Disempowering Herod

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Herod is not a good example of how to live as a faithful person. He made some spectacularly bad choices. Among other things, he had a palace built on top of a mountain in the desert, a place that included a swimming pool and a bathtub (think hot tub built for a small crowd). What kind of a person would insist on a swimming pool and a giant bathtub on a mountain in the desert, miles from a water source? The same kind of person who was afraid that an infant would claim his thrown. The same kind of person who ordered a beheading just to safe face. This is the kind of person who thought about himself first and, likely, didn’t think about anyone else after that. Herod was the kind of selfish person we are all in danger of becoming.

No, I don’t think there is going to be a rash of beheadings, but the violence and hatred all around us isn’t too far from it. You know, the kind of fear that causes privileged white folks to call the police on People of Color doing regular things in regular places… The kind of fear that justifies separating children from their parents at the border just to deter others from trying to enter the country illegally… The kind of fear that leads police officers to shoot unarmed People of Color… The kind of greed that privileges corporate profits over human needs (think baby formula vs breastfeeding)… The kind of greed that limits access to healthcare, employment, education, housing, mental healthcare, and more… The kind of fear and greed that seeks control over those perceived to be different, unworthy, undeserving, or somehow less human. These fears, this greed, lurk in every human heart waiting for those moments of apathy or ambivalence. Left to our own devices we can all make Herod’s kind of spectacularly bad choices.

Amos would tell us to look for the plumb line. By what standard shall we measure ourselves? But what standard shall we decide how we are to live in this world? Jesus, like the prophets before him, was pretty clear in naming Love as the standard – love of God, neighbor, self, and creation. If we our actions do not embody Love, then we ought not to engage in them. It sounds clear enough. Then why are behaviors like Herod’s so common?

Well, there is something in us that is not a fan of holy ways. We have a tendency toward self-preservation and a desire to achieve success and be powerful. It’s not pretty, but it is true. This is why religion is important even in these days of skepticism and doubt. We don’t need all the ceremony and piety of days gone by, but we are in desperate need of a God who calls us beyond our own desires into a community seeking to serve the most vulnerable among us. Imagine how differently the story might have gone if Herod, though frustrated by John the Baptist telling him he shouldn’t have married his brother’s wife, had denied his daughter’s request. Who know what influence John might have had on the forming of the early church…

Now imagine how life could be different for us if we thought first about God’s desires and our neighbors’ needs when we determine how to use our own resources. We all might be less tempted by the fears and greed that plagued Herod and sneak up on us when we aren’t paying attention. Success by the world’s measure is not the same as being righteous in God’s eyes. The kind of power that the world seems to value (or is it fear?) is not the same as strength that comes from sharing the burdens of our neighbors.

While the behavior of the Herods of the world can easily be seen and condemned, we must be careful since Herod lurks in all of us. Instead of pointing out selfishness, fear-mongering, and greed in others, we would do better to demonstrate the radical Love Jesus taught. Living our faith out for all to see is a much more powerful statement than pointing fingers and posting condemning remarks on social media. Herod can’t hide in a crowd, but he can hide in us. Let’s do everything we can to live by God’s standards and not be consumed by our human ways.

RCL – Year B – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 15, 2018
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

Photo: CC0 image by Nattanan Kanchanaprat

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(Un)Packing for the Journey

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Take nothing for the journey, except a sturdy walking stick. Seriously? But I’ve got this whole pack of stuff. I have dietary restrictions and I’m not sure if even the most radical hospitality can cover them. I have books full of wisdom and advice that I’m sure I’ll need. And walking shoes and blister kits and medicines and… and… and… Oh, and let’s not forget all the other stuff I tend to carry along, too. You know, the self-doubt, the guilt, that chorus of critical voices that always makes me rethink my choices, and the burden of past trauma, and all the other junk that I can’t seem to let go of. And, please, can I bring my cell phone for GPS purposes only, I swear.

In spite of my protests, Jesus was pretty clear in sending out those early disciples. He told them not to take anything along with them because nothing they could carry (literally or figuratively) would help them on their way. They had everything they needed and more. And when they forgot that they could do God’s work, they had a companion to remind them that they were not in the business of spreading the Gospel alone. Everything else would be provided by those they would encounter along the way.

I still want to launch a protest, though. I want to point out how much more complicated the world is now. I can’t just go out in the world with nothing but the clothes I wear and a friend and expect that anyone will hear the Good News. Surely Jesus would understand if I brought a few things along! He would, wouldn’t he?

Probably not. Because all those things that I think I need would get in the way of helping to make manifest the Realm of God. As I imagine loading myself up with things I think I need in order to follow Jesus and live a life of love and healing, I wouldn’t make a very good ambassador of grace. I picture a backpack weighing nearly as much as I do, full to overflowing with all my “essential items.” It weighs so heavily on me that my progress from one place to another is so slow that I might as well not move.

I’ve got all this stuff on my back so I can’t look up and see where Jesus is leading. I’m so focused on what my GPS is telling me, I haven’t noticed my neighbors on the sidelines, needing my attention. Then I’m too busy looking for a place with adequate refrigeration for my foodstuffs that I haven’t responded to those who are hungry right next to me. I’m too worried about my own comfort, covered as I am in my sun-protective gear that I’ve failed to see those who are barefoot, exposed, and thirsty all around me. My hands are full with my phone, my water bottle, my walking stick; I can’t reach out in kindness or mercy to anyone.

And if this external stuff doesn’t totally trip me up, the internal jumble I can’t quite let go of, surely will. When my thoughts are so full of my own brokenness, how will I ever speak a word of healing, or see the wholeness of God in those I meet along my way? When I am focused on what I can’t possibly do, how will I ever bring a bit of the Realm of God into the here and now? When I am caught up in regrets for all that I have not done to help others or all that I have done to hurt others, how will anyone find hope and new life in the words I offer? When I am so preoccupied with pieces of my past, how can I reach into a future filled with hope and good things and hold it out for all to see?

Jesus was right. Take nothing for this journey of love and lifesaving. Nothing I can possibly carry, in my hands or in my head, will be of any use. I need to empty myself all that I use to protect myself from the world—the material goods that reveal only a small part of who I am and the clutter in my mind that tells nothing of who I am. I need to open my head, my heart, my hands to the One who shows us how to love. Only when I let go of all that I don’t need, can I truly embody Love and receive the hospitality and joy of all my neighbors. Together, when we empty our hands, our heads, our hearts of all that is unnecessary, we can make manifest the Realm of God. We are not alone and we have all that we need …even (maybe especially) those of us who tend to live in rebellious houses.

RCL – Year B – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 8, 2018
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 with Psalm 48 or
Ezekiel 2:1-5 with Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Photo: CC0 image by Simon Steinberger

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Envisioning a Holy Balance

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Several years ago, I had a vision of a self-sustaining community that I often think about. On the Tuesday of Holy Week that year, I was alone in my room, praying, or trying to pray. It was a particularly difficult time in my life after my second marriage ended. I struggled with depression, a sense of hopelessness, and an overwhelming sense of failure. The vision I had that day gave me hope for a future different from my past.

The vision itself was powerful. In it, I had created a community of people committed to living together, pooling resources, and serving God. There was a working farm, an outdoor chapel, dormitory-style rooms, small cabins, indoor meeting space, and a steady flow of people. Some came for short periods of time for retreats, spiritual direction, and healing. Others stayed for months or years, finding peace and wholeness in the community. There was a balance of giving and receiving of resources, time, talent, visitors, residents, income, and expenses. The community was a place of peace, of healing, of wholeness. When the vision ended, I yearned for it to be real–a place I could go and belong and be welcomed.

It’s been years since I had the vision, and it has not come to be in quite the way it was in the vision. However, pieces of it have. I have found healing and wholeness. I have found a community where I belong and can use the fullness of my gifts. Maybe someday, the vision will come to be in a more literal way. But it doesn’t matter as much as it once did, because the lessons of that vision have stayed with me. I am often reminded that balance is necessary in all things. As Paul indicates in 2 Corinthians, our abundance should be shared to meet our neighbors’ need, not to create inequity but to ensure all have enough.

This is why I’m having trouble getting excited over celebrating Independence Day this year. Our forebearers might have ensured our independence from Great Britain, but they did nothing to prevent us from replicating the destructive ways of colonialism. We have done nothing to ensure any kind of balance. All our social systems tend to empower those who already have power and prevent those who are oppressed and marginalized from attaining justice or freedom.

I’m horrified by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Travel Ban. Xenophobia should have no place in U.S. policy and practice. Outside of First Nations peoples, all our ancestors (recent or distant) came to this country bringing with them foreign weapons, strange gods, devastating diseases, new languages, or odd customs. Now, after we have claimed land that wasn’t ours to claim, all but destroyed native cultures, and enslaved others, we think it’s okay to discriminate against people who may not have white skin, may not speak English, may not be Christian, and may not live as we do? How is it that so many people have bought into the social myth of a white, Christian United States? Where is the justice and liberty for all people that we claim to value?

As human beings, we tend to be self-protective to the point of often being egocentric. We often react to fear by hunkering down and protecting what is ours. However, if we are Christians (if we follow any religious tradition at all), we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. This means we have a mandate to care for the widow, the poor, the orphan, the stranger, the vulnerable among us. We are called to share our abundance so that the needs of our neighbors are met. You know, it’s all about the Golden Rule–treat others as you wish to be treated.

We aren’t meant to be independent. Left to our devises we tend to be fearful, stubborn, self-serving creatures. God invites us to be interdependent, giving and receiving according to abundance and need to create systems of balance. In God’s Realm all are whole, all are valued, all have purpose, and all share in God’s abundance. Love, not fear or scarcity, rules the day. Imagine how much better off the world would be if each country shared resources to balance abundance and need. How about each city and town doing the same? Each faith community? Each person? Our idolatrous worship of independence would come to an end as would our enslavement to the false gods of our social mythology. Xenophobia would end. Fear-mongering politicians would have no power. Immigrants and refugees would be welcomed and encouraged. There would be no hunger or poverty. No racism or corrupt systems of power.

Maybe this Independence Day you will join me in dreaming ways of making us independent from fear and interdependent on each other. Maybe this Independence Day we can work toward making manifest the Realm of God where our abundance will meet our neighbors’ need, creating a holy balance…

If you are looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 1, 2018
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

Photo: CC0 image by Sylvia & Frank

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Do It Afraid

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When I was about eight years old my brother dared me to jump off the high diving board at a community pool. I had passed the swimming test the summer before so I was allowed in the deep end. I wasn’t afraid of the water and I loved to dive headfirst off the regular diving board. However, I was afraid of heights so the higher diving board (maybe 8 or 10 feet up) was pretty scary. If I didn’t jump off that board, though, I would likely never hear the end of it. And I really wanted to be brave.

I went up that ladder one rung at a time. Breathless with fear, hands sweating and knees knocking. Up I went. It seemed like a long, slow climb and I thought that would be the worst of it. Then I was confronted by the walk out to edge of the diving board with nothing to hold onto. On the lower board, I had already mastered the run, bounce, and dive. On the high board, I could barely think about walking to the end and jumping feet-first. I stood with the railings firmly in hand for what felt like forever. Then I heard one voice cheering me on. It was the lifeguard who had given me the swim test two summers in a row, the lifeguard who didn’t believe I was only eight and confessed that she thought I was 11 or 12. I heard her call out to me, “You can do it! It’s the same as the lower board. Let go and run!” She kept talking to me while I tried to breathe deeper and let go of the railings.

The lifeguard moved off her stand and stood over by the ladder out of the deep end. She kept telling me I could make the dive. she said she would count to three and all I had to do was run and jump. She would stay right by the ladder and help me if I needed it. I remember feeling like it was only her and me, everyone one else faded into the background. She started counting and when she got to three, I let go, ran, bounced, and dove headfirst. Then swam over to the ladder where the lifeguard leaned over and told me that I was a “very brave girl” and that she was proud of me.

Fear can overtake any of us at any time. I’ll bet David was afraid as he stood immobilized by the weight of everyone else’s armor. The disciples were clearly afraid while the storm raged around a little boat while Jesus slept in the stern. Fear is sometimes a very reasonable response. As a child I had a fear of heights that was due, at least in part, to having some balance problems and falling a lot. It wasn’t entirely irrational; if I felt like I could fall, I became very fearful in high places. David had every reason to fear Goliath, especially when his movements were encumbered by armor designed for adults. The disciples also had reason to be afraid in that small boat as the storms raged. How could they have known that Jesus could calm the storm?

Fear can protect us or it can limit us. Last night at West Central Regional Youth Event, I learned a song called, “Do it Afraid.” It was a song encouraging justice-seeking even in the midst of fear. This is excellent advice, particularly when we are confronting injustice. Goliath wears many faces today. And the Philistines around us will do whatever they can to keep us paralyzed by fear. Sometimes even our allies will insist that we wear armor designed for someone else. It’s too easy to give into the fear that keeps us locked in oppressive situations or systems. Goliath runs the show and would like us all to believe that one small person can do nothing in the face of giants – racism, misogyny, xenophobia, white supremacy, and all the other isms and phobias that keep those with power in power. Yet, we are not in the boat alone and we have our own gifts that can be used to slay giants.

Jesus is the one who can calm the storms and fill us with courage. Jesus won’t take away the fear so much as he will cheer us on and encourage us to jump into the deep end, like the lifeguard in my childhood. Jesus doesn’t want any of us to be paralyzed by fear, especially when it comes to confronting Goliath. We don’t need to do what other people are doing; their armor may not fit us well at all. We do need to use our own gifts, even if they seem as insignificant as a slingshot, to confront the giants of injustice. We can do this. And it is perfectly okay to do it afraid because Jesus is in the boat with those who seek justice, promote healing, and embody love.

Peace. Be still.

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 24, 2017
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

Photo: CC0 image by Soorelis

Photo: CC0 image by Guy Dugas

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Out of Control

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The Realm of God is like a weed sown in a garden. The weeds grow where planted and then take over the rest of the garden. They grow and entwine themselves in and through all other plants until the weeds and the crops cannot be distinguished. This is more what Jesus meant when he said that the Realm of God is like a mustard seed. He didn’t mean that there is much potential to grow and blossom hidden away in a tiny seed. Jesus is being funny in a way that might be lost on contemporary ears.

The mustard plant was an unwanted weed in Jesus’ day. No one in their right mind would actually plant it in their garden. It took over and grew into rangy, twiggy shrubs that choked out other, more desirable plants. When Jesus said that the Realm of God is like a mustard seed planted in a garden, his first hearers might have laughed out loud; no one would do such a thing. Jesus was an expert storyteller and he didn’t craft his parables without reason.

First Jesus says that the Realm of God is like seeds planted in orderly rows that grow up and produce grain and are harvested in the usual fashion. And, by the way, how exactly that happens is a mystery. At this, everyone listening probably nodded. This is a nice, orderly, predictable image of God’s Realm. It’s appealing and, from a human perspective, we think we might just have a bit of control over when and how God’s Realm shows up. We like to disregard the mystery part.

Jesus doesn’t leave his listeners nodding in approval, though. He goes on to make his mustard seed analogy. First his listeners laugh, and then they shake their heads and mutter about Jesus’ oddities. Why would the Realm of God be compared to such a pesty, invasive plant as a mustard seed? Ah, yes. To remind us all that the Realm of God is mysterious and beyond our control. It will spring up in both expected and unexpected places. It will grow in well-manicured gardens and it will grow in the wild places. Moreover, it will mysteriously spread so that it can’t be distinguished from what grows nearby. What kind of insidious mess is this Realm of God, anyway?

Most of us like to maintain an illusion of control in our lives. We like to think that we can keep chaos at bay and tame the Holy Spirit. We fool ourselves into believing that God only shows up and offers a stamp of approval when all is well. This little parable reminds us that God has an affinity for chaos. God shows up in the entanglements, weeds, and wilderness of our lives and plants some seeds. These seeds take root and grow in the shape of the God’s Realm more often than we notice. There may be no perceivable change in our experience of the wild places, the deep places, but we live through them. Later, we might realize how changed we are.

We would do well to pay heed to this mustard seed parable. We cannot control the Holy Spirit and we cannot determine where God’s Realm will take root. You’ve heard the stories of how someone’s life was transformed from deep pain and suffering into joy and strength in miraculous ways. Some of us have lived it.

I was born into a family that was unruly, to say the least. No one would have predicted that I would grow up to be an author, a pastor, an advocate for mental health. No one would have predicted that the shy, neglected child I was would grow into a preacher and conference presenter. Yet, along the way, seeds were planted. Seeds that were hope, value, and witness took root and grew into the Realm of God, choking out the seeds of pain, worthlessness, and invalidation. In the middle of the deep, despairing chaos, God’s Realm blossomed and transformed my life. No one could have known such a thing would happen, no one other than God.

This mustard seed parable of the tenacity and unpredictability of God’s Realm should guide us in our interactions with our neighbors. Yes, we need to plant seeds with care and nurture the crops of loving kindness. But in other situations where it seems we have no control and there is no hope for new life, we must look for the signs of God’s Realm unfurling it’s tiny, fragile leaves. The seed of God’s Realm could take root with any act of kindness, any effort to reach beyond what is comfortable and known, any tentative welcome of the stranger, or any tender mercy extended to the most vulnerable among us.

All hope is not lost, even in this violent, self-destructive world. The Realm of God is alive and well, just waiting for us to see it growing right in the middle of our lives, perhaps especially in the wild, chaotic, desperate places. Let’s not underestimate the value of those tiny seeds. They can grow into the largest of shrubs where more than birds will make their homes. Let’s be generous with our compassion, our kindness, our mercy, our patience, and our love. Let’s scatter the seeds everywhere – in cultured rows and in the chaos. There’s no knowing exactly where and when the Realm of God will grow strong and blossom with justice, healing, and grace for all of Creation.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 17, 2018
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 with Psalm 20 or
Ezekiel 17:22-24 with Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 or 2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Mark 4:26-34

Photo: CC0 image by Soorelis

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Parsing “Crazy”

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“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This old playground chant is as false as the Tooth Fairy, and far more damaging. It’s possible that many people told me I was smart and pretty and capable when I was a child. That’s not what I remember, though. I remember the cruel words of classmates, and harsh comments made by family members. These were the things that reached deep into my being and grabbed hold with a surprising strength. It’s taken many years to heal the wounds these words left, while the physical injuries healed in a matter of days.

There is a reason that Jesus is the Word-Become-Flesh. It’s hard to ignore the Word of God when flesh and blood are involved. The Incarnation can remind us that words take on a life of their own as soon as we speak them (or write them). Our words should echo the Word, filled with abundant life and love. However, that is often not the case. We become complacent or ambivalent or even apathetic, and let the words flow without regard to who might be listening.

Some reporting around the most recent celebrity death by suicide shows how apathy (or ignorance?) can create language that is risky. A few news outlets reported the method of suicide. Those of us not at risk for suicide may think nothing of this other than that it is a tragedy. Others who live with suicidality or are at increased risk at this time may have different thoughts entirely, thoughts that can lead to suicidal behavior or another suicide death. Reporting that someone dies by suicide is fine. Naming or describing the means spreads contagion: increasing the likelihood that others may engage in the same behavior. Naming the means of suicide helps no one and, potentially, harms many. Naming suicide as the cause of death breaks the silence and the stigma surround suicide, and may enable someone to reach out and seek help. Our language matters.

Language has always mattered. When we look at the text in Mark where Jesus is accused of “being out of his mind” and being possessed by Beelzebub, we have to wonder how to phrase these things today. We might be tempted to say that people thought Jesus was “crazy.” There was a time when this would have been a fine description. Yet the word “crazy” is not what it once was. It’s a derogatory word for many who carry a mental health diagnosis, even if we choose to use it to describe ourselves or our own family systems. However, when the label is pasted onto us by others, it doesn’t feel good. In essence, “crazy” is a word I can use to describe my own mental health, but not a word that you can use to describe me (unless you, too, carry a mental health diagnosis and we have an agreement that “crazy” is okay to use between us).

When Jesus’ family sought to “get hold of him” because there were people saying that he was not in his right mind, it’s possible that some in the crowd meant the description to be derogatory. It’s also possible that they were trying to protect him because he was putting himself in danger with what he was saying and what he was doing. They could have been saying, “he’s unwell” like we might say of a friend who was engaging in risky behavior because they were experiencing symptoms of mental illness.

On the other hand, when the Temple Authorities accuse him of being possessed by Beelzebub, there’s no question of what they meant. They were saying he’s evil, unpredictable, and dangerous. They were trying to discredit his teaching and his healing in much the same way some people might try to discredit the work of someone who lives with a mental health challenge. The Temple Authorities were afraid of Jesus and what his teachings could mean for the many who lived under Roman oppression. The easiest way to diminish Jesus’ power was to call his sanity into question. In this case, it meant calling his goodness, his godliness, into question.

Jesus, of course, was having none of it. In response, he claimed his own power and authority and challenged those who sought to discredit him. He redefined family and claimed his position as God’s Beloved. This is the Word-in-the-Flesh. This is the Word that heals and brings abundant life.

Those of us who claim to be followers of this Word, need to be ever mindful of our words. Now is not the time to be careless with our language. We are called to care for the vulnerable among us. We are called to confront the bullies who seek to soothe their own fear and insecurity by demeaning others. Let’s pay attention to the needs of those around us and speak words of healing and hope and abundant life.

We know now that words matter. They can wound deeper than any physical injury. Yet, words can also extend hope to the hopeless. It’s our responsibility as the Body of Christ to choose our words carefully so that harm comes to no one. Let’s remember that all of us, maybe especially those who have mental health challenges, are vulnerable to the power of words. May we emulate the Word and speak Truth to power and speak Love to the most vulnerable among us.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday after Pentecost
1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20 with Psalm 138
Genesis 3:8-15 with Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

Photo: CC0 image by Ralf Kunze

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Is it Lawful?

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Throughout my life, there have been a lot of people telling me that I couldn’t do one thing or another. The first time I remember hearing this, I was six or seven. It was summer and the town had a T-ball league. My mother found this out and realized that for a small fee, both my brother and I could play T-ball for several weeks. She signed us both up. At the team’s first practice, I heard a father tell his son that they would be finding another team for him because “girls don’t play baseball.” Fortunately, the coach was having none of it. He told me he was happy I was on his team. I played baseball for several years and got to be pretty good at it.

Another memorable occasion in which I heard “girl’s can’t” was when I told the senior pastor of my childhood church that I wanted to go to seminary. He said, “Oh, you want to be a DCE (Director of Christian Education).” Without hesitation I said, “No, I want your job.” He thought for a moment and said, “Women aren’t good senior pastors.” The conversation went on from there. I’ve been ordained since 1992.

Fortunately for me, I’ve had a strong streak of resistance since early childhood. As soon as someone tells me that I cannot do something I want to do, I set out to prove just how well I can do the thing. I get angry when arbitrary societal “norms” dictate what a person can or cannot do. Why limit the dreams of children by endorsing gender norms that are outdated and inhibiting, and fail to include the full range of human diversity? Why define people by race as if we haven’t learned that skin color indicates nothing about a person’s skills, talents, or intelligence? Why dismiss a person or fail to see their value because they have a physical disability, a mental health challenge, or embody some form of neurodiversity?

The streak of resistance (some call it rebellion) has served me well. It also makes me bristle at the question the Temple Authorities posed to Jesus. “Is it lawful…?” Apparently, the disciples were hungry enough to gather grain and eat it on the Sabbath. For strict adherents to the Law, the disciples’ behavior looked a lot like work which is forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus responded in a typical Jesus way by not really answering the question. Rather, he implied with his words and deeds that anything that supported abundant life was lawful enough. The Temple Authorities didn’t approve of this answer, but they probably didn’t ask the disciples or the man who was healed for their opinions.

Christianity has a history of legalism that would make any old-school Pharisee proud. This legalism essentially says, if the Bible says it, then it is true and it must be done. The problem is, of course, that things that were social norms in biblical days are not normative now. It’s impossible to hold up all that the Bible contains for those of us living in the modern era. It really is time to leave literalism and legalism to the past.

Let’s think about this in today’s context. Is it lawful to call police when a Person of Color is encountered in a hallway or in a student lounge or in a coffee shop? Is it lawful to throw racial epithets at unsuspecting restaurant patrons? Is it lawful for police to arrest a Person of Color for no apparent reason? Is it lawful for children of immigrants or refugees to be separated from their parents at the border? Is it lawful to limit access to healthcare? Is it lawful to allow some people to hide their hatred and fear in religious garments? Is it lawful for our refridgerators and cabinets to be full while our neighbors go hungry? Is it lawful to continue a reliance on fossil fuels while the world grows warmer? Is it lawful to use all the disposable plastics we want while the ocean fills with floating islands of trash? The answer to all these questions is, unfortunately, yes. However, it hard to believe that any of this is in keeping with what God desires for humanity.

We have distracted ourselves from the power of the Gospel by confusing secular law and biblical literalism with justice. Jesus clearly indicated to the Temple Authorities that what was good and lawful, even on the Sabbath, is that which supports abundant life on which the Realm of God thrives. When we are faced with decisions about what to do and how to behave, ought we not to be wondering what will facilitate the coming of God’s Realm here on earth? Ought we not to be thinking of loving our neighbors in the same way we love ourselves. Wouldn’t it be nice if set aside the question of lawfulness and instead asked, Is it just and does it bring Love into the world for me and all my neighbors?

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 3, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1–10, (11–20)
Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18
2 Corinthians 4:5–12
Mark 2:23—3:6

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