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Musings Sermon Starter

One of the Crowd

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“You feed them,” said Jesus to his disciples. Right. Because that’s so easy. Crowds of tired, hungry people and no one packed much for the journey. The disciples heard their own stomachs rumbling. Feed them how? “Like this,” was Jesus’ response. “Gather what’s available, bless what you have, break it down, and give it to those gathered. You will have more than what you will need.” This is what Jesus said. This is what Jesus did. This is what we’re supposed to do. Yet, the questions of whom do we feed, what do we gather, what do we break, and what do we share is so much more complicated than loaves and fish. Or is it?

I didn’t sleep well last night. My dreams were echoes of a day spent at the scene of an explosion that left several people injured and two people dead. As I stood with the crowd of those waiting to hear news of those missing, or connect with friends or family caught in the building when it collapsed, or to locate their children who’d been at the school when the gas leak exploded, there were tears and there were questions. How could God let this happen?  Why didn’t God stop this? Why did God let people die here? Each time I managed to fall asleep, someone would be shouting at me to do something to make it better as the smell of smoke hung heavy, like fog trapping everyone in helplessness. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t find words to speak into the despair and anger. It was a long night.

Long ago, Jacob had a similar night. He wasn’t coming from the scene of a disaster so much as he was coming from the disastrous decisions he’d made in his own life. He was caught between the deceiving self-serving ways of his past and the future God was calling him into. If he was going to continue in God’s way, he had to face his brother. He was unable to sleep. He wrestled with God, perhaps because God knew he was capable of so much more than selfishness. Jacob must have had some idea because he would not let go until he was blessed. He held firmly, refusing to let who he had been determine who he would be.

Of course, Jacob paid a price. His hip was out of joint. He would limp from that day onward. Maybe he would slow down enough to pay attention to what God was asking of him. Maybe to remind all of us that becoming who God created us to be can be a painful, life-changing journey that might leave us out of step with the rest of the world.

About 30 years ago I set out on a path that has required me to learn what Jesus meant when he told his disciples to feed the crowds. The exhaustion of gathering resources has sometimes been overwhelming. The many blessings I have spoken over bread, babies, boats, bikes, and people, so many people, have touched me in unexpected ways. It’s the breaking that’s been hard. Breaking my own foolish notions of what God wants me to do. Breaking my own sense of inadequacy. Breaking through to those so vulnerable and so terrified. Breaking my heart, God’s heart, and holding the broken pieces of countless hearts. Then, day after day, getting up and giving fragile hope to those in despair when, sometimes, it seemed giving up would be easier.

“You feed them,” Jesus said to his disciples when confronted with a hungry crowd. Jesus says the same to us now. And we’re still asking how such a thing is possible. How do we gather what we need? What blessings do we offer? How do we break what needs to be broken? How do we give in ways that meet the needs? Endless questions. Yet, somewhere between the story of Jacob wrestling through the night and Jesus feeding the gathered crowd, the answers wait.

Maybe the way to feed the hungry is to keep wresting with the questions through the nights, holding so tightly to God that blessing is given and we move differently into the day. Maybe the gathering, blessing, breaking, and giving becomes easier when we face the disasters of our past and embrace who God created us to be. Maybe it’s just a question of holding on until we hear the blessing meant only for our ears and feel the pain of an old identity falling away.

However it works out, I’m willing to wrestle with God through the disasters in my life and in the world. I’m willing to continue the journey no matter what is out of joint. I’ll do what I can and endure the exhaustion, the joys, the pain, and the endless needs because Jesus asks all of us to feed the hungry. And you know what? Some days I’m as hungry as the crowd and as selfish as Jacob. Yet, God still calls my name and whispers of a day when all will eat and be satisfied.

RCL – Year A – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 6, 20174
Genesis 32:22-31 with Psalm 17:1-7, 15 or
Isaiah 55:1-5 with Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Photo: CC0 image by Public Domain Pictures

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Musings Sermon Starter

The Allure of a Dragon’s Life

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I’m sure Jesus didn’t mean for his words to be linked with dragons, but I can’t help myself. Every time I read scripture passages about treasure, I picture a dragon. You know, the big, scary, fire-breathing kind that hoards gold and trinkets and protects its treasure with all it’s might. Of course, this is exactly what Jesus is warning us against. He really wanted us to know that we are the treasure and not our stuff. Apparently, it was just as difficult to believe in first century Palestine as it is today in the United States (and elsewhere).

When my mother decided to move from Massachusetts to Arizona in her retirement, she had to sell the house I grew up in. Each time I would visit her during the months she was preparing the house, she would always ask, “Is there anything here you want?” There were cabinets of her mother’s and her grandmother’s china and crystal and silver. Next to those were boxes of things my mother had accumulated. She was disappointed that I didn’t want the Syracuse or the Haviland china. I could not think how any of it could be useful.

It turns out that she packed it all up and moved it to Arizona with her. When I went to visit her a few months before she died, she asked me again what I wanted. There really wasn’t anything. I took a couple of photo albums and a couple of the quilts she had made. She again marveled that I didn’t want the “valuable” things.

Truthfully, I didn’t see those things as valuable. I’m not someone who collects a lot of things. I have more than I need and I’m content enough. Sure, I drool over sports cars and envy people who have pretty shoes and sparkly jewelry. But I don’t need these things and they would serve no practical purpose. It’s not like these things could tell their stories or the stories of people who owned them. It’s not like they could give me the relationship with my mother I wanted and needed.

I read through the scriptures for this week and find myself questioning my faith and just where my heart might be. Hebrews tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And Luke adds cautions about what we treasure and a reminder that God comes at an “unexpected hour.” These days, my faith is tested every time I turn on the news or browse through Facebook. I keep hoping one of the people running for office will say something about decreasing poverty and hunger, ensuring equal access to education and healthcare, dismantling the racist judicial systems, strengthening and upholding hate-crime laws, funding mental health care, and so many other things. This is not what I hear and its distressing. Power is the seeming treasure here and it doesn’t look like God is anywhere near. I know politics is not where God is often found, but why not? Shouldn’t government be about taking care of the people who inhabit the country? You know, treating people with dignity and respect?

Right. That would be the church. We have misplaced our treasures, too. I have often joked about what it would be like if God took us up on our invitation of, “Come Holy Spirit, come” that is frequently a part of our liturgy. None of us would be ready. Our lamps aren’t lit. We aren’t watching very closely. We’d be as confused and conflicted and disbelieving as any of Jesus’ disciples when he revealed his divinity and asked them to embrace their own. Most of us speak words of faith but seldom act in a way that challenges the status quo. We are comfortable where we are.

We forget that balanced budgets, perfect buildings, high-tech worship, and vision plans are not what church is. That’s all the stuff that distracts us and makes us feel better, not unlike my mother’s china and crystal. None of these things can do the work of the church which is saving lives and including people in a loving community of faith  where they are seen, heard, and valued in the name of Christ. After all, we are human beings, not dragons; trinkets and treasures don’t give our lives meaning or purpose.

It is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom of God, the Realm of Heaven. We are foolish enough to mistake our stuff for God’s pleasure. It’s time to light our lamps and be as Christ to one another. How do we know that this is not the hour for us all to show up and re-member Christ?victorian-2745_640

RCL – Year C – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 7, 2016
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

Top Photo: CC0 image by Josch13
Bottom Photo: image by 15299PublicDomainPictures

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Musings Sermon Starter

I Am The Jar Broken Open

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On my grandmother’s dressing table was a beautiful bottle of perfume. It was a crystal bottle with an old-fashioned atomizer filled with lavender-colored perfume. How could a little girl resist the temptation to touch it, to squeeze that little rubber ball until a mist of the perfume sprayed out? But I wasn’t supposed to touch it. It was more temptation than I could resist at the age of four or five. Since my little hands could barely reach it, I knocked over something else on the table and my grandmother came into the room. She was angry and told me that such pretty things were not for the likes of me and that I must never touch her things again. After all, what if I had broken her beautiful, expensive bottle?

How many times must a story play out before we learn from it? The Gospel story of the woman who anointed Jesus could make headlines today. “Jesus Followers Blame Prostitute for Wasting Money” or “Prostitute Rebuked for Disrupting a Meeting of the Privileged with Low-class Foolishness.” Are these headlines so different from what is happening with the Brock Turner case? I don’t think so. We focus on the jar to the extent that we fail to see the truth.

Brock Turner is a convicted rapist. He was convicted by a jury. Somehow, though, the judge and Brock’s father fail to see rape as a crime. They see it as an indiscretion, or some kind of youthful frolic with no real harm done. In this case the jar they focused on is white privilege and pristine education. They failed to see a young woman, a human being, broken open right in front of them. Rape permanently changes a person. It isn’t that healing from this trauma is impossible because healing is possible. However, nothing is ever the same after one has been violated in such an intimate way. A rape victim loses her sense of power and control over her self, not just her body. It takes years to return to a place of trust if it happens at all.

I was a junior in college when I was raped. There was no alcohol involved. I went to spend spring break with a young man I’d thought of as a friend. He thought I was visiting for a different purpose. It was 10 years before I told anyone what really happened on that break. For 10 years I thought it was my fault that I was raped more than once during that spring break. I told myself that I must have wanted to have sex with him because I didn’t fight very hard and I didn’t make enough noise for his housemates to hear. I was filled with shame. When I finally told my therapist about it I said, “He didn’t really hurt me. He just pinned my arms back and took what he wanted.” Her response to me was, “Do you hear yourself? Even now you think it is your fault.”

In that moment what had been broken in me, poured out. I have seldom cried tears from the depth of my being. That young man took more from me than he ever knew and more than I would know for years to come. Date rape was a joke in the 80’s when this happened to me. No one really believed that a woman could truly be raped by someone she knew. Rape of any kind was always, somehow, the woman’s fault. I believed this myth for a long time. I worked so hard on blocking out the incident that I don’t remember the young man’s last name. As I’ve learned to forgive myself and put the blame on him, I’ve forgiven him. But I’ve prayed for all the other women he would encounter, especially the vulnerable ones and I’ve prayed that he learned something different. I met his family and I know he was not raised to take what he wanted without permission. Yet, that’s what he did. And to this day, I think he would say that I was a willing participant. Why else had I gone to visit him?

Now with this case all over the news, I remember my own experience like it was yesterday. How much has not changed in 30 years! Here we have a rape victim who is being blamed and a rapist who is getting away with it and planning a future as a motivational speaker. The misdirect on the alcohol consumption is startling and disturbing. This is the focus on the jar if ever there was one! Blame the victim for her poor choices and excuse the boy who was just doing what boys do.

Please, let’s stop. We know Brock Turner’s name. His will be remembered. But will his victim be remembered for her ability to speak up for herself? No. Her courage will be overshadowed by the boy’s wealthy father and the abusive judge who condones rape as normative when it’s wealthy white boys doing it.

Centuries ago, a woman poured expensive oil on Jesus’ feet and the disciples saw only waste. Today, a woman poured courage and strength all over a courtroom floor and the judge saw only waste. When will we stop focusing on the jar and start focusing on human beings broken open in our midst while waiting to be seen, heard, and valued?

I wish my grandmother had taken that little bottle that I was so enamored with and shared it’s content with me, telling me that I was worthy of its beauty and its extravagance. Maybe then I wouldn’t have been so willing to blame myself for what a young man took from me. Maybe I would have spoken up sooner or trusted myself enough to leave before spring break was over. I also wish we who embody Christ would look beyond the jar to see the beauty and extravagance of the young, beautiful women who are broken open far too often.

RCL – Year C – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 12, 2016
1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a with Psalm 5:1-8 or
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15 with Psalm 32
Galatians 2:15-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

For a poetic interpretation of this passage, go here.

Photo: CC0 image by Debora

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Musings Sermon Starter

Choices, Choices, Always Choices

fan-palm-418141When Jesus first walked into my life, I didn’t notice. There was no parade, no palms, no shouts of hosanna. I just started going to Sunday school. A couple of years later, I felt my first call to ministry but I didn’t recognize that for what it was either. I had read a book of missionary stories and was enthralled to the point of telling my mother that I wanted to be a missionary. I was nine and she was not thrilled. A few years later, I started to think about being a minister when I grew up and I still didn’t really notice Jesus’ presence.

Then came the dark years. Years of depression and struggle. Years filled with sadness, self-loathing, and self-destruction. I was certain that God was not present in my life and doubted that God ever had been. The uncertainty remained through college and, yes, into seminary. There were times when I felt close to God and times when I felt an almost insurmountable distance. Yet, I kept choosing to follow Jesus. I had no family support and not a lot of friends who understood my call to ministry. Even though I recognized my call and the choice to pursue it, there still wasn’t much by way of celebration on my part.

Truth be told, I made a lot of wrong choices along the way. There were times when I was content to blend into the crowd that celebrated Rome, promised security, and drew me in with its image of normalcy. These choices to “blend in” or do what was expected never led to good things. Mostly, they stirred up feelings of inadequacy and sometimes triggered bouts of depression. I experienced these as times of God’s absence. In hindsight, I see these times as a result of my choosing the far more popular parade. I desperately wanted to be “normal” more than I wanted to be myself.

In more recent years, I’ve tried to pay more attention to those times of decision making. cathedral-square-592756Which parade do I want to follow? Do I want to make the easy, expected choice and follow Pilot as he rides in on his big white horse, with his show of power, promises of protection, and the continuation of normative oppressive systems that seem to cost nothing? Or do I want to make the harder, less acceptable choice of following Jesus as he rides in on his donkey, toes dragging in the sand, with his humility, safety, and freedom that come with obvious risks?

This year on Palm Sunday I feel the pressure of this kind of choice. It bears down from the political arena for sure. Then there are the everyday decisions of how to pastor this particular congregation, how to be fully present in my relationships, how to live into the person God created me to be. I have a long history of only seeing these choices when I look back. When that happens, I miss the opportunity to celebrate Jesus, to sing praises, and welcome him with extravagance as he leads me somewhere I would not go on my own. Sometimes it means that I make the decidedly wrong choice and it takes a while to recognize that Jesus is down another road waiting for me to notice.

What choices do you face this season? Where are you drawn to blend into the crowd when Jesus would rather you make the riskier decision to follow a path that would lead you to healing or embracing your authentic self more fully? I want to be more aware of these choices and my tendency to be drawn into the more popular crowd. Maybe you do, too. Palm Sunday isn’t just a once a year choice. Raise the palm branches, shout, “Hosanna!” and embrace the fullness of life Jesus invites us into.

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This is God’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day that God has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

RCL – Year C – Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Luke 19:28-40

Top Photo CC0 image by skeeze
Middle Photo CC0 image by Hans Braxmeier
Bottom Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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Musings Sermon Starter

Saving Lives

banner-949932On February 14, 1983 I woke up in the local emergency room and I was not happy. Apparently, I had woken up in my room at home and made it downstairs before passing out. My mother then called 911 because she could not wake me up. Sometime later, I woke up in the hospital. By then, it was no secret what I had done. The day before I had purposely overdosed because I did not want to live anymore.

I was fifteen and completely overwhelmed. A few months before I had lost a few pounds and received a lot of praise. By February I had a full-blown eating disorder that would soon be apparent to everyone. But on the day I overdosed, my slowed digestion might have prevented more serious consequences to what I had done. Even so, my memories of that day and the week that followed have never been more than hazy.

People came to visit. Some I remember and some I don’t. I have a few distinct memories. One is of the senior pastor of my childhood church in the emergency room holding a basin while my stomach forcefully ejected its contents. He was kind and caring. It was either that day or a later time when he said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know how much pain you were in. I would have tried to help.” He wasn’t alone; no one really knew what I was experiencing.

Another memory I have is less clear only because I know there are pieces missing.  It is of the associate pastor showing up in the emergency room and not leaving. Of course, he had to have left and returned several times during the week that followed. At some point I promised that I would not try to kill myself again. Over the weeks, months, and years  I learned to trust him enough to share some of the most painful parts of my life because he kept coming back. He continuously showed up and did not leave me alone in the utter darkness I felt.

These pastors weren’t the only ones who showed up. The congregation also demonstrated care and concern and support. By June of that year I was hospitalized for eating disorder treatment. During those two months, the congregation sent cards and gifts and welcomed me with genuine care on my weekend visits home. They truly embodied what it means to be church. I was one of the fragile, most vulnerable members and they cared for me without hesitation. They gave me a place of belonging, a place where I was loved and valued. Because of this 9 years later this same congregation would lay their hands on me, ordaining me to ministry in the United Church of Christ.

The journey to my ordination day was not an easy one, though. In spite of the lessons of love I received from my childhood church, it took a long time for me to believe that God loved even me. I could tell myself that if they really knew me, they would not love me. That faulty reasoning allowed me to believe that God could not love me because God really knew me. It was with another pastor in another church while I was a seminary student that I finally realized God’s love and care for me.

lifesaver-242667.jpgIt was a typical Sunday night youth group meeting. The associate pastor and I were leading a discussion on peer pressure. It was all the stuff one might expect in the early ‘90s. Kids were struggling with alcohol, drugs, sex, grades, sports, etc. One of the girls finally burst out with, “You don’t know! You don’t know how much pressure there is to be perfect!” She went on to list her struggles with grades and sports. The pastor looked at me and I essentially told my story. The tone of the meeting shifted and became much more “real” after that.

When the meeting was over, the pastor and I were debriefing. And I lost it. I confessed that I didn’t think God loved me. Where was Christ during the traumatic times in my life? Where was Christ when I wanted to die? Where was Christ when I fought so hard for recovery? Where was Christ if he loved me so much? My friend kept quiet and let me come to the realization on my own. Christ was present in those bleakest moments. Christ surrounded me with a faithful community and people who embodied God’s unconditional love. Christ’s own heart broke when the pain was more than I could bear. Christ remained present, waiting for me to see, feel, and accept the love, forgiveness, and healing.

Emotional and spiritual healing are slow.  My journey has not been pain-free since those
early days. However, the way the church I grew up in embodied God’s love for me kept me anchored in church through all the pain and struggles that would follow. They lived out what Paul was describing to the church in Corinth. It was a lesson I learned early and one that has been foundational in my ministry. The church at its best is a church that cares for the most vulnerable. The greatest gift of the church is the power to save lives.

It is this power to  literally save lives that is what makes church the body of Christ. Like those early Corinthians, we forget this. We want our pews full. We want our budgets balanced and our buildings well-maintained. We want clear doctrine and guidelines for membership. We want the church to grow in numbers and be what it once was in our society. None of this matters if we are not a community that demonstrates Christ’s love in very real ways.

The world is full of people who are fragile, flawed, and lost. Why are we as Church not shouting out our message of faith loud enough to drown out the pain, violence, and hatred of this world? Who are you? You are God’s beloved and you belong in a community that loves you, values you, and wants you. We are in the business of saving lives. Let’s get to it!

The law of God is perfect,
   reviving the soul… 
More to be desired are they than gold,
   even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
   and drippings of the honeycomb.

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday after Epiphany
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21

 

Categories
Musings

An All Saints Day Reflection

I’m taking a little break from the events of the world this week. There’s plenty going on and lots of preachers and bloggers who will be exploring how we show our love of God, self, and neighbor in a world filled with chaos. Instead, I’m going to focus on the reading from Ruth, All Saints Day, grief, and the anniversary of my ordination, not necessarily in that order. (If you are looking for sermon help or my thoughts on a variety of lectionary texts, try here.)

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The words Ruth spoke to Naomi are chasing around in my head, “…Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God…” Ruth offered Naomi unconditional love, a promise to remain family even though she did not have to. There’s strength and beauty here that I wish permeated more of our relationships with one another. There is also a sacredness in the possibility that says we can choose family where our own might be inadequate or nonexistent.

I grew up in a church that did not observe All Saints Day at all. Later, I encountered congregations in which All Saints was a time to remember the members who had died in the previous year and this is fine. However, All Saints Day feels more personal for me because it is the day on which I was ordained. Each year on November 1, I spend some time taking stock of my ministry – where I have been, where I am, and where I might feel called to go – and I think of all the many lives who have touched and shaped mine.

As I reflect, this year feels quite a bit different from other years. Part of this is because I’ve moved to Minnesota which is quite a ways from all the places I have lived before. When we were talking about the possibility of relocating, my wife echoed Ruth’s words, “Where you go, I will go…” And I’m grateful. Following God’s call is challenging enough without a reluctant spouse.

Another significant reason that this year feels different is that my mother has died. She wasn’t exactly supportive of my call to ministry so it is not her support and influence that I miss. I’ve had to let go of the idea that she would someday come to a service and see that I was born for ministry. Somehow, though, in trying to prove to my mother that ministry is the right call for me, I’ve managed to prove it to myself. When I was called to my first church, I was convinced that they had made a mistake in choosing me over the other 26 candidates that they considered. My mother agreed with me. In spite of my mother’s lack of support and understanding, I can honestly say, I no longer have doubts about my call to ministry…

Of course, the other big difference is that I am serving a congregation as the full-time settled pastor for the first time since coming out in 1998. There is a powerful affirmation here that is long over-due. I’m just grateful that the church and the world are changing so that neither being a woman nor being bi-sexual is a reason to exclude a person from pastoral ministry. I hear the essence of Ruth’s words in the church’s growth toward inclusivity. “Where you go…”

There’s a lot tied up in the twenty-third anniversary of my ordination. I feel like I am surrounded by all those who have journeyed with me. Those from the church of my childhood who welcomed me and taught me the true power of being church… Teachers who encouraged me to develop and use my talents… Professors who challenged me to think beyond the words on any given page… Friends who stood by me, particularly in the wilderness times… Parishioners who embodied Christian faith simply and fully… Therapists who helped me discover my own strength… Colleagues who share the costs and joys of discipleship… The countless who invited me to accompany them in their most difficult times… The list is endless… All the ways in which my life has been shaped by those who embodied Ruth’s words to Naomi are beyond my knowing. I’ve been given home, family, faith and so much more. I could not be more grateful to God for the whole of the journey!

I hope that you, too, are blessed with home, family, faith and more as you remember and give thanks for all the saints who have touched and shaped your life.

RCL – Year B – All Saints Day – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – November 1, 2015
Ruth 1:1-18
Psalm 146
Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Psalm 119:1-8
Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 12:28-34

Categories
Emerging Church Prayer

Prayer for All God’s People

God of wonder and mystery, you created humankind in your image and used your breath to give us life. Yet, we so often fail to recognize your face in the crowds. We live in a world of strangers where blame, anger, and shame seem more common than forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Many call your name. How many of us take time to be still long enough to hear you calling ours? Be with all those who are adrift and seeking a place of belonging. Forgive us when we fail to notice the lost and lonely among us. Teach us what it means to be made in your image that we may treat one another with more kindness.

You who wait for us in the darkest night and the brightest day, have patience with your people. We call you by different names and some think that is reason enough for hatred and fear. When we learn that you are a God of life and love? You cannot want violence or murder or terrorism justified by the use of your name, not when we all are stamped with your likeness. Hear our prayers for the people of France, Nigeria, Palestine, Israel, and every place in the world where religion is used to justify violence. Forgive us for all the times we’ve remained silent in the face of hatred and injustice. Guide our feet in the way of peace.

baby-536412_1280God of the close places and the far places, you know our thoughts and our actions and still call us by name. You are as close to us as our own breath. And so you are to every human being on this planet. You gift each of us with life and ask only that we love as we are so loved. So many people don’t know their own value and treat themselves and others with disrespect and worse. We pray for those whose bodies are a source of pain – physical, emotional, or spiritual. Forgive us for the times we have dismissed people whose stories we do not understand. Open our eyes that we may see you in all whom we meet.

Just and merciful God, shine your light on all the hidden places of fear and pain. We ought to know better by now. Race, ethnicity, country or origin should never give us an excuse for hatred or violence. All have equal claim on your blessings, your love. We all bear your image. Each of us is a temple of your Holy Spirit. When will begin to live that way? When will justice be the same for all your children? Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many others sacrificed their lives to end racial injustice and still it continues. Let us honor his dream with more than words. Hear our prayers for all those who have been killed, mistreated, or devalued because of the color of their skin. Black lives matter today. Forgive us when we sit silently by and let racism continue unchallenged. May we honor you by standing with all those who suffer at the hands of those with power.

Steadfast, loving God who never gives up on any of us, we thank you. We thank you for waiting for us to see you, to hear you calling in the night, to recognize that we are your beloved. Even when we reject your love, treat ourselves or others badly, you are still present. Hear our prayers of gratitude for all that you freely offer to each and every person. Hear our prayers for those who are lonely, grieving, or feeling unloved. Forgive us when we forget that nothing can separate us from you. May we begin to see your light shining in all human faces. In the name of the One who became human to show us your amazing love. Amen.

RCL – Year B –  Second Sunday after Epiphany – January 18, 2015

1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

Categories
Poetry

For Your Consideration

In recognition of Mental Health Sunday in the United Church of Christ, I am posting the following poem from Barefoot Theologypg. 164-165. I wrote this poem based on many real conversations I’ve had over my years as a clinical chaplain in a psychiatric hospital. My hope is that one day, mental illness will be seen for what it is – a medical condition – and that people who live with mental illness will no longer be stigmatized. The Church in all her varied forms must lead the way to inclusion and radical welcome for all God’s people.

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Unworthy

So many tearstained faces fill my days
crying out because they will never be good enough
for God to love them
They are bound up with shame forced on their
innocence and cannot see their way to freedom

I ask what they have done that is so sinful
These women, men, and children
only recount a list of evils done to them
held close by the pain they’ve inflicted
on their own bodies trying to be rid
of a hurt deeper than they can speak

Why do you think that God cannot love you
if you have committed no horrific sin?
All of them confess that they are worthless
yet they believe in Jesus,
that Jesus died to save the world

Yes! God so loved the world
without excluding you!
Would you give your life
for something without value?

They all agree that dying for something worthless
would be rather stupid and pointless
God so loved the world . . .
are you part of the world that God so loved?
Yes
Then you are not worthless
Jesus died for you as well as the rest of creation
Are you sure?

Absolutely!
Are you willing to tell God that a mistake has been made,
that you are outside the bounds of God’s love for the whole world?

Well, when you put it that way
maybe I am wrong
maybe God loves me
maybe there is hope
maybe I am more than this collection of pain

Yes! We are, and always have been!

RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 18, 2014
Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5,15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14:1-14

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Musings Sermon Starter

You are Not Your Barn

canada_3_bg_062104When I read a scripture passage that is directly relevant today, I am unsettled in a strange way. Our scriptures were written so long ago that I expect a bit of interpretation to be necessary to relate them to what’s happening now. When this is not the case, it’s unnerving. How is it that human beings have not changed over a couple thousand years? How is it that a parable Jesus spoke to his companions in ancient Israel can be so clearly meant for modern ears? I’m amazed at the wisdom and understanding of human nature then, and I am disappointed that in the intervening 20 centuries we haven’t been able to change all that much.

This week’s gospel lesson is a prime example. It’s all about the need for stuff and how it gets in the way of valuing what is really important. I like my stuff, too. I wonder how I would get along without my laptop, my smartphone, my cooking appliances, my car, and a whole bunch of other things. I am also very well aware of the deceptive desire for more stuff, better stuff, even though I already have more than what I technically need. I also know from experience that I question my own value when I lose the majority of things I have accumulated. I wish this were not true.

I’d like to say that society has made this tendency to want “bigger barns” more pervasive today. But if Jesus took the time to mention this problem, I’m guessing it isn’t new and probably no worse than it ever has been. I think what is worse is the nature of the things we want and why we want them. The farmer in the story wanted to store his excess grain against future need. He went a bit overboard to the detriment of others who had need of more grain in the present, but his reasons for wanting to store his grain seemed sound enough. I don’t think most of us want to store up our stuff against a time of future need.

This culture of excess is a symptom of a deeper need, a need that no amount of stuff can meet. I’ve often heard modern western society described as becoming increasingly narcissistic. Well, yes, on the one hand, it does seem that people are a bit more self-focused than I seem to remember in years passed. However, I don’t think narcissism is an accurate diagnosis. I think we are a society adrift. Whether our barns are full to overflowing or we have nothing to claim as our own, our longing for stuff belies a greater need for identity. Or as Jesus put it, a lack of true richness toward God.

Every day I tell at least one of my psychiatric patients that she (or he) is more than her 2012-11-01 15.21.08diagnosis, her past, her losses, her bad choices, or any other way she chooses to devalue herself. “You don’t know me so you can’t say that!” is often the response I get. I don’t have to know you to know that you have value, that you matter, that you are God’s beloved child.

I want to tell people who overextend their credit buying things they don’t need to show their success. I want to say this to our governments who vie for power and place in a world that has more than enough of everything for everyone, and they just keep trying to build bigger barns. I want to say this wherever anyone feels threatened by any group of human beings fighting for equality and justice. I want to say this anytime anyone chooses material goods over human needs.

However, I realize that words are easy. And if words could change human nature, then surely Jesus’ words would have changed us all by now. I feel like there should be a real action to take here, but I don’t know what it is. What will help us value one another more and material goods less? So, I ask all you church members, believers, seekers, and doubters out there this question:  How do we show one another that we are more valuable than our bank accounts, our stuff, our achievements while also demonstrating that we are also far more than our failures, our weaknesses, our struggles, and our pains? What does storing up treasure in heaven look like today?

RCL – Year C – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 4, 2013
Hosea 11:1-11 with Psalm 107:1-9, 43 or
Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14; 2:18-23 with Psalm 49:1-12
Colossians 3:1-11
Luke 12:13-21

Barn photo from pdphoto.org