for the living of these days: a litany of confession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

All photos from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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Aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wake Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

Photos from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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Ridicule, Reluctance, Racism, and Response

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I wonder what God sees when God looks at us. Samuel didn’t see what God saw in the sons of Jesse. The folks in Corinth were not seeing each other as they were in Christ. The disciples didn’t see what Jesus saw in a mustard seed. And this week my FB feed is filled with vitriol which tells me that we don’t often see what God sees.

Caitlyn Jenner sparked all kinds of ignorant, hateful, and hurtful remarks even from a well-known author who writes about living in peace and loving-kindness with great frequency. The incident in McKinney sparked the same kind of hurtful responses. People I thought would “know better” posted things like, “It’s not about race.” How can we who claim to be Christians be so blind?

When I read through the 1 Samuel reading this week I was annoyed with Samuel for his blindness. Why could he not get let go and move into what God was calling him to do? He so stubbornly clung to Saul and the old ways of doing things. God had to give him step by step instructions just so David could be anointed the new king of Israel. My initial response to Samuel was one of impatience,  at least until I saw myself in him.

Until the last year or so, I never thought of myself as a racist. I’d work so hard to undo what I had learned as a child (I grew up in a very racist household) that it didn’t occur to me that some of those lessons had seeped much deeper into my consciousness. I’ve always had friends who are not white, so how could I be racist in any way? Well, when I first started hearing about black men being killed by police, my first assumption was that those men had been doing something wrong. I am ashamed to say that it took me a while to get to the place where I could say that we don’t kill people for stealing, or mouthing off, or walking down the stairs at night, or any of the other things these black men and women were doing when they were killed. And we certainly don’t use excessive force on girls in bikinis at pool parties. These people were killed or assaulted by police because they were black. It is about race and I didn’t want to see it for a long time.

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I see it now, though. I see racism everywhere in our culture. If you look, you will see it, too. You will see it in our schools, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our justice system, in our prisons. You will see it when you feel fear when encountering a person of another race walking down the street. You will see it when you judge another as “other.” I believe that God is speaking as clearly to those of us who cling to “old ways” as God spoke to Samuel. It’s time for a new way and God wants us to bring it about.

God wants us to bring about a church, a community, a culture, a world in which we see as God sees and we act with love and mercy. I know that this is not as simple as Samuel’s task of anointing David. I realize that the world will not change quickly. However, if enough voices are joined together in love, will that not change something?

While I’m speaking about love, I want to say something about transgender folks, too, because sometimes it isn’t about race. Sometimes the hateful, hurtful judgements come from a place of fear. I’m not a fan of Caitlin Jenner, exactly. I think she’s privileged and somewhat whiney. However, I do admire her courage and her using her power and position to educate people about transgender life. Just like every other kind of person around, transgender people have been in existence as long as human beings have. The difference now is that we have psychological and medical understanding that allows for trans folks to stop hiding and start living out loud. They should not be shamed or ridiculed for claiming their true identity. No one should.

This culture of fear and hatred of persons we deem as “other” comes from same place that racism comes from. I do not believe it has a place in the lives of anyone claiming to follow Jesus. Dismissing and demeaning anyone is unnecessary and if we take the gospel seriously, then everyone is loved by God and deserves the same rights and dignity as everyone else. God’s love does not depend on race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, education or any other social construct. God’s love is a given. When will we become agents of that love and mercy?

When I read the texts this week, I hear very clearly a call to a new future. I hear the call to stop clinging to and grieving for things of the past. I hear the call to see every person as beloved and whole in Christ. And I hear the call to let the old die away so that new and unexpected life may grow from what once was a tiny seed. Even though Samuel moved forward with reluctance, I pray for the kind of courage and grace that he displayed; he answered God’s call. May we all do the same.

RCL – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 14, 2015
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

Photos from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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Willing or Not

This is my second blog post this week (here’s the first if you’re interested) and I’ve come to the conclusion that I am in over my head. Theologians have been discussing and defining “God’s Will” since the dawn of time. Honestly, it is not a concept I spend much time thinking about in the abstract. I do try to discern what God wants for me, particularly when faced with potentially life-changing decisions. I also try to discern what God wants for the church I now serve. These things mean something to me, yet describing and defining them is slippery.

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In spite of my Calvinist seminary education, I am not a believer in predestination other than in the broadest sense. I do believe, as the Prophet Jeremiah told the people of Israel, that God plans only good for us, futures filled with hope. However, I know that we often choose things that God would rather we not. And then what happens to God’s plans?

If the reading from 1Samuel is any indication, then God revises God’s plan. The people of Israel were determined to have a king, no matter what Samuel told them of what God wanted for them. They chose a king and that choice eventually led to Jesus. It’s not that all the awful things that God warned them about didn’t happen because they did. In spite of those things, God still brought them to a future filled with hope.

When I was in the process of searching for a call to a church, there were several times when I was, essentially, the second choice candidate. People intending to comfort me said things like, “That must not have been God’s will.” I do think a couple of those places could have been in God’s plan for me. However, when they didn’t work out, other opportunities opened and I do believe that God called me to the church I now serve.

What I’m trying to get at is that I don’t think God’s will is an inflexible, carved in the proverbial stone kind of thing. It’s more flexible, adaptable and loving. I keep going back to the Israelites when they chose to have a king to be like other nations rather than go with what God wanted for their leadership. God didn’t walk away. They were not condemned. It’s possible that their lives became much more challenging as a result of their choice. Even so, God remained with them and kept planning a future filled with hope.

So when I look around and see all the suffering, brokenness, violence, and destruction in the world, I am confident that none of it is God’s will for us. To the contrary, these things result from choosing something other than the loving, merciful way of God. Or at least they are an indication that the world is not yet fully what God intends it to be. At any rate, there is nothing that will convince me that God’s will for any person, community, or nation is anything other than goodness and hope.

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To think about God’s will is to ponder the greater mystery of God. To seek God’s will in our lives is to be open to the human spirit being touched and transformed by the Holy Spirit. For those times when we choose other than what God would want for us, there is still the grace of God’s presence and God’s remarkable ability to come up with a new plan. In essence, there is always hope for healing and renewal even if it takes a very long time. Just ask those early Israelites…

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 7, 2015
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

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An Invitation to Dance

human-750910_1920If Pentecost is a celebration of the Holy Spirit, then Trinity Sunday is an invitation to dance. Yes, I mean exactly what I said. And here’s why…

The Trinity is not something we can logically understand. Theologians have tried for centuries and it literally does not add up. We can get trapped in the language we choose and distracted by the concept of three equaling one. Or we can be still and contemplate the mysteries of the God we worship.

I know it’s not as easy as it sounds. More than 25 years ago I gave my very first children’s sermon. As only a 22 year-old seminarian would do, I chose to do it on the Trinity. The little church had many children under that age of six and they all gathered around and I showed them the new thing I had learned in the cafeteria a few days earlier. I took out a banana, peeled it, and poked my finger down the center of it. The banana nicely separated into three equal parts. The kids all dutifully agreed that I had one banana and three parts. I went on to say that that was how God is – one God with three parts. They all smiled and nodded.

Everything was fine until I asked the final question:  When you have bananas on your cornflakes in the morning, what are you going to think about? One cherubic, blue-eyed, blond, dimpled boy smiles at me and says with a great deal of pride, “God’s bananas.” Amidst much laughter, I said, “That may be true, but that’s not what I was thinking!” And then the moment came to an abrupt end because, well, I am severely allergic to bananas…

I can’t help but think of that children’s sermon fiasco every time Trinity Sunday comes up. None of the lectionary texts really explain it, either. There is Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Or we can use the traditional Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But the why and how is not really explained very well and our understanding probably is no deeper than Nicodemus’ was when Jesus told him that he had to be born anew.

Taking the Trinity apart is easier. We can grasp God as Creator, God as Redeemer, and God as Sustainer. What is trouble is how they are different and yet the same. This is where dancing comes in.

In addition to never asking open-ended questions in children’s sermons and not playing with things that make me unable to breathe, I learned some other useful things in seminary. One of those things is the word, “perichoresis.” It literally means “inner dance.” I can still see and hear Dr. Loder describing this wonderful inner dance of the Godhead. He was a man in love with this mystery, moved to tears as he spoke to yet another group of seminarians. He described the “perichoretic union” of the Godhead and the mystery of the inter-relatedness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And something stirred deep within me.

Imagine a sacred dance of mystery and love that has gone on and will go on for all eternity. Now imagine that you are invited to participate in this dance exactly as you are. There is joy in this. There is no need to know the steps or have any sense of rhythm. All that is required is to accept the invitation. To say, “Yes!” to the God who created you, redeems you, and sustains you. This is a dance that goes on even when we cannot hear the music. It’s a dance that answers that void that sometimes opens in the middle of our lives. It’s a dance of love, grace, forgiveness that sets us free in ways that nothing else can. I believe the yearning for this dance is what led Nicodemus to sneak out in the night to talk with Jesus. I believe it is the yearning for this dance that will transform the Church as we open ourselves to responding. Our response does not have to match that of generations past, but we must learn our own steps that will invite more people into the dance.

I’m thinking I want to change Trinity Sunday to Perechoresis Sunday and send everyone an invitation to join in the sacred mystery, the inner dance of God. What do you think? Is it a good day to dance?dance-108915_1920

RCL – Year B – Trinity Sunday – May 31, 2015
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

Images from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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An Important Little Celebration

I have mixed feelings about the events of the first Pentecost. It’s one of those things that I wish I had directly witnessed. What must it have been like to experience that much power in one place. On the other hand, I am also extremely grateful that I have not ever seen such things! Whatever my feelings, it’s clear that something pretty amazing happened to those early followers of Jesus on the first Pentecost after the resurrection.  A mighty wind rushed through, flames danced on their heads, and unexpected language poured from their lips. It was another step in transforming an offshoot of Judaism into a religion in its own right. Now we refer to this day as recorded in Acts as the “birthday of the Church.” It’s important to pay attention to this day for many, many reasons.

fire-birds-695766_1280The primary reason to celebrate Pentecost is that it can remind us of who and what the Holy Spirit is. Over the centuries, many Christians have forgotten the power of the Holy Spirit. We have lulled ourselves into believing we have tamed her. We mythologize the rushing, violent wind, the flames, and languages so that we can tell a simple story rather than believe that the Spirit can (and might) literally blow through a place. Our liturgy is often filled with phrases such as, “Come Holy, Spirit, come.” And we think the Spirit will come gently like a soft spring breeze or playfully like a sweet kitten. We have no reason to think these things; there was a violent, rushing wind in the Acts story along with tongues of fire and foreign languages. This Spirit has more in common with a lion roaming the Serengeti than the cat curled up in your lap.

The Spirit is not something we can tame. We seem to have fooled ourselves into thinking that we have and maybe that’s why worship can often be perceived as boring. What would happen if we started to leave room for the mighty winds, burning-but-not-consuming fires, and fresh, unexpected words? The Holy Spirit transformed a group of disciples into church. Maybe that same Spirit will transform us into something new and surprising if we start believing that she can. We could then stop talking about the Church dying and start talking more about what the Church might be being transformed into.

Another reason to celebrate Pentecost is that we are reminded that the Church is not ours; it’s God’s. The more we try to make it human, the more flawed it becomes. No other human institution has existed for 2000 years. Clearly, then, there is something special about Church as an institution. The Church at its core is holy. This means that we are holy and maybe even more so when we gather in community for worship. However, the holiness of Church does not mean that everything we say and do and require as part of Church is holy. If we take time to breathe and look at what Christ truly taught, the holiness of Church becomes more evident. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “Do unto others as you wish done unto you.” “Love one another as I have loved you.”   To love, to be loving, and to be loved are holy acts. Perhaps the Spirit will rekindle the fire of holiness within each church this Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit is untamable and unpredictable and we would do well to remind ourselves of this. That being said, I am making a commitment this Pentecost. In the moments when I feel despair, frustration or exhaustion, I will look carefully for the fiery flames of passion in the people around me. Before I reach the end of my tolerance with the world around me I will take time to feel the rushing winds that open new possibilities. Maybe most importantly, when I feel certain that my way is the right way I will take time to listen for words that may unexpectedly transform my life.butterfly-142734_1920

Come, Holy Spirit, come!

RCL – Year B – Pentecost – May 24, 2015
Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

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