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Musings Sermon Starter

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Image of a waterway with reeds on either side. There is an empty rowboat on the right front edge. The background is a few buildings with orange roofs against a blue sky with white clouds.

Last night I had a dream about rowing through marshlands with a from seminary, and as often happens we were in our early 20s not our mid 50s. The marsh was familiar in the dream, though no place I have ever been. The waterway ranged from just wide enough for the rowboat to pass through the grasses to the width of a small pond or lake. It was a bright, sunny day with no clouds in the sky. We were both young and health, enjoying the day.

Then my friend was rowing without the boat moving at all. And, yes, you guessed it, storm clouds were gathering on the horizon. I offered to row thinking my friend was tired after having rowed for quite a while. Yet, when I took the oars and began to row, she told me I was doing it wrong and had to do it right or we’d never get anywhere. You see, I rowed by alternating left and right rather than pulling the oars together. My friend insisted that I row the “proper” way. Instead of arguing, I started to row by pulling both oars at the same time. The boat began to move in small circles, making no progress through the marsh.

For reasons unknown, this made my friend both frustrated and anxious. Soon she told me to do it my way so we could get somewhere before the storm arrived in full. I switched back to alternating oars, and the boat began to move. Through the marsh grasses we went. We moved quite quickly for some time. Then just as the marsh was opening into the ocean, I couldn’t make the boat move forward no matter how hard I pulled the oars. The rain had started. The waves were swelling. Lightning wasn’t far off.

My friend started to panic. She was sure we were going to die even though we were only a few feet from shore and, technically, could have gotten out of the boat onto the beach easily enough. For reasons known only in dreams, we didn’t get out of the boat. Instead, I asked her to join me on the rowing bench and take an oar. She did. And after a few false starts, we found a rhythm of rowing together that allowed us to get home safely.

It matters whose in the boat with you.

It matters what kind of boat you’re in.

I grew up watching boats. Small lobster boats, tug boats, big ferries, yachts, sailboats, big fishing boats…all kinds of boats. I never learned to sail or do much more than row a boat or paddle a canoe. I tend to get seasick in anything with a motor. And, yes, when I learned to row a rowboat, the only way I could do it was by alternating oars. To this day, I cannot row by pulling the oars together.

Having folx in your boat who know what to do when there’s a problem is important. Having someone who knows how the boat operates is equally important. Having someone who knows how to respond to whether also matters. And when you’re in a small boat where there are lots of bigger boats and ships, it’s good to have someone who knows the rules.

Over the last many months of pandemic, many people said things like, “We are all in the same boat.” That is never true. Some of us are in luxury liners. Some in small cabin cruisers. Some in little motor boats. Some in rowboats. Some in rowboats with small leaks. We are not all in the same boat. However, we are all in the same storm. That’s when the type of boat matters the most.

We need to stop pretending that everyone has the same resources. We need to stop pretending that everyone has the same access to housing, food, healthcare, etc.

It’s great that the federal government made Juneteenth a federal holiday. It really is. However, why are we not talking about reparations, racial disparities, injustice in our legal system, and all the other things that make Juneteenth an important holiday?

We are not all in the same boat.

We are all in the storm, though.

Who will speak into the wind and the storm?

Peace. Be still.

We are a long way from that. Figure out what type of boat you’re in and who’s in it with you. It’s time we start rowing together in ways that pull us toward justice for every boat in this storm. Then maybe we can step out onto solid ground…

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 20, 2021 11 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 and Psalm 9:9-20 or 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16 and Psalm 133  • Job 38:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32  • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13  • Mark 4:35-41

Photo: CC0image by Szczecin/Polska

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

No Justice. No Peace.

Image of large crowd of protesters holding sings that say, “Stop Racism Now,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “No Justice. No Peace.”

There is no peace here. Jesus may have breathed peace on his disciples. However, many have turned away from the peace he both breathed and embodied. Jesus exhaled peace on his disciples so that they might become the Body of Christ, the Spirit of God embodied in a world with much need. The primary purpose of the disciple was to continue the work that Jesus began when Jesus no longer lived in the flesh. And this has been the challenge since the very early days of the church, has it not?

From the beginning, Jesus’ disciples could not agree on what it meant to be the Body of Christ. They argued about whether or not one had to be Jewish in order to be a follower of Christ. They argued about traditions and teachers and what they could and could not do as members of Christ’s Body. And here we are, 2000 years later still arguing, still divided, still focused on everything other than embodying the peace Jesus passed on to his first disciples.

I live in and work in the Twin Cities. As you know, a police officer shot and killed yet another unarmed Black man last Sunday afternoon. Daunte Wright’s murder comes in the middle of the trial of the officer who killed George Floyd less than a year ago. My friends who are Black have expressed fear and anxiety for themselves, for their spouses, and especially for their sons. My friends who are White have expressed concern for the officer who shot Daunte and questioned whether or not Chauvin (the officer who killed Floyd) will have a fair trial. White folx have a hard time attributing these murders to the White supremacy that our entire criminal legal system is built on. Black folx have been shouting “Stop killing us” at rallies, marches, and protests for years. They also cry out, “No justice. No peace.”

No justice. No peace. This is Truth beyond the capacity of most White Christians to admit. As long as we continue to buy into the narrative that excuses police killing POC, we are perpetuating White supremacy and sustaining its lethality. How can any of us call ourselves Christian and believe that a police officer has the right to kill unarmed POC? Daunte Wright was pulled over because he was a young Black man driving a car. The police can say it was because his tags were expired, and that is just an excuse. My wife’s tags were expired for six months in 2020 before either of noticed. And she was never pulled over. In fact there are currently over 600,000 expired tags in Minnesota at this moment. Are they all going to be stopped by police and then shot? I doubt it.

Yes, I know they also discovered that Daunte had a warrant out for his arrest. Why? He had misdemeanor charges and failed to appear in court because the summons was sent to his previous address. He did nothing that justifies his death. And now another child will grow up without a father because those with power cannot imagine giving up the power White supremacy gives them.

My friends, as Christians we are the embodiment of the Risen Christ. Jesus did not care about saving souls. He did not care about literally interpreting scripture. He did not judge the actions of those with whom he disagreed. Jesus was all about saving lives, fostering wholeness, re-membering people into community. He was about empowering those whom the Empire had oppressed. He wanted everyone to know the Love of God through the ways in which he loved.

If you are among those who have been silent about White supremacy in our criminal legal system and in every institution in our society, now would be a good time to ask yourself why you have been silent. Really, what would Jesus have us do? Surely, silence or, worse, continuing to believe the White supremacist narratives of the empire, is not what Jesus would have us do. If we are the embodiment of the Risen Christ, then we are to be about breathing peace into the world. And we know beyond any doubt that if there is no justice, there will be no peace.

Will you commit to ending the oppression of the empire and eradicating White supremacy where you encounter it? We have a sacred duty to repair what we human beings have broken. Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” And he breathed the Spirit on a group of Brown-skinned people. We White-skinned people have wrongfully and selfishly hoarded that peace for far too long.

What are we going to do to embody the Risen Christ in a way that literally saves lives and ends our silent complicity in the on-going violence against POC?

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday of Easter – April 18, 2021
Acts 3:12-19  • Psalm 4  • 1 John 3:1-7  • Luke 24:36b-48

Photo: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Categories
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

Categories
Poetry

A Conversation with Jesus

Image of face overlaid with shadows of trees on a background of red, rippling water
in a Roman stronghold, You asked your first disciples
     a seemingly simple question
yet You asked them to put their lives on the line for You
their answers could be, should be
      treasonous to the ears of the Empire

Who do you say that I am?

a worthy question, even now, especially now
we live in another Empire with a Pharoah who does not know Joseph
and would enslave us all, try us for treason if he could
Your question hangs in the air, awaiting our answers

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Messiah, of course
the One who sets us free
and saves our souls
Messiah

what does this mean for children in cages, families torn apart?
what does this mean for immigrants, refugees, assylum seekers,
all who come with hopes and dreams for a life of freedom
and are met with white supremacy, racism, and rejection?

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Prince of Peace
the One who guides our feet
in the ways of justice
Prince of Peace

our lips may speak these words
our actions say otherwise
there is no peace without justice
ask George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmoud Arbery
     and counteless others

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Great Physician, Healer of the Nations
the One who makes us whole
and unites us in love
Great Physician

there is no evidence of this truth
in a nation that values perfection over wholeness and wealth
     over people
where is unity for those on the edges, devalued and dismissed
     by Empire?

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Living Water
the One who quenches thirst
and brings new life
Living Water

then why are so many so very thirsty
in Flint, at the border, on our streets?
why withhold water for the poorest
when we have more than enough

Who do you say that I am?

Lord and Savior
the One who saves us from ourselves
and frees us to love without condition
Lord and Savior

again, where is the proof?
we act as if Love were a precious commodity
and hoard it for ourselves because Empire tells us
there is not enough for those who are undeserving

Who do you say that I am?

Light of life
the One who shines with hope
chasing away our despair
Light of Life

then why not wear a mask to show our love for our neighbors?
why not welcome all with grace and mercy?
suicide rates are climbing and we refuse to share our hope
perhaps our trust, our faith, is not up for the task at hand

Who do you say that I am?

Wonderful Counselor
the One who guides life
offering wisdom, healing, grace
Wonderful Counselor

is it not Empire that guides our choices?
is it not Empire that teaches us to hate?
is it not Empire that divides us from our neighbors?
when will we listen and actually care for the vulnerable among us?

Who do you say that I am?

Mighty God
the One who loves without condition
waiting patiently for us to believe
Mighty God

Love knows no limits
hatred, destruction, division, violence, war are purely human
perhaps now is the time for transformation
paying heed to the prophets among us

Who do you say that I am?

be careful how you answer
do your words match your deeds?
do you love your neighbor as yourself?
do you follow the ways of Empire
rather than care for the vulnerable among you?
will you put your life on the line
for the sake of love?

Who do you say that I am?

RCL – Year A – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 23, 2020
Exodus 1:8-2:10 with Psalm 124 or
Isaiah 51:1-6 with Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Photo: CC0image by Gerd Altmann

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Salt… Salt… and more Salt…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: CC0image by Susanne Jutzeler

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Going in Circles

Sometimes I think that God’s theme song must be Harry Chapin’s “All my Life’s a Circle.” I mean human beings keep doing the same thing generation after generation. How many times, how many different ways does God need to show us that we were created in Love for the purpose of loving? Will God’s patience ever run out?

Look at any of the prophets. Hosea is one among many whose call for repentance went mostly unheeded. How long will faithful people prostitute themselves to the lesser gods of our own making? When will we finally learn that empires rise and fall along a familiar pattern? When human beings stray from holy ways and believe our own lies, disaster always follows eventually.

In Israel’s history God would gather a fragile group of people and they would begin to form a strong nation. They would care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger among them. Over time those with power would become enthralled by it and the accumulation of wealth and power would take precedence over caring for the vulnerable. As the rich became richer, they became more convinced of their invincibility. That’s when the enemies would gather at the gates and wait for the prime moment to topple the top-heavy government. And the people would be carted off to Egypt or Babylon or held captive by the Assyrians, the Greeks, or the Romans. It happened again and again.

In those days the fall of Israel to another nation was attributed to God. The prosperity the first enjoyed was assumed to be because they were pleasing God. I have no doubts that God was pleased when the people of God worshiped together and cared for those who could not care for themselves. Prosperity grew out of a community living holy ways. And when wealth became the goal rather than the outcome, the nation fell apart. And they believed that God was punishing them. God probably wasn’t happy with selfish behavior that neglected hospitality and love of neighbor. No need for God to punish anyone, though. Natural consequences took over as Israel fell at the hands of its enemies.

We still have a tendency to believe that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing and adversity is God’s punishment. A surface level reading of scripture might confirm this belief. However, it doesn’t make any sense. By this reasoning, Donald Trump is blessed by God and Mother Theresa was not. Or areas that have been afflicted by floods, famine, earthquakes, tornados, mudslides, hurricanes, or the like are being punished by God and global warming has nothing to do with human behavior. Attributing prosperity to God’s blessing and adversity to God’s punishment abdicates human responsibility. Moreover, it diminishes God into something punitive and exacting rather than loving and forgiving.

If we claim to be people of God and seek to live in holy ways, then we must oppose anything that interferes with love of neighbor. Blaming the people who put their lives at risk to bring their families across the U.S. border with Mexico and treating them as less than human is not in keeping with God’s mandate to care for the stranger. Discriminating on the basis of a person’s gender expression or sexual orientation violates God’s commandment to love one another. White supremacy and white nationalism violates God’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves. All of these actions and policies create division and fear by diminishing the personhood of the targeted individuals. There is only one explanation for these kinds of things. Those in power feel threatened. They will violate every moral and ethical principle to ensure that they stay in power. As far as they are concerned the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger – the vulnerable among us – can fend for themselves after they have had every ounce of dignity and humanity ripped from them.

Haven’t we prostituted ourselves to empire long enough? Haven’t we tried storing up treasures on earth long enough? The pursuit of wealth and power is vanity; it is not holy. God’s true blessings are experienced through love. Period. God punishes no one. Most affliction can be traced back to human actions. And just because we cannot explain the rest, doesn’t mean we should blame God. Let’s take some responsibility for ourselves and the generations that have come before us. Maybe we should learn the lessons of history before God’s patience finally runs out…RCL –

RCL - Year C - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 
Hosea 11:1-11 with Psalm 107:1-9, 43 or
Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14; 2:18-23 with Psalm 49:1-12
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

Photo: CC0 image by Dmitri Posudin

Categories
liturgy Prayer Uncategorized

A Plumb Line Prayer

lighthouse-1872998_1280.jpg
Amazing and merciful God, how easy it is for us to forget that we are your delight. You we rejoice when we follow your holy ways and envision a future of goodness and grace for all your people. We blame you for divisions and strife. We justify our wars by saying that you are on our side. We rationalize the abuse of our enemies by telling ourselves that they are not your people, that their sinfulness exceeds your tolerance. In truth, you have told us that we are to love our neighbors indiscriminately. Moreover, we are to love those with the greatest need more fiercely and more immediately. Shower us with your mercy, O God, until we live by the plumb line you have repeatedly dropped in our midst.

Patient and steadfast God, you continuously call us to live in peace, leaving none behind. We hear your call. We know that your love endures forever. What you ask of us is not beyond our reach; it is not higher than the heavens or on the outer edges of the sea. For all of Creation to live in justice is not an impossibility you hold up to tease us with what we cannot have. If we trust you, it is possible for us to turn aside from our human ways. It is possible for us to love with your love. Enter our lives anew, Holy One, silence our fears and smother our distrust that we may live in harmony with all.

God of wonder and mystery, you love us still. You love us when we are filled with fear. You love us when we are filled with hate. You love us when we are filled with judgment. You love us when we think we are better than our neighbors. You love us when we think are neighbors are better than us. You love us when we blame others for creating the chaos that flows through the world. You love us when we abdicate responsibility for engaging in justice work. You love us through all our foolishness. However, you delight in us when we act with love and seek to bring your realm into the here and now. Flood every corner of our being with the strength of your Spirit that we may have the courage to love with your love, always.

God of near and far places, how foolish we are when we think you are limited to one people, one language, one religion, one way of life. All people are stamped with your image. Every language has many names for you and words of praise for all that you are. At core, each religious tradition seeks to teach your holy ways and encourage us to follow them. You are the giver of all life. If we claim to follow in Christ’s way there is no room for hatred of peoples from other countries, those who speak other languages, those who call you by different names, and those whose culture is not our own. If we belong to Christ, then racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and all the other labels that thrive on our fear have no place in us. Heal our brokenness. May we live as one body with many parts.

Living, loving God, we are grateful for your patient love. Over and over again you call us by name, claim us as your beloved, and fill us with your Spirit. Hear our gratitude for your presence among us, your arms that hold us, your vision that sees our wholeness. May we trust in your love, your grace, your forgiveness as we seek to embody Christ more fully. May the praises we sing and the words of gratitude we whisper transform our fear into hope, our hatred into joy, our judgment into grace, and our ambivalence and apathy into action. We are your people. Your Spirit lives and moves in us. Let us trust in you enough to recognize you in ourselves and in all whom we meet.

Amen.

RCL – Year C – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 14, 2019
Amos 7:7-17 with Psalm 82 or
Deuteronomy 30:9-14 with Psalm 25:1-10
Colossians 1:1-14
Luke 10:25-37

Photo: CC0 image by lumix

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

The Ways of Dust

dusty-3775491_1280.jpg
When will we stop honoring the dust and start embracing heaven? There’s more than enough judgement and hatred going around. They conspire together to builds walls and condemn anyone who isn’t white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical, economically sound, well-educated, and male. These socially endorsed biases are decidedly not Christian. Yet, we continue to act as if they are. How easily we forget that Jesus was not a white, wealthy man. We just as easily forget that we are to love not condemn or judge.

Jesus was pretty clear that we are supposed to love our enemies with a God-like, unconditional kind of love. We are not meant to judge or dismiss someone because of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, or economics, or even religious practice. We are, as Paul put it, called to bear, to embody, to reflect, the image of Christ, the One of heaven. Instead we live in fear of the other. We believe the on-going lies of the Empire that say only the powerful must remain in power and anyone else is a threat. As a result we live in fear of our neighbors and Jesus’ call to love remains mostly unheeded. Or, at the very least, we tend to love only those who love us.

I’m particularly sensitive to the discrepancy between the love Jesus called us to embody and the love we actually embody. I grew up without a lot of love in my life and, as a result, questioned my value as a person. While the church provided safe harbor for me, it did not replace the lack of love in my life. And, later, the church proved just as unsafe a place for me as my home had been. How many times have I been told that a woman cannot and should not be a pastor? How many times have I been told that I cannot be a pastor because I am married to another woman? How many times I have I been made to feel inadequate or shame because I came from a poor family? How many times have I hidden or lied about the mental health challenges in my family or in my own life? How many times have I ignored, hidden, or dismissed my chronic illness? All these judgments coming from those who call themselves Christians, myself included.

We wonder why the church is struggling to survive the transformation that is in progress. We struggle, at least in part, because we have fallen into the service of the empire. Church has taken on all the values of society and tried to shape them into the Body of Christ with far too much success. However, if we are to survive the refining fires of transformation, we must turn our attention away from the powers of dust and toward the powers of heaven. We can no longer afford (if we ever could) to embrace the empire. Jesus spoke against the oppressive Roman Empire with every word and action. If we are the embodiment of Christ today, then we ought to be doing the same.

Our history of valuing what society values – wealth, power, success (as defined by those with power) – has not served us well. It has divided us one from another and detracted from our mission of bringing the Realm of God into the here and now. The time for facing our fears has come. What will it mean if we fully accept women in ministry? What will it mean if we embrace all our LGBTQ+ neighbors and welcome them into the full life of the church? What will it mean if we try out worship styles born of other cultures? What will it mean if denominations come together and create something new? What will it mean if all our buildings become fully accessible to people with physical disabilities? What will it mean if all our services and activities become accessible to people with cognitive impairment? What will it mean if we recognize that it takes the full diversity of humanity to truly embody Christ in the world today? What are we afraid of losing? What are we afraid of gaining?

Jesus commanded us to love one another exactly as we are loved by God – no limits, no conditions, no end. All that separates us is constructed by human minds and hands; we are all equal before God. The Body of Christ is impaired by racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, and a whole bunch of other fears handed to us by the empire that would prefer to keep us all separated and disempowered. Imagine a world in which we discard fear and embrace Love… Let us exchange the ways of dust for the ways of heaven…

RCL – Year C – Seventh Sunday after Epiphany – February 24, 2019
Genesis 45:3–11, 15
Psalm 37:1–11, 39–40
1 Corinthians 15:35–38, 42–50
Luke 6:27–38

Photo: CC0 image by Tom

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Musings Sermon Starter

The Way of Peace

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I genuinely like this time of year. The Christmas lights and the menorah candles shine out as a reminder that there is more to the world than we usually allow ourselves to see. I laugh out loud at the lawns crammed full of over-sized holy family members side-by-side with inflated snowmen and moving reindeer. I’m filled with awe at strings of simple white lights over a doorway, or single candles in the windows, or the visible menorah with it’s flickering candle light. These brave attempts to keep the despair of the world at bay and remind us that no night lasts forever give me glimpses of hope that maybe someday we will truly prepare the way for the One who is, who was, and who is to come.

We need to celebrate and light up the nights in the coldness of this season. We need to find hope and peace enough to want to get through another day. Last week a Minneapolis police precinct put up a Christmas tree adorned in racism. A rabbi friend received hateful threats against her and the Jewish community in her New Hampshire town. The majority of people (87% according to one poll) don’t hear or don’t care about the overtones of rape and misogyny in a popular holiday song. These are just three examples of hate and apathy that have touched my life in the last week. I don’t doubt that more could be added to this list.

When did we become so willfully oblivious to our neighbor’s pain? There is nothing in “Prepare the way of the Lord” that says to do so by trampling over others. Making paths straight doesn’t mean ignoring racism and just moving along. We are not supposed to be filling the valleys with hatred or lowering the hills with fear. Nor do we make smooth the rough places by ignoring the cries of those who have been victimized. Justifying oppression, hate, and violence and maintaining the status quo do not prepare us in anyway for the coming of Christ.

In fact, it’s just the opposite. What if we prepare the way for Christ by straightening out some of the mess we have created? What if we make it easier for people to have safe, affordable housing, healthy food, reasonable wages, and accessible healthcare? Wouldn’t that straighten out a few paths? How about if we fill the valleys of fear that systemic oppression has created? What if we reach out to our neighbors and see them, hear them, welcome them as God’s beloved and stop feeding our xenophobic fears? How about leveling the mountains and hills made by fear-mongering, self-centered, power-hungry politicians that do not care who they hurt? We could begin by enabling every person who lives in this country to live in safety and be sure that refugees and immigrants have what they need to seek citizenship and be full members of society. While we’re at it, maybe we can straighten out the kinks in theology that legalism and archaic understandings have created? Maybe we could achieve some unity in Christ if we stopped judging who was right or wrong and sought more actively to follow Jesus command to love one another. Let’s start listening to voices not our own so that those rough places  created by the pain of being dismissed, devalued, and discarded can begin to heal.

One candle can’t do much to hold back the night with its cold, despair, and isolating darkness. However, if we bring our candles together, we create warmth and light. Together we can bring peace and truly prepare the way for the coming of the Holy One. Isn’t it time we validate those who cry out in response to racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and all the other isms and phobias that keep us from seeing the humanity and the sacred in all our neighbors?

May God guide our feet in the way of peace.

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday of Advent – December 9, 2018
Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9
Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

Photo: CC0 image by Hans Braxmeier

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Cleaning up God’s House

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When I was very young I thought God was the “man in the moon.” I had heard people talking about the moon having a face and referring to it as the “man in the moon.” I don’t think I’ve ever been able to make out the face that is supposedly visible in profile on the quarter moon, but I was an imaginative child. I had a whole story about how God lived in the moon. When there was no moon, God had either gone to bed early or was out visiting friends. When the moon was full, God was having a party with Mother Nature. I liked to sit at my window and talk to this faraway, but friendly, God.

As I got older and started attending church, I realized that God couldn’t possibly live in the moon. God was closer to people than the moon would allow. As I learned more words to describe this all-powerful, ever-present, somewhat scary being that was God, I started to think that God was much more likely to be the ocean than the man in the moon.

My nine-year-old brain was very active in sorting this out. God was always there, always powerful, always a little different with each encounter, always moving between life and death. Growing up on Cape Cod with ocean all around, I thought these words all described the ocean with all it’s mystery and moodiness. It sustained life and swallowed life. If God was too huge to be the man in the moon, then maybe God was the ocean. This thinking was the beginning of the beach becoming sacred space for me.

These memories surfaced as I read through account of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant up to the Temple and, essentially, inviting God to dwell there. This story has me remembering my childhood beliefs and wondering where people think God lives today. The psalmist tells us that God’s dwelling place is “lovely” and that a day there is better than a thousand years anywhere else. I know God doesn’t live in the moon and God is not the ocean, nor did God live only on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. I’m not sure we spend enough time thinking about just where God lives today.

Jesus, of course, spoke about abiding in God and God abiding in him, and in his disciples. I’m not sure how seriously we take this. We seem to forget far too easily that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that together we make up the body of Christ. When the writer of Ephesians tells us to be put on the “whole armor of God,” it seems all we can hear is the militant metaphor and say, “No, thanks!” far too quickly. If God abides in us such that we are temples of the Holy Spirit individually and the body of Christ collectively, don’t we need some protective armor?armor-1709127_1280.jpg

With the evil generally afoot and wreaking havoc, and atrocities committed by world leaders daily, and the human rights violations near and far, and everything else that contributes to our apathy, our fear, our sense of powerlessness, and the spread of hopelessness… With all of this, don’t we need some protective spiritual armor, the kind of armor that will hold us up and enable us to withstand the horrors? That belt of truth doesn’t sound so bad in the era of fake news, does it? That breastplate of righteousness might come in handy when confronted with heartbreaking news of more violence and we are tempted to give into that sense of powerlessness that lurks in every corner. That footgear that readies us to spread the gospel of peace sounds pretty enticing when we remember how much war and destruction truly exists right now. How about the shield of faith? I could do with one of those for those moments when the plight of refugees makes my knees weak and my stomach sour. And the helmet of salvation might be useful for all those times when we are told just who is going to hell for some “biblical” reason. I’m not sure about the sword of the Spirit, but I might like to have it nearby just in case it’s needed to cut through the gaslighting nonsense.

We might all benefit from these protections, if not as individuals then as the body of Christ. If God dwells in us, then some spiritual armor to protect the fragile, fickle human parts would be very helpful. If we aren’t able to put on the whole armor of God as the body of Christ (not to do harm to others but to protect and uphold the vulnerable among us), then we might as well turn away from Jesus like so many did on that long-ago day Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Bread of Life.

Where does God dwell? Not in the moon or in the ocean or in anything made by human hands. God dwells within and among human beings. It’s time for some house keeping and maybe time to dig out that old armor because it isn’t as useless and outdated as we thought it was. We should polish it up and try it on to see how it fits so that we can withstand the evils of our day. Maybe if we pay enough attention to God’s dwelling place(s), one day we won’t need any armor, the real kind or the spiritual kind. Might be worth a try…

RCL – Year B – Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 26, 2018
1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43 with Psalm 84 or
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 with Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

Top Photo: CC0 image by Patricia Alexandre

Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Alina Kuptsova