Stumbling Toward a Worthy Life

How many of these names do you recognize?jail-395304_1280

Sandra Bland
Rexdale Henry
Kindra Chapman
Samuel Dubose
Joyce Curnell
Ralkina Jones
Raynette Turner
Sarah Lee Circle Bear

If you live in the United States you should know these names as well as you know that the lion killed in Zimbabwe by a Minnesotan dentist was named Cecil. I’m betting that most of us only know one or two names on this list. I admit that I didn’t know all of them until I did a little research. Seven of them died in holding cells and the eighth was shot by a university police officer. Five of them are Black, one is Choctaw, and one is Lakota. They all died between July 13th and July 28th. These are the names I found with a cursory internet search. I’m betting there are more.

Why is it that when one fool kills a lion for fun, people are vocally outraged and petitions and Kick-starters pop up all over the place? But when People of Color are dying in police custody or are shot by a police officer, the names slip by with little fanfare?

I used to tell myself that it was easier to feel compassion for animals who were killed, abused, or neglected because they are dependent on human beings for so much, especially domesticated animals. However, I’ve come to see the flaw in that thinking. This kind of thinking is born out of a “blame the victim” mentality that I really cannot stand. So I’ve stopped doing it and hope that others will, too. While I do believe that life is sacred, all of it, I cannot grieve more for a lion than I do for the people I have named. These were people who had friends and family who loved them and they did not deserve to die. They all would likely have gone on living if they had not come into contact with the police. Is this not more horrifying than the idea that Cecil would have gone on living if he had not come into contact with a hunter?

In this week’s Gospel reading Jesus clearly states, “I am the bread of life.” This is a message that many have failed to hear or take to heart. We have a tendency to hoard this bread for those who look, sound, and live like us. We have yet to learn how to live it and give it away. I know several clergy who are grumbling about the lectionary spending so much time on “bread.” Clearly, given the state of the world, we need these several weeks of readings and, probably, a few more as well because we have not been living out the truth of these passages.

Jesus fed the crowds and the disciples. He did this not just because they were hungry but also to show them how to feed themselves and others. Jesus knew that his followers would be the ones who would continue his work. I’m not sure how well we’ve done that.  People are starving to death – literally and figuratively – while we do everything in our power to make it someone else’s problem, particularly blaming those who are so very hungry for justice.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians implores us to “live a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called.” Paul wrote these words while imprisoned for living out his faith. Even then, he implored people to live a life of love, a life in which all gifts were used and no one person was more valued than another. In other words, we are called to live lives that build one another up and value each person as a wonderful gift from God. We are not called to sit back and watch violence and hatred destroy and injustice destroy our neighbors.

Whether we agree with all of Paul’s views or not, it is clear that he followed Jesus and in so doing risked everything to proclaim a transformative way of love. What are we willing to risk? At what point do we take an active stand against the racism that makes the murder of People of Color acceptable? At what point do we stop ignoring the deplorable living conditions on the reservations of First Nation Peoples? When do we stop accepting that education and medical care are based on economics and skin color? How many have to die before we decide that Black lives really do matter? Are you and I willing to risk everything (or anything) to live out a life of transforming love?

Jesus is the bread of life. We are the body of Christ. Therefore, we are the bread of life and that means we have tremendous responsibility. As much as we are part of the hungry, needy crowd, we are also those who must respond to the need. If we do not offer the bread of life, a way of peace, in the face of hatred, then who will?

Have mercy on me, O God,breads-387544_1920
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

RCL – Year B – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2015
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a with Psalm 51:1-12 or
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 with Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

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Real Bread

2015-07-22 21.18.39Deep within me there is a pot of anger on slow boil. Sometimes it boils up and threatens to overflow. There are a lot of injustices in this pot, some personal and others not. I know that what heats this pot is pain. I’ve accumulated this pain over my lifetime. Again, some of it is personal and some of it is not. At the core, this pain is about being devalued, dismissed, judged, and shamed. Like many, I’ve lived through these experiences and they are part of my story. The kind of pain left behind is easily triggered when I see someone being devalued, dismissed, judged, or shamed. This is where my anger comes from.

This week I’ve had a hard time keeping the proverbial lid on it. Just today I was listening to Minnesota Public Radio and the story was all about suicide in jails. Yes, it is a tragedy that suicide is the number one cause of death in jails and certainly the story needs to be told. But I wanted to scream at the radio host. He connected this story to the death of Sandra Bland. How dare he? Even if her death was caused by suicide (and I do not believe for a second that it was), this should not be the focus of her story. She should never have been in a jail cell to begin with. Her cause of death was racism and that wouldn’t change whether her cause of death was murder or suicide. Systemic, horrific racism should be the center of the story. The issue of safety and mental health crises in jails and prison is another story.

This is where my head is at when I read the texts for this week. I also can’t help but think of the person who recently said to me, “Why do we bother reading the Bible? It’s not like there is anything relevant in it.”

So I take a deep breath and I read. I am struck by two of the readings in particular. There’s the prayer in Ephesians that couldn’t be more relevant if it were penned today:

I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

If all Christians prayed this for and with one another, the world would be a different place. People like Sandra Bland would not be imprisoned because the racism of the officer that arrested her would not be tolerated. When will we learn that every person on earth is a beloved child of God and deserves to be treated as such? Perhaps this prayer is a good place to start.

From this beautiful prayer I move to John’s Gospel and the feeding of the five thousand. This is a familiar story that is has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Today I am less concerned with whether the miracle was one of multiplying bread and fish or softening of human hearts than I am with the overall message of the story.

bread-587597_1920Jesus asked the disciples to feed the crowd. They were tired, frustrated, and overwhelmed. They had no idea how to go about such a task. Jesus likely had some idea of what he would do and what would happen once he put his plan into motion. After all, there’s biblical precedence for this kind of thing (2 Kings 4:42-44). Everyone ate and leftovers were collected.

There’s a reason Jesus asked the disciples to feed the gathered crowd. In a few short verses Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” He has every reason to proclaim this. He is the embodiment of the Great I Am. If I Am is the bread of life, then Jesus also is the bread of life. The disciples would become the early church, the body of Christ. They needed to know how to be the bread of life, they needed to learn to meet the needs of the broken, the dismissed, the hungry, the hurting, the unseen, and shamed of the world.

This is our legacy. We are the body of Christ, the embodiment of I AM, the bread of life. We need to know how to bring love, nurture, grace into the world. We need to offer an alternative to the hatred, racism, and violence of the world. Jesus did not devalue, dismiss, judge, or shame anyone. He did not send away a crowd seeking healing, mercy, and sustenance. It is time for us to be Church, to be the Bread of Life.

I am taking another deep breath and getting the lid to settle back on the pot. Sandra Bland’s story is not about suicide; it’s about racism. The Christian story is not about apathy and hatred; it’s about love and nurture. Christians can no longer afford to remain silent. Feeding, nurturing, the hungry crowds means taking a stand and speaking out when anyone is devalued, dismissed, judged, or shamed no matter who they are, what they have done, the color of their skin, their country of origin, the God they worship, their economic status, their age, their gender identity, their sexual orientation, their physical health, their mental health, or their intellectual ability. It’s time for us to embody Christ and be the Bread of Life that will feed the hungry crowds before more innocent people die.

RCL – Year B – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 26, 2015
2 Samuel 11:1-15 with Psalm 14 or
2 Kings 4:42-44 with Psalm 145:10-18
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

Altar photo by Rachael Keefe.
Bread photo from Pixabay. Used with permission.

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Summer Time

2015-07-03 18.49.24Rest. Relaxation. Renewal. Restoration. These are enticing words. I often associate them with summer. During the summer season I tend to believe there really is more time and a slower pace to life. And every summer at about this time I realize that it is simply not true. The world does not slow down or stop just because the temperature rises and daylight lasts longer. This summer it even feels like just the opposite has happened. I can blame some of it on being in a new city and having a new job, but it’s more than that. It’s my heightened awareness of systemic racism, the need for immigration reform, the plight of homeless veterans, and several other social issues. There are always people and tasks that need attention. Real rest, true Sabbath, is hard to come by.

I wonder if Jesus’ disciples felt that way in this week’s gospel reading. Leading up to this passage Jesus had sent them out to teach and to heal as he had taught them. When they gathered together again to share what they had done, they also learned of John the Baptist’s death. Jesus recognized their tiredness and their need for renewal. So he invited them to a “deserted place.” I can only imagine how much that quiet rest appealed to that travel-worn group.

Unfortunately for the disciples, they didn’t get any rest. People recognized them out on the boats and ran ahead to where they were going. So instead of stepping off into some Sabbath time, they were greeted by a desperate, needy crowd. The lectionary skips over the teaching and feeding of the 5000 (in which Jesus put the responsibility for providing food on the disciples) and Jesus walking on water. These things, no doubt, added to the level of exhaustion and lack of understanding that the disciples had to have been feeling. After the people eat, Jesus sends the disciples back to the boats, disperses the crowds, and goes up a mountain to pray.

That’s good for Jesus. But what about the disciples? They didn’t get a break. They had barely begun to share what they had done while they were apart from each other. Instead of quiet, restful time alone, they witnessed the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water. They had to have been exhausted and overwhelmed and there was no end in sight. Crowds gathered wherever they went. Did they ever get their quiet rest?

It’s about this time every summer when I realize that I need to make the time to rest and be renewed. It isn’t going to happen on its own. Those slower, quieter days of summer are a myth. Unless I am paying attention, I can work too much. There is always something or someone who needs my time or attention. But if I let myself get exhausted and overwhelmed, what good am I? I will be like the disciples, unable to recognize God’s presence right in front of me.

My mind spins with the events of church folks, the community, the nation, and the world. I am always trying to figure out how I can do more to make a difference. I feel some sympathy for those disciples in that the crowds keep coming. What should I and can I do in response to systemic racism? transphobia? sexism? global warming? economic injustice? immigration rights? How do I do these things and meet the needs of my congregation? my family? my self?2015-07-04 20.38.10

The answer is simple and may even seem a bit trite. I need to accept Jesus invitation to come away to a deserted place and rest. That might mean turning off the cell phone and computer. It might mean sitting by the river and watching the current flow. It might mean taking a breath and opening a book that will transport me to another world. What it is or the shape it takes matters less than the taking of it. Will you also accept Jesus’ invitation and go away to a deserted place and come back rested and renewed to continue the work of caring for the crowds?

RCL – Year B – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 19, 2015
2 Samuel 7:1-14a with Psalm 89:20-37 or
Jeremiah 23:1-6 with Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

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Bidding Prayer for Ordinary Time

2015-07-03 19.49.01Come, let us pray for the body of Christ as it gathers throughout the world.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Holy God of all times, places, and peoples, remind us that your way is the path we seek. Let us walk in peacefully and seek unity with all who call your name. May we be open to the movements of your Spirit and trusting enough to follow where you lead.
God of love and grace,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for the United Church of Christ, worshipping here and elsewhere.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
God of amazing love, you have called us to be the body of Christ. You ask us to work together for justice and peace. Remind us that we don’t always have to agree even while we seek to build up your church. We pray for our newly elected General Minister and President, John Dorhauer, our Minnesota Conference Minister, Shari Prestemon, and all those who lead and serve in the United Church of Christ. May we be touched with joy as we go about your work in the world.
God of love and grace,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for the peoples of the world.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Creative and joyful God, open our eyes and hearts to the spectacular diversity of the human race. You breathed life into all of us and sealed us with the promise of the Holy Spirit. You long for us to dance the way that David danced, with the simple joy of knowing you. You desire for us lives filled with only good things. Yet, we often act more like Herod than David; we choose to appease the powers of this world rather than speak or act for what is right and good. In you, we are one. May we live into our oneness with mercy and joy.
God of love and grace,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for our country and all others who endeavor to be places of hospitality, justice, and peace.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
God of all peoples and all nations, may we all seek your wisdom and guidance. The borders and boundaries we have designed keep us separated. You provided the earth for our home and we constantly battle over resources, power, and control. There is more than enough to care for all your children. Open us to the abundance of this country and the amazing resources we have. Show us how to be a place where diversity is celebrated and not feared. Stir us to repentance for the ways in which we have hurt our neighbors and discriminated against those whose needs are greater than our own. Be with all those in power that they may seek justice for all rather than profit for a few. Transform us that we may truly be a country in which there is liberty and justice for all.

God of love and grace,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for all those in need of healing.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Loving and gracious God, keep us mindful of the suffering and pain in the lives of those around us. Teach us gratitude for the lives we live and the blessings we have as we lift up to you those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit. Let us be gentle with our words and compassionate with our actions knowing that so much pain, illness, and suffering is invisible to our eyes. Shape us into a community of grace that we may be a place of healing for any and all who seek sanctuary.
God of love and grace,
Hear our prayer.

Come, let us pray for all those who are grieving any kind of loss.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
God of life and death, remind us that you are present with us in all situations. The darkest reaches of grief cannot separate us from your love. When hope in not even a flicker, you are there. Let us breathe deeply of your Spirit when we are overwhelmed with longing for what used to be. Remind us that grief knows no schedule and people continue to feel pain long after the loss occurs. Be with us and give us the courage to share the burden of grief, especially for those who have lost loved ones to addictions, suicide, sudden illness, or violence. May we be a place of safety and community of hope.
God of love and grace,
Hear our prayer.       

Come, let us give thanks for all the blessings of our lives.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Extravagant and surprising God, you have blessed with so much more than we know. Awaken in us true knowledge and repentance for the ways in which we have not used our gifts to bring your love into the world. We have all that we need and, very often, far more
than what is needed. You patiently wait for us to see the wonders of your love and the magnificence of creation. You yearn for us to turn from the Herods of today so that we may dance with joy like David’s. Hear our honest prayers of gratitude for your steadfast love and your patience with us. May we all be agents of your abundance and grace.
God of love and grace,
Hear our prayer. Amen.       

RCL – Year B – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 12, 2015
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 with Psalm 24 or
Amos 7:7-15 with Psalm 85:8-13
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:14-29

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for the living of these days: a litany of confession

churchfireOne:  With churches burning and hate mail flying,
All:     we shy away thinking that has nothing to do with me.

One:  With bombs dropping on faraway cities,
All:     we turn off the news and put up our feet up in comfort.

One:  With ebola still claiming lives in Africa,
All:     we pretend not to know and as we swallow our vitamins.

One:  With drought leaving many poor and hungry,
All:     we ignore the risk, let the water run, and go to the grocery store.

One:  With our prisons housing more people with mental illness,
All:     we tell ourselves it’s okay and cloak ourselves with false righteousness.

One:  With floods, tornados, super storms, and melting arctic ice,autos-415793_1280
All:     we refuse to change our ways thinking global warming is a future problem.

One:  With boat loads of starving refugees off another country’s coast,
All:     we assure ourselves it’s someone else’s problem and eat another snack.

One:  With neighbors living in fear of hatred because they don’t fit the “norm,”
All:     we say that we don’t feel that way and close and lock our doors.

One:  With Jesus calling us to love one another as he loves us,
All:     we clearly still wonder who that carpenter, that son of Mary and Joseph, really is.

One:  Holy One, you lived among us. You showed us a way of love and justice, hospitality and mercy.
All:  Forgive us for failing to recognize you. Forgive us for all the ways in which we have not lived in love, worked for justice, offered hospitality, or embodied mercy.

worship-435108_1920One:  Have mercy on us.
All:     Fill us with the courage to change. May we be your voice that calls for an end to apathy, ignorance, and ambivalence. May we be your hands that bring hope and healing to the victims of racism, war, and hatred and to the planet that we have too long abused and neglected. May our feet walk in your way of peace.

One:  Grant us your grace.
All: May we live fully into the forgiveness you offer that one day there may be healing and equality among all your peoples.

Amen.

RCL – Year B – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 5, 2015
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 with Psalm 48 or
Ezekiel 2:1-5 with Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

All photos from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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Aftermath

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Out of the depths I cry to you, O God. O God, hear my voice!

My focus is off this week. I’m still stunned by the murders in Charleston and searching for a way to make meaning in the midst of pain and bloodshed. During the days this week I’m helping out with a multi-church Day Camp. I’m also trying to plan worship for Pride weekend. I carry a heaviness that I cannot seem to shake.

If I’m totally honest what I carry is anger. I am angry that I live in a country where white supremacy exists and thrives enough to raise a child who believed it was right to kill nine people just because they were black. I am angry that I live in a country that blames innocent people simply because their skin is not white. I’m also angry that I live in a country that fails to recognize the rights of LGBTQIA people and sometimes blames them for the crimes committed against them. I’m angry that in the year 2015 we still act like skin color, sexual orientation, and gender identity are good reasons to devalue people.

And what fuels my anger is that Christians are a part of all this. I am a part of it myself. I’ve failed to see injustice when it’s right in front of me. I’ve made excuses for people’s violent, hateful acts. I’ve not always advocated for gun control, equity in our justice system, fairness in our education system, gay rights or trans rights. I’ve been passive, too. No more.

The Gospel story this week leads me to believe that something can be done by all of us. As Christians our first move ought to be seeking Jesus like Jairus did, like the bleeding woman did. They sought Jesus with the full expectation that he would heal them. Perhaps this is what Church is missing. Do we approach Jesus with the full expectation of healing?

In terms of racism and other forms of discrimination, it also means we must acknowledge our participation in them, our responsibility for them. There can be no healing without repentance. How could Jesus possibly grant new life when we are reluctant to admit that the old life is killing us? Many others have called for Christians to repent and seek to repair the damage done. I’ll add my voice to theirs. We need to repent and trust Jesus to lead us in the way of healing.

sorrow-699606_1280The problem is sorting out what repentance looks like.It starts with prayer, yet it does not end there. It starts with asking for forgiveness for all the ways that we have discriminated against others and for the ways in which we have passively allowed racist, discriminatory ways to continue. Then it means standing up, speaking out, and using the privilege we have to end the tolerance of racism and discrimination. It means paying attention to what Jesus taught about loving one another and then actually embodying that love. It means living in a way that might truly warrant forgiveness. Then, maybe, healing can begin.

We have work to do. We can no longer tell ourselves that the work of the Civil Rights Movement or the Gay Rights Movement is complete. We also can’t continue to tell ourselves that someone else will do the work that remains. Every voice is needed to put an end to the long legacy of racism. Every voice is needed to ensure equal rights for LGBTQIA people. Not one of us can afford to sit back and let things remain as they are. We have work to do.

From where I sit, we aren’t even close enough to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, much less respond to the call to new life. Let us move from this place.

But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
I wait for God, my soul waits,
and in God’s word I hope;
my soul waits for God
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 with Psalm 130  or
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 or Lamentations 3:23-33 with Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

Top photo from flikr. Bottom photo from pixabay. Used with permission.

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Wake Up!

water-209901_1280

Wake up, Sweet Jesus! Wake up! We are perishing. Do you not care?

I cry out these words when I hear of senseless, violent death
…When a transperson is murdered or takes their own life
…When a young man with a gun kills nine who were engaged in Bible study and prayer
…When boats filled with refugees and migrants sink
…When heroin claims another life
…When undocumented people are detained endlessly
…When drought threatens farmlands and floods claim lives and homes
…When people live on the streets hungry and homeless
…When cities whose names I can hardly pronounce are bombed
Please, Lord Jesus, wake up and speak the words that will bring peace.

high-water-392707_1920Wake up, Sweet Jesus! Wake up! We are perishing. Do you not care? Why do you remain silent?

With this lament on my lips, the words come back to me.

You, my Beloved, wake up. You are perishing. You remain silent. Do you not care?
…When a transperson is bullied or tormented or murdered
…When racism fuels the insanity that takes the life of nine innocents
…When refugees and migrants are so desperate for a home that they risk dying at sea
…When the uncertainties of life drive a person to use heroin rather than living
…When those seeking a better life find only imprisonment
…When drought doesn’t touch your life or floods destroy communities far from yours
…When people who are homeless are overlooked and avoided
…When bombs are dropped in foreign lands
I speak words of peace. When will you be still and listen?

Wake up, Beloved Children, Body of Christ! Wake up! We are perishing. Do we not care?

We know what is needed. Let us awaken to the Way of Peace
…When a transperson needs compassion and love
…When people of color need comfort, hospitality, and justice
…When refugees and migrants need sanctuary and welcome
…When people with addictions need hope, help, and healing
…When undocumented immigrants need asylum and welcome
…When Creation needs care, concern, and stewardship
…When those who are homeless need recognition and mercy
…When victims of war need shelter, peace, and safety
May we embody the Word of Peace, calming the storms generated by fear, ignorance, apathy, greed, and foolishness.ship-716778_1920

Wake up, Body of Christ! Wake up! We are perishing.

Amen.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 21, 2015
1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 with Psalm 9:9-20 or
Job 38:1-11 with Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41

Photos from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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