Calling All Angels: Acts of the Apostles 10:1–6, 9–17, 34–41, 44–48

Delivered at Congregational UCC on Sunday, May 5, 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.

 

FLEXIBILITY
Grace and peace to you from the people of Ames United Church of Christ!2019.5.5 angels

It is a genuine pleasure to be back here at Newton Congregational UCC (I preached at an Association meeting here a while back) and to be part of an effort to fulfill the United Church of Christ’s mission to be united and uniting.

It is easy, given our structure and polity, to opt out of being in relationship with other congregations. And you likely know the joke about the UCC: If you’ve been to one UCC church, you’ve been to one UCC church. We can be so very different because of geography, ongoing racial segregation, which stream of the merger our church came from (or if our church formed afterward), and our understanding about the leadership of women and the humanity of queer people.

So even though the six churches participating in this pulpit swap are within the same denomination, our willingness to participate represents a kind of boundary crossing and flexibility that is unusual between churches.

It is also a kind of boundary crossing and flexibility that is on its way to extinction in the world beyond our churches. Collaboration has become a dirty word and reflection, rather than reaction, a skill of the past.

But without both, how will our present and our future be anything but divisive and dividing?

Our story today offers some insight.

CORNELIUS AND PETER
We have, in our scripture and our church season, shifted from the time of Jesus the prophet to the reign of the living Christ. It is a shift, as we begin to see in today’s story, that makes for a massive crisis of leadership and the emergence of new doctrine.

Without Jesus, the man, present, who is in charge? How does the reaching, teaching, feasting, healing, praying, and protesting of Jesus before Easter align with the mystery of the Christ after? What does it all mean?

That is the context for the visitation by an angel of God to Cornelius, a Roman soldier, not a Jewish man of Israel. That angel sends Cornelius to Peter. Peter, at the same time, is visited by a vision of lizards and sheets.

When Cornelius, a lover of God yet stranger to Peter’s faith, arrives at the home where Peter is staying, that arrival gives Peter the key to interpreting his vision and the meaning the crucified Jesus and the ever-rising Christ.

Without getting into the story’s weeds about circumcision and food rules, Peter basically says that the message from God is to expand the boundaries of the movement to include people who are not Jewish, like Cornelius. This is significant.

At a time when we could reasonably expect the disciples to retrench, to become suspicious of newcomers and hoard their spiritual knowledge for their own people, Peter does not. Why? Is Peter just a bigger person than most? He certainly wasn’t when Jesus was condemned: This is the same Peter that denied knowing Jesus. What is it that allowed Peter to overcome his previous fears and to resist the human tendency toward tribalism?

Maybe it has to do with that angel.

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Dictators and Christ the King: Isaiah 6.1–8

Delivered at Ames UCC on November 20, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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

2016-11-20-x-the-kingREIGN OF CHRIST
The stole I’m wearing today depicts the logo of the United Church of Christ. It is the Christus victor, Christ victorious. We have a cross, crowned, standing on and over the world. The world is segmented in reference to Jesus’ instruction to be witnesses to love in “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1.8). It is a regal and universal symbol. I’m wearing it today to mark Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday.

For churches like ours that use a traditional calendar of seasons and holidays, today is the bridge between Ordinary Time and Advent, the beginning of our Christian year. So today is like our new year’s eve. And we mark New Year’s Eve with a reminder of whom we are most loyal to, the Christ, and whose world we live in, God’s.

Which is easy to forget in daily life. In daily life we are residents of Story County, Iowa and the United States of America. Here in Ames our mayor is Ann Campbell, our representative to the Iowa house is Lisa Heddens, our governor is Terry Branstad. At the national level our senators are Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, our U.S. representative is Steve King.

Unlike the rulers of our scripture and of history, none of them are religious figures and they are not anointed by God. They do not inherit their positions and do not bequeath them to their offspring. They are our neighbors. From Campbell to King, they are regular humans with regular homes and regular families who probably all like to eat at The Café on Stange, too.

2016-11-20-regular-humansNow, Mayor Campbell and Rep. Heddens are a lot easier to get to than the others. Until this summer, Heddens was upstairs in our own building running People Place. Now she’s around the corner at NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I’ve run into our mayor here for memorial services and around town at events for area nonprofits.

The rest, well, the rest have a whole lot of staff members and geography between us and them. The more power we give to regular people, it seems, the less access they give regular people. We, the very people they courted to get the jobs, the very people who could take those jobs away.

We may not have royalty but after a certain point, we have leaders who function at a scale that can put them at what can feel like a princely distance.

ISAIAH OF JERUSALEM
Isaiah of Jerusalem, the man anointed by angels and coal in our story today, was in a similar position. During his time, in the 8th century BCE, Jerusalem was under threat of conquer by the Assyrians. Isaiah was, personally, a wealthy Jerusalemite. But that didn’t mean he had easy access to the king in a time of crisis.

And looming war wasn’t Isaiah’s only concern. Jerusalem was his home, but it was also God’s. By the understanding of Isaiah’s day, Jerusalem was where God lived, literally, in the temple. So Isaiah was dealing with pending war and the loss of God.

Here he is, speaking with angels and being branded as a prophet then having to try to explain to his people why God would allow invaders to kill them and foreigners to close the opening between heaven and earth. This was a man in whose vision God was on a throne yet still had no answers for what was, in the end, the occupation of Jerusalem by two different foreign powers.

MUSSOLINI
Calling this Christ the King Sunday came in response to an occupation, of sorts.

The big holidays like Christmas and the Baptism of Christ and Easter and Pentecost are all scripturally based, all in reference to the stories we have in the Bible. But Reign of Christ Sunday started in 1925. In 1925 Pope Pius XI established this feast day for the Roman Catholic church. Why 1,925 years after the establishment of all of the other holidays, would he feel compelled to remind people of their true leader? What was happening in Italy in the first quarter of the 20th century?

It was the rise of fascism.
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