Musings Sermon Starter

Light the Lamps

Image of an clay oil lamp burning with others blurred in the background

I am distressed and disappointed at how this election is going. A landslide for Biden and other Democrats would have made a strong statement against white supremacy, militarized police, children in cages, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and all the other ills of the current administration. How is it that nearly 50% of this country can believe that Trump is good for the United States? We have the highest COVID numbers and they are continuing to rise with no end in sight. We’ve pulled out of the Pairs Accord and pulled back on environmental protections at a time when super storms are normative and polar ice caps are melting. Why do more people not see this man for what he is? And how is it that the hope of overturning Roe v. Wade is more important than the lives of vulnerable people in this moment? Surely, we can do better than this.

If we want to do better in terms of eradicating white supremacy, ending militarized policing and improving the lives of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers along with LGBTQ+ folx and everyone else who is vulnerable in this country, then we who call ourselves Christians must change. We have options. We can recommit ourselves to God’s ways just as Joshua called the people of Israel to do as they entered into the promised land. We can remember that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, including the most vulnerable among us. Now would be a good time to do this, wouldn’t it?

How? Well, we can start by evaluating what it is we are doing. How are we being church? Are Amos’ words true for us? Is God pleased or displeased with our worship, our offerings, our ministries? Justice isn’t exactly rolling down. Nor is righteousness flowing freely. Doing what we have always done before and simply adapting it to be online doesn’t count as real change. We will know we have changed when justice rather than blood flows freely in our streets. Perhaps it’s time we went in search of Wisdom. She’s not easy to find these days. However, when we find her, she will lead us in holy ways; she will guide us in new ways of being church.

If this is all still too intangible, then let us look at Matthew’s story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. I’ve never liked this story. It always seemed so harsh and unnecessarily judgmental on the five who didn’t have enough oil. However, this parable feels very different to me during this election in the midst of pandemic. There is an urgency woven through it. Urgency and a fair degree of caution.

The five bridesmaids who brought their lamps and extra oil were ready, no matter how long into the evening the groom showed up. They were smart and prepared. The other five brought their lamps and no additional oil. Why? Apparently, they thought the others would share. Right. That would have made sense if these five were poor or couldn’t get to oil seller to buy more. There’s nothing that says they lacked the resources needed in the parable. They simply expected the others to give them some oil for no good reason except that the foolish ones didn’t have enough.

My friends, I suggest to you that progressive white church has acted as the foolish bridesmaids. We have expected others to make the changes we need to make. We have shown up unprepared in this world that is full of hatred and division. We are supposed to keep Love burning, illuminating the path of hope and healing for all those who come seeking. We’ve done little of this. Think about it.

For example, I live in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. It’s a large metro area with all kinds of people. Yet, I have encountered people who do not know that there are churches that ordain women, that welcome LGBTQ+ folx, that advocate for the vulnerable, and work to minimize global warming and climate change. There are people everywhere who have never heard of Mainline denominations. Why is that? We have shown up in 2020 unprepared. I’m not even sure we were out buying oil for our lamps when modernity made its appearance. I think we were sleeping, content with our comfortable pews and practices. We are on the wrong side of the doors and aren’t as well known as we’d like to think.

It’s not too late, though. The parable was one wedding, one groom, one party. The foolish bridesmaids missed it. They were shut out that night. We do not need to remain shut out. We can purchase more oil, trim our lamps, and be sure we shine with Divine Love, hope, and healing. In this light there is no room for fear of any of our neighbors. There is no room for the hatred that divides this country. There is no room for white supremacy.

We have work to do, my friends. This party is waiting for no one. If we want to heal what is broken in our country and in our world, we need to make ourselves known. It’s time to talk religion and politics and stop worrying about who will be offended. How can people make different choices if they don’t know there are different options. Why is progressive Christianity still a secret or still silent in the national picture? We can’t expect others to do the work for us. Check your oil supply and trim your lamps because the time for foolishness is over. The time for work has already begun.

RCL: Year A Twenty-third Sunday After Pentecost November 8, 2020 Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 with Psalm 78:1-7 or
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 or Amos 5:18-24
Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 or Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Photo: CC0image by Bhikku Amitha

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