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Musings Sermon Starter

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Image of a waterway with reeds on either side. There is an empty rowboat on the right front edge. The background is a few buildings with orange roofs against a blue sky with white clouds.

Last night I had a dream about rowing through marshlands with a from seminary, and as often happens we were in our early 20s not our mid 50s. The marsh was familiar in the dream, though no place I have ever been. The waterway ranged from just wide enough for the rowboat to pass through the grasses to the width of a small pond or lake. It was a bright, sunny day with no clouds in the sky. We were both young and health, enjoying the day.

Then my friend was rowing without the boat moving at all. And, yes, you guessed it, storm clouds were gathering on the horizon. I offered to row thinking my friend was tired after having rowed for quite a while. Yet, when I took the oars and began to row, she told me I was doing it wrong and had to do it right or we’d never get anywhere. You see, I rowed by alternating left and right rather than pulling the oars together. My friend insisted that I row the “proper” way. Instead of arguing, I started to row by pulling both oars at the same time. The boat began to move in small circles, making no progress through the marsh.

For reasons unknown, this made my friend both frustrated and anxious. Soon she told me to do it my way so we could get somewhere before the storm arrived in full. I switched back to alternating oars, and the boat began to move. Through the marsh grasses we went. We moved quite quickly for some time. Then just as the marsh was opening into the ocean, I couldn’t make the boat move forward no matter how hard I pulled the oars. The rain had started. The waves were swelling. Lightning wasn’t far off.

My friend started to panic. She was sure we were going to die even though we were only a few feet from shore and, technically, could have gotten out of the boat onto the beach easily enough. For reasons known only in dreams, we didn’t get out of the boat. Instead, I asked her to join me on the rowing bench and take an oar. She did. And after a few false starts, we found a rhythm of rowing together that allowed us to get home safely.

It matters whose in the boat with you.

It matters what kind of boat you’re in.

I grew up watching boats. Small lobster boats, tug boats, big ferries, yachts, sailboats, big fishing boats…all kinds of boats. I never learned to sail or do much more than row a boat or paddle a canoe. I tend to get seasick in anything with a motor. And, yes, when I learned to row a rowboat, the only way I could do it was by alternating oars. To this day, I cannot row by pulling the oars together.

Having folx in your boat who know what to do when there’s a problem is important. Having someone who knows how the boat operates is equally important. Having someone who knows how to respond to whether also matters. And when you’re in a small boat where there are lots of bigger boats and ships, it’s good to have someone who knows the rules.

Over the last many months of pandemic, many people said things like, “We are all in the same boat.” That is never true. Some of us are in luxury liners. Some in small cabin cruisers. Some in little motor boats. Some in rowboats. Some in rowboats with small leaks. We are not all in the same boat. However, we are all in the same storm. That’s when the type of boat matters the most.

We need to stop pretending that everyone has the same resources. We need to stop pretending that everyone has the same access to housing, food, healthcare, etc.

It’s great that the federal government made Juneteenth a federal holiday. It really is. However, why are we not talking about reparations, racial disparities, injustice in our legal system, and all the other things that make Juneteenth an important holiday?

We are not all in the same boat.

We are all in the storm, though.

Who will speak into the wind and the storm?

Peace. Be still.

We are a long way from that. Figure out what type of boat you’re in and who’s in it with you. It’s time we start rowing together in ways that pull us toward justice for every boat in this storm. Then maybe we can step out onto solid ground…

RCL – Year B – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 20, 2021 11 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49 and Psalm 9:9-20 or 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16 and Psalm 133  • Job 38:1-11 and Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32  • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13  • Mark 4:35-41

Photo: CC0image by Szczecin/Polska

Categories
Poetry

A Conversation with Jesus

Image of face overlaid with shadows of trees on a background of red, rippling water
in a Roman stronghold, You asked your first disciples
     a seemingly simple question
yet You asked them to put their lives on the line for You
their answers could be, should be
      treasonous to the ears of the Empire

Who do you say that I am?

a worthy question, even now, especially now
we live in another Empire with a Pharoah who does not know Joseph
and would enslave us all, try us for treason if he could
Your question hangs in the air, awaiting our answers

Who do you say that I am?

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

what does this mean for children in cages, families torn apart?
what does this mean for immigrants, refugees, assylum seekers,
all who come with hopes and dreams for a life of freedom
and are met with white supremacy, racism, and rejection?

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Prince of Peace
the One who guides our feet
in the ways of justice
Prince of Peace

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

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Great Physician, Healer of the Nations
the One who makes us whole
and unites us in love
Great Physician

there is no evidence of this truth
in a nation that values perfection over wholeness and wealth
     over people
where is unity for those on the edges, devalued and dismissed
     by Empire?

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Living Water
the One who quenches thirst
and brings new life
Living Water

then why are so many so very thirsty
in Flint, at the border, on our streets?
why withhold water for the poorest
when we have more than enough

Who do you say that I am?

Lord and Savior
the One who saves us from ourselves
and frees us to love without condition
Lord and Savior

again, where is the proof?
we act as if Love were a precious commodity
and hoard it for ourselves because Empire tells us
there is not enough for those who are undeserving

Who do you say that I am?

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

then why not wear a mask to show our love for our neighbors?
why not welcome all with grace and mercy?
suicide rates are climbing and we refuse to share our hope
perhaps our trust, our faith, is not up for the task at hand

Who do you say that I am?

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

is it not Empire that guides our choices?
is it not Empire that teaches us to hate?
is it not Empire that divides us from our neighbors?
when will we listen and actually care for the vulnerable among us?

Who do you say that I am?

Mighty God
the One who loves without condition
waiting patiently for us to believe
Mighty God

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

Who do you say that I am?

be careful how you answer
do your words match your deeds?
do you love your neighbor as yourself?
do you follow the ways of Empire
rather than care for the vulnerable among you?
will you put your life on the line
for the sake of love?

Who do you say that I am?

RCL – Year A – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 23, 2020
Exodus 1:8-2:10 with Psalm 124 or
Isaiah 51:1-6 with Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Photo: CC0image by Gerd Altmann

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Temptation with a Capital T

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

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

Photo: CC0image by Anja

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Life Choices

Choosing life is not simple, easy, or natural for most of us. Well, there is the drive to stay alive. However, that is not the same as choosing life. Moses was pretty clear that choosing life often means choosing the hard road, the way that is not self-focused. On the brink of entering into the Promised Land, Moses implores the people of God to choose life so that they and their children may continue to live in abundance.

These people who stood looking across the Jordan River into the land they had been promised are the wilderness wanderers, the calf worshipers, the complainers, and the whiners. The journey from captivity to freedom was longer and more difficult than they bargained for. They weren’t happy with Moses. They were tired of manna and quail. They had expected a shorter journey, one that was less taxing on their bodies and on their spirits. If Moses wasn’t around, they were pretty certain that God wasn’t around either. They survived the desert, surely life wasn’t a choice they had to make. They were alive and staring at the Promised Land. Life had already been granted them, hadn’t it?

That’s the funny thing with life. It’s easy to take it for granted. We are alive. We are breathing and moving through the world. What choice is there? Moses could have elaborated more than he did. Choose life that will enable your neighbor to live as you live. Choose life that will be gentle on the planet. Choose life that facilitates justice for all people. Choose life that always moves from captivity to liberation. Choose life that honors the Creator. Choose life in a way that blesses those around you. Choose life, not just as individuals, but also as sacred community.

There it is. Choosing life in response to God’s call isn’t about us as individual human beings. It is about us as sacred community, the Body of Christ, the church. Nearly every church I have ever been a part of has been primarily concerned with its own life. Are the pews full? Is the budget balanced? Are the programs attended? Is the Sunday School full? How about the youth program, are we ensuring the church of the future? These concerns that have absorbed so much of our churches’ attention, are not questions that support choosing life.

God has set before us the ways of life and death. The church is on the edges of something new, something exciting, something transformative. We are close enough to see that something different is coming, but not close enough to know precisely what it is. However, we can look around at our declining numbers and the building closures and know that life isn’t exactly what we have chosen. Perhaps it is time to make different choices.

Choose life so that we and those who will come after us might live in God’s love, honoring God’s commandments. Choose life so that we will stop being lured away by the false gods of individualism and independence. Choose life so that we will realize that our neighbors are our responsibility, that the way of Christ is the way from captivity to liberation.

First choose life for yourself in response to God’s unconditional love for you as an individual. Then choose life for the Body of Christ in response to God’s abundant love for the whole of Creation. No, it is not easy. Yes, we will continue to be tempted by lesser gods. No, it is not too late for us to change and embrace God’s call to the fullness of life. Yes, there are many who will think our efforts on behalf of life, love, and liberation are futile and foolish. Isn’t it time we stopped wandering in the wilderness and complaining about all that is not as we want it or expected it to be? By choosing life, we are choosing the Promised Land, a land where all are welcomed, wanted, seen, heard, and valued. Is there a better way to be the Body of Christ?

Choose life when considering the plight of refugees. Choose life when confronted with those who are homeless. Choose life when the government cuts funding for food subsidies, access to health care, or acts to promote only the white, cis, wealthy, able-bodied, educated, and male people. Choose life, interdependence and sacred community, in every moment and in every decision or the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, will never come any closer. Generations yet to come deserve better than captivity and oppression, don’t they?

RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – February 16, 2020
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

Photo: CC0image by Pexels

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Salt… Salt… and more Salt…

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” He wasn’t kidding or exaggerating or trying to make his disciples feel better. Salt that has been ruined and can’t be used any longer is only good for trampling under foot. I’m wondering if this isn’t exactly what has happened to the moderate to progressive branches of the church. Over the years, we have lost our saltiness. As we have rejected the doctrine and dogma of our more conservative siblings, we have failed to claim our saltiness. We have, in effect, allowed ourselves to be trampled nearly to death.

When I was fourteen, I stopped adding salt to foods. For decades I did not add salt to anything (except French fries). I didn’t cook with it or bake with it. The same blue canister of iodized salt sat on my pantry shelf for years. My reasons for not adding salt began with an eating disorder and an irrational fear that eating salt would make me gain weight. The behavior continued because I didn’t think about it; avoiding adding salt had become a habit. However, I had to change that habit a couple of years ago.

After a lifetime of health challenges I was diagnosed with POTS/Dysautonomia. I had to make several changes in my daily routine to help mitigate symptoms. One of the adjustments was a high sodium diet. All of a sudden I was adding salt to everything which unexpectedly made me crave more. Where once I had a lonely canister of unused salt in my cabinet, I now have several kinds of salt – flavors, textures, mixes – just so I can keep a higher level of sodium in my body. I never knew just how important salt could be.

Jesus knew the importance of salt. He knew it was needed for flavoring, for preserving, for healing. He knew how connected salt was to the Covenant God made with people of God. Salt was precious, necessary, and good. Everyone knew that. However, I’m betting the disciples were a bit surprised when Jesus told them they were salt. They weren’t to become salt. They didn’t have to cultivate or harvest anything to be the salt the world needed; they were salt. In that moment, they were salt. Wherever they went, they would be salt. Whatever they did, they would be salt. They were precious, necessary, and good. And they had work to do – enhancing the flavor of life with hope and grace, preserving relationships with forgiveness and mercy, and healing the broken and wounded places. Salt is vital for survival.

Now would be an excellent time to reclaim our saltiness. If ever there was a time when the world could use something life-giving and life-sustaining, it’s now. The Mainline church isn’t ordinary table salt and it shouldn’t be road salt either. Even though these things have their usefulness, if we’re going to be the salt of the earth in this present age, we need to pack in all the nutrients we can manage.

Let’s be pink Himalayan salt that surprises people with the minerals of advocacy and justice. Not all Christians are out there demanding an end to legal abortions. Not all Christians are out there crying for end LGBTQ+ rights. Not all Christians are out there upholding the racist criminal justice system.

Maybe you’d rather be applewood smoked sea salt. It has a punch that shows up unexpectedly, deepening the flavor of a dish. What if we showed up in those unexpected places asking for gun reform or healthcare reform or increasing minimum wage or fair housing? Would the conversation change with a compassionate Christian presence?

My personal favorite is salt infused with habanero peppers. It’s all about the saltiness and then comes the flavor-changing heat. This is a salt that can’t be ignored or overlooked. I’d like to be this kind of salt in the world. What if the church could bring this kind of power to it’s justice work? What if we could be all about life-changing presence? You know, feeding those who are hungry, liberating those who are oppressed, healing those who are sick… the kind of things that Jesus did. This would be some serious saltiness that would mitigate the flavor of hopelessness and despair that permeates the world.

It’s time we stop being afraid of the gifts we have been given. We have remained on the pantry shelf (or trampled underfoot) for far too long. What will happen if more of us publicly display the fact that we are the salt of the earth, we are the Body of Christ, we are the hope and healing of the world? What will happen if we trust what we have been given and follow Jesus? Maybe the world will start to crave more… Salt is precious, necessary, and good. Salt is vital for life. We are salt. The church is salt. Maybe we can live as if we believe this is true…

RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany – February 9, 2020
Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12)
Psalm 112:1-9 (10)
1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)
Matthew 5:13-20

Photo: CC0image by Susanne Jutzeler

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Going in Circles

Sometimes I think that God’s theme song must be Harry Chapin’s “All my Life’s a Circle.” I mean human beings keep doing the same thing generation after generation. How many times, how many different ways does God need to show us that we were created in Love for the purpose of loving? Will God’s patience ever run out?

Look at any of the prophets. Hosea is one among many whose call for repentance went mostly unheeded. How long will faithful people prostitute themselves to the lesser gods of our own making? When will we finally learn that empires rise and fall along a familiar pattern? When human beings stray from holy ways and believe our own lies, disaster always follows eventually.

In Israel’s history God would gather a fragile group of people and they would begin to form a strong nation. They would care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger among them. Over time those with power would become enthralled by it and the accumulation of wealth and power would take precedence over caring for the vulnerable. As the rich became richer, they became more convinced of their invincibility. That’s when the enemies would gather at the gates and wait for the prime moment to topple the top-heavy government. And the people would be carted off to Egypt or Babylon or held captive by the Assyrians, the Greeks, or the Romans. It happened again and again.

In those days the fall of Israel to another nation was attributed to God. The prosperity the first enjoyed was assumed to be because they were pleasing God. I have no doubts that God was pleased when the people of God worshiped together and cared for those who could not care for themselves. Prosperity grew out of a community living holy ways. And when wealth became the goal rather than the outcome, the nation fell apart. And they believed that God was punishing them. God probably wasn’t happy with selfish behavior that neglected hospitality and love of neighbor. No need for God to punish anyone, though. Natural consequences took over as Israel fell at the hands of its enemies.

We still have a tendency to believe that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing and adversity is God’s punishment. A surface level reading of scripture might confirm this belief. However, it doesn’t make any sense. By this reasoning, Donald Trump is blessed by God and Mother Theresa was not. Or areas that have been afflicted by floods, famine, earthquakes, tornados, mudslides, hurricanes, or the like are being punished by God and global warming has nothing to do with human behavior. Attributing prosperity to God’s blessing and adversity to God’s punishment abdicates human responsibility. Moreover, it diminishes God into something punitive and exacting rather than loving and forgiving.

If we claim to be people of God and seek to live in holy ways, then we must oppose anything that interferes with love of neighbor. Blaming the people who put their lives at risk to bring their families across the U.S. border with Mexico and treating them as less than human is not in keeping with God’s mandate to care for the stranger. Discriminating on the basis of a person’s gender expression or sexual orientation violates God’s commandment to love one another. White supremacy and white nationalism violates God’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves. All of these actions and policies create division and fear by diminishing the personhood of the targeted individuals. There is only one explanation for these kinds of things. Those in power feel threatened. They will violate every moral and ethical principle to ensure that they stay in power. As far as they are concerned the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger – the vulnerable among us – can fend for themselves after they have had every ounce of dignity and humanity ripped from them.

Haven’t we prostituted ourselves to empire long enough? Haven’t we tried storing up treasures on earth long enough? The pursuit of wealth and power is vanity; it is not holy. God’s true blessings are experienced through love. Period. God punishes no one. Most affliction can be traced back to human actions. And just because we cannot explain the rest, doesn’t mean we should blame God. Let’s take some responsibility for ourselves and the generations that have come before us. Maybe we should learn the lessons of history before God’s patience finally runs out…RCL –

RCL - Year C - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 
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

Photo: CC0 image by Dmitri Posudin

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

The Ways of Dust

dusty-3775491_1280.jpg
When will we stop honoring the dust and start embracing heaven? There’s more than enough judgement and hatred going around. They conspire together to builds walls and condemn anyone who isn’t white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical, economically sound, well-educated, and male. These socially endorsed biases are decidedly not Christian. Yet, we continue to act as if they are. How easily we forget that Jesus was not a white, wealthy man. We just as easily forget that we are to love not condemn or judge.

Jesus was pretty clear that we are supposed to love our enemies with a God-like, unconditional kind of love. We are not meant to judge or dismiss someone because of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, or economics, or even religious practice. We are, as Paul put it, called to bear, to embody, to reflect, the image of Christ, the One of heaven. Instead we live in fear of the other. We believe the on-going lies of the Empire that say only the powerful must remain in power and anyone else is a threat. As a result we live in fear of our neighbors and Jesus’ call to love remains mostly unheeded. Or, at the very least, we tend to love only those who love us.

I’m particularly sensitive to the discrepancy between the love Jesus called us to embody and the love we actually embody. I grew up without a lot of love in my life and, as a result, questioned my value as a person. While the church provided safe harbor for me, it did not replace the lack of love in my life. And, later, the church proved just as unsafe a place for me as my home had been. How many times have I been told that a woman cannot and should not be a pastor? How many times have I been told that I cannot be a pastor because I am married to another woman? How many times I have I been made to feel inadequate or shame because I came from a poor family? How many times have I hidden or lied about the mental health challenges in my family or in my own life? How many times have I ignored, hidden, or dismissed my chronic illness? All these judgments coming from those who call themselves Christians, myself included.

We wonder why the church is struggling to survive the transformation that is in progress. We struggle, at least in part, because we have fallen into the service of the empire. Church has taken on all the values of society and tried to shape them into the Body of Christ with far too much success. However, if we are to survive the refining fires of transformation, we must turn our attention away from the powers of dust and toward the powers of heaven. We can no longer afford (if we ever could) to embrace the empire. Jesus spoke against the oppressive Roman Empire with every word and action. If we are the embodiment of Christ today, then we ought to be doing the same.

Our history of valuing what society values – wealth, power, success (as defined by those with power) – has not served us well. It has divided us one from another and detracted from our mission of bringing the Realm of God into the here and now. The time for facing our fears has come. What will it mean if we fully accept women in ministry? What will it mean if we embrace all our LGBTQ+ neighbors and welcome them into the full life of the church? What will it mean if we try out worship styles born of other cultures? What will it mean if denominations come together and create something new? What will it mean if all our buildings become fully accessible to people with physical disabilities? What will it mean if all our services and activities become accessible to people with cognitive impairment? What will it mean if we recognize that it takes the full diversity of humanity to truly embody Christ in the world today? What are we afraid of losing? What are we afraid of gaining?

Jesus commanded us to love one another exactly as we are loved by God – no limits, no conditions, no end. All that separates us is constructed by human minds and hands; we are all equal before God. The Body of Christ is impaired by racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, and a whole bunch of other fears handed to us by the empire that would prefer to keep us all separated and disempowered. Imagine a world in which we discard fear and embrace Love… Let us exchange the ways of dust for the ways of heaven…

RCL – Year C – Seventh Sunday after Epiphany – February 24, 2019
Genesis 45:3–11, 15
Psalm 37:1–11, 39–40
1 Corinthians 15:35–38, 42–50
Luke 6:27–38

Photo: CC0 image by Tom

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Jesus is Where?

maze-2264
I have a lot of sympathy for Mary and Joseph when they lost track of Jesus. He simply wasn’t where they thought he was. They had to retrace their steps, searching everywhere, anxiety growing with each passing minute. When they finally found him in the Temple, they were incredulous. Jesus was matter-of-fact. How could they not know he would be in the Temple speaking Truth? Where else did they think he would be? Apparently, they thought he be just about anywhere else. I often have the same problem; Jesus is often in the last place I look.

Actually, Jesus is often in the place I am most reluctant to go. I’d rather go to the familiar, easy places than go to those deep, difficult places of truth. Like Mary and Joseph, I’d be moving through life in the usual way only to suddenly discover that I had no idea where Jesus is. I thought that I was going where he was leading only to find out that I wandered off track. Getting back on track isn’t ever as easy as retracing my steps. It’s all about sorting through whatever is overwhelming me in the moment and grasping hope again.

Here on the edge of a new year, with Christmas 75% off on store shelves, are we asking ourselves where Jesus is? He didn’t remain an infant in the manger, easy to find under a bright, shining star. If we knelt at the manger last week, do we know where Jesus is this week? Are we even interested in finding him? I’m not sure we are.

Church has a way of holding onto the past much more tightly than holding onto Jesus. We go along telling ourselves that we are following Jesus or that Jesus is with us without bothering to look around. It’s possible that Jesus isn’t where we think he is. Jesus is not in our fully lit Advent wreaths, in the fading greens, or in any of the remnants of the season. Jesus isn’t likely living in the boxes of Christmas pageant costumes or the booklets of carols stacked in the corner. If we are looking around our church buildings, then we aren’t likely to find Jesus. Jesus is where Truth is.

These days Jesus is at the border with refugees seeking hope and safety and being ignored or attacked. Jesus is in the homeless encampments with people huddled together for warmth while most people turn their heads in dismissal. Jesus is with those who are lost, lonely, and forgotten while most people continue on their way without thinking of those who live on the edges of society. Jesus is with those we deem as “other,” waiting for us to show up. Today’s Temple, today’s house where God lives, is not any church building. It’s the places where people meet and seek to lessen the pain another carries. No church tradition has more value than human beings who suffer in body, mind, or spirit.

We are between celebrating the birth of Jesus and the coming of the magi. It’s easy to criticize Mary and Joseph for losing track of their son. This isn’t a story about negligent parenting, though. This is a story meant to remind us that losing track of Jesus is nothing to be embarrassed about. Losing track of Jesus and continuing on pretending that we have not is a problem. Pausing to look around and figure out where Truth is being lived or spoken or cried out, this is what the journey is about. Going wherever Jesus is, this is what church is called to do. And when we get there, we are to embody the Love that breaks into the deepest, lightless night and changes everything.

Have you seen Jesus lately?

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

RCL – Year C – First Sunday after Christmas – December 30, 2018
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Psalm 148
Colossians 3:12-17
Luke 2:41-52

Photo: CC0 image by Public Domain Pictures

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Musings Sermon Starter

The Way of Peace

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I genuinely like this time of year. The Christmas lights and the menorah candles shine out as a reminder that there is more to the world than we usually allow ourselves to see. I laugh out loud at the lawns crammed full of over-sized holy family members side-by-side with inflated snowmen and moving reindeer. I’m filled with awe at strings of simple white lights over a doorway, or single candles in the windows, or the visible menorah with it’s flickering candle light. These brave attempts to keep the despair of the world at bay and remind us that no night lasts forever give me glimpses of hope that maybe someday we will truly prepare the way for the One who is, who was, and who is to come.

We need to celebrate and light up the nights in the coldness of this season. We need to find hope and peace enough to want to get through another day. Last week a Minneapolis police precinct put up a Christmas tree adorned in racism. A rabbi friend received hateful threats against her and the Jewish community in her New Hampshire town. The majority of people (87% according to one poll) don’t hear or don’t care about the overtones of rape and misogyny in a popular holiday song. These are just three examples of hate and apathy that have touched my life in the last week. I don’t doubt that more could be added to this list.

When did we become so willfully oblivious to our neighbor’s pain? There is nothing in “Prepare the way of the Lord” that says to do so by trampling over others. Making paths straight doesn’t mean ignoring racism and just moving along. We are not supposed to be filling the valleys with hatred or lowering the hills with fear. Nor do we make smooth the rough places by ignoring the cries of those who have been victimized. Justifying oppression, hate, and violence and maintaining the status quo do not prepare us in anyway for the coming of Christ.

In fact, it’s just the opposite. What if we prepare the way for Christ by straightening out some of the mess we have created? What if we make it easier for people to have safe, affordable housing, healthy food, reasonable wages, and accessible healthcare? Wouldn’t that straighten out a few paths? How about if we fill the valleys of fear that systemic oppression has created? What if we reach out to our neighbors and see them, hear them, welcome them as God’s beloved and stop feeding our xenophobic fears? How about leveling the mountains and hills made by fear-mongering, self-centered, power-hungry politicians that do not care who they hurt? We could begin by enabling every person who lives in this country to live in safety and be sure that refugees and immigrants have what they need to seek citizenship and be full members of society. While we’re at it, maybe we can straighten out the kinks in theology that legalism and archaic understandings have created? Maybe we could achieve some unity in Christ if we stopped judging who was right or wrong and sought more actively to follow Jesus command to love one another. Let’s start listening to voices not our own so that those rough places  created by the pain of being dismissed, devalued, and discarded can begin to heal.

One candle can’t do much to hold back the night with its cold, despair, and isolating darkness. However, if we bring our candles together, we create warmth and light. Together we can bring peace and truly prepare the way for the coming of the Holy One. Isn’t it time we validate those who cry out in response to racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and all the other isms and phobias that keep us from seeing the humanity and the sacred in all our neighbors?

May God guide our feet in the way of peace.

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday of Advent – December 9, 2018
Malachi 3:1-4 or Baruch 5:1-9
Luke 1:68-79
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

Photo: CC0 image by Hans Braxmeier

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Musings Sermon Starter

Bread with Nutritional Value

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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