Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Light the Lamps

Image of an clay oil lamp burning with others blurred in the background

I am distressed and disappointed at how this election is going. A landslide for Biden and other Democrats would have made a strong statement against white supremacy, militarized police, children in cages, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and all the other ills of the current administration. How is it that nearly 50% of this country can believe that Trump is good for the United States? We have the highest COVID numbers and they are continuing to rise with no end in sight. We’ve pulled out of the Pairs Accord and pulled back on environmental protections at a time when super storms are normative and polar ice caps are melting. Why do more people not see this man for what he is? And how is it that the hope of overturning Roe v. Wade is more important than the lives of vulnerable people in this moment? Surely, we can do better than this.

If we want to do better in terms of eradicating white supremacy, ending militarized policing and improving the lives of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers along with LGBTQ+ folx and everyone else who is vulnerable in this country, then we who call ourselves Christians must change. We have options. We can recommit ourselves to God’s ways just as Joshua called the people of Israel to do as they entered into the promised land. We can remember that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, including the most vulnerable among us. Now would be a good time to do this, wouldn’t it?

How? Well, we can start by evaluating what it is we are doing. How are we being church? Are Amos’ words true for us? Is God pleased or displeased with our worship, our offerings, our ministries? Justice isn’t exactly rolling down. Nor is righteousness flowing freely. Doing what we have always done before and simply adapting it to be online doesn’t count as real change. We will know we have changed when justice rather than blood flows freely in our streets. Perhaps it’s time we went in search of Wisdom. She’s not easy to find these days. However, when we find her, she will lead us in holy ways; she will guide us in new ways of being church.

If this is all still too intangible, then let us look at Matthew’s story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. I’ve never liked this story. It always seemed so harsh and unnecessarily judgmental on the five who didn’t have enough oil. However, this parable feels very different to me during this election in the midst of pandemic. There is an urgency woven through it. Urgency and a fair degree of caution.

The five bridesmaids who brought their lamps and extra oil were ready, no matter how long into the evening the groom showed up. They were smart and prepared. The other five brought their lamps and no additional oil. Why? Apparently, they thought the others would share. Right. That would have made sense if these five were poor or couldn’t get to oil seller to buy more. There’s nothing that says they lacked the resources needed in the parable. They simply expected the others to give them some oil for no good reason except that the foolish ones didn’t have enough.

My friends, I suggest to you that progressive white church has acted as the foolish bridesmaids. We have expected others to make the changes we need to make. We have shown up unprepared in this world that is full of hatred and division. We are supposed to keep Love burning, illuminating the path of hope and healing for all those who come seeking. We’ve done little of this. Think about it.

For example, I live in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. It’s a large metro area with all kinds of people. Yet, I have encountered people who do not know that there are churches that ordain women, that welcome LGBTQ+ folx, that advocate for the vulnerable, and work to minimize global warming and climate change. There are people everywhere who have never heard of Mainline denominations. Why is that? We have shown up in 2020 unprepared. I’m not even sure we were out buying oil for our lamps when modernity made its appearance. I think we were sleeping, content with our comfortable pews and practices. We are on the wrong side of the doors and aren’t as well known as we’d like to think.

It’s not too late, though. The parable was one wedding, one groom, one party. The foolish bridesmaids missed it. They were shut out that night. We do not need to remain shut out. We can purchase more oil, trim our lamps, and be sure we shine with Divine Love, hope, and healing. In this light there is no room for fear of any of our neighbors. There is no room for the hatred that divides this country. There is no room for white supremacy.

We have work to do, my friends. This party is waiting for no one. If we want to heal what is broken in our country and in our world, we need to make ourselves known. It’s time to talk religion and politics and stop worrying about who will be offended. How can people make different choices if they don’t know there are different options. Why is progressive Christianity still a secret or still silent in the national picture? We can’t expect others to do the work for us. Check your oil supply and trim your lamps because the time for foolishness is over. The time for work has already begun.

RCL: Year A Twenty-third Sunday After Pentecost November 8, 2020 Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 with Psalm 78:1-7 or
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 or Amos 5:18-24
Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 or Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Photo: CC0image by Bhikku Amitha

Categories
Poetry

The Backside of God: somewhere between prayer and poetry

Image of frost on glass with a blue-gray background with orange light nearer the top
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
Matthew 22:15-22

Photo: CC0image by Bonnie Kolarik

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

A Change of Clothing

Image of a hiker overlooking a mountain trail

I’m taking a class on discernment this fall as part of a graduate certificate program in spiritual direction. Up until now I had always considered discernment as the process of making big life decisions and was startled to discover that discernment is best when it is an intentional part of daily life. I say “intentional” because many of us engage in discernment without conscious thought. However, think of the possibilities if we were to all intentionally seek out what God desires for us in every day. I don’t mean in a ritualistic way that can become rote practice. I mean in a way that takes us deep within ourselves to discover the Holy and allows us to draw that holiness out into our daily lives. We would be better equipped to care for our neighbors, ourselves, and the planet.

In the context of discernment, Paul’s words to the church in Philippi make far more sense. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:4-7). If we are reaching for the Holy that lies within us every day, then it is easier to connect with the Holy around us. Rejoicing in the Lord always becomes a very real possibility. Then we can pray with gratitude and open the way for peace to flood our lives. It’s not as easy as it is simple, of course. Yet, this speaks to a yearning of my spirit and maybe to yours as well.

These days it is not easy to find peace, and if we find it, it is fleeting. This is likely because we think peace and passivity are linked. However, it is possible to act out of peacefulness. It is possible to be guided by passion and cling to the peace that Paul wrote about. Even in pandemic, it is possible to seek peace in our lives and offer peace to our neighbors. The key is to avoid getting caught up in the fear and chaos that abounds.

Remember the Israelites in their desert wanderings? As soon as Moses was gone from them for a few days they demanded that Aaron make a god they could see and touch. While I don’t think many of us are creating golden calves, we are often lured away to worship gods of our own making. These are the gods that thrive on fear and chaos and gain power in our distress. The path to worshiping these demanding gods is much easier to follow than the path of the God who desires us to be at peace in ourselves and in the world. Is it possible for any of us to sit still long enough to (re)discover the holiness that is our very core? Is it possible for us to pull away from the chaos and fear that so easily grasps our attention and focus on what is good and kind and beneficial to all?

I think so. Jesus certainly believed it was possible. Why tell the parable of the wedding banquet if Jesus didn’t believe that we are capable of seeking what is good? We have been invited to a feast and we often fail to attend. When we are summoned, when we feel the pull of the Spirit, it is best we follow. There is a seat at the table for all. However, we cannot go clothed with our ego and our own desires. We must go with clothed with the peace of Christ, with humility, with love. It is better we ignore the invitation than go without the proper clothing.

Discernment, looking for the pull of the Spirit, seeking the banquet invitation, is a daily activity the deserves more of our attention. We might find ourselves in strange company if we genuinely ask what God would have us do on a daily basis. We might discover that we have a whole new wardrobe to wear as we offer ourselves in service to our neighbors, to God. Isn’t it time we leave behind the ways of idol worship? We need not wander in the wilderness of fear, anxiety, hatred, or violence any longer. There is truly a better way. I intend to seek it out. Will you join me?

RCL – Year A – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 11, 2020
Exodus 32:1-14 with Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 or
Isaiah 25:1-9 with Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

Photo: CC0image by Dariusz Staniszewski

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

In Search of God’s Good Pleasure

Image: a field crowded with sunflowers in full bloom

Anger. Outrage. Despair. These feelings coursed through my body, and linger even now. At first I heard that none of the officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s murder were indicted. Then I saw that one officer was charged with “wanton endangerment.” Not because Breonna Taylor died. Rather, because the other bullets endangered Breonna’s white neighbors. It is no wonder that uprisings are happening in Louisville and other cities. If I were not high risk for COVID-19, I would be out on the streets protesting police brutality, state sanctioned murder. It is hard for me to stay at home and do nothing other than pray and write.

How much more blood has to fill our streets before we recognize that our militarized policing system, which grew out of slave catching, has no place in civilized society. And the criminal legal system is no better. The officer was indicted for the bullets that threatened white neighbors, not for the bullets that ended Breonna’s life. There is no justice to be had here. Police need to be held accountable for the lives they have stolen from POC.

Yes, as white people we are conditioned to call police when we feel we are in danger. There is so much wrong with this. What constitutes danger? Surely, it has to be more than the presence of someone whose skin is not white. And police cannot continue to justify their murdersome ways by claiming that they fear for their lives. This is ridiculous. This white supremacist nonsense is lethal to too many of our neighbors. It must stop. How do we not remember that Jesus had brown skin and would be targeted by police in this country if he were alive and speaking truth to power today?

In Philippians, Paul calls us to account: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus… (2:3-5) Notice there are no qualifiers here. If we have true humility, we regard others is if they were better than we are – all others not just white others. Moreover, their interests are to be attended to before our own. Those police officers and D.A.s who call themselves Christians seem to forget this when they “fear for their lives.” And the mind that was in Christ, the mind that ought to be in the church as the Body of Christ, is a mind of Love. This Love views all human beings as beloved. Shouldn’t we?

Elections are weeks away. While I’m sure most people have decided for whom they will vote, there is yet time to prayerfully consider which candidate will better serve the interests of all who call the U.S. home. Which candidate is more inclined to advocate for those who are different from himself? Which candidate is more likely to recognize the rights of every citizen, and those seeking to become citizens? Which candidate is willing to learn what he doesn’t know and change his behavior if he learns his ways are causing someone(s) harm? Is there humility to be found in either candidate? When you are still, and listen to God, which candidate is likely to do the greatest good, or at minimum, the least harm?

Friends, there are days when COVID-19 seems the least of our worries, and it is very worrisome. However, the loss of lives because we refuse to change systems of policing and the criminal legal system and remain bound by systems that were built on and thrive on white supremacy, seems to me to be at least as concerning, if not more so. More so because there is no vaccine being developed for racism and white supremacy. The example and teachings of Jesus should be enough of a vaccine against hatred, though it seems not to be the case.

Later in the second chapter of Philippians Paul writes, “…with fear and trembling work out your own salvation, for God is the One working in you to both will and work according to God’s good pleasure” (2:12b-13, my own translation). May we all take an honest inventory of our lives and figure out where we have more work to do on our own hearts and minds. If we can open ourselves more to God’s work within us, then maybe more of us will be transformed from ways of hatred and death to ways of Love and life, not just for ourselves, for the whole of Creation. Because we need to be more focused on “God’s good pleasure,” I leave you with this prayer attributed to Marthe Robins who relied heavily on a similar prayer by Ignatius Loyola:

May God take my memory and all it remembers,
Take my heart and all its affections,
Take my intelligence and all its powers;
May they only serve your greatest glory.
Take my will completely,
for always I empty it out in yours.
No longer what I want, O my sweetest Jesus,
but always what you want!
Take me … receive me … direct me.
Guide me! I surrender and abandon myself to you!
I surrender myself to you as a small sacrifice of
Love, of praise and Gratitude, for the Glory of your Holy Name,
for the enjoyment of your Love, the triumph of your Sacred Heart,
and for the perfect fulfillment of your Designs in me and around me.

RCL – Year A – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 27, 2020
Exodus 17:1-7 with Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 or
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 with Psalm 25:1-9
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Photo: CC0image by Inactive account – ID 9301

Categories
Poetry

A Conversation with Jesus

Image of face overlaid with shadows of trees on a background of red, rippling water
in a Roman stronghold, You asked your first disciples
     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 Empire

Who 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 answers

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Messiah, of course
the One who sets us free
and saves our souls
Messiah

what 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 Peace

our lips may speak these words
our actions say otherwise
there is no peace without justice
ask George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmoud Arbery
     and counteless others

Who 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 Physician

there is no evidence of this truth
in a nation that values perfection over wholeness and wealth
     over people
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 Water

then 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 enough

Who 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 Savior

again, 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 undeserving

Who do you say that I am?

Light of life
the One who shines with hope
chasing away our despair
Light of Life

then 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 hand

Who do you say that I am?

Wonderful Counselor
the One who guides life
offering wisdom, healing, grace
Wonderful Counselor

is 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 God

Love knows no limits
hatred, destruction, division, violence, war are purely human
perhaps now is the time for transformation
paying heed to the prophets among us

Who 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
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Photo: CC0image by Gerd Altmann

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Is God in this Place?

Image is a close-up of two pale blue butterflies on dandelions facing each other

A kind of weariness has caught up with me this week. In many ways my life has been nonstop problem solving since mid-March. Four months later my corner of the world has adapted to the limitations of pandemic. The congregation I serve is all Zoom, all the time with the understanding that we will not gather in person again until it is safe for every one of us. This week it has finally hit me, though. As a new routine has established itself, I feel more unsettled than I have during the last few months. Now in these quieter days of summer there is time for me to feel the feelings for myself. I’ve been too busy helping everyone else for my own feelings to come to the surface.

Now that they are here, I’m ready for them to pass. No matter how many times I tell myself that I have all that I need and I have the privilege of working from home, frustration still simmers. I am impatient when everyday tasks are more complicated than I expected. I am forgetting the simplest tasks. I spend too much time looking for my phone. I get teary over commercials that I’ve seen hundreds of times. And, if I am honest, I am still lamenting the sabbatical I was supposed to have this summer. None of these things are unbearable; indeed, they are signs of ongoing stress. Over and over again, I have told people to be gentle with themselves because pandemic magnifies our vulnerabilities. Time to heed my own words.

I read Jacob’s words in Genesis, “Surely, the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” and realize I could say nearly the same thing. Yes, God is in this place, this time of pandemic. I know this is true, and yet, I often forget the power of this truth. Those angels ascending and descending in Jacob’s dream are a lovely metaphor for God’s continued work in the world. God moves through the world, through us, in ways we seldom grasp in the moment. Our failure to notice God does not negate God’s presence, God’s works of love.

Too many of us are simply waiting for pandemic to be over. Too many are already acting as if COVID-19 is not real and poses no threat. Too many of us are not considering how our actions might affect others. We are so desperate to “return to normal” that we are not attending to what God might be asking of us in this very moment. Yes, its hard to be without direct human contact. Yes, its hard to avoid crowds. Yes, its hard to be without a variety of things we have taken for granted. And it is probably harder for those who don’t have the option of working from home, those who rely on public transportation, those who work in healthcare, and teachers being asked to go back into classrooms, and many others who cannot distance themselves from others due to circumstances. The reality is that pandemic is hard for all of us in different ways. To pretend otherwise leads to pent up emotions that come out sideways (like yelling at the food processor when the lid was stuck on – yeah, I did that). Pretending that everything is “normal” also gets in the way of recognizing the movement of the Spirit.

Psalm 139 (one of my personal favorites) reminds us that there is no place we can go where God is not already there. Even in pandemic, God is with us, waiting for us to notice. Right now God is sowing seeds of goodness, grace, love, forgiveness – seeds of the Kingdom – throughout the world and among us. We know there are those who sow seeds of fear, hatred, division, and violence. Our focus ought to be nurturing the seeds of God’s Realm, making sure these seeds grow and bear fruit. While we cannot necessarily remove the other things, we can choose not to nurture them, not to strengthen them, not to let them grow in our lives or in our communities. We don’t need to worry about saving souls; God has that covered. We need to focus on saving lives. We need to do everything in our power to prevent the worsening of this pandemic – everything from adhering to the basics such as wearing a mask and physically distancing to the more complicated decisions of how and when to safely meet in person. In addition, we can advocate for those who often go unheard and unseen and devalued by those with decision-making power. And we can choose to stop making judgements about how other people are coping with pandemic; most people do the best they can with what they have.

Surely, God is in this with us! Even in the moments when we forget or fail to notice, God is present and moving in the world. May we trust God’s presence enough to act with loving-kindness toward ourselves, our neighbors, and the whole of Creation.

RCL – Year A – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 19, 2020
Genesis 28:10-19a with Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24 or
Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19 or
Isaiah 44:6-8 with Psalm 86:11-17
Romans 8:12-25
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

Photo: CC0image by Ronny Overhate

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

The Fallacy of a Christian Nation

At this moment the U.S. leads the world in the number of new COVID-19 cases. We can add this to the list that includes the highest rate of mass shootings and mass incarceration. None of these things are brag-worthy. In fact, they are shameful, as is every act of the current Administration that removes protections and rights from any group of peoples. Police violence and shootings are probably high on the list of what this country has more than other countries, too. I’m appalled any time someone insists on the U.S. being a “Christian nation.” If this were, in fact, a Christian nation we’d be in better shape. More people would be wearing masks and physical distancing out of love for neighbor if not self. We would have limited access to guns for the same reason. POC would not be incarcerated at a higher rate (and we wouldn’t have for profit prisons) because all people would be treated equally as God’s beloved children. If the U.S. were truly a Christian nation, then every Administration would be actively seeking justice and equality for every human being, not just those elevated in a society built on white supremacy.

It’s easy for some people to demand a return to our “Christian roots.” My question is when was this country actually Christian? When we were killing First Nations Peoples and stealing their lands? When we stole African peoples from their lands and enslaved them? When we indentured poor people as servants for life? When our forebears cried out for religious freedom but meant only their kind of religion? On this Fourth of July weekend look more closely at our colonial history and you will find nearly every kind of activity except the kind that is based on love of neighbor as yourself.

As people protest the wearing of masks because they have a right to do as they please, reveals the ugly underbelly of U.S. history. The narcissistic insistence of individual “rights” over the well-being of many is pervasive and far from new. The same people who refuse to wear a mask and continue to denounce science will also cling to Jesus words – “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  These words can be used to enhance the perceived difficulty encountered when advocating for individual rights. They are comforting for those who think they are afflicted. However, if you read further, these words are not so easy and ought not to be used to affirm one’s weariness so readily.

The very next line is, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” This is where it gets real. To take the yoke of Christ upon one’s self is not as simple as it might sound. To be yoked to Christ is to be yoked to Divine Love. To be yoked to Christ is to serve the greater good rather than one’s own ego. To be yoked to Christ means to learn to live as Jesus did—speaking truth to power, healing the broken, and welcoming the outcast. To be yoked to Christ is to embody Jesus’ gentleness and humility. Only then will we find rest for our souls. Before the rest comes, there is work to do.

For those of us on the progressive side of things, this caution is for us as well. We may not be advocating for a “Christian nation,” though I wonder if we are really wanting to uproot white supremacy from all of our social structures. We can easily name the wrongs committed by those on the other side of the theological divide. However, are we able to admit to the wrongs we have committed? Are we able to say that we are afraid to live in a country without a police force that grew out of slave catching? Are we able to say that we are reluctant to let go of the fears and prejudices that have kept us benefiting from racism? Are we able to say that we afraid of what we will lose if all our neighbors have the same privileges we now enjoy? Can we confess our sins of complicity and reluctance to change everything for the sake of all our neighbors?

Before we give in to the sentimentality that glosses over Jesus’ invitation to live as he did, to love as he did, and rest in that, we have work to do. To be yoked to Christ is to bear the burden of the work that remains before us, to do our equal share. Are we truly yoked to Christ? Or do we just want to rest and avoid the deep weariness that comes from working toward a future that can actually say that there is justice and liberty for all?

RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 5, 2020
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:10-17 or Song of Solomon 2:8-13 or
Zechariah 9:9-12 with Psalm 145:8-14
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Photo: CC0image by free-photos

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Traveling Companions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: CC0image by René Schindler

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Musings Sermon Starter

Thoughts Along the Way

I am struggling a bit this week. Not with Palm Sunday itself or with all that is to come during Holy Week. Rather, I am wrestling with anger at the federal government for making the situation in the U.S during this pandemic far worse than it might have been. Inaction and spreading of false information has led to a higher number of deaths. I want to commemorate Jesus’ triumphant return to Jerusalem. However, I am feeling the press of a hostile government far more intensely.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem so long ago in stark contrast to the way Roman officials rode into town. Jesus rode with humility while the soldiers rode with pride. The power Jesus offered seemed little in the face of armor and swords. Yet, it is this very power to disrupt the oppressive ways of those who claim authority that we need right now. We need to remember a truth that can abide with us through life into death then into new life. We need to celebrate, honor, and remember the One who spoke of peace in a world bent toward destruction, and embodied love in the face of hateful violence.

How can we as the Body of Christ be triumphant in these days? In the U.S. we have an administration that denied the severity of COVID-19 even as the worldwide death toll mounted. The federal government has also outbid individual states for medical supplies, driving up the prices. And then the President said that governors needed to be nice to him if they wanted federal aid in this crisis. Today I read that gun stores are considered “essential” and can remain open. The NRA has enough power that gun stores can remain open to profit from people’s fears and put the lives of vulnerable people at greater risk. All of this leads me to think things that I have no proof of, and yet can’t help feeling. I’m just going to say it: I think the current administration hopes that COVID-19 will rid the U.S. of “undesirable” populations. If they keep their response ineffective, then the people who will die are those who are elderly, those who are homeless, those who are disabled, those who reside in institutions (those experiencing psychiatric crises, those who are incarcerated, and those in detention centers), those who live in poverty, and everyone else who lacks the resources needed to access necessary healthcare in this country.

Part of me wants to say that these are the kinds of things Jesus returned to Jerusalem to face. He opposed the Roman government and Temple authorities at every opportunity. People greeted him with cheers and celebrations because they believed he would set them free from oppression. And he did, just not the way they expected. Are we able to follow his lead? Are we able to encourage all of our people to stay at home if they are not among those who truly are essential? Are we able to create or sustain a strong sense of community that will hold the fear and the grief (and the anger) that accompanies COVID-19? Are we somehow managing to counter the messaging of hatred and blame coming from this administration? Are we reminding people that they have value, that their lives are worth saving, and this virus is not a punishment or judgment from God?

While we cannot gather in person and celebrate this Sunday with any of our usual traditions of Palm branches and processions, we can still gather using whatever virtual means is available to us. We can sing songs of praise and remind ourselves that God is present and the messaging of the federal government is in direct opposition to the message of Love Jesus embodied.

In some ways Holy Week comes at the perfect time for those among us who are feeling hopeless. We can celebrate with songs of praise on Sunday and not resist the move into the Passion. Think of those who have died and will die because of the broken systems in this country and the power of organizations like the NRA… This is betrayal on par with what Judas did to Jesus. When we tell this story on Thursday with broken bread and a cup poured out, the pain of betrayal won’t be imaginary. And when we move into Friday with the bleakness of Jesus’ death, maybe we will be able to bear witness to the injustice in the deaths around us. When Saturday comes and the world is still and silent and grieving we might feel the emptiness of despair more deeply than in years past. Easter, too, will be a different experience for us. I wonder what we will hear in the good news of resurrection…

For now, I continue to wrestle with my thoughts and feelings. I want to join the celebration on Sunday and journey through the week unhindered. Yet, this journey from life to death to new life feels all too real and far more serious this year than in any I can remember. Wherever you are as Holy Week approaches, let’s remember together that we worship a God of life and love, a God who seeks to bring hope to the hopeless and wholeness to the broken places. Let us all stay awake and keep watch…

RCL – Year A – Palm Sunday – April 5, 2020
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Photo: CC0image by Samuel DYKSTRA

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Musings Sermon Starter

Temptation with a Capital T

Given the current political climate in the U.S., I’ve been thinking a lot about temptation and how Christians tend to trivialize it. Jesus wasn’t tempted by small things when he was in the wilderness. It wasn’t a question of eating an extra cookie or skipping his time at the gym or engaging in dubious sexual activity. Jesus was tempted by bigger things, not because he was the Christ, but because he was human. The more we focus on the small temptations we face, the more we diminish the power of Jesus encounter with Satan in the wilderness.

Yes, I am inclined to treat this story as metaphor and myth rather than history and fact. It is, nonetheless, a true story. I don’t doubt that Jesus went into a time of fasting and prayer after his baptism. He very likely went out into the wilderness to do so. What better place to encounter God than in a land untouched by human hands? The longer he was there, the more he wrestled with his personal demons. We would do well to follow his example.

The first temptation Jesus faces is his hunger. He could have turned the rocks to bread, but would that have satisfied him? If our hunger is spiritual and not physical, no amount of bread will fill the void. If one is fasting in order to facilitate a deeper spiritual encounter, then bread will not meet that need. Jesus knew something that Eve had not learned when she bit into the serpent’s temptation; knowledge and wisdom are two different things. Jesus knew that feeding his stomach would not prepare him for what lay ahead.

In the modern context, we mistake fasting with dieting. We mistake the physical for the spiritual, especially when it comes to hunger. Those of us with full cabinets and freezers fall back on our Puritanical preset of believing that people who cannot afford to feed themselves are somehow to blame and their poverty is God’s punishment. Even when we say we do not believe this archaic theology, we tend to act as if we do and by so doing, we make physical hunger a spiritual problem. On the flip side, those of us with access to enough food often eat more than we need and just as often use food to soothe ourselves. In other words, we attempt to satisfy our spiritual hunger with physical food. This is no more affective than the reverse. Perhaps it is time we sort this out. No doubt Satan and his minions would rather we continue as we are. Otherwise, feeding those who are physically hungry and nurturing those who are spiritually hungry sounds a lot like Jesus’ response about not living by bread alone.

Having failed in his first efforts, Satan moves on. Jesus’ second temptation is to prove his own value by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus seems to have understood his own worth better than most of us today. He was not concerned with proving how far God would go to protect him. Was he secure in God’s love for him or did he simply understand that the worth others bestow on us means nothing until we bestow it upon ourselves?

We are awful judges of human value today. We foolishly believe that financial and material wealth are signs of God’s favor without giving a thought to racism and other social factors that hold many generations in poverty. While we might be tempted to say that God loves all human beings we are, at core, highly skeptical about our own standing with God, not to mention our neighbors’. Once again our Puritanical preset reveals our lack of wisdom. We can know that God does not favor the wealthy over the poor, the able over the disabled, the healthy over the sick, etc, but our behavior shows something different. Look at the state of this country and it is impossible to deny that we have let outdated-unexamined theology wreak havoc. Perhaps we could follow Jesus’ example and believe that God loves us and all our neighbors and stop trying to prove that we are valued and loved and important.

If we don’t, we will never manage to escape the third temptation. Satan invited Jesus into ownership of and power over everyone. It was simple enough – worship Satan and not God. Jesus saw through this with seeming ease (though I suspect it was more a struggle than the Bible lets on). Jesus chose God over Satan and his time of temptation ended. The power was in the choice.

The unfortunate truth is that we aren’t very good at worshiping God. It is often more enticing to seek after ownership and power. And in a society that frequently mistakes these things for signs of blessings, the temptation is even stronger. Worshiping God is often the harder choice when siren song of society is, “bigger, better, more…” Who wants to be a humble servant to Love and show that by serving human beings and Creation with intentional compassion when the accumulation of wealth leads to power and success? Now might be an excellent time to disentangle ourselves from the pursuit of power and dedicate our lives to serving the most vulnerable among us as Jesus commanded.

If you are among the many who have given up chocolate, coffee, beer, wine, or even social media for Lent, how will you spend that time you would have spent in those pursuits? Will you watch to see if the numbers on the scale go down? Will you browse the internet to fill the void created by the absence of social media? Or will you enter into the wilderness place and chance meeting your demons who will put your true temptations on display? Whatever your Lenten practice may be, may we face our own demons and the demons of our society with grace and assurance of God’s love. In this way, may we wrestle as Jesus did and make the choice that will end our time with Satan with the arrival of angels.

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RCL – Year A – First Sunday in Lent – March 1, 2020
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Photo: CC0image by Anja