They moved from enslavement to liberation through a parted sea across a wilderness and a river. Miram played her timbrel then. They packed up what they could carry while the blood of lambs dried on lintels and God passed over. Miram placed her timbrel then. They left behind every thing - everything predictable and familiar oppressive days and captive nights. Miriam didn’t leave her timbrel then. Step by step Egypt faded into memory manna and quail fell from heaven water flowed from rock Miriam’s timbrel jingled in her pack then. The timbrel traveled for forty years waiting for that last river crossing to be remember, played as Miriam danced before the whole assembly. How many timbrels lay at the bottom of packs through the hunger, thirst, and anguish, Through the wandering days and the bleakest nights? Tens, hundreds, thousands? Timbrels waited. The women trusted, knew days of praise would come again when the wandering ended and the Promised Land was underfoot for the first time in generations. Miriam’s timbrel, the other women’s timbrels played, then. We’ve traveled far and long since those ancient days. Do we still follow the prophets (old and new) with timbrels in our packs, quiet reassurance of praise-filled days yet to come? Are we brave enough to do as Miriam did? She inspired the other women to make room for timbrels, room for future songs and praises knowing wilderness lay between now and then. We are held captive by pharaohs, all who endorse White supremacy, White nationalism and proclaim God’s whiteness. There is a wasteland between captivity and liberation. Pack now for the journey. Leave behind fear, hatred, and distrust of neighbors. Listen to the Prophets (ancient and new) who call us into new life. There is enough blood drying in our streets. God has not passed over us; we have passed over God who holds the bleeding and dying and grieving waiting for us to notice God is only in the love. We need the timbrels, jingling on the journey, waiting for the days of freedom and praise. I am Miriam’s child. Are you? The quiet sounds of my packed timbrel guide me. It will be hard for you to join the praise later, after the journey, if you leave your timbrel behind. We need the secret sounds of promise now if we are to sing and dance and praise then. We do not go into the wilderness alone. Miriam’s timbrel echoes there still and the pillars of fire still burn the ground is as sacred now as it was then. Join me on this journey into all that is possible – Love your neighbor as yourself… Repair the breach… Sing praises right out loud. Let’s not wait until then is now. Let’s begin in this moment, timbrels at the ready. Miriam waits…
The failure to recognize the obvious always catches me by surprise. Long, long ago Samuel told the people of God that no good could come from the rule of kings. They insisted on being like all other nations. And along came the kings who took their children for soldiers and servants, their goods and grains for self-serving purposes. Still, they did not learn. What is our excuse? We still fall under the rule of kings and presidents, queens and congress, to what avail? Our children are still taken as soldiers and servants, dying to preserve our sense of safety and superiority. All is an illusion. Jesus sat with a crowd of misfits and miracle-seekers and called them his own – siblings in body and spirit. Yet, we side with those in power, ignoring the needs of our neighbors, sanctioning state violence against those we fear, huddling just this side of status quo, ignoring the distance between this existence and the realm of God. When will we learn? Samuel’s wisdom still holds truth: there is no need to be like other nations. We can turn our attention to the greater good, the needs of our neighbors. Soldiers and servants need not be the future for anyone’s children if we consider what God requires. Where is that holy highway for all to travel in peace accompanied by mercy and justice? Jesus showed us the way. All that is required is to recognize siblings where the world labels “other.” Can we serve God with more than our lips? Can we shatter the illusions of difference and division created to keep us under the control of death and violence? Can we let go of fear to make room for justice and love our neighbors as ourselves? For the love of God and all things holy, may it not be too late to save us from conformity, fear, and destruction.
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Remembering those who have gone before me in faith honoring those who have died makes a complexity of sorrow and dreams If I could trace my spiritual lineage who would my ancestors be? I know the Irish Catholics would claim more than one Pope, Several priests, and countless nuns, and maybe a few saints the Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists would name a few clergy those women who sat in the back pews in days gone by and maybe Calvin, Wesley, and Zwingli… no doubt there would be grandmothers and uncles grandfathers and cousins, aunties and neighbors I would add ministers and professors, bankers and builders, ones in their right mind and ones not quite so Yet I want to go further back war protestors and those who fought for freedoms gay rights activists and equal marriage advocators Civil Rights Marchers and women’s vote attainers those who opposed Hilter and the Holocaust survivors welcomers of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers abolitionists and ones whose dreams led them beyond the possible innovators and dissenters entrepreneurs and inventors world-changers, peace-makers, justice- seekers And let’s not forget the risk-takers and pioneers ones who did their own thing, in spite of fear and rejection I also know that my spiritual DNA holds other truths those who conquered rather than coexisted those who claimed superiority and denied equality those who murdered, destroyed, decimated in the name of power These are the ones I’d rather not claim yet I will not ignore or silence the ugliness of the past The great cloud of witnesses reaching into my life insist on truth telling, unmasking false histories of death and denial Other voices cry out to me, reminding me that none journey alone those who lived through plague and pandemic sickness and drought recession, depression, recklessness, and worse to make it to rebuilding Those who survived the only choices available prostitution, institutions, addictions, adultery, and abuse ones who almost lost themselves in the void of anger, grief, loss, shame, discrimination, dismissal, devastation and ones who extended a compassionate hand to save the lives of the desperate, despairing ones I give thanks for all the Jobs, Marys, Peters, Pauls, Mirams, Deborahs, Eves and the nameless ones – the women at the wells, the sick and broken ones, the forgotten and overlooked ones, the healers and the healed and the ones who turned away in tears All of these and many more reached through the ages one life at a time living their faith loud enough to shape me my faith my life I remember I give thanks asking that my faith remains visible through pandemic, politics illness and grief from the highest mountains to the lowest valleys that I might join the great cloud one day having contributed to someone’s spiritual DNA
The Backside of God This season rests heavily upon the earth pressed down on us with waves of sickness made unforgettable by loss of life, of livelihood, of loved ones, of safe harbor driven home by super storms swirling with ever-increasing force and wild fires devouring acre after acre letting scorched and scarred earth speak for itself In the daylight I watch sets of leaves fall in synchronous circles joining the growing, glowing throng of their siblings when night falls as it does I am startled by scuttling sounds of leaves chased down the empty street by autumn winds under the weight of the season I am comforted by the scurrying scuttle the ordinariness of the sounds Then snow falls out of season, portents of winter yet to come erasing the memories of rainbows stretching over a muddy river heightening the distant dogs barking their warnings and welcomings magnifying the angry neighbors shouting over the opinion of others lifting up politicians making promises demonizing their opponents, losing sight of democracy pandemic strengthening its hold, targeting the vulnerable and devalued ones Between autumn and winter, winds blow, storms rage with unfamiliar intensity God’s absence floods the spaces between hope and despair, life and death, lies and promises, guilt and liberation, sickness and healing In the chaos desperation thrives, feeding on anger and hatred, hopelessness and isolation leaves crunching underfoot give voice to yearning for rest, renewal, a fallow time, a dormancy that will yield new life in due time In this time between what is and what will be God is present in the harsh winds and caressing breezes in the sun, the rain, and the intricacy of each snowflake in season and out in the frenzy of nut collecting squirrels and the determined dogs seeking to deter themi in the cat purring on my lap and the geese calling out their journey south in the rainbows and the rivers in the space between neighbors where love abides in the hands that mark ballot ovals in the healers and hope-bearers in the prophets and the poets in the moments of stillness in the cacophony of nature in the recognition of Mars shining pink in the night sky in death and in life Yet, we often fail to notice mistake stillness for absence or patient waiting for our attention for a lack of care How often we miss God passing by in every moment! If we pay attention, we might be lucky enough to catch a hindsight glimpse of Love of Glory of Grace of Healing of Hope of New Life of Forgiveness of New beginnings of kindness of Justice of Transformation of an opportunity for us all to live better trusting God’s presence in every moment honoring God’s desire for us to live in service to all our neighbors and embody Divine Love when we feel it and when we don’t If we want to see more than the backside of God we can take time to read the book of Creation and look one another in the eyes a moment of Grace is all it takes to discover Christ within us a moment of stillness is all it takes to discover God around us a moment of compassion is all it takes to discover the Spirit among us Hindsight is fine seeking God in the depths, the heights, and the extraordinary in-between might be better
RCL: Year A Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost October 18, 2020 Exodus 33:12-23 with Psalm 99 or
Isaiah 45:1-7 with Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
a seemingly simple question
yet You asked them to put their lives on the line for You
their answers could be, should be
treasonous to the ears of the EmpireWho do you say that I am? a worthy question, even now, especially now
we live in another Empire with a Pharoah who does not know Joseph
and would enslave us all, try us for treason if he could
Your question hangs in the air, awaiting our answersWho do you say that I am?You are the Messiah, of course
the One who sets us free
and saves our souls
Messiahwhat does this mean for children in cages, families torn apart?
what does this mean for immigrants, refugees, assylum seekers,
all who come with hopes and dreams for a life of freedom
and are met with white supremacy, racism, and rejection?Who do you say that I am?You are the Prince of Peace
the One who guides our feet
in the ways of justice
Prince of Peaceour lips may speak these words
our actions say otherwise
there is no peace without justice
ask George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmoud Arbery
and counteless othersWho do you say that I am?You are the Great Physician, Healer of the Nations
the One who makes us whole
and unites us in love
Great Physicianthere is no evidence of this truth
in a nation that values perfection over wholeness and wealth
where is unity for those on the edges, devalued and dismissed
by Empire?Who do you say that I am?You are the Living Water
the One who quenches thirst
and brings new life
Living Waterthen why are so many so very thirsty
in Flint, at the border, on our streets?
why withhold water for the poorest
when we have more than enoughWho do you say that I am?Lord and Savior
the One who saves us from ourselves
and frees us to love without condition
Lord and Savioragain, where is the proof?
we act as if Love were a precious commodity
and hoard it for ourselves because Empire tells us
there is not enough for those who are undeservingWho do you say that I am?Light of life
the One who shines with hope
chasing away our despair
Light of Lifethen why not wear a mask to show our love for our neighbors?
why not welcome all with grace and mercy?
suicide rates are climbing and we refuse to share our hope
perhaps our trust, our faith, is not up for the task at handWho do you say that I am?Wonderful Counselor
the One who guides life
offering wisdom, healing, grace
Wonderful Counseloris it not Empire that guides our choices?
is it not Empire that teaches us to hate?
is it not Empire that divides us from our neighbors?
when will we listen and actually care for the vulnerable among us?Who do you say that I am?Mighty God
the One who loves without condition
waiting patiently for us to believe
Mighty GodLove knows no limits
hatred, destruction, division, violence, war are purely human
perhaps now is the time for transformation
paying heed to the prophets among usWho do you say that I am?be careful how you answer
do your words match your deeds?
do you love your neighbor as yourself?
do you follow the ways of Empire
rather than care for the vulnerable among you?
will you put your life on the line
for the sake of love?Who do you say that I am?
RCL – Year A – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 23, 2020
Exodus 1:8-2:10 with Psalm 124 or
Isaiah 51:1-6 with Psalm 138
Pandemic. Protests. Uprisings. Fires. Vigils. Agent Provocateurs. Militarized Police. White Supremacy. All of it right here where I live. Part of me has been overwhelmed by it all this week. Part of me is stuck in the horror of watching police officers kill George Floyd. Another part of me is stunned by the numbers of cities joining in the uprisings. I’m lamenting not being able to be out on the streets helping because of the pandemic. And, if I am totally honest, I am proud of the relentless demand for change that has begun here and spread across the country. Still, the words are hard to find. Consequently, I am sharing this poem, “Imago Dei” from my book, Barefoot Theology (Wipf & Stock, 2013). Be safe. Be well.
Imago Dei On midsummer's eve, when the world is wrapped in magic, all the children of the earth gather in the dreaming place. Mysteries call louder on this night than on all other nights. Whispers carried on ocean and mountain breezes lead children to gather in the dreaming place. They laugh and dance and splash in the magic surrounding them. The moon rises higher, children quiet in the whispering winds and ask the questions of their hearts. One small girl stands and says, My daddy doesn’t look like my mommy and I don’t look like either of them. So who does God look like? The answers are quick and from all around. Some of us together. All of us. None of us because maybe there is no God. Silence. The winds themselves laugh and dance wildly though the gathering. Then they speak with the voice of One. You ask what the Holy One looks like? Do you not know? All of you bear my likeness. Children wait, breath held, still. I am the first light of morning; I washed some of you in its soft fairness. I am the pureness of deep night; I wrapped some of you in this sacred darkness. I am the fire of the setting sun; some of you have this burning in your hair. I am the richness of the soil— red, brown, yellow, and black— as are many of you. I am the depth of the ocean; some of you wear these greens, blues, and grays in your eyes. I am the warmth of the summer sun found in all your smiles and laughter. I am the stillness of winter snow resting within each of you. What does the Holy One look like? I am all the colors of the earth. I am the softness of early spring and the wildness of thunder. My reflection is in the ocean and in your eyes. I am the first light of day and the last dark of night. I am the power of the wind and the gentleness of misty rain. Look for me in yourselves, each other, and in all creation. Do not miss the holy in the setting sun, the purple twilight, the darkest night, or the brightest noonday. Wherever you are, I am. I am in your laughter and your tears. I am in waking and dreaming. If you want to know what the Holy One looks like, you will see me wherever you turn. The winds quiet and the skies grow lighter. The little girl laughs as the winds play through her hair. The children drift away from the dreaming place. Each takes a little of the magic of midsummer and wakes bathed in the first light of day.
RCL – Year A – Trinity Sunday, First Sunday after Pentecost – June 7, 2020
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Grace in the Wilderness
an eagle flies across the sunset skies wings spread in benediction a boy peddles lazily with gas station flowers balanced in his hoodie pocket dogs behind fencing tumble and play pausing to bark as we pass by mostly masked faces hands raised in greeting keep a healthy distance small green leaves unfurling after winter's sleep reach out in new life an empty tomb waited to be noticed by women bent on grieving the angel gives a new direction what you seek here look elsewhere a mistaken gardener calls Mary by name opens her being Jesus lives even now with arms wide open proclaiming everlasting love we who come in fear and grief missing the benediction and the new life take a breath listen for the One who calls us by name we keep company with death heedless of the angel’s words seeking what is not here grief and fear accompany us yet do not know our names and offer no promises behind the masks across the six-foot divides Christ arises on this virus-infected Easter let us come with our tears and fears experience the emptiness the loss and despair of world-wide grief may we also see benediction in the rising and setting sun new life all around us Christ is risen the promise of steadfast love the hope of eternal life continue Breathe deeply God shows no partiality and always provides Grace in the wilderness in the fear-filled places in the heaviness of grief may we see Christ in every face in every place may we breathe in the scent of hope the promise of new life from this moment be forever changed by Love for Love Christ is risen Christ is risen indeed Alleluia go in peace thanks be to God amen
RCL – Year A – Easter – April 12, 2020
Acts 10:34-43 or Jeremiah 31:1-6
Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24
Colossians 3:1-4 or Acts 10:34-43
John 20:1-18 or Matthew 28:1-10
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
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
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 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
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
I am yours
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
When I was very young I thought God was the “man in the moon.” I had heard people talking about the moon having a face and referring to it as the “man in the moon.” I don’t think I’ve ever been able to make out the face that is supposedly visible in profile on the quarter moon, but I was an imaginative child. I had a whole story about how God lived in the moon. When there was no moon, God had either gone to bed early or was out visiting friends. When the moon was full, God was having a party with Mother Nature. I liked to sit at my window and talk to this faraway, but friendly, God.
As I got older and started attending church, I realized that God couldn’t possibly live in the moon. God was closer to people than the moon would allow. As I learned more words to describe this all-powerful, ever-present, somewhat scary being that was God, I started to think that God was much more likely to be the ocean than the man in the moon.
My nine-year-old brain was very active in sorting this out. God was always there, always powerful, always a little different with each encounter, always moving between life and death. Growing up on Cape Cod with ocean all around, I thought these words all described the ocean with all it’s mystery and moodiness. It sustained life and swallowed life. If God was too huge to be the man in the moon, then maybe God was the ocean. This thinking was the beginning of the beach becoming sacred space for me.
These memories surfaced as I read through account of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant up to the Temple and, essentially, inviting God to dwell there. This story has me remembering my childhood beliefs and wondering where people think God lives today. The psalmist tells us that God’s dwelling place is “lovely” and that a day there is better than a thousand years anywhere else. I know God doesn’t live in the moon and God is not the ocean, nor did God live only on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. I’m not sure we spend enough time thinking about just where God lives today.
Jesus, of course, spoke about abiding in God and God abiding in him, and in his disciples. I’m not sure how seriously we take this. We seem to forget far too easily that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that together we make up the body of Christ. When the writer of Ephesians tells us to be put on the “whole armor of God,” it seems all we can hear is the militant metaphor and say, “No, thanks!” far too quickly. If God abides in us such that we are temples of the Holy Spirit individually and the body of Christ collectively, don’t we need some protective armor?
With the evil generally afoot and wreaking havoc, and atrocities committed by world leaders daily, and the human rights violations near and far, and everything else that contributes to our apathy, our fear, our sense of powerlessness, and the spread of hopelessness… With all of this, don’t we need some protective spiritual armor, the kind of armor that will hold us up and enable us to withstand the horrors? That belt of truth doesn’t sound so bad in the era of fake news, does it? That breastplate of righteousness might come in handy when confronted with heartbreaking news of more violence and we are tempted to give into that sense of powerlessness that lurks in every corner. That footgear that readies us to spread the gospel of peace sounds pretty enticing when we remember how much war and destruction truly exists right now. How about the shield of faith? I could do with one of those for those moments when the plight of refugees makes my knees weak and my stomach sour. And the helmet of salvation might be useful for all those times when we are told just who is going to hell for some “biblical” reason. I’m not sure about the sword of the Spirit, but I might like to have it nearby just in case it’s needed to cut through the gaslighting nonsense.
We might all benefit from these protections, if not as individuals then as the body of Christ. If God dwells in us, then some spiritual armor to protect the fragile, fickle human parts would be very helpful. If we aren’t able to put on the whole armor of God as the body of Christ (not to do harm to others but to protect and uphold the vulnerable among us), then we might as well turn away from Jesus like so many did on that long-ago day Jesus proclaimed himself to be the Bread of Life.
Where does God dwell? Not in the moon or in the ocean or in anything made by human hands. God dwells within and among human beings. It’s time for some house keeping and maybe time to dig out that old armor because it isn’t as useless and outdated as we thought it was. We should polish it up and try it on to see how it fits so that we can withstand the evils of our day. Maybe if we pay enough attention to God’s dwelling place(s), one day we won’t need any armor, the real kind or the spiritual kind. Might be worth a try…
RCL – Year B – Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 26, 2018
1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43 with Psalm 84 or
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 with Psalm 34:15-22