Justice, Healing, Wholeness

“Justice, Healing, Wholeness”

Eph 2-14 word cloud

Ephesians 2:14-17 – August 21, 2016

The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have been going on for two weeks. The Olympics has been a marvelous time of both competition and camaraderie, crossing international borders. I have not spent as much time as in years past watching the different competitions, but there have been some exciting and nail-biting times in these past weeks. Swimming and diving, gymnastics, track and field: the United States has won medals in these and many more. And yes, there have also been some scandalous things that happened, both on and off the field of play.

Scandals, quarreling, fighting, bombing. Attacks, sniping, terrorism, and even warfare. So often those are common events in the world today. Sadly, common, and sadly, robbing countries of their best and brightest young people.

From the time that I was little, I was drawn to the Olympic competitions not only for the sake of sport, but also for the sake of the Olympic values and traditions. The Olympic values strive to counteract those negative traits and actions I just mentioned. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, wanted the Olympics to lift up the ideals of respect, fair balance, pursuit of excellence, joy in effort, and balance between mind, body and will. He held up these as the essential Olympic values. What wonderful ideals to reach for!

However, as faulty, error-filled people in this mixed-up world, we have a big problem. Sin gets in the way of these lofty ideals. Negative feelings like hatred, xenophobia, classism, separation of all kinds get in the way. Sin also includes the haves versus the have-nots, all over again, in a myriad of ways.

I would like us to switch gears and look at the Scripture passage for this morning from Ephesians 2. The Apostle Paul is in the middle of a very long paragraph about Jesus Christ and why He came to earth: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who … has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility; His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross..”

As is typical with the Apostle Paul, he makes a complex argument and brings a whole bunch of ideas into play. But I want to highlight this central fact from Ephesians chapter 2. Humanity was once far away from God, made far away by our separation and sin. There was—and is still—a dividing wall of hostility. Hostility between us and God, and hostility between human beings. Hostility between individuals, neighborhoods, groups, nations, races, classes, and a whole host of other separations.

The Olympic ideals, values and tradition help in counteracting this hostility and separation between humanity. The United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission helps to counteract this, too. I have been preaching through the Statement of Mission this summer. The sentence for this week states: Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called: to work for justice, healing, and wholeness of life.” Wonderful things to strive for! And, worthy ideals to shoot for, from the point of view of the Olympic ideals, or from a Christian framework.

Jesus Christ came to earth to reconcile us to God, to destroy that dividing wall of hostility, so that each of us could have healing and wholeness of life. Praise God! Alleluia! That involves our relationship with God. Our vertical relationship, which is so important. Jesus has done that for us. No longer separated and far away, we now have a relationship with God.

But, that is not the end of the story. No! God wants us to take the next step. God calls us to work for justice, healing and wholeness of life, not only for us individually, but for others as well. That is our mission, from the UCC Statement of Mission.

I spoke about this several weeks ago, when several moms from Morton Grove went to the south side of Chicago, into the Englewood neighborhood. Two of us went again this past Wednesday, to help serve at a dinner outreach to that community. We took this opportunity to reconnect with the good people in the Englewood neighborhood and show them that friends outside of their community care, and are concerned. Friends want to help them strengthen relationships, and bring peace into their streets. Their neighborhood. Their community.

By several of us going to the Englewood neighborhood, this was a concrete way of showing our love and caring for others. As a follower of Christ, it was and is my responsibility to work for justice, healing and wholeness of life. Not because I am a pastor, not because I am a leader of this congregation, but because I follow Christ and strive to do the things He did and to say the words He said. And most especially, I strive to love the way Jesus loves.

All of us are called to do that same thing. To follow Christ to the best of our ability.

Let me switch gears and talk about the Olympics again. I did have the opportunity to watch a bunch of races last week. My son and daughter got really excited about the men’s and women’s swimming. We were awestruck to watch Michael Phelps add to his haul of Olympic medals, plus all of the other American swimmers doing an outstanding job in the pool.

I also made note of Simone Manuel, who won two gold medals, one for the 100 meter freestyle and the other as a member of the 4 by 400 relay team. Ms. Manuel is one of the fastest swimmers on the planet today. She also happens to be African-American, the first black woman to medal for the United States in swimming. Ever.

Articles and news stories immediately proliferated on the Internet, television, newspaper and other forms of media. Yes, they all praised Ms. Manuel for her grand achievement. Yet, some of the longer articles told a different story. About how the history of swimming pools and racism are closely tied together in this country. About how “according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, in the United States, a black 11-year-old is 10 times as likely to drown in a swimming pool as a white 11-year-old. And as of 2010, around 70 percent of African-Americans said they couldn’t swim, compared with some 40 percent of white folks.” [1]

I quote from an article in Rolling Stone, “the fraught dynamics of segregation were fought within swimming pools as well. Often whites would shut down or avoid pools rather than have to intermingle with black people. There were legal battles fought throughout the 1950s over the access black people had to swimming pools and beaches that continued even after Brown v. the Board of Education and the idea that “separate but equal” facilities were deemed unconstitutional.” [2] A large percentage of American children having a likelihood of drowning. It doesn’t matter who, or what, or where. They are our country’s children. All of our children. And, this is a matter of justice—or, injustice.

This racist attitude is changing. Praise God! Plus, I am so happy for Simone Manuel and her two gold medals in swimming! This aspect of justice is something we all can do something about. And healing, and wholeness. Can you hear God calling? Calling to each of us? As the book of Isaiah says, “God will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in God’s paths.”

We can all look forward to God’s shalom, healing, peace, and wholeness, and verdant life. God wants us to try to communicate this Good News, work for justice, and do our best to spread healing and wholeness. To our friends, our neighbors, those we work with. Let us strive to live healing-filled lives, with God’s help. Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/08/12/484841513/simone-manuel-wins-olympic-gold-thats-a-really-big-deal

[2] http://www.rollingstone.com/sports/simone-biles-and-simone-manuel-wins-impact-on-race-w434453

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Hope of God’s Good Promises

“Hope of God’s Good Promises”

Jer 33-14 God fulfills the gracious promise

Jeremiah 33:14 – November 29, 2015

“It just isn’t fair!”

How many of us can remember children saying that? Either when we were in school, on the playground, or when our children or grandchildren were bickering or fighting together. “It just isn’t fair!”

Lots of things are unfair. One child gets a bigger helping of pie or ice cream at Thanksgiving dinner. One child gets more Christmas presents than another, under the Christmas tree. Let’s go one step further. One child gets a bigger treat than the others. Or even, one child gets punished more times than all the rest.

“It just isn’t fair!”

I will be preaching through the Old Testament scriptures this Advent. Yes, this is the first Sunday in Advent, the time of preparation, when we pray and get ready for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem. But—we are not there yet! We need to prepare for four Sundays.

Our Scripture passage today comes from the book of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah lived about 350 to 400 years after King David and King Solomon. About 600 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Just to give you some idea of the time line. The situation Jeremiah and the other people in the kingdom of Israel found themselves in was not good! Israel had been conquered. Again. (Yes, they had been disobedient to God, again. And, that was a large part of why they were in exile, far from their homes.)

I can see why the people of Israel might think they were being treated unfairly. “It’s just not fair!” Because, God had repeatedly said the nation of Israel is God’s special possession. God’s much beloved children. Just imagine a list of all the things that were not fair for Jeremiah’s listeners and their children – forced to live in a foreign land as servants, not enough food, no chance to go to school, soldiers who told you where to go and what to do, and then some! How on earth did the nation of Israel get into this mess?

Jeremiah was a prophet to the kingdom of Israel during the sixth century before the birth of Christ. The time in which he wrote, the place where he wrote, was conquered—again! Not very safe or very peaceful. There were wars and rumors of wars, as well as a lot of military oppression, from all sides.

Some context helps me out, when I read the Bible. This explanation comes from an Australian online commentary. “The context of Jeremiah 33 is important. In terms of the story in Jeremiah, the city of Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and the people will shortly go into exile (Jer 32:1-6). Jeremiah is in prison (Jer 32:2; 33:1). The people are about to lose everything that has given meaning to their lives – the temple, the city, king, priesthood, their homes, family, etcetera. God seems to be silent, absent, and preoccupied with judging the people for past wrongs.” [1]

Time jump! I can see how the people of the first century, when the Gospels were written, felt a lot the same way! The Jewish people were a conquered people. Again! The Roman empire kept very close watch on the Jews in Israel. They knew the Jews to be a stiff-necked, stubborn, rebellious lot, so the Roman government was quick to stamp out the least little sign of outbreak or rebellion among the Jewish people. And, the Roman occupation had gone on for decades.

Is this very different from today? Wars and rumors of wars, conflict, destruction, despair and darkness. Just turn on the evening news or check the morning newspaper, or read the news online, and these are common headlines. A sad commentary on our times. Or any time, when this is the situation.

Here we are, on the first Sunday of the new church year, the first Sunday in Advent. Our Scripture lessons from the Old Testament and from the Gospel of Luke serve two purposes: they are a combination peek ahead, and also a reality check. Jeremiah’s prophecies are often of doom and gloom. Real downers. But sometimes, God gives the prophet some positive message for the people in exile. This paragraph today is just one such message.

Jeremiah knows his people in exile feel worthless and useless, like an old stump. But he tells the Jews that God is not finished yet! God is going to raise up a Leader from the line of King David. Imagine a fair, just leader who was one of them, a Jew, rather than a foreigner. This righteous Leader will bring about justice and restoration! These are words of hope! Good news! Glad tidings for the future!

Then, we have the passage from Luke, where Jesus tells us exactly how bad it is going to get. We know! The world is truly in an awful state! Sometimes, it seems like nothing is going to bail us out of the awful mess we are in. Bad leaders, awful people, horrible plans happening all over the place. But—there is hope. God gives us good news! Glad tidings for the future!

God promises that in the end they will not win.  God will.

Jeremiah’s promise—God’s promise is that a righteous Leader will sprout. Will arise. Even though things look black and hope is almost gone, God gives us good news! In the reading from Jeremiah today, the last word is “Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’”

Yes, we have hope! Yes, hope for the present, and hope for the future! God’s own words and actions, and God’s challenge to present us with visions of what is to come.

We know Advent is not just about sitting, twiddling our thumbs, passively waiting for God to fulfill God’s promises. It is also about our being transformed through waiting. Expectant! Eagerly looking for God to show up!

Yes, God gives us good news! Glad tidings for the future! Yes, we have hope! Hope for the present, and hope for the future!

Yes. Hope of God’s Good Promises.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] http://hwallace.unitingchurch.org.au/WebOTcomments/AdventC/Advent1Jer33.html

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!