Monday, May 25, 2009


Sermon preached at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene on the 7th Sunday of Easter: John 17:6-19

I was at a meeting this week where someone described herself as “spiritual but not into organized religion.” A lot of people characterize themselves like that these days. It’s probably the fastest growing “religious affiliation” in the country—none.

So what does it mean to “believe” in organized religion? And why do we do it?

The first thing I want to say is the first thing I always want to say to someone who introduces herself in that way. “I’m an Episcopalian, a member of one of the most disorganized religions on the planet.”

The second thing I want to say is something like, “I sympathize.” I get mistrust of organized religion. I get frustration with an institution that has at times been—and remains—massively hypocritical, dysfunctional and even destructive. There are plenty of perfectly good reasons to be suspicious of a body that has seemed too many times to be more concerned with maintaining its own power than following Jesus. I have my own love/hate relationship with the church.

Jesus prays for his followers this morning that “they may be one, as we are one.” It is too often not our unity that the world around us sees, but our division. This has certainly been true for us Episcopalians and Anglicans over the last generation. It is not much of a positive witness to the world for us to be constantly at one another’s throats. I have been a member of the Episcopal Church for 28 years and have not known a church at peace with itself in that time.

So why am I still a member of it? Why have I devoted my life to it? Why do I still commend membership in it with all my heart?

It is because of our calling to be a people at one with one another. It is because of the communion I experience in it, relationships, connectedness, that constantly give me a glimpse of relationship with God, in fact that are manifestations of that relationship itself. I believe in the church as a laboratory for human relationship, a body through whom God continues to choose to work in spite of its flaws. Put succinctly and personally, I am called to be a part of you and I cannot separate this call from my call to be one with God.

I find this call—this way of life—to be wonderfully summarized in the African concept of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a Bantu word that is rich in meaning. The Zulu people of South Africa say umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu which means, “A person is a person through other persons.” That is Ubuntu.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says this about Ubuntu:

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu - the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality - Ubuntu - you are known for your generosity.
We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

This is not the philosophy on which most of us in the West are raised, particularly in this country. Our ideal tends to be the “rugged individual.” We are the name we make for ourselves. We are defined by our accomplishments, what we do.

In the philosophy of Ubuntu—and I think this was very much Jesus’ own philosophy—we are defined by our relationships. We are who we are in relationship with. This is primarily God. So we are God’s beloved, and we are God’s beloved not because of something we have done to deserve it. We are God’s beloved because that is the relationship God has chosen to have with us.

We are called for all our other relationships to work in this same way, to reflect the relationship we have with God. So this Easter season we have been hearing John say in his letters things like, “You cannot say you love God and hate a brother or a sister.” My acceptance of other people is based on my acceptance by God.

Our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, has chosen “Ubuntu” to be the theme of this summer’s General Convention. It is a challenging theme given that our governing body has been known mostly by its fractiousness over the past thirty years or so.

She is trying to remind us that more than anything else we need each other and must be committed to one another’s well being. That is very difficult when you’re in the middle of a fight where real principles held dear are involved. It is a challenge for me personally both to fight for my full inclusion in the church and to allow for generous space for those who disagree with me. What does winning look like? It cannot look like someone else’s exclusion as the basis for my inclusion. Somehow we’ve got to move forward with everybody’s dignity and integrity intact. That is very, very difficult.

But not impossible if for no other reason than, as the Gospel reading this morning reminds us, Jesus is praying for us, and his primary prayer is that we might remain one.

Last year at Pentecost, the great feast of the Spirit that we will celebrate next week, I wrote a kind of prayer poem for the Hip Hop Mass. There are copies of it on the back table. It goes like this

The Spirit of God on the streets of God

We are all together in this life
Everyone deserves to live

The Spirit of God makes us one
All people are one human family

We are persons through other persons
Who we are is who we are with

Each got the back of each
Caring, generosity is our creed

The Spirit of God on the Streets of God

The ideal of Ubuntu—what Jesus meant by unity—is why I believe in organized religion. Let it be our guiding light rather than our divisions. Let us proclaim in word and deed, we are one.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Being Loved First

Sermon preached at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene on the 6th Sunday of Easter: John 15:9-17

You did not choose me, but I chose you.

I think these words are something like the lynchpin of the spiritual life. To believe that we are each one of us chosen, accepted, by God is at the very heart of our faith. Yet the whole of our life’s spiritual work is to strive to be in that place and to act out of it.

They are really astounding words that Jesus speaks to us today.

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

What does it mean to be God’s friend? Dare we believe that God wants to be our friend? Dare we believe that God loves us so much that he actually likes us? Dare we believe that God chooses us as we are?

The work of our spiritual life is to be able to say “yes” to these questions and to live our lives as if this were the greatest truth about us: that we are God’s friends, God’s beloved. This is our true identity.

But this is not very easy. If this is the work of our spiritual life, it is hard work. Most of us fail constantly to live into this identity, to claim this truth of our existence: I am chosen by God; I am God’s beloved.

“Who am I?” is one of the great questions of our life. All through our lives we try to answer that question, consciously or unconsciously.

We have some typical ways we answer that question. Probably the most typical is to say that “I am what I do.” This may involve our work life, our role in our family, our volunteering or any of the choices we make in what we do from day to day. There is something real about this, because there is—or ought to be—real dignity in the work we do.

The problem is that there are always ups and downs. When I am doing good things and can see at least little successes in what I do, it is easy to feel good about myself. But I fall short sometimes, even fail, and then my self-esteem takes a hit, I can even fall into despair about myself because my “doing” doesn’t seem to be very productive.

Another way we can answer the question of our identity is to say that “I am what others think about me.” And of course what others think about me is very powerful. It is easy to feel very good about myself when others are saying nice things about me. But when they don’t it is just as easy to feel terrible. When something negative gets said it can be devastating and, again, our self-esteem can take a big hit.

Another popular way of answering the question of “Who am I?” is to say that “I am what I have.” All advertising has as its goal to make me believe that owning the thing being advertised will make me a better person, a happier person. We get suckered into this almost every day.

The problem is that possessions hardly ever meet our expectations and they themselves are fleeting. They require enormous amounts of energy just to hold on to and we have a tendency to need more and more in order to be satisfied.

All these ways of answering the fundamental question of our identity work well when they work, but they do not work all the time. And sometimes when they do not work the consequences to our sense of self can be devastating. The ups and downs can be exhausting and disillusioning. The end result is that our self-esteem is nearly constantly under attack.

It ends up that most of our life our energy is just trying to keep our head above water, surviving. This is far short of what Jesus promises, that we should share in his joy and that joy should be complete. Life cannot give us that complete joy, no matter how hard we try.

What was Jesus’ joy? It was, I believe, that he knew who he was, in the deepest part of himself. And he knew this deepest part of himself was not who the world said he was.

Jesus was faced with the same temptations as we are in trying to determine the true source of our identity. Think of his temptations in the desert. The devil asked him to show what he could do, “Turn these stones into bread.” Then, “Jump from the Temple and let the angels catch you. People will speak well of you then.” And then, “Let me give you all the possessions of the world. You will be powerful beyond your dreams.”

But Jesus said, “All this is a lie.” This is not who I am. I am not what I do. I am not how people speak of me. I am not what I own or what power I have over others.

I have already been told who I am. The Spirit came down on me and said, “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

And he didn’t need anything more. He was able to live his life and live through his death with those words being enough. You are my beloved.

We, my friends, have the same opportunity to live in the same way. Because what is said of Jesus is also said of us. It is the language of our baptism.

You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.

You are God’s beloved daughter; you are God’s beloved son. That is the truth about you, the truth that can never change.

You did not choose me, but I chose you.

The one who chooses us before we have chosen him is the voice of what 20th century spiritual guide Henri Nouwen calls the voice of our “first love.”

Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” And I have loved you first. And Nouwen writes

And the great struggle is to claim that first love. You were loved before your father and your mother and your brother and your sister and your teachers loved you….The people who love us don’t always love us well….The people who care for us also wound us. And you might know from your experience that the people who are closest to you, like your father, mother, children, brother, teachers, churches, are also the ones who might hurt you most. And how to live that? How to live the naked truth that in this world love and wounds are never separated? We can only live it when we always reclaim that first love.

Therefore we can forgive those who love us poorly, and we can recognize in the love we do receive a hint or glimpse of the first love as real. Could you hold on to that? Every time that you have a temptation to become bitter or jealous, to lash out, to feel rejected, can you go back and say, “No, I am the beloved daughter of God”? And even though I am rejected, that rejection should become for me a way to reclaim the truth. It should be like a pruning that helps me to claim more fully and deeply the truth of my belovedness. And if I can hold on to that and live in the world, then I can be free to love other people without expecting them to give me all that my heart desires.

Because God has created you and me with a heart that only God’s love can satisfy. And every other love will be partial, will be real, but limited, will be painful. And if we are willing to let the pain prune us, to give us a deeper sense of our belovedness, then we can be as free as Jesus and walk on this world and proclaim God’s love first, wherever we go.

[1] Henri Nouwen, “Being the Beloved,” in Henri Nouwen: Writings Selected with an Introduction by Robert A Jonas (Orbis, 1998), pp. 27-28. This entire sermon is based upon this sermon of Nouwen’s preached in 1992 on Robert Schuller’s Hour of Power.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Absolutely Nothing

Sermon preached on the 5th Sunday of Easter at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene: Acts 8:26-40

The Acts of the Apostles was written by Luke to continue the story beyond the Gospel account of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. As he begins Acts, Jesus’ final words to the disciples before his Ascension are these

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. (1:8)

The stories that follow are stories of this spread of the Gospel. Chapter eight is largely the story of Philip the Deacon’s work in Samaria, work that is confirmed by the leaders of the apostles, Peter and John. We then get this morning’s wonderful story of the Gospel’s great leap outside many bounds.

Philip is led to the road south from Jerusalem to Gaza, the road toward Egypt. He is then further led to a particular traveler, an Ethiopian eunuch. So what do we know about this traveler?

He is an African from the empire to the south of Egypt. That means he is most likely of dark complexion. He is a high official in the queen’s court there, and certainly he is traveling in style, with certain signs of wealth—a chariot and a scroll. Very few people owned scrolls (the equivalent of books) in those days.

We are told that he had been in Jerusalem to worship. This means that he himself was a Jew, or perhaps a convert to Judaism, or, more likely, what was known as a “God-fearer,” a non-Jew who was attracted to the God of Israel. Certainly he is a seeker. He has traveled a very long way and he has gone to the great length of purchasing a scroll so that he can read the Scriptures himself (This means as well that he is a highly educated man, able to read Hebrew, not his native language).

How had this interest and learning come about in Ethiopia? It is quite possible there was a Jewish community there, and perhaps it had been there for a very long time, since the days the Queen of Sheba had visited the great King Solomon. There is a Jewish community in Ethiopia to this day, and they claim their roots in that visit.

We also are told that he is a eunuch, which would have been typical for a court official in certain ancient empires. Many males destined to serve in court were castrated at an early age so that they would grow up essentially asexual.

This characteristic seems to be of particular importance to Luke because it is how he names the man. He keeps calling him “the eunuch” as he tells the story.

Eunuchs are specifically mentioned several times in the Old Testament, most importantly in two places. In the book of Deuteronomy, as part of the Torah, the Law, they are forbidden from being part of the “assembly of the Lord” (23:1). They were considered unclean.

But then in Isaiah, the prophet declares that eunuchs will be among those accepted into the kingdom of God at the end of days. Isaiah writes

To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. (56:4-5)

This seems to undo the restriction in Deuteronomy. So it is no wonder that the eunuch whom Philip meets is reading Isaiah! He is attracted to that book for a reason!

So Philip has met an interesting man indeed, representing all kinds of boundaries.

Philip asks what he is reading. The eunuch reads the passage from Isaiah, from chapter 53 (7-8). “Do you understand it?” Philip asks. “How can I,” the eunuch responds, “unless someone guides me?”

Stop there for a moment. The Scriptures have always needed interpreting and there have always been those skilled at interpretation. It is no shame to need an interpreter. Even interpreters need other interpreters with whom to be in conversation. But do notice that even though he doesn’t “understand,” he’s reading anyway. Bible reading is important, if for no other reason than it causes one to ask questions. And questions, so this story tells us, lead to greater faith.

Philip then plays the role of interpreter, using the passage which the eunuch is reading as a jumping off point to tell the story of Jesus. He is an evangelist. He tells the good news.

Then the eunuch asks a critical question:

What is to prevent me from being baptized?

The answer could have been, “plenty.” The answer could have been the answer from Deuteronomy: eunuchs cannot be part of the assembly of the Lord. And the interpretation of Isaiah could have been that God intended in the future to include eunuchs, but for now Deuteronomy applied.

But that wasn’t the answer that Philip gave. The answer was “absolutely nothing.”

Can you see what an important question this was? Can you see what an important answer this was? The Jesus movement was at a fork in the road. One path meant telling the good news within the old boundaries of the Law and its exclusive impulse. The other path meant destroying those boundaries for ever.

In this story the choice gets made pretty easily. The movement as a whole, however, will agonize over this decision. It will take a generation for it to be completely settled.

Or maybe longer. As I read Christian history, the Church stands at this fork in the road all the time, constantly having to ask, “Who is in? Who is out?” There are many instances in the church’s life where boundaries have been put up and enforced. Sometimes the boundary has been to the entire assembly, but frequently it has been internal, like whites refusing to worship with blacks, or women being excluded from ordained ministry.

The struggle over homosexuality is a current manifestation of this long, historic struggle. Is it possible that the Law was wrong? Isaiah seemed to think it was when it came to eunuchs and so did his descendent Philip. Gay and lesbian Christians are simply saying in this same way that the Law is wrong, that we too can be called children and servants of God.

But the good news that shines here is good news for everybody. What is to prevent me from being loved and accepted by God? The answer is absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Oh, there is plenty that could separate you from God. There is some aspect of your life that makes you unacceptable before a holy God. But the good news of Jesus is that is not how God works. In Jesus, all our unacceptability has been turned into acceptability. Nothing, St. Paul tells, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). Absolutely nothing.

That is the good news we proclaim when we say that this is “a welcome table for all.” Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. There is nothing to prevent you from gathering around this table. There is nothing that can make you unacceptable in the eyes of God. Absolutely nothing.

Is this too easy? Perhaps it is, although accepting my own acceptability is not always an easy thing, and accepting some other people’s acceptability can be a very difficult thing indeed. It requires forgiveness that in many cases is extremely hard. It requires choosing to live a lifestyle characterized by reconciliation and extraordinary forbearance of one another. These are not things that come easily to us all the time and they are not things that are supported by the world around us very much. So what at first seems to be a very easy thing is really not so easy at all.

Let us rejoice today in the amazing good news. Absolutely nothing can prevent us from being acceptable to God. Absolutely nothing can separate us from God’s love. Thank you Jesus!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Gracious Restraint?

As the Anglican Consultativee Council meets in Jamaica and there is more talk of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the church acting with "gracious restraint" I wonder what that would like like in my ministry.

As I write this a couple (heterosexual, if it matters) is in my office taking an inventory as part of their pre-marital work. They're a nice couple--refugees from the Roman Catholic world--whose wedding I'm going to enjoy doing. Hopefully we'll learn a couple things about life on our journey together.

Down the hall the Audit Committee is meeting. They're laughing so it can't be all that bad. Downstairs the Wednesday Bible Study is happening and any minute the choir will start arriving for rehearsal. It is all so stunningly normal.

Except for me, I suppose, the abnormal piece to this puzzle. I think I know pretty much where I fit in to the scheme of things around here, but when someone in the upper echelons of the Communion speak I am not so sure. They aren't either, clearly. Many of them wish I would just go away, but that's not going to happen. Most seem to think that everything will be OK as long as I'm not a bishop. I'm personally just fine with not being a bishop, but I do chafe at the notion that my priesthood is somehow second-class. This chafing is, I suppose, "gracious restraint" in action, although there's nothing gracious about it. I'm being told I must chose it. It's a eupehism I am coming to detest, meant more to make those who are doing the asking feel better about what they are asking for.

I cannot control who gets elected bishops. I can control who (and what) gets liturgically blessed in my parish. I have no intention of acting with restraint in that regard. Is this arrogance? I have no doubt it is in the eyes of some. But my pastoral duty trumps their opinion, to be perfectly honest.

Gracious restraint in the blessing of the world will lead to the death of the church, of that I have no doubt. This young couple needed me not to be restrained with them. I'm happy to not be so, and I think Jesus is too.

Speaking of him, what did "gracious restraint" mean in his ministry? Absolutely nothing, as near as I can tell. Thank God, or there wouldn't be any sort of thing called the church.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Lord is My Shepherd

Sermon preached on the 4th Sunday of Easte at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene: Psalm 23, 1 John 3:26-24, John 10:11-18

The Twenty-third psalm is certainly one of the jewels of Scripture. It is an expression of ultimate trust in the One we call the Good Shepherd.

We know little or nothing of sheep and shepherds, not, at least, in this part of the world. But it is enough to know that sheep are entirely dependent on the shepherd for their well-being. Sheep cannot take care of themselves.

So this psalm is one of absolute dependence on God. This means that the words are not only comforting, they are difficult, because, by and large, we believe we are self-made people who are better off dependent on no one.

But the psalm knows this about us and offers us a different way, the truth that we need God and that we can trust God for our well-being.

Psalm 23 is a script for life, a set of coping skills, a framework for facing reality and living through it.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

We want all the time. Most of what we want we do not actually need, so the psalm first wants us to be clear-eyed in sorting that out. What is it that I actually need for well-being?

We have those needs. They are real. Some of them are purely physical, some are emotional and spiritual. We have, most of all, the deep need to be loved.

The psalm wants us to be assured of that love, as does Jesus in his use of this image. He calls us, his sheep, “my own,” a term of endearment.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.

God loves us and this love is a love of loyalty. The shepherd can be depended on. The shepherd isn’t going anywhere, even in times of danger. In fact, God has shown us that it is precisely in the time of danger that he is most there for us. The writer of First John says

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us…

The good shepherd will risk—will give—his life for the sheep. It is the Christian story that God literally gave his life for us, was loyal to us even in the precise moment that we were most disloyal to him.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want for love. Sometimes, of course, we feel that we do. Sometimes we ache for love. The psalm tells us that God is there to give it and ultimately we can only depend on God for the love that will last, last even our own undoing of it and even our own death.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul;
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake.

The divine shepherd is my guide to well-being. His ultimate desire is my well-being. I must trust that I am being led to green pastures, still waters, a restored soul along a path of justice.

This trust does not come easy, because of the next line of the psalm, where reality sets in.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

My path to green pastures and still waters leads me through troubled places, the valley of the shadow of death. And there is no way to skip these places, they must, as the psalm says, be gone through.

We hurt sometimes, our hearts are broken, we despair of love or of well-being. We are threatened by forces that seem to be able to take away all that is dear to us. All these things are true, yet the psalm makes this bold assertion in the face of all this truth: I will fear no evil.

Why? Because God is with me. I will not be abandoned, no matter what. The valley of the shadow of death—even death itself—is not a place I have to be alone. Ever. I walk through it with someone, the Comforter, the One who has been there before, knows the depths of these shadows and can see me through to new life, a trail he has blazed before.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

The shepherd is a God of justice and of well-being. The image of a head anointed with oil is especially important here. It is a symbol that is mostly lost on us. In ancient Israel it was a sign of divine favor: kings and priests were anointed as a sign that God was with them in their vocation. The psalmist claims this sign for everyone. Everyone is favored by God.

This says to me in particular that we must look to God alone for our sense of self-worth. The world around us, even those we dearly love, will disappoint us and we will disappoint ourselves, deeply sometimes. But in those moments of our lack of self-worth, God wishes to anoint our head with oil, God wishes us to know that we are his beloved no matter what.

It is my observation and experience that our sense of self-worth is under attack pretty much all the time. It is the nature of the world in which we live. We desperately need to learn that we are worthy because God has made us so. The writer of First John says

By this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit he has given us.

We believe this Spirit is all grace, it is a pure gift that we have done nothing to earn and that we cannot control. It just is. As we Christians put it, it is the gift of our baptism.

You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Here is my ultimate hope. There is a home for me, an everlasting home that cannot be taken away. It is the home of God, and it is my home, for ever.

Probably because of these last words we often associate Psalm 23 with death. It is a psalm frequently sung or said at funerals. This is, of course, absolutely fitting, because it is at such a time that we who have been left behind, need to be reminded of and trust in our ultimate hope.

Yet Psalm 23 is primarily a psalm for living, a psalm that gives us the words to keep on keepin’ on, to pick ourselves up when things have gotten rough and trust again in God’s desire for our well-being. It is a song we need when we are in need of comfort, of courage and of hope.

I want us to close by singing a hymn, a metrical version of Psalm 23. Let us sing it in trust in the Good Shepherd. It is Hymn 664 in The Hymnal 1982.

My Shepherd will supply my need,
Jehovah is his Name;
in pastures fresh he makes me feed
beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
when I forsake his ways,
and leads me, for his mercy’s sake,
in paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death,

thy presence is my stay;
one word of thy supporting breath
drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes,

doth still me table spread;
my cup with blessings overflows,
thy oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God

attend me all my days;
oh, may thy house be mine abode
and all my works be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
while others go and come;
no more a stranger or a guest,
but like a child at home. (Isaac Watts)

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Jesus Attitude (No to Anti-Judaism)

Sermon preached on the 3rd Sunday of Easter at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene: Acts 3:12-19, 1 John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48

Last week in her sermon and her presentation after the late Service, Canon Denise Yarborough spoke about her experience traveling in Israel and Palestine. She was, as many I believe rightfully are, critical of the Israeli government in their policies toward and treatment of the Palestinians. She carefully said that she was aware that such criticism can only be leveled when we Christians are honest about our own history of dealing with the Jews.

This morning we are confronted with that history head on by the first reading. The Apostle Peter says,

But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life…

Peter uttered these words in a hot-headed sermon recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and they have caused nothing but mischief down through the ages. People have heard them and been incited to prejudice against, even hatred of, the Jews as “Christ killers.”

Pogroms have followed these words in which hundreds of thousands have had their lives destroyed, and this eventuated in the greatest pogrom of all, the genocide of what we call “the Holocaust,” where millions lost their lives.

There’s no way around it, the church is deeply implicated in this prejudice and violence. If we did not directly instigate it, we passively let it happen. This is to our eternal shame.

We must say now loudly and clearly that anti-Judaism has no place among Christians. It is a pernicious sin that we must root out from our lives.

Jews are our brothers and sisters in faith. We may disagree about whether Jesus is the Messiah or not, but there is a vast heritage we hold in common. Our attitude toward Jewish people ought to be nothing other than respect.

Peter’s hot-headed sermon is unfortunately the first in many a proclamation by the Church that forgot and still forgets the attitude of Jesus himself and the mission to which he has called us.

When Jesus meets the disciples after his death and resurrection he does not come to them with blame and chastisement, even though he had every reason and right to do so. He comes bringing peace and the desire to renew relationship. More than that, he comes with trust, asking these very ones who have betrayed and abandoned him to carry on his mission.

And what is this mission other than to carry his peace, forgiveness and trust to the world? In our Gospel reading this morning it says that this message of “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.”

But wasn’t Peter just emphasizing his hearers need for repentance? Didn’t those who worked for Jesus’ death need to repent? Yes, they did, but his attempt to bring them to repentance was not Jesus’ style. Jesus’ style was to love and forgive first, believing that the response to love and forgiveness is a change of heart. In fact I would characterize Jesus’ definition of repentance to be a change of heart and mind. Peter’s is more about establishing guilt. There is a vast difference.

Even John, who had some very tough things to say about sin, knew that people had to have hope before they could repent. “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” And what is that hope? “Beloved, we are God’s children now…we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

It is that hope that John knows is the motivator for living the life without sin that he desperately wants the members of his community to live. God loves first, always, always, God loves first.

It may seem that I have gone out on quite a limb to say basically that St. Peter was wrong in his approach. Isn’t this Scripture I’m talking about? Isn’t it arrogant to say something in Scripture is wrong?

It can be, yes. But we do have a way to judge even Scripture against itself. Luke gives it to us both in this Easter story we just heard and the one immediately prior to it.

You’ll remember the story that comes right before this. Two disciples are walking down the road, leaving Jerusalem in dismay after Jesus’ death. They meet Jesus on the road but they do not know it is him. While they walk along we are told that Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the prophets…interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” In today’s reading we are told that “he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”

Luke is telling us that Jesus is the interpreter of Scripture for us. We understand it all through him. He is the test for the truth of all Scripture. On that basis I can say that I believe Peter was wrong in his approach with his fellow Jews. I do not believe he was using Jesus’ approach, and the proof is in the pudding, as they say: centuries of horrific persecution that no one can possibly say is in line with Jesus’ teaching or way of life.

We must be “Jesus smart” when we read the Bible. We must let Jesus open our minds to understand the Scriptures.

We do so as God’s beloved children. This too is the message to be proclaimed to all people.

See what love the Father has for us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.

The good news is that we are God’s children just because that is what God calls us, not because of anything we have or have not done.

And that is the “Jesus attitude” we need to bring to our relationship with all people, including, and perhaps especially, our Jewish brothers and sisters.