Desert Remembrances

I’m an ocean girl. It’s not a secret. Time at the beach renews my spirt like nothing else. Imagine my surprise when I heard the song of the desert and an answering melody sprung up within my spirit. It took me totally by surprise. I’ve been to the Sonoran Desert before and been struck by its beauty. This time, though, I was startled to discover that the stark desert beauty offered renewal.

On Monday afternoon I walked through some of the easy trails at Saguaro National Park. I walked slowly because it was hot and I didn’t have good hiking boots with me, and because I was not wanting to surprise any rattle snakes enjoying the warm sun. I encountered a few people on the trails, but I was mostly alone. I marveled at the petroglyphs etched into stone that weather had not yet erased. I listened to the birdsong and watched small rodents going about their business. The desert that I had always assumed was mostly dormant, if not dead, was full of life. It has a story to tell, a song to sing.

Those couple of hours in the hot Arizona sun gave me an opportunity to breathe a little more deeply and to be still enough to listen. The variety of plant and animal life, the nearly alien landscape, the hum of insects all conspired to point toward a holy presence. In those hours it didn’t matter that I was tired. It didn’t matter that the church, on average, is reluctant to engage in conversations about mental health. It didn’t matter that the on-going world politics are disheartening and overwhelming. For a little while, I was sure that God’s abiding presence is more than enough to carry us through into a more hope-filled future.

Now as I have re-entered the cold of Minnesota, the demands of daily life, and the heaviness of the news, it’s a challenge to hold on to the glimpse of hope and peace I experienced in the desert. It’s too easy to forget that Spirit of God abides with us when night comes early, calendars are full, and the news is filled with violence and death. Yet, I heard a promise in the desert, the echoes of ancient words. The words God always offers to God’s people, no matter how far we have strayed:  Fear not. I am with you always. You are mine. I abide with you and you with me. I do not leave my people alone, ever. Someday, all will know they are loved and valued. Keep working. Hold onto hope. Take courage.

I would not have guessed that the desert could sing to me the way the ocean does. I should have, though. I’ve heard whispers of this song in the woods and mountains, in the rivers and lakes, and in the prairies and fields. Why not the desert, too. Now I wonder how to share these words of hope and promise. What would it take to wake up more people? We cannot give up. No matter how hopeless a situation seems, God is in our midst. If God is present, then there is a way through. What do we need in order to trust that the Spirit of God lives in us and through us and around us?

Amidst a forest of saguaro cacti I was reminded of God’s immediate presence. Some of those saguaro have stood for centuries, bearing witness to the wonders and secrets of creation. Many of them will remain long after my life ends. My life might be the blink of a holy eye, but it matters how I live it. Courage. Hope. Love. Does my life, does your life, reflect these things? If we fail to notice the beauty of Creation, then we fail to notice the wonders of the Creator. If we fail to nurture and care for the Earth, we fail to nurture and care for God. If we fail to live in loving relationship with ourselves and our neighbors, we fail to live in loving relationship with God.

Amidst a forest of saguaro cacti I was reminded of God’s immediate presence. Some of those saguaro have stood for centuries, bearing witness to the wonders and secrets of creation. Many of them will remain long after my life ends. My life might be the blink of a holy eye, but it matters how I live it. Courage. Hope. Love. Does my life, does your life, reflect these things? If we fail to notice the beauty of Creation, then we fail to notice the wonders of the Creator. If we fail to nurture and care for the Earth, we fail to nurture and care for God. If we fail to live in loving relationship with ourselves and our neighbors, we fail to live in loving relationship with God.

None of us can ignore the call to engage in acts of loving kindness. All the violence that breeds hopelessness in the world like a deadly plague, none of it comes from God. God’s call to each of us is one that is filled with hope, love, and courage. Are we willing to do the hard work necessary to remember that Spirit of God lives in and among us, to literally re-member (re-connect) with the vulnerable among us?

RCL – Year C – Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost – November 10, 2019
Haggai 1:15b-2:9 with Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98 or
Job 19:23-27a with Psalm 17:1-9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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Sycamore Lessons

Have you ever climbed up, out on the proverbial limb, in the name of seeing Jesus more clearly? I’ve done it more times than I would like to admit. The trick is to climb down when Jesus calls you out of your foolishness. How else will we be able to dine with Jesus? Unfortunately, too many of us mistake our awkward position in our figurative trees for keeping company with Jesus. We can learn a lot from Zacchaeus if we care to pay attention.

Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and wealthy. He was also “short in stature.” One might wonder why Zacchaeus became a tax collector. No Jewish man would have thought this was an excellent profession. The Romans would have treated a tax collector poorly and the Jewish folks would have avoided one who so boldly sinned. Of course, Zacchaeus had gotten rich as a tax collector so maybe he didn’t care so much about what others thought. My guess is that he wasn’t wealthy when he started working for Rome. Perhaps he became a tax collector because he was already an outcast. Perhaps Zacchaeus was a little person and thereby excluded from society. Whatever it was, Zacchaeus couldn’t have been overly comfortable with his position in the world. After all, something drove him up that sycamore, and just catching a glimpse of Jesus couldn’t have been the only reason to make a fool of himself.

Zacchaeus probably wanted to know why the whole town was talking about Jesus. Maybe he craved the inclusion that folks were attributing to Jesus. News of all those that Jesus healed had probably reached Zacchaeus’ ears. To be seen and named and healed by Jesus would be something for a twice over outcast. Seeing Jesus in action, trying to verify if any of what had been said was true, might have been motivation enough to send a wealthy man up a tree.

As the story goes, though, his climb out a limb was useless. While Zacchaeus was ridiculously clinging to the sycamore, swaying in the breeze over the heads of the crowds, Jesus stood at the foot of the tree. Imagine how shocking that must have been for Zacchaeus, and even more surprising for those who assumed they were righteous. Why would Jesus choose to spend time with a sinner like Zacchaeus, much less break bread with him? Why not choose one of them, those who followed the law, had no visible disabilities, and were active community members? Why this silly, sinning, tax collector who had to climb a tree just to see what was going on?

The jealousy and the need to be righteous has many of us up a tree looking, perhaps more foolish than Zacchaeus. Every time we cling to biblical literalism, unexamined (possibly archaic) theology, or self-righteousness we climb a little higher. When we fail to see our neighbors as the Christ who calls us to come and eat and be ourselves in relationship, in community, we become far worse than Zacchaeus. He, at least, climbed down and took Jesus home to dinner. Then he did his best to correct the wrongs he had done. Zacchaeus found new life in Jesus’ company. When we refuse to hear Jesus calling us out of our familiar branches, we become more foolish and possibly more sinful than Zacchaeus ever was.

As I write this, I am sitting in an airport on my way to the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network’s WISE Conference. This is an educational event to help congregations become Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaging of persons with mental health challenges. I can’t help but hear a challenge in this passage to churches of all kinds to climb down from our lofty limbs and dine with Jesus. The church has done enough harm to persons with mental illness and their loved ones over the years. It is time we change. Even the more progressive congregations who don’t necessarily believe that mental illness is punishment for sin, lack of willpower, character defect, or lack of faith, need to be active in proclaiming welcome and changing the narrative of sinfulness and rejection.

None of us will ever get a closer look at Jesus by clinging to the past and the nostalgic comfort it may bring. The firmer our grip on the past, the more precarious our position. If Zacchaeus didn’t catch a glimpse of Jesus from his sycamore perch, why do we persist with such foolishness? Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the branches and elevated him in the eyes of God, and perhaps his neighbors. Imagine how high we could rise if we actually started to treat the vulnerable among us with Christ’s love and compassion.

It’s not too late for any of us. We can admit our foolishness and our mistaken attempts at righteousness. We can stop blaming people for their mental illness or other disabilities. We can educate ourselves and let go of outdated theology. If we do so, we might discover that our feet are firmly planted on the ground and Jesus is in our midst.

RCL – Year C – Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost – November 3, 2019
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 with Psalm 119:137-144 or
Isaiah 1:10-18 with Psalm 32:1-7
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

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Something about Bees, Glass, and Humility

Once again I find myself thinking about Peggy Way’s “fact of glass.” She uses this line, borrowed from a poem, to describe human reluctance to accept fragility and finitude. The poem, “Up Against It” by Eamon Grennon, describes the difficulties bees have sorting out this fact of glass. We humans have the same struggle with our mortality. These days, I find myself keeping company with grief, fragility, and glimpses of finitude. It hurts when I bump against this fact of glass, those none too gentle reminders that my days are no more endless than anyone else’s. This knowledge sits right next to grief, waiting for me to notice and respond.

Yet, I notice other things, too. Last night as I was driving home, there was a rainbow tinted so pink with the sunset that I almost missed it. On my drive in this morning, an eagle hunted for fish over the Mississippi. On a lunchtime walk with my dog, I could almost hear the spinning of the autumn leaves as they fell to the ground. Miraculous beauty surrounds me. How often have I not seen the beauty of creation because I’ve been distracted with my own fragility, or that of another? How often have I thought my own concerns were more urgent than the need to see God’s creative hand still at work in the world? How often have I run headlong into the glass only to look up and see God’s grace? It would have been easier, if I’d looked up first.

Perhaps this was part of the trouble with the Pharisee Jesus spoke of in Luke’s Gospel. Maybe he wasn’t so smugly righteous as it would seem. Maybe his attention was on the wrong things. He wanted to be sure he was doing all the right things to please God and, in his perfectionism, maybe just forgot to look up. He could look around and see there were others around him engaging in unseemly behavior and he could feel more secure in his law-abiding life. Yet, he could do nothing to slow the years weighing on his body, or to make peace with an uncertain future. Perhaps he thought that doing all the right things could keep him safe. Perhaps this was his way of engaging with the fact of glass. If he had had a little more humility, he might have recognized the same struggle in the tax collector hiding in the corner.

Maybe that Pharisee hadn’t come up against the fact of glass often enough to see the need for humility. The tax collector probably had. After all, the tax collector was seen as a sinner by the religious elite, and wasn’t particularly welcomed by anyone else. A Jew would probably not have entered into the employ of Rome if he had another viable option for making money. Whatever the hardships, the challenges, the tax collector faced, he recognized his place in the world and his need for mercy. Did he also recognize that he was as worthy of that mercy as the Pharisee was?

Humility helps us keep things in balance. It does not let our fears or our victories fool us into thinking we are unworthy of God or more worthy than others. Humility allows us to bump against the glass and reach out a hand to others, to steady ourselves and our neighbors. Humility allows us to look up and to look around, see God at work in the world and in the lives of those around us. Humility reminds us that we are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made” and in acute need of grace, always. Humility says that no matter what we achieve or what we fail, from God’s perspective our lives have the same value as the person sitting next to us on the bus, on the train, in the theater, in church, and anywhere else we might go.

As I sit with grief, contemplate my need for a pacemaker, accompany those who suffer in body, mind, and spirit, and marvel at the beauty of creation, a renewed sense of humility allows me to breathe. There is no point in asking “why me?” for any of it. The reason why is less important than the meaning I make of it all. I am not alone. None of us are. For the moment, I am thankful that as I’ve come up against the fact of glass once again it knocked some sense into me. I have looked up. I have looked around. Beauty and awe and majesty are on full display. And I’m lucky enough to have a part in it. Yes, we are all fragile and finite. It is also true that this fact of glass isn’t all there is to living. May we all be humble enough to recognize, if even for a moment, our places in the wonder of Creation…

For sermon help, or at least other thoughts on the text, try here.

RCL – Year C – Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 27, 2019
Joel 2:23-32 with Psalm 65 or
Sirach 35:12-17 or Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 with Psalm 84:1-7 and
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

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A Confessional Prayer

Ever-patient God, 
Jeremiah's ancient words stir within me
You let truth tumble from his lips
down through the ages
to land on my restless spirit
sour grapes are frequently easier to ingest
than the word You would inscribe on my heart
this troubling truth awakens desire in me
yet do I reach for society's sour fruit
or the sweetness of Your words and ways?

Maker of mercy and miracles,
the psalmist sings of Your help and Your hope
while I continue to reach for grapes
knowing my lips will pucker and I will remain hungry
my reluctance to accept the sweet abundance You offer
makes me wonder if I am wrestling with You
or with my own misguided need to be strong and fr
please hold me fast until I hear you calling my name
one more time, breaking the spell woven
by society's deceitful lies
masquerading as nourishing,desirable fruit
though they serve only to sour all
may I have the courage to endure Your grip
and the wisdom to receive Your word (again)


Fierce and gentle God,
how often I have turned from Your ways
let go of Your promises
as if Your word means nothing
as fragile and fleeting as ash in the wind
Your love is endures through all things, all times, all places
when pain is overwhelming, You abide
when I am lost and wandering, You remain
when I insist on eating those deceitful grapes
You wait with honey in hand
for that moment of repentant return
how is it that any of us are worthy of Your love
Your mercy
Your forgiveness
Your eternal patience?

Giver of life and love,
Forgive me for choosing simple, self-serving actions
over the complexity of Your ways
of loving neighbor and self
of serving You and creation
Forgive me when I pester You with trivial concerns
and the sourness of my prayers distances me
from the sweetness of Your love
Forgive me when I fail to turn to you with gratitude
with full recognition for all that is good in my life
Forgive me each time I don't see You
in a neighbor's need
Forgive me for thinking I am on my own in the wilderness
as if You aren't there
along with that immeasurable cloud of witnesses

Gracious God,
write Your word on my heart anew
even knowing that we will wrestle again (and again)
and my pestering prayers
won't always be filled with true need
my deepest desire is to live in Your abundance
build Your kingdom
travel Your holy ways
and embody Your love
always
I am yours

Amen.

RCL – Year C – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 13, 2019
Jeremiah 31:27-34 with Psalm 119:97-104 or
Genesis 32:22-31 with Psalm 121 and
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 and
Luke 18:1-8

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On Healing and Gratitude

Gratitude is a part of true healing. One can regain wellness, but without gratitude healing remains incomplete, at least on a spiritual level. Think about the ten lepers Jesus healed as he traveled between Samaria and Galilee. Ten were healed and told to show themselves to the priest. Only one of them returned to give thanks. Perhaps the others were off doing as they had been told. They were no longer lepers and a priest could allow them back into community. Maybe they were grateful. Yet only one expressed gratitude to Jesus and received a pronouncement of wellness. His faith had made him well.

There is a link between gratitude and wellness that we don’t spend much time thinking about. Today is World Mental Health Day with an emphasis on suicide prevention. Maybe we should make a day next week that is World Gratitude Day to help combat the sense of hopelessness that contributes to the every-climbing suicide rates. What might happen in the world if we all to time to give thanks for moments of healing, however fleeting? What might shift in us all if we trusted that God views us as whole and desires healing for ever person? What might ignite in us if we thanked God for healing, large and small? Would we be able to join that one leper in faith making us well?

Over a decade ago I found redemption while working as a clinical chaplain at a state hospital. I had spent so much of my life hiding my struggles with depression, an eating disorder, and suicidality. By the fall of 2008 these struggles were mostly in the past, but I felt a lot of shame about them. I still wondered if my early mental health challenges were a reflection of my inadequacy as a Christian. Gratitude wasn’t absent from my life, but it wasn’t at the center. I was too busy trying to hide where I had been, that I never took time to be grateful for having made it through.

When I started working at the state hospital, I discovered that my past struggles were an asset. I knew what it was like to be a psychiatric in-patient. I knew what it felt like to feel hopeless and powerless. I knew the lies depression whispers in the bleakest moments. I also knew that these things were survivable. I could offer authentic hope. One day I found myself remarkably grateful for all that I had been through. I was not grateful for the suffering. I was grateful for the survival, survival that led to me embracing and enjoying life. Survival shifted to wholeness when gratitude entered in. God had placed people and opportunities in my path that all led to healing. I didn’t know how well I was until I could whole-heartedly give thanks to God for all things.

Maybe those other nine lepers took time to figure out that they, too, had been made well. They could see their healing, but maybe it took a while to experience their wholeness and give thanks. Gratitude doesn’t always come immediately. Some of us are slow healers and need time to realize just what has happened in our lives. Maybe gratitude would come quickly if we practiced it more freely and more intentionally.

What are you thankful for today? In this moment, I am grateful I have access to good healthcare. I’m also grateful for the dog curled up under my feet and the cat curled up behind my head. When I stop to look around, I’m thankful for season change and the beauty of autumn leaves. I can list a number of people I am grateful for, too. Mostly, though, I am thankful for my life, my work, my wife, and all that God calls me to be a part of.

Gratitude doesn’t depend on our wellness, though. We can be grateful for the simplest things when we are struggling in body, mind, or spirit. Being grateful for a hot cup of tea, a text from a friend, a smile from a stranger can shift our spirits. In those moments we step closer to the wholeness God sees in us. Perhaps in our moments of gratitude, we also bring a little healing into the world for someone else.

Gratitude won’t fix anything that is wrong in the world. It will, however, open us to the possibilities of a better future, a future that honors God, neighbor, self, and creation. If we stop taking our lives for granted and give thanks for this day (and every day), we might discover that we are bearers of divine love and hope that the world desperately needs. It doesn’t matter if gratitude comes quickly to you, like that one leper, or if it is slower to come to your lips, possibly like the other nine. What matters is that we cultivate gratitude always and everywhere. It’s not a contest or a means to show God’s favor. Gratitude is simply acknowledging all that God has done for us.

Thank you for reading. May you be filled with gratitude. And may you run and tell the others the glories of God.

RCL – Year C – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 13, 2019
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 with Psalm 66:1-12 or
2 Kings 5:1-3,7-15c with Psalm 111 and
2 Timothy 2:8-15 and
Luke 17:11-19

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A Season of Lament

There is so little room for grief in western society, yet it is not something anyone can avoid. Today grief sits heavily on my heart. I’m returning home from a trip to my childhood home for the Celebration of Life for the woman who was often more maternal than my own mother. She had been my next-door neighbor and my mother’s best friend for many, many years. It was good to be there and spend time with her daughters who are the sisters I didn’t have by birth. Still, I head home full of grief for Ellie, for my mother, for all the others who touched my life in some way and have since died. And there is the expectation that I will be done with grief and resume my daily life. How do I honestly grieve in a world that wants us all to “move on” and “put the sadness behind”?

I read the laments of ancient Israel and my eyes fill with tears. They had lost so much – people, home, identity, a way of life, a sense of being God’s chosen. They were able to sit by the rivers of Babylon and weep, not just once but over and over again. They did not want to sing the songs of happier days. They could, however, look back and name what they lost and turn it into a prayer for days yet to come. This is what is missing today. We feel the sadness. That’s the not the problem. It’s the pressure to put it away and move on with life long before the blessings bubble up. Before we can find laughter and hope amid our tears we are supposed to be back to work, school, life, whatever. And no one really wants to examine how every fresh grief touches all the other grief that came before it. We’re just supposed to get back to “normal.”

That’s the funny part. I’m sitting here thinking that all of the women who raised me, who were a generation or two older, have died. Yes, I have women friends who are that generation or two older, but that is not the same as the ones who remember me in the years before I remember me. There’s nothing “normal” about this and all that is lost with them. While there have not been shared holidays for many years, now the hope of “just one more” has died as well. I’m not sure what to do with this loss, this sadness over what will never be. However, I don’t want to ignore it and pretend that there isn’t this enormous sense of loss running through the middle of my life.

I want to continue the conversations begun over the last few days of remembering. I want to think of those Christmas dinners where my mother made way too much food and invited seemingly random people to share the feast. I want to dream about having all the people I most love in the world around a table for just such a Christmas feast. I want to remember the laughter and be honest about the tears. How great would it be to name the fears, the challenges, and the struggles that separated what was once family? Moreover, to honor the loss of our mothers by maintaining the connections we’ve started to reform. There is much to lament. Yet, there is hope.

We are bound together by a love that never ends. We can honor that love with our tears and our laughter and let it keep us connected. If not, then we allow unacknowledged grief to feed the all that conspires to keep us disconnected and lonely. We can learn from those ancient ones and make room for ourselves and others who grieve to sit down and weep. We can make it acceptable for the songs to be silent for a time. We can stop expecting people to be fine within a week, a month, a year, or ever, when they have lost someone or something dear to them. The only wrong way to grieve is not to do it.

Lamenting what we have lost helps us heal, helps us realize what we have and make room for what might come. Strangely, I think Jesus’ comments about faith the size of a mustard seed has something to do with this. We get so focused on what we think is “normal” or expected and we do not allow room for the Spirit to stir within us. We try so hard to do what we’re supposed to do, that we forget how deeply God knows us and loves us. There is no feeling, no loss, no sadness in which God cannot find us. This means that we are never cut off from Love. We try to make everything about us instead of remember that God wants nothing more than for us to live into a future filled with goodness and hope. Faith can help us move through the mountainous grief that threatens to bury us, if we let it.

God does not take the people we love from us. However, there is comfort and healing in trusting that God’s love is greater than our pain. In time, healing will come, especially when we are seeking to bring more Love into the world. The hard part is being honest with where we are and what we need. God’s love for us does not end even if it seems inaccessible when we grieve. Today, I am sad and tears come easily, and I’m okay with that. I can already see glimpses of hope and healing through my tears. For now, though, I will continue to lament even if the rest of the world thinks I should move on.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
   God’s mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,  
   “therefore I will hope in God.”

RCL – Year C – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 6, 2019
Lamentations 1:1-6 with Lamentations 3:19-26 or Psalm 137 or
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 with Psalm 37:1-9 and
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

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Unexpected Godliness

Did you know that Mattel, the maker of Barbie, introduced a gender-neutral doll this week? It’s true. It’s a doll with a child’s shape prior to puberty and comes with wigs and gender neutral clothing. The doll is gender fluid with accessories to embrace diverse gender expression. What an amazing gift for children who are gender expansive as well as children who identify as male or female. As a girl who loved dolls and dresses as much as baseball and jeans, I would have loved this doll. In fact, I kind of want one now, even though my pronouns are she/her/hers and I am comfortable with my cis identity. If I had a child today who liked to play with dolls, I would purchase these dolls without hesitation.

Unfortunately, my delighted response to these dolls is not shared by everyone. In fact, there are a whole lot of people who call themselves Christian who are horrified by these dolls. They think  that because the Bible only mentions male and female being created in the image of God, then only male and female can exist. This is a fairly narrow reading of Genesis 1:26-27. There is room here for a far less literal interpretation. God (who is referred to in the plural here) creates humanity whose gender ranges from male to female, on a continuum. Of course, the ancient peoples would not have heard this verse in this way. However, there is no reason to limit what we hear just because the first hearers had a different experience of God and the world than we do.

This tendency to limit how God continues to speak through scripture is really my point. A toy company ought not to be more inclusive, understanding, supportive, and embracing of people than the church is. This just shouldn’t happen. We haven’t learned anything if we are not leading the world in practice of love, healing, and true inclusion. Jeremiah’s symbolic purchase of land reflecting God’s promise that the people of God will always have a home, means nothing if we don’t trust the continuing promise. The warnings of Amos fall on those who refuse to listen if we continue in our comfortable, “normative” lives while others barely survive on the edges of society. If we count ourselves among the godly while those around suffer for a lack of love and acceptance, then we have not followed the advice given in 1 Timothy. What have we learned from Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus if we treat those around us as less than human while enjoying our riches?

I am tired of the Bible being used as a weapon or a litmus test for God’s blessing. The full diversity of human beings is not mentioned in the Bible, nor is the full diversity of creation. Just because the Bible doesn’t mention something, it doesn’t mean that it is not pleasing to God. The people who wrote down the stories that are included in our sacred texts could only write from what they knew. They could only experience God through what was familiar to them. They did their best to tell what they knew of God based on their experiences of the world. They did not experience all there is to know about God or all there is to know about human beings or all there is to know about the created world. I think they would all be surprised to know that we are still reading their words today, maybe even more surprised at the contortions (and distortions) people go through to take the words literally.

The theme of God’s liberating love comes through the texts more strongly than anything else. When human beings fail to attend to these holy, loving ways, then the consequences can certainly be ugly. God does not inflict divine punishment nor divine rewards on individuals of communities. Yes, to the ancients it seemed that way. However, we can see that the disasters that struck God’s people were a direct consequence of them straying from God’s ways. And the better times were a consequence of keeping with God’s ways. These things are descriptive, not prescriptive. Selfish ways bring about destruction and devastation. Loving ways lead to strength and growth.

Jesus told the parable about the rich man and Lazarus for a reason, and it wasn’t to say that wealth is bad. People who enjoy wealth and treat others as less than human are not living out God’s love. They may one day find themselves on the outside of community, looking in and wondering where they went wrong. This is a lesson church would do well to pay heed to.

If we do not embrace the fullness of humanity in all its diversity, including gender diversity, the church will be pushed further and further from the center of society. God promised all that the people of God will always have a home. Jesus warned us again and again to care for the vulnerable among us. We must trust God’s love for us enough to embody it for everyone, without exception. This is what it means to be godly and to live in that home God has promised.

Mattel shouldn’t be more godly than the church. It’s that simple. Now what are we going to do about it? Do you trust God’s promise of a home, God’s liberating love for all people, to embody that love and share it with all whom you meet?

For more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year C – Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 29, 2019
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 with Psalm 91:1-6,14-16 or
Amos 6:1a, 4-7 with Psalm 146
1 Timothy 6:6-19 and
Luke 16:19-31

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