Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Silence is Compliance

Image of a shepherd with his dog and herd of sheep on a sunny, green hillside.

It’s been quite a week here in the Twin Cities, and in my life. The verdict of guilty on all three charges in the Chauvin trial shifted the mood considerably. There is now hope where there was none. However, this hope is mitigated by the killing of Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, and Ma’Khia Bryant. So much work is before us still.

On a more personal note, I received my second vaccine with minor, though annoying, symptoms, completed a three-day training on the IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory), and observed the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death. As I said, it’s been a week.

Through all of this I’ve been thinking about the “Good Shepherd” passages. Psalm 23 is a popular favorite and Jesus’ claim to be the Good Shepherd in John’s gospel makes us generally feel good. It’s easy to picture God or Jesus as a good shepherd. We feel watched-over and protected. However, if Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we who are church members are the embodiment of Christ, then we are to be the Good Shepherd in the world. And this is where the challenge is. We are to follow and to embody all at the same time. We aren’t doing very well at either, most days anyway.

Jesus said he was the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for his own. And, of course, he did. Jesus died at the hands of those who could not tolerate Love Incarnate, those who were enamored with the power, position, prestige, and promises granted by the Empire. Jesus challenged the authorities (both Jewish and Roman) of his day at every opportunity. He sought to literally re-member (connect or reconnect) the outcasts with community. He sought to empower the people to live into their relationship with God.

Jesus was a threat to those with power and a friend to the oppressed. We are called to embody those qualities – challenge the Empire and befriend the oppressed. This is the Good Shepherd we say we follow. Are we willing to lay down our lives for the benefit of those who are oppressed, cast out, dismissed, devalued, or dehumanized? If not, how closely do we follow this Shepherd? How do we embody the Love the Good Shepherd demonstrated for the whole of the cosmos?

I’m not saying we all have to go out and risk our lives in a literal way. I’m suggesting that we have to more actively put our lives on the line. You know, take risks to ensure that these modern day lynchings of Black and Brown adults and children come to an end. The conviction of Chauvin is a good start. It is not enough, though. We need more. We need to keep advocating for murder charges to be brought against police officers who shoot and/or kill Black and Brown people with no good reason. We who identify as White progressive Christians need to learn how to amplify the voices of those calling for the abolishment of police and the dismantling of the criminal legal system, and all the other systems that thrive on White supremacy and racism. Can we say we follow the Good Shepherd if we continue to remain on the sidelines in silence? Can we say we embody Christ if we are seeking justice for all people?

In case it isn’t clear, I’m really wondering what it means to be Christian in the U.S. in this moment in history. I know that my own views have radically changed over the last decade or more, particularly in the last 6.5 years I’ve lived in Minnesota. My shift in perspective is due in part to Black Lives Matter and participating in marches, rallies, and protests and really listening to POC in my community. If Jesus is Divine Love Incarnate and the church is the embodiment of that Love, then we have a lot of crap to clean up before we can claim that it is true. Silence is compliance, and White progressive Christians have been silent for far too long. We have also created the illusion that we “welcome all.” Most congregations don’t welcome all. My friends, if one member of the Body of Christ is a White Supremacist, then the Body of Christ is a White Supremacist. If one member of the Body of Christ has benefited or continues to benefit from White supremacy, then the Body of Christ benefits from White supremacy. If one member of the Body of Christ is racist, then the Body of Christ is racist. This is not what Jesus would want for his followers. This is not what it means to be the embodiment of the Good Shepherd.

If we want to be led to those green pastures and still waters, then we must do our part to remove everything that has prevented the grass from growing and everything that has polluted the waters. Isn’t it time we do better? Isn’t it time we actively participate in mending and healing what we have broken?

The Shepherd waits.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 25, 2021 Acts 8:26-40  • Psalm 22:25-31  • 1 John 4:7-21  • John 15:1-8

Photo: CC0image by free-photos

Categories
Prayer

A Pastor’s Prayer in the midst of Pandemic

Shepherding God, my desire is to follow you to those green pastures and still waters. I want to rest in you. Yet, rest is rare in these days of crisis, and stillness if fraught with exhaustion. Caring for your people, and finding the right path through this deep valley weighs heavily on my spirit. I often forget that you are with me and that it is your ways that I seek. Awaken me once again to your presence that I may live in your pastures even now.

Restoring and renewing God, you know my heart even before I do. You know the fears I will not give voice to, and you know the dreams I hardly dare to acknowledge. May the whispers of your spirit bring a new assurance and restore peace to my soul. With every budding flower and every soaring hawk, I am reminded that you are at work restoring Creation. Yours is always a promise of new life. Grant me the courage to trust that promise.

Ever-present God, it isn’t evil that fear, exactly. It is the anger, the despair that drives some people to aggression or selfishness. I fear the ignorance propagated by inadequate public leadership. I fear the desperation that grows in so many of my neighbors. I fear the frailty of this body of mine. Enter into these fears, God of life, and renew a right spirit within me.

Comforting God, you are present even now amid COVID-19. While faith will not protect me or anyone else from this virus, your Love can guide humanity if we let it. We can show up for our neighbors who have lost loved ones, employment, hope. We can share resources and not hoard them for ourselves. We can find hope for this world, for humanity, for a future unlike our past. If we rely on your Love, it becomes possible to address the brokenness highlighted by this crisis. Guide us all onto the path that will end all fear of the “other” and heal divisions we have created.

Merciful and healing God, I am at a loss for words when it comes to the suffering of so many. It is hard to believe that healing will come. It is hard to believe that the whole world won’t sink into despair that is impossible to rise out of. Yet, you promise all who seek you will find goodness and mercy. May this be true for those who are grieving… for those who struggle with symptoms of mental illness… for those who have no hope… for those who believe the lies of the politicians… for the politicians themselves… Guide us all to the cup that overflows.

God of life and Love, you have opened the gate of possibility for us all. We can give in to fear or we can choose Love. Forgive me for the moments when Love seems impossible and wholeness seems elusive. You are the gate to new life, to abundant life. Abundance of joy and Love and forgiveness and mercy and so much more are possible even in this time. Fill me with gratitude for all that I have and enable me to pass through your gate to live a life of generosity and grace.

In gratitude and hope, I pray. Be with all who struggle to live in hope and Love. Be with all who risk their lives for the sake of others. Be with all who are surrounded by death. May every human being experience the wonders of your Love and the life of abundance you freely offer. Awaken the hearts and minds of every dreamer and visionary to speed the day of hope and healing for all people. In the meantime, teach me anew what it means to trust in you – in your presence, in your Love, in your grace, in your mercy, in your forgiveness that I may share your abundance with all whom I meet. In the name of the One who came to teach us how to Love one another, Amen.

If you are in need of sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 3, 2020
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Photo: CC0image by 9883074

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Faithful in the Time of COVID-19

On a Thursday afternoon in March I am sitting in my recliner with the dog on my lap. It is not vacation. It is not my day off. It’s weird and unsettling. I’m home like many others because we are in the middle of a pandemic. In the U.S. we are watching as some other countries are beginning to recover and others are watching as the death count rises. We are watching and waiting and some are still disbelieving. We should be following the example of countries like Spain who are on full lockdown. Yes, the toll on the economy will be significant, but how much worse are we making it by not physically distancing ourselves from one another?

There’s the denial. Then there is something far worse. There are faith leaders who still gathered for worship in high risk areas with people at significant risk for carrying and/or contracting COVID-19. The message from these (usually very conservative Christian) preachers was that God would save them from the virus. While they were in the house of God, and if they had faith enough, they would be fine. Everyone else who is fearful and taking precautions and wanting to flatten the curve… well, we are faithless fools. Of course, this messaging is false and dangerous. More to the point, it isn’t exactly Biblical, either.

Let’s take the story of the man who was born blind, for example. Here was a man, blind from birth. The question the disciples posed to Jesus about the cause of the man’s blindness are still relevant today. Who sinned – the man or his parents? It’s very much like whose sin caused COVID-19 and this pandemic – people in China, people in Europe, people in North America, people in general, or scientists, or politicians? Jesus’ answer to his disciples was likely helpful to them; neither the man’s nor his parents’ sins caused his blindness. Jesus goes on to say that the man was born blind so that God’s glory could be shown in him. Okay. Here’s were it gets a bit challenging for modern scripture readers.

I say that this statement is descriptive rather prescriptive. In the ancient world, the primary way of understanding the events of the world – personal and communal – was to say that God was responsible for all the things. If a person was born blind, then God had a reason for it. Of course, the most common understanding of any kind of disability was that it was punishment for sin, the person’s or their parents’. From this perspective, when Jesus told the disciples that the man was born blind so God could reveal God’s glory in the man, it sounds prescriptive, foreordained, if you will. However, from a modern point of view in which we have explanations for things happening beyond God making them happen, this story is descriptive. It describes what actually happened (in the story or in reality matters very little). In other words, because the man was born blind, Jesus’ power to heal could be revealed through him. No punishment of any kind in this understanding.

Now we come to COVID-19. It’s a virus, a scary, highly contagious, lethal for many virus. Viruses, as we know, are part of human existence. I am not a scientist so I cannot explain how or why the exist, but we know that they do. The common cold has been around as long as human beings have. Influenza is a virus that mutates constantly. The coronavirus has been around a long time. This particular version of it is new. No virus comes from God. No human sin caused it to become as lethal as it is. However, this isn’t to say that God’s power/presence/glory/healing/love won’t be revealed in the midst of this. It is a question of who will bear witness to what God is doing even now.

We can be like the Temple Authorities and refuse to believe that God is at work in the world in new and unexpected ways and, thereby, remain “blind” to the goodness and beauty that remains in the world. Or we can seek to make way for Divine Love in the midst of this pandemic. Practicing “social” distancing (6 feet from people not sharing your living space) is a way to care for our neighbors and ourselves. Leaving needed supplies on the shelves of stores rather than hoarding them for ourselves is another way. Checking in on those more vulnerable than ourselves with phone calls, texts, video chats, is another way to make room for God to do what God does best – re-member people, join them in community.

To that end, I pray that all will be well.

In the meantime here are some suggestions for being faithful to God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. These are also good practices to maintain mental health.

  1. Stay at home if you are able. If you have to go out of your house to work, act as if you are an a-symptomatic carrier and use reasonable precautions.
  2. If you need to go out, maintain 6 feet of space between you and others – in grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. If you purchase anything, disinfect the packaging when you bring it home.
  3. Establish a daily routine if you are working from home. This includes a normative sleep cycle with consistent bed and wake up times, regular hygiene practices, changing out of pajamas (even if just into clean pajamas) daily, consistent meal and exercise times.
  4. Also schedule times to reach out to family and friends with whatever video chat platform is available to you.
  5. Check in on those you know who are at higher risk for the virus.
  6. Participate in whatever your church is doing online
  7. Get outside regularly if you are able to do so safely
  8. Engage in pleasurable activities whatever they are for you – hobbies, movie watching, daydreaming…
  9. Do something creative each day – write, bake, draw, paint… anything that allows you to make something new
  10. Limit your viewing of media. For every negative piece of information you encounter, seek something positive.

Even though I walk through a world filled with the coronavirus, I fear no absence of Love; for God is with me; God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, they comfort me.

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 22, 2020
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

More than Words

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We, as church, have thought our way into an identity crisis. We have spent so much time thinking about what is right, creating right doctrines, and rules for membership, that we have forgotten that we are the Body of Christ. We’ve been distracted by our love affair with “word and speech” (1Jn 3:18) that we have forgotten to incarnate the Word with “truth and action” (1Jn 3:18). When confronted with the physicality of the Resurrection accounts – Jesus holding up his wounds, inviting touch, breaking bread, eating fish, etc. – we respond with a tendency to spiritualize in an intellectual way. We either rationalize those early encounters with the Risen Christ as fabricated encounters that have deep Truth (in the way that all mythology points toward truth), or way say it’s all a mystery beyond our understanding. Either way, we dismiss these accounts and fail to hear the invitation to live in our bodies and allow ourselves to be transformed into the Body of Christ.

This separation of body and mind and spirit is nothing new, and it’s not unique to Christianity. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to integrate body, mind, and spirit in my own life. In my youth I prided myself on my “mind over body” capacity. I could eat less than 100 calories a day and still push myself to run several miles, sleep a few hours a night, and go to classes. I didn’t realize how significantly the disconnect between my body and my mind affected my faith formation. Since I viewed my body as an enemy to be conquered and controlled, it’s no surprise that I thought of any relationship with God as being impossible.

My experiences of church widen this gap between mind and body, as well as the one I experience between me and God. This wasn’t done intentionally, of course. Most of my church experience has been in Mainline congregations that have the expectation of quiet, controlled, observance in worship rather than full body expression. There was no wiggling in the pews, no giggling, no clapping, no talking back to the preacher. We were to come and be reverent and respectful. There was little place in worship for one’s body. It was all done with the mind.

Decades later, I inhabit a body that is limited by dysautonomia. It seems all my systems are slow – from digestion to heart rate. The primary effect is that I am tired all the time. So I employ, without even thinking about it, some of my old mind-over-body techniques just to get through the day and do what I want or need to do. It’s not the same now. Now I acknowledge that I’m tired, and do what I need to do anyway (and nap whenever possible.) I don’t see my body as an enemy any longer. I am my body and my body is me. This may sound silly, but it’s an important statement. Once I made peace with my body, tentative though it can be, I became better able to accept that God loves the particularity that is me.

Now, church, we live in a world whose needs are not satisfied by our words and speech. We can continue our squabbles over right theology and right language and right doctrine, or we can get real. We can stop separating our words from our actions. If we have signs on our lawns that read, “All are Welcome,” are these words empty or do we truly welcome everyone, without exception? Think carefully before you say yes. Are LGBTQ+ people welcome into the full life of your congregation, including your pulpit? Are people with serious mental illness welcome and included? Do people with physical disabilities have full access to your whole building and are they able to share fully in worship? Are people who are experiencing homelessness welcome without condition? Are women, men, Trans* folks encouraged and affirmed in their calls to ordained ministry? You get the idea. Who is welcome in practice?

I’ve been repeatedly struck by the physicality of the Easter scripture readings. The Good Shepherd passages are no different. I can practically smell the sheep pasture as I read these texts. Jesus is the Good Shepherd willing to lay down his life and take it up again for his sheep. While we may not particularly enjoy being compared to sheep, there is an implication here that should not be overlooked. If Jesus is the Good Shepherd who is willing to risk his life for his followers, then it stands to reason that the Body of Christ is also supposed to be the Good Shepherd. We are to embody Christ in such a way that takes risk in body, in mind, and in spirit. We are to incarnate the Love of Christ in such a way that the lost are found and the excluded enter in. And we are to do this completely, not just with words. Imagine a church that is inclusive of all the wonderful diversity that exists in human bodies…

I think it’s time the church is bodily resurrected. Let’s be the Body of Christ in truth and action, bearing witness to the power and presence of the Risen Christ with our whole selves. It’s time to step away from the pristine piety of the mind and revel in the incarnation of wholeness that can change the way we think.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 22,2018
Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

Photo: CC0 image by Stefan Beckmann-Metzner

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Hate is Not a Human Value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: CC0 image by Jackie Samuels

Categories
Emerging Church Prayer

Litany for Marriage Equity

Since the Supreme Court is about to take up Marriage Equity, many churches are raising the issue for prayer during worship. I’ve written this litany, a kind of conversation with Psalm 23, for use in worship this Sunday. Feel free to use it or adapt it to fit your congregation.

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Voice One:  God is my shepherd,
I shall not want.

Voice Two:  God who guides all people,
provide your wisdom in the Supreme Court this week.
No one should want for justice

All:  God of all people, hear our prayers.

Voice One:  God makes me lie down in green pastures;
and leads me beside still waters;

Voice Two:  All pastures are not equal and not all waters are clean.
The ability to marry is a right belonging to all people.
Let now be the time when this becomes law.

All:  God of all people, hear our prayers.

Voice One:  God restores my soul
and leads me in right paths
for the sake of God’s name.

Voice Two:  Too long, your people have been divided.
May the fears that separate LGBTQ people from others
give way to loving inclusion in the name of the One who is Love Incarnate.

All:  God of all people, hear our prayers.

Voice One:  Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff — they comfort me.

Voice 2:  Even in your presence, many fear that change will not come
and injustice will remain the law.
Grant courage to those with power to transform fearful hatred
into beautiful liberty for all those who call on you.
Comfort the fearful ones among us
that they, too, will find welcome in your green pastures.

All:  God of all people, hear our prayers.

Voice One:  You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Voice Two:  You have prepared the way for Marriage Equity
even though there are many who refuse to come to the table.
May the Supreme Court open the table to all,
that marriage may be available to all
and the cup of liberty may overflow.

All:  God of all people, hear our prayers.

Voice One:  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of God
my whole life long.

sheep-506253_1920Voice Two: It is time for goodness and mercy to be the way for all.
May this be the time when all who call your name
are welcomed in your house and equal standing
in the eyes of the law.

You are the Good Shepherd, guide us to the day
when the reign of hateful discrimination
comes to an end, and your people speak of love and equity
for all your children.

All:  God of all people, hear our prayers. Amen.

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 26, 2015
Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

Photos from Pixabay. Used with permission.

Categories
Musings Poetry

Green Pastures and Quiet Waters

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kiddnappings and killings
mudslides and makeshift cities
conflicts and controversies
war and wildfires
violence and victims

in the midst of all this
a Good Shepherd who promises
life abundantly
to all who enter by the Gate

I keep looking at that Gate
thinking I’m in safe pasture
wanting the Shepherd guide me
yet I am reluctant to let go
long enough to see my cup overflowing

now, though, I am tired enough to realize
it’s a good time to enter in
to be still and stop worrying
about saving others from treachery
or themselves or the brutality the world offers
sometimes to innocent ones

I will walk into the fold
claim a small space and allow
some shepherding in my own life

2014-05-02 18.42.39yes, today, I will stop pondering the Gate,
the Shepherd, the pasture and the world
and just be still and know

there’s plenty of room
maybe you, too, need to rest
beside quiet waters
and be restored

 

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 11, 2014
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Categories
Poetry

A New Take

RCL – April 29, 2012 – Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

Something a little different this week. The headlines are full such disturbing, unsettling things. In contemplating the state of things in the world and this week’s scripture readings, I decided that fewer words are better for this week.

God is my shepherd,
I shall not want.

                                      I will follow where the Spirit leads

                                      and not complain when I am out of comfort.

God makes me lie down in green pastures;
and leads me beside still waters;

                                       Even when destruction and violence surround me,

                                        I will seek God’s presence and find quiet rest.

God restores my soul.
and leads me in right paths
for the sake of God’s name.

                                        With God’s grace,

                                        I will turn away from ignorance, judgment, and vengeance

                                       and walk in the ways of advocacy, forgiveness, and                                                    reconciliation.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff — they comfort me.

                                     Economic distress, war (and threats of more), and hateful politics

                                    will not silence me.

                                    I worship a God of love who excludes no one.

                                    I can only strive for the same and trust God’s mercy.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

                                     When I am condemned, rejected, dismissed, or devalued

                                      I will recall the strength of the One whose image I bear

                                      and meet the eyes of my rejecters

                                      with integrity and honor.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of God my whole life long.

                                      If I focus on the way of loving-kindness,

                                      goodness and mercy will result

                                      and God will be well pleased.