Saturday, June 16, 2018

Year B, Pentecost 4, Ezekiel 17.22-24, 2 Corinthians 5.6-10 [11-13] 14-17, Mark 4.26-34, Seeking Refuge

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
The last night my father was alive, Dad asked if we could talk, and then proceeded to ask me a question:  “Do you have any favorite bible verse.”
I thought for a while, and offered up the verses in our Epistle lesson and following:
“16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”
Dad replied that they were important verses, but asked me to back up and read the verses just prior to that, which was his favorite:
“And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”
I was a bit dumbfounded when I opened up the texts for today, this Father’s Day, and realized that the reading was the very verses that I had discussed with Dad in my final conversation with him.
Dad’s verse speaks of the Father’s love for all, a love so deep that he offered Jesus on the cross for all.
I continue to be drawn to those words “for all”.  Jesus didn’t die “for some”.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
A Father’s Love is not for some of his children, but always and forever “for all”.
The second point of Dad’s favorite verses is the “so that”.
So that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”
There is a purpose in God’s redemptive love, and it is that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for Christ.  There are many things in life that would have us put our own self interest ahead of others, but God says “No, it shall not be so among you.”
We are to live, not for ourselves, but for the sake of Christ, AND, we are to see Christ in our neighbor.
We regard no one from a human point of view.
A human point of view judges others who differ from us, sets up dividing walls between people, and far too often, sees others as adversaries.
God, however, “reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
Christ died for all, that we might be reconciled with all, and that we might live for all.
“God’s purpose for our congregation is to welcome, love, and serve, WHO?”  ALL in our local and global community.
There is a radical inclusivity of the Gospel.
It is this inclusivity and diversity of the Kingdom of God that is envisioned by Ezekiel when he uses the Cedar as an image of the Kingdom, and declares that “Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.”
Likewise in today’s Gospel lesson:
“With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
Jesus died – for all.
That we might live – for all.
That we might be reconciled – to all.
That all might find refuge within the Kingdom of God.

These are the essentials of our faith as Christians.
We have been reconciled to God through the saving work of Christ, so that we might be agents of reconciliation to the end that all might know the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus.
About that, no Christian should have any disagreement.
But what strikes me today is that it is easy to talk of the Kingdom of God in those terms, but much more difficult when we consider what it means to be a “Christian Nation”.
But let me stop here and make one point:
Our nation was not founded as a “Christian” nation, but rather on the basis of “religious freedom”, and indeed, throughout our history we have had citizens who adhered to many different faiths, and others, who profess no religious faith whatsoever.
This is especially true today as the unChurched segment of our population is the fastest growing demographic in the land.
But having said that, many of us have grown up with the understanding that our nation was founded by Christians, and based on the principles of Christianity.
“One Nation, under God” is one of our rallying cries, and most who say that think of Christianity.  Not Islam, or Hinduism, or Judaism. 
But my question today, is directed toward any of us who understand this to be predominantly a “Christian Nation”.
And the question is this:
To what extent should we, as a Christian Nation, be an embodiment of the Kingdom of God?
Are they to be one and the same thing?
Jesus dedicated most of his teaching to the Kingdom of God, as he did in today’s Gospel. 
Almost all of the parables begin with “the Kingdom of God is like. . .”
But when he taught us about the Kingdom of God, did he mean “Christian Nation”.
One would think so.
But it is not quite so clear.
And this is the difference in many of our minds:
I could preach until I’m blue in the face about the Kingdom of God, without any objection at all. 
“Of course,” we might say, “the Church needs to focus on the Kingdom of God.  That’s what we do.”
And yet if I preach on what it means to be a Christian Nation there will be objections that I’m being too political from the pulpit.
We have cultivated an understanding about the Kingdom of God that is separate from the world, and perhaps even irrelevant to earthly nations.
But if we understand the Kingdom of God as having to do with the reign of Christ, here and now, is that to politicize the Gospel.  Yes?  Or No?
And this is the problem:  Jesus teaching on the Kingdom of God should unite us whereas the politics of what it means to be a Christian Nation too often divide us.
But can we separate the two?
I am deeply troubled by what is happening at our southern border with regards to the immigrants from Latin America that have come here seeking refuge.
Most troubling of all is that we have adopted the policy of separating children from their parents, placing the children in various make shift facilities while imprisoning the parents as criminals.
The “politics” of this are troubling and divisive, to say the least.  But I’m not going to debate those political issues, at least not from this pulpit.  If you want to talk about that, let’s arrange to do so at another time.
But what I will ask is does being a “Christian Nation” have anything to do with the “Kingdom of God”?  That is a religious question, a question of faith.
What would Jesus do?
How should we, who claim to be Christian, first and foremost, respond to the situation of the immigrants at our border who come here seeking refuge?
And does it matter that these mothers and fathers and children are fellow members of the Body of Christ?  Most of them would be devout Catholics.
To put it another way, many will debate and disagree how we should handle the situation as a nation, but what about as the Church?
What does it mean to say:
Jesus died – for all.
That we might live – for all.
That we might be reconciled – to all.
That all might find refuge within the Kingdom of God.

"Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
In Leviticus it is written:
“The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:34
A Father’s Love.
There are no borders or boundaries in the Kingdom of God.
God loves all his children as a Father, not just some.
Are we a Christian Nation, and how does that relate to the Kingdom of God?
I ask you to consider that.
Jesus was clear that “the least of these” are important to him, and as we did it to them, we did it to Jesus.
Above all else we Christians need to be praying about this and seeking God’s guidance.  And listen to his Word when he speaks.
Again, this is difficult for us because it is hard, if not impossible, to separate our politics from our faith. 
One final question:  How can we, as Christians, bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this situation?  That question alone, will say much about whether we can claim to be a Christian nation and part of the Kingdom of God.

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