Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Jesus, a Woman, a Well, and COVID-19

It’s been about a hundred years since the last pandemic – the Spanish Influenza of 1918. In the U.S., at least, we have grown accustomed to being relatively safe from widespread outbreaks of viruses. The AIDS epidemic is most recent in our memories, and as awful as that was it was not a pandemic. The coronavirus – COVID-19 – has been declared a pandemic which is causing panic everywhere. Panic isn’t helpful, though. Preparation is more useful and less exhausting.

The word “pandemic” means “all people.” While considered in the context of a potentially deadly virus, this is scary. However, as people of faith we ought to be used to thinking in terms of all people. All people will be involved as this virus spreads also means all people can be involved in preparations and preventative measures. We don’t have to continue to wait for the federal government’s inadequate and unhelpful response. As the Body of Christ, our concern is for all people. There are things we can do. We might be in a wilderness season, but we are not alone.

First, let us look at the story about Jesus meeting the woman at the well in Samaria. We know this story. The woman was an outcast even among outcasts. She had had five husbands and was living with another man who was not her husband. She was at the well in the bright heat of the noonday in order to avoid contact with others in the village. She wasn’t expecting anyone to be there, especially not a rabbi on his own. The interaction between Jesus and this unknown woman changed her. She drank deeply of the living water Jesus offered. As a result a whole village full of people became followers of Jesus on her say so.

What can this passage tell us in these early days of this pandemic? One is that Living Water will not be changed by a virus. God will still be present and moving through the world as God has always done. Another is that social distancing, as is encouraged by the CDC and other experts, does not mean we have to be alone or that God abandons us. We do not need to emotionally and spiritually distance ourselves from one another. The Samaritan woman that Jesus met that day was believed to be ritually unclean and so others kept away from her. Keeping the recommended three feet away from people gathered in public places ought not to make us fearful of others in a way that furthers any sense of isolation. We can make eye contact and talk with people. We can remain unafraid to help our neighbors when they have need.

While the Samaritan woman didn’t have access to social media to curb her feelings of being unwanted and unwelcomed, we do. We can continue to be Church through creative uses of our resources. We can have worship online. We can create small groups of care partners who can remain in contact through video chat or phone or even in person if everyone is well. Perhaps we can use this opportunity to learn new ways of embodying Christ. Fear does not have to be our constant companion. We can drink more deeply of the Living Water and remember that God’s love knows no boundaries. I’ll say it clearly because others are suggesting the opposite: this virus is not a punishment for sin nor God’s comment on poverty. A God who is Love would not and does not unleash viruses on God’s people. God will remain present and loving through all that is to come.

In the meantime, let’s try not to be like the Israelites in the desert with Moses. Let’s try to avoid crying out to God and asking why we are thirsty, or hungry, or lost. Let’s try to be intentional in our preparations so that no one feels forgotten, isolated, or alone in the days to come. Let’s be mindful of the vulnerable among us who might need extra care and consideration as fear and anxiety increase. Let’s stay informed with facts over fears. Perhaps we can even learn to sing to the Lord in new ways. The only way we are going to get through this is together. We need one another even if there has to be three feet between each of us.

So you can see that I practice what I preach, here is a copy of the brief letter I wrote to my congregation:

As of Wednesday, COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic. This means that it involves all people everywhere. While this increases anxiety, we are not entirely powerless. We will continue to be the Body of Christ and love our neighbors as ourselves.

 As of now, we plan to have Sunday School and worship as usual on Sunday. We will use food safety precautions for preparing the bread for communion and any food for kinship. Communion will be served using tongs so no hands touch the bread. We will not share the cup but will be invited to write down ways in which we will share Divine Love in the world and place the paper in a symbolic cup.

Please stay at home if you have any symptoms of illness. Also remember that the CDC recommends that people over 60 and those with compromised immune systems should stay at home. 

It is very likely that by March 22nd we will have services, meetings, Bible studies, and Sunday school entirely online. More information on this will be available early next week. We have created small groups to help people stay connected. 

Here is a two minute video on the basics: https://youtu.be/TjcoN9Aek24

These are two good links to check for updates on the coronavirus: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Also, if you are prone to worrying or anxiety, you may want to limit your exposure to broadcast news and social media. 

Remember that by taking care of ourselves, we are taking care of our neighbors. By limiting our exposure to group gatherings we are caring for the vulnerable among us. We remain the Body of Christ whether we are gathered or scattered. God’s love for us does not change. This pandemic will continue to change our daily lives, and God will continue to be present with us through all that is to come.

UPDATE: Council voted on Thursday evening, after monitoring news outlets, to suspend all in-person gatherings until further notice.

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday in Lent – March 15, 2020
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

Photo: CC0image by Mystic Art Design

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

How is it with Your Spirit?

On January 17, 1991 between 6:30 and 7:00pm I was in a friend’s dorm room writing a paper on their computer. I had the news on in the background and wasn’t paying too much attention, at least not until the clips of bombs being dropped on Bagdad. In those moments I felt as if everything I had ever depended on was gone. For the next several days I had a hard time focusing on school work or anything else and I was more emotionally vulnerable than usual. It was a very unsettling time for me and I didn’t quite understand why.

When I heard the news that the U.S. had bombed Iran a few days ago, I was brought right back to those days of 1991. The difference is that I now understand why news of war is so unsettling to me. I have a history of PTSD. In 1991 I was just beginning to learn how to manage symptoms and understand triggers. Twenty-nine years later I didn’t have to wonder what was happening. Bombing Iran, devastating fires in Australia, destructive earthquakes in Puerto Rico, and a fire here in Minneapolis that displaced more than 200 people mean that the world is chaotic, violent, and not to be trusted. On top of that, I can do very little to change the outcomes of these events. The threat of violence and the sense of powerlessness is triggering for those of us with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and a myriad of other mental health conditions.

How is it with your spirit? If you find yourself struggling to maintain health and balance in your life, know that you are not alone. Many of us are triggered by catastrophic events because the threat of destruction and feeling powerless are all too familiar. However, as adults in the world, we are not entirely powerless. No, we cannot prevent the leaders of this world from engaging in acts of war. Nor can we extinguish the wild fires that are consuming wildlife and threatening humans in Australia. Nor can we undo the ravages of earthquakes in Puerto Rico. Nor can we find stable, safe, affordable housing for all the victims of the Drake Hotel Fire in Minneapolis. We cannot undo what has been done. However, we do have choices to make.

First, we can decide what to do with our time and resources. What relief efforts can we support? What peace rallies or political protests can we participate in? What can we contribute that will bring a bit of hope into the world, even for just one person?

Epiphany is the perfect season to focus on what we do have and what we are able to do as individuals and as communities of faith. We can remind ourselves of Isaiah’s description of the Messiah as one who would “bring forth justice to the nations.” As Christians, we believe this describes Jesus. As the church, we are the body of Christ and must ask ourselves what we are doing in the world to bring justice to our neighbors near and far. We are not powerless. We can do something to bring peace into the world now. We can recognize that when bombs are dropped, they are dropped on human beings whom God loves. We can acknowledge that fires and earthquakes are not God’s judgment on humanity; they are more likely caused by climate change. We can stop blaming the survivors of tragedy and look for ways to empower them. God, though present in all situations, is not on the side of destruction. God is always on the side of life and resurrection. Moreover, God “shows no partiality” nor should we.

When this work of changing attitudes and positions for the purpose of making room for justice gets overwhelming in its own right, we remember it is God who “gives breath to the people.” When we turn to God for strength, for renewal, for guidance, we remember that we are not alone in our efforts. Perhaps more importantly, we are not engaging in the work of hope, healing, and justice for our own glory as much as for God’s glory. Our spirits can find rest and renewal if we remember that we play a small part in the sacred work of building systems of peace, equity, and justice.

If this isn’t enough to help you be able to breathe more deeply amidst the chaos, then remember the waters of your baptism. When John baptized Jesus, God proclaimed Jesus as God’s own beloved with whom God was well pleased. When anyone is baptized, they come up from the waters dripping with this same proclamation. We are all God’s beloved and God is well pleased with us even when we are paralyzed by fear, anxiety, PTSD, or anything else. Claiming our status as God’s Beloved, may help us all to breathe more deeply and make room for hope and healing in our lives and in the world around us.

It is not too late for the body of Christ to join with faithful people around the world to live in the way of peace. Breathe. Pray. Engage in small acts of kindness. It really is that simple. May the joy of Epiphany guide us all to live in new ways, honoring and glorifying the One who claims us as Beloved.

RCL – Year A – First Sunday after Epiphany – January 12, 2020
Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

Photo: CC0image by Pablo Elices

Categories
Psalms

Psalm 82 for Today

RCL – Year C – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 18, 2019
Isaiah 5:1-7 with Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
Jeremiah 23:23-29 with Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

Photo: CC0 image by Ralph

Categories
Bidding Prayer liturgy Prayer

Bidding Prayer for Vision

vision-2372177_1280.jpg

Come, let us pray for the Church throughout the world.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Patient God, your people have gathered throughout all generations to worship and sing your praises. Even today, your name is spoken around the world. May each community know the power of your presence and recommit to following you. While we are easily distracted and often lose track of your ways, you are always waiting to reclaim, restore, and re-form your church. Once again, reveal your vision to us, encouraging us to let go of all that prevents us from reflecting your love and glory. May we become the body of Christ needed here and now.
We seek you, O God.
Free us from all our fears.

Come, let us pray for the United Church of Christ gathered here and elsewhere.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Merciful God, may we remember the lessons you taught Job as the chaos of the world brings pain and suffering into our lives. Remind us that we do not always understand the mystery of your ways or recognize you at work in the world. While we strive to embody you love, keep us mindful that you are God of all, and we are not. Bless with wisdom and insight all those you have called into leadership, especially the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, our general minister and president and the Rev. Shari Prestemon, our Conference Minister. Open our eyes wide enough to recognize you,your claim on us, and your call of serving all.
We seek you, O God.
Free us from all our fears.

Come, let us pray for God’s people throughout the earth.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Eternal God, you have long-spoken your desires for us through the prophets of old and the prophets of now. Your love has remained steadfast for all your peoples from generation to generation no matter what we have done or what we have left undone. You ask us to love you, love our neighbors, love our selves, and love creation. We find it so hard to live in the abundance of your love. May we recognize your Spirit moving among us, guiding us, re-forming us in this moment.
We seek you, O God.
Free us from all our fears.

Come, let us pray for this country and all those who live within its borders.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Merciful God, show us again the difference between following you and following the leaders of this world. You envision unity and oneness where we see only difference and division. You would have us welcome caravans of immigrants and refugees. You would have us embrace our *Trans siblings. You would have us protect those who are vulnerable to hatred and ignorance. You would have us shelter and feed those who live in poverty. You would have us see you in those we have been taught to ignore, reject, or pass by. Jesus, son of David, have mercy on us! May the day quickly arrive when the abundance of this great nation is freely shared with all who have need and that your vision becomes our truth.
We seek you, O God.
Free us from all our fears.

Come, let us pray for all those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Liberating God, free us from the limits of our vision. You see wholeness where we see brokenness. You see blessings where we see uselessness. You see value where we see worthlessness. You offer healing and hope when we turn away. Show us your mercy that we might bring joy where there is weeping, hope where there is despair, and love where there is fear. Bring compassion and tenderness where we bring judgement and rejection. You are God of all people, not just those we choose to see. Show us how to love with your love and see with your vision of wholeness and joy.
We seek you, O God.
Free us from all our fears.

Come let us pray for those who are grieving.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Healing God, you are the One who leads us from weeping to joy, from despair to hope. You remember us when others would forget. You claim as your own beloved even as we lose ourselves in the pain of loss. You see us when we cannot find our way. Breathe new life into all those who are grieving. Heal the wounds that bind us to yesterday and open us to the abundant possibilities of life in you.
We seek you, O God.
Free us from all our fears.

Come, let us give thanks to God for all the blessings we have received.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Generous God, over and over again you have reclaimed, restored, and re-formed your people, and we are thankful. We are thankful that your love for us never wavers and you patiently wait for us to return to you every time we lose our way. May our gratitude lead us to the wisdom gleaned from past experience, the possibilities for growth in the present, and the joy the future holds for us. You are ever blessing all the earth. May we be courageous enough to seek out your ways with gratitude and praise, bringing your vision into life.
We seek you, O God.
Free us from all our fears.
Amen.

If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – October 28, 2018
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8 [19-22]
Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

Photo: CC0 image by Wokandapix

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Cleaning up God’s House

moon-2762111_1280.jpg

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?armor-1709127_1280.jpg

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
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

Top Photo: CC0 image by Patricia Alexandre

Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Alina Kuptsova

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Bread with Nutritional Value

breads-1417868_1280.jpg
One of the first times my beliefs entered into the “real” world happened when I was fourteen. It was a rainy afternoon and I was babysitting in a new place. While the little girl slept, someone knocked on the condo door. I opened it to two young men who identified themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had no idea what that meant, but they were kind and seemed interested in what I knew about Jesus. I told them I went to church and they asked me if I knew the prayer that Jesus taught. I nodded and they handed me a pamphlet. As I looked at the version of the Lord’s Prayer written there, they asked me if I was willing to forgive others so that I, too, could be forgiven. I said, “I think so,” and they said they would pray for me and left me with the pamphlet.

Before that moment, it never occurred to me to think about what the Lord’s Prayer really meant. I suddenly found myself fearful that I would not be forgiven because there were people I wasn’t able to forgive. You know, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive others.” I wasn’t sure if it meant forgive us at the same time we forgive others or in the same manner in which we forgive others. I continued to wrestle with the meaning of this prayer for years. More importantly, the encounter I had with those two young men taught me to ask of any scripture passage, “What does this mean now?” It’s this question that has served me well.

In the midst of all the “bread” passages this summer, this question is one that seeks an answer. It’s all well and good to say that Jesus is, indeed, the Bread of Life. But if we leave it there, with just the statement, we miss an enormous part of the lesson. Jesus wanted people to walk away with something more than full bellies when he kept telling them that he is the Bread of Life, the bread that means life for the world. These words sound good, but what do they really mean?

The truth is that these words mean nothing if we do not give them substance. If we, as church, do not embody the Bread of Life, then Jesus’ teaching is just words on a page, an ancient story that has lost its power. Jesus made a point of saying that once bread was given to the people of God in a particular time and place, but he, Jesus, was giving bread to all the world – all people everywhere – so that they may have life. Today that means no one is going to know about this amazing bread unless we share it, unless we become it.

What if we all asked ourselves if the way we are living or what we are doing in the moment brings life to the world? Does remaining silent while immigrant children remain separated from their parents bring life to the world? Does allowing the government to diminish the rights of LGBTQ+ people provide anyone with the Bread of Life? Does ignoring when police officers shoot People of Color satisfy anyone’s hunger? Does sitting quietly in our pews on a Sunday morning without responding to the cries for justice create a path to eternal life? If we are church members, then we are part of the body of Christ – we are the Bread of Life for the hungry of this world here and now.

Somehow, the question of what Jesus meant becomes more urgent when we think of ourselves as the body of Christ alive in the world today. We cannot bring life if we are only focused on our own needs, if we fail to attend to the hunger and thirst that is all around us. What do we do now?

First, we remember that we are not alone. We are bound to one another by the power of the Holy Spirit. The psalmist reminds us that with God there is steadfast love. Trusting God’s steadfast love for all of Creation, we can breathe deeply and keep reaching for the justice that seems always just beyond our grasp.

And while we are reaching forward empowered by steadfast love, we will remember that we are to be “imitators of God” by living in love with all our neighbors. Jesus showed us what this looked like. Jesus taught us how we can accomplish this. The Bread of Life feeds all who come to the table with hunger and thirst, without exception. How do we live by this example? How do we stop saying who is and who is not welcome at the table? How do we feed all who hunger and thirst with a bread that will bring the world to life?
The answer is simple: We love. We love one person at a time if need be. We love and nurture and claim all who advocate for the vulnerable among us. We cherish the vulnerable and the strong among us with the same fierceness with which God claims us.

I thank God for those two young men who knocked on the door that long-ago day. They opened my eyes to an important question to ask of any biblical text. What does this mean now? What does it mean for us now that Jesus is the Bread of Life. It means that we, by extension, are the Bread of Life. The world is hungry for food that will sustain and nurture. Let’s remove all the additives and preservatives and flavorless ingredients and get to offering bread with nutritional value. You know, bread that can sustain life. In other words, let’s figure out how to love as Jesus loves and let the rest go. Then, and only then, will we be the bread that brings life to the world.

RCL – Year B – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 12, 2018
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 with Psalm 130 or
1 Kings 19:4-8 with Psalm 34:1-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

Photo: CC0 image by FotoshopTofs

Categories
Poetry Prayer

A Poem for Trinity Sunday

woman-591576_1280

Holy One,

I contemplate the sacred dance
and wonder when I will learn the steps
steps of peace, healing, hope
not just for a few
for all who yearn for freedom

You created all that is
as the Spirit hovered
and the Word spoke
and Wisdom beaconed
and the whole of You delighted in Creation

now we are tangled up in the limits of our language
trying to make You three and one
when You are always so much more
a Sacred Mystery breathing Life
and stirring visions

our lips have been burned clean
our sins have been blotted out
yet we remain outside your realm
(with guns in hand and fear holding us still)
which is close enough to reach
and too far for us to embody
because we have yet to believe
that which has always been:

Your love for us never ends
we can refuse to see it or claim it
we can deny it and avoid it
yet, we cannot separate ourselves from Love

what if the day is coming when our world is shaken
by the power of your glory
shaken so hard that we fall from doubt and disbelief
fear and hatred
apathy and ambivalence
into the truth of your delight in us?

what if we hover with the Spirit over Creation’s waters
and see only Love reflecting
an invitation to learn the steps of the dance
right now?

what if we hear the Word that sears our lips
and speak only grace, hope, and joy
echoing the song you’ve been singing from Earth’s beginning
longing for us to listen?

what if we follow Wisdom’s way
and create justice and offer mercy
until the world finds its rhythm
without violence
without destruction
without division?

God-in-Community,
may you remain patient with humanity
remain steadfast
until we claim your Love
share your Love
embody your Love

continue to shower us with forgiveness
until we know the truth
of your claim on us
and have the courage
to see you
in ourselves
in each other
in the whole of Creation

teach us to seek justice for all people
to love with your patience and compassion
and rely on You when we encounter the limits
of our bodies
of our minds
of our human ways

during this Pentecost season
blow through our lives
and set our holy heads on fire
that we may be the Church-Made-New
born again
born from above
born anew

Amen.

For sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – Trinity Sunday – May 27, 2018
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

Photo: CC0 image by Jill Wellington

Categories
liturgy Prayer

A Prayer of Confession as Lent Begins

guajara-375940_1280.jpg

One:  Holy One, we gather at the edge of the wilderness, reluctant to go forward. We do not want to give up favorite foods, time on social media, set aside our phones, or make any other sacrifices that would lead us closer to you. We are comfortable in our routine and our ambivalence. Seeking you might mean we have to change.
All:  We confess our reluctance to change our lives, even for your sake.

Left:  God of all nations, we stumble when we encounter someone who is “other.” We forget that all people are created in your image and your covenant of love is for the whole of Creation. We want to believe that your love is for us, and those just like us. We want to stay where we are and not move to where your love in our hands could do the most good. Going where you call might mean we have to change.
All:  We confess our reluctance to change our lives, even for your sake.

Right: Peaceful and loving God, we sit back in silence while gunshots echo through our schools, our streets, our houses of worship. We tell ourselves that violence won’t touch our lives and that there is nothing we can do to prevent innocent deaths. We offer our thoughts and prayers to the victims of violence and wait for you to fix what we have broken. Responding with Christian love might mean we have to change.
All:  We confess our reluctance to change our lives, even for your sake.

Left: God of Creation and Covenant, we do not trust in your steadfast love. We do not trust that all your paths are steadfast love and faithfulness. We insist on having our own way. Satin does not have to chase us out into the wilderness, our own fear and foolishness will have us worshiping at the Tempter’s feet more often than we want to admit. Listening to you, believing we are Beloved, might mean we have to change.

All:  We confess our reluctance to change our lives, even for your sake.

Right: Merciful and patient God, we have failed to listen to you. We have let fear take hold of our lives more often than not. We have listened to those who would tell us that your love and your covenant with all Creation has limits. We have dismissed the needs of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. We have denied the power of white supremacy and racism. We have turned away those who are hungry or homeless. We have devalued LGBTQ+ people. We have mistreated people with disabilities. We have ignored people with mental health challenges. We have not served our neighbors nor loved them as we love ourselves. Opening our lives to you might mean we have to change.
All:  We confess our reluctance to change our lives, even for your sake.

One: God of the mountain tops and ocean depths, we need you as we make this journey to Jerusalem. We are powerless over the gods of our making. We are easily fooled into believing that human ways are better than holy ways. We do not want to give in to all that tempts us. We yearn to trust you and believe that your love for us has no limits of quantity, quality or duration. We as that you would meet us once again as we endeavor to confront the Tempter and try again to live into your great love for us. We know we need you. Give us the courage to seek you in wilderness places in our lives. Teach us to know your ways even as…
All:  We confess our reluctance to change our lives, even for your sake. Amen.

RCL – Year B – First Sunday in Lent – February 18, 2018
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

Photo: CC0 image by Hans Braxmeier

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Dreaming Desert Dreams

grain-2467866_1920.jpg

I’m sitting in my office just six miles from where Justine Damond was shot and killed by police late Saturday night. Turmoil’s slick fingers have grabbed hold of the city. Some see clearly the issues of fear-based policing and inadequate training for officers. Others feel conflicted because the officer is a Somali Muslim and the victim a white Australian. Few want to admit that the system is corrupt and built on issues of power and control aimed at keeping white supremacy alive and well. It’s a mess. The angry, pain-filled cries for justice are met with angry, fear-filled assertions of terrorism or still more angry endorsement of  fear-based policing. There’s no easy, simple solution. I am desperately searching the texts for a word of hope.

If I had my way, Jacob’s ladder would encompass the whole of creation and everyone would see angels ascending and descending, going about holy business. We would also hear God’s promise that our descendants would inhabit this world for a long time to come and God will continue to be present everywhere we go. While I wholeheartedly believe these are messages God would like for us to hear and live by, the whole of creation isn’t likely to have this dream. This doesn’t negate the validity of the message, though. We are to be caretakers, stewards of the land (all of it) and trust that God is present everywhere we go. God is present even in the turmoil, the grief, and the fear. There are no depths deep enough to blot out the light of God.

In the meantime, there’s a whole lot of groaning going on. Paul speaks of creation’s groaning while waiting for redemption. Those of us who claim Christ, ought not to be groaning quite so much. Are we not the redeemed? Are we not the ones who have entered into a life in the Spirit so that we might live in loving relationship with God, self, neighbors, and creation? Then why is it so hard for us to acknowledge that we are not living into God’s dream for creation? Why are we unable to acknowledge how the United States is full of racist systems built by our white supremacist ancestors and maintained by the silence of so many citizens who fear change? People are dying and Christians silently or vocally continue to support murderous systems. Surely this is not the way of Christ any more than it is the redemption for which Paul hoped.

While I’m on the subject of redemption, let’s be careful with our interpretations of Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the weeds. We are often so sure who the weeds are, that we forget that it is not necessarily our job to judge. It is true that actual weeds in a field remain weeds throughout their growth cycle; they don’t miraculously change into grain. However, we need to remember that when it comes to human beings, God can transform the most stubborn, invasive weeds into bountiful harvest. Our job is to tend ourselves, to ensure that we are not weeds. In addition we are to care for the whole field – nurture it, water it, love and tend all that grows in it. Weed plucking is not our job because in the end it will be God who determines which are the causes of sin and which are doing evil. Justice means tending the field, the whole field, weeds and all.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of cries for justice going unheard. I’m tired of the excuses that come when a police officer shoots an unarmed person. I’m tired of POC victims being criminalized while white victims are canonized. Jesus was not a white blue-eyed, blond-haired, U.S. citizen and would be horrified by the conflation of nationalism and religion that allows white supremacy to thrive in this country. The truth is that Jesus was brown-skinned, brown-eyed, dark-haired Palestinian Jew who confronted the power-hungry, oppression-supporting people of his day. Jesus sought to empower people through the love of God, self, and neighbor. Isn’t it time we actually follow as Jesus taught and love as Jesus loved?

Jacob had a beautiful dream out there in the desert. God has the same dream for us and racism, fear, hatred, and violence have no place in it. We are those whom God has redeemed and we are the ones who are supposed to be engaging in the holy business of justice for the whole of creation. Let’s stop worrying about weeds vs. grain and start worrying about why the crops are failing and what we can do to change this. Creation is indeed groaning under the weight of our sins. Isn’t it time we put an end to these needless deaths? Too much blood flows in our streets and too many heads turn away. Paul had hope for things unseen. May we join together to be that hope.

RCL – Year A – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 23, 2017
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: CC0 image by Michael Gaida

Categories
Sermon Starter

Perfection Really is Overrated

ice-sculptures-1934570_1920.jpg

If there is one thing I have always yearned for, it is musical talent. I have none. Now before all you music teachers out there rush to tell me that anyone can sing or anyone can learn to play an instrument, I assure that I have tried. I spent my childhood singing in church and school choirs. I took flute, piano, and guitar lessons. I sing along to the car radio when I’m alone in the car and I sing only so God can hear me when I’m in church. The honest truth is that I cannot sing well enough to make anything other than a joyful noise and I will never be able to play an instrument since I cannot keep a beat to save my life. It’s just the way it is no matter how much I wish otherwise.

While in seminary I lamented this lack of musical ability often enough. It seemed to me that the vast majority of seminarians had musical talent. And there I was with my specialty in youth ministry without capacity to sing or play guitar. Unheard of in those days. How could anyone be a youth pastor and not be able to lead songs around a campfire or at youth group devotions time? I was cured of this lamentation when a friend asked me what talent I would give up in order to be able to sing. I could think of nothing I would give up. I was being greedy. I wanted to be the perfect seminarian, the perfect youth pastor, and the perfect Christian, but I’d learn to let go of my musical yearnings and be content with the gifts I had.

It was the desire to be perfect that was my personal demon. If I’m honest, it still is on occasion. During my teen years, I was so enamored with the idea of perfection that I nearly traded my life for it. I was driven by the idea that if I were perfect, then I would not feel pain and I would be loved. While I was quite good at a lot of things, I didn’t stand out. I was a good student, but not the best. I had some artistic capacity, but I was not the best. I wrote poetry and stories, but they were the fancies of an adolescent. You see where I’m going. I was good at a lot of things, but I wasn’t perfect at any of them. And I really believed I needed to be perfect at something. Even God expected perfection, or so I thought.

My mixed up understanding of perfection was all about performance and appearance. I became obsessed with the number 100. It was the only acceptable score, the amount of calories I could eat in a day, the number of repetitions for any exercise, and it was my desired weight. I utterly failed to grasp that my body was a temple of the Holy Spirit and, therefore, holy unto itself. In my desperate attempts to alleviate my own pain, I did not hear the message of love in Jesus words, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

This does not mean that we have to match the perfection of God at all. It does not mean that we have to perfect our performance or appearance. It means that we have to seek the fullest, most complete love, love that is mature and unconditional. Jesus was calling us to live into God’s gift of agape. We are called to embody this unconditional, unlimited love for self, for neighbor, for creation, and for God. Of course, we cannot do this alone; this kind of love is only truly possible in community. This is how we are church – we love without condition and without limit.

The kind of perfection I sought in my adolescence was anything but this. It was not life-giving in any way. The perfection I thought I wanted and needed was life-destroying. It is the ultimate in human foolishness when we think we need to be perfect in order to earn God’s love or anyone else’s. God’s love is freely given. We can’t earn it or lose it, for that matter. We can be unable to see it or accept it and we can deny it. We can also refuse to live into the fullness of our abilities. All these things are sinful in one way or another as they hinder relationship to self, neighbor, creation, or Creator.

The whole Sermon on the Mount is a call to live into the limitless love God has for us, to use all that we have and all that we are to bring God’s realm into the now. It is a call to embody divine love to those who are most vulnerable. In these days of uncertainty and public displays of racism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, and so many other fear-informed bigotries, focusing on perfection is foolish; not one human being is perfect nor will any ever be. However, we can be agents of God’s grace. We can commit to loving to the fullness of our capacity, using all of our gifts to ensure that there is light and salt enough for all.

Teach me, O God, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding,that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.

RCL – Year A – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – February 19, 2017
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Psalm 119:33-40
I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

Photo: CC0 image by Michelle Maria