Some of you may be familiar with that Cole Porter song. The song asserts that just about every creature falls in love. I’m not a zoologist, but I’m pretty sure it’s not always love; pretty sure the action is not affection or even romance but what comes next. Put this way—in a PG way — k-i-ss-i-n-g first comes love then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.
Birth—every creature is born in some way or another. That is I believe the truly universal experience—if you haven’t given birth, you probably know someone who has, and of course we all were born once. That’s why we sing that other song: happy birthday to celebrate the day you were born. Being born is universal. As the beginning of life it is utterly natural. Here’s a reminder all nature—just because it is natural doesn’t make it nice and wonderful. In fact it seldom is, nature is often terrifying. Just ask the bird between the paws of the cat. So often we talk about the miracle of childbirth. It is not because it is somehow other worldly; being born is messy, painful, dangerous and well terrifying.
Perhaps that is one of the many reasons Jesus tells Nicodemus that he, that we, must be born (anothen) the Greek word that can mean again or from above. Hence “born again” Christians. Christians who have taken Jesus’ words to heart—not literally (as Nicodemus first hears them) but almost. Born again Christians look for a moment when a person makes a decision to follow Jesus. I was taught that if every asked if I was born again to answer “yes, at my baptism”. That that one day when water was sprinkled on me and words said over me was my born again moment. But again this is a simple once and done.
But what if both born again Christians and us good orthodox traditional Lutherans are missing something? What if this once and done is too easy? Many readers and interpreters suggest that Nicodemus’ night time visit to Jesus symbolizes Nicodemus’ confusion; he both literally and figuratively “in the dark” . But as difficult as enlightenment is, perhaps something more is going on. Something truly dangerous
than simple knowledge—an intellectual exercise. Remember Jesus doesn’t live a long life as a philosopher and teacher. He is executed as a revolutionary. Nicodemus might be seeking out Jesus under the cover of darkness. The black shadows may provide a him sense of security.
And Jesus says we must be born again from above. Birth is the beginning of life (not of enlightenment, but life). What if Jesus is telling us, using the completely natural language of being born that we begin a new life, and we begin it again and again. But this life is dangerous—not just that one moment, but every day?
Can we feel God bearing down on us pressuring, pulling, and pushing us out of ourselves, out from a false stability of status quo, out of an addiction to a hollow heaven but into a slippery sanctity of nature, of humanity, of flesh, and blood, of spirit that isn’t just clouds but the power to blow around, over and down the temples to heaven and towers to powers of dollars. Being born from above is replete with pain and peril. But God’s kingdom, God’s empire, the divine’s reality is not about safety and security. And Jesus is telling us that the divine doesn’t abide our seeking comfort, our desire to be affirmed and confirmed in our rightness, quiet rooms of contemplation, little cocoons of self-satisfaction. Being born “anothen” (both from above and again) doesn’t happen once. It is a perpetually painful to pulled and pushed together in God’s love—to leave the warm wombs of comfort and security to feel and live in God’s love. God’s love for the world. The world is where God’s love lives. God embraces the
natural; love lives for you and me, for the he and she here and especially out there, and if you don’t know how hard and real, and bloody, painful that is, take a deep breath, allow God our mother, Jesus our midwife to push us out of ourselves, born for others, born again and again, born for the birds, for the bees, for the educated flees, for you and me’s let’s do it. Let’s fall in love. Amen.
27:1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me.
27:15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; 16 and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 Then she handed the savory food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob. 18 So he went in to his father, and said, “My father”; and he said, “Here I am; who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him.
28:10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17 And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
They just don’t tell them like used to. I mean, no offense Bob, that’s what the lectionary gave you—bits and pieces of the story—not enough to really get what’s goin’ on—how last week is connected to this wee, and what’s going on even behind the scenes in today’s reading. Stories are important, they are how we know who we are.
So, last week we heard about Isaac as a boy, and now 7 days and five chapters later, Isaac is an old man. How old is he? He is so old he can hardly see; I picture him laid out on some kind of bed, with a blanked. Isaac is so old that he, unlike those who predicted the word’s demise yesterday, Isaac knows the end is near. As he nears his end, Isaac decides it’s time to pass on his inheritance—to his son. So Isaac calls his first born son Esau and sends him out to do what Esau does best, go hunting, get some nice critter, like rabbit or some such and cook it up, kind of like a last meal. Sounds good right. That’s how things are supposed to go.
The problem is Esau has a brother, a younger brother; Jacob is younger by not even a minute. Esau and Jacob are twins, so close Jacob (as the story goes) grabs his older brother’s heel as Rebecca gives birth to them. I can only imagine Rebecca’s relief as she gets those two out into the world, because even before they were born we are told these two brothers were after each other, wrestling, tossing and tumbling, and not in a good way, in Rachel’s womb.
But the turmoil doesn’t end at 9 months; it’s just the start. Evidently, Isaac and Rebekah unlike all modern day good parents had favorites. Isaac loved Esau—the firstborn more, and Rebekah loved Jacob more. Esau was a hairy outdoorsy kind a guy, and Jacob he hung out with his mom in the tent, and he was smooth.
The problem isn’t just a matter of parental affection, however. There’s a lot more at stake here. You see as first-born son, Esau was set to inherit most, if not just about all of his father’s stuff. And by stuff, I mean flocks, slaves, weapons, gold, tents; Isaac’s place. Esau’s physical strength would be multiplied by his power as patriarch head of the family. All because he popped out first.
What would this leave Jacob with? Bubkis. Jacob’s mother, sure she’s Esau’s mother too, but children can tell when parents have favorites. It’s possible that Rebekah and her fav Jacob would be shut out, pushed out, out on their own. It’s not like this hasn’t ever happened before — (coughing) Hagar & Ishmael.
Now what comes next, I know it’s hard for us, many of us, have done well following the rules, who have decent respectable upstanding lives. We have some taste of power and privilege. It’s hard for us to accept what happens—how Jacob not only cheats his brother but seems to get rewarded by God for it. But what’s really going on here in this story?
So far, who’s at risk here? Who seems to have all the power and the advantages? Who’s the underdog? Who should we be routing for? Who’s got more power the hunter or the rabbit? The hunter. That’s right isn’t it? The hunter has his weapons; he has his gun—and with his gun Elmer’s going to “kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit…” Wait, did I just switch from Esau to Elmer and from Jacob to Bugs Bunny. I sure did and I’ll tell you what’s up doc.
See for way too long we’ve missed something in the telling and retelling of the story of Jacob. We’ve called him a cheat, a scoundrel, an usurper (and other words used in tweets) and even a trickster without really knowing what a trickster is. In storytelling—oral or written a trickster is a character who, because of whatever power dynamics, the trickster is the character who has to get by using their wits. Just like what Bugs a bunny has to do when faced with Elmer or Yosemite Sam or even the Donald (the Duck—not the president) . But the trickster is way older than 20th century cartoons. Tricksters come from many cultures and have many names, names like Anansi. Not too many of us may be familiar with Anansi. Anansi and variations of his name, is African and came to the Caribbean with the Africans stolen, kidnapped, and sold as slaves. Anansi in stories, often but not always, looks like a spider, and Anansi or Mr. Nancy uses his wits and wiles to trick the bigger stronger animals—so that Anansi can live.
The trickster tales of Anansi and others were told by Africans and their descendants however, not just as a way to spend some non-existent sleepy Saturday morning. These stories inspired the slaves to resist and survive, inspired the slaves to with a smile on their face take from their masters what their white oppressors wouldn’t give. Bugs Anansi and Bunny are tricksters, and as we see, so is Jacob. Of course, with a little help from his mother, a woman in the ancient world—who by the way— didn’t culturally have power of inheritance either to get it or give it. Isaac doesn’t call her to his bedside to pass on to her the inheritance. So, overhearing her husband Isaac’s plan, Rebekah makes her own. Calls her son Jacob over and tells him what to do, dresses him up (not in drag like Bugs Bunny so often does) but in his brother’s clothes, covers his smooth skin with animal hide, cooks up the dad’s favorite dish, and sends Jacob in to trick the dotard father.
Of course when Esau finds out what his “little” brother has done he declares he will take his spear and magic helmet kill the wabbit—kill Jacob. And that is why Jacob is sleeping under the stars with a rock for a pillow, dreaming of God. Dreaming of a God who has no problem, doesn’t even mention Jacob’s deception—what he’s already done, and spoiler alert, what he will continue to do to his uncle.
The church has interpreted God’s silence as basically giving Jacob a pass, as grace, as forgiveness. That’s great. We all, even and especiallyJacob can use all the love, the forgiveness, and grace we can get. And Jacob is going to take every bit of everything he can get, from a woman he loves, to her sister he “not so much” feeling the love and affection. He’ll take his uncle’s sheep and goats. He’ll even take his brother Esau’s forgiveness, because Jacob knows what it is to be at risk, to be discounted and maybe even demeaned, defined as lesser and worthless, and Jacob doesn’t let that define him. Our God is not the God of power, of the suburbs, the star spangled banner, of uniforms and rules of law and order, guns and gold. That’s the story of our God that gets us up even on a Sunday morning. Because our God declares, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham (the wandering refugee—the immigrant), the God of Isaac (the children threatened in our homes and our streets) and I will be the God of Bugs, Anansi, and all those who oppose and resist I am the God of Jacob the trickster. I am your God. That’s our story. Amen .
Sept. 4, 2017
On this Labor Day weekend, with school having just or just beginning, I invite you to listen and hear these wise words from a teacher, “ 2Vanity of vanities,! All is vanity. 3What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? and …. 23For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.” This is from the 1st chapter of the book Eccleasiastes, in our Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible.
Toil, work, labor is vanity. It says it right there in our scriptures. So some of our modern day teachers, who may not only be enjoying these last few unofficial days of summer, the end of summer “Vacation” (Go Gos), and who also as of late have been the brunt of so much political disrespect. These and others laborers may be just “working for the weekend” (Loverboy), and if they could who would love to say, “Take this job and shove it”. But not of course till after this holiday weekend.
Labor Day is not simply the sad farewell to summer; like the writer of Ecclesiastes does not just celebrate work and toil. This holiday is actually another benefit of a strong labor movement, so that we don’t all have to work “Seven Days of the week” , some can work “9 to 5” —the 40 hour work week, and the weekend, child labor laws, family sustaining wages, health care, retirement benefits, etc. and so forth. Organized Labor created this holiday to honor the men and women “Working on the Highway” (Bruce Springsteen) who’s hard work builds and makes the things we use, who grow, serve, and process the food we eat, the “Doctor, Doctor” (Iron Maiden) who care for our sick and elderly, and so much more—the “Working Class Hero” (John Lennon).
So for many of us tomorrow will not be ”Just another Manic Monday” (Bangles). However, work is, as the Teacher/the writer of the book of Eccleasiastes, not a picnic. Some men and women feel like they are “Just another brick in the wall”, a “slave to the wage”. We are a “slave to the grind” (Skid Row) trying to make “money, money, money” to buy stuff to just live, to buy stuff to make us “Happy” (Farrell) in this rat race called the American Dream. You know, as William Sloane Coffin, and comedians Jackie Gleason and Lilly Tomlin have said, “even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”
Lots of money is made by book writers, seminar speakers and others offering cures for this condition, fixes for this vanity. To words like self-care, balance, priorities, retirement, today I will add: the cross.
Oh great, you might be thinking, Pastor has finally gone “Crazy”—equating work with crucifixion. Do not worry, I am not saying that enduring work is bearing our cross. Because I think that is wrong understanding of taking up the cross. Work—toil, just like disease, just like tragedies like hurricanes, monsoons, droughts, and all sorts of evils, abuse, cancer—things that are thrust upon us, things that happen is not bearing the cross. Jesus calls his followers, you and me to take up the cross; it is a taking on (not merely accepting a bad situation). The cross is a choice, choice of God to endure state sponsored act of terrorism called crucifixion because Jesus chose to live and labor with the lost, to live and labor with the least, a life and labor of love.
Not being overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good. That is taking up the cross that Jesus talks about. That is what we heard Paul saying in his letter to the church. This is what we as individuals and also we as a church do. Taking up the cross is: 9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14Bless those who persecute you; 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. That is taking up the cross. And it can be done in and through our everyday lives, in our work.
Al Letson was doing his job. He is host of the investigative radio program and podcast Reveal. One day just a few weeks ago, he was covering what was going to be a white supremacist march in San Francisco. Mr. Letson saw one right-wing man trip and fall to the ground, and then some left-wing antifa protesters started beating him. This journalist saw a crowd coming so he Letson jumped on top of the guy to protect him. This white supremacists was being shielded and protected by Al Leston, by the body of not just a journalist, but a black man.
When interviewed, Mr. Letson as asked whether any of this was going through is mind?
In Letson’s own words: LETSON: Yeah, none of it went into my mind at all. What came to me was that he was a human being. And I didn’t want to see anybody die. … And, you know, in retrospect, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t see my humanity. What matters to me is that I see his. What he thinks about me and all of that, like, my humanity is not dependent upon that.
Letson went on to say:
You know, I mean, this sounds really high-minded and maybe a little nutty, but I am a huge NPR nerd. And many years ago, I was listening to Terry Gross and Father Greg Boyle was on there.
And he gave this quote that has just stuck with me ever since. He said, I want to live like the truth is true and go where love has not been found. And it’s how I want to govern myself in the world.
We may work to earn money, but we can’t work and toil to earn love. That’s what the words of Ecclesiastes tells us. Our work does not define us. But we can define our work. We define it with the cross of Jesus, the love of Jesus. As Al Letson says, “live like the truth is true and go where love has not been found. We labor at our jobs, with our families, in our retirement, as a church—when we speak, when we act, it is the labor of love—not for rewards, not for RESPECT, not even for members. Ours are labors of love because we are already incredibly and unconditionally loved by God. Everyday we get to choose to to carry the cross of love in this world—to live as the truth is true and go where love has not been found. There is nothing vain in that. It’s just “This is how we do” (Katy Perry). Amen.
22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
“Just let go. You just have to let go.”
This is not that “let go and let God” stuff we see on bumperstickers. But I was definitely being told; it was clear I had to let go. Let go and let gravity. You see, one of the many thrilling activities tourists can do in Costa Rica is zip lining. That’s when you pay money to put on a harness, climb up into the trees of the rain or cloud forests, attach yourself to metal wires strung from the top of said trees and then zip – hang and glide from the top of one tree to another. This was one of the adventures that I knew the rest of my family would love to do. So reservations made; we were picked up at our hotel, and delivered to the office in the forest, signed our waiver’s, and looking around I saw pictures on the wall of those who had gone before us; I looked and there in some slightly faded pictures were Jimmy and Rosalynn, as in former president Jimmy Carter and his wife. I pointed these out to my family and quietly noted this in my mind. That if a former president and his wife, who were considerably older than myself, had done this zip lining thing here, It was probably almost safe enough for me.
This is really important, because as I have shared with you my brothers and sisters of the church, I have anxieties. I haven’t been exactly specific with my list, but I can tell you that I am afraid of drowning, therefore I dislike boats. I am generally distrusting of anything I can not control, so I get super anxious flying, or riding in a car. And, I am generally afraid of heights. I can step a few feet up a ladder, but more than that and the stomach gets all tied up in knots. Put it this way, if something can go horribly wrong in any situation, I’ve probably already imagined it. I also have been afraid and anxious of speaking in public. In fact as I am typing this sermon, my palms are sweating and my hands will be cold as a result of fear and anxiety our blood will move to our major organs so that we can fight/flight our way out of the stressful situation. Let’s see if they are when I’m preaching this.
Needless to say, I was anxious about this zip lining thing. But this is what people do. Literally hundreds of thousands of tourists have done this; and as I reasoned in my head it’s not in a zip lining tour company’s best interest to have tourists falling from trees. Besides, I had to show my family that I was strong. I can do this. These are all the thoughts racing through my head, as I declare “I’ll do it!” When the guides asked, “Who’s first?” See, I know I have to just do it, get it over with, the longer I wait the worse it will be, and I know that one way of dealing with fear is to actually jump right in. That’s why when I was learning to be a pastor, as an intern serving in a congregation for the first time, I insisted that I preach every other week.
So the first part of this particular zip line course is what is called a tarzan swing, where you simply climb several flights of wooden stairs to wooden platform. Which I did and then moved to the edge and grabbed hold of the railing while they hooked my harness to the wires, and then all I had to do was let go and move away from the railing to the open space and step over the edge. Except I didn’t. I didn’t let go. I saw the ground and the trees way below, I saw my family and I declared “I don’t want to”, even outloud, and the patient guide behind me said, “let go.” again and again, till somehow I released my death-grip on the wood, and my guide I swear he gave me a gentle push, slight shove and there I was swinging back and forth, nothing beneath my feat. With that first step taken, I then proceeded to make my way along the 14 lines, hugging the tree trunk each time I made it to a platform, till the 2nd to last zip line that was over 800 meters long over a valley. All because I did what I was told and I let go. I did it, and I survived.
If only it were that easy. If only we could just strap into some safety equipment and glide right through life. If only we could just let go of the fears we are holding onto, the fears that grip us. If only we could simply do what Jesus tells us— to take heart and have no fear. That’s what we hear in this story, we hear the story of Peter stepping out of that boat in faith, and even when he starts to sink, Jesus is right there to lift him up. I imagine that’s the point of this miracle story, after all this miracle of walking on water doesn’t do much else, no one is fed, no demons are cast out, no one is healed, no one is saved. Except a guy that shouldn’t have been steppin out of the boat in the first place. Who if you notice, Peter walking on water wasn’t Jesus’ idea. Peter tells Jesus, “call me out there, order me, make me do it”. What was Peter thinking?
What was he thinking? What was she thinking? The clergy that put on stoles and robes, linked arms and walked down the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday morning. The churches that gathered in parks to pray, speak, and witness peace. The non-violent protestors who stood to counter the Unite the Right, white supremacist rally. The people who rushed to help the wounded when that Christian terrorist drove a car into the crowd. The people who witnessed to God’s love and not human hate. And those of us so far away who must and will even if we loose family, loose friends, name this sin of racism, name the sin of our white power and privilege; acknowledge the pain and reality of institutions, systems, laws that benefit white people giving us our wealth, our opportunities for better education, our better relations with law enforcement.
Of course, effective protests, effective actions really do take a lot more thought and planning than what we see with Peter’s seeming impromptu “order me to come out”. But, at the same time, at least Peter does something. He doesn’t call a committee together to discuss and debate. He doesn’t take a poll or a vote. Trust me, Peter is not always a faith hero, some super religious roll-model by any standard. This guy doesn’t walk on water—well except for a moment in this story.
Of course this isn’t Peter’s or the other disciples first encounter with Jesus, with his way of walking the path of God. So it’s not like Peter and the rest had no idea about this Jesus guy. Just like a lot of us, this isn’t our first trip. We are the church we know what Jesus is all about. God isn’t just some distant judge needing to hear our prayers and praise; God isn’t just trying to get us up to some heavenly rest. God walks this earth, ok in this story, walks the waves, honors creation, becomes part of it, breathes it, needs it to sustain life. How can we let fear paralyze us? How can let fear allow us to just let things slide? How can we let fear focus us on us? It’s not that we’re going to miraculously loose our fear; it will not evaporate like a little puddle on a hot day. Our problems, pains, perils run deep. Fear is real. We can’t pray it away, but we sure can work a way through it. Own it; acknowledge it. We’re all in that boat right there with the disciples. This miracle doesn’t have to be just about some superfluous treading on water. This can be a miracle for us that does feed us; feed our imagination about God’s power; it can heal us from our limited and the limitations we put on God and faith. I would even love to be able to say that this story of this miracle can cast out the demons of fear. For some that might happen. For me, the best I can hope for, the best I can pray for, the best I can practice each day is to work a way through fear. We all need to let go, not “let go and let God”. But to let go and let’s go. so that we can step out, with our fear, speak out with a crack in our voice, put our cold and clammy hands to work. So maybe for today for once welcome this miracle, don’t try to explain it away or dismiss it, just let it go, accept a miracle, step over the edge, off the ledge and let go of ourselves. Amen.
Waiting – no one waits for the fun of it. We wait when we have to do something (get your phone fixed, your paperwork processed, to buy your groceries. some people, when it’s something good we are waiting for say “we can’t wait”: for the weekend, for vacation, for retirement. But what makes waiting really hard?
It is the unknown, how long? How long till a real human is on the other end of the line, how long till your name or number is called, how long till something happens, how long till it get’s better.
That’s one of the issues we glimpse in the first reading for today. How long till it get’s better, see it’s about 600 years before Jesus and the Roman empire. Things are bad in Jerusalem and Judah. A different empire, the Babylonians with their King Nebuchadnezzer II (or Nebuchadrezzer) are threatening. They have already invaded at least once; they have taken holy things from the temple; they have taken people back to their part of the world which would be modern day Iraq. Ruins of ancient Babylon are about 50 miles south of Baghdad. This is what is called the Exile in the Bible or the Babylonian Captivity.
So the issue isn’t whether or not it’s a bad situtation, the question is how long. Hananiah, a prophet of the Lord declares to Jeremiah and the remaining priests and leaders a message that the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel is acting to save, to redeem, return, and reestablish the temple, Jerusalem, the king—that this would only take two years.
Actually the Babylonian Exile or Captivity actually lasted closer to 50 years. That’s quite a difference. Of course we’re celebrating 50 years as a congregation, but can you imagine living 50 years under a tyrant, living in a world, surrounded by people whose values are so different, so contrary to what we hold dear, who not only see the world differently than we do, but also have the power to shape it, twist reality, twist truth. There’s a big difference between 2 or 4 and 50 years of a Koch brothers, Walton, Graham, Trump family dynasty.
Two or 50. I’d take the 2 please. Two years to wait to experience God’s graciousness, for God’s will to win out—that’s doable, we can just keep on doing what we’ve been doing, no big deal, time will fly, not that long of a wait.
That’s the other issue in this small passage from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, a book of 52 chapters, where the prophet Jeremiah is pretty consistently calling out the leaders and the people. You see in this prophetic book Jeremiah, the state of affairs, the defeat and removal of the people to exile in Babylon was the direct consequences turning away from the covenant the promise with God, and sure sign of that apostasy, from Jeremiah 5.28. The prophet says, “ They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause the orphan to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. … and then in vs 30 “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule as the prophets direct; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?”
Is two years really enough time to change? I think that might be an undercurrent of this conflict between the prophets Jeremiah and Hananiah. The temptation, inclination is to just kind of wait it out, to maybe post some comments on Facebook and bemoan, complain about the easy things —stupid tweets, ignorant, and immature comments but hey 2 years, there will be another election. “This too shall pass”.
A prophet like Jeremiah reminds us that we don’t know how long the wait will really be and that maybe, just maybe there’s something bigger going on, something much more destructive than one election. Divisions don’t happen over night. Sexism, heterosexism, isolationism weren’t born on Jan. 20th, or in 2016 for that matter. Racism isn’t just guys in the KKK or skinheads. Racism is systemic, corrupting what should be a justice system into a violent attempt to keep law and order, and the marketplace (a place for the distribution of goods, services, ideas, and even community) is replaced by profits.
The prophet Jeremiah’s words are as powerful, as pertinent, today July 2nd (July 4th weekend) as they were almost three-thousand years ago. If ever there were a clearer example of a true biblical prophet. We have it today. God’s prophets do not promise profit nor do they predict the future. The Word of the Lord for us today is resistance; it is assistance; it is persistence. or assistance, resistance, and persistence.
Assistance, we need to be as caring as ever. We need to simply assist, offer a hand, a listening ear, an open heart—not just to those who are struggling (food pantry, police officers, refugees, the sick). But with one another and with ourselves. This is not easy, we are not just mildly disappointed or miffed, slightly slighted. Our souls’ are heartsick, relationships and trusts are broken. We are depressed, anxious, and that tends to come out in all the wrong places—tempers taut and flaring. Feelings of powerlessness make us want to be able to control, make sense of one thing in this out of control world. The temptation is for comfort instead of hope. So, we need to practice care, to assist one another because we need to be in this for the really long haul. We need to resist negativity, resist violence of word, resist the distractions, resist strategically and it will take persistence. Real life changing, people transforming, church reforming, system revamping work and living doesn’t happen in two years. Putting a Democrat in the Oval Office will not fix it. It’s not about making America great again or even making America America again — persistance, resistance, assistance.
There’s a lot of things I just love about us at Village. I have rejoiced that we do not make certain words idols. The words we use today, and for the next few weeks, you won’t have to wait long for these to change. We change even the words the translations of the Lord’s prayer. I appreciate this, I really do. However, I have to say there is something to using the same words, week after week, and it’s not that the prayer goes faster because we don’t have to read new words. Actually, that’s a really good example. See at a lot of churches that just use the same old words, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name… the prayer becomes a mere mindless repetition, eyes barely reading or perhaps scanning for a typo a mistake. It’s almost like we can’t wait to get done with it. That is not prayer.
You might have noticed that the times we have used one of the “traditional” Lord’s prayers that I have been looking around the room. I am not checking to see who’s doing it right—who else might have it memorized. No, I am looking at you, the people I am praying with, I am praying for. Each prayer petition means more when I can put a face to the words, words like forgive us as we forgive others, words like give us our daily bread, deliver us from evil. The church didn’t give us that prayer so we could just say some words and wait for it.
So today, when we get to the place in the liturgy after the Words of Institution as we are about to receive God’s gift of grace, and we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Don’t use the words in the bulletin. They’re great. I liked them when I put them there early this week. But let’s use the traditional ones that hopefully many of us know by heart, and since they are not printed in your bulletin, look up, look around, assist, resist, and persist with one another so that we pray for and with one another. In that small way we begin to live God’s kingdom come on earth. We don’t have to wait. Amen.
June 18, 2017 – Juneteenth/Black Lives Matter
Preaching text Matthew 9.35-10.23
Jesus was no boy scout.
It’s not that Jesus wasn’t a good man. He just didn’t live according to the boy scout motto—be prepared. This morning we heard about Jesus seeing the crowds of people who were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. It’s not that Jesus didn’t care. The gospel writer tells us that Jesus had compassion for them, and knowing he couldn’t reach all of them, Jesus sent out his disciples.
But did Jesus send them out with their pocket knife & their pocket catechism, a bag of snacks and tricks all equipped and prepared? No. He sends the disciples out to cure, heal, cleanse, cast out evil, proclaim the arrival of God’s kingdom; Jesus sends disciples out “as is”.
9Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.
Disciples of Jesus head into the mission field, out to the world, into life, pretty much empty handed. It’s seems like it’s taken us, the church, especially church leaders, church professionals just about 2000 years to start to actually hear what Jesus says. We want training and tools; we seek out podcasts, packages and programs. We want to be prepared.
I am a great example. In my 30’s I accepted the call to serve at St. Paul’s, just a couple of miles west of here at 28th & Wisconsin Ave. I remember early on in my call as pastor, I was picking up some kids to take them to worship or a youth event, and as we were driving down the road they told me informed me that they were going to be moving and that their grandmother was moving with them. Great I thought, here is my chance to connect with these urban black kids, so I start telling them about how when I was10 years old my family moved. We moved from Old Zionsville (which is basically just a couple of houses and a volunteer fire house along what was called Kings Highway), we were moving from there into Macungie, actually a subdivision of new homes outside the village of Macungie (which is Lenni Lenape for “bear swamp”). My grandma was moving in with us too, into our 4 bedroom house. It was so new, that my sister and I got to pick out (choose) the carpeting for our new room.
I was trying so hard to connect the excitement I remembered with theirs, but for some reason, the kids I was talking with weren’t all excited. They just sat there while I drove and talked, talked, It turns out they weren’t excited about this move, or all that excited about the move they made about 9 months later from that house on 28th and Clyborn, to the house on 33rd just a few blocks north of Center St., or the next a few blocks south of North on 37th street, or the move to the southside, then back again to the northside on 48th St up when that toddler ran into the street was hit and killed and then the driver who stopped and a 15yr old boy were then shot and killed.
Eventually, I figured out how totally clueless I was. How my white middle class life had actually not prepared me at all to enter the lives of a single parent working poor family living in Milwaukee. Luckily, or shall I say more theologically correct, with the Spirit of Jesus I pretty soon accepted how unprepared so I opened my ears, my hands, and my heart. In those years I brought bible knowledge, middle class knowledge. I would love to say that I delivered that Gospel as faithfully as the mailman. But the gospel, God’s kI didn’t bring that. That happened, God’s kingdom that came when we were together.
You know, I can’t speak for you but I didn’t learn about Juneteenth when I was in school, or in my home church. When I was young, I just assumed that when Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and the south lost the Civil War that was the end of slavery that was the end of it—you know everything was cool. All people needed to do was make the right decisions. I didn’t know that the language, the comments, and the jokes I heard growing up as a kid were part and parcel of systemic oppression of racism. That it’s not enough to remove the n-word from my vocabulary. Actually, it’s terrible to admit, but I think a lot of people, white people, are pretty unprepared for the life that so many others live. And too many of us don’t even know how un prepared we are. When we bump into a black person’s, or an latino’s, or another person’s experience we judge their life, their words, their reality only by ours. My privilege means I don’t have to worry someone even a police officer might be just so full of fear, that my sons would instill so much fear in others that they can be shot and killed with impunity. Too many of us are so far away, so disconnected from the pain, the sadness, and grief, the numbness or the terror that a verdict in the Philando Castille—just the latest case.
Now this could make some people uncomfortable, but Jesus in our gospel for today sure seems more concerned with the lives of the harassed and helpless than with the comfort of disciples. Disciples, followers of Jesus, you and me, we are sent into the world, not to just hang out with those like us, but to the harassed and the helpless. Whether that’s someone we know, someone who is sitting on these chairs every week, or a police officer that ducks in for a quick bite to eat, something to drink, a moment. Maybe it’s a young lady or a young man struggling to figure out who they are, express themselves, discover themselves, let off some steam and stress. The thing is the only way the kingdom comes to all of us lost sheep is if open ourselves, cut out our prepared spiels, and listen really listen to the people all around us.
Because we all need this kingdom, reign, vision, reality, whatever we call it. We need it. whatever you want to call it, we all lose it, we all get lost in ourselves. I think that’s why today is really important, (a mostly white congregation) recognizing Juneteenth. Because early just yesterday Saturday morning during powershift 2 single young men came to our door. They came at different times. The first was a young white guy dressed in button down shirt. He was sitting in those chairs out in our lobby talking with me sometime around 1:30. The other man was young black man with real baggy pants. Sure we greeted both, sure we offered both men water and some food. Both stayed for quite a while, both weren’t quite sure how they were getting home. We prayed with the young white guy before we said goodbye. But I didn’t pray with the young black man. Instead when he went to use our restroom, I went out to the officers to let them know that we might be looking for them to help us make sure this black man left. Sure, there are other circumstances. The white guy was there earlier in the “night” around 1:30 and the black guy was there an hour later at 2:30 when we were getting done, tired, and ready to pack it in. Instead of really listening to that young black man, you know what I was doing. I was preparing; I was preparing. Sure, I can say Black Lives Matter, but as long as I keep preparing as long as we allow ourselves as individuals, and as a church as a people, out of fear prepare ourselves, focus on us on our survival, allow tiredness and fear shape what we say and what we do, we’ll miss God’s kingdom of heaven come on earth for us. We’ll just be too busy, being good little girl and boy scouts, lost preparing for not even God knows what, when we could be listening, learning, living in God’s love, love that allows me to say, you know what—I’m no girl scout, I’m not perfectly prepared but I am often lost, but I we are forgiven and God is sending me/sending us good news—so let’s listen. Amen.
June 10, 2017 Pride
preaching text Genesis 1
Pride is good. God wants us to be proud.
Yes, you heard me right. Yes, this here preacher just declared form this “pulpit” that Pride is good.
You won’t hear that from most preachers or pastors. Why?
Because pride is bad, right? It’s one of the biggies, one of the top 7. The seven deadly sins.
I know we’re not big on sins here at Village, but can we name those 7: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. While the bible is full of lists, this list doesn’t actually come from the bible. You won’t find the 7 deadly anywhere in the bible, but it does come from the church—probably just a few 300 or 400 years after Jesus. The church and others have identified/focused on pride as basically the source of all other sins.
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying: In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.
Pride. The source of all sins. That’s what the church has taught right. Contrary to what many churches, preachers have taught that the sin Sodom and Gomorrah is homosexuality (which isn’t what’s really going on in the story). The violence the men of Sodom seek to perpetrate comes from pride and greed. The prophet Ezekiel says in 16.49: “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.” Pride.
So if we’re the church? Shouldn’t we be against Pride? Shouldn’t we run as far away as possible from pride. But no, we here at Village have participated and gone to Pride Fest and some of us will walk/march in the Pride Parade this afternoon, and I just a few minutes ago declared that God wants us to be proud.
Is pride always a sin? What do you think?
If a parent is proud of a child, is that a sin?
Psalm 20 urges us to take pride in God, and then in the new testament. For Paul, in the the letter to the Galatians, says that we can be proud of our good works.
Take our reading for this morning. It sure sounds like God is pretty proud of Godself in our reading for today. What was that refrain, we said over and over again?
And God saw that it was good. Good. The Hebrew there is “tov”.
God creates the land, the earth, and it is good and God created the plants and trees and vegetation, and God saw that it is good, the moon, sun and stars in the sky and it is good; animals, sea monsters, birds, and it is good; humankind male and female, God saw creation and it is good, very tov good.
This is what Pride Fest and Pride Parades is all about. Gay pride is not about putting straight or cis people down. It is the place and space to for them to be the norm, the normative, the majority, for some to be themselves. It is instead an opportunity for the LGBT community to claim what has all too often been denied and withheld from them, that they are good— that everyone, including and especially themselves are created good.
Just one more thing before I’m done here, there’s more in our scripture passage this first story of creation—that has been used against the LGBT community. It is these words, “
7So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply.
First of all and again contrary to what some in the church have taught, both male and female share in God’s image. Some interpret and read these words as if God’s will for us is to be fruitful and multiply, as if procreation is God’s will for us. Well we as a species have certainly filled the earth. At this point we’ve overfilled it. And if procreation is so important, what about all those people who don’t or can’t have children. Are their relationships, are their lives worth less, not as God-blessed as breeders? Our answer is no. God declares creation, from the tiniest quark or atom, and smaller, to the great sea-monsters wales, octopus, and all to be good. Creation is so good God takes a “day”, God takes precious time to (rest) well actually celebrate, revel in it, enjoy us. God is proud of what God has created in us. It has been said that the rest of scripture from genesis on is our struggle to accept this for ourselves and for others. Our problem, our sin, has not been that we were simply proud, but that we were prouder of ourselves and others. Can you imagine what it, what this world would look like if everyone could see just how precious, beautiful, how fine we, how fine all God’s children are—that we are, that we start out complete—that we don’t have to do something to be declared good—that we don’t have to earn money, get good grades, win races. That the source of our pride was in our very existence. Quoting another great theologian:
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
‘Cause baby, you were born this way
No matter gay, straight or bi
Lesbian, transgendered life
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to survive
No matter black, white or beige
Chola or orient made
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born to be brave
I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way
Don’t hide yourself in regret,
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way,
Read more: Lady GaGa – Born This Way Lyrics | MetroLyrics
That just because you are is good enough. That would be so TOV, so very very good. Amen.