September 8, 2019

Welcome Back Sunday

2019 September 8 Order of Service


Qur’an 94, Expansion, al-Sharh
Did we not expand for thee thy breast, and lift from the thee thy burden that weighed heavily upon thy back? And did We not elevate thy renown? For truly with hardship comes ease! Truly with hardship comes ease! So when thou art free, exert thyself; and let thy desire be for thy Lord.

Rumi
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

Jeremiah 18:1-11
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

The Christian Gospel for Americans David Ray Griffin
In Germany in 1934, a year after the rise to power of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, the movement known as the Deutsche Christen — “German Christians” – was created. The German Christians believed the program of the National Socialists would bring Germany the greatness it deserved. So they supported the Nazis, even though the latter wanted to make the church subservient to the state….

But a number of pastors and theologians, led by Martin Niemoller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Karl Barth, among others, began a movement of Confessing Christians who said, in their famous Barmen Declaration of 1934, that the support for National Socialism violated basic principles of the Christian faith, thereby created a status confessionis (confessional situation), meaning a binding doctrinal stance on sociopolitical questions….

Later in the century, some Christian bodies decided that the system of apartheid in South Africa could not remain a matter of indifference. One such body was the Lutheran World Federation. “Under normal circumstances,” it declared in 1977, “Christians may have different opinions in political questions.” But the system of apartheid in South Africa, it declared, is “so perverted and oppressive” that this situation “constitutes a status confessionis.” The Christian faith required, therefore, that “churches would publicly and unequivocally reject the existing apartheid system.…”

It is now time for Christians in America—actually, long past time—to engage in an extensive examination of the nature of the American Empire to see if it is so “perverted and oppressive” that Christians, individually and as churches, should “publicly and unequivocally” reject it….

American political, economic, and military leaders have long been engaged, since at least the end of the Cold War, in a “global domination project,” similar to the Nazi project. Like the Germans, America has used its power toward bringing the whole world under its control. How could we fail to regard this American Empire’s domination project—like the Nazi project—as wholly antithetical to Christian faith?

Our Christian faith at its best would lead us, both as individual Christians and as churches, to oppose the American Empire in the name of God. As long as the church does not explicitly oppose this empire, it is, by its silence, a de facto supporter.


Luke 14:25-33
Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”


The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Through the call of Jesus men [and women] become individuals. Willy-nilly, they are compelled to decide, and that decision can only be made by themselves. It is no choice of their own that makes them individuals: it is Christ who makes them individuals by calling them. Every[one] is called separately, and must follow alone. But [people] are frightened of solitude, and they try to protect themselves from it by merging themselves in the society of their fellow[s] and in their material environment. They become suddenly aware of their responsibilities and duties, and are loath to part with them. But all this is only a cloak to protect them from having to make a decision. They are unwilling to stand alone before Jesus and to be compelled to decide with their eyes fixed on him alone. Yet neither father nor mother, neither [spouse] nor child, neither nationality nor tradition can protect [anyone] at the moment of [their] call. It is Christ’s will that [they] should be thus isolated, and that [they] should fix [their] eyes solely upon [Christ].


Sermon
Decision — John Shuck

I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, still I will follow.
No turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me.
No turning back, no turning back.

That song was imprinted on me when I was a child.
It isn’t in the Presbyterian hymnal.
But I grew up in an evangelical church.
Those roots are deep.
The hymn came to me as I was preparing the bulletin for Sunday.
This Sunday’s gospel lesson clearly demands that song
even as I couldn’t find it in any of the mainline hymnals
(Presbyterian, Methodist, UCC).
I found it in an African-American Heritage Hymnal.

Then I discovered the back story to this hymn.
This is from the website, Christian Classics Ethereal Library:

“I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” is sung to a traditional folk tune from India (ASSAM), and it is named after the northeastern Indian state once home to tribes known as “head-hunters” due to their custom of collecting heads and hanging them on their walls. In his book Why, God, Why?, Dr. P. Job reports that 150 years ago a Welsh missionary converted a man, his wife, and his children to Christianity. After the village chief demanded that the man renounce his faith, he spontaneously sang the now-famous words, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” Reportedly, the chief ordered his archers to kill the man’s two children, threatening to kill his wife as well; but the man sang, “Though no one joins me, still I will follow.” The archers shot his wife, but still the man refused to deny Christ, and he was executed while singing: “The cross before me, the world behind me.” Allegedly, the chief was so moved that he declared, “I too belong to Jesus Christ!” and the entire village converted.

Indian Christians still sing this hymn to proclaim their commitment to Christ. In America, it has been popularized by composer and hymn editor William Jensen Reynolds’ arrangement, which first appeared in the 1959 Assembly Songbook. This version was frequently used at Billy Graham’s crusade meetings.”

That is possibly where I first heard the hymn,
while watching the Billy Graham Crusade on television with my mother,
as well as singing it in church.
Roots are deep.

The hymn is dismissed by many (including Presbyterians) as “Decision Theology”
because its focus is human action as opposed to God’s action.
The theologians remind us that hymns are supposed to be about the acts of God
not the acts of humans.
I am no expert in the theology of hymns,
but I think that there does come a time when one must respond,
as an individual, to the call of God, one way or another.
Is that not worth a song?
Sometimes you have to sing about it so it becomes real.

The other night, I shouted “Labbayk Ya Hussain” (“Here I am, Hussain”)
in the Petersen Gallery while engaging in aza’.
What is aza’? This is from al-islam dot org:

With every tear that we shed for him (that is Imam Hussain) we pledge to resist the oppression of injustice, immorality, inequity and falsehood. Every time we raise our hand and bring it down on our chest in matam, we are saying: “Labbaik, Labbaik Ya Mawla!” to our Imam, Husayn Ibne ‘Ali, the grandson of the Holy Prophet (S).

For long the word aza’ al-Husayn has been exclusively used in connection with the remembrance ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Husayn. Aza’ al-Husayn includes mourning congregations, lamentations, matam and all such actions which express the emotions of grief, anger and, above all, repulsion against what Yazid stood for. These emotions, however, remain futile and hypocritical unless accompanied by a will to reform both at the individual level and the community level.

Christians wonder why young people are not in church.
How can we get young people in church?
Well many young people will be in this very church tonight and tomorrow night.
Many young men will be in the Petersen Gallery and
young women in rooms 6 and 8 at Southminster Presbyterian Church
mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his family.
Young and old women and men, both.
This is the month of Muharram and the 10th of Muharram,
that begins Monday evening, is called Ashura.
Ashura marks the anniversary of the tragedy of Karbala.
The grandson of the Prophet and his 72 companions were killed
on the plains of Karbala, Iraq 1400 years ago
by the corrupt Yazid and his army of 30,000.

These Muslims renting the space for their commemorations
invite me to join them to participate at whatever level I care to participate.
The same for any of you, of course.

What does this have to do with following Jesus?

Everything, at least as I see it.

It is Jesus I follow to Karbala.
Jesus showed me Hussain.
If I want to follow Jesus, I must follow Hussain.
Hussain shows me how to follow Jesus.

Of course, part of me does not want to follow Jesus or Hussain.
Part of me wants to ignore both of them.
They demand too much.
They demand all.

You think Dietrich Bonhoeffer wanted to follow Jesus? Bonhoeffer said:

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him, ‘Come and die.’”

Do you think Dietrich Bonhoeffer wanted to go and participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler? You think that was something he wanted to do as a career goal, to add to his resume?
Perhaps a pastor nominating committee would be impressed and wish to hire him
as he went up the ladder from one tall steeple church to the next.

Is that what he thought?
He wanted to impress people?
That is why he called out the Nazis?

Regardless of what Bonhoeffer wanted,
regardless of whatever turmoil he might have felt inside,
it didn’t matter.
He made his decision.
For it, consequences.
He was captured and hanged by the Gestapo.
According to the History Channel:

On this day (July 28th, 1945), Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged at Flossenburg, only days before the American liberation of the POW camp. The last words of the brilliant and courageous 39-year-old opponent of Nazism were

“This is the end–for me, the beginning of life.”

I will share the rest of the article about Bonhoeffer:

Two days after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, lecturer at Berlin University, took to the radio and denounced the Nazi Fuhrerprinzip, the leadership principle that was merely a synonym for dictatorship. Bonhoeffer’s broadcast was cut off before he could finish. Shortly thereafter, he moved to London to pastor a German congregation, while also giving support to the Confessing Church movement in Germany, a declaration by Lutheran and evangelical pastors and theologians that they would not have their churches co-opted by the Nazi government for propagandistic purposes. Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in 1935 to run a seminary for the Confessing Church; the government closed it in 1937. Bonhoeffer’s continued vocal objections to Nazi policies resulted in his losing his freedom to lecture or publish. He soon joined the German resistance movement, even the plot to assassinate Hitler. In April 1943, shortly after becoming engaged to be married, Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Gestapo. Evidence implicating him in the plot to overthrow the government came to light and he was court-martialed and sentenced to die. While in prison, he acted as a counselor and pastor to prisoners of all denominations. Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison was published posthumously. Among his celebrated works of theology are The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics.

It is Bonhoeffer from his book The Cost of Discipleship,
that provides the commentary for today’s reading from Luke’s gospel.
Christ makes you an individual when you are summoned and the choice is yours
no matter what obligations you have whether you will look upon Christ alone.
I have updated his statement with inclusive language. Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Through the call of Jesus men [and women] become individuals. Willy-nilly, they are compelled to decide, and that decision can only be made by themselves. It is no choice of their own that makes them individuals: it is Christ who makes them individuals by calling them. Every[one] is called separately, and must follow alone. But [people] are frightened of solitude, and they try to protect themselves from it by merging themselves in the society of their fellow[s] and in their material environment. They become suddenly aware of their responsibilities and duties, and are loath to part with them. But all this is only a cloak to protect them from having to make a decision. They are unwilling to stand alone before Jesus and to be compelled to decide with their eyes fixed on him alone. Yet neither father nor mother, neither [spouse] nor child, neither nationality nor tradition can protect [anyone] at the moment of [their] call. It is Christ’s will that [they] should be thus isolated, and that [they] should fix [their] eyes solely upon [Christ].”

“Ah, but that is all ancient history,” we might say.
“Jesus and Rome.
Hussain and Yazid.
Bonhoeffer and the Nazis.
Those were different times.
We don’t live in times like those any longer.
The Nazis have been defeated.
God doesn’t demand that of us anymore.”

Maybe.
Maybe not.
It is true. God doesn’t call everyone to be a Bonhoeffer.
No one I know has the purity of character of Jesus or Hussain.
But each of us is summoned as an individual.
Each of us is summoned to follow.
It is no one’s decision but your own and my own.

Dr. David Ray Griffin knows that.
He has announced that the church is in the same position
in regards to the American Empire today as the church was against the Nazis.
In his latest book that has just been published,
The Christian Gospel for Americans: A Systematic Theology,
Griffin writes in the third paragraph of his introduction:

 

 

This theology emphasizes the extent to which the American Empire has become a threat to other countries, to the planet’s life, and hence to the survival of the human race.

He goes on to say:

Because of the overriding issue of survival, this book’s discussion of sin and the demonic focuses on America’s foreign policy, its role in the development of nuclear weapons, and its responsibility for the climate crisis.

What do you do with a theologian like Griffin as we come upon not only Ashura on Tuesday,
but the anniversary of September 11th, on Wednesday?
You ignore him and you mock him,
but God forbid, don’t read him.
Because if you do that,
who knows where Jesus will summon you.

All in good time.
The summons by Jesus is only for you.
We may work together and we should but Christ will not
allow us to hide in the group to spare us the call.
Each must stand alone.
When you do that,
then you decide how to follow,
as it says in the Qur’an:

“So when thou art free, exert thyself; and let thy desire be for thy Lord.” Surah 94.

There are many ways to exert thyself here at Southminster
as we celebrate Welcome Back Sunday.
After the service we will have a potluck and we will have some conversations
around the tables about various ways to put faith to action.

Maybe the summons is to support women’s rights and women’s health,
maybe it is to halt gun violence here and around the world,
maybe it is to avert a climate catastrophe and work for sustainability,
maybe it is to support justice for immigrants,
maybe it is to respond to hunger and homelessness,
maybe it is to support justice for those with mental illness.

Your summons is not limited to an issue.
Your summons is to follow Christ.
As Christ said:

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

That is your individual call.
Your summons.
To you.
Not your family.
Not your friends.
Not your job.
Not your stuff.
Not your reputation.
To you.
Your decision.

Amen.