Call Me Grateful (Mostly)

When I was very young, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I loved the beach in all seasons and collecting shells and rocks and discovering the names of them was one of the great joys of my early life. Then someone told me that in order to be a marine biologist I would have to go into the water… with the sharks. That was a heartbreaker and deal breaker. There was no way I was going into the ocean where sharks were waiting with all their sharp teeth. It took a few years before I discovered another possible career path.

A couple of years after my marine biology dreams were shattered, I read a book that made me want to be a missionary. I’d barely begun to attend Sunday School and had very spotty knowledge of Christianity, but the book I had read stirred something in me. I envisioned a life of travel and service in which I’d go to places in Africa, South America, or India and help dig wells or build schools or hospitals. My young self was deeply moved by the idea that making the world a better, safer, healthier place was a good way to serve God.

In my areligious family, the news of me wanting to be a missionary didn’t go over very well. So I kept it mostly to myself. In the next few years I would become more involved in church and I was intrigued by the idea of ministry in a church setting. I might have been 14 or 15 the first time I said it out loud. Somewhere in these formative years, my call to ministry solidified. And, yet, I was wholy unprepared for what responding to this call would mean.

It meant enduring prejudices and dismissals because I was a woman… distancing myself from the already strained relationships with my family of origin… coming to terms with my own limits and woundedness… confronting my own internal biases and racism and risking lending my voice to those so often unheard… advocating for justice when most people remain silent…  moving half-way across the country… challenging political systems of oppression… Essentially, following God’s call has proved to be the greatest challenge and the greatest joy in my life. I’ve learned a lot about grace and forgiveness from the times when I got it entirely wrong. These lessons have helped me cope with the pain and frustration that the institutional church’s reluctance to change has caused me, and with the rejection I’ve experienced at the hands of the church. At times I wanted to, and even tried to, walk away from ministry, from the church, and from God. Yet, God would not let me go… and I am grateful (mostly).

Reading Matthew’s account of the call of James and John, the sons of Zebedee today gives me a sense of affirmation. James and John, along with Andrew and Peter, followed Jesus without hesitation. For James and John, they left their father behind. For Andrew and Peter, they left their livelihood behind. Jesus was worth giving up the lives they might have planned. Jesus was worth leaving home and family, and all that was expected. Following Jesus gave them passion and purpose, and lives that changed the world.

I don’t think for a minute that my life has or will change the world, but following Jesus has filled my life with passion and purpose, enough to maybe save a few lives. Jesus called people to repent because the Kingdom of God is near. If we change our ways, that Kingdom will come closer. If we stop pretending that we have seen Isaiah’s “great light” and actually look for it, embrace it, and live it, that Kingdom will be so much closer. In fact, it might just become reality.

My life is not what my five-year-old self dreamed of. In fact, isn’t even what my thirty or forty-year old self dreamed of. Following Christ means giving up some self-focused dreams and making room for dreams bigger than we could imagine, dreams of bringing the Kingdom of God into the hear and now in a way that matters. Sometimes I dream of a church where grace and love thrive, where all human beings are truly welcome. Imagine how different things might be if we all had the courage of those first disciples, if we let go of what we thought our lives would be and followed Jesus into a future of endless possibilities…

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 26, 2020
Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 4-9
I Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

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From the Edge of the Unimagined

What’s the point? Why bother? How is Christianity relevant today? You seem like a smart person, why spend your life working in a dying or irrelevant institution? These are just a few versions of the questions I routinely get from friends, strangers, and those seated next to me on airplanes. I usually respond by saying that this is what God has called me to do and be, and I find meaning, identity, and purpose in it. And then the inquirer changes the subject. In the few weeks since Christmas, I’ve been asking myself versions of these questions, too. I’ve been thinking about them, not because I agree with the presuppositions of the questioners, but because I care about the answer.

I’ve recently come to realize that I am part of a dying breed. I am a single career, seminary educated pastor. While I have traveled an unusual path in ministry and in life, the fact remains that I’ve been employed by church or by an institution in a religious role since I was nineteen years old. I have accumulated a lot of skills and more education than might be useful, but the fact remains that I have no other options without returning to school. Recognizing the shifting and changing (hopefully transformations) going on in Mainline denominations, I might not be working fulltime as a pastor until I retire. Many churches are small enough that they cannot sustain fulltime pastors and the larger congregations are still a bit reluctant to call women to their pulpits, let alone women who are not straight. Even so, I am committed to ministry, to church. And here’s why…

Human beings are better, more complete, when we reach beyond our own little lives and experiences. Left to my own devices, I am more inclined to go hide in the woods and ignore the rest of the world than I am to try to engage with it and heal the broken places. Yes, I am an introvert, but without God insisting that human beings are good and worthy of love, I would believe otherwise. God calls us to a greater awareness of ourselves, our neighbors, and Creation. We are good. Our neighbors are good. Creation is good. Now, trusting in this goodness, treat yourself, your neighbors, and the world with the love, forgiveness, kindness, mercy, grace that highlight that innate “goodness.” Maybe you are better person than I am, but I cannot do this on my own. I need God’s reminder that I am good and that the world is good in order to keep seeking beauty, to keep trying to bring more kindness than hurt into the world.

I think of John the Baptist who risked everything to point the way to Christ, Divine Love Incarnate. He lived on the fringes of society, where civilization and wilderness met. He ate weird food and wore inadequate clothing. He was wild and passionate. Out there on the wild side of the Jordan, he called for repentance. He baptized people to remind them that sin could be washed away and that a new way was possible. His passion was seemingly contagious since many came to be baptized. And then when Jesus showed up, the skies opened up and beloved became possible where it hadn’t been much imagined before.

John somehow understood that focusing on human beings and human actions and human sin was inadequate; there was more to life. God wanted to shift our focus and John the Baptist caught a piece of that. He didn’t care what people thought of him. He risked everything to point toward One greater than himself, One who would change everything. Of course, John was a little extreme and I’m not suggesting we all live as he did. However, I am suggesting that John had the right end of things. He believed passionately that there was a better way just ahead and he spent his life pointing toward that way. What do we all spend our lives passionately pointing toward?

I don’t particularly want to spend my time in the places where wilderness and civilization meet. On the other hand, I try to live where wild imagination and unexamined tradition might intersect. The worst thing to ever happen to the church was Bible literalism and the failure to recognize a God who loves first and foremost. From this perception of a legalistic, punishing God arose the need for personal salvation. The Christian focus on saving souls has left the church in tatters. Jesus’ call to love has been largely overlooked. At no point did Jesus say to make sure that a neighbor’s soul was saved from hell before ensuring that said neighbor had food, clothing, shelter, and community. Imagine a world in which we are all as free with our resources as Jesus was with his.

So what’s the point? Why church? For me it is a question of reaching beyond my own little life, beyond my own perceived limits and shortcomings to benefit of the greater good without negating myself. If I share my passion for saving lives and bringing healing into the world, maybe something new and good and transformative will happen, and others will join with me. Then we will have community in which we share the joys and struggles of seeking to bring Divine Love into the world. We will share in God’s love and the knowledge that we are not alone. Essentially, Micah had it right. If we want to be church, if we want to be the body of Christ in the world today, we must focus on justice, kindness, and moving humbly through the world trusting God’s presence.

The point is to leave the world a better place. I need religion to help me do that. For me, it’s Christianity. For you, it might be something else. However, if your religion is not helping you to find healing, hope, love, and joy for yourself and those around you, you might need a different path. For the time being, I’m going to try to follow John the Baptist’s example. I’m going to live on the edge of where society wants me to be, call for repentance, and proclaim that God is still wanting to that new thing so that we may live in peace on a thriving planet.

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday after Epiphany – January 19, 2020
Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-11
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

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How is it with Your Spirit?

On January 17, 1991 between 6:30 and 7:00pm I was in a friend’s dorm room writing a paper on their computer. I had the news on in the background and wasn’t paying too much attention, at least not until the clips of bombs being dropped on Bagdad. In those moments I felt as if everything I had ever depended on was gone. For the next several days I had a hard time focusing on school work or anything else and I was more emotionally vulnerable than usual. It was a very unsettling time for me and I didn’t quite understand why.

When I heard the news that the U.S. had bombed Iran a few days ago, I was brought right back to those days of 1991. The difference is that I now understand why news of war is so unsettling to me. I have a history of PTSD. In 1991 I was just beginning to learn how to manage symptoms and understand triggers. Twenty-nine years later I didn’t have to wonder what was happening. Bombing Iran, devastating fires in Australia, destructive earthquakes in Puerto Rico, and a fire here in Minneapolis that displaced more than 200 people mean that the world is chaotic, violent, and not to be trusted. On top of that, I can do very little to change the outcomes of these events. The threat of violence and the sense of powerlessness is triggering for those of us with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and a myriad of other mental health conditions.

How is it with your spirit? If you find yourself struggling to maintain health and balance in your life, know that you are not alone. Many of us are triggered by catastrophic events because the threat of destruction and feeling powerless are all too familiar. However, as adults in the world, we are not entirely powerless. No, we cannot prevent the leaders of this world from engaging in acts of war. Nor can we extinguish the wild fires that are consuming wildlife and threatening humans in Australia. Nor can we undo the ravages of earthquakes in Puerto Rico. Nor can we find stable, safe, affordable housing for all the victims of the Drake Hotel Fire in Minneapolis. We cannot undo what has been done. However, we do have choices to make.

First, we can decide what to do with our time and resources. What relief efforts can we support? What peace rallies or political protests can we participate in? What can we contribute that will bring a bit of hope into the world, even for just one person?

Epiphany is the perfect season to focus on what we do have and what we are able to do as individuals and as communities of faith. We can remind ourselves of Isaiah’s description of the Messiah as one who would “bring forth justice to the nations.” As Christians, we believe this describes Jesus. As the church, we are the body of Christ and must ask ourselves what we are doing in the world to bring justice to our neighbors near and far. We are not powerless. We can do something to bring peace into the world now. We can recognize that when bombs are dropped, they are dropped on human beings whom God loves. We can acknowledge that fires and earthquakes are not God’s judgment on humanity; they are more likely caused by climate change. We can stop blaming the survivors of tragedy and look for ways to empower them. God, though present in all situations, is not on the side of destruction. God is always on the side of life and resurrection. Moreover, God “shows no partiality” nor should we.

When this work of changing attitudes and positions for the purpose of making room for justice gets overwhelming in its own right, we remember it is God who “gives breath to the people.” When we turn to God for strength, for renewal, for guidance, we remember that we are not alone in our efforts. Perhaps more importantly, we are not engaging in the work of hope, healing, and justice for our own glory as much as for God’s glory. Our spirits can find rest and renewal if we remember that we play a small part in the sacred work of building systems of peace, equity, and justice.

If this isn’t enough to help you be able to breathe more deeply amidst the chaos, then remember the waters of your baptism. When John baptized Jesus, God proclaimed Jesus as God’s own beloved with whom God was well pleased. When anyone is baptized, they come up from the waters dripping with this same proclamation. We are all God’s beloved and God is well pleased with us even when we are paralyzed by fear, anxiety, PTSD, or anything else. Claiming our status as God’s Beloved, may help us all to breathe more deeply and make room for hope and healing in our lives and in the world around us.

It is not too late for the body of Christ to join with faithful people around the world to live in the way of peace. Breathe. Pray. Engage in small acts of kindness. It really is that simple. May the joy of Epiphany guide us all to live in new ways, honoring and glorifying the One who claims us as Beloved.

RCL – Year A – First Sunday after Epiphany – January 12, 2020
Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

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Learning from the Magi

In these last days of Christmas (even before the U.S. bombed Iran) I find myself wondering how many of us actually made the spiritual journey to Bethlehem. We spend the weeks before Christmas preparing for God coming into the world anew. We talk about it. We have special Advent studies and discussion groups. We gear our worship around preparing the way for God. We have pageants and caroling and gifts for those in need. Then Christmas happens and we forget that there are twelve days in the season. Twelve days to linger in Bethlehem asking ourselves what gifts we bring and what gifts we receive during this sacred season. On the brink of Epiphany, I wonder what new knowledge, new insight, new understandings have we gained? Are we literally seeing what might be right in front of us?

I don’t think we are. Some of us think the Bible has nothing to say to us today and others are still  insisting the Bible gives us the facts of how Jesus came into the world. You know, Jesus was born to a virgin named Mary. Moreover, he was born in a stable, lain in a manger, and the animals kept them all company because there was no room at the inn. There were angel appearances and prophetic dreams. We combine Matthew and Luke just so we can tell the story in a way fit for children to enact. When we insist the Bible is factual, we forget to ask why the stories are there. What spiritual truth do they point toward? What lesson might I learn from them? Yes, with God all things are possible so all the things could have happened exactly as they are written. However, life is seldom so neat and tidy as Bible stories might indicate. And so much is left out.

Think about the Magi who will soon arrive. Why would this story have been included in Matthew’s Gospel? Tradition tells us that there were three based on the three gifts named – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – and they came from outside of Israel. Maybe a group of scholars did actually travel from the East seeking an explanation for an astronomical event. Maybe the Magi signify something about Jesus’ importance near and far, within Israel and around the world. Maybe they also tell us something about what it means to make the journey to Bethlehem, something worth attending to.

These Magi traveled some distance and over many months, if not years. They brought gifts worthy of a king, possibly with more significance than that. They recognized something holy in the child. They experienced joy. They were also the recipients of one of those prophetic dreams; they were not to go back to Herod. They returned to their home country by a route that led them away from Herod. They were changed – by their travels, by encountering Herod, by being in Jesus’ presence, by prophetic dreams. What really made them go home by a different road?

This “home by another road” has always stood out to me. Maybe more so this year than in previous years because there is something to this. The Magi encountered fear and hatred in Herod and then Divine Love in Jesus. In response, they made a choice not to engage with fear and hatred again. This is the power of this story, at least it is in this moment.

I stumbled through Advent this year, lagging behind emotionally, spiritually, and physically. On the second day of Advent I got a pacemaker. Someone literally touched my heart and my heart did not respond well. I had repeated atrial fibrillation every time the doctor tried to attach the lead to my heart. Apparently this went on for nearly thirty minutes. Eventually, with repeated chemical cardioversion, my heart stabilized and the lead was attached. However, I am unsettled by it. Partly because it happened at all (I was not aware at the time, of course), though mostly because it is rather symbolic of how I have lived my life. I guard my heart and don’t react in any typical fashion when someone figuratively touches it. This all made my Advent journey rather complicated. Now it occurs to me that many of us guard our hearts, even from God.

We might navigate through Advent and make it to Bethlehem in time for the birth. We might even travel far like the Magi. However, when we get to the familiar manger seen, do we let it touch us in new ways? Are we at all open to God breaking into our lives, into the world once more? I suspect that I am not alone in reacting poorly to my heart being touched. Maybe this is why we have not learned the lesson of the Magi, we have not learned to return home by another road that does not engage with fear and hatred.

Since I received my pacemaker, my heart has beat steadily and my emotions have been all over the place. I’ve been cranky and impatient (mostly with myself because there are physical limitations) and I’ve been much more easily moved to tears. I find displays of generosity and concern bring tears to my eyes before I even register what I am witnessing or experiencing. A steady beat seems to indicate that my heart is less guarded.

My prayer for this New Year and, especially, this Epiphany Season, is for all of us to allow ourselves to be changed by Love that is always with us and for all of our hearts to be less guarded. The time has come for all of us to choose a road that does not engage with fear and hatred.

RCL – Year A – Epiphany – January 5, 2020
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

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No Room For Love… Maybe Soon?

On Christmas Day an old hotel burned to the ground in Minneapolis, MN. It was a building with a lengthy history and it was the residence of those on shelter waiting lists. The hotel had not been well-maintained and wasn’t a particularly safe place to live. Yet, it was what was available to those who would have been homeless otherwise. Then the fire. Two-hundred and forty people spent Christmas day on city buses, one hundred of which were children. (By the end of the day, temporary shelter had been found for all of them.)

I am sure this is not a unique story. I am sure other disasters struck other places where the displaced live. It’s all too frequent an occurrence for those who already have so little. They are placed in situations where many of us would not go for any reason. Substandard housing with roaches, rats, faulty electricity, and inadequate heat. Maybe these hotels and shelters are better than what people trying to enter this country on our southern border experience. Maybe these harsh surroundings are better than refugee camps or ICE detention centers offer.

To my knowledge no one died in the fire on Christmas Day. That’s a miracle in itself. And because it was Christmas, the outpouring of people bringing needed items – diapers, mittens, blankets, and more – was something to see. Yet, knowing there were children on buses with no homes and their meager Christmas burned away in a fire, made it hard for me to go back to my warm house with its full refrigerator and empty guest rooms.

We make a lot of our preparations for Christmas in both secular and spiritual ways. Many are moved to acts of generosity during the holiday season. However, we tend to participate in the packing up of Christmas on December 26th as if the story ends with a babe in a manger. We did our part, we bought gifts and we made the spiritual journey to Bethlehem (or not). Now we put it all away and ask what’s next.

The story doesn’t end at the manger, though. The innkeeper’s statement of “no room” echoed around Bethlehem and down through the centuries. Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children under the age of two. Whether it happened or not matters less than the fact that Herod wanted it done so he could protect his position of power and wealth by ensuring that no king would rise up from the people and challenge his ways of keeping everyone under control. As a result, scripture tells us that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fled to Egypt for a time. What would have happened if the Holy Family was met with the kind of fear and hatred that happens at many of our borders today? Why do we keep insisting that there is no room for Love?

None of us particularly like the story we call “the slaughter of the innocents.” Many preachers will choose other passages or other activities for this Sunday in Christmastide. We don’t want to think about all the ways in which we continue to slaughter innocence. Why else would it be okay to have homeless families living in substandard conditions? Why else would it be okay to separate children from their families at the border? Why else would it be okay to have an entirely inadequate foster care system? Why else would it be okay to have hungry children anywhere in the world? At least Herod was honest with himself and his people. He was a man who loved power and wealth; he didn’t care about the poor people around him. If they were not serving him, they could be sacrificed.

This is the world Jesus was born into. This is the world we live in. Jesus sought to change humanity’s willingness to slaughter innocence when those in power demanded it. Today, I can’t help but ask where the Body of Christ is now. Friends, we need to work harder to bring Divine Love into the world. Herod may not have succeeded in killing all those children in ancient Israel. Yet, we are still killing them. We sacrifice them daily to those who rule through fear, hatred, violence, and oppression.

Jesus came to show us another way. May we seek the way of Love in 2020. May we put an end to the slaughter of innocents and innocence that continues to this day. May we find a way to see God in every human face and respond to all with the loving-kindness Jesus so clearly demonstrated.

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

RCL – Year A – First Sunday after Christmas – December 29, 2019
Isaiah 63:7-9
Psalm 148
Hebrews 2:10-18
Matthew 2:13-23

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The Angel Said, "Fear Not"

Most Bible stories of angel appearances have the angel’s first words be, “Fear not” or a similar proclamation. Ever wonder why? Aside from the obvious that being visited by a divine messenger would be up there on terrifying scale, why are these words consistently flowing from the mouths of angels? I jokingly (sort of) say that if an angel shows up in my life and says, “Fear not,” my response is TOO FREAKING LATE! I’ve already hyperventilated and passed out cold. This would be an appropriate response to angels. They tell the person not to be afraid and then deliver news of divine proportions.

This is particularly true of the angels in the Christmas story as we know it. There’s the infamous encounter between Gabriel and Mary. Gabriel shows up out of the proverbial nowhere and tells Mary not to be afraid. Why should she not continue quaking in her sandals? Well, she has found favor with God. If that isn’t scary news, what is? I mean we all want God to pay attention to us, but do we really want God’s full attention? Mary ended up bringing God into the world in a whole new, reality-shifting kind of way. I’m betting she was afraid from the moment Gabriel showed up in her life until maybe sometime after the Resurrection. Or maybe she was just afraid on some level all the time.

Then, of course, there is Joseph. He was likely an innocent in this. His family had probably arranged for his marriage to Mary many years before, maybe even as early as Mary’s birth. He was willing to go along. Well, at least until he heard that she was pregnant and he wasn’t the one responsible. Even then, he didn’t want Mary to be stoned to death or left destitute, so he was willing to quietly, privately divorce her. Enter the nameless angel of the Lord. (My money’s on Gabriel, but we don’t know which angel it was.) This angel appears in a dream and starts off with, “Fear not…” Even in dreams angels showing up cause heart palpitations. While Joseph’s dream self is staring at the divine visitor in awestruck disbelief, the angel continues. “Do not be afraid to take Mary for your wife.” Joseph continues to stare. Wait for it. “The child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Joseph shakes his head in disbelief and his fear is likely unabated.

These are just two examples of angels showing up and saying, “Fear not.” Yes, they are likely scary beings in their own right. Add in that they bring divine news, and the fear factor ticks up a few notches. Oh, and that divine news is going to shift your reality (and possibly the reality of the world) so, for the love of God, keep breathing. Aside from this, I wonder if these stories address fear first because we finite, little humans live in constant fear.

Think about it. We all live with various fears and varying degrees of fearfulness. We are afraid of not having enough or being enough. We are afraid of being too much like everyone else and of being too different from everyone else. We are afraid our country is falling apart and we are afraid to reach from something different. We are afraid that there is no God and we are afraid that there is. We are afraid that the planet is dying and we afraid to make the changes necessary to save it. We are afraid of the things that hurt us in the past and we afraid of what the future will bring. We are afraid of dying, and afraid of being fully alive. If we pay too much attention to these fears, we will be overwhelmed in short order without an angel showing up with (good) news. It’s really not a surprise that a messenger from God would start a conversation with any human saying, “Fear not.”

It’s important to note that the conversation doesn’t end there, though. Fear not because God is going to do a new thing, starting with you. Fear not because God is the opposite of fear. God is forever cracking open, breaking into, human fear. Jesus didn’t show up in some terrifyingly awesome divine spectacle. Jesus showed up in an infant (okay, so babies are terrifyingly awesome divine spectacles, but you know what I mean), a helpless, fragile human totally dependent on other human beings to care for him. Think about that. God comes into the world through angels, babies, and a myriad of other ways to soothe our self-protective fears, or at least to remind us that God is not in our fears.

“Fear not,” said the angel to Mary, to Joseph, to countless others, and to you and me. Do not be afraid to bring Love into the world because that’s the only way to save the world. Do not be afraid of new and life-changing things because God is in those very things. Imagine how your life would change if you heard those angelic words addressed to you. Imagine how the world would change right now if everyone heard those divine words addressed to them. Imagine how everything were different if everyone was unafraid to Love.

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 22, 2019
Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

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Faith and Politics: A Matter of Vocabulary

My first awareness of politics was in the late 1970s when Ford was President of the U.S. I didn’t understand anything about Watergate but for some unidentifiable reason I recognized that Ford had not been president for a full four-year term. I, as a child of nine or ten, noticed. I did a bit more than notice a few years later when Reagan ran for and won the office. That election cycle was one that I paid more attention to because it was one that made my mother register to vote for the first time in her life. And because the whole election was woven into my eighth grade social studies class.

In the spring of 1981 our class held mock primary elections. I was Reagan. I spent days collecting data from the newspapers to put together a campaign speech. Afternoons spent clipping articles and writing down quotes led to me winning that election. Not much else sticks in my memory except that I was criticized for using words that my classmates didn’t know. I was hurt by the teacher’s observation because I suspected I won that election because they thought I sounded “smart.” When I told my mother how unfair I thought it was that I lost points because my classmates didn’t know all the words I used, my mother informed me that “politics, like life, are seldom fair.” She went on to tell me that I was lucky I won because the best candidates aren’t always elected.

Looking back I realize that my mother and I ended up on opposite sides of the political arena and would never agree on the “best candidate,” yet, her statement isn’t entirely incorrect. It’s often hard to tell which candidate is the best one, the one that would be best to lead the country at this particular time in history. The problem is that people aren’t necessarily thinking about what is best for this country and how we interact with other countries. The decision about which candidate to support seems to be informed more by fear than anything else. However, as Christians, as people of faith, we should be looking at candidates through a different lens (and it isn’t impressive vocabulary.)

Long ago, to ancient people held captive and oppressed, God promised liberation. The vision of this liberation communicated through the Prophet Isaiah was one of healing and welcome, joy and gladness for all God’s people. And if we take Jesus’ proclamation that even the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist (who was pretty great), then we have a responsibility to find that promised holy way. We have a responsibility to recognize that no one is excluded from this promise of liberation.

This is message of liberation and affirmation of value is contrary to much of the rhetoric thrown around in this election cycle. With the rise in antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, and other types of hatred and division, we must hold our leaders to a higher standard. Our faith requires that we make room for all. To honor the promises God made long ago, to live the teachings of Christ, means that we view all people as God’s people. We cannot continue to mistakenly interpret scripture to endorse any sort of white, Christian, nationalist supremacy. As a brown skinned Jewish man, Jesus would not condone such government sanctioned hatred, division, and oppression. Just ask the Romans and those who were in Roman employ…

We are in the Advent season. It’s a season preparing for the coming of God into the world anew, and anticipating the day when God’s promises will be fulfilled throughout the whole world. It’s an excellent time to check ourselves for where and how we are traveling through our lives. Are our feet anywhere near that holy way of peace where enemies journey side-by-side? Are we on a path that is wide enough to accommodate all of our neighbors? Do our prayers lead us to acts that liberate those who are oppressed? Do our words break the patterns of fear, division, and violence that are endorsed by too many politicians? Is there any evidence that we are followers of Christ in our daily activities?

Maybe politics and the way faith informs them really does have to do with vocabulary. Not in the way of words with many syllables, but in how we put them together. Do the words we use raise up those society devalues and dismisses? Do our words match our actions? When we speak of God’s love do we also seek to embody that same love for all those who inhabit the planet? After all, if Jesus walked the world today he would be in the cages at our border, or in line in a refugee camp waiting for food, or one of those who live on the streets, or one of those too many of us choose not to see or hear. After all, he was a brown skinned Jewish man who spoke truth to power, power that was corrupt and ignored the needs of many. Advent, as we anticipate the return of Light, is an excellent time to recommit to living what Jesus taught. What say you?

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday of Advent – December 15, 2019
Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:5-10
Luke 1:46b-55
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Photo: CC0image by Myriam Zilles

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