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Musings Sermon Starter

Light the Lamps

Image of an clay oil lamp burning with others blurred in the background

I am distressed and disappointed at how this election is going. A landslide for Biden and other Democrats would have made a strong statement against white supremacy, militarized police, children in cages, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny and all the other ills of the current administration. How is it that nearly 50% of this country can believe that Trump is good for the United States? We have the highest COVID numbers and they are continuing to rise with no end in sight. We’ve pulled out of the Pairs Accord and pulled back on environmental protections at a time when super storms are normative and polar ice caps are melting. Why do more people not see this man for what he is? And how is it that the hope of overturning Roe v. Wade is more important than the lives of vulnerable people in this moment? Surely, we can do better than this.

If we want to do better in terms of eradicating white supremacy, ending militarized policing and improving the lives of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers along with LGBTQ+ folx and everyone else who is vulnerable in this country, then we who call ourselves Christians must change. We have options. We can recommit ourselves to God’s ways just as Joshua called the people of Israel to do as they entered into the promised land. We can remember that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, including the most vulnerable among us. Now would be a good time to do this, wouldn’t it?

How? Well, we can start by evaluating what it is we are doing. How are we being church? Are Amos’ words true for us? Is God pleased or displeased with our worship, our offerings, our ministries? Justice isn’t exactly rolling down. Nor is righteousness flowing freely. Doing what we have always done before and simply adapting it to be online doesn’t count as real change. We will know we have changed when justice rather than blood flows freely in our streets. Perhaps it’s time we went in search of Wisdom. She’s not easy to find these days. However, when we find her, she will lead us in holy ways; she will guide us in new ways of being church.

If this is all still too intangible, then let us look at Matthew’s story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. I’ve never liked this story. It always seemed so harsh and unnecessarily judgmental on the five who didn’t have enough oil. However, this parable feels very different to me during this election in the midst of pandemic. There is an urgency woven through it. Urgency and a fair degree of caution.

The five bridesmaids who brought their lamps and extra oil were ready, no matter how long into the evening the groom showed up. They were smart and prepared. The other five brought their lamps and no additional oil. Why? Apparently, they thought the others would share. Right. That would have made sense if these five were poor or couldn’t get to oil seller to buy more. There’s nothing that says they lacked the resources needed in the parable. They simply expected the others to give them some oil for no good reason except that the foolish ones didn’t have enough.

My friends, I suggest to you that progressive white church has acted as the foolish bridesmaids. We have expected others to make the changes we need to make. We have shown up unprepared in this world that is full of hatred and division. We are supposed to keep Love burning, illuminating the path of hope and healing for all those who come seeking. We’ve done little of this. Think about it.

For example, I live in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. It’s a large metro area with all kinds of people. Yet, I have encountered people who do not know that there are churches that ordain women, that welcome LGBTQ+ folx, that advocate for the vulnerable, and work to minimize global warming and climate change. There are people everywhere who have never heard of Mainline denominations. Why is that? We have shown up in 2020 unprepared. I’m not even sure we were out buying oil for our lamps when modernity made its appearance. I think we were sleeping, content with our comfortable pews and practices. We are on the wrong side of the doors and aren’t as well known as we’d like to think.

It’s not too late, though. The parable was one wedding, one groom, one party. The foolish bridesmaids missed it. They were shut out that night. We do not need to remain shut out. We can purchase more oil, trim our lamps, and be sure we shine with Divine Love, hope, and healing. In this light there is no room for fear of any of our neighbors. There is no room for the hatred that divides this country. There is no room for white supremacy.

We have work to do, my friends. This party is waiting for no one. If we want to heal what is broken in our country and in our world, we need to make ourselves known. It’s time to talk religion and politics and stop worrying about who will be offended. How can people make different choices if they don’t know there are different options. Why is progressive Christianity still a secret or still silent in the national picture? We can’t expect others to do the work for us. Check your oil supply and trim your lamps because the time for foolishness is over. The time for work has already begun.

RCL: Year A Twenty-third Sunday After Pentecost November 8, 2020 Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 with Psalm 78:1-7 or
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 or Amos 5:18-24
Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 or Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Photo: CC0image by Bhikku Amitha

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Sermon Starter

Simple (and nearly impossible) Requirements

This post originally appeared on RevGalBogPals as the Revised Common Lectionary Post on January 28, 2020.

I have been thinking a lot about discipleship these days. It’s not a word that progressive, predominantly white churches are all that comfortable with. Yet, with the lectionary moving from the Magi showing up to pay homage to Jesus to Jesus’ baptism, and to the calling of the first disciples… Discipleship seems a reasonable thing to contemplate. What does it really mean to be a disciple of Christ in the year 2020? This week’s text go a long way toward answering this question.

We start of with what is probably one of the most well-known texts: “God, has told you what is good, O mortal; do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” Nothing else is required. The finest sacrifices don’t matter. The largest donations don’t matter. We cannot purchase God’s heart; it isn’t for sale. Instead of focusing so much on our own lives, why not focus outside of ourselves. Where are we advocating for justice as individuals and as congregations? Where are we responding to our neighbors with loving-kindness? When and how do we walk humbly with God? I wish more people would hear the truth behind this popular verse. We are loved. We are saved. We are valued. Now let’s live in a way that demonstrates, that embodies, this truth for all people, for the whole of Creation. For Micah, discipleship would be what we do with our whole lives, not just with the pieces we offer up to God.

The psalmist emphasizes this point well in answering the question of who lives in God’s house. Who abides with God? The ones who do “what is right,” speak truth, and treat their neighbors with compassion and respect. The psalmist says nothing about those who attend worship regularly, make perfect sacrifices, or sing praises to God (loudly) in public spaces. It’s not about religious rituals performed on schedule; it’s about faithful living all the time, especially when it’s hard.

Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians continues along these lines. When we get caught up in what the world expects and start living that way – seeking wealth and power while ignoring the impact on our neighbors – we end up living very foolishly in God’s eyes. How often do we mistake wisdom for folly? How often to we forget what God requires of us and make it more complex than it needs to be. Imagine a world in which we could live in the wisdom of God’s ways without having to comply with someone’s understanding of “Christian perfection”? What if we left out judgement about who’s in and who’s out and started encouraging each other to be wise in the ways of justice, kindness, and humility?

If we were able to do this, maybe the blessings in the Beatitudes would have more meaning, more depth. It’s hard to know, of course. But what if we started seeing all those folx on the margins, the folx the church has historically kept at a distance, as those who are blessed in the ways Jesus enumerated?

Blessed are those who live with severe and persistent mental illness (and cannot access the care they need), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who have lost loved ones to suicide, gun violence, war, or natural disasters, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the refugees, asylum seekers,and immigrants who survive on the hopes of a better life, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger for justice and stop traffic on our streets with protests, for they will be filled.
Blessed are those who respond to their neighbors with loving-kindness, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are those who actively believe humanity can do better, for they will see God.
Blessed are the ones who risk their safety and well-being to create peace, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed those who are ridiculed and condemned for advocating for those on the margins, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people disrespect, dismiss, and lie about you because of the holy work of reparations, advocacy, and justice-making that you do.

What words do we most need to hear to awaken us to the beauty and simplicity of what God requires of us? We are blessed and we are to be blessings in the broken and forgotten places of the world. How do we let go of the non-essentials of being church and embrace the freedom God lays before us in asking that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God?

Photo: CC0 image by qcf-avocat

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Musings Sermon Starter

Sophia is Calling

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As I’ve been thinking about Wisdom in this time between the anniversaries of the Pulse massacre and Stonewall, I am haunted by a conversation I had many years ago. It wasn’t the first or the last such conversation, but it has been on my mind because it was one of the first times I was asked to justify my identity face-to-face. It was a hard conversation, as they all have been, and one the left me angry and worried about the future of the church, or at least my future as part of the church.

Anyway, several years ago, a woman came into my office to talk with me because she had “concerns” about me being a pastor and being married to another woman. Her stated goal was to understand what I thought being a Christian meant. She was convinced that I had to be under the influence of Satan in order to be ordained, married to a woman, and not have children. I don’t know if she placed these “sins” in an order of severity, but she wanted to talk because she had been a life-long member of the church I was serving. The conversation was lengthy and difficult. I don’t remember all of it, but a few bits stand out in my memory.

She started in by questioning my claim to be an ordained minister. I told her that women had been ordained in our denomination (United Church of Christ) since 1853. Surely God would have made any objections known in the intervening years. She didn’t like it but took a breath and went on to her next question. It was kind of a trick question because she had hoped for a different answer.

“Why don’t you have children?” She really wanted me to say that it was because I was married to a woman. She was unprepared for the truth which was a painful struggle with infertility. I was in my mid-thirties and could not seem to get pregnant. (I later learned that I would never be able to sustain a pregnancy.) She was silent for a moment or two, fishing around for something to say to alleviate the awkwardness of the situation or prove her theory about me, which was more likely the case.

Her face lit up as she hit on what I knew was coming. She told me that my “barrenness” was God’s punishment for my sinful “lifestyle.” I told her that I really didn’t believe God worked that way at all. I carefully explained that I thought God was more about loving us and encouraging us to love ourselves and each other more than about seeing that all our sins were punished accordingly. She paused for a moment before suggesting that maybe God was just testing my faith and when I showed God true faith I’d be rewarded with a child.

I again told her that God didn’t work that way. God knows my heart and doesn’t need to test me through cruel adversity. She didn’t know what to say to that so just plowed ahead.
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” I assured her that I did without bothering to explain that I might have a different understanding of what those words meant.
“Do you believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” Again, I assured her that I did and kept my understanding to myself. Her face said that she did not believe me. She scanned my office as if looking for clear evidence of my heretical status.

She practically jumped out of her seat when she came up with her next question. “Do you believe that the Bible is the word of God?” I surprised her by saying that I did. So she fumbled around until she basically asked if I believed that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and no other revelation from God exists (I don’t remember her exact words). And I finally gave her what she was looking for when I said no. She declared that she knew I was a “tool of Satan” and that people like me would destroy her church.

I didn’t respond well to her pronouncement, unfortunately. I suggested that one of us might indeed be under Satan’s influence, clearly indicating that I didn’t think it was me. She left my office telling me that she would pray for my salvation and I assured her that I would pray for hers as well. She slammed the door on her way out. She did, however, show up in worship the next Sunday. Our relationship continued to be contentious during my tenure at that congregation.

Honestly, I think this interaction is on my mind because I keep hoping that the church will change. I keep praying that we will leave behind the need for certainty of our own righteousness of doctrine and practice and, instead, embrace the mystery and majesty that is God. Yes, we need language to share our beliefs and strengthen our faith communities. At the same time, we need to understand that the language is limited and God is far more than we can speak (or write).

Proverbs tells us that Sophia, Holy Wisdom, cries out everywhere we go, yearning for us to share God’s delight in the whole of Creation. Where God creates beauty and oneness, we seem to respond with fear and division. God invites us into community, into sacred relationship, and we react by building walls and isolating ourselves from those who are different from us.

I’m tired of having the kinds of conversations where I am condemned for being a woman who is ordained and married to a woman, and for believing in a God of Love above all else. There’s enough anger, violence, and hatred in the world without the Body of Christ perpetuating or participating in these things. God’s ways are about unity and sanctuary. Human ways are about division and (false) security. It’s time we respond differently when Sophia calls.

RCL – Year C – Trinity Sunday – June 16, 2019
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

Photo: CC0 image by Stefan Keller

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Poetry Prayer

A Poem for Trinity Sunday

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Holy One,

I contemplate the sacred dance
and wonder when I will learn the steps
steps of peace, healing, hope
not just for a few
for all who yearn for freedom

You created all that is
as the Spirit hovered
and the Word spoke
and Wisdom beaconed
and the whole of You delighted in Creation

now we are tangled up in the limits of our language
trying to make You three and one
when You are always so much more
a Sacred Mystery breathing Life
and stirring visions

our lips have been burned clean
our sins have been blotted out
yet we remain outside your realm
(with guns in hand and fear holding us still)
which is close enough to reach
and too far for us to embody
because we have yet to believe
that which has always been:

Your love for us never ends
we can refuse to see it or claim it
we can deny it and avoid it
yet, we cannot separate ourselves from Love

what if the day is coming when our world is shaken
by the power of your glory
shaken so hard that we fall from doubt and disbelief
fear and hatred
apathy and ambivalence
into the truth of your delight in us?

what if we hover with the Spirit over Creation’s waters
and see only Love reflecting
an invitation to learn the steps of the dance
right now?

what if we hear the Word that sears our lips
and speak only grace, hope, and joy
echoing the song you’ve been singing from Earth’s beginning
longing for us to listen?

what if we follow Wisdom’s way
and create justice and offer mercy
until the world finds its rhythm
without violence
without destruction
without division?

God-in-Community,
may you remain patient with humanity
remain steadfast
until we claim your Love
share your Love
embody your Love

continue to shower us with forgiveness
until we know the truth
of your claim on us
and have the courage
to see you
in ourselves
in each other
in the whole of Creation

teach us to seek justice for all people
to love with your patience and compassion
and rely on You when we encounter the limits
of our bodies
of our minds
of our human ways

during this Pentecost season
blow through our lives
and set our holy heads on fire
that we may be the Church-Made-New
born again
born from above
born anew

Amen.

For sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – Trinity Sunday – May 27, 2018
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

Photo: CC0 image by Jill Wellington

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Musings Sermon Starter Uncategorized

The Wisdom of a Covenanting God

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When I contemplate my little life, I marvel at God’s extraordinary patience. With me, yes, and also with the rest of humanity. How is it that God has remained steadfast in God’s love for us? I mean, how many times does God have to spell out what we need to do to live in peace before we grasp it? I can’t even get through a day without losing patience with someone or something (usually some electronic device that I can’t make work). How has God made it through millennia without smiting the entire planet and starting over?

Winter weariness has definitely contributed to my thought pattern, but my thinking is more a result of contemplating covenant. God has covenanted with humanity for longer than we can remember. I think about Noah and the covenant that stated a truth not understood then or now – God does not destroy. To participate in this covenant, human beings should also refrain from destruction of one another and the planet. Look how well we’ve done that! Then there was Abraham. God promised Abraham a multitude of descendants who would become great nations. Abraham got his descendants but God is still waiting for the great nations to emerge. We haven’t even begun to try to walk blamelessly before God with any consistency.

With the echos of “do not destroy” and “walk blamelessly,” we come to the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. The Ten Commandments. So, if we want to refrain from harm to one another and Creation and we want to be blameless before God, all we need to do is follow these Ten Commandments. Simple enough. God must have thought so. Moses must have thought so. Yet, we human beings can’t make it through a day without breaking at least one commandment. Then we have the audacity to blame God or someone else for our inability to live in Love. All I can do is shake my head and marvel at God’s tenacity. God hasn’t given up on us yet.

Paul reminds us that God’s foolishness is beyond human wisdom. Good thing, too, or we’d all be dust by now. God foolishly loves the whole of Creation. So much so that God continued to expand on the covenants of old. God keeps making them bigger, bolder, more dramatic to see if we will ever catch on. Instead of paying attention, we point and say that even Jesus got angry and flipped over some tables. Right. Jesus got angry and did something to restore justice. He didn’t just post on social media that the situation was horrible. He went to the money changers and kicked them out of the Temple courtyard. Jesus didn’t do this because he was having a bad day. He did this because people had failed to live in Love and were profiting off of the poor. Jesus tried to show us how to live in Love, a Love that does not abuse its privilege but ensures that all are valued, particularly in God’s house.

In case you can’t tell, I’m in need of some soul reviving. Perhaps you are as well. The world is an exhausting place and trying to live into the Covenant writ large in Jesus takes a fair amount of energy. I wonder what it would take for us to trust in the perfection of God’s ways enough to experience the sweet life that would flow into us. Wouldn’t it be something if we could live without destruction, be blameless before God, honor and strengthen the community around us, and take action to ensure justice for all of God’s beloved? I know these things are easier said than done. We have a few millennia of practice behind us and we have yet to succeed.

The good news here is that God’s steadfast love truly does endure forever. While I feel like humanity might just be running out of time, I’m not sure God would agree with that assessment. As we journey through the wilderness, barrenness, chaos of this Lenten season, perhaps we can search out the places where God’s love breaks through all our foolishness. Perhaps we can look around us and see the signs of God’s continuing covenant with us and be thankful. Perhaps we can join with others to create communities of faith committed to embodying Love, the very opposite of our tendencies toward destruction, self-focus, and individual needs. Maybe this will be the Lent in which we give up our human foolishness (that insists we don’t need God) and embrace God’s foolishness (that insists on Love)…

For further sermon ideas, try here.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday of Lent – March 4, 2018
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Photo: CC0 image by jacqueline macou

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Musings Sermon Starter

Naptime is Over

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Mental illness crosses all human barriers. No one is exempt. Wealth can’t buy its way out. Power cannot force it away. Religion cannot keep it at bay. It isn’t contagious but everyone is potentially at risk. Usually, its causes are biological, genetic and often emerges as an individual comes to adulthood. It can also be triggered by trauma or acute stress. There’s no guarantee that any of us will escape a challenge to our mental health. The statistics are clear: one in five adults lives with a mental illness. Whether we admit it or not, mental illness touches all of us – directly or in a loved one.

Let’s not be deceived when the media or the President blames mental illness for mass murder. (The other piece of this that I will not address directly in this essay is that only white shooters are described as being mentally ill; everyone else is labeled as a “terrorist.”) Other countries have people who live with mental illness, but the U.S. has the highest rates of mass shootings. We have a problem, and mental illness is only a small part of it. Easy access to guns is another part of it, perhaps a bigger part. But the underlying issue is our culture of violence.

This culture that endorses violence as entertainment, as a way to resolve conflict, as a way to express anger, as a means of controlling others, and so many other, more subtle aspects of society, now wants to place the blame on those who have historically been victimized. Racism is a form of this violence. Misogyny is a form of this violence. Rape culture certainly is. White supremacy had a hand in creating this culture. And, I hate to say it, but Christianity has helped to shape it as well. Was it not human fear and intolerance that nailed Jesus to the cross? And the name of Christ has been used to justify centuries of violence and injustice. Why have we not learned a better way?

Yes, the Bible is full of stories of violence. Tribal warfare justified by vengeful gods. Society has changed since then. None of us needs to conquer the peoples living the next town over in order to survive the winter. We understand that human beings are all created in the image of God. We have heard Jesus repeat the Jewish mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves. Nowhere does Jesus say that we are to blame the vulnerable for the ills of society. Nowhere does Jesus say that we have the right to kill those we perceive to be different. Nowhere does Jesus say that it is good to kill those who offend or frighten us. In fact, wasn’t it Jesus who said something about turning the other cheek and forgiving more times than we can count?

If we want to feel safe in our homes, on our streets, in our schools, in our shopping centers, in our movie theaters, at our sporting events, and in our houses of worship, then we need to make changes. First, we need to change the way we think about violence. It should not be entertainment, especially for young or vulnerable minds. It should not be in our every-day vocabulary. “Killing” something should not be a positive term, ever. Chocolate cake shouldn’t be something we’d “kill” for. We should never “threaten” to kill someone if they do something we don’t like. How much has violence become normative in our lives? When violence is not normative, then people who experience mental health crisises, are less likely to be violent.

While we are seriously contemplating the ways in which violent words, action, and entertainment have infiltrated our lives, then we can think about who we “blame” for the violence on our streets. No matter who we name, we have such a small piece of the systemic puzzle. Remember that racism and white supremacy bred this culture of violence. White, powerful men endorse rape culture. Bullies always blame those they perceive to weaker. So before we blame those who have long been victimized, we must take a good long look in the mirror. Our silent or ambivalent or passive acceptance of “the way things are” has significantly contributed to the violence in society.

Now we must seek to see the human being in all others we meet. If we see them as human beings, then it is more likely we will see Christ in them as well. When we see all human beings as equally valuable in God’s sight, then we can find the motivation necessary to address the brokenness in our society. We can stop living in fear. Love makes violence far less accessible. If we stop living in fear, it won’t be so easy to fool ourselves into thinking that we need guns to protect ourselves. If we stop living in fear, we can remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and make it much more acceptable and accessible for those who experience symptoms to get necessary treatment. If we stop living in fear, we will stop excusing police officers who kill people of color. If we stop living in fear, we will stop denying the story of women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted. If we stop living in fear, we can unclench our fists, roll up our sleeves and get to the work of justice that Jesus calls us to do.

If we keep living in fear, we will be haunted by the words of the prophets. We will keep running from the lion and the bear, only to be bitten again and again by the snake. Our festivals, our worship, our sacrifices will continue to mean nothing to God because justice is not rolling down and righteousness is not flowing. Wisdom will not find us and our lamps will remain unlit.

We have long since fallen asleep. It’s time to wake up, fill our lamps with oil, and follow in the way of Christ. We’ve been asleep for far too long.

RCL – Year A – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – November 12, 2017
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 with Psalm 78:1-7 or
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 or Amos 5:18-24
Wisdom of Solomon 6:17-20 or Psalm 70
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Photo: CC0 image by Congerdesign

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Musings Sermon Starter

10 Ducklings: A Lesson in Wisdom

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Every once in a while ordinary things become extraordinary. While out to buy new walking shoes, my wife and I stopped at a gas station on the way home. There was a mother duck and one baby duck. I was remarking how sad that was because it meant that she lost the others. Then the one baby disappeared into the grate it was walking over. The mother’s distress became apparent then. I jumped out of the car, ran over to the grates, and lifted them off. The rescue of ten ducklings followed shortly.

My first thought was how stupid the poor mother duck was. Then it occurred to me that there was nothing wrong with the duck. Those grates were made by human hands and human minds too focused on other things to make grates that baby ducklings could not fall through. How foolishly self-focused we human beings can be!

Now I think about Wisdom – God’s first act of creation – hovering over creation’s waters and crying out in the marketplace, at the crossroads, and at the gates, and I wonder who is listening to her. The news I’ve seen recently would say that there are few who hear her sacred words. There are better things to worry about than which bathroom any particular person chooses to use or the sexual orientation of one’s clergy person. The sheer numbers of people who respond to the fear-mongering balderdash of a certain presidential candidate indicates the inability to hear the beautiful, though often challenging words of Wisdom. It seems that some people are quite content to let ducklings fall through grates and then blame the ducks rather than save the ducklings and fix the grates.

During this season of Pentecost may we open our ears and our hearts to Wisdom. She knows the depths and what powerful gifts may rise from them. She knows the heights and what transforming joy may live there. She knows the human capacity for folly and for genius. She has walked the earth since before time was counted. We would do well to listen to her. Perhaps when we do, we can save more than ducklings.

RCL – Year C – Trinity Sunday, First Sunday after Pentecost – May 22, 2016
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

Photo CC-BY-NC by Erika Sanborne

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Musings Sermon Starter

Come, Holy Spirit, Come

2016-05-11 11.34.18Many years ago I was the interim pastor at a small church and was free to celebrate Pentecost without regard to that congregation’s tradition. We decided that it would be confirmation day for the small group of youth who had been going to classes and they wanted red balloons among other things. This was long before I knew anything about latex allergies so red balloons it was. They were tied in bunches all over the sanctuary and there were red streamers galore. It was a day of joy to be sure. Until a balloon escaped and wrapped itself around a ceiling fan.

For all I know that balloon is still there. While the Trustees were not amused because accessing those high ceiling fans was problematic, I found it very funny. These balloons were symbols of the Spirit, the Spirit we think we have tamed. The one rogue balloon reminded me that we have not tamed the Holy Spirit and we still cannot predict where she will go and she is very likely to present us with quite a bit of challenge.

As I contemplate Pentecost this year, I am surrounded by the beauty of Holy Wisdom Monastery in Wisconsin. I’ve come here to work on my next book, Embodying Christ: Being a Lifesaving Church. It is about my experience with suicide – part memoir, part theological reflection, and part clinical response. Beginning to write this book has provided me opportunity to look back at my life differently than I ever have before. I can see where the Spirit was moving even when I thought I was completely alone.

This is true for my personal story as well as my professional one. As I was walking through the rain-soaked woods this morning, listening to all the bird calls, sliding on the mud and wet grass, it occurred to me that the Church has no idea what power it holds. We have built beautiful buildings that are now crippling many congregations. We have created dogma and doctrine and rules of membership that keep people away. We have forgotten that we are stewards of Creation, agents of Grace, bearers of Hope. We think the Spirit is with us when we feel good. We choose not to remember the unsettling capacity of the Spirit to discomfort the comfortable and lead us to places we would not go on our own. The Spirit still calls as surely as those early morning birds I heard this morning. I’m not sure we are listening to her very well.

We worry about how to get Millennials into our congregations. We think if we have someone who can bring in young people and their families, all will be well. In the meantime, we’ve forgotten the power of the God we worship. We have long-neglected the flames of passion for fear of not being politically correct. We are reluctant to claim Christ as our path to God, a path that requires unbridled, unconditional love for ourselves, our neighbors, Creation and Creator. Why would young people want to join a church where the flight of the Spirit is disrupted by ceiling fans and traditions more often than she’s allowed to move where she wills?

2016-05-09 18.28.40.jpgWhile walking earlier today through wet woods and prairie on my way to a small lake, I noticed dear, rabbit, and fox tracks. I heard the call of a wide variety of birds and the sound of yesterday’s rain dripping off the newly leafed branches. Violets, purple and white are scattered everywhere. Other early wildflowers bring patches of yellow, white, and purple to the grassy path I walked. The sense of aliveness in this place awakens something in me. It’s been a long time since I’ve awoken to the sound of the woods in the morning. I yearn to breathe in this life, to be a part of the wildness that lies just below the surface.

This is what worship should do, this is what church should be. When we gather to worship God, there should be evidence of a barely contained wildness. A wildness that beckons to all, inviting all to stop a while and breathe deeply this breath of life that will change, challenge, and empower us.

As we celebrate Pentecost this year, may we experience the wildness of the Spirit that set those early heads on fire. May her winds blow through our lives and our churches to clear a path for passion. May her touch set our hearts aflame and connect us with the wildness that lies just below the surface. As a birthday gift to the Church, wouldn’t it be great to set her free?

RCL – Year C – Pentecost – May 15, 2016
Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17 [25-27]

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Waiting for Wisdom

epiphany
We know the story. Maybe we know it too well. Many of us barely made it to Bethlehem in time to hear the angels sing. Then we get lost in the crowds because we don’t want to hear about the slaughter of the innocents. And who wants to wait around for the magi to show up with their odd gifts? The world has moved on. The Christmas items that have been for sale since October have been replaced with Valentines. Christmas doesn’t really end until January 6th, but for most of us it is already a hazy memory and we’ve moved on to New Year’s celebrations and shoveling snow.

It’s important to stop and take a breath and ask if the Magi are worth waiting for. Christmastide is twelve days long, shorter than all other liturgical seasons. It should not matter that the commercial side of the holiday has been going on for months. On the Church side of things, something spectacular is happening. We are welcoming the Light of Christ into the very darkness that always tries to overcome it. We are waiting for those who come with Wisdom, bearing gifts to honor the One who came in innocence to lead us through the darkness.

When a quick scan of the news reveals several dead in a car bombing in Beirut, a priest murdered in California, a 10 week old baby beaten in New Hampshire, and violence in Sudan, it’s clear to me that the world is still in much need of sacred light. So what are we doing rushing from one thing to the next, without taking notice of why where going or how we’re getting there? And when we see those bright spots of blessing in our lives and in the world around us, how do we express our gratitude and share the blessing with others?

Here’s my problem. I love Christmas, the quiet beauty that peaks through the chaos. I know that God breaks into chaos all the time. But once, in a crowded city, God became incarnate. I want to spend time with that mystery and find that holy child before I run to the next thing. I want to wait for Wisdom to show up and share her gifts. I don’t want to leave this season for the next with my heart cluttered and my spirit exhausted. I don’t care if the stores have moved on to Valentine’s Day or that most of my neighbors have taken down their Christmas lights, I need to be still a little longer while the lights of Christmas flicker. I need to savor the sacred stillness in the moments between what was and what will be. The Magi are on their way. Wisdom approaches in the midst of everything. I’m willing to wait. Are you?

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday after Christmas – January 5, 2014
Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-122013-02-16 15.44.07
Psalm 147:12-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21
Ephesians 1:3-14
John 1:(1-9), 10-18

Or the readings for Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12

Categories
Poetry

Reflections on Wisdom

Proverbs tells us that Wisdom was God’s first creation and that she was present and active during every other act of creation. She was God’s delight and delighted in humanity. I can’t help but wonder if this is still true.

The Psalm raises the question of why God would be mindful of human beings. Is it because Wisdom rejoices and delights in us?

Both of these touch something deep within me. Carl Jung suggested that Christianity would be better represented by a quaternity rather than a trinity. He suggested Satan be included in the Godhead, given the power of evil in the world. If we’re going to commit such heresy as messing with the Trinity, I’m not inclined to give Satan any more power. But I’d be all for a quaternity that included Sophia – the Wisdom of God. Maybe we would pay a little more attention to her…

So this week is a poem in her honor:

SOPHIA’S DAUGHTERS

By way of warning I must say
that I’ve been known to sit at Sophia’s feet -­
the Goddess within the God -­
the still, small voice in the dark of night
brings light to my path and
melody to my dance.

Hovering over creation waters
Wisdom gave birth to dry land.
Later she spoke the Word become flesh.
In between

She held Eve’s hand at the gates of Eden
Taught Sarah to laugh
and Miriam to dance.
She gave comfort to Hagar
and courage to Esther.

And one night she sat with Mary
who pondered a request
Sophia held her hand in those moments
between her yes and possible no.
Then they walked together for
nine months that spread beyond thirty years.

She danced with others, too -­
a woman at a well who yearned
for living water
had the Wisdom to ask for a drink.

Another who poured out oil and tears
in search of life
found Wisdom on her knees
before the Word spoken aloud.

And let us not forget the other Mary –
the one of questionable means –­
She danced with grace that only Sophia could grant -­
demons cast out and
sins forgiven -­
Compassion rooted in her soul; she found
hope in Wisdom’s child as her
eyes were opened.

There are others more numerous than those in the Book -­
Daughters of Sophia — I am one, perhaps you as well…

Eyes wide with wonder I see her:
forgotten Goddess swallowed in
memory of the God.

Lest we forget,
She holds the world in her hands
By her light we see
By her guidance we live -­
at least we try…

You need not agree;
just remember I sit at Sophia’s feet
and listen for a voice seldom heard…

2013-05-22 20.55.58

Sophia on Star Island – Oil on Canvas

RCL – Trinity Sunday – First Sunday after Pentecost – May 26, 2013

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-3
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15