Posted on Sun, Aug 31, 2014
Matthew 16: 21–28
August 31, 2014
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 16: 21–28 - "From Death Comes Life"
Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23 But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
The Cross and Self-Denial
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27 ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year,
Its’ got to be drummed in your dear little ear,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people
Whose eyes are oddly made, and people whose skin is a different shade.
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!
You’ve got to be carefully taught!
Along time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was in high school. During that historic time, I was in the play, “South Pacific.” If you are familiar with the play, what role do you think I played? Luther Billis of course. For those of you familiar with the play, I was the goofball sailor that had to wear the coconuts… if you know what I mean.
I was in many plays, and several being musicals; Annie Get Your Gun, Godspel, and a few others. I love musicals as well as the songs become alive with the plot. Each production I had a part in, had one special song that would stick with me even to this day. One was unique and in some ways, haunting; and this of course was, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.”
While we were rehearsing the play, I heard this song over and over again I must admit, at the time, I didn’t understand the song, or the purpose Rodgers and Hammerstein had put it into the play. I was naïve to the deeper meaning of this amazing story. The play is much more than a love story, considering the day it came out on Broadway just after the war in 1949. The story is based on James A. Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1947 book Tales of the South Pacific, combining elements of several of the stories. Rodgers and Hammerstein believed that they could write a musical based on Michener's work that would be financially successful and, at the same time, would send a strong progressive message on racism. The plot centers on an American nurse stationed on a South Pacific island during World War II who falls in love with a middle-aged expatriate French plantation owner but struggles to accept his mixed-race children. A secondary romance, between a U.S. lieutenant and a young Tonkinese woman, explores his fears of the social consequences should he marry his Asian sweetheart. The story of the play, is so much more than a love story, the issue of racial prejudice is candidly explored throughout the musical, most controversially in the lieutenant's song, "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught".
The song haunted me as I continued to grow up and witness the results of (teaching) bigotry, prejudice or people lacking the ability to see the results of their efforts affects on other people.
I remember 1968 like it was yesterday. I remember George Wallace standing up against African Americans wanting an education, I remember Martin Luther King and the day he was murdered, and I remember the racial violence that seemed to tear apart our country. I remember hearing one of my relatives always referring to Toyota cars just as, “Jap cars.” I remember the first time I heard the word, “wetback,” and I had no idea what it meant until I asked the rancher with whom was my host for several days.
The song never went away in my mind, and soon I began to realize what it really was about, we humans hold onto concepts, prejudices and stereotypes for all kinds of reasons, but never reasons that would bring people together, but would only separate people by instilling more ignorant fear fostering continued feelings of hatred.
As I did some research for this sermon, I had to consider the question, “Is hate, racism, or bigotry learned, natural or innate? I learned from own personal experience watching the children of Global Missionaries play at our semi-annual missionary conferences. These conferences were amazing; there were children of every color and several languages all playing together. All they needed was a ball or a hula-hoop! Language and color never stopped missionary kids from MAKING fun happen.
But this was a like a utopian island paradise, far from the reality of a society riddled with ignorance and prejudice.
There was this one time, when we were visiting supporting churches in rural Wisconsin. We walked into a truck stop I was familiar with not far from my sister’s house. Here was this bi-racial couple, a very white me, and a beautiful Japanese lady, WITH very loud MIXED RACE boys… when we walked into the restaurant, the chatter stopped, and every face turned to look at us as we were escorted to our table. I had been to this particular truck-stop many times in the past, but I was by myself. This experience was totally unexpected and very uncomfortable… After spending so much time with people from all over the world, and then experiencing these stares, I didn’t realize how naïve I was… in my own country.
There were other times when, as a foreigner, it was clear I was not welcome in certain restaurants in Japan. But as soon we started to speak respectfully to each other in the host country’s language, fear turned into welcome. And sometimes, a lifetime friendship would emerge from the initial suspicions. My experiences were nothing compared to the actions we have heard about all over our country, actions that have even caused us to loose our compassion for the kids escaping violence in Central and South America just to survive in the states. The worst I heard was people claiming the kids had Ebola when they crossed the border. Again, hate being born out of fear.
As I have grown older, I have begun to realize hatred comes from fear. Children are not innately afraid, they are curious. And the song is exactly correct, the stereotypes and acts of hatred we have seen these past few weeks whether from Ferguson to Syria are born out of fear… handed down and justified from one generation to another.
I thought for some years, that human beings were getting a handle on stereotypes, prejudice and bigotry, especially with the democratizing affect of the internet, but regretfully I am afraid our world seems to have become even more infected with people profiting off of diatribes of fear and hate, and an audience that is just as eager to look for reasons to justify their own feelings of fear and hate.
Racial bigotry seems to be the easiest to identify, but now there is economic bigotry, generational bigotry, religious bigotry, and countless forms of social bigotry.
Have we not learned anything in the quest to become more human in the ways God intended for us? Desmond Tutu said on Thursday “how amazing that the scripture says that we were made in God’s image. That means when need to realize when we lay our eyes on another human being, we are beholding God!”
But for most people around the world, and especially in the numerous incidents of terror and absolutely despicable acts some people have done to others just in the past months all in the name of religion, race, greed or political power, it is clear that we live in a very broken world. The evil of cancer, Ebola, ALS, HIV/AIDS, and so many other debilitating or fatal diseases also point to a broken world that needs change because nothing that causes these kinds of suffering are ever the Will of God!
When these tragedies occur we, out of our helplessness we immediately cry out, “WHY do these things happen?” We do this because we want to understand what is going on so that we can attempt to get some control back when we feel totally out of control.
But the beginning of healing and the work of the spirit begins after we look in the mirror and begin to ask, “How can we things change for the better?” And that is the time when we realize we must turn back to our Maker, Sustainer and Redeemer.
Our liturgical worship experience understands our broken human condition and it is not a coincidence that we begin worship with corporate confession of our sin; an acknowledgment before God that are like lost sheep, or broken people, desperately in need AND OPEN TO ALLOW GOD TO ACT IN OUR LIVES AND IN THE WORLD … Or are we? If we really do allow God to act in re-creating us or not, is our own decision along the journey of life.
Jesus was born to die; and from His death we receive that which can destroy all hatred and bigotry, FORGIVENESS. For Peter, the thought of his master being crucified was more than he could handle… who would have guessed that within a few months, because of his own forgiveness, he would be preaching Christ Crucified and Risen again… From Christ’s death, we receive life! From the Death of Jesus, we receive forgiveness. From forgiveness we finally receive freedom and our true identity as Children of God for our lives. Amen.
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