Musings Sermon Starter

The Mustard Seed, Loving-kindness, and Creation Care

Image of a green stylized meadow with a full moon and stars in the background. The foreground has yellow flowers and a bee on the left and red flowers, a blue butterfly and a ladybug on the right. There is also a tree in the distance in front of the full moon.

If the realm of God is like the scattering of seeds that sprout mysteriously, I wonder if we are actually doing any of the seed scattering. Or, for that matter, receiving any of the seeds scattered by others. I don’t think we are very comfortable with mystery, let alone Mystery. Contemplating the realm of God seems a bit heady or lofty given the struggles of everyday living, right? However, if we shift our perspective just a little bit, then the realm of God and all its Mystery becomes part of everyday life, perhaps even alleviating some of the suffering.

In Mark’s gospel, the Good News is that the realm of God is at hand. It wasn’t about salvation or a “personal relationship with God.” The Good News was about the closeness of God’s realm and the invitation to join in  the work of brining God’s realm into our world. This wasn’t the task of any individual; it was the task of the community of believers. Jesus wanted his followers to repent of our lack of labor on behalf of the realm of God, repent of our self-focused ways of living in this world. God and the realm of God are near; the seeds of heaven are growing everywhere if we have the capacity and the desire to recognize what’s happening.

For the last several days in Minnesota, the temperatures have been between 90 and 100 degrees. This is exceedingly hot for early June. These high temperatures are an indication of climate shift, global warming that has resulted from human beings misusing the planet in large and small ways. We are destroying our oceans by over-fishing and dragging miles of seabed. We are destroying our forests by strip mining and excessive logging. Our water supplies dwindle because we’d rather over-supply things like almond milk than pay attention to what the earth can sustain. Our consumerism is literally destroying our planet. And as long as those with privilege have air conditioning, clean water, carbon fuels, and excessive food supplies, the harm done to the earth will continue. This is not the way of God’s realm.

Repenting from consumerism without regard to the needs of our neighbors is a good start to bringing the realm of God a little bit closer. In fact, anytime we consider the needs of those around us before making decisions about how we will live, we bring the realm of God that much closer. Seeds of loving-kindness germinate and become thriving relationships. This is how we change what is into what pleases God.

It isn’t simple. The ways of White supremacy tell White folx that we deserve the best of everything and have every right to pursue material and financial success without regard to those around us. White supremacist culture tells us that we can take what we want and not have to worry about whether or not others have what they need. Think about how Flint, MI still doesn’t have clean water. Think about Enbridge’s plans to put a pipeline through tribal lands violating treaties. Think about the ways in which highways were built to destroy Black neighborhoods. The list goes on. We have the power to change all of this.

If we think about the realm of God growing from the tiniest seed (kindness or compassion or a thought about the greater good) into an enormous shrub where life is sustained, how can we not try harder? How can we not try harder to live with the larger community in mind? How can we continue to justify the way things are? How can we continue to contribute to the suffering of our neighbors and the suffering of the earth if we’ve heard Jesus’ call to repentance?

Jesus called for repentance again and again. He also invited his disciples to participate in brining the realm of God into the here and now. Today is an excellent day to scatter seeds and seek out the ones that are already germinating. The realm of God thrives on loving-kindness, and we all have the capacity to participate in its growth.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 13, 2021 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 and Psalm 20  • Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15  • 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17  • Mark 4:26-34

Photo: CC0image by beate bachmann

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

Photo: CC0image by free-photos

Musings Sermon Starter

Unbreakable Bonds

Image of three complete spider webs in the spaces of a metal fence. The background is blurred forest.

Pentecost is a fabulous story. It has all the marks of a story well-told, complete with special effects. In fact, it is not hard to picture the disciples gathered together in a room, possibly the same upper room of the Last Supper. They gather, huddled together, trying to sort out what’s next. When, all of a sudden, the entire house is filled with the sound of rushing wind. Then tongues of fire appear above their heads. The next thing you know they are preaching about Jesus and every person hears in their own language. It’s remarkable, exciting, and mysterious. So much so that I think we sometimes miss the point.

Wind, flames, and many languages were evidence of the Spirit’s presence that day, a day that shifted the direction of the newly emerging church. As much as I would love to see what would happen if the Spirit showed up in the same way to any of our congregations this week, if we are really listening to the story, it isn’t necessary for the Spirit to repeat herself. The greatest gift of the Spirit is not in the flames of passion or fierceness of conviction. Nor is it the ability to speak and be heard in any language. The greatest gift of the Spirit is how she connects us one to another, and, thereby, to God and Creation.

Burning with a passion to serve God is pointless without a deep appreciation for our kinship with one another, especially with those whom we call “other.” Being moved by the power of conviction is only as good as our ability to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The gift of tongues diminishes without compassion for those with whom we share this planet, let alone for the planet itself. On that first Pentecost, the Spirit wove us together with unbreakable bonds, with sighs deeper than our understanding, with a love beyond our imagining. Without the Spirit blowing through that house so long ago, I’m not sure we’d experience much more than the groaning of the world around us.

Think about it. The Spirit blew through that house with some serious force. I know the text only mentions the sound of winds. However, I like to imagine the doors and windows being blown wide open. Sometimes I even picture the roof being blown off. It is a symbolic removing of barriers between us. Then the flames appear, identifying the ones who followed Jesus most closely, the ones with something powerful to share. Those tongues of fire are an apt metaphor for those moments when we are aware of our place in something much larger than ourselves, those moments of deep insight that we are compelled to share. Then comes the language thing. At first it was a cacophony of sound. And then people realized they could understand; each person heard in their own language. This was a moment of connection made with words, harkening back to the Word who’d become flesh and lived among us. At the end of that first Pentecost, the church took shape because the Spirit bound people together who would never have come together otherwise. Bound in deed and word.

Do you see how we don’t need the audio and visual effects? We don’t need them because the lessons taught, the gifts given that day have come down through the centuries to us in the here and now. How can we read or hear this story without recognizing how intimately bound we are to one another? We aren’t bound just to those we know and love. We are bound to everyone who has ever felt the power of the wind, the heat of the flames, the pull of the words. We are bound to the impressive ones who preach in public places with their whole lives. We are bound to the hidden ones who seldom speak and, yet, always show up. We are bound to the broken ones who yearn for us to see their wholeness. We are bound to the doubt-filled ones who can’t quite feel the heat of the flames. We are bound to the messy ones and the angry ones and shy ones and all the “other” ones, even the ones who call God by other names.

Do you see it now? Do you see how impossible it is now to dismiss or devalue or deny or exclude any human being from the church? We are connected by the Spirit to the spirit in every human being, like it or not. And you know, these cords cannot be broken. And it’s a good thing, too. Because if they could be broken, there would be no church, no embodiment of Christ in the world today. And that would be a loss beyond imagining…

RCL – Year B – Pentecost – May 23, 2021 Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14  • Psalm 104:24-34, 35b  • Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21  • John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Photo: CC0image by Ulrike Leone

Musings Sermon Starter

Into the Wilderness

Image of small camper trailer parked at a wooded campsite. Camper is white on top and turquoise on the bottom.

Have you ever spent an inordinate amount of time on something only to have it prove fruitless? This has been my week. Between my risk for COVID and a stress fracture, it has been weeks since I’ve been able to go anywhere. Also, my primary coping mechanism for stress has been fitness walking (think 4 mph for 4-5 miles) and that is also off the table for the foreseeable future. So what ate up all my time this week? The search for a small camper, and by small I mean under 2000 lbs that our Jeep Renegade can pull. It seems I am not the only one with this great idea. In fact, I am very late to this game; there is nothing available in used models that fit in our budget. Yet, I kept searching and will probably keep searching because you never know.

It occurred to me that if I were as diligent in my pursuit of spiritual things as I have been in pursuit of a camper, maybe my time would be better spent. Yet, it is very difficult to sustain energy for something that cannot be seen and only sometimes can be felt. Usually, we don’t recognize an encounter with the Holy until we are looking back. It makes me wonder when Abraham and Sarah knew that they had made a covenant with God. Did they know it in the moment or did they realize later what compelled Abraham to pack up and move? I’m guessing that awareness of just who was guiding them and why came slowly, though there is no way to tell in the story.

I also think of Peter. It’s likely that Peter’s awareness of Jesus’ divinity flickered in and out. He saw Jesus do amazing things. He even tried to do some of them himself (walking on water). It’s clear that Peter loved Jesus and sometimes recognized him as the Messiah. Other times, though, not so much. Peter didn’t like when Jesus talked about how he was going to die and rise again. Did he invite Jesus to run away and never return to Jerusalem to avoid death? Who knows? We do know that Jesus called him “Satan” for focusing on human things.

It’s the human things that get in our way most often. If we focus on these kinds of things – our self-focused wants and desires – we don’t have to focus on divine things. These divine things are much harder – loving our neighbors, taking our cross, following Jesus. I mean, Jesus is talking about losing life for his sake, for the sake of the gospel. That doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? And, yet, isn’t there something very powerful in this mystery?

Are we able to deny ourselves? What is that cross that Jesus said we had to take up in order to follow him? Sometimes, I am able to deny my self-focused wants and desires for the sake of others. Not always, though. I think of the hours I spent looking for a camper this week to no avail, knowing I will keep looking. I don’t think anyone or anything suffered because I was focused on my own desires, this time. At other times in my life, though, others have suffered because I was consumed by my own wants.

As for the taking up of my own cross, this is often harder. While I am not entirely sure what Jesus meant by this, I hear it as carrying that which gets in the way of our relationship with God, that which diminishes or devalues us. We each have a weakness (or many) that hinder our relationship with God and, if left unchecked, become full-on sinfulness. The good news is that whatever the cross we carry, we have help. In the best of circumstances the community, the church, can help us carry it. We can say that Jesus helps us carry our crosses, though sometimes we need more tangible help than that.

How are we, as the people of God, the body of Christ, the church, focusing on divine things rather than human things? How are we making cross-carrying easier for our neighbors? Have we done enough to recognize and celebrate and honor God at work in the world – in, through, among, and around us? Are we more focused on ourselves as a church than we are on ourselves as the body of Christ called to love our neighbors as ourselves, bring healing to what we have broken in the world?

I have more questions than answers this week. Maybe this is why it is easier to focus on searching for a camper than it is on seeking God’s holy ways. Following Jesus, seeking God, bringing loving-kindness into the world, is not for the faint of heart. May we awaken more fully to the covenant of Love that binds us one to another and enables us to find life in the wilderness, the barren places, amidst the chaos.

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday in Lent – February 28, 2021 Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16  • Psalm 22:23-31  • Romans 4:13-25  • Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9

Photo: CC0image by inactive user

Musings Sermon Starter

Chaos, Church, and Butterfly Wings

My favorite seminary professor, Dr. James Loder, often referenced physics when discussing theology. Every time I went to his office I was fascinated by the equations and notes that covered the white boards on his walls. Very little of it made sense to me. However, when Dr. Loder spoke, and shared his views on how string theory and chaos theory made profound theological sense, I could almost feel new understanding opening up in my brain. I’d never had a physics class and yet, it was clear to me in those long conversations how closely related science and theology really were. There were remarkable things that physics explained that could be metaphors for some theological concepts and, sometimes the reverse was also true.

I am reminded of this as I read Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, “…you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” At first these words are nearly impossible to comprehend in any way. Then I thought of the “butterfly effect” in chaos theory. The popularization of of this is the idea that a butterfly flaps its wings in Japan which sets off a series of meteorological events that results in an earthquake in California. My take away is that everything in the universe is more deeply connected than we can even begin to understand. Jesus’ words say this on a more personal level. We are more deeply connected to God and to one another than we can even begin to understand.

With over 300,000 COVID-19 deaths around the world and nearly 90,000 in the US, we are connected by grief, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. What we do impacts our neighbors near and far, whether we admit it or not. Those of us who are rushing back out into the world because we are desperate to “get back to normal,” may be risking their lives or the lives of their neighbors. What we do in the world effects others. We can’t get away from this truth. The more we refuse to look at the truth of this pandemic, the more lives we put at risk. The more we put our individual needs ahead of the greater good, the more lives we put at risk. Who knows how many lives can be changed by one unmasked cough or sneeze or the runner or cyclist who refuses to mask and doesn’t maintain physical distance as they hurry on by.

When Jesus spoke of the indwelling nature of God, he was trying to assure his disciples that they would not be abandoned or forgotten after his death. In fact, the more love they shared, the more deeply they would be connected to each other, to him, and to the One who sent him. That was supposed to be good news. Perhaps it was for those first disciples. Perhaps it’s just us later disciples who have forgotten that we are not alone and that God dwells within us and is made known in our relationships – our words and our actions.

It’s not that I don’t want to resume the activities I enjoyed before the pandemic. I do just as much as anyone else does. I want to be able to gather with friends and family, and resume traveling for vacation and conferences. I want to be able to go to a grocery story or whatever. And, yes, I want to gather for worship with my congregation again. Yet, I will not do these things and I ask you not to do them, either, if you do not have to. No one is immune to COVID-19. Any of us could be asymptomatic carriers. I will not knowingly risk my life or anyone else’s. We know that the activities that are at the core of our worship services would be risky. Singing, passing the peace, communion, all have serious risks.

Remember Jesus’s words about how intimately connected we are? Who among us wants to be the butterfly that causes the earthquake, the vector that spreads disease? In the U.S. we can’t even seem to own our collective grief, let alone acknowledge our responsibility one to another. If we think of the indwelling nature of God and how Love unifies us, could this prompt the church to lead the world in maintaining safety for the vulnerable among us? Could it be that the most Loving thing we can do right now is to continue to worship online, continue to stay at home as much as humanly possible, continue to love our neighbors by keeping our germs to ourselves?

If I understand Jesus words at all, it is Divine Love which dwells within us and connects us with our neighbors because Divine Love dwells in them as well. When one of us disregards this Love, then we put all of us at risk. When one of us forgets this Love, all of us are in jeopardy. If one of us is vulnerable, all of us are vulnerable. My friends, the Body of Christ has COVID-19. It is up to us to see that life-sustaining resources are shared until healing comes for all. Let’s not be so hasty to resume old habits. Let’s be patient and see what new life is emerging in the midst of sickness, death, and grief.

We are not orphaned. We are loved by an indwelling God. May Love guide us to new ways of living and being so that our actions may lead to healing, health, and wholeness rather than sickness, death, and grief. When we as the Body of Christ flap our metaphoric wings, may the resulting winds open up new possibilities for life and Love.

RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 17, 2020
Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:8-20
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

Photo: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Musings Sermon Starter

Going in Circles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: CC0 image by Dmitri Posudin

Musings Sermon Starter

(Un)Packing for the Journey


Take nothing for the journey, except a sturdy walking stick. Seriously? But I’ve got this whole pack of stuff. I have dietary restrictions and I’m not sure if even the most radical hospitality can cover them. I have books full of wisdom and advice that I’m sure I’ll need. And walking shoes and blister kits and medicines and… and… and… Oh, and let’s not forget all the other stuff I tend to carry along, too. You know, the self-doubt, the guilt, that chorus of critical voices that always makes me rethink my choices, and the burden of past trauma, and all the other junk that I can’t seem to let go of. And, please, can I bring my cell phone for GPS purposes only, I swear.

In spite of my protests, Jesus was pretty clear in sending out those early disciples. He told them not to take anything along with them because nothing they could carry (literally or figuratively) would help them on their way. They had everything they needed and more. And when they forgot that they could do God’s work, they had a companion to remind them that they were not in the business of spreading the Gospel alone. Everything else would be provided by those they would encounter along the way.

I still want to launch a protest, though. I want to point out how much more complicated the world is now. I can’t just go out in the world with nothing but the clothes I wear and a friend and expect that anyone will hear the Good News. Surely Jesus would understand if I brought a few things along! He would, wouldn’t he?

Probably not. Because all those things that I think I need would get in the way of helping to make manifest the Realm of God. As I imagine loading myself up with things I think I need in order to follow Jesus and live a life of love and healing, I wouldn’t make a very good ambassador of grace. I picture a backpack weighing nearly as much as I do, full to overflowing with all my “essential items.” It weighs so heavily on me that my progress from one place to another is so slow that I might as well not move.

I’ve got all this stuff on my back so I can’t look up and see where Jesus is leading. I’m so focused on what my GPS is telling me, I haven’t noticed my neighbors on the sidelines, needing my attention. Then I’m too busy looking for a place with adequate refrigeration for my foodstuffs that I haven’t responded to those who are hungry right next to me. I’m too worried about my own comfort, covered as I am in my sun-protective gear that I’ve failed to see those who are barefoot, exposed, and thirsty all around me. My hands are full with my phone, my water bottle, my walking stick; I can’t reach out in kindness or mercy to anyone.

And if this external stuff doesn’t totally trip me up, the internal jumble I can’t quite let go of, surely will. When my thoughts are so full of my own brokenness, how will I ever speak a word of healing, or see the wholeness of God in those I meet along my way? When I am focused on what I can’t possibly do, how will I ever bring a bit of the Realm of God into the here and now? When I am caught up in regrets for all that I have not done to help others or all that I have done to hurt others, how will anyone find hope and new life in the words I offer? When I am so preoccupied with pieces of my past, how can I reach into a future filled with hope and good things and hold it out for all to see?

Jesus was right. Take nothing for this journey of love and lifesaving. Nothing I can possibly carry, in my hands or in my head, will be of any use. I need to empty myself all that I use to protect myself from the world—the material goods that reveal only a small part of who I am and the clutter in my mind that tells nothing of who I am. I need to open my head, my heart, my hands to the One who shows us how to love. Only when I let go of all that I don’t need, can I truly embody Love and receive the hospitality and joy of all my neighbors. Together, when we empty our hands, our heads, our hearts of all that is unnecessary, we can make manifest the Realm of God. We are not alone and we have all that we need …even (maybe especially) those of us who tend to live in rebellious houses.

RCL – Year B – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 8, 2018
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 with Psalm 48 or
Ezekiel 2:1-5 with Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Photo: CC0 image by Simon Steinberger

Musings Sermon Starter

Hate is Not a Human Value


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


A Bidding Prayer for Neighbors

Come, let us pray for all God’s children.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)

God of wisdom and mystery, you populated the earth with the diversity of humanity. You delight in our differences and rejoice when we shine with the light of your love. Yet, we struggle to love our neighbors and to show mercy to those in need. Every time we turn away with eyes averted, you long for us to open our hearts. You created us all in your image. Teach us to embrace one another with your mercy.
Trusting in God’s steadfast love we pray,
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Come let us pray for our neighbors who make up the body of Christ.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)

God of love and justice, you would have us be one body. Instead we have become masters of division. Too often we focus on our rules instead of embodying your commandment to love one another as you love us. You call us to glorify you with our worship and with our lives. Show us how to open our doors, step out of our pews, and welcome all our neighbors – without conditions and without judgment.
Trusting in God’s steadfast love we pray,
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Come let us pray for our neighbors whom we call friends and those who are strangers.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)

God of many faces and many names, you take delight in all of your creation. Where any are gathered in your name, you are there. Your love knows no bounds or conditions. Your creation contained no border markers or country distinctions until we drew them on a map. Your intention was that we share the earth’s resources with one another. Instead we fight for power and control of resources even when it means there are those who go without. Soften our hearts that we may see that the time for mercy is now. We have enough, more than enough to share with our neighbors who may have need.
Trusting in God’s steadfast love we pray,
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Come, let us pray for our neighbors in this country.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)

God of all nations, we pray for our country and those who lead it. You are reflected in the great variety of all the peoples who live here. You are worshipped in many ways in many languages and none are better than others. We are all neighbors here – women and men, children and elders, foreign born and born here, English speakers and broken English speakers, able bodied and disabled, educated and uneducated, healthy and sick, rich and poor, employed and unemployed, straight and gay, single and married, religious and not religious – all are equal in your sight. May the day soon arrive when we and the leaders of this country recognize you in all whom we meet.
Trusting in God’s steadfast love we pray,
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Come, let us pray for our neighbors in need of healing.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)

God of power and promise, you call us to care for those who cannot care for themselves. We want to respond to this call, yet we often find ourselves turning away from the weakest among us. We don’t want to be neighbors with the Russian prisoners suffering from tuberculosis or the African men, women, and children who live with AIDS, or the Americans who are tormented with mental illness. We want those who are sick to keep their germs away from us. Grant us compassion enough to offer earnest prayers for healing and courage enough to reach out in genuine kindness.
Trusting in God’s steadfast love we pray,
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Come, let us pray for our neighbors who are grieving.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)

God of life and hope, we know that many people in this community and in the world around us are grieving the loss of a loved one. Bring comfort to those who believe they will never feel peace again. Bring hope to those who are lost in the empty darkness of new grief. Ease the anger of those who have lived through a sudden loss, the survivors of suicide or homicide. Let us be true neighbors for any and all who are grieving today.
Trusting in God’s steadfast love we pray,
Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Come, let us give thanks to God for all our neighbors.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)

God of all neighbors, we give you thanks for all the people in our lives – those we love and those who challenge us to love more fully. We thank you for our neighbors who have shown us mercy and taught us to be more merciful. Thank you for our neighbors who share our lives and give us comfort. Thank you also for those who make us uncomfortable and stretch us beyond our imaginings. We are blessed to live in a world with such startling and amazing diversity. May our lives be filled with gratitude for your abundant grace and mercy revealed to us in all our neighbors.
Trusting in God’s steadfast love we pray,
Come, Holy Spirit, come. Amen.

2012-09-22 12.48.15RCL – Year C – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 14, 2013
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