Faith is not Formulaic: Acts 16.16–34

2018.4.22 salvationDelivered at Ames UCC on
Sunday, April 22, 2018

©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard, rather than read. Please join us for worship on Sunday mornings
at 10:30 a.m.

HOW
How is all of this supposed to work? This coming into the sanctuary of a Sunday, the going to Bible study, the attending regional youth events? (Several of our youth are at Urbandale UCC today to meet other kids who will be going to the July youth event.) What are the faith outcomes that these religious mechanics generate?

From Christmas until Easter we watched the Jesus movement begin, Jesus himself with his teachings and talents and the blessings and backlash which followed both.  Now we are in the season of Eastertide. During Eastertide we watch the emergence of the early churches, the very earliest churches, the Communion and Baptism communities that followers of the Jesus movement planted as far from Jerusalem’s grave as Macedonia’s Philippi. That’s almost 1,400 miles and would take over 400 hours to walk. That’s commitment.

But, again, to what end and through which means?  Today Paul’s answer to his jailer is

Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.

FORMULAE
Believe and be saved. It’s the classic Christian formula.

Throughout my high school years, when I would drive myself and my brother and dog north on I-5 either from the home of our aunts in Portland or our dad in Vancouver to our mom’s place in Olympia, there was a billboard that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” in full, giant Gothic print.

I remember being both offended and confused by it. Offended for having my public space taken up by Christian evangelism (I was a classic teen) and confused by the use of “on” instead of “in.” Don’t we have faith in Jesus Christ, not on him?

Regardless, I understood it then, as I do now, to suggest that if we commit ourselves exclusively to Jesus Christ we will be rescued from certain pain and suffering. It’s a tidy formula. It’s a formula that leaves no room for interpretation. And it’s a formula that no doubt has leveraged the anxiety inherent in its absolutism to gain adherents.

But I don’t think it is exactly right, and I’m a long way from that raw rejection of youth.

Speaking only for myself, but also from experience with so many other people in my life, my relationship with God through Christ has not saved me from anything. It has not saved me from sexual assault, homophobic discrimination, mental illness, or in any complete sense, from my own shortcomings.

Maybe my faith will play into whatever happens to me when I am dead, but asking me to structure the life I know around the unknowns of my death doesn’t really sound like the work of the God of Genesis or Jesus of Nazareth. Especially when our scripture offers fuller, I don’t want to say proof, but a pattern more in alignment with the full picture of God in the world.
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Hesed: The Book of Ruth

Our work iDelivered at Ames UCC on October 18, 2015
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read.
Please join us for worship at 10:45 a.m. on Sundays.

REDEMPTION
As Christians, the word redemption has had a pretty specific meaning, historically: that Jesus paid for our sins through his death and resurrection. As we learned a couple of months ago, that definition is not the consensus in the United Church of Christ at large or Ames UCC in particular. But I would hazard a guess to say that most of us, at least on first hearing the word, associate redemption with sin and our souls.

That is not the case in today’s story or the world it reflects. In the Hebrew Bible, the Bible Jesus knew, redemption is part of a larger social contract for the needy. The most detailed information comes in the book of Leviticus, chapter 25. Essentially, kin are obliged to buy land from family members if those family members need to sell it due to hardship. Those struggling kinsfolk then have the right to buy it back, at any time, at fair market value. And, while the more affluent kinsfolk own that land, the poorer family members who had to sell it still get to make money off of it. Essentially the rich uncle owns the land but the poor nephew still lives off of and makes profit from it. If the poor family members are unable to eventually buy the land back, it will be restored to them during the year of Jubilee. Jubilee was to occur every 50 years, with land laying fallow and all wealth redistributed and debts released. We have, in Leviticus, a Biblical mandate to keep the rich from getting richer and the poor from getting poorer.
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On Earth as it is in Heaven: Matthew 25.1–13

Delivered at Claremont UCC on March 15, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

HEAVEN ON THEIR MINDS
The kingdom of heaven will be like this: a celebration feast for the union of lovers. But one lover is late. So young women without other obligations will wait to make sure the latecomer does not get lost. But so much time will pass that it is dark on his arrival. Those who have enough oil to light his way will gain entry to the celebration; those who do not will be left in the dark.
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Priesthood of All Believers

priesthood of allPublished March 9, 2015
© The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Some of the most powerful theological thinking in my church happens at our League of Youth (LOY).

Middle schooler:  “I don’t think Jesus is the king in the parable of the wedding banquet. I think Jesus is the stranger who wasn’t wearing a wedding outfit and got kicked out. It was before Easter so they didn’t recognize him yet.”

Last night I joined our middle and high school kids (and a handful adults) for dinner and a conversation about worship. Our youth have a fair amount of involvement in worship: Once each month they are greeters and ushers and once a month they read the prayers and scripture.

But for this gathering I wanted to talk about how worship is where we practice being Christians, specifically practice being table followers and baptized seekers.

Our conversation about Holy Communion centered on Maundy Thursday and Jesus’ welcome of all, including his betrayer, Judas.

Teenagers know a lot about betrayal: a sense of betrayal by their bodies, by their parents and guardians, by their peers, by their nation. Continue reading