Living in the Grey Sermon Series #4
Are Jesus’ Teachings in Black and White?
Rev. Michael Stadtmueller
Sermon Scripture: Matthew 5:1-12
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Former Bishop Bob Miller was a long-time member of our church who died early this morning. Bob was a strong man whose body failed him in recent years, but he taught me something about living out our Christian lives. There was a time not so long ago when he sat as bishop with a church in California that was pondering closing it’s doors. The community had changed into what seemed like a war zone to many of its members. It was in the heart of gang territory. Poverty had overwhelmed the area and crime had become the number one industry. Members first moved away, and then stopped coming altogether. Those left had a very real fear. Can we stay open? Is it safe? Can we afford to interact with these people any longer, after all the crowd had changed. Their first instinct was driven by fear. Close the doors, move away; but the Holy Spirit asked them to ponder the decision longer. Bob and the group were wrestling with the words of Jesus. No one would blame them for closing, but was this what God was calling them to.
Today there is a thriving mission church in San Bernadino, California. In that place where they pondered closing the doors are a mix of homeless drug addicts (some rehabilitated, some not), illegal aliens looking for a safe place to rest, and families some who have gang members some who don’t). The church that feared staying there is now blessed by its relationship to the people there. There are 15 homes now owned by the church. They provide transition housing for those trying to leave the streets and to Aids patients. There is a medical clinic that they have now given away to another organization that provides care for people of the area. There are after-school programs for children in the area, and their are meals provided for those who need them. In the winter months the church floor is opened up the homeless community to offer a safe warm place to sleep. It’s choir balcony is now a place storing clothes for the poor that are sorted weekly. The Sunday School rooms have classes that teach English.
The focus of the community had to change, but they knew the church could not abandon God’s people where they were.
As we ponder living the gray again, we turn to the bible and look at Jesus and ask…Are Jesus teachings in the gray too? Can we say that we don’t know what to do?
And as we turn our ears to Jesus himself, we listen…but we actually find as we read through the scriptures what Bishop Bob Miller found…. No, it is pretty hard to misinterpret Jesus here. Jesus, in his teachings, doesn’t beat around the bush. And it isn’t just today’s teachings.
In other areas of the scripture we have the disciples asking for clarification on some of these very issues. From Matthew 25 Jesus said Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or
thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we
saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you
clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and
visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
You see the gray in our lives belongs to us not to Christ Jesus. It is our struggle to live out the gospel message that is Gray, to know how to respond in this world, the how?… not the what that is our struggle. It is our struggle to overcome our fear and be God’s people in this day, and in this time.
The danger of living in the gray is that we can be frozen into complacency and apathy. Our fear can bring us to build walls to those who are different from us. This place without clarity and a struggle to know how to act and respond in our world is where we find ourselves today. If it is all in the gray. What are we? Who are we?
But though Christ enters the gray, Christ presence is clear as to where it goes.
Don’t let gray paralyze you. Don’t let gray be an excuse not to act. Step out in love and trust in God’s grace. The “how are we going to do this?” is something we are challenged to respond to. The freedom in Christ Jesus is that God’s Grace is challenging us to action, not perfection in our actions.
I want to end with another story from Bob Miller I remember this strong man battling dementia and saying to me, “You see Michael when we die we proclaim to the world that we believe in the ‘sure and certain hope of the resurrection’. Almost crying he said, “We end our lives resting on a hope!” Bob reminded me in that moment how even in death we rest on a precipice of hope that God is real. But I would like to change Bob’s words that day to
something I can say to you, “When we live, we are called to proclaim the world that we believe in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. We rest our proclamation on a precipice that God is real. Are we doing that today? Amen