Come home to Calvary
Nothing is normal. No one is okay. We’re all doing the best we can. My friend Jeff shares this:
The people with the responsibility to make the decisions make them. The plans get made. And then some people are upset …and they start squawking. Do we pivot in response to the squawkers? They have a point. The people with the responsibility to make the decisions make them. The plans get made. The data upon which the decisions were made change. And the second-guessing about the decision ramps up. Do we pivot yet again in response to the second guessing? The second guessing makes some sense. The people with the responsibility to make the decisions make them. The plans get made. The technology is supposed to work, but it’s not—not really. And the doubts about being able to pull off the plans rise. Do we pivot yet again in response to the…technology? How bad can the experience get before “good enough” isn’t any more? The debating about pivoting is as exhausting as the pivoting itself. This is [our] reality, God. And it is exhausting.
I feel like we’ve been on hold for two years, with that distorted music blaring endlessly in the background. It is exhausting, but at least we are exhausted together! This sermon’s title is taken from “Harlem” by Langston Hughes.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
It’s difficult for white people like me to understand the depth of damage done by dreams deferred. My dear colleague and friend, The Rev. Dr. William Knight, recently retired from ministry. I feel odd sharing his words this morning because they are specific to his life experience not mine, but I have his blessing to read from his open letter to the San Antonio community. Dr. Knight writes:
My blackness is a cross I bear. It is a blessing and a burden not of my choosing. It is an inescapable reality that informs and dictates the ways that I interact with and react to my world.
My grandfather was lynched while my mother was still in the womb only to be born fatherless with a mother so traumatized that she had to give her child to relatives until she could heal enough to face the world that had cruelly and hatefully taken the life of her husband.
My father had to gather his wife and family and flee Memphis, Tennessee, the city of my birth, when I was but two years old because he had spoken publicly and passionately about a candidate running for sheriff and one of the officers bravely but secretly warned my father that there were plans to lynch him and burn his grocery store to the ground.
I remember as a twelve year old, standing on the corner of 55th and Central Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio selling copies of the Call and Post, one of the nation’s finest black-owned newspapers. The front page was filled with a black and white photograph of Emmett Till, a fourteen year old black boy who had been brutally beaten and lynched in Mississippi. His battered, bruised and bloated body was laid in an open casket because his mother wanted the world to see what hatred had done to her child.
…being a Black man in America [has also] been both a cause for [celebrating] the strength and endurance of my family, of the love and joy of growing up in the church, singing, praying and praising God. And a source of caution: the times when I had to learn the rituals of survival, how to interact with police, how to avoid certain areas where my safety was in danger.
Through the years, whenever there was yet another outbreak of violence in the Black community, whether it was a riot reflecting the pain of loss of an assassinated Dr. King or a reaction to the death of one more Black person at the hands of those who wore the uniform of authority and wielded the power of their badge, I always held to one unwavering conviction: This was not the real America. These were a small minority of angry, hateful, disconnected people who were by no means representative of the core beliefs of my nation. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
When I put on the uniform of the United States Navy, I did so with the faith that my service would be a demonstration of my unshakable belief in the promise of my country: A strong thread that would allow me to claim my place in the fabric of society.
Even when it became clear that not everyone looked upon my service with either respect or honor, even as I joined in the protests against the war, I retained my pride that I had done my best, I had tried to make it better.
If there is a core theology for my life, it is contained in that statement.
I have done my best to make it better.
This past year has, once again…violence captured on video while a policeman holds his knee on a Black man’s neck, ignoring his pleas for mercy, until George Floyd dies as an example of cruelty and disregard for Black lives,
…on January 6 (2021) my sense of belonging, my trust in… my fellow Americans, [and our] systems of government… offered a shield against the…mob violence that was unleashed in our nation’s Capitol.
The sight of a gallows, with a noose swaying gently in the Washington wind, was a stark…reminder that some of our fellow citizens are still embarked on an uncivil war.
Watching the desecration and destruction of the very seat of our government, a place where we have invested millions of dollars to keep our legislators safe…Watching uniformed officers trying to deflect the mob without anyone coming to their rescue…Watching the Confederate flag, symbol of an insistence upon the right to keep Black people in slavery carried gleefully into the people’s house…All of this was a blow to my heart and to my spirit.
Later, when I learned that an officer of the San Antonio Sheriff’s Department was a participant I was, once again, hit with a reality that made it abundantly clear that there is no guarantee that those who swore to protect and serve include me in their oath.
My intention has always been to do my best, to help make it better. To share…the Goodness of a God whose love is for everyone. [After much prayer and consultation] I have come to realize that it is time for me to retire.
Hate comes from fear. Fearful people worry that their comfortable tables will be overturned. They fear change. The powerful fear that the hungry will be filled with good things while the rich are sent empty away. No doubt there is someone here or online that I’m making uncomfortable, quoting the gospel. Instead of getting angry at the truth, how about let’s get angry at the lies that made us comfortable? The words of Rev. Dr. William Knight are true. His deferred dreams are leading him, a veteran, in his retirement, to move out of the country. Friends, it is past time to turn the tables on hate.
Now, there are no reliable accounts of Jesus’ formative years, but he very well could have grown up buying those sacrificial animals we read of today. Livestock and doves were marketed as sacrificial animals that would please Yahweh, the God of Israel. Buy this, cry the money changers, and God will love you more. It doesn’t work that way. It never will.
Around his thirtieth year, Jesus must have compared the prophecy of Zechariah with the marketplace in the temple, and his dreams exploded in a fit of rage. He made a whip and drove the moneychangers and their animal inventory out of the temple. In the South, we’d say he ran em out of town on a rail.
Since this is Jesus we’re talking about, perhaps you wonder with me, what’s with this violence? I know someone who tried to use this scripture as justification for free-floating anger and abusive behavior. Well, “even the devil can quote scripture for his own purposes.” But since the Early Church began, thinking Christians interpret scripture through the lens of agape self-sacrificial love. We interpret all scripture through the lens of love. If you want to be violent, the Bible can be used to justify your violence, but where is the love? If you want to live a life of blessing, following Jesus, it’s best to regard this passage as the sole example of what theologians call righteous anger. Please continue to follow Jesus past John’s second chapter and into his public ministry of loving, healing and forgiving.
But today, Jesus’ righteous anger is aimed squarely at those confuse superstitions with authentic spirituality. Catholic theologian Richard Ounsworth explains that the turning of the tables was not about trying to salvage a broken system. He writes:“Jesus [was] not just trying to get rid of a few practices that have crept in to mar something he basically approves of. No. He is trying to put a stop to the whole thing.”
John shows us that Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 14 in his very body.
On that day [when God rules over all the earth] there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ …and every cooking-pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred…not just the temple cooking pots…so that all…may come and use them… And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord…on that day.
Everyone, through Jesus Christ, has unfettered access to God. Every sacrifice we make to God is already holy. On that day, and it will come, when God rules over all the earth, justice will roll like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. And all of those truths we have been avoiding will set us free.
Jesus teaches us this in the eighth chapter of John (while preaching at the temple’s treasury building!) If we continue in his word, we will be his disciples. And we will know the truth, and the truth will free us. By chapter eight, he’s dealt with the fallout from his righteous anger, and he and the disciples have pivoted, living into the promise of Zechariah, that all are holy, all people, all nations, all the earth, holy and worthy of God’s unconditional love.
So do we get the gratification of venting our allegedly-righteous anger, like Jesus? I like to answer that question with this quote from Pema Chodron.
All over the world, everybody always strikes out at the enemy, and the pain escalates forever. Every day we could reflect on this and ask ourselves, ‘Am I going to add to the aggression in the world?’ Every day, at the moment when things get edgy, we can just ask ourselves, “Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?
The John passage ends with a savvy Jesus who knew better than to put his trust in people. He sees our rage and knows our war. Therefore, I am going to sacrifice the self-satisfaction my aggression might afford. I choose Jesus behavior over Judge Judy behavior. (And I love me some Judge Judy!) Matthew 25 people, for the sake of Zechariah’s prophecy that all is holy, let’s defer Dr. King’s dream no more.
Come and fill our hearts with your peace,
You and all Your world are holy.
Come and fill our heart with your peace,
 Rev. Jeff Spencer, UCC, pastor of Niles Discovery Church.
 Luke 1:53
 Amos 5:24.
 John 8.
 Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, p. 32.
 Earlier in the service, we joined with PC(USA) congregations everywhere in claiming our shared ministry as a “Matthew 25 Congregation” feeding the hungry, helping shelter the unhoused, ministering to the sick and incarcerated, etc. See Matthew 25 for the complete text.
John 2:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version)
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
John 2:13-25 (The Inclusive Bible)
Since it was almost the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the Temple, he found people selling cattle, sheep and pigeons, while moneychangers sat at their counters. Making a whip out of cords, Jesus drove them all out of the Temple—even the cattle and sheep—and overturned the tables of the money changers, scattering their coins. Then he faced the pigeon sellers: “Take all this out of here! Stop turning God’s house into a market!” The disciples remembered the words of scripture: “Zeal for your house consumes me.” The Temple authorities intervened and said, “What sign can you show us to justify what you’ve done?” Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They retorted, “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and you’re going to raise it up in three days?” But the temple he was speaking of was his body. It was only after Jesus had been raised from the dead that the disciples remembered this statement and believed the scripture—and the words that Jesus had spoken. While Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover festival, many people believed in him, for they could see the signs he was performing. But Jesus knew all people, and didn’t entrust himself to them. Jesus never needed evidence about people’s motives; he was well aware of what was in everyone’s heart.
 I include this more recent translation to balance the anti-Semitism that runs through our traditional translations.