Sermon for October 4, 2015

World Communion Sunday

Verlee A. Copeland, Preaching

Texts: Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-6 and Mark 12:28-31


A lot has happened since we left Jacob in Genesis a couple of weeks ago. We’ve skipped over the story explaining how Jacob’s family landed in Egypt; how jealous brothers sold Jacob’s favorite son into slavery, how Joseph rose to power alongside the pharaoh, and how a drought drove the family to seek help, and finally refuge, in a foreign land.

Exodus begins several generations later, when trouble is brewing for Jacob’s multiplying descendants. A new pharaoh comes to power who fears the foreigners. He proposes to “deal shrewdly,” making slaves of all these once-honored guests, forcing them to build grain storage cities for his profit. He does not seem to realize that his cruelty will ensure the thing he most fears. He will lose his power because he abused his power through his ill treatment of the Hebrew people.

Last week we heard a summary in Exodus 1 of the deteriorating conditions among them in Egypt, and in Exodus 3 we heard God’s call to Moses to return to the land of both of his birth family, the Israelites, and his adoptive family in Pharaoh’s household.

This week we remember the bad news of the Bible that parallels the bad news of our world. And we hear words of hope for all God’s people through God’s good news in our Bible, and God’s good news for all people, for our time.

A New Creation

         Church Pastors live in a bad news, good news world. Imagine someone comes into my office and says, Pastor Verlee, I’ve got good news and bad news. Which would you rather hear first? I usually like hearing good news so let’s start with that.

Pastor here’s the Good News:

Here’s the Good News: The Assessors finally voted to add more church parking.

Bad News: They are going to blacktop the front lawn of your parsonage.

Good News: Church attendance rose dramatically the last three weeks.

Bad News: You were on vacation.

Sometimes we laugh to keep from crying. We’re in the middle of the wilderness with Moses awaiting direction as our story continues, as we’re in the middle of the wilderness in our world.


Bad News in the Bible

Faith Leaders have always lived in a bad news/good news world. We’ve seen this with Moses. We’ve heard the bad news of the enslavement of the Hebrew people in Egypt, and the Good News of God’s guidance to new life through the Red Sea. We remember that Moses received bad news from the Hebrew people who complained bitterly about the lack of adequate food and water after their escape mumbling against him, saying, “Why did you lead us out here only to let us die?”  The good news is that God eventually led the former enslaved people into a beautiful land, flowing with milk and honey. The bad news is that a generation of former slaves along with their leader Moses had to die, before a new generation led by Joshua could take these people of promise across the river Jordan into new life.

Sometimes the hardest good news to bear is that we have to wait for it. When Moses went up on the mountain to pray, he was gone a long time. The people had to wait. We would surely find the bad news of our world unbearable were we not people of faith who worship a Good News God. We may not always see it at first, but unlike the Hebrew people who didn’t know what would happen next, we know it’s coming. To be Christian is to trust God so much that we become Good News people for a bad news world.


Bad News in the World

How could we have experienced any more bad news that what happened this past week? First, a grandmother, a pregnant mother and her unborn child were randomly shot and killed on the streets of Chicago, wiping out three generations and raising the death toll there to the highest in its history. At 2,587 people shot so far this year, it is likely that more people will be shot and on the streets of Chicago this year alone, than the number of those killed at the bombing of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Then On Friday a shooter opened fire at a community college in Oregon. Early media reports indicated numerous fatalities and a number of additional people wounded. That brings the total of mass shootings this year -- incidents where four or more people are killed or injured by gunfire -- to 294.

There have been only 274 days this year.

Stacy Boylan, the father of Anastasia Boylan, who was wounded, said she told him the gunman singled out Christians. She said the gunman entered her classroom firing, told the professor teaching the class, "I've been waiting to do this for years," and shot him point blank. While reloading his handgun, the man ordered the students to stand up and asked whether they were Christians, Boylan told her family. “And they would stand up, and he said, 'Good, because you're a Christian, you're going to see God in just about one second. And then he shot and killed them."

Shortly thereafter I received a text from a member of this church that I share with permission. It said this:

College massacre in Oregon

9 dead

Everybody gets a gun

Fourth shooting on college campuses since August 2015

142 school shootings since 2011

Since 9/11 more than 10,000 shooting deaths in America

What are we going to do about this?

Good News in the Bible

Moses asked the same question to God on the mountain. The people of Israel had been in the wilderness at Sinai for some time, they became lost and discouraged. The people had rebelled. They went after one another when they were unhappy. Angry and lost, they started carousing, making golden calves out of melted jewelry, getting drunk with new wine to sooth their sorrows.

When we pray in crises, God directs our paths. God spoke in stories to people whose names we remember: people like Abraham on the mountain with his son Isaac. and Sarah awaiting a son. God speaks through people whose names we’ve forgotten: like the midwives Puah and Shiprah who disobeyed Pharaoh’s orders to kill Hebrew babies. They disobeyed Pharaoh by allowing the infant sons of Israel to live and then lied to him in order to obey God. God spoke to Moses, Go and tell Pharaoh, let my people go.

Once again Moses went up on the mountain to pray, and there God gave him the answer to his prayers. The Ten Commandments created a path and a future for them. The Commandments held them together when they were a people without a homeland. At first the Ten Commandments look like bad news: Don’t do this, don’t do that, until you read them. Like the firm, clear guidance of any loving parent, the ten commandments showed an ancient people that this one God, the power that created heaven and earth, all that was, is or ever would be, would stand by them in life, in death, in every generation, for all of time. And this God also showed them the path to a rich and abundant life with one another.

Unlike our complicated and myriad civil laws, God laid down boundaries as clear and clean and concise as a pasture fence. In half the pasture God shows us how to play nice with God. In the other half of the pasture God shows us how to play nice with other kids. When asked about the law, Jesus added a third assumption, not only does God reveal good news through teaching us to love God and neighbor, but God also expects us to do so with the same devotion that we care for our own needs.

         God kept it simple for them, like this version for children:

1   We will worship God alone.

2   We will not make pretend gods or let anything take God’s place.

3   We will use our words to praise and honor God.

4   We will save one day a week for rest and worship.

5   We will listen to our moms and dads and obey them.

6   We will not hate people or hurt others with our words and actions.

7   We will respect our bodies and the bodies of other people.

8   We will not take what doesn’t belong to us.

9 We will tell the truth.

10 We will be content with God’s good gifts to us.

(Ten Commandments for Kids, By Ben Van Arragon)


Good News in the World

When we pray God always shows us a way out of no way. When I received the text message this week from one of you, crying out with the question that is on all our lips, “What are we going to do about this?” my response was swift though surely not original.

“Pray, then Act.”

 When we get bad news, our faith calls us first to prayer. In a bad news world we trust God to guide us through every burning building, across every troubled sea. As Christians, we’re the first response team as prayer warriors. While swat teams surround school campuses and firemen sprint up stairwells, our first response is to pray.

         But prayer alone is not enough.

         When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel got the bad news that 14 people had been killed on his Chicago streets in the previous 15 hours, his frustration was tangible. He issued a call to action, calling for thinking people to engage in a necessary conversation about guns. When President Barack Obama spoke to the American people, his sorrow and frustration were clear. He called on the American people to find a way to get guns out of the hands of people who don’t hunt, or shoot for sport, out of the hands of children, youth and young adults, out of the hands of the mentally ill, making it at least as difficult to obtain a gun as a prescription drug for certain controlled substances.

As elected political leaders of our nation, there will be those in the aftermath of this week’s shootings who will direct their best efforts at changing how America thinks and behaves regarding weapons. As leaders in health care and education, there will be many continuing conversations about making more resources available to identify and treat mental illness. That may be their call to action. How will WE respond as Christian leaders in our families, our community and our circles of care?

We may have some idea about how God wants us to act. If you could have seen me standing in my kitchen when I received the news, you would have heard me rant over our tendency to make the world less safe whenever we speak or act in ways that fail to honor God, and respect our neighbor, whether our neighbor is a Latino immigrant, Muslim, gay, straight, Christian, Buddhist, Black, or Jew.

Perhaps God is saying to us now as God said to Pharaoh through Moses then. Enough is enough. No more violence against the Hebrew people, no escalating violence by murdering the oppressor as Moses had done. No more school shootings, or movie theater shootings. No more yelling at athletes when they miss a shot. No more criticizing or denigrating others when they don’t agree with us. No more jokes about people who are different from us. No more keeping silence. No more bullying others to get our own way.

God reveals good news through answered prayer, and then God calls for action. Do something. Build something, go, tell, show, heal, feed, restore, prophecy, teach, honor, be generous, remember, forgive, give thanks, love your God, love your neighbor, love yourself.

Maybe Jesus really did intend for us to love our neighbor, not kill them: not with words, or actions or guns. And maybe the gospel isn’t just a metaphor for something else.

When we don’t know what to do. Pray: on the beach, up the mountain, driving to work, at home in bed. Then act: do something. “We know and believe, (as it says in Romans 8), that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” Sometimes we can’t yet see it from here. God help us all.

The Way

“The way is long - let us go together
The way is difficult - let us help each other
The way is joyful - let us share it
. The way is ours alone - let us go in love. The way grows before us - let us begin.” 
(Unknown Author)