Musings Sermon Starter

Seeking Wings Like Eagles

Image of an eagle flying over a blurred background of sky and trees

There’s not a lot of raising up happening, at least not in my neighborhood. I’m not even sure there are folx waiting for the Lord. I don’t think we know and we’ve dismissed so much of what we have heard. Sure, we might say that God is the Creator of all that is. I’m just not convinced that we allow this truth to sink into our lives and fill the void deep within. We keep trying to fit things into the emptiness in our lives. Sometimes we might feel satisfied for a moment or two. Then the yearning, the despair, the weariness makes itself known once again.

Maybe it’s because we make it all too personal. The words of the Prophet Isaiah were spoken to the people of God, not just one individual. We’ve forgotten how mythic imagination works best in community. When you are yearning for more than you can attain, the community around you can help clear a way for you. When you are on the brink of giving up because God seems so far away and your prayers seem unanswered, the community around you can hold hope for you and raise your prayers higher until you become aware of God’s presence once more. And the weariness that threatens us all these days, is abated when we come together as God’s people in worship, in song, in prayer, in lament, in earnest.

The Prophet was correct when he spoke about waiting for God and being raised upon things like eagles, running without weariness, and walking without tiring. This is only possible when we join together as God’s people. This cannot be sustained by one individual. As human beings, as part of Creation, we need one another; we are interdependent.

Not convinced by the ancient words of Isaiah? How about the actions of Jesus in Mark’s gospel? Simon’s mother-in-law was sick. Jesus healed her. Not for her benefit alone. The impact on the community was remarkable. We can get distracted by the line that says Peter’s mother-in-law immediately started serving the people in her home, or we can see this as a sign that she regained her vital role in the community. She who was sick was made whole and in her wholeness she offered hospitality to her guests. When we are whole, we strengthen the community by using our gifts and talents in service to others.

Then the crowds came. Jesus didn’t deny them. He healed all who came. He restored them to wholeness and gave them opportunities to serve their neighbors. The gift of wholeness is not meant to be hoarded by the strong; it is meant to be employed in raising up the most vulnerable around us. If any of us has been gifted with healing and wholeness, then we must use it to the glory of God by serving the least among us. Peter’s mother-in-law is a beautiful example of what wholeness could look like in a community where all are waiting for God, waiting to participate in the raising up of all our neighbors.

Yes, we can take time to go off to a quiet place to rest and to pray and to renew our spirits. Yet, even when we are away, the community of God’s people goes with us. It is on their strength that we can rest and seek renewal. It is on their hopes and dreams that we each can build God’s realm here and now. Just as we are one, we are many.

Theological math never quite adds up in a logical way. However, in a spiritual way it makes sense. We worship one God who engages the world in many forms, traditionally triune–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So too, the people of God. We say Christ has one body, the Church. Yet, there are many churches made up of many, many individuals. One Body, many members. Paul was right about this. Yet, we have a tendency to make faith all about us as individuals – what can God do for me? It’s time we turn this around and ask what we can do for God. Are we using our gifts and seeking wholeness to our own benefit or to strengthen the community of God’s people? Are we losing ourselves in the weariness that persists everywhere today or are we asking to be raised up to our rightful place as part of the Body of Christ, the people of God?

We can wait for God to intervene and repair what is broken. Yet, our waiting needs to be active. We need to be joining with our neighbors, building relationships, drawing in those we have marginalized, strengthening the community… you know, repairing what we have broken and seeing what God reveals in the healing. Together, with God and one another, we can rise up on wings like eagles…

RCL: Year B – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany – February 7, 2021 Isaiah 40:21-31  • Psalm 147:1-11, 20c  • 1 Corinthians 9:16-23  • Mark 1:29-39

Photo: CC0image by Sven Lachmann

Musings Sermon Starter

Renewed Vision

Image of black letters “WE” on a white background. The letters are filled with words like “exchange” and “all for one”

Lately, I’ve been studying Judaism’s communal identity. To be Jewish (and religious) is to belong to community and to have a sacred duty to work for its benefit. Moreover, there is a sacred responsibility to work to repair the world. There is no focus on individual spirituality, individual relationship with God in Judaism. Instead, there is an identity that is grounded in being God’s people, the people of Israel, being a nation united in covenant to bring holiness into the world. There is a “we-ness” in Judaism that is absent in Christianity where the focus has become individual relationships with God, personal salvation. Christianity focuses on the “I” rather than the “we.”

What if this time of pandemic is an opportunity to seek unity and build a new identity for the church universal that is based on the tradition of our spiritual ancestors? Think about it. God made a covenant through Noah with the people of the earth. God made a more specific covenant through Abraham with all of Abraham’s descendants. God strengthened that covenant through Moses with the people of Israel. If we keep with this way of thinking about covenant, then we can say that God made a covenant through Jesus with all who follow to embody love and forgiveness for the whole of the cosmos. To think of the covenant made through Jesus with us in this way, makes it less personal, less about me, and more about the goodness and hope the Body of Christ can bring into the world.

I can’t help but think about the story of Jesus in the synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus taught and the people were highly skeptical. Was this not the same Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter? What was he doing teaching with divine authority? And then there was the man with the “unclean spirit” who accused Jesus of wanting to destroy them. Jesus cast out the spirit and the man was made clean. The man was, no doubt, brought back into community after having been pushed to the edges because of the “unclean spirit.”

Sometimes I wonder if the focus on personal relationship and right beliefs is not an unclean spirit possessing the Church today. We have created so many different variations of the rules about who’s in and who’s out, what beliefs are righteous and which are unrighteous… Collectively, the Church has pushed so many to the edges of our existence that healing and literal re-membering might not be possible. What might happen, though, if we shift our focus from “I” and “us” to “we” and “all”? Would we take more seriously the mandate to love as Jesus loves? Would we more fully embody Divine Love in ways that remember and re-member those who’ve been pushed over the edge by our insistence on orthopraxis or orthodoxy?

Can you imagine a church (in all its varied forms) united as God’s people in a way that saves lives without hesitation? Wouldn’t it be amazing to travel the world (post-pandemic of course) and no that no matter where you were and in need of help, another Christian would offer that help? My friends, we are God’s people. We are people called to embody Divine Love that brings healing and hope. We cannot do this as individuals. Look at the harm that has been done in the name of Christ if you are still uncertain. Only by being united as one people can we re-member those whom we have dis-membered in the past. Only by being united as one people can we exemplify the kind of love Jesus wanted us to share.

My dream, my vision, is that we will work together to cast out the unclean spirit of personal salvation and individual focus from Christianity. I don’t mean this in a way that negates the value of individuals. On the contrary, I mean this in a way that celebrates and honors and values the uniqueness of every individual and their place within the Body of Christ. Together we would be stronger, more compassionate, more welcoming… more of everything Jesus desires us to be.

This is my vision. What’s yours?

RCL: Year B – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – January 31, 2021 Jonah 3:1-5, 10  • Psalm 62:5-12  • 1 Corinthians 7:29-31  • Mark 1:14-20

Photo: CC0image by johnhain

Musings Sermon Starter

Jonah, Jesus, and Whale Puke

Image of a small boat with two people rowing over the silhouette of a whale underneath

I love the story of Jonah. It’s so human and gives me hope. God called Jonah to go tell the people of Nineveh to repent. Jonah didn’t want to because he thought the Ninevites deserved to be punished for their sins, and he knew God well enough to know that God would be merciful if just a few repented. As the story goes, Jonah ran in the opposite direction and sailed away. Yet, God knew where Jonah was and turbulence stirred the waters and scared the ship’s crew. They forced Jonah to jump ship where he was promptly swallowed up by a leviathan, a whale of sorts. Jonah hung out in the whale’s belly for a while. And then the whale puked him up and he went and preached repentance just as God had asked. The people of Nineveh repented, of course, and God spared the city from destruction.

Honestly, I don’t think this story is factual. However, it is truthful. God called Jonah to preach repentance to God’s people. Jonah didn’t share God’s grace-filled and generous heart. He thought the people deserved what they were going to get, and shouldn’t have been offered a chance to repent. Yet, Jonah was a prophet and his job was to preach what God put in his heart. Jonah foolishly thought he could avoid doing as God had asked. Did he not know the story of Moses who begged God to send someone else numerous times, and ended up going to Pharaoh anyway?

Jonah thought he could escape to the sea. I suspect that storm that threatened the well-being of the ship’s crew, was likely a reflection of Jonah’s inner turmoil. It’s really hard to remain calm when God asks you to do something and you seek to escape the doing of it. Into the stormy seas Jonah goes where he is swallowed up by something greater than himself, giving him time to think, examine his conscience. After all of this, he does what he should have done in the first place; he goes to Nineveh and preaches repentance. No doubt, the traces of whale puke would be on him for a while. Avoiding God is messy business, and it takes its toll. Maybe not in literal whale puke, though something will stick as a reminder that God has a way of getting what God wants eventually.

Simon, Andrew, James, and John fared a little better when Jesus encountered them as he walked along the Sea of Galilee. They left everything behind to follow Jesus. Maybe they remembered Moses and Jonah and didn’t want to have to deal with delaying the eventuality or whale puke. Maybe there were others that Jesus called who didn’t respond. I can only imagine the whales that swallowed them whole, from which they may never have escaped. However, these four left their livelihoods and families to follow Jesus.

I suspect most of us are more like Jonah than the early disciples. Most of us try to do everything we can think of rather than follow God’s call and embrace repentance as a way of life, one that can save us and others from self-destruction. Life is probably easier without whale puke, though. And our family and friends might understand if we follow God and endeavor to save lives better than if we try to avoid God and come home smelling like fish guts, metaphorically speaking of course.

In my own life I have done both; I have avoided God and I have left everything to follow. The latter is simpler though not easier. Sometimes, because we are human, it is necessary for us to plunge into the depths in the solitude of a whale’s belly and be tossed up onto dry land when the depths are no longer helpful. A little seaweed, a bit of whale puke, and we’re ready to take our humbled selves where God calls. Other times, though, it is easier to drop everything we are doing and follow God to somewhere new because we have the sense that what we are doing is inadequate. Both are valid responses to God’s call, though one is less messy in the long run.

What might God be calling the Body of Christ to do in this moment that we are doing everything we can think of to avoid? I have the sense that the Church (in all its varied forms) has been hiding in the depths, in Leviathan’s belly, for far too long. We have essentially become indigestible and could do with being spit up onto new shores. Maybe our call for repentance would have greater significance if we bore evidence of our own reluctance to follow in God’s ways?

What might Jesus be calling you to do in this moment? Are you ready to drop everything and follow or are you clinging to what is familiar and comfortable? I think it might be time for all of us who claim to follow Jesus to drop everything, leave it all behind, and see where a new path might lead. Perhaps, the smell of whale puke might fade over time and our voices that cry out for justice, hope, and healing might be heard, and our cities could be spared from self-destruction.

RCL: Year B – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 24, 2021 Jonah 3:1-5, 10  • Psalm 62:5-12  • 1 Corinthians 7:29-31  • Mark 1:14-20

Photo: CC0image by Sarah Richter

Musings Sermon Starter

Unfortunate Truths

image of a boy and a girl holding hands on the edge of the ocean at sunset with a map of the earth superimposed over the sky

In the season of Epiphany it is appropriate to be seeking revelations of God’s presence and God’s engagement with the world. Sometimes it is much more clear where God’s work is not being done. I’ve seen a lot of this in recent days. Then I hear the unthinkable – people who engage in terrorist activities claiming to be Christian, or labeled “Christian” by others. In the United States it is time for us to be honest with ourselves and stop pretending hatred and violence are acceptable feelings and actions for those who claim to follow Christ.

In John’s account of the call of Nathanael, Nathanael does not believe anything good can come out of Nazareth in spite of Philip’s pronouncement about finding the Messiah. Philip’s response to Nathanael was a very clear, “Come and see.” Not only could goodness come out of Nazareth, only goodness can come out of the Messiah. If something is not good and loving, it does not come from Christ. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t pain or challenge because change often involves both these things. However, if something is centered in Christ, the outcome is goodness or love. Period. Without question.

This is bad news for those who claim the name “Christian” and then espouse hatred or storm the Capitol. Jesus’ commandment to love was very clear. Living a life based in fear, anger, and hatred is the exact opposite. What might change if we all stop tolerating hatred, especially in those who claim to follow Christ?

Jesus’ entire ministry was about empowering the oppressed, taking religious control out of the hands of those appointed by Rome, healing and re-membering those who were pushed to the margins. Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 310 and the downfall began. Then Charlemagne came along a few centuries later and established the Holy Roman Empire and sealed the fate of the church. We have been in service to the Empire ever since. The events of last week and the on-going pandemic show how true this is.

When Christians support a president who has no ethics, openly mocks people with disabilities, denigrates women, supports white supremacy, removes laws protecting LGBTQ+ people, and more, they reveal allegiance not to the God of Love but to the Empire, the oppressors. When people worship power and position over liberation and care for the vulnerable, ugly things happen. There is no goodness or Love here. Christ is not on the side of those with power.

The unfortunate truth is that you cannot be a follower of Christ and be a white supremacist; Jesus was a brown-skinned man. You cannot hate those who have different religious practices; Jesus said love your neighbor. You cannot fear those from other countries – immigrants, refugees, or asylum seekers; Jesus told us to welcome the stranger. You cannot support the mistreatment of anyone who is not white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, and wealthy; Jesus clearly told his followers to Love as he Loves. How have we gotten to a place where the public face of Christianity is so often one of hatred and violence?

No more. Let us make 2021 the year we follow Christ, the one who taught Love, a Love that when fully embrace, fully embodied, casts out all fear. We do not have to accept racism, white supremacy, hatred, and violence as normative. We do not have to remain in service to the Empire. We have more than enough Love, more than enough resources, more than enough goodness, to ensure that all human beings are treated with dignity and respect. We can love our neighbors as ourselves and not lose anything except our fears.

Can anything good come out of Christians in the United States? Come and see. God is doing a new thing. Perhaps we can all join in and leave the ways of fear and division behind us. Whose in?

RCL: Year B – Second Sunday after Epiphany – January 17, 2021 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)  • Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18  • 1 Corinthians 6:12-20  • John 1:43-51

Photo: CC0image by Gerd Altmann

Musings Sermon Starter

Follow the Magi

Image of a stylized silhouette of people and camels on a horizon lit by stars and sunrise

2020 has come to an end, and most of us are grateful. The problem with this is that we expect 2021 to be different right now, at the year’s beginning. We want to blame 2020 for all the challenges, suffering, and sorrow it has left in its wake as if 2020 were an entity in and of itself, a hateful one at that. The problem is, of course, that the date or time in the history of the cosmos is not a causal factor in events. In fact, the pandemic started in 2019, hence COVID-19. The inherent racism and white supremacy that lead to the murder of George Floyd and others predates 2020. The deaths of celebrities such as Sean Connery, Chadwick Boseman, Kelly Preston and Eddie Van Halen (to name a few), didn’t happen because it was the year 2020. Yes, it has been a difficult year on a global scale, one of the hardest in modern history. However, the year ending doesn’t necessarily mean an immediate improvement of circumstances.

The grief we carry will not dissipate when the ball drops at midnight and the year changes to 2021. The vaccines that are being distributed now won’t mean that we can be out and about in the world for several months to come. Racism and white supremacy won’t magically end because we turn to a new page on the calendar. The challenges that began in 2019 and intensified through 2020 will continue in 2021. Our job is to figure out how to hold onto hope, how to heal, how to endure the heaviness of grief and loss, how to help our neighbors who may not be fairing as well as we are in this pandemic… there is no shortage of work to be done.

I think of the magi on their way to Bethlehem and how hard that journey must have been. Some speculate that their travels took more than two years. What kept them going on that long and arduous path that finally got the to the Christ-child? What hopes kept their feet trudging on day after day? And, after encountering Christ, how did they find the strength to return home by yet another road? There are lessons from these magi that might help us embrace the year ahead.

First, the magi packed for the journey and included gifts for the Child they were going to visit. We can do this. We can closely examine our lives for the gifts we can bring on the journey into 2021. Yes, it’s right to name survival as a gift. And then look around for others. Perhaps we have reconnected with family or friends and strengthened relationships. Perhaps we’ve re-evaluated how we spend our time. Maybe we’ve been more intentional about sharing our resources. Maybe we’ve gotten involved in advocating for justice? Whatever gifts you’ve uncovered or rediscovered in 2020, pack them for the journey into 2021; they will be needed.

Next, the magi were committed to the journey, not knowing what they would encounter. This seems like a good idea as we stand on the brink of a New Year. We are hopeful that 2021 will mean an end to pandemic conditions. At the same time, we have no idea if this will happen. Many of us are hopeful that a new Administration in the White House will bring positive changes and address the injustices magnified by the current Administration. We don’t know if this will happen, either. The journey ahead may be just as challenging as the path that brought us here. Or it may be full of blessings and joys and easier days. Either way, we must commit to the journey and to all who travel with us that we are in it no matter what unfolds.

This brings me to another point: the magi did not travel alone, and neither should we. We know that there will be more losses, more stress, more sadness in the days to come. Most of us are at or have exceeded the amount of stress we can handle on our own. We need to share the journey with those who are traveling a similar road, and we need to make sure we are able to help those who stumble along the way. Exhaustion and grief and injustice make the journey especially hard. We will do better if we share our resources and help one another along the way.

We also do not make this journey for no purpose. The magi went to Bethlehem to honor the new born King. We, as Christians, live our lives to honor God in much the same way. In spite of all the awfulness that 2020 leaves in its wake, there have been moments of beauty, wonder, and awe as well. Babies have been born. Discoveries have been made. Generosity has been witnessed. God is present in this world, waiting for us to notice, and respond accordingly. The magi offered their gifts to the Baby. We can offer our gifts to those who travel with us and, similarly, honor God.

No, the year ahead won’t magically be better than the year that is ending. However, if we share the journey, share the burdens and the joys, we will make it through together. Let’s continue to share the tears of grief and loss. Let’s also continue to share the moments of beauty, wonder, and joy just as readily. The only way we will honor God on this journey is to honor ourselves and those trudging through the challenges every day. We’ve got this. Together. Happy New Year.

RCL – Year B – Epiphany (observed), January 3, 2021

Photo: CC0image by Anthony


The Considerations of Chloe the Camel

Image of Rachael Keefe with two small camels in the foreground, a Christmas tree in the background, and a star in the upper right.

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Musings Sermon Starter

Life Choices

Choosing life is not simple, easy, or natural for most of us. Well, there is the drive to stay alive. However, that is not the same as choosing life. Moses was pretty clear that choosing life often means choosing the hard road, the way that is not self-focused. On the brink of entering into the Promised Land, Moses implores the people of God to choose life so that they and their children may continue to live in abundance.

These people who stood looking across the Jordan River into the land they had been promised are the wilderness wanderers, the calf worshipers, the complainers, and the whiners. The journey from captivity to freedom was longer and more difficult than they bargained for. They weren’t happy with Moses. They were tired of manna and quail. They had expected a shorter journey, one that was less taxing on their bodies and on their spirits. If Moses wasn’t around, they were pretty certain that God wasn’t around either. They survived the desert, surely life wasn’t a choice they had to make. They were alive and staring at the Promised Land. Life had already been granted them, hadn’t it?

That’s the funny thing with life. It’s easy to take it for granted. We are alive. We are breathing and moving through the world. What choice is there? Moses could have elaborated more than he did. Choose life that will enable your neighbor to live as you live. Choose life that will be gentle on the planet. Choose life that facilitates justice for all people. Choose life that always moves from captivity to liberation. Choose life that honors the Creator. Choose life in a way that blesses those around you. Choose life, not just as individuals, but also as sacred community.

There it is. Choosing life in response to God’s call isn’t about us as individual human beings. It is about us as sacred community, the Body of Christ, the church. Nearly every church I have ever been a part of has been primarily concerned with its own life. Are the pews full? Is the budget balanced? Are the programs attended? Is the Sunday School full? How about the youth program, are we ensuring the church of the future? These concerns that have absorbed so much of our churches’ attention, are not questions that support choosing life.

God has set before us the ways of life and death. The church is on the edges of something new, something exciting, something transformative. We are close enough to see that something different is coming, but not close enough to know precisely what it is. However, we can look around at our declining numbers and the building closures and know that life isn’t exactly what we have chosen. Perhaps it is time to make different choices.

Choose life so that we and those who will come after us might live in God’s love, honoring God’s commandments. Choose life so that we will stop being lured away by the false gods of individualism and independence. Choose life so that we will realize that our neighbors are our responsibility, that the way of Christ is the way from captivity to liberation.

First choose life for yourself in response to God’s unconditional love for you as an individual. Then choose life for the Body of Christ in response to God’s abundant love for the whole of Creation. No, it is not easy. Yes, we will continue to be tempted by lesser gods. No, it is not too late for us to change and embrace God’s call to the fullness of life. Yes, there are many who will think our efforts on behalf of life, love, and liberation are futile and foolish. Isn’t it time we stopped wandering in the wilderness and complaining about all that is not as we want it or expected it to be? By choosing life, we are choosing the Promised Land, a land where all are welcomed, wanted, seen, heard, and valued. Is there a better way to be the Body of Christ?

Choose life when considering the plight of refugees. Choose life when confronted with those who are homeless. Choose life when the government cuts funding for food subsidies, access to health care, or acts to promote only the white, cis, wealthy, able-bodied, educated, and male people. Choose life, interdependence and sacred community, in every moment and in every decision or the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, will never come any closer. Generations yet to come deserve better than captivity and oppression, don’t they?

RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – February 16, 2020
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

Photo: CC0image by Pexels

Musings Sermon Starter

Salt… Salt… and more Salt…

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” He wasn’t kidding or exaggerating or trying to make his disciples feel better. Salt that has been ruined and can’t be used any longer is only good for trampling under foot. I’m wondering if this isn’t exactly what has happened to the moderate to progressive branches of the church. Over the years, we have lost our saltiness. As we have rejected the doctrine and dogma of our more conservative siblings, we have failed to claim our saltiness. We have, in effect, allowed ourselves to be trampled nearly to death.

When I was fourteen, I stopped adding salt to foods. For decades I did not add salt to anything (except French fries). I didn’t cook with it or bake with it. The same blue canister of iodized salt sat on my pantry shelf for years. My reasons for not adding salt began with an eating disorder and an irrational fear that eating salt would make me gain weight. The behavior continued because I didn’t think about it; avoiding adding salt had become a habit. However, I had to change that habit a couple of years ago.

After a lifetime of health challenges I was diagnosed with POTS/Dysautonomia. I had to make several changes in my daily routine to help mitigate symptoms. One of the adjustments was a high sodium diet. All of a sudden I was adding salt to everything which unexpectedly made me crave more. Where once I had a lonely canister of unused salt in my cabinet, I now have several kinds of salt – flavors, textures, mixes – just so I can keep a higher level of sodium in my body. I never knew just how important salt could be.

Jesus knew the importance of salt. He knew it was needed for flavoring, for preserving, for healing. He knew how connected salt was to the Covenant God made with people of God. Salt was precious, necessary, and good. Everyone knew that. However, I’m betting the disciples were a bit surprised when Jesus told them they were salt. They weren’t to become salt. They didn’t have to cultivate or harvest anything to be the salt the world needed; they were salt. In that moment, they were salt. Wherever they went, they would be salt. Whatever they did, they would be salt. They were precious, necessary, and good. And they had work to do – enhancing the flavor of life with hope and grace, preserving relationships with forgiveness and mercy, and healing the broken and wounded places. Salt is vital for survival.

Now would be an excellent time to reclaim our saltiness. If ever there was a time when the world could use something life-giving and life-sustaining, it’s now. The Mainline church isn’t ordinary table salt and it shouldn’t be road salt either. Even though these things have their usefulness, if we’re going to be the salt of the earth in this present age, we need to pack in all the nutrients we can manage.

Let’s be pink Himalayan salt that surprises people with the minerals of advocacy and justice. Not all Christians are out there demanding an end to legal abortions. Not all Christians are out there crying for end LGBTQ+ rights. Not all Christians are out there upholding the racist criminal justice system.

Maybe you’d rather be applewood smoked sea salt. It has a punch that shows up unexpectedly, deepening the flavor of a dish. What if we showed up in those unexpected places asking for gun reform or healthcare reform or increasing minimum wage or fair housing? Would the conversation change with a compassionate Christian presence?

My personal favorite is salt infused with habanero peppers. It’s all about the saltiness and then comes the flavor-changing heat. This is a salt that can’t be ignored or overlooked. I’d like to be this kind of salt in the world. What if the church could bring this kind of power to it’s justice work? What if we could be all about life-changing presence? You know, feeding those who are hungry, liberating those who are oppressed, healing those who are sick… the kind of things that Jesus did. This would be some serious saltiness that would mitigate the flavor of hopelessness and despair that permeates the world.

It’s time we stop being afraid of the gifts we have been given. We have remained on the pantry shelf (or trampled underfoot) for far too long. What will happen if more of us publicly display the fact that we are the salt of the earth, we are the Body of Christ, we are the hope and healing of the world? What will happen if we trust what we have been given and follow Jesus? Maybe the world will start to crave more… Salt is precious, necessary, and good. Salt is vital for life. We are salt. The church is salt. Maybe we can live as if we believe this is true…

RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany – February 9, 2020
Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12)
Psalm 112:1-9 (10)
1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)
Matthew 5:13-20

Photo: CC0image by Susanne Jutzeler

Sermon Starter

Simple (and nearly impossible) Requirements

This post originally appeared on RevGalBogPals as the Revised Common Lectionary Post on January 28, 2020.

I have been thinking a lot about discipleship these days. It’s not a word that progressive, predominantly white churches are all that comfortable with. Yet, with the lectionary moving from the Magi showing up to pay homage to Jesus to Jesus’ baptism, and to the calling of the first disciples… Discipleship seems a reasonable thing to contemplate. What does it really mean to be a disciple of Christ in the year 2020? This week’s text go a long way toward answering this question.

We start of with what is probably one of the most well-known texts: “God, has told you what is good, O mortal; do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” Nothing else is required. The finest sacrifices don’t matter. The largest donations don’t matter. We cannot purchase God’s heart; it isn’t for sale. Instead of focusing so much on our own lives, why not focus outside of ourselves. Where are we advocating for justice as individuals and as congregations? Where are we responding to our neighbors with loving-kindness? When and how do we walk humbly with God? I wish more people would hear the truth behind this popular verse. We are loved. We are saved. We are valued. Now let’s live in a way that demonstrates, that embodies, this truth for all people, for the whole of Creation. For Micah, discipleship would be what we do with our whole lives, not just with the pieces we offer up to God.

The psalmist emphasizes this point well in answering the question of who lives in God’s house. Who abides with God? The ones who do “what is right,” speak truth, and treat their neighbors with compassion and respect. The psalmist says nothing about those who attend worship regularly, make perfect sacrifices, or sing praises to God (loudly) in public spaces. It’s not about religious rituals performed on schedule; it’s about faithful living all the time, especially when it’s hard.

Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians continues along these lines. When we get caught up in what the world expects and start living that way – seeking wealth and power while ignoring the impact on our neighbors – we end up living very foolishly in God’s eyes. How often do we mistake wisdom for folly? How often to we forget what God requires of us and make it more complex than it needs to be. Imagine a world in which we could live in the wisdom of God’s ways without having to comply with someone’s understanding of “Christian perfection”? What if we left out judgement about who’s in and who’s out and started encouraging each other to be wise in the ways of justice, kindness, and humility?

If we were able to do this, maybe the blessings in the Beatitudes would have more meaning, more depth. It’s hard to know, of course. But what if we started seeing all those folx on the margins, the folx the church has historically kept at a distance, as those who are blessed in the ways Jesus enumerated?

Blessed are those who live with severe and persistent mental illness (and cannot access the care they need), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who have lost loved ones to suicide, gun violence, war, or natural disasters, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the refugees, asylum seekers,and immigrants who survive on the hopes of a better life, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger for justice and stop traffic on our streets with protests, for they will be filled.
Blessed are those who respond to their neighbors with loving-kindness, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are those who actively believe humanity can do better, for they will see God.
Blessed are the ones who risk their safety and well-being to create peace, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed those who are ridiculed and condemned for advocating for those on the margins, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people disrespect, dismiss, and lie about you because of the holy work of reparations, advocacy, and justice-making that you do.

What words do we most need to hear to awaken us to the beauty and simplicity of what God requires of us? We are blessed and we are to be blessings in the broken and forgotten places of the world. How do we let go of the non-essentials of being church and embrace the freedom God lays before us in asking that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?

Photo: CC0 image by qcf-avocat

Musings Sermon Starter

Call Me Grateful (Mostly)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: CC0image by Lukáš Skucius