D ATE OF S ERMON : 1-16-05 P AGE 1 OF 4 G OSPEL : J OHN 1:29-42 E PIPHANY 2A ALL SAINTS CHURCH P ASADENA , C ALIFORNIA PRESIDENT BUSH AND DR. KING SPEND THE DAY WITH JESUS A sermon preached by the Rev. J.
Edwin Bacon, Jr. January 16, 2005 Not too long ago I was at the Huntington Library and Museum where I saw two or three of the exhibitions and then dropped into the bookstore before leaving. Browsing around I was attracted to some refrigerator magnets.
One of them was a quotation from Christopher Isherwood (there was an exhibit about him in the library). It said, cWhat we leave behind us is, in fact, not our opinions but our examples. d It reminded me of a familiar quotation from Cornel West who says, cPeople want to see a sermon, not hear one. d All of us want an example of what it 9s like to live the joyful life, the moral life, and the abundant life. When I saw that refrigerator magnet I thought of this morning 9s gospel lesson.
It is my favorite of all of the ccall d lessons or ccall d narratives in which Jesus calls ... more. less.
and gathers his disciples. In this particular one (John 1:29-41) the disciples of John the Baptist leave him to follow Jesus. In a remarkable act of non-possessiveness, John invites his disciples to leave him and to start following Jesus.<br><br> John has said twice in their hearing when Jesus passed by, cBehold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. d So they leave John the Baptist to go and follow Jesus. Jesus, intuiting that he is being followed, turns around and asks the two guys what they want. And they say that they want to go and see where he lives 4 cWe want to go home with you where you stay d.<br><br> So Jesus invites them along 4it is about 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon. Ultimately what these folks wanted was not to admire Jesus for being an eloquent speaker but they wanted to see his sermons, not hear them.<br><br> They wanted an example for how to live their life. I 9ve been imagining in my imperfect imagination what it would be like if these two people who went home with Jesus that afternoon were Martin Luther King and George Bush. What would it be like for these two men to go home and stay the rest of the day with Jesus at his house?<br><br> I have imagined that this takes place on Friday afternoon and it 9s nearing the time for Sabbath supper. Jesus takes these two with him to Jesus 9 Sabbath supper. They stop by the Capernaum supermarket at the end of the day to get the last foodstuff they need for supper that night.<br><br> They gather in the home where Jesus was staying. All sorts of people come to the table. And true to Jewish tradition, when the sun sets the candles are lit.<br><br> As soon as the wicks of the candles catch the flame it is a signal that work is over for twenty-four hours. This is a very important discipline because there is always more work to do but it is very important one-seventh of our time to say, cEnough for now. d It is time to be not do . It is time to rest.<br><br> It is time to be in fellowship with one another. It is time to laugh with others 9 laughter and it is time to have a lump in the throat and to tear up if someone else D ATE OF S ERMON : 1-16-05 P AGE 2 OF 4 G OSPEL : J OHN 1:29-42 E PIPHANY 2A at the table is sad. It certainly is the interruption of any sense of a person being seen in terms of his or her usefulness.<br><br> For during these twenty-four hours there is no commodification of people. Especially this is the case at the table where everyone has a place and every place is equally respected. And so the host, Jesus greets everyone with a kiss and an embrace and a greeting of cShabbat, Shalom. d This is a time of peace 4peace between adversaries and peace within one 9s own heart.<br><br> It is time to experience that peace that passes all understanding. No special seating. I imagine that everybody is seated in a circle.<br><br> I 9ve been to this house which was Jesus 9 headquarters in Capernaum. It is a small dwelling across the street from the synagogue. In the center of the house is a circular room where I imagined where one day the friends of the paralytic dug through the roof and let him down when they couldn 9t get in the front door.<br><br> And I imagined that it is in this circular central room where this Sabbath supper with our brother George and our brother Martin takes place there. In the circle are the wealthy, those who are wearing silk and pearls; the poor, those whose clothes are in tatters. Prostitutes, tax collectors, smelly shepherds and other sinners; parents who lost their children in disasters and also parents who were still grieving the loss of their children when King Herod killed the innocents when Jesus was a baby.<br><br> This last group comes to enjoy being around Jesus because he reminds them of how old their children would be if the empire had not killed them 30 years earlier. In this circle sit our brothers Bush and King. I envision brother George sitting between two Arabs, and I envision brother Martin sitting between two ccrackers d 4one is Bull Connor from Birmingham and the other is Lester Maddox from Atlanta (you understand, this is all in my imperfect imagination).<br><br> An important part of the prayers and the lighting of candles and the good food at a Sabbath meal in an observant Jewish home is the blessing of children. The host takes each child 9s head in his/her hands and prays over the child, thanks God for the uniqueness of this child and then kisses the child. I have imagined that Jesus seeks out brother Martin and brother George and holds each head in his hands and prays a loving prayer thanking God for all their blessings and then kisses each one.<br><br> Then they, along with everyone else in the circle, begin to feel totally and unconditionally accepted and loved 3 just as they are 3 so they don 9t have to put on any airs or attitudes. This frees them to simply be with other people and to examine their lives in the context of being unconditionally loved. I imagine that as the food is being passed around and the wine is being poured a conversation develops and one of the questions in the conversation is, cJesus, what is this Lamb of God business?<br><br> John the Baptist 4every time he sees you 4calls you the Lamb of God. What is that? d And Jesus says, cMy friends, every thing in life is measured in terms of whether it helps somebody, whether it heals somebody. You see, God and religion and spirituality are not about dominating somebody but about healing somebody.<br><br> If an action results in someone being dominated then it is not God 9s spirit that energized that action. But if an action results in someone being healed or someone being made whole or someone being reconciled with their neighbor or family member or colleague or even their enemy, then that action was inspired by God. So if all of my energy, d Jesus says, ccan be used in absorbing and taking away that which separates people from themselves, from one another, from the creation, and from God, then I do that. d D ATE OF S ERMON : 1-16-05 P AGE 3 OF 4 G OSPEL : J OHN 1:29-42 E PIPHANY 2A I imagine that Jesus continues with these words, cDon 9t get hung up on the word sin 4it 9s just a religious word for separation and alienation.<br><br> So that is why in trying to remove all the separation of the world, that is why retaliation is never an option. An eye-for- an-eye attitude can never be a reason for any behavior. It always accentuates that initial ouch .<br><br> An eye-for-an-eye attitude always accentuates that initial violation and sets in motion an un-ending cycle of violence. But only love that has the power to forgive and love, that has the power to help someone can interrupt that cycle of violence. d And now I imagine that Jesus turns to our brother George Bush and says, cThat is why wars must cease, that is why occupations must cease, that is why torture must cease, and that is why the death penalty must cease. d Then someone rises from the table and excuses himself and says, cI 9m sorry but I 9m missing my neighbor, Joe. On the way to the Sabbath supper I saw him trying to get his ox out of the ditch so I have got to go and help him do that. d So he leaves and somebody else, a rather self-righteous person (there is always a self-righteous person at the table) complains that would be a breach of the Sabbath rest for him to go and work to try and get the ox out of the ditch.<br><br> And Jesus reminds people of the central principle of life. Religion is made for people, not people for religion. The Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath.<br><br> Unless religion is used to help people it is not being used according to God 9s spirit. People in life are the most important thing in life 4helping people. If a religion in its practice isn 9t about reducing injustice in the world, loneliness in the world, depression, stagnation, and alienation and violence in the world, then God is not in it and it 9s repugnant to God.<br><br> Then he remembers Isaiah 9s words and Amos 9 words that no matter how beautiful your worship is, if it doesn 9t send you out into the world to make life better for somebody then your worship has not been worship and it is repugnant to God. cIf you and I are to be used to take away the separation or sin from the world d Jesus says, cwe will have to be ready to extend ourselves outside our comfort zones and to take some risks. Even running the risks that our friends and family won 9t treat us like they used to.<br><br> But this life that I am holding up is a life whose burden is really easy and light. d Everyone had become totally at ease at the Sabbath meal which I imagine Jesus was able to accomplish at every Sabbath meal, I imagine Jesus turning to Martin Luther King to say a few words of appreciation. He continues on the theme of helping somebody 4 particularly helping somebody by going out of your way to stand with them in their plight. I imagine Jesus thanking Martin Luther King for arguably one of the toughest stands Dr.<br><br> King ever took. In 1967 against the advice of many of his advisers who told him he ought to stick with the issues of civil rights, King stood in the pulpit at Riverside Church in New York City and made a profound connection between civil rights, human rights and the war in Vietnam. Dr.<br><br> King related the bombs of napalm going off in Vietnamese villages to the bombs of poverty going off in American neighborhoods. In my imperfect imagination, I imagine Jesus appreciating Dr. King 9s insistence that there is never a disconnect between what we do in foreign policy with what we do in domestic policy.<br><br> The over-arching issue again is whether we are helping somebody. And then he quotes from memory Dr. King 9s sermon, cThis business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation 9s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous D ATE OF S ERMON : 1-16-05 P AGE 4 OF 4 G OSPEL : J OHN 1:29-42 E PIPHANY 2A drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men and women home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged.<br><br> All of this cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. In the final analysis our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional.<br><br> Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to human kind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. d And then he concludes appreciating Dr. King by remembering that Dr. King had said, cThis calls for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one 9s tribe, race, class and nation, is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all people.<br><br> This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept so readily dismissed as a weak and cowardly force 4love has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of humanity. Dr. King concluded, cWhen I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response, I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life.<br><br> Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. d cSaint John said, 8Let us love one another for love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The person who loves not knows not God, for God is love. 9 If we love one another God dwells in us, and God 9s love is perfected in us. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. d Finally, I imagine that Jesus says some things about prayer and action before he asks them all to pray together and go out into the world to act prayerfully.<br><br> I imagine him saying ultimately that prayer is not our asking God to do our bidding. Ultimately prayer is about transforming us to do God 9s bidding. Jesus says, cI 9m not nearly as interested in getting people to heaven as I am interested in getting heaven to people.<br><br> Getting heaven to people is about ending bigotry, ending economic injustice, and ending militarism. Then Jesus looks at our brother George Bush. cThis week you 9ve closed down the search for weapons of mass destruction, d I imagine Jesus saying.<br><br> cFinally you 9ve admitted that there were no weapons of mass destruction. d God 9s world now has a consensus that the weapons-of- mass-destruction reason for making war against Iraq was false. We also see that Saddam Hussein, although barbaric in his treatment of other human beings, was not an imminent threat to the United States and thus there was no justification for a pre-emptive attack against Iraq. This was a war of choice built on immorality, built on injustice and built on lies and it is past time to end it.<br><br> So through my spirit that goes throughout the world, I call on people of good will to go into the streets if they have to, to persuade you to call for an end to the war and an end to the occupation in Iraq. What the world needs now is not to hear a sermon but to see one. The world wants an example and we need to be a community of peace.<br><br> Amen.