A View from the Edge

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Several years ago I had the privilege of leading a mid-week retreat on Star Island. The island is about 10 miles off the coast of Rye, New Hampshire and it is a beautiful place, rich in history and tradition. It is owned by the Unitarian Universalist Association and is the perfect place for a retreat. I was there twice to lead retreats and the island has a permanent place in my heart.

Overall, the place is pretty rustic. There is running water and electricity, but nothing is fancy. The island is home to more seagulls than can be counted and muskrats that are heard more than they are seen. It’s possible to walk out to the far edge of the island and sit on the granite cliffs and believe that you are the only person in existence. The waves crash, the winds dance, the gulls cry, and heaven is made manifest on earth. There is no place like it.

One of the traditions of the island is the viewing of sunrise. I’m not a morning person and the idea of getting out of a warm bed just to watch a sunrise always seems ludicrous to me. But one morning I made the effort. I pulled on warm clothes, grabbed my flashlight and headed to the east side of the island. Muskrats scurried off the path, making rather loud splashes into the nearby pools of water. One startled me by running right over my feet, ensuring that I was awake enough to experience the sunrise.

I stood on the granite shore with other sunwatchers. And I waited. All of a sudden there was a scarlet line of light separating ocean from sky. The red brightened into orange and reached further up into the night sky. Seals poked their heads out of the water as if to pay homage to the spectacular rising of the sun. It was worth getting out of bed for. I’ve never seen another sunrise quite like that one that began with bright red searing across the horizon. Such a sense of wonder and power and peace flowed through me in that early morning. I came away feeling like all things would come right for me, for those around me.

As we come to the edge of the liturgical year, I can’t help but remember that Star Island sunrise. Standing on a granite edge, waiting for morning light to clear away the darkness. Advent is so close, with its watching and waiting and preparing for the coming of the Light. We anticipate the first hint of light, yearning to feel the hope it will bring. Yet, we know there is so much hidden in the night, so much that threatens to overpower the tiny flickering flame of hope. Perhaps you are with me in wondering if this night will ever end.

Matthew’s gospel is written for us who wait in the deepest hours of the night. The parables Jesus tells in this gospel are more prophecy than descriptive. When the “Son of Man comes…” is a pretty strong cue that what follows has yet to take place. In this case, a king will separate out those who care for the vulnerable and those who do not. I’m not so sure it’s the king doing the separating as it is we ourselves pulling away from the flock simply by maintaining an inward focus. Jesus was pretty clear about what his followers needed to do then, and now. The writer of Matthew’s gospel made it abundantly clear. You cannot claim faith and then keep it hidden or live in such a way as to not see Christ in “the other,” particularly the very vulnerable other. Claiming the name of Christ and not bringing love and compassion into the world will lead to a place where it is impossible to see and the most dominant sounds are weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is quite the prophecy. We tend to busy ourselves with counting up our good deeds or claiming the role of the one needing visiting when we encounter these verses from Matthew. We seldom hear it as a call to action, a call to create a future where Christ returns as we embody Love for those who live in despair, isolation, oppression, captivity, sickness, and other places inhabited by vulnerability and need. A call to action that will mean shifting the world from what it is into the possibilities God creates.

We are on the edge of the season where we remember, celebrate, and honor the coming of Christ, the Light of the world. We can choose to hang out and watch for the displays of holiness that may or may not be visible from where we are. Or, we can choose to be the displays of holiness that the world desperately needs. That streak of scarlet across the night sky was something to witness. What if we each become that streak of scarlet in the life of someone else, that herald of a new day when all things are possible and hope returns to the world?

RCL – Year A – Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday – November 26, 2017
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 with Psalm 100 or
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 with Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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Mind Your Own Talents

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I remember very vividly the first conversation I had with someone about gender identity. I had just come out as a lesbian (I later came out as bi) and had lost my job as a consequence. The day I was packing up my office, I met a person in the outer doorway as I carried my boxes to my car. This person unexpectedly admitted to me that they were not comfortable in their body and wanted desperately to know what it felt like to have a female body. They described, at length, the desire to know what physically, outwardly being a woman felt like. I think what I managed to say was something like, “I’m sorry you’re having this struggle. I’m not sure what to say.” I was not at my pastoral best in that moment, nor did I have any understanding of what it might mean to be trans*. No one had ever shared such thoughts with me before this. To be honest, I’ve thought about this person often over the years and wish I’d been in a better position to respond with compassion and understanding.

Years after this first rather awkward conversation, I worked in a psychiatric hospital and listened to the medical and clinical staff argue about the treatment of trans* patients. Many of them were stuck in the old days when being trans* was considered pathological. My job as chaplain was to advocate for patient’s rights. I did this to the best of my ability. Over my six years at the hospital, attitudes changed and a person’s gender identity was beginning to be considered in terms of a patient’s comfort rather than as a symptom of their illness.

Now I pastor a church that welcomes trans* people into the full life of the community. And I have to admit, that it was a steep learning curve for me. I had to face my own discomfort with asking about pronouns, and with the use of gender-neutral pronouns. I listened as individuals described in significant detail their gender confirmation surgery and all that that entailed. I’ve listened to the stories of those who are marginalized by society and, often,  the larger queer community. And I’ve allowed those stories to touch my own.

While I cannot pretend to know what it feels like to be trans*, I do know what it feels like to be on the outside of community that is always lumped together. We talk about LGBTQ+ community like it is a unified whole, but there are divisions. As a bisexual person I have seldom found acceptance within the queer community. My sexual orientation has been called into question by more than one person. It’s hurtful and frustrating. If this is the case for me as someone who is bisexual and cisgender, how much more painful and frustrating is it for trans* people who have their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression called into question?

I’ve also watched the struggles my wife has gone through. She is cisgender but has masculine characteristics. She has been questioned on her choice of public restrooms and, on one notable occasion, assaulted by a woman who felt the need to verify my wife’s gender. There are no circumstances in which this kind of fearful, judgmental behavior is acceptable.

In addition to these things, on some level I know what it is like to feel animosity toward one’s own body. While the struggles of someone with an eating disorder are not those of someone who is trans*, that sense of hating one’s physical appearance, of feeling betrayed by one’s body, of the internal identity not matching the outward appearance, translates to a certain extent. I have, on a very deep level, developed empathy for the trans* people I have come to know and love. It is this empathy that allows me to listen, to hear the pain and the joy, and to celebrate the beauty and wonder that God creates in each human being.

I share all of this to raise the question of judgment. In the parable of the talents, judgment only came from one place. Those who were given talents didn’t bicker with each other, or criticize each other on what they did with what they were given. Their only responsibility was to use the talents to the best of their ability and in a way that was pleasing to the one who had given the talents. What the others did with what they were given, wasn’t any of their concern. The one who had given the talents was the only one who was in a place to express approval or disapproval. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all keep this in mind.

When it comes to gender identity and gender expression, this is between the individual and the One who created them. The rest of us should only offer support and love, without judgment. It is not our business to judge another person for how they embody the person God created them to be. It is, however, our business to embody Christ for one another. Oh, and it’s our business to make sure we are fully embodying the person God created each of us to be as well.

As Transgender Day of Remembrance nears and the knowledge that 25 trans people were murdered in the U.S. alone in 2017, this parable reminds us to pay less attention to the way other people embody themselves. Moreover, we ought to be asking ourselves if the way we inhabit our bodies is pleasing to the one who gifted them to us. Perhaps if we shifted our focus in this direction, then we would be in better shape to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When it comes to the church, I often say, “as with one, so with all.” This means that if one person struggles with something, The Body of Christ struggles. So when it comes to our trans* siblings in Christ, I will say this: The Body of Christ is trans*. Isn’t it time we responded with love, with respect, and in celebration of the giftedness of the church as it truly is?

RCL – Year A – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 19, 2017
Judges 4:1-7 with Psalm 123 or
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18 with Psalms 90:1-8 (9-11), 12
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

Photo: CC0 image by aydiny

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Naptime is Over

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Mental illness crosses all human barriers. No one is exempt. Wealth can’t buy its way out. Power cannot force it away. Religion cannot keep it at bay. It isn’t contagious but everyone is potentially at risk. Usually, its causes are biological, genetic and often emerges as an individual comes to adulthood. It can also be triggered by trauma or acute stress. There’s no guarantee that any of us will escape a challenge to our mental health. The statistics are clear: one in five adults lives with a mental illness. Whether we admit it or not, mental illness touches all of us – directly or in a loved one.

Let’s not be deceived when the media or the President blames mental illness for mass murder. (The other piece of this that I will not address directly in this essay is that only white shooters are described as being mentally ill; everyone else is labeled as a “terrorist.”) Other countries have people who live with mental illness, but the U.S. has the highest rates of mass shootings. We have a problem, and mental illness is only a small part of it. Easy access to guns is another part of it, perhaps a bigger part. But the underlying issue is our culture of violence.

This culture that endorses violence as entertainment, as a way to resolve conflict, as a way to express anger, as a means of controlling others, and so many other, more subtle aspects of society, now wants to place the blame on those who have historically been victimized. Racism is a form of this violence. Misogyny is a form of this violence. Rape culture certainly is. White supremacy had a hand in creating this culture. And, I hate to say it, but Christianity has helped to shape it as well. Was it not human fear and intolerance that nailed Jesus to the cross? And the name of Christ has been used to justify centuries of violence and injustice. Why have we not learned a better way?

Yes, the Bible is full of stories of violence. Tribal warfare justified by vengeful gods. Society has changed since then. None of us needs to conquer the peoples living the next town over in order to survive the winter. We understand that human beings are all created in the image of God. We have heard Jesus repeat the Jewish mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves. Nowhere does Jesus say that we are to blame the vulnerable for the ills of society. Nowhere does Jesus say that we have the right to kill those we perceive to be different. Nowhere does Jesus say that it is good to kill those who offend or frighten us. In fact, wasn’t it Jesus who said something about turning the other cheek and forgiving more times than we can count?

If we want to feel safe in our homes, on our streets, in our schools, in our shopping centers, in our movie theaters, at our sporting events, and in our houses of worship, then we need to make changes. First, we need to change the way we think about violence. It should not be entertainment, especially for young or vulnerable minds. It should not be in our every-day vocabulary. “Killing” something should not be a positive term, ever. Chocolate cake shouldn’t be something we’d “kill” for. We should never “threaten” to kill someone if they do something we don’t like. How much has violence become normative in our lives? When violence is not normative, then people who experience mental health crisises, are less likely to be violent.

While we are seriously contemplating the ways in which violent words, action, and entertainment have infiltrated our lives, then we can think about who we “blame” for the violence on our streets. No matter who we name, we have such a small piece of the systemic puzzle. Remember that racism and white supremacy bred this culture of violence. White, powerful men endorse rape culture. Bullies always blame those they perceive to weaker. So before we blame those who have long been victimized, we must take a good long look in the mirror. Our silent or ambivalent or passive acceptance of “the way things are” has significantly contributed to the violence in society.

Now we must seek to see the human being in all others we meet. If we see them as human beings, then it is more likely we will see Christ in them as well. When we see all human beings as equally valuable in God’s sight, then we can find the motivation necessary to address the brokenness in our society. We can stop living in fear. Love makes violence far less accessible. If we stop living in fear, it won’t be so easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we need guns to protect ourselves. If we stop living in fear, we can remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and make it much more acceptable and accessible for those who experience symptoms to get necessary treatment. If we stop living in fear, we will stop excusing police officers who kill people of color. If we stop living in fear, we will stop denying the story of women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted. If we stop living in fear, we can unclench our fists, roll up our sleeves and get to the work of justice that Jesus calls us to do.

If we keep living in fear, we will be haunted by the words of the prophets. We will keep running from the lion and the bear, only to be bitten again and again by the snake. Our festivals, our worship, our sacrifices will continue to mean nothing to God because justice is not rolling down and righteousness is not flowing. Wisdom will not find us and our lamps will remain unlit.

We have long since fallen asleep. It’s time to wake up, fill our lamps with oil, and follow in the way of Christ. We’ve been asleep for far too long.

RCL – Year A – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – November 12, 2017
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 with Psalm 78:1-7 or
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 or Amos 5:18-24
Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 or Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Photo: CC0 image by Congerdesign

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Accepting the Prophet

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As I write this, I am sitting in the airport in Denver, CO. I have just completed a series of speaking engagements in which I addressed clergy and lay people from several faith traditions on the topic of suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. I am exhausted and energized all at the same time. My mind is full.

Earlier this week, I was in Live Oaks, FL finishing a week of CREDO, a clergy renewal program. This program was preceded by other mental health ministry work in a different part of Florida. My body does not know what time zone it is in.

In the midst of these adventures, I celebrated the 25th anniversary of my ordination on November 1st. I’ve had thoughts about this, so many thoughts! The church of today is not the church my seminary years prepared me to serve , but I knew that was going to happen. I can also say that the shape of my ministry is nothing I could have imagined. My spirit breathes in these blessings.

With all of this swirling around me, I have been reading the words of Micah. He speaks words of caution to the false prophets, the prophets who do not live what they preach and strengthen the power of the oppressors. No one likes to listen to prophets. It’s too easy to say that their words do not apply to us. They must be meant for someone else. But are they, really?

I think Micah’s words are just as relevant today as they were when they were first spoken aloud. There are plenty who preach peace and make war on the poor. There are many “who abhor justice and pervert all equity” in the name of God. I’ve probably participated in these activities more than once. You probably have, too. The relevant question now is: Are we still sewing seeds of division and destruction that will only strengthen those whose hands and lips serve only the powerful, the wealthy, and the oppressors?

I remember the saints who shared their faith with me, those who have died and those who still live. Sometimes it seems that their faith was simpler than mine, easier to live out, less complicated to preach. However, if I am honest and I pay attention to the prophets of ancient Israel, serving God by serving our neighbors, by caring for the vulnerable among us, has never been easy and it’s never been welcomed by those in power.

I keep thinking about something I read in seminary that may or may not have been written by Walter Brueggemann. In the book or essay, pastors were described as being prophets, priests, and poets. I was comfortable with the role of poet. I made my peace with the role of priest. I have wrestled with the role of prophet. Who listens to prophets? Who likes to hang around with prophets?

After 25 years, I have embraced this role as well. Being a prophet is a challenge. But if we don’t listen to the prophet voices among us, calling us to find new ways of being church, church will continue to take on the look of the ruins of Jerusalem. So, church, who are we serving today? Do we seek to bring Love, Hope, and Healing into the world? Or do we seek to preserve the status quo?

RCL – Year A – All Saints Sunday – Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost – November 5, 2017

Joshua 3:7-17 with Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37 or
Micah 3:5-12 with Psalm 43
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23:1-12

Photo: CC0 image by Gerd Altmann

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Holy Re-Form-ation

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“You are holy because the Lord your God is holy.” I’ve been unable to let go of these words since reading them in Leviticus a few weeks ago. They followed me to my meeting with my spiritual director where I continue to struggle with the constant critical voices in the back of my head (though not as loud as they used to be, I’d like to be rid of them entirely). They pursued me through a meeting of the Mental Health Network Board of Directors where we reviewed the work we have done this year and set goals for the year to come. They whispered to me as I walked through sunrise on Venice beach. They continue to call to me as I am at CREDO, a clergy renewal retreat. “You are holy because the Lord your God is holy.”

2017-10-25 17.28.08.jpgYesterday, I spent some time sitting in a field with colleagues as we shared bits of our journey. In the middle of our circle, I saw a tiny white flower growing amidst all the blades of grass. Some might rush to say that this flower is a weed and ought to be removed from the grassy field. I saw the simple beauty. That flower never questions its beauty. It never sought permission to grow and flourish and bring joy to those who took time to notice something so small, so perfect, so unexpected. If I could live as this flower does – never questioning my simple beauty, never seeking permission to grow and flourish and share joy – I might be able to see my life. You know, the life I have that is so small, so perfect, and so very unexpected. I am holy because the Lord my God is holy.2017-10-25 12.09.06

The trees here in Live Oaks, Florida are draped with a mossy looking vine. Both trees and vine are unusual to my northern eyes. Yet, they are beautiful and graceful in the breezes, lending a bit of a feel of ancient wisdom and witness to this place. These trees wear their mossy drapes without judgment. They do not ask if they are too fat or too thin. They do not wonder if they are keeping time with the wind. They do not ask to set their roots in the soil and bring grace to the landscape. If I could live as these trees do – not criticizing myself for being too fat, not trying to control the rhythyms of my life, not seeking permission to bring grace to my landscape – I might be able to embody wisdom and witness without hinderance. I am holy because the Lord my God is holy.

2017-10-23 07.50.56.jpgA crane on the ground is an awkward-looking creature. It’s legs and neck seem too long and thin for its body. But when it takes flight it transforms into a creature of wonder and awe. Flying through the morning mist, the white cranes call to one another. I hear a song of freedom and a celebration of wings. The crane does not question her value, her purpose, her worth; she just flies, and swims, and walks as need directs. If I could live as the cranes do – reveling in the awkwardness of my body, singing a song of freedom and celebration of wings, never questioning my value, my purpose, my worth and just flying, swimming, walking as need directs – I might be able soar through the mists as a creature of wonder and awe. I am holy because the Lord my God is holy.2017-10-16 17.04.02.jpg

Now I sit in the afternoon sun hoping, praying, I will hold onto this gift of holiness, never letting it slip through my fingers to puddle on the floor around my feet. I want to embody this gift always. If I can hold onto the wonders of holiness that God has given to all of us, I can live a life of beauty, wisdom, and wonder. I can silence those voices that still whisper that I am not good enough as I am when I am too tired to keep them quiet. I can honor this body I have been given even though my heart rate is too slow, my autonomic nervous system is out of whack, my diet is limited by factors beyond my control, my thyroid doesn’t function on its own, and my extremities turn blue in the cold. Even with all these things (and a few others) I am still “fearfully and wonderfully made” and have so many gifts in this body of mine. I am holy because the Lord my God is holy.

As we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, may the re-formation of the Body of Christ continue. I will pray for you to know the gift of holiness that is ours. Pray for me, too. We are holy because the Lord our God is holy. May we all have the courage and strength to accept this amazing, loving, merciful gift we have been given!

If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – Reformation Sunday, Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, October 29, 2017
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 with Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 or
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 with Psalm 1 and
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

 

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Politics and Religion for the Win

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Religion and politics don’t mix. I’ve heard this all of my life and have only recently begun to question where this idea came from. I understand separation of church and state; I don’t want politicians/government to determine anyone’s religion. But to say that religion and politics are separate doesn’t make sense if we care to examine the origins of Christianity. Jesus walked between politics and religion with more grace than an Olympic gymnast on a balance beam.

For generations we have allowed ourselves to be distracted by misinterpretations and misdirections by those who would sublimate the church’s real power. Jesus had nothing against Jews; he was a Jew. The writers of the Gospels couldn’t have imagined the anti-Semitism that their words were later used to endorse. Jesus, and the writers of the Gospels had issues with the Temple authorities, the Jews who had been appointed by Rome to manage the people under the guise of Temple laws. No doubt there were good men among them who believed they were doing right. However, Jesus took issue with the oppression of the people, the peasants, by the ruling class – Romans, yes, but also Jews in Rome’s employ. They conflated religion and politics in a way that was potentially harmful to anyone who did not hold power. Sound familiar?

The Pharisees and Herodians who came to Jesus to ask about paying taxes were looking to entrap him. They wanted him to say something blasphemous or treasonous. Instead, he pointed out their hypocrisy. Why would a Jew have a Roman coin in their pocket? Because they were paid by Rome. Jesus didn’t comment on that. He simply pointed out that if Caesar’s image was on the coin, then the coin belonged to Caesar. A political statement to be sure. The kicker comes in the second half of the statement.

You, Pharisee or Herodian, whose image do you bear? Oh. Right. There’s that. Keeper of the Law or follower of Herod, both made in the image of God. And, yes, even those peasants milling about in the outer courts of the Temple, they, too, are made in the image of God. So, if a coin bearing Caesar’s likeness belongs to Caesar, what of a life bearing the image of God? Have you given that to God or are you too worried about following Caesar’s rules of oppression?

Jesus has just landed an awe-inspiring back-handspring in the midst of this unsuspecting crowd. They don’t know if they should applaud or run away in fear. Funny thing, neither do we. We get so focused on keeping religion out of politics that we fall for the illusions cast by those in power. We see only shiny coins flipping in the air, flickering with fear and divisiveness before being caught by the hand of one claiming ultimate authority. When’s the last time we went looking for the image of God in ourselves or our neighbors? Maybe it’s time to pay more attention to the both the politics Jesus rejected and, more importantly, to those he endorsed.

If today’s Caesars had their way, we would only listen to the voices that promote oppression. We would ban Muslims from entering this country. We would ignore all the “me too” statements on social media. We would sanction the dehumanizing of LGBTQ+ individuals. We would blame victims of violence. We would hold people with serious mental illness responsible for their “weakness.” We would dismiss those who live in poverty as lazy. We would maintain systems that thrive on racism. We would only provide healthcare for those who have financial means. This, and worse, is what the world looks like when we maintain the separation of politics and religion. This is the kind of oppressive system that Jesus whole-heartedly rejected. This is the system that called for the death of Love Incarnate. This is the society so fearful of the ways of Love that they crucified it. This is what happens when religion is self-serving and politics are driven by greed.

It isn’t too late for us to start letting our faith inform our politics. Jesus embodied Love; he served others. He brought healing and wholeness to those who were broken in body, mind, and spirit. He literally re-membered people by restoring them to community. He saw the likeness of God in all he met, even those who could not see it in themselves. If we follow what Jesus taught, then we should be doing as he did. We should be embodying Love and liberating the oppressed. Why? Because we belong to God first and foremost. Caesar’s claims on us are significantly less than God’s. And if we’re paying attention, we see Caesar for what he is – a master manipulator who uses fear to feed his greed and keep the people divided.

Imagine a world in which our religion demands our politics create paths of liberation for all God’s people. Let’s stop pretending that what we have now is informed by any faith that recognizes the image of God in all human beings. Isn’t it time our religion vaults into public life and crashes through the fear that enables Caesar to rule? After all, isn’t that what Jesus did?

RCL – Year A – Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 22, 2017
Exodus 33:12-23 with Psalm 99 or
Isaiah 45:1-7 with Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Photo: CC0 image by U. Leone

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Who Will Intercede for Us

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Who will intercede for us as we worship gods of our own making? Who will plead with God on our behalf while we become supplicants of gods who cannot satisfy us? I find myself wondering this as I read through the story of the Israelites and the golden calf in the context of our self-serving society that places more value on pretty, shiny things than it does on human beings.

Unlike the ancient Israelites, God did not lead us into this wilderness where compassion is rare and condemnation flies freely in all directions. The Israelites became frightened and distrusting when they thought Moses and God had abandoned them. They wanted a God they could see and touch and be sure was present with them as they continued the journey toward transformation and liberation. I can sympathize with them. That was a grueling journey and to feel alone and abandoned would make any people yearn for something tangible, a pretty, shiny god. But, as I said, God didn’t lead us out into this wilderness. We got here on our own chasing the shadows of glitzy and glamourous gods made to please us (or fool us).

We are responsible for a society that values wealth over humanity, quick, violent solutions over slower peace processes, silence over justice, oppression over hospitality, and the status quo over transformative change. We fill ourselves with nostalgia for a past that never existed and yearn for a yesterday that is more fiction than fact. America was never great. However, if we stop focusing on ourselves and our golden calves, America could be better than it is.

The Exodus story tells us that God was angry when the people worshiped the golden calf they had made. God intended to wipe them out for their rather significant transgression. However, Moses interceded and reminded God of the covenant made with the ancestors. God relented and sent Moses back to the Israelites with the Ten Commandments to bring them back into right relationship with God and to build a healthier community.

I’m not sure that God was so very ready to smite the Israelites, but I can understand how those who first told this story might think so. I don’t think it was God who needed to be reminded of the covenant God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jocob; I think it was the Israelites who needed the reminder. Either way, Moses interceded and the community got another chance.

Now I do think that today God might be angry with those of us who call on God’s name and then go worship lesser gods. At the very least, God has to be disappointed that we still have not figured out how to love one another. We still have not figured out how to trust God to lead us through the wilderness even when we end up there by our own volition. God has reasons to be disappointed, angry, and frustrated with us all.

However, God’s steadfast love endures forever. God will wait patiently for us to turn away from the gods we have made. God will wait for us to recognize the image of God in all human beings. God will wait for us to recognize the beauty and wonder of Creation and take better care of the planet. I’m just not sure how long we want to keep God waiting.

We know better today than those ancient Israelites did. We know that the journey from oppression to liberation is a grueling one and that transformation is often a slow and painful process. We also know that God never abandons the people of God. We turn away often enough, but God does not. God patiently awaits our repentance so that we can live in right relationship with God, with our neighbors, with ourselves, and with creation.

Isn’t it time we stop making false gods? Isn’t it time we put away our attraction to quick fixes and instant gratification? Isn’t it time we roll up our sleeves and commit to working for justice, for peace, for liberation of all God’s children? Does it really matter so much what country someone was born it? Does it really matter what name a person calls God? Does it really matter how poor or wealthy a person is? Does it really matter which labels of division we place on one another?

The Apostle Paul tells us to turn our attention to things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Maybe we should try that before we find ourselves in an outer darkness littered with the tarnished, dented gods our hands have made.

RCL – Year A – Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost – October 15, 2017
Exodus 32:1-14 with Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 or
Isaiah 25:1-9 with Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

Photo: CC0 image by Steve Bidmeand

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