Posted by: smstrouse | July 8, 2018

Following Jesus in the Trump Era

Tom the Dancing Bug

A Sermon for Sunday, July 8, 2018

A very strange thing happened a couple of weeks ago. You might not have caught it, but to my mind it was an incredible phenomenon. Let me say, first of all, that I am a news junkie. I’ve had to limit my intake lately just to stay sane, but on June 15 and for a few days after the airwaves were really lighting up. June 15, you might remember is the day that Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted from the New Testament book of Romans to justify the policy of separating immigrant children from their parents. And with that, all of a sudden, the Bible became a hot topic of conversation and Jesus began popping up in unexpected places.

News commentators were not only quoting the Bible, some of them were talking about what Christianity means to them. Matt Miller, former spokesperson for Attorney General Eric Holder and a frequent guest on news shows, outed himself as the son of a Baptist minister, saying, “That’s not the Bible I was taught.” On MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell unabashedly preached about Jesus over several nights.

n_vr_wwjd_180615_1920x1080.860;484;7;70;5The really surprising one, though was Ali Velshi, who is a business and economics correspondent. He began his segment by saying, “Some of you probably don’t know this about me, but I have a bachelor’s degree in religion. And we’re about to go to church.” Whereupon he whipped out a Bible and started quoting from scripture. Never mind that Velshi is a Muslim; he was preaching right out of the gospels! Even Stephen Colbert got serious about it in his Late Show monologue, as he began quoting the Bible, too! All I could think was, “Oh my God, these people are witnessing!”

Now, I’m a Lutheran. I know how shy we can be about sharing our faith. The hardest slots to fill in church are on the evangelism committee. And it’s no wonder. Talking about your faith to another person could be the very definition of vulnerability. You just don’t know how you’re going to be received.

I mean, look at Jesus. Even he had to admit failure with the crowd at Nazareth. You’d think the hometown folks would have been proud of him. But the gospels tell us that they couldn‘t get past the fact that he was just Mary’s kid. That was such a stumbling block that they were unable to get anything out of his teaching. Jesus was able to do very little there. Luke’s gospel goes even further by telling that they were so appalled by Jesus that they tried to run him off a cliff. All Jesus could do was mutter, “Prophets aren’t without honor, except in their own hometown.”

But he didn’t quit. In fact, he sent his disciples out to continue the work. I’ve always wondered what Jesus did while they were out there without him. In my imagination, he went off on retreat – which he often did, going off to a mountain to pray or to a quiet place away from the crowds. I imagine that he needed some time to recover from being so rejected by his own people. Remember, too, just a few weeks ago, we read a few chapters back in Mark about his mother and siblings coming to get him because they thought he’d gone out of his mind. Poor Jesus. Maybe he needed time to recenter himself. Of course, he would need to be centered in his identity and his message for the ultimate rejection of the cross.

We all need to be grounded and centered in our identities as followers of Jesus in order to do the work of witnessing – whether by words or by deeds. Our actions in the world have to be balanced with times of inner reflection and refreshment. Because, as Jesus well knew, the work isn’t easy. He didn’t tell them to shake the dust from their feet when they’re not well received just in case that might happen. He knew it would happen.

So there are some valuable lessons we can glean today from the instructions Jesus gave so long ago. We may not need to worry about sandals or how many tunics we have, but we do need to keep it simple. Sharing your story is simply all that it takes. Talking about what being a follower of Jesus is like for you is all you need to do. You don’t need a theological degree or extensive biblical knowledge. You don’t have to be able to explain how the Trinity works or what how the doctrine of transubstantiation is different from consubstantiation. All you need is your story.

Another lesson we can glean here is that we should be unattached to the outcome of our sharing. That’s good Buddhist teaching, but Jesus has it here, too. Not everyone will want to hear your story. Not everyone will appreciate that what you do in the world is a result of being a follower of Jesus. Some may even be downright rude or hostile about it. For some people, Christinaity (or any religion) is at best foolish, at worse, destructive. Don’t take it peronally. All you need to do is move on. Shaking the dust from your shoes needn’t be a hostile act to them in return, but simply one of letting go of that person. And continuing to tell your story to others.

A third lesson is: we’re not in this alone. I’m sustained in my ministry by my pastor, my spirtual director, my spirtual friends. I couldn’t do it without them helping to keep me grounded and centered in God’s Spirit. As Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs, I imagine them encouraging each other on the way. When one became discouraged, the other could give emotional support. When they had an exciting encounter, they could share the exhiliration together. Now, church can – should – fulfil that function. The sad irony today is that so many people are rejecting the church, yet are searching deperately for community, a place to be accepted, supported, and encouraged.

There are a lot of reasons for the decline of the chruch – some of our own making, some not. But maybe things are changing. Maybe as even secualr news stations talk about Jesus, we’ll find it a little easier to talk about our faith and our convictions that come out of our religious tradition, our sacred texts. Maybe we’ll be brave enough to say, ” I care about these issues and I do this work because I’m a follower of Jesus.” That’s not a way of discounting the religious tradition of someone else or of some-one’s having no religious tradition at all. It’s simply your story.

 In closing, I’ll share with you part of my story. Back in January, as I was participating in the annual Martin Luther King March in San Francisco, I noticed there were very few signs or banners from churches and few clergy wearing collars or other clerical garb – including myself. I noticed this again at the Women’s March later that week. And I realized how important it was to have the presence of faith communities visible and vocal in these public gatherings.

35113976_2165792116769926_3533260304957833216_nSo last month, when the Pride Parade came around, I agreed to be one of the coordinators of the Lutheran Reconciling Works contingent. So I marched, along with other Lutheran clergy and lay folks, and three bishops. And under my tee shirt that proclaimed “My Faith Does Not Discriminate” I wore my collar. The bishops and some of the other clergy also were decked out in clerical garb. Lay members of St. Mark’s Lutheran, SF carried the Reconciling Works banner. Others carried signs with the names of our churches that are Reconciling in Christ congregations. We handed out Luther Rose stickers. We were a36188880_10214984360335767_3921558720412123136_n very strong presence in the parade this year.

And I have to tell you how receptive people were. I made a point to try to make eye contact with people in the crowd along the way. I noticed that there were many people who smiled and made eye contact back, many who said “Thank you.” People cheered the bishops. I felt very strongly that we were making a powerful witness to the all-inclusive love of Christ, and that people appreciated it. After the parade, I was stopped by a group of young people I didn’t know. They asked it they could take my picture because they loved my tee shirt.  It was a wonderful witnessing moment.

But I have to tell you another quick story. At the same parade, my friend John – decked out with a rainbow umbrella and a rainbow pin, along with his clerical collar – was asked by a young woman if he was anti-gay. John was shocked – given the rainbow umbrella and rainbow pin. But she said she thought because of the collar that he might be there as an anti-gay protester.

Folks, we have a lot of work to do out there. Your witness is needed in all kinds of places. And if Ali Velshi can do it, so can you. Just remember:
Keep it simple.
Don’t be attached to outcome.
And stick together.

In the name of Jesus.



Mark 6:1-13
After leaving there, Jesus came into his own town, followed by the disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and the many listeners were astounded and said, “Where did he learn all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted, and these miracles that are performed by his hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses and Judah and Simon?  Are not his sisters here with us?” They found these things to be stumbling blocks. Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their own hometown and among their own relatives and in their own households.”

And he could work no miracles there, apart from laying his hands upon a few sick people and healing them; their lack of faith astounded him. He made the rounds of the neighboring villages instead, and spent the time teaching.

Then Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs, giving them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff – no bread, no bag, no money in their belts.  They were to wear sandals, but he added, “Do not take a spare tunic.”
And Jesus said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. Any place that does not receive you or listen to, as you leave it, shake off the dust from the soles of your feet as a testimony against them.”

And so they set off, proclaiming repentance as they went. They cast out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.




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