June 19, 2011; Matthew 28: 16-20
A sermon preached by Rev. Jane McBride, First Congregational Church of MN, UCC
Jesus said to the disciples: “after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” At the empty tomb, they once again received word: Jesus went to Galilee; go to Galilee. Galilee is home- the place where they all grew up. Galilee is daily life, the arena where big politics touch ordinary people. In the Palestine of Jesus’ day, the Romans ruled the Jews through tyrannical governors.
In Galilee, Herod Antipas and his father, Herod the great, built the cities of Sepphoris and Tiberias as tributes to the emperor. The elites who lived in these cities funded their lifestyles by confiscating the land of ordinary Galileans and forcing peasant farmers to pay up to half their harvest in taxes. (sources: Gerard Hall, Australian Catholic University, http://dlibrary.acu.edu.au/staffhome/gehall/XTOLOGY2.htm; Val Noone, Melbourne Unitarian Church, http://www.melbourneunitarian.org.au/node/79)
Galilee. There Jesus entered the political and economic fray, speaking truth to power. There he touched the suffering with his own hands, healing bodies and restoring souls to community. There Jesus put forth a vision of the world in which all would have enough. There, in Galilee, Jesus also made enemies, people who eventually got him killed. I’m going ahead of you to Galilee, Jesus said. Meet me there. In others words, go home, live your ordinary lives. Start over with what you were doing Before the terror of the cross and the amazement of the empty tomb. Follow me back into the pain of the world as it is and the promise of the world as it could be.
Jesus also calls us to meet him in Galilee – As a church, one way we are seeking to do this is by building a partnership with Community Emergency Services. In our summer newsletter, First Church member Kathy Hoaglund recounts that: “Shopping at the food shelf provides the experience of not always having choices we’re used to. There are many off brands available and one is drawn to the few name labels, wanting to give the recipient the best product. It becomes personal as you think of your own weekly shopping trips and the luxury of making choices not usually limited by brand availability or cost. At the food shelf, someone’s list may call for toothpaste and you find the supply depleted. It’s frustrating to be unable to fill such a basic need.”
In Galilee, the struggle for basic needs continues. In Galilee, justice is delayed and denied. In Galilee, the powerful and privileged must avoid the temptation to make a quick fix, combat the tendency to become overwhelmed with guilt, resist the desire to turn away, exhausted, from the sustained personal and communal effort needed for change The task of living in Galilee is to address, with courage, humility, and perseverance, the painful realities of inequality.
Today, June 19, is also known as “Juneteenth”. This day is the oldest continuing celebration of the end of slavery in the US. Specifically, Juneteenth commemorates emancipation in Texas. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into force in January of 1863, but Union soldiers did not reach Galveston with the news of freedom (and the firepower needed to uphold the law) until June 19, 1865, 2 ½ years later. Various legends have grown up about why this delay took place. A messenger was murdered. Slave owners deliberately withheld the news. Federal troops waited for slave holders to reap the benefits of one last harvest before going to Texas to enforce the law. (www.juneteenth.com)
This delay of justice is no isolated occurrence- but a thread through our history. In January of 1865, General Sherman issued an order providing freed slaves with 40 acres of land and a mule. By June of that same year, about 10,000 freed slaves were settled on farms in Georgia and South Carolina. Soon after, in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination, president Johnson revoked these orders, returning the land to white owners. And that was that. Slaves built this nation and its wealth with their labor. And yet African Americans have been systematically denied access to economic resources. In the south it happened through Jim Crow laws and the sharecropping system, in the north, through the denial of the GI bill to black soldiers and mortgages to black families (also known as redlining).
This history is not in the past; it is living and active in our world today– According to the Star Tribune, in Minnesota, “the black jobless rate of over 20 percent [is] more than three times that of whites in Minnesota, the four-year graduation rate for black high school students [is] 40 percent, half the rate of whites, and while whites in Minnesota [have] one of the lowest poverty rates in the nation, 36 percent of blacks [live] in poverty, fifth highest in the country.” Star Tribune, March 30, 2011: “Governor holds a ‘long overdue’ talk with blacks”
Galilee is the same old world with the same old problems And yet, Galilee does look different in the company of the risen Jesus. Seen in the light of the empty tomb, Galilee is about transformation – about hope that endures for the long haul and grace that receives us just as we are and trust that creatively dialogues with honest doubt.
Matthew reports that when the disciples saw Jesus in Galilee, “they worshipped him, but some doubted.” The word that indicates ‘doubt’ here appears only in one other place in the New Testament. Jesus walks on the water; he beckons to Peter to come join him. Peter steps out and starts confidently toward Jesus. But then Peter gets scared. He begins to sink. He cries out, “save me” and Jesus reaches out a hand. (Matthew 14: 29-33)
Doubt, here, is not intellectual. It is a posture of fear, a failure of trust. Marcus Borg makes the analogy that having faith is like learning to float. If we relax and breathe, the water will do its work. If we remain rigid and fearful, the water hold us. The point is, in this life of faith, doubt and trust are not enemies; they are companions Peter floats and sinks, he trusts and he doubts, all in the same moment. In today’s text, all of the disciples worship Jesus – but some doubt amid their worship.
When Jesus says, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” ‘disciples’ is the operative word. Disciples are students, learners, People who need lots of practice, people who aren’t sure and yet make a commitment to follow. Discipleship isn’t about converting others to our beliefs. It is about walking beside one another through Galilee crossing boundaries in search of mutual transformation Remaining open to the grace and hope of the living God in the world and one another. Disciples don’t believe what Jesus believed as much as they do what Jesus did.
Today is also known as “Trinity Sunday” in the church calendar. The Trinity, in my mind, is not just Father, Son and Holy Spirit It is lover, beloved, love; tree, roots, branches; God before us, God within us, God among us. The Trinity is expansive, rather than limiting language for God. It is a way of trying to transcend human language and categories in describing God; it is a poetic attempt to name divine power, which is so different from our own. The power of relationship, never coersion. The power of unity that does not swallow difference but cherishes it. The power of boundless self-giving.
A few years ago I asked confirmation class members to bring objects to class that represented God for them. ‘ We went around the circle. One young man hesitated. “Um…” he said, reaching into his pockets. Long pause. Clearly he had forgotten. Then a sly smile lit his features. “Well,” he continued, pulling his hand out of his pocket, “God is like this lint in my pocket. We don’t notice God, but God is everywhere, all the time ” That’s the God of Galilee: the Spirit who infuses dull, ordinary moments with grace, and tough, intractable problems with transformation and our worn-out wounded hearts with hope. Let us go to Galilee. Amen.