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Monthly Archives: April 2020

Message from the 3rd Sunday of Easter Rev. Bruce Ray

Luke 24:13-35

This morning, we heard the gospel story of two followers of Jesus who were on the road to Emmaus three days after the crucifixion of Jesus. They were discussing the events of the past few days—going back and forth in conversation, trying to process everything that happened to understand and make sense of the events. But under the words, there is deep, deep disappointment and grief. It is expressed in the phrase, “We had hoped….”

It is an expression of something we have all felt. Disappointment comes when our expectations are not met.  The higher our expectations, the more disappointment we feel when reality doesn’t deliver. Grief is real for us when “we had hoped, but….”
“I had hoped that this relationship would last a lifetime, but…. I had hoped that she would have been healed, but…. I had hoped that I would get an A on that final exam, but…. I had hoped that I would get the job, but….

We had hoped… these disciples say.
WE HAD HOPED THAT JESUS WAS THE MESSIAH.  He was a prophet, a mighty teacher, a powerful miracle worker.

WE HAD HOPED THAT JESUS WOULD RESCUE ISRAEL.

BUT….  Our leaders condemned him to death and he was executed—crucified, hung on a cross and buried.

High expectations met a devastating new reality, resulting in deep disappointment and grief.

But for these disciples, there is now a new layer of emotion: CONFUSION.  They have heard reports that some of the women saw angels and some of the men confirmed that Jesus’ body was missing.  But it’s been three days since the burial.

One might think that HOPE might arise in the hearts of these disciples, but the fact that they are now leaving Jerusalem and are heading to Emmaus reveals that they can’t afford to hope.  Going to Emmaus is resignation to reality.  There is nothing left for them in Jerusalem. HOPE IS DEAD.

Enter the stranger.  After finding out what they are discussing, the stranger offers the disciples a different understanding of the events–one that he is is supported by the prophets of the Bible. And he takes them on a walk through the Bible—to show them God’s plan.

It’s hard to accept that you have missed the truth–especially when a stranger is telling you.  What the stranger pointed out was that their expectations of Jesus were off.  In fact, their problem wasn’t that their exceptions were wrong, but just incomplete.  Their expectations weren’t too small; they weren’t big enough. Their deepest disappointment was that Israel wasn’t rescued.  They were hoping for the wrong conclusion. Their hope had been that Jesus would be a certain kind of Messiah—a nationalist Messiah that would “rescue Israel.”

Their hope was for a restoration of political independence from Rome. Their Messiah was too limited. They missed seeing God’s bigger plan–the plan revealed in Scripture. The Messiah was not coming just to rescue Israel, but was coming to rescue all of creation and transform the world. The Messiah wasn’t coming just to kick out the Roman oppressors, but to end oppression entirely. The Messiah wasn’t coming just for the Jews, but for Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female.  He was coming to free the cosmos from its bondage to death and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth—starting with a grave robbery.

But even after the Bible study with Jesus, they still couldn’t see or understand. Until… Jesus broke the bread—an act of hospitality and inclusion. An act of generosity and grace. And act of unity and community. And suddenly, the stranger is no longer a stranger. Jesus was with them, welcoming them to experience this new life. He wasn’t the Jesus they had expected. He was not the old Jesus returned, he was the new Jesus—the Jesus who was not bound by space and time, the Jesus who ended the reign of death, the Jesus of a new creation. The Jesus who was eating with them in the kingdom of heaven. They encountered the Risen and Glorified Christ.

It is only then, in the table fellowship with Living Christ that new hope could rise. Their disappointment could not survive in the presence of Jesus–the fulfillment of all expectations.  Their confusion was replaced with understanding, holy heartburn and joyful anticipation of what is yet to come.

When we walk through our week; when we face frustration, confusion, and disappointment; when we struggle in the midst of the injustices of the world; Jesus meets us right where we are and walks with us. But he challenges us to see things from a different point of view—the view from the end rather than the view from the moment.

Our moments – our current reality – eats away at hope, but every time we gather together on the first day of the week; every time we hear the word of the Lord; every time we break the bread and give thanks – we  see Jesus anew. And we remember.

We remember that we are not alone. Christ is with us and we are with each other.
We remember that injustice does not have the final word. Oppression will cease.
We remember that suffering—even unjust suffering—gives way to glory.
We remember that just has Christ was raised from the grave, we too are raised to new life.
We remember that we are the body of Christ, welcomed by God into community, invited to participate in God’s liberating work where there is no male or female, no slave or free, no Jew or Gentile, but we are all united in Christ.
We remember that God’s love for the world and God’s plans for the world are total liberation and transformation.
We remember that though we face challenges and difficulties and injustices, we will overcome through Christ who overcame death. We will survive. More than that, we will thrive; because we have seen the Lord;

We have seen the future; we know the ending of the story. We are a new creation. The old is gone, the new has come. So we declare the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Alleluia! Amen!

Easter Message by Pastor Bruce Ray

 

During this shelter in place, it is hard to keep track of what day it is. Thank God for Sundays. It has become my touchstone. It keeps me oriented. And it is good to be with you this Sunday—Christ is risen! Amen?

Have you ever wondered why the resurrection happened on Sunday and not on a Tuesday? Or a Wednesday?  I believe God chose Sunday on purpose.

In God’s seven-day calendar, the first day of the week is always associated the creation. On the first day of creation, God said, “Let there be Light” and BAM, there was light.

And on the 7th day of creation, God rested. The Sabbath was set apart as a day of rest and enjoyment of creation. It was the end of the cycle. And the number came 7 came to symbolize completion. Interestingly, the first day of the week also became known as the 8th day. The number 8 in Hebrew literally means “fat” or “abundant.” The eighth day was the first of a new series. A “renewal.” And the number 8 came to symbolize regeneration and the renewal of all creation—the beginning of a new series—a new era of fatness and superabundance.

So it is on the first day of the week that the women went to the tomb. This is the first day of God’s new creation, and the 8th day of God’s superabundance. It was as if God said, “Let there be life” and BAM, there was an empty tomb. This is the beginning of God’s new heaven and earth where righteousness and justice dwell. In the book of Revelation, chapter 21, God announces, “the old order of things has passed away… I am making everything new!”

Theologian NT Wright has said: “God’s new world, the future world as God intends it to be—has broken into the present. The world has already been turned upside down. We don’t need to wait until some future time for God to do something to make things right. God has started the process already. It started on Easter Sunday. God has brought the future into the present in the person of Jesus Christ.”

The resurrection is the fulfillment of God’s promised plans for the world—plans to prosper us and not destroy us. Plans to give us a future and a hope. Isn’t that exactly what we need right now? In these time of coronavirus, it doesn’t feel like we have a future—and so many have lost hope. Take heart; rejoice! God is making all things new!

The old order is crumbling. And while everyone—especially our leaders—promise that everything will “go back to normal” sooner than we think, Easter shouts out, “going back to normal” is not the way to survive. The “old order” is the way of death.

To go back to normal is to go back to the old creation marked by oppression and inequality, the haves and the have-nots, domination and abuse. The old order is marked by environmental destruction and violence and hatred and discrimination. The old order is littered with the bodies of sweatshop workers, migrant labor, desperate immigrant, black and brown prisoners. The old order is good for a few, but it is killing the world. We need to let the old order die so God’s new creation can burst forth.

Instead of wishing for the old normal, God invites us to receive God’s new normal. A world that is changed and is life-giving. Many people are imagining that world. One of the most powerful voices is coming from Kitty O’Meara. Her poem, “And the people stayed home” envisions a new future out of the death of the old normal.

 

 

The resurrection is God’s invitation to go forward into a new life—a life that is marked by righteousness—everything in the right order and in right relationships. This is the new order where all share in the abundance of God; where the lion lays down with the lamb; where the chains of injustice are broken; where the slaves are set free; where swords are turned into plowshares; where there is no male or female, slave or free; where love and peace reign.

The resurrection is just the beginning. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! And you are raised with Christ. You are a new creation in Christ. The old has passed away and the new has come. Today is the beginning of God’s new normal for all of us.

In the words of the old gospel song by Bill Gaither, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living just because he lives.”   Amen.

Pastor Ray’s “Palm Sunday” Sermon

 

For the first time in 9 years, our Palm Sunday will not conclude with a march to the Logan Square Eagle monument with the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance. For nine years, our congregations have imagined how things would change if Jesus entered our community. We’ve imagined affordable and public housing, mental health, living wages, protection for undocumented immigrants, an end to violence and more.  A common feature in Occupy Palm Sunday has been our chants.  The chants identify what we want.  “What do we want?  Fill in the blank.  When do we want it?  Now!”

The central chant for Palm Sunday has always been “Hosanna!”  The crowds who surrounded Jesus as he entered Jerusalem shouted it over and over again.  We normally think of the word as a shout of acclamation and praise, and it can mean, “The Lord saves.”  The word declares that God is not far from us.  God is arising in power to deliver us. God is our salvation!  The Messiah is coming.  And when the Messiah comes, change happens.  Hope comes alive. No power on earth can stop it.  Chains are broken, the sick are healed, the blind receive their sight, the poor hear good news, prisoners are set free. There is joy!

But as Reza Alsan, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, reminds us, the word is really a prayer.  Hosanna comes from the Hebrew, “Yah, shaw, na,” which means, “Lord, save us!” It is the cry of people who are facing terrible trouble, who feel helpless and desperate. Like our “What do we want?” chant, the crowds fill in the blank with, “Save us”. When do we want it? “Now! Save us now!”

Honestly, I’ve heard this chant again and again over the past weeks as we have watched the coronavirus spread. Every day, we are told to take new precautions to protect ourselves.  Every day, we watch the numbers rise.  Every day, more people die.   And every day, we feel more and more desperate. We feel helpless. We feel vulnerable to its economic impact.  We cry out, “Lord, save us from the depths of despair in these days of disaster. Lord, save us from this disease!  Lord, save us who are on the front lines without adequate protection. Lord, save us from the fear and anxiety that we’re not going to have enough!.  Lord, save us from the creditors that are demanding payment when I’ve lost my job. Lord, save us from ineffective leaders whose only concern is their own interests and wellbeing.”

So, on this Palm Sunday, we cry out again to God, “Hosanna! Lord, Save us!”  The ‘us’ includes the sick, those with chronic illness, those over the age of 60, those who have lost loved ones in a time of social distance, the unemployed, nurses, doctors, the grocery store clerks, the first responders, the letter carriers and delivery personnel, the undocumented, and the incarcerated.  It is all of us.

Palm Sunday is also known as Passion Sunday. We remember that shortly after the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, he was arrested, detained, falsely charged, unjustly tried, wrongfully convicted, and executed. Jesus’ story is the story of thousands of people in Illinois who are trapped an unjust criminal justice system—especially those being detained in jails simply because they are too poor to post bond.  People like Lavette.

 

 

Right now, more than 4,500 people—mostly Black and Brown people just like Lavette—are trapped inside Cook County Jail, not because they are guilty of a crime, but because they are too poor to pay money bond to be released.  By law, these men and women are presumed innocent until proven guilty, yet they are trapped in a place that has become a hot spot for the coronavirus outbreak because social distancing is impossible in a jail.  In effect, innocent detainees are facing the possibility of a death sentence. As of yesterday, 221 detainees have tested positive for the virus and 15 are hospitalized.  Those who work in the jails are also at risk.

Scripture reminds us that whatever we do to our most vulnerable siblings, we do to Jesus. This Holy Week we must decarcerate Christ. The churches of the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance  are partnering with the Chicago Community Bond Fund to raise $5000 between today and Maundy Thursday to guarantee the release of one of our incarcerated siblings by Easter.  $5000 represents the average amount of money needed to be released from jail. 

Open your ears and hear their cries, “Hosanna! Lord, save us!”  Let’s join our voices with theirs, crying out, “Lord, save us!” And then, let’s join the liberating work of Christ.  Let’s make this the week that we break the chains of injustice and set the captive free.

And when we gather again on Easter, we will shout together, “Hosanna!” But this time it WILL be a shout of praise, “The Lord saves! The Lord saves!  Hosanna! Hosanna!”

To make a contribution to set an innocent person free from Cook County, go to: https://secure.givelively.org/donate/chicago-community-bond-fund/lsea-palm-sunday-fundraising-action  

To see the daily updates on the coronavirus in Cook County Jail, go to: https://www.cookcountysheriff.org/covid-19-cases-at-ccdoc/