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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

Lessons from Mary

Image a depiction of ancient Bethlehem with crowds of people at the birth of Jesus.

Being God’s favored one is no easy task. For Mary it meant risking everything – her family, her relationship, her life. When she agreed to Gabriel’s proposal to bring the child of the Most High into the world, she made a choice that meant her life would be changed forever. She would never be just a girl from Nazareth again. She would not lead a quiet, ordinary life. The moment God turned God’s attention to Mary, her life ceased to be her own. Personally, I don’t think she could have known what the implications were when she agreed. No teenager could have known that she was giving up her life as she imagined it to do as God asked.

Before I continue, let me clarify a thing or two about my understanding of the “virgin birth.” I do not believe these accounts of the birth of Jesus are literal facts. I believe they are true stories, stories packed with Truth about what it means to be human in relationship to the Holy. There are no history lessons here. However, there are lessons about who we are as human beings and what living in relationship with God might mean for us. And, honestly, I don’t think it matters whether we say these stories of factual or truthful as long as we look for their deeper meaning. For example, Mary’s story isn’t just about her; it’s about all of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus, Christians.

Mary agreeing to bring Jesus into the world is a model for us. The truth is God’s favor is with all of us. It’s just that so few people embrace it fully. When we accept God’s favor, then we agree to bring Divine Love into the world. And doing this is often as risky for us as it was for Mary. No, most of us are not likely to be threatened with death, though that happens in many places in the world even now. On the other hand, seeking to bring God into the world could end a few relationships, including those with family members.

You see, following Mary’s example means giving up our own dreams for our lives and embracing God’s dreams for us. Once we say, “Let it be with me…” then our lives are no longer our own (if they ever were). Quiet, anonymity is no longer guaranteed. If we accept Gabriel’s proposal to bring Christ into the world, then we can no longer sit on the proverbial sidelines. There’s work to be done and it is likely to be highly uncomfortable.

Think of it. Mary traveled to Bethlehem when she was nine months pregnant. She walked or she rode a donkey for many, many miles. And she camped out. Now, I’ve never been pregnant, but I really can’t imagine that this would be a super comfortable adventure. Then when Mary arrived in Bethlehem, there was no inn for her. She gave birth in a stable, and that was not pretty. Mary’s circumstances indicate that bringing God into the world is not for the faint of heart. It takes strength, courage, perseverance, and commitment that can only come from trusting God.

The work of bringing Divine Love into the world is messy today, too. It could mean long days of protesting injustice. It could mean repeatedly speaking out against the Death Penalty so much that it feels like no one listens. It could mean advocating for the most vulnerable among us and making ourselves vulnerable at the same time. Whatever shape it takes in our individual lives, bringing God into the world will make us and, often enough, those around us very uncomfortable. This is guaranteed because we know that God’s ways are not our ways. The ways of Love lead us to change, and there are many who do not want the change that Love requires.

We are nearing the end of our Advent journey this year. It’s a year of struggle for sure. Following that ancient star to Bethlehem has its unique challenges in pandemic and this cannot be understated. However, if we think of Mary and the journey she made, what she risked to bring Christ into the world, maybe we can begin to see hope for us here and now. In the midst of the sorrow and the grief, there are echoes of the ancient, overcrowded city of Bethlehem. As we wait for a vaccine to be distributed, perhaps there are parallels to Mary’s long journey. Somehow, when we learn that the current Administration has the highest rate of capital punishment, the noise and smell of that stable come to mind. If Mary could bring Christ into the world under those conditions, surely we can do the same under pandemic conditions.

There is still hope, peace, joy and love to be had in the world, especially if we embrace God’s favor and strive to embody these things. Bethlehem is always closer than we think. God’s favor is always with us. We are God-bearers, hope-bringers, peace-makers, joy-sharers, and love-embodiers. We are the church and we trust that God is with us in the chaos, the messiness, the wonder, the awe, the pain, the suffering, the love, the healing… God is with us in the midst of life, even life in pandemic.

May you arrive at Bethlehem filled with the hope, peace, joy, and love of God shining in, through, and around you.

RCL: Year B Fourth Sunday of Advent December 20, 2020 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
Romans 16:25–27
Luke 1:26–38

Photo: CC0image by Gerhard G.

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Musings Sermon Starter

Traveling Companions

On the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death, I find myself thinking about all the roads I have traveled – literally and figuratively. I’ve been on roads in many states and a few other countries. Some were crowded city roads and others were quiet rural roads. I’ve traveled on foot, on bicycle, on motor cycle, in cars as passenger and driver, and on buses. Many miles and many places. Sometimes I had great company and other times uncomfortable companions. Many times I traveled alone. And one very memorable time I was accompanied by a herd of dairy cows.

That was on a mountainous road in the North East Kingdom of Vermont many years ago. I was riding my new mountain bike and had gone several miles when a bolt fell off the front tire. Since I was young and not an experienced cyclist, I didn’t have any tools with me. My solution was to pick up my bike and walk home. As I carried the bike on one shoulder with the tire in my other hand, I made my ways slowly along the very rural road. Occasionally, cars would pass and slow down with driver and passengers staring at me as they went. This annoyed me each time it happened. After about 45 minutes of this happening (maybe 6 cars), I stopped, set down my bike, and turned around. The passing cars weren’t staring at me; they were amused, no doubt, by the 30 or so cows following me on the other side of the fence. I laughed. What else could I do.

Most of my traveling hasn’t had such amusing company. I think about the times I was on roads to run away from where I had been. Sometimes, even to run toward something new. Roads that led to new people and places. Roads that led to new places that would become home. Roads so filled with memories that tears of longing come to my eyes. So many people, places, experiences… life. I am grateful for those who have shared the journey on the long drives and the short trips. There are more roads ahead, I’m sure. I wonder who I will meet and where I will go…

These thoughts lead me to the two who were on the road to Emmaus on that first Easter day. Cleopas and the unnamed one. Were they going home? Had they been in Jerusalem just for Passover and were heading back to resume their everyday life? Had they been part of the larger group of disciples and now didn’t have a place to be and so were moving on? Were they heading to friends who didn’t yet know all that had happened? Were they running away from Jerusalem or toward Emmaus? The scriptures don’t tell us. All we know is that they were on the road to Emmaus and were joined by an unexpected travel companion.

Who among us wouldn’t want this companion to travel with us? He listened to all they had to say. Then he invited them deeper into the Mystery of their experiences. He stayed with them and ate with them. Then, as they broke bread, their eyes were opened and the Spirit burned within them. Now I’ve taken some walks and had a sense of the Spirit’s presence in some places, but nothing like this. But what if I’ve journeyed with the Risen Christ and not known it? What if we all have?

In these days of COVID-19 and physical distancing the idea of a long journey in the company of friends sounds awesome in and of itself. However, what might change for us if we start actively expecting the Risen Christ to accompany us? What if we look for the Holy One all the time and everywhere? Would the masked faces of strangers be transformed into friends or siblings? Would our fears be lessened? Would we be able to breathe more deeply knowing that Christ is with us on these strange and uncertain roads we are traveling? Would it make a difference to know that God is listening to our hearts and inviting us deeper into the Mystery that is our lives?

I think it might. We know that what is coming out of the Oval Office is mostly nonsense and meant to invoke fear and foster division and hatred. Instead of giving in to that, let’s think about those “others” we meet on our streets as if they were the Risen Christ. Let’s think about those faces we see on the news as companions on the journey. We are all needing someone to listen to our experiences, validate our fears, calm our anxious minds.

Right now, there is no equality on the journey. All of us are not in the same boat. All of us are not traveling the same road or with adequate supplies. If we are looking for the Risen Christ, then when our eyes are opened we will see the inequity and how this virus is magnifying the pre-existing conditions created by systemic racism. We will see that the President is making this worse and black people are dying at much higher rates than white folx. We will see income gaps getting bigger and education disparities widening. Perhaps the injustice will burn within us and motivate us to move differently in this world.

After all, we cannot go back to what was any more than those two on that ancient road could have gone back to whatever life they had before the crucifixion and resurrection. There is no going back to “normal” after COVID-19. Something new will emerge in the coming months and years. The question is whether we are on a road that will lead to new life because we are open to the Mystery of Resurrection or are we remaining on a road that is more akin to crucifixion because we are unwilling to risk change for the sake of our companions on the journey.

We are all on the journey. With whom are we traveling? Do we recognize the Risen Christ who accompanies us? Will we allow our eyes to be opened and our hearts to burn within us?

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday of Easter – April 26, 2020
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Photo: CC0image by René Schindler

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Musings Sermon Starter

Faith and Politics: A Matter of Vocabulary

My first awareness of politics was in the late 1970s when Ford was President of the U.S. I didn’t understand anything about Watergate but for some unidentifiable reason I recognized that Ford had not been president for a full four-year term. I, as a child of nine or ten, noticed. I did a bit more than notice a few years later when Reagan ran for and won the office. That election cycle was one that I paid more attention to because it was one that made my mother register to vote for the first time in her life. And because the whole election was woven into my eighth grade social studies class.

In the spring of 1981 our class held mock primary elections. I was Reagan. I spent days collecting data from the newspapers to put together a campaign speech. Afternoons spent clipping articles and writing down quotes led to me winning that election. Not much else sticks in my memory except that I was criticized for using words that my classmates didn’t know. I was hurt by the teacher’s observation because I suspected I won that election because they thought I sounded “smart.” When I told my mother how unfair I thought it was that I lost points because my classmates didn’t know all the words I used, my mother informed me that “politics, like life, are seldom fair.” She went on to tell me that I was lucky I won because the best candidates aren’t always elected.

Looking back I realize that my mother and I ended up on opposite sides of the political arena and would never agree on the “best candidate,” yet, her statement isn’t entirely incorrect. It’s often hard to tell which candidate is the best one, the one that would be best to lead the country at this particular time in history. The problem is that people aren’t necessarily thinking about what is best for this country and how we interact with other countries. The decision about which candidate to support seems to be informed more by fear than anything else. However, as Christians, as people of faith, we should be looking at candidates through a different lens (and it isn’t impressive vocabulary.)

Long ago, to ancient people held captive and oppressed, God promised liberation. The vision of this liberation communicated through the Prophet Isaiah was one of healing and welcome, joy and gladness for all God’s people. And if we take Jesus’ proclamation that even the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist (who was pretty great), then we have a responsibility to find that promised holy way. We have a responsibility to recognize that no one is excluded from this promise of liberation.

This is message of liberation and affirmation of value is contrary to much of the rhetoric thrown around in this election cycle. With the rise in antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, and other types of hatred and division, we must hold our leaders to a higher standard. Our faith requires that we make room for all. To honor the promises God made long ago, to live the teachings of Christ, means that we view all people as God’s people. We cannot continue to mistakenly interpret scripture to endorse any sort of white, Christian, nationalist supremacy. As a brown skinned Jewish man, Jesus would not condone such government sanctioned hatred, division, and oppression. Just ask the Romans and those who were in Roman employ…

We are in the Advent season. It’s a season preparing for the coming of God into the world anew, and anticipating the day when God’s promises will be fulfilled throughout the whole world. It’s an excellent time to check ourselves for where and how we are traveling through our lives. Are our feet anywhere near that holy way of peace where enemies journey side-by-side? Are we on a path that is wide enough to accommodate all of our neighbors? Do our prayers lead us to acts that liberate those who are oppressed? Do our words break the patterns of fear, division, and violence that are endorsed by too many politicians? Is there any evidence that we are followers of Christ in our daily activities?

Maybe politics and the way faith informs them really does have to do with vocabulary. Not in the way of words with many syllables, but in how we put them together. Do the words we use raise up those society devalues and dismisses? Do our words match our actions? When we speak of God’s love do we also seek to embody that same love for all those who inhabit the planet? After all, if Jesus walked the world today he would be in the cages at our border, or in line in a refugee camp waiting for food, or one of those who live on the streets, or one of those too many of us choose not to see or hear. After all, he was a brown skinned Jewish man who spoke truth to power, power that was corrupt and ignored the needs of many. Advent, as we anticipate the return of Light, is an excellent time to recommit to living what Jesus taught. What say you?

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday of Advent – December 15, 2019
Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:5-10
Luke 1:46b-55
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Photo: CC0image by Myriam Zilles

Categories
Poetry

A Poem for the Year’s End

Jesus Replied 
(Luke 23:43)

Year
ends. God
reigns whether
we notice or
not. Promises made
long ago remain true -
all are loved, all are valued,
no one excluded. Advent draws
near, calling us to pause and listen,
watch, prepare, and begin again. The days
are surely coming when all feet everywhere
will travel in the way of peace. Fear-filled living
belongs to the days of old. Hope, love, mercy, grace,
and forgiveness belong to God’s people, now
and through all time. While speaking words of faith
we forget God always remembers
the ancient covenant of love
without end. When words become
deeds, wars will cease. God is
our refuge and strength.
May our lives show
God’s glory
and our
thanks.

RCL – Year C – Reign of Christ Sunday – November 24, 2019

Jeremiah 23:1-6 with Luke 1:68-79 or
Jeremiah 23:1-6 with Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

Photo: CC0image by ID 11165576

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Sycamore Lessons

Have you ever climbed up, out on the proverbial limb, in the name of seeing Jesus more clearly? I’ve done it more times than I would like to admit. The trick is to climb down when Jesus calls you out of your foolishness. How else will we be able to dine with Jesus? Unfortunately, too many of us mistake our awkward position in our figurative trees for keeping company with Jesus. We can learn a lot from Zacchaeus if we care to pay attention.

Luke tells us that Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and wealthy. He was also “short in stature.” One might wonder why Zacchaeus became a tax collector. No Jewish man would have thought this was an excellent profession. The Romans would have treated a tax collector poorly and the Jewish folks would have avoided one who so boldly sinned. Of course, Zacchaeus had gotten rich as a tax collector so maybe he didn’t care so much about what others thought. My guess is that he wasn’t wealthy when he started working for Rome. Perhaps he became a tax collector because he was already an outcast. Perhaps Zacchaeus was a little person and thereby excluded from society. Whatever it was, Zacchaeus couldn’t have been overly comfortable with his position in the world. After all, something drove him up that sycamore, and just catching a glimpse of Jesus couldn’t have been the only reason to make a fool of himself.

Zacchaeus probably wanted to know why the whole town was talking about Jesus. Maybe he craved the inclusion that folks were attributing to Jesus. News of all those that Jesus healed had probably reached Zacchaeus’ ears. To be seen and named and healed by Jesus would be something for a twice over outcast. Seeing Jesus in action, trying to verify if any of what had been said was true, might have been motivation enough to send a wealthy man up a tree.

As the story goes, though, his climb out a limb was useless. While Zacchaeus was ridiculously clinging to the sycamore, swaying in the breeze over the heads of the crowds, Jesus stood at the foot of the tree. Imagine how shocking that must have been for Zacchaeus, and even more surprising for those who assumed they were righteous. Why would Jesus choose to spend time with a sinner like Zacchaeus, much less break bread with him? Why not choose one of them, those who followed the law, had no visible disabilities, and were active community members? Why this silly, sinning, tax collector who had to climb a tree just to see what was going on?

The jealousy and the need to be righteous has many of us up a tree looking, perhaps more foolish than Zacchaeus. Every time we cling to biblical literalism, unexamined (possibly archaic) theology, or self-righteousness we climb a little higher. When we fail to see our neighbors as the Christ who calls us to come and eat and be ourselves in relationship, in community, we become far worse than Zacchaeus. He, at least, climbed down and took Jesus home to dinner. Then he did his best to correct the wrongs he had done. Zacchaeus found new life in Jesus’ company. When we refuse to hear Jesus calling us out of our familiar branches, we become more foolish and possibly more sinful than Zacchaeus ever was.

As I write this, I am sitting in an airport on my way to the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network’s WISE Conference. This is an educational event to help congregations become Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaging of persons with mental health challenges. I can’t help but hear a challenge in this passage to churches of all kinds to climb down from our lofty limbs and dine with Jesus. The church has done enough harm to persons with mental illness and their loved ones over the years. It is time we change. Even the more progressive congregations who don’t necessarily believe that mental illness is punishment for sin, lack of willpower, character defect, or lack of faith, need to be active in proclaiming welcome and changing the narrative of sinfulness and rejection.

None of us will ever get a closer look at Jesus by clinging to the past and the nostalgic comfort it may bring. The firmer our grip on the past, the more precarious our position. If Zacchaeus didn’t catch a glimpse of Jesus from his sycamore perch, why do we persist with such foolishness? Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the branches and elevated him in the eyes of God, and perhaps his neighbors. Imagine how high we could rise if we actually started to treat the vulnerable among us with Christ’s love and compassion.

It’s not too late for any of us. We can admit our foolishness and our mistaken attempts at righteousness. We can stop blaming people for their mental illness or other disabilities. We can educate ourselves and let go of outdated theology. If we do so, we might discover that our feet are firmly planted on the ground and Jesus is in our midst.

RCL – Year C – Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost – November 3, 2019
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 with Psalm 119:137-144 or
Isaiah 1:10-18 with Psalm 32:1-7
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

Photo: CC0image by brisch27

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Something about Bees, Glass, and Humility

Once again I find myself thinking about Peggy Way’s “fact of glass.” She uses this line, borrowed from a poem, to describe human reluctance to accept fragility and finitude. The poem, “Up Against It” by Eamon Grennon, describes the difficulties bees have sorting out this fact of glass. We humans have the same struggle with our mortality. These days, I find myself keeping company with grief, fragility, and glimpses of finitude. It hurts when I bump against this fact of glass, those none too gentle reminders that my days are no more endless than anyone else’s. This knowledge sits right next to grief, waiting for me to notice and respond.

Yet, I notice other things, too. Last night as I was driving home, there was a rainbow tinted so pink with the sunset that I almost missed it. On my drive in this morning, an eagle hunted for fish over the Mississippi. On a lunchtime walk with my dog, I could almost hear the spinning of the autumn leaves as they fell to the ground. Miraculous beauty surrounds me. How often have I not seen the beauty of creation because I’ve been distracted with my own fragility, or that of another? How often have I thought my own concerns were more urgent than the need to see God’s creative hand still at work in the world? How often have I run headlong into the glass only to look up and see God’s grace? It would have been easier, if I’d looked up first.

Perhaps this was part of the trouble with the Pharisee Jesus spoke of in Luke’s Gospel. Maybe he wasn’t so smugly righteous as it would seem. Maybe his attention was on the wrong things. He wanted to be sure he was doing all the right things to please God and, in his perfectionism, maybe just forgot to look up. He could look around and see there were others around him engaging in unseemly behavior and he could feel more secure in his law-abiding life. Yet, he could do nothing to slow the years weighing on his body, or to make peace with an uncertain future. Perhaps he thought that doing all the right things could keep him safe. Perhaps this was his way of engaging with the fact of glass. If he had had a little more humility, he might have recognized the same struggle in the tax collector hiding in the corner.

Maybe that Pharisee hadn’t come up against the fact of glass often enough to see the need for humility. The tax collector probably had. After all, the tax collector was seen as a sinner by the religious elite, and wasn’t particularly welcomed by anyone else. A Jew would probably not have entered into the employ of Rome if he had another viable option for making money. Whatever the hardships, the challenges, the tax collector faced, he recognized his place in the world and his need for mercy. Did he also recognize that he was as worthy of that mercy as the Pharisee was?

Humility helps us keep things in balance. It does not let our fears or our victories fool us into thinking we are unworthy of God or more worthy than others. Humility allows us to bump against the glass and reach out a hand to others, to steady ourselves and our neighbors. Humility allows us to look up and to look around, see God at work in the world and in the lives of those around us. Humility reminds us that we are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made” and in acute need of grace, always. Humility says that no matter what we achieve or what we fail, from God’s perspective our lives have the same value as the person sitting next to us on the bus, on the train, in the theater, in church, and anywhere else we might go.

As I sit with grief, contemplate my need for a pacemaker, accompany those who suffer in body, mind, and spirit, and marvel at the beauty of creation, a renewed sense of humility allows me to breathe. There is no point in asking “why me?” for any of it. The reason why is less important than the meaning I make of it all. I am not alone. None of us are. For the moment, I am thankful that as I’ve come up against the fact of glass once again it knocked some sense into me. I have looked up. I have looked around. Beauty and awe and majesty are on full display. And I’m lucky enough to have a part in it. Yes, we are all fragile and finite. It is also true that this fact of glass isn’t all there is to living. May we all be humble enough to recognize, if even for a moment, our places in the wonder of Creation…

For sermon help, or at least other thoughts on the text, try here.

RCL – Year C – Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 27, 2019
Joel 2:23-32 with Psalm 65 or
Sirach 35:12-17 or Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22 with Psalm 84:1-7 and
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Photo: CC0image by 2751030-2751030

Categories
liturgy Poetry Prayer

A Confessional Prayer

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

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


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

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

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

Amen.

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

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Musings Sermon Starter

On Healing and Gratitude

Gratitude is a part of true healing. One can regain wellness, but without gratitude healing remains incomplete, at least on a spiritual level. Think about the ten lepers Jesus healed as he traveled between Samaria and Galilee. Ten were healed and told to show themselves to the priest. Only one of them returned to give thanks. Perhaps the others were off doing as they had been told. They were no longer lepers and a priest could allow them back into community. Maybe they were grateful. Yet only one expressed gratitude to Jesus and received a pronouncement of wellness. His faith had made him well.

There is a link between gratitude and wellness that we don’t spend much time thinking about. Today is World Mental Health Day with an emphasis on suicide prevention. Maybe we should make a day next week that is World Gratitude Day to help combat the sense of hopelessness that contributes to the every-climbing suicide rates. What might happen in the world if we all to time to give thanks for moments of healing, however fleeting? What might shift in us all if we trusted that God views us as whole and desires healing for ever person? What might ignite in us if we thanked God for healing, large and small? Would we be able to join that one leper in faith making us well?

Over a decade ago I found redemption while working as a clinical chaplain at a state hospital. I had spent so much of my life hiding my struggles with depression, an eating disorder, and suicidality. By the fall of 2008 these struggles were mostly in the past, but I felt a lot of shame about them. I still wondered if my early mental health challenges were a reflection of my inadequacy as a Christian. Gratitude wasn’t absent from my life, but it wasn’t at the center. I was too busy trying to hide where I had been, that I never took time to be grateful for having made it through.

When I started working at the state hospital, I discovered that my past struggles were an asset. I knew what it was like to be a psychiatric in-patient. I knew what it felt like to feel hopeless and powerless. I knew the lies depression whispers in the bleakest moments. I also knew that these things were survivable. I could offer authentic hope. One day I found myself remarkably grateful for all that I had been through. I was not grateful for the suffering. I was grateful for the survival, survival that led to me embracing and enjoying life. Survival shifted to wholeness when gratitude entered in. God had placed people and opportunities in my path that all led to healing. I didn’t know how well I was until I could whole-heartedly give thanks to God for all things.

Maybe those other nine lepers took time to figure out that they, too, had been made well. They could see their healing, but maybe it took a while to experience their wholeness and give thanks. Gratitude doesn’t always come immediately. Some of us are slow healers and need time to realize just what has happened in our lives. Maybe gratitude would come quickly if we practiced it more freely and more intentionally.

What are you thankful for today? In this moment, I am grateful I have access to good healthcare. I’m also grateful for the dog curled up under my feet and the cat curled up behind my head. When I stop to look around, I’m thankful for season change and the beauty of autumn leaves. I can list a number of people I am grateful for, too. Mostly, though, I am thankful for my life, my work, my wife, and all that God calls me to be a part of.

Gratitude doesn’t depend on our wellness, though. We can be grateful for the simplest things when we are struggling in body, mind, or spirit. Being grateful for a hot cup of tea, a text from a friend, a smile from a stranger can shift our spirits. In those moments we step closer to the wholeness God sees in us. Perhaps in our moments of gratitude, we also bring a little healing into the world for someone else.

Gratitude won’t fix anything that is wrong in the world. It will, however, open us to the possibilities of a better future, a future that honors God, neighbor, self, and creation. If we stop taking our lives for granted and give thanks for this day (and every day), we might discover that we are bearers of divine love and hope that the world desperately needs. It doesn’t matter if gratitude comes quickly to you, like that one leper, or if it is slower to come to your lips, possibly like the other nine. What matters is that we cultivate gratitude always and everywhere. It’s not a contest or a means to show God’s favor. Gratitude is simply acknowledging all that God has done for us.

Thank you for reading. May you be filled with gratitude. And may you run and tell the others the glories of God.

RCL – Year C – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 13, 2019
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 with Psalm 66:1-12 or
2 Kings 5:1-3,7-15c with Psalm 111 and
2 Timothy 2:8-15 and
Luke 17:11-19

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Musings

A Season of Lament

There is so little room for grief in western society, yet it is not something anyone can avoid. Today grief sits heavily on my heart. I’m returning home from a trip to my childhood home for the Celebration of Life for the woman who was often more maternal than my own mother. She had been my next-door neighbor and my mother’s best friend for many, many years. It was good to be there and spend time with her daughters who are the sisters I didn’t have by birth. Still, I head home full of grief for Ellie, for my mother, for all the others who touched my life in some way and have since died. And there is the expectation that I will be done with grief and resume my daily life. How do I honestly grieve in a world that wants us all to “move on” and “put the sadness behind”?

I read the laments of ancient Israel and my eyes fill with tears. They had lost so much – people, home, identity, a way of life, a sense of being God’s chosen. They were able to sit by the rivers of Babylon and weep, not just once but over and over again. They did not want to sing the songs of happier days. They could, however, look back and name what they lost and turn it into a prayer for days yet to come. This is what is missing today. We feel the sadness. That’s the not the problem. It’s the pressure to put it away and move on with life long before the blessings bubble up. Before we can find laughter and hope amid our tears we are supposed to be back to work, school, life, whatever. And no one really wants to examine how every fresh grief touches all the other grief that came before it. We’re just supposed to get back to “normal.”

That’s the funny part. I’m sitting here thinking that all of the women who raised me, who were a generation or two older, have died. Yes, I have women friends who are that generation or two older, but that is not the same as the ones who remember me in the years before I remember me. There’s nothing “normal” about this and all that is lost with them. While there have not been shared holidays for many years, now the hope of “just one more” has died as well. I’m not sure what to do with this loss, this sadness over what will never be. However, I don’t want to ignore it and pretend that there isn’t this enormous sense of loss running through the middle of my life.

I want to continue the conversations begun over the last few days of remembering. I want to think of those Christmas dinners where my mother made way too much food and invited seemingly random people to share the feast. I want to dream about having all the people I most love in the world around a table for just such a Christmas feast. I want to remember the laughter and be honest about the tears. How great would it be to name the fears, the challenges, and the struggles that separated what was once family? Moreover, to honor the loss of our mothers by maintaining the connections we’ve started to reform. There is much to lament. Yet, there is hope.

We are bound together by a love that never ends. We can honor that love with our tears and our laughter and let it keep us connected. If not, then we allow unacknowledged grief to feed the all that conspires to keep us disconnected and lonely. We can learn from those ancient ones and make room for ourselves and others who grieve to sit down and weep. We can make it acceptable for the songs to be silent for a time. We can stop expecting people to be fine within a week, a month, a year, or ever, when they have lost someone or something dear to them. The only wrong way to grieve is not to do it.

Lamenting what we have lost helps us heal, helps us realize what we have and make room for what might come. Strangely, I think Jesus’ comments about faith the size of a mustard seed has something to do with this. We get so focused on what we think is “normal” or expected and we do not allow room for the Spirit to stir within us. We try so hard to do what we’re supposed to do, that we forget how deeply God knows us and loves us. There is no feeling, no loss, no sadness in which God cannot find us. This means that we are never cut off from Love. We try to make everything about us instead of remember that God wants nothing more than for us to live into a future filled with goodness and hope. Faith can help us move through the mountainous grief that threatens to bury us, if we let it.

God does not take the people we love from us. However, there is comfort and healing in trusting that God’s love is greater than our pain. In time, healing will come, especially when we are seeking to bring more Love into the world. The hard part is being honest with where we are and what we need. God’s love for us does not end even if it seems inaccessible when we grieve. Today, I am sad and tears come easily, and I’m okay with that. I can already see glimpses of hope and healing through my tears. For now, though, I will continue to lament even if the rest of the world thinks I should move on.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
   God’s mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,  
   “therefore I will hope in God.”

RCL – Year C – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 6, 2019
Lamentations 1:1-6 with Lamentations 3:19-26 or Psalm 137 or
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 with Psalm 37:1-9 and
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

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