Tuesday, May 14, 2019

What Love Is This? Courage by Rev. Terri Stewart


Rev. Terri Stewart

Vashon United Methodist Church

May 5, 2019 -- Third Sunday in Eastertide

Acts 9:1-7

Sometimes, Dr. Seuss is the best teacher of all
He teaches gospel lessons to big and to small
He may not mention Saul or disciple Peter
But he tells us of love, no one is neater

OK. I’m not going to promise that is the last time today that I’m going to drop into rhyming couplets, but it does start us off on our journey with Horton.

Horton Hears a Who is one of my two favorite Dr. Seuss stories. It was elevated to favorite status when Seussical the Musical came out and they combined rhyming couplets with Broadway music. But if you don’t know the story of Horton, or you don’t remember, let me remind us.

The story starts out with Horton, a very special elephant splashing about in a pool. He was having a grand time, living his heart’s purpose when suddenly he hears a very faint yelp. As if some tiny person were calling for help.  Horton stops splashing and looks toward the sound. He finally locates the sound and it is coming from a speck of dust. He decides that there must be a person on that speck of dust because he heard the noise even though he could not see a person.  He says, “There must be some poor little person who’s shaking with fear that he’ll blow in the pool! He has no way to steer! I’ll just have to save him. Because, after all, A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Horton cares for the speck of dust and talks with the Mayor of Whoville all the while being persecuted by the unbelievers. The kangaroos, the monkeys, the eagle, conspire against him and steal the clover where the dust has settled and fly off. Horton follows and follows. Then the eagle drops the clover into a field of endless clover--a hundred miles wide! Horton searched and searched and finally, after the three millionth flower, he finds his friends, declaring, “Tell me! Do tell! Are you safe? Are you sound? Are you whole? Are you well?”

And it goes on with more persecution but Horton persists with courage and heart. Through all the humphed voices and all the commotion, until, they tie him up with rope and prepare to drop the clover into a hot steaming kettle of Beezle Nut oil!

Horton cries out, “Mr. Mayor, Mr. Mayor! You’ve got to prove now that you really are there! So call a big meeting. Get everyone out. Make every Who holler! Make every Who shout!”

Eventually, they make a big enough noise to be “heard. They rang out clear and clean. And the elephant smiled saying Do you see what I mean?”

Then, the two most vehement persecutors, the kangaroo and her child, became the fiercest defenders of Whoville. Because, after all, a person’s a person, no matter how small.

Now, you may be wondering what Horton has to do with Saul and with Peter, but I think I can show you a connection…nothing would be sweeter!

I love today’s scripture reading. We commonly call them the Call of Saul and the Call of Peter. Well, it is actually the Third Call of Peter. Peter and Saul who becomes Paul, but we’ll just call him Saul today, Peter and Saul are both converted to following Jesus after serious incidents.  Paul actively persecuted followers of Jesus and Peter denied knowing Jesus and turned away. Peter and Paul, Sons of Israel, created to bring healing to the world. In Genesis, God promised that Israel would be a channel of blessing to all peoples on the earth. So for Sons of Israel to arrive at a spot where they are persecuting Jewish followers of Christ and denying ever being a follower of Jesus is a path towards death and destruction.

They were, a bit like the kangaroo, the monkeys, and the eagles. Saul, more than Peter, perhaps, as he was determined to persecute and deny the very existence of voices that were crying in the wilderness.

Saul thought that as a son of Israel he was to follow the rules and to stamp out, exterminate, those who he would name heretics. That is what strict rule following led him too. Peter’s fear of being persecuted brought him to the denial of Jesus.

But they both experienced a call as dramatic as the entire city of Whoville calling out to all the animals near the Jungle of Nool.  Saul becomes blind and does not eat or drink for three days. Peter, after denying Jesus, goes through a dramatic ritual with Jesus.  Jesus is quizzing Peter and keeping him at arm’s length by asking Peter, “Do you love me?” And Peter replies, “Yes, I love you.” Over and over. The missing piece that we don’t quite grasp in any of our translations is that Peter and Jesus are using different words for love. Jesus is asking Peter for agape love, servant love. The love that a disciple has for a teacher. Peter is replying with philios love, the love a friend has for a dear friend. And they go back and forth tensely.

Do you love me like a disciple loves a teacher?
You know that I love you like a dear friend.

Feed my lambs.

And again,
Do you love me like a disciple loves a teacher?
You know that I love you like a dear friend.

Take care of my sheep.

And finally, it says, Peter was sad. But Jesus relents and says,

Do you love me like a dear friend?
Peter replies, “You know I love you.”

It is then that Jesus says, echoing the first call to Peter in the first chapter of John when Jesus walks by their fishing boat and says, “Peter, follow me.”

We usually give all the drama of call to Saul but it must have been hard to be Peter in that moment.
Saul’s call was to courageously turn away from harm-harming others by being a “rule follower” and towards healing and reconciliation. And Peter’s third call is the same. Turning away from harm-harming the self by internalized shame and turning towards healing and reconciliation.

But Peter and Saul first had to hear the call of Jesus.

When Horton hears the call of the Mayor of Whoville, it sets into motion a series of events that leads towards isolation, persecution, and eventually community restoration. It really all begins with whose call will you hear and how courageous will you be?

In other words, will you hear the call of Jesus?

Can you stand against tradition? Against your own fear and shame? Against friends that don’t believe your experience? Even stand against your own senses when your hearing tells you one thing and your sight another?

This is exactly what we are expected to do when we follow the Prince of Peace. Put down our swords—our swords of shame and blame that bring pain and isolation. Pick up our plowshares that are used to plant seeds of peace.

I was recently invited to lead a Peacemaking Circle, a restorative justice process that heals relationships, with a young man who made a threat via social media and with the family that was threatened. I met with each family separately. And on one side, we have a family, the crime survivors, that want restorative justice, putting down their swords and following the path of peace and on the other side, a family that is caught in their own fear, shame, and misunderstanding so much that they will not enter into the process because they do not trust that the adults will not persecute or prosecute their son. Now, adults in a bureaucratic system can be hard to trust, but there is a deeper separation. There is the separation of bias that is preventing them from seeing each other in their complete wholeness.  They haven’t quite reached the vision that “a person’s a person no matter how small.”

You have a system trying to rush a restoration of relationship. Families that are fearful but hopeful. Families that are fearful but angry. Bureaucrats delivering contradictory messages.  It is a bit like a zoo! They are the kangaroos, monkeys, and the eagles that run and take the Whos away from Horton who is simply trying to have a life-giving ethic and to answer the call of the Prince of Peace. Who asks:

Do you love me like a teacher?
Do you love me like a beloved friend?

Go. Feed my sheep and follow me.

Feed my sheep and teach them the ways of the Prince of Peace, the ways of healing, and the ways of laying down rule-boundedness and internalized shame.

That is so much easier said than done. It takes inordinate courage to confront your own complicity with systems that oppress and with your own internalized shaming and blaming.

Confronting our own bias and seeing our hearts
Takes courage that seeps into all of our parts
Into our head and our heart and our feet and our hands
Doing our part, following Jesus, shows we are all fans
Of Christ’s transforming peace that knows no end
We put our trust in him no matter the  trend

Peter and Saul, and even Horton, followed the Prince of Peace overcoming obstacles and rules and internalized shame to have a right relationship with the principles of peace. The principles of peace that say that rules are not valued over human life, shame is not the last word, and no matter what, a person’s a person, no matter how small.

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