Let me recast this scene in Acts: Jesus is with his disciples moments before he ascends into the clouds. You would think that the disciples would be “down” with what is happening. But the disciples are still thinking small, “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
So all the crucifixion and resurrection are about putting a Jewish king on the throne and making Israel “great again!” Jesus wants to turn the world upside down.
Jesus is concerned with the biggest of big ideas – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The city of Cleveland wants to put a glass atrium on the Q. Greater Cleveland Congregations has a bigger idea about restoring the neighborhoods and really transforming our region.
Jesus always challenges his disciples to think big and go for broke.
This Memorial Day weekend I am agitated by the notion of a big idea. Today we remember those who gave their lives for a big idea. Some big ideas like freedom and self-expression, and self-determination are big enough to die for, and horribly, perhaps even to kill for. Although, honestly, I struggle with that thought as a Christian.
But whether you are a pacifist or a just-war proponent the fact is that there are people who died so that we could be here. There are families who lost loved ones. There are soldiers who have faced horrors unimaginable – and who now suffer PTSD, guilt, drug addiction, nightmares.
And if we cannot support war we can at least love, support, and honor women and men who sacrificed for a big idea. Even if it is not our sacrifice, these folks were caught up in a big idea that their service mattered and that the values of this country mattered. What is your big idea that you are willing to die for?
I want to live by the bigger idea of peace and justice and diplomacy; of service that extend beyond national boundaries – but life gets complicated. We are shaped by histories and cultures, creeds and races, economics and religions – these cause conflict.
It is Memorial Day – I think of my father’s service to this country in WWII. I know there are veterans in this congregation today – “thank you!”
Did you see the PBS special on World War 1?
I learned about the Harlem Hellfighters – African American troops who were not allowed to serve with white troops and so were “loaned” to the French where American heroes like Private Henry Johnson and Leroy Johnston – who was awarded France’s highest medal of honor.
Soldiers, both black and white, got caught up in this big idea to save Europe.
However the Harlem Hellfighters were inspired by another big idea, and they caught a drift of it – serving in France, where the color of their skin didn’t quite matter as much.
What they didn’t have in their country they fought and died for in another. They had to face poison gas in France and Belgium. In America they had to face the poisonous realities of lynching, and racism and Jim Crow.
They had this BIG idea that what they fought for abroad could be asked for and found when they returned home: they had served their country. But Leroy Johnson’s big idea came to a horrible end. In uniform, he was dragged off of a train in his home state of Arkansas shot and killed because he was black.
We are still struggling with this big idea of being a beloved community.
Big ideas, you see, are always being stuffed by little minds and narrow thoughts of those who can’t see beyond barriers and walls and sometimes scripture passages.
And so, on this Memorial Day – we remember those who gave their lives for the big idea. And we remember America’s big idea – “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That all are created equal.
We also remember Christ’s big idea, expressed by St. Paul, that in Jesus Christ there is no “slave or free, Jew or Greek, Male or Female.” And so the big of idea of Jesus is to break down all the barriers, and allow the children to come. The big idea of Jesus includes the poor and demands more from the rich.
The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ is always calling you personally and us collectively to bigger and bigger thoughts – our tendency is to limit, whether it be: “we have never done it that way before,” or “we can’t afford it.”
What big idea inspires you?
David Brooks, a thoughtful conservative columnist in the New York Times, writes about the narrowness of the American vision now. In our alienation from each other, from our best selves and from the best of American idealism – we are becoming narrow, suspicious, assuming the bad, caught up in what Brooks calls “cynical interpretations of every situation, … and “a hysterical public conversation.”
And just this week we have seen the hysterical as a reporter is body slammed and a knife-wielding maniac, shouting anti-Muslim curses kills two in Portland. What are we becoming?
The big idea of American values of welcome, inclusion, human rights and self-determination is being tarnished at home and abroad by an “us v. them” mentality.
But let me remind you of the way and the truth and the light!
Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea,
day by day his sweet voice soundeth saying “Christian, follow me.
Jesus calls us from the worship of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us, saying “Christian, love me more”
You and I as followers of Jesus Christ have to be expansive; preaching and living the gospel of Christ’s justice and peace. Bringing the walls of division down, celebrating transcendence and diversity, building the beloved community; showing the world what we mean… by actually becoming it!
It is time to think big, not narrow; caught up in resurrection madness and Pentecost expectation and neither limit God nor ourselves – roll the dice and go for broke. Right now I believe it is the only way.
Don’t listen to the: “I can’t,” “ I am not worthy,” “It might fail.” “I am scared.”
Don’t listen to the: “stay in your lane,” “write in the lines.” “Don’t rock the boat.” “Don’t embarrass me.”
Christ calls us to the big idea of identity – of stepping into the light of freedom and honesty. God has a big idea for you – really. And where there is risk, and hope, and humor, and mistakes – there is God.
Jesus says in verse 6: time and success are in God’s hands – but you will get the Holy Spirit!
And what is the Holy Spirit but the harbinger of the biggest of all ideas – that folks communicate and understand and become ONE, sharing the only identity that matters as beloved children of God.
My mentor, as many of you know, was the Rev. Herb Meza. He recently died.
He was a soldier who fought on the Pacific beaches of WW2. He killed a Japanese soldier with his bare hands and had to lie in the foxhole with the body all night long. His life was changed after that night. After the war he came home and became a pastor committed to peace. In his memoirs he wrote this:
I have committed as much of myself as I could to as much of God as I have discovered along the way. But the thing that has sustained me has been a lesson I learned from the Spanish mystic, Miguel Unamuno, “Most men,” he once wrote, “are Don Juans about ideas. What we should do is find a large idea, marry her, and set up housekeeping with her.” That is what happened to me. And I have come to the conclusion that, for those of us who love humanity, we must not be satisfied to serve the power of any one race or nation.
We must insist on a larger idea, particularly in this nuclear age. For those of us who have seen that idea in Jesus Christ, we must remember that in the complexity of this modern world only a tough-minded and resolute determination to think all things in the light of the revelation of God’s purposes, and in the style and love of Jesus Christ will see us through. For the world is too small for anything but love, and too dangerous for anything but truth.
Now that is a big idea that I can live with!
Thanks be to God.