June 3, 2018

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June 3, 2018 Sermon - Brad Brookins
00:00 / 00:00


Luke 4. 16-20               

What do we do now…

Luke 4. 16-20

When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

   because he has anointed me

     to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

   and recovery of sight to the blind,

     to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 


I have this tendency, you might call it a habit, even a bad habit, of jumping into the unknown; into situations that are above my pay grade, beyond my skill set and way outside of my comfort zone.  I take chances, in other words.   I jump, and figure out how to land on the way down.

Over the years this has worked out passably well; not always, of course, but often enough.  It’s how I landed here in Mt Vernon, for instance; and that’s one jump I haven’t regretted.

My most recent foray into the unknown began just a few weeks ago when I got a phone call from Lisa Hart at the conference office in DeForest.  She called to ask if I would be willing to represent the Southwest Association of the United Church of Christ—the association we belong to, at the annual synod meeting of the Evangelical Church of the Rhineland in Dusseldorf, Germany in June.

Our association has a long standing relationship with the Evangelical Church of the Rhineland.  Many of you remember Barbara Rudolph who served as your pastor for a year 20 some years ago, and came to this church from that synod.

Lisa assured me this was a wonderful opportunity and I was the perfect person for the job.  She didn’t tell me how many of my colleagues had heard that shpiel before she got to me, but I imagine it was more than one.  The German synod was willing to pay my airfare over and back, she said, and I would have an opportunity to give a presentation (in English, thankfully) about the United Church of Christ “Just Peace Initiative”.

I saw two immediate problems with this offer, so I said I’d think about it and get back to her.

The first problem was that I had never heard of the UCC Just Peace Initiative, but I was told that with a month’s preparation I could probably do a passable job talking about it.

The second problem was more daunting, by far.

Dusseldorf is 4,230 miles from here, as the crow flies.  It’s the “crow flying” part that is the problem.  To get to Germany in a timely fashion, I will have to climb into a thin skinned aluminum tube with 466 people I don’t know and for 9 1/2 hours breathe air that has already circulated several times through who knows where.  And this aluminum tube, loaded with 63,032.5 gallons of highly explosive jet fuel, will hurtle through the atmosphere at 656 miles an hour 35,000 feet above an ocean full of very cold water that is itself several thousands of feet deep.

Nothing about that picture is attractive to me.

I’ve been asking my daughter, who’s made several of these trips, for advice on self-medicating for the journey—something to take the edge off my already rampant anxiety.  She’s recommending Dramamine laced with a sleeping agent.  She says it works for a friend of hers who hates airplanes almost as much as I do.  We’ll see.

Anyway, I guess I’m going to Germany in 2 weeks.  And I am coming back—I hope.

It turns out that walking—or in my case jumping, into the unknown can be a deeply spiritual experience.  For people of faith, the unknown can be that thin place where trust meets anxiety—where our trust meets our fear and the two have a conversation; they begin to dance with each other.

This conversation is never easy; and it’s probably never really done.  But if we are going to grow, spiritually or emotionally, in our relationship to God or with other people; and if we are going to be of some earthly good in this world, it’s a conversation I believe we have to be willing to have. 

I’ve never been on a Boeing 747-800 before.  I’ve also never been to Germany before.  Those two facts are connected.  But the truth is, if I don’t introduce my anxiety to my trust—if I don’t walk down the gangway and get on that thing (S), I never will get to Germany.

Ironically, though, getting on the airplane will be the easy part.  The hard part will be the longer, more involved, more intense conversation between my trust and my fear, that will continue when I return home.

You see, the very scant introduction to the United Church of Christ Just Peace initiative that I have had so far has awakened in me a desire to know more about what Jesus referred to as “the things that make for peace”.  I want to see more clearly what justice is and to be more helpful in responding to the justice—or rather, the lack of justice that is so prevalent in the lives of the poor and oppressed among our neighbors.

More importantly, I am feeling drawn to more clearly align my life and my ministry with the work of building a just and peaceful community—here close to home, for sure, and, to a lesser extent, farther from home.

I have read the words of Jesus—a lot.  And I’ve read them a lot here from this pulpit.  Today’s passage from Luke’s gospel, where Jesus borrows the words of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah to describe what his life is to be, is typical: 

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

   (and) has anointed me

     to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

   and recovery of sight to the blind,

     to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

Good news to the poor; release for the captives; sight to the blind; freedom for the oppressed.  These aren’t simply good ideas.  Jesus isn’t sending “thoughts and prayers” to the latest victims of senseless violence, as our cynical politicians are prone to do—spouting syrupy words  signifying nothing.

No, these are action words.  These are things that need to be done. This is Jesus saying he intends to stand in the way—to disrupt the systems of society that create poverty and blindness and oppression.

What I really like about the United Church of Christ Just Peace Statement is that it is an attempt to take Jesus seriously; to take him at his word; calling us to practice what he preached as he practiced what he preached.

It calls us, as Jesus calls us, to get in the way of injustice—wherever we see it; to realize, as I read recently, that “doing nothing is no longer an option.”

Here is a summary of the statement.  Just Peace is, at its core, a call to 3 actions: 1st—to alleviate (to ease or to work against) systems of injustice of all kinds using non violent means.  2nd—to explore the intersection between peace and justice; that is, to explore the idea that to have peace for everyone we must have justice for everyone.  And 3rd—to offer to the world the prophetic message, grounded in the in Jesus’ own words, that “Peace is Possible”.

“Peace is Possible”.  Can you imagine three words the world more desperately needs to hear?

And peace is possible.  It just isn’t easy.  It isn’t easy because peace for everyone can only be built on justice for everyone—fairness, equity, sharing among all people.

And justice is complicated.  Justice is costly.  Well, actually, life in this complicated world is what’s  costly.  If, in the conversation between our trust and our fear, trust won out, we would see that justice for everyone is the least costly option before us.  Which is to say, if we had the trust—the courage, to take a fraction of the money we we now spend on military adventures and border walls and devote that money to building just societies around the world, we would need a lot less money for military adventures and border walls.

Which brings me back to my aisle seat in the back row of that 747-800 awaiting clearance for takeoff from the O’hare tarmac.

I don’t want to get on that airplane.  I really don’t.  I hate airplanes; I’m afraid of flying and I’m anticipating—with good reason, a 9 hour long panic attack.  If my name wasn’t already on that ticket I’d happily give it to any one of you.

But I am going.  I’ve introduced my fear of flying to my trustworthy God.  I’m asking my anxiety to rest, to be held in my trust—knowing, or at least believing, that it isn’t my trust that will keep that monster up in the air; it is God’s faithfulness that will keep me safe.

And if it doesn’t this time, for some reason—well, I guess that’s ok, too.   I will still believe trusting God is worth more than my safety.  (S)

Now all of that is a metaphor, of course—except for the “fear of flying” part; that’s real.  It’s a metaphor of what we have to do to “Be the Church”—to be the Body of Christ in our messed up world. 

Our futures, you see, our own, the future of our congregation, our community, our country, even the future of our planet—all of these are uncertain.  We live on the edge of a lot of unknowns and we are understandably anxious.

This is what I hope to talk about more in the coming months—what I need to talk about more:  bringing our anxieties and fears into conversation with the trust—the faith that is God’s gift to us.

The world needs us to do this. The Kingdom of God needs us—our little community here in Mt Vernon, and millions like us, to do this; to let our fear be held in our trust.  To trust God’s grace and to give ourselves wholeheartedly to the work of justice for our neighbors and our planet.

I’m going to come back to this topic next week.  In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m practicing on you for my Germany presentation and I still have a lot of work to do to get ready. 

So next Sunday we will look at a couple of examples of past injustices in which the church participated, and ask if there is anything to learn there that might help us through our current trouble.

That will happen—unless I decide to walk to Germany, in which case I will need to leave tomorrow morning. 

Or I could just ask you to start praying for me now.  And to that I would add a hearty Amen.

Bible Study

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