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Musings Sermon Starter

Weather Forecast

boat.JPGI was bullied as a child, mercilessly and by many for years. I was teased for being tall, for appearing older than I was, and for the clothes I wore. I endured catcalls and lewd remarks from the time I was nine-years-old. I was harassed because I was smart, because I was always reading a book, because I wasn’t allowed to watch much tv, because I wore glasses, and because I befriended the “weird” kids. In truth I was a shy, sensitive child who came from a family that didn’t have much in the way of resources, physical or emotional. Needless to say, I have no patience for bullies today. I tend to side with victims without asking questions, even though I know that most bullies are pretty miserable people themselves.

Bullying seems normative in our society these days. Last week a mosque was bombed in the city where I work. This week the President is threatening North Korea with nuclear bombs. A couple of weeks ago someone died by suicide less than two miles from where I live and this week someone else engaged in similar suicidal behavior but did not die. Why are we in such a hurry to kill our global siblings, our neighbors, ourselves? More importantly, where are the Christian voices crying out for God, crying out against violence and the threat of more? Where are those who side with the victim and speak truth to power?

As I read the story of Joseph and his brothers, I am reminded that human nature has not changed much, if at all, in the intervening years. Joseph’s brothers debated between murder and slavery just because Joseph was their father’s favorite. Maybe he was a bit obnoxious and even flaunted his favorite son status. Did he deserve the degree of hatred his brothers had for him? They were going to kill him before one of them came up with the idea to sell him as a slave. We want to rush in and say that this wouldn’t happen today, not over a robe, multicolors or long sleeves notwithstanding. Yet, we can’t. People are killed over such things often enough. We can say that they aren’t usually literal siblings, but sometimes they are. And does it matter? If our Muslim neighbors are not safe in our neighborhood, neither are we. Bombs can’t tell the difference between a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Jew, or anyone else. If there is nuclear war in North Korea or anywhere else, the entire planet will pay the price. When one person dies by suicide, the community is affected. We may not share blood the way that Joseph and his brothers did, but do we not share more than that? Are we not one in Christ?

When we forget that we are God’s people, we tend to do regrettable, selfish things. Selling our siblings into slavery, bombing our neighbors, or completely losing hope that there is a way through the pain. Of course, a simple profession of faith is not going to end oppression, or hatred, or abject despair. Peter professed his faith right out loud and walked on water. Until he sank. And he sank because he mistook Jesus’ authority for his own. His flimsy words were no match for the Word. As he sank into the waves, Peter experienced a deeper need for God, a need to literally be saved.

If ever the world needed a Savior, it is now. I’m not talking about saving souls. God can do that without our help. I’m talking about saving lives. You know, pulling Joseph out of the pit, defusing the bombs, ending wars, and offering hope to those who have none. All this means doing more than asking Jesus to speak our names. It means stepping out of the boat, trusting Jesus to walk with us through the storms, holding us up in the moments of drowning doubt. It’s time to stand up against all the bullies, bullies who live small lives full of anger, pain, and fear and feel better about themselves by humiliating and harming vulnerable people around them.

Jesus didn’t sit quietly on the sidelines when someone was hurting. Jesus intervened and offered healing and hope. As church, are we not the embodiment of Christ? Then we should be doing the very same thing. We should bring healing, hope, and welcome into community wherever we go. Joseph is crying out for saving. Our Muslim neighbors are crying out for welcome and inclusion. Our siblings across the globe are crying out for end to meaningless war. People are around us are crying out for hope. We, as church, the Body of Christ, have the capacity to transform this culture of bullying into a culture of grace.

The time for silence and inaction has long passed if it ever existed. If you are a follower of Christ, then the time has come to save lives. Speak up against the bullies everywhere you encounter them, especially if it is in the Oval Office. Welcome our Muslim neighbors with more than words. Offer love and kindness to all those you meet; you never know when a small kindness will make a life-saving difference. We can choose to remain silent and safe and lend tacit power to those who are bullies. Or we can take the risk of doing something new and different by reaching out with a friendly hand. The storm is raging all around us. It’s time we give up our seats in the boat for those more vulnerable and learn how to embody the words that will finally bring an end to the raging winds and blinding rains.

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 with Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b or
1 Kings 19:9-18 with Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

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

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Musings Sermon Starter

A Different God

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When will we stop sacrificing our children to appease unresponsive gods? Our children die on the altars of hatred, fear, ignorance, and greed on a daily basis. And the funny thing is the spilling of their blood changes nothing. We continue to blame addicts for their “weakness” and tell ourselves that they are not worth saving. We justify police shooting unarmed black men by telling ourselves that “the system works.” We sit back and let war continue because it is “over there.” We let children go to schools with inadequate resources and wonder why they don’t do well. We restrict access to mental health care, safe housing, and health care and shake our heads when the numbers of homeless individuals continues to rise. How many of our children need to be consumed by these greedy, societal gods before we recognize that there is another way?

We have spent so much time criticizing Abraham’s parenting skills and his “blind faith” that we have failed to learn the lesson of this story. God did not require the sacrifice of Isaac. Other gods of the time demanded child sacrifice to be appeased, but the God of Abraham did not. It’s possible that Abraham believed God needed the sacrifice of Isaac because all the other gods of the time required child sacrifice. Abraham knew it was in the realm of what a god could ask. Yet, God, the one who led Abraham to a new land and promised a glories future, would never require someone to do such a thing. God requires only love and grateful service. Why is it that we think sacrificing our children will change anything? Thousands of years have gone by since God told Abraham that the blood of children was not required. This was not the way of the God of Abraham. And it never would be.

I know some of you are thinking that God sacrificed God’s own child to cleanse the world which would negate the idea that God does not ask for the sacrifice of children. We must then ask ourselves how it is that Jesus ended up being crucified. God didn’t do it. Human beings did. The Temple Authorities and the Roman Authorities colluded to put an end to a treasonous revolutionary before the peasants actually rose up in revolt. Jesus, like so many children before and since, was sacrificed on the altar of hatred, fear, ignorance, and greed. Unlike with Isaac, God didn’t intervene to provide another sacrifice. Instead, God transformed death to life to show, once again, that violence and death are not stronger than Love.

We worship a God like no other. We worship a God who wants only goodness for us. Saving Isaac was a display of God’s difference from other gods. This is not a God who wants torment and torture for the people of God. This is a God who yearns for us to discover our value, our innate holiness, and for us to live in the abundance of grace God provides. Yet, somehow, sparing Isaac was not enough. Resurrecting Jesus was not enough. What will it take for us to turn away from these lesser gods who are destroying us, consuming our children without hindrance?

In Romans, Paul so eloquently reminds us that we are not to be slaves of sin and death. We belong to Christ whose ways lead to eternal life. When Christ’s ways become our ways, the bloodthirsty gods of our day diminish in power and appeal. Yes, they will always be around to tempt us with quick fixes, fragile safety, and fleeting power. However, Christ’s ways bring transformation that truly heals, sanctuary that lovingly protects, and strength that builds rather than destroys.

It’s easier than we think. Jesus tells us, in Matthew’s gospel, that it’s about unwavering, extravagant hospitality. We are to go out of our way to welcome all those we meet. We are to go out of our way to save our children from the dangers of this world. That cold cup of water might be inconvenient to provide in the desert heat, but it’s possible and it is life-saving. Hatred, fear, ignorance, and greed will tell us that it’s okay to continue as we are, but they are known liars. We worship a God like no other, a God of life and love. Is it not time to stop sacrificing our children and start welcoming all one cup of cold water at a time?

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

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

Photo: CC0 image by Public Domain Pictures

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Musings Prayer

A Psalm for Syria

Psalm 139 is one of my favorites. It has particular poignancy as I read it today, knowing that there is a strong possibility that the United States will be more actively involved in Syria’s civil war by this time next week. Here is my take on the the psalm for this week.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me and those I would label as my enemies. You know when I sit down and when I get up; you know what I’m thinking even when I don’t. You know the people in Syria just as well as you know me.

You know how I spend my days and when I sleep even when I am anxious and restless. How anxious the people of Syria must be! I can sleep well at night and they await the next round of bombs and gun fire.

You, O Lord, know the words that will tumble out of my mouth. You would know them even if I lived in Syria.

Your love surrounds me and embraces is me. Your love surrounds Syrians, too. You hold them with the very same hands.

Even as I say these words, the greatness of your love is beyond my grasp and always will be.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?

No where. If all is well, you are there. If this country enters into more war, you are there.

In every corner of the universe, you are there, offering guidance and strength.

If war and violence blot out the light of hope, you are still there. There is no place, no situation, that can darken your love for me, for the people of Syria, for all people…

For it was you that created me just as you created all other people.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made as is the whole of humanity. The works of your hands are wonderful; I should pay more attention to your wonders, especially when I encounter them in another human being.

Nothing is hidden from you. You created me, shape me, and know the days of my life. This is true for all people, including those on whom this country may wage war. You behold everyone’s unformed substance and have hopes for all of us.

Your thoughts of love and peace are more than I can count. No matter where I am, you are still with me. No matter where any one person in Syria is, there you are also.

I really wish you would get rid of those who seek violence and spread hatred in your name, whichever name they know. It would be so much easier if  you would just wipe out those who do evil things for their own gain. However, I suspect that you would prefer that we work these things out without more and more death.

I do not like those who act against your ways and I don’t like myself when I find merit in their actions. Anger and sadness stir within me when I think of what is happening in Syria, Afghanistan, and all the places where people are murdered for ethnic or religious reasons, or any reason, really.

Search me, O God, and know my heart. And search those who have the power to make decisions about war; reveal to them your heart.

Reveal to me any hatred that lies within me that I may change my ways. Lead us all in the way of peace.ScreenHunter_47 Sep. 04 21.39

RCL – Year C – Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 8, 2013

Jeremiah 18:1-11 with Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 or
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 with Psalm 1 and
Philemon 1:1-21 and
Luke 14:25-33