Matthew 18:15-20 – Pentecost 14, 2017 – Pastor Goede
Some things about our modern life are indeed very different from Reformation times, and from Jesus’ time, but some things never change. For instance, we still spend a lot of our time, every day, binding and loosing. Jesus’ words today might sound formal and foreign, but we still all bind and loose. For instance, if a waiter is inattentive and rude when you visit a restaurant, you have choices to make. You can say nothing while you’re there, go home fuming and blast the place on Yelp. You can write a review that many people will see and, depending on how many people review the restaurant online, could really put a dent in the restaurant’s rating. Or, you could rewind to the restaurant, say something gentle to the waiter, like, we’ve been waiting a long time for our food, and they might say, oh, sorry, we’re so busy but shorthanded in the kitchen and out here, I’m so sorry, I’ll go see what I can do. That doesn’t always work, there are rude waiters in the world, but you might speak to a manager before you go, and complain in a way that might have more impact than a nasty review.
Restaurants and waiters and Yelp are part of our world, not Jesus’, but even in the small, very modern interactions in our lives, we’re still binding and loosing, just as Jesus’ is trying to teach the disciples to do. You might think, those words binding and loosing sound familiar. We heard them a couple of weeks ago, when Peter confessed that he believed Jesus was the messiah. Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon…I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
We’ll hear a similar passage next Saturday, during Pastor Pitts’ installation service. When we ordain or install pastors, we usually hear a passage from John. Jesus appears to the disciples’ as a resurrected being, and John says “he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” Slightly different words, in both our English translation and in the Greek of the New Testament, but a similar meaning.
Jesus doesn’t make this up, this idea of binding and loosing. He and all of the disciples are familiar with this idea as Jews who observe the Law. Binding and loosing were powers exercised by religious authorities in Jesus’ time, like the Pharisees. If you’ve ever wondered, why does Jesus keep engaging the Pharisees, it’s because they hold the power of binding and loosing sin.
Jesus teaches his disciples that the power of binding and loosing doesn’t just belong to the Pharisees, it belongs to them as well. As they move from town to town, encountering people who gladly receive them and others who are hostile, as they deal with Pharisees and Jesus groupies and waiters in inns, Jesus’ followers have the power to forgive or to condemn.
I love the scope that those terms binding and loosing have. You can bind, and then pull a bit tighter, or you can loosen by degrees. You have a lot of decisions to make about how your wield your power to bind and loose sin. We don’t often think of forgiveness as a power, but it is. You can withhold it, or you can let go of your anger and be free with your forgiveness. You can see what long-term anger does to you or others. We say it eats you up, because it’s truly corrosive. That doesn’t make it easier to deal with or control, but it’s helpful to recognize how powerful anger is. It helps you recognize the wisdom of trying to be intentionally free with forgiveness.
Likewise, it’s useful to understand the value of binding sin, of retaining it. That’s an important part of the process of seeking justice. We’re rightly outraged when sinners are let off the hook too easily. That’s the dynamic behind police violence and large protests and legal action right now in our country. Police officers hold a position of authority, but for a long time, some abused that authority and no one brought them to account. Now, they are being held, rightly, to a higher standard. Now their sins are being retained. Forgiveness is possible, newness of life for both officers and the community are possible, but the sin can’t be forgotten or ignored any longer. Binding and loosing have real power.
Jesus knew that many of the Pharisees had a very developed sense of the power of binding and loosing sin. They wielded forgiveness of sin like a weapon, using it to keep people in line. Jesus handed it back to the disciples, and for awhile in the early church, the power of forgiveness was widely shared. But because humans love to consolidate and exercise power, it didn’t take long before the power of the keys was taken from the many and only given to a few.
Remember that Jesus told Peter, I’m giving you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and so this power to bind and loose is called the power of the keys. Peter was the leader of the church at Rome until he was killed by the Romans, but he was not called a bishop in his own time. As one person and then another stepped into his place, those men were named bishops, until eventually, in the middle of the 400s, Peter’s spiritual descendant, the bishop of Rome, began to be known as the pope, a leader of the church that had spread far beyond Rome. Bishops ordained priests, and the keys were again back in the hands of just a few religious authorities.
The Reformation was all about taking those keys and handing them out to the many once again. That’s how you know you’re a member of the household, you have a key. Lutherans say, we are part of the priesthood of all believers. We are all priests as we move through our lives, binding and loosing, forgiving or not. Sometimes we exercise that power to bind and loose on a large scale, as we do when we confront police violence, or climate change or any other issue that involves power and money and which is vulnerable to sin and injustice. We often exercise that power on a smaller scale, in our neighborhood, our family, in the restaurants we visit. We are all priests who have the authority to bind and loose, and so we all need to continually look to our master, Jesus, for guidance in how to wield this awesome power.
Matthew 16:21-28 – Pentecost 13, 2017 – Pastor Goede
You probably heard this week about the Nashville Statement. It’s a document with fourteen short points, issued by a fundamentalist theological group and signed by conservative pastors and religious leaders all over the country. It’s a statement about sexuality that condemns anything that’s not one man and one woman in marriage, but it especially addresses transgender people. All the signers are hoping that the Nashville Statement will become their 95-Theses moment as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. They’re hoping that it will be a stand that defines them and mobilizes Christians to follow behind them.
Like us, fundamentalist Christians are products of the Reformation. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we’re all evangelicals together, but the Reformation unleashed a huge spectrum of belief. When the heavy hand of the Roman Catholic Church was lifted, Christianity exploded in all directions. If you try to draw a map of what happened to the Christian Church after the Reformation, it looks like a family tree, growing exponentially in every direction, until you end up with the thousands of denominations and sects and cults and independent churches that are the American religious landscape today.
The Reformation period was exciting, exhilarating and edgy and violent. In a few weeks, we’re going to celebrate the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. It’s a scene that lends itself to reenactment but which was probably not as dramatic as we now imagine. In just a few years, though, we will likely skip celebrating the start of the Peasants War, in which 100,000 peasants were slaughtered in just a couple of years all over German-speaking Europe.
We’ll have lots of similar opportunity in the next few years to remember all the violence of the Counter Reformation. Martin Luther started a movement that burned across Europe, but it didn’t burn everything to the ground. The Roman Catholic Church didn’t disappear. Rather, it doubled down and launched the Counter Reformation, another movement that’s written about with a capital C and a capital R. The Counter Reformation produced the Inquisition and the Thirty Years War, and lots of other violent horrors. Luther pushed, gently at first, then harder, and more and more people kept pushing behind him, but of course the Roman Catholic Church pushed back, hard, and the reformers had to decide how to respond.
It’s as important for us to know this part of Reformation history as Martin Luther nailing his document to the door, because we are experiencing the same kind of pushback, the same kind of religious conflict, in our time and place. The Roman Catholic Church pushed back after the Reformation, of course. They had a lot to lose in terms of money and land and power, as we always remember when we celebrate the Reformation. But there were also faithful Catholics who saw themselves as the keepers of a 1,500-year-old tradition, and they were willing to do anything to defend it.
Likewise, today we have a lot of fellow evangelicals, our sisters and brothers of the Reformation, who are fearful of what they see around them on the American religious landscape. They see themselves as the keepers of a religious tradition, and they are dedicated to defending it. If you identify as lgbtq, it probably feels to you like change has been agonizingly slow. But in the bigger picture, events have moved at an amazing speed.
Ten years ago in the United States, only a tiny sliver of people could explain accurately what the t and q of lgbtq meant. Today, the writers of the Nashville Statement didn’t even bother to define “transgender,” because they realize that now everyone know what that means, and most people accept it with a shrug. Conservative evangelicals are trying to push back, hard, because they feel, rightly, that they are the keepers of a tradition that is under attack, and of course, they’re pushing back, hard.
When Peter confesses, you’re the messiah, that was the easy part. Peter and the disciples are busy thinking about the glory ahead, for them, as others realize who Jesus is and begin to follow. But as usual, Jesus sees the bigger picture.
He’s pushed the religious establishment, again and again, harder and harder, with more and more people behind him, and he knows that of course the establishment is going to push back. When Peter says, this cannot happen to you, Jesus tells him to get real. Of course, the religious authorities are going to push back.
Jesus can see that the disciples aren’t ready for what he can see ahead. They might want to fight back, to lead their fellow Jews in a revolt against the Romans, but they aren’t ready to engage in the way Jesus is asking them to engage. Take up your cross and follow me, Jesus says. Get ready to confront enemies who will use violence, and get ready to withstand them by only returning evil with love, which might kill you, but will save your life. Everything that Jesus teaches the disciples is to get them to understand this kind of divine love and be ready to proclaim it and live it, confess it. It’s so hard.
The most heartbreaking thing I read about the Nashville Statement was in an article in the Jackson, Tennessee, Sun, which included a short interview with a woman named Elizabeth Waibel. She was upset that the president of her college had signed the statement, and so she signed a petition circulated by a fellow alum saying, we’re upset. She said she didn’t realize when she started college that the institution was so conservative, even though it’s a school of the Southern Baptist Convention. She didn’t know what that meant. She couldn’t believe the president was being so mean, and she was sure he was wrong.
‘“I’ve become, I guess, more liberal in the past few years, and it’s disheartening to see the statement on gay relationships are wrong,” [sic] Waibel said. “The Bible allows for homosexual relationships and transgender rights and affirms gay marriage.”
‘Waibel said she was unable to provide specific examples of passages from the Bible that supported her view.
‘“I can’t see how Union or any institution of higher learning can be successful if they don’t allow different viewpoints to be allowed in dialogue on campus,” Waibel said. “And there were parts of this statement that indicated there’s no room for discussion with the administration on this.”’
No, there’s no room for discussion on the basic confessions of the Southern Baptist Convention if you go in armed like this, with an assertion about the Bible that you can’t back up and some weak-kneed talk about different viewpoints and dialogue. What Ms. Waibel needs before trying to go another round is to arm herself. Yes, I’ve signed a petition, a blow for justice. Now what?
Now, she needs to learn to confess, like the disciples. She needs to learn how to state what she believes in a credible way. Fundamentalist proof-texting is not going to help her here. Our Lutheran engagement with Scripture over decades of wrestling with sexuality might help her.
She needs to live as though she believes what she says. No more enrolling in a college as if that doesn’t endorse everything they stand for. She needs to make every decision as if she really believes in a Jesus who counts transgendered people among his followers.
She needs to be ready for pushback, and think ahead about how she’ll respond. Paul offers good advice today:
“Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good…be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Paul took Jesus’ teaching seriously. He became a formidable confessor, but he defended himself without getting physical. He lived in a way that spoke volumes about Jesus, without words. That’s the way we want to live in the face of Christianity that we find not very Christian. We want to learn how to confess Jesus Christ in a credible way, and we want our lives to speak for us without words.
12th Day of Pentecost, August 20th 2017, Pastor Pitts
Grace and Peace to you,
My sisters, brothers and siblings in Christ
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon us,
because the Lord has anointed all of us
Through the waters of Baptism
Through the sign of the Cross
Through Jesus’s ultimate gift
So therefore our Call now more than ever;
Is to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners”
“What if God Was one of US?”
Caused quite the controversy
When the song debuted in the mid-1990s
Because of the questions that it posed,
And if we as followers of Christ
Understand and are rooted in the fact,
That Jesus indeed came among us
To live with us
And experience every aspect of humanity
Then Joan’s song should have provoked
Deeper theological and spiritual conversations
People were angry
Especially by the lyrics in the chorus
“Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home”
We are faced with some uncomfortable truths,
And the Words
That come from Jesus’s lips
We as humanity
Can no longer ignore
The hatred that comes
From humanity’s collective lips
For those who are hurting
Living into shame
For those who are oppressed,
Simply because of how God Created Them,
And using the LAW,
To back up our excuses,
Leads to a disconnect
And the fragmented relationships
That seem to be acceptable by our society
Is the elephant in the room,
In this sacred space,
As beloved Children of the Creator God
Because of what is continually unfolding before us,
Out in the wider expression of the community,
What is our call,
What do we do,
As followers of the One,
Who calls us into the Light,
Who gives us new Life?
Practicing what we preach,
It’s a mantra that many of us cling to-
But it is hard for us to execute,
We, as humanity
By what ultimately consumes us,
Especially that which does not come from God.
Practicing what we preach,
Was an accusation laid at the feet
When I attended several #BLM marches
And Police Brutality actions,
Especially from young people of color,
Angered of having to now hold memories
Of those who had perished
At the hands,
Of officers who reacted out of fear.
“Practice what you preach,
You-you pastors and ministers,
Otherwise what comes out of your mouth,
Are nothing more than lies,
And we cannot trust you,
Because you will not publicly put yourselves on the line,
Standing in a crowd of other Seminarians and Clergy figures,
In my clerical
What do I do?
But this was indeed valid-
Because if we as followers of Christ believe
Of Loving One Another
Calls us to actually DO LOVE
And not just lip service,
Then we would indeed
Be practicing what we preach.
And this is so needed right now,
Because there is too much preaching,
And not enough practicing.
There is too much condemning
And not enough accompanying
There is too much quietism,
And not enough activism.
So that the Holy Spirit can root even deeper within us,
So that we are bold enough
To do the work that Jesus left for us
To be good stewards of one another’s lives.
Along the way,
We as People of Faith,
Have to deal with the ugly cracks,
Especially as Christians,
Are not practicing what is being preached.
There are ugly cracks,
That we can no longer ignore,
That are eroding the foundation
And no amount of duct tape,
Is going to make anything new again
We cannot hide it anymore
This is unfortunately what has happened,
So amplified so, in the past week-
If we claim as Christians,
That we follow Jesus,
Then we must do what He calls us to do.
Sometimes that is difficult, right?
Even Jesus had that difficulty,
It’s uncomfortable to think about,
Making a mistake
“What if God was One of Us?”
And Jesus indeed was one of us,
Lived like us
Weaved into community,
Just as we do
And was influenced and exposed
Just like we have.
That’s uncomfortable isn’t it, right?
Jesus is perfect!
Jesus would not let the world,
Which was imperfect
But He did.
Jesus contradicts Himself
In our Gospel this morning
Because Jesus is teaching His disciples,
About the dangers
Of allowing the world to influence them
Allowing humanity’s judgement of one another
To the point where
They would be blinded
To the needs
Of those Gentiles,
Who were struggling as much as they were
That they too were from the Creator God
Whether they knew them
Is teaching us something important
That simply because we are
Of African Descent,
Or struggling with Bipolar
Or have ADHD
Or that we identify
Or that we call God Allah
Or Great Spirit
These are things that make us wholly unique
And wholly the Creator’s
Because our bodies,
What defiles us,
What defiles us,
Is when we allow the world
To take root,
Where only the Holy Spirit
And God’s Love
Even Jesus would be impacted by this.
If we believe that Jesus Christ,
Came to live among us
Then the racism that existed
Between those who were “God’s Chosen People”
And the Gentiles-
Those who did not believe in what the Israelites believed
Or followed the traditions
Or could boast of the lineage from the line of David,
Hearing the stories
Being taught the stereotypes
More than likely,
Jesus experienced all of this.
And we witness this contradiction,
When an unknown woman,
An indigenous Canaanite woman
Falls at Jesus’s feet
And what does He say?
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Are we shocked?
Are we confused?
Jesus rejecting one who cries out for mercy?
Rejecting her simply because
Of her ethnicity
And how she worships God.
That is uncomfortable for us to witness
Sometimes we as People of Faith,
Refuse to help others
Refuse to advocate for our neighbors
Because we misinterpret
Because we forget,
Humanity writes rules and laws
Without any grace extended.
That is the elephant in the room,
Just as those women before her:
Just as those women before us,
yet even the dogs eat the crumbs
that fall from their masters’ table.”
All this indigenous and unknown woman wanted
She wanted to know,
That God indeed
Stood with the oppressed and afflicted
Regardless of the systemic hatred she knew she would face,
That she was not of the House of Israel
She is even of another FAITH,
SHE REMINDS JESUS,
That the Creator gave life to all of US,
And that God’s Love,
Surpassing anything we can fathom
She also recognizes that through Jesus,
The Son of God
God indeed does heal,
Will never forget us
Always forgives us
Even when we falter
Even if we are rooted in faith-
We are HUMAN,
Isn’t it Good News,
That Jesus Christ was sent here,
To be just like one of us?
So that Jesus,
Because of the Creator God,
Could, and does
And the Good News is,
Sometimes we will experience the Gospel
Through other people
It breaks down what the world has been force-feeding us.
12th Sunday of Pentecost, 2017 – Pastor Pitts
Peace to you,
My Sisters, Brothers and Siblings in Christ
Even when we are questioning
Who the Son of Man is
That we are always invited
To lay our burdens
When we are weary,
Because Jesus is always there
To give us rest
During my routine visits to my Grandmother,
While a Seminarian,
Her deepest concern was that,
Did not attend church regularly
Granny, I am sure
Had a direct line to Jesus
But in all seriously was rooted in her faith,
And taught her children this,
And was a model for those of us
Who were proudly her Grandchildren
So she did not understand,
When my Aunt
Or my cousin
Didn’t attend church.
I shared with her that,
Sometimes the wider Church
Was as corrupt
As the world could be.
Adding to that argument,
My Mother would disavow that answer-
That we are all to have a relationship with the Triune God,
That not attending church was an excuse.
As one who follows the Risen Christ,
I really can’t blame people,
Especially at the mixed messages
That the institution of Christianity pours out
To the brokenness
Of our society.
There are so many people who claim to follow Christ!
They proudly declare their membership in well known Churches
As if that’s all it takes to cement their relationship with God
But ignore the poor as they are leaving.
Spouting scriptures that “the poor are always with us,
Therefore they just don’t want health care!”
They LOVE that verse,
That Jesus states the poor will always be with us,
And that poverty is a moral failing,
And not the result of us
Failing to live out the commandment of Jesus
That we are to love one another,
They proclaim loudly that they worship Jesus Christ,
And not Mother Earth,
That they are good stewards,
So that they don’t have to care about global warming,
Not acknowledging our complacentcy
In inflicting damage upon Creation,
Because of the misinterpretation
That domination meant we had free reign
To take from Creation.
So imbedded in American culture,
It was the same thought pattern
Immersed in the upbringing and teaching
Of the dominant culture,
That people were taught by the Church
If they led chaste lives,
Through the 10 Commandment,
And believed in Jesus Christ,
That it would be okay
To own slaves,
To baptize slaves so that they would be saved
But not seen,
As their sister or brother
As Baptism bonds us,
Making us one
Beneath the Cross
And that it was okay,
To label Black bodies
Who was Jesus to them,
And what did Jesus Christ mean for them?
Accompanies throughout the week,
As I am discerning
The Holy Spirit
As how the Word
Is leading me,
And so this question that is continually raised
“Who do you say the Son of God is?”
Found me humming the song,
“Who is He
And what is He to you?”
By Meschelle Ndegeocello
Who covered the original
Bill Withers hit.
If you know the song,
You realize quickly that it has nothing to do with the Gospel,
We cannot ignore
“Who is Jesus,
And what is Jesus
Is important for us
As People of Faith
To really determine
What the presence of Jesus Christ means in our lives
In these times
When the institution of Christianity
Is on trial,
Because of the contradictions
The world is seeing
A people who confess every Sunday,
That we, believe in the Creator God
And in Jesus Christ,
Our Savior and Lord.
We pray the Lord’s Prayer
We come to the Table,
To receive substance
But is that for our own personal salvation?
Do we think that Jesus Christ,
Will absolve our sins,
Simply because we follow the rules?
When we leave this place
We ignore those outside who are wandering
We dismiss when statistics
Are made public,
We are silent
When legislation further digs us into the systemic racism
That this country was founded on
And instead blame those victims
That they weren’t strong enough
Or didn’t pray hard enough
Or pull themselves up by their bootstraps
That Jesus was only speaking metaphorically
About welcoming in the stranger,
Caring for the sick
Feeding the poor.
That when it clearly says in Scriptures
That Jesus Christ healed,
It literally means all of humanity
And all of Creation,
Not just those of the House of David,
Or those who stood up in Church
And profess that Jesus Christ
Was their Lord and Savior.
Who is Jesus,
And what is Jesus to us?
My own relationship with Jesus,
Has always been rather complicated
Because although I clung to the feet,
Of the Creator
I was conflicted in cementing a relationship
With a Man,
Whose very name,
Guaranteed someone passage into heaven,
While ignoring the vast throng of Ancestors
Did not know Jesus,
Merely because that is not how they related to Him
Favorite Gospel hymns,
Which boldly proclaimed
The only way to get into the door,
Was through Jesus
And that you had to be saved,
Because of the ways we have learned to condemn people
There are those who will never step into a church
And we ignore that
Even if they have never been baptized,
They are still
A beloved Child of the Creator God,
And that they will return to the Creator God,
Regardless of our verdict that we cast upon them.
My only struggle with Jesus,
Is that the knowledge that if we do indeed
Confess our shortcomings and our failings,
In our moments alone,
With the One,
Who continually calls us into the Light,
When we fall back
In that second,
We are forgiven
Regardless of what the world says.
And I think this question that Jesus places before Peter,
Of “Who do you say the Son of Man is?”
Is not about stating who Jesus is,
But where we place ourselves
If we allow the Holy Spirit to move,
And freely live into the LIBERATION
Of what the Gospel is calling us into.
Does stand with the oppressed,
And the (word/line)
And the (word/line)
Jesus is the one,
Who I shamelessly fall before the Cross
And submit of myself
Because Jesus calls us,
To then turn around,
And to actually DO
Jesus is more than just a figurehead of holiness
Or a prophet that spouts morality and perfection,
Jesus calls us to break boundaries
To flip tables
To express righteous anger,
When families are separated because of unjust immigration laws
When bodies are battered because of unfair policing practices
When the mentally ill are forced out into the streets to die,
When its okay for the poor to perish since that means we are sacrificing them
So we don’t have to feel the (word/line) of
By a society,
That is selfish,
By the wider Church,
Who has run to Calvary
To do what Christ has called us,
Jesus is not some figurehead
The Charleston Nine,
Every unknown leper in the scriptures
Every unknown Palestine who has been attacked for who they are
Every victim of poverty,
The One who comforts those,
Battling disease and illnesses,
Never leaving their side
The One who comes to those,
Because of trauma and the ugliness of life,
Take their own lives,
And Jesus then,
Gives them LIFE
And the One who I submitted to
When my Bishop laid his hands on my head
Because of the power of the CROSS,
Jesus cannot be shoved in our theological boxes for our comfort,
the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in Jesus all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers
all things have been created through him and for him.
Jesus came for us,
To love us
And to Transform us
So in turn,
We would share that Good News,
And continue the work,
That Jesus gives to us.
Who is Jesus
And what is Jesus
Thanks Be to God.