Saturday, May 2, 2015

From the Ashes of Baltimore: How to Change the World (5th Sunday of Easter), May 3, 2015

Reading One: Acts 9:26-31

When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples,
but they were all afraid of him,
not believing that he was a disciple.
Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles,
and he reported to them how he had seen the Lord,
and that he had spoken to him,
and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.
He moved about freely with them in Jerusalem,
and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord.
He also spoke and debated with the Hellenists,
but they tried to kill him.
And when the brothers learned of this,
they took him down to Caesarea
and sent him on his way to Tarsus.

The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.
It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord,
and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.

Reading Two: I John 3:18-24

Children, let us love not in word or speech
but in deed and truth.
Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth
and reassure our hearts before him
in whatever our hearts condemn,
for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have confidence in God
and receive from him whatever we ask,
because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
And his commandment is this:
we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and love one another just as he commanded us.
Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them,
and the way we know that he remains in us
is from the Spirit he gave us.

Gospel Reading: John 15:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Homily: From the Ashes of Baltimore: How to Change the World

Those who proclaim from this ambo have a solemn charge to preach the word, in season, and out of season. And what would God have us say in light of weeks of simmering bitterness, of rage and destruction, of injustice that we all witnessed from Baltimore? What should we say? Should we pretend that these issues are not real, or that they do not affect us in safe, secure Black Forest, Colorado?
The first thing we must understand is that man, though created in the image of His creator, lives in a fallen state.  People do not naturally behave well. If man were basically good, we would have no need of a justice system as everyone would mostly behave properly and treat each other well.  This is certainly not the case. The role of the church to shine the light of God on people, one life at a time, so each person can see for themselves how fallen they are.  We cannot legislate morality, but we have an obligation to make laws that protect people from the sin of others.  We also have an obligation to share the truth with people that they may have the opportunity to repent and embrace Christ.

The problems that led to Baltimore and did not manifest overnight, nor can they be fixed in a day, but the focus of the believer in Christ must be on fulfilling his role in the church and in society so change can begin and that change must begin today.  Facts and logic will lead people to a more conservative and godly view of issues, we have that as a great advantage.  We know that the Spirit of God transforms lives through the blood of Christ and we know that people without hope behave desperately.  We have fact, logic and hope to offer.  We have the hope of Christ and the truth of His word.  Find your place in the Body, turn off your TV, put down your video game controller, get rid of the sin that hinders your relationship with God and get busy.  Abide in Christ. You will bear much fruit. I promise you will find fulfillment and peace like you never have before.  

But how do we really love—how do we practically love….our readings this morning give us the answer. You want the world changed? Here is the secret. Just listen with an open heart.

Now, let’s look at our texts this morning……

If you think that the problems of Baltimore, of Ferguson, of New York City, of South Carolina, were desperate and the people there were filled with hatred and resentment, you have no idea what the situation was like in ancient Palestine during the time of Christ, or in the early Church. The divisions between Christian and Jew, between Jew and Gentile, between Jews, Christians, and the oppressive Roman government, who ruthlessly ruled over an empire of 60 million slaves, whose increasing tax burden, rampant corruption, and their focus on providing only welfare bread and circus to its citizens was causing it to crumble from the insides. These ancient issues make our own divisions less overwhelming in comparison.

In this reading of Acts 9, we see human beings behaving the way human beings behave. Hurt people hurting people. Those who has suffered at the hand of Saul the Persecutor wanting justice. Hurt people act out of fear. People doing things, wanting Saul excluded, because of a rightful sense of being aggrieved. After all, look inside this church of Jerusalem. Over here are the parents of Stephen, the first martyr. There is Stephen’s younger brother, his sister. And over here, is a visitor today, Saul of Tarsus. He’s calling himself Paul, but we know who he is. He is a murderer. He is a bigot, he is dangerous. His kind of people don’t belong with our kind of people. We Jewish Christians don’t associate with him and his ilk. We have connection to the history of Israel, and this violent persecutor wants to come into our fellowship? We are going to give him the kiss of peace? We are going to support him? No justice for the family of Stephen. No peace in the church of Christ in Jerusalem.

All we can say is “thank God for Barnabas, and thank God for Jesus Christ” Paul would later write about this in Ephesians 2 that there will be no peace without Christ.

In v 12 he writes
Ephesians 2:12 (NRSVCE)
remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

You want to know why there is unrest, why there is violence, why there is brutality? Not just in Baltimore, but on the streets of our own city. People are without God and without hope in the world.

And now our reading……

He is our peace. Those families who have lost loved ones may someday find justice, and that is a key goal, but they will NEVER find peace, find forgiveness, find rest for their souls, without Christ.
HE is our peace. Instead of looting and violence and danger and depravity, instead of grinding oppression and sin and the scourge of low expectations, here we find the destruction of barriers, the cessation of hostility, and the beginnings of community.

Ephesians 2:19–22 (NRSVCE)
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Let me tell you something….do not misunderstand or misquote me……the laws of the United States of America need to be enforced fairly, equally, without distinction to race, creed, or color.
But the Department of Justice cannot make the two one. The FBI and the ATF cannot break down the dividing wall of hostility. The county Police in El Paso County, or the Colorado Springs Police Department, or the Colorado National Guard cannot pour of balm from Gilead to bring about peace and love. Is it ONLY through the blood of Christ, it is only He who made the two one. And we share in that blood, that flesh of Christ, as we celebrate communion, it is co-union with Christ—it is co-union with each other. We are becoming one.

That’s the way it happens. One person at a time. If we get the individual person right with God, we will get the world right.

And how do we go forward, knowing that while our nation is founded on grounded truths and natural law that is admirable, and a Constitution that should be heeded, it will always be an approximation, and always will fall short at dealing with the issues of the human heart? How are we to ever succeed?

It will be through the example of Christians, salt and light, leaven, making a difference. Let’s look at Barnabas…. 

If encouragement ever had children, they would name that child Barnabas….He was the son of encouragement.

We see him setting an example through his unselfish giving.

We see him standing up for Saul in Jerusalem in our first reading….

One more example in Barnabas’ life

The Gentiles are coming to faith in Antioch. Who do we send? Let’s send Barnabas!
The first thing Barnabas did when he went there was to go look for Saul. Saul had been alone, in Tarsus, in Arabia, for at least three years, and perhaps as many as 8 years.
All by himself, no doubt licking his wounds. Rejected by the Jews, treated as an object of fear by his fellow Christians, he goes home and has to deal with his Jewish relations and his own family. It must have been difficult, and many of you can attest.

And then one day, just doing his own work, perhaps learning his father’s craft in tent-making to support him, in comes an old friend.

His name is Barnabas. And he has a question, he has a request, he has a mission.
Saul wonders, is there anything else left in the tank? I have tried, I have sacrificed, I have apologized for Stephen’s death until I am blue in the face. No, I’m too old for this, I am too beaten up, I am too discouraged. I murdered a Christian (would we want to add a murderer to the masthead of the OLP bulletin? No, you have to prove yourself, Saul…not sure we really want you anymore.

And they had reason.

But they did not think like Barnabas.

Can you imagine that discussion in Tarsus? Barnabas—”Saul, you were called by God, You are called to be an apostle one who is sent by God” “Saul, you will be the apostle to the Gentiles. Maybe we call you by a Greek name—Paulos—because of this ministry we have in Antioch. Saul, I believe in you! You can do it! You will turn the world upside down!

Have to think about what lengths Barnabas took to find Saul: (map)

Here’s one of the original maps Barnabas used from this period….
Barnabas came from Jerusalem to Antioch….a journey that took weeks or months on foot.
And he needed to start a church there.
But he did not stop in Antioch…..he said, “I can’t do this without my brother Saul.”  “I have to go find him.”
We just have to admire Barnabas, and he is our example today.

He sought him out
He went to him
He expended effort, time, and cost to find him
He forgave Saul, he probably helped Saul to forgive himself (although that was always at the back of Paul’s mind)

Barnabas sought after a lapsed believer, a believer not really as converted as he used to be, someone who needed that second touch, that affirmation, that faith.

Paul, you can do it! We’ll do it together! I know you've had those issues, but they are not worth losing your soul over.

They changed history! And why? Because they knew what love is (last bullet)

Not just talk, but action……from our second reading this morning.
So what does this mean for us this morning?

The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Are they called Christians in Black Forest? Are they Christians at Our Lady of the Pines? Not just church attenders, but do that have that passion for God. Do they have that gift of encouragement, Are they looking for the lost, the fallen, the forgotten?

Think about how many tens of thousands of fallen away Catholics there are in this town. How many of them would come back to the true faith if someone was a Barnabas to them. Someone took the time to care, to love, to have a vision.

I was a lapsed Catholic, a washed out preacher, just working a nondescript tech job in Colorado Springs. All those glory days behind. Washed up, washed out, just looking for a place to fall, to be safe. Back in Tarsus, Colorado. Divorced, discouraged, disheartened.

And the sweetest woman I ever met, and a gangling 6 foot 100 inch tall priest name Father Joe Damhorst, refused to accept that low bar for the rest of my life.

They believed in me, they prayed for me, they gave me a vision when I did not have one of my own. It was not easy, but they were Barnabas to me.

Can you be Barnabas to someone else? Can you change the world

Closing Illustration

A haggard working father came in from the factory that day, tired and exhausted from a full shift. He was spent, but his 4 year old boy wanted to play. The father was beside himself, tired and impatient. He looked over at the newspaper with an ad that had a full page graphic of the globe on it…..spying an opportunity for just a moment of rest, he ripped up the page of the globe into scores of pieces, and said to his son, “I have a puzzle for you. Put it together now.”

As he relaxed, finally, in his evening chair, he was astonished to hear, on a few moments later, his son say, “Dad, I’m finished!” The father was stunned that his son made such quick work of the puzzle. He asked his son, “Son, how did you do this so quickly? This is amazing. The son responded, “Dad, there was a picture of a person on the page of the page. I just put the person together. And when I got the person put together right, I made the world right.”

Let us make the world right this week, by making ourselves right, and taking one pragmatic, physical, visible step to love those around us. To be a Barnabas to the world. May God bless us as we change our world.

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