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Musings Sermon Starter

The Mustard Seed, Loving-kindness, and Creation Care

Image of a green stylized meadow with a full moon and stars in the background. The foreground has yellow flowers and a bee on the left and red flowers, a blue butterfly and a ladybug on the right. There is also a tree in the distance in front of the full moon.

If the realm of God is like the scattering of seeds that sprout mysteriously, I wonder if we are actually doing any of the seed scattering. Or, for that matter, receiving any of the seeds scattered by others. I don’t think we are very comfortable with mystery, let alone Mystery. Contemplating the realm of God seems a bit heady or lofty given the struggles of everyday living, right? However, if we shift our perspective just a little bit, then the realm of God and all its Mystery becomes part of everyday life, perhaps even alleviating some of the suffering.

In Mark’s gospel, the Good News is that the realm of God is at hand. It wasn’t about salvation or a “personal relationship with God.” The Good News was about the closeness of God’s realm and the invitation to join in  the work of brining God’s realm into our world. This wasn’t the task of any individual; it was the task of the community of believers. Jesus wanted his followers to repent of our lack of labor on behalf of the realm of God, repent of our self-focused ways of living in this world. God and the realm of God are near; the seeds of heaven are growing everywhere if we have the capacity and the desire to recognize what’s happening.

For the last several days in Minnesota, the temperatures have been between 90 and 100 degrees. This is exceedingly hot for early June. These high temperatures are an indication of climate shift, global warming that has resulted from human beings misusing the planet in large and small ways. We are destroying our oceans by over-fishing and dragging miles of seabed. We are destroying our forests by strip mining and excessive logging. Our water supplies dwindle because we’d rather over-supply things like almond milk than pay attention to what the earth can sustain. Our consumerism is literally destroying our planet. And as long as those with privilege have air conditioning, clean water, carbon fuels, and excessive food supplies, the harm done to the earth will continue. This is not the way of God’s realm.

Repenting from consumerism without regard to the needs of our neighbors is a good start to bringing the realm of God a little bit closer. In fact, anytime we consider the needs of those around us before making decisions about how we will live, we bring the realm of God that much closer. Seeds of loving-kindness germinate and become thriving relationships. This is how we change what is into what pleases God.

It isn’t simple. The ways of White supremacy tell White folx that we deserve the best of everything and have every right to pursue material and financial success without regard to those around us. White supremacist culture tells us that we can take what we want and not have to worry about whether or not others have what they need. Think about how Flint, MI still doesn’t have clean water. Think about Enbridge’s plans to put a pipeline through tribal lands violating treaties. Think about the ways in which highways were built to destroy Black neighborhoods. The list goes on. We have the power to change all of this.

If we think about the realm of God growing from the tiniest seed (kindness or compassion or a thought about the greater good) into an enormous shrub where life is sustained, how can we not try harder? How can we not try harder to live with the larger community in mind? How can we continue to justify the way things are? How can we continue to contribute to the suffering of our neighbors and the suffering of the earth if we’ve heard Jesus’ call to repentance?

Jesus called for repentance again and again. He also invited his disciples to participate in brining the realm of God into the here and now. Today is an excellent day to scatter seeds and seek out the ones that are already germinating. The realm of God thrives on loving-kindness, and we all have the capacity to participate in its growth.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 13, 2021 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 and Psalm 20  • Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15  • 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17  • Mark 4:26-34

Photo: CC0image by beate bachmann

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Something Ezekiel Said

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October is upon us and with it comes the unrecognized, not-so-sacred season of stewardship campaigns. Every year the Stewardship Team endeavors to come up with a new and different way to ask people to increase their giving. In progressive circles we often shy away from the ugly truth that if everyone tithed (as in days gone by), most budget crises would be avoided. Instead we look at our budgets, figure out what we can afford to cut – everything from Christian education to liturgical arts and outreach makes its way to the chopping block. And sometimes even the ruthless cutting of funding that leaves some programs hanging by less than the proverbial thread is not enough to balance the budget. Then what?

Then we begin the conversation once more. Do we go on faith and trust that God will fill in the deficit? Do we plan to “borrow” money from ever-dwindling reserves if necessary? Do we take a more radical step and move to a less-than-fulltime pastor? The arguments on all sides have all been made before. It’s just a question of which side will prevail this year. What if we skip over this endless cycle of focusing on what’s lacking, (you know, the scarcity model of stewardship) and turn our attention instead to what we have and who we are – the kind of stewardship that focuses on abundance? What if we stop thinking about stewardship as a once-a-year pledge drive and reclaim it as a function of Christian living? Is it possible in this increasingly selfish, gratification-focused society to take a step back and remember whose we are?

I’ve been pursued all week by a phrase from Ezekiel: “Know that all lives are mine” says God through the prophet. Black lives plagued by the injustice of racism and then belittled by politicians and others. Puerto Rican lives at risk after hurricanes have decimated the island and politics have interfered with aid rightfully due. Muslim lives banned from the U.S. because xenophobia rules the day. Trans lives deemed unworthy to serve in the military to appease those who cloak bigotry with religion. Flint, MI lives poisoned by lead and still thirsty but forgotten because they are yesterday’s news. So many lives out on the edge, forced there by our sin.

Ezekiel warned the Israelites so long ago that human ways lead to sin and death. Was not this at the heart of Jesus’ message also? God’s way is a way of love that brings life, abundant life. Yet, we still have such a hard time hearing and believing God’s claim on us, on all people. We do not yet know that all lives are God’s. This is the crux of our stewardship problems. We forget that who we are and all that we have are on loan from God. We think our lives are our own. So, too, with our stuff; we earned it and it belongs to us to do with as we choose. The people of God have a remarkable tendency to hoard our gifts as if they weren’t freely poured out for the good of all people. We fool ourselves into believing that our gifts are for us alone and that we do not need to share them with others, especially those who are different from us.

We comfort ourselves by telling ourselves that we are working in God’s vineyard, we are doing God’s work in the world. We make this claim because we are Christians who go to church a couple times a month and throw a few dollars in the collection plate. We’re good people doing good things. Yet, are we really? Are we doing the work that God would have us do? How often do we remember those lives out on the edges? How often do we reach outside our comfortable pews and offer a life-saving hand in the name of Love? However often, it isn’t enough. The Body of Christ is rather stingy in the grand scheme of things. We might be hanging out in the vineyard, but I’m not sure how much work we are doing.

The good news is that it is not too late. “All lives are mine” is what God said thousands of years ago. Human ways of focusing on material gains and superficial differences give way to the sins of greed, hatred, and fear that will only result in death, and likely violent death at that. Holy ways of love, hospitality, generosity, and kindness will lead to life, and abundant life at that.

Perhaps if we all examine our lives as individuals, as congregations, and as the Body of Christ from the perspective Ezekiel proclaimed, we will be able to recognize that we are caretakers, stewards, not owners of anything. God claims all lives as God’s very own and continuously invites us into God’s abundance where there is more than enough Love and justice for everyone. When will we recognize God’s claim on us (and all that is) and respond accordingly?

Maybe this year’s stewardship campaigns can be an invitation to live our lives as faithful stewards of God’s Creation. Wouldn’t it be nice to stop worrying about budgets and focus on the work of building communities of love and grace that reach well beyond the limits of our human ways. Imagine! What beauty this life of abundance would hold! God dreams of a future when God’s claim on every life is recognized by all of us. What can we do to make this dream real?

For further sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 1, 2017
Exodus 17:1-7 with Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 or
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 with Psalm 25:1-9
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Photo: CC0 image by Janja Košuta Špegel

Categories
liturgy Prayer

A Pastoral Prayer for the Church of Today

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Holy and merciful God, we would raise our voices with the Psalmist to sing your praises. We long to rejoice in you and tell of all the wonderful works you have done. We want to trust in you like Moses and Miriam, Peter and Mary, Paul and Lydia, yet we are distracted by the troubles of this world. How can we sing your praises when rising waters claim thousands of lives in Nepal,  Mumbai, and Texas? How can we proclaim your deeds when hatred walks our streets cloaked in your name? How can we sing your praises when so many of your people are not free? We lift our voices in anguish, wondering where you might be in the chaos swarming all around us.

God of all times and places, your memory is much greater than ours. You remember setting a bush on fire to call attention to your servant, Moses. He responded in fear and trembling, yet did as you told him. Open our eyes to the power of your presence that we, too, might burn with the light and heat of hope, liberation, and healing, and not be consumed. Let us see that we, too, walk on holy ground. May we have the courage to stand barefoot in your presence and see as you see. See that the climate changes destroying so many lives are, at least in part, our doing. We have taken for granted the resources of the Earth without paying heed to the consequences. You have shown us a better way. May we follow.

Steadfast and loving God, you have so clearly demonstrated your love for the whole of Creation. We are to love genuinely, to love our enemies, to offer radical hospitality, and bless those who would persecute us. Just as you called to Moses, you call to each one of us. You know us by name and claim us as your own beloved. You place no conditions on us, only asking that we love as you love. Fill us anew with your strength that we might hold fast in the face of hatred. We lift up to you those who believe that the ideology of white supremacy, Nazis, and KKK are consistent with your teachings. Heal their hearts and lift their spirits so they, too, may walk in the way of Love. It is so hard to hold onto you when there are so many who speak hateful words in your name. We especially pray for the writers of the “Nashville Statement” and others who hide their hate in scriptures. Bathe them in your love.

God of all peoples, while we pray for our enemies, asking you to bless them with a deeper understanding of your love, we pray for those who are persecuted. We ask your blessings on your beloved children who are mistreated, dismissed, or murdered because of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation or their gender identity or expression. Once you rebuked Peter for tempting you to be something other than you were. May we hear that same rebuke each time we fail to recognize you in the face of another.

Patient and gracious God, in the midst of rising waters of floods and hatred, we cry out to you. Call us by name. Remind us that we are yours. Your Spirit flows through us and will not consume us. The ground we walk on is holy ground. You would have us be better stewards of Creation. You would have us care for the vulnerable among us and live peaceably with all. You yearn for us all to live fully as the amazing human beings you created us to be. You wait so patiently for us to walk in your ways, live in Love, and trust in you.

God of all that is, forgive us. Forgive us for our failure to trust in you and to love one another. Forgive us for remaining silent when hateful voices claim to speak on your behalf. Forgive us for failing to take seriously our responsibility to care for this planet. Forgive us for all the times we have given in to fear and turned toward human ways to keep us safe. Have mercy on us once again, and show us anew the wonders you desire for us. Remind us that it is never too late to repent and embrace the grace you offer. Let us see the vision you have for us, a vision filled with hope and good things. You are more than we can ever imagine. Grant us the courage to give up the smallness of our lives for the magnitude of your transforming love. With you anything is possible.

Holy God, we know that you continue to hear the cries of your people. You know of those who suffer and those who live in misery. Bind us together into the Church the world needs for the living of these days. May we join together with all who call on you to turn back the flood waters, the hatred, and the fear. Grant us the courage to remove our shoes, live on holy ground, and follow your sacred ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Permission granted for use in worship services with attribution: Prayer written by Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe.

RCL – Year A – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 3, 2017
Exodus 3:1-15 with Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c or
Jeremiah 15:15-21 with Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Categories
Poetry

A Poem about the Widow’s Mite

Here’s a poem from my book, Negotiating the ShadowsIt’s based on the Mark text for this week.

A Widow’s Wisdom

a simple offering
outweighed all others

combined
two copper coins

almost without valuebusiness-72174
took on significance

she gave to You
all she had

with intent
others offered bits

pieces of notable
value

thinking they honor You
and themselves

giving what they will not miss
in abundance

they missed
abundantly

the widow’s gift
lies unseen today

many cling to little
in hopes of more

or less
fear of losing

everything of importance
but gaining nothing of value

Your words were simple
directed at your followers

then and now
witnesses to You

two worthless coins
mean everything

when there is nothing else
to give

true life requires giving
to You

in abundance
without fear of emptiness

with trust and gratitude
for You offer

life
abundant

where two small coins
have value

canoe_01and one poor woman
has purpose

and wisdom
blessing

any and all who see her
as You did

giving every little bit
for the possibility

You hold out
to any and all

who give You
two copper coins

(or everything we have
and everything we are)

RCL – Year B – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 8, 2015
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
Psalm 127
1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

Photos from Pixabay. Used with permission.