Sunday, February 19, 2017


You shall love your neighbor as yourself, because I am the Lord.

A long time ago, oh, four or five thousand years ago, the Lord God Almighty looked out over creation to see how it was going.  Frankly, the Lord was disturbed by the view.  All over the world, people worshipped strange gods.  There was a god who liked war.  There was a goddess who helped people succeed in business.  There was a god who specialized in politicians, telling them that, whatever they wanted to do, their god was behind them 100%.

In fact, for whatever interest or desire anybody ever had, there was a god who supported that interest or supplied that desire: power, prestige, control of neighboring nations, wealth, good sex life, even obedient children!

And in the midst of them all, the Almighty could not find – himself.

Now the Almighty did find a few people who, given proper encouragement, might turn from the worship of their own desires to the true God.  But how were they to find out that Someone other than themselves even existed?

Well, God is pretty smart, and soon fixed on a plan.  Advertising.  If you want people to buy your product, tell them about it.  Make it stand out from the crowd.  So the Lord searched the universe again, this time for an advertising agency.

The agency the Lord chose was rather small, no other big clients.  In fact, it didn’t even have a name.  That suited the Lord’s purpose.  God wanted to be this agency’s exclusive account.  So the agency took the name that the Lord gave it.  That name was Israel.

They sat down for their first conference at Mount Sinai, to lay out the campaign.  You will find the fundamental message in today’s reading.  Torah is the first five books of the Bible.  Torah means God’s Word, or God’s Will.  Leviticus is the central book of the Torah.  The Holiness Code is the core of Leviticus.  And here is the very heart of the Holiness Code, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself, because I am the Lord.

Just an aside here – it’s astounding how much we hear about and how little we know about Leviticus.  You think the New Testament supersedes it?  Actually, the New Testament quotes it, often.  Jesus quotes it, This is what you need to know about the Law, today’s memory verse.

Okay, back to the conference.  God said to Israel, In my experience, one picture is worth a thousand words.  So before you write any copy for me, I want to show the world what I am like in a picture.  You, my children, are to be that picture.  You are to act out the God you represent.

The Lord said, You become what you worship.  Of all the gods out there, all the things that people worship, I am different.  I stand out from the crowd.  So I want you to stand out from the crowd.

That’s what the word holy means, something you don’t see every day.  It makes you sit up and take notice.  Holy.  So God’s people were to be the kind of people who attract attention.  They were to be holy.

Well now, what is it about the Lord that stands out in the marketplace of all the things people worship?  The Lord is powerful; other gods claim power.  The Lord creates; there are stories about how the other gods made the world.  The Lord makes the rain to fall and the grass to grow; but there is that golden calf outside the Stock Market Exchange Building in New York City, promising economic success, to this very day.  What makes this God different from the Golden Calf?

I’ll jump ahead in the story to a later time when the agency did write some copy, so I can quote a jingle, Psalm 145.  Verse 9 says, The Lord is loving to everyone.  (See, Jesus knew his Bible, didn’t he: Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.)  The Lord is loving to everyone, and his compassion is over all his works.

Of all the things the Almighty does, the one the Almighty thinks is most important is compassion.

Compassion, to feel with, to take another’s passion or concern and to identify with that person.  Compassion means to forget oneself long enough feel another’s concern.  All the other gods are about our own passions.  The Lord God Almighty is known for caring about others.  And the Lord’s representatives are to be known for the same thing.

Now God is not interested in a bunch of nice feelings.  Like in the Epistle of James, You can tell a homeless person, Be warm, but what good is that?  So the contract got specific about this compassion.

When you harvest your fields, do not cut the grain at the edges, and do not go back for the grain that was left.  Same with your vineyards.  Leave the grain and the grapes you missed for the poor and for foreigners.  Because I am the Lord, your God.

Other gods required farmers to leave behind a portion of the harvest.  But that was to feed the gods, to make an offering for a good harvest next year.  In other words, to invest capital gains back into the development of the company.

But the Lord God Almighty told his children to forget their passion for gain.  He didn’t need their offerings.  Instead demonstrate his compassion, feel with the poor in their passion to eat.  Leave behind some of the profits for the poor.  And the foreigner.

It might be said that God’s system is inefficient.  Why not harvest as much as possible, maximize profits, and give charity to the poor?

But efficiency is not the greatest of God’s works; compassion is.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  Charity is the last resort, for when we have failed to build justice into the way we earn our livings.  If we truly feel with the poor, we will feel with them the need to be part of the system, to have a place at our table, not beneath it, picking up the crumbs.

Today we are pleased to provide shelter for the homeless.  That’s the charity step, and good for us for taking that step.  The next step toward justice might be to provide an address, so our guests can apply for jobs, and then showers, so they can keep those jobs, so they can participate in the system with honor and dignity.

That’s the kind of thing Israel was supposed to do to be holy, to stand out and make the world take notice that here was a people, and here is a God you don’t see every day.  A people and a God who forget self long enough to figure out how the other person feels.

The Lord and Israel signed a contract, an exclusive contract.  You will be my ad agency, and I will be your account.  And you will draw to me the nations of the world.

After a couple thousand years, the Lord decided to review the account.  The results weren’t quite what God hoped.  Israel did stand out, in some good ways.  The mightiest conquerors of the world just gave up trying to get them to work on the Sabbath.  Their God is about workers’ rights!  But the compassion thing got lost in that exclusive account thing.  And the drawing all people thing never happened.

So the Lord came down for another conference, to do some product demonstration of his own.
God’s love is for everybody.  His compassion is over all his works.  Those are not cheap words.  You know that person you despise, that unnamed despicable one?  God loves him, too.  Pray for him.  Pray for him by name.  Pray for him every day.  You don’t have to pray for his success.  Pray for his healing.  Pray for his soul.

If you love the loveable, well that’s fine.  But, doesn’t everybody?  Stand out!  Be perfect, (remember, be holy) because your heavenly Father is holy.

All the way to the cross.  His last prayer, Father, forgive them.

The night before he died, Jesus formed a subsidiary of Israel.  He took a few good people, and then they recruited a whole lot of new people, to take up the task of showing the world that we are his disciples, because we love as he loves.

I’m not telling you it’s easy.  I’m not telling you it’s nice or comfortable or pretty to follow Jesus.  You want nice, comfortable, pretty, there are other sweet-smelling gods out there for you.

You come here, you got a job to do.

Be the light for this dark world to see.  Be the salt that makes a difference.  Go out there and be the people of God, the God whose compassion is over all his works.  Amen.

Moses at Mount Sinai by Meister der Bible des Patrice Leon, 10th c., public domain
Photo of Wall Street bull, Carol M. Highsmith, public domain
The Good Samaritan, Aime Nicholas Morot, 1880, public domain
Alouite women and children gleaning, whiting and Matson, 1938, public domain

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Batshit Crazy Christmas 2016

Isaiah 9:2-7 

Here’s my hand.  Take it or chop it off.

I’ll get back to that.

Salvation – that’s our business here in this place, isn’t it?  How do we do it?  We tell stories.  No, really, Sunday after Sunday, and tonight especially, that’s what we do.  We become the stories we hear.  We become the stories we tell.  So let’s start with a story about salvation.

It was the mid 1960s, south side of Chicago.  There’s this neighborhood called Pilsen, south of the viaduct.  It had been a port of entry for Polish and Bohemian immigrants at the turn of the century.  Now it was a port of entry for Puerto Ricans and Mexicans.  That’s when the real estate people figured out the power of fear.  They figured out how to cash in on fear of immigrants.

So the real estate people told the Polish people, children of immigrants themselves, that with this change of ethnicity in the neighborhood, their property values would go down.  What they had to do was sell out of Pilsen, where Mexicans were moving in, and buy new houses in a new suburb called Cicero.  And gosh, the real estate people made a killing on urban flight.  For each frightened Polish family, the realtors earned, not one but two commissions, one on the sale in Pilsen and another on the purchase in Cicero.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Winter is Coming/We Don't Have to Win

Joel 2:23-32
Psalm 122
2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Troubled times, troubled people.

I have a confession to make.  I have never developed any enthusiasm for my presumed role as the Advent police.  Honestly, I don't care whether you put up your Christmas tree this weekend, or if you are humming along with the musak at Ray's.

I think it was my early exposure to the movie Mame.  See, I grew up poor, the sometimes-hungry kind of poor.  And that one year in the depths of the Great Depression, when Mame couldn't pay her staff, when the butcher cut off her credit and she couldn't buy groceries, when she declared, We need a little Christmas now! and they opened their presents early, I knew at a youngster's existential level exactly what that was about.

The heart needs what the heart needs.  And God knows, we need a little Christmas now.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mental Illness in the Bible

When I Googled mental illness in the bible, I was, frankly, appalled by what came to the top of the page. So I hope this banal title will make a better message easier to find. If you share this post, you can do that service. Now to the sermon:

1 Kings 19:1-15
Psalms 42&43
Luke 8:26-39

I don't often preach about mental illness. I'm not sure I have ever heard more than a mention of it by any other preacher. But today the lectionary asks us to tell stories that are not told.

Because we are no strangers to mental illness,and neither is the Bible. There's Saul, his bipolar episodes and his suicide. There's Job and Jeremiah, hardcore depressives. There's neurotic Paul himself, though that diagnosis has gone out of fashion. And Ezekiel, well, you'll have to read him and decide for yourselves.

Two people in today's lessons -- we'll start with Elijah.

Monday, June 22, 2015

White Privilege

We have been working on this big project at St. Andrew's, to generate your next generation of leadership. Last week we churned out some newsprint about that. I intended this week to bring those of you who missed it up to speed and continue.

But then. Wednesday. Nine people died at Emmanuel African American Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. They included a high school track coach, a state senator, a librarian, a barber who had just graduated from college, a clergy spouse, the janitor, a counselor, a pastor, an 87-year-old member of the Eastern Star, whose nephew dived in front of her and asked the young man with the gun to shoot him instead. But he shot them all, except for two others who pretended to be dead, and survived.

They had gathered for prayer and bible study, when a young man wearing the flag of Rhodesia on his sweater, that sorry leftover of the world's nightmare, apartheid, entered the church. The flag of Rhodesia notwithstanding, they welcomed him. Because that is what Christians do. We reach across the barrier.

We are here for one thing. We have one job on this planet, reconciliation, the healing of the breach that sin creates among ourselves and consequently, between us and the God who will do anything to reclaim his children from our madness.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Good News for You

Small churches can do things in liturgy that large churches cannot.  At Saint Andrew's, every member is a minister.  So the congregation itself preached the Easter sermon.

And they said nothing to anyone.  For they were afraid. (Mark 16:8)


Well, they must have got over it.  'Cuz here we are.

They must have told someone, who told someone, who told someone, who told...

Sister Marilyn.  Who told me that God loves me.  And she gave me a pair of shoes, because mine were worn out.

Monday, March 16, 2015

25 Words or Less -- 4 Lent 2015

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3,17-22
Epshesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Anybody here watch football? Do you remember, 15-20 years ago on NFL games, there used to be a guy at every televised game who had a seat in the front row in the end zone.

Now, for those of you who are not fans, that means you would see that person whenever one of the teams was close to scoring. Because the camera would show the end zone in the shot, where they were headed for a touchdown or a field goal.

Of course, you wouldn't be looking at the people in the stands, you'd be looking at the teams. Except you couldn't miss this one fan, who had a sign, a big sign. The sign said, John 3:16. You'd see that sign, I don't know, at least fifteen times a game.

Do you know that verse? Can you say it by heart? I didn't grow up memorizing bible verses. But I have that one down. Say it with me.

Now, those were expensive seats. And I heard it was just one guy who went to all those games, all over the country, to hold up that sign. Some people thought he was pushy, embarrassing even, that he put the gospel in our faces, when we just wanted to watch a football game.

Lately, we don't see that verse in public places. The only verse I see put in my face these days is on Facebook.

Those who are ashamed of me and my words, of them
the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in this glory.

If one of your Facebook friends posts that, then you are supposed to prove you are a Christian  by sharing the same shaming statement for all your other Facebook friends to see and be ashamed into sharing it themselves. Or go to hell, I suppose.