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September 30, 2018

The Good Old Days
Pentecost 19 – Proper 21
Becky Robbins-Penniman

Oh, for the good old days. Back in Egypt when we had meat to eat. Sure, some people had it really bad, like the pregnant women who were at risk of having their boys killed at birth because Pharaoh was afraid of Israelite men.1

But who cares about that? WE had meat to eat. The good old days. Take us back to those.

The good old days.

The good old days were not so great for everyone. There are times when it is difficult to stand up here as a calm, neutral pastor serving all sorts of folks, a pastor deeply committed to “Come As You Are. All Are Welcome.” It’s difficult because I also come as I am, not just as a pastor, but as Becky, with a personal history that profoundly affects who I am, how I see things, what makes me angry, what makes me afraid.

This week has been tough. I have 54 years of #MeToo moments – my own, my friends’, my family’s, memories that broke open to ricochet through my brain and sear my heart. If you know I’m 64, and you do the math, you can figure out that I started dealing with confusing moments that taught me to be afraid of people older or stronger than I was starting at the age of 10.

A babysitter here, a classmate there, an orthodontist, a law colleague, a priest. Now, if you think I’m going into detail, relax. I’m not.
If you don’t have a story like mine, you likely to want to cry, “But, I didn’t do anything!”

I’m going to assume that is true. In fact, if you’d been with me, you’d have helped, not hurt. But that’s the thing; these things happen mostly when no one else is there. That’s WHY they happen then.

My suspicion is, though, that well over half the people in this room DO have a story like mine. So this is not about gender politics. Some perps are women, some survivors are men, anyone can be are falsely accused. Those of us with stories have THIS in common: were just going along living our lives until our gender, our race, or our mere vulnerability put us in the crosshairs of someone who thought “good” meant “I get what I want,” and tried to force their “goodness” on us.

I was lucky; I was never badly hurt; I was always able to run, or talk, or fight. But, the good old days weren’t so good all the time for all of us.
Even so, I my most fundamental hope is that there are good days to come. The Gospel that I, as a pastor, am entrusted to preach, is good – good news, with a definition of “good” that is truly good for everyone. What is good? Prophesying is good. Like Moses, I wish all people prophesied! To prophesy means to tell the truth of God, to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. That’s Jesus’ mission statement, quoted straight from the Prophet Isaiah.

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1 Exodus 1:15-17

Today’s Collect and Scripture readings are at the end of the sermon text.

Copyright notices: The Scripture text (except for the Psalm) is from the Common English Bible, CEB, Copyright 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, all other content is original and copyrighted by Becky Robbins-Penniman, 2018. All rights reserved.

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With shouts of hallelujah, the Psalmist adds that our all-powerful God, the God of Jacob . . .
gives justice to the oppressed, food to those who hunger, cares for the strangers,
sustains the widows and orphans.
Good means the poor hear something that will help them,
the prisoners will get to live as fully human, restored, forgiven –
if not completely forgiven, they aren’t truly free yet, are they?
Good means the sick will get well; the alone and abandoned have a home,
those trapped in systems that keep them bowed down, not permitted to rise,
will have the freedom to stand and become who God created them to be.
These prophesies aren’t pipe dreams, they are promises.
God has this. God will do what God promises, or God isn’t God.
God doesn’t do it alone, though,
God calls, equips, and sends us to do our part in making the promises real.
To be good, to do good, as God is good, God gives us strengths. All of us.
Surely, strength includes physical prowess, but also discipline, wisdom, intellect, creativity, patience,
generosity, all the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
These and thousands of other strengths endowed on us by a loving God are not to be used to please ourselves, says Paul, but
to please our neighbors for their good in order to build them up, because that’s what Christ did. What will build our neighbors up? Notice that the strong don’t get to decide that by themselves. They are to find out what would please their neighbors. There is a fancy spiritual word for what all this means: Compassion. Compassion literally means “to suffer with.”

What pleases our neighbors? What builds them up and relieves their suffering? To find out, we have to put ourselves smack dab in the middle of our neighbor’s reality to see life as THEY experience it. This, quite literally, is what Christ did. I want you to hear a testimony from Bill Raymond about his journey into compassion from a couple of weeks ago. Not his first journey, to be sure, but his most recent one.
[Bill’s story is about Duke Energy threatening to cut off his electricity in 24 hours if he doesn’t pay his +$200 bill and +/-$500 in fees and deposits. Bill is strong:

he has the ability to manage money; the gift of communication;
he can analyze what went wrong (Duke made an error),
and have patience with the rep until it’s fixed.
But what about the people who cannot do any of that, like the single mother that called for help one day while Bill was working at the Thrift Store. She’s desperate. Duke is strong and doesn’t care. Duke does what’s good for Duke.

Bill asks: What is life like for those who don’t have $500? They have to turn to us, the strong. So Support the Rector’s Discretionary Fund and help them.] The God of endurance and encouragement gave Bill the same attitude to others that Christ has to us: which is this: That helping another in the name of God – whether it’s casting out a demon that’s been ruining a person’s life, simply giving someone a glass of water, or paying their electric bill – is an act of compassion. An act of compassion uses a strength God gives us for the sake of another who suffers to please them, to build them up, to help them even though there is no immediate payback for us. The passion of Christ saved the world. This compassion of Christ transforms it.

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When Jesus warns us about causing a little one to trip and fall into sin he is warning us what happens in a world without compassion,
where the strong don’t care for or about the weak, miserable, vulnerable. When we use our strength to get what we want and the hell with other, Jesus tells us that’s exactly what we’ll get: hell on earth. Vulnerable people who are used and abused by another can quickly begin to question their own self worth and stop loving themselves. Not loving ourselves is a sin that leads to all kinds of self-destructive behavior.
Yet, it’s the strong who put the stumbling block there. People on the margins can rouse the suspicions of someone with power and the marginalized too often end up in jail, losing their job, because of their skin, clothes, or even just location. The offense of DWB, driving while black, happened to someone I know just this month. It will cost him a cool $1K, money he doesn’t have, to even hope to get back to where he was before he was stopped while driving home from work in the middle of the night.

That’s when restaurant cooks get off work. People oppressed like this can quickly become defensive and angry. Anger, not loving our neighbor, can lead to all kinds of destructive behavior. Yet, wasn’t it the strong one who put the stumbling block there? And so we have everyone, strong and weak, stumbling over sin in the dark, abusing and suffering, hating and resenting, generation after generation,
until they are so blind that the promises of God vanish in the mist as a pipe dream and we all live in a land where worms don’t die and the fire never goes out.

It must stop. And the stopping starts here, in this place, where all are welcome. A place where we cut off the parts of our past that taught some of us to abuse, and others to accept abuse; some to hate and others to resent.

We cut those parts off, and broken but strong, we enter the kingdom, right here and right now, trusting in the promises of God, ready to do powerful acts in Jesus’ name. Our strong, good hand is compassion – not pleasing ourselves, but pleasing our neighbors for their good in order to build THEM up. Our strong, good foot is the foundation on which we stand – gratitude, counting our blessings and sharing them, not craving what we don’t have, but in all things giving thanks, Eucharist,.

Our strong, good eye lets us view the world with the mind of Christ, where we see each person, including, as Karl Barth said, the oddest, most villainous and miserable, as a brother and sister, children of the same heavenly father,2 and welcome them as Christ would.

In doing this, we actually DO get an immediate payback, and it is what sustains me, Becky, during the tough weeks; it is what has sustained the people of God through 6 millennia: Paul says God will fill us with all joy and peace in faith, we will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our hope, as the Church of Jesus Christ, is for the day of the Lord, a good day of peace for all, not just some. Today is the day, this is the place, where the good old days can begin.

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2 Karl Barth, The Humanity of God, Westminster John Knox Press, 1996, p. 53

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COLLECT OF THE DAY
Generous God, your Son gave his life that we might come to peace with you. Give us a share of your Spirit, and in all we do empower us to bear the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

NUMBERS 11:4–6, 10–16, 24–29
The riffraff among them had a strong craving. Even the Israelites cried again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for free, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our lives are wasting away. There is nothing but manna in front of us.”

Moses heard the people crying throughout their clans, each at his tent’s entrance. The Lord was outraged, and Moses was upset. Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? And why haven’t I found favor in your eyes, for you have placed the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give birth to them, that you would say to me, ‘Carry them at the breast, as a nurse carries an unweaned child,’ to the fertile land that you promised their ancestors? Where am I to get meat for all these people? They are crying before me and saying, ‘Give us meat, so we can eat.’ I can’t bear this people on my own. They’re too heavy for me. If you’re going to treat me like this, please kill me. If I’ve found favor in your eyes, then don’t let me endure this wretched situation.”

The Lord said to Moses, “Gather before me seventy men from Israel’s elders, whom you know as elders and officers of the people. Take them to the meeting tent, and let them stand there with you.
So Moses went out and told the people the Lord’s words. He assembled seventy men from the people’s elders and placed them around the tent. The Lord descended in a cloud, spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and placed it on the seventy elders. When the spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but only this once. Two men had remained in the camp, one named Eldad and the second named Medad, and the spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they hadn’t gone out to the tent, so they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

Joshua, Nun’s son and Moses’ assistant since his youth, responded, “My master Moses, stop them!”
Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets with the Lord placing his spirit on them!”

PSALM 146
Hallelujah! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, or there is no help in them.
When they breathe their last, they return to earth, and in that day their thoughts perish.
Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! whose hope is in the LORD their God;
Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; who keeps his promise for ever;
Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who hunger.
The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind;
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
The LORD loves the righteous; the LORD cares for the stranger;
he sustains the orphan and widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked.
The LORD shall reign for ever, your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Hallelujah!

ROMANS 15:1–13
We who are powerful need to be patient with the weakness of those who don’t have power, and not please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good in order to build them up. Christ didn’t please himself, but, as it is written, The insults of those who insulted you fell on me. Whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction so that we could have hope through endurance and through the encouragement of the scriptures. May the God of endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude toward each other, similar to Christ Jesus’ attitude. That way you can glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ together with one voice.
So welcome each other, in the same way that Christ also welcomed you, for God’s glory. I’m saying that Christ became a servant of those who are circumcised for the sake of God’s truth, in order to confirm the promises given to the ancestors, and so that the Gentiles could glorify God for his mercy.

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As it is written, Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to your name.
And again, it says, Rejoice, Gentiles, with his people.
And again, Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and all the people should sing his praises.
And again, Isaiah says, There will be a root of Jesse, who will also rise to rule the Gentiles. The Gentiles will place their hope in him.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit

MARK 9:38–50
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.”

Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. Whoever isn’t against us is for us. I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded.“

As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and to be thrown into the lake. If your hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter into life crippled than to go away with two hands into the fire of hell, which can’t be put out. If your foot causes you to fall into sin, chop it off. It’s better for you to enter life lame than to be thrown into hell with two feet. If your eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out. It’s better for you to enter God’s kingdom with one eye than to be thrown into hell with two. That’s a place where worms don’t die and the fire never goes out. Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? Maintain salt among yourselves and keep peace with each other.”

SERMON HYMN: All Are Welcome (also known as Let Us Build a House Where Love Can Dwell.)


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