Sunday, May 21
Graduate Recognition Sunday
Scripture: 1 Samuel 17:32-37 and Acts 6:8-15
Rev. Jill VanderWal

A Rabbi tells a story of a traveler who is walking down a road when he sees a beautiful house on fire, and he says, “How can it be that something so beautiful would burn, and nobody seems to even care?” In many ways our world is on fire, and as followers of Jesus we are invited to keep our hearts and our eyes open, and to recognize that it’s our responsibility to help put out the flames. In the gospel there is a call to be awake, and a call to action.

This is extremely difficult to do. Psychologists tell us that the more we learn about what’s broken in our world, the less likely we are to do anything. It’s called psychic numbing. We just shut down at a certain point.  As a result, faith can become an inner retreat, an escape to a peaceful place or a community of like-minded people closed off from any necessary action or costly stance.

Our scripture today is on how the faith practice of the early church is facing opposition. This involves standing up for a belief despite resistance and persecution. In the church today we focus on love and peace, but an important aspect of faith is also standing up, calling out, responding, and resisting in hope of reform. Last week Troy spoke to the three ways the church participates with God’s mission in the world: evangelism, compassionate service, and social justice.  Broadly, the realm of faith in action is  social justice – challenging the status quo in the places where it is broken.

“Participating in social justice is a Christian tradition inspired by Jesus, not liberal causes, populist agendas, media platforms, lawmakers, or mainstream fads. It’s a deeply spiritual practice. Instead of being motivated by political affiliations, financial gain, power, pride, control, or our own secular motivations, we are invited to be active participants for the sake of following Jesus — for the purpose of glorifying God through acts of justice, empowerment, and love.”  (from Sojourners)

Moral Mondays, Meatless Mondays, Nuns on the Bus, War Resisters League, save the wolves, whales and the Great Lakes. Environment, human rights, advocacy, solidarity, medicine, inner faith dialogue – the world is on fire. How does our faith engage how we fight fires or engage in the status quo?

Stephen and the Status Quo

Stephen is a gifted teacher and speaker and we are told he is filled with the Sprit in a miraculous way. He almost glows. He’s telling people about the new way of Jesus. In the early church as they were living out and practicing their faith they were met with resistance and opposition. This came as no surprise to them as they had seen Jesus put to death on a cross. For the early followers of Jesus sometimes their faith would lead to imprisonment, trials, persecution and even death.

Stephen is the first martyr of the early church. Many more would meet the same fate. A group of Jews felt the message Stephen preached negated the Law of Moses and the centrality of the temple in the worship of God. He is put on trial, false witnesses testify, and he is found guilty of blasphemy and stoned to death. One commentator says, “The charge is religious innovation,” it’s about reform… change.

Our Relationship to the Status Quo

I love graduation speeches. At their best, they acknowledge the graduates’ creative capacity and invite them into shaping the future of the world. A couple of quotes that speak to this reality:

John Lewis Washington University in St Louis (2016):

“The action of Rosa Parks and the words and leadership of Dr. King inspired me to find a way to get in the way. I got in the way. I got in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble. … You must leave here and go out and get in the way. When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you must have the courage to stand up, to speak up, and find a way to get in the way.”

There’s a rabbinic tradition that we are to walk around with two slips of paper in our pockets. One says, “I am but dust and ashes.” It’s not all about me. I can’t control everything, and I cannot do this on my own. The other slip of paper says, “For my sake the world was created.”  This is a reminder of the beauty and brilliance when we live in the tension between humility and courage.

David is a great example of a youth who lived with a sense of humility, but also courage to face the scary giants that seem impossible to defeat.  In our passage today the two armies are at an impasse. No one is willing to fight the Philistine giant and David says, “I’ll try.” Strength was in part his non-conformity. He wasn’t going to put on armor. David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”

I want to close with a video clip… Apple developed a commercial entitled Think different. It celebrates the dreamers, artists, reformers and revolutionaries. Those who were courageous and crazy enough to believe they could change the world.  Each generation, each person has something to contribute.

Video text: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.  The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.  They’re not fond of rules.  And they have no respect for the status quo.  You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.  Because they change things. They push the human race forward.  And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”    Rob Siltanen

There’s only one you in the world. No one else was ever or will ever be you. You may find resistance and you will meet a gaint called opposition in your life. Do not fear, as you go forth, the Lord God will be with you.