Musings Sermon Starter

Silence is Compliance

Image of a shepherd with his dog and herd of sheep on a sunny, green hillside.

It’s been quite a week here in the Twin Cities, and in my life. The verdict of guilty on all three charges in the Chauvin trial shifted the mood considerably. There is now hope where there was none. However, this hope is mitigated by the killing of Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and Ma’Khia Bryant. So much work is before us still.

On a more personal note, I received my second vaccine with minor, though annoying, symptoms, completed a three-day training on the IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory), and observed the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death. As I said, it’s been a week.

Through all of this I’ve been thinking about the “Good Shepherd” passages. Psalm 23 is a popular favorite and Jesus’ claim to be the Good Shepherd in John’s gospel makes us generally feel good. It’s easy to picture God or Jesus as a good shepherd. We feel watched-over and protected. However, if Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we who are church members are the embodiment of Christ, then we are to be the Good Shepherd in the world. And this is where the challenge is. We are to follow and to embody all at the same time. We aren’t doing very well at either, most days anyway.

Jesus said he was the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for his own. And, of course, he did. Jesus died at the hands of those who could not tolerate Love Incarnate, those who were enamored with the power, position, prestige, and promises granted by the Empire. Jesus challenged the authorities (both Jewish and Roman) of his day at every opportunity. He sought to literally re-member (connect or reconnect) the outcasts with community. He sought to empower the people to live into their relationship with God.

Jesus was a threat to those with power and a friend to the oppressed. We are called to embody those qualities – challenge the Empire and befriend the oppressed. This is the Good Shepherd we say we follow. Are we willing to lay down our lives for the benefit of those who are oppressed, cast out, dismissed, devalued, or dehumanized? If not, how closely do we follow this Shepherd? How do we embody the Love the Good Shepherd demonstrated for the whole of the cosmos?

I’m not saying we all have to go out and risk our lives in a literal way. I’m suggesting that we have to more actively put our lives on the line. You know, take risks to ensure that these modern day lynchings of Black and Brown adults and children come to an end. The conviction of Chauvin is a good start. It is not enough, though. We need more. We need to keep advocating for murder charges to be brought against police officers who shoot and/or kill Black and Brown people with no good reason. We who identify as White progressive Christians need to learn how to amplify the voices of those calling for the abolishment of police and the dismantling of the criminal legal system, and all the other systems that thrive on White supremacy and racism. Can we say we follow the Good Shepherd if we continue to remain on the sidelines in silence? Can we say we embody Christ if we are seeking justice for all people?

In case it isn’t clear, I’m really wondering what it means to be Christian in the U.S. in this moment in history. I know that my own views have radically changed over the last decade or more, particularly in the last 6.5 years I’ve lived in Minnesota. My shift in perspective is due in part to Black Lives Matter and participating in marches, rallies, and protests and really listening to POC in my community. If Jesus is Divine Love Incarnate and the church is the embodiment of that Love, then we have a lot of crap to clean up before we can claim that it is true. Silence is compliance, and White progressive Christians have been silent for far too long. We have also created the illusion that we “welcome all.” Most congregations don’t welcome all. My friends, if one member of the Body of Christ is a White Supremacist, then the Body of Christ is a White Supremacist. If one member of the Body of Christ has benefited or continues to benefit from White supremacy, then the Body of Christ benefits from White supremacy. If one member of the Body of Christ is racist, then the Body of Christ is racist. This is not what Jesus would want for his followers. This is not what it means to be the embodiment of the Good Shepherd.

If we want to be led to those green pastures and still waters, then we must do our part to remove everything that has prevented the grass from growing and everything that has polluted the waters. Isn’t it time we do better? Isn’t it time we actively participate in mending and healing what we have broken?

The Shepherd waits.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 25, 2021 Acts 8:26-40  • Psalm 22:25-31  • 1 John 4:7-21  • John 15:1-8

Photo: CC0image by free-photos

Musings Sermon Starter

More than Words


We, as church, have thought our way into an identity crisis. We have spent so much time thinking about what is right, creating right doctrines, and rules for membership, that we have forgotten that we are the Body of Christ. We’ve been distracted by our love affair with “word and speech” (1Jn 3:18) that we have forgotten to incarnate the Word with “truth and action” (1Jn 3:18). When confronted with the physicality of the Resurrection accounts – Jesus holding up his wounds, inviting touch, breaking bread, eating fish, etc. – we respond with a tendency to spiritualize in an intellectual way. We either rationalize those early encounters with the Risen Christ as fabricated encounters that have deep Truth (in the way that all mythology points toward truth), or way say it’s all a mystery beyond our understanding. Either way, we dismiss these accounts and fail to hear the invitation to live in our bodies and allow ourselves to be transformed into the Body of Christ.

This separation of body and mind and spirit is nothing new, and it’s not unique to Christianity. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to integrate body, mind, and spirit in my own life. In my youth I prided myself on my “mind over body” capacity. I could eat less than 100 calories a day and still push myself to run several miles, sleep a few hours a night, and go to classes. I didn’t realize how significantly the disconnect between my body and my mind affected my faith formation. Since I viewed my body as an enemy to be conquered and controlled, it’s no surprise that I thought of any relationship with God as being impossible.

My experiences of church widen this gap between mind and body, as well as the one I experience between me and God. This wasn’t done intentionally, of course. Most of my church experience has been in Mainline congregations that have the expectation of quiet, controlled, observance in worship rather than full body expression. There was no wiggling in the pews, no giggling, no clapping, no talking back to the preacher. We were to come and be reverent and respectful. There was little place in worship for one’s body. It was all done with the mind.

Decades later, I inhabit a body that is limited by dysautonomia. It seems all my systems are slow – from digestion to heart rate. The primary effect is that I am tired all the time. So I employ, without even thinking about it, some of my old mind-over-body techniques just to get through the day and do what I want or need to do. It’s not the same now. Now I acknowledge that I’m tired, and do what I need to do anyway (and nap whenever possible.) I don’t see my body as an enemy any longer. I am my body and my body is me. This may sound silly, but it’s an important statement. Once I made peace with my body, tentative though it can be, I became better able to accept that God loves the particularity that is me.

Now, church, we live in a world whose needs are not satisfied by our words and speech. We can continue our squabbles over right theology and right language and right doctrine, or we can get real. We can stop separating our words from our actions. If we have signs on our lawns that read, “All are Welcome,” are these words empty or do we truly welcome everyone, without exception? Think carefully before you say yes. Are LGBTQ+ people welcome into the full life of your congregation, including your pulpit? Are people with serious mental illness welcome and included? Do people with physical disabilities have full access to your whole building and are they able to share fully in worship? Are people who are experiencing homelessness welcome without condition? Are women, men, Trans* folks encouraged and affirmed in their calls to ordained ministry? You get the idea. Who is welcome in practice?

I’ve been repeatedly struck by the physicality of the Easter scripture readings. The Good Shepherd passages are no different. I can practically smell the sheep pasture as I read these texts. Jesus is the Good Shepherd willing to lay down his life and take it up again for his sheep. While we may not particularly enjoy being compared to sheep, there is an implication here that should not be overlooked. If Jesus is the Good Shepherd who is willing to risk his life for his followers, then it stands to reason that the Body of Christ is also supposed to be the Good Shepherd. We are to embody Christ in such a way that takes risk in body, in mind, and in spirit. We are to incarnate the Love of Christ in such a way that the lost are found and the excluded enter in. And we are to do this completely, not just with words. Imagine a church that is inclusive of all the wonderful diversity that exists in human bodies…

I think it’s time the church is bodily resurrected. Let’s be the Body of Christ in truth and action, bearing witness to the power and presence of the Risen Christ with our whole selves. It’s time to step away from the pristine piety of the mind and revel in the incarnation of wholeness that can change the way we think.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 22,2018
Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

Photo: CC0 image by Stefan Beckmann-Metzner

Musings Poetry

Green Pastures and Quiet Waters

2012-10-05 15.56.17

kiddnappings and killings
mudslides and makeshift cities
conflicts and controversies
war and wildfires
violence and victims

in the midst of all this
a Good Shepherd who promises
life abundantly
to all who enter by the Gate

I keep looking at that Gate
thinking I’m in safe pasture
wanting the Shepherd guide me
yet I am reluctant to let go
long enough to see my cup overflowing

now, though, I am tired enough to realize
it’s a good time to enter in
to be still and stop worrying
about saving others from treachery
or themselves or the brutality the world offers
sometimes to innocent ones

I will walk into the fold
claim a small space and allow
some shepherding in my own life

2014-05-02 18.42.39yes, today, I will stop pondering the Gate,
the Shepherd, the pasture and the world
and just be still and know

there’s plenty of room
maybe you, too, need to rest
beside quiet waters
and be restored


RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 11, 2014
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10