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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

Photo: CC0image by edmondalfoto

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Musings Sermon Starter

Course Correction (maybe)

Image of flat desert with mountains, blue sky, and clouds in the background. In the foreground to the left is a road sign with an arrow curving to the left.

What if we’ve been going about being Christian all wrong, or at least partially incorrect? What if it isn’t about personal salvation at all? What if it’s really about acts of healing (hesed in Hebrew) and acts of mercy (eleos in Greek)? The more I think about this, the more I am convinced that salvation for the “whole of the cosmos” (as John 3:16 says) comes out of our ability to care for ourselves and all our neighbors. This would be embodying Christ in healing and saving ways. Perhaps it’s time we reclaim our communal roots and the goal of tikkun olam, repairing what is broken in the world. This could revitalize the church and make it relevant and vital in the world. If evangelism and soul-saving takes a backseat to acts of loving-kindness, mercy, and reparations, imagine how strong and healthy church could become.

Think about it. Christianity has taken the commandments, the ten given to Moses and the two named by Jesus, to be a kind of moral or pious code of conduct for individuals. To an extent, this is true. And, in a way, this is inadequate. Morality and/or piety do very little for an individual. However, on a communal level, these commandments give guidance for a healthy, safe community. Worship God and not the lesser God’s of our own making. Do not mistreat your neighbors or yourself. Don’t be jealous of your neighbors. Honor your elders. You know, it all comes down to love God, love neighbors, love yourself, and be good stewards of the planet. All this is not meant to elevate the individual. Rather, it is meant to strengthen the community and foster interdependence. Our actions ought not to be guided by a legalistic view of “right” and “wrong” so much as what benefits the larger community.

Several years ago I left a relationship with nothing more than what I could fit in my car. I lived in a friend’s guestroom for 18 months. During that time I was significantly under employed and wasn’t able to find another job. People were generous and caring. My friend let me stay at her house without cost. Other people I barely knew would sometimes hand me money saying things like, “You need this more than I do right now.” And, you know, they didn’t ask me how I spent it; they didn’t care if I paid bills, bought groceries, or went to Starbucks. I was also able to continue in a painting class because the instructor waived the fee asking absolutely nothing in return. What if everyone who fell on hard times was supported by those around them as I was? What if our primary question, as individuals and as communities of faith, became, “How can I/we help my neighbors?” or “How can I share my/our resources?”

I know this sounds idealistic, and I suppose it is. However, shifting the focus of religious practice from the individual to the community could make a real difference in how we are church. Worship would become a celebration of God’s abundance, and a renewal of strength so that the work of the church could continue. Faith formation would be about fostering a sense of being God’s beloved and finding a place in community to best use one’s gifts. How much easier it would be to be a follower of Christ if the church was focused on hesed and eleos to the benefit of all.

Here in the Twin Cities, there are preparations for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who is responsible for George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Authorities are concerned about the potential for more uprisings. Authorities are trying to prevent protests, marches, rallies from happening in a way that could lead to destruction. Imagine how this would shift if those with power were focused on justice rather than controlling those who have been oppressed for centuries. Surely we can do better than this by setting aside fear, hatred, white supremacy, and our need to otherize. Christians with a communally based identity could potentially shift this power dynamic…

Loving-kindness. Mercy. Repairing what is broken. These are actions the Body of Christ would do well to pay more attention to – communally and as individual members. As I’ve said before, God does not need our help saving souls; God has that covered. God needs our help saving lives by caring for the vulnerable among us and tending to Creation’s wounds.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday in Lent – March 7, 2021 Exodus 20:1-17  • Psalm 19  • 1 Corinthians 1:18-25  • John 2:13-22

Photo: CC0image by jplenio

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Musings Sermon Starter

Abundance in our Wildeness Wanderings

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The first time I went to the Arizona desert was a little over ten years ago. My mother had moved from Cape Cod to Arizona when she retired a year or so before my first visit. I went out there because I had just left my marriage and felt like I had lost everything. My mother hoped I would decide to move out there after visiting. I hoped that I’d find some peace of mind in the drastic change of scenery. What I found in the desert was not enticing.

I remember looking around and being able to see for miles in all directions, all the way to the mountains that encircled the desert. The flatness, the heat, the barren land. And in this foreign landscape lived all the creatures I was afraid of – rattlesnakes, tarantulas, and scorpions. If sharks lived in the desert, too, I don’t think I could have stepped off the plane in Phoenix. As it was, I was afraid to sit outside or walk down the road, and the lizards that ran over my toes when I stepped out on the porch didn’t help. In my mind, deadly creatures were everywhere. Given the state of my being in those days, it’s a wonder any of the beauty and wonder the desert held penetrated my thoughts.

A year later, I went back for a second visit. Life was a little better for me, but I was still struggling to find fulltime employment and recover from the loss of my marriage. The desert was a distant place that I returned to, hoping for some insight. I spent a lot of time staring at the horizon during this trip, hoping that the secrets of thriving in the barren wilderness would be revealed to me. All that happened was a looking back over my life with lots of questions about the decisions I had made, wishing things were different, and yearning for a future time when I would feel settled and whole.

My third trip to the desert was three years ago, six years after my previous visit. I went out to Arizona in a completely different mindset. My life was good. I had married again and was happy. I had fulltime, meaningful work and felt balanced and whole for maybe the first time in my life. But I returned to the desert because my mother was dying. I went out there to help her get her paperwork in order and to enter hospice care, and to say goodbye. While I was reluctant to acknowledge it at the time, I knew the nine days I spent there would be the last time I saw my mother. I did a lot of looking back and wishing things had been different. And I spent a lot of time grieving for a future that would not happen. These emotions contributed to both a fondness for and a dislike of the desert. On my last trip, I appreciated the austere beauty of the desert and the tenacity of all that lived there. And I hated its heat that harbored deadly creatures and constantly whispered of human finitude.

I think this was the problem the Israelites faced after they left Egypt behind. No matter how unhappy they were under Pharaoh’s rule, they had food and shelter enough. They knew the routine of their days. Life wasn’t great but it was familiar and, to an extent, predictable. Then they followed Moses across the Red Sea into the harsh, unfamiliar wilderness of the desert. They found themselves unable to gather enough food to feed themselves. They started to question their decision to leave behind the old, oppressive life with its bread and meat. They wondered if they would ever experience a sense of security in routine ever again. No wonder they cried out to God. Their lives were on the line, their fragility underscored in scorched sand and lung-searing breath.

God heard their cries and saw their distress. God gave them what they needed. Quail and manna enough for each day. Of course, they didn’t really trust these gifts so much and they would soon grow tired of eating the same thing day after day. Yet, their disgruntled response to God’s generosity did not change the power of the gifts. Those early Israelites were saved by God’s presence with them no matter how they felt about it.

So, too, with the parable of the vineyard owner. The strength of God’s generosity is not diminished by our failure to notice it. Just like the workers in the vineyard, we can complain when we do not receive what we perceive to be fair or deserved or someone else gets “more,” but the blessings we’ve received don’t go away because we aren’t grateful. Our own inability to perceive God’s abundance in our lives doesn’t mean it’s not there.

My inability to see the beauty and strength in the Arizona desert doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. The Israelites failure to recognize God’s presence with them in their wilderness journey doesn’t mean God wasn’t there. The vineyard workers who failed to recognize the astounding generosity of the vineyard owner didn’t negate the truth of it. Often our own pain and fragility prevents us from recognizing the abundance God offers to us. Our desire to be more, or do more, or have more makes us confuse fairness and justice.

God remains present with us whether we wander hungry and thirsty in the wilderness or remain in the safe familiarity of our daily routines. God yearns for us to recognize the grace offered and to stop worrying about who’s got what so that we can truly be free to love our neighbors as ourselves. The truth is that we all wander in the desert from time to time in need of sustenance. We all experience jealousy and resentment when we think someone receives something they shouldn’t have. God invites us into a life overflowing with goodness and mercy, all the sustenance we need, all the strength we need to leave oppressive ways behind. God invites us into this life of abundance in spite of our fragility and fear of finitude and waits for the day when we will share equally in the work of bringing about the kingdom of God. May that day be soon…

RCL – Year A – Sixteen Sunday after Pentecost – September 24, 2017
Exodus 16:2-15 with Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 or
Jonah 3:10-4:11 with Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Photo: CC0 image by Julia Phillips

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liturgy Prayer

A Pastoral Prayer for the Church of Today

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Holy and merciful God, we would raise our voices with the Psalmist to sing your praises. We long to rejoice in you and tell of all the wonderful works you have done. We want to trust in you like Moses and Miriam, Peter and Mary, Paul and Lydia, yet we are distracted by the troubles of this world. How can we sing your praises when rising waters claim thousands of lives in Nepal,  Mumbai, and Texas? How can we proclaim your deeds when hatred walks our streets cloaked in your name? How can we sing your praises when so many of your people are not free? We lift our voices in anguish, wondering where you might be in the chaos swarming all around us.

God of all times and places, your memory is much greater than ours. You remember setting a bush on fire to call attention to your servant, Moses. He responded in fear and trembling, yet did as you told him. Open our eyes to the power of your presence that we, too, might burn with the light and heat of hope, liberation, and healing, and not be consumed. Let us see that we, too, walk on holy ground. May we have the courage to stand barefoot in your presence and see as you see. See that the climate changes destroying so many lives are, at least in part, our doing. We have taken for granted the resources of the Earth without paying heed to the consequences. You have shown us a better way. May we follow.

Steadfast and loving God, you have so clearly demonstrated your love for the whole of Creation. We are to love genuinely, to love our enemies, to offer radical hospitality, and bless those who would persecute us. Just as you called to Moses, you call to each one of us. You know us by name and claim us as your own beloved. You place no conditions on us, only asking that we love as you love. Fill us anew with your strength that we might hold fast in the face of hatred. We lift up to you those who believe that the ideology of white supremacy, Nazis, and KKK are consistent with your teachings. Heal their hearts and lift their spirits so they, too, may walk in the way of Love. It is so hard to hold onto you when there are so many who speak hateful words in your name. We especially pray for the writers of the “Nashville Statement” and others who hide their hate in scriptures. Bathe them in your love.

God of all peoples, while we pray for our enemies, asking you to bless them with a deeper understanding of your love, we pray for those who are persecuted. We ask your blessings on your beloved children who are mistreated, dismissed, or murdered because of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation or their gender identity or expression. Once you rebuked Peter for tempting you to be something other than you were. May we hear that same rebuke each time we fail to recognize you in the face of another.

Patient and gracious God, in the midst of rising waters of floods and hatred, we cry out to you. Call us by name. Remind us that we are yours. Your Spirit flows through us and will not consume us. The ground we walk on is holy ground. You would have us be better stewards of Creation. You would have us care for the vulnerable among us and live peaceably with all. You yearn for us all to live fully as the amazing human beings you created us to be. You wait so patiently for us to walk in your ways, live in Love, and trust in you.

God of all that is, forgive us. Forgive us for our failure to trust in you and to love one another. Forgive us for remaining silent when hateful voices claim to speak on your behalf. Forgive us for failing to take seriously our responsibility to care for this planet. Forgive us for all the times we have given in to fear and turned toward human ways to keep us safe. Have mercy on us once again, and show us anew the wonders you desire for us. Remind us that it is never too late to repent and embrace the grace you offer. Let us see the vision you have for us, a vision filled with hope and good things. You are more than we can ever imagine. Grant us the courage to give up the smallness of our lives for the magnitude of your transforming love. With you anything is possible.

Holy God, we know that you continue to hear the cries of your people. You know of those who suffer and those who live in misery. Bind us together into the Church the world needs for the living of these days. May we join together with all who call on you to turn back the flood waters, the hatred, and the fear. Grant us the courage to remove our shoes, live on holy ground, and follow your sacred ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Permission granted for use in worship services with attribution: Prayer written by Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe.

RCL – Year A – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 3, 2017
Exodus 3:1-15 with Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c or
Jeremiah 15:15-21 with Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Hate is Not a Human Value

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With the news of Jordan Edwards’ death echoing the deaths of so many others, I find myself asking where all the fear and hatred has come from. It is not hard to answer this question from a sociological perspective or a historical one. I could even make a stab at a psychological explanation. What I want to know is how hatred has infiltrated the human spirit in general and, more specifically, those who claim a religious practice.

Thirteen faiths and religious philosophies espouse a version of the Golden Rule:  Do unto others as you wish done unto you. Add to this the fact that approximately 84% of people on the planet ascribe to a faith tradition, how is it that hatred and violence continue to play a significant, if not dominant, role in our society? We can explore the surface of planets lightyears from our own, but we cannot solve our differences without violence? We can cure diseases that once were a death sentence, but we justify racism that results in the death of innocents? We can have conversations with anyone, virtually anywhere on the planet (and sometimes with those in space), but we cannot come together in civility to discuss our grievances with one another?

As Christians we worship a God of justice and love. Jesus walked the earth to teach us how to love one another, to save us from ourselves, and we have yet to learn the lessons. I am baffled by how we can advance our technology, we can use science to improve the quality of life for many people, but we cannot use our faith traditions to learn a better way to live. Did Jesus not say, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”? Hatred never leads to any kind of abundance, unless it is the abundance of violence.

A core message of Christianity is that love leads to abundance, the abundance of life. It’s easy to conclude, then that fear, hatred, violence and all their offspring, result in scarcity and death. Now I know that some of us think that if we don’t commit hateful acts or say hateful things, then we are not participating in the culture of scarcity. We tell ourselves that in avoiding expressions of violence, we are doing our part. If this passivity was ever enough, it is not now. If we do not actively live in love and mercy, then we are contributing to the violence.

The current administration, by its actions and policies, has given passive permission for hatred, racism, and xenophobia to run freely through our streets. You may think that you are safe from whatever “ism” or “phobia” directs the violence now, but can you be assured that you won’t be next, especially if you ignore what’s happening to your neighbor? If you are not a person of color, you may think you won’t be shot in the streets. If you are not a refugee, immigrant, or undocumented resident, you can believe you are safe from the xenophobia that vandalizes Mosques and threatens Jews and views you as a criminal. If you are not LGBTQ+, you may believe that you won’t be touched by hands that ridicule, maim, and kill. If you are not diagnosed with a mental illness, developmental disability, or physical disability, you may tell yourself that your needs won’t be ignored and your voice remain unheard. If you are not low-income, you can continue to tell yourself that minimum wage increases are not your concern. If you are not a woman, you can allow yourself to believe that you won’t be devalued, objectified, and harassed. If you are human, you can continue to believe that hatred and violence are someone else’s problem. Or can you?

We can do better than this. We have to do better than this. This is the season of resurrection and new life and the body count is what’s rising. Psalm 23 assures us that God is present even as we walk through the “valley of death.” What have we to fear?  Acts tells us that when the church comes together, amazing things happen and needs are met. How disappointed would Jesus be that we have yet to hear the message that fear, hatred, and violence are not meant to be the whole of human narrative? None of these are Christian values. None of these are spiritual practices found in any faith tradition. All of these are harmful to the human spirit.

What will we do this Eastertide to become the embodiment of Christ the world desperately needs?

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 7, 2017
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Photo: CC0 image by Jackie Samuels

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

What the World Needs Now is Mercy

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Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.

These few words from Psalm 51 could be a daily prayer for most of us, even multiple times a day. Truth and honesty abide here. I read these and these words follow:  Have mercy on me, O God, that I may extend mercy to others. When will we learn the ways of mercy?

The fifteen anniversary of 9/11 has many saying, “Never forget!” I’m not a fan of this sentiment. It implies holding onto a fearful anger that prevents healing and certainly gets in the way of mercy. As I look around at the rise in Islamophobia and race-related violence, I can’t help but wonder how we did not learn from the horrific events of 9/11. How did we not learn that fear, ignorance, and hatred lead only to destruction and death? We are not safer when we wrap ourselves in xenophobia and fail to distinguish a refugee from a terrorist. We are not more secure when we endorse systemic racism and fill our prisons with people of color. We are not better protected when peaceful protesters are arrested and charged with terrorism. There is no wall that will keep our economy stable and “make America great again.” Running an oil pipeline through tribal lands will not decrease the impact of global warming just because it’s in someone else’s backyard.

I have no trouble remembering 9/11. I don’t need anyone to remind me of what “they” did to “us.” Islamophobia is alive and well in the US. It does not need to be fueled. On the other hand, how hard are we trying to remember those who worked tirelessly on rescue efforts? The communities that came together to worship, to mourn, to find hope, to care for one another? During those few months after the Twin Towers fell, people were kinder to their neighbors at least where I was living. Then life went back to usual and people forgot how much they needed to gather in community and care for each other.

The parable of the lost sheep is so familiar to most of us that I think we fail to hear the message of mercy. We are too busy identifying with the lost one, the other 99, or even shepherd to hear the set up. The Pharisees and scribes went to Jesus complaining about his radical, rule-breaking behavior. He would eat with sinners and tax-collectors. He would embrace the unclean. When I think about what we as a country have not learned from 9/11 and read this parable, I am convinced that the privileged white church is not so much the lost sheep, the 99 huddled together waiting for the shepherd to return, or the shepherd who is desperate to find the lost one. We are the ones passing judgement and finding fault. We are the ones upholding the status quo even if only by our silence. We are seldom the merciful shepherd who returns the lost one to community with a joyful, grateful heart. We are too busy preserving our own traditions and ensuring a predictable future for ourselves.

God has repeatedly shown God’s people mercy. We have wandered far from the ways of Christ over and over again. We forget that our ways are not God’s ways. Yet, God showers mercy on us and has since the beginning of time. God does not desire for us to preserve our traditions so much as God wants us to embody Christ to one another. Showing mercy is a good way to start.

If we are going to remember 9/11 we must also be honest with ourselves. We have benefited from the mercy of God and we have not shared that mercy freely. We must step out of our comfortable pews and take a stand against hatred, fear, and ignorance. We will honor those who died that day when we create communities of love and mercy that truly seek out the lost ones, the forgotten ones, the hated ones, the feared ones, and invite them to the table where all are welcome and all are satisfied. Isn’t it time we put into practice the lessons of mercy God has been teaching for generations?

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Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

RCL – Year C – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 with Psalm 14 or
Exodus 32:7-14 with Psalm 51:1-10 and
1 Timothy 1:12-17 and
Luke 15:1-10

 

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Categories
Poetry Prayer

Too Much

20160707_045829_resizedOrlando
Istanbul
Dhaka
Bagdhad
Baton Rouge
Falcon Heights
Bullets, bombs, and hatred violate the sanctity of life
every day because
people hate each other.

What can I say as I stand at a homicide scene
in today’s early morning on a Minneapolis street
bearing witness to the pain of a sister, a wife, a daughter?
A few miles away a crowd gathers in protest
another Black life stolen by a police officer
for a missing tail light.
I would be there, too.
Kyrie eleison.

Alton Sterling
Philando Castile
Say their names
don’t try to justify their deaths
with criminal records.
Selling CDs and a missing tail light are not capital offenses
I wouldn’t be shot for either thing and neither would you
if your skin is white.
And if I were a passenger in a car pulled over
I wouldn’t be handcuffed as I watched my boyfriend die
with a police bullet in his heart
and my daughter cries in the back seat.
Because my skin is white, I am safe?
This. This is the true crime –
Black bodies lining our streets with blood
for no reason other than our own ignorance
apathy
silence.
Kyrie eleison.

Jesus told a parable to explain who our neighbors are
and we have not heard it in 2000 years of telling.
That one we label as other and cross the street to avoid
is more a neighbor than the priests and holy ones
who look the other way and hurry on by
to preserve their clean hands and pious ways.
That one, a Samaritan, the outcast and rejected one,
showed mercy and claimed his neighbor
because he knew what it meant to be dismissed
ignored
unseen
left-for-dead
and couldn’t bear to leave another human being
bleeding in the dirt.
Such mercy for his neighbor!
And look what we have done.
Kyrie eleison.

Black lives matter.
Yes, it is that simple and if you don’t want to agree
Think on this:
You are someone’s Samaritan, and not the good kind.
Someone crosses the street to avoid seeing you even if your skin is white
Someone hates you enough to question your humanity and fail
to honor Christ in you because of some social construct,
some foolish perception based on ignorance that says you are less.
Kyriarchy is the law of the land –
even if you haven’t noticed –
it feeds the hungry systems of phobias and isms that threaten to dehumanize all
while sucking the life out of all those we “other.”
Kyrie eleison.

If we are all other to one another
can we not learn the lesson
show mercy
confess our sins
embody repentance
repair the breach
use our hands, our bodies, to stem this shameful tide of flowing blood?
Kyrie eleison.

The wails of grief echo through the streets
Protestors cry out for justice
The time for silence is long past
Apathy changes nothing while walking down the other side of the street
in the company of priests and Levites.
Who is my neighbor?
The one in need.
How am I to treat my neighbor?
Show mercy
not indifference
not empty words
not safe self-righteousness
MERCY
show it
live it
do it
now before more blood flows.
Kyrie eleison.

RCL – Year C – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
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: CC-BY-NC image by Erika Sanborne

Categories
Emerging Church Musings Sermon Starter

Bartimaeus, Black Lives Matter, and Blindness

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May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

I don’t know about you, but I am appalled by the news of churches burning in St. Louis. Six black churches in a week and mainstream media has barely picked up the story! Why is it that when an oppressed people cries for justice the response is often more violence? I thought that the murders that took place at Mother Emanuel last spring were as bad as it would get; I was wrong. The fact that police officers around the country are still murdering people of color and getting away with it is worse. The fact that churches are burning and no one is paying attention is worse. The fact that I live in a city that has had eight fatal shootings in the last week is worse. These things are horrifying because the cry for justice has been met with an increase in the on-going violence.

Of course, this isn’t new human behavior. Look at the story of Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus had apparently lost his sight previous to our encounter with him. As a blind man he had heard of Jesus and his ability to heal. So when Jesus is traveling near, Bartimaeus shouts from the crowd, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” The crowd is none too thrilled. They try to silence him because he is both unclean and making a political statement even as he asks for mercy. It’s a risky thing to declare Jesus as the true king in a public place where tensions are already running high. Bartimaeus doesn’t want to be silenced; he wants mercy.

What follows is rather remarkable. Jesus ignores the crowds and calls Bartimaeus to him. He makes no assumptions about what Bartimaeus might want, but asks him directly. Bartimaeus is clear what mercy is for him; he wants his sight restored. Jesus restores Bartimaeus vision and tells him to go on his way. Bartimaeus doesn’t leave. Instead, he becomes a follower.

The church could learn a lesson or two from this brief encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus. Jesus did not ignore the cry for mercy even though it carried political risk. In fact, I suspect that Jesus responded as he did because it was politically risky. Jesus was demonstrating to the crowd that they had a choice about authority and who handed out justice. He also clearly demonstrated that offering mercy is an effective way to gather people in.

Churches tend to complain about losing numbers. Yet, we also tend to be pretty good at ignoring and shushing calls for mercy and justice. It is politically safer to stay quietly aligned with tradition than it is to ask that those crying out for justice come to us and answer what it is that we might do for them. In other words, why do we sit back and watch the violence caused by the systemic racism in this country instead of asking what is needed from us? Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus didn’t define what mercy or justice looked like for Bartimaeus. So we as the church, the Body of Christ, should not be defining justice and mercy for those who are crying out for them; we should be listening carefully to what is already being asked of us. Why are we not listening to groups like Black Lives Matter and responding to the cries for justice with mercy rather than the violence aimed at silencing them? And what might happen in our churches if we started listening better and responding accordingly?

Perhaps it is time that the church ask for Jesus, son of David, to have mercy on us and restore our sight…

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There have been enough seeds sown with tears. Isn’t it time for reaping with shouts of joy? What better way to honor Reformation Sunday than to take the risk of responding to cries for justice with more than silence that permits violence…

RCL – Year B – Reformation Sunday – 22nd Sunday after Pentecost – October 25, 2015
Job 42:1-6, 10-17                                                         Photos from Pixabay. Used by permission.
Psalm 34:1-8 [19-22]
Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Categories
Emerging Church Poetry Prayer Sermon Starter

A Mixture of Things

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, then you know that I seldom post on anything not related to the lectionary. This week I am at the Widening the Welcome Conference which is sponsored by the Disabilities Ministry and the Mental Health Network of the United Church of Christ. The goal of this conference is to, well, widen the welcome of our churches through education, shared experience, and building relationships. On Saturday, I will present a workshop on Congregations and Suicide Prevention, Intervention, and Postvention. The poem below is what I plan to read as I begin. It’s from my book, A Circle in the Dark: Daily Meditations for Advent.

I did happen to write on the lectionary earlier this week. If you are putting a sermon together, you might want to look here.

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A Prayer for Peace

Where is our refuge and our shelter?
We sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
War and violence fill our lives
year after year.

Is there no better way?

Lord, in Your mercy,
guide our feet in the way of peace.

We are awash in the bloodstains of judgment
and caught in the storms of hatred.
Ignorance and isolation separate us
day after day.

Is there no better way?

Lord, in Your mercy,
guide our feet in the way of peace.

We burn with shame and guilt
pleading with gods of our making
to offer us forgiveness and life
hour by hour.

Is there no better way?

Lord, in Your mercy,
guide our feet in the way of peace.

We are lost in the wilderness of fear
unable to recall the prophets of old.
We deceive ourselves
moment by moment.

Is there no better way?

Lord, in Your mercy,
guide our feet in the way of peace.

Photo from pixabay. Used by permission.