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Reaching for Healing

Image of an orangy-red sunset reflecting on water with a the silhouette of a woman sitting, facing the sun.

Healing stories are fascinating, let alone the raising from the dead stories. Our 21st Century minds try to rationalize and minimize the power of such accounts. I know I spent years wishing I could touch Jesus garment and be healed from sickness. Truthfully, I’ve also, on occasion, wished Jesus were around to call a person back from death if not grant me the power to do it myself. However, this kind of thing doesn’t happen often in the modern world. Whether or not healing happened the way the Bible tells us it did, we will never know. Today I want to set these questions aside and explore the story of the woman who touched Jesus robe and the girl raised from death in a more metaphoric sense.

Truth be told, I’m not sure if the Church universal is more like the woman with uncontrolled bleeding or the girl Jesus called back from death. If I think of the Church as a whole, the Bodymind of Christ, then I think of the ways in which we are bleeding out. Our strength is being diminished by fear and hatred. White Supremacy, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and much more keep us from being healthy and whole. We have bought into the lies of the Empire and it is killing us. It doesn’t seem that we even know we need to reach for the garments of Christ, reach for healing. So many of us are entrenched in protecting tradition and reluctant to change. What happened to seeking Jesus in the midst of the crowd, trusting that we will be made whole?

On the other hand, the more we cling to our nostalgic recollection of the past and our outdated modes of worship and governance, the more we risk sliding into death. The past is not the perfection many of us recall. Church has always been riddled with the wounds of the Empire. When we made our traditions more important than following Jesus, we cut deeper. When we chose to follow social norms instead of seeking Jesus, we became sicker. When we decided who was in and who was out, we laid down on our deathbed. When we elevated our politicians over God’s holy ways, our breathing became labored. Will we hear Jesus call us to new life?

My friends, the Bodymind of Christ is sick, perhaps near to death. Isn’t it time we sought healing, healing that goes deep into the heart of the Church? I’m not under the illusion that all denominations will come together as one, though, if we were honest with ourselves, we might all get a bit closer as we reach for those garments of Christ. Are we as individuals, congregations, and denominations willing to ask the questions that will enable our spiritual hands to reach for those healing robes?

Who is welcome in our congregations and who is not? Who is welcome in our pulpits and who is not? What is essential to embodying Christ in the world today? What is not? What is our primary illness – worshiping tradition? White supremacy? homophobia? transphobia? literal interpretation of scripture? misogyny? other fear? Answering these questions honestly just might stop the flow of blood or enable us to hear the call to new life.

However, recognizing the symptoms of illness isn’t always easy. Ignoring them, though, won’t make us any healthier. Acknowledging that we are unwell is the beginning of the journey toward health. While sickness may weaken us, there is no shame in sickness itself. If we continue to deny the sickness and act as if we are healthy and whole, this is shame; this is sin.

May we repent of our insistence on wellness and denying our sickness. May we have the courage to reach for the garments of grace and listen for the voice calling us to new life. May we be honest with where we are now and where Jesus would rather we be. May the Bodymind of Christ be made well by God’s grace and through our words and actions…

RCL – Year B – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 27, 2021 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 and Psalm 130  • Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 or Lamentations 3:22-33 and Psalm 30  • 2 Corinthians 8:7-15  • Mark 5:21-43

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Musings Sermon Starter

When Will We Learn

Image of a man in silhouette standing, looking into a night star-filled sky that is tinted with orange, yellow, and pink.

Nicodemus is a familiar character. He was a pharisee who snuck off to talk with Jesus in the middle of the night. I wonder what burning question made him take the risk of being seen with Jesus. All we know is that he went to Jesus and affirmed that Jesus was “from God.” Then the conversation just gets weird. And you know what? The Christian church has never made sense of this strange passage in any useful way.

“Born again” is a phrase that makes my heart beat faster and my blood pressure rise. It’s been used as a litmus test for faith, the “right” faith. Nicodemus didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about and I don’t think many of us understand any better now. The dreaded, “when were you saved?” or it’s alternate form, “when were you born again?” sparks both anger and sadness in me. If I don’t have a dramatic conversion story to share, that means I’m not a true Christian? Why can’t it be a slow growth, a dawning awakening to the power and presence of God in my life? I’m betting that’s how it was for Nicodemus.

Nicodemus recognized something in Jesus that drew him out into the dark of night to have a conversation. Of course, the conversation was quickly out of his hands and beyond his understanding. A person cannot be born more than once. It’s that simple. Or maybe it isn’t. Jesus didn’t think anything about a person’s spiritual life was simple.

I remember Dr. James Loder in a course on human development talking about how the Holy Spirit enters into our lives, breaks through our ego defenses, and shoves our ego off-center. After a while our defenses are a pile of rubble and we can say with Paul, “I, not I, but Christ.” This is what we are after, this union of human spirit and Holy Spirit. It’s slippery and very seldom does the union fully hold after any single experience. Our egos are stubborn and we are wired to think we are at the center of things. When the Holy Spirit pushes our ego enough out of the way, we realize that being at the center of things with Christ is a healthier way to go. Even then, though, we have a hard time holding onto the Holy. We are always human first.

Jesus told the struggling Nicodemus that God so loves the whole of the cosmos that God gave God’s only son so that all who believe might have eternal life. The love is ongoing. Eternal life is communal. We cannot do it alone. In order to bring God’s realm into the here and now, we need one another. We need to be bound together by the Holy Spirit into the Bodymind of Christ, the church re-envisioned for the world in which we live.

Nicodemus made the mistake of thinking that Jesus’ words were literal and meant just for Nicodemus. Many of us have made similar mistakes. We think the words are meant to be taken literally and that they are only for those who share a certain belief. However, God’s love that sent Jesus into the world is a love that encompasses the whole cosmos. It is our belief that allows us to enter into the truth of God’s love. It was never meant to exclude anyone. It was meant to build and strengthen and create beloved community.

As we have observed the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder this week, I wonder when we will set aside our harm-filled interpretations of scripture. I wonder when those who claim the name of Christ will live in love with all neighbors, not just White ones. When will we who claim to have Christ at our center stop living in fearful hatred and demand justice and equality for every human being, without exception?

Jesus said that God loves the entirety of the cosmos. Now is an excellent time to claim this truth and live it into being. No one can truly be a follower of Christ and hate people based on race, religion, country of origin, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, class, ability, health, mental health, or any other aspect of human identity. God loves the entire cosmos. That love sent Jesus to teach us how to love one another. When will we learn?

RCL – Year B – Trinity Sunday – May 30, 2021 Isaiah 6:1-8 and Psalm 29  • Romans 8:12-17  • John 3:1-17

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Sermon Starter

A Little More about Love

Image of two yellow ducklings facing each other, black beaks touching.

I wish love was simple and uncomplicated. Jesus talked about it so much because love challenges us, often to go beyond our perceived limits. I didn’t grow up with the best role models when it comes to love. I have no doubt that my parents did their best. Yet, what they communicated to me was that love was conditional, based on following the rules and being “good.” In many ways, the church communicated the same thing to me. Starting Sunday School at eight meant that I missed the basics of preschool and early elementary school. I didn’t learn “Jesus Loves Me,” the song, until I was in college, and by then it was almost too late.

In John’s gospel Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” I wonder if that was hard for those first disciples to grasp. In my mind they were very young men, perhaps between the ages of 15 and 20 by the time Jesus would have spoken these words. They lived in a society very different from ours. What lessons had they learned about love before they met Jesus? Jesus spoke about agape, unconditional love, and it’s possible that no one else really did. Maybe they knew something of storge, affection, or philia, brotherly love or friendship, or eros, romantic love. But outside of the synagogue and the need to be involved in charity, where would they have encountered agape?

I don’t know. Certainly, anyone of them could have had an encounter with God that unfolded the meaning of agape for them. Or maybe being with Jesus for three years was enough for them to begin to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” I’d like to think those early disciples got it, understood it, and went on to live in relationship with each other guided by agape. However, what I remember about early church history indicates that they probably didn’t.

So this leads me to the question of how, when, and where do we experience agape today? If we’re lucky, we learn about unconditional love from our parents. And for those of us who weren’t lucky enough to have healthy, loving, emotive parents, then it would be great if the church would step in and fill that gap?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Maybe we can dedicate the month to communicating the love we have for one another and for all our neighbors. What if everyone who joined our worship services or Bible studies or Sunday Schools heard and believed the message that they are God’s beloved, that they are loved and valued for who they are in this moment? What if we stopped caring about all those things we’ve labeled as sin, and just focused on loving whomever shows up?

How many lives could be saved if we communicated clearly that Queer folx are loved by God? That people with addictions are loved by God? That people with disabilities are loved by God? That people with mental illness are loved by God? That people experiencing homelessness are loved by God? That people who are divorced are loved by God? That women who’ve had abortions are loved by God? That people living in non monogamous relationships are loved by God? No change needed. Right now, whoever you are, whatever you are doing, whatever you are experiencing, you are loved by God. For real. Seriously, how many lives could be saved with this simple message?

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I invite every preacher, every church leader, to make agape the mission and the message. Let’s set aside everything we think makes proper theology and proper church practice and figure out how to embody agape for those who most need to know the saving power of God’s love for the whole of creation.

RCL – Year B – Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 9, 2021 Acts 10:44-48  • Psalm 98  • 1 John 5:1-6  • John 15:9-17

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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

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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

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Musings Sermon Starter

Theological Math: We All Add Up to One (at least that’s what Jesus said… um… prayed)

We are connected, you and I, to every other person on the planet, and to the planet itself. If a global pandemic does not awaken us to this truth, nothing will. By the time this pandemic is over, everyone will be touched by it. Most will have lost a loved one to the virus. Many will have lived through having had it. All of our lives will be different from this time forward. Grief is now a universal and simultaneous experience. We are all grieving something. Perhaps the loss of freedom to come and go as we choose. Maybe the loss of employment. Maybe the loss of in-person socializing. Maybe the loss of a loved one. Maybe the heaviness of universal grief weighs on you. These are hard days for all of us. No one is exempt.

If it takes a pandemic to recognize the unity of humanity and creation, what will it take for us to sustain this awareness when we return to healthier days? We are united in sickness and grief. Can we ever be united in health and wholeness? Can we extend the small acts of kindness we offer to one another to those we do not know? If the pandemic has woken us up to the depth of injustice, will a return to health enable us to heal what is broken in systems of justice, education, healthcare, housing, and even religious institutions? I don’t know. I would like to think that the answer is yes, particularly when talking about churches.

Jesus’ prayer for his followers then is his prayer for his followers now – oneness. We are to be one with each other just as Jesus is one with God. That’s intense, isn’t it? However, our society loves kyriarchy. We are conditioned from an early age to believe certain things whether they are true or not. We are taught that some people are better than others even though there is no biblical evidence of this. We are taught that some jobs are more valuable than others simply because they pay more. We are conditioned to “lord it over” someone from the time we are very little. Men are better than women. Binary is better than diversity. White is better than Black. Gay is better than straight. Able is better than disabled. Healthy is better than sick. Perceived wholeness is better than visible brokenness. Skinny is better than fat. And on down the list. None of these things are true and, yet, we turn ourselves inside out and upside down trying to comply with these social norms. To what end?

COVID-19 has highlighted some shortfalls, some sins, some awful systemic flaws in our society that are built on kyriarchy. Even the church in some, if not all of its forms, will tell us that the wealthy are more blessed than the poor. So when those who live in poverty and those who experience homelessness are dying at a higher rate than others during this pandemic, we are inclined to blame the victims. We want to say that People of Color, particularly Black people, are dying from this virus because of the choices they have made. This, my friends, is kyriarchy in general and racism specifically. We have participated in a culture that preferences white over black (and all other POC), conservative Christian over all other religious identities, cis males over all other gender identities and expressions, perceived mental and physical wellness over visible illness or disability in body, mind, or spirit, and more culturally determined preferences as well. Where is the oneness Jesus desires for those who follow him? Where is the oneness with ourselves, our neighbors, and Creation, let alone with God?

If we learn anything from this pandemic, may it be that we are all connected. When we do not embrace this connectedness, people die and the planet is damaged. We have kept God waiting long enough, don’t you think? Now would be an excellent time to seek to strengthen our relationships, to built the unity God desires for us. Yes, it is possible to read scripture in a way that says, “unless you are like me, then you are outside of God’s saving love.” This reading is inconsistent with Jesus’ desire for oneness among his followers, oneness built on and consisting of Divine Love. Maybe the pandemic can remind us that anything that is not Love is not from God. And when we remember this, we are better equipped to reach out to those we have perceived to be lower than us on the ladder of privilege (and socially constructed preference) and endeavor to raise them up until there is no more “us and them.”

Now is a good time to put on your mask, even if you don’t think you need it, to show how much you value your neighbors. Then stay six feet from anyone you are not living with (unless your job requires something different) and greet all your neighbors with a friendly wave and “hello.” And while we are at it, keep worshiping online. It is more inclusive, more loving than any way we can worship right now. There’s no limit to the number who can come together, no prohibition on singing or communion or passing the Peace or collecting the offering, and no need for masks, gloves, or cleaning everything when service is over. Let’s take a moment to breathe deeply and contemplate how we as the Body of Christ can best foster oneness and build unity among all people. Perhaps we can bring God’s long wait for us to recognize the humanity and divinity in all our neighbors to and end.

RCL – Year A – Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 24, 2020
Acts 1:6-14
Ps 68:1-10, 32-35
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

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Musings Sermon Starter

Sodom and Gomorrah Revisited

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The time has come to look at Sodom and Gomorrah from a different perspective. Changes are pretty good that whatever you learned in Sunday School or picked up along the way is not useful. A literal or legalistic reading of this story gets us nowhere good and has done more than enough damage to queer folx. If we can agree that the people who told this story and those who wrote it down had a very different worldview than most of us now have, then we need to apply what we know to this text.

Most of us know that God isn’t sitting somewhere in heaven waiting to shower do-gooders with blessings or reign down punishment on sinners. This way of thinking is a holdover from days when all things were explained by divine actions. If we understand that much of the suffering in this world can be explained through science and/or recognized as a result of human behaviors, then what was perceived as divine punishment can be understood as the consequences of a certain set of parameters. For example, the increasing intensity of storms can be explained scientifically and is, at least in part, due to the ways in which human beings have damaged the planet. This is a more reasonable explanation for these storms than to say that the inhabitants of a particular place are being punished by God for their sins. Similarly, most illness and diseases can be explained through genetics, germs, or toxic environments. Again, this is a far more reasonable explanation than to say that a person with an illness or disease is being punished for their or their parents’ sins.

Now we can conclude that it is far more likely that the biblical punishments, afflictions, and smitings attributed to God were natural consequences resulting from whatever circumstances preceded them. In other words, not God’s doing. In a similar way, people like Moses and Abraham probably didn’t literally hear God talking to them anymore than faithful people do today. Maybe they had fewer obstructions in their prayer life and received responses with a bit more clarity, but they probably didn’t sit down and have an actual chat with God.

With this in mind, let us revisit Sodom and Gomorrah. We learn about these cities from the angels/men who informed Abraham and Sarah that Sarah would soon be pregnant in spite of her advanced years. The visitors had enjoyed Abraham’s generous hospitality and were heading on their way. They debated telling Abraham about their next stop before deciding to share the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They don’t tell Abraham anything other than that here has been significant outcry against these cities. They stress that they are telling Abraham because his offspring will grown into a great nation and that they will be responsible for keeping “the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice” (Gen 18:20).

After hearing this, Abraham takes his concerns to God, whom he knows to be just and good. He prays. He asks God to spare the cities for the sake of the righteous who live there. God assures Abraham that the cities will be safe if there 50, 45, 40, 35, 20, and as few as 10 people living righteously. Abraham trusts God’s justice. He also receives a message that even a few people faithfully living out God’s holy ways can save many from destruction. This is the power of faith, power often overlooked in the reading of this story.

From Abraham’s conversation with God, we move back to the angels who had just left Abraham. They find hospitality in Lot’s house and, therefore, advise Lot to get his family out of the cities. Lot’s family think he’s joking about the impending destruction and choose to remain in the cities. Of course, some of Lot’s actions don’t make much sense to modern readers and cause us to wonder at Lot’s righteousness. However, Lot cannot be faulted for the hospitality he offered to the visitors, even if we are appalled by his parenting choices and how little he seemed to value his daughters. Of course, they make questionable choices of their own a bit later. And that business of Lot’s wife turning to a pillar of salt is a bit odd and seemingly unfair. Let’s just say that she turned into a very precious commodity and discuss the women in this story at a later date.

I also don’t want to skip over the part that historically been used as proof that God disapproves of queer people. The men of Sodom wanted Lot’s guests for sexual purposes. The problem here isn’t sexual activity. The problem is how little they valued people who were foreign, alien to their cities. They saw them as less than human, to be treated in any way the residents of the city felt like treating them. In this case, they wanted to use them for sex. On another day, maybe they would have chosen to enslave them or hold them captive for another purpose. All these things were against the ways of God. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was their startling lack of hospitality toward the stranger among them.

This lack of hospitality is in direct contrast to Abrahams’s generosity and Lot’s welcome. There was nothing righteous or just in the doings of the people who lived in Sodom or Gomorrah. We know that when one group of people stops recognizing the humanity of another group, the results are often violent, ugly, and fatal. Sodom and Gomorrah annihilated themselves with their own selfish greed. It’s just a more cautionary tale if God smites them. And making queer folx the scapegoat is a convenient way to avoid looking closely at the real issues.

Isn’t it possible that we who follow Christ need to pay more attention to our own offers of hospitality? What groups of people have we dehumanized? Where have we failed to in doing righteousness and justice? These are the more useful questions that come from Sodom and Gomorrah. Perhaps we can avoid future destruction if we pay more attention to keeping God’s ways and offering generous hospitality to the stranger, foreigner, and aliens in our cities. After all, doom can be avoided if as few as ten seek to live in holy ways.

For more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year C – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 28, 2019
Hosea 1:2-10 with Psalm 85 or
Genesis 18:20-32 with Psalm 138
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

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liturgy Prayer Uncategorized

A Plumb Line Prayer

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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

No Turning Back

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Following Jesus, true discipleship, is not for the feint of heart. Jesus is not of a fan of the familiar, routine, or status quo. Jesus likes to challenge assumptions, rouse the rabble, and provoke the powerful with truth. Once you put your hand on this particular plough, there is no turning back. It just isn’t possible because Jesus is unconcerned with what the past holds and far more interested in liberating people from oppression right now.

In the last four weeks I’ve been in four different cities and three different states. I’ve spoken at two different suicide prevention conferences, participated in a workshop at the United Church of Christ General Synod, and attended the Minnesota Conference UCC Annual Meeting. I’ve been in four states (MN, NH, MA, and WI) and met up with friends I haven’t seen in decades, and friends I haven’t seen for a few weeks or months. Waves of nostalgia wash over me as I drive through the mountains and walk on the beach. I’m overwhelmed with a longing for what used to be when I encounter friends I haven’t seen since seminary (more than 25 years). This last month has given me plenty of prompts to think about the course of my life and the unexpected twists and turns of my ministry.

June began with a trip to Western Massachusetts where I spoke at a conference. I met up with a high school friend and talking with her took me right back to the days when we were inseparable. We talked about the weirdness of aging where the body feels the years, but the mind and spirit have no concept that time passes; we could easily have been out on a night when we would have to go to school in the morning (except for the multitude of years between then and now).

This experience was followed by the MN UCC Annual Meeting. While I have made friends in MN, I was momentarily consumed by a longing for folks I’ve known a whole lot longer in other states. In those moments, I would have turned back the clock to years gone by without hesitation. At least I would have until I realized what I would not have in my life if I turned back the years. No time machine for me.

Then I went to General Synod and stood at the intersection between now and yesterday. I was there on behalf of the UCC Mental Health Network doing good work. Then I encountered people from across my years in ministry. The longing for what was threatened to overwhelm me once more. Those close friendships from seminary that nothing else quite replicates… those conversations in the dining hall… the hopes and dreams for serving the church… Oh, to begin again! No, not really.

Today, I stood at the ocean’s edge after speaking at another suicide prevention conference in New Hampshire. Nothing renews my spirit quite like the song of the sea and the feel of the sand on my bare feet. As I watched the tide (and the fog) roll in, I reflected on my ministry and where following Jesus had taken me. Never in the proverbial million years would I have ever guessed where Jesus would lead me. Once I figured out that I was called to ministry in the church and not in academia, I thought I had some idea of what that would be. Nope! Not even close.

The church I had prepared to serve no longer exists, and probably didn’t really exist even as I entered ministry. I had visions of youth group mission trips and adult spiritual formation retreats, with some preaching and Bible study in between. The intersection of mental health and faith, let alone suicide prevention, wasn’t in my wildest imaginings. The fact that I speak openly about my early struggles with mental health, being bi-sexual, wrestling with an archaic theology, and telling my story of suicidality and suicidal behavior, is not what I had envisioned. Yet, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

65116850_10157392583029375_1975425480005779456_oIn those moments when I think I would, when I think about going back when I kept all these things secret, it’s like watching the fog roll in on the beach. While the illusion of solitude is good, the temperature drop is a little chilling. Sure, I can tell myself that life was somewhat easier “back in the day,” it’s a lie that takes my attention away from the challenges of today. If I am distracted by the church of yesterday, I can miss the joys of today. If I think the past holds the answers, liberation of any kind may prove impossible.

Following Jesus has taken me all over the U.S. My journey of discipleship has made me go places I wouldn’t have the courage to go on my own. While the beach sings to my soul like no place else, I’ve also been restored by songs of the mountains, the woods, the lakes, and the desert, and the prairies. Without my hand on the plough I would never have come out as bisexual and wouldn’t have given a thought to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. I wouldn’t have marched with Black Lives Matter or protested with Latinx folx, or carried signs protesting the current administrations policies on refugees, or shared the journey with those struggling with symptoms of mental illness, or a thousand other things. Once I put my hand on the plough, I committed to leaving behind the shy, fearful days of my youth to become one who shows up and bears witness and tries to lend my voice to those who often go unheard.

It’s been a weird and wonderful journey. But looking back with yearning for what was takes me off-track. Jesus wants us to carry the lessons of where we have been not so we can recreate the past, but so that we can build the Realm of God here and now with the wisdom and compassion we’ve gathered on the way. And lest we forget, the plough creates the best furrows when many hands are on it. We do not and cannot follow Jesus, be healthy disciples, if we fool ourselves into thinking that we are alone. There’s Paul’s great cloud of witnesses and there is also the folx who are with us, hands next to ours making sure we plough a continuous row.

May we all stop looking back with yearning and celebrate all those whose hands guide the plough with courage and strength, wisdom and compassion.

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 30, 2019
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 with Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 or
1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21 with Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

What are You Doing Here?

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What are you doing here? Are you running away? Are you exhausted? Are you without hope? Are you looking for God, hoping God will show up and fix all that is broken? Will you eat the bread that is offered? Will you withstand the truth of where God is? Will you get up and go out to the wilderness to continue working to bring Divine Love into the world?

I feel for Elijah, I really do. He’s worn out by the resistance to God’s ways he continuously encounters. He would gladly go to sleep and not wake up to face another day of threats to his life. He has fled, seeking rest for his weariness. Maybe he’s even hoping that God will tell him he doesn’t have to be a prophet anymore. Instead, he’s offered food and told to move on to a place where he will wait for God to show up.

There’s the wind, but God was not in the wind. There’s an earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake. There’s fire, but God is not in the fire. Then there’s the sound of sheer silence that compels Elijah to come out of the cave and answer the question again: What are you doing here? He recounts his failures – covenant broken, altars torn down, and prophets killed. I can almost hear God saying yet again, “What are you doing here?” Seriously, there’s nothing to be done in a cave, hiding out. Sure, the people have turned their backs on God’s holy ways, but that is no reason to give up. Whatever it is you think you are doing here, go on your way. The wilderness waits for you.

Church, what are we doing here? We are still looking for God in the storms and chaos. We still want to flee when the weariness, fear, and hopelessness prevent us from experiencing those moments of sheer silence. We might even miss the nourishment that God places before us. I’m not sure what we are doing here. Are we hiding? Are we being prophetic? Are we taking in nourishment? Are we soaking up the silence? Probably not as much as we are hiding out, desperately hoping that God will show up and fix all that we have broken.

June is Pride month and I can’t help but think that the church is still hiding out in a cave. We want to blame the current stormy political environment for all that ails us and for obstructing the work of God. We can’t blame our disunity on the current administration, though. When it comes to LGBTQ+ folx, we have long been divided. Not only have we missed God’s presence among us by participating in the storms, we have also failed to hear Paul’s words that remind us of the unity we are find in the body of Christ. You know, in Christ there is no immigrant or resident, no refugee or naturalized citizen, no queer or straight, no Trans* or cis, no POC or white, no disabled or abled, no mentally ill or well, no rich or poor. We are to be one in Christ. We cannot continue to hide from that which divides us.

Jesus himself went out to the wild places and called people to himself. He offered healing and wholeness without exception. Even the Gerasene demoniac was restored to wholeness and told to proclaim all that God had done for him. If any of us have survived the winds of rejection that shatter our sense of self, the earthquakes of division that drive us to the edges of society, or the fires of ridicule that diminish us, and then experienced the sheer silence, the still, small voice of God, we must share this healing. We must do has Elijah did, as the healed demoniac did. We must continue on the journey, proclaiming all that God has done for us. How else will others find their way, find their place, within this wounded body we call church?

What are we doing here? Are we huddled in fear and protecting ourselves or are we cleaning up after the storms, strengthened by the moments of sacred silence? We can continue to yearn for the church of years past or we can expand our understanding of what the body of Christ looks like and be a vital presence in the world today. It’s time we continued the journey and proclaim all that God has done for us. In Christ we are one. In Christ we are whole.

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 19:1-4,(5-7),8-15a with Psalm 42 and 43 or
Isaiah 65:1-9 with Psalm 22:19-28 and
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Photo: CC0 image by Sharon McCutcheaon