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Musings Sermon Starter

A Bigger Table

Okay. I’m just going to say it. Jesus was wrong to make the Canaanite woman plead with him. Fortunately, he came to a new understanding after listening to her and was able to correct his mistake before it was too late. When the woman was crying out to him, Jesus ignored her until his disciples asked him to send her away because she was annoying and undeserving. Then Jesus basically told her that she wasn’t deserving of his attention because she was not an Israelite. She begged for his help. He declined. She pointed out that even dogs got the crumbs that fell from the table. Then Jesus healed her daughter and praised her faith. Jesus reacted to the woman as he had been taught. She persisted and was able to get him to see her as a human being, not just as a Canaanite woman. We could benefit from paying more close attention to this story.

Sometimes I feel like all I say is, “Come on, Church, we can do better than this.” And, yet, I feel compelled to keep saying it. We can do better because Jesus did better. People shouldn’t have to come begging us for help or healing. No one should have to persuade the church that they are worthy of God’s love. No one should have to convince us that they are worth saving. I cannot help but wonder how many lives have been lost because we as the church were not listening and failed to recognize the human being in need of help.

Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to always be welcomed in a church community. Maybe you’ve never been told that you are an abomination, an unrepentant sinner, unwelcome, unworthy, or undeserving. Maybe you’ve never been excluded from the life of the church because of your age, your gender, your sexual orientation, your marital status, mental illness, physical disability, or some other aspect of who you are. If that’s the case, then you know how Jesus and his disciples felt when the outsider wanted just a taste of what they had. What you don’t know is the desperation that drove the Canaanite woman to literally beg at Jesus’ feet.

Imagine what she must have been feeling. Her child was dying. She had heard about Jesus the healer. She knew she, as a Canaanite woman, had no business approaching a Jewish rabbi. She did it, though. And she persisted until Jesus saw her, heard her, and helped her. I wonder who is kneeling at our feet, begging for healing, hope, and wholeness that we are choosing not to see, hear, or help because of what we have been taught. And those teachings that say that anyone is undeserving of God’s love are not from Jesus. He learned something in his encounter with the Canaanite woman, and so should we.

My friends, the church has the antidote for much of what ails society today. While we cannot manufacture a vaccine for COVID-19, we can demonstrate what love looks like during a pandemic. We cannot meet in person without following all the appropriate guidelines. We can support the idea that these days, love wears a mask. More than that, though, as society becomes increasingly apathetic or hopeless, we can freely share the love we have in our communities. We can share resources ensure people are seen, heard, welcomed, and find a place of belonging.

We have been taught how to love our neighbors as ourselves. While it may not be easy when our society maintains the idea that its everyone for themselves, we know that every human being is worthy of God’s love. No one should have to beg for it. What would radical inclusion look like in our congregations? It’s more than the “All are Welcome” on so many of our signs. We would have to mean that all are welcome, even those who are treated like the Canaanites of Jesus’ day.

Perhaps we should take some time during pandemic to expand our welcome in ways that will last. Who have we excluded that we could work on including? Who has been begging for us to help them? Instead of focusing on what we cannot do during pandemic, let’s focus on what we can do. Let’s figure out how to be congregations that lead with love and grace, welcome and inclusion. We don’t have to keep making the same mistakes. Jesus didn’t. Let’s, you know, follow him. Crumbs that fall to the floor are fine for dogs. As far as people go, we to build a bigger table.

RCL – Year A – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 16, 2020
Genesis 45:1-15 with Psalm 133 or
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 with Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28

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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

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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

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Musings Sermon Starter

No Distinctions

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Welcome. Inclusion. Hospitality. These are all church words, words we try to embody to the best of our ability. Yet, not everyone feels welcomed. Not everyone experiences inclusion. Not everyone receives hospitality. There are limits to our being church, aren’t there? We aren’t perfect and we sometimes get it wrong. True. However, what about that Spirit who tells Peter “not to make a distinction between them and us”? I’m not sure how well we do this. Quite recently someone asked me why nonmembers have the same status as members and shouldn’t members be given some sort of preference.

In late October 2008 I moved from Massachusetts to NH to work as a clinical chaplain at the state hospital. On the first Sunday in November, I went to worship at a church where I didn’t know anyone. I was newly divorced, just moved away from my friends, starting a new job, and in the first semester of a DMin program. Worship was the place I needed to be for healing, for renewal, for building new relationships.

bread-399286_1920.jpgI found a church that had an 8:00am worship service so I could worship before going to work to lead services of my own. People were friendly and welcoming. The worship service was great until communion. I think it was World Communion Sunday so the pastors had planned this beautiful procession with all kinds of bread being brought to the table. There were several loaves of bread in different colors and shapes. And the message was a very clear “all are welcome” to the table, no exceptions.

However, I was the exception. I was not able to share in that simple, beautiful feast because I have Celiac disease and multiple food allergies. The church I had been serving prior to moving was a small, new church start where I made the communion bread so that all could share one loaf. I knew that I couldn’t receive communion in most churches, but for a variety of reasons the exclusion from that particular table hit quite hard. It was unexpectedly painful and I sat crying in this place where I knew no one and no one knew me.

As unintended as my exclusion from the communion table was, that morning in worship I felt the pain of having been rejected by church again and again. The early questions of whether or not I as a young woman should go to seminary… the later questions of the propriety of a divorced pastor continuing to serve a church… then the clear rejection after coming out… So many times I had been excluded if not completely rejected. On that November morning in a new place, feeling so alone, I sought the welcome, hospitality, and inclusion of church. Instead of experiencing these things, I felt the old pangs of unworthiness vibrating deep within.

Peter wrestled with some of these issues in his dream. What food could be shared and with whom were valid questions of the very early church. There was an “us” – those who had been Jews – and a “them” – those who were Gentiles. Peter was very clearly informed that his way of thinking about us and them was not going to work. He was to meet the people who came to him and accompany them along the way without distinction. No doubt this was a hard thing for Peter to learn, but it was necessary for this movement that would grow into the church.

It’s a lesson we would do well to pay particular attention to in this era of radical changes within the church. Remember that Jesus didn’t seem to pay particular attention to traditions and rules when people came to him with particular needs. He nearly always met the person where they were at and gave them what was needed. His words to his disciples after their last meal together summarizes this, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

When it comes to the body of Christ, there should be no “us and them.” This is how we love as Christ loved. If one has need, all have need. If one cannot, all cannot. That church in New Hampshire quickly moved to offering communion bread that accommodated my needs and the needs of others with food allergies. For me it was a huge step toward welcoming me and including me as “one of them.”hands-684499_1280.jpg

I cannot help but wonder who is feeling unwelcome and excluded from church now. Who could benefit from the hospitality we are capable of offering? There were no limits or qualifiers on Jesus’ love. When will the welcome, inclusion, and hospitality of the Christ we embody stop making distinctions between “us” and “them”?

RCL – Year C – Fifth Sunday of Easter – April 24, 2016
Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

Top Photo CC0 image by Petra
Middle Photo CC0 image by Sabine Schulte
Bottom Photo CC0 image by Axelle Spencer