Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sermon June 3, 2018

2 Pentecost/Pr. 4B/ June 3, 2018                                Pastor Maurice Frontz
‘The news of the Emancipation Proclamation
did not reach Texas until June 19, 1865,
after the Civil War had ended
and two-and-a-half years after the proclamation was issued.

From that moment, African Americans in Texas
regarded June 19 as a holiday,
and many would travel to Galveston,
where the news was first given
by Union Major General Gordon Granger.

Whites were resistant to this practice,
but African Americans simply refused
to show up for work on that day.
Whites continued to work if they could,
but they often were not able to work
because they were dependent on African American labor.

Juneteenth, as it was called by African Americans and whites alike,
became a day in which both remembered freedom from slavery.
In 1980, June 19 was finally given legal recognition as a Texas state holiday.’[1]

For ancient Israel, the Sabbath, observed each week,
was a reminder of the freedom from slavery God had won for them in Egypt.

The experience of freedom was to be so defining for them
that they were commanded to free their own slaves at least once per week,
so that these too might enjoy the freedom that God had granted.

The practice of Sabbath-keeping continued in exile and under foreign occupation.
Those who remembered that God had liberated them from Egypt
and had promised to always free them from oppression
kept one day a week for freedom;
they were more than captives.

Nowadays, of course, slavery is illegal.

We have supposedly come quite far in our understanding.

Perhaps it was the Sabbath, that great day of liberation,
which started the ball rolling in this direction.

And yet, we are not so enlightened as we might think;
for our great game of buying and selling continues apace
seven days a week.

The day of rest,
whether it be Saturday or Sunday,
is a day of rest for some and not others.

Actually, it is often not a day of rest for anyone,
for those who have money are expected to buy;
and people who need money are expected to sell or serve.

Sunday is the great day of expected self-improvement,
of expected home improvement,
of expected sleep improvement,
of expected economic improvement,
of expected watching grown men bang into each other.

Those who do not participate in such activities
are viewed as just as legalistic as the Pharisees.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the great Jewish theologian
who taught Christians and Jews alike,
“Inner liberty depends upon being exempt from domination of things
as well as from domination of people.
There are many who have acquired a high degree of political and social liberty,
but only very few are not enslaved to things.
This is our constant problem—how to live with people and remain free,
how to live with things and remain independent.”[2] 

Is this a feel-guilty sermon?
Are those of you who have plans for after church upset with me?
Or do you view it as hypocrisy?

My kids have asked me about this.
After all, when my parents are up to visit,
we generally go to the HofbrÀuhaus after church.
Now I’m hungry. And thirsty.

Other days I take my kids to the library or Phipps.
What about those who work there?
They don’t even get tips.

I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty.
One of my favorite moments of ministry
was when a youth group member in my previous church
said to me,
‘Pastor Frontz, I hate it when you make me think!’
I am trying to think.

Could it be that this freedom we enjoy
to buy and sell and self-improve on ‘the day of rest’
is only freedom to do that –
to buy and sell and self-improve on ‘the day of rest?’
Could it be that we fail to understand
that much of what we do with our ‘free time’
is fulfill other’s expectations of us,
those expectations which will benefit them economically?

Just this past week,
the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew,
spoke at the Vatican,
addressing gathered cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church
on A Common Christian Agenda for the Common Good.

If you don’t think the Holy Spirit is active,
or that nothing ever changes,
consider that the Orthodox and Catholics didn’t really talk for about 900 years,
and last week the head of the Orthodox Church spoke in Rome.

He said:
‘The dominating words of today
are ‘me,’ ‘myself,’ ‘mine,’
‘autonomy,’ ‘self-realization,’ and ‘self-admiration.’
Individualism is accompanied by eudemonism,
whose aim in life is the satisfaction of as many needs as possible,
as well as the creation and securing of new needs.’

As has been clearly stated,
the ‘speaking human’ has become the ‘having human,’
who is fed by the possession of material goods,
as well as by the possession of his own individuality…

It is only natural, then,
that this possessive relationship with all people and all things,
as well as with our own self,
does not leave any space for love and solidarity,
for sharing and communion.’[3]
So says Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
I like the words he has chosen:
Love and solidarity; sharing and communion.

As should be obvious from our Gospel lesson,
we cannot return to the legalism which drove the ‘blue laws’
requiring some businesses to be closed Sundays.

Neither the legalism of the Pharisees
nor the liberty to buy and sell all the time
will bring the freedom that Jesus came to give:
the freedom of the children of God.
to live with people and remain free;
to live with things and remain independent.

Jesus says:
‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,’
by which he means not only that he is the authoritative interpreter of the Sabbath,
but that he himself is Sabbath,
he himself is the one who is re-creating God’s world
so that it is a world of love and solidarity,
sharing and communion.

When we gather in his presence,
when we come to the Eucharist,
we experience his solidarity with us,
just as he provided for the disciples on the Lord’s Day,
just as he healed the man with the withered hand on the Lord’s Day,
he provides his own self for us.

If we were to celebrate the day of which he is Lord
in a manner that glorifies him and reveals him to us,
we would be creative and not legalistic.

Several weeks ago, we gathered for Holy Eucharist
and then we ate together
and then we walked from here to St. Simon and Jude
in solidarity with those who walk miles each day
not for clean water but for dirty water,
with which they must wash and cook and clean and drink,
for there is no alternative.

We did our part, by God’s grace,
to provide them with an alternative,
one that leads to health and strength and freedom to live and glorify God.
Truly a day of love and solidarity, sharing and communion.
We return to the beginning:
the Sabbath is a day of freedom.
Just as the ancient Israelites celebrated God’s mighty acts of liberation,
just as the African American community celebrates the end of the yoke of slavery,
so we all may celebrate on this day and each day
the Lord of the Sabbath’s gift of freedom:
to live with people and be free,
to live with things and be independent.

[1] Hauerwas, Stanley, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Matthew (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), 119-20.
[2] Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath.
[3] A Common Christian Agenda for the Common Good, May 26, 2018:

Worship begins at 9:30 today!

This post is a little late, but Sunday worship begins at 9:30 today and will continue at 9:30 from now until the end of August.

See you in church!