Posted on Sun, Jan 26, 2014
Matthew 4:12-23 (Reconciling Sunday)
January 26, 2014
Reconciling in Christ Sunday (3rd Sunday in Epiphany)
Gospel Text: Matthew 4:12-23 – “The Light revealed we are Broken”
Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — 16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’ 17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus Ministers to Crowds of People
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
I am not sure if it was Bishop Finck or Bishop Hanson who told the story of one time when he and several Palestinian Bishops and Pastors were traveling from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and it was the first time for our bishop to see the great wall that was built to separate the Palestinians from the Jews in Israel. Some media outlets call it a security ‘fence,’ but in reality it is a 30 foot tall concrete wall that winds its way up and down hills and valleys separating people from places where people work, hospitals, schools and worst of all separating families.
Our bishop made them stop the van and they all went out to the wall, touched it and began to read from the book of Lamentations, and pray prayers of sadness and lament.
The book of Lamentations is a book made up of five poems all relating to the destruction of Jerusalem after they were taken into exile and returned to Jerusalem to find it in ruins. Why do they lament? In chapter 2 these miseries are described in connection with national sins and acts of God. They did not listen to God and the prophets, namely Jeremiah, and therefore God punished them by allowing them to be taken away as prisoners/slaves once again. They are lamenting their stubborn or arrogant disobedience, and the justice/warnings of God. Chapter 3 speaks of hope for the people of God: the chastisement would only be for their good; a better day would dawn for them. Chapter 4 laments the ruin and desolation of the city and temple, but traces it to the people's sins. Chapter 5 is a prayer that Zion's reproach may be taken away in the repentance and recovery of the people.
We don’t hear about The Wall in Israel very much, but it is real, and it does exactly what is meant to do, it separates two peoples. The only way to get through the wall is to walk in through a gate in full view of soldiers. There is a machine gun right in the middle of the gate facing into the Palestinian side… Even though the Israeli soldiers were very polite, it was an ominous site and an unforgettable experience.
Walls come in many forms, created by all peoples, but for one reason, and that is to divide and separate people. A wall is put up and sometimes it is very clearly seen and labeled telling all those in the vicinity who is welcome and definitely who is not.
Sometimes the walls are unseen yet just as clearly divisive. These walls can be seen in the eyes and actions of those building the walls, and felt very clearly by those who are clearly being informed that they are not welcome.
Today is “Reconciling in Christ” Sunday. Sometime in 1994 or 1995, there was a simple vote taken by the Council of Deacons to name Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church as a “welcoming church.” It was almost an uneventful vote, but it was a proclamation by the leadership at that time, that Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church will welcome ALL people. Now, people expect to hear the list of those they welcome, for example, “all are welcome, race, creed, male, female, believer or non-believer… this one makes some churchy people nervous, but the list does not end there, our list would include the hurting, those with addictions, those who care for addicted loved ones, two or so many divorces, those in therapy, even those who show up to church in sweaty running or bicycling clothing. The point was that through this simple vote, Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church was making it clear and public that we are a WELCOMING CHURCH!
However, some people would be looking at that list and be waiting for one more “category.” What about the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual or Transgender members of our society? This group makes up about 10% of our society, they are our neighbors, and they are who they are because that is the way that God created them! There is no choice to being gay, or not being gay, God pre-wired us when we were still in the womb. ALL are welcome!
By making the statement that CBTS was a WELCOMING church, we were PUBLICALLY announcing that what we say is what we mean, WE ARE A WELCOMING church that WILL welcome all who come through our doors to worship, pray, look for healing, look for community, sing, dance, sit silently or even share their story…
What is amazing about this proclamation is that not many churches were truly “welcoming.” They would say they were welcoming, but when it came to homosexuality, most people didn’t even want to talk about it, let alone welcome members of the GLBT community.
Here is my story, I grew up in such a protected church and society; I didn’t even know what the term “gay” meant until late in my college career. And I didn’t realize the pain discrimination against people in the gay community went through until my senior year of seminary.
I had just finished my internship in Tokyo and was already on the fast track to return to Japan as a missionary. That meant I was in a little but different world than my classmates. They were all wondering what district they would be assigned to and then what churches they may be able to be offered and accept a call and get on with their career in ministry as a pastor in the ELCA. I knew where and when I would be going, I personally did not experience the same concerns that they had… but then, there came this order from above, if you were a gay seminarian and came out of the closet, you would probably not receive a call and essentially your career hopes and all the years of college and graduate school was for nothing. You could not be the person God created you to be, and still be a professional minister in the ELCA. You had to keep it hidden, or make sure you were not in any kind of relationship.
In my rather myopic world, I just kept looking ahead, studying and making plans… until around lunch in our cafeteria, as I listened to my friends talk, I learned that several of my classmates were soon to called to a special council to talk about their sexual orientation. I was never called before a council regarding my sexual orientation… Of two individuals I can recall, at the time I didn’t even know they were gay; I only knew one as the smartest and most talented young theologian I had ever met, and she was already working with the professors on the road to quickly getting her Ph.D. The other was a friend that could only talk about “care-giving” ministries. She just oozed the desire to care for the hurting and share the love of God to everyone. She was amazing… a Super Stephen Minister on nuclear steroids!
The question at the time was, would the ELCA allow openly gay and lesbian seminarians become ordained pastors in our church?
The words from above could not say “yes” or “no.” The church was not ready to be ‘fully welcoming,’ and my colleagues were forced to answer the question that would determine their futures as pastors and teachers in the ELCA “Are you an openly gay person?” If they answer was “yes,” they knew their future was a pastor or teacher was over. This is the same thing as telling them there is a ‘wall,’ and that they can’t do ministry and be themselves, just as God has created them, at the same time.
Both of my friends were forced out of the process to work in the ELCA and were forced to go and do something else someplace else…
Because of the walls that were put up because of ignorance and fear, our church lost two amazingly talented people that the church desperately needed. I don’t know if you knew this or not, but Pastor Keith, who helped us out when Kai was in the hospital, had a similar experience in his career at about the same time.
Have you read the statement on the front of our bulletins? It comes from a similar statement from a sister church in the Pacifica Synod. Some people are shocked, or truly inspired at how clearly it states we are an open and welcoming church. For me, it seems totally normal and describes what we as a church and what the purpose of this building. As one walking in the discipline of Jesus, it is not so much a “mission statement” as a “Duh statement,” it simply describes us as who we are and what we do.
Because of the walls the church built to discriminate against 10 % of the members of our society were put in place decades ago, it will take years of action, dialogue, forgiveness and mercy to heal and reconcile the wounds that were created.
But when we gather in this Holy Place, everything we say and do is said and done under the grace and mercy of the Cross of Christ. The Cross proclaims we all individually and as a body have been redeemed by God and called by God to live according to faith and be the people God created, or pre-wired each and everyone of us to be from our very beginning. Let us rejoice in who we are as a welcoming church, and also rejoice in the amazing people God has brought into our lives. Amen
The wall separating Jews and Palestinians, and the entrance from Jerusalem going into Bethlehem.
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