I Confess: Standing Where the Lord Stands.
Then Jesus told them a parable
about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.
‘In a certain city there was a judge
a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.
And in that city there was a widow
who kept coming to the judge saying,
“Grant me justice against my opponent.”
For a while he refused; but later he said to himself,
“Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,
yet because this widow keeps bothering me,
I will grant her justice,
so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’
And the Lord said,
‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.
And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones
who cry to him day and night?
Will he delay long in helping them?
I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.
And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’
And may God bless our reading
and our understanding
and our applying these words, to how we live our lives. Amen.
Jesus speaks most powerfully to us when he speaks in Parables
These quirky, pointed, imaginative stories that Jesus weaves.
These parables of Jesus are perhaps the best examples of
how Jesus is a teacher:
trying to help us learn about who God is and what God is doing.
You’ll note that Jesus rarely lectures.
He doesn’t offer three points and an illustration.
Instead, he chooses these little stories.
The parables are all about the Kingdom of God that Jesus gives witness to.
A reality where God’s values are our values
God’s concerns, are our concerns.
In this Kingdom,
we learn who are neighbor is, and that we’re asked to care for her
when she is wounded, when she is hurting
even when others cross the street
to avoid the shame or the blame of doing so.
In this Kingdom,
we learn that God keeps the light on,
even for the child who has left for another country, another Kingdom
squandering all the wealth of his inheritance
and that when the child returns, if the wayward child returns
that God, with such a wild, overflowing, prodigal love
runs to greet him and throws a party
and cries tears of joy for the lost one newly found.
In this Kingdom,
we learn that a widow presses her concerns for justice
and she presses
and she presses
and she presses….for she knows that righteousness is on her side
and unlike this realm
where judges may not care for justice
may not attend to truth
may only relent due to pressure or weariness or prudence
in God’s realm, says our text for the day
God will not delay
not in God’s new world.
Jesus speaks most powerfully to us when he speaks in Parables.
It’s how Jesus answers complaints that he’s eating with sinners
or working on the Sabbath
or twisting the inherited meaning of the faith.
Look at him! He’s hobnobbing with that filthy Timothy! How dare he!
And Jesus told them a parable…
That Jesus, what gall, to say her sins are forgiven!
There was once a rich man…
Its like Jesus knows something about us….
These parables help us see how important it is for us to SEE things differently.
They invite us into a different WAY of looking at the world
not a DIFFERENT world, but THIS world, re-imagined, re-engaged
a world where good people put aside pride and selfishness and ego
and instead see others as beloved and cherished and important
the way God sees them, sees you!
This is Jesus as the best sort of Teacher
helping shape our imagination so that we can go out
and be the sort of people who seek justice
who pursue righteousness
who love with a crazy, wild, prodigal selflessness.
Now, lets be honest,
there are some times we don’t really WANT to learn.
Sometimes we don’t want to go back to school.
It makes me think of the story about Cindy,
who refused to get out of bed on the morning of the first day of school.
Her poor mother tried everything she could think of to get her moving,
and finally, in exasperation, said,
Can you give me three good reasons why
you don’t want to go to school?
Without hesitating, Cindy said:
Yes. All the students hate me.
All the teachers hate me.
And everyone is mean to me!
And then, turning things around, Cindy asked her mother,
Can YOU even give me TWO good reasons
why I SHOULD go to school?
And, without hesitating, Cindy’s mother replied:
Yes. Because you’re 51 years old, and you’re the principal.
Ok, there’s that.
And there’s our comfort, right?
My kids generally love school, or at least, they love being with friends
they enjoy exploring new things and experiencing success
when they build upon things they’ve mastered.
But almost every morning, when I wake them up
Uuuuugh. Daddy. I don’t want to go to school……
Warm blankets are mightily seductive.
We don’t like giving up our comfort
particularly when it is for the challenge of learning something
that might stretch us, push us, help us see where we’ve been wrong.
Or maybe we have found that the more we learn
the more questions we find, the more we know we don’t know.
Fine: we can love our neighbor as ourselves,
but I thought that meant my actual neighbor
who is a pretty good guy
and lets me watch Chiefs games in his man cave
and who likes some of the same things I do
and who let me borrow his ladder last year
to clean out my gutters
you know, my actual neighbor
but now our neighbor means not just him
but Denver Bronco fans too?
and that person over there with the Jill Stein shirt?
(or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or Gary Johnson, take your pick)
and those people who went to the Florida-Georgia StateLine Concert
I never heard of that band before last night
did you know they sold out the sprint center?
Sometimes we don’t want to learn that our Neighbor
often means people we don’t want to be our neighbor….
So there’s that.
And then there are other times,
when we’d just prefer not to learn
because the more we learn the more we have questions
and I don’t need more questions
and the answers we get are sometimes really hard…
Like how in the world do I forgive seventy times seven?
Or how do I take the log out of my own eye
when I am so darn good at seeing the needle in yours?
But the best teachers, kind of like Jesus, are patient.
And they keep giving us the lesson, and they walk with us as we incrementally learn
and they help us along the way.
A few weeks ago,
we explored what it means for us as a church to be a confessional church.
We’re a confessional church,
because we have adopted confessions, statements that testify
to what we believe and what we resolve to do.
Our Confessions are Testimony.
They witness to how we understand God’s teachings
and what we think they are asking us to do about it.
We have a new confession: The Confession of Belhar.
It is a beautiful and challenging confession,
written in Apartheid South Africa during a particularly dark time
when both the church and the state
supported the forced separation of people
white and black and those considered of mixed race
a violent and oppressive time.
During that time, people of color clamored for justice,
much like the widow of our parable.
There were crackdowns and beatings and brutal mobs.
And the people kept clamoring for justice.
They shut down highways.
They protested on city streets.
They pushed their claim at international events
such as the Olympics or rugby matches
wherever they thought the world would be watching.
They were relentless,
because they knew their cause was just
and because they knew they were no less neighbors, no less citizens,
no less beloved children of God.
They had heard the parables of Jesus
and they had seen the stories of scripture
like this reading from Amos
where the people thought they were being faithful
they thought they were walking rightly
they thought their sacrifices and rituals were enough
but Amos warned them otherwise,
that how they treated one another
was so much more important…
These oppressed, hurting people of South Africa
learned that story,
let justice roll down like waters
let righteousness, like an ever-flowing stream…
And so they kept at it
and one day, peace came. Through Mandela and De Klerk and Tutu and others
Justice came to South Africa.
And they’re still working at it. For sure.
But Apartheid was no more. Thanks be to God.
In our church, their confession has become our confession
one of twelve that seek to teach us something about what it means
to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.
Our new confession has three parts.
The first part is what we looked at a few weeks ago.
In Christ, we are all one.
We are called to find expressions of our faith
where the things we use to separate us don’t matter
not the color of our skin
or the name of the denomination on the door
or the music we use in worship.
In Christ, we are all one.
And we’re one, whether or not this church or that church recognizes it.
We all know there are churches
that don’t allow women to fully participate in leadership
that look down on LGBTQ members
that might say they want to be diverse
but who find subtle ways of turning away people who don’t look like everyone else.
And even so: everyone is part of God’s family
In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Male and Female.
For all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That’s the first part. God does that. Our job is to LIVE like it.
Then comes the second part of Belhar,
and it is directly related to this call for unity.
According to the new confession of Belhar
The church is called to be an agent of reconciliation,
bringing together people who are not together
noting that there can be no unity until there is reconciliation.
Here’s what Belhar says:
We believe that God has entrusted the church
with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ;
that the church is called to be the salt of the earth
and the light of the world,
that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker.
What does reconciliation mean to you?
How do we reconcile people who are so different from each other?
There may be no more difficult and challenging word
in our English language than reconciliation.
One of the most annoying phrases my mother used to use with me
growing up was It takes two to tango, Chad….
Oh that got under my skin.
She was right, of course, but it always deflated my complaints.
I didn’t like that very much.
But what she was trying to tell me was that,
my protests and complaints to the contrary
I shared responsibility for my squabbles with my brother.
And more than that:
That it was MY JOB to stop, and to reach out and make amends.
Now, sometimes I had cause. Really, I did. And sometimes, not so much.
But every time, it was true: that for me to get along with my brother
I had to adopt an attitude of wanting to get along
regardless of what was done
regardless of how right I might have been.
He did too, of course, but it began with me.
But here’s the catch,
and this brings us to the third and final section of Belhar:
My mom tended to bring out that phrase
when it was a struggle between me and my younger brother
and mainly she said it to me.
She rarely said it to him.
Why was that?
Well. I was the older one.
I was the one who knew better, or should have.
I was the one responsible for being more mature, more sensitive to what
my younger brother needed.
How can a 10 year old understand this
when his 6 year old brother flushed his favorite star wars figure
down the toilet?
But eventually I understood:
The call to reconciliation means something different, depending on who you are
whether you are the one with power, or the one powerless
whether you are the one responsible, or the one who is on the outside looking in.
I don’t mean to draw too trite a comparison between my easy childhood
on the one hand
and the very difficult struggles we face
between people of different races and cultures and classes
on the other.
But I do think that the responsibilities of reconciliation
are hard for people to grasp
who are relatively comfortable, like, if we are honest,
we know we are.
The Confession of Belhar, as it moves from a call to unity
toward a call to reconciliation
urges people to come together
and places a particular demand upon those who have the ability to make that happen.
In the context of South Africa, that was upon the white churches
who sought to keep it that way,
and in our context, the call to reconciliation is always for everyone,
but particularly for those that benefit from our divisions.
This is why the third and final message of Belhar
is about Justice.
We Believe (says Belhar)
that God has revealed Gods-self as the one
who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people…
that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is, in a special way,
the God of the destitute, the poor, and the wronged
We Believe (says Belhar)
that God calls the church to follow him in this;
for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry
that God frees the prisoner, and restores sight to the blind;
that God supports the downtrodden,
protects the stranger
helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly
that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans
and the widows in their suffering
that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good
and to seek the right.
We Believe (says Belhar)
that the church as the possession of God must stand
where the Lord stands,
namely against injustice and with the wronged…
I confess: invites Belhar
our calling to stand where the Lord stands.
This call to Justice rounds out this confession,
a call to unity, where all are beloved children of God
a call to reconciliation, where divided people come together
in a church that values and respects each person
and longs for hurts to be healed
a call to justice, where the church stands where the Lord stands
on behalf of the hurting and the destitute and the wronged.
The call of Belhar sounds an awful lot like the realm of God
that Jesus speaks about when he teaches us
through his parables:
The kingdom of God is like a widow
who pressed and who pressed and who pressed for justice
and while the world was slow to give it to her
how much quicker would God be…
The kingdom of God is like a Samaritan who cared for a neighbor…
The kingdom of God is like a great banquet where
the doors of the kingdom were flung open wide
and all sorts of people from the street were let in
because the invited ones declined their invitations…
Our new confession: a powerful testimony for the church in the 21st Century.
What do you think?
Are we ready to learn?
What questions might we ask, about how we can make The Kirk
the most welcoming sort of place we can be
and speak that sort of word to our city, the place God gives us to love?
May we, as we ask these sorts of questions,
may we give thanks to Christ our Teacher
as we grow deeper in faith
stronger in hope
more generous in love
so that all may experience this amazing realm of God
that is unfolding all around us.
May it be so.
Image found at https://friarmusings.wordpress.com/tag/luke-18/
Joke about Principal Cindy cited in “The Confession of Belhar-Reconciliation and Justice” preached by the Rev. Neal Locke at First Presbyterian Church of El Paso on August 21, 2016.