Musings Sermon Starter

The Unbreakable Covenant

I’ve been on vacation for the last few days. These days this means time at home to relax, to watch TV, to read, to be creative, and to think. I haven’t even been able to really enjoy the approach of spring because I am still healing from a stress fracture in my shin. So you might imagine that I’ve spent a lot more time than usual thinking. And what have I been thinking about? The words of the Prophet Jeremiah, among other things. My thoughts keep going to the unbreakable covenant that is promised. A covenant that will be written on the hearts of the people of God, on our hearts.

What, then, is written on our hearts today? I think Love is written on all of our hearts, I really do. However, it gets buried under pain, fear, anger, regret, grief, anxiety, and suffering. Love gets buried under spiritual scar tissue and is sometimes really hard to find. If it wasn’t there, the covenant Jeremiah promised would be broken, and we know that God doesn’t break promises, let alone covenants.

You see, I believe that Jesus is the fulfilment of the covenant that Jeremiah spoke of. If we take seriously the words of John 3:16, “God so loves the entirety of the Cosmos…” then we must ask ourselves what being a member of the Body of Christ has revealed in our hearts. Jesus was all about Love. His actions were about healing and literally re-membering (reconnecting) people to community. His words challenged the Empire and those in service to it. He was all about community, wholeness, and liberation. None of these things were to benefit the individual; everything Jesus said or did was to teach us how to Love – our neighbors as ourselves, as God Loves.

The depth of what is written on our hearts can only become clear, can only rise to the surface in relationship, in community. We need one another to heal, to removed the scar tissue, to allow Love to come to the fore. Church ought to be the place, the community, that fosters healing and wholeness. Never should the Body of Christ add to the scarring that obscures the Love that is in our spiritual DNA.

The pronouncement coming out of the Vatican this week is inconsistent with what is written on our hearts. Excluding LGBTQ+ folx from the fullness of community is hurtful. Saying that queer folx are welcome but saying that our sexual expression and our marriages are sin fractures rather than heals. It is not loving to accept only the surface level of a person’s identity. It’s like saying that brown-eyed people are welcome only if they wear dark glasses because their brown eyes are a sin. Besides, when it comes to the Body of Christ, if one of us is queer, the Body of Christ is queer and all the rules, judgment, and exclusion becomes self-loathing. Isn’t this the very opposite of the covenant made manifest in Christ?

When will we start holding up our end of the unbreakable covenant? It’s only unbreakable because God doesn’t let go of God’s end of it. God’s steadfast Love really does endure forever, no matter how deeply we bury it. Though why we bury it is another question.

There is enough in the world to add scar tissue, to obscure Love. Why do we add to it, especially as the Body of Christ? It’s time we ask ourselves what is written on our hearts, not on the surface but deep down where only God has a clear view. Living at the surface where all the scarring is only adds to more scarring.

We can do better than this. Healing. Liberation. Wholeness. Community. These things allow the Love that is written on our hearts to come to the surface. If we are not welcoming, forgiving, serving, loving then we are likely adding more scars.

Isn’t it time we live out our truth as the Body of Christ, make manifest the Love that it written deep within?

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 21, 2021 Jeremiah 31:31-34  • Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16  • Hebrews 5:5-10  • John 12:20-33

Photo: CC0image by edmondalfoto

Musings Sermon Starter

In Her Grips

Okay. I’m just going to say it: I like Paul. The older I get, the more I appreciate Paul for his passion, conviction, and unapologetic humanity. What the church has done with what he wrote and what has been (falsely) attributed to him, isn’t his fault. The man had some serious endurance. Prison, floggings, shipwrecks, and rejection in a variety of potentially life-threatening forms. Paul persevered and managed to inspire countless people to become followers of Jesus. All things considered, Paul is person to be admired not admonished. The tepid church goers of today could do with a little passion and, personally, I’m up for a bit of persistence.

Let’s face it, many people around us would much rather go fishing on a Sunday morning than attend worship. Paul didn’t have that problem. It seems he drew crowds almost the way that Jesus did. He had something that was appealing to those who heard him speak. It was more than his charismatic personality, more than his words alone. I suspect it was his integrity and authenticity. For all his eloquence, Paul didn’t say anything he didn’t mean. The Holy Spirit it had him firmly in her grips and she wasn’t letting go. I wonder if anyone would notice that intensity of Spirit today…

The story in Acts about the slave girl is a weird one where Paul’s humanity is on full display. So, too, the presence of the Spirit. How awesome is it that the writer tells us that Paul casts the demon out of the slave girl because he’s irritated? He’s annoyed that she has been following them around, proclaiming that they are slaves to God Most High. This had been going on for days. Paul couldn’t take it and silences the demon without thinking about the consequences. He didn’t think what might happen to the slave girl. He didn’t think what might happen to him and his companions. He’d just had enough of the girl’s proclamations. Consequences be damned.

And there were serious consequences. The writer didn’t mention what happened to the slave girl though I doubt it was anything good. Her owners disguised an economic issue with a racial issue that stirred anxiety and aggression in the crowd as well as the magistrates. Violence followed as it often does when those in service to the Empire feel slighted. So if the girls owners were angry enough to have Paul and the others somewhat falsely arrested, flogged, and jailed, I’m guessing they didn’t go easy on her. Did Paul regret his impulsiveness in the duress that followed? Did he pray for forgiveness? Did he want to make amends? Or did he blame the hard hearts of the slave owners? Who knows? However, the subsequent events point toward forgiveness with a hint of compassion.

In the midst of prayers and hymns an earthquake hits and opens all the doors. You’d think everyone would leave; that would be the sane thing to do. No one did. The prisoners stayed put. Why? I like to think that Paul remembered that all this was because of his own impulsive actions and he didn’t want anyone else to pay the price for his unthinking behavior, including the jailer. Paul, and the others, no doubt, knew that the jailer would likely be executed for allowing all the prisoners to escape – earthquake or no. Though, instead of an execution, we witness another household converting to Christianity. Forgiveness and compassion on full display. Well, that and the power of the Holy Spirit to bring goodness out of human folly.

I’d like to say that we’ve all learned something from Paul’s experience. But I don’t think we have. We still give in to annoyance and act without thinking. Those who have more power than we do, still take advantage by subverting the real issues with divisive ones. We are still easily manipulated by the Empire into accepting, if not participating in, violence. We don’t seem to pray and sing hymns while waiting for the Spirit to show up and do her thing. There isn’t much room in our lives to give and receive either forgiveness or compassion, is there?

As we come to the end of Eastertide and prepare for Pentecost, maybe we should pay more attention to Paul and embrace our humanity and the Holy Spirit. We can be unapologetically the fragile, fallible, frustratable people we are because we are also unapologetically the named, claimed and beloved children of God. In spite of what the Empire continues to tell us about supremacy and division, we are all in need of forgiveness and compassion. The more we share these things, the more we open ourselves to receiving them. Isn’t it time to recognize that Paul was who he was because he accepted and celebrated the fierce, demanding, loving grip the Holy Spirit had on his whole being? We can be the irritable, irrational, impulsive people that we are because the Holy Spirit has the same fierce, steadfast, and redeeming grip on us. This is good news for us, and unwelcome news for those who continue to serve the Empire.

Photo: CC0 image by James LeVos

liturgy Prayer

A Pastoral Prayer for the Church of Today

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Holy and merciful God, we would raise our voices with the Psalmist to sing your praises. We long to rejoice in you and tell of all the wonderful works you have done. We want to trust in you like Moses and Miriam, Peter and Mary, Paul and Lydia, yet we are distracted by the troubles of this world. How can we sing your praises when rising waters claim thousands of lives in Nepal,  Mumbai, and Texas? How can we proclaim your deeds when hatred walks our streets cloaked in your name? How can we sing your praises when so many of your people are not free? We lift our voices in anguish, wondering where you might be in the chaos swarming all around us.

God of all times and places, your memory is much greater than ours. You remember setting a bush on fire to call attention to your servant, Moses. He responded in fear and trembling, yet did as you told him. Open our eyes to the power of your presence that we, too, might burn with the light and heat of hope, liberation, and healing, and not be consumed. Let us see that we, too, walk on holy ground. May we have the courage to stand barefoot in your presence and see as you see. See that the climate changes destroying so many lives are, at least in part, our doing. We have taken for granted the resources of the Earth without paying heed to the consequences. You have shown us a better way. May we follow.

Steadfast and loving God, you have so clearly demonstrated your love for the whole of Creation. We are to love genuinely, to love our enemies, to offer radical hospitality, and bless those who would persecute us. Just as you called to Moses, you call to each one of us. You know us by name and claim us as your own beloved. You place no conditions on us, only asking that we love as you love. Fill us anew with your strength that we might hold fast in the face of hatred. We lift up to you those who believe that the ideology of white supremacy, Nazis, and KKK are consistent with your teachings. Heal their hearts and lift their spirits so they, too, may walk in the way of Love. It is so hard to hold onto you when there are so many who speak hateful words in your name. We especially pray for the writers of the “Nashville Statement” and others who hide their hate in scriptures. Bathe them in your love.

God of all peoples, while we pray for our enemies, asking you to bless them with a deeper understanding of your love, we pray for those who are persecuted. We ask your blessings on your beloved children who are mistreated, dismissed, or murdered because of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation or their gender identity or expression. Once you rebuked Peter for tempting you to be something other than you were. May we hear that same rebuke each time we fail to recognize you in the face of another.

Patient and gracious God, in the midst of rising waters of floods and hatred, we cry out to you. Call us by name. Remind us that we are yours. Your Spirit flows through us and will not consume us. The ground we walk on is holy ground. You would have us be better stewards of Creation. You would have us care for the vulnerable among us and live peaceably with all. You yearn for us all to live fully as the amazing human beings you created us to be. You wait so patiently for us to walk in your ways, live in Love, and trust in you.

God of all that is, forgive us. Forgive us for our failure to trust in you and to love one another. Forgive us for remaining silent when hateful voices claim to speak on your behalf. Forgive us for failing to take seriously our responsibility to care for this planet. Forgive us for all the times we have given in to fear and turned toward human ways to keep us safe. Have mercy on us once again, and show us anew the wonders you desire for us. Remind us that it is never too late to repent and embrace the grace you offer. Let us see the vision you have for us, a vision filled with hope and good things. You are more than we can ever imagine. Grant us the courage to give up the smallness of our lives for the magnitude of your transforming love. With you anything is possible.

Holy God, we know that you continue to hear the cries of your people. You know of those who suffer and those who live in misery. Bind us together into the Church the world needs for the living of these days. May we join together with all who call on you to turn back the flood waters, the hatred, and the fear. Grant us the courage to remove our shoes, live on holy ground, and follow your sacred ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Permission granted for use in worship services with attribution: Prayer written by Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe.

RCL – Year A – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 3, 2017
Exodus 3:1-15 with Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c or
Jeremiah 15:15-21 with Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Musings Sermon Starter Uncategorized

Time to Wake Up

2017-08-14 17.23.25.jpgI was raised by a racist who would likely have sided with the Nazis, White Supremacists, and White Nationalists in recent events. She would have done so without thinking about the potential consequences to me, her bisexual daughter. She would have done so without thinking about her Jewish friends or knowledge of the fact that there is Jewish blood in the veins of her children (Through a DNA study, I discovered that at least one of my ancestors was an Ashkenazi Jew). She would have focused on her desire for a “white America” and the illusion that her life would have been better if People of Color were not in it. From her hatred and bigotry, I learned silence.

For many years I would say that my family was not in this country during the time of slavery and, therefore, it was okay for me to remain silent in the face of racism in all its nasty forms. Privately, I was horrified by the racial divisions in all aspects of life – education, healthcare, housing, employment, law, mental healthcare, prison… Yet, I still said nothing. I wouldn’t even stand up to my mother when she spouted off against the nearest person who did not appear to be white. I truly did not believe that it was my responsibility to speak up and change the way things were, even a little. My attitude started to change when I discovered a branch of my family had been in this country since 1635. But my real awakening came when I saw the racism Obama faced. What kept me awake, though, was the death of Travon Martin followed by too many other unarmed Black men (and women and other People of Color).

My story is not unique. We have been selling our siblings into slavery for a very long time. Some of Joseph’s brothers were active in the sale and the others sat silently by and let it happen. None of them confessed to Jacob and tried to get Joseph back. They went on with their lives as though nothing happened until they could not. Famine disrupted their illusion of wellness.

For decades, we moderate to progressive white Christians (and others) have been telling ourselves that the Civil Rights Movement was “successful.” We remained silent when confronted with obvious ways in which racial equity was nothing more than collective delusion of a society working very hard to maintain the veneer of harmony. Social Media has shattered that false image with videos of police brutality, instant news of hate-motivated vandalism, personal stories that haven’t been sterilized by mainstream media. With the rise of Black Lives Matter calling our attention to incidents of racist violence around the country, many of us have woken up to the famine that is in our land. People are dying and we’ve remained silent.

Then there was Charlottesville, VA. For many, these events were the first chimes of the wake-up alarm. They had been hitting snooze so long that the alarm didn’t have much meaning until they heard the Nazi chants and saw the Swastikas in the hands of Polo-wearing young men. The Klan rallied but the white sheets were gone. No one was hiding their identity. They were proud of their hatred, bold in their identity. Let’s not continue to call them “alt-right.” Let’s call them what they are. They are white supremacists no matter which name they go by. If you believe in a “white America” then you are a white supremesist. It’s that simple. And if you remain silent, then you are passively identifying yourself as a white supremacist. Are you awake now?

It is time for Joseph’s siblings to go and beg forgiveness – forgiveness for our actions and our inactions, our compliance with the racist systems and our failure to prevent the election of racists to political offices. It’s time we beg forgiveness for our passive acceptance of lies we’ve been told by people in power whose only goal is to maintain power. There is a famine in our country as real and dangerous as if we were literally at risk of starvation. Don’t go back to sleep.

Now as we approach Joseph, begging for forgiveness and seeking to end the famine, let’s not participate in Joseph’s mistake. You see, Joseph believed he was sold into slavery to fulfill God’s will. While I understand this interpretation of events and see that it is consistent with the time in which Joseph lived, I cannot abide by it. The God I know would not desire for anyone to be sold into slavery, especially not Israel’s beloved son. God would not orchestrate racism either. However, when human beings are selfish and ignorant enough to do such things, God can bring goodness in the wake of pain and tragedy. God has been trying to bring goodness in the wake of what the United States has been doing to People of Color, LGBTQ+ people, women, people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses and others who are perceived to be “less-than” for centuries. Most of us have slept through God’s call to change our ways and resisted the potential for transformation.

If the events of Charlottesville have woken you up, then please step up and speak out. Stop blaming others for racism woven through every aspect of life in the United States and, instead, repent, step into the breach, and help dismantle the hate. Maybe, someday, we will be forgiven. Right now, though, not one more beloved child of God should die. No more blood should flow in our streets. People of Color are no more at fault for racism in this country than Joseph was responsible for his brothers selling him into slavery. Isn’t it time we listened to the God who calls us to love one another? Isn’t it time we become the Body of Christ we were created to be? What will you do to end the hate and prevent the continued rise of a young, renewed Nazi power?

No one will condemn you for being late, but if you don’t show up to the work that needs to be done you might have reason to be anxious when you step into Joseph’s presence. Now would be a good time to stop hitting the snooze button. Wake up. Get out of bed. God is waiting.

RCL – Year A – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 20, 2017
Genesis 45:1-15 with Psalm 133 or
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 with Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28

Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe</a

liturgy Prayer

A Confession for Ordinary Time

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One: Holy God, you ask so little of us. You shower us with grace upon grace, flooding our hearts with love and forgiveness, and still we fail to notice you. We keep insisting that you come to us on our terms to comfort us and heal us. We want spectacular evidence of your love while we sit back and do so little. Hear our prayers as we confess our distance from you.

One: You show us a path that leads to justice, kindness, humility, and love.
All: Yet, we can hardly take a step without condemning our neighbor with fearful, hateful words or actions. We turn from those living without shelter and want someone else to fix the problem.
One: You lead us in ways of holiness and wholeness where all are welcome.
All: Yet, we refuse to follow justifying our inaction with traditions built on racism and white privilege. We reject immigrants and question refugees and grow angry at our own discomfort.
One: You invite us into relationships of trust like those you had with Abraham, Isaac, and Rebekah.
All: Yet, we turn away, proud of our independence. We laugh at the ring in Rebekah’s nose and refuse to acknowledge our claim on us. We close our hearts to the most vulnerable among us because we are afraid of our own fragility and finitude.
One: You offer a life of abundance and freedom.
All: Yet, we cling to the ways of scarcity. We would rather keep what we have than risk losing any of it for the sake of a future we can’t believe will be full of good things. We simply do not trust that sharing our resources and expanding our communities will make us healthier and stronger.
One: You wait so patiently for us to follow where you lead.
All: Yet, we wait for you to mend what we have broken. We prefer to blame you for all the conflict, suffering, and destruction so we can remain on the sidelines while others sacrifice themselves for the sake of justice, peace, and healing.

One: Let us pray together…
All: Holy God, you have always responded to your people with steadfast love and faithfulness. Forgive us for our inability to follow you. We know that you yearn for the day when we set aside our fearful, self-protective ways. Open our hearts to all the ways in which we benefit from racist systems and discriminatory world-views. You would have us live in peace with all our neighbors. You would have us care for Creation with gentle, grateful hands. You would have us love and serve you by loving and serving all humankind. Forgive us. Mend what we have broken inside ourselves that we may be the mending that the world needs. May we let go of our self-serving sin to truly become your body here and now.

Silent prayer

One: Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
All: We come and take on this yoke of forgiveness and love. May God’s love for us be made visible in all our words and deeds. In Christ’s name. Amen.

RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 9, 2017
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:10-17 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13 or
Zechariah 9:9-12 with Psalm 145:8-14
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe</a

Musings Sermon Starter

Hosea’s Children are Alive and Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RCL – Year C – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – July 24, 2016
Hosea 1:2-10 with Psalm 85 or
Genesis 18:20-32 with Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

Top Photo: Photo: CC0 image by Pexels A
Bottom Photo: Photo: CC0 image by 15299 A

Musings Sermon Starter

Faith and Politics

forgive-208824.jpgIt’s just after Super Tuesday and I’m having trouble reconciling the atmosphere of this election cycle with the messages of this week’s text. The common themes in the RCL this week are repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. When religion, Christianity in particular, has been used (or abused) to further the agenda of presidential candidates, then it’s fair to ask if anyone has looked at the Bible lately. I’m not sure any of them, on either side of the aisle, really has.

In the reading from Joshua, the time of wandering for the Israelites has come to an end. They no longer need the manna that God has provided for them and they can survive off the produce of the land of Cana. Most importantly, the shame of Egypt has been wiped clean and the Israelites are fully restored as God’s people. There is no going back to the great days of Israel’s history; there is only moving forward, trusting in God’s forgiveness and living into the gift of restoration that has been bestowed on them. Have any candidates claiming Judeo-Christian values spoken of a desire to live as forgiven, restored people of God?

Even the somewhat complex passage in 2 Corinthians reminds Christians that to be ambassadors for Christ means to embody the righteousness of God. There is no comment about any past glory. There is only a call to live in the present, knowing God’s forgiveness and reconciliation. Essentially, we are to be as Christ to one another. Again, I’m not sure any candidates have displayed much Christ-like behavior, particularly when it comes to People of Color or Muslims or LGBT people.

If these aren’t enough, then there is the gospel text, the familiar Prodigal Son parable. The younger son demands his inheritance, blows it all, ends up destitute, and returns home with low expectations. His father welcomes him extravagantly while the older son fumes. Fairness does not enter into this parable. If it did, the father would have turned his youngest son away, or kept him in servant status. Instead, he is welcomed and restored to full personhood within the family, no questions asked. The son repented, the father forgave, and they moved on to restoration. They didn’t dwell in the past nor did restoration of personhood and status as beloved son mean that everything was the way it had been; the young man had no more inheritance to look forward to or build his life around. However, he was treated with love and grace.

I probably don’t need to say it at this point, but the direction in which this country is headed terrifies me. Every vote for Trump is a vote that is the antithesis to repentance, forgiveness, and restoration to relationships of love. He claims he wants to “make America great again” and too many people seem to be taken in by this. I’m no historian, but what point in American history was so great that we ought to recreate it? Perhaps First Nations People would have the best claim here. America was great before the Europeans invaded… Seriously, though, when was life so great?prison-407714

Surely, People of Color will say that now is better than any point in the past. Yes, there is
racism everywhere, but people are at least calling it out and challenging all of us to find a new and better way. We can repent of our national sin of racism. We can seek to restore all persons of color to full personhood and work toward engaging in loving relationships. If forgiveness comes later for white people of privilege, then so much the better. In the meantime, repentance and reparations that lead to restoration of personhood is where we ought to be. Honestly, building a wall around Mexico (and Canada) is not the answer.

New Americans, particularly those who practice Islam, aren’t going to advocate returning to some point in the past, either. And women, do we really want to go back to the days when doors were closed and aprons were the daily attire? And LGBTQ folks, do we want to go back to days of hiding and secrecy? How about going back to the days of child labor or when no one talked about child abuse?

No politician is going to solve all the problems in this country. Not one of them is going to be nearly as gracious as the father in Jesus’ parable. However, do we want a leader who sounds mostly like the angry elder brother who just wants to keep his stuff and get the recognition he thinks is his due?

As I continue to contemplate these texts, I yearn for a time when all the fear and suspicion in our relationships with our neighbors will be replaced with welcome and love. I want to move into a future in which all human beings are restored to their rightful place as beloved children of God and we repent for the times when we fail to recognize Christ in one another. Then we can have the shame of our past wiped clean and we can live in the fullness of God’s righteousness.

I know, I’m a dreamer. Somebody has to be…

RCL – Year C – Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 6, 2016
Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Top Photo CC0 image by Diana de Weert
Bottom Photo CC0 image by Dieter

liturgy Prayer

A Litany for the Penitent

monks-1077839God sets a table overflowing with grace and invites all who hunger and thirst to come and eat and be satisfied.
Yet, we claim the table for ourselves alone and then fail to sit still and drink deeply.

With generosity and steadfast love God provides bread enough for the journey and longs to satisfy our souls with peace.
Yet, we live in fear of not having enough and expending a lot of energy on much that does not satisfy.

God speaks to us even now, calling us to remember that we are a holy people, called to embody love, grace, and mercy wherever we find ourselves.
Yet, we spend a lot of time building walls, creating divisions, listening to voices that nurture fear and hatred.

Jesus walked a way of love, speaking hard words of truth, offering forgiveness without end.
Yet, we continue to deny our sins, hide our brokenness, and forget that we are loved more deeply than imagination can go.

In these quiet moments of worship, we recognize how much we thirst for God and how often we have failed to bear fruit as we try to live as if we have no God.
And God patiently waits for us to see the table set for us with such grace; the invitation never ends.

So now we repent honestly and openly.
We say aloud that we have been fearful and stingy with our neighbors and ourselves. We have judged others as unworthy to avoid confronting the broken places in our own lives. We have participated in racism, sexism, classism and other prejudices that separate us from others who bear the image of God. We have lived in fear of those who know God by different names. We have treated others and ourselves as though we have no value. We have not lived as beloved children of God. With humble hearts and open spirits, we ask for forgiveness.

God’s mercy is without limits. God’s love for us is not determined by our actions or failures to act, abilities or limitations, wealth or poverty, wholeness or brokenness. God claims each of us and calls us by name and offers forgiveness and mercy to all who come seeking.
Today we come to God’s table once more. We welcome God’s forgiveness as we try to forgive ourselves and others. We begin anew to love our neighbors and ourselves, to embody the gift of God’s love.


(If you are looking for sermon ideas, you might want to try here: revgalblogpals)


RCL – Year C – Third Sunday in Lent – February 28, 2016
Isaiah 55:1-9
Psalm 63:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

Photo CC0 image by Jose Antonio Alba

Musings Sermon Starter

Saving Lives

banner-949932On February 14, 1983 I woke up in the local emergency room and I was not happy. Apparently, I had woken up in my room at home and made it downstairs before passing out. My mother then called 911 because she could not wake me up. Sometime later, I woke up in the hospital. By then, it was no secret what I had done. The day before I had purposely overdosed because I did not want to live anymore.

I was fifteen and completely overwhelmed. A few months before I had lost a few pounds and received a lot of praise. By February I had a full-blown eating disorder that would soon be apparent to everyone. But on the day I overdosed, my slowed digestion might have prevented more serious consequences to what I had done. Even so, my memories of that day and the week that followed have never been more than hazy.

People came to visit. Some I remember and some I don’t. I have a few distinct memories. One is of the senior pastor of my childhood church in the emergency room holding a basin while my stomach forcefully ejected its contents. He was kind and caring. It was either that day or a later time when he said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know how much pain you were in. I would have tried to help.” He wasn’t alone; no one really knew what I was experiencing.

Another memory I have is less clear only because I know there are pieces missing.  It is of the associate pastor showing up in the emergency room and not leaving. Of course, he had to have left and returned several times during the week that followed. At some point I promised that I would not try to kill myself again. Over the weeks, months, and years  I learned to trust him enough to share some of the most painful parts of my life because he kept coming back. He continuously showed up and did not leave me alone in the utter darkness I felt.

These pastors weren’t the only ones who showed up. The congregation also demonstrated care and concern and support. By June of that year I was hospitalized for eating disorder treatment. During those two months, the congregation sent cards and gifts and welcomed me with genuine care on my weekend visits home. They truly embodied what it means to be church. I was one of the fragile, most vulnerable members and they cared for me without hesitation. They gave me a place of belonging, a place where I was loved and valued. Because of this 9 years later this same congregation would lay their hands on me, ordaining me to ministry in the United Church of Christ.

The journey to my ordination day was not an easy one, though. In spite of the lessons of love I received from my childhood church, it took a long time for me to believe that God loved even me. I could tell myself that if they really knew me, they would not love me. That faulty reasoning allowed me to believe that God could not love me because God really knew me. It was with another pastor in another church while I was a seminary student that I finally realized God’s love and care for me.

lifesaver-242667.jpgIt was a typical Sunday night youth group meeting. The associate pastor and I were leading a discussion on peer pressure. It was all the stuff one might expect in the early ‘90s. Kids were struggling with alcohol, drugs, sex, grades, sports, etc. One of the girls finally burst out with, “You don’t know! You don’t know how much pressure there is to be perfect!” She went on to list her struggles with grades and sports. The pastor looked at me and I essentially told my story. The tone of the meeting shifted and became much more “real” after that.

When the meeting was over, the pastor and I were debriefing. And I lost it. I confessed that I didn’t think God loved me. Where was Christ during the traumatic times in my life? Where was Christ when I wanted to die? Where was Christ when I fought so hard for recovery? Where was Christ if he loved me so much? My friend kept quiet and let me come to the realization on my own. Christ was present in those bleakest moments. Christ surrounded me with a faithful community and people who embodied God’s unconditional love. Christ’s own heart broke when the pain was more than I could bear. Christ remained present, waiting for me to see, feel, and accept the love, forgiveness, and healing.

Emotional and spiritual healing are slow.  My journey has not been pain-free since those
early days. However, the way the church I grew up in embodied God’s love for me kept me anchored in church through all the pain and struggles that would follow. They lived out what Paul was describing to the church in Corinth. It was a lesson I learned early and one that has been foundational in my ministry. The church at its best is a church that cares for the most vulnerable. The greatest gift of the church is the power to save lives.

It is this power to  literally save lives that is what makes church the body of Christ. Like those early Corinthians, we forget this. We want our pews full. We want our budgets balanced and our buildings well-maintained. We want clear doctrine and guidelines for membership. We want the church to grow in numbers and be what it once was in our society. None of this matters if we are not a community that demonstrates Christ’s love in very real ways.

The world is full of people who are fragile, flawed, and lost. Why are we as Church not shouting out our message of faith loud enough to drown out the pain, violence, and hatred of this world? Who are you? You are God’s beloved and you belong in a community that loves you, values you, and wants you. We are in the business of saving lives. Let’s get to it!

The law of God is perfect,
   reviving the soul… 
More to be desired are they than gold,
   even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
   and drippings of the honeycomb.

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday after Epiphany
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21


Emerging Church Prayer

A Lenten Prayer for Mercy

In the midst of all that is, I cry out to you, O God. My words hold anger and outrage over the acts of hatred down the street and around the world. I want you to change the hearts of those who perpetrate violence and evil on innocent lives and those who condone separatist and racist views. I challenge you to write your law on their hearts.

Until I hear my own voice. Then I pray for your mercy. Forgive those times when I have remained silent when another is victimized. Or the times when only anger motivates me to utter words the feed only the dark places in me and around me. In these moments, my sins are clear even to my unseeing eyes. Have mercy on me, according to your steadfast love.

Even as I ask for mercy, I know that I come seeking you when it is convenient for me. While I want to condemn those who claim to know you and act with so much hatred, I realize that I am not much different. Like those Greeks who came long ago to see you after you raised Lazarus, I come calling your name. I wish to see you, not as you are, but in a way that makes me comfortable. Show me your ways that I will remember your word.

Deep in the wilderness of this season, it is easier for me to rail against the sins of others than to acknowledge my own. I can denounce politicians and policy makers for ignoring the needs of prisoners and immigrants, the homeless and the lost, the asylum seekers and the broken ones. Yet, how often I have failed to see you in their faces! I can be so quick to judge and so slow to show your mercy. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit with in me.

Guide me through the darkness that lurks just waiting for me to turn from your light. I would honor your covenant of love and grace. Grant me the courage to let go of all those things that prevent me from bearing much fruit. You offer your mercy over and over again. This time, may I live in your grace long enough to pass it on to another.

Write your law upon my heart, O

Christ have mercy on me.


RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 22, 2015
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12 or Psalm 119:9-16
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33                                                  Image from Used with permission.