Preached by The Rev. Ellen L. Ekstrom from Good Shepherd’s pulpit on Sunday, May 17, 2015:
I take as my texts this morning the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John.
Our scripture this morning speaks to current events and leads us to ministry in Christ’s name. ‘The High Priestly Prayer’ of Jesus and the lesson from the Acts of the Apostles – the calling of Matthias – hit home for me in light of recent events. We are desperately in need of an advocate now and now, as we end the fifty great days of Easter, like the apostles who realized scripture was fulfilled and got down to business, we need to get down to business.
Understand that the world Jesus prays for is not a material world of buildings, business and tech toys, corporations, but living, breathing, people who live in that world. The Children of God. Unfortunately, we children make many wrong turns and missteps and we need prayers. We need God’s love to open our eyes to what eternal life really is. It is not the superhuman ability of a Superman or Supergirl, nor is it to live a century or more or float about in a utopian, fantasy-like heaven, but a life God gives us to live in the Kingdom of Heaven, which is here and now.
It is an eternal life of love, justice and equality, of no barriers due to gender or ability, where housing and food are not luxuries. We don’t murder to prevent murder.
The news that came out of Massachusetts on Friday stunned many.
A federal jury’s verdict of death for Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon Bomber, was not expected by many in the legal community, nor by citizens of Boston and the Commonwealth.
Sixty percent of Americans polled wanted him executed, but that percentage does not reflect Massachusetts. It does not reflect the opinion of many.
Massachusetts does not have the death penalty; it was abolished for state cimes in 1984 and has not carried out an execution since 1947, but the case brought against Tsarnaev was in the federal court where there is no restriction against a death sentence. The jury was “death qualified” — each juror had to be open to the death penalty; anyone who opposed it could not serve.
I could not have served. I would not have served. What good is murdering one individual for the loss of another? The actions do not really bring closure. The dead are not brought back like Lazarus. The family of the little Richards boy asked that the death penalty not be considered.
When the verdict was pronounced, it is said that jurors wept. From what I understand, there was no triumphant outburst in the courtroom. It was a solemn moment.
Was justice served? That would depend on who you ask. In our post 9-11 world, we’ve been conditioned by the media to know and recognize who our enemies are. I’m sure we all have our own opinions on the matter.
I posit this: was God served?
I know my stance is unpopular where it concerns this case and others like it, but murder as punishment for murder isn’t a deterrent. We’ve seen that. Some will argue that Jesus said an ‘eye for an eye’ but he was qualifying the law of retaliation set forth in the book of Exdous by advocating a return of good for evil.
Where am I going with this? What does this have to do with Jesus’ high priestly prayer and the calling of Matthias?
Jesus prayed to God to watch over his apostles and disciples. They are us. He prayed for our unity, for our joy, and our safety and protection. Those prayers were at work when, after the realization set in of scripture being fulfilled, Peter called the apostles to select one among their following to replace Judas Iscariot. They got down to the business at hand for them, which was keeping Christ’s word and deeds alive and expanding the community, by living as He desired, to be in the material world, but not of the world. This choice made enemies and made them hated, which became distinguishing and real marks of all who followed Jesus. They stood out because they didn’t fit in.
You and I here today stand out because we do not fit in to our society as it is.
It’s no easy life being a Christian today. We have it easier in terms of our economy, standard of living and basic freedoms, but honestly, tell someone today that you are a Christian and attend regular worship services in a traditional faith community and may get a look, or the question, “Why?”
It will be assumed that you are a robot following a party line, you are mindless sheep in a mindless flock – not this one, mind you, we’re not mindless. It will be thought that you probably believe in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy like this unseen, unheard mystical being in the clouds and its human son who took the worst of punishments for what – so people can go on sinning and making bad judgment calls? Just last week the Pew Center released statistics that say we are an endangered species.
Let’s prove them wrong. Let’s make decisions and take action that will truly reflect our diversity and our committment to the beloved community that Josiah Royce devised and Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed and show and live our passion for equality, peace and justice, and stop with the business as usual. Let us show that material world we are not politicians with ideas about what Jesus said and did that fit into a narrow little space convenient for a few and detrimental to most. We know what God and Jesus want us to do – we know what is required of us.
Let’s begin by changing the criminal justice system in at all levels, state, federal and appellate. The punishment for possession of narcotics or stealing a Honda shouldn’t be as severe as using deadly force and murder. And as for those who do commit murder, perhaps life imprisonment in a bare cell with only the basic necessities of food, water, clothing and a bed would be help them repent of their grevious sin.
Let’s do something revolutionary like taking care of our children, feeding them, nurturing them, making the streets safe for them, listening to them and comforting them so that they don’t become lost, angry, youth. And the same goes for our immigrant neighbors, our homeless brothers and sisters, our sick and poor. They are part of the world for which Jesus prays and they, like you and I, are called to lead.
Just as Christ prayed for us, now we must pray for the world and may those prayers be answered.