God is still speaking! Are we listening?

God is still speaking!  It’s not just a catchy tagline used by our brothers and sisters of the UCC church, the United church of Christ. God is still speaking is a statement of faith–a belief that no matter what, no matter what’s going on, how bad life feels, God hasn’t gone away. That is God’s promise to his people from the beginning, through all the ages, and to today. And as a statement of faith, there’s no way that It can be proven.  We simply, we choose to believe that God is still speaking.   And if that’s what we believe, the next question must be: are we still listening?  After all, we probably know what it’s like to, what it feels like to talk, to speak, and not be heard, not be listened to.  God is still speaking, so how are we listening?


That is one if the tough questions in the story of Samuel and Eli. Samuel doesn’t expect to be hearing The Lord.  Alone at night what he hears is more logically old Eli calling from the other room.  And so time and time again, Samuel runs to Eli, waking him up, ready to listen to him, but Eli the prophet is not the one calling.  God is speaking, but not  to, not through Eli.  Eli is old, but not the good kind of old.  You know that grandfatherly wise and gracious kind.  Eli may be bitter and sad.  After all, his sons have turned away from him; they probably quit listening to him years ago, when they figured how they could live high, and fast and loose, by cheating the people, cheating The Lord.  When they started skimming off the top.  And Eli, well maybe at first he tried to call them back, but you know how it is when your not listened to–pretty soon you just stop talking.  That’s Eli, his physical blindness matches his spiritual emptiness.  He’s just been going through the motions. God’s word is scarce, because for Eli, it doesn’t mean much anymore.


But I’ve heard God’s word. Hopefully you’ve heard it too.  Those moments and times that will stay with you, that mean so much.


Just a few months ago God spoke in the words of hymns, of songs sung by a family around the bedside in intensive care.  Through the voices of Ruth’s children and grandchildren God was speaking, welcoming Ruth into God’s arms, into eternal rest with all the saints in light. And the beauty of it was that the words of faith Ruth’s family sung also comforted them, gave them the peace knowing that as their beloved mother and grandmother died she passed from this life to one with the God who loved her for all her long years.


So god doesn’t confine God’self to these sacred walls and sacred spaces.  God is speaking in places, and especially in the voices those we don’t expect. Samuel was not of the priestly line, he was just a boy.  God should have been speaking to and through the prophet Eli.


That is how our God works. When it seems like the normal channels are shut down, when the leaders, the powerful, the authorities, are not listening–God turns to the unexpected.  Of course, I say this as one of those–as the local church professional.  I’m here to tell you, that I don’t always have the answers, I don’t have a monopoly on God’s word,  and that maybe we should be listening to other voices.  In some churches, some people’s words carry more weight than others.  I have heaRd of congregations making decisions about ministry, about how to proclaim God’s word, not by how faithful it is to Jesus, but by what the big givers! you know the ones who right the biggest checks! or the ones who’ve been there the longest, or the ones that do the most, or do that you know really hard job that no one else will do.  Their word carries more weight.  Ands really if all we judge our actions by is practicality, by logic, by worldly standards, well that may not seem so bad. 


But this isn’t a club, we’re not just another institution, a non-profit.  We’re the church, and the church is God’s people.  And God doesn’t disqualify someone because of how much or how little he gives, doesn’t disqualify based upon age or experience. Intellect or fancy degrees.  There are no better quality people.  God may just be listening for whoever has the most open heart to pour out her Word.


It was last summer, I was outside of our building here, doing some sidewalk chalk evangelism, as we’ve been doing.  I wasn’t alone.  Larry was with me.  We are the church here, and we follow Jesus who is the way and the truth.  And the truth is a lot of people wouldn’t want to really pay attention and listen to Larry.  They allow his disability to get in the way of them really listening to him.  So out on the sidewalk I was finishing writing “God loves you”.  When Larry said to me, that’s not right.  I was confused and worried.  What was Larry going to say to me, what could I have done wrong?  Did I misspell something like Jesus? What could be wrong with God loves you?   Then Larry said, “don’t write that, write God loves everyone!”  In this day and age when so many turn to violence, when it seems we are so divided–rich and poor, republican, tea partier, democrat, black and white, immigrants. That subtle difference is so astute.  Larry’s words were God’s word that this world desperately needs.  It’s not just about me and mine, but all of us together.  God loves all, no matter how great or small.  So God is still speaking, but in this day in our country, in our city, in our congregation are we listening?


Hearing God speak is all about choosing to listen.  You can either choose to listen, or close your heart.  As followers of Jesus, it should be no shock that God speaks outside the regular channels. Jesus spoke the Word of God on the beach, as he ate with sinners, surrounded by hungry people, from the cross, and yes even in the house of worship.  And then, just as today those who heard him had to choose to really listen.


God has brought us to this place, we are in a house of worship.  We come expecting, looking, eager, and listening for God’s Word.  And that God is speaking in so many ways, in the different voices that speak the words of Scripture, in the words of forgiveness that are spoken as we enter worship, as I’ve mentioned before in the music.  But that’s not all.  God is still, God is even speaking in a way that sometimes gets overlooked and missed, is in the sharing of Christ’s peace. This isn’t “hi how ya doin?”, an excuse to get up, an interruption in worship.  At the sharing of the peace, God is speaking, as we repeat the words of Jesus, words spoken to his followers–peace be with you.  Jesus is saying to us today in the voices of so many different people who gather.  These are God’s words spoken by Jesus’ people.  Today, listen. Really listen.  Listen to the voice of friends, of family, of strangers, listen to voices young and old, listen for God speaking with all the accents of her people.


Today, the Word of God for us, is here, it’s all around, it’s in your homes, out on the streets, in the world.  Faith is about listening, because God is still speaking!  Amen.

Draw a name

What do these things have in common?  Mascots, bullies, identity? They all have to do with names. Mascot names are in the news because for some people they can be degrading. Bullies call people names, and names are part of our identity that we don’t want stolen or forgotten.


I don’t think anyone would argue about the importance of names.  I experienced an example of the value of names this August, when Tanya and I were at the Churchwide assembly in Pittsburgh, there was quite a discussion around names.  Specifically, in considering a statement on criminal justice there was a decision to replace in a document the name blacks with African Americans. What followed was a lively debate, well as much as you can have with about a thousand people following proper parliamentary procedure.  But we did spend time hearing from people express their opinions on using terms like, blacks, African Americans, people of color and people of African Descent.


Now to some this may seem inane or silly.  However getting a name right is crucial. Moses in our scripture passage knew that.  He knew if he were going to try to convince his people that he should be their leader in a face off with one of the most powerful forces of the world, the Pharaoh of Egypt.  Moses would need to make sure he knew something about this god.  He knew he was going to have to take with him some powerful proof, a word, a name.


Names are important, especially for people like the Hebrew slaves, especially for anyone who’s been oppressed.  Because one of the ways of oppression is to take away your name, take away your identity. Hundreds of years ago, when Africans were loaded onto boats to make the horrible journey to this country, when they were sold at auctions, when they were born.  The white masters took away the names, the language of their people, and gave them new names–trying to define and control them.  And as my family has learned in our travels, names that weren’t supposed to matter, just as their lives didn’t matter much.  At  Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson–where a monument to he and his family stands to this day, at Mount Vernon home of George Washington, there are no grave markers for any of the hundreds of slave men, women, and children who built those grand homes, grew the crops, sewed the clothes, crafted the tools, cleaned, and cooked the food. There’s only a little grassy area where it is believe the slaves were buried.  Just as their names were disposable to their masters, so to were their lives.


Not so for us.  Names for us are important.  In today’s reading, we are given a name for God, in Hebrew it may sound something like this.  YHWH.  It means “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be”.  But you know, that is not the only name we heard this morning. It wasn’t a name of a King or a pharaoh, but actually the name of one of the so many nameless.The man who The Lord is speaking to on a mountain, beside a burning bush.  His name is,  shout it if you know it,  Moses.


Moses, who was a child of the Hebrews, a child of this oppressed, suppressed, distressed people.  A child again named by the powers that be, when he was just a baby, Pharoah’s daughter drew him out of the waters of the Nile, the waters into which his family had out him to save him from Egyptian genocide.  Pharaoh’s daughter, names him Moses, which can mean to draw out.


 On one hand Moses’ life could have been so good, living in the Pharoah’s household, but as a young man Moses had taken things into his own hand, and killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew.


In the story for today, God is drawing Moses out of his exile, out of his hiding, and The Lord is doing this, so that Moses can draw his people out of slavery, out of suffering, out of oppression.


Because that’s the thing with our God.  Our God, God Yahweh, the God “who will be who  she will” be chooses to not exist aloof, far away, but in close relationship with his people, close enough to hear and listen to the cries of the oppressed. Our’s is not the god of the winning team, the most popular and powerful.  But the God of the who is close enough, who is near to those who cry out in pain, in grief, in sadness, as their masters of the world seek to own, demean and define them. The masters, the movers and shakers.  They don’t want to really know this god.  They want to control, define, and own God too. 

But in the Bible, w the God who will be who he will be is the God of Moses, the God of Miriam, of others with names like Shiprah and Puah, midwives who save babies defied the command of Pharaoh.  Ours is the God who will be the God of the prostitute Rahab, and so many others, some with names we recognize and others with names we do not hear.


The God who will be who he will be is the God is today drawing us up, and out of whatever would hold us down, drawing us to be who She,  not the world, not marketing companies, not politicians, not bullies, bosses, and bigots would have us be.  We are not Chinese, or illegals, grown men do not answer to boy, grown women are not girls, we do not use words like fags.  The “n” word is not ours to toss around, women are not the same as female dogs. People struggling in poverty are not takers.  Middle easterners are not Muslims and Arabs.  God knows us, God loves us, God hears us, when we speak and when we are spoken about.  God is drawing us always closer.  This drawing you up and out began when your name was spoken as the waters of baptism were poured over you, it continues to this day.  We don’t get a burning bush, but a burning Word, a burning desire to have peace in our streets, peace for our children, jobs and schools, to know that your name is spoken it is used with respect. Ultimately, our God is the God is the God of whomever he will be, and draws us all together to her heart, calling us to be who she would have us be.  Amen.



Despicable me, despicable you, despicable Jacob – Sermon for Sept. 22, Narrative Lectionary

Sept. 22

Kids Sermon –  Despicable Me” –

[Chorus – Pharrell Williams]

Im having a bad bad day

its about time that I get my way

steam rolling whatever i see, huh

despicable me

Im having a bad bad day

if you take it personal thats ok,

watch this is so fun to see, huh

despicable me


Who says cartoons aren’t educational?  From the modern movie soundtrack we just heard a couple of moments ago to Daffy Ducks, “Your despicable!” Where else could we learn such big words.  Where else, ok well maybe at worship?


So what does despicable mean?  what its Definition?  How would you define it? 

Mean, rotten, dirty, no-good.  perhaps it would be better if we didn’t name any names, you know as examples.  Did you know it comes from the word despise?  It can mean deserving to be despised.


And to despise something or someone is to: regard with it or him or her with  contempt, distaste, disgust, or disdain; scorn; loathe.


Now you probably didn’t wake up this morning and look forward to coming to worship to hear and learn about some despicable character.  After all, we see and hear of plenty of them day in and day out.  We probably even know a few, sometimes you may even feel that way about yourself.   But to have one of the one of the big three– Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The big three that we will hear about next week–you know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  To hear him referred to as despicable?  Well let’s see.


Can we describe Jacob as a despicable guy? He’s opportunistic, prior to our reading for today he had already taken advantage of his older twin’s, Esau’s hunger, getting him to bargain away his birthright, his inheritance for a meal.  So before or reading for today, Jacob had already secured his future with wealth and material goods.  But when there’s more to be had, there’s more to be taken.  So with the  prompting and coaching of his dear sweet mother, Jacob lies to and deceives his ailing father.  Incorrigible and despicable if you ask me.  Stealing the last thing this old man could possibly give, his blessing, the passing on of his power, his mojo.  And in that world, once its gone, it’s gone. Once it’s out there, it can’t be taken back.  Yeah, Jacob. . . He is one dirty, rotten, scoundrel.


It should then be no surprise that Jacob would have trouble sleeping, would have dreams.  We could only hope that his conscience would catch up with him.  But that’s not exactly what happens.  Fleeing his older brother, on his way to his uncles’ to get a wife or two, Jacob spends the night with a rock for a pillow, falling  asleep he dreams a vision of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven, with God’s messengers hard at work going up and down.  Then The Lord speaks to Jacob, not from up those stairs, but right next to him, at his level so to speak. And what does The Lord do?  Does The Lord reprimand? Does The Lord correct? Does The Lord condemn the rascal at his feet? Nope.  The Lord promises Jacob children galore, and the very land he is resting on.  It’s The very same promise made to his grandfather Abraham.


I don’t know about you, but it almost seems as if God’s got a really poor sense of judgement with these guys.  Or perhaps maybe, God’s just not got that good of a pool to work with.  But it sure seems like The Lord God doesn’t do what the label we’ve been using and tossing about all morning.  The Lord doesn’t despise Jacob.  Instead God’s going to use him, use his family to bring blessings to all her children.


And before we try to wiggle God out of this one.  This isn’t a case of you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.  No Jacob’s been wrestling with his brother since before they were born.. And it’s not like Jacob saw the light, so to speak.  It was just a ladder, not light.  Meaning  he doesn’t exactly straighten up and become an upright and model young man.  He will trick his future father-in-law.  And he will continue the family tradition of favoritism, loving one wife more than the other, and loving her children more than his others.


Now learning about these guys like Jacob, and well pretty much just about the rest of these people that God works with in the bible isn’t supposed to tell us that it doesn’t matter what we do.  These guys are not necessarily models of behavior for us to emulate and put on some pedestal.  No, when you really look at them, they are just like you and me.


We can not idolize these Biblical characters, but nor can we dismiss them.  Just as we should not be dismissed either.  Instead we are here to be honest, terribly, even brutally honest about our faults, our sins, our weaknesses–how we cheat, steal, how we judge others,


These are the things that in worship, with you, with one another we can confess.  You know this is one of the best ways to erase that big excuse for not coming to church.  You know the one,where someone says he or she doesn’t go to church because we are a bunch of hypocrites.  A hypocrite, is someone who points their finger at others, and never admits their own guilt.  Well that’s not what’s going on here.  Nope.  We admit, we confess, we embrace our sin, our fallenness, our imperfections, our addictions, our hatreds, our unforgiving hearts, our prejudices, our ignorance, and more.  Because we are no better than anyone else.

The thing is God doesn’t despise Jacob, and God does not despise, you or me, doesn’t despise even the folks who never ever make it here on a Sunday morning. God’s not in the business of calling us names like the rest of the world, so when we are at ooir lowest, maybe even feeling downright despicable,God’s got different vocabulary for us–these are the words we should always use as church, these are the words we should know deep down in our hearts, and they are: forgiven, beloved son and daughter of God.


God is making a promise to us, and we deserve it as much as Jacob, but that doesn’t mean the promise isn’t real.  God’s promise is to use us to bless this world.  God’s promise is to be with us no matter what.  And brothers and sisters, there’s nothing despicable about that.  Amen.

The Sacrifice of our Children – Narrative Lectionary, Genesis 21.1-21, 22.1-14

Fifty years ago, on this morning September 15th, at 10:22 in the morning, a bomb detonated  A bomb placed in a church exploded and killed:  14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, and 11-year-old Denise McNair.  They were killed as they headed to Sunday School class at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This past week congress those four black girls posthumously the Congressional Gold Medal.  Lisa McNair, the younger sister of Denise McNair said to the press: “We feel that this honor given by Congress means that our great country recognizes the sacrifices made for freedom in our country.”


Those girls, like young Isaac who we just heard about this morning, did not walk, did not make their way to that place of worship intending to give their lives.  No that was someone else’s demand, that was someone else’s intention.


In our story from the book of Genesis, Abraham is commanded by God to take his son Isaac, to take him from his mother, to journey to a high place, and there to sacrifice him, saying, ““Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”


Now we know from another part of the story that we read this morning, that Isaac actually had two sons.  His first son, his eldest is Ishmael, who is the son of Hagar, an Egyptian slave, that Sarah gave to her husband, and this is an important part of the story because just as we believe that we are children of Abraham through his son Isaac.  Muslims trace their faith in God back to Abraham through Hagar and Ishmael. But Ishmael is out of the picture.  Why?  Because he too, was sacrificed.  Not to some god, but he and his mother are sacrificed for the peace of the family, to please Sarah.  And, if you remember, while Ishmael may be abandoned by his father, God does not.  In the wilderness God rescues the child and his mother, and promises to Ishmael that he too would be a father of great peoples.  We learn a lot in these stories about God and God’s children.  Getting back to Abraham, so this man, this father already knows what it is to lose—to give up one son, and now he is being asked to give up another.


At first we may think that this is absolutely horrific, and it is.  However, it is even more troubling when we realize just how common it is to know what it is like to lose a child.  Abraham was probably not completely shocked, dumbfounded, and shaken by God’s an unheard of demand. Again, child sacrifice was part of the world he lived in practiced by the people around him by his neighbors who worshipped Molech and Baal and others.


So as Abraham traveled with his servants, with wood, and knife, and his own son, heading to some high place to make the sacrifice, perhaps Abraham was simply silenced by his resignation thinking that this God he followed, this God who had promised him descendants, promised to make him a great father of peoples to bless others, perhaps this God who promised blessings, was just like all the rest.


And God took Abraham, to that last moment, to the brink of death and destruction, and then God spoke, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him.”  Stop, halt, cease and desist. Imagine the relief, imagine the gratitude.  Abraham would not forget that moment.  The people of God should not forget that moment.  But, they do so over and over again God reminds the people to not sacrifice their children to Molech—to Baal, to not be like their neighbors and pass their sons and daughters through fire.  We are not to sacrifice our children.


But the sad truth is, over and over again, we do.  And not just four black girls fifty years ago.  All the ongoing threat of military action in Syria, wasn’t because of the thousands including children who have died from bullets and bombs, but because poisonous gas killed some 1,200 some people, including hundreds of children died.  As if their lives were sacrificed to uphold international conventions on warfare.


Warfare itself, if we really stop to think about it is the giving over of our sons and daughters their lives in exchange for peace and security their time with their families, their lives are sacrificed.  So we too know about sacrifice. 


But can we hear this morning, can we hear our God say to us no more.  No more shall children suffer because of adult wants, needs, agendas.  No more shall children be exploited and abused.  Can we hear and really learn like father Abraham, that our God is different.  Can we remember that our God declares that children are not to pay the price so that others don’t have to.  Our children are not expendable; they are not here to make us feel loved; they are not possessions for us to throw away when they become inconvenient or bothersome. If God isn’t seeking the blood of our children to solve our problems, why should we? Because we don’t need altar, a big sharp knife, or rope to sacrifice a child  It is done with so many budget cuts to schools, where children in our city are lucky if they get a gym class, an art class, receive no training in music.  Where in some schools kids are crammed into classrooms, while others have fine new buildings, small class size, all sorts of extra curriculum activities and laptops and ipads.  We’re sacrificing children for all sorts of reasons these days including politics and racism.  The well-being of too many children is sacrificed to addictions, like alcohol, drugs, gambling, fancy wheels, and good looks.  As if a child is a mere accessory.


Can we hear God’s call to stop, cease and desist.  To use our hands not to harm those who are so vulnerable and powerless, but to value them, to invest in them, to sacrifice our wants, our pleasures, for them.  To make sure that they are surrounded by love and importantly surrounded by the stories of God.  So that they see and hear, and feel the love of God.


Even the on at the cross, can we hear God’s voice crying out stop, cease, and desist.  That on the cross Jesus’ isn’t a sacrifice to appease an angry, or justice seeking God.    Instead the cross is as some church fathers, mothers, and teachers the cross is the epitome of our sin, it shows just the height and depth of our evil that we would, people just like putting a bomb in a church, we nailed an innocent man, a faithful servant, a son of God to the cross, to hang there bleeding and gasping for breath till he dies.  The cross as Luther said is the place where we see not God’s anger, but love that even when we are at our worst, sacrificing our sons and daughters to what we believe is just and right, The Lord God is there, in the pain.  And that in that empty tomb on that first Easter—God declares to death, evil and sin—stop cease and desis.  And that in Christ, the risen at the resurrection, God again says no more.  Where you will wage death, I will bring life.  God says I am the God of life, the one who brings life out of death, who gives meaning in the midst of hopelessness.  Where violence tries to win, life will arise.  God will make a way, God will provide.

For it is that God, it is that story that we are part of as we again, begin Sunday School, as we give of ourselves, our time, our money, our prayers, to our children, to the children of this neighborhood.  This is our story, this is God’s story, to not sacrifice our children, but to sacrifice for them.  Amen.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Aug 25

What do you want to be when you grow up?  What did you want to be?


Now why did you want to do that?  We focus on occupation, jobs, why?  Did anyone think, wise, or funny, or giving? No our answer to that question is a job.  Why?


   Money?  What does money give you?  The things you need, security? 

For some money, having money, spending money, is a status symbol. 


But, really all it boils down to is I think respect.  We want respect whether its as a teacher, a police officer, a mom or a dad, an receptionist, mechanic, a nail technician, whatever.  We want,  I’m pretty sure to be respected, to have our voice heard.


But sometimes it may be hard to know what to say, and even the most articulate, the most wise, the highest authorities may be dumbfounded.


For example, what would you say if a man with guns and ammo walked into your office, your job, the store where you shop, what if someone walked right in here?  What would you do? 


Would you say this to that man: : So just stay there calm, don’t worry about it. I’m gonna sit right here so they’ll see that you tried not to harm me, ok? Ok.  Would you say to this potential shooter or murderer?   It’s going to be alright sweetie. I just want you to know that I love you though, ok? And I’m proud of you. That’s a good thing that you’ve just given up. And don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life


Those are just some of the words that Antoinette Tuff said to the man with 500 rounds of ammo and a gun as he stood in a school office in Georgia earlier this week.  There were a lot of other things said, and if you can get a chance to listen to that 911 call recording I encourage you to do that.  It is terrifying; it is heart warming.  Now as many of us know Mrs Tuff is not a hostage negotiator, she’s not a psychologist, but she is the school book keeper and she is Christian.  Later in the call when she, exclaims “Oh Jesus”. It isn’t some thoughtless byword, but the deepest prayer.


Mrs Tuff has gone through something that hopefully none of us will ever have to.  However,the world we live in is terribly uncertain, frightfully violent.


There is fighting between nations, between neighbors, between strangers, and within families.  It is reasonable to fear strangers, who knows what they might be thinking, who knows what weapon they will use?   Fear and uncertainty fills the hearts of the people.


I could be describing today, just as easily as I am describing the world of the prophet Jeremiah.  The people of Jerusalem, sandwiched between the great nations of Egypt and Babylon, thought political alliances and the armies and weapons  of one nation or another would keep them safe.  Within this space of fear, the people clung to the belief that their holy city Jerusalem would never be destroyed.  That they could count on God to give them success, give them wealth and prosperity, that God would always be on their side and got their back.


Is our day so very different? Nations are at each others throats. Random acts of senseless violence are on the news.  The American Way of life that worked for some people seems to be threatened.  Believing that prosperity is God’s vision for us and our way of life so many people have turned to various forms of violence to preserve a sense of security.  With guns and more guns and with laws that allow us to use those guns  shoot first.


I don’t know about you but some times I feel it’s just gotten to the point where I feel  powerless even speechless.  What do we say in and to this world?


Our bible readings this morning tell us that in terrible times, God is not silent.  God is calling up prophets, prophets like Jeremiah, who in the Bible are not so interested on telling the future, but instead telling God’s truth.  Now for most of these prophets, and especially for Jeremiah, this truth was unpleasant, it was unwelcome.  His warnings against playing one nation off another were not welcome.  His call to faithfully following God and not the power of weapons was not welcomed.  It is not a life of ease and respectability.  Jeremiah even complains that he didn’t want this job that God has given him.


But, God didn’t stop at Jeremiah.  We can believe that God was at work in Antoinette Tuff, in her church giving her a way to save lives, so that while shots were fired, not one person was in that school was killed that day, not even the man tormented by mental illness, desperate, distraught, and bent on destructive died that day.


God has been calling people like Jeremiah –prophets who don’t foretell the future, but tell the truth, God’s truth.  People, mostly but not exclusively women our grandmother and great grandmothers who fought so that on Aug, 26, 1920 the 19th Amendment to our Constitution,the one giving women the right to vote could be announced as law to our nation.


  God lifted up the voice of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And Congressman Lewis and others 50 years ago at the march on Washington.  And yesterday as speaker after speaker called this nation to our unfinished business of securing rights to all the people.


But as Mrs  Tuff should point out to us, you don’t need to be great orator, a certified ordained preacher, God gives us the words to say to this world.  So we end as we begin.  What do you want to be when you grow up, or rather what is God calling you to grow into being?  God is calling us to stand up straight, to be the voice for the voiceless–to work against all the violence in this world– to pray for healing, not just of a few here and there.  How are you going to let God speak through you at home, at work?


And don’t spend time thinking up excuses, God’s heard them before, from Moses to ?jeremiah an more.  But God doesn’t want us to let evil, fear, keep us down and silent. In our culture of spending money as a way to feel good, to gain respect, how are you going to call those around you to something, better,  we pray that we may never be in the same situation as Antoinette Tuff, but wherever we are God knows us, has known us from the beginning. 


And I’ll conclude with the words of artist Lupe Fiasco, who will be here in Milwaukee this weekend. You may or know him, you may not agree with all he says, but hear these words


It’s so loud inside my head

With words that I should have said!

As I drown in my regrets

I can’t take back the words I never said, never said

I can’t take back the words I never said


I think that all the silence is worse than all the violence

Fear is such a weak emotion that’s why I despise it

We scared of almost everything, afraid to even tell the truth

So scared of what you think of me, I’m scared of even telling you

Sometimes I’m like the only person I feel safe to tell it to

I’m locked inside a cell in me, I know that there’s a jail in you

Consider this your bailing out, so take a breath, inhale a few

My screams is finally getting free, my thoughts is finally yelling


No matter how old or young we are God is calling us to grow into being not just quiet and bowed down beneath the evil of this world, but to stand up, to respect ourselves, respect others and speak God’s words of life.  Lets grow up, grow up in Christ.  Amen.

Abbott and Costello, Peanut butter and Jelly, Sodom and Gomorrah . . .What the?


Abbott and Costello

Romeo and Juliet

Batman and Robin

Tom  and Jerri

Peanut butter and Jelly

Laverne and Shirley

Thelma and Louise

Shaggy and Scooby

Ketchup and mustard

Adam and Eve

Sponge bob and Patrick

Barbie and Ken

Bread and butter

Click and Clack

Divide and conquer

Jekyll and Hyde

Bonnie and Clyde

Bacon and eggs, well for some bacon and just about anything.

Some things just go better together.

There are so many famous pairs.  And, as you might have heard in that list, infamous as well.  This morning we read about a particular pairing.  A pairing of two cities.   Sodom and Gomorrah.  Even if you haven’t read the story from the 18th chapter of Genesis, you may be familiar with these two names as they are infamous for being examples of God’s wrath.  We are told already in chapter 13 that the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.


So eventually the outcry, the sin of those two cities becomes so bad that in chapter 18 God sends two of his messengers to check it out.  Upon entering the walls of the town they are greeted by a man named Lot, who begs them to come and stay with him at his house.  Soon word has spread that there are two strangers in town, and a crowd of the men start to attack.  And this is unfortunately where the link between Sodom and homosexuality comes in.


However, that’s not as simple as some would like it to sound.  A careful reading of the passage makes it clear that the crowd is out to beat, abuse, even rape and eventually murder the strangers.  Needless to say, that is not the same thing as being gay or lesbian.  What is happening at Sodom and Gomorrah just a sexual sin.  It is most importantly a sin against God’s command to show hospitality and welcome.  Remember this is the world before a McDonalds on every other corner, before there are motels and hotels.  Travelers are literally at the mercy of those they meet.  The proper response is to open your door, feed the stranger, give them your bed to sleep in.  But this takes a generous spirit that was shared by the people of Sodom and Gonorrah.  As the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 16 tells us: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.” 


Unlike a sin just a crowd of men could commit, this violent greed is something the whole community could be guilty of, so that there wouldn’t be even 10 righteous in the bunch. So that in passage after passage, and there are about 45 passages in the Bible where  Sodom and Gomorrha is paired with God’s judgement and destruction-an example of utter desolation.


Which brings us to our first reading for today from the prophet Isaiah, which if you were paying attention may seem to be a strange choice for us to read together on a Sunday morning.  After all, aren’t we here with offerings, with prayers. And while ‘re not sacrificing rams, bulls, goats, we do sacrifice our time and the many other things we could be doing on a Sunday morning you know like-soccer, shopping, coffee and the paper, laundry, running, ok– sleeping in.


But we a here, and shouldn’t it count for something?  Well according to the word of The Lord we heard from Isaiah, it does.  It counts against.  It counts against if worship isn’t paired with a changed life.  Just as important as what we do here for an hour is what we do every other hour.  The prophet Isaiah and prophet after prophet, up to and including The Lord Jesus is asking us, “How does what we do and say here week after week change what we do day after day?”  How are we working to make sure our city isn’t one of violence, but is of peace?  How are we doing our part to make sure that our country isn’t one of weapons and walls, but of welcome.  Because if it isn’t we’re wasting our breath, wasting our time, and worse wasting God’s.


Because some things just go better together, and that’s not just some catch phrase, it is the gospel truth.  For at the heart of the gospel of Jesus is the bringing together–the bringing together of the rich and poor, the outcast and the powerful, the hungry and those filled with good things, and ultimately the sinner with God’s love and forgiveness.  That is why our worship is not meaningless, because we believe that it’s not just tradition, not just convenience, not just habit that bring us together.  It isn’t because we have a sign on a wall somewhere that says that we are reconciling in Christ, but because God wants us gay and straight, rich and poor, black, white, asian, and everything else under the sun, immigrant, documented, and undocumented, young and old, victim and offender, all of us are welcome not just to sit in the sanctuary but to struggle together to change one another.  It is in this togetherness that we become more than stereotypes–the rich are not all out to get the poor, the poor are not all lazy.  The stranger moves from guest, to friend, to brother or sister in Christ.  When this happens worship is not offensive to God but is genuine. It is a pure expression of love for God, for the God of us all.  Worship that praises God’s giving,saving, proclaiming, sharing, God’s love lived really, lived fully, lived radically because in Christ, we people are better together.  Amen.

Bread, cabbage, kale, cheddar–a recipe for disaster

Last week if you were blessed to be here, we were talking at least for some time about our daily bread. Well today we’re still talking about bread, bread also known as dough, chips, cabbage, kale, green, or maybe cheddar, benjamins, loot, moola. Money.
Money, the problem with having too much of it, or greed wanting, having, hoarding, desiring it is deposited in all our assigned readings for this morning. But I’m going to start this morning by looking at the passage from Luke, which begins with a question about inheritance, about most likely a younger brother hoping to have Jesus take his side and tell his older brother to share more of the inheritance than the law says he has to. The law of God in the Hebrew bible, the Old Testament in Deuteronomy and other places provided somewhat for younger siblings, by declaring that the oldest son could only have one half, and the rest were to share what was left over. Now that probably wasn’t all that much, but hey at least it was something.
Jesus, however doesn’t want to even go there. He’s not here to be a small claims or family court judge. Instead he tells a parable, a story about a farmer who is very successful. He’s so successful that he runs out of space to store all his good stuff.
And I’m going to stop right here because looking at both of these parts of Luke’s gospel, and looking (and well knowing so many of us) it just seems that this passage really doesn’t relate to most of us. I mean, let’s be honest, of all the problems in the bible, of all the problems in life–having too much stuff, an inheritance to fight over, having too much money well at least for many of us, that at least is not one of our problems. So we might be tempted to let out a sigh of relief, or be tempted to quit listening. Or others may have thought that a sermon on the list of despicable behaviors from the second reading, you know–fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire,), anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Now those are problems that are everywhere. You don’t have to be rich to own all that stuff–the Rich and poor, and the in between, well– we all got a fair share of all those things.
I’m sure that in lots of pulpits around this country and around the world there are sermons upon sermons, hand raising, and finger waving about these evils running rampant. And I too might be tempted, and some of us would be happy to hear preaching against fornications, against our sexualized society, prostitution, sex trafficking or the slander (meaning lies) we hear and read about from so many politicians, powerful corporations, and the paparazzi we call the press. But remember and before you get too comfortable, remember anger and wrath, they’re in the list too. And I’m pretty sure none of us has escaped the grips of that emotion. Everyone, with perhaps a very very few of us have something’s that make our blood just boil–things that make us if not froth at the mouth, at least spout off or post to face book a few choice words.
Money and greed on the other hand well that’s a whole different story. I can tell you as I perused, read the ELCA pastor group, now this is a whole other thing. You see money, the love of it, money the need of it, the wealth of it, it actually hits home, and for some of us way too close to home.
And if you may be tempted to think that this is something new, you know a problem of our affluent society, a problem that we are particularly experiencing because of the huge gap that is widening in our country between the rich and the poor, well you are partly right.
But here’s what another preacher preached about greed. And I am going to share just a bit of his words and before I begin. He’s using covet, covetousness to talk about greed: and he says:
For plainly the world, particularly in our day, is completely submerged in the vice of covetousness. It is impossible to enumerate the subtle arts it can invent, and the good and beautiful things it knows how to pass off whereunder it masks itself as a thing not to be considered sinful, but rather extremely virtuous and indicative of uprightness. And so idolatry ever does. While before God it is the worst abomination, before the world its appearance and reputation are superior. So far from being recognized as sin, it is considered supreme holiness and divine worship. …It is evident the vice is gaining ground. With its false appearance and ostentation, and its world-wide prevalence, it is commonly accepted as legal. Without censure or restraint, men are engrossed in coveting and accumulating to the utmost. Those having position and power think they have the right to acquire by violence as much as they can, daily making assessments and imposts, and new oppressions and impositions upon the poor. And the common rabble seek gain by raising prices, by extortion, fraud, and so on. Yet all desire not to be charged with wrong-doing; they would not they should be called unchristian on account of their conduct. … If you will not desist from the vice of covetousness, then know you are not a Christian.

A quick guess out there, who might have preached those words? Yes, Luther, Martin Luther in a sermon on the passage from Colossian. And what he is saying in a more modern world is that greed is truly the root of all evil, but what makes it worse, greed the acquiring of wealth, trying to get ahead, the very making of money, and the ways we go about it, well our world, our culture, back then and today just assume it’s normal. We, if not worship rich, those who have made it, we too want a piece of the pie, we want to be movin on up an apartment in the sky, or we want at least enough to make our problems disappear. And this quest to make money, money, money, to make profits–is so evil, is so nefarious because it masks itself, it makes us think that its’ normal, that it’s the only way to live. It’s the only way to meet our needs, and that is idolatry.
You see we all have holes in our lives, they don’t need to be empty pockets, wallets, and bank accounts if we’re lucky enough even to have them. We all have fears and insecurities, so we work, work, work like the writer of Ecclesiastes talks about, we hope to prepare and to take care of ourselves. All we are thinking about is ourselves.
That was the problem with the guy in Jesus’ story. He thought his bigger barn filled with food and good stuff would bring him happiness, would take care of him. He didn’t think about others. He didn’t think about their need, and he didn’t think about his need for them.
Remember If we call ourselves Christians, if want others to call ourselves Christians, it means follow Jesus. And Jesus is the one who fed the hungry, Jesus is the one who overturned the tables of the temples market place, Jesus is the one who reminded his people again and again to listen to the good news of the prophets Isaiah, and Micah, and to do more than even the laws of Moses which set up systems to care for the widow, the poor, the orphan, the stranger who in the Old Testament is the immigrant.
We will never have enough money to fix our problems, we will never have enough money to keep us safe, we will never have enough money. Because money isn’t the answer. Instead it is God, and what God gives us, forgiveness to heal our broken hearts, to mend our broken relations. It is God who gives us one another and allows us to live for and with one another, to truly care for one another. It is God who gives our life meaning and frees us from all empty things, who frees us from all things vain. Amen.

I don’t believe in Iron Man

this is pretty close to what I preached yesterday

I am no Iron Man. I’m not talking about being a triathalete who swims, bikes, and then runs 26.2 miles. no i’m talking about the mechanized superhero. I’m not him, and i don’t believe in him either. It’s not that I don’t think he’s are real, well iron man is a fictional character, but his movies and merchandise are very real. What we shouldn’t believe in isn’t a particular character like iron man or green lantern, captain America, or for the ladies out there, batgirl. The problem is with the whole myth of the superhero, the myth of these others who save the day.

So let’s look at this, you all have probably watched tv or read a comic book, and although the Man of Steel is in theaters now, Superman is not new, he is 80 years old, as he was born so to speak in 1933. These superhero characters are not new. So what do you need, what goes into, what are the characteristics of a superhero?

Cape, arch enemy…
Special power, some are born that way mutants, some are created through circumstances or freak accidents right? Now here’s maybe a more difficult question. Are they always happy, or content? You might think so, just because they are so powerful. But doesn’t that also become the source of their angst. Angst is just a fancy word for: apprehension, anxiety, or inner turmoil. Our more modern superhero stories often include a time of questioning, a time of psychological or spiritual upheaval.

Let us now compare these superhero and heroines (after all I grew up the bionic woman and Wonder Woman) with the prophet Elijah we heard about this morning, and if you’ve bone lucky enough to be here in worship for the last several weeks, we’ve been spending time with Elijah for about 4 weeks now.

What do we know about Elijah, and just so you know the first reading passages assigned for us by the Lectionary have been jumping around a bit in his story, but what do we know about this guy Elijah.

Called by God to be a prophet
King Ahab and Jezebel arch nemesis
Declares a drought
Revives a widow’s only son,
Has a showdown with the priests of this other god named Baal. That’s actually what happens right before our reading for today.

This part of the story was read 3 weeks ago, and it could be a great dramatic scene fit for any big screen Hollywood production. Elijah is standing in front of all these other priests of this other God, I can just hear him saying, there ain’t room for the two of us in this here promised land. And Elijah bests them, destroys them. You would have thought that such a miraculous display of power would mean Elijah would win. Roll the credits. the good guy would win, and the bad guys runaway scared. But no. This morning we heard how King Ahab runs and tells his queen Jezebel what happened, and like any evil villain she vows revenge. Well, Elijah wasn’t prepared for that; he didn’t think there’d be a sequel. He expected to win, to be paraded as a hero, but no instead his life is in danger. So he does what a lot of people do he flees. Now he’s retreating, as fast as his legs can carry him into the desert away from everybody.

Now again, if Hollywood were producing this story, as the prophet Elijah slips into the cave on the mountain, amid the dark, spider webs, and dust he’d find an object from space, a relic of a distant society, emanating a radiation that agonizingly turns him into some kind of mutant super man who can face down evil King Ahab, his armies, and most dramatically the queen of all evil Jezebel, her henchmen and minions. Or to make it a bit more humanistic, there in the dark cave he’d suddenly remember some great injustice, he’d get in touch with his inner core of strength and return to the battle with a renewed motivation to smite the evildoers, to right wrongs. That’s what it would look like on the big screen or in the comics, but the bible isn’t just another book of fiction and fantasy stories. This story, the story of Elijah, the story of our relationship with our God may be more real than many of us might feel comfortable.

Because, well were not a bunch of superheroes, at least I know I’m not, I’m not even a spiritual superhero. Elijah, you me, well we’re just regular people called by God to follow. And well regular people go through all sorts of things in life, sometimes everything is going well, and that’s great, but other times it’s not, and well sometimes it’s hard to see how, see in what ways what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Life can be too much, even without a diagnosis of depression, or anxiety, addictions, what some of us struggle with every day. I don’t know about you, but sometimes running away and hiding in a cave sounds like a really good idea to me.

We all, or a vast majority of us all go through periods of questioning, times of trial and doubt. Sometimes, we may think that because of this, well were somehow not a spiritual superheroes we imagine are out there, think we’re supposed to be, simply we’re not as good a Christian. That if only we were better, that our faith isn’t rock solid 100% of the time, that we are just deficient.

“the Ikea Effect” vs Faith

It is called the “Ikea Effect”[1]. Ikea Effect is named after the store that began in Sweden that features build it yourself furniture.  Researcher Dan Ariely has studied how we assign more value to things we make–like assembling furniture, cooking meals, knitting socks.  Often we will value that item more than it would objectively be valued.  So, for instance we buy a self-assemble desk, put it together, maybe with a few missteps, crack or chip a piece of wood here or there, maybe even do our own not quite or not even close to professional paint job, and walah we have the most valueable and precious desk, at least in our eyes. And since this is Father’s Day, we could ask whether men suffer from this condition more than women.  But I won’t be the judge of that.

Needless to say, the Ikea effect didn’t begin with the store.  It is a far older condition, dating at least back to the first century, to Jesus’ own day.  We can observe this Effect in the story we read this morning from Luke’s Gospel.

A Pharisee, who we learn later is named Simon invites Jesus to come to his house and have dinner with him.  As the men are reclining around the table, they are interrupted as an unnamed, but evidently well known woman enters and opens an alabaster jar, places  ointment on Jesus feet, rubs it in, washes and massages his feet with her hands, her hair, her tears, her lips.

Seeing this, Simon the religious leader thinks to himself, note he doesn’t say this out-loud, because of course that would be rude, but he thinks it, and well Jesus evidently even has a problem with that.  This religious man takes Jesus allowing this woman to touch him as evidence that Jesus mustn’t be a prophet, mustn’t really be sent fromGod because he is allowing this woman, who is evidently a well-known sinner in the community (although we don’t know the specific sins, we don’t know her whole story much like we don’t know the whole story of the people sitting around us or standing in front of you).  But Jesus is allowing her to touch him.  For the religious leader this is disgraceful; this is shameful,this thing happening right in front of him.

The religious leader has passed judgement on both Jesus and the woman, and both of them are not as righteous as himself–the woman for whatever things she’s done, and of course just being a woman, and Jesus because he’s letting her get too close to him.  They are figuratively tearing apart the way the society has built has established itself.

The Pharisee on the other hand, in his eyes he’s done everything right.  He follows the rules, he lives according to God’s law, he knows better, he acts better, his relationship to God is better, face it he is better.  And all because of what he does.  He has built himself a great system that keeps him close to God and far away from the dirty and the sinful.  He has built his own righteousness, his own salvation, his own little ladder (stairway) to heaven.  He is suffering from the Ikea Effect, and he doesn’t even know it.  Of all the people in need of God’s love and forgiveness in this story, the greatest isn’t the “sinful woman” but the “sinless” Simon.

Jesus long before economic behavioralists came up with the catchy name like the  Ikea Effect, Jesus knew what was wrong with Simon.

Jesus points out to this religious leader that the woman is actually a better model of faith than the Pharisee because she knows she needs God, she knows she isn’t even close to perfect.  Her tears are tears of love and thankfulness, her actions are of great love and gratitude, because in Jesus she has seen the love and forgiveness of God.  She sees a God who loves and welcomes sinners, who eats with them, holds them and heals them, doesn’t judge them for what they’ve done, doesn’t condemn them and forget them, try to stay safe and clear of them.  because of Jesus was just like them.

This separation that we build can be so sublte.  We can say to ourselves, “isn’t it great that we come to church here so that we can help the suffering, help the poor”.  Instead of realizing that we are just like them, we suffer (maybe not with economic poverty) but we all suffer a poverty of spirit, we all suffer a poverty of love, poverty of knowledge of what life, what struggle is like is for others, poverty of compassion, poverty of courage to work for justice, to work for a better community, or world.

What that nameless woman knew and felt in the core of her being, what Simon needed to know too, was the love of Jesus.  The love of Jesus that keeps us from building ourselves up at the expense of others, the love of Jesus that keeps us from building  ourselves up as better, building  ourselves up as more righteous, more blessed than others.  The cure for sin of every kind, even that which can be called the Ikea effect–it is the love of Jesus in our hearts, in our words, in our actions, and in our thoughts.  Then together, it will be God’s kingdom that we build.  Amen.

[1] “The Upside of Irrationality: the unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home”, Dan Ariely.

Sermon for June 9

The other day as my family sat in front of the tv together, flipping the channels, one of my all time favorite movies happened to be just starting. Evan Almighty, the 2007 movie staring Steve Carrell, Morgan Freeman, and Wanda Sykes. I know that this movie was not a box office hit, but it had all the right things for me. It had animals, lots of animals, it had slapstick humor, and it had God. If you didn’t catch the movie, or weren’t able to be part of our bible study that watched and discussed the movie, or simply don’t remember it. God played by Morgan Freeman wants Steve Carrells’ character (Evan) a recently elected US congressman, to build an ark. That’s right a big boat, for two of all the animals and such to be saved from a flood. But of course this is present day Washington DC, and while Congressman Evan’s slogan was “change the world”, well he didn’t really mean it, especially if it meant changing how he lived.

Evan is a reluctant worker for God, and that’s where some of the comedy comes in. But that’s also where some of the good bible truth comes in as well. Because, well as the saying goes, “no good deed goes unpunished”. For Evan in the movie following God’s call to live faithfully meant well he basically lost his job as a congressman, neighbors laughed at him, at one point his family left him, and because it’s a movie he grew long grey hair, beard, and even wore long flowing robes.

For Elijah, the story is a bit different. First of all, for those of you who were here last Sunday, we read about Elijah doing what? A quiz. Defeating the priests of Baal. That story actually comes after what we read this morning, for whatever reason, the designers of the Lectionary had us read from chapter 18 last week, and now we backtrack to chapter 17 where we first meet the prophet Elijah. Guess it’s like a flashback, you know from the movies.

So getting back to Elijah. As a prophet, Elijah speaks for God, calls the people back to God, not just any people, but in many cases, the king. That’s what’s going on here. The king is Ahab, he marries a foreigner, and more than that starts worshipping her god, something by the name of Baal. Elijah declares that there will be a drought, no rain, equals, not food, so Elijah is not very popular, especially with the powers that be. So, he ends up leaving, not just town, but the country, leaves the promised land and finds his way to stay with a poor widow. That’s where we begin our reading for today.

As this poor woman is gathering the last little sticks, to eat up their last food, facing starvation, Elijah comes and is really looking for a handout. Something that we here are all too familiar with. The widow’s plight, her own poverty doesn’t deter him. He makes a promise to her, and well she gives in, she goes along with him, and welcomes this stranger into her home. She’s done a good deed right?

You would think that she should be rewarded, right? Well, there is enough food. That’s good, until as we read, her son gets sick and dies. It’s not just a grieving mother who complains, but the prophet himself who sees and prays, and complains. This isn’t right. They trusted in God, they did the right things, she welcomed the stranger, she gave practically all she had, and now look pain,death, and loss–is that how they are repaid?
In this instance, not exactly, the prophet is able to plead with The Almighty, and the boys life is restored.

Of course, that doesn’t always happen, and it doesn’t mean we are any less faithful. No one knows why. But sometimes it just seems that even for us, no how about especially for us people of faith no good deed goes unpunished. No wonder we sometimes don’t talk about what we believe, no wonder we don’t open our hearts, even open eyes. We don’t want to see, we don’t want to get involved. I know how it is.

The thing is, the good thing, I mean the really good thing is that God doesn’t make that same choice. God wants to get involved in our world, in our communities, in our families, in our lives. God knows it may not have a Hollywood or Sunday school happy ending. We do a lot of stupid, mean, heartless, and thoughtless things. We’re going to here more about Elijah and his struggles with king Ahab, Jezebel, in the next several weeks but God still wants to get involved. God doesn’t give up on Elijah, the widow, God doesn’t give up on the people. God isn’t giving up on us. So when that opportunity comes along and you can share a word of peace, a word of love or forgiveness, or even call someone to turn from the path of destruction, don’t close down, don’t shut down, don’t pretend to be dead to this world. You know what? You know our God’s in the business of raising the dead, of bring what was empty and lifeless back to vitality and joy. That’s what it’s all about folks new life, in a widow’s home in Zarapheth, in a town called, Nain, to a man who hated the church called Saul, who God turns into a great proclaimer of the Gospel-that’s right Paul– right here on our little corner of Milwaukee, at our community garden, when we walk these streets tomorrow evening, when you are at the grocery store, getting your hair cut, or your nails done, or your blood pressure checked, with your family, your friends remember for each and every one of them, for us, for you. God doesn’t give up. Amen.