Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Cleaning up God’s House

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When I was very young I thought God was the “man in the moon.” I had heard people talking about the moon having a face and referring to it as the “man in the moon.” I don’t think I’ve ever been able to make out the face that is supposedly visible in profile on the quarter moon, but I was an imaginative child. I had a whole story about how God lived in the moon. When there was no moon, God had either gone to bed early or was out visiting friends. When the moon was full, God was having a party with Mother Nature. I liked to sit at my window and talk to this faraway, but friendly, God.

As I got older and started attending church, I realized that God couldn’t possibly live in the moon. God was closer to people than the moon would allow. As I learned more words to describe this all-powerful, ever-present, somewhat scary being that was God, I started to think that God was much more likely to be the ocean than the man in the moon.

My nine-year-old brain was very active in sorting this out. God was always there, always powerful, always a little different with each encounter, always moving between life and death. Growing up on Cape Cod with ocean all around, I thought these words all described the ocean with all it’s mystery and moodiness. It sustained life and swallowed life. If God was too huge to be the man in the moon, then maybe God was the ocean. This thinking was the beginning of the beach becoming sacred space for me.

These memories surfaced as I read through account of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant up to the Temple and, essentially, inviting God to dwell there. This story has me remembering my childhood beliefs and wondering where people think God lives today. The psalmist tells us that God’s dwelling place is “lovely” and that a day there is better than a thousand years anywhere else. I know God doesn’t live in the moon and God is not the ocean, nor did God live only on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. I’m not sure we spend enough time thinking about just where God lives today.

Jesus, of course, spoke about abiding in God and God abiding in him, and in his disciples. I’m not sure how seriously we take this. We seem to forget far too easily that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that together we make up the body of Christ. When the writer of Ephesians tells us to be put on the “whole armor of God,” it seems all we can hear is the militant metaphor and say, “No, thanks!” far too quickly. If God abides in us such that we are temples of the Holy Spirit individually and the body of Christ collectively, don’t we need some protective armor?armor-1709127_1280.jpg

With the evil generally afoot and wreaking havoc, and atrocities committed by world leaders daily, and the human rights violations near and far, and everything else that contributes to our apathy, our fear, our sense of powerlessness, and the spread of hopelessness… With all of this, don’t we need some protective spiritual armor, the kind of armor that will hold us up and enable us to withstand the horrors? That belt of truth doesn’t sound so bad in the era of fake news, does it? That breastplate of righteousness might come in handy when confronted with heartbreaking news of more violence and we are tempted to give into that sense of powerlessness that lurks in every corner. That footgear that readies us to spread the gospel of peace sounds pretty enticing when we remember how much war and destruction truly exists right now. How about the shield of faith? I could do with one of those for those moments when the plight of refugees makes my knees weak and my stomach sour. And the helmet of salvation might be useful for all those times when we are told just who is going to hell for some “biblical” reason. I’m not sure about the sword of the Spirit, but I might like to have it nearby just in case it’s needed to cut through the gaslighting nonsense.

We might all benefit from these protections, if not as individuals then as the body of Christ. If God dwells in us, then some spiritual armor to protect the fragile, fickle human parts would be very helpful. If we aren’t able to put on the whole armor of God as the body of Christ (not to do harm to others but to protect and uphold the vulnerable among us), then we might as well turn away from Jesus like so many did on that long-ago day Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Bread of Life.

Where does God dwell? Not in the moon or in the ocean or in anything made by human hands. God dwells within and among human beings. It’s time for some house keeping and maybe time to dig out that old armor because it isn’t as useless and outdated as we thought it was. We should polish it up and try it on to see how it fits so that we can withstand the evils of our day. Maybe if we pay enough attention to God’s dwelling place(s), one day we won’t need any armor, the real kind or the spiritual kind. Might be worth a try…

RCL – Year B – Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 26, 2018
1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43 with Psalm 84 or
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 with Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

Top Photo: CC0 image by Patricia Alexandre

Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Alina Kuptsova

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Bread with Nutritional Value

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One of the first times my beliefs entered into the “real” world happened when I was fourteen. It was a rainy afternoon and I was babysitting in a new place. While the little girl slept, someone knocked on the condo door. I opened it to two young men who identified themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had no idea what that meant, but they were kind and seemed interested in what I knew about Jesus. I told them I went to church and they asked me if I knew the prayer that Jesus taught. I nodded and they handed me a pamphlet. As I looked at the version of the Lord’s Prayer written there, they asked me if I was willing to forgive others so that I, too, could be forgiven. I said, “I think so,” and they said they would pray for me and left me with the pamphlet.

Before that moment, it never occurred to me to think about what the Lord’s Prayer really meant. I suddenly found myself fearful that I would not be forgiven because there were people I wasn’t able to forgive. You know, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive others.” I wasn’t sure if it meant forgive us at the same time we forgive others or in the same manner in which we forgive others. I continued to wrestle with the meaning of this prayer for years. More importantly, the encounter I had with those two young men taught me to ask of any scripture passage, “What does this mean now?” It’s this question that has served me well.

In the midst of all the “bread” passages this summer, this question is one that seeks an answer. It’s all well and good to say that Jesus is, indeed, the Bread of Life. But if we leave it there, with just the statement, we miss an enormous part of the lesson. Jesus wanted people to walk away with something more than full bellies when he kept telling them that he is the Bread of Life, the bread that means life for the world. These words sound good, but what do they really mean?

The truth is that these words mean nothing if we do not give them substance. If we, as church, do not embody the Bread of Life, then Jesus’ teaching is just words on a page, an ancient story that has lost its power. Jesus made a point of saying that once bread was given to the people of God in a particular time and place, but he, Jesus, was giving bread to all the world – all people everywhere – so that they may have life. Today that means no one is going to know about this amazing bread unless we share it, unless we become it.

What if we all asked ourselves if the way we are living or what we are doing in the moment brings life to the world? Does remaining silent while immigrant children remain separated from their parents bring life to the world? Does allowing the government to diminish the rights of LGBTQ+ people provide anyone with the Bread of Life? Does ignoring when police officers shoot People of Color satisfy anyone’s hunger? Does sitting quietly in our pews on a Sunday morning without responding to the cries for justice create a path to eternal life? If we are church members, then we are part of the body of Christ – we are the Bread of Life for the hungry of this world here and now.

Somehow, the question of what Jesus meant becomes more urgent when we think of ourselves as the body of Christ alive in the world today. We cannot bring life if we are only focused on our own needs, if we fail to attend to the hunger and thirst that is all around us. What do we do now?

First, we remember that we are not alone. We are bound to one another by the power of the Holy Spirit. The psalmist reminds us that with God there is steadfast love. Trusting God’s steadfast love for all of Creation, we can breathe deeply and keep reaching for the justice that seems always just beyond our grasp.

And while we are reaching forward empowered by steadfast love, we will remember that we are to be “imitators of God” by living in love with all our neighbors. Jesus showed us what this looked like. Jesus taught us how we can accomplish this. The Bread of Life feeds all who come to the table with hunger and thirst, without exception. How do we live by this example? How do we stop saying who is and who is not welcome at the table? How do we feed all who hunger and thirst with a bread that will bring the world to life?
The answer is simple: We love. We love one person at a time if need be. We love and nurture and claim all who advocate for the vulnerable among us. We cherish the vulnerable and the strong among us with the same fierceness with which God claims us.

I thank God for those two young men who knocked on the door that long-ago day. They opened my eyes to an important question to ask of any biblical text. What does this mean now? What does it mean for us now that Jesus is the Bread of Life. It means that we, by extension, are the Bread of Life. The world is hungry for food that will sustain and nurture. Let’s remove all the additives and preservatives and flavorless ingredients and get to offering bread with nutritional value. You know, bread that can sustain life. In other words, let’s figure out how to love as Jesus loves and let the rest go. Then, and only then, will we be the bread that brings life to the world.

RCL – Year B – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 12, 2018
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 with Psalm 130 or
1 Kings 19:4-8 with Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

Photo: CC0 image by FotoshopTofs

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Toward a Worthy Life

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“Live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” writes the author of Ephesians. I can’t help but wonder if we have all forgotten that we are supposed to be living a life worthy of the love and grace we have been given. I don’t see much evidence of people striving to live in ways worthy of all that we have been given. We are lost, more so than the ancient Israelites ever were. We look back at history and don’t even recognize where and how we’ve been held in captivity. Instead, we long for what used to be good, or at least enough. The manna is dry and the quail is tough. Life used to be so much better back before all this chaos and pain. It’s as though we are in the desert with Moses and only thinking that in Egypt our bellies were full while choosing not to remember the taskmasters who left misery in their wake.

The current Administration wants to “Make America Great Again” and the church wants to recreate the attendance and activity levels of the 1950s. How can we possibly hold up only what we think of as “good” about the past and just bypass all that was awful? At no point in church history has the church lived in a way worthy of its calling. Yes, there have been individuals, those bright prophetic lights of hope, but on the whole we have hunkered down and sought to preserve our way of doing things. Our history is riddled with fear and hatred. Do we really want to go back there?

Jesus promised that hunger and thirst would end for all who followed him. The problem is that we have been poor followers. We’ve picked who we will love and who we will condemn. We routinely marginalize those who are different from us or who make us feel uncomfortable. Worse yet, we run to scripture and take a verse or two out of context and use them to justify the mistreatment of others. Where is the unity of body and spirit?

Over the last few days, I’ve read through the hundreds of names of people fatally shot by police since January of 2015. It is deeply distressing. In the area where I live, eight People of Color have been killed by police in the last three and a half years, the last one on June 23, 2018. Some of them were completely unarmed. Some were mentally ill. All were innocent of capital crimes. None of the police officers involved were charged. Hundreds of people have gathered in protest and at rallies to demand justice. At the same time, too many times church folks have complained about the inconvenience of roads shut down or disruption to community events. How have we failed to see the body broken and blood poured out right before our eyes?

In Ephesians we read the beautiful image of the church as one body, “joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Will the day ever arrive when we are able to live this way? Will we ever be able to love as Jesus loves? White privilege and white supremacy have no business in the body of Christ. Have we forgotten that Jesus had a brown body? Have we forgotten that all the prophets and people of faith who came before Jesus, had brown bodies? How many bodies have to be broken, how much more blood needs to spill before we recognize that we are living lives very far from the lives to which we have been called?

God has told us again and again what is required of us. God has given us clear demonstrations of how we are to live. God has covered us with grace and wrapped us with fierce, steadfast love. Yet, we resist. We tell ourselves that our history was perfect and glorious and life will be wonderful if we can go back to what was. That didn’t work for the Israelites and it won’t work for us. Do we really want to go back to the 1950’s? Think of what we would not have in society and in our churches. Think of all that remained hidden behind closed doors, strings of pearls, valium, and martinis. That was a time of great fear and anxiety hidden behind rules and routine. If you are a person of color, a woman, an LGBTQ+ person, a person with mental illness, or a person with a disability there is nothing to go back to and nothing worth recreating.

We all come to the same table. We eat the bread of life and drink from the cup of blessing. Perhaps the time has come for us to lead one another out of the desert. We can stop looking back at a whitewashed history with nostalgic longing and, instead, look to the present and future. We have an opportunity to do something the church has yet to do. We can unite as one body to demand justice for those bodies still being broken. We can be the ones who proclaim love and show the power of God’s continued presence. We can hold hands with all our neighbors and move forward into a future that is defined by love and grace rather than fear and hatred. It isn’t too late. We can live lives worthy of our calling, lives that value and respect all of our neighbors, near and far. It’s time to move out of the desert and leave all false memories of Egypt behind.

RCL – Year B – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 5, 2018
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a with Psalm 51:1-12 or
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 with Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

Photo: CC0 image by pexels

Categories
Emerging Church liturgy Prayer

Confessing the Need for More Bread

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Litany of Confession

One:  Holy One, you call us to a life of loving-kindness. Yet, very often, we resort to violence with our words or actions forgetting our responsibility to love our neighbors and ourselves.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we are self-absorbed.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  Gracious God who comes to us in the sound of sheer silence, we admit that we don’t seek you very often. We get caught up in busyness and storms, choosing to ignore how much we need stillness.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we are so easily distracted from what really matters.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  Ever-living God, you have shown us how to live a life of peace. Somehow, though, we lose our way and fail to offer your grace and forgiveness to those whom we meet.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we create more discord than peace.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One: Steadfast God who claims all of us as Beloved, turn our hearts from hateful, ignorant ways. Open us to a life that excludes all hatred and racism.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us for failing to notice you in our midst.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  God of all nations, you created us all in your image and called us to live in community with our neighbors. We seem to forget that your kindom doesn’t have borders, developed countries, language barriers, or economic preferences.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us for drawing arbitrary lines to determine the value of nations and peoples.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One:  Patient God who came to us and lived among us, you spoke peace that challenged the powerful and love that healed the hurting. We often desire to be powerful and to dismiss those who hurt.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us when we neither hear nor listen to your Word.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

One: Loving God, you offer us a life of abundance, a life filled with forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love. How often do we overlook your blessings and fail to express our gratitude.
people my quietly or silently voice their confessions
Forgive us for the many times when we have dismissed the joy of life in the Spirit.
All:  Offer us, again, the bread of life that will feed our spirits.

RCL – Year B – Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 with Psalm 130 or
1 Kings 19:4-8 with Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

Categories
Emerging Church Musings Sermon Starter

Stumbling Toward a Worthy Life

How many of these names do you recognize?jail-395304_1280

Sandra Bland
Rexdale Henry
Kindra Chapman
Samuel Dubose
Joyce Curnell
Ralkina Jones
Raynette Turner
Sarah Lee Circle Bear

If you live in the United States you should know these names as well as you know that the lion killed in Zimbabwe by a Minnesotan dentist was named Cecil. I’m betting that most of us only know one or two names on this list. I admit that I didn’t know all of them until I did a little research. Seven of them died in holding cells and the eighth was shot by a university police officer. Five of them are Black, one is Choctaw, and one is Lakota. They all died between July 13th and July 28th. These are the names I found with a cursory internet search. I’m betting there are more.

Why is it that when one fool kills a lion for fun, people are vocally outraged and petitions and Kick-starters pop up all over the place? But when People of Color are dying in police custody or are shot by a police officer, the names slip by with little fanfare?

I used to tell myself that it was easier to feel compassion for animals who were killed, abused, or neglected because they are dependent on human beings for so much, especially domesticated animals. However, I’ve come to see the flaw in that thinking. This kind of thinking is born out of a “blame the victim” mentality that I really cannot stand. So I’ve stopped doing it and hope that others will, too. While I do believe that life is sacred, all of it, I cannot grieve more for a lion than I do for the people I have named. These were people who had friends and family who loved them and they did not deserve to die. They all would likely have gone on living if they had not come into contact with the police. Is this not more horrifying than the idea that Cecil would have gone on living if he had not come into contact with a hunter?

In this week’s Gospel reading Jesus clearly states, “I am the bread of life.” This is a message that many have failed to hear or take to heart. We have a tendency to hoard this bread for those who look, sound, and live like us. We have yet to learn how to live it and give it away. I know several clergy who are grumbling about the lectionary spending so much time on “bread.” Clearly, given the state of the world, we need these several weeks of readings and, probably, a few more as well because we have not been living out the truth of these passages.

Jesus fed the crowds and the disciples. He did this not just because they were hungry but also to show them how to feed themselves and others. Jesus knew that his followers would be the ones who would continue his work. I’m not sure how well we’ve done that.  People are starving to death – literally and figuratively – while we do everything in our power to make it someone else’s problem, particularly blaming those who are so very hungry for justice.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians implores us to “live a life worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called.” Paul wrote these words while imprisoned for living out his faith. Even then, he implored people to live a life of love, a life in which all gifts were used and no one person was more valued than another. In other words, we are called to live lives that build one another up and value each person as a wonderful gift from God. We are not called to sit back and watch violence and hatred destroy and injustice destroy our neighbors.

Whether we agree with all of Paul’s views or not, it is clear that he followed Jesus and in so doing risked everything to proclaim a transformative way of love. What are we willing to risk? At what point do we take an active stand against the racism that makes the murder of People of Color acceptable? At what point do we stop ignoring the deplorable living conditions on the reservations of First Nation Peoples? When do we stop accepting that education and medical care are based on economics and skin color? How many have to die before we decide that Black lives really do matter? Are you and I willing to risk everything (or anything) to live out a life of transforming love?

Jesus is the bread of life. We are the body of Christ. Therefore, we are the bread of life and that means we have tremendous responsibility. As much as we are part of the hungry, needy crowd, we are also those who must respond to the need. If we do not offer the bread of life, a way of peace, in the face of hatred, then who will?

Have mercy on me, O God,breads-387544_1920
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

RCL – Year B – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2015
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a with Psalm 51:1-12 or
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 with Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

Categories
Emerging Church Musings Sermon Starter

Real Bread

2015-07-22 21.18.39Deep within me there is a pot of anger on slow boil. Sometimes it boils up and threatens to overflow. There are a lot of injustices in this pot, some personal and others not. I know that what heats this pot is pain. I’ve accumulated this pain over my lifetime. Again, some of it is personal and some of it is not. At the core, this pain is about being devalued, dismissed, judged, and shamed. Like many, I’ve lived through these experiences and they are part of my story. The kind of pain left behind is easily triggered when I see someone being devalued, dismissed, judged, or shamed. This is where my anger comes from.

This week I’ve had a hard time keeping the proverbial lid on it. Just today I was listening to Minnesota Public Radio and the story was all about suicide in jails. Yes, it is a tragedy that suicide is the number one cause of death in jails and certainly the story needs to be told. But I wanted to scream at the radio host. He connected this story to the death of Sandra Bland. How dare he? Even if her death was caused by suicide (and I do not believe for a second that it was), this should not be the focus of her story. She should never have been in a jail cell to begin with. Her cause of death was racism and that wouldn’t change whether her cause of death was murder or suicide. Systemic, horrific racism should be the center of the story. The issue of safety and mental health crises in jails and prison is another story.

This is where my head is at when I read the texts for this week. I also can’t help but think of the person who recently said to me, “Why do we bother reading the Bible? It’s not like there is anything relevant in it.”

So I take a deep breath and I read. I am struck by two of the readings in particular. There’s the prayer in Ephesians that couldn’t be more relevant if it were penned today:

I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

If all Christians prayed this for and with one another, the world would be a different place. People like Sandra Bland would not be imprisoned because the racism of the officer that arrested her would not be tolerated. When will we learn that every person on earth is a beloved child of God and deserves to be treated as such? Perhaps this prayer is a good place to start.

From this beautiful prayer I move to John’s Gospel and the feeding of the five thousand. This is a familiar story that is has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Today I am less concerned with whether the miracle was one of multiplying bread and fish or softening of human hearts than I am with the overall message of the story.

bread-587597_1920Jesus asked the disciples to feed the crowd. They were tired, frustrated, and overwhelmed. They had no idea how to go about such a task. Jesus likely had some idea of what he would do and what would happen once he put his plan into motion. After all, there’s biblical precedence for this kind of thing (2 Kings 4:42-44). Everyone ate and leftovers were collected.

There’s a reason Jesus asked the disciples to feed the gathered crowd. In a few short verses Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” He has every reason to proclaim this. He is the embodiment of the Great I Am. If I Am is the bread of life, then Jesus also is the bread of life. The disciples would become the early church, the body of Christ. They needed to know how to be the bread of life, they needed to learn to meet the needs of the broken, the dismissed, the hungry, the hurting, the unseen, and shamed of the world.

This is our legacy. We are the body of Christ, the embodiment of I AM, the bread of life. We need to know how to bring love, nurture, grace into the world. We need to offer an alternative to the hatred, racism, and violence of the world. Jesus did not devalue, dismiss, judge, or shame anyone. He did not send away a crowd seeking healing, mercy, and sustenance. It is time for us to be Church, to be the Bread of Life.

I am taking another deep breath and getting the lid to settle back on the pot. Sandra Bland’s story is not about suicide; it’s about racism. The Christian story is not about apathy and hatred; it’s about love and nurture. Christians can no longer afford to remain silent. Feeding, nurturing, the hungry crowds means taking a stand and speaking out when anyone is devalued, dismissed, judged, or shamed no matter who they are, what they have done, the color of their skin, their country of origin, the God they worship, their economic status, their age, their gender identity, their sexual orientation, their physical health, their mental health, or their intellectual ability. It’s time for us to embody Christ and be the Bread of Life that will feed the hungry crowds before more innocent people die.

RCL – Year B – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – July 26, 2015
2 Samuel 11:1-15 with Psalm 14 or
2 Kings 4:42-44 with Psalm 145:10-18
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

Altar photo by Rachael Keefe.
Bread photo from Pixabay. Used with permission.

Categories
Sermon Starter

A Sermon’s Beginnings: What Do We Do Now?

RCL August 12, 2012 Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 with Psalm 130 or
1 Kings 19:4-8 with Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

I would like to write this passage from Ephesians on the doors of every church or on the mirror of all people who calls themselves Christian. The level of hatred in this country has reached toxic levels. While I can’t say that the man who opened-fire on the Sikhs while they worshiped or the man who burned down a mosque during Ramadan claimed to do so in the name of Christ, I can say that the lack of outrage is appalling. More people were horrified by a seemingly random shooting in a movie theater than by hate-motivated attacks on people of faith.

Let me add to this that a church banned a black couple from getting married in their sanctuary. Apparently, there was also a town that tried to prevent black people from moving in. What year is this? And, of course, there is the whole Chick-fil-a mess. How is it possible that such discriminatory practices are endorsed by people who claim to be the followers of Christ? How can this be?

I cannot read this passage from Ephesians without thinking of the words attributed to Martin Niemoller:

In Germany they came first for the Communists
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me–
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

If we don’t stand up for our brothers and sisters – Sikh or Muslim or black or gay – who will stand up for us when the tide of hatred and fear turns toward us? These situations stir anger deep within my being. Hatred is not a Christian value. It is not even a human value. It erodes the spirit and leaves us without hope. I am not being overly dramatic here. People are dead because of their beliefs. People are without a house of worship in their holiest month because of their faith. People are denied marriage in a church because of their skin color. People are denied marriage rights because of whom they want to marry. All of this is in a country that speaks of freedom and opportunity. I am angered. I am saddened. And I want things to change.

So then, let us stop lying to ourselves and speak the truth that our neighbors are of many colors, many faiths, gay and straight and trans, and we are one human race. Be angry but do not break relationship with yourself, your neighbors, or your God; speak up to injustice before time passes lest you become ambivalent, complacent, or apathetic while injustice claims more lives. Let us stop claiming what is not our own; let us wrestle honestly with ourselves and the demons that haunt us, so as to have integrity to share with all those we meet. Harsh and abusive words are empty and destructive. Let us speak with honesty and compassion when constructive criticism is needed, so that our words may give grace to those who hear. And let us not break the heart of God who gives us breath, claims us as God’s own, and promises redemption. It is time to end all foolishness and bitterness and pettiness and ignorance that separates one human being from another. Kindness, tenderness, and forgiveness are given to us in Christ; let us share these gifts with all people as unselfishly as Christ has given them to us. Therefore let us be imitators of God, as children unconditionally loved, and live in that steadfast love, as Christ loved us without condition and gave himself up for us, an incomparable offering and sacrifice to God. Let us give this sacrifice meaning and purpose by living lives filled with compassion, grace, and action.

There is not much more I can say. I keep hoping and praying for change, but the human capacity for hatred and violence continues to astound me. On the other hand, the human spirit is amazingly resilient and those who could seek vengeance often respond with forgiveness and grace. That being said, I honestly don’t know what can be done about the levels of hatred and bigotry in this country and all the places in the world where war and violence are a way of life. But I can say that it is a greater tragedy when these attitudes and actions are endorsed and encouraged by any who claim to be followers of Christ.

So, really, what do we do now?

Categories
Musings

Did You Know that Superman is a Methodist?

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a with Psalm 51:1-12 or
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 with Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

A couple of months ago, I went to see The Avengers just like millions of other people. I came out of the theater wanting to watch it all over again. It is the most entertaining movie I have ever seen. Nostalgia had something to do with it. I was reminded of early childhood watching Batman and, later, The Incredible Hulk on television. It made me remember seeing Superman and being captivated by Christopher Reeve like many other teenage girls. But it was more than just memories that made The Avengers great; it was the message of good triumphing over evil in a rather spectacular way that made me love this movie.

Since then, I’ve thought a lot about superheroes in general and why there might be a resurgence in their popularity now.  The  Avengers, Spiderman, and The Dark Knight Rises are among this summer’s top movies and there must be a reason. Before I continue, I should say that I am not a superhero expert. I was never a comic book fan, either. But, I will go and watch any superhero movie. I even watched The Transformers despite having no real idea who was who or what. It’s the story that gets me every time. Evil forces threaten the planet and in spectacular feats of power and might, good wins… Every time!

This is in direct contrast with day to day life where good struggles to survive and seldom seems to win on a large scale. These days the economy is shaky. War continues with no real end in sight. Fires and floods destroy communities. The future looks uncertain on so many fronts. Where are The Avengers when we need them?

Where indeed? It seems incredibly ironic that superhero movies and mythology are gaining popularity, or at least enjoying some new publicity, at a time when the Church (and I do mean the Church as a whole in all its various forms) is losing more and more members. How has the message of the Gospel been so lost and weakened as to be upstaged by fictional heroes? I would bet that more people under the age of 40 (if not 50) know far more about various superheroes than they know about their own faith traditions.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Hunger and thirst we have in abundance. What we seem to be missing is faith – faith in God and faith in ourselves as God’s beloved children. But even the superheroes of box office fame have faith and they certainly don’t lack faith in themselves. I was surprised to discover that these cultural icons have faith affiliations with few exceptions. Did you know that of The Avengers, only Iron Man has a purely secular philosophy? That’s right. The Hulk is Catholic, Black Widow is Russian Orthodox, Captain America is Protestant, Hawkeye is at least nominally Christian, and Thor is, of course, a god in his own right. Batman is Catholic and Spiderman is Protestant. (References below.) Apparently, nearly every superhero out there is affiliated with one faith tradition or another. How many fans would be surprised to hear this? Or do they already know and point out that at least Black Widow and Batman do not practice their faith?

I’m not sure why, but it seems important that these fictional forces of good are at least loosely connected with faith traditions – both ancient and contemporary. Of course, none of the movies I’ve seen show any religious traditions except the idea that good wins and evil is eradicated. And, I suppose, this doesn’t matter so much as why superheroes are seemingly more popular than God.

On the surface, the answer is easy. Superheroes always win while doing something extraordinary; it’s what makes them superheroes. God, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to win much and hasn’t been seen doing anything extraordinary in a couple thousand years. Well that and the fact that movies are way more exciting than the average worship service.

Below the surface, though, it gets way more complicated. Wouldn’t it be nice to be rescued from all the negative things at play in the world? If Superman would come and end all wars… Or Batman would come and stop all crime… Or The Avengers could right the wrongs of the planet… If these things could happen, then we humans would no longer have any responsibility to work toward correcting what we have done wrong or what has simply gone away from what is right and good. Jesus works through us in ways that could potentially make any one of us into a superhero for someone else. I think of the words of St. Teresa of Avila:

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Now this is not nearly as exciting as The Avengers in IMAX 3D, but you won’t fall asleep in church if you are thinking about words like these which are rather reminiscent of the reading from Ephesians for this week. We all have different gifts given to us by Christ. How has this lost power over the centuries? How has our worship become so boring and foreign to more than one generation of people? It certainly is not for lack of need. We flock to the movies to get relief from the seemingly hopeless state of the world. Wouldn’t it be better if people were flocking to worship?

Surely, being Christ in the world is quite extraordinary. When did it become boring? I’m not suggesting that we need to compete with IMAX technology, but the Church seriously needs a makeover if it is going to last much longer. We have a message that is desperately needed in the world today: Every human being is worthy of love. It doesn’t even stop there. In Christ, evil does not win. It’s just that simple and just that complicated.

Superheroes do what they do with gusto. Those of us who call ourselves Christians ought to be doing what we do with passion. God is not boring and the amazing acts of God in the world far exceed IMAX 3D special effects.

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

We can all agree that there are no superheroes. Some very creative people over the years have made them up. In contrast, there are a fair number of people who will say that Christ is not fictional and he has all the superpowers we need. So maybe it is time to remake our image in the world. Even though I have a great fondness for those old Batman episodes, they are pretty lame in comparison to today’s movies. So, the question I leave unanswered is:  How do we make Christ alive today so that more people will pray than will yearn for Superman swoop in and fix everything?

For more information of the religious affiliations of superheroes, check out this site: http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/comic_book_religion.html

Categories
Sermon Starter

Almost a Sermon on Abundance

RCL – July 29,2012 – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 11:1-15 with Psalm 14 or
2 Kings 4:42-44 with Psalm 145:10-18
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

With this set of texts, I am not sure to begin. If I were preaching and could see the faces of people gathered for worship, I might begin with an acknowledgment of the stress and difficulties we all face, before moving to the power of God’s presence. However, a blog entry is not a sermon with a live congregation with whom I can gauge responses and know in that moment if I am on target or need to switch gears. So here I will simply pair the verses that grabbed me anew with the news stories that captured my attention this week.

I would be remiss if I did not make mention of the shootings in Aurora. Words cannot begin to address the meaninglessness of this tragedy. The whole story is horrific. Innocent people shot and killed in a movie theater does not make any sense to any rational person. The reactions of public officials and the outrage people have toward the young man responsible are more understandable. Yet somehow, I see tragedy in him as well. And the part that really gets me was a headline that said that gun sales were up since the shooting. It makes me think that the psalmist who wrote Psalm 14 might have had it right:

God looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.

Fortunately, the story does not end here. I’ve seen more posts on Facebook asking for prayers for the victims than I’ve seen for any single event. I also saw the story about Christian Bale reaching out to the surviving victims out of compassion and not as a PR stunt. I even participated in a discussion about the shooter and how sad it is that someone as disturbed as he was able to acquire the weapons he did without drawing any attention to himself. So, like Psalm 14, the story of these shootings doesn’t end in despair but on a much more hopeful note.

The nineteenth annual AIDS conference that gathered in D.C. this week also offers a story of concern and hope. There has been much improvement in the treatment and prevention of AIDS over the last three decades. Alongside the progress, though, there are some very disturbing statistics. Apparently, the percentages of people with AIDS in D.C. is on par with some African countries. This makes no sense to me. Quite frankly, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me why medications for treatment and various options for prevention are not readily available everywhere in the world. Money, education, and politics should not hinder people from being treated for HIV or learning how it is prevented. As much as I am impressed at how different things are now than they were in the 80’s for people who have HIV and AIDS, I am unsettled by the fact that it is  still a world health problem. Even so, it is still being talked about, still being studied, and people are still trying to make changes. As I think about this, I hear these words from Psalm 145:

God upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.

The struggle for me comes when I look at other places in the world and see brokenness and despair more clearly than I see hope and possibility. Syria and Afghanistan are prime examples of this. Or all the reports of fragile economies everywhere from Japan to the US to Greece and Spain and others. The ongoing drought conditions in many parts of the US and elsewhere. The fears of rising oil prices and rising food prices. Seemingly random violence all over the world is heartbreaking. How can the truth of God’s promises of power and presence be felt or experienced in the face of such things?

The amazing power displayed in the feeding stories from both 2 Kings and John make me yearn for such abundance now. And Jesus’ display of powerful presence in walking on water creates in me a desire for such an experience. I want to see that. I want to directly witness that. I find myself questioning where God is in the world when I weigh these scripture stories against the news stories until I take a step back, or a step much closer as the case may be.

God is present in every act of compassion – yours, mine, Christian Bale’s. God is present when a child is offered food, shelter, and comfort – in my house, your house, or in the house of Syrian rebels. God is present when treatment and kindness are offered to a person with HIV or AIDS – with my hands, your hands, or the hands of a nurse in Kenya or D.C. The abundance of God’s grace is everywhere, but it is so easy to miss it. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of missing it. I want to live in the fullness of God’s grace and not lose sight of it when the issues of the world are overwhelming.

Many times a week patients tell me how awful life is and how everything is hopeless and that they have no reason to live. I respond to this by asking them what they are thankful for. More often than not, the patients are caught off guard by this question until I point out that if one has something to be grateful for, everything doesn’t totally suck. It helps to focus on what we have and can do rather than what we don’t have and can’t do.

God’s abundance is not the same as abundance in the world. It has nothing to do with wealth, power, or politics. It has everything to do with compassion, justice, and love. These are the things to focus on. I have these things in abundance, more than I realize most days. Perhaps, when the 5,000 were fed and Jesus walked on water, it was to prove this simple but unfathomable fact, that God is quite powerfully present in this world in very unexpected ways and will, indeed, satisfy our deepest hunger. The only caveat is that we have to be willing to share in the abundance and witness the power. Maybe we should start being intentional about this by praying the prayer so beautifully written in Ephesians:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

What would happen if we prayed this prayer for our family, friends, co-workers, enemies, strangers we pass on the street, soldiers everywhere on all sides, politicians, world leaders, people with AIDS, Olympic athletes, and everyone else you can think of? God can do far more than we can ask or imagine, so let us begin asking and imagining as we keep our eyes open for all reflections of God’s power and presence.

And, yes, I do realize that this is a bit more like a sermon than a blog entry.

Categories
Musings

In Need of New Temples

RCL- July 22, 2012 – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 7:1-14a with Psalm 89:20-37 or
Jeremiah 23:1-6 with Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

This has been a strange week for me and it even has a theme. The repeated topic of conversation has essentially been what it means to be Christian in an increasingly global, pluralistic, secularly focused world. The content shifted a bit depending on whether I was talking with colleagues, patients, or my spouse, but questions and opinions on being Christian today have been numerous these last few days. And, strangely (or maybe not so strangely), I find some answers in the Ephesians reading this week.

Before getting into this, though, l will say that I am decidedly Christian. I have even described myself as unapologetically Christian. However, this does not mean that I do not respect other faith traditions. In fact, I think it says just the opposite. If I can claim my Christianity without shame, then you can claim your Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism or whatever your tradition is with just as much integrity. From this standpoint the dialogue can begin. For me it isn’t a question of which faith is right or wrong. It is a question about what brings meaning, value, purpose, and fulfillment to a person’s life. If your faith tradition brings you peace and leads you to wholeness and harms no one, then I am all for it. In fact, I can probably learn something from you that will enhance my own faith practices.

But back to Ephesians and being Christian today. Although Ephesians addresses the differences between Jews and Gentiles who have become Christians, it says a lot about what it means to be Christian. Christ was about peace and ending hostility among those who worshiped him. Those early followers were to be united in their common faith, not divided by their earlier identity. This passage ends with these words:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

This description of all Christians being God’s holy temple and being a dwelling place for God is quite powerful. How has this failed to shape us in significant ways? If we all stopped arguing about what being a Christian really meant, and started living into this image of being the dwelling place of God, big changes would be made. Denominational identity, nationality, gender identity, economics, sexual orientation, and so many other things wouldn’t matter so much. The place were God lives, is where believers are. So many of our relationships (individual and communal)  are so filled with judgement and conflict, that there is no room for God to dwell in them. What happened to the understanding that Christ is our peace?

I hear and see so much hatred for and judgement about faith. Christians judge each other for being too liberal or too narrow-minded. Christians judge other faiths as being wrong in a variety of ways. Non-Christians judge Christians for being judgmental. We’ve all heard it. I’m just not sure where it all comes from. Or why it still happens today. If Christians took seriously the idea of together creating God’s temple, then judgement would become superfluous. Who is not welcome in God’s dwelling place? All who come in peace, no matter what name they call God, should be greeted with welcome and respect. It doesn’t make me a bad Christian to believe that the Holy One can be known in many ways, by many names. Is there a reason that all God’s dwelling places should be exactly the same?

Maybe we could focus our attention on things that really matter – like worsening drought conditions here in the U.S., war in Syria, violence in Bulgaria, or the giant iceberg that is floating off of Greenland – if we stopped worrying so much about other people’s faith and who has it right.

I am truly grateful for the love and healing I find in and through Christ and I’m happy to talk about it with any who ask. But if you have found a different path that leads you to love and healing, I will rejoice with you, not condemn you. We are in need of new temples today. Where will you begin building yours?