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Terry’s Sermon At Sister Liz Colver’s Consecration

Sermon for the Consecration of Sister Liz Colver

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Preacher: Terry Kyllo

Sister Liz Colver, today you will be consecrated a deacon as a part of the Deaconess Community in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Today marks the beginning of your public ministry in the world, this nation and the church.

You are being consecrated in a world in which 830 million people are hungry on any given day. Our world has an increasing income disparity as we play a winner-take-all economy. This income disparity creates fertile ground for conflicts, human trafficking and the degradation of the human spirit.

Our world is currently engaged in armed conflicts over natural resources, conflicts that are disguised by calling them religious wars. Religion, while still powerful for many people, is increasingly under question itself as it cannot seem to restrain the dogs of war.

We are dramatically changing the thin veil of atmosphere that we call our environment because of how we live. To survive, our species must learn how we are going to live together given our cultural differences and how we will live in a way that respects those who will come after us.

Jesus continues to lead. The Holy Spirit empowers us to follow.

You are being consecrated into a nation with same forces being played out. Our nation has a political system that breeds an obvious and subtle corruption as the multinational corporations and the very wealthy pretty much have their way. Our nation has wide disparities between white people and people of color. Black people make 72 cents on the dollar to white men. One in three black men will be incarcerated at some point in their lives and one in ten are in prison as we speak.

In the 1950’s and 60’s the federal government created and carried out a loan program that both created the suburbs and much of white middle class wealth. People of color were explicitly excluded from this program. After the Great Recession we see economic growth rates among people of color at rates much reduced from that of white people.

Jesus continues to lead. The Holy Spirit empowers us to follow.

You are being consecrated into a church with many gifts and many challenges. In response to our falling influence and dwindling numbers our church has spent much of the last 30 years arguing about worship and music styles as if worship is the hammer for every nail. Yet the ELCA also advocates for and with those in extreme poverty and stands with racial and other minorities.

Yet in the 1950’s and 60’s the ELCA benefitted from the racist government policies as we followed white members to the suburbs. We closed down inner city churches because “they were not economically viable.” We did not question why our black and brown skinned sisters and brothers were struggling economically nor the causes of white wealth. Since then, despite the good work of many leaders, we continue fund many times more white suburban mission developments than those with people in poverty and people of color. We have not fully repented of the sin of racism in this church.

Jesus continues to lead. The Holy Spirit empowers us to follow.

You are being consecrated into a time of great challenge and opportunity in the world, this nation and the church. It is your task to be a leader in this context: no pressure!

I want to propose that Jesus is continuing to lead us and to talk about his leadership using some unchurchy language.

First, I want to talk about the “scope of work” of the church. When Jesus began his public ministry his stump speech was: The kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.” The kingdom the “kingdom of God” was replacing was none other than the Roman Empire. In occupying Palestine, the Romans sought to enrich themselves by draining it of its natural resources and by taking land from every day people. Jesus was not trying to start a new religion, but rather to call the People of Israel back to their identity as God’s covenant people in the midst of the spiritual corrosion of this context.

He invited them, along with his predecessor John, to start living in that covenant with a scope of work that was nothing less than taking part with God in the healing and creation of the world. This healing and creation included reforming or restoring the political, economic, social and environmental relationships.

The church has often shrunk the scope of work of Jesus to fit the work we are willing to do.

Jesus continues to lead. The Holy Spirit empowers us to follow.

Second, in the story of Jesus we see a “social location” of the starting point for God’s work of healing and creation. We see Jesus born to a woman who conceived out of wedlock. She was later married to a man who while claiming a distant relation to King David, but was nothing more than a village tinkerer whose family had lost its farmland. His status was just above those who deal animal skins. They lived in a town of 100 people or so called Nazareth in the region of Galilee that was a joke to most people. He and his family had to relocate to Egypt as he was seen as a threat to King Herod.

In the story of Jesus we see that God begins the work of healing and creation of the world with and among those who are most affected by the world’s problems. This is because when those who are most vulnerable find their power with God and work on an issue, all people benefit from what happens.

As a church we have been more comfortable with the mayors, superintendents and legislators than with the poor and vulnerable.

Jesus continues to lead. The Holy Spirit empowers us to follow.

Third, Jesus taught us “rules of engagement” to guide the way we do our work of taking part in God’s healing and creation of the world.

In today’s gospel text Jesus tells his disciples, in perhaps the worst church marketing move of all time, that if they want to follow him they will take up their cross and follow him. We need to be really clear here, that death by crucifixion was reserved for those who were accused of revolutionary activity against the Roman Empire.

The cross in Jesus’ day was a symbol of the reality of Roman oppression. It was a sign of the public shame of the People of Israel. It clearly said that if you try to change the system you would end up publically naked and tortured to death.

Jesus takes this key symbol and system of oppression and instead of running from it seeks to empty it of its power to create despair in his people. In his resurrection from his death on the cross God sought to free people from the notion that they were powerless in the face of Roman power.

But Jesus call to take up our cross also means that Jesus asked his disciples to use the means and methods of nonviolent public leadership. This did not match with the typical dream of a violent messiah. He did this, not because he had a death wish or to give up his power, but because God’s love cannot be expressed in an act of violence. God’s healing and creation of the world included healing and creation for the Romans.

Jesus was not trying to win the game of domination the Romans were playing, but rather he sought to change the rules of the game so all could win together.

We might say that Jesus failed to make the difference he sought to make. Yet it is clear that he called forth a community who could act in freedom to take on other symbols and systems of oppression in the freedom Jesus’ cross and resurrection gave them.

To take up our cross and follow Jesus is not to give up our power but to take on the symbol and system of oppression in our context and empty it of its power of despair. Jesus call to the cross is a call to a movement of liberation for all people subject to symbols and systems of oppression that keep human beings from being who God is making us to be.

Jesus continues to lead. The Holy Spirit empowers us to follow.

Today, sister Liz, you begin your public leadership as you follow Jesus.

But you also have a private life. You have a wonderful family. You have a loving and talented husband. You have a wonderful and strong daughter. You have a beautiful young son. They need you and you need them.

We do not need you to work 24, 7, 365 in your public ministry. You will need to balance your public ministry with your private life. Rather, what we need from you is a certain quality of leadership, deep and challenging questions and a sense of how to practically follow Jesus in this challenging time.

But here is the hook. We are all inextricably bound together, and the future of every person on this planet depends on the other. Sometimes the world will need you to be spouse or mother. Sometimes your family will need you to be a deacon as God seeks the healing and creation of the world.

But in all of these things, we trust that Jesus continues to lead and that the Holy Spirit still empowers us to follow.

Amen.

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