion are

“the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6)

His final words that night were for his disciples – and for us:

“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. You must love each other like I loved you.” (John 13:34)

As followers of Jesus – as human beings – we must remember those words, and do our best to live into them every day of our lives.

Let us pray:

God our creator & sustainer, thank you so much for Jesus! Thank you for blessing us with a spiritual meal which reminds us and proclaims again that Jesus died, offering his body and blood as the atonement for our sins. Thank you for giving us the day of his resurrection as the day we can powerfully remember this great sacrifice, and anticipate the great day of reunion that his resurrection has secured for your children. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
 
[1]      https://www.quora.com/Who-prepared-the-food-at-Jesuss-last-supper; Cenacle is a room in the David’s Tomb Compound in Jerusalem, traditionally held to be the site of the Last Supper.
 
 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington & Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 29 March 2018

It this ‘MY’ Pew or God’s Pew?

I wish I could say this is a made-up story, but unfortunately it is not.

We recently had a couple visit our church while looking for a new church home. They were warmly greeted by the ushers and told to sit anywhere they wished. So, they picked a pew about midway up the aisle. The people around them were cordial and offered to help them maneuver through the service (they were not cradle Episcopalians and hadn’t been in an Episcopal church for a long time).

Two parishioners came to assume ‘their’ seats, where the couple happened to be sitting. They noisily sat in the pew behind this couple, noting that ‘someone was in their seats’ in a less than quiet voice. People around the visitors were appalled at the audacity of these two women. Then, throughout the entire service, these two women make snide remarks about the couple, their appearance, and unfamiliarity with our service. And at the Passing of the Peace, they blatantly chose not to welcome these visitors. At the dismissal, they further remarked that they hoped these people got the point and found themselves other seats; those were ‘their’ seats!

When this was related to me, I was appalled that someone in OUR congregation would be so catty and unwelcoming to visitors. Haven’t we heard in Hebrews 12:13

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,

And doesn’t Jesus remind us:

I was a stranger and you invited me in (Matthew 25:35)?

Fortunately, in spite of the nastiness of these two long-time parishioners, the couple found the church to be a welcoming place and has since become active and contributing members of the church. This had to be the work of the Holy Spirit and those members who did extend a hand of friendship and Jesus’ love.

Just as the Eucharistic table is not our table, but God’s table, the pews do not belong to any one person (purchasing pews went out a long, long time ago!) Some of us seem to have forgotten that.

We want people to feel comfortable in church (except maybe during the sermon), but maybe it is time to shake some things up. We have become too complacent; doing the same thing, in the same place, over and over again can desensitize us to the wonders of our faith journey. If we don’t expect God to do anything different, we get what we expect – nothing new and exciting.

I suggest that for the remaining weeks of Lent and during Eastertide, we all do something different – change where we sit in church. Even if you know everyone in the congregation, this gives you the opportunity to get to know others at a deeper level. If you are new, you can begin to meet other people in the congregation, and they can get to know you.

Complacency of the same seat causes you to expect and perceive the service in the same way every Sunday. You never know what you will experience if you sit in another pew: you will hear the choir with a different ear, see the preacher for a different vantage point, and might even notice something about the church that you have never noticed before. You may even listen to the sermon differently, simply because everything feels new.

As in the manner of most Episcopalians, we all tend to sit in the back pews. This forces latecomers or newcomers to have to walk all the way to the front. Think about how unwelcome that would make you feel, especially if you were a visitor. We want to welcome new people, rather than creating an environment which suggests that they are not welcome, or draw a spotlight on them. Remember, you were a newcomer once.

Most people do not like change, that is a human trait. We are trying new things, such as the Formation Eucharist, and have plans for expanding our worship and outreach in the future. A church which does not grow becomes stagnant and does not expand the Kingdom of God or our individual faith. We want to be a vibrant congregation that shows the community the love and faith we have in God.

By changing your seat every week, we open ourselves to experiencing new and exciting things, and we will be more prepared for the changes as we move into the future. If you will not consider changing your seat, maybe you need to look at your heart. Pure stubbornness closes off the mind and heart and soul so that the teachings of Jesus cannot break through your outer shell. And isn’t that why we are here? – to grow in our faith and testimony to the world of the Kingdom of God.

Let’s try ALL of God’s pews!
 
 

8 March 2018

We, Too, WILL Be Lifted Up

John 12:20-33

O Lord Jesus, You chose the Cross as the path to glory to show us the way of salvation. May we receive the word of the Gospel joyfully and live by Your example as heirs and citizens of Your Kingdom. Amen.

We just heard in the Gospel reading that a group of Greeks approached Philip and Andrew, saying

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21)

At this time in history, Greeks were considered ‘gentiles’ – outcasts, non-religious, non-Jews, and aliens. Up to this time, the ministry of Jesus and His disciples had not included the gentiles – only those of Jewish faith. So, these Greeks, to have come to Jerusalem during the Feast of the Passover, was an unusual occurrence – and even more unusual was that they asked to see Jesus, for they had heard of Him. Why were they even interested in meeting this controversial Jewish man?

In His usual welcoming manner, Jesus instructed Philip and Andrew to bring the Greeks to him. Now, this was yet another instance where Jesus violated the societal laws – He was often speaking with non-Jews, or heathens. Jesus was always breaking all the rules. We hear nothing about these Greeks once they are taken to Jesus, but they serve as a segue to Jesus’ teachings about the inclusion of ALL in his Kingdom.

In Matthew 10:32-33, we are told:

“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”

This is just another example of John making it very clear that Jesus drew all kinds of people to Him, and to God.

I believe that all of us sitting here today, are a little like those Greeks, – we are searching for Jesus. We search in our own personal studies, by coming to church, through meditations and prayer, either alone or with other people. We yearn our whole lives to get to know Jesus better. We strive to understand who He had to suffer for, even though we are told that He is the Son of God, that God sent Him to save His creation.

Why the suffering?

Why the struggles?

Why the meanness?

Why the betrayal?

I grew up in the Catholic Church and I can remember as a young child, looking at the crucifix hanging over the altar with the broken, bloody body of Jesus on it, wondering what horrible things I must have done to cause Jesus to be murdered for my sins. I never could wrap my little mind around that, but I took comfort in knowing that through His death, I was forgiven of all my sins and when I died, by the promise of Jesus:

“when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32).

I didn’t understand it, but I believed, somehow, it was true, and it gave me comfort.

We also heard in Jeremiah that God

will make a new covenant with the people (Jeremiah 31:31)

and

No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, (Jeremiah 31:34)

This is the promise of the Judeo-Christian covenant: that we will always be children of God, never to be forgotten. And we will take our rightful place with Jesus for eternity.

As I have grown older, I find I am more and more drawn to Jesus, the Son of Man – that Jesus became, in a short time, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, by all who knew Him or followed Him – someone in whom many believed that they, too, suffered and died and would not deny Him. But I still associate most with Jesus, the Son of Man – whose one solitary life changed the world forever.

Many of you may know this prose poem by Dr. James Allan Francis, but I cannot read it enough – I want to share it with you.

And in many ways, this ‘One Solitary Life’ has shown us ‘the way’ – and indeed, lifts us up.

For we all must die – and to live knowing we must die is, in many ways, painful. We may not die on a cross – but if you have ever observed a friend suffering from cancer or MS or heart disease – this is a type of crucifixion. If you have lost a loved one to death, a child, a spouse, a parent – this is suffering. If you have known someone encased in despair and depression, mental illness, or dementia – oh, indeed, that is suffering.

In many ways, to live is to suffer – loss, confusion, disappointment, doubt – and despite the love, the joy, the successes and accomplishments, we all suffer – and fear – and hurt. At some point we all are betrayed or abandoned, persecuted or bullied, and we must die.

We are at the end of winter now, and we have been surrounded by death – trees barren, flowers gone, grass mown, days short – all dead,

but look!

Wait!

Spring is coming!

Easter is coming! Life returns in a beautiful endless cycle of resurrection and renewal.

And this is what Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God – this ‘One Solitary Life’ – came to tell us. I will leave you with this:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)

Jesus promised:

Always be where I am! And I will be there, too!

Jesus defied death to show us that death is not the final thing we feared! Life goes on and on – Life is eternal – and where He is, so shall we be.

This is how we are lifted up – past sorrow and disappointment, past grief and despair, beyond loss and confusion –

to Life!

To Joy!

To Eternal Love!

This is why we follow the teachings and examples of this ’One Solitary Life’ – to learn to live a life of love, surpassing suffering, so that we may recognize and join the eternal life of Jesus, Son of Man – and Son of God. Without this ‘One Solitary Life’, this earth and all of us would be dark and dismal, indeed – but with Him, secure in the hope and promise of His life, this earth and you and I can be lifted up – each day – and for eternity.

Let us pray:

Dear Jesus, we resolve—and will try this day—to imitate Your example, to be like You. We will redouble our efforts to see Your image in all those we meet and deal with this day, and to be as loving to them as we would be to You. We resolve to avoid all those shortcomings we have and which we now sincerely desire to give up forever. Amen.
 
 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington & Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 March 2018