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Losing One’s Life, Only to Regain It

Losing One’s Life, Only to Regain It

“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

Pentecost 3A – June 25, 2017

If our gospel story had taken place in today’s superficial world of tweets, I can only imagine what this morning’s newsfeed would read. “Jesus turns against families! Pits fathers against sons, and mothers against daughters!” Or, worse still: “Christ urges his followers to wield the sword! Says peace is not achievable!”

Such hypothetical tweets are not entirely inaccurate, of course, because Jesus does say, as we just heard: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother….” And so too does he say: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” But if we’re interested in really understanding what Jesus means with these words, rather than merely being seduced by the easy sensationalism of twitter feeds, then we have to take the time to plumb these texts a little more deeply.

To get at these issues, let me tell a story. When I was a chaplain at Harvard, our student community worshipped in Christ Church Cambridge, where my altar guild support was a lovely, older widow by the name of Summer Akimoto. With great care each week, Summer would always wash and iron the fine linens for the altar, so that our service of holy communion was appropriately elegant and reverent. Although Summer was a white woman, she had married a Japanese-American man by the name of Ted Akimoto, whose last name she had taken. I never knew Ted, because, sadly, he died shortly before I arrived at Harvard.

When you meet Summer, you immediately realize that she still adores her late husband, as she loves to share Ted’s story with others, and rightly so. Ted was a prize-winning war photographer. He served with distinction as a U.S. Army officer during World War II on General Douglas MacArthur’s staff. He was one of the first photographers to visit Hiroshima after the bomb, and his photographs painfully document the devastation of that awful historical moment.

The really extraordinary part of Ted’s story, though, is not his artistry as a photographer so much as it is the events that led up to his service. You see, Ted and his two brothers, Victor and Johnny, volunteered to serve their country despite the fact that just months before their enlistment, in early 1942, the United States had herded their family into an internment camp. The Akimotos were loyal American citizens who had lived in Southern California for decades, but that didn’t matter in the wake of Pearl Harbor, when panic won out over good sense. At the time, President Roosevelt ordered internment of anyone with Japanese blood as an expedient solution to identifying and corralling “the enemy.”

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Rosalyn Baldwin’s Beloved Community

Rosalyn Baldwin’s Beloved Community

“Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.” Matthew 10:1

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

Pentecost 2A – June 18, 2017

Amidst all the depressing news of this week, I was grateful to stumble upon the story of Rosalyn Baldwin, a seven-year old African-American girl from Hammond, Louisiana. The daughter of a pastor, Rosalyn was deeply affected last year by the news of the tragic killing of five police officers in Dallas, as I suspect many of us were. But Rosalyn, she decided to do something about it, something simple, something wonderfully naïve, something meaningful. She told her parents she wanted to travel around the country visiting police stations so that she could give hugs to police officers. When asked why she wanted to do this, Rosalyn replied simply: “They risk their lives and want to keep us safe. So I want to do this for them.”

When she first approached her parents about this project, they were touched, as you might expect, and agreed to take Rosalyn to the local Sherriff’s office, where she did indeed offer hugs to all the officers there. Secretly, though, her parents were hoping that this visit would satisfy Rosalyn, and that her dream of a nationwide hug-fest would pass, so that they could go on with their lives; but Rosalyn’s determination didn’t pass. She has politely, but tenaciously, insisted on carrying out her dream of visiting police departments in all fifty states, and she is now almost a third of the way there.

An interviewer recently asked her how she got the idea. She answered, “God told me to do it.” When gently pressed by a skeptical questioner, Rosalyn explained that she reads the Bible, that Jesus teaches us to love one another as he loved us, and that hugging people to whom we are grateful is a good way to love them. Yes, God told her to do it.

Somewhat more precociously, Rosalyn also noted that her daddy had taught her about Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of Christ’s “beloved community,” a place where people consistently serve one another, meet one another’s needs, and base their behavior on concern and care for the other and justice for all persons. Rosalyn said she wanted to live in such a community, and so, if it didn’t exist, she would create it.

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The Power of Sandy Koufax’s Witness

The Power of Sandy Koufax’s Witness

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 26:18-20

The Reverend Luther Zeigler

Trinity Sunday – June 11, 2017

1965 was a momentous year for our family. It was in the spring of that year that my mother and father picked up their two little boys and moved us all to Southern California. Mom and Dad had lived most of their lives in small towns in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Now, though, they were eager for a new start. Like the Joad family in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, my parents were lured by the promise of this new Paradise called California, where the sun always shines and everyone has a smile on her face.

For a six-year old boy like me, though, the only thing I cared about was that the fair weather of California meant I could play baseball all year round. Such is the wonderfully simple life of a six-year old, when baseball is all that matters.

Moving to Southern California, of course, was moving to Dodger country. The Dodgers had just invested in a brand, spanking-new ballpark, nestled in the foothills of the Elysian Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, and I couldn’t wait to go see it. My first trip there with my dad and little brother was to celebrate my seventh birthday and it was a memorable one indeed. April 29, 1965. A classic pitchers’ duel between the Dodgers Don Drysdale and the Giants Juan Marichal, won by the Dodgers, 2-1.

And that game was a mere hint of what was to come, for the National League pennant race that unfolded in the summer of 1965 was a thriller. Six teams were tightly bunched heading into September, when the Giants went on a 14-game winning streak to take a commanding lead with two weeks to play. But then the Dodgers exploded, winning 14 of their last 15 games to edge out the Giants, and clinch the pennant. The stage was now set for a World Series

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