I Dare You

what-would-jesus-do-flipping-over-tables1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Two weeks ago I met with Liberty Union High school Superintendent Todd Osborn. He spoke to our Senior Citizens and myself about LU. With him were some of our seniors. They spoke about how many programs are at LU – active and social programs, like sports. Quiet and reflective programs, like chess club.

They were there to reassure us. One of them said,  “Nothing like what’s happening at other schools will ever happen here. If there’s a gun threat, our whole community would turn out with their own guns to take out that shooter.”

This week, two students threatened to shoot up the school. They were interviewed, and arrested.

Wake up – wake up! What is happening at other schools, in other communities, is happening right here too – with our own seniors. Our own kids. Our own babies.

“That shooter” is OUR shooter.

“That shooter” is OUR child.

“That shooter” who we were so confident the whole community would rally against, is not some outsider. It not some stranger. Is not some demon dropped into our laps.

That shooter is somebody’s kid. Somebody’s brother or sister. Somebody’s classmate. That kid is our grandchild, our nephew. Our niece. Our FFA member.

“Nothing like that is ever going to happen here” is not true.

We just had a brush with gun violence in our own school.

What are we going to do about it?

You’ve heard the story about a frog sitting in a pot of water. It will sit there, letting the water creep warmer and warmer, until suddenly it realizes the water is TOO warm. But by then, it is too late for the frog to leap out.

Gun violence in our country is warming water. The water has gotten warm enough that its threats are being felt in our own tiny community. How warm will we let it go before we do something?

Before we leap out?

You hear — it is mental health. That is why kids shoot up their schools. If this were the case, wouldn’t all counties have the incredible number of school shootings we have? We’re up to one every few weeks. Think of that!

It is not just mental health.

Why children are shooting up schools is complex. It cannot be simplified to just this or that. It is a combination of isolation, as Superintendent Osborn spoke about. It is a combination of bullying – which is made worse with access to instant social media. It is a combination of youth: death and mortality is a hard concept to just about everyone under age 30. It is a combination of our fractured society where people are numbers and not individual souls. It is more. It is complicated. It is nothing that can be resolved just with medication and saying anyone with depression is a potential violent threat.  struggle with depression.

No, the desire to harm your fellows is complex. Multifaceted.

However, solid evidence shows – although the desires are complex… the ability to actually follow through depends on a large part on access to guns – especially guns designed to kill multiple people in a short time.

The DESIRES are hard to control, predict, and work with. The desires are countered by the programs our teacher and staff and family and friends are implementing. We caught and acted on the voiced desires this time. We did rally together. We did listen. We are a community. The desires to harm are countered by our desire to stand together, to love, to truly listen to one another.

Desires ARE being addressed.

But access is not.

And this is a two-sided coin where we are only polishing one side.

I spoken with kids who have considered shooting up their schools. Their desire came from complex issues at home, at school, at life. Desires are complex. I don’t want to demonize any of our kids. They’re normal kids. Golly – I remember wanting to burn my own school some days thinking it’d get me out of a test. That desire is there. And when we’re young, desires are often very, very poorly thought out.

But the ability to follow through on that desire? The access to military style weapons?

I don’t know about our LU case, but in the case of those I’ve spoke with, the lack of easy access to guns stopped the horror. All the hoops and procedures needed to buy the guns they’d need, and the ammo, was too much. It would take time. It would take money. It would take someone to drive them. These teens’ impulsive desire faded as they aged, as family and friends and teachers and students built relationships with them. As they passed out of high school and out of the insanity that is called the hormones of being a teen.

Desires are complex.

And we’re addressing them.

But not access; and not our relationship with guns.

I’ve spoken with you all before about guns. You know I don’t think guns are evil, but are a tool. Like fire. Fire is neither good or bad. It is useful, and harmful, depending on who uses it and if they’re trained to use it and how they use it. You know I don’t think guns should be outright banned. We use them, especially in rural life.

The issue is we then, and now, are so reluctant to change our relationship with guns. Then, I said we’d offer thoughts and prayers… be outraged… but nothing would happen. I showed how already the world was moving on – publishing news on those murdered at the Jason Aldeen concert on the same page as advertisements for guns.

The children of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are leading a charge to change this. To change businesses when the law is too stalemated to change. To change how we relate with guns – to not host gun blessings in churches and to not worship guns.

We live by Jesus the Christ – not the Second Amendment.

We live by the Prince of Peace – not the idol called MY GUN.

So I dare you.

I dare you to cleanse our temple.

Jesus strode into the temple in Jerusalem and saw business as usual. Everything needed to run the temple was occurring – people were buying sacrifices, changing their foreign money for local money – doing normal life preparing for Passover.

We’re here. Doing normal life, preparing for Easter – which occurs in Passover. We’re doing everything we need for the traditions of our religion. We’re planning Easter eggs hunts and family dinners.

And Jesus strides in and is infuriated.

Infuriated – not because we’re celebrating. Jesus celebrates the Passover.

Infuriated – because dedication to God had been replaced by idolatry. The Temple and its festivals were not God. As Jesus said, there will be a time when you worship God neither here nor there – for we worship God wherever we are. God is not contained by a building. Jesus wanted them to know the Temple would be destroyed, but our access to God would not be.

Has our dedication to God been replaced by idolatry? How can we celebrate new life, cute bunnies and chicks, and spring colors while ignoring the snuffing of life, the little cold hands who used to cradle bunnies and chicks, and the spring flowers laid on fresh graves?

Jesus dared people to over throw their system, their government, even their own church, to get back to following God and God’s way.

Jesus dares us to do the same. To demand change. To enact change. To be change – even if we get the ire of our systems, our government, or our own churches.

Whatever is stopping you from following God is an idol. It replaces God.

Whenever an object is more important to you than the love of others – that object is an idol.

Whenever a human law is more important to you than God’s law to love God and love your neighbor – that human law is an idol.

We have a stumbling block. Something foolish. Something stupid. Something that makes no sense. It’s called a crucified savior.

A savior who loved others so much, he was willing to lay aside his angels, his sword, his gun, and die for others without a weapon or even a spoken defense.

A savior who loved God so much, he was willing to wholly submit to God’s message of inclusive, love, and radical earth-changing shift in priorities.

A savior who taught us that if we destroy our systems, our temple, our laws, our devotion to guns… even if we’ve spent our whole lives defending these things… That savior will resurrect us. That savior will forgive us. That savior will guide us. That savior will lead us. That savior will, and does now, and always will, love us.

Saint Michael’s, we almost had a Sandy Hook. A Rancho Tehama Elementary. An Umpqua College. A Virginia Tech.

We don’t because people listened to their youth and responded. Let us keep listening. Keep responding. Keep working together.

I dare you to repent, to turn back to God, to release idolatry, and to cleanse the sin of gun-worship in the USA.

I dare you to write to your politicians.

I dare you to speak with your family and friends.

I dare you to speak with your feet at rallies.

I dare you to speak with your money, and where you choose to shop.

I dare you to speak with your youths. Listen to them. Ask them about how they feel. Ask them for their guidance. For “out of the mouth of babes,” no?

I dare you to pray.

I dare you to act.

I dare you to love.

Love as Jesus loved.

What would Jesus do?

Tossing over tables, chasing people with whips, making a scene, and being political are within the realms of possibility.

So too is being crucified, scorned, mocked, arrested and beaten.

So too is living into the Reign of God now, and being resurrected, and given new, ever refreshing, ever fulfilling life.

What would Jesus do?

I dare you to do it.

Amen.

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Bickering Siblings

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16hijab
Romans 4:13-25

Let me read to you something. It may sound a little familiar. It may sound a bit strange.

(Surah 45-67): The Angels said, “O Mary, God gives you good news of a Word from Him. His name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, well-esteemed in this world and the next, and one of the nearest. He will speak to the people from the crib, and in adulthood, and will be one of the righteous.”

She said, “My Lord, how can I have a child, when no man has touched me?”

He said, “It will be so. God creates whatever He wills. To have anything done, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.”

And [God] will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel.

[The] messenger [,Jesus, said] to the Children of Israel: “I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. I make for you out of clay the figure of a bird; then I breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by God’s leave. And I heal the blind and the leprous, and I revive the dead, by God’s leave. And I inform you concerning what you eat, and what you store in your homes. In that is a sign for you, if you are believers. And verifying what lies before me of the Torah, and to make lawful for you some of what was forbidden to you. I have come to you with a sign from your Lord; so fear God, and obey me. God is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path.”

When Jesus sensed disbelief on their part, he asked, “Who are my allies towards God?”

The disciples said, “We are God’s allies; we have believed in God, and bear witness that we submit. Our Lord, we have believed in what You have revealed, and we have followed the Messenger, so count us among the witnesses.”

They planned, and God planned; but God is the Best of planners.

God said, “O Jesus, I am terminating your life, and raising you to Me, and clearing you of those who disbelieve. And I will make those who follow you superior to those who disbelieve, until the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me is your return; then I will judge between you regarding what you were disputing. As for those who disbelieve, I will punish them with a severe punishment, in this world and the next, and they will have no helpers. And as for those who believe and do good works, He will give them their rewards in full. God does not love the unjust.”

This is what We recite to you of the Verses and the Wise Reminder.

The likeness of Jesus in God’s sight is that of Adam: He created him from dust, then said to him, “Be,” and he was.

The truth is from your Lord, so do not be of those who doubt.

And if anyone disputes with you about him, after the knowledge that has come to you, say, “Come, let us call our children and your children, and our women and your women, and ourselves and yourselves, and let us invoke God’s curse on the liars.”

This is the narrative of truth: there is no god but God. God is the Mighty, the Wise.

But if they turn away—God knows the corrupt.

Say, “O People of the Book, come to terms common between us and you: that we worship none but God, and that we associate nothing with Him, and that none of us takes others as lords besides God.” And if they turn away, say, “Bear witness that we have submitted.”

O People of the Book! Why do you argue about Abraham, when the Torah and the Gospel were not revealed until after him? Will you not reason?

Here you are—you argue about things you know, but why do you argue about things you do not know? God knows, and you do not know.

Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was a Monotheist, a Muslim. And he was not of the Polytheists.


These are the translated words of the Quran. Like our own Gospel, the Quran says Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. Like our own Gospel, the Quran says Jesus healed the blind and the leprous, and brought the dead back to life. Like Gospels we have dropped over the centuries, the Quran says Jesus made a bird out of clay and had it fly. Like our own Gospels today, the Quran says that Jesus was taken up into heaven and is with God.

Like the Jewish Torah, and the Christian Old Testament, the Quran says we are made by God out of dust. Says there are no gods but God, alone. This is called monotheism. Mono-one. Theism. God. One God. We are monotheists. Not polytheists. Not many-gods.

When the Quran says “O People of the Book,” it is speaking to us. To all the children of Abraham. Not his physical children – but the children our own Paul writes about to Romans: Abraham’s spiritual children.

Just like Paul, the Quran points out that Abraham followed and believed God long, long before there were the faiths of Judaism or Christianity or Islam; therefore, long before there was a Quran or Bible or Torah.

But he submitted. To submit is to be muslim. Muslim means a person who has submitted to God. In English it means a particular faith. But it has two meanings in Arabic – the faith, but also what it literally means – to submit.

Much like we are all democrats because we are all part of a democracy. Democrat, however, has two meanings: one – a person is part of a democracy. The second, a person is part of a particular political party in the United States of America.

Abraham couldn’t be Muslim-the-Faith because the Quran and The Prophet Mohammad had not come to be. But he could be Muslim-the-person-who-submits-to-God. Because, as all three faiths of the Book read, Abraham did submit.

You’re a democrat-the-government-citizen because you’re an United States citizen. I don’t know which party line you vote with, if any, and that is none of my business.

So why do we feud so much? Why do today’s Jews and Christians and Muslims bicker although we are all faith siblings? All brothers and sisters through the faith of Abraham, and all brothers and sisters literally because we all know, and affirm, God, God alone, creates all of us?

Because most of us don’t care about nirvana.

Here me out – I challenge any of you here to get into an argument with me about how to achieve enlightenment, and how to step out of samsara and into nirvana. Whatever position you take – Mahayana, Theravada, Vajrayāna or Zen – I’ll take a different one and we can debate.

No one?

The truth is, here in Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, we don’t care much about Buddha or Bodhisattvas.

But we care an awful lot about what someone says about Jesus and God.

We’re not invested into koans and tantras and the holy books of Budhism.

But we’ve staked our whole lives and afterlives on the Bible, and our prayers, and traditions, and rites.

We argue with our siblings because they are the most like us. We argue with our siblings because we share the most interests, investments, and the most is at stake.

We argue with Jews and Muslims and especially other Christians because these groups are most like us. What they say, and how they say it differently, we greatly care about.

This is as true today as it was in the past when the words were set in the Surahs of the Quran translation I read; it is as true as when Jesus walked and said a prophet is never accepted in his home town. It is as true today as when the ancient Israelites and Samaritans – both ancient Jews to anyone else but themselves – argued. As true as when Sarah tossed out Ishmael and his mother because she didn’t want them around herself and her son… as true as when Cain slew Abel.

We fight – we hate – the people who are most like us because in those few, few ways we are different SO MUCH is invested, risked, and at stake.

Paul, writing to the Romans, was trying so hard for the Roman Christians and Roman Jews to see each other as family. You’re not enemies! You’re siblings! Of the same faith of Abraham. The mono-theists, the One God, faith. He goes over laws – laws like the law to have circumcision, or to keep Kosher, or to keep Saturday or Sunday as the Sabbath, and says – if laws are making you lose faith, give them up!

We are alive in faith, faith gives us life. Faith – submitting to God, and trusting God will do as God promises – even if it looks impossible – keeping this hope against all hope – KEEP FAITH! Laws are good. Jesus said he came to fulfill the Laws and Prophets, not abolish them… but, in today’s language, if the Kings James Version is too difficult to read, get a different version of the Scripture. If Sunday Morning is too early for you to praise God, find another service time. Another church. Maybe not a church – praise in your house or car or with your friends over coffee. KEEP THE FAITH! The how and where and rules – the traditions – are good, but FAITH is what is essential.

What about our heads? All three books – The Torah, the Bible, the Quran – mention we ought to be covering our heads. No one here is wearing a hat. Why not?

Because, somewhere, our ancestors debated this. Our ancestors changed. They decided the FAITH was more important. The FAITH, the following, the trust, of God – than whether or not they covered their heads.

But other ancestors have chosen to keep following that law out of faith, out of submission, to God. And I’m not just talking about Muslima women who wear hijab; or Jewish men who wear yamakas, there are plenty of Christian churches and denominations where scarves still cover heads.

If Paul were writing to us, I think he’d write – don’t argue over whether or not to cover your heads. Argue – are you being faithful to the one and only God? Are you loving your neighbor? Are you loving God?

When we say things like “Don’t shop there, they jew you.” Or call someone a “towel-head,” we are not loving our neighbors. We are hating them.

When we refuse to speak with our siblings, out of fear, our of ignorance, out of hate – we are not being faithful to God who calls us to be the allies, the disciples, the-ones-who-submit to God who calls us to live our faith and preach to all nations.

When we believe that God of the Old Testament, YHWH, El-Shaddai, and the Lord, the God of the New Testament and Allah, are different gods… we forget our faith. We forget Abraham. We forget mono-theism. We forget there is but one god, and that is whom all of the faith children of Abraham are following.

One God. Understood differently. My perspective on my mom and dad is different than my brother’s perspective. But they are still the same mom and dad.

One God. Related to differently. I like doing crafts with my mom. My brother likes fishing with my mom. Still the same mom.

One God. We’re not the same religion. There are profound theological insights and beliefs that differ among us. I am not my brother. He is not me.

But we have the same parents.

And Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have one God. We are all siblings. Bickering siblings, different siblings, but siblings.

Since I razzed on Buddhism a little, I want to end with a Zen Buddist passage… a nun who one day approached a great patriarch to ask if he had any insight into the Nirvana sutra she had been reading.

“I am illiterate,” the man replied, “but perhaps if you could read the words to me I could understand the truth that lies behind them.”

Incredulous, the nun responded, “If you do not know even the characters as they are written in the text, then how can you expect to know the truth to which they point?”

Patiently the patriarch offered his answer, which has become a spiritual maxim for the ages: “Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger.”

We don’t worship the Bible. Jews don’t worship the Torah. Muslims don’t worship the Quran.

We all worship the Truth, which is God. The Truth – who is larger, brighter, truer, and beyond what our words, traditions, or experiences can capture.

We all worship God.

And we are all siblings.

Amen.

A Rainbow of Hope

169c6430c0941b6d00f7885d2bb1d7f0--noah-ark-art-partyGenesis 9:8-17
1 Peter 3:18-22

Noah’s story is a strange one. I usually hear it in one of two ways. The first way is the cute animal ark story. In this, a zoo of animals ride a boat with little smiling Noah under a rainbow. You see it on nursery walls and stitched on baby blankets. Aww – giraffes and lions and zebras! It’s the story we sung for our children’s chat today.

The other way I hear Noah’s tale is as an awful story about God’s wrath and how terrible the Old Testament is. In this version, one day, God lost God’s temper, and so in a fit of rage, drowned every man, woman, child and even all the animals. Then God felt bad, and so like any successful abuser, lured God’s victims back with gifts and apologies until God lost God’s anger again in a generation or two.

Both of these versions of the Noah story the Bible doesn’t contain. The one handed to us to much more nuanced, and can’t be summarized neatly into either a story of wrath or of cuteness.

The story begins with how the world has gotten worse and worse. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were banned from the perfect garden. Then their son Cain murdered his brother Abel. And Cain’s son murdered another man. And chaos and violence and rape spread across the face of the earth as humans did.

Genesis 6:5 “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” Humans had become evil, all the time. The following verse reads, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”

It doesn’t read that God was wrathful and angry. Not that God wanted to punish humanity. But rather, God regretted. God was sorry. God’s heart was heavy and troubled. God was sad. Not angry.

Genesis 6:13-14a – “So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark.” God sought out the man who still honored God, who was not 100% evil, and before the evil could overcome him and his family, God told this guy God’s plan to save the world from absolute evil. God will make a new creation… but will save humanity, imperfect as it is, and give it a fresh slate to try again.

Genesis 6:17b-19: “Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.” Everything will die, and the evil will be washed away. But the seed of life that is still good – Noah’s family, these animals – will be released back into the world to cover it with goodness instead of evil. And a covenant — a promise — will be made. God says God will make the covenant, but does not tell Noah at this time what it will be.

So Noah builds the ark. And God God’s self seals him and the animals and Noah’s family into the ark (Genesis 7:16b). And we’re told that for 40 days it rained; and for 150 days the world was flooded. And still longer it took until the waters were down enough that Noah was able to leave the ark. Remember he send out a dove, and it comes back without anything. Noah knows there is no where to land, nothing growing. Later the dove is sent out and it comes with an olive branch – a sign today of peace! – and lastly the dove is released and it doesn’t come back. It has gone on to live in the recreated world.

And God tells Noah to leave the ark then, Genesis 8:17 “Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.” Does that sound familiar? In the Creation stories, God tells the world to do the same: be fruitful and multiply. Here, in this new creation, God tells them the same.

Then Noah makes an altar, and thanks God. God smells the cooking meat on the altar and says, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

In other words – God knows we’re sinful. From childhood we start lying, harming ourselves and harming each other. God knows this – but accepts it. God will not destroy the world because of the sin of humanity. Whenever God intervenes again, it will be in a different way. God will recreate and redeem us from evil — the evils of our own hearts even — in a different way.

God tells Noah that we may eat all plants and all animals now – but that God will demand an accounting of our lives. And will demand an accounting of our animals’ lives. How have we treated one another? How have we been stewards of the earth and siblings to each other?

Noah’s ark story ends with God’s rainbow and God saying, Genesis 9:12-16 “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

I’ve heard it said before that the rain bow is like a bow — what you use with an arrow. And when a bow is hung up, like a rain bow, it is a sign of peace. God’s bow – God’s violence – is hung up. A new way of dealing with evil on earth will have to be used, now.

I’ve also heard of rainbows being like a bridge, connecting heaven and earth. It symbolizes how we affect one another. What happens in heaven changes things on earth, and what happens on earth changes things in heaven. God promises to keep that in mind, and to be with us working together.

In our communion, we ask God to make God’s church — which is all of us — a rainbow of hope in an uncertain world. When there are clouds, and doubts, and flooding rains… we are the rainbow that says this will not last forever. There is still hope. Even in the most violent, most awful, most terrifying situations… what is will not always be. We can keep hope.

We know humanity needed saved again. And again and again. And God intercedes in and finds new ways to address the evil.

Consider Moses. Just like Noah, water is used to save Moses from evil, but the water doesn’t cover the earth. But just like Noah, Moses is saved by an ark. (That’s the word used for his little basket!) And like Noah, Moses is given a new covenant… this one not sealed with a rainbow but written on stone tablets and seal with blood of an animal and put in — here’s that word again! — an ark. This ark is to carry the tablets and be the movable house for God.

And consider Jesus. Like Noah, and like Moses, water plays a major part in Jesus’ life. The water of baptism. The water turned into wine. The water Jesus stills and walks upon. There is no ark in Jesus’ story, and Jesus doesn’t refer to himself as an ark… but he is, in a way. He is protecting, carrying, humanity from evil and into the newest creation of God. Jesus does tell us the newest covenant is sealed not with stones or animals or rainbows – but with Jesus’ own blood: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

When God saves us from evil the next time around, we are saved through the covenant in Jesus, and sealed with the water of baptism and Holy Spirit.

The first letter of Peter writes to the struggling persecuted church to remember their baptisms. It’s not a bath for dirt. It does not make you stop sinning. It is an appeal to God to remember our covenant, and an appeal to us to remember our covenant. We are one people, many persons, but one people – belonging to one God. And it is together we’re all going to make it. Even those people who died in Noah’s days, says Peter, after disobeying God all their lives, even they – although dead – are offered to repent, apologize, and return to God through Christ.

In other words, says Peter, there’s hope. Even for the dead, there is hope of new life, new creation, new reconciliation and relationship with each other and with God. This is the covenant of Christ. A covenant of hope.

You don’t hope for things you have. You hope for what you don’t have. You don’t hope for sun on a day that is sunny. You hope for sun on rainy days. Rainbows of hope are visible only with storm clouds. Christ’s resurrection hope is only possible if Christ has died, and if we, too, physically die.

The hope is that the story of Noah doesn’t end with an ark. It continues. It ends with a rainbow, a promise, a new covenant.

The hope of Christ is that the tomb is empty. This symbol – a cross – is not just a reminder of our mortality, and of Christ’s death – but it is an EMPTY cross. Nobody hangs here. This is a cross of hope. There is more. The story continues. There is a resurrection.

And we need this hope, now. Our country is deeply divided. We’re told by our Federal Agents that this division, which has always been there, was exacerbated by another country.

The evil inclinations of our hearts were always there. The inclinations to distrust one another, to fear one another, to HATE one another. Those inclinations were incited, and we fell for it with glee. With glee, people passed on hate messages. With glee, we heard only the news we wanted to hear. With glee, we believed only what we wanted to believe. And with glee, we turned our own neighbors, our own brothers and sisters, into our enemies.

Lent is a time of making amends. A time of reflecting on our own sins, and building bridges – rainbows of hope – connecting ourselves to each other.

Lent is a time to reflect – what messages are we sharing? Are we seeking common ground and seeking the common good, or are we focusing on our differences, and focusing on just assisting ourselves?

Lent is a time to pray for forgiveness. A time to remember who we have issue with, and seek them out, to offer the olive branch of peace.

Jesus told us that a house divided soon falls in on itself.

Rebuild your house.

Rebuild your burned bridges.

The storm is happening, but we can be the rainbow of hope in this uncertain world.

Amen.

Transfigured

Mark 9:2-92 Mirror-talking
1 Kings 2:1-12

I think youth groups like 4-H, Boy Scouts, FFA and Girl Scouts are really fantastic. I had an extension agent who took myself and a few other teens one year and she worked with us to learn public speaking. Some of the things she spoke about, and taught us, I am still using even right this very moment in preaching to you. Such as to speak clearly, to keep water on hand, and to practice.

The practicing part was, and perhaps still is, the hardest. She had us began by speaking into a mirror and watching ourselves. I’m humored by what a trope, what a common scene it is in movies and TV that someone nervously practices their speech into a mirror. People really do that. I’m one of them.

Once we got used to that, she next had us record our voice on a cassette tape. Do you know how awful my voice is to my own ears? Nasally, high pitched, and it belongs to some teenager. So when I was a teenager, it sounded like it belonged to some kindergartner. The mirror was easier. I see myself in the mirror often enough – literally every day. But I don’t hear a recording of myself every day.

We learned to count the “ums” and “uhs” in our recordings and to reduce that number. But more, we learned what we sounded like just like we now knew what we looked like.

The last step was putting those two together. The extension agent now had us stand before a camcorder and record us. Then put that video and audio on a television and we watched ourselves.

… That was a new level of horror.

I’ve heard it said before that regular people look so strange on TV because we’re used to seeing very thin, very pretty, very dolled up people. So when a normal person is on, they look way worse just because of who they are compared with. Now, if you’ve ever seen your own regular gangly awkward teenage self on TV stumbling through a speech… you know what kind of horror the six of us teens went through.

The horror of… facing ourselves.

The horror of… being revealed.

Exposed!

That is why public speaking is so terrifying for almost everyone: it is being exposed, vulnerable, and open to ridicule.

That extension agent revealed us to ourselves, and then told us, “You’ve met yourself and survived. When you give your speech at the county fair, it will be a piece of cake. Easy. Because you’ve already did the hardest part: seeing and hearing yourself.”

She was right. Very right. It was much easier to speak at the microphone to mom and dad and grandma in the audience than to watch myself give a speech on television for the first time.

I think about her lessons often – especially that bit of the hardest part is seeing and hearing ourselves.

Maybe she meant literally.

But maybe not.

Transfiguration is not transformation. The Jesus who went up the mountain is the same Jesus who stood up there and the same Jesus who came down. What changed was how he was viewed. What was revealed. Exposed!

If what was revealed by Jesus is hard to understand, it’s okay. We’re flat out told that Peter doesn’t know what to say or how to explain it and he’s standing there witnessing it!

What they see, and we see through their eyes, are the man who gave us the Laws – Moses. And the greatest prophet – Elijah. Two representing all the traditions who have come before. Moses – who went up the mountain and met God, and who glowed from the encounter. And Elijah, who is said to have never died but instead, rose up to heaven and Jewish tradition has it, he will return from heaven. And with them is Jesus – who is glowing, who will die, but be raised, and go to heaven, and promise to return. Who is the continuation of the Laws and Prophets.

But he’s the same person who went up the mountain.

Just seen… very differently.

When we teens watched ourselves on tape, we were the same teens. Just like when you hear a recording of your voice, it is your same voice. What changes is how we view ourselves, or how we hear ourselves – what is revealed.

Transfiguration is not changing forms – not transforming. Not changing bodies – it is transfiguring – changing the view. Changing the view, then, often changes, transforms, us and those around us.

Like my extension agent did, God offers us to change the way we view ourselves, and others. Offers to peel the curtain back and peek in at the heart, the soul, of who we are. And in truthfully seeing, take with God transformative action.

No one likes to admit faults; and some of us have just as hard a time admitting our good qualities, too. We are transfigured before God – God sees them all. Shows them to us. Loves us.

I don’t talk about sin much, but I do believe in it. The part of the communion prayer that asks for forgiveness for the sins we commit deliberately, and those that over take us, speaks to me. We sin. Sometimes purposefully. And sometimes accidentally. And sometimes because the power of the sin was more powerful than us.

It takes a lot of honesty to admit we’ve lied. Lied to others. Lied to ourselves. That honesty is transfigurative. Revealing. But necessary for the transformative work of repentance and forgiveness.

A lot of soul-searching to admit we’ve done wrong. Wrong to ourselves. Wrong to others.

It’s a good long look in the mirror to be able to pray and ask for forgiveness and really mean it.

My extension agent had us practice. Had us face the worst of our fears – so when the time came, we shone.

God has us practice. Has us face the worst of ourselves – so when the time comes to act, to be Christ to another, we shine. When you are wholly honest with yourself, with your own good parts and bad, and are authentic – people know it. They sense it. You shine as an example of how to live truthfully, humbly, and with love of self and others and God. You also live much more comfortably in your own skin.

Lent is a great time to practice this change in perspective. A season to set aside time to reflect on who we are – and look at ourselves truthfully. This takes practice! And humility. And God’s grace.

God’s grace, God’s gift to us, is love which always is speaking to us about whom we truly are.

And we’re transfigured. Seen differently. Revealed. And in the revealing, opened to more change. Opened to transforming.

God helps us see all those things we’re trying to hide, the stories and revisions to stories to make ourselves better, and says… You’re my child. Beloved. I forgive you. I love you.

Just as God helps us see all those things we’re denying about ourselves. The good deeds, the compassion, the love. God sees how we shy from our goodness out of fear of being judged, or fear our misdeeds are too great… and God transfigures us. Reveals who we really are. God’s child. Beloved. Just as you are.

So what happens next?

Transfiguration is not transformation.

Transformation is next.

Jesus in our story gets right back down from the mountain and starts his trip towards Jerusalem. And we get right back down from this Sunday into the season of Lent next Sunday.

Seeing who we are propels us into action. Seeing who we are gives us the courage to boldly walk with Christ through town after town, and all the way to the cross – and beyond. Seeing ourselves – with all our merits and flaws – and hearing the voice from heaven say we are beloved – what can’t we overcome and who could steal this joy and hope and peace and love? We’re empowered to transform – to change the world – and to transform – change – ourselves.

By the time you get to the county fair – the end of the project – the end of your time on Earth – you’ll be ready. You’ve put in the practice, you know your good parts and bad, you’ve been transforming yourself and the world, and you’re ready for the judge, the reward, the rest.

Amen.

Renewing Strength

eagle_molt_ron_dudleyIsaiah 40:21-31
Mark 1:29-39

You’ve all been around chickens – think of a molting chicken, with its bare little behind peeking through downy fluff and its spotty neck and wings that are all broken, and missing, its pinions– its wing feathers– are scattered from the barn to the house and back again.

I’ve been told before that the eagle described in Isaiah is described with the kind of word used for a molting, ragged, old bird. No spring chicken. No new chick. But an old wet bird missing so many feathers it cannot even fly.

Some of us might be molting in here, right now.

See, the Israelites Isaiah is writing to have been scattered all over. Isaiah is saying we can’t do this – can’t go home and rebuild – without everyone involved. We need those of you who are comfortable and retired. You remember our history and what things were like in the old days. And we need those of you who are busy, and earning money, and supporting everyone. You’re the hands that keep us going. And we need the youth, the energy and vibrancy of them, they are our future.

Isaiah addresses his prophecies to different people. Today’s reading is perhaps addressed to the elderly. For Isaiah hears God saying: lift up your eyes, and see – someone is older than you. Someone who created the stars and calls them out by name every night. Someone who is so old, humans appear like barely grown plants or little bugs. Someone who is older than dirt. Everlasting. Timeless. Beyond time.

You old folks watch those young folks. They run and run and run, but eventually, they’ll fall down exhausted. Then they, like you, will need the Lord to renew their strength. Whether very young or very old, our feathers get worn, our bodies and minds and souls get worn. But God offers to renew us. Keep us going.

Isaiah wants all the generations to know they are NEEDED. Tomorrow is not possible without every age, and without God who unites us and fuels us.

Isaiah is speaking about going back to Jerusalem to rebuild. He is encouraging and begging and telling all – go back! “In reality, though, they do not go back. They go forward. They accept a new adventure. The thesis sentence of this part of Isaiah comes in 43:19, that God does a “new thing.” The people will go back, but in reality, everything has changed. They cannot go back, they can only move into God’s new future.” ((Charles L. Aaron, Jr.)) The new temple is not like the old. This causes the elderly to cry in sorrow, while the youth proclaim with joy at the rebuilt temple. The new city is not like the old. The new people and new education are not like the old. There is a new thing. A new way of being Jewish in ancient Israel.

Look around us… we cannot go “back.” What church is today is a new thing. It will not be the church that the elderly remember. It won’t be packed and won’t be an automatic priority is everyone’s lives. But it is still church. It is a new set of wings for flying into the uncertain future – but wings gifted to us by God and we fly in the shelter of God. It is our shared future, but one that is only possible if we embrace all the generations. All the different gifts and different ways of knowing, worshiping, and serving God that come with different ages. Tomorrow’s church may have rock bands, or meet in coffee shops, or occur via online videos. It may be less worship and more service. We don’t know. But a new kind of church is emerging now. We’re witnessing God doing a new thing!

The church does this about every 500 years. 500 years ago was the Protestant Revolution. 500 years before that was the Great Schism that separated the one church into two – East and West. 500 years before that? The Bible was being collected, and wrote, and argued, and our religion was going from a Jewish cult to a state religion. 500 years before that? Jesus was walking and revolutionizing ancient Judaism.

We don’t know what the church will be. Our great-great-grand kids might have enough distance they can look back and say ‘Ah! Look what our ancestors lived through! What a wild time!’ but we don’t have that kind of hindsight. We can just celebrate we feel God recreating the church now.

We’re not to go back. We’re to go forward.

Consider Christ – he didn’t heal every person in Simon’s village. He did what he could, and then he retired, took a new set of wings, new energy from God, and moved on to continue his message. It seems kind of cruel. Jesus didn’t fix everything in that town. He didn’t make it all go back to the way things were in the Garden of Eden — with no cares, no worries, no illness.

Jesus wasn’t making things back to the way they were. Jesus was making the way things are changed into the future God is always creating and recreating. The future God is filling with ways for us to be healed, and heal, others.

Jesus rose out of that little town several disciples. One, I believe, was Simon’s mother in law. She is said to have been lifted up, like Christ was lifted up, and she served, as Jesus served. The other disciples continue to struggle with what their role is and in Mark, even abandon Jesus at the cross in the end. But throughout Mark, the women get it and stay. Stay for death. And stay for Resurrection. And through it all – stay and serve. To be Christian is to accept the new life of Christ, to be lifted up by God, and then to go out and serve. To go out and lift up others.

Jesus left the city not because everything was perfect, but because he had spread the message there and left behind people who heard the call, accepted the new life, and now were getting up to help others.

We’re not going to fix all the church’s problems ourselves. We’ll mount up on new wings over and over again, but it is not our job to do EVERYTHING. It is our job to spread the message, widen the welcome, value every age and generation and contribution.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary. When we rest, God is still working. God doesn’t get tired. Doesn’t need to rest. And so, it is this teamwork of us AND God who will welcome the new ways of being the church.

That may sound… exhausting. Especially for those of us who are molting. It is why Jesus offers a hand to us, even as we lie on our bed with fevers and ills, aches and pains, of all sorts. Offers that hand and says – let me lift you up. You don’t do this alone. We serve together.

So come today to the table where Christ invites you. Come and be served by Jesus, so you can go out and serve others. Come and renew your wings. Amen.

Middle of Winter Devotional

Psalm 147:7-11, 14-18 winter-nature-wallpapers-photo-For-Desktop-Wallpaper

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre. God covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills. God gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry. God’s delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor is God’s pleasure in the speed of a runner; but the Lord takes pleasure in those who revere God, in those who hope in God’s steadfast love… God fills you with the finest of wheat. God sends out God’s command to the earth; God’s word runs swiftly. God gives snow like wool; God scatters frost like ashes. God hurls down hail like crumbs— who can stand before God’s cold? God sends out God’s word, and melts them; God makes God’s wind blow, and the waters flow.

In the middle of winter, when there is frost scattered like ashes, and snow like a heavy wool blanket; in the awful middle of winter when we have sleet and hail that hurl down upon us like hard bread crumbs and the cold is unbearable… I turn to Psalms such as these. Psalms to point out that even in the middle of winter ravens find food, owls gather to start their nests, and deer dig into the snow to find little bits of preserved grass. Even in the middle of winter, God is present. God is providing. God is loving and caring.

And when the winter passes, it will come with warm breezes God sends. Then the ice will melt, and the snow will flow into creeks and rivers. Then the land will be covered with new green grass and the sprouts of winter wheat. And we will still be in the presence of God. God is always providing. Always loving. Always caring.

I’m still not a fan of winter. I don’t think I ever will be. However, with the Psalms to guide me, I can see how our awesome God is just as present in the cold and the silence as in the joy and new birth of spring.

Let us revere – respect and love – our God who is always with us season to season and year to year. Amen.

 

Published in the Towne Crier, Feb 2018, Fairfield County, Ohio.

Caretakers of Love & Knowledge

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28

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I like reading websites full of weird facts, stories, and research. This week I fell down the internet rabbit hole of the Smithsonian Magazine online. I read about the Herero Genocide. Never heard of it? Me either until now. But it was where Germany perfected genocide, and tested out the methods used in the Holocaust.

 

The same arguments of social Darwinism and cleansing the world of inferior ethnicities appear in period debates about the Herero and the Jews, Rroma, and gays. The same methods of collecting into death camps and using the captives for labor, their bodies for experiments, and their bodies for profit occur. Indeed – when you look at the names of people involved in the Herero Genocide… those same names appear in the Holocaust.

 

So who are the Herero? They are a cattle herding people in West Africa. They joined with their neighbors in the early 1900s to try to expel the Imperial Germans who were raping their women and girls, stealing their cattle, and taking their land. The Germans debated what to do about the Herero problem, and their general decided the issue the decree,

 

“Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun or cattle, will be executed. I shall spare neither women nor children. I shall give the order to drive them away and fire on them. Such are my words to the Herero people.”

 

Their neighbors the Nama and the Herero themselves had their wells poisoned. People were driven into deserts. People were fed to sharks. Those that were captured were turned into labor slaves, or “comfort” slaves, or used as human guinea pigs in the name of medicine and science.

 

Why were these articles coming across my screen this week? Because the grandchildren of the few Herero who survived approached the American Museum of Natural History in New York and asked for hundreds of bodies. The largest collection of bones the museum owns are the bodies of the Herero who were sold for science and curiosity after the victims were murdered. The bones had been cleaned of flesh and muscle a hundred years ago with glass shards given to the still-living captives in the camps. They had to cut apart, desiccate, and then sell their loved ones away. These grandchildren came to ask for the bodies so the Herero story could be told, and funerals finally held. The museum and the Herero are in talks now about how best to tell the story and honor the dead.

 

You and I, everyone, we like to say we’re an advanced society.

 

The Herero, and later the Jews and Rroma and others, were considered ‘lesser’ societies. Backwards. “Sh*thole” societies, if you listen to some American leaders.

 

But it is our advanced society that has perfected mass murder. And recently perfected it.

 

Rev. Fred Craddock uncomfortably writes that “not believing in demons has hardly eradicated evil in our world.”

 

Evil is real. Evil is happening. Genocide is STILL happening today. What I described? Change the dates and the names, and it is happening in Dafur this very moment and 250,000 have died. It is happening in Syria, and Ethiopia, in the Congo and in Burma. ((genocidewatch.org))

 

We don’t really believe in demons much. When we read Jesus expelled a demon from the man in the crowd, we think ‘well, they thought it was a demon. But it really was just mental illness.’ Or Epilepsy. Or some other thing. Demon possession isn’t real.

 

Demon possession doesn’t need to be real. Evil is real. Evil is happening. And evil doesn’t care if we believe in it or not.

 

In Jesus’ encounter, we see what evil does. “People who suffer the effects of being occupied or “possessed” by demons lose their ability to control their movements and their voices; either they are immobilized or compelled to move destructively” ((Rev. Dr. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge))

 

The Herero were possessed by demons. Demons who were driving them into deserts, death camps, and slavery. Demons who stole their movements and their voices.

 

The soldiers who listened to their leaders were possessed by demons. They were immobilized, and thought they had no other choice than to follow orders. They were scared to speak up, scared to look weak, scared to lose their own lives.

 

The leaders were possessed by demons. They dreamed of money and cattle and land. They feared the natives. They were compelled to move destructively.

 

Evil has a way of being ‘the norm’ and that is when we get possessed – taken over – and lose our freedom and agency. Sometimes we give this up willingly. It is easier to say you did wrong because everyone else was doing it. Sometimes freedom and agency is stolen from us. And sometimes we don’t even realize we’re captives.

 

My voice is stolen when others speak at me, instead of listening. Who listens to you? Right now, plenty in my local and national government are speaking to the world for me, but it is not my message – a Christian message of love, tolerance, forgiveness and welcome. My voice is stolen and I am possessed.

 

Immobilized. Are we immobilized? We feel powerless, feel unable to really change things. Feel tired. Feel helpless. Feel as through there is too much pain in the world for us to actually do anything… we’re demon possessed.

 

The norm is evil. The norm is we’re compelled to be destructive. To ourselves – harming our health, our communities, our peace. Destructive. To others. Harming the balance of the world, and damaging the world whether we do nothing or we act. Compelled to destroy just by being.

 

Consider the lights here – we have clean electric energy, but it is only clean for us because down on the Ohio River are people living in the shadow of a coal plant, breathing its smoke, and taking the toxins for us.

 

We are captives to demons. Captive to evil systems.

 

When Jesus appears in the synagogue, it is a normal worship day like any other. People are there to hear the hope that their present world doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Jesus appears in as normal of a place as if he were to walk into Saint Michael’s right now. And those in the crowd were just like us here today – gathered in hope, in prayer, and carrying on the love and knowledge of God.

 

We’re caretakers. Safe guarding a treasure for generation to generation. We share with all our Christian, Jewish, and Muslim siblings the knowledge that God has revealed God’s self to us, and the way the world is — with present evil – with entrapping systems that bring us to violence after violence – this is not how things HAVE to be.

 

Today, just as that time 2000 years ago, we’re gathering in hope, while aware so much destruction has occurred and is occurring. But we have hope. We have love. We have knowledge God is working with us and will not let the divine dream die.

 

Whenever I think about hope, and Jesus, I like the image of a new sprout from the root of Jesse. The idea is that the tree, the lineage, of King David (Jesse’s son) has been cut down by the ancient Romans. But God will cause a new tree to grow out of the roots, out of a cousin or distant relative. It’s why the New Testament spends a lot of time tracing Jesus’ genealogy. Those are his roots back to Jesse to fulfill the prophecy.

 

You may picture a grand oak or maple.

 

I picture in my head a hybrid poplar. Okay, not any hybrid poplar but THE hybrid poplar named The 4th of July Tree. Picture a mulberry with poplar leaves and you’ve got the look of this tree. This little foot long stick was planted on year on the 4th of July, and by the 4th the following year, it was now two feet large. The third year it was up to my shoulders. The fifth year it now spread about nine feet high and wide. Year five it was a story large, and year six two stories large. In six short years it went from a foot to taller than the farm house. In six short years its roots went from its hole fifty feet away from the house to coming up through the house toilet. We cleared out the roots, but year seven… once again they appeared in the toilet bowl.

 

You know what we had to do. The 4th of July tree had to go.

 

So my family cut it down. We stacked the wood so it would season and chopped the base of the tree to the ground so we could mow over it.

 

One week later, there was a strange patch of grass. I went out to look and found that the stump had grown eight little six-inch trees. My dad said – don’t worry – when I mow, they’ll be cut down. Sometimes trees have a little bit of energy stored up in their roots, and they come back after the main trunk is cut.

 

So he mowed.

 

And mowed all summer.

 

And every week the tree came back from its roots.

 

This really befuddled all of us. How much energy did this tree store up in its roots? How long could it keep living without leaves and sunlight?

 

In fall, we went to split wood. But the woodpile was missing. In its place was a little woods of hybrid poplars. Each and every log had not just shot up on BOTH ends with new branches, but had also placed ROOTS. Long roots grew all over the seasoned wood and tall new trees shaded the green wood.

 

Dad decided it was time to gasoline burn all this hybrid poplar.

 

The pyre over the stump burned all day long as we split wood and tossed the bad into the blaze. Inside the hybrid poplar logs and stump roasted.

 

And the following week they all sprouted up from the ashes. The following spring, new hybrid poplars appeared in the grass everywhere a branch had fallen from mowing down the tree over and over and over again.

 

How much energy did this tree have?! It’s been twenty years and my mother is still finding bits of this tree growing.

 

When I think about the root of Jesse, I think about this tree. God’s has way more energy than we can even begin to fathom. Horrible things happen – genocides, murders, possessions of evil of all kinds big and small. We mess up. We hurt ourselves. We hurt each other. We hack and chop and burn and poison the life of the world… and yet… the tree comes back.

 

The ancient people in the synagogue were waiting for the tree to grow again. Jesus said — it is growing now!

 

We modern people in the church are waiting for the tree to grow again. And Jesus tells us – it is growing now!

 

It is always growing.

 

We are the caretakers of this knowledge. It’s our job to guard it, and pass it with love to the next generation. It’s our job to look evil in the face and say ‘not today! Not ever!’ We’re to speak with the authority gifted to us to “heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners” When is the year of the Lord’s favor? Now. Immediately.

 

Paul reminds us not to get puffed up with what we know, because there is always more we don’t know. Maybe demons are real. Maybe there are many gods and many lords. There is much we don’t know… what we do know is love. And love knows us.

 

And love — God– wants the world to know it is loved.

 

And that God can raise up new beginnings even out of stones, cut down trees, and desolated people.

 

Amen.