Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Out of the Pit

The story of Joseph being thrown into a pit by his brothers is a horrifying one. Reuben seems to be the only caring one in the bunch. He advocated for throwing Joseph in the pit and not murdering him so that later Reuben could return Joseph to their father. That isn’t what happened, though. After the brothers had thrown Joseph in the pit, some traders came by (Ishmaelites or Midianites) and Judah had the brilliant idea of selling Joseph and telling their father that Joseph had died. It’s an ugly story. One that eventually comes right but ugly nonetheless.

Some will respond to this story saying that it was God’s will for the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery because God needed Joseph in Egypt for when Pharaoh needed an advisor. However, attributing things to God’s will to justify the inexplicable is nonsense. It would be like saying the Holocaust was God’s will because it paved the way for reestablishing the state of Israel. Nonsense. In the case of Joseph, his brothers’ jealousy and hatred led them to do a horrible thing. Their hatred and jealousy of Joseph made them forget that Joseph was their brother. Their actions of throwing Joseph into the pit and then selling him into slavery had nothing to do with God. Later, when Joseph was useful to Pharaoh, that was God’s doing. God was in the redemption, not the sin. We need to stop blaming tragedy on the will of God and start looking at human behavior.

When we read this story of Joseph and his brothers, many of us are inclined to identify with Joseph or, maybe Reuben with his plan to rescue his baby brother. However, it seems to me that we as church, particularly white church, behave much more like the other brothers. We have allowed our fear to grow into hatred of too many of our siblings. The fear that feeds our systems of white supremacy and racism has us, at the very least, keeping our siblings in pits. Some of us are actively throwing our BIPOC siblings into pits and doing everything possible to keep them enslaved. Some of us are like Reuben and plan to save our siblings with little action to follow up on the plan. God may be trying to redeem our sins. However, there is so much resistance to liberating society from white supremacy, that God’s drive toward love and justice rarely comes through.

I’ve witnessed a trend on social media in recent weeks that underscores my point. When a person who is not white, cis gender, heterosexual, and, usually male, posts about an experience of “othering” by a white, cis gender, heterosexual, usually male, jumps in with a “well, I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation” for the hurtful behavior. This excuses the perpetrator of the harmful act and blames the victim. It also fortifies the systems that allow for othering. And another sibling is thrown into the pit and sold to protect the fragile feelings of those with the most privilege and power. This must stop. Isn’t it time we reached into the pit to give our siblings a hand up?

Hate, active or passive, is never God’s will. Acts of violence, public or private, are never God’s will. We are all children of God and, therefore, siblings. Every. Single. One of us. As Christians we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and to care for the vulnerable among us. It’s time to stop selling out or siblings and tossing them into pits dug with irrational fear and hatred fueled by broken social systems. What would it take for all of us to take responsibility for the ways we have contributed to sustaining systems of white supremacy? Let’s stop attributing acts of fearful, hateful, violence to the will of God.

God has been trying to break through to us with the voices and actions of prophets for generations. 2020 has been a trying year for all of us. COVID-19 is not from God to test our faith. However, pandemic has revealed truths about our society in ways that cannot and should not be denied. Pandemic acts as a magnifier of our vulnerabilities, as individuals, as the church, as a society. Rather than abdicating responsibility by saying that this is all God’s will, let us make 2020 the year we elevate our siblings who have lived in pits of despair that we have dug and been enslaved by white supremacy for generations. Let us elevate the dreamers and visionaries, the prophets and teachers, the unseen, the forgotten, the unwanted, the devalued and the dismissed. By so doing we participate in God’s redeeming acts of love and grace – for all our siblings and for ourselves. Let’s make 2020 a year of lasting redemptive change.

RCL – Year A – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 9, 2020
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 with Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b or
1 Kings 19:9-18 with Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

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Categories
Poetry

A Confessional Prayer

image of four wild horse running with a rainbow in the background

Holy One, you are like no other god—a lesson you have tried to teach us again and again. Though Abraham expected you to need the sacrifice of Isaac, you did not. You ask us to unbind ourselves from the pain-filled destructive ways of old. You ask us to rid ourselves of our ties to racism and white supremacy, to xenophobia, and to fears that prevent us from seeing you in ourselves and in our neighbors. Forgive us for the ways we cling to outdated understandings and traditions that no longer hold meaning. Forgive us and call us into your presence once more.

Ever-patient God, you hear our cries of “How long, O Lord, how long?” and you wait for us to change our ways. You are present with us in joy and in sorrow, in peace and in war. Yet, we mistake your presence for your blessing. Moreover, we want you to fix what we have broken. Instead, you provide us with all that we need for healing, for peace, for abundant life—not just for ourselves but for all. Have mercy on us when we fail to take responsibility for our sins of destruction, dehumanization, and divisions. Have mercy on us and awaken us to the possibilities of life in your Spirit.

God of life and love, do you ever grow tired of waiting for us to turn to you? How many times must you set us free from ourselves? How many times do you need to put your Love on full display before we see how precious we are, before we recognize you in all peoples? You have demonstrated the saving power of your Love again and again. You tell us that we are free from sin and ask us to serve righteousness. And still we persist in causing harm, often in your name. Call us once more to live as you taught—loving our neighbors as ourselves. Call us and awaken us to the power of Love.

Steadfast God, we are tangled up in so much that is not good for us. The knots of fear tighten when those who should lead speak only to divide. The ropes of self-righteousness wrap ever-tightly every time we fail to consider what our actions might mean for our neighbors. We say we want to be disentangled, even while reaching for new cords to bind ourselves to some other false prophet or punitive god of our own making. So many people around us are in need of water, of hope, of renewal, of release, of reparation, and we tend to think that your Living Water is meant only for us. Fill us with your grace that we may free ourselves of all that binds us to brokenness. Fill us and empower us to be agents of healing, hope, and Love.

Amen.

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

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 28, 2020
Genesis 22:1-14 with Psalm 13 or
Jeremiah 28:5-9 with Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

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Categories
liturgy Poetry Prayer

A Confessional Prayer

Ever-patient God, 
Jeremiah's ancient words stir within me
You let truth tumble from his lips
down through the ages
to land on my restless spirit
sour grapes are frequently easier to ingest
than the word You would inscribe on my heart
this troubling truth awakens desire in me
yet do I reach for society's sour fruit
or the sweetness of Your words and ways?

Maker of mercy and miracles,
the psalmist sings of Your help and Your hope
while I continue to reach for grapes
knowing my lips will pucker and I will remain hungry
my reluctance to accept the sweet abundance You offer
makes me wonder if I am wrestling with You
or with my own misguided need to be strong and fr
please hold me fast until I hear you calling my name
one more time, breaking the spell woven
by society's deceitful lies
masquerading as nourishing,desirable fruit
though they serve only to sour all
may I have the courage to endure Your grip
and the wisdom to receive Your word (again)


Fierce and gentle God,
how often I have turned from Your ways
let go of Your promises
as if Your word means nothing
as fragile and fleeting as ash in the wind
Your love is endures through all things, all times, all places
when pain is overwhelming, You abide
when I am lost and wandering, You remain
when I insist on eating those deceitful grapes
You wait with honey in hand
for that moment of repentant return
how is it that any of us are worthy of Your love
Your mercy
Your forgiveness
Your eternal patience?

Giver of life and love,
Forgive me for choosing simple, self-serving actions
over the complexity of Your ways
of loving neighbor and self
of serving You and creation
Forgive me when I pester You with trivial concerns
and the sourness of my prayers distances me
from the sweetness of Your love
Forgive me when I fail to turn to you with gratitude
with full recognition for all that is good in my life
Forgive me each time I don't see You
in a neighbor's need
Forgive me for thinking I am on my own in the wilderness
as if You aren't there
along with that immeasurable cloud of witnesses

Gracious God,
write Your word on my heart anew
even knowing that we will wrestle again (and again)
and my pestering prayers
won't always be filled with true need
my deepest desire is to live in Your abundance
build Your kingdom
travel Your holy ways
and embody Your love
always
I am yours

Amen.

RCL – Year C – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 13, 2019
Jeremiah 31:27-34 with Psalm 119:97-104 or
Genesis 32:22-31 with Psalm 121 and
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 and
Luke 18:1-8

Photo: CC0image by Elias Sch

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

No More Worthless Things

Someone left a message on one of my blog posts this week asking me to contact him to “discuss the role of women in church.” Not likely. You want to take the Bible literally when it’s convenient. You want to say that women can’t be clergy, that marriage is “between a man and a woman,” that God uses storms to punish sinners, that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing, and a few other things. However, you let the call for repentance from the prophets and from Jesus go unheeded. You ignore Jesus’ call to care for the vulnerable. You would rather spend time arguing about what the bible does or does not say than actually trying to embody Christ in service to your neighbor. No, I’m not going to discuss the role of women in church with you.

Of course, our more conservative siblings don’t have the corner of the market on biblical literalism. It’s the default setting here in the U.S. Yet, we are also only literal when it is convenient for us or when we want to reject the God described by biblical writers. It’s easier to engage in discussion about what is or isn’t in the Bible than it is to discern what God may be asking of us. It is easier to say we are “not that kind of a Christian” than it is to proclaim what kind of a Christian we are. It’s easier to cling to our traditions while complaining about the many who no longer seek a faith community than it is to transform church into something that meets the needs of people around us. What might it take for us to leave behind the tedious and petty things that divide us and focus on building the realm of God?

Jeremiah lamented the foolish ways of God’s people. He pointed out how far from God the people had strayed, not for the first time. It seems we human beings have a startling capacity to choose “worthless things” and become rather worthless ourselves. We have a tendency to blame God for the hard times, the times of scarcity and suffering, and credit ourselves with times of abundance, the times of success and happiness. How long will we worship the false gods of our own making rather than seek the God whose steadfast love outlasts our foolishness?

While we keep digging our cracked cisterns, God keeps whispering of Living Waters that quench thirst and nourish parched souls. Today’s gods have more names than Baal and they are not always made of gold, but they are just as false. These gods will lead us to pursue our own personal pleasures or our individual successes. They will keep us divided from our neighbors and enamored with our own sense of power. They will not lead us to wholeness. They will not lead to justice. They will not set anyone free. Yet, they are demanding and will consume us if we don’t leave them behind.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells the parable about the wedding banquet. He saw how people entered a banquet room and took their seats as honored guests. He cautioned them about assuming how important they were compared to other guests. Jesus also had something to say about who should be invited to such a feast. The guest list shouldn’t be confined to those for whom feasting was normative. No. Those we wouldn’t dream of inviting should be called in to sit at the table and eat their fill. (Where’s biblical literalism when it might do some good?)

Isn’t it time we stopped hiding behind our fears and started to live as the people of God in more than just name? If we call ourselves Christians how can we be silent when children are in cages? When the government seeks to take away women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights? When ICE is given the freedom to pursue everyone whose skin is not white or whose religion is not Christian? When the poor are blamed for being poor? When racism is held up as the national standard? When people in the U.S. (and elsewhere in the world) are dying because they do not have access to food, healthcare, or shelter?

If we are Christians, where is the proof that we are members of the Body of Christ? Where is the repentance? Where is the service? Where is the love of neighbor and self? What will it take for us to love one another as God loves us? If you and I don’t do something to change what is, then who will? We never know when angels might be hanging around.

God is still waiting for us to give up these worthless things that we so value and drink deeply of the Living Water. It’s not too late…

If you are looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year C – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – September 1, 2019
Jeremiah 2:4-13 with Psalm 81:1, 10-16 or
Sirach 10:12-18 with Psalm 112 and
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 and 
Luke 14:1, 7-14

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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

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Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Delightfully Gifted

“Fear not,” God said to Abram just before drowning him in Grace. “Fear not,” said Jesus to the disciples right before walloping them with a truth beyond their capacity to receive it. When these words appear in scripture, it’s often too late to prevent fear from grabbing hold, like when angels show up and fear steals the breath from the unsuspecting human. Yet, when God says these words to Abram or Jesus says them to the disciples, it isn’t because the hearers are so afraid they cannot breath. It’s just the opposite. It’s a warning to take a breath because some sacred gift is going to temporarily paralyze your lungs and you might not know why.

In Abram’s case, God was preparing him to receive a promise so enormous Abram couldn’t really comprehend it. Of course, Abram believed that God would give him children so that the promise would be fulfilled, but how could he begin to fathom the enormity of the promise. At any rate, it was that belief, that faith, that made Abram righteous. I wonder at what point he resumed breathing at a normal rate. I mean, seriously, how daunting would it be to know that God had plans to make your descendants more numerous than the stars?

Generations and generations later, Jesus does something similar to his disciples. “Fear not,” he says. I hope they took a deep breath in that moment because what comes next is startling to say the very least. Jesus tells them that they shouldn’t be afraid because God delighted in giving them the Kingdom*. Yes, it had already happened and it continues to happen. God has already bestowed the Kingdom on God’s people and continues to delight in doing so. The action is past, or so the use of the aorist active indicative tense (eudokesen) implies in the Greek. It also means there is significance in the action. I take this to mean that the Kingdom has been given, continues to be given, and God’s delight has no end. I don’t think the disciples heard this when Jesus said it any better than we hear it now. When it hits you, the truth is enough to stop your heart and your lungs from functioning, at least for a moment or two.

God created a covenant with Abram and wrapped it in grace. Abram trusted God and Abram was righteous. Then Jesus tells the disciples that they have been given the Kingdom and God delighted in the giving. This truth is blanketed with so many layers of grace that you and I are included. It has to be, because unlike Abram, the disciples missed the message. They didn’t hear it or trust it; they didn’t reach Abram’s level of righteousness. Sadly, neither do we.

This delightful gift of the Kingdom to the people of God is one that we human beings have tried to put so many limits and conditions on who gets in. How have we missed the fact that the Realm is God’s to give as God sees fit. And, at least according to Luke, it’s a done deal. It’s been given. Maybe the delighted giving was part of the covenant God made with Abram. Maybe it was just expanded in Jesus. When will we figure out that God delights in us, especially when we try to live in Love (which is what the Kingdom of God is all about).

Now the problem is, of course, that if all faithful people are supposed to have been gifted with the Kingdom, why isn’t the world in better shape? Bottom line? We don’t believe it. We don’t trust it. It’s like it was too easy. God just handed over the Kingdom without strings attached? Nope, that can’t be it, can it? Surely we have to be good and perfect and follow all the rules? Only a few people are good enough to inherit the Realm, right?

If only we were all more like Abram. God keeps trying to make of us a holy people and we resist. God keeps telling us to love one another with the same love God has for us, and we don’t trust that. That’s why Jesus went on to tell the disciples to be careful what they valued and to keep serving those in need around them. It’s too easy to mistake material things and creature comforts as a sign of God’s blessing. The real blessing is that we were made to love and be loved. The real blessing comes when our gratitude informs our daily living. When we serve those whose needs are greater than our own, we catch glimpses of a Realm created and sustained by Love.

Many people have asked why the world seems so filled with violence and hatred these days. The answer is multi-layered. However, a significant piece of the answer is that people do not know that the Kingdom of God has already been gifted to us. People have a hard time finding a place where they belong, where they feel valued and known, where they have a sense of purpose. When we are so stingy with God’s Love as we often are, other things flood in to fill the gaps. Hopelessness, fear, anger, hatred, desperation… to name a few. Communities, identities built around these things have no trouble with injustice and oppression.

What will it take for you and me to trust God’s Love, to trust that we have already been given the Realm and God delighted in the giving and will continue to do so in every generation? What will it take for us to live rightly with God, as Abram did? What will it take for us to love as we are loved by God? The sooner we figure this out, the more possibilities we have in truly building the Kingdom here on earth…

*Fun fact for those interested in such: “Kingdom” in Greek is Basileia which is feminine in form.

RCL – Year C – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 11, 2019
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 with Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 or
Genesis 15:1-6 with Psalm 33:12-22 and
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

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Categories
liturgy Poetry Prayer Uncategorized

Confession: Repentance and Witness

beach.jpg
 in the shadow of the cross
 in the echoes of the empty tomb
 in the busyness of everyday
 in the restlessness of the night
      to what does my life bear witness?

      some days I forget
            for part of the day (or the whole of it)
      some days I forget
            that my life is a living testimony to the One
      some days I forget
            that for some, mine is the face of Christ
            that my words are Christ’s words
            that my hands are Christ’s hands
            that my love is Christ’s love
            for some who know I call myself Christian
                  some days I get it all wrong

                  the lure of vain words and the power of lies
                  can settle in and whisper their own deceitful truth
                  and lead me away from all that I am created to be
                  letting me blend into a crowd of other lost souls
                  easily enticed with illusions and shallow promises

           then there are the moments when I remember
                 I remember that I am God’s beloved
                 I am part of the Body of Christ
                 I embody Love
                 I bring the Realm of God into the here and now
          when I remember
                 I am God’s own heart
          and I breathe deeply filling myself with the Breath of Life

          repentance opens my eyes to see where I have not
                followed Christ
                or loved my neighbor
                    or loved myself
                or been a careful steward of Creation
          again and again

          with each breath I take, forgiveness frees me
               to take a step in a new direction
               to reach out to one who seems other
               to find rest in my weariness
               to see how Creation comes alive again
          in this season of new life
 
in the shadow of the cross
     I lift my eyes to Hope
in the echoes of the empty tomb
     I hear the promise of life renewed
in the busyness of everyday
     I serve in gratitude
in the restlessness of the night
     I remember I am God’s beloved
          and my life is a witness to the glories of Resurection

Thanks be to God.
     Amen.

RCl – Year B – Third Sunday of Easter – April 15, 2018
Acts 3: 12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24: 36b-48

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Categories
Bidding Prayer liturgy Poetry

Liturgy in the Aftermath

A Call to Worship and Benediction for Indigenous Peoples Day (Written for use in Worship at Living Table United Church of Christ)
Call to Worshipdreamcatcher-1082228_640
One: The sun rises in the East, awakening the world with light.
All: May God’s wisdom and understanding guide us through this day.
One: Warm winds blow from the South, bringing warmth and growth.
All: May the Spirit of Life strengthen us to meet the challenges of this day.
One: Out of the West rains come and rivers flow.
All: May the Living Water quench our thirst and lead us to new life.
One: Cold winds of change and challenge come from the North.
All: May God grant us the courage to face into the storms and hold fast until peace returns.

Benediction
One: As we prepare to leave this sacred space, let us be mindful of the guiding winds. As each day beings
All: May we embody wisdom and understanding, awakening to the needs around us.
One: When we encounter suffering and oppression
All: May we hold fast to justice and love, widening our circle of welcome.
One: As we hear the anguished voices of those seeking liberation
All: May we respond with radical hospitality to all who thirst, offering Living Water.
One: As we make our way through this world
All: May we hold fast to all that is good, seeking the way of Peace.

A Prayer of Confession and Bidding Prayer in the Aftermath of Las Vegas (Written for the Minnesota Conference United Church of Christ)
sunset-188519_640Call to Confession:
One: In times of pain and anguish it is easy to turn to God in anger or frustration. We want to beg God to act, to change the circumstances in which we feel powerless. It is possible that God is waiting for us to make the changes required to bring about peace. In an attitude of repentance, let us open our weary hearts to God as we pray together:

Prayer of Confession
All:  Steadfast God, we turn to you, once again, in shock and horror. The impossible number of lives lost to bullets makes us want to blame someone, anyone, rather than look at the grief-stricken faces all around us. Long ago, the Psalmist told us to “seek peace and pursue it” and we have not yet begun to live in peace. Isaiah told us to turn our swords into plowshares and all we’ve done is build deadlier swords. Jesus told us to love one another just as he loves us and we can’t imagine a world where such Love exists.

Soften our hearts and “prosper the work of our hands” that we may have the courage to turn away from guns, violence, and war. Lead us away from our complacency, apathy, ambivalence, and shock into your “green pastures.” We yearn to be your body hear and now, yet we are distracted by fear, by politics, by our own sense of powerlessness. We claim that we are waiting for you to do something. Yet, you wait for us to repent and seek your holy ways of peace and love. Forgive us, O God, for we truly do not know the harm we have caused by our silence. Have mercy on us as we grieve. Move us through our excuses and into actions that awaken transformation in us, in our communities, in our towns, in our country, and yes, in the world. In Jesus’ name we ask that you hear our prayers. Amen.

Words of Assurance
One: Hear the Good News: It is never too late to seek the ways of Love and Grace. In Christ we are forgiven and made new. By God’s grace we can leave behind these days of violence and bring about God’s dream of peace for the whole of Creation.
All: By the power of the Holy Spirit we will live in Love and seek to be the peace the world needs. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Bidding Prayer in the Aftermathhands-1926414_640
Come, let us pray for peace for the people of God who live in the aftermath of gunshots and violence.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
God of peace and hope, be with us in this place. Once more bullets have broken through our sense of safety and our hopes for a better future. We have reached a point where we grow numb when lives are stolen at the hands of a shooter. Compassion runs from us as we desire to place blame and demand that somebody do something to fix what is broken. Stir your Spirit within us and around us that we may help bear the burden of violence in our society, that we may find the courage to raise our voices with those of the grieving and wounded demanding change. Change our hearts, O God, that we may be seekers of peace and agents of hope.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
All:  Let your face shine.

Come, let us pray for people of faith, people who yearn for God’s ways of justice and peace to be made manifest here on earth.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Patient and Steadfast God, hear the cries of your people. We unite our voices with those of our neighbors who call you by other names, hoping that you will lead us in paths of peace. May we unite in service to you as we seek to respond to yet another nightmare, yet another time when your beloved children die senseless, violent deaths. May we overcome our fears and distrust of one another to work together to bring about your reign of peace. Unsettle us enough for us to reach beyond our pews to create conversations and actions that lead to lasting change. We cry out to you to do something. May the unrest of the Spirit fill us until we do something.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
All:  Let your face shine.Let your face shine.

Come, let us pray for our country and those who lead it.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Merciful and loving God, we recognize the deep wounds in this country where too often lives are destroyed for the sake of politics. Change our priorities. Empower us to make the changes that are desperately needed to disrupt this culture of violence with your ways of mercy and love. Strengthen us to embody you before one more life is stolen. Open the eyes and hearts of our leaders and politicians that they may all recognize that human lives have more value than policies and the wants of the NRA and other lobbies. May we dare to live in peace with all our neighbors. May the fire of Spirit fill us with courage and passion enough to demand changes to gun laws so that lives may be saved.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
All:  Let your face shine.

Come, let us pray for all those suffering in the aftermath of violence.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Incarnate and present God, words fail us when we think of the ways in which violence floods our streets. Las Vegas is one more atrocious tragedy in a stream of far too many in this country and around the world. When will we learn a better way? When will we realize that more powerful weapons do not yield anything more than an increase in deaths? You spoke words of Love. You command us to love one another. Remove from us this sense of powerlessness that keeps us from seeking justice. Remove from us the fear that binds us to this culture of violence that holds us captive. Remove from us all the excuses we make so that we don’t have to figure out what we can do to bring about real change. May the Spirit of Truth transform our hearts to keep us moving in the way of peace rather than falling back into complacency.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
All:  Let your face shine.

Come, let us pray for those who are grieving in Las Vegas and around the world.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
Living and healing God, hear the pain and suffering of your people. How many lives must guns steal from us before we demand systemic change? Tears of sorrow flow like rivers year after year. We ask you to comfort those who grieve even while you work in us to turn us in the way of peace. We share this burden of sinful violence and desire to be free from it. Your forgiveness and mercy call to us. Awaken true repentance in each of us that we may turn to your holy ways, ways that bring healing to the hurting and hope to the grieving. May the Spirit take hold of us and not let us go until we bring Love into the world.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
All

Come, let us give thanks to God for the gifts of mercy, grace, forgiveness, healing, and love.
(people may silently or quietly voice their prayers)
God of power and promise, you hold us fast and do not let us go. Your steadfast love and patience with us, your hope for us, is an amazing gift. When we turn to violence, you offer peace. When we turn to despair, you offer hope. When we feel powerless, you offer transformation. When we feel lost, you offer love. Hear our gratitude for these gifts and so many more that reveal to us your dream for all your people. May gratitude move us to new places and inspire us to work for peace and justice today and in all days to come. In humility we ask that that words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer. In the name of Jesus the Christ, the One whom you sent to teach the way of Love, we pray…
Restore us, O God of hosts;
All:  Let your face shine.
Amen.

See also Something a Little Different for a poem on Hope. Later published in Barefoot Theology: A Dictionary for Pilgrims, Priests and Poets.

RCL – Year A – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 8, 2017
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 with
Psalm 19 or
Isaiah 5:1-7 with Psalm 80:7-15
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

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Center Photo: CC0 image by soonkeuk kwon

Bottom Photo: CC0 image by Myriam

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter Uncategorized

Time to Wake Up

2017-08-14 17.23.25.jpgI was raised by a racist who would likely have sided with the Nazis, White Supremacists, and White Nationalists in recent events. She would have done so without thinking about the potential consequences to me, her bisexual daughter. She would have done so without thinking about her Jewish friends or knowledge of the fact that there is Jewish blood in the veins of her children (Through a DNA study, I discovered that at least one of my ancestors was an Ashkenazi Jew). She would have focused on her desire for a “white America” and the illusion that her life would have been better if People of Color were not in it. From her hatred and bigotry, I learned silence.

For many years I would say that my family was not in this country during the time of slavery and, therefore, it was okay for me to remain silent in the face of racism in all its nasty forms. Privately, I was horrified by the racial divisions in all aspects of life – education, healthcare, housing, employment, law, mental healthcare, prison… Yet, I still said nothing. I wouldn’t even stand up to my mother when she spouted off against the nearest person who did not appear to be white. I truly did not believe that it was my responsibility to speak up and change the way things were, even a little. My attitude started to change when I discovered a branch of my family had been in this country since 1635. But my real awakening came when I saw the racism Obama faced. What kept me awake, though, was the death of Travon Martin followed by too many other unarmed Black men (and women and other People of Color).

My story is not unique. We have been selling our siblings into slavery for a very long time. Some of Joseph’s brothers were active in the sale and the others sat silently by and let it happen. None of them confessed to Jacob and tried to get Joseph back. They went on with their lives as though nothing happened until they could not. Famine disrupted their illusion of wellness.

For decades, we moderate to progressive white Christians (and others) have been telling ourselves that the Civil Rights Movement was “successful.” We remained silent when confronted with obvious ways in which racial equity was nothing more than collective delusion of a society working very hard to maintain the veneer of harmony. Social Media has shattered that false image with videos of police brutality, instant news of hate-motivated vandalism, personal stories that haven’t been sterilized by mainstream media. With the rise of Black Lives Matter calling our attention to incidents of racist violence around the country, many of us have woken up to the famine that is in our land. People are dying and we’ve remained silent.

Then there was Charlottesville, VA. For many, these events were the first chimes of the wake-up alarm. They had been hitting snooze so long that the alarm didn’t have much meaning until they heard the Nazi chants and saw the Swastikas in the hands of Polo-wearing young men. The Klan rallied but the white sheets were gone. No one was hiding their identity. They were proud of their hatred, bold in their identity. Let’s not continue to call them “alt-right.” Let’s call them what they are. They are white supremacists no matter which name they go by. If you believe in a “white America” then you are a white supremesist. It’s that simple. And if you remain silent, then you are passively identifying yourself as a white supremacist. Are you awake now?

It is time for Joseph’s siblings to go and beg forgiveness – forgiveness for our actions and our inactions, our compliance with the racist systems and our failure to prevent the election of racists to political offices. It’s time we beg forgiveness for our passive acceptance of lies we’ve been told by people in power whose only goal is to maintain power. There is a famine in our country as real and dangerous as if we were literally at risk of starvation. Don’t go back to sleep.

Now as we approach Joseph, begging for forgiveness and seeking to end the famine, let’s not participate in Joseph’s mistake. You see, Joseph believed he was sold into slavery to fulfill God’s will. While I understand this interpretation of events and see that it is consistent with the time in which Joseph lived, I cannot abide by it. The God I know would not desire for anyone to be sold into slavery, especially not Israel’s beloved son. God would not orchestrate racism either. However, when human beings are selfish and ignorant enough to do such things, God can bring goodness in the wake of pain and tragedy. God has been trying to bring goodness in the wake of what the United States has been doing to People of Color, LGBTQ+ people, women, people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses and others who are perceived to be “less-than” for centuries. Most of us have slept through God’s call to change our ways and resisted the potential for transformation.

If the events of Charlottesville have woken you up, then please step up and speak out. Stop blaming others for racism woven through every aspect of life in the United States and, instead, repent, step into the breach, and help dismantle the hate. Maybe, someday, we will be forgiven. Right now, though, not one more beloved child of God should die. No more blood should flow in our streets. People of Color are no more at fault for racism in this country than Joseph was responsible for his brothers selling him into slavery. Isn’t it time we listened to the God who calls us to love one another? Isn’t it time we become the Body of Christ we were created to be? What will you do to end the hate and prevent the continued rise of a young, renewed Nazi power?

No one will condemn you for being late, but if you don’t show up to the work that needs to be done you might have reason to be anxious when you step into Joseph’s presence. Now would be a good time to stop hitting the snooze button. Wake up. Get out of bed. God is waiting.

RCL – Year A – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 20, 2017
Genesis 45:1-15 with Psalm 133 or
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 with Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28

Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe</a

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Musings Sermon Starter

A God Still Unknown

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The summer before I entered ninth grade I went to a youth group meeting at a friend’s church. During that meeting, they all seemed to be very concerned about whether or not I knew Jesus. I thought I did. I thought I was a Christian, at least I did until they started talking about their experiences. The leaders and some of the older members shared their conversion stories and wanted to know if I believed that Jesus is “Lord and Savior” and if I had a “personal relationship” with him. This was all new to me. I didn’t know what to think or say. No one at the church I attended seemed concerned with my salvation. I was baffled by these strangers who were very worried about my soul. They told me I was not a Christian and that they would pray for my salvation.

Even though I never went back to that youth group, I thought about all the things they talked about and wondered about their concerns for years. I didn’t have any profound conversion experience. My journey was more of a slow awakening to the mysteries of the Spirit at work in my life and in the world. I wasn’t sure if Jesus was my Lord and Savior but I liked the idea. And I had no concept of what a personal relationship with Jesus would look like. I mean, I prayed often enough, but it’s not like Jesus and I sat down and had a conversation. That youth group meeting left me with a lot of questions. It took me years to sort out the answers.

While my theology and understanding of who God is turned out to be very different from the church whose youth group I attended long ago, I am grateful for the questions raised that day. I started to pay more attention to the stories of Jesus, what he did and who he was. I listened more carefully to what it was Christians were supposed to do and be in the world. I didn’t want to be just religious, just going to church and youth group, I wanted more. I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to search for the “more” if I hadn’t attended that youth group meeting.

I wonder how long the Athenians would have gone on being religious without knowing God if Paul hadn’t spoken in the Areopagus that day. I wonder how long any of us will go on not knowing this God we worship. How long will we continue to be like those ancient citizens of Athens, religious in so many ways, yet somehow not knowing the God who gives us life, breath, and being?

Every time I read this passage, something in me yawns, stretches, and awakens. It’s a yearning for something more than religion, ritual and practice, something more than what I already know and believe. It’s the same thing that awoke in me during that youth group meeting the summer I was 14. It’s the same thing that pushes me to be more than I am now, to reach for all that is holy and draw it closer. I imagine the Athenians who listened to Paul that day felt something stir within them, also. What if we all let this awakening yearning for God guide us in new ways that reveal something about this God whom we think we know? What if we followed this restless desire into whole new ways of living, moving, and having our being?

Paul was undoubtedly a brilliant preacher. The echoes of his words have the power awaken sleeping souls generations later. Who does not want to know this God who claims us as offspring and desires only that we love in return? With all the chaos, violence, and hatred in the world, the truth of Paul’s words is just sharp and convicting as they were in Athens. Whenever we remain silent in the face of all the isms and phobias that drive hatred and violence in our society, we show how empty our religious ways are. We seem to think that God is something that is shaped by the “art and imagination of mortals” more often than we realize that God is so much more than we can possibly imagine.

I’m still not one to talk about my faith in terms a personal relationship with Christ or to claim that Jesus is my Lord and Savior. However, I do feel the Spirit moving, calling us and urging us to live into the abundance God offers. I also know that if there is hope for the world, repentance is needed. Once we repent of all the ways we’ve made God in our image and participated in the ugliness of the world, then, together, we reach for the Truth and embody the Love and Justice that will save and transform the world. After all, are we not the Body of Christ? If we are not Christ with and for one another, who will be? Our religious ways should in no way promote fear, ignorance, and hatred. If our religious practices and beliefs are divinely inspired, then they will bring life and love into the world. Otherwise, it’s time to leave them behind and embrace that in which “we live and move and have our being.”

RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Easter – May 21, 2017
Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:8-20
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

Photo: CC0 image by skeeze