Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 20th Pentecost

I Hear You, I Believe You.
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -
 

Three years ago, preaching on today’s Gospel text with its famous tag line, “Give therefore to the emperor, the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s,” three years ago on this same Sunday I quoted an old Bob Dylan song, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody” and spoke of how this text points us to a decision as to who we serve, that this text tells us that our primary allegiance is, or should be, to God.
As some of you know, that is the sermon that is on radio stations around the USA and several other countries this weekend as well as on the web at http://day1.org/8023-eric_shafer_youre_gonna_have_to_serve_somebody .

 

I recorded it in Atlanta last August and it was released for radio and the web this past week by the Day1 radio ministry, a ministry that used to be called The Protestant Hour.

 


I still like that interpretation – in this text, Jesus is inviting us to declare our allegiance to God. Perhaps the key question for us is not whose image is on a coin, but whose image is on our hearts? Jesus is inviting us to declare our allegiance to God.

 


I even thought about preaching that same sermon again for you today. I even wrote another sermon, one with a new interpretation of this well-known parable of Jesus.

 


And then came Harvey Weinstein, someone I never, ever imagined mentioning in a sermon.

 


Unless you have been on another planet these past two weeks you well know about Harvey Weinstein and the recent public revelations about his past behavior, a behavior which allegedly involved multiple instances of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and even rape. More than 50 women have now come forward with their Harvey Weinstein stories and they are sickening.

 


After these revelations began, something else happened. Begun online, perhaps on Facebook, women began to post publicly a simple, “Me, too,” meaning that they too had experienced sexual harassment or sexual abuse. What began with a few, soon became hundreds, than thousands, tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of women, and some men, simply stating, “Me, too,” “I too have been sexually harassed and/or abused by men.”

 


quote IbelieveyouI found it heart-rending to read the stories again and again in the Facebook group for Lutheran clergy. One woman pastor after another and some gay men. Pastors I have known for many years. All three of our recent former interns. “Me, too,” they all wrote, we have been sexually harassed and/or abused by men.

 


I will not put the women here today on the spot to respond with their own “Me, too’s.” I have spoken of this with enough of you already to know that you, too, have experienced abusive behavior from men. The numbers are overwhelming and they are everywhere. And I do acknowledge that there are some women who have harassed and abused other women and men, including one of my former supervisors, but the numbers of abusers sadly are disproportionately men.

 


So, this part of the sermon is for men-only.

 


We, men, you and me, we have a job to do – fathers and husbands, friends and boyfriends, sons, uncles, and grandfathers – we men need to do something to stop this.

 


Here is how we start – we start by actively listening, and trying to connect to what women are telling us. So often we men do not fully listen, but choose to assume we know what people are saying, or we listen to respond rather than listening to understand. We need to stop ourselves and really listen to the words and emotions being shared with us, with our focus to understand what is being said to us.

 


We need to be alert to the stereotypes and biases we have, and work to make sure we are not letting these color our perception of what is being shared with us.

 


And, when we do respond our first response should be, “I hear you. I believe you.” Far too many men, for far too long have not listened, or been distracted, or wanted to explain this behavior away, “boys will be boys, you know” or “that’s just locker room talk” or wanted to share their own bullying stories. But we start simply with these words to our female friends and family members and colleagues – “I hear you. I believe you.”

 


Then we need to take at least two more steps:


The first step is confession – we have all been part of this, at least in our jokes, in our language – referring to women as “honey,” “cutie,” “darlin,” “sweetie,” “girls” or “babe” or “baby girl” – the women here today can give you too many other examples. A simple rule is to ask yourself what words you would be comfortable with hearing used to your daughter, mother or spouse or even yourself. We need to stop doing this and to confess and ask God’s and their forgiveness.

 


The second step is harder but even more important – we need to challenge abusive behavior toward women in other men, from our President, down to our work colleagues, neighbors and friends. Language which demeans women or men is not okay, is never okay, in the locker room and anywhere. We, men, have to stop this sort of behavior and language in ourselves and do our best to stop it in others.

 


I hear you. I believe you. I will not participate in any behavior, in any conversation, that demeans women in any way. And, and this is important, I will listen to women to tell me what is demeaning and what is not. And, I will not excuse any male behavior as “well, he is basically a good guy.” Whatever sort of a person he is, demeaning or abusive behavior is never part of being a good guy.

 


Today’s Gospel text has something to say to us all about this issue:


Scholar David Lose suggests that, as we reflect on today’s Gospel text, we might also reflect on this verse from the first chapter of the book of Genesis: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” Likeness is the word used in the Greek translation of Genesis and is also the word Matthew chooses in today’s Gospel text. Thus a better translation of Matthew’s text today might be, when Jesus is shown the coin, “Whose likeness is this?”

 


Jesus’ word choice harkens back to God’s initial pronouncement and promise: We bear God’s likeness and are therefore made to be more than we sometimes realize.

 


We were made in the image and likeness of God, and, because we bear God’s likeness, we are to act like God. Not mind you, like gods, those who lord their authority over others for self-gain, but rather like God – the One who creates and sustains and nurtures and redeems and saves…no matter what the cost. We are called, that is, to serve as God’s agents, God’s partners, and God’s co-workers, exercising dominion over creation not as an act of power but rather as an act of stewardship and extending to all the abundant life God wishes for all. We are to focus on how we treat other people, male and female alike.

 


This text call us back to our primary identity - God’s children, those made in the likeness of God and charged to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

 


We are, men and women alike, charged to follow Jesus, dying to our old habits and calling others to do the same.

 


So, men, it is time to start acting in the image of God’s love in our relationships and conversations with women, giving up old sexist ways and habits and calling others to do the same. We have a God who is continually saying to us all, “I hear you. I believe you. I care about you.”

 


Our allegiance is first and foremost to God. Our primary identity is as a child of God. Our charge is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

 


Our call is to never forget who we are, children of God, made in God’s own image. We were made in God’s likeness, men and women alike. And, as children of God, we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
What would that look like? I have already addressed a specific example for men. Each of us will have our own other responses, but there certainly are, or should be some common characteristics – kindness, goodness, generosity, treating others as we believe Jesus would treat them, as we would want to be treated ourselves.
Remember who you are, in whose likeness you were made. And that every other person, male and female alike, was also made in God’s image.

 


Never forget that you are a child of God, loved and cared-for always by God.

 


God says to us all, “I hear you. I believe you. I care about you without conditions.” You are made to be more than you realize.

 


And we respond to God and each other, “I hear you. I believe you. I care about you.”

 


Amen

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Oct 22, 2017


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