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[Sermon] Embracing Diversity: A Path to Universal Restoration

Rev. Terry Kyllo + April 14, 2024 + Second Sunday of Easter

Rev. Terry Kyllo's sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter explores the complexities of religious bias and prejudice, drawing parallels between historical narratives and contemporary societal challenges. By unpacking misconceptions surrounding the roles of different cultures and religions, Kyllo urges listeners to embark on a journey of self-reflection and collective healing, envisioning a future where diverse communities coexist in harmony and mutual respect.


From automatically generated captions via YouTube, with punctuation and paragraphs added by ChatGPT.

I'm Terry Kylo, Trinity is one of my, home congregations. I don't know if you all know that or not, not because I've ever lived in Lynnwood but because I've interacted with this congregation so much. I'm going to share one of those interactions in a little while.

So let's begin with a prayer. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts, and our humble response as individuals and as a community, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Rock and Our Redeemer. Amen.

Am so I'm sure many of you, uh, were seeing the news yesterday or perhaps this morning about what's been happening in the Middle East, and many of you may know that I do a lot of work to counter anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, as well as other religious-based bigotries. And so, I just want to let you know that like the sermon today is not going to be about what's happening in the Middle East right now, nor is the book event later today, even though it's on all of our hearts. And actually, the fact that I have to say that to be clear is a part of the issues that I work on all the time. Because it's really easy to put all into one big bucket, like the actions of the state of Israel, the people in Israel, the religions in Israel, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Drew religion, and many others.

The founders of those religions, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, and all the different like examples and, um, sometimes times even kind of unfaithful expressions of those traditions. And to dump them all into one big bucket and to somehow begin to apply collective blame to all Jewish people for the actions of the state of Israel, to blame all Muslims for the actions of some Muslim nation-states. And the reason that that's a problem is because we're not really very logical. I mean, a lot of times our reactions as human beings emerge because we've associated certain people with certain kinds of activities, with certain kind of behaviors, with certain kind of dangers. That's a lot of what I do is to help people sort out and begin to apply some logic to some of these associations. Because when we're worshiping together, we are training ourselves. When we went to Sunday school, those of us that did, when we go to a Bible study, when we read the scripture, when we read a book, we're training ourselves with associations between certain groups and certain people and certain kind of activities and actions.

That's why in recent years it's been really important to begin to recognize that Jesus, although this hurts me personally as a Norwegian, was not a white upper, uh, upper European person. As I said on a recent, uh, interview, if Jesus was fair complexioned and blue-eyed and blond-haired, his first miracle would have had to have been not turning water into wine but olive oil into sunscreen. So, our but our associations start to harm us in the real world because we have these gut reactions to people, especially people that we don't know very well.

As a little boy, I was raised, uh, to, um, really in a community of very loving people. They knew how to do pot lucks, they knew how to make Jell-o salad, you know, the kind with like the slivers of carrot in them, which is the definition of salad, I think. Um, but I was also raised in Christian Supremacy. And one of the things that I learned growing up sitting in a pew, a very nice oak pew usually about right in here from the Sunday school teachers, was that the reason Jesus came to Earth is because the Jewish people had messed up their religion and Jesus had to start a new one. That God had sort of moved on from the people of Israel, they were the old covenant and the Old Testament, and we were all the new.

And I also realized growing up as I went out to the parking lot, as I got older, and stood with the men in the parking lot and we did not, we weren't fancy people like all you folk at Trinity and Lynwood, you know, we're country folk, right? So, we had gravel in the parking lot, so all the men would sit, you know, not making much eye contact, with their hands in their pockets and swish the gravel around, you know, but often what happened, maybe once a month, is that someone would use a racial slur toward Jews or Latinx folk, toward African-Americans, toward Vietnamese and on and so forth. So, what I learned there was what I, what I learned in that church was to associate goodness with myself and other Christians, especially white ones, and to see others as potentially or most likely bad, or at best neutral.

And one of the passages that forms kind of a whole set of associations for us is this passage that we read this morning that David dealt with in like two seconds, which was I congratulate you, you will not get away with two seconds from me. So, what this passage says essentially if you read it out of its context is that Peter blames the people of Israel for the death of Jesus. And you all know what that's called, we have a term for that called blood libel. The founder of our organization, Rabbi Rafael LaVine, his first experience as a young person, three and a half years old, was of a bunch of people marching down the street in Lithuania saying, "kill the Christ killers."

And no doubt one of the many verses that they would use to justify that violent mob is the verse that we read today, building up associations against our Jewish neighbors as those who killed Jesus. And, uh, and that's a problem.

Now before I go into that, I want to point out some really important things. First of all, is that Peter is having a conversation not with his enemies but with who his fellow Israelites. So, this is a conversation about what it is to be a faithful Jewish person. He's not proposing really an us versus them in terms of good and bad, he's proposing an us versus them in terms of belief in Jesus or not. And, uh, so it's important to recognize that just like Jesus had many public debates with Pharisees and scribes and lawyers and other folk, so Peter is having a debate amongst his fellow Jewish people.

Now, we don't generally debate with people that we've already decided aren't human. Number two is I want to point out the very deep Jewish theology in this text. And I'm only going to focus on two things. So, if you, if you look, um, later on there it says that God may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through the prophets.

So, let's be very clear what Peter is saying. He is saying that his understanding of the Jewish tradition and his understanding of what will become the Christian tradition is that it is all about a day of universal restoration of who? Creation. What else? Just Christians? There, there we go. So, not only the restoration of the creation but the restoration of each group and the restoration of groups to each other.

How sad then that a text like this is used to dehumanize Jewish people and to lead to programs where little boys are in their households fearful of what the crowd might do to them. How terrible that this verse, these verses and others like them are used to say, "Well hey, you know, those Jewish people are all the same and that we can't respect or trust them because we're frustrated with perhaps some of the actions of the state of Israel." Because our associations can get a grip on us, they can get a hold of us, they can begin to initiate a quick knee-jerk reaction in our gut which then we follow up with justifications and logic.

And so, what has happened to me in the last 10 years as I began to relate to Muslims and Jews and Sikhs and Bahá'ís and Buddhists and atheists and agnostics and many other groups is I realized that I had a lot of work to do on my associations. That as I walked up to them, I didn't walk up to them neutral, I walked up to them in some sense poisoned against them. And that some of that poison started in the second pew in Sunday school. Maybe that's true for you too, I don't know.

The second verse that's really important to point out is right at the end. It's Peter quoting Genesis 12 which is a key piece of the book that I wrote, "And in your descendants all the families of the Earth shall be blessed." The word "families" here is the word "mishpachah" which I don't say very well because I'm not great at Hebrew. And it really means clan or tribe which would include culture and religion and ways of eating and ways of dressing, ways of life, the whole thing.

So, the Abrahamic tradition was never set up to be an us versus them, there's only one religion in the world that's okay. It was set up to be a blessing to all the mishpachah of the world as well as recognizing God's blessing for them. And so, the fact again that this text has been used to say, "Well, the Jewish people are the old covenant and the Old Testament and that God has moved on from them," is extremely sad and isn't true to the text.

Now, there's a couple of things in the context here that are important for us to know. First of all, who was it in Israel at the time that had the power to do capital punishment? That is, to kill someone. Who is it that had that authority? The Romans did. Did the Jewish chief priests have that authority? No, not legally. Did people who were the elders in a particular town did they have that authority? No, they didn't. So why would Peter say it this way? Why would Peter come out and say that you asked for a murderer given to you and you killed the author of life? That sounds like a pretty big accusation. Why would he say that?

So let me ask you a question, how many of you have heard of that when Christians would wander around and, you know, kind of be camping alongside the road on the way somewhere they'd have a campfire somewhere and they would just, you know, subtly make the sign of a fish on the dirt? Any of you ever heard of that? Well, that's, that's what they would do. Apparently, the early Christian movement was called the Way and you might just make the sign of a fish in the dirt and if other people kind of knew the secret signal, they'd say, "Oh hey, there's a Christian, let's go off and talk for a minute," or "Let's go off by the bushes and pray."

Why would they need to be so careful? Why couldn't they just put on a big hat that said, "I'm a follower of Jesus" or "I'm a member of the Way?" Why wouldn't they do that? What would the Roman Empire do if they found out that a new religion was getting started, one that was in fact, killed, whose founder was killed by them? What do you think they would do? They would wrap him up, put him in jail, and maybe crucify him.

And so, why does Peter leave out that the Roman Empire killed Jesus? Well, it seems to me quite likely that Peter didn't want the community, that, excuse me, the writer is, is Luke, but, but Peter is, is trying to make sure that his new community is not going to be immediately captured and put in prison and killed by the Romans because everybody there knew exactly who had the power to kill people and again it was the Roman Empire.

I want to be very clear that this is not an anti-Italian sermon, there's a difference. As I started out today, between the people who formed the majority of a country or a nation and the actions of its government and the way the system works. So, it was the Roman Empire that killed Jesus. Now, do you see why I had to say that? Because, again, we humans operate on the basis of associations and sometimes those associations lead us to violence against others or neglect of others or to be fearful of others as a gut reaction when our minds aren't even quite thinking about it.

The reason Peter doesn't say it out loud and the reason that the, that Luke, the writer of Acts, doesn't write it down is because there's still the day after the, after the Resurrection, the day after Jesus leaves the earth and the Ascension which we'll celebrate in a few weeks, is because the Roman Empire is still in place. But within a century, Christians lost touch with most of this and we began to decide that against the very core of this text which is the restoration, the universal restoration of the creation, the restoration of each mishpachah, each tribe, each clan, each culture, each religion and the restoration of each mishpachah to each other, that we would demonize and otherize and do violence to our Jewish neighbors. And that has led to many other forms of what we call dehumanization and violence toward Muslims, toward indigenous people, toward African-Americans, 11 million who were enslaved, brought here against their will, held and made to work against their will, indigenous people, 95 million of whom died in the first century or two of contact on this continent.

Now the last thing I'll say here is Trinity has changed me. I don't know if you know that, but a few years ago I was, um, eight years ago I was working with a Muslim and we wanted to put on an event to counter anti-Muslim bigotry because Muslims were experiencing a lot of pain after the Paris attacks. There was a lot of violence happening toward them in schools against Muslim businesses and so we put on an event here at Trinity, invited by the pastor at the time, Pastor Sunberg. And we expected 120 people to show up and soon after we made the announcement a presidential candidate said that he was going to want to ban all Muslims from coming in the country. And instead of 120 people, 450 people came. And that happened because Trinity has paid attention to the deeper message of this text, that our work, our worship this morning is not the sum total of what Jesus wants, what he wants is the restoration of the entire world and that we have the opportunity to take part in that and that that work, though hard, is a blessing. That's the purpose of our lives, to do our little bit of restoration until the universal restoration happens, until it becomes real for everyone.

And so, Trinity took the risk of hosting that event and we had to talk to the Lynnwood police and put police cars out front knowing that there could be violence. That is one of the ways the Trinity has paid attention to the deeper meaning of the text even while today we make sure that we look at ourselves for the ways of which Christian Supremacy has woven itself in anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, other forms of bigotry have woven themselves into us.

And why do we do that work? Is it because we're bad? No, it's because that restoration is still happening to us, that our daily work of dying and rising in Christ, dying to our bigotries and our biases and our negativity toward other people is not because we're bad but because God wants to bring restoration to us as well. So that one day we can all sit down with a great feast and experience yes, the Jello salad but also the falafel and the hummus and every food from all the mishpaka of the world and take a deep breath and with a tear in our eyes recognize that the restoration has come.


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