Out of the Pit

The story of Joseph being thrown into a pit by his brothers is a horrifying one. Reuben seems to be the only caring one in the bunch. He advocated for throwing Joseph in the pit and not murdering him so that later Reuben could return Joseph to their father. That isn’t what happened, though. After the brothers had thrown Joseph in the pit, some traders came by (Ishmaelites or Midianites) and Judah had the brilliant idea of selling Joseph and telling their father that Joseph had died. It’s an ugly story. One that eventually comes right but ugly nonetheless.

Some will respond to this story saying that it was God’s will for the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery because God needed Joseph in Egypt for when Pharaoh needed an advisor. However, attributing things to God’s will to justify the inexplicable is nonsense. It would be like saying the Holocaust was God’s will because it paved the way for reestablishing the state of Israel. Nonsense. In the case of Joseph, his brothers’ jealousy and hatred led them to do a horrible thing. Their hatred and jealousy of Joseph made them forget that Joseph was their brother. Their actions of throwing Joseph into the pit and then selling him into slavery had nothing to do with God. Later, when Joseph was useful to Pharaoh, that was God’s doing. God was in the redemption, not the sin. We need to stop blaming tragedy on the will of God and start looking at human behavior.

When we read this story of Joseph and his brothers, many of us are inclined to identify with Joseph or, maybe Reuben with his plan to rescue his baby brother. However, it seems to me that we as church, particularly white church, behave much more like the other brothers. We have allowed our fear to grow into hatred of too many of our siblings. The fear that feeds our systems of white supremacy and racism has us, at the very least, keeping our siblings in pits. Some of us are actively throwing our BIPOC siblings into pits and doing everything possible to keep them enslaved. Some of us are like Reuben and plan to save our siblings with little action to follow up on the plan. God may be trying to redeem our sins. However, there is so much resistance to liberating society from white supremacy, that God’s drive toward love and justice rarely comes through.

I’ve witnessed a trend on social media in recent weeks that underscores my point. When a person who is not white, cis gender, heterosexual, and, usually male, posts about an experience of “othering” by a white, cis gender, heterosexual, usually male, jumps in with a “well, I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation” for the hurtful behavior. This excuses the perpetrator of the harmful act and blames the victim. It also fortifies the systems that allow for othering. And another sibling is thrown into the pit and sold to protect the fragile feelings of those with the most privilege and power. This must stop. Isn’t it time we reached into the pit to give our siblings a hand up?

Hate, active or passive, is never God’s will. Acts of violence, public or private, are never God’s will. We are all children of God and, therefore, siblings. Every. Single. One of us. As Christians we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and to care for the vulnerable among us. It’s time to stop selling out or siblings and tossing them into pits dug with irrational fear and hatred fueled by broken social systems. What would it take for all of us to take responsibility for the ways we have contributed to sustaining systems of white supremacy? Let’s stop attributing acts of fearful, hateful, violence to the will of God.

God has been trying to break through to us with the voices and actions of prophets for generations. 2020 has been a trying year for all of us. COVID-19 is not from God to test our faith. However, pandemic has revealed truths about our society in ways that cannot and should not be denied. Pandemic acts as a magnifier of our vulnerabilities, as individuals, as the church, as a society. Rather than abdicating responsibility by saying that this is all God’s will, let us make 2020 the year we elevate our siblings who have lived in pits of despair that we have dug and been enslaved by white supremacy for generations. Let us elevate the dreamers and visionaries, the prophets and teachers, the unseen, the forgotten, the unwanted, the devalued and the dismissed. By so doing we participate in God’s redeeming acts of love and grace – for all our siblings and for ourselves. Let’s make 2020 a year of lasting redemptive change.

RCL – Year A – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 9, 2020
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 with Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b or
1 Kings 19:9-18 with Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

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Learning from Jacob

After Jacob’s night of wrestling, after his hip was disjointed, did he try to hide his limp or did he embrace it as a sign of his strength and endurance? I would like to think that he did the latter, though I suspect it might have taken him a while. Jacob was known for his cunning, his trickery, his willingness to do what he had to do to get what he wanted. Yes, Laban tricked him into marrying Leah before Rachel. I’m guessing that didn’t alter his personality all that much. Maybe just growing up, claiming his identity, allowed him to accept his faults, flaws, and weaknesses, limp included.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think I have a lot in common with Jacob, or at least the Jacob I imagine. It isn’t that I will do whatever I need to do to get what I want in a way that hurts or uses others; I try to avoid that. However, for most of my life I have tried to hide my weaknesses, my limitations, my disabilities. Yes, I could name them, and yet I never really embraced them. Acceptance of my limitations is hard for me, even now.

When I was in college I was diagnosed with a learning disability that fit under the umbrella of dyslexia. While this diagnosis brought some relief and understanding to me, I told very few people. In my subsequent years of education, I think I told one professor because she asked the class to write down anything that might affect our class work, including learning disabilities. I remember writing that I was dyslexic and that it would not present a problem in class. I did not want to be viewed as “impaired” or “different.”

My journey with my physical health has been similar. It took decades to get an accurate diagnosis of POTS/Dysautonomia. In the intervening years, when my diagnosis went back and forth between Lupus and MS, I would acknowledge that I didn’t feel well and then proceed to do whatever needed doing. I didn’t want whatever was going on in my body to cause people to see me as anything other than fully capable of doing my job or living my life. These were my judgements about myself. I never viewed anyone else with any kind of disability as “less than.” Somehow, though, if I accepted my physical limitations then I would be diminished.

Now, with pandemic, I have no choice but to name my struggles. Dysautonomia and multiple autoimmune disorders put me at high risk for COVID-19. And the pacemaker given me in December doesn’t diminish that risk. I have to stay home, away from people. Sure, I’ve managed to find ways to get out, like kayaking in sparsely populated lakes. I walk my dog every day that is below 80 degrees and humidity below 45% and we cross the street a lot to avoid other people who are out without masks. I am vulnerable and I don’t like it.

Yet, it is this very vulnerability that has me thinking about Jacob in a new way. I’m guessing he didn’t fully become Israel until he embraced his brokenness; he didn’t become whole until he accepted his vulnerability. It’s an odd thing to contemplate. What makes us whole? What makes us able to accept God’s call to live in abundance and share that abundance with those who hunger and thirst (literally and figuratively)?

Jesus told the disciples that they had to feed the hungry and thirsty crowd gathered around them in the wilderness. The disciples thought Jesus may have lost touch with reality. How could they feed 20,000 people (5000 men plus women and children) with nothing? They didn’t actually have nothing. They had five loaves of bread and two fish. That turned out to be more than enough. There’s something to be said for using what we have and trusting God to make it what we need. Not for us on our own. For us and all who gather in community.

Only when we accept our whole selves, limps and limitations included, can we recognize the gifts we truly possess. Only then can we move fully into God’s abundance and serve the hungry, thirsty and vulnerable people in our communities. Whether we use our limitations as an excuse for inaction or we pretend we have no limits and in so doing cannot fully use our gifts, we are serving no one but ourselves.

Now is the perfect time for us as individuals and for us as the church, to embrace our broken places and accept the whole of who we are. Only then will we be the Body of Christ needed right now. Jacob became Israel after his hip was put out of joint and he could not deny his brokenness, his vulnerabilities as a human being. Imagine how the church would change if every congregation would spend a night or more wrestling with God to come limping into a new day. We could name and claim our vulnerabilities, our brokenness, and even our sins, and move just that much closer into living in God’s abundance. The world can be transformed if we stopped pretending to be perfect and embraced our wholeness instead.

Who would have thought that Jacob would be a model for living in God’s abundance…

RCL – Year A – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2020
Genesis 32:22-31 with Psalm 17:1-7, 15 or
Isaiah 55:1-5 with Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

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Rethinking the Kingdom

Image is a close up with an oyster shell with a pearl inside

Jesus gave the disciples several images of the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Then he asked them if they understood and they said they did. I think they lied. Maybe they didn’t lie intentionally. Maybe they just got caught up in the moment and thought they understood. They didn’t, though. Why do I say this? Because if they understood 2000+ years ago what Jesus said about the Realm of God, then we wouldn’t be so confused by it today.

We, like those first disciples, get it all mixed up. We think it’s a later kind of thing, like after we die we go to Heaven. We continue to believe that we go to Heaven after the final reckoning in which God rewards the good and casts out the evil, as if it were that simple when it comes to human beings. We still miss, almost willfully, that the Kingdom of Heaven is right now, or can be if we make room for it to grow in us, in our daily lives, and in the world around us.

Think about it. That tiny mustard seed growing into a bush large enough to house birds. One tiny drop of the Kingdom, preferably sown with intent, grows and flourishes and becomes home for many. Not later. Right now.

If the mustard seed image falls flat for you, think about the woman with her flour and yeast. Such a small about of yeast to make bread rise. Making bread is an intentional act. Adding yeast doesn’t happen by accident and it only takes a spoonful or two which is not much given the amount of flour. Then the bread rises, more than once even.

Mustard seeds and yeast only point to the intention with which we can grow the Realm of God. Now we have the treasure in the field that causes someone to joyfully sell everything to obtain that field. So, too, with the merchant and the pearls. One “pearl of great value” is worth giving up everything else to have that pearl. Living in the Kingdom of Heaven and the joy therein is worth radically changing our lives for. It might mean that we start a whole new way of living, letting go of everything we once thought important. Imagine that…

Now it gets complicated because we focus on the either/or part of the next image, and not the whole story. The dragnet is thrown out and brought back full. What is wanted is kept and what is unwanted is tossed out. The Kingdom separates good from evil. Those who are cast out are angry, perhaps self-righteously so. Yet, if there is breath, there is hope. Unlike the fish in the net, when we fall short of the Realm of God, there is grace and mercy if we stop gnashing our teeth long enough to repent and receive forgiveness, we can try again.

The disciples claim to have understood all of this. They didn’t. Nor do we. The Realm of God is now. Our job is to work to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. One tiny seed of grace can grow and flourish and become home to many. Small acts of kindness can raise friends, neighbors, or strangers out of the depths of hopelessness and despair. Every life is a treasure, a pearl of great value. Every life is a place where the Kingdom can take root and grow and flourish. Who are we to say otherwise?

We are human, of course. We have such a hard time believing that God’s love isn’t pie; there is enough for all. God’s Realm would be more evident if we trusted that there was enough for the whole of Creation. We also, at least in progressive Protestant circles, are reluctant to consider that there is sin, evil, or badness of any kind within us. God is gracious enough to see us as without sin, to see our wholeness. However, that does not mean that we don’t need to continually separate out from ourselves sins that if unchecked could cause harm to ourselves or our neighbors.

In this time of pandemic, instead of focusing on all that can divide us one from another, perhaps we can focus on growing the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps we can foster compassion instead of judgement, hope in place of fear, love where anger tends to grow… Maybe we can do the weird thing of sowing mustard seeds in our lives so that the Realm of God grows and flourishes right now, right where we are. Imagine how different the world could be if we sow seeds of Divine Love with intention, with hope, with grace enough to trust and believe that Spirit can bring new life where we see only division, destruction, and death.

It’s likely that those first disciples got distracted by the good vs. evil stuff that continues to distract us. It’s time to focus on sowing the seeds of the Kingdom rather than trying to sort out who is good and who is evil. If all of us sought to bring more Love into the world with our words and our deeds, evil would diminish in us and around us.

Let’s bring out our treasure – what is old and what is new.

RCL – Year A – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 26, 2020
Genesis 29:15–28 with Psalm 105:1–11, 45b or Psalm 128
1 Kings 3:5-12 with Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26–39
Matthew 13:31–33, 44–52

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Is God in this Place?

Image is a close-up of two pale blue butterflies on dandelions facing each other

A kind of weariness has caught up with me this week. In many ways my life has been nonstop problem solving since mid-March. Four months later my corner of the world has adapted to the limitations of pandemic. The congregation I serve is all Zoom, all the time with the understanding that we will not gather in person again until it is safe for every one of us. This week it has finally hit me, though. As a new routine has established itself, I feel more unsettled than I have during the last few months. Now in these quieter days of summer there is time for me to feel the feelings for myself. I’ve been too busy helping everyone else for my own feelings to come to the surface.

Now that they are here, I’m ready for them to pass. No matter how many times I tell myself that I have all that I need and I have the privilege of working from home, frustration still simmers. I am impatient when everyday tasks are more complicated than I expected. I am forgetting the simplest tasks. I spend too much time looking for my phone. I get teary over commercials that I’ve seen hundreds of times. And, if I am honest, I am still lamenting the sabbatical I was supposed to have this summer. None of these things are unbearable; indeed, they are signs of ongoing stress. Over and over again, I have told people to be gentle with themselves because pandemic magnifies our vulnerabilities. Time to heed my own words.

I read Jacob’s words in Genesis, “Surely, the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” and realize I could say nearly the same thing. Yes, God is in this place, this time of pandemic. I know this is true, and yet, I often forget the power of this truth. Those angels ascending and descending in Jacob’s dream are a lovely metaphor for God’s continued work in the world. God moves through the world, through us, in ways we seldom grasp in the moment. Our failure to notice God does not negate God’s presence, God’s works of love.

Too many of us are simply waiting for pandemic to be over. Too many are already acting as if COVID-19 is not real and poses no threat. Too many of us are not considering how our actions might affect others. We are so desperate to “return to normal” that we are not attending to what God might be asking of us in this very moment. Yes, its hard to be without direct human contact. Yes, its hard to avoid crowds. Yes, its hard to be without a variety of things we have taken for granted. And it is probably harder for those who don’t have the option of working from home, those who rely on public transportation, those who work in healthcare, and teachers being asked to go back into classrooms, and many others who cannot distance themselves from others due to circumstances. The reality is that pandemic is hard for all of us in different ways. To pretend otherwise leads to pent up emotions that come out sideways (like yelling at the food processor when the lid was stuck on – yeah, I did that). Pretending that everything is “normal” also gets in the way of recognizing the movement of the Spirit.

Psalm 139 (one of my personal favorites) reminds us that there is no place we can go where God is not already there. Even in pandemic, God is with us, waiting for us to notice. Right now God is sowing seeds of goodness, grace, love, forgiveness – seeds of the Kingdom – throughout the world and among us. We know there are those who sow seeds of fear, hatred, division, and violence. Our focus ought to be nurturing the seeds of God’s Realm, making sure these seeds grow and bear fruit. While we cannot necessarily remove the other things, we can choose not to nurture them, not to strengthen them, not to let them grow in our lives or in our communities. We don’t need to worry about saving souls; God has that covered. We need to focus on saving lives. We need to do everything in our power to prevent the worsening of this pandemic – everything from adhering to the basics such as wearing a mask and physically distancing to the more complicated decisions of how and when to safely meet in person. In addition, we can advocate for those who often go unheard and unseen and devalued by those with decision-making power. And we can choose to stop making judgements about how other people are coping with pandemic; most people do the best they can with what they have.

Surely, God is in this with us! Even in the moments when we forget or fail to notice, God is present and moving in the world. May we trust God’s presence enough to act with loving-kindness toward ourselves, our neighbors, and the whole of Creation.

RCL – Year A – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 19, 2020
Genesis 28:10-19a with Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 or
Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or
Isaiah 44:6-8 with Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

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What’s Growing in Your Garden?

Image of daisies and other wild flowers behind a small white, wire fence in front of fence

I am not a great gardener. I do best with plants that don’t need careful tending and can grow well without me. Wild flowers grow in my front yard and a few herbs and vegetables grow in containers and a small garden in my backyard. I’m never sure how much or when to water and I can’t tell what’s a weed until the plants are a few inches tall. Yet, I love the idea of gardens and I’m more drawn toward the ones that feel more organic and have a bit of messiness to them. Neat, tidy rows of plants is just not my style. That isn’t to say that I am not thoughtful and intentional about what I want to grow.

When I worked as a psychiatric chaplain in a state hospital I led a lot of groups which often focused on spiritual and emotional wellness. A favorite was a group that I led each spring. I had purchased a number of flower seeds and renamed them for the qualities patients wanted in their spiritual and emotional gardens. The seeds would become things like kindness, laughter, wholeness, healing, friendship, love, forgiveness, hope, and so on. Thinking about these ideal gardens reminds me of Jesus’ “parable of the sower.” These are the kinds of seeds that sower would have sown without a care to the kinds of soil they were thrown onto.

Seeds of the Kingdom sown willy nilly as the sower walked through the world. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could do this. Instead of the fear and anger, destruction and division that is sown so often these days, we could sow seeds of God’s realm every where we go, with everyone we encounter. We are not responsible for how anyone receives the seeds; we are only responsible for the kinds of seeds we sow and the kinds of seeds we receive. We are both sower and soil, though I think it is time to pay attention to the seeds we share and the seeds we allow to grow in us.

Think of Jacob and Esau. Imagine how differently their story might have gone if their parents had sown seeds of division between them. What would have happened if the brothers shared their gifts with each other without demanding payment. Would they have learned from one another and become stronger? Would the history of Israel, our spiritual history be different than it is? It’s easy for us to say how foolish it is that Esau sold his birthright for some lentils and bread. However, we have sold our birthright as God’s beloved for things far less nourishing than lentils, haven’t we?

Our birthright as Christians is to live without condemnation, to live in joy and peace. Yet, every time we sow or accept seeds of hatred or division, we have given away bits of our birthright for what? To maintain the social norms established by previous generations? To hold onto the illusion of superiority? To protect our privilege? This is not what we are called to do or be. Unlike Esau, it may not be too late for us to reclaim our spiritual birthright. We have what we need if we trust God’s abundance over the temporary abundance made by human hands.

It is impossible to ignore that we are living in an era defined by fear and divisiveness. The U.S. government does not care about the citizens of this country who are vulnerable. The current Administration would like to convince us that people who have an increased risk for COVID-19 are to blame for their own vulnerability. The those who are poor are poor because they are lazy. The those who are elderly who cannot afford medications and healthcare didn’t plan appropriately for their retirement. Those with mental or physical illnesses are unimportant because they don’t contribute fully to society. We’ve all heard this kind of nonsense and more. However, just because the government favors white supremacy, ableism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and anything else that enables them to retain their wealth and stay in power, does not make it right or healthy for any of us to support. Moreover, as Christians we have no place participating in or benefiting from fear, hatred, and division. We are called to spread life-giving seeds, not seeds that choke the life out of people.

What you like to see blossoming in your own spiritual and emotional garden? What would you like to see thriving in the world around you? It is not too late for us to stop giving away our birthright for a flimsy, false sense of security. It is not too late to sow those seeds of life. If we focus on sowing the seeds of the Kingdom, then one day it might be possible for everyone to, as Isaiah says, to go in joy and return in peace.

RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 12, 2020
Genesis 25:19-34 with Psalm 119:105-112 or
Isaiah 55:10-13 with Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

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The Fallacy of a Christian Nation

At this moment the U.S. leads the world in the number of new COVID-19 cases. We can add this to the list that includes the highest rate of mass shootings and mass incarceration. None of these things are brag-worthy. In fact, they are shameful, as is every act of the current Administration that removes protections and rights from any group of peoples. Police violence and shootings are probably high on the list of what this country has more than other countries, too. I’m appalled any time someone insists on the U.S. being a “Christian nation.” If this were, in fact, a Christian nation we’d be in better shape. More people would be wearing masks and physical distancing out of love for neighbor if not self. We would have limited access to guns for the same reason. POC would not be incarcerated at a higher rate (and we wouldn’t have for profit prisons) because all people would be treated equally as God’s beloved children. If the U.S. were truly a Christian nation, then every Administration would be actively seeking justice and equality for every human being, not just those elevated in a society built on white supremacy.

It’s easy for some people to demand a return to our “Christian roots.” My question is when was this country actually Christian? When we were killing First Nations Peoples and stealing their lands? When we stole African peoples from their lands and enslaved them? When we indentured poor people as servants for life? When our forebears cried out for religious freedom but meant only their kind of religion? On this Fourth of July weekend look more closely at our colonial history and you will find nearly every kind of activity except the kind that is based on love of neighbor as yourself.

As people protest the wearing of masks because they have a right to do as they please, reveals the ugly underbelly of U.S. history. The narcissistic insistence of individual “rights” over the well-being of many is pervasive and far from new. The same people who refuse to wear a mask and continue to denounce science will also cling to Jesus words – “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  These words can be used to enhance the perceived difficulty encountered when advocating for individual rights. They are comforting for those who think they are afflicted. However, if you read further, these words are not so easy and ought not to be used to affirm one’s weariness so readily.

The very next line is, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” This is where it gets real. To take the yoke of Christ upon one’s self is not as simple as it might sound. To be yoked to Christ is to be yoked to Divine Love. To be yoked to Christ is to serve the greater good rather than one’s own ego. To be yoked to Christ means to learn to live as Jesus did—speaking truth to power, healing the broken, and welcoming the outcast. To be yoked to Christ is to embody Jesus’ gentleness and humility. Only then will we find rest for our souls. Before the rest comes, there is work to do.

For those of us on the progressive side of things, this caution is for us as well. We may not be advocating for a “Christian nation,” though I wonder if we are really wanting to uproot white supremacy from all of our social structures. We can easily name the wrongs committed by those on the other side of the theological divide. However, are we able to admit to the wrongs we have committed? Are we able to say that we are afraid to live in a country without a police force that grew out of slave catching? Are we able to say that we are reluctant to let go of the fears and prejudices that have kept us benefiting from racism? Are we able to say that we afraid of what we will lose if all our neighbors have the same privileges we now enjoy? Can we confess our sins of complicity and reluctance to change everything for the sake of all our neighbors?

Before we give in to the sentimentality that glosses over Jesus’ invitation to live as he did, to love as he did, and rest in that, we have work to do. To be yoked to Christ is to bear the burden of the work that remains before us, to do our equal share. Are we truly yoked to Christ? Or do we just want to rest and avoid the deep weariness that comes from working toward a future that can actually say that there is justice and liberty for all?

RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 5, 2020
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:10-17 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13 or
Zechariah 9:9-12 with Psalm 145:8-14
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

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A Confessional Prayer

image of four wild horse running with a rainbow in the background

Holy One, you are like no other god—a lesson you have tried to teach us again and again. Though Abraham expected you to need the sacrifice of Isaac, you did not. You ask us to unbind ourselves from the pain-filled destructive ways of old. You ask us to rid ourselves of our ties to racism and white supremacy, to xenophobia, and to fears that prevent us from seeing you in ourselves and in our neighbors. Forgive us for the ways we cling to outdated understandings and traditions that no longer hold meaning. Forgive us and call us into your presence once more.

Ever-patient God, you hear our cries of “How long, O Lord, how long?” and you wait for us to change our ways. You are present with us in joy and in sorrow, in peace and in war. Yet, we mistake your presence for your blessing. Moreover, we want you to fix what we have broken. Instead, you provide us with all that we need for healing, for peace, for abundant life—not just for ourselves but for all. Have mercy on us when we fail to take responsibility for our sins of destruction, dehumanization, and divisions. Have mercy on us and awaken us to the possibilities of life in your Spirit.

God of life and love, do you ever grow tired of waiting for us to turn to you? How many times must you set us free from ourselves? How many times do you need to put your Love on full display before we see how precious we are, before we recognize you in all peoples? You have demonstrated the saving power of your Love again and again. You tell us that we are free from sin and ask us to serve righteousness. And still we persist in causing harm, often in your name. Call us once more to live as you taught—loving our neighbors as ourselves. Call us and awaken us to the power of Love.

Steadfast God, we are tangled up in so much that is not good for us. The knots of fear tighten when those who should lead speak only to divide. The ropes of self-righteousness wrap ever-tightly every time we fail to consider what our actions might mean for our neighbors. We say we want to be disentangled, even while reaching for new cords to bind ourselves to some other false prophet or punitive god of our own making. So many people around us are in need of water, of hope, of renewal, of release, of reparation, and we tend to think that your Living Water is meant only for us. Fill us with your grace that we may free ourselves of all that binds us to brokenness. Fill us and empower us to be agents of healing, hope, and Love.

Amen.

If you are in need of sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 28, 2020
Genesis 22:1-14 with Psalm 13 or
Jeremiah 28:5-9 with Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

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Time to Work with God

Image of a large cast iron pot filled with water and surrounded by flowers

People are weird, impulsive, and messy. Reading the story of Sarah getting Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael reminds me just how foolish we all can be. Sarah was, after all, responsible for Hagar getting pregnant by Abraham to begin with. Then when Sarah finally gives birth to Isaac and Isaac and Ishmael get too close, Sarah’s own jealousy takes over. She doesn’t want anything to get in the way of God’s promise to Abraham. If Hagar and Ishmael continue to hang around, maybe God’s promise to make nations from Abraham’s descendants might not remain exclusively Isaac’s. Of course, God ended up giving Hagar the same promise so Sarah’s selfishness accomplished little, except maybe that she didn’t witness God’s promise to Hagar.

Sarah’s behavior is consistent with our own on so many levels. She treated God’s promise to Abraham as though it were pie, as though there was a limited amount and she wanted Isaac to have it all. We do this with many aspects of faith and society. We somehow believe we can control who God loves with all of our rules and doctrines and traditions. We treat justice like it is a precious commodity that must be held by the privileged few. How many have we banished to thirst in the wilderness because of our own shortsightedness? It’s not like God withdraws God’s love from those we deem unworthy. Nor does God share our views of who deserves justice. I don’t know if Sarah ever acknowledged her foolishness. However, I wonder if the current situation in the world will awaken us to our own?

In Romans Paul tells us that we share in Christ’s baptism and, also, Christ’s resurrection. In baptism we acknowledge we belong to God and recognize the grace that washes over us. We need not wait until we die to participate in Christ’s resurrection. New life is possible for us in this moment, right now. Perhaps more importantly, there is enough new life to cover every person on the planet. There is no shortage of redemption and resurrection. Such is the nature of grace. As Luther says, grace abounds.

Consequently, we can stop hoarding it. We can admit that we have been mistaken about who is “saved” and who is not. We can repent from our racist and white supremacist ways and work toward equality for all people right now. We can stop trying to say that the Bible addresses every aspect of modern life and accept that God is still at work in the world revealing the fullness of God in the wonderful diversity of humanity. Cis gender, heterosexual, white, able-bodied, privileged maleness is not perfection nor a model for how to be Christian. Remember God’s love is not pie; there is plenty for everyone even those we think are flawed or sinful. Mental illness is not a punishment for sin. Neither is any kind of disability. Every person is made in God’s image and our understanding of God is incomplete without the amazingly beautiful diversity of humanity.

God is at work in the world in spite of our weirdness, our impulsiveness, and our messiness. It is okay to make mistakes and get things wrong. However, it is not okay to persist in these ways just because they are comfortable for us. When we learn better we are supposed to do better. Moreover, we are called to care for the vulnerable among us, not banish them to the margins of society. Jesus worked hard to wake people up to the need to speak truth to power and to reach out with healing hands to those cast out. We don’t need to keep making more Hagars and Ishamaels for God to rescue with living water. As the church, the body of Christ, we are supposed to be that living water.

Maybe it is time that we start working with God to fulfill God’s vision of unity in the world rather than maintaining our systems and traditions of judgement and division. Even in pandemic, even with uprisings continuing, we have all that we need to end our compliance with white supremacy and heteronormalcy. We have erred on the side of selfish foolishness that has sent too many people out into the desert for far too long. Grace, love, justice, mercy… these are all commodities that though precious exist in abundance, an abundance so great that we can’t possible use them up.

God is still working in the world to bring new life to those we have cast out. It is time we embrace the fullness of Creation and work with God rather than against God. May we step into the grace that flows like baptismal waters and live as people of resurrection and abundance.

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 21, 2020
Genesis 21:8-21 with Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 or
Jeremiah 20:7-13 with Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Photo: CC0image by GGaby Stein

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With a Little Help from My Friends

Image of man painting the word “change” in large white letters on an old, crumbling brick wall.

The older I get, the more I appreciate Sarah. Early in her relationship with Abraham, God had promised Abraham descendants more numerous than the stars. They waited patiently for quite some time and did what heterosexual couples do when wanting a child. As the years added up and they still had no child, Sarah sent Hagar to Abraham in an effort to fulfill God’s promise. Of course, Hagar gave birth to Ishmael and that was satisfactory for a while. Then, later still, messengers came and told Abraham that Sarah would have a son; God’s promise would be fulfilled. Sarah laughed because she believed she was post menopause. The impossible happened anyway. Sarah gave birth to Isaac and the descendants of Abraham are indeed uncountable just like the stars.

Neither Sarah’s laughter nor Isaac’s birth draw my attention in this moment. Right now the U.S. is on the cusp of change (or not). Pandemic continues to highlight racial disparities in ways that no one should be able to ignore or deny. George Floyd’s murder demonstrated, yet again, that our policing system is broken beyond repair which keeps Black folx and other People of Color at constant risk for death, violence, and/or unnecessary encounters with our criminal legal system (which is also very broken). Whether or not the nation changes is up to us. God has made it abundantly clear what it is we are called to do as people of faith – Christians together with those of other faith traditions. We are to care for the vulnerable among us and love our neighbors as ourselves. This is precisely what we are not doing as a nation right now. (I am not in any way suggesting that the U.S. or should be a Christian nation or a theocracy of any kind.)

Sarah may have laughed when the angel told her that she would have a son in her old age. I don’t blame her. I think many of us are laughing at the seeming impossibility (absurdity?) of abolishing the police system in the U.S. Like Sarah, we can name reasons why it would be impossible. We white folx jump to the question of who will keep us safe or if calling 911 would still work. We cannot imagine the change not having police at our beck and call. We have benefited from the white supremacist narrative that tells us the police system is good and safe and has our best interest in mind. Sometimes this is true for white folx and sometimes it isn’t. It is never true for People of Color. Just because something is good for some doesn’t mean it is good for all. Just because we can’t imagine something new and different and it seems impossible, it doesn’t mean it is “too wonderful” for God.

Here’s the thing. God doesn’t have a magic wand to zap us into creating a loving system of safety for all people. Here’s where we can take our cue from Sarah and Abraham. Let’s try some new ways of ensuring safety in our communities. There are smart folx out there with great, well-thoughtout ideas worth trying. If the first concept doesn’t work, we try others. Eventually, we will find something that works. We can laugh at the seemingly impossible, yes. And we can attempt to bring about radical, systemic change. Why not give God a hand? It’s not like we have better things to do. (Besides, you get to imagine God singing along with John Lennon and Paul McCartney.)

Sure, Sarah’s efforts to help bring about God’s promise didn’t go as she had hoped and neither she nor Abraham always behaved well (just ask Hagar and Ishmael). The important thing to remember is that they tried. They didn’t sit back and wait for miracles to happen unaided. It wasn’t always comfortable or easy. They did get to the place where the impossible and wonderful thing happened, though, didn’t they. We should take our cue from them. God needs us to get busy, laugh a little at the seemingly impossible work before us, and then make change happen.

I can’t help but think of the poem often (mis)attributed to Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body now but yours. 
No hands, no feet on earth but yours. 
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. 
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. 
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. 
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Are we doing everything we can to be the Body of Christ needed in this time and place? If we aren’t working for real, systemic change, then the answer is no. My friends, there is much work to be done and our hands, feet, eyes, and bodies, as well as our voices, are needed if we are going to create a world in which all people are safe and free. Yes, I know that sounds impossible and it’s okay to laugh. Then remember Sarah and know that nothing is too wonderful or impossible for God, particularly when we seek to do God’s work.

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 14, 2020
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) with Psalm 116:1-2,12-19 or
Exodus 19:2-8a with Psalm 100
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)

Photo: CC0image by Gerd Altmann

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Imago Dei in the Aftermath

Pandemic. Protests. Uprisings. Fires. Vigils. Agent Provocateurs. Militarized Police. White Supremacy. All of it right here where I live. Part of me has been overwhelmed by it all this week. Part of me is stuck in the horror of watching police officers kill George Floyd. Another part of me is stunned by the numbers of cities joining in the uprisings. I’m lamenting not being able to be out on the streets helping because of the pandemic. And, if I am totally honest, I am proud of the relentless demand for change that has begun here and spread across the country. Still, the words are hard to find. Consequently, I am sharing this poem, “Imago Dei” from my book, Barefoot Theology (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Be safe. Be well.

                             Imago Dei

On midsummer's eve, when the world is wrapped in magic,
all the children of the earth gather in the dreaming place. 
Mysteries call louder on this night than on all other nights. 
Whispers carried on ocean and mountain breezes lead
children to gather in the dreaming place.
 
They laugh and dance and splash in the magic surrounding them. 
The moon rises higher, children quiet in the whispering winds 
and ask the questions of their hearts.
 
One small girl stands and says,
My daddy doesn’t look like my mommy and
I don’t look like either of them. 
So who does God look like?
 
The answers are quick and from all around.
Some of us together.
All of us.
None of us because maybe there is no God. 
 
Silence.
 
The winds themselves laugh and dance wildly though the gathering. 
Then they speak with the voice of One. 
You ask what the Holy One looks like? 
Do you not know? 
All of you bear my likeness.
 
Children wait, breath held, still.
 
I am the first light of morning;
I washed some of you in its soft fairness. 
I am the pureness of deep night;
I wrapped some of you in this sacred darkness. 
I am the fire of the setting sun;
 some of you have this burning in your hair. 
I am the richness of the soil—
red, brown, yellow, and black—
as are many of you. 
I am the depth of the ocean;
some of you wear these greens,
blues, and grays in your eyes.
I am the warmth of the summer sun
found in all your smiles and laughter. 
I am the stillness of winter snow
resting within each of you.
 
What does the Holy One look like? 
I am all the colors of the earth.
I am the softness of early spring
and the wildness of thunder. 
My reflection is in the ocean
and in your eyes. 
I am the first light of day
and the last dark of night. 
I am the power of the wind
and the gentleness of misty rain.
 
Look for me in yourselves,
each other,
and in all creation.
 Do not miss the holy in the setting sun,
the purple twilight,
the darkest night,
or the brightest noonday.
Wherever you are, I am.
 I am in your laughter and your tears. 
 I am in waking and dreaming. 
 If you want to know what the Holy One looks like,
 you will see me wherever you turn.
 
The winds quiet and the skies grow lighter. 
The little girl laughs
as the winds play through her hair. 
 
The children drift away from the dreaming place. 
Each takes a little of the magic of midsummer
and wakes bathed in the first light of day.

RCL – Year A – Trinity Sunday, First Sunday after Pentecost – June 7, 2020
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

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