Sermon,  Sermons

Hit the Target: Lukan Discipleship

3rd Sunday After Pentecost

Romans 6:1b-11; Acts 1:6-8
Ginny Dietmeier

sermon video

Jesus challenges the disciples in Acts to start in Jerusalem with the people they know, then move in concentric circles out to the people they know somewhat in Judea and Samaria before making their way out to the people they don’t know yet at the ends of the earth. In Luke and Acts, people tend to go out in pairs, and tend to share Jesus in homes around common tables. Emphasize how Lukan disciples grow through deep relationships where they can love God by loving neighbor. Michelle J. Morris

A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”

 Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”

 He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

 But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29, CEB translation)

Luke records at the start of the book of Acts:

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

“Be my witnesses…” To what do we witness? What does it mean to witness to something or someone? To testify? We do so in someone’s defense in a court of law. We do so when we verify something is good, or works as it should, or supports what we think is true about someone or an ideology… with stars, thumbs up, hearts…

But when Jesus says, You will receive power, the Holy Spirit upon you, I don’t think all that fiery power is meant to be spent on clicking the “like” thumbs up icon on a Facebook post. I imagine it has something to do with the answer to the question, Who is my neighbor.

Jesus, who sees the criminal on the other side (according to Luke 23), is recognizable to him as Divine – is recognizable because Jesus is revealed to the man in his context. On a cross being executed, dying, and looks like him.

Theologian, Christena Cleveland, also recognizes Jesus – through Whom all things were made – and knows Jesus as Mother. Indeed, Jesus can be known best when seen in our own context – the Prophets make it clear that the Messiah will have “no beauty or majesty that we should be attracted… nothing of appearance that is remarkable…” (Is53). We cannot render a likeness of Jesus with any accuracy on purposeso that everyone will be able to recognize a savior, a messiah, god-with-us – so everyone will recognize Jesus as her own, as his own.

So, when Cleveland is teaching a class at a local prison where the mass incarceration of young black men is never more apparent, she knows Jesus is a Black Mother Who sees the “criminal” next to Her on the cross (Luke 23).   

“And as a victim of state-sanctioned violence Herself, surely She sees that this ‘criminal’ isn’t a criminal at all. He’s a beautiful black boy whose joy has been extinguished by all of the forces of his anti-black society.”  

Christena Cleveland, Christ Our Black Mother Speaks, 2019, 18.

“She is inviting him into Her paradise [verse 43], She is restoring his identity, even as he is insisting upon his shame.” … “She is healing his shame through community” (the fellowship of encompassing Trinity, into Christ the Mother) – “into Whom we never leave, from Whom we are endlessly born (Julian of Norwich).”

To the beautiful black boy that is caught up in the cycle of mass incarceration of young black men, Jesus is a Black Mother who sees him, and She speaks: you are already with me in Paradise.

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth! You have received the Spirit of the Living God! You have this power, and you are witness to Jesus’ love for you – which is for everyone. Jesus’ last words in each of the gospels are a little different, but, so far, they all are commands to go! And to disciple.

It is not for you to know the times. God keeps track of that. In fact, time’s not a thing to God. – But you go now.

 Bishop Sally Dyck recently said,

“In New Testament Greek, the word ‘trouble’ means unsettled, thrown into confusion, very upset and startled, but also wanting to ‘cry aloud, to scream.” Part of the Jewish tradition is to lament what we have lost or regret or mourn. As United Methodists, we’re not always great lamenters. We’re more likely to complain than lament! What we miss when we complain is the practice of prayer that cries for God’s help in our distress, asking God for relief. 

Practice lament (instead of complaining); it’s a spiritual practice for our time. Call upon God’s name and pour out your grief. Cry out your sin of racism. Weep the tears of loss and grief for all that has not been because of COVID-19.”

 Bishop Sally Dyck (italics, mine)

It is not for you to know the times, but you have received power, the Holy Spirit. And we are troubled, unsettled, confused, and most of us find many times we want to scream. But, instead, we complain. We blame. And we quench the Spirit, we choke off the Breath of the Spirit of the Living God! And it’s caught in our throats.

Jesus is all That I Need – How do we share the Gospel, the Good News to a world, a country, that so desperately needs to know, to recognize Jesus? How are we to go to the ends of the earth while we social distance and wear masks? How do we support and encourage – and lament! – and not complain? We can’t meet together in our church building as we used to right now. But we have eternity – we have all eternity! to gather around banqueting tables and commune and sing together.

Of course, we will meet together again in our church building. It is just not as soon as we would like. Still, we can be intentional now about our calling, discipleship, going out in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We die with Christ, but we also live with Christ. If you are alive, do you really live? Whoever has died is free from sin. Julian of Norwich also understood that sin is not a thing:

“it has no manner of essence nor portion of being, nor can it be known except by the pain that is caused by it. And this pain, it is something for a time, as I see it, because it purges and forces us to know ourselves and ask for mercy. But the Passion of our Lord is comfort for us against all this, and so is His blessed will.”

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, p65.

We know sin by its effects. That is, we are able to see or detect sin by the evil, the pain and suffering that is produced by it – always out of broken relationships: with God, with each other – with our black and brown brothers and sisters, with all creation.

And we also live with Christ. We know the effects of sin through the injustices done, the pain of entire people groups who suffer systemic injustice. And, we have received the power of the Spirit to help makes these things right.

Can you envision Christ as our Black Mother? Can you see Jesus’ gaze fall on our brothers and sisters, Christ our Black Mother Who may wonder why many of their white sisters and brothers say nothing, do nothing to be righteousness in their world.

In the email I sent yesterday, I included links and resources put out by the Upper Room. I will include those again in today’s sermon post. But we do this together. And one way we can suss out, is to discover our unique Discipleship pathway as it relates to our time, our situation in the kin-dom on earth, now. Join us afterward in the zoom coffee hour following the service. Gather together a few in a group chat, or in a backyard. Make a plan. Hit the target.

Be a witness of Jesus our Black Mother, Jesus’ great Love – to the ends of the earth.

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Many Thanks, in Advance!