The Lessons for the Sixth Sunday of Easter are
First Reading Acts 16:9–15
Psalm Psalm 67
New Testament Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5
Gospel John 14:23–29 or John 5:1–9
These are days when “white supremacy” and “replacement theory” are in the air.
Along with the burning emotions that come along with them.
And all this, indeed is dividing not only societies, but also God’s church. “Sure, God is love, but love for whom?” That’s the question.
If we start just with this single word, “replacement,” we will get a taste for how much the emotions are burning. Nobody wants to be replaced.
If you are the older child, you love your newborn brother or sister until it dawns on you that parents and neighbors aren’t pinching your cheek anymore. Baby brother or sister seems far cuter, and now gets the attention, and you are vaguely jealous.
If you are a divorced dad, you cringe when your kids start calling you wife’s new husband “daddy.”
And if you are a white guy, it’s all too easy to be moved to boiling resentment when you are told Mexican immigrants and Haitian refugees are coming to take your job and to cancel your vote.
The fuel that gets the emotions flaming up is “us—them” thinking: “It’s those other people out there who are set on replacing us! We are the legacy Americans. We are classic Americans. We are the true believers. ‘We’ are the ones who belong here, fought and died for freedom, and deserve to live in the suburbs and have jobs. ‘They’ are the ones who are bringing in replacements. Replacements are the ones moving in–the ones who look different—talk different—and are different.”
The issue for Christians isn’t whether or not Democrats might want more votes—of course, votes are red meat for both parties. The issue isn’t whether or not we should feel special closeness for to our own kind. The issue is what the gospel says about love of the other.
This week I had a wakeup call about how “us—them” thinking and replacement theory was not only causing madmen to shoot people in grocery stores, but how its tearing at God’s church. I had a strange and sudden urge to see what Google could tell me about a key moment in my college years when the President of my old Lutheran Church–Missouri-Synod Concordia College in Ann Arbor fired a favorite Greek professor of mine because he spoke at an off-campus dance. You see, they thought dancing was the devil’s work back then.
Well, when I typed in “professor fired at Concordia, Ann Arbor.” I didn’t get that ancient history, but something very recent.
First I learned that a sociology professor was fired in 2016 because she wouldn’t apologize for scaring her students. You see, when I was there at Concordia, the students were all white—but now there are some blacks. And one or two asked the teacher what she thought of Colin Kaepernick kneeling at NFL football games to protest treatment of blacks by the police. She scared them by saying. “I’d kill him. He dishonored the flag and the country, so I’d kill him.”
Then I learned that there is another controversy and court case brewing. Just a couple months ago a professor of theology and a pastor at the school was suspended when he posted an article in a so-called Christian newspaper, harshly criticizing Concordia for stipulating, as they looked for a new university president, that they wanted to be a school that welcomed, honored, and respected people of all races. The professor objected virulently to this sentiment. He said this was replacement. He said that the school was replacing the good ole Lutheran and Christian religion with “woke-ism.” So, now the school is trying to cope with this professor and his views, and he is rallying the like-minded and suing the university.
The issue is, what does God think about all of this! Is diversity and anti-racism really on God’s agenda? Is it all a part of the Christian faith? Does God really want us to resist walls and build bridges? Did Jesus Christ die for us to go to heaven where such controversies are forbidden—for us to engage with the controversies and work to get along with each other?
The first thing I can say about that is what the Epistle of Ephesians, chapter 2 says with gusto:
The classic “us against them” divide—you Jews and Gentiles, were aliens and strangers to each other. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
And today and next week we will read two history lessons about the church that illustrate what God is thinking.
This week the lesson from Acts is all about crossing over from Asia to Europe—a very big deal.
In Luke’s Book of Acts he makes a big deal of boundary busting. The Spirit of God breaks up all the cozy little tribes that people have made for themselves.
Remember, on Pentecost, all the people from different tribes all over the world have gathered for a Jewish feast in Jerusalem, but when the Spirit’s fire dances on the heads of the disciples they speak Aramaic, but these foreingers all hear in their own languages.
Then the Greek speakers and Aramaic speakers quit squabbling over their welfare system when the deacons or servants are chosen and everybody gets fed.
Then the big breakthrough when the Spirit goes beyond the Jews of Jerusalem, and awakens the hearts also of Gentiles in Antioch, and even a castrated African cup-bearer from Ethiopia.
But here we are in the thick of the story, in chapter 16. Paul has spent all of his time up to this point in the Levant and the Roman province of Asia, and wants to continue—but the Holy Spirit blocks his way. Then Paul has a vision of a man across the big boundary line between Asia and Europe. From Macedonia, in the north part of the Greek peninsula, he calls out to Paul—“come over here and help us.” Acts is showing us that this is a real BREAKTHROUGH!
Why is the war now in the Ukraine such a big deal? Because it’s a revival of this age-old, classic feud between East and West—between Asia and Europe.
Why was the Trojan war such a big deal to Homer? Because Troy’s prince Paris of Asia crossed over and stole the wife of a king in the Greek Europe.
Why were the Persian wars against Greece such a big deal to the History of Herodotus? Because it was an affront against the gods and against nature for Cyrus and Xerxes to cross that line and for East to attack West.
But Acts is about the boundary busting of the Holy Spirit—not out of out-of-control pride, but for the sake of the world. The Word of God—the gospel of God’s grace pouring out for the whole world in Christ, will be stopped by no walls of hostility! No feuds, boundary lines, no misunderstandings, no clashes of civilizations.
Then one more boundary busting. When Paul gets to Philippi, his first foothold in Europe, the very first disciples he baptizes are Lydia and her family. Next week we will meet another—another woman—a slave—a woman possessed.
But isn’t Lydia interesting? A woman who herself is a boundary buster.
She has one home in Asia Minor—the city of Thyatira—and another in European Philippi.
And she is doing a very big business in a man’s world. She deals in the color purple, which is very expensive to make and so is the color of royalty from classical times through the middle ages.
Acts shows us that the work of the Holy Spirit is to break through the walls of hostility we build in our ignorance and our sin; and Lydia teams up with Paul and leads the way.
It is such a powerful source of sin and death in our world to be trapped behind the walls we build into our little tribes—when we believe in all the good things: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and self control—when we dedicate ourselves to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – but for us alone—not them. For the members of our group, not for those who are different.
Death is at hand when we believe that whenever others reach out for these things, they are trying to replace us. Rhetoric gets enflamed with fear and hate—and shots are fired—and bombs are dropped.
For all of history all of us humans have been vulnerable to the fear that others are not there to help, but to replace us. We have the devil whispering in our ears, “There’s nothing in it for you if Black Lives Matter—if those other people are given equal opportunity—and if the boundaries are permeable. But Johns Gospel tells us in chapter 14, that as Jesus made his way to the cross, to give of his life for all, he said, “I will be giving my peace to you, and I will send the Holy Spirit to you to teach and defend you. All this I give to you because, instead of seeing others as out to get you—you love them. If you love me, you will love them.”
Yes, love instead of hate always pays off for you and you and me. For all of us!
So Paul and Lydia and the church through the ages have known that Christ breaks down the dividing walls and, in place of a dying world, broken up into little tribes, cowering in fear and stalking in anger, God gives us a New Creation, where there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female—but we are all one in Christ Jesus.
This is what is on God’s mind. The only replacement we have to fight now is the replacement of the God of love with the demons of suspicion and hate—the God of gathering with the idol of division. We must be on guard against those who unwittingly are overturning faith in Christ whose death breaks down the walls of hostility with empty religiosity woven of political propaganda and hateful ideas.
God will be on our side when we work to keep the church a family of all humankind.
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