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6/30/24 Sermon

View today's sermon on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJelrM3PWLE.


Psalm 144:3-4, 12-15 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

Of David.

O Lord, what are humans that you regard them, or mortals that you think of them?They are like a breath; their days are like a passing shadow.

12 May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars, cut for the building of a palace. 13 May our barns be filled with produce of every kind;may our sheep increase by thousands, by tens of thousands in our fields, 14 and may our cattle  be heavy with young. May there be no breach in the walls, no exile, and no cry of distress in our streets. 15 Happy are the people to whom such blessings fall; happy are the people whose God is the Lord.


1 Peter 2:4-10 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious,and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”


This honor, then, is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.


But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 


10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people;once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Contemporary Reading – First Amendment to The United States Constitution


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


Some weeks are easier than others when attempting to find the intersection between our current events and our ancient texts. 


This week Oklahoma’s state superintendent Ryan Walters declared that the Bible is a “necessary historical document” and will be taught in the public school system. 


Last week, Louisiana governor Jeff Landry signed into law a mandate that all public schools display the Ten Commandments in each classroom. 


How is it that these two men believe that their personal religious convictions are appropriate to enforce as law for everyone under their domain?


Before I continue, with a show of hands, how many were uncomfortable hearing the first amendment to our constitution read alongside our scriptures this morning? 


With a show of hands, how many are uncomfortable at town meetings that are opened with a prayer? 


Does it matter to you if the one offering the prayer is of your faith background – or uses terminologies that you favor, or names and pronouns that make you cringe? 


If this makes you uncomfortable or offends you, I invite you to wonder about the origin of your feelings – and I invite you to wonder how these mandates are being received and what feelings are being generated in their states and across the country by those directly impacted.  


These are worthwhile questions that we must consider for ourselves, and more importantly consider for those who are impacted as minorities within their own communities and their own country. 


Let’s look at our scriptures for this week. Do they help or hurt the cause of these two men? Do they help or hurt the image of Christianity?


In the verses that we read from Psalm 144 the psalmist is recognizing their own insignificance and their own impermanence in the grand scheme of things and prays to be seen and prays to be upheld by God. The psalmist prays for goodness and mercy; for abundance and blessings. This seems beautiful. There is nothing wrong with praying in this way, right? Unless this prayer is a requirement and not a freedom. Unless this prayer is the only acknowledged or accepted way to pray in a given town or state in our nation. 


1 Peter’s overarching message is to love one another, consistent with the theme of the gospels, consistent with the message that Jesus preached. How can we argue with that? 

I would argue that historically this message of love has not always been a clean, clear, consistent message. 


We must ask ourselves, how do the interpretation of our scriptures provide support for or against government laws and  policies? We must ask ourselves, are our Judeo-Christian scriptures being manipulated by our government of mostly white, wealthy, males to privilege white, wealthy, males? 


In 1 Peter, as elsewhere in our Bible we are called God’s chosen people. This language sets up inherent dangers. We are not the only people of God. It is important to realize that all people are God’s chosen people. It is equally important to realize that not all people choose God, or if they do, they may choose different ways of expressing their beliefs. 


At its best this 1st letter of Peter is encouraging the community to serve the greater good. At its worst it can be twisted to create and sustain power injustices, such as between slaves and their masters, between wives and their husbands, between any that are power-full and any that are power-less.  


It is not right for only powerful majorities to be seen and upheld. We need to see and care for the minorities among us. If we are going to use the Bible to influence our environment it must be used not to justify continuing these imbalances of power but to stop the injustice of discrimination based on religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual expression or any other bias.

It seems very clear that the Bible can be a dangerous weapon if scriptures are utilized as ammunition to keep one class of people subservient to another, or to set up one class of people as superior to another, or as superior to all others.  


A balance of church and state in our lives can only be achieved and would only be acceptable, if freedoms were not infringed.  


It is completely acceptable for individuals to be guided by tenets of their religion. It is not at all acceptable for individual A to insist that individuals B, C, or D or individuals L,G,B,T,Q, or I be guided and governed by individual A’s religious beliefs.


American democracy is not dependent on Christianity. American democracy is reliant on truth and justice and love and compassion. There is only a place for the Bible in our public schools if Christianity and Judaism are taught alongside other world religions using their holy books, and taught without bias. There is only a place for the Bible in our schools if it is taught historically and honestly, acknowledging the harms caused in our past that continue into our present day, in an effort to put an end to the harms in our current systems. 


A common theme of our two scriptures today is the metaphor of cornerstones. The Psalmist prays for the women of their community to be the strong corner pillars of their families. The author of the First Letter of Peter compares Jesus to a cornerstone that was rejected by the builders but selected by God. 


When we come together as God’s chosen people we are stronger than when we are apart. 

The rock on whom our church was built is Jesus. And after Jesus it was Peter. And after Peter it was a succession of people leading up to us. We are to be like them. Unlikely candidates perhaps, but God sees our strengths and uses us as needed. We all have a place in the choir. More importantly, if not us, it may be someone representing Christianity in ways that are harmful and hurtful and unjust. Our voices must be heard. 


And of course, when we come together as God’s chosen people we may not be of the tradition of Jesus. We may be of the tradition of Buddha or Muhammed or any other of the ones who came to show us the way of love. 


Part of Psalm 44 is a prayer to be lifted up and out of distress. We pray for best case scenarios… healthy children that will create more healthy children… abundant food through crops and livestock… safety and security from our foes and from one another… Do we pray this and expect God to magically answer our prayers? Or do we pray this and take an active role with God in seeing that these prayers are answered?


Be a cornerstone. Be a building block of love. Be an answer to someone’s prayers. 


Amen

Rev. TJ Mack – June 30, 2024





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