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From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada). Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way". Contact Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
The Third Sunday of Easter - Year A
Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-4,12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
'An Easter Heart To Heart'
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" When I was in about the seventh grade, Remembrance Day rolled around that year and the whole school was marched single file, class by class down to the central auditorium where we obediently took our seats for the annual observance of those who had lost their lives during the First and Second World Wars. Visiting clergy from the community were there to help lead the service, a small contingent from the local Army Cadet Corps to bring in the colours, and, of course, the ones who always made that most sombre of days thudingly real - the members of the Royal Canadian Legion in their navy blazers, berets and chests sagging with military decorations, the ones still able to march smartly and proudly, the ones limping from the affects of shrapnel or gunshot and those whose lips still trembled and whose eyes still filled to remember the terrible horror and inhumanity of those years. In addition to the prayers, the Call of Remembrance and the playing of The Last Post, there was always somebody chosen, usually a preacher, to speak to us in an attempt to remind us of what we were all doing there. It's hard to say exactly what effect such an effort had on most of us schoolchildren, particularly in a day when nobody talked realistically about what war and the remembrance of it actually meant. However, I am quite sure that what happened on that particular day branded itself on every last person in my school as it surely did on me; for on that particular day, the guest speaker was a member of the Legion, a grizzled veteran of the Italian campaign who quietly walked to the podium and began to tell us about some of his experiences during the war. Not a sermon about war or sacrifice or freedom or bravery. Just a vivid, anecdotal account of some actual events that had happened to this particular man during the worst of the fighting. He talked to us about some of the buildings he had blown up, some of the German and Italian soldiers he had gunned down, some of the innocent men, women and children who had been caught in harm's way, and some of the friends of his who had been cut to ribbons or blown to smithereens before his eyes. He wanted us to see what his eyes had seen. The human cries his ears had heard. What he and others had done. And the auditorium was so quiet you could hear yourself breathe. Then, he finished his account and just stood there, head bowed, holding on to the podium almost as if he was afraid of falling over. And then he started to weep. It was the first time I remember seeing a grown man cry. He did not try to hold back the tears; and, of course, it was real. Great, heaving sobs poured out of him for almost a minute. I remember holding my breath for him the whole time. When he finished sobbing, he looked back up again, looked at all those little faces of ours and said, "Killing is wrong! War is wrong! What happened to me and my comrades and the people we killed should never happen ever again to anyone!" And then he walked silently back to his seat. And I remember thinking to myself for the very first time, "This is what it meant. Not the stories of bravery and sacrifice and the fight for freedom - but the terrible human cost and horror, what it had done to this man who had the courage somehow to stand there and tell us." + When Peter preached that first sermon of his on the day of Pentecost, he wasn't trying for a preaching award. He was telling people something that had happened to him. Something so awful, tragic and barbaric that he never got over it. And it was something so unexpected, wonderful and unbelievably good that made him do it. He told the good people of Jerusalem who had gathered out in the street to see what all the fuss was about what Jesus of Nazareth, his old best friend and strong right arm, meant to him. He told it plainly, truthfully - like Peter himself probably was. Told them about the deep, human goodness of the man Jesus, about the way he had resurrected countless lives, the way he had helped people see the priceless treasure inside themselves and each other, the way he had burned bright with a vision of human solidarity that Israel had not seen since the days of Moses. "He was the bravest, kindest, most truthful brother we ever had," he told them. "Surely there never was a more faithful son of Israel. And you know," he went on to say, "that I am telling you the truth; for you yourselves witnessed what this man did while he was with us." But then, he added, "You know the kind of man he was, and yet, "... this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law." "You are murderers," Peter told them. "And even worse, you murdered God's Chosen, God's Messiah; for "...God has made him both Lord and Messiah..." Peter was telling his neighbours, the members of his own religious household, the members of his family that they had just committed the worst sin imaginable. Then, just to make sure they didn't miss it, he told them again. "... this Jesus whom you crucified." Then he added one other thing - the thing that, had it not happened, he would never have been there speaking to them. "... God raised him up,... This Jesus God raised up..." The one you killed God has vindicated. And you can bet that nobody in that crowd missed the point. God has stood beside the one you rejected. Precisely because we have come to think that Easter is such a victorious event, that it is the good news of what God did in and for Jesus, we tend to forget that it was also God's "NO!" to what had been done to Jesus. It was also God's indictment of the kind of human attitudes and behaviors that brought about his death. It was not good news that brought that crowd in Jerusalem to their senses that day when Peter preached to them. It was the straight news Peter brought to them of God's utter condemnation of human evil by bringing Jesus back from death. Before we can hear the good news that God does not hold anything against us - including what we did to Jesus - we need to hear the bad news of what God will never tolerate, never condone - the inhuman things we do to one another - even in the name of God. + How can I say this without risking everything that people like you mean to me? We have not learned much since Peter's first Easter sermon. We still go on killing those good sons and daughters of ours who walk into our midst with a vision of human life that challenges us right down to the tips of our toes. We still become so afraid of their profound message of human kindness and solidarity and what that would require of us were we to take it seriously that we find some excuse to get rid of them so that we won't have to be reminded. Even people like us, who have had The Law of what it means to be human written on our hearts, we who have had countless men and women of God unafraid of confronting us with the truth of our own complicity with evil time and again, we who have had Jesus and his gospel to feed upon since we were little children - we have continued to do the same kind of thing to other people that they did to Jesus; and if we haven't done it ourselves we have gone along with it. It is why this generation has begun to turn its collective back on organized religion; because they have come to see it as little more than organized hypocrisy. We have not practiced what we preach about love of God and neighbour. I am a witness that such things have happened; and so are many of you. Whether or not you are pleased that I am telling you this to day, you know that what I am saying is truthful. But before you can do anything about it, before we can do anything about it, we have to hear what it is God says "NO!" to. We have to understand the wrong that we continue to do. God did not bring Jesus back from death so that we could go on doing the things that brought about his death. He brought him back so that people like you and me would put a stop to whatever it is in us that makes us want to harm any one of our brothers and sisters out of fear and hatred. It is wrong what people did to the one God made Lord and Messiah. It is still wrong! --------- Acts 2:14a,36-41 - A tribunal for The United Church of Canada once accused me of preaching sermons that "gave offense fairly often". In retrospect, it was one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me. Anybody who has ever read or thought seriously about this week's first reading from the book of Acts will understand why. Before we can hear God's "Yes!" Karl Barth once wrote, we must hear God's "No!". Preaching to the people of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, Peter risks telling them the truth of what they had done to Jesus of Nazareth. The result was an unexpected outpouring of genuine remorse and rehabilitation. 1 What was the test of a good sermon according to Luke's account of Peter's preaching on the day of Pentecost? 2 What is the test of a good sermon in your church or denomination? 3 Account for the differences or similarities regarding attitudes toward preaching. 1 Peter 1:17-23 - These verses could have been instructions to new Christian converts or to Christians struggling to understand their responsibilities in the new circumstances of their lives. "During the time of your exile" might mean living in a hostile environment away from one's spiritual home and the sense of feeling like aliens in a foreign land. In such circumstances, it is important to remember some basic necessities: being careful about the way we live and being sincere about our love of God and neighbour. The passage is used this week as an example of how the power of the resurrection affects the daily life of believers. 1 In what sense do you feel like an exile, like you are living in a hostile environment? 2 What is most important about being a Christian in such a circumstance? 3 What are you doing about it? Luke 24:13-25 - John Dominic Crossan calls the Emmaus road story "the metaphoric condensation of the first years of Christian thought and practice into one parabolic afternoon. Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens." In other words, Luke has constructed a story for the Christian community to explain why it continues against all odds. It is an attempt to explain why the one who died would not go away. 1 If Luke's story of the road to Emmaus is a symbolic attempt to represent what happened as a result of Easter, what symbols speak most deeply to you and why? 2 Emmaus was a Roman stronghold, symbolic of foreign oppression. The people traveling to Emmaus in the story never arrive there. Why is this so significant? FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - "Every now and then, if you are really, really lucky, you hear something so right and true that it pierces through all your defenses and goes straight to your heart. It can make you drop to your knees. It can make you laugh until you cry, or cry until you laugh, but it is not a mental thing at all. It is a physical thing that requires a physical response. You have to do something about it; and sometimes you need help figuring out what that is." - -Barbara Brown Taylor Talk about a time when this was true for you and why. HYMN 691 Though Ancient Walls (Voices United 691)
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