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Silence is Compliance

Image of a shepherd with his dog and herd of sheep on a sunny, green hillside.

It’s been quite a week here in the Twin Cities, and in my life. The verdict of guilty on all three charges in the Chauvin trial shifted the mood considerably. There is now hope where there was none. However, this hope is mitigated by the killing of Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and Ma’Khia Bryant. So much work is before us still.

On a more personal note, I received my second vaccine with minor, though annoying, symptoms, completed a three-day training on the IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory), and observed the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death. As I said, it’s been a week.

Through all of this I’ve been thinking about the “Good Shepherd” passages. Psalm 23 is a popular favorite and Jesus’ claim to be the Good Shepherd in John’s gospel makes us generally feel good. It’s easy to picture God or Jesus as a good shepherd. We feel watched-over and protected. However, if Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we who are church members are the embodiment of Christ, then we are to be the Good Shepherd in the world. And this is where the challenge is. We are to follow and to embody all at the same time. We aren’t doing very well at either, most days anyway.

Jesus said he was the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for his own. And, of course, he did. Jesus died at the hands of those who could not tolerate Love Incarnate, those who were enamored with the power, position, prestige, and promises granted by the Empire. Jesus challenged the authorities (both Jewish and Roman) of his day at every opportunity. He sought to literally re-member (connect or reconnect) the outcasts with community. He sought to empower the people to live into their relationship with God.

Jesus was a threat to those with power and a friend to the oppressed. We are called to embody those qualities – challenge the Empire and befriend the oppressed. This is the Good Shepherd we say we follow. Are we willing to lay down our lives for the benefit of those who are oppressed, cast out, dismissed, devalued, or dehumanized? If not, how closely do we follow this Shepherd? How do we embody the Love the Good Shepherd demonstrated for the whole of the cosmos?

I’m not saying we all have to go out and risk our lives in a literal way. I’m suggesting that we have to more actively put our lives on the line. You know, take risks to ensure that these modern day lynchings of Black and Brown adults and children come to an end. The conviction of Chauvin is a good start. It is not enough, though. We need more. We need to keep advocating for murder charges to be brought against police officers who shoot and/or kill Black and Brown people with no good reason. We who identify as White progressive Christians need to learn how to amplify the voices of those calling for the abolishment of police and the dismantling of the criminal legal system, and all the other systems that thrive on White supremacy and racism. Can we say we follow the Good Shepherd if we continue to remain on the sidelines in silence? Can we say we embody Christ if we are seeking justice for all people?

In case it isn’t clear, I’m really wondering what it means to be Christian in the U.S. in this moment in history. I know that my own views have radically changed over the last decade or more, particularly in the last 6.5 years I’ve lived in Minnesota. My shift in perspective is due in part to Black Lives Matter and participating in marches, rallies, and protests and really listening to POC in my community. If Jesus is Divine Love Incarnate and the church is the embodiment of that Love, then we have a lot of crap to clean up before we can claim that it is true. Silence is compliance, and White progressive Christians have been silent for far too long. We have also created the illusion that we “welcome all.” Most congregations don’t welcome all. My friends, if one member of the Body of Christ is a White Supremacist, then the Body of Christ is a White Supremacist. If one member of the Body of Christ has benefited or continues to benefit from White supremacy, then the Body of Christ benefits from White supremacy. If one member of the Body of Christ is racist, then the Body of Christ is racist. This is not what Jesus would want for his followers. This is not what it means to be the embodiment of the Good Shepherd.

If we want to be led to those green pastures and still waters, then we must do our part to remove everything that has prevented the grass from growing and everything that has polluted the waters. Isn’t it time we do better? Isn’t it time we actively participate in mending and healing what we have broken?

The Shepherd waits.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 25, 2021 Acts 8:26-40  • Psalm 22:25-31  • 1 John 4:7-21  • John 15:1-8

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Musings Sermon Starter

No Justice. No Peace.

Image of large crowd of protesters holding sings that say, “Stop Racism Now,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice. No Peace.”

There is no peace here. Jesus may have breathed peace on his disciples. However, many have turned away from the peace he both breathed and embodied. Jesus exhaled peace on his disciples so that they might become the Body of Christ, the Spirit of God embodied in a world with much need. The primary purpose of the disciple was to continue the work that Jesus began when Jesus no longer lived in the flesh. And this has been the challenge since the very early days of the church, has it not?

From the beginning, Jesus’ disciples could not agree on what it meant to be the Body of Christ. They argued about whether or not one had to be Jewish in order to be a follower of Christ. They argued about traditions and teachers and what they could and could not do as members of Christ’s Body. And here we are, 2000 years later still arguing, still divided, still focused on everything other than embodying the peace Jesus passed on to his first disciples.

I live in and work in the Twin Cities. As you know, a police officer shot and killed yet another unarmed Black man last Sunday afternoon. Daunte Wright’s murder comes in the middle of the trial of the officer who killed George Floyd less than a year ago. My friends who are Black have expressed fear and anxiety for themselves, for their spouses, and especially for their sons. My friends who are White have expressed concern for the officer who shot Daunte and questioned whether or not Chauvin (the officer who killed Floyd) will have a fair trial. White folx have a hard time attributing these murders to the White supremacy that our entire criminal legal system is built on. Black folx have been shouting “Stop killing us” at rallies, marches, and protests for years. They also cry out, “No justice. No peace.”

No justice. No peace. This is Truth beyond the capacity of most White Christians to admit. As long as we continue to buy into the narrative that excuses police killing POC, we are perpetuating White supremacy and sustaining its lethality. How can any of us call ourselves Christian and believe that a police officer has the right to kill unarmed POC? Daunte Wright was pulled over because he was a young Black man driving a car. The police can say it was because his tags were expired, and that is just an excuse. My wife’s tags were expired for six months in 2020 before either of noticed. And she was never pulled over. In fact there are currently over 600,000 expired tags in Minnesota at this moment. Are they all going to be stopped by police and then shot? I doubt it.

Yes, I know they also discovered that Daunte had a warrant out for his arrest. Why? He had misdemeanor charges and failed to appear in court because the summons was sent to his previous address. He did nothing that justifies his death. And now another child will grow up without a father because those with power cannot imagine giving up the power White supremacy gives them.

My friends, as Christians we are the embodiment of the Risen Christ. Jesus did not care about saving souls. He did not care about literally interpreting scripture. He did not judge the actions of those with whom he disagreed. Jesus was all about saving lives, fostering wholeness, re-membering people into community. He was about empowering those whom the Empire had oppressed. He wanted everyone to know the Love of God through the ways in which he loved.

If you are among those who have been silent about White supremacy in our criminal legal system and in every institution in our society, now would be a good time to ask yourself why you have been silent. Really, what would Jesus have us do? Surely, silence or, worse, continuing to believe the White supremacist narratives of the empire, is not what Jesus would have us do. If we are the embodiment of the Risen Christ, then we are to be about breathing peace into the world. And we know beyond any doubt that if there is no justice, there will be no peace.

Will you commit to ending the oppression of the empire and eradicating White supremacy where you encounter it? We have a sacred duty to repair what we human beings have broken. Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” And he breathed the Spirit on a group of Brown-skinned people. We White-skinned people have wrongfully and selfishly hoarded that peace for far too long.

What are we going to do to embody the Risen Christ in a way that literally saves lives and ends our silent complicity in the on-going violence against POC?

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday of Easter – April 18, 2021
Acts 3:12-19  • Psalm 4  • 1 John 3:1-7  • Luke 24:36b-48

Photo: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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Musings Sermon Starter

In Search of God’s Good Pleasure

Image: a field crowded with sunflowers in full bloom

Anger. Outrage. Despair. These feelings coursed through my body, and linger even now. At first I heard that none of the officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s murder were indicted. Then I saw that one officer was charged with “wanton endangerment.” Not because Breonna Taylor died. Rather, because the other bullets endangered Breonna’s white neighbors. It is no wonder that uprisings are happening in Louisville and other cities. If I were not high risk for COVID-19, I would be out on the streets protesting police brutality, state sanctioned murder. It is hard for me to stay at home and do nothing other than pray and write.

How much more blood has to fill our streets before we recognize that our militarized policing system, which grew out of slave catching, has no place in civilized society. And the criminal legal system is no better. The officer was indicted for the bullets that threatened white neighbors, not for the bullets that ended Breonna’s life. There is no justice to be had here. Police need to be held accountable for the lives they have stolen from POC.

Yes, as white people we are conditioned to call police when we feel we are in danger. There is so much wrong with this. What constitutes danger? Surely, it has to be more than the presence of someone whose skin is not white. And police cannot continue to justify their murdersome ways by claiming that they fear for their lives. This is ridiculous. This white supremacist nonsense is lethal to too many of our neighbors. It must stop. How do we not remember that Jesus had brown skin and would be targeted by police in this country if he were alive and speaking truth to power today?

In Philippians, Paul calls us to account: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus… (2:3-5) Notice there are no qualifiers here. If we have true humility, we regard others is if they were better than we are – all others not just white others. Moreover, their interests are to be attended to before our own. Those police officers and D.A.s who call themselves Christians seem to forget this when they “fear for their lives.” And the mind that was in Christ, the mind that ought to be in the church as the Body of Christ, is a mind of Love. This Love views all human beings as beloved. Shouldn’t we?

Elections are weeks away. While I’m sure most people have decided for whom they will vote, there is yet time to prayerfully consider which candidate will better serve the interests of all who call the U.S. home. Which candidate is more inclined to advocate for those who are different from himself? Which candidate is more likely to recognize the rights of every citizen, and those seeking to become citizens? Which candidate is willing to learn what he doesn’t know and change his behavior if he learns his ways are causing someone(s) harm? Is there humility to be found in either candidate? When you are still, and listen to God, which candidate is likely to do the greatest good, or at minimum, the least harm?

Friends, there are days when COVID-19 seems the least of our worries, and it is very worrisome. However, the loss of lives because we refuse to change systems of policing and the criminal legal system and remain bound by systems that were built on and thrive on white supremacy, seems to me to be at least as concerning, if not more so. More so because there is no vaccine being developed for racism and white supremacy. The example and teachings of Jesus should be enough of a vaccine against hatred, though it seems not to be the case.

Later in the second chapter of Philippians Paul writes, “…with fear and trembling work out your own salvation, for God is the One working in you to both will and work according to God’s good pleasure” (2:12b-13, my own translation). May we all take an honest inventory of our lives and figure out where we have more work to do on our own hearts and minds. If we can open ourselves more to God’s work within us, then maybe more of us will be transformed from ways of hatred and death to ways of Love and life, not just for ourselves, for the whole of Creation. Because we need to be more focused on “God’s good pleasure,” I leave you with this prayer attributed to Marthe Robins who relied heavily on a similar prayer by Ignatius Loyola:

May God take my memory and all it remembers,
Take my heart and all its affections,
Take my intelligence and all its powers;
May they only serve your greatest glory.
Take my will completely,
for always I empty it out in yours.
No longer what I want, O my sweetest Jesus,
but always what you want!
Take me … receive me … direct me.
Guide me! I surrender and abandon myself to you!
I surrender myself to you as a small sacrifice of
Love, of praise and Gratitude, for the Glory of your Holy Name,
for the enjoyment of your Love, the triumph of your Sacred Heart,
and for the perfect fulfillment of your Designs in me and around me.

RCL – Year A – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 27, 2020
Exodus 17:1-7 with Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 or
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 with Psalm 25:1-9
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

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Musings Sermon Starter

Be Barefoot with Moses, Paul, and Jesus

Image: crowd of protestors carrying signs for Black Lives Matter and anti-racism

Anyone remember the story of Moses and the burning bush? It isn’t really the cute children’s story we might have learned in Sunday School. And it isn’t one of those stories that had meaning then and is unclear for today. With the shooting of Jacob Blake last week and the Uprisings in Minneapolis last night, we need to revisit that story that has become too familiar to us. There’s a message in there that we need right now.

As you may remember, Moses was minding Jethro’s sheep one day when a voice called to him out of a bush that was burning but not being consumed by the fire. Moses was not looking to disrupt his complacent, ordinary life. For all we know, he liked tending his father-in-law’s sheep. God had other plans for him, though. He had to take his shoes off because the ground under his feet was holy (and it’s harder to run away when you are barefoot). God proceeded to tell Moses that it was time for him to go to Pharaoh and tell him to set the people of God free.

Note Moses’ response here. He basically said, “Why me? I’m nobody. Shouldn’t somebody else go?” Like most of us in the world today, if we happen to hear God’s voice calling us, nudging us, to go confront the Pharaoh or his agents, Moses begged off. We know that the story ends with Moses going to confront Pharaoh and eventually freeing the Israelites. What if it hadn’t? What if Moses walked on by? What if he just said, “Nope, not me”? and lived his life as a shepherd of sheep rather than a leader of people? Would God have called someone else? Did God try others before Moses agreed?

Back to today. What if every moment of discomfort we white folx experience when we read or hear the news of police shooting another black man or police responding to protestors with violence or police pepper spraying media is actually God reminding us that the ground under our feet is holy? What if, instead of turning away while wishing this unrest would all go away, we actually took off our shoes and stayed a while, listening to what God might be calling us to do? You know, starting with the judgement about “those people” who are Uprising? If you’re like me, meaning white, then you really don’t know what it is like to live under systemic oppression (white supremacy) for four hundred years. We really have no idea what it feels like to be treated as “less than” from one generation to the next. If we did, we might be tempted to unleash some rage as well when police act out of their racism and harm or kill people who have the same color skin we do.

Then once we’ve stopped judging and started to empathize, at least a little, then we can also stop defending the police. There is no excuse for shooting black people… in their cars… on the sidewalks… in front of their families… No excuse for kneeling on their necks…. doing nothing while they cannot breathe… God is asking us to free God’s people from Pharaoh’s ways. God is asking you and me to go to Pharaoh now. No excuses. We are needed because the police officers aren’t going to be taking their shoes off any time soon. Pharaoh has them trained too well.

Still not convinced this is a reasonable interpretation of the burning bush story? Okay. How do you feel about Paul and what he had to say in Romans? Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Paul is pretty clear in how we should act and how we should treat one another. Loving all our neighbors is Christian mandate. Hating evil means hating white supremacy and all the racist systems it sustains. Hating evil does not mean hating people who are not white. Wouldn’t it be more in keeping with God’s laws if we tried to outdo one another in showing honor? These days, showing honor looks an awful lot like the abolition of police and voting for change come November. There are too many people dying because Pharaoh and those in his service fear change – change that means equity and justice for all of humanity.

If you still aren’t convinced that God does not endorse systemic racism and is heartbroken by the white nationalist conflation of white supremacy and Christianity, how about that time Jesus called Peter Satan? Peter just wanted Jesus to turn away from Jerusalem where his fight with Empire would surely end in his death. Peter wanted Jesus to follow an easier path. Jesus was tempted. Why else would he call Peter “Satan” while telling him to get away? Yes, if we commit to fighting the Empire and it’s oppression, then we will be tempted by easier paths. It’s best if we take our shoes off so we cannot run away.

With our feet bare and our hearts open, may we burn with the passion for justice, burn but not be consumed so that we may actively seek to set ALL God’s people free.

If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 30, 2020
Exodus 3:1-15 with Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c or
Jeremiah 15:15-21 with Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

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Poetry Prayer Story

Imago Dei in the Aftermath

Pandemic. Protests. Uprisings. Fires. Vigils. Agent Provocateurs. Militarized Police. White Supremacy. All of it right here where I live. Part of me has been overwhelmed by it all this week. Part of me is stuck in the horror of watching police officers kill George Floyd. Another part of me is stunned by the numbers of cities joining in the uprisings. I’m lamenting not being able to be out on the streets helping because of the pandemic. And, if I am totally honest, I am proud of the relentless demand for change that has begun here and spread across the country. Still, the words are hard to find. Consequently, I am sharing this poem, “Imago Dei” from my book, Barefoot Theology (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Be safe. Be well.

                             Imago Dei

On midsummer's eve, when the world is wrapped in magic,
all the children of the earth gather in the dreaming place. 
Mysteries call louder on this night than on all other nights. 
Whispers carried on ocean and mountain breezes lead
children to gather in the dreaming place.
 
They laugh and dance and splash in the magic surrounding them. 
The moon rises higher, children quiet in the whispering winds 
and ask the questions of their hearts.
 
One small girl stands and says,
My daddy doesn’t look like my mommy and
I don’t look like either of them. 
So who does God look like?
 
The answers are quick and from all around.
Some of us together.
All of us.
None of us because maybe there is no God. 
 
Silence.
 
The winds themselves laugh and dance wildly though the gathering. 
Then they speak with the voice of One. 
You ask what the Holy One looks like? 
Do you not know? 
All of you bear my likeness.
 
Children wait, breath held, still.
 
I am the first light of morning;
I washed some of you in its soft fairness. 
I am the pureness of deep night;
I wrapped some of you in this sacred darkness. 
I am the fire of the setting sun;
 some of you have this burning in your hair. 
I am the richness of the soil—
red, brown, yellow, and black—
as are many of you. 
I am the depth of the ocean;
some of you wear these greens,
blues, and grays in your eyes.
I am the warmth of the summer sun
found in all your smiles and laughter. 
I am the stillness of winter snow
resting within each of you.
 
What does the Holy One look like? 
I am all the colors of the earth.
I am the softness of early spring
and the wildness of thunder. 
My reflection is in the ocean
and in your eyes. 
I am the first light of day
and the last dark of night. 
I am the power of the wind
and the gentleness of misty rain.
 
Look for me in yourselves,
each other,
and in all creation.
 Do not miss the holy in the setting sun,
the purple twilight,
the darkest night,
or the brightest noonday.
Wherever you are, I am.
 I am in your laughter and your tears. 
 I am in waking and dreaming. 
 If you want to know what the Holy One looks like,
 you will see me wherever you turn.
 
The winds quiet and the skies grow lighter. 
The little girl laughs
as the winds play through her hair. 
 
The children drift away from the dreaming place. 
Each takes a little of the magic of midsummer
and wakes bathed in the first light of day.

RCL – Year A – Trinity Sunday, First Sunday after Pentecost – June 7, 2020
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

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Musings Sermon Starter

Joy Awaits

 

2017-11-02 15.25.12.jpg

Isaiah and John the Baptist have a lot of company in the wilderness. Have you heard any of these voices crying out:  Tarana Burke, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, Malala Yousafzai, Krystal Two Bulls, William Barber, and countless other? We have not paid much heed to the prophets of yesterday. Will we listen to the voices of today’s prophets? The cry is ever the same.

Isaiah told us everything we need to know about responding to the cries in the wilderness. If we are to make way for God, create a holy highway for all God’s people to travel, the process is unmistakable. Bring good news to the oppressed. Not just words, words cost nothing and achieve very little. What do oppressed people want? Justice. It shouldn’t be that hard. Doug Jones shouldn’t have barely one the Senate seat in Alabama; he should have won by an overwhelming majority. But there is something in U.S. culture that resists listening to those wilderness voices and whatever it is has permeated our churches as well. If we are God’s people, then we are supposed to be creators of justice. We must be the good news oppressed people seek.

Bind up the broken-hearted. There really is no binding for a broken heart. We cannot undo death. However, we can stop killing people. We can stop allowing police officers to get away with murder. We can change our healthcare and mental health care systems so that illness does not result in death for those who live in poverty. We can admit to racism and white supremacy that permeates every system and institution in the U.S. If we are God’s people, then we are to be agents of healing. We must be the binding for the broken-hearted.

Proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. Again, proclamation without action is meaningless. Until Congress passes a clean Dream Act, too many young people are at risk for deportation. The path to citizenship is ridiculously complicated and divides families. People risk their lives to enter this country without documentation, not because they are seeking something for free; they want a better life. Why is the U.S. response so often arrest, imprisonment, and deportation without regard for the well-being of individuals or families? Xenophobia flows through our streets and causes us to turn away immigrants and refugees, forgetting that most of our families were once one or the other. Forgetting that Jesus and his family were once refugees. If we are God’s people, then we are to be advocates for liberation and release. We must be the way to liberation and freedom for all God’s people.

Proclaim God’s favor and comfort all who mourn. Imagine a just world for all. This vision is the comfort for those who mourn now. For everyone who is dismissed and devalued by those with power, there is hope for a different future. In this future, all those marginalize voices will be re-membered, re-joined to communities of love and grace. Moreover, these will be our leaders, our strength. Only then will the breach be repaired. If we are God’s people, then we are to be creators of a new future. We must be the hope for those who mourn.

Isaiah goes on to describe the day when God’s people are liberated and filled with praise. Isn’t this what we, as church, want? We have fooled ourselves into thinking that faith is all about the individual. We want to know that we are “doing it right” and feel comfortable in our sense of righteousness. However, the prophets, old and new, aren’t speaking to individuals. Isaiah spoke to the nation of Israel while it was divided and held captive by Babylon. The words about good news and liberty were not empty. They were followed by action.

Today’s prophets speak to a nation divided and held captive by a Babylon we created. Our liberation and re-membering will only happen when we stop thinking only about ourselves and start thinking about our neighbors. You may not be affected by the current tax bill, but is your neighbor? You may have access to excellent education, does your neighbor? You may be able to choose your doctor and get the best healthcare, can your neighbor do the same? There may be enough food in your pantry, how about your neighbor’s?

advent3

Sunday is the third Sunday in Advent. The Sunday of Joy, the Sunday when we turn from active waiting to joyful anticipation of Christ’s arrival. The joy faith seeks holds hands with justice. It will remain fleeting in our lives as long as we think faith is personal and private. (Ask Mary about what it means to live a public faith and realize that faith leads us to serve others and how joy fits into that.) When we risk living our faith out in the world, we draw closer to the joy of life in the Spirit. When we pause to listen to the prophets, hear their cries to prepare the way of the Lord, joy might begin to take up residence in our communities once again.

Christ is waiting to enter into all the broken places in our lives, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our nation, and in our world. The prophets are crying out, telling us what is needed to prepare the way. Isn’t it time we move toward Joy?

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday in Advent – December 17, 2017
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46-55
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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Musings

A Letter from a Tired Pastor

inthestreetDear white Christian folks and other interested parties;

I begin with this:  God loves you. Because we are joined together in Christ, I love you. I will also say that no one is more white than I am; I have the genetic tests to prove it. Up to 68% Irish and the rest is all equally pale. I have as much privilege as a white bisexual woman can have, and that’s quite a lot. That being said, it’s time to get real about what is happening in the United States right now. Black Lives Matter is a movement and a statement that ought not be countered with “All lives matter.” All lives have never mattered equally in America. Look at what white folks have done and continue to do to First Nations people. Those in power believe it is perfectly okay to run an oil pipeline through tribal lands and risk contaminating the water. There are so many things wrong with this, not the least of which is that we should not be building more oil pipelines; we should be decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels. But the real problem is that we have no right whatsoever to risk water and land pollution on tribal lands. I do believe there are treaties to prevent such. I’m not an expert and I could be wrong, but didn’t the government give those lands that we don’t particularly want anyway to the First Nations peoples? By running that pipeline we are telling them, yet again, that their lives don’t matter nearly as much as white lives do.

Still not convinced? Friends, we wear our white privilege as casually as the rich man in the parable wore his regal purple robes. We have let ourselves be fooled into believing that we deserve a certain kind of treatment because our skin is white. Every day we walk away from Lazarus as he huddles wounded, bleeding, dying of hunger, thirst, and gunshot wounds. The poverty profiteering that goes on every day in every city across the country with our passive consent, keeps poor folks poor and only directly benefits bankers and politicians. Ask yourself why the CEO of the latest bank to have been caught in a scam still has his job when any other person who steals money goes to prison, particularly if they are a Person of Color. Also, every time we decide that an unarmed black man deserved to be shot by police because he looked like a “bad dude” or “had a wide nose” or the officer “felt threatened” or any other such nonsense, we are clearly stating that Black lives do not matter as much as white lives do.

The story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus is about making good choices, choosing to serve others, and not living in our own isolated bubbles of comfort. I realize that white privilege was not a concept Jesus or his first disciples would have understood. However, it is quite clear in this parable that Jesus was not on the side of the privileged. He did not support Abraham in his assumption that he was better than Lazarus just because he had money and pretty robes.

In the wake of yet more shootings of unarmed Black men by police officers, this time in Tulsa and Charlotte, I am begging you to open your eyes to what is happening all around us. The Body of Christ is bleeding and dying and we are carrying on as if we don’t need serious medical attention. Racism and white supremacy is killing us. If you and I are not willing to side with People of Color in demanding an end to racial disparity in our police departments, schools, judicial system, work places, housing, health care, banking and everywhere else, then we deserve the same fate the rich man received in the parable.

Friends, our sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, husbands, wives, nephews, nieces, parents, and children are crying out in hunger, thirst, and pain. When someone says, “All lives matter,” it’s taunting hungry, thirsty people with food and drink that is just out of reach. And if you believe POC are fully human, fully God’s beloved and deserve purple robes as much as white folks do, and you remain silent, then you are just as guilty as the ones spewing hatred and supporting murder.

In the parable, the rich man begged to go back and warn his “five brothers” so they would meet a different end. We white Christians are the rich man’s siblings. We’ve been warned. Break the silence. Do something. Let’s bind up the wounds and stop lining our streets with Black bodies.

The Body of Christ is bleeding out. Will you stop to help or will you walk right by, pretending that everything is fine and there are no Black bodies in our streets and the blood is not flowing? This is white privilege in that you as a white person can choose to walk by, to close the web browser, to step over the dead and dying bodies, to close your eyes and continue on your way. The choice is yours.

May the peace of Christ transform and guide us all.

RCL – Year C – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 25, 2016
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 with Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
Amos 6:1a, 4-7 with Psalm 146
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

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Musings Sermon Starter

What Do You See: Interpreting the Present Times

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In the fall of 1989 I did something that I had been thinking about for the better part of six years. I tried to avoid it in college and postponed it for a year after college graduation. Then I did it; I went to seminary. I was 22 years old, eager, scared, and fairly certain God had called me to ministry. Granted, my understanding of that call changed and deepened as I went through the MDiv program, but I trusted it. The problem was that others did not.

I lost a lot of friends because I chose to pursue my call to ministry. In college I had been part of Christian fellowship groups that did not believe in or support women in ministry. Though my participation in these groups had waned by senior year, I maintained friendships with several of the students who were firmly committed members. However, by the end of my first semester in seminary, I no longer heard from the majority of my college friends. This was sad and painful and somewhat confusing for me. I did not understand how differences in belief could end relationships.

Of course, this was the first of many experiences where my understanding of faith cost me friendships with those who held different views. When I divorced while serving my first church, many of my seminary friends distanced themselves from me; pastors simply did not divorce in their worlds. A few years later when I came out, more Christian friends walked away because they believed the Bible does not support anyone who is not straight. I felt judged and condemned by people I had thought were friends. My agnostic or atheist friends were more caring and supportive through these very difficult times. Many of my Christian friends simply turned away when I really needed them. How could this be the way of Christ?

In Luke’s Gospel we hear unexpected words from Jesus. He speaks harshly to those listening about the division he brings. He will separate loved ones – those who will follow and those who won’t. Peace isn’t exactly what Jesus brings, at least not in the short term. It’s impossible not to hear the echo of Isaiah: “God expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” Jesus expects us to follow in the way of love but far too often we respond with bloodshed and cries of war.

People of Color demand justice through movements like Black Lives Matter and folks who claim Christianity are all too eager to discredit and dismiss the need. They respond with “All Lives Matter” and point out that the leaders of the movements don’t all agree. They justify police shooting unarmed POC by blaming the victims for not having pristine, perfect lives. They say that POC should deal with “Black on Black” crime first and other such misdirecting statements. All this so they do not have to see that systemic racism and white supremacy is normative in our country. They want to maintain their privilege and justify it by vilifying or dismissing POC who disrupt the status quo with their demands for justice. Where does Jesus fit into this?

If this isn’t enough, consider politicians who, based on their Christian faith, want to repeal marriage equality and endorse “bathroom laws” to dismiss and dehumanize LGBTQ+ people. How can these fear-fueled actions be the way of Christ? Jesus went out of his way to bring marginalized people back into community. Should his followers not be doing the same? When did fearful hatred become a Christian value?

We can apply the same question to refugees and immigrants. Surely, building a wall and registering Muslims are the very things Jesus warned against. We can also point to the misogyny that has plagued Senator Clinton’s presidential campaign. What’s righteous here? Or the ways in which we conflate gun control issues with the insufficiency of mental health care… Or fail to acknowledge that minimum wage is woefully inadequate but instead blame people for being lazy… The bottom line is that people who give into hate and fear rather than trust God’s abundance are those who have trouble interpreting the present time.

My early experiences were indeed painful. In a strange way, I am grateful for them. It makes it a little easier now when friends walk away because I support Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ rights, refugee and immigration rights, women’s rights, adequate mental health care, increased minimum wage, and so many other places where justice is needed. I’m not saying I’m always right or that I even have a clear notion of the righteousness God is looking for. I do wonder, though, how anyone can claim to be following Christ when their ways do not embody love. And what I am saying is that I am willing to risk much to make way for love and justice for all God’s people. Are you?amazing-736881_1280

RCL – Year C – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 14, 2016
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

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Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Bessi Hamiti

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Musings Sermon Starter

Hosea’s Children are Alive and Well

Centuries have passed since Hosea was preaching to the people of Israel. However, the words could be applied to the people of God today. We who are so lost that we hardly hear the words of love God speaks to us daily could easily be the children of Hosea. The children whose names were an indictment of Israel’s sin, their rejection of God’s ways could be children of today.

black-and-white-1283234.jpgWith greed, corruption, violence, and hatred filling the airwaves, Hosea’s first-born son, Jezreel, belongs to us. His name is an indication that God has noticed Israel’s behavior and there will be consequences. Surely, God has noticed how we have turned against each other and forgotten the ways of justice, kindness, and humility taught by Moses, Mohammed, and Jesus. Although I would not say that “God sows” them so much as they are a result of our behavior, death and violence are surely the consequences.

Hosea’s daughter, Lo-ruhamah, symbolizes God’s dissatisfaction (disappointment? disgust?) with the people’s ways. So God will have “no pity” or “no compassion” for the people of God. They have turned away and embraced the god’s of their own making rather than trusting in the God of their salvation. Lo-ruhamah lives today and is reborn every time one child of God shoots another out of fear or vengeance and claims, instead, to be administering justice or keeping peace.

The prophet’s youngest son, Lo-ammi, is a clear statement that Israel is not behaving as the people of God ought. God no longer wants to claim God’s own people. If that is not true today, I don’t know what would be. Surely, God does not want to claim us with all the hatred, the separation, the racism, the homophobia, the transphobia, the sexism, the zenophobia, and all the other fears that divide us. Just as surely, God does not want to let us go; God is waiting for us to return to God’s ways, the ways of salvation, of life, of justice, of kindness, of humility, and love.

And, yes, many of us want this, too. We keeping asking how we get there and what we can do. In recent weeks the Gospel texts have given us some indication. There was the command to show mercy to our neighbor’s in the “Good Samaritan” passage. Last week was an invitation to sit at the feet of Jesus in this moment and listen until we are able to set aside distractions and serve with purpose. This week is a continuation of these lessons in a call to prayer that inspires action.

The text begins with the Prayer of Jesus. These words are so familiar to many of us that we have long-since stopped paying attention to what they might mean for us. I don’t think Jesus intended this to be the signature prayer of Christianity so much as he wanted his disciples to pray for what they really needed in a way that honors both God and the one praying. This prayer reminds us that we need God in our daily lives to ensure that we are working to bring about God’s reign, not taking more than we need, forgiving others as fully as we have been forgiven, and paying attention so as not to stumble into evil. If we can do these things through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, we make the world a better place.

When this kind of prayer becomes a part of us, we are more likely to receive our neighbors with kindness and offer mercy and hospitality. We are more likely to share the gifts we have been given rather than hoarding them for a day that might never come. True prayer changes us. It removes the barriers we create to protect ourselves and reminds us that we are loved even when we act in unlovely ways.work-101556_1280

Several times on FB this week, I saw the meme, “Faith may move mountains, but don’t be
surprised if God puts a shovel in your hands.” Prayer, like the one Jesus taught his disciples, puts the shovel in our hands. If we are truly praying for God’s guidance, we will have to shovel out the fear and hatred that so often fills our ears, our hearts, and our pews.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Hosea’s children to feel at home in my house or my church. I don’t want to have to worry about the consequences our behaviors have sown, feel the lack of compassion, or be living outside the reach of God’s love. I am tired of seeing black bodies oozing red blood on our streets. I am tired of police officers abusing their power or letting their own fears control their impulses. I am tired of police officers being shot while trying to do their jobs. I am tired of churches closing their doors to LGBTQ+ people. I am tired of women being chastised and degraded when they seek positions of leadership. I am tired of one faith tradition claiming superiority over another. I am tired of ignorance fueling fear of immigrants and refugees. I am tired of violence and hatred. Justice, kindness, and love have to be easier than this constant fear, hatred, and violence. My shovel is not nearly big enough. Perhaps you will dig with me until Hosea’s children no longer find a home among us.

RCL – Year C – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – July 24, 2016
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

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Respond to Racism: Embody Christ

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I’m not good when it comes to secrets. I’m not good at keeping silent when there is a proverbial dead elephant in the room. Here in Minnesota people attribute my “directness” to having spent most of my life in New England. That’s a part of it. The other part is that I grew up in a household with far too many secrets. We had a whole herd of those elephants lying around while everyone pretended they didn’t exist.

My personal way of coping was to seek after perfection. I made every effort to be the perfect child. I was an over-achiever who started babysitting at nine years old, volunteered full-time at a special needs day camp the summer I was thirteen, graduated from high school days after turning seventeen, and was ordained  to ministry at twenty-five. The problem is that I nearly died trying to be perfect, distracting myself from all the things that were too painful to face head on.

Now, reading the story of Martha, I see my younger self bent on getting everything right and pleasing those around me. There’s a time and a place for Martha, of course. Now, though, is not the time. Not only do I see myself in Martha’s worry-worn face, but I see so many well-intentioned church folks, particularly white church folks. We have hunkered down and kept working. We’ve worked to maintain our buildings. We’ve worked to balance our budgets. We’ve worked to keep our doors open. Some of us have even worked for justice for immigrants, for LGBTQ+ people, for prisoners, for those in need of food and shelter, and a myriad of other people and causes. How many of us have taken time to sit still and really listen well enough to be able to make real changes?

Why are there so many surprised faces when Black Lives Matter shuts down major highways in order to be seen and heard? Why are there so many surprised faces when gunmen open fire at protests, in churches, in mosques, in theaters, or in schools because no one noticed they were not well enough to own firearms? Why so many surprised faces when Donald Trump gathers so many supporters with his hate-speech and fear-mongering? Why so many surprised faces when we recognize that we live in a society that endorses solving problems with violence? Why so many surprised faces when too many youth express feeling hopeless about their futures?

The list could go on, but I will stop here. The church has also been distracted by these things and the more internal preoccupation with who is saved, the historical Jesus, the authority of scripture, and a few other divisive topics. We’ve lost track of our call to embody Christ in the world. We’ve succumbed to human concerns and have forgotten the truly sacred ones. How is it that a people called to love have allowed ourselves to be filled with so much hatred and fear? We have been distracted by things far more egregious than Martha’s household tasks.

Now is the time to sit and listen. Listen to the cries of our neighbors. Listen to the demands for justice. Listen for the words that will move us beyond our fears. Listen for the words that will convince us to act with more mercy than judgement. Mary knew where to turn in the tumult of her day. Surely, we can do the same.

It’s time to clear out the dead and decaying elephants from our church communities. The Civil Rights Movement changed things on the surface but not much deeper. Since that movement ended, there have been many opportunities for people of faith to be merciful and demand justice for all our neighbors. Mostly, we have remained silent. We cannot be silent anymore and remain faithful to a God who commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

So listen for a while. In that silent stillness, do you hear God’s call to speak truth to the powerful and privileged? Do you hear God calling you away from the distractions of everyday tasks and foolish excuses into acts of mercy, love, and justice? It’s all well and good to eat at Christ’s table but if we aren’t embodying that same bread and cup to those who hunger and thirst for justice, we might as well have gone through the local drive-thru.

RCL – Year C – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 17, 2016
Amos 8:1-12 with Psalm 52 or
Genesis 18:1-10a with Psalm 15
Colossians 1:15-28
Luke 10:38-42

Photo: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe