Speaking Words of Life to Hatred and Death (Lectionary 10, Year C)

Lectionary 10 (2nd Sunday after Pentecost)
1 Kings 17:17–24, Galatians 1:11-24, Luke 7:11-17
June 6, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

On Wednesday I came home to a most unsettling flier left in my door –
    an anti-immigrant rant from a group called “White Workers Emergency Action.”
    The flier listed an address, the same address used by a neo-Nazi group
    whose website reveres Adolf Hitler, extols the virtues of the Aryan race,
        and belittles Jews, immigrants, and African-Americans.
I was sick to my stomach, mad as hell, and incredibly saddened.

Lots of things happen “inside the Beltway”
    – things that are wonderful, odd, regrettable, memorable –
    but neo-Nazis, here in Arlington, in 2010?
We’re a community that takes pride in its cultural diversity.
I go grocery shopping at Shoppers in Seven Corners
    in part because I get to hear about five different languages every time I go …
The names in my daughter’s first grade classroom are amazingly diverse and,
    to my western, Anglo ears, quite unique.
We’re not without our problems, for sure, and it hasn’t always been this way –
    the American Nazi Party was founded and located here in Arlington for years –
    but here today in Arlington County we generally celebrate diversity
    and revel in the microcosm of the world that we have here.
As such, it can be easy to dismiss propaganda of the sort that was left in my door,
    to write it off as “garbage” and the people who distribute it as “nut-jobs”
        – as I did very vocally on Wednesday night in the privacy of my home –
    but all we achieve in that exercise is name-calling, and nothing else.

This is not how I imagined that I would start today’s sermon.
I was excited to preach today’s service,
    the first in a long green-colored season of ordinary time that will stretch into November,
    a service which includes a Gospel reading that tells a story
        reverberating with the promise of the resurrection.
I was excited to stand here today,
    after the whirlwind of church seasons that we’ve experienced over the past six months,
I was excited to stand here and settle into this new “ordinary” season with an echo of Easter –
    a story of Jesus commanding life from death.
And yes, indeed, I’m still excited to be here – I love my job, after all – but …
    but that flier, that stinkin’ racist flier left in my door
    has really made me feel violated –
        my home, my neighborhood, our community
        infected with such deadly hate and vitriol.
This flier, and its hateful message, is nothing but a wretched manifestation of sin and death.
And we want nothing to do with it, but to call it names, crumple it up, and get rid of it.

And yet, I wonder if Jesus’ response might be something different.
Oh, I have no doubt that Jesus rejects this ideology of hatred.
But I wonder if, in the face of this death,
    Jesus might reach out his hand with a touch of life,
    and speak with his mouth a word of life.
I wonder if he might reach out and grab this flier,
    reach out and touch those who disseminate such hate,
    and renew them in faith, hope, and love.
I wonder if he might command that which is dead in the Nazi-sympathizers
    to rise to new life.
That is, I wonder if he might do to an ideology of hatred and death
    what he does in today’s Gospel reading to the widow’s dead son –
    command that life come out from death.
That’s what Jesus does – he brings to life that which is dead.

Indeed, before we ever knew Jesus of Nazareth,
    God his Father revealed himself to be a God standing on the side of life.
The LORD claimed as his own and gave life to the people Israel,
    saving them time and again from their own waywardness
        and rescuing them from the attacks of their enemies.
Whether on a grand scale – such as the escape from slavery in Egypt –
    or on a much more individual scale
    – such the new life given to the widow’s son at Zarepheth in today’s first reading –
    this God witnessed to us through the words of the Old Testament
        is a God of life and promise,
        a God constantly showing mercy to his chosen people,
            a God whose work sets the stage for the saving and death-denying
            work of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
And in our second reading today we hear a feisty St Paul
    arguing his credentials to the church in Galatia,
    a church that he had founded.
However, since his last visit, another group had come to Galatia and discredited him,
    and preached a different kind of message.
In his words of self defense and claims to apostolic authority that we read today,
    Paul testifies to the God who transformed him from being a committed
        prosecutor of Christians, one who even oversaw their execution,
    to a vocal preacher of the Good News,
        a transformation that takes someone from being an agent of death
        to a proclaimer of life.
From death to life.

Next Thursday, June 17, I’m attending a benefit breakfast to learn more about
    Offender Aid and Restoration,
    a wonderful organization serving incarcerated individuals and ex-offenders
        in Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church and Washington, DC since 1973.
Offender Aid and Restoration, or OAR as it is often referred to,
    provides life learning and career training to people in jail,
    support services to those re-entering the community after completion of a sentence,
        and community service programs for those sentenced without jail time.
If being incarcerated represents a sort of death –
    a death of hope and dreams, death of relationships, death of opportunity,
        a moral, personal, emotional death –
    OAR seeks to speak words of life,
        to provide a transforming touch to lives that so desperately need it.
If you want to join me for this breakfast, please speak with me after the service.
Indeed, through the work of OAR, not only are individuals filled with the promise of a new life,
    but whole families and communities are transformed
        by the transformation and restoration of one person.

Which gets us back to today’s Gospel story. 
In response to Jesus’ miraculous touch and words –
    actions that brought life back to a lifeless young man –
    the whole crowd glorified God, saying “God has looked favorably on his people!”
Do you hear that faithful response?
The work of God in one person, a death-to-life experience for just one individual,
    becomes a blessing for all God’s people.
Jesus enters the place of death,
    Jesus holds death’s hand,
    and Jesus speaks words of life,
ansforming death to life in one person,
        and bringing hope and promise to all people.

I hope, expect, and pray that Jesus is currently somewhere holding the hand of death,
    of one who has died to the sin of hateful Nazi racism and prejudice,
    holding that hand and speaking words of life …
Jesus changes things, he makes things new, he takes the dead and gives them life.
Just as God the Father worked wonders of life time and again in the people Israel
    despite terrible odds,
Just as Paul was transformed from prosecutor to promoter of the living Word of Life,
Just as Jesus’ life-giving touch and words brought new life to the widow’s son,
so too can we expect the death that we see in hateful Nazi propaganda
    to succumb to the love and grace of God,
    to be overpowered by the gift of life which Jesus commands in the face of death.
For nothing shall overpower the love of God and new life we have in Christ Jesus.

So what do we say, what do we do when evil and death comes to our door?
With our Lord let us reach out in love, and let us speak words of life.
For we know that Jesus is holding death’s hand and speaking words of life this day …
    and with the crowd let us marvel at our Lord’s words and deeds,
    and say in faith, “God has looked favorably on his people!”

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

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