Litany of Confession, Isaiah 58

One: God of all people and places, you have shown us how to live peacefully with all our neighbors.

All: We are to serve you rather than ourselves. The only finger of blame we are to point is at ourselves. We should not speak evil to or about those around us. We are to share our food with those who hunger and take care of the vulnerable among us.

One: You tell us that if we do these things, gracious God, gloom will give way to noonday light and you will guide us in all things.

All: If we share our resources and ensure justice for all our neighbors, then our needs will be satisfied. Our thirst will be quenched and we will be strengthened for the days to come. We will flourish like a well-tended garden. We will know abundance.

One: God of hope and healing, we can lament and cry out to you over all that is lost or broken or covered in despair. Or we can let go of our selfish, fearful ways and seek to build your kingdom here and now.

All: As long as we believe the lies of those in power, we will remain divided and we will live in ruins. Yet, if we live in Love, we will give way to generations of peace. If we dismantle fear, ignorance, and hatred, we will be repairers of the breach. We can restore our streets for all who travel on them.

One: You remind us, steadfast God, that we need to rest and be renewed in body, mind, and spirit. If we neglect our own rest, we neglect you.

All: It is to easy for us to deny our need for sabbath. We focus too much on our calendars and forget that spending time with you makes so much more possible. If we come to you in delight rather than out of duty, you nourish us and prepare us for what is to come.

One: Forgive us, Patient God.

All: Forgive us for believing the deceit of today’s Empire. Forgive us for believing division and isolation and independence satisfy our needs.

One: Remind us once again, Holy One, of your promises and open our lives to your way once more.

All: When we take time to be still, to come into your presence, God of all, we recognize the yearning of our hearts. We yearn to be repairers of the breach, to live in your Love. Give us the courage to set aside our fears and foolishness, to accept your forgiveness, and trust in your ways. Hear our gratitude for your eternal call to live as your holy people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

RCL – Year C – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 25, 2019
Jeremiah 1:4-10 with Psalm 71:1-6 or
Isaiah 58:9b-14 with Psalm 103:1-8 and
Hebrews 12:18-29 and 
Luke 13:10-17

Photo: CC0 image by 4064462

Advertisements
Posted in liturgy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Psalm 82 for Today

RCL – Year C – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 18, 2019
Isaiah 5:1-7 with Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
Jeremiah 23:23-29 with Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

Photo: CC0 image by Ralph

Posted in Psalms | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Delightfully Gifted

“Fear not,” God said to Abram just before drowning him in Grace. “Fear not,” said Jesus to the disciples right before walloping them with a truth beyond their capacity to receive it. When these words appear in scripture, it’s often too late to prevent fear from grabbing hold, like when angels show up and fear steals the breath from the unsuspecting human. Yet, when God says these words to Abram or Jesus says them to the disciples, it isn’t because the hearers are so afraid they cannot breath. It’s just the opposite. It’s a warning to take a breath because some sacred gift is going to temporarily paralyze your lungs and you might not know why.

In Abram’s case, God was preparing him to receive a promise so enormous Abram couldn’t really comprehend it. Of course, Abram believed that God would give him children so that the promise would be fulfilled, but how could he begin to fathom the enormity of the promise. At any rate, it was that belief, that faith, that made Abram righteous. I wonder at what point he resumed breathing at a normal rate. I mean, seriously, how daunting would it be to know that God had plans to make your descendants more numerous than the stars?

Generations and generations later, Jesus does something similar to his disciples. “Fear not,” he says. I hope they took a deep breath in that moment because what comes next is startling to say the very least. Jesus tells them that they shouldn’t be afraid because God delighted in giving them the Kingdom*. Yes, it had already happened and it continues to happen. God has already bestowed the Kingdom on God’s people and continues to delight in doing so. The action is past, or so the use of the aorist active indicative tense (eudokesen) implies in the Greek. It also means there is significance in the action. I take this to mean that the Kingdom has been given, continues to be given, and God’s delight has no end. I don’t think the disciples heard this when Jesus said it any better than we hear it now. When it hits you, the truth is enough to stop your heart and your lungs from functioning, at least for a moment or two.

God created a covenant with Abram and wrapped it in grace. Abram trusted God and Abram was righteous. Then Jesus tells the disciples that they have been given the Kingdom and God delighted in the giving. This truth is blanketed with so many layers of grace that you and I are included. It has to be, because unlike Abram, the disciples missed the message. They didn’t hear it or trust it; they didn’t reach Abram’s level of righteousness. Sadly, neither do we.

This delightful gift of the Kingdom to the people of God is one that we human beings have tried to put so many limits and conditions on who gets in. How have we missed the fact that the Realm is God’s to give as God sees fit. And, at least according to Luke, it’s a done deal. It’s been given. Maybe the delighted giving was part of the covenant God made with Abram. Maybe it was just expanded in Jesus. When will we figure out that God delights in us, especially when we try to live in Love (which is what the Kingdom of God is all about).

Now the problem is, of course, that if all faithful people are supposed to have been gifted with the Kingdom, why isn’t the world in better shape? Bottom line? We don’t believe it. We don’t trust it. It’s like it was too easy. God just handed over the Kingdom without strings attached? Nope, that can’t be it, can it? Surely we have to be good and perfect and follow all the rules? Only a few people are good enough to inherit the Realm, right?

If only we were all more like Abram. God keeps trying to make of us a holy people and we resist. God keeps telling us to love one another with the same love God has for us, and we don’t trust that. That’s why Jesus went on to tell the disciples to be careful what they valued and to keep serving those in need around them. It’s too easy to mistake material things and creature comforts as a sign of God’s blessing. The real blessing is that we were made to love and be loved. The real blessing comes when our gratitude informs our daily living. When we serve those whose needs are greater than our own, we catch glimpses of a Realm created and sustained by Love.

Many people have asked why the world seems so filled with violence and hatred these days. The answer is multi-layered. However, a significant piece of the answer is that people do not know that the Kingdom of God has already been gifted to us. People have a hard time finding a place where they belong, where they feel valued and known, where they have a sense of purpose. When we are so stingy with God’s Love as we often are, other things flood in to fill the gaps. Hopelessness, fear, anger, hatred, desperation… to name a few. Communities, identities built around these things have no trouble with injustice and oppression.

What will it take for you and me to trust God’s Love, to trust that we have already been given the Realm and God delighted in the giving and will continue to do so in every generation? What will it take for us to live rightly with God, as Abram did? What will it take for us to love as we are loved by God? The sooner we figure this out, the more possibilities we have in truly building the Kingdom here on earth…

*Fun fact for those interested in such: “Kingdom” in Greek is Basileia which is feminine in form.

RCL – Year C – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 11, 2019
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 with Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 or
Genesis 15:1-6 with Psalm 33:12-22 and
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Photo: CC0 image by Pexels

Posted in Musings, Sermon Starter | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Going in Circles

Sometimes I think that God’s theme song must be Harry Chapin’s “All my Life’s a Circle.” I mean human beings keep doing the same thing generation after generation. How many times, how many different ways does God need to show us that we were created in Love for the purpose of loving? Will God’s patience ever run out?

Look at any of the prophets. Hosea is one among many whose call for repentance went mostly unheeded. How long will faithful people prostitute themselves to the lesser gods of our own making? When will we finally learn that empires rise and fall along a familiar pattern? When human beings stray from holy ways and believe our own lies, disaster always follows eventually.

In Israel’s history God would gather a fragile group of people and they would begin to form a strong nation. They would care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger among them. Over time those with power would become enthralled by it and the accumulation of wealth and power would take precedence over caring for the vulnerable. As the rich became richer, they became more convinced of their invincibility. That’s when the enemies would gather at the gates and wait for the prime moment to topple the top-heavy government. And the people would be carted off to Egypt or Babylon or held captive by the Assyrians, the Greeks, or the Romans. It happened again and again.

In those days the fall of Israel to another nation was attributed to God. The prosperity the first enjoyed was assumed to be because they were pleasing God. I have no doubts that God was pleased when the people of God worshiped together and cared for those who could not care for themselves. Prosperity grew out of a community living holy ways. And when wealth became the goal rather than the outcome, the nation fell apart. And they believed that God was punishing them. God probably wasn’t happy with selfish behavior that neglected hospitality and love of neighbor. No need for God to punish anyone, though. Natural consequences took over as Israel fell at the hands of its enemies.

We still have a tendency to believe that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing and adversity is God’s punishment. A surface level reading of scripture might confirm this belief. However, it doesn’t make any sense. By this reasoning, Donald Trump is blessed by God and Mother Theresa was not. Or areas that have been afflicted by floods, famine, earthquakes, tornados, mudslides, hurricanes, or the like are being punished by God and global warming has nothing to do with human behavior. Attributing prosperity to God’s blessing and adversity to God’s punishment abdicates human responsibility. Moreover, it diminishes God into something punitive and exacting rather than loving and forgiving.

If we claim to be people of God and seek to live in holy ways, then we must oppose anything that interferes with love of neighbor. Blaming the people who put their lives at risk to bring their families across the U.S. border with Mexico and treating them as less than human is not in keeping with God’s mandate to care for the stranger. Discriminating on the basis of a person’s gender expression or sexual orientation violates God’s commandment to love one another. White supremacy and white nationalism violates God’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves. All of these actions and policies create division and fear by diminishing the personhood of the targeted individuals. There is only one explanation for these kinds of things. Those in power feel threatened. They will violate every moral and ethical principle to ensure that they stay in power. As far as they are concerned the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger – the vulnerable among us – can fend for themselves after they have had every ounce of dignity and humanity ripped from them.

Haven’t we prostituted ourselves to empire long enough? Haven’t we tried storing up treasures on earth long enough? The pursuit of wealth and power is vanity; it is not holy. God’s true blessings are experienced through love. Period. God punishes no one. Most affliction can be traced back to human actions. And just because we cannot explain the rest, doesn’t mean we should blame God. Let’s take some responsibility for ourselves and the generations that have come before us. Maybe we should learn the lessons of history before God’s patience finally runs out…RCL –

RCL - Year C - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 
Hosea 11:1-11 with Psalm 107:1-9, 43 or
Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14; 2:18-23 with Psalm 49:1-12
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

Photo: CC0 image by Dmitri Posudin

Posted in Musings, Sermon Starter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sodom and Gomorrah Revisited

marguerites-381222_1280.jpg

The time has come to look at Sodom and Gomorrah from a different perspective. Changes are pretty good that whatever you learned in Sunday School or picked up along the way is not useful. A literal or legalistic reading of this story gets us nowhere good and has done more than enough damage to queer folx. If we can agree that the people who told this story and those who wrote it down had a very different worldview than most of us now have, then we need to apply what we know to this text.

Most of us know that God isn’t sitting somewhere in heaven waiting to shower do-gooders with blessings or reign down punishment on sinners. This way of thinking is a holdover from days when all things were explained by divine actions. If we understand that much of the suffering in this world can be explained through science and/or recognized as a result of human behaviors, then what was perceived as divine punishment can be understood as the consequences of a certain set of parameters. For example, the increasing intensity of storms can be explained scientifically and is, at least in part, due to the ways in which human beings have damaged the planet. This is a more reasonable explanation for these storms than to say that the inhabitants of a particular place are being punished by God for their sins. Similarly, most illness and diseases can be explained through genetics, germs, or toxic environments. Again, this is a far more reasonable explanation than to say that a person with an illness or disease is being punished for their or their parents’ sins.

Now we can conclude that it is far more likely that the biblical punishments, afflictions, and smitings attributed to God were natural consequences resulting from whatever circumstances preceded them. In other words, not God’s doing. In a similar way, people like Moses and Abraham probably didn’t literally hear God talking to them anymore than faithful people do today. Maybe they had fewer obstructions in their prayer life and received responses with a bit more clarity, but they probably didn’t sit down and have an actual chat with God.

With this in mind, let us revisit Sodom and Gomorrah. We learn about these cities from the angels/men who informed Abraham and Sarah that Sarah would soon be pregnant in spite of her advanced years. The visitors had enjoyed Abraham’s generous hospitality and were heading on their way. They debated telling Abraham about their next stop before deciding to share the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They don’t tell Abraham anything other than that here has been significant outcry against these cities. They stress that they are telling Abraham because his offspring will grown into a great nation and that they will be responsible for keeping “the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice” (Gen 18:20).

After hearing this, Abraham takes his concerns to God, whom he knows to be just and good. He prays. He asks God to spare the cities for the sake of the righteous who live there. God assures Abraham that the cities will be safe if there 50, 45, 40, 35, 20, and as few as 10 people living righteously. Abraham trusts God’s justice. He also receives a message that even a few people faithfully living out God’s holy ways can save many from destruction. This is the power of faith, power often overlooked in the reading of this story.

From Abraham’s conversation with God, we move back to the angels who had just left Abraham. They find hospitality in Lot’s house and, therefore, advise Lot to get his family out of the cities. Lot’s family think he’s joking about the impending destruction and choose to remain in the cities. Of course, some of Lot’s actions don’t make much sense to modern readers and cause us to wonder at Lot’s righteousness. However, Lot cannot be faulted for the hospitality he offered to the visitors, even if we are appalled by his parenting choices and how little he seemed to value his daughters. Of course, they make questionable choices of their own a bit later. And that business of Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt is a bit odd and seemingly unfair. Let’s just say that she turned into a very precious commodity and discuss the women in this story at a later date.

I also don’t want to skip over the part that historically been used as proof that God disapproves of queer people. The men of Sodom wanted Lot’s guests for sexual purposes. The problem here isn’t sexual activity. The problem is how little they valued people who were foreign, alien to their cities. They saw them as less than human, to be treated in any way the residents of the city felt like treating them. In this case, they wanted to use them for sex. On another day, maybe they would have chosen to enslave them or hold them captive for another purpose. All these things were against the ways of God. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was their startling lack of hospitality toward the stranger among them.

This lack of hospitality is in direct contrast to Abrahams’s generosity and Lot’s welcome. There was nothing righteous or just in the doings of the people who lived in Sodom or Gomorrah. We know that when one group of people stops recognizing the humanity of another group, the results are often violent, ugly, and fatal. Sodom and Gomorrah annihilated themselves with their own selfish greed. It’s just a more cautionary tale if God smites them. And making queer folx the scapegoat is a convenient way to avoid looking closely at the real issues.

Isn’t it possible that we who follow Christ need to pay more attention to our own offers of hospitality? What groups of people have we dehumanized? Where have we failed to in doing righteousness and justice? These are the more useful questions that come from Sodom and Gomorrah. Perhaps we can avoid future destruction if we pay more attention to keeping God’s ways and offering generous hospitality to the stranger, foreigner, and aliens in our cities. After all, doom can be avoided if as few as ten seek to live in holy ways.

For more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year C – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 28, 2019
Hosea 1:2-10 with Psalm 85 or
Genesis 18:20-32 with Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

Photo: CC0 image by Ryan McGuire

Posted in Musings, Sermon Starter | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Famine in the Land

gallery-2932005_1280.jpg

In the fall of 1989 I was a first year student at Princeton Theological Seminary. More than once during that first semester (and each subsequent semester), I wondered if I had made the right choice. I felt ill-prepared and out of place. The first time I felt as if I might make it through the three years, in spite of my doubts, was in the first day of the Old Testament class. The professor stood at the podium and recited a list of the things we might learn in his class. One of those was that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible. That surprised me. Who thought that Moses wrote anything? Apparently, this was (and is) a popular belief. One of my classmates took offense. They stood up and emphatically declared that if this was the kind of nonsense taught at Princeton, it was not the school it proclaimed to be. And my classmate walked out of the lecture hall with me and many others staring in surprise.

I’d be less surprised now, though. After nearly 30 years in ministry, I think the Bible should come with a warning label: Enter at your own risk. Contents are not what they appear to be. Even folks who identify on the more progress end of the Christian spectrum can’t seem to shake the influence of Bible literalism. No sooner do I finish reminding people that all the books of the Bible were written when people could only explain events, both global and personal, by attributing them to God. If good things happened, then God was pleased and showering blessings. If bad things happened someone’s (or lots of someones) sins were to be blamed; God was displeased and pouring out punishment. The other option was that if a person or community was experiencing tribulation, God had decided to test the strength of their faith. This was the reality all throughout biblical history.

We live in a different world now, though, don’t we? We know that God doesn’t send floods, famines, hurricanes, mudslides, earthquakes, and the like to punish peoples for their sins or to test the faith of individuals or communities. In fact, God doesn’t send natural disasters at all. If there is blame to be placed for such occurrences, human beings are likely responsible for messing with the planet in ways that have made all these kinds of events much worse. Sometimes human behavior actually causes disasters to occur (e.g. think of the relationship between fracking and earthquakes). My point is that science can explain how these things happen; we don’t need to blame God.

If God doesn’t make bad things happen to test us or punish us, does God make good things happen to reward the faithful? No. This is absurd. This kind of thinking would mean that God loves wealthy people more than God loves poor people. Or that God loves healthy people more than God loves sick people. Most of the time wealthy people get wealthy because they have come up with something society values more than it values the health and well-being of human beings.

God does not punish the bad, test the doubtful, or reward the faithful. Can we please move on from literalism? There is Truth in scripture and, yet, not a lot of facts. Amos described how events would unfold with amazing accuracy partly because he was inspired by God and partly because human behavior patterns are predictable. When human beings choose serving the wealthy and powerful over caring for the poor and vulnerable, we move away from holy ways toward human ways. The more we forget that holy ways lead toward strong communities, care for the vulnerable, and resistance of Empire, the more we experience division, hopelessness, and oppression of the many by the very few. This “few,” by the way, makes us believe that human ways are better than holy ways while saying that their wealth and power are literally God-given.

Amos was right. There is a famine in the land. It is not a famine of bread or meat. It is, however, a famine of hearing the words of God. God’s ways always tell us to love our neighbors as ourselves. God’s ways never value one people over another and would not sanction concentration camps in any era, let alone now. God’s ways do not sanction the oppression of anyone or hold of white nationalism as a form of Christianity. God has demonstrated God’s love for Creation again and again. The prophets (old and new) tell us that loving God means loving others with same degree of compassion, grace, forgiveness, and love that God has for us.

When Jesus dined with Mary and Martha, he didn’t tell Martha she shouldn’t do her many tasks. He merely pointed out that if you want to offer true hospitality it is essential to take time to sit with your guests and determine their needs, not just do the things because they need doing. Martha’s method forgets that there are human needs in the mix. Mary’s way reminds us that at core we are to love and serve one another in deep, meaningful ways. We cannot serve God or our neighbors if we don’t take the time to be still and listen.

God is still calling us to live holy ways, to bring the Realm of God into the here and now. When we seek holy ways, goodness and hope will follow. If goodness and hope do not follow, the way we travel is probably not all that holy. If we want to stop buying the poor with silver and selling out the needy for a pair of sandals, it’s time to trust God’s love for the whole of Creation and each human being in particular.

Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch. The Bible is not factual. God has better things to do than dole out rewards and punishments. Let’s get on with the business of ending the famine and discovering anew what it means to live in God’s holy ways (before the other kinds of things Amos spoke about come to pass once again).

RCL – Year C – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 21, 2019
Amos 8:1-12 with Psalm 52 or
Genesis 18:1-10a with Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Photo: CC0 image by alexas_fotos

Posted in Musings, Sermon Starter | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Plumb Line Prayer

lighthouse-1872998_1280.jpg
Amazing and merciful God, how easy it is for us to forget that we are your delight. You we rejoice when we follow your holy ways and envision a future of goodness and grace for all your people. We blame you for divisions and strife. We justify our wars by saying that you are on our side. We rationalize the abuse of our enemies by telling ourselves that they are not your people, that their sinfulness exceeds your tolerance. In truth, you have told us that we are to love our neighbors indiscriminately. Moreover, we are to love those with the greatest need more fiercely and more immediately. Shower us with your mercy, O God, until we live by the plumb line you have repeatedly dropped in our midst.

Patient and steadfast God, you continuously call us to live in peace, leaving none behind. We hear your call. We know that your love endures forever. What you ask of us is not beyond our reach; it is not higher than the heavens or on the outer edges of the sea. For all of Creation to live in justice is not an impossibility you hold up to tease us with what we cannot have. If we trust you, it is possible for us to turn aside from our human ways. It is possible for us to love with your love. Enter our lives anew, Holy One, silence our fears and smother our distrust that we may live in harmony with all.

God of wonder and mystery, you love us still. You love us when we are filled with fear. You love us when we are filled with hate. You love us when we are filled with judgment. You love us when we think we are better than our neighbors. You love us when we think are neighbors are better than us. You love us when we blame others for creating the chaos that flows through the world. You love us when we abdicate responsibility for engaging in justice work. You love us through all our foolishness. However, you delight in us when we act with love and seek to bring your realm into the here and now. Flood every corner of our being with the strength of your Spirit that we may have the courage to love with your love, always.

God of near and far places, how foolish we are when we think you are limited to one people, one language, one religion, one way of life. All people are stamped with your image. Every language has many names for you and words of praise for all that you are. At core, each religious tradition seeks to teach your holy ways and encourage us to follow them. You are the giver of all life. If we claim to follow in Christ’s way there is no room for hatred of peoples from other countries, those who speak other languages, those who call you by different names, and those whose culture is not our own. If we belong to Christ, then racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and all the other labels that thrive on our fear have no place in us. Heal our brokenness. May we live as one body with many parts.

Living, loving God, we are grateful for your patient love. Over and over again you call us by name, claim us as your beloved, and fill us with your Spirit. Hear our gratitude for your presence among us, your arms that hold us, your vision that sees our wholeness. May we trust in your love, your grace, your forgiveness as we seek to embody Christ more fully. May the praises we sing and the words of gratitude we whisper transform our fear into hope, our hatred into joy, our judgment into grace, and our ambivalence and apathy into action. We are your people. Your Spirit lives and moves in us. Let us trust in you enough to recognize you in ourselves and in all whom we meet.

Amen.

RCL – Year C – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 14, 2019
Amos 7:7-17 with Psalm 82 or
Deuteronomy 30:9-14 with Psalm 25:1-10
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Photo: CC0 image by lumix

Posted in liturgy, Prayer, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment