iOS God: a sermon from Lamar Bailey

The following is a sermon from Sunday, July 5th by Vicar Lamar Bailey at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. Lamar is finishing up his internship at Redeemer before returning to Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg for a final year of studies. Here, we consider how God might be active in the world, throwing out old operating systems and upgrading to new ones. Feel free to press “play” and/or read along for this timely message!

Good morning… this is not a hot yoga class, if you’re thinking it… it’s so warm in here today!

So, like I said, I was pretty busy the last few weeks, and I feel that God has also been pretty busy the past few weeks in the world. This past week, I went to Washington, D.C. to face my synod approval committee… yeah…

So, you walk into a room, and everybody is seated at a table, and they ask you questions about your paperwork, and your seminary experience, and I guess I didn’t say anything wrong, because I was unanimously approved to continue in my seminary education and move forward towards ordination! Although, they did say that I had some interesting views on church membership. Hmm… I wonder where that came from? And [they asked] if I intended to carry those views into ministry, which I politely danced around. But I did okay, I guess! But I also had some time to visit with some family and friends while I was out there, just for a little bit.

And also last week, on June 29th, I turned 41 years old. Yeah… I don’t know what that means. I guess that’s officially over middle aged or something.

I’ve realized in the past few years that I’m starting to slip in one of my skill set areas– and that’s in the technology area. I’ve been noticing a slight slip because I’ve been asking people for help or suggestions on how to do things more efficiently with technology. So often, I’ll find myself walking into the office administrator, Sarah Stadie’s office with my iPhone and saying “Sarah, how can I do this faster?” And she does a few things, and it’s done, and it’s fixed.

Also, I work a lot with Katherine Parent. We do a lot of stuff together for the “Faith & Action” group, and I find myself asking Katherine about like, social media stuff, and if she can do stuff on Facebook, because she can do it a lot faster, a lot quicker, and a lot more eloquently than I can.

And then there’s my communication problems with Angela, who’s in charge of the youth ministries here. So, I’ll be leaving the church building at the end of the day, and she’ll say “I’ll send you a text about what’s going to happen tomorrow– where to be, and what time to show up” and I’ll get home and wait for the text, and I won’t get one, and I’ll come into the church the next morning, and I’ll say “Angela, I didn’t get your text!” And then I realize I didn’t have my data on, so I missed all these 20 messages from Angela about where to be, and the logistics for everything.

And when things get really, really really out of control– I can’t work my computer, I’m just really struggling with the technology downstairs in the fellowship hall, the projector or the DVD player– I have to call the “CEO of Technology”: Beanie [a high school student from the congregation]. And the conversations go something like this:

“Beanie, I can’t figure this thing out, my computer’s doing this…” and he’s like, “okay…” He tries to walk me through it over the phone, but most of the time he ends up coming in, walking through it. And he always makes fun of me, like “why can’t you figure this out?” He always gives me a hard time. But he guides me and walks me through these technology issues.

So, how many of you have one of these Smartphones? A lot of you… iPhone, Android, Windows, I don’t know… How many of you have a desktop or laptop, tablet, or something at home? Right, we all have some sort of electronic gadget… it might even be called a “dumb phone,” they’re calling it, that just flips open.

But each one of those gadgets has one of those electronic gadgets has an operating system. An operating system is an essential component of the system software in our computer system that makes all your electronics work. The operating system effects and controls everything. So, for us iPhone people– I’m an iPhone person… I don’t know, why, just because it was probably cheaper or something, so I’m an iPhone person. And I’ve been reading that in the next couple weeks, iPhone is going to have a new operating system update. It’s going to be iOS 9. When I hear of a new operating system update, I get a little tense sometimes, I don’t know about you. I think we probably all do.

One of the things I think of right away is, like, will this new operating system work? Will I be able to figure it out? Am I going to fumble through it? And what if I want my old operating system back, that I was used to and comfortable with? How can I get that back? And I think that’s usually impossible. And then I’m always concerned about what will I lose? What functionality am I going to lose? But when they roll out the new operating system software, they’re always like, “this is going to be the best. system. ever. You’re going to be able to do this, you’re going to be able to do that, you’re going to be able to multitask!” All of this kind of stuff. But I’m always just a little apprehensive. Because there’s always some tension when there’s a new operating system or update to the operating system.

Before our text today, Jesus was out in the countryside, healing people and teaching people about the Kingdom of God. And I don’t know if he decided to take a break or what, but he decides to come to his hometown in our reading today. So he comes to his hometown, and goes to this synagogue and he starts teaching about all these new interesting and radical new ideas about Jewish scripture, and about God’s activity in the world, and about this Kingdom of God, and how God is acting differently in the world, and that God is not a tyrant. God is actually coming to earth to be with us. And he’s talking about this whole, larger, expanded idea of God. And the people? They’re blown away, and it says that they’re amazed and astounded. “We had no idea that this Jesus was this good,” they said, “how did he get so wise all of a sudden?” They can’t believe it– this guy from their hometown!

But then all of a sudden, I think this news of this radical Kingdom of God stuff kind of starts to sink in. I think they start hearing this. “Wait a second, Jesus… wacaiiiit a minute! I don’t know about this! I don’t know about this new way that God works in the world stuff, because if what you’re saying is true, then everything is going to change!” Uh oh! “And if everything’s going to change, then that might mean that I might have to change. We’ll have to change everything, Jesus. It’s going to change the whole operating system.” Uh oh! We don’t like that– we’re just a little uncomfortable with that. “And by the way, Jesus, who do you think you are messing around with our operating system? Who said that you could do that? How did you get so uppity, Jesus? You’re just a common laborer. You’re a carpenter. You’re one of those people who travels around the country, looking for work… you leave your family, your wife and kids at home unprotected.” Woo… I don’t know about those carpenters. And then they go for the really big insult, when they say, “You’re Mary’s boy, aren’t you? You’re the son of Mary!” Which doesn’t sound like such an insult to our ears, but it was a huge insult to say that you were the son of a woman, and not the son of a man. They were attacking and insulting his birth status, and maybe even attacking and insulting the marital status of his mother and father.

The hometown people? They just do not like this new operating system, and this news of God’s new operating system has them on edge. And they reject it, and they’re done with Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but the past few weeks have felt like God has been updating the operating system; changing the operating system; doing something new. And for me, that’s been kind of amazing. 16 million people will be able to get or keep healthcare insurance. Marriage equality! People can marry who they love! Systemic housing discrimination is being addressed– one of the biggest structural problems of racial oppression in our country is now being addressed fully! And out of the tragedy in South Carolina, the family members of the victims who were shot said that hate and sin are not going to have the last word. Instead, God’s going to have the last word. God’s forgiveness and love and grace are going to have the last word.

For a lot of my hometown folks, a lot of my family and friends, what God might be doing lately– upgrading the operating system– it’s scary. They’re in fear. Some of them are confused. Some of them want someone to guide them through it, but they don’t know anyone to guide them through it. What might this operating system be?

So, all this week, me and a lot of others, people that I’ve spoken with, are trying to figure out how we are supposed to be with these folks? We’re struggling with what God might be doing in the world today.

And in our text today, Jesus calls the disciples, and he sends them out two by two. And like I said, he tells them not to take hardly anything. “Go, be with people, be in their homes.” To use a Pastor Kelly-ism, “get into relationship with people.” Get into a deep relationship with people. And I kind of want Jesus to say a little bit more, I want Jesus to tell us what to say, what to do, to have the right argument planned out. But he doesn’t. He says “Go.” And what I think he says is to be in relationship with people. Guide them through this new operating system– this new, larger reality of who God is, and of God’s love and grace in the world. Tell them about this new kingdom, tell them to repent! To have a radically different view of God, and of God working in the world!

And it worked.

The disciples went out, and it worked: demons were cast out, people were healed, communities were transformed, and we know that for sure it certainly worked because here we sit today in a house of worship, remembering, praising God, and giving glory to Jesus Christ.

Justice and healing does happen. God is always, always changing, updating, throwing out the operating system. And God calls us to participate in that.

God can’t be kept in any of our human operating systems: Republican, Democrat, conservative, progressive, Lutheran, Mennonite, Catholic, whatever it is, God can’t be kept in that operating system.

God can’t be kept in our idea of church membership.

God is always updating the system. Slavery has ended. Civil rights in the 60s. Before 1967, my wife and I, because I’m a black man, and she’s white, would not have been able to be married, or live in the state we once lived in– Virginia. Health care for all people. People can marry who they love. God is updating, God is crushing and crashing old operating systems. That’s what God does.

I never thought that I would see in my lifetime a black woman in the deepest, darkest South scaling a flagpole, taking down an active system of oppression and genocide in the deep, dark South of South Carolina. I never thought I would see that, even if it was only for a moment. That’s what God does.

God is active. God is changing the operating system.



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