Covenant Again

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Covenant

An invitation to join in the eternal dance,
to wrap our lives with sacred song,
to be still and known and loved

Everlasting, unbreakable, irreversible
no matter what we do or don’t do,
a gift offered to the whole of Creation

All any of us has to do is accept –
accept the love, the forgiveness, the mercy –
and hold nothing back

That’s the hard part.

We want to hold everything back
most of the time and can hardly believe
that we are loved by a God
so steadfast, so enduring, so merciful
as to claim us and call us Beloved

The rhythm of the universe sings praises
to guide us to the sacred promise
that can save us from our selves
if we are willing to risk everything
to gain everything

Yet something in us resists the idea
that we are made in love for love,
that we don’t need hatred, fear, or violence
we just don’t sit still long enough
or often enough to know

God waits for us
over and over again
God waits for us
for us to return to the eternal dance

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday of Lent – March 1, 2015
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:23-31
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9

Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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Noah, Jesus, and a Little Thing Called Covenant

People are generally impatient. We don’t like to wait in line or slow down if the person in front of us is slower. We complain when worship runs over the allotted time. We click agree without paying much attention to the stated terms if we are in a hurry to get to the webpage we want. We order things instantly on-line rather than drive to the store. Many prefer texting over any other form of communication. If an article is too long, we skip to the end. We are in a hurry most of the time.

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Strangely, enough, our general lack of patience and attention to detail is evident in the little snippet we read this week of the Noah story. God is very repetitive in making the covenant with Noah. Over and over again, God says that God will make a covenant not to destroy the earth by flood again, a covenant with Noah and all future generations, with the birds of the air, the beasts of the earth, with every living creature, and with the earth itself.

I think we missed it. Rainbows or not, a multitude of generations have missed this all-encompassing covenant God made. The funny thing about covenant is that it is not one-sided. God agreed not to destroy the earth by flood and Noah opted in. Presumably, agreeing not to destroy the earth as well. Then humankind proceeded to develop increasingly more effective ways to kill each other, wipe out whole species of living things, and significantly damage the earth as well.

We aren’t much better at covenant than we are at patience. Covenant is a sacred promise, a promise involving God and at least one other party. We have not done very well with our end in upholding the covenant from Noah’s days. The proof is everywhere we look. Drought in California, record-breaking snow in the Northeast, wars across the globe, and a whole lot of other destruction happening. Things could change, but most people are reluctant to put in the time to effect real change in the environment, in conflict-resolution, in healthier living.

There are even some who will say that the covenant made in Christ nullified all covenants made before. This strikes me as a weak excuse to go on being ambivalent or even apathetic about making necessary changes. When God made the covenant with Moses, it was a series of statements to be clear that God was including the whole world in the promise not to destroy the world again. Noah agreed on behalf of all future generations. Jump ahead a few thousand years and we get to Jesus. John’s Gospel at least makes it very clear why the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus happened:  God so loved the world. Sound familiar?

The promise of abundant life, the covenant made through Christ, is an upgrade from the covenant made with Noah. God isn’t just promising not to destroy humanity or the rest of the world in this covenant. God is promising to flood the world with love. When we claim Christianity, we are entering into this covenant. We are making a sacred promise not just to avoid destruction, but, moreover, to embody love. Love for the whole of creation. God is tricky that way. We humans are impatient and don’t pay attention to the fine print very well.

2013-02-09 22.01.31Lent is an excellent time to reflect on what it means to be in a covenant of love with God and one another. As we fast from food, carbon, electronic gadgets, shopping or whatever else gets in the way of us encountering the sacred in everyday life, we should use that time to figure out how we can better hold up our end of the deal. God will go on loving us no matter how poorly we live into the covenant given us in Christ. That’s a given. However, it’s also a given that the world could do with a whole lot more patient attention to the ways of love and far less impatient, hurried ways of destruction.

Why not make love for ourselves, our neighbors, our God, our world the spiritual practice for Lent?

RCL – Year B – First Sunday in Lent – February 22, 2015
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

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More Reaction than Sermon…

winter-610894_1920Jesus wouldn’t shoot anyone. He wouldn’t shoot anyone over a parking space whether the person was Muslim or not. Jesus wouldn’t shoot a person because they had black skin. Jesus wouldn’t shoot anyone over land, oil, religion, or politics. So if you are going to commit violence with your actions or your words, please stop using Jesus to say that you are justified or that someone else’s horrific actions are justified. Jesus was not violent and did not advocate for violence against anyone else. Those of us who call ourselves Christians need to stop saying that Jesus would approve of shooting, of war, of any kind of hatred or violence.

I think of what happened on that mountain top centuries ago with Jesus and his disciples. Then I think about all the violence and hatred supported in the name of that bright, shining light, God’s own beloved, and it makes me sick. I know I am not alone. I will not remain silent. I’m tired of those who spread nothing more than hatred in Jesus’ name having all the say. I don’t know if Craig Stephen Hicks had any religious motivation for killing three people. But I have heard others justifying his behavior because his victims were Muslim. They were human beings, young adults who had so much life ahead of them. Nothing can convince me that there is any good reason for them to be dead. And saying that they were Muslim so that somehow makes it okay, just makes the tragedy of their murders that much worse. For those of us who have witnessed the Light and have heard the voice of Love, to remain silent is a greater crime.

The outrage after President Obama’s reference to the Crusades shows just how much we aren’t willing to consider the violence throughout Christian history. The problem is that it has not ended. No, we are not declaring a religious war against another nation or people. But violence is pervasive in our society where Christianity still holds the religious majority. Too many of us or our friends or neighbors still think Christianity makes some kinds of hatred and violence okay.

Who really thinks that Jesus would not want LGBT people to marry? Who really thinks that Jesus would want poor people to remain hungry and thirsty and without medical care? Who really thinks that Jesus thinks differently, feels differently, about people based on the color of their skin or their country of origin? It’s time we stop this foolishness. Christians today may not be as bad as ISIS, but we have been in our sordid past. And some of us aren’t all that much better even now. If fear and hatred guide our words and deeds, then we are still committing violence and, likely, using Jesus to justify it.

So I repeat myself. Jesus would not shoot anyone for any reason. Jesus would not exclude anyone from the rites and sacraments of the church. Jesus would not hate anyone. It’s time to make it stop. Wherever you are, make the violence stop in your life and let the transfiguring light of God shine through you so that other lives may change.

The Crusaders of long ago didn’t know better. We do. Let’s do better. Now.

RCL – Year B – Transfiguration – February 15, 2015
2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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Litany of Confession

solar-system-566537_1920Have we not known? Have we not heard? Has it not been told to us from the beginning?

Even though we know, we have heard, and we have been told, it is so hard to remember that God is the creator of all that is.

We cling so desperately to our thoughts, our ways, our beliefs, thinking that we are in charge and have authority over all that is.

Yet in the presence of the One Who Made Us, we are little more than grasses blowing in the wind for a short while. God calls us by name and we continue to treat the earth and one another as if we have not been appointed as stewards over the whole of creation.

When it is convenient for us, we believe that God does not know, does not see, does not care about the harm we have done to our planet, to our neighbors, and to ourselves.

Our ways are not hidden from God now or ever. God knows what we have done, sees what we are doing, and, even still, calls us out of ourselves into a way of love.

It is not too late to change our ways. It is not too late to face what we have done and what we have left undone.

Knowing that God’s understanding is unsearchable and God’s love for us never grows faint, we can turn from all that is harmful and embrace the forgiveness and grace offered to us in Christ.

Just as Jesus went to Simon’s mother-in-law and healed her, Christ comes to us, offering
healing and wholeness that we, too, might begin again in a life of service.lindau-232169_1920

We can let go of our demons of selfishness, fear, anxiety, addiction, judgment, ignorance, racism and all the other beliefs and behaviors that cause us to bring harm into this world.

We remember that God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.

Through Christ, we will, indeed, run and not grow weary and walk and not grow faint.

Amen.

Photos Pixabay.com. Used with Permission.

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany – February 8, 2015
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

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By Whose Authority?

Not doing anything that will cause another to fail seems like a good idea, an excellent spiritual practice, as a matter of fact. However, in this age of political correctness we run risk of taking this too far, forgetting the context in which these words were written. We tend to err on the side of not giving offense or, conversely, having absolute right and wrong. The people in Corinth were a Christian community, struggling to sort out what they should or should not do as Christians. It wasn’t about who was welcome and who wasn’t or even the rules of membership. Paul’s advice was really to pay attention to what people needed so as to experience the presence of Christ, the love of Christ.

portrait-317041_1920It wasn’t really about the food sacrificed to idols or who was eating it. It was about what it looked like and felt like to some people who didn’t understand. As Christians, our behavior matters. If our behavior gets in the way of someone being able to experience God’s love, then we’ve got a problem. It doesn’t mean we tolerate destructive behavior so as not to offend. Nor does it mean that every situation has clear rights and wrongs. It does mean that we take into consideration the people in the room with us, the ones who are looking at us to see what we will do.

Years ago, when I was struggling to find welcome in church after coming out, a friend was trying to be helpful. She told me I had to learn to worship with people who did not accept me. This did not go over very well with me. She referenced this passage in 2 Corinthians. I wanted to believe her, but I couldn’t and I ended up being more hurt. My not being straight was not getting in the way of anyone experiencing God’s love. However, the body of Christ, the church, condemning me did make me really question God’s love for me.

As Christians we have an obligation to struggle with how others perceive our behavior. What we do matters in a world that is increasingly secular, increasingly skeptical of religion, and increasingly in need of community. And if we start to fool ourselves into thinking that no one is looking and it doesn’t matter, the gospel text reminds us that Jesus taught and acted with authority. For all of us who make up the church, we act with the same authority.

And when it comes right down to it, if we are getting in the way of another experiencing the love of God, the unconditional, transformative love of God, then we seriously ought to rethink what we’re doing or not doing.

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RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – February 1, 2015
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28

Child photo. Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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A Little Fishing Trip

2015-01-19 14.02.38“Stop killing us,” she said in answer to the question of what the BlackLivesMatter movement wants. The words of this young activist have followed me through the week. They wrap themselves around the story of Jonah and the Ninevites and they sit with Zebedee in his boat with the hired hands.

While I am still contemplating this, my Facebook feed is flooded by announcements of Marcus Borgs’ death. This man was responsible for introducing a generation of seminarians (and others) to Jesus and the Bible again, for the first time. I feel sadness over his death, knowing he will not write anymore books that make me think differently about who Jesus was and is. These thoughts tangle with the others and make me want to pull something meaningful out of these texts, something real.

Jonah preached the shortest sermon in history and got the biggest results ever. He told the people of Nineveh to repent and they did. They repented. That doesn’t happen these days. Plenty of voices are calling us to change our destructive ways. Too many aren’t hearing. When thousands march to save black lives and they are dismissed as creating a nuisance, is anyone hearing the plea of “Stop killing us!”? I don’t know. Racism is easily justified by those in power. When will those of us born with white privilege stop ignoring the deeply broken justice system and take up the cry that will save lives?

Similarly, I wonder how many people would drop everything to follow Jesus if he were gathering disciples today. When I read Marcus Borg’s books, Jesus became more human for me but no less divine. Jesus invited Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him, learn from him, change their lives. They went seemingly without hesitation; they were eager to fish for people. What’s different for us? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure how quickly I’d jump out of Zebedee’s boat.

I think of the young activist and the thousands that marched, being in the crowd demanding change. Laying down in the middle of the road to show that black lives do matter, joining in the call for justice stirred something in me. I’ve spent my career advocating for people who have no voice and I didn’t see how needful it was to add my voice to the black voices crying out for justice until recently. Why? What gets in the way of seeing injustice? And once we do see it, what prevents us from jumping out of the boat to stand with those who suffer?

With a nod to Marcus Borg I will say I don’t know. But I will say it is time for us to repent. It is time for us to stop engaging in activities that harm our neighbors and ourselves. It is time for us to leave Zebedee in his boat and follow Jesus on the road to justice. It’s time to meet Jesus again, or maybe for the first time.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 25, 2015
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:5-12
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

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Prayer for All God’s People

God of wonder and mystery, you created humankind in your image and used your breath to give us life. Yet, we so often fail to recognize your face in the crowds. We live in a world of strangers where blame, anger, and shame seem more common than forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Many call your name. How many of us take time to be still long enough to hear you calling ours? Be with all those who are adrift and seeking a place of belonging. Forgive us when we fail to notice the lost and lonely among us. Teach us what it means to be made in your image that we may treat one another with more kindness.

You who wait for us in the darkest night and the brightest day, have patience with your people. We call you by different names and some think that is reason enough for hatred and fear. When we learn that you are a God of life and love? You cannot want violence or murder or terrorism justified by the use of your name, not when we all are stamped with your likeness. Hear our prayers for the people of France, Nigeria, Palestine, Israel, and every place in the world where religion is used to justify violence. Forgive us for all the times we’ve remained silent in the face of hatred and injustice. Guide our feet in the way of peace.

baby-536412_1280God of the close places and the far places, you know our thoughts and our actions and still call us by name. You are as close to us as our own breath. And so you are to every human being on this planet. You gift each of us with life and ask only that we love as we are so loved. So many people don’t know their own value and treat themselves and others with disrespect and worse. We pray for those whose bodies are a source of pain – physical, emotional, or spiritual. Forgive us for the times we have dismissed people whose stories we do not understand. Open our eyes that we may see you in all whom we meet.

Just and merciful God, shine your light on all the hidden places of fear and pain. We ought to know better by now. Race, ethnicity, country or origin should never give us an excuse for hatred or violence. All have equal claim on your blessings, your love. We all bear your image. Each of us is a temple of your Holy Spirit. When will begin to live that way? When will justice be the same for all your children? Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many others sacrificed their lives to end racial injustice and still it continues. Let us honor his dream with more than words. Hear our prayers for all those who have been killed, mistreated, or devalued because of the color of their skin. Black lives matter today. Forgive us when we sit silently by and let racism continue unchallenged. May we honor you by standing with all those who suffer at the hands of those with power.

Steadfast, loving God who never gives up on any of us, we thank you. We thank you for waiting for us to see you, to hear you calling in the night, to recognize that we are your beloved. Even when we reject your love, treat ourselves or others badly, you are still present. Hear our prayers of gratitude for all that you freely offer to each and every person. Hear our prayers for those who are lonely, grieving, or feeling unloved. Forgive us when we forget that nothing can separate us from you. May we begin to see your light shining in all human faces. In the name of the One who became human to show us your amazing love. Amen.

RCL – Year B –  Second Sunday after Epiphany – January 18, 2015

1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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