“These People…”



Sunday, August 19, 2018        Acts 17:1-15    “These People…”

Leilani was born with a bad heart. Her heart has stopped and she’s died 5 or 6 times. Once, in jr. high, there was substitute gym teacher who egged her on to run with the class, not knowing her medical status, and Leilani’s heart stopped. So she’s in her 20s when her cardiologist tells her that she needs to be on the transplant list. Her heart isn’t going to last much longer. She gets the call 4 months later. “It’s a match,” they tell her. She has the surgery, and then 2 more within 72 hours to get everything stabilized. But this new heart, well, it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like it was hers. And it wasn’t something that a doctor could fix. It felt more like a device than her heart. She is more fearful of it than any other emotion. Her old, failing heart? She knew what would trigger it. She knows how it would feel on first dates. She knew all it had seen and been through. It was something her parents had given her. She had grown it. It had known all her firsts and all those emotions. Now this new one? It didn’t feel right. As she continues to tell her riveting story to Nora McInerny on the podcast, “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” it doesn’t have a happy ending, or rather, a neat, tied-up ending. She’s still alive, and that’s good, but she’s living with this heart that just doesn’t fit her. At least not yet.  Toward the end of the story, she actually gets to see her old heart. She gets to go into this lab where they put her old heart into her hands. It has been sliced up and tested and analyzed and studied. She could see the scarring and where the muscle tissue had died. Looking at her old dead heart, her heart that had failed her time and time again, she realized for the first time that she couldn’t have kept going with that heart, even as well as she knew it. And this was not something she had believed before the transplant or since at all. Her new heart had changed her life, given her actual life. But it still didn’t feel like it was hers. Paul has come to the people in Thessalonica and is offering them a heart transplant. Paul appeals to the hearts of those hearing him in the synagogue for 3 sabbath days explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying,  “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.”  Paul tells them about the necessity for Jesus to suffer.  Which flies in the face of all notions of God. That a God would suffer and die? That makes no sense. Any kind of successful God would win, proclaim victory, bend the people to his will! Plus, if God would suffer, what does that mean for the rest of us? Richard Rohr, in his book “Falling Upward” says this: life is characterized much more by exception and disorder than by total or perfect order. Life, as the biblical tradition makes clear, is both loss and renewal, death and resurrection, chaos and healing at the same time; life seems to be a collision of opposites. …faith and trust are linked by an underlying life force so strong that it even includes death. Paul is explaining and proving something that is hard to explain or prove. But what they can clearly see is that he’s hitting them where it hurts. This Jesus fellow will threaten their way of life, their way of religion, their way of government.  Jesus will break open their hearts. Sure, their hearts are failing but this? This Jesus? That doesn’t feel right. It’s going to mess everything up! Jesus would turn their system of religion based on ethical codes of who is clean and who is unclean upside down. It would upset the black and white of who is in and who is out. Essentially, Jesus exposes the system of scapegoating. Of drawing lines to assign blame and to assign holiness. Paul shows up and says, you need a scapegoat? I’ve got the final one – the Messiah, Jesus. Jesus became the final scapegoat to reveal the lie of the system based on scapegoats. It is as if Paul is handing them their dissected hearts, offering them a transplant that will indeed turn everything on its head.  Jesus, it turns out, is an inclusive savior, not an exclusive savior. Jesus is the one who has the power to bond us together by love – not separate who gets the love and who doesn’t. And it is this Jesus who suffers who then meets us in our suffering. The cross means that Jesus shows us that he will be there for us in the midst of our suffering. And, I don’t know about you, but it takes some personal suffering to be able to fully look at the cross as a sacrifice not so that we should feel grateful but that you know that you are met in your suffering. That you are not alone.  You know what it feels like to come through something, don’t you? To feel as if you’ve been given a new heart, one that doesn’t feel anything like the old one? Battered and bruised but yet new, coursing with new life? This is the kind of love that changes your life and gets a response. Did you hear how things went for them and for poor Jason? These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also… These matters of the heart when it comes to Jesus? It’ll get you into trouble. These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also.  Here in Hutchinson. How will we continue to go out into our community with love that offends, with love that includes – not excludes –  with love that just doesn’t fit our systems of sorting out who is better and who is worse, who is right and who is wrong. Will you dare let your heart be transformed? It’s often not going to feel good or even like it’s yours. But that’s what it’s all about.  These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also. Let’s see if this love of Jesus can get you into trouble this week and the next. Now isn’t this the most heart-stopping, life-changing, world-turning-upside down news you’ve ever heard? Thanks be to God.