Tag: body of Christ

Breaking Down the Dividing Wall

Ephesians 2:11-22 ArizonaBorder.jpg
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Let me tell you what’s in the news –

– Ah. I see winces. You don’t want to hear it. It isn’t the news you want to hear.

It’s news about how our nation is being made great again. It’s news about non-Citizens suffering wanton abuse from government officials. It’s news of traitors, protests, uprisings, capital punishment, corruption and refugees and job woes and trade wars and unfair taxes and …

These are the headlines… from 62 AD.

Into this mess, Paul writes the Ephesians a letter that makes them wince and look over their shoulders with fear.

He writes, “Remember, at one time you were immigrants by birth, called illegal immigrants by the citizens – a status given to you by humans and not God – remember that you were at one time without Christ, being an alien to the land of God’s people, strangers to its laws, and without hope, and without God. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For Christ makes our nation great again. He is our peace. In his flesh, he made both immigrant and citizens into one group and broke down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments of who is or isn’t a citizen based on birth, that Christ might make in himself one new nation in place of two, thus making the nation great again, thus the peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So Christ came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off in other lands and peace to those who were near in this land; for through Christ both of us have access in one Spirit to the same God.

So you are no longer strangers and aliens to one another. You are no longer countrymen and women of this human nation or that. But you are citizens with the saints and also members of the house, the nation, of God, built upon the foundation of the non-citizen apostles and the citizen prophets, with Jesus Christ as your cornerstone. As your president. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple, a holy place, in God. You, listening to this letter, are also built together spiritually as one into a dwelling place, a home, for God.”

Does it make you as uncomfortable in 2018 AD as it made the Ephesians in 62 AD? It should. Paul is challenging Caesar and his claims of making a great nation built on peace. That peace is built on the back of murdering people, such as Jesus. It is built on having citizens who can do as they want to non-citizens. It is built on corruption, deception, hostility, and lies.

The Spirit is challenging our nation and its claims of making itself great again and a land of liberty. This liberty is being built on the back of murdering people who are like Jesus: who are our fellow Christians. It is built on having citizens living safely in homes while non-citizens lie on concrete floors, with aluminum foil for blankets, in rooms kept at 62 degrees or lower. It is liberty built on corruption, deception, hostility, and lies.

I am uncomfortable. Like the Ephesians, I am looking over my shoulder and wondering who else just heard what Paul wrote. Who else heard Paul claim my citizenship — which lets me tuck my daughter into bed at night — and my skin color — which lets me drive without being at risk of a cop shooting me — and my flesh — all this who I was born as — Paul is claiming my flesh is nothing. God has taken it away. I’m wearing the flesh of Christ.

I’m wearing the flesh of a Middle Eastern man who is challenging my government.

A man tortured and killed by my own government.

Paul’s news is uncomfortable. To we readers in 62 AD and in 2018 AD.

He tells me that the wall of hostility I was born into is false, wrong, and ungodly. In Christ there is only one flesh. If I am truly born again in Christ, then my body is Christ.

My citizenship is Christianity.

My brothers and my sisters are all who are Christian.

My cousins are all who follow God.

My neighbors are all of humanity.

For all who were baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Or, there is neither Hispanic nor American, impoverished nor affluent, male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

There is a wall of hostility we are called to oppose.

We are called to break down walls that divide us. Physical walls – barrier walls – border walls. And social walls – walls preventing access to medical aide, equal rights, security. We’re called to break down spiritual walls – the kind that make us hate seeing a hijab or star of David, or making room for other faiths in our schools, and jobs, our homes, and even our churches. We’re called to be citizens of a new nation that abolishes all the old laws with a new law of love. We’re called to be citizens that give up our nationalities, our own flesh, our own births, for a new nation in Christ’s body through being born again in the Spirit.

We’re called to love our neighbor.

Love our selves.

And even love our enemies.

For we are known as Christian by our love.

What does this citizenship of God look like? All we have to do is look to Jesus as our role-model to see.

Jesus today makes more political commentary. Shepherd is the image of the leader of the land. The person who keeps the sheep, the people, safe. He or she is who provides peace, provides good food and clean water, scares off the wolves, and lets the people multiply. In the reading before today, we met ancient Israel’s shepherd, Herod. He foolishly takes his sister-in-law as his wife, and promises their daughter anything she wants. To fufill this promise, he has to murder the prophet of God, John. He fed his heads of state but served his sheep John’s head on a platter.

Out among the people, Jesus sees they are desperate. They have run from all the towns and villages around the sea of Galilee dragging and carrying their sick loved ones on mats and rugs, and on their backs and in their carts, laying them out in the center of the town begging Jesus to let them just touch the fringe of his cloak so they can be healed. The center of the town is the marketplace. The place of affluence. The sick are the outcasts, the homeless, the foreigners and supposed to stay away from the rich. But they overwhelm the shops, choke up the streets, and fill the air with their petitions.

Picture if the stock market had to be closed because the trading floor was filled with the family, friends, and neighbors of people targeted by ICE all begging for their children to be reunited, their loved ones having access to food, water, and a lawyer, and asylum. There would be anger from the elite who don’t want to be bothered by this. Chaos. Government officials calling for the ring leader of this ‘protest’ to be arrested, or shot. That ringleader is Jesus, and the Spirit.

Picture the highways now in Chicago – filled with black women begging the government to stop persecuting their sons as guilty criminals until proven innocent.

Picture the 99% protests.

These are people whose mortal shepherd has failed them. And Jesus has compassion. Jesus goes among them bringing healing. Tangible healing – such as attending a protest, or paying for a sitter or sitting kids so another can go to a protest, or donating money to organizations like HOLA Ohio to bail out mothers who have sat in prison for TWO MONTHS after being picked up here in Ohio…

And Jesus brings intangible healing along with the tangible, touchable, healing. Jesus we’re, told, begins to teach the crowds. He gives education.

Education such as… did you know that HOLA Ohio has found the rules to bail someone out is different every day? Currently: “Bond can’t be posted on the same day as court for the Michigan women; bond can’t be paid after 3 p.m. in the Cleveland office; bond must be paid with one cashier’s check, not two–even if both are addressed to U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security for the same individual on the same case, and were accepted that way last week, and so on and so forth.” (HOLA Ohio July 2018 Facebook Update)

Education such as… RAICES “staff and volunteer pro bono attorneys arrived at the Karnes detention center to meet with clients and were told they couldn’t meet with anyone as Karnes was empty. Around 3:45pm two of our pro bono attorneys watched as a bus was loaded at Karnes with mothers and children. Having been lied to all day, they decided to follow the bus from Karnes to see where they were being transferred to. An hour in to the drive they call our Comms Director to let her know they had been pulled over by 3 state troopers in SUV’s for “illegally” following the bus and demanded to see their client lists. They were held for 15 minutes by police, and now continue to follow the bus which looks to be headed to Dilley detention center.” (RAICES July 2018 Facebook Update)

Detention centers where children are ordered to stand, “No sitting on the floor, no hugging your siblings, and it’s best not to cry.” Or face bleach in your water, and guards kicking you if you sit during the 16 hours a day you must be awake. Where over 1,000 reports sexual abuse have been filed against ICE agents. ((https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/14/us/migrant-children-shelters.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytimes; https://theintercept.com/2018/04/11/immigration-detention-sexual-abuse-ice-dhs/))

Education such as even though the government is purposefully trying to prevent lawyers and help to the refugees, groups like HOLA Ohio have volunteers who have “been spending up to 6 hours a day in the ICE office to post bonds, [paid] eight bonds to date, six bonds of $2,000 each and two bonds of $1,500 each, and arranged transportation through a network of volunteers for nine women to be reunited with their families.” A dozen more hearings are happening this week.

The Spirit of God is in us, because of our anointments in baptism in Christ, “to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 18-19.

The Spirit of God is in us to tear down these dividing walls and be the good news to the poor. Be the ones paying bail. Be the ones teaching our family and friends and neighbors to open their blind eyes to see the hurt happening to the body of Christ — their own bodies. We are to use our privilege as citizens to the benefit of those oppressed. We are to proclaim the year of God’s favor — that God’s reign is now — the kin-dom is now — the nation of God is now — and no Mexican, Canadian, American, Russian, British or any other human government is going to stop us from loving one another.

Because we are citizens of heaven. Our leader is God. Our God is love.

Amen.

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Clean Water is Life

Exodus 17:1-7

maria_pr_valentin_47-edit1_custom-316168977226453a3a91d20085eb3365e2901f07-s1300-c85
Puerto Ricans getting water from drainage pipes. Photo by Maria Valentin for NPR

Matthew 21:23-32

Rev. Anathea Portier Young quotes the Israelites, ““Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7). What proof and signs can persuade a thirsting, frightened people that God is with them and leads them in the wilderness?

If God is the God who saves, who gives and sustains life, then God in their midst and in their inmost parts must provide, at the very least, that which is necessary for survival.

One hundred hours. That’s the oft-cited statistic for how long a human body can typically survive at “average” temperatures without access to water. Today’s Sinai Peninsula,” where the Israelites are wandering, “averages 82° Fahrenheit in May and 91°F in June. For those same months, average high temperatures are 95°F and 104°F respectively. In such extreme heat and with exposure to sun, the timeline for survival shortens” by half.

“Now we’re down to fifty hours. Exertion — such as walking long distances in the day time, carrying one’s belongings, tents, and small children, and wrangling livestock along the way (compare Exodus 17:3) — shortens the timeline further…”sustained high sweat rates can reduce estimated survival time without drinking water to as little as seven hours, or approximately the time it takes to walk twenty miles.” One long, day’s march on an unusually, but not impossibly, hot, June day was all it would take to finish God’s people. Because they had no water.

So if God is with them, in the midst of their inmost parts, the very organs, blood stream, and cells that require water for nutrition, metabolism, temperature regulation, waste removal, shock absorption and more — why is there no water?” ((https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3432))

It’s 90°F in Puerto Rico right now. And raining. It feels like it is 102° with the humidity.

There is no public power. And there won’t be any for months.

Some people have generators.

Their generators are out of gas.

The gas stations are out of gas.

No AC. No ice. Not even fans… and sweating in 102 degrees.

Water is life.

The Israelites plead with Moses – they are going to die without water.

The Puerto Ricans are pleading with the world – they are going to die without water.

Lucky Puerto Ricans have access to springs or well water, like we have here at the church. But how much water are we going to get without electricity? We don’t have many hand pumps many more. They don’t have many hand pumps either.

And what happens to our bathrooms? A week with no shower, no flushing the toilet, no washing hands, no washing clothes, no brushing teeth, no… watering the animals?

Puerto Ricans are living out of bottles of water or small springs or open rivers. Last month they were people just like you and I – American Citizens living normal lives. Today they are fighting for every second of life.

No gasoline for generators means stores close. No place to buy water. Not like there is any left, anyways.

You may have heard on the news there are 9000 shipping containers in the ports of the island. That is correct – but they were there before Hurricane Irma and Maria hit. They have shoes, TVs, computers, and things businesses and people ordered before the hurricanes. Not a single container of food,  medicine, or diapers is left.

Let alone water. What is in the stores does not satisfy.

No gasoline means no way to travel but by foot to get to a spring. And wait in a long line. And carry that water back jug by jug.

Nothing but spring water by foot means every elderly person is at the pure mercy of neighbors and friends and family and strangers to help them survive.

Baby formula made with river water – unfiltered, and can’t be boiled because the wood is all soaked for fires and there is no gas for electricity or a stove.

Dysentery. Dehydration. Death is settling into the cities and villages and rural houses of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Clean drinking water is life. The Bible was written in a time and place where people understood that so innately and KNEW what it meant to face times of water shortage.

We are blessed here in Ohio with an abundance of fresh water.

But if we were hit with a 50 mile wide tornado — which is what the hurricane was like — many, many of us would have issues getting drinking water after a week or two of no power, no gas, no aid.

Moses pleads with God, “What shall I do?!” And God answers – step out and act.

Jesus sits today and tells the people it’s not our words God wants, but our actions.

Pray for the world and ACT for the world.

See the need and donate funds.

See the injustice and cry out for those who are silenced.

See the hurt and offer your help.

Come to the table this morning thinking of Christ’s words: come for what satisfies – not 9000 boxes of shoes and TVs and books – but food, and drink, community and Christ. Think of those who sit with us taking communion sweating in churches, thirsty, on hot islands. We are all one body. They are the Body of Christ just as you are the Body of Christ.

Come, let us recommit ourselves as rainbows of hope after storms for our hurting world.

Amen.

A Different Spirit

In honor of the baptism of Caleb.283

Numbers 13:26-33-14:11; 14:22-24
Matthew 28:18-20

The Israelites have traveled and traveled and traveled from Egypt and at long last, have reached the Promised Land… but they find it is already occupied. So they send in 10 spies to check out who is living in this area.

In our reading, the spies come back with the report that the people already living there are the children of Nephillim — angels or giants. They’re so big and strong that the Israelites feel like grasshoppers around them. Tiny little bugs! When they hear the report, everyone in the camp begins to fret and worry.

But Caleb stands up and says: hey! We should trust God’s promises. God says this is where we’re supposed to go, let’s go!

But no one wants to listen to Caleb.

Moses and God have a talk about what to do. God is upset – why do the Israelites keep not trusting me? Didn’t I do miracles in Egypt to get the people free from Pharaoh? Didn’t I do miracles at the Red Sea, and miracles in the desert with manna, and water, and birds to eat? This situation looks hopeless, but I AM GOD! I DO MIRACLES! WHY CAN’T THE PEOPLE GET THIS?!

God decides to order the Israelites to wander around in the desert for 40 years. And in those 40 years, everyone who is complaining and regretting leaving Egypt will pass away from old age. A new generation will return to the Promised Land and maybe they will believe God this time. But Caleb will live a long life and enter the land because he has a different spirit, a spirit that trusts God wholeheartedly.

Jesus, too, tells us to live with a different spirit in us. The Holy Spirit. A Spirit that comes upon us with our baptisms and keeps faith in hopeless situations, keeps trust in God through hardships and trials, and strives to live a life of love for God, and for others.

We’re called to live our lives in ways that make believers of all nations. Caleb lived this way. And our Caleb is called to live this way. No one is able to do it alone. It takes the whole body of Christ.

So you, who have the different spirit, the Holy Spirit, be the guide to disciple Christ’s newest follower – our little Caleb. Be his parents’ support, his sister’s assurance, his own encouragement. Live your life in a way that leads him towards the promised land. And remind him of this day – the day we affirmed he is baptized in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and he is a part of Saint Michael’s UCC, and a part of the Body of Christ universal.

Amen.

Never Orphaned

Acts 17:22-31hands-old-young
John 14:15-21

 

Orphan. This is one of those categories of people the Bible has a lot to say. Over and over again God tells us to care for the orphaned and the widows. To care for the fatherless and the stranger. To care for the outcast and the afflicted. A sign of God’s people is their love and care for those who are most vulnerable.

In these ancient cultures where our scripture comes from, men are the people who can own property and bring in income. So… a widow… or a child without a father…. where are they going to get food? Water? Shelter? Who is going to protect them from being victims of violence?

God says again and again – you are. You are their protection.

Jesus reminds us that it isn’t just widows and orphans God wants us to care for – but ALL. So he shows us again how to care for strangers, care for outcasts, care for the physically and mentally sick. Whomever is at risk, we are their guardians.

So who is at risk? Who is Jesus telling us to remember in our prayers, to give our money and food to? Telling us to protect?

I tell you, I visited an orphanage.

I know – you tell me they are all closed. There are no more ran in the US and we only use the foster care system. But I tell you otherwise: I walked in and signed my name to the Visitor’s Sheet. Eyes poked out of doorways to see who this new person was with curiously and then disappeared back into their rooms. I got my badge that marked me as something even more different. That badge saying I’m permitted to be there, but not OF there. Permitted to enter, but also permitted to LEAVE. And I walked the halls of these orphans. Some laid in their beds calling for their mommies. Some had photos of their missing parents on their walls. Some asked me if I’d seen their loved ones, or knew who they themselves were.

Here, in this Alzheimer’s Unit, are the people who need others to give them food, and water, shelter. To protect them from violence. To be parental figures.

I found my orphan and she didn’t know who I was. But my orphan and I, we sat and talked anyways. Bit by bit, she told me a few memories of her parents, a sister… or a brother…

I sat and I thought it’s strange to think that nearly all of us will be orphans before we pass away. Eventually, nearly all of us, will bury first one parent, then a second, maybe even a third. We actually pray we pass away before our children, so it’s not a strange thing to be orphans… but yet… it doesn’t mean its any easier.

My orphan lost her parents decades ago, but the hurt was still so deep and fresh. And she still thought of them with mixed emotions. Relief – that they are no longer in pain. Relief – she’ll see them again. Sorrow – she doesn’t see them now. Sorrow she can’t ask them for advice, can’t introduce them to her great-grandchildren, can’t just share a cup of coffee. Simultaneously she recalled to me great bitterness and anger with her parents and great love and longing for her parents. No one has simple relationships with others when we’re honest.

The same is true in our scripture on feeling like an orphan today. This isn’t a simple relationship Jesus is describing. He is giving his farewell speech to his disciples. He’s telling them he’s going to a reunion with his father and they’re not welcome… yet. Telling them they know the way… but it isn’t on a map. And they are realizing Jesus is speaking about his death, and going to Heaven, and waiting for us there.

They are realizing they are about to be orphans.

Anger. They can’t go back home. They gave up their homes to follow Jesus. Fear. Who is going to protect them when Jesus is gone? Worry. Who are they going to turn to for advice? How are they going to keep following Jesus’ Way when Jesus isn’t there to lead them? Sorrow. There won’t be walks together and sitting down to dinner. Fear. How can they trust themselves to be the leader, the parent, the wise on when they know they know so little? Feeling so not ready.

And Jesus reassures them in these words. You do know the Way. What is more, the Spirit of Truth, which you have known through me, will be given to you to abide in you. This Holy Spirit will help guide you on the Way. We will meet again.

You will not be orphans. You will not be without someone caring for you. You have someone watching out for you, someone being your advocate – your helper and companion and champion – you have someone leading you, listening to you, loving you.

Want evidence? Lead, listen, and love another – and you will find you, too, are led, listened to, and loved.

So, again, who is at risk? Who is Jesus telling us to remember to lead, to listen to, and to love in our prayers, to give our money and food to? Telling us to protect?

Those who are aging are one of our brothers and sisters we need to give special protection to.

Another is those with physical or mental disabilities. Remember in Jesus’ time he cared not just for the widows and orphans… but also those with trouble walking, or speaking, or seeing. And those who suffered from mental illness and internal distress.

Today, our orphans are not in orphanages. They are in nursing homes, and at friends’ and families’ homes. And our orphans are in foster care and state custody. Our orphans are often homeless because there is so, so little help for those with mental demons.

Sadly, many police are like you and I, and not trained how to handle responding to someone in mental distress. So they see this ‘crazy erratic’ person, and choose to respond in ways that cause MORE distress and so more erratic behavior. Many, many mentally ill people are killed by responding officers because neither the cop nor the person know how to relate to each other – fear takes over – fear what the other will do – and one or the other goes from fear into attack mode.

Growing up, there was one of these guys living under a bridge near my hometown. Everyone knew him. He screamed at telephone poles most of the day. Where was his family? Did they know he was doing this? Had they passed away, had he run away and they lost track of him? Had he been more than what they could handle and care for?

… I’m his family, you know. So are you. Where were we?

Standing on the opposite street corner watching him and blaming his absent family. Judging them. When in actuality, Jesus commissions us – gives us the commandment – to love and care for those at risk and orphaned.

That man with mental illness is my brother. Your son. Our family.

And yes, he needed more help than any one set of parents, any one person, could give. But that is why we are more than one. We are the Body of Christ. Our parent in heaven, our risen Messiah, and our abiding Holy Spirit give us when we work together all that we need to care for all the orphans among us.

Paul argues to the Athenians in part that God isn’t like their statues. God doesn’t need us to feed God, bathe God, and bring God gold and silver because God provides US with everything and God isn’t IN a statue. Rather, God is in us and we are in God. We are God’s children, offspring.

In the same way, Jesus says he is in God, and we are in Jesus, and therefore with God. God doesn’t need us to care for God… but if we love Jesus, we will do as Jesus asks. Jesus asks us to love God – and love each other. Scripture tells us to love God, and love each other. The Spirit within us tells us to love God, and love each other. That Advocate reminds us again and again of the highest commandant: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind: and love others as you love yourself.

God doesn’t need bathed, need food, need support – God’s children do. The aging and the young, the physically or mentally challenged, or able or disabled, the often well or often ill – the widows and widowers – the orphans and the foster care kids – the moms and dads – the grandparents and neighbors – every single soul needs someone being their earthly advocate, just as we all need our Heavenly Advocate.

So who are the parents to the orphans?

Who are your parents?

We are. We are each other’s support, each other’s protection, each other’s advocates. We are each other’s family. We are the family of God.

Care for every person in some way – great or small.

Care for each other – here. And care for each other – out there, the strangers we are yet to meet.

We are never orphaned.

We are the children of God.

We are the family of God – and to love God is to love one another.

Amen.

None Too Small

ieshia-evans-batonrougeJeremiah 1:4-10
Luke 13:10-17

Crises are terrible, horrible situations – a time when things are a disaster, catastrophe, and calamity.

But did you know they’re also the turning point? Whatever happens in the future from that moment, for better or worse, is influenced by the critical time of the crisis.

City after city, we keep seeing a crisis appear where a cop shoots an African American dead. And city after city, riots and protests appear. City after city — after months of looking into it — the cops are never charged, and if charged, almost always found innocent. Last year, 102 unarmed black people were shot and killed by police — five times as many unarmed whites killed. Unarmed. No weapon. Another 200 some blacks were killed by police who did have weapons… now mind you, this pocket knife (1.5 inches) I have here is counted as a weapon. Whether these men, women, and even children, had pocket knives or automatic rifles isn’t counted. Of all these lives lost, a single offer was sentenced to jail on the weekends. All other officers walked free. (mappingpoliceviolence.org/unarmed)

Who has been shot? You’ve heard about 12 year old Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile who was asked to hand over his wallet and was shot dead for doing so — before his girlfriend and 4 year old daughter.

But… hundreds of other names never made national media. Did you hear about Bettie? She opened her door to the officers when they arrived and they shot her in the neck.

Or Keith. He had an unknown item which scared the officer watching him and so the officer shot Keith. It was a cell phone in his hand.

There was Chandra – hit by a patrol car. And Stephen – another patrol car hit him, too – as it responded to a non-emergency call.

And India – officers chose to shoot 30 rounds into her stopped car because they believed India’s boyfriend had a gun. Their shots killed India, her boyfriend, and only through a pure miracle missed their 4 month old baby sitting in a car seat with them.

There is a crisis. A crisis going on – with some cities’ police and justice departments abusing their power, racially profiling, and overwhelmingly murdering blacks. Non-whites in general are often targeted with harsher responses. Sometimes, this is the accepted way not just the police, but the entire city deals with its non-whites. Violence. Suspicion. Hate.

Don’t think I’m talking about the Deep South. I’m talking about right around here. Here in Fairfield County. We have people flying confederate flags, we have a very high Ku Klux Klan presence.

Ever heard of ISD Records? They’re based out of Lancaster, and listed as one of the 34 most dangerous hate groups of Ohio. (Southern Poverty Law Center). Their CDs include “No Remorse: Hitler was Right.” and “The Klansmen – Fetch the Rope” Our Lancaster. Supported by our community.

There is a crisis. And few white people — few of the people in power, few of those with the ability to change things or bring attention to the crisis — are noticing.

And so… there are protests. So you see roads closed off by Black Lives Matter activists; and see angry, tearful mothers leading chants. So you see young men who are being told their lives don’t matter, and they are better off dead because their only other option is prison – you see them respond with riots. So much anger is bottled up.

And this isn’t new. Not new history. Regardless of what the media says, or what anyone younger than 50 believes. Many of us here today lived this once, and here it is again.

Listen to these prophetic words of history: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

… there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust…

[There is] nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience [you’ve seen.] It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire… In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” … It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany…

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

These were penned by Martin Luther King Jr., in his letter from Birmingham Alabama jail, to the pastors who opposed his activism.

These words, minus some of the terminology, and location, are still true today.

Why are there protests and anger? Why is Black Lives Matter an organization and why are there sit-ins, demonstrations, and law breaking?

Because – there is a crisis going on, and only 1/3 of us suffer it. There is a crisis going on, and until it is a crisis for more of us, we will keep being lukewarm, white, moderates who delay and delay justice — therefore, making justice denied. Even though we mean well, and are sympathetic: justice delayed is justice denied.

Today – in our reading – Jesus and a lukewarm moderate square off. The leader of the synagogue is indignant. This woman who was healed was ill for 18 years – what was one more day? Six days of the week it’s good to heal and work to help others. Why couldn’t Jesus wait less than 24 hours? Why did he break the Sabbath?

The issue isn’t that the woman ought not to be healed. The issue isn’t that things need to change so that officers ought to treat all citizens fairly. The issue is WHEN the woman should be healed; and WHEN the cops will be held accountable. The issue is how long can justice be delayed?

Jesus said justice should never be delayed. The time is NOW. The kindom is near. NOW is the time for action. NOW the harvest is ripe. NOW we must act. For 18 years this woman was bent over and crippled.

What was one more day?

To the Rabbi who didn’t suffer — nothing.

To Jesus who knows how we suffer — everything.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Almost fifty years have passed. What is one more day of things not changing? In his day, he said 380 years have passed while blacks were treated as less than whites. What is one more day?

For many – one more day is nothing. Wait. To them, they do not suffer.

For us – for the Body of Christ – one more day is everything. Act now! We suffer!

Remember! “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We are one body.

But who am I? You’ve got to ask. I’m just me. Most of us consider ourselves plain ‘white.’ We don’t know any cops who are racists, we don’t know anyone who has been profiled, abused, or shot at by cops. In fact, this whole Black Lives Matter thing is a nuisance, a pain, someone else’s crisis and nothing we want to deal with.

I hear you.

*I* don’t know a bad cop.

But what I don’t know, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

When my ear tells me there is a bee nearby, I look for it with my eye. I don’t assume my ear is lying. When I taste a tomato, I don’t hold it to my ear and get mad it doesn’t sound like how it tastes. Different parts of our bodies experience life differently.

Our body, our Christ body, is crying out and pointing out what life is like for many, many non-Whites. Are we going to say to our eyes or ears we don’t need you? Shut up, go away, and keep waiting for another time for your justice?

Or are we going to listen to Jeremiah, listen to Luke, listen to our Christ who says: there is NO ONE too small. With God, we HAVE the power. We ARE the power to change the world. With God, all things are possible.

When is the time for justice?

When is the time for action?

When is the time to say no to ISD Records, to the KKK, to the mediocre, sympathetic but uninvolved moderate white life style we live? Now!

Now we wake up. Now we take action. Now we stand with our siblings who cry out that black lives matter, too! NOW we bring liberty to the oppressed, set the captive free, and proclaim the time of the Lord! Amen.

What I see…

cygnusTo be published in the Towne Crier, Aug 2016.

Hebrews 11:1-3 NRSV
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.

Every fall, I go out and really watch the stars. I lie on my back and watch long enough to see the Cygnus constellation rise and fall; and I get lost in the wonder of the universe. I lie there and think: this sky is made of molecules which I can’t see, but which I breathe. And a single molecule is one-billionth to one ten-billionth of a meter, impossible to see without some kind of magnification. Those molecules break into atoms which break into a nucleus and electrons, down to protons and neutrons, and further still into quarks- the smallest things we can measure right now. When I watch the night sky I see the great huge universe, and what I see is made of far, far more of which I can’t see.

In Hebrews, I don’t think Paul had molecules and atoms in mind when he wrote about a universe made of invisible things. Paul was writing of other invisible things God joins together to make up the universe. Things like the relationships that bind us: one quirky friend to another; and friends join as lovers to make nuclear families and households; and households gather to make atom-like communities; who make the molecules we call churches, and these tiny pieces together make the Body of Christ.

I can’t see or measure the great scale of the universe; nor the Body of Christ. But I am convinced the invisible hand of God is active on all scales big and small.

Many Gifts, One Spirit

1 Corinthians 12:4-27

Once there was a congregation of about one hundred. In this congregation there was a single mom we’ll call Diane, and her daughter we’ll call Hannah. Now, Diane and Hannah had been through a lot of churches over the years. It wasn’t the nasty divorce, or the custody hearings, or the poverty that made them move churches… it was Hannah, or rather, how people responded to Hannah.

Hannah has may mental disabilities.. She is like a perpetual 12 or 14 month old baby. Like most kids at that age, she loves sounds — the sound a bird makes, the sound the church organ makes, and most especially — the sound a cow makes.

So… picture a Sunday service, “And Jesus said to his disciples MOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! for the kingdom of heaven MMMMMMMOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” …. I cannot do justice to the moo Hannah can do. She can mimic a heifer better than an audio recording and is just as loud as if that cow was standing right in the center of the church.

Sometimes, pastors and well meaning parishioners took Diane aside and asked her if she could keep Hannah quiet during the sermons and scripture. Diane was so embarrassed, and she tried. But sure enough… come the next Sunday, there would be a penguin squawking from the back pew, or maybe a donkey braying — and always there was a heifer who really wanted milked.

“Diane, I know you’re trying, but Hannah is really disturbing the service. No one can worship God while listening to a flock of woodpeckers.”

So Diane began to keep Hannah outside of the main worship. The two would come to service, sit away from the congregation, and then go home. It didn’t feel like a community to Diane. It didn’t feel like the congregation wanted her and Hannah. So… she moved on to the next church and stayed there until the same thing happened.

Until she came to a church who understood what it means to be the Body of Christ.

Picture this: we are in church one Sunday. We are singing Amazing Grace. About the line of “how sweet the sound–” from the row behind us comes a full out elephant trumpet.

I about leap out of my skin. I look behind me, but I don’t see where the sound had come from. We keep on singing and now I hear a heifer, “Mmmmmooooooo!” This time, you and I see it comes from a woman of about 20 years of age who is rocking to the music with her eyes closed and has a big huge smile on her face.

That is how we meet Hannah.

Diane, one Sunday, tells our Sunday School group her story. She says, “This is the first church that welcomes Hannah as Hannah is. They welcome her to worship God in her own way, and they want us to be part of the community. We have never been asked to be quiet, to go in another room, or to not make a scene.” Diane tears up, “I always do my best with Hannah. I try to have her be good and quiet, but she is her own person, and if she’s happy, she likes to moo. They told me Hannah’s moos are angelic music, Hannah’s own prayers, and to let her moo with joy.”

Besides in our minds, have you ever been in a congregation with a Hannah? Look at those around you now: see that the body of Christ, sometimes, begins to be all ears, all eyes, and all hands. And we call that diversity. But it’s not. Many churches are missing Hannahs.

Besides eyes and ears and hands, the body of Christ has “less respectable” parts too. Paul points out that it is these less respectable parts of our body that we pay special attention to. We wear clothing over our torsos, but not our ears, eyes, and hands. So actually, we honor our less respectable parts more. And these less respectable, less presentable parts are actually much more essential to our health than an eye, ear, or hand! I quote, “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” We aren’t a body without these folks.

Paul writes that our bodies need to be diverse. Need everyone. Need all the different gifts. Need the abilities others might think are shameful.

The body of Christ needs the gifts the “unruly” bring.

The body of Christ needs the moos of Hannah, the laughter of children, and the cries of infants. The body of Christ needs the elderly asking ‘what?’ and the teenager on their phone. The body of Christ needs each and every person even if that means the body is not all presentable — not all orderly and going as planned. Indeed… we especially need such… for without all, we are not a complete body but are missing pieces.

Today we are welcoming William into the body of Christ. What does he bring? I could wax, I could talk at length, about his future gifts. How in the future the Spirit will shine in him and he will be a toddler raised in the faith, a teenager going through confirmation, an adult certain in God’s love… but no. I think William, just as he is today — just months old — I think William’s gifts he already has are amazing and needed in the body of Christ.

The UCC writes that we do not know what occurs between an infant and God during an infant’s baptism. There may be a communication between them beyond what we can even fathom.

What we can fathom, what we can think about, is how we– the body of Christ — responds to welcoming in an infant. We can respond by smiling today and asking the infant to go to the nursery tomorrow… or we can respond by smiling today and smiling tomorrow. Offering help today and offering help tomorrow. Welcoming the infant today and welcoming the infant tomorrow.

Parents, grandparents, caretakers of all ages do their best with their kids…. but kids are kids. They get noisy, chaotic, and loud in services. And God bless those sounds of life!

Praise God for the Hannahs, for those who worship God in different ways; praise God for every child of Christ big and small, young and old!

May we always have space for every member of Christ’s body. Space to play, space to grow, space to worship, space to be ourselves, space to appreciate each other members’ individual way of praising God.

Let us this morning welcome William, and rejoice that the many, many different gifts in this room all come from the one loving Spirit of God! For we are diverse, but we are united in Christ. Amen!

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, 10-25-15, Baltimore, Ohio