Musings Sermon Starter

Letting Go and Showing Up


If I say that there is something missing in Mainline churches today, I’m not expressing a new thought. I’m merely echoing church critics everywhere. If I say that I’m tired of the things that divide us – religion and politics – I’m just adding my voice to a lot of others whose exhaustion might be tipping into apathy. After some prayer and some reading (Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian and Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward), I’ve come to the conclusion that we are missing. We only show up half way and ambivalently expect God to fix what we have broken. In short, we focus on how God loves and values each and every human being without giving a thought to whether or not we love God and what that might mean.

We don’t so much love God in progressive Christian circles. We’re so worried about being politically correct and not offending anyone that it’s become uncool to love Jesus with our whole hearts. We want assurance of God’s love for ourselves (and maybe some of our neighbors), but we don’t want to think about loving God simply because God is. Because we don’t think about our love for God very deeply, we miss out on passion and mix up the Truths of scripture with the desires of society and end up with a very bland, watery version of the Gospel.

There is nothing wrong with leading with God’s love for all of humanity. It’s a positive, healing message. But why does it matter? Why do we care? It isn’t likely because we want to go to Heaven or avoid going to Hell. These are vague notions in progressive churches. Is it because we want saving from our own self-destructive tendencies? We want a better way? Or at least a way that is less troublesome and painful? What if we sought a relationship of mutual love, or at least as mutual as the limits of our humanity allow?

God loves me and God wants only goodness for me. If I love God, then I want only goodness for all of God’s creation. If I love God, then I trust that God’s ways are better than my ways, than human ways. I trust God enough to let go of everything I’ve held too close. If I love God, I want to be my very best self, I want to live into the vision God has of me. Loving God means allowing God’s love to define and guide me in all that I am and all that I do. That’s so scary! I have to let go of so much pain and accomplishments and possessions and everything I think defines me if it is not love…

In light of all that is happening in the United States and the world that is anything but love, loving God means listening and praying differently. James urges believers who are hurting or struggling to go before God in prayer and assures us that prayer leads to divine healing. If we are only focused on ourselves and having enough faith to earn God’s favor, then are prayers are not an opening but a small fissure in our egos. When prayers are uttered without being grounded in a mutual love, how are we to recognize when God answers? It becomes far too easy to blame the one who prays when our prayers are not answered exactly in the way we ask. Healing comes in many forms when we love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds.

It’s time to show up and be church more fully. Yes, God loves us. Do we love God? If the answer is yes, then why do we continuously worry so much about what others are doing or what others might be thinking about us? If we love God, then shouldn’t be motivated by love and not by fear, anger, or hatred? If we love God and seek to serve God by serving our neighbors then oughtn’t we be able to let go of a need to read scripture as if it were an inerrant book of history rather than the collection of sacred stories of mythic Truth?

Church, it’s time we show up with our whole selves and stop worrying about whether or not everyone who calls themselves a Christian shows up the same way. Love God. Trust God’s love for us. Stop supporting a culture of wealthy white male dominance and believe those who tell their stories of victimization and oppression. It’s time we stop talking so much about how God loves everyone and start demonstrating just how much we love this amazing God of ours.

We are the Body of Christ at this moment in history. Now is not the time for fear, hatred, or apathy. Now is the time to let go of some of the foolishness that we call Tradition and embody Christ in a way that transforms those who are vulnerable, victimized, or dismissed. The world does not need the watery ambivalence we sell as good news. The world needs sure and certain evidence of a Love that is steadfast and enduring, even when offered by human hands. Let’s stop paying lip service to faith and start living fully in mutual love with the One who has never let us go.

For sermon help you may want to try here or here.

RCL – Year B – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 30, 2018
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Photo: CC0 image by Free-Photos

Musings Sermon Starter

The Truth about Greatness

***Trigger Warning:  The following references sexual violence. It does not describe any events in detail, but names things that could be difficult for some readers.***


Jesus valued what society dismissed. He didn’t care which of his disciples could most accurately quote scriptures or put the most in the offering bucket or walked the longest distance. He didn’t care if Peter could say with this lips that Jesus was the Messiah and he didn’t care that they had all left something behind to follow him. What mattered to Jesus was how they served each other and those around them. Did they see the least among them? Did they gain power by taking it from someone else? Did they disregard the outcasts of their day or did they seek to bring hope and healing?

I don’t remember the first time a man demeaned me with inappropriate comments or actions. At seven I was told that girls don’t play baseball and at nine the wolf whistles began. I was bullied because I cried easily, among other things. At twelve a photographer told me I would be beautiful if I lost a few pounds. It got worse from there.

I’ve been sexually assaulted and raped. I’ve been propositioned by teachers, professors, family friends, and strangers. I’ve been dismissed by potential employers because I’m a woman. I’ve been paid less than my male colleagues by most of my previous employers. I’ve lost friends because I was ordained and, according to them, women shouldn’t be ordained. I lost more friends when I divorced because, even though the relationship was very unhealthy, divorce was not Christian. More friends walked away when I came out because what’s worse than being a divorced, ordained woman? Being those things and not being heterosexual, apparently.

Men have stalked me, propositioned me, hurt me, abused me, dismissed and devalued me for most of my life. I don’t talk about these experiences often because I am more likely than not blamed for what happened to me. Surely, I wore the wrong clothes, said the wrong thing, led the man on, didn’t have the proper qualifications for employment, or whatever else gave men permission to treat me badly. The funny thing is that none of it was my fault.

As it turns out, girls really can play baseball and it wasn’t my fault that puberty struck when I was nine. Being a sensitive child shouldn’t be a defect; where else do poets and artists come from? And no, I didn’t need to lose weight when I was twelve; I was beautiful as I was. And nothing I did or didn’t do gave anyone the right to physically or verbally assault me or rape me. As far as the other stuff goes, woman are quite capable of doing whatever it is they feel called to do. It’s ridiculous, outdated, misogynistic, social conditioning that says otherwise. Worse still is that the church has supported these dangerously foolish notions either by endorsing gender biases with an erroneous reading of scripture or by remaining silent on the issue of sexuality in general and the abuse of women and children in particular.

Too many children and women remain unseen in our society. Being unseen and unheard and invalidated with startling frequency contributed to the development of an eating disorder and a long struggle with suicidality. This happens all too often. Children who are brave enough to report abuse are seldom heard and validated. Women who report sexual assault or rape are dismissed and blamed. It’s also very likely that the perpetrator of such crimes won’t be convicted or will be imprisoned for a comparatively short time.

It’s long past the time to change this. Instead of watching women who are brave enough to report sexual assault be harassed, demeaned, and destroyed, we would do better to listen. Instead of assuming that such stories are made up or excusing the behavior of the perpetrator, we would be doing women a great service by celebrating their strength and supporting their endeavors to end victim-blaming and hold abusive people accountable. In addition, wouldn’t it be a healthier option to teach our children that all have equal value and no one’s body is a plaything for those who are more powerful? And that male or female or Trans* makes no difference in one’s value as a human being?

Jesus overturned the disciples’ understanding of greatness. He placed a child among them and told them that to be great was to be in service to all, especially those who were viewed as the least. To follow Jesus and be truly great is to be servant of all and to uphold the value of every human being, especially those who are vulnerable because they are unseen and unheard by those with power. Jesus saw the value in children and women centuries ago. He saw them and offered them wholeness and abundant life. When will we?

RCL – Year B – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 23, 2018
Proverbs 31:10-31
Psalm 1 or
Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22 or Jeremiah 11:18-20
Psalm 54
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

Photo: CC0 image by Free-Photos


Chaos and Craziness

RCL – June 10, 2012 – Second Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20 with Psalm 138
Genesis 3:8-15 with Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

All the scriptures this week point to something less than desirable in human beings. The tendency to not listen to a prophetic word is highlighted in the 1 Samuel reading. Psalm 138 reminds us that we need God for strength and purpose. The Genesis lesson points out a reluctance to accept responsibility for poor choices that, apparently, goes back the early days of human existence. Next, Psalm 130 makes it clear that only God can redeem us, especially when we are in the depths. While the 2 Corinthians passage offers encouragement, it addresses the desire to give up when faced with affliction or adversity. This list of unpleasant aspects of human nature, concludes with the Gospel reading. This story points at a serious reluctance to accept change that threatens the status quo. Put all these together and I can’t help but think that the writer of Ecclesiastes was correct all those thousands of years ago: There is nothing new under the sun.

Clearly, each of these passages could provide enough for many blog entries. But today, I want to focus on the Gospel lesson while keeping in mind the themes of the other readings. In this passage from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus presents a challenge to a whole lot of people in more than one way. It seems Jesus was developing a reputation for casting out demons that made both the religious authorities and his family rather uncomfortable. It seems that the acceptable thing to do with people who were possessed by demons was to ignore them or avoid them. Jesus, of course, thought otherwise. He didn’t avoid them at all; he healed them. And crowds gathered.

The crowds were probably the usual blend of people who gather to observe the phenomenal. Some wanted or needed the healing Jesus offered. Some wanted to report Jesus’ misdeeds to the authorities. Some wanted a share in the notoriety. Some just needed something to do. But crowds of people hanging about are obnoxious. So Jesus’ family tried to intervene. Maybe their intentions were good. Who wants to hear a family member being called “crazy” or “possessed” or other such things. Then Jesus pointed out that he was where he wanted to be with his newly named family members.

Given the state of the world today, I am endlessly fascinated by such passages as this one. Jesus was doing something that was just “not done.” Not only was he not ignoring people who were unclean or outcasts, he touched them, spoke to them, healed them, and claimed them as brothers and sisters. Jesus’ way of being in the world was such a radical departure from the social norm that he was accused of being possessed by the very evil he was casting out of people. He was rejected as crazy and, of course, ultimately killed to put an end to the chaos he tended to cause.

Jesus changed everything. And, I think, we’ve missed it. We cling to rules. We blame others when things don’t work out. We seek power more often than justice. We forget how much we need grace. Jesus didn’t care much for religious rules or social  etiquette. Yet, most Christians cling to these things. When I was ordained 20 years ago, I was warned about the “seven last words of the church” – We’ve never done it that way before. I had no idea how much truth there was behind that quip that caused a bit of laughter in the congregation that day. I have a better idea these days how reluctant church folk are to change anything, really.

Lately, I’ve realized that this applies to more than the church. Politics are full of promises to “preserve” or “protect” or “maintain.” Why did the bill for equal pay for women not pass? Why is there an argument over equal marriage? Why do gas prices remain high when there is plenty in reserve and American reliance on gasoline has decreased? Why are there people in the world who go hungry when there is more than enough food on the planet? Why is healthcare access so limited when there are enough physical resources to meet the existing need? Why are so many countries facing economic depression? Why is retaliation expected and accepted as a response to violence?

If we paid attention to the way Jesus lived his life, I really think the world would be a different place. Our resources – personal, local, national, and global – would be used much more effectively. Jesus would tell us that it is definitely our responsibility to care for those who are not able to care for themselves – near or far, Christian or not, American or not. There has got to be a better way of existing on this planet. And this week’s scripture readings point toward it.

Pay attention to the prophetic words past and present – Jesus knew what he was doing. Quit turning our needs for strength and purpose into power over others and material success. Take responsibility for what we say and do; blaming someone else or circumstances explains choices (maybe) but it doesn’t excuse bad behavior. Justice often is uncomfortable; comfort doesn’t necessarily mean good. Change and chaos and unpredictability open the doors for miraculous transformation.

It might just be time for some craziness. Either that, or keep doing everything the way we’ve always done it and watch churches decline, economies fail, and despair and desperation increase. Doesn’t seem like much of a choice to me…