Musings Sermon Starter

Suicide Prevention: Embodying Love, Forgiveness, and Mercy

Image: square of sunlight shining through a dark tunnel

As I write, I am aware that September is National Suicide Prevention Month and September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s the prefect time to talk about God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy and how they save lives, or could if congregations could grasp hold of them in meaningful, transformative ways.

Let’s start with the story of the Israelites escaping Egypt. This is a familiar story. We know that God heard the people’s cry and sent Moses and Aaron to free them from Pharaoh’s oppressive rule, a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph. After a series of plagues, the Israelites follow Moses and cross the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s army is washed out. It’s a powerful story of God’s liberating love, without question. If we look closer, there are also some indications of how God continues to work in our lives.

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them.It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Exodus 14:19-20

Notice that the angel, the cloud, moves from the position of leading out of oppression to the position of protector from the persuers. It’s the next verse that I find particularly compelling. The cloud was there with the darkness. In the midst of the fleeing, the fear, the chaos, the literal dark of night, the cloud was there and it provided light, safety, guidance, protection, and hope. It kept the dark from being all there was. What a powerful metaphor for the Body of Christ today. If we could be the presence that is there with the darkness, the despair, the hopelessness, the depression, the chaos, then we, as church, could be the beacon that keeps the gaping maw of total despair at bay. If we could be the embodiment of the liberating God who offers love, forgiveness, and mercy without judgement or condition, we could save lives. Imagine the church as the cloud, the messenger of God, that can lead out of oppression and protect from the oppressive forces. There would be hope for all, especially those who struggle with suicidality.

If this story is not sufficient for how the church could be a powerful witness while in the midst of all that is life-destroying in this world, there are others. Think of the story of Joseph. He was thrown into a pit by his brothers and sold into slavery. When he could have become embittered and held onto anger, he offered forgiveness to his brothers. He recognized that while his brothers had intended harm, God transformed Joseph situation into something good and lifesaving. We can learn much from this story.

We can see that we should not look down on those caught in the “pits” of today’s world. It’s not like they fell into the depths on their own. While their literal siblings might not have been the ones to discard them, they were definitely discarded. Also, we never know whom God will pick to do great things, even those who have been sold out by others who ought to know better.

And then there is the forgiveness piece. Joseph modeled how God forgives us – without condition. It was enough for Joseph that his brothers came with humility seeking his help. God requires even less than that. Of course, we cannot find God’s forgiveness and live it out if we do not go seeking it with humility. So, too, for our congregations. We need to approach God like Joseph’s brothers, acknowledging that we are responsible for the pits of society; if we didn’t help dig them, we’ve not done all that we could to fill them in. While we are seeking God’s forgiveness, we also need to be offering it much more freely. If God forgives without condition, the church should be like Joseph was with his brothers and be profligate with forgiveness.

Just imagine how a forgiving community could change the life of someone who lives with tremendous guilt and shame over things that they have done or things that have been done to them. A word of forgiveness, an act of merciful acceptance, can save lives when offered with sincerity. For the person who lives with symptoms of mental illness, especially suicidality, a reminder of God’s forgiveness embodied by a community has more power than most of us recognize.

Jesus was clear on the power and importance of giving and receiving forgiveness. You know, “forgive seventy-seven times” meaning as many times as necessary. If we believe that we are loved without condition, then we must work toward accepting God’s unconditional forgiveness. It’s imperative that we do this. There are people in this world who are desperate for hope, desperate for the presence of God to be with them, illuminating a way through the hopelessness, promising liberation and protection. People who experience suicidality are unlikely to encounter God’s presence because depression lies and blocks out everything except one’s own utter lack of worth. If we want to save lives, then we must embody Divine Love, demonstrating unconditional forgiveness, and offering continuous mercy.

No one is exempt from suicidal thoughts, especially now in this time of pandemic. While we work toward living into God’s vision of love, forgiveness, and mercy, let’s take time to equip ourselves to save lives. Learn the risks for suicide, the warning signs, and the resources in your community and denomination. Hopelessness, depression, anxiety, and suicide are all on the rise. When we embody God’s love without conditions, we save lives. When we talk about mental illness and suicidality in our churches, we save lives. This is the work that God has set before us in 2020 – to do all that we can to save lives. We have work to do. Yet, we do not go alone. There is a Light that shines with us all and nothing can extinguish it. It is our guide and our protector. May we all live lives of love, forgiveness, and mercy so that our churches may be lifesaving.

Image: Text HOME to 741741 for crisis support in the U.S.
Image: Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

For more about being a Lifesaving Church.

RCL – Year A – Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 13, 2020
Exodus 14:19-31 with Psalm 114
or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21
Genesis 50:15-21 with Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

Top Photo: CC0image by Rúben Gál

Musings Sermon Starter

Out of the Pit

The story of Joseph being thrown into a pit by his brothers is a horrifying one. Reuben seems to be the only caring one in the bunch. He advocated for throwing Joseph in the pit and not murdering him so that later Reuben could return Joseph to their father. That isn’t what happened, though. After the brothers had thrown Joseph in the pit, some traders came by (Ishmaelites or Midianites) and Judah had the brilliant idea of selling Joseph and telling their father that Joseph had died. It’s an ugly story. One that eventually comes right but ugly nonetheless.

Some will respond to this story saying that it was God’s will for the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery because God needed Joseph in Egypt for when Pharaoh needed an advisor. However, attributing things to God’s will to justify the inexplicable is nonsense. It would be like saying the Holocaust was God’s will because it paved the way for reestablishing the state of Israel. Nonsense. In the case of Joseph, his brothers’ jealousy and hatred led them to do a horrible thing. Their hatred and jealousy of Joseph made them forget that Joseph was their brother. Their actions of throwing Joseph into the pit and then selling him into slavery had nothing to do with God. Later, when Joseph was useful to Pharaoh, that was God’s doing. God was in the redemption, not the sin. We need to stop blaming tragedy on the will of God and start looking at human behavior.

When we read this story of Joseph and his brothers, many of us are inclined to identify with Joseph or, maybe Reuben with his plan to rescue his baby brother. However, it seems to me that we as church, particularly white church, behave much more like the other brothers. We have allowed our fear to grow into hatred of too many of our siblings. The fear that feeds our systems of white supremacy and racism has us, at the very least, keeping our siblings in pits. Some of us are actively throwing our BIPOC siblings into pits and doing everything possible to keep them enslaved. Some of us are like Reuben and plan to save our siblings with little action to follow up on the plan. God may be trying to redeem our sins. However, there is so much resistance to liberating society from white supremacy, that God’s drive toward love and justice rarely comes through.

I’ve witnessed a trend on social media in recent weeks that underscores my point. When a person who is not white, cis gender, heterosexual, and, usually male, posts about an experience of “othering” by a white, cis gender, heterosexual, usually male, jumps in with a “well, I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation” for the hurtful behavior. This excuses the perpetrator of the harmful act and blames the victim. It also fortifies the systems that allow for othering. And another sibling is thrown into the pit and sold to protect the fragile feelings of those with the most privilege and power. This must stop. Isn’t it time we reached into the pit to give our siblings a hand up?

Hate, active or passive, is never God’s will. Acts of violence, public or private, are never God’s will. We are all children of God and, therefore, siblings. Every. Single. One of us. As Christians we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and to care for the vulnerable among us. It’s time to stop selling out or siblings and tossing them into pits dug with irrational fear and hatred fueled by broken social systems. What would it take for all of us to take responsibility for the ways we have contributed to sustaining systems of white supremacy? Let’s stop attributing acts of fearful, hateful, violence to the will of God.

God has been trying to break through to us with the voices and actions of prophets for generations. 2020 has been a trying year for all of us. COVID-19 is not from God to test our faith. However, pandemic has revealed truths about our society in ways that cannot and should not be denied. Pandemic acts as a magnifier of our vulnerabilities, as individuals, as the church, as a society. Rather than abdicating responsibility by saying that this is all God’s will, let us make 2020 the year we elevate our siblings who have lived in pits of despair that we have dug and been enslaved by white supremacy for generations. Let us elevate the dreamers and visionaries, the prophets and teachers, the unseen, the forgotten, the unwanted, the devalued and the dismissed. By so doing we participate in God’s redeeming acts of love and grace – for all our siblings and for ourselves. Let’s make 2020 a year of lasting redemptive change.

RCL – Year A – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 9, 2020
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 with Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b or
1 Kings 19:9-18 with Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Photo: CC0image by free-photos

Musings Sermon Starter

Learning from Jacob

After Jacob’s night of wrestling, after his hip was disjointed, did he try to hide his limp or did he embrace it as a sign of his strength and endurance? I would like to think that he did the latter, though I suspect it might have taken him a while. Jacob was known for his cunning, his trickery, his willingness to do what he had to do to get what he wanted. Yes, Laban tricked him into marrying Leah before Rachel. I’m guessing that didn’t alter his personality all that much. Maybe just growing up, claiming his identity, allowed him to accept his faults, flaws, and weaknesses, limp included.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think I have a lot in common with Jacob, or at least the Jacob I imagine. It isn’t that I will do whatever I need to do to get what I want in a way that hurts or uses others; I try to avoid that. However, for most of my life I have tried to hide my weaknesses, my limitations, my disabilities. Yes, I could name them, and yet I never really embraced them. Acceptance of my limitations is hard for me, even now.

When I was in college I was diagnosed with a learning disability that fit under the umbrella of dyslexia. While this diagnosis brought some relief and understanding to me, I told very few people. In my subsequent years of education, I think I told one professor because she asked the class to write down anything that might affect our class work, including learning disabilities. I remember writing that I was dyslexic and that it would not present a problem in class. I did not want to be viewed as “impaired” or “different.”

My journey with my physical health has been similar. It took decades to get an accurate diagnosis of POTS/Dysautonomia. In the intervening years, when my diagnosis went back and forth between Lupus and MS, I would acknowledge that I didn’t feel well and then proceed to do whatever needed doing. I didn’t want whatever was going on in my body to cause people to see me as anything other than fully capable of doing my job or living my life. These were my judgements about myself. I never viewed anyone else with any kind of disability as “less than.” Somehow, though, if I accepted my physical limitations then I would be diminished.

Now, with pandemic, I have no choice but to name my struggles. Dysautonomia and multiple autoimmune disorders put me at high risk for COVID-19. And the pacemaker given me in December doesn’t diminish that risk. I have to stay home, away from people. Sure, I’ve managed to find ways to get out, like kayaking in sparsely populated lakes. I walk my dog every day that is below 80 degrees and humidity below 45% and we cross the street a lot to avoid other people who are out without masks. I am vulnerable and I don’t like it.

Yet, it is this very vulnerability that has me thinking about Jacob in a new way. I’m guessing he didn’t fully become Israel until he embraced his brokenness; he didn’t become whole until he accepted his vulnerability. It’s an odd thing to contemplate. What makes us whole? What makes us able to accept God’s call to live in abundance and share that abundance with those who hunger and thirst (literally and figuratively)?

Jesus told the disciples that they had to feed the hungry and thirsty crowd gathered around them in the wilderness. The disciples thought Jesus may have lost touch with reality. How could they feed 20,000 people (5000 men plus women and children) with nothing? They didn’t actually have nothing. They had five loaves of bread and two fish. That turned out to be more than enough. There’s something to be said for using what we have and trusting God to make it what we need. Not for us on our own. For us and all who gather in community.

Only when we accept our whole selves, limps and limitations included, can we recognize the gifts we truly possess. Only then can we move fully into God’s abundance and serve the hungry, thirsty and vulnerable people in our communities. Whether we use our limitations as an excuse for inaction or we pretend we have no limits and in so doing cannot fully use our gifts, we are serving no one but ourselves.

Now is the perfect time for us as individuals and for us as the church, to embrace our broken places and accept the whole of who we are. Only then will we be the Body of Christ needed right now. Jacob became Israel after his hip was put out of joint and he could not deny his brokenness, his vulnerabilities as a human being. Imagine how the church would change if every congregation would spend a night or more wrestling with God to come limping into a new day. We could name and claim our vulnerabilities, our brokenness, and even our sins, and move just that much closer into living in God’s abundance. The world can be transformed if we stopped pretending to be perfect and embraced our wholeness instead.

Who would have thought that Jacob would be a model for living in God’s abundance…

RCL – Year A – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 2, 2020
Genesis 32:22-31 with Psalm 17:1-7, 15 or
Isaiah 55:1-5 with Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Photo: CC0image by jplenio

Musings Sermon Starter

Is God in this Place?

Image is a close-up of two pale blue butterflies on dandelions facing each other

A kind of weariness has caught up with me this week. In many ways my life has been nonstop problem solving since mid-March. Four months later my corner of the world has adapted to the limitations of pandemic. The congregation I serve is all Zoom, all the time with the understanding that we will not gather in person again until it is safe for every one of us. This week it has finally hit me, though. As a new routine has established itself, I feel more unsettled than I have during the last few months. Now in these quieter days of summer there is time for me to feel the feelings for myself. I’ve been too busy helping everyone else for my own feelings to come to the surface.

Now that they are here, I’m ready for them to pass. No matter how many times I tell myself that I have all that I need and I have the privilege of working from home, frustration still simmers. I am impatient when everyday tasks are more complicated than I expected. I am forgetting the simplest tasks. I spend too much time looking for my phone. I get teary over commercials that I’ve seen hundreds of times. And, if I am honest, I am still lamenting the sabbatical I was supposed to have this summer. None of these things are unbearable; indeed, they are signs of ongoing stress. Over and over again, I have told people to be gentle with themselves because pandemic magnifies our vulnerabilities. Time to heed my own words.

I read Jacob’s words in Genesis, “Surely, the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” and realize I could say nearly the same thing. Yes, God is in this place, this time of pandemic. I know this is true, and yet, I often forget the power of this truth. Those angels ascending and descending in Jacob’s dream are a lovely metaphor for God’s continued work in the world. God moves through the world, through us, in ways we seldom grasp in the moment. Our failure to notice God does not negate God’s presence, God’s works of love.

Too many of us are simply waiting for pandemic to be over. Too many are already acting as if COVID-19 is not real and poses no threat. Too many of us are not considering how our actions might affect others. We are so desperate to “return to normal” that we are not attending to what God might be asking of us in this very moment. Yes, its hard to be without direct human contact. Yes, its hard to avoid crowds. Yes, its hard to be without a variety of things we have taken for granted. And it is probably harder for those who don’t have the option of working from home, those who rely on public transportation, those who work in healthcare, and teachers being asked to go back into classrooms, and many others who cannot distance themselves from others due to circumstances. The reality is that pandemic is hard for all of us in different ways. To pretend otherwise leads to pent up emotions that come out sideways (like yelling at the food processor when the lid was stuck on – yeah, I did that). Pretending that everything is “normal” also gets in the way of recognizing the movement of the Spirit.

Psalm 139 (one of my personal favorites) reminds us that there is no place we can go where God is not already there. Even in pandemic, God is with us, waiting for us to notice. Right now God is sowing seeds of goodness, grace, love, forgiveness – seeds of the Kingdom – throughout the world and among us. We know there are those who sow seeds of fear, hatred, division, and violence. Our focus ought to be nurturing the seeds of God’s Realm, making sure these seeds grow and bear fruit. While we cannot necessarily remove the other things, we can choose not to nurture them, not to strengthen them, not to let them grow in our lives or in our communities. We don’t need to worry about saving souls; God has that covered. We need to focus on saving lives. We need to do everything in our power to prevent the worsening of this pandemic – everything from adhering to the basics such as wearing a mask and physically distancing to the more complicated decisions of how and when to safely meet in person. In addition, we can advocate for those who often go unheard and unseen and devalued by those with decision-making power. And we can choose to stop making judgements about how other people are coping with pandemic; most people do the best they can with what they have.

Surely, God is in this with us! Even in the moments when we forget or fail to notice, God is present and moving in the world. May we trust God’s presence enough to act with loving-kindness toward ourselves, our neighbors, and the whole of Creation.

RCL – Year A – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 19, 2020
Genesis 28:10-19a with Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 or
Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or
Isaiah 44:6-8 with Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Photo: CC0image by Ronny Overhate


A Confessional Prayer

image of four wild horse running with a rainbow in the background

Holy One, you are like no other god—a lesson you have tried to teach us again and again. Though Abraham expected you to need the sacrifice of Isaac, you did not. You ask us to unbind ourselves from the pain-filled destructive ways of old. You ask us to rid ourselves of our ties to racism and white supremacy, to xenophobia, and to fears that prevent us from seeing you in ourselves and in our neighbors. Forgive us for the ways we cling to outdated understandings and traditions that no longer hold meaning. Forgive us and call us into your presence once more.

Ever-patient God, you hear our cries of “How long, O Lord, how long?” and you wait for us to change our ways. You are present with us in joy and in sorrow, in peace and in war. Yet, we mistake your presence for your blessing. Moreover, we want you to fix what we have broken. Instead, you provide us with all that we need for healing, for peace, for abundant life—not just for ourselves but for all. Have mercy on us when we fail to take responsibility for our sins of destruction, dehumanization, and divisions. Have mercy on us and awaken us to the possibilities of life in your Spirit.

God of life and love, do you ever grow tired of waiting for us to turn to you? How many times must you set us free from ourselves? How many times do you need to put your Love on full display before we see how precious we are, before we recognize you in all peoples? You have demonstrated the saving power of your Love again and again. You tell us that we are free from sin and ask us to serve righteousness. And still we persist in causing harm, often in your name. Call us once more to live as you taught—loving our neighbors as ourselves. Call us and awaken us to the power of Love.

Steadfast God, we are tangled up in so much that is not good for us. The knots of fear tighten when those who should lead speak only to divide. The ropes of self-righteousness wrap ever-tightly every time we fail to consider what our actions might mean for our neighbors. We say we want to be disentangled, even while reaching for new cords to bind ourselves to some other false prophet or punitive god of our own making. So many people around us are in need of water, of hope, of renewal, of release, of reparation, and we tend to think that your Living Water is meant only for us. Fill us with your grace that we may free ourselves of all that binds us to brokenness. Fill us and empower us to be agents of healing, hope, and Love.


If you are in need of sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 28, 2020
Genesis 22:1-14 with Psalm 13 or
Jeremiah 28:5-9 with Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Photo: CC0image by Skeeze

Musings Sermon Starter

Time to Work with God

Image of a large cast iron pot filled with water and surrounded by flowers

People are weird, impulsive, and messy. Reading the story of Sarah getting Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael reminds me just how foolish we all can be. Sarah was, after all, responsible for Hagar getting pregnant by Abraham to begin with. Then when Sarah finally gives birth to Isaac and Isaac and Ishmael get too close, Sarah’s own jealousy takes over. She doesn’t want anything to get in the way of God’s promise to Abraham. If Hagar and Ishmael continue to hang around, maybe God’s promise to make nations from Abraham’s descendants might not remain exclusively Isaac’s. Of course, God ended up giving Hagar the same promise so Sarah’s selfishness accomplished little, except maybe that she didn’t witness God’s promise to Hagar.

Sarah’s behavior is consistent with our own on so many levels. She treated God’s promise to Abraham as though it were pie, as though there was a limited amount and she wanted Isaac to have it all. We do this with many aspects of faith and society. We somehow believe we can control who God loves with all of our rules and doctrines and traditions. We treat justice like it is a precious commodity that must be held by the privileged few. How many have we banished to thirst in the wilderness because of our own shortsightedness? It’s not like God withdraws God’s love from those we deem unworthy. Nor does God share our views of who deserves justice. I don’t know if Sarah ever acknowledged her foolishness. However, I wonder if the current situation in the world will awaken us to our own?

In Romans Paul tells us that we share in Christ’s baptism and, also, Christ’s resurrection. In baptism we acknowledge we belong to God and recognize the grace that washes over us. We need not wait until we die to participate in Christ’s resurrection. New life is possible for us in this moment, right now. Perhaps more importantly, there is enough new life to cover every person on the planet. There is no shortage of redemption and resurrection. Such is the nature of grace. As Luther says, grace abounds.

Consequently, we can stop hoarding it. We can admit that we have been mistaken about who is “saved” and who is not. We can repent from our racist and white supremacist ways and work toward equality for all people right now. We can stop trying to say that the Bible addresses every aspect of modern life and accept that God is still at work in the world revealing the fullness of God in the wonderful diversity of humanity. Cis gender, heterosexual, white, able-bodied, privileged maleness is not perfection nor a model for how to be Christian. Remember God’s love is not pie; there is plenty for everyone even those we think are flawed or sinful. Mental illness is not a punishment for sin. Neither is any kind of disability. Every person is made in God’s image and our understanding of God is incomplete without the amazingly beautiful diversity of humanity.

God is at work in the world in spite of our weirdness, our impulsiveness, and our messiness. It is okay to make mistakes and get things wrong. However, it is not okay to persist in these ways just because they are comfortable for us. When we learn better we are supposed to do better. Moreover, we are called to care for the vulnerable among us, not banish them to the margins of society. Jesus worked hard to wake people up to the need to speak truth to power and to reach out with healing hands to those cast out. We don’t need to keep making more Hagars and Ishamaels for God to rescue with living water. As the church, the body of Christ, we are supposed to be that living water.

Maybe it is time that we start working with God to fulfill God’s vision of unity in the world rather than maintaining our systems and traditions of judgement and division. Even in pandemic, even with uprisings continuing, we have all that we need to end our compliance with white supremacy and heteronormalcy. We have erred on the side of selfish foolishness that has sent too many people out into the desert for far too long. Grace, love, justice, mercy… these are all commodities that though precious exist in abundance, an abundance so great that we can’t possible use them up.

God is still working in the world to bring new life to those we have cast out. It is time we embrace the fullness of Creation and work with God rather than against God. May we step into the grace that flows like baptismal waters and live as people of resurrection and abundance.

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 21, 2020
Genesis 21:8-21 with Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 or
Jeremiah 20:7-13 with Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

Photo: CC0image by GGaby Stein

Musings Sermon Starter

With a Little Help from My Friends

Image of man painting the word “change” in large white letters on an old, crumbling brick wall.

The older I get, the more I appreciate Sarah. Early in her relationship with Abraham, God had promised Abraham descendants more numerous than the stars. They waited patiently for quite some time and did what heterosexual couples do when wanting a child. As the years added up and they still had no child, Sarah sent Hagar to Abraham in an effort to fulfill God’s promise. Of course, Hagar gave birth to Ishmael and that was satisfactory for a while. Then, later still, messengers came and told Abraham that Sarah would have a son; God’s promise would be fulfilled. Sarah laughed because she believed she was post menopause. The impossible happened anyway. Sarah gave birth to Isaac and the descendants of Abraham are indeed uncountable just like the stars.

Neither Sarah’s laughter nor Isaac’s birth draw my attention in this moment. Right now the U.S. is on the cusp of change (or not). Pandemic continues to highlight racial disparities in ways that no one should be able to ignore or deny. George Floyd’s murder demonstrated, yet again, that our policing system is broken beyond repair which keeps Black folx and other People of Color at constant risk for death, violence, and/or unnecessary encounters with our criminal legal system (which is also very broken). Whether or not the nation changes is up to us. God has made it abundantly clear what it is we are called to do as people of faith – Christians together with those of other faith traditions. We are to care for the vulnerable among us and love our neighbors as ourselves. This is precisely what we are not doing as a nation right now. (I am not in any way suggesting that the U.S. or should be a Christian nation or a theocracy of any kind.)

Sarah may have laughed when the angel told her that she would have a son in her old age. I don’t blame her. I think many of us are laughing at the seeming impossibility (absurdity?) of abolishing the police system in the U.S. Like Sarah, we can name reasons why it would be impossible. We white folx jump to the question of who will keep us safe or if calling 911 would still work. We cannot imagine the change not having police at our beck and call. We have benefited from the white supremacist narrative that tells us the police system is good and safe and has our best interest in mind. Sometimes this is true for white folx and sometimes it isn’t. It is never true for People of Color. Just because something is good for some doesn’t mean it is good for all. Just because we can’t imagine something new and different and it seems impossible, it doesn’t mean it is “too wonderful” for God.

Here’s the thing. God doesn’t have a magic wand to zap us into creating a loving system of safety for all people. Here’s where we can take our cue from Sarah and Abraham. Let’s try some new ways of ensuring safety in our communities. There are smart folx out there with great, well-thoughtout ideas worth trying. If the first concept doesn’t work, we try others. Eventually, we will find something that works. We can laugh at the seemingly impossible, yes. And we can attempt to bring about radical, systemic change. Why not give God a hand? It’s not like we have better things to do. (Besides, you get to imagine God singing along with John Lennon and Paul McCartney.)

Sure, Sarah’s efforts to help bring about God’s promise didn’t go as she had hoped and neither she nor Abraham always behaved well (just ask Hagar and Ishmael). The important thing to remember is that they tried. They didn’t sit back and wait for miracles to happen unaided. It wasn’t always comfortable or easy. They did get to the place where the impossible and wonderful thing happened, though, didn’t they. We should take our cue from them. God needs us to get busy, laugh a little at the seemingly impossible work before us, and then make change happen.

I can’t help but think of the poem often (mis)attributed to Teresa of Avila:

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

Are we doing everything we can to be the Body of Christ needed in this time and place? If we aren’t working for real, systemic change, then the answer is no. My friends, there is much work to be done and our hands, feet, eyes, and bodies, as well as our voices, are needed if we are going to create a world in which all people are safe and free. Yes, I know that sounds impossible and it’s okay to laugh. Then remember Sarah and know that nothing is too wonderful or impossible for God, particularly when we seek to do God’s work.

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 14, 2020
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) with Psalm 116:1-2,12-19 or
Exodus 19:2-8a with Psalm 100
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:8, (9-23)

Photo: CC0image by Gerd Altmann

Bidding Prayer liturgy

Bidding Prayer for the Wilderness Journey

Come, let us pray for all those who worship the One who created all that is and loves the whole of the Cosmos.
(silence or time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns
Ever-present, Creator God, hear our prayers for all your people, those who gather in the name of Christ and those who worship by another name. Unite us in our desire to love and serve you by loving and serving all our neighbors. Make us mindful that we are your people and our siblings are numerous. In these days of change, conflict, and war, you call us to leave behind what we have known, and journey to strange places whose customs we have yet to learn or create. Grant us the trust of Abram and the courage of Sarai that we may all follow you into new and life-sustaining ways.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for the United Church of Christ and our sister denominations throughout the world.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
God of all times and places, hear our prayers for the United Church of Christ and those who lead it. May we hear your call as clearly as Abram did and be willing to leave behind that which no longer serves. May our commitment to following you outweigh our love affair with the past. Grant us the temerity of Nicodemus to come to you, as with the yearning of our hearts. Open us to your call to life and love in new ways, paving the way for change, for growth, for the deepening of our covenant with you and with one another.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for all the peoples of this world.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Patient and merciful God, hear our prayers for all the peoples of the world. We lift up to those near and far who do not know they are loved and valued. We acknowledge the ways we have participated in systems of oppression that have caused pain to our neighbors. Teach us your ways of mercy and grace that we may join with protesters rather than complain about the disruption to our days. As we journey through the Lenten wilderness, increase our awareness of the needs of others, especially those who remain willfully unseen. Remind us once more that your love is for the whole of the Cosmos and we are to leave no one out.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for this nation and those who lead it.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)

God of our ancestors and God of all our days, hear our prayers for this country and all who live within its borders. In this season of political choosing, be present with us, enveloping us with your mercy and your love. As we participate in primary elections, guide us with your wisdom. Your Spirit blows where it wills, and so it should be with our lives. Let us not resist the power of your Spirit. Rather, let us resist those who would lead us away from justice, compassion, and equity for all those who call this country home. May we seek leaders who will care for the vulnerable among us more than they care for wealth or power.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for all those in need of healing.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Healing and compassionate God, hear us as we pray for those who need healing in body, mind, or spirit. We especially lift up those who are wrongfully imprisoned or unjustly sentenced, especially those who are on death row. As we pray for those who struggle with the broken places in their lives, fill us with your compassion that our prayerful words may lead to acts of welcome and inclusion for those the world has pushed to the edges. May your Wisdom guide us to be the Body of Christ needed in the world today.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
strong>My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for all those who grieve and suffer the pain of loss.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
God of love and joy, hear us as we pray for those who are grieving. We pray for refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants who, like Abram and Sarai, have left all that they have known to seek a life of safety and peace. We pray for those like Nicodemus who are lost under the cover of night and desperately want new life. As we examine the barren places in our own lives, we come to you, trusting that you are a God of hope and wholeness. Be at work in us and among us that we may be your healing body where grief, sadness, and loss can be held until new life becomes possible.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us give thanks to God for all that we have and all that we are.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Generous and forgiving God, hear us as we give thanks for our lives. We often fail to express our gratitude for all that you have given us, focusing overly much on what we do not have or cannot do. As we travel this road to Jerusalem with you, shift our focus to your abundance, your love and grace, that is all around us. Jesus went into the desert with your words of “Beloved” echoing in his spirit; he did not go alone. Open us anew to your presence and our belovedness. We are agents of Love and Grace here and now, and we are grateful for your Love, mercy, and forgiveness which leads us through the wild places into the fullness of life with you.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth. Amen.

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday in Lent – March 8, 2020
Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17 or Matthew 17:1-9

Photo: CC0image by Anja

Musings Sermon Starter

Temptation with a Capital T

Given the current political climate in the U.S., I’ve been thinking a lot about temptation and how Christians tend to trivialize it. Jesus wasn’t tempted by small things when he was in the wilderness. It wasn’t a question of eating an extra cookie or skipping his time at the gym or engaging in dubious sexual activity. Jesus was tempted by bigger things, not because he was the Christ, but because he was human. The more we focus on the small temptations we face, the more we diminish the power of Jesus encounter with Satan in the wilderness.

Yes, I am inclined to treat this story as metaphor and myth rather than history and fact. It is, nonetheless, a true story. I don’t doubt that Jesus went into a time of fasting and prayer after his baptism. He very likely went out into the wilderness to do so. What better place to encounter God than in a land untouched by human hands? The longer he was there, the more he wrestled with his personal demons. We would do well to follow his example.

The first temptation Jesus faces is his hunger. He could have turned the rocks to bread, but would that have satisfied him? If our hunger is spiritual and not physical, no amount of bread will fill the void. If one is fasting in order to facilitate a deeper spiritual encounter, then bread will not meet that need. Jesus knew something that Eve had not learned when she bit into the serpent’s temptation; knowledge and wisdom are two different things. Jesus knew that feeding his stomach would not prepare him for what lay ahead.

In the modern context, we mistake fasting with dieting. We mistake the physical for the spiritual, especially when it comes to hunger. Those of us with full cabinets and freezers fall back on our Puritanical preset of believing that people who cannot afford to feed themselves are somehow to blame and their poverty is God’s punishment. Even when we say we do not believe this archaic theology, we tend to act as if we do and by so doing, we make physical hunger a spiritual problem. On the flip side, those of us with access to enough food often eat more than we need and just as often use food to soothe ourselves. In other words, we attempt to satisfy our spiritual hunger with physical food. This is no more affective than the reverse. Perhaps it is time we sort this out. No doubt Satan and his minions would rather we continue as we are. Otherwise, feeding those who are physically hungry and nurturing those who are spiritually hungry sounds a lot like Jesus’ response about not living by bread alone.

Having failed in his first efforts, Satan moves on. Jesus’ second temptation is to prove his own value by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus seems to have understood his own worth better than most of us today. He was not concerned with proving how far God would go to protect him. Was he secure in God’s love for him or did he simply understand that the worth others bestow on us means nothing until we bestow it upon ourselves?

We are awful judges of human value today. We foolishly believe that financial and material wealth are signs of God’s favor without giving a thought to racism and other social factors that hold many generations in poverty. While we might be tempted to say that God loves all human beings we are, at core, highly skeptical about our own standing with God, not to mention our neighbors’. Once again our Puritanical preset reveals our lack of wisdom. We can know that God does not favor the wealthy over the poor, the able over the disabled, the healthy over the sick, etc, but our behavior shows something different. Look at the state of this country and it is impossible to deny that we have let outdated-unexamined theology wreak havoc. Perhaps we could follow Jesus’ example and believe that God loves us and all our neighbors and stop trying to prove that we are valued and loved and important.

If we don’t, we will never manage to escape the third temptation. Satan invited Jesus into ownership of and power over everyone. It was simple enough – worship Satan and not God. Jesus saw through this with seeming ease (though I suspect it was more a struggle than the Bible lets on). Jesus chose God over Satan and his time of temptation ended. The power was in the choice.

The unfortunate truth is that we aren’t very good at worshiping God. It is often more enticing to seek after ownership and power. And in a society that frequently mistakes these things for signs of blessings, the temptation is even stronger. Worshiping God is often the harder choice when siren song of society is, “bigger, better, more…” Who wants to be a humble servant to Love and show that by serving human beings and Creation with intentional compassion when the accumulation of wealth leads to power and success? Now might be an excellent time to disentangle ourselves from the pursuit of power and dedicate our lives to serving the most vulnerable among us as Jesus commanded.

If you are among the many who have given up chocolate, coffee, beer, wine, or even social media for Lent, how will you spend that time you would have spent in those pursuits? Will you watch to see if the numbers on the scale go down? Will you browse the internet to fill the void created by the absence of social media? Or will you enter into the wilderness place and chance meeting your demons who will put your true temptations on display? Whatever your Lenten practice may be, may we face our own demons and the demons of our society with grace and assurance of God’s love. In this way, may we wrestle as Jesus did and make the choice that will end our time with Satan with the arrival of angels.

If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – First Sunday in Lent – March 1, 2020
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Photo: CC0image by Anja

liturgy Poetry Prayer

A Confessional Prayer

Ever-patient God, 
Jeremiah's ancient words stir within me
You let truth tumble from his lips
down through the ages
to land on my restless spirit
sour grapes are frequently easier to ingest
than the word You would inscribe on my heart
this troubling truth awakens desire in me
yet do I reach for society's sour fruit
or the sweetness of Your words and ways?

Maker of mercy and miracles,
the psalmist sings of Your help and Your hope
while I continue to reach for grapes
knowing my lips will pucker and I will remain hungry
my reluctance to accept the sweet abundance You offer
makes me wonder if I am wrestling with You
or with my own misguided need to be strong and fr
please hold me fast until I hear you calling my name
one more time, breaking the spell woven
by society's deceitful lies
masquerading as nourishing,desirable fruit
though they serve only to sour all
may I have the courage to endure Your grip
and the wisdom to receive Your word (again)

Fierce and gentle God,
how often I have turned from Your ways
let go of Your promises
as if Your word means nothing
as fragile and fleeting as ash in the wind
Your love is endures through all things, all times, all places
when pain is overwhelming, You abide
when I am lost and wandering, You remain
when I insist on eating those deceitful grapes
You wait with honey in hand
for that moment of repentant return
how is it that any of us are worthy of Your love
Your mercy
Your forgiveness
Your eternal patience?

Giver of life and love,
Forgive me for choosing simple, self-serving actions
over the complexity of Your ways
of loving neighbor and self
of serving You and creation
Forgive me when I pester You with trivial concerns
and the sourness of my prayers distances me
from the sweetness of Your love
Forgive me when I fail to turn to you with gratitude
with full recognition for all that is good in my life
Forgive me each time I don't see You
in a neighbor's need
Forgive me for thinking I am on my own in the wilderness
as if You aren't there
along with that immeasurable cloud of witnesses

Gracious God,
write Your word on my heart anew
even knowing that we will wrestle again (and again)
and my pestering prayers
won't always be filled with true need
my deepest desire is to live in Your abundance
build Your kingdom
travel Your holy ways
and embody Your love
I am yours


RCL – Year C – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 13, 2019
Jeremiah 31:27-34 with Psalm 119:97-104 or
Genesis 32:22-31 with Psalm 121 and
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 and
Luke 18:1-8

Photo: CC0image by Elias Sch