God’s Credit: Acts of the Apostles 13.1–3, 14.8–18


Delivered at Ames UCC on May 12, 2019
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are the result of pastoral preparation, congregational presence, and Holy Spirit participation. Please join me in that mysterious but always delightful process at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.

2019.5.12 heartCREDIT
What do you credit God for in your life?

I am not talking about when things went well and then to assign God the credit. You know how sometimes when things go poorly for others we say “there but for the grace of God go I”? That makes me very uncomfortable because it implies that God has denied grace to others.

Instead, have there been times in your life when you knew peace, breath-taking love, or unexpected strength? It likely lasted only moments and you may not yet have the words to explain it.

Or maybe nothing comes to mind.

Maybe your experience of God is at enough of a distance, or comes with enough skepticism, that giving credit to a holy other feels uncomfortable or even wrong. After all, I’m the one always saying God isn’t a master puppeteer so how could God be behind or within the minutia of our daily lives?

I will assume, though, that because you are here today, you have felt something. You have had an awareness of a something that does not fit into any other category and you are open to calling it God.

But which God?

WHICH GOD?
Out-of-town apostles, Paul (formerly known as Saul) and Barnabas, eager evangelists for their new understanding of God, come to Lystra, part of modern-day Turkey. There they encounter an unnamed local who cannot walk. Paul speaks to the paralyzed man, softly enough that his words are not recorded. Then Paul gives the Lystran an assessing gaze, and now with a voice now loud enough for all in the crowd to hear, Paul tells the Lystran to stand. The man who had never walked, now stands steadily on his feet and moves about.

While that miracle is shiny and dramatic, it is nothing new.

Remember that Jesus also healed a paralytic, in the gospel of Matthew, also in front of a crowd. In that case, the local leaders who were present reacted with shock and suspicion, but the rest of the crowd was moved to glorify God. The Lystrans are different in that there is no skepticism recorded, but they are otherwise the same in their response: Look at what the gods have done! Get the priest, get garments of honor and an animal to sacrifice, let us praise our gods! When the people of Lystra see the same power in Paul that those of Israel had seen in Jesus, they likewise identify that power as divine and want to show proper thanks and obeisance.

The problem that emerges for Paul and Barnabas, is that rather than the God of Moses and Ruth, the god of Eden and Exodus, the Lystrans see the miracle as coming from the god of Olympus, Zeus, and Zeus’ divine herald, Hermes. In both Israel and Lystra, witnesses are quick to identify that something greater than themselves is at work, it’s just that their framework for how to describe the greater-than diverges.

FREAK OUT
Which freaks Paul and Barnabas out.

They were simply doing as they had been commissioned, spreading what we call good news about God in Jesus Christ. They seem unprepared for their audience to not understand who or what they represent. Apparently shocked that the Lystrans, people of a different land and culture than either of them, would fall back on their own divine classifications, would give credit to their own understanding of divinity, the apostles begin running around and rending their clothes. They try to explain that, no, they are not Zeus and Hermes, the reversal of paralysis was not the work of the Olympians. What the Lystrans witnessed was the living God at work, the author of creation and giver of sustenance.

In their panic, it seems for Paul and Barnabas that if the God of Israel does not get credit for this healing, all is lost.

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Servants of Love Incarnate: John 2.1–11


2018.1.14 non being
Delivered at Ames UCC
on January 14, 2018

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard, rather than read. Please join us for worship on Sunday mornings
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JOHN IS DIFFERENT
If John’s gospel were the only one we knew, if we studied it and dedicated our lives to it, then read Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we would be shocked. It’s all lies, we would think! That’s not the truth about Jesus! Likewise, if we had only ever studied the synoptic gospels, synoptic meaning same, we would be baffled by John. It is that different.

John’s gospel does have Jesus traveling and teaching, he does endure trial, death, and resurrection. But John’s chronology is different than in the other three. There is no Eucharist, no Last Supper, in John. Jesus shows no concern for the Kingdom of God in John, only for his own special identity. Jesus talks more in John’s gospel than in the synoptic gospels, with great long dialogues, but never in all of that does he share any parables, those stories of mustard seeds and buried treasure.

And John is the most anti-Semitic of all the gospels. Maybe not universally so, maybe not condemning of all of Judaism, only of specific strains or communities of Judaism at the time. But I am guessing that not many 21st century Christians are all that familiar with the differences between contemporary streams in Judaism, let alone those of the ancient near east, so reading the subtleties of critique in John can be dangerously misleading.

I decided, as a result of that, and this era’s resurgence of overt hatred of and aggression toward people who are Jewish, to modify our readings of John to avoid easy misunderstandings and make clear where we are as a church. Rather than “the Jews” it will read as “the authorities” or whatever the appropriate target of Jesus’ concern may be.

But the difference I really want to focus on today is an omission in John at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the inclusion of the story today.
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Nazis and Narratives

Published December 24, 2016 in the Ames Tribune

By Eileen Gebbie

Do I want to read another article on American Nazism, Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan (now re-branded as “alt-right”)? Do I need to read about another hate crime against people who are Jewish or Muslim or queer or female or of color? How will such news prepare me for when the violence comes to my door and my soul (again)? How will reading about more physical, emotional, economic and spiritual violence help me to be an engaged citizen and faithful pastor?

These are the questions behind my daily choice to read the news or not.

As I write today, I’ve been following a story about a new campaign to go after people who are Jewish in Whitefish, Mont. It is being promoted by a prominent white nationalist website, one with a specific anti-Semitic agenda, and whose name is a specific reference to Nazism. To the site’s authors and readership, people who happen to be born into a Jewish family (and, presumably, those who convert) are not the same kind of humans as those who happen to be born into another kind of family. So the site has published the email addresses, phone numbers and Twitter names of people in Whitefish, whom the site has identified as Jewish. The site’s authors are advocating for a “Troll Storm”—intense and incessant harassment—against these people on the basis of their perceived religious identity.

Such behavior is vile and un-American, but it is not new or original. Our homegrown hate group, the Ku Klux Klan, was in its origins far more interested in destroying people who were Roman Catholic and Jewish than those who were black, as it is so famous for doing now. But I think this latest iteration of cruelty has stayed with me because I have been to Montana. I have family in Missoula and Miles City. I attended the installation of my great-grandparents’ photographs at the Range Riders Museum. So this harassment is in my own extended back yard, against my own neighbors.

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In Miles City, MT (second from left)

But what does that have to do with me as a Christian pastor at a church in Ames at Christmas?

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As If: Acts 3.1–10

Delivered at Ames UCC on April 10, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
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ACTION
Remember how last week I said that in light of Jesus’ death and the Easter mystery, the disciples are now trying to find and make meaning of Jesus’ work, life, and death, as well as their own? That’s not how the Acts of the Apostles actually reads. I believe it is true. I believe that they had to have had a crisis of faith after Easter, one that made them rethink everything. But we don’t get to hear those words or attend those meetings. What the author of Luke–Acts, again about 50 years after Easter, offers is a lot of public action.

Here is what has happened up until and just after today’s passage:
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