Tag: children

Overwhelmed!

Job 38:1-11 410aa5cda50273cb8dcb934ffda5455f
Mark 4:35-41

Overwhelmed. Just… overwhelmed.

A country falls when its people are divided against themselves. When we become numb to atrocities. When we tune out, look away, and protect only our own. When we become overwhelmed.

I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Puerto Rico continues to have no power. People continue to die there.

Mining is beginning in state national monuments that has been sold, by our government, to private owners.

Flint continues to have no safe drinking water. Children continue to be contaminated with lead there.

The refugee crises worldwide has reached a new record of 69 million people displaced by war, natural disasters, ethic cleansing, gang violence, global climate change and poverty.

Last Wednesday, we began to take a breath – the separation of children from their parents at our border was finally being addressed by our President… but the law he signed is causing even more issues.

Jailing families is not a solution. It is a political band-aid against outcry, hoping we’ll give up the fight and go back to being placid. It is tossing a bucket of water on a house fire our government started.

It’s going to do MORE harm.

Now, families may be detained indefinitely. Before, children could not spend more than 20 days detained before they were sent to relatives in the USA, or their home countries, or foster families in their own communities. Now, without limits, children will grow up in concentration camps indefinitely. Inside cages. In facilities not designed for children. Without education, without toys, without area to play. Some of these people are being sent to tent cities, some to abandoned Wal-marts, some to military bases, and 1,600 have been send to federal prison – not because of a federal crime, but because prisons had room to cage more humans. (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/08/us-sending-1600-immigration-detainees-to-federal-prisons.html)

Any who take in these “prisoners” receive funding from the government to keep them. For-profit-human-detainment. Indeed, GEO, the company that owns the largest immigration detention centers, are paying money directly to politicians to sway more immigrants arrest. (dallasnews.com)

Some American citizens worry about the language of the executive order. It says -families- are to be held together. What if you are a USA citizen who has a relative who enters the USA seeking asylum? Will you now be rounded up and sent to a camp, too?

And, it does nothing to help the almost 3,700 children separated from their parents already. They continue to be in kennels with armed adults who are not allowed to comfort their cries. They are relying on one another to change their diapers and wipe their tears.

This is not some far away country or state or border. This is in our own backyard, too. The same day that the new Executive Order was signed, Immigration and Customs Enforcement — ICE — raided Salem, Ohio — a rural town just outside of Massillon.

What happened? ICE showed up at a factory and arrested about 150 people. Some were here legally, but did not have their ID on them. Most are parents.

A pastor there shared a story of a husband crying – his wife is now somewhere in Michigan or Ohio, being held indefinitely, without bail, without rights (our latest Executive Order specifically states “illegals” and those suspected of being such have no rights), and his 2 year old and 4 year old are crying ‘where is mommy?’

There are children now orphaned. They sit in the local Catholic church who has opened their doors. Sister Rene Weeks said, “Most of the [parents] are here legally, but they were taken yesterday because they didn’t have their documentation with them at the time.” And so, little children, with no parents or aunts although here legally, sit numbed and terrified in the shelter of the church. ((https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2018/06/20/ice-ohio-arrests-100-during-undocumented-immigrant-raid-meat-packing-plants/716953002/)) The nun added, “One woman who was taken was the sole adult at home… She has five children.” The school system found kids at their day care not picked up – alone – or coming home to an empty house. “It’s the terror of: ‘What’s happening to my family? I can’t contact them,’ She works with about 60 families, and she estimates about three-quarters of them were directly affected by the raid.

“A few people managed to send some text messages, but for the most part, people couldn’t talk to anybody,” she said. “They were terrorized.”(npr)

There are children who are refusing to go to day care, school, or leave their parents’ sides for fear they’ll never see them again. A real possibility.

In Ohio, we have an estimated undocumented population of 83,000, but there are only 35 pro bono immigration advocates statewide, according to the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation. Many people are facing these hearings without translators, without legal advice. This is legal, technically, but it is not Biblical.

Deut. 1:16 – “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident foreigner.”

In many cases, people couldn’t reach their relatives for days.

You wonder – were they captured?
Deported?
Raped — yes, this is happening. And then silenced or else face their family deported. Sometimes this is happening to their children before them.
Killed? Yes. This is happening. Who cares if you kill “animals”?

The Salem workers who were released when their IDs were found are who brought word home of what had happened. But that doesn’t lessen the trauma. The terror. The systemic government-ordained abuse of children of God.

Have we forgotten we’re Christian? Have we forgotten the Holy Book?

No where does it say terrorize children and abuse the foreigner! Instead, it reads,

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “For the Lord your God…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

I can cite another fifteen verses on this very topic – love the foreigners, the strangers, the aliens, the illegals among you.

Who are these people among us in Ohio?

The people in Salem are from Guatemala.

Guatemala is a country that’s known 80 years of warfare. I’ve heard people call it the “game of thrones” of the real world. The government is corrupt, gangs rule the streets, who you are related to is everything. The natives are considered not-human and are hunted with machetes. The army forces people to hack to death their own neighbors.

“If you are a civilian there, beneath the labels—soldier; gangster; policeman; army; cartel—is but one underlying reality: men with guns who do what they want and take what they want. Your options are to buy your own security and gunmen; to join a gang yourself; or to leave.” ((https://newrepublic.com/article/118675/child-migrants-guatemala-are-fleeing-more-just-gang-violence))

What would you do?

In the past, if you left Guatemala, you could come to the USA to plead for sanctuary. Asylum. Be a refugee.

And we would hear your story, and if it were true, welcome you, for our ancestors were the poor huddled masses, too.

Now… who is listening?

These are our neighbors. Here. In Ohio.

I’m overwhelmed.

I read a cry for justice from overwhelmed Job today. He wants God to come and answer why bad things have happened. He’s demanding to know how justice and fairness works. Why have his wife and children been taken from him? Why have the people he called friends now sitting and mocking him? Where are you God? Answer me!

And God does. God comes in a whirlwind and doesn’t tell Job that the world is right and fair; that we all get our just desserts; that the good people prosper and the bad are harmed. Instead, God explains how God is present in all of creation. Everywhere.

God isn’t going to stop our cruelty, although God weeps as we go, because God has limited God’s self and given us free will. We can choose to eat of the forbidden fruit. We can make laws that say all fruit is good for eating. Or we can deny ourselves the forbidden fruit because we’re listening to God’s laws.

Job can leave his worship of God at any time. God isn’t our safety net. God isn’t going to arbitrate between Job and his friends… or ex-friends.

God is our creator. God is present with us. God loves us. God weeps over us. God gives us free will.

“God would never let us go astray” is not true. True love leaves open the other’s freedom to walk away. God truly loves us. Enough to let us be free to love God back or to reject God. God lets us go astray, and follows us as we stray ready to lead us back to the narrow way.

God loves the world. We’re called to love the world, too. Not just ourselves, but others, too.

God’s love isn’t bound by borders, God loves everyone in this room and all the way beyond regardless of what it says on their birth certificate or even if they have one.

How I’m feeling overwhelmed!

In the boat, the disciples are overwhelmed. Taking on water. It is all around. They wake up Jesus, who is sleeping like the dead, and say “Don’t you care we’re all going to die?!” And Jesus rebukes the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And there is an great calm over the sea. Just as great of a fear sits in the disciples’ hearts over Jesus’ actions. And he asks, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Have you no faith God is with you?

Stormy waters happen. But God is with us the whole way.

We need to see God with us. We need to stand on the side of the marginalized, the oppressed, the foreigner, the least of these… for that is where Christ stands.

Stand, like the Catholic church in Salem, who opens its doors as a safe place for Latinos to get education on resources, to learn English, and as a place to meet if an ICE raid occurs.

Stand, like our sister UCC church in Chillicothe. Orchard Hill provides space for lawyers to meet immigrants in a safe, neutral, and private place. A table, cup of coffee, and hospitality.

Stand, like protesters at local government offices, showing that we of the dominate group care. We are not turning a blind eye.

Stand, and when our friends, and neighbors, speak poorly of foreigners remind them of our one faith, one Lord, one Baptism, and one Body of Christ.

I John 4:7-21 – “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God…” We love because God first loved us.”

Even the wind and the sea obey God — ought we too?

Ought we not love and aim for peace and justice, too?

Amen.

((Was with a kids’ message on the difference between fairness and justice; with three asked to throw paper into a basket set right before one child. When the others missed, the basked was moved 1 inch closer to everyone. It was fair. Even easier for the closest child. Then we did just – and moved it between everyone. But it wasn’t fair, and now was harder for the child who it has been easy. Spoke about if you are born here white, you are the first child. We need to do justice, which is not fair.))

 

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ 6-24-2018

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The Sabbath

Deuteronomy 5:12-15images
Mark 2:23-3:6

Very rarely things in the world wear name tags “HELLO MY NAME IS EVIL” and “HELLO MY NAME IS GOOD.” Instead, we deal with shades of evil and good and have to decide which is the best. And sometimes, it’s just picking between two goods, or two evils.

Today, Jesus and the religious leaders and political leaders debate the gray area.

On the day of rest, Jesus and his disciples are picking up dropped wheat or rye heads as they walk along.

The religious people shake their heads and say, “Jesus! You’re supposed to be setting an example! And this is your example? Gleaning on the rest day? You should have gleaned yesterday!”

Jesus replies with a story from the Bible. King David once was in a hurry and hungry. He went and ate the bread inside the temple.

The rest of the story is implied that then the King and his companions could continue on their journey, and bring blessings to the land. If we have to pick between the evil of eating the consecrated bread, or the evil of King David and his companions starving to death, eating the bread is the lesser evil.

Picture our communion table today. How would you react if when you came in here, you saw a homeless person making a sandwich out of the communion bread before service began? What is the lesser evil? The bread being ate in an unholy way, or the man going hungry?

Religious people would say give the man different bread. Make him wait until after the service and then give him the leftovers. These are reasonable solutions. Just like it is a reasonable solution to say the disciples should have prepared their snacks the day before.

But Jesus would say – let the homeless man eat his fill and then fill his pockets with the leftovers. The Bread of Life is to be shared extravagantly. This isn’t reasonable. It’s extravagant. It’s about choosing the action that most reflects the love of God, than the rationality of the world.

The Pharisees and Jesus both heard the secondary message to Jesus’ analogy, too. Jesus compared himself to King David. The return of King David’s line is a prophecy of the Messiah.

Jesus concludes, “The Sabbath is made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” The Pharisees agree with this. But they don’t agree that Jesus is the Son of Man, or the Messiah, or as big a blessing to the world as King David was.

The second part of the story has Jesus entering the synagogue on a day of rest and prayer. They think he’ll likely heal someone, and therefore, be caught working on the Sabbath. Jesus is in the synagogue, and he notices the guy with the messed up hand. He calls the man forward, and then asks everyone gathered there: Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath? To save a life or kill?”

Everyone knows you’re supposed to do good, and to save a life. If your kid falls in a well, you pull her out of the well — even if it means work on the Sabbath. Because they agree, also, the Sabbath is for us … we’re not slaves to the Sabbath.

God gave the Sabbath to the Israelites in the desert explaining to them that they were once slaves – and had to work every single day of their lives. This Sabbath is their rest. They are not longer slaves. And this Sabbath extends to their own slaves, hired hands, animals, immigrants and aliens and everyone around them. EVERYONE deserves a day off to rest, recover, and do as they will… Even God takes this time. A Sabbath is a day of wholeness. A day of doing what we need to do to be physically, mentally, and spiritually whole.

So Jesus stands there and asks: Should you do good or harm; save a life or kill on the Sabbath?

Obviously the answer is to do good and save a life.

It means doing good by that man with the withered hand, and returning him to whole life by healing him. With a healed hand, he can provide for his family again. He can provide for the town again. He brings life to all of those around him.

But, it means perhaps violating the Sabbath and working on the holy day. The Pharisees think that man could easily wait until tomorrow. He’s likely been injured a long time. What is the rush? They are rational. They are us.

But Jesus is all about immediacy. This man has waited a LONG TIME to be healed. Why are we going to make him suffer a single additional moment? Why are we going to violate the Sabbath by refusing to do what is necessary to bring wholeness and goodness and life to ourselves?

This is a fight about which is more important — the good of a Sabbath or the good of Healing? This is an argument about thinking individually — I don’t need healed. I can wait. I am not hungry. I can wait. — and about collectively and for the other — He needs healed. We can’t wait. We are hungry. We can’t wait.

The tension between thinking “what is best for me” and “what is best for the community” is a tension that is still happening this very moment.

The Right-to-Work laws are passing more swiftly, 28 states now, and are being brought before our President. Much like the argument about what is or isn’t lawful on the Sabbath, the Right-to-Work is a debate on individual gains or community gains.

It actually has nothing about people’s rights to work. Everyone can be employed.

It has to do with unions.

Unions formed

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, men, women, and children worked 12 to 14 hours a day in factories. There were no breaks, and for lunch, you had to eat while cleaning your machine. If you got hurt, you were fired. Even if you got hurt because of your boss skipping on maintaining the machines. Wages were as low as the employers wanted them because so many people needed jobs. There was no ventilation for the machines, and so you breathed in the coal soot smoke all day. Men received 10 cents an hour, women 2 to 5 cents an hour, and children a half penny to a penny an hour. A loaf of bread was 5 cents, a cup of milk 2 cents. This meant a child barely could feed themselves… and many children were starving, malformed from standing still at factories all day, and missing fingers or limbs from the dangerous work.

Out of the condition of childhood labor, and all the children dying daily in factories, unions formed. They ran by negotiating with the factory and shop owners better working conditions and wages, or else the employees wouldn’t show up to work. It might cost a few more pennies to pay everyone a living wage, but it cost a lot more to have the factory shut down. It cost a few more pennies to enact child labor laws, safety standards, and workers compensation… but it cost less than having your whole business collapse because no one wanted to support the machines that were killing children to make goods.

Bit by bit, working conditions improved. Wages went up. It was now illegal to lock your employees into the store or factory. People had to be given breaks. And time to eat. There was a standard set of hours and time off — and overtime and holiday pay established.

Now, some places became union-only. So you couldn’t work there if you didn’t participate and join the union. This was so that the workers stood strong together. This kind of a place is called a Closed Shop. A lot of people think these still exist and you can’t work at this place or that without joining the union there. This isn’t true.

In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act said a person couldn’t be dismissed for refusing to participate in the union.

“But there was much more to this law.

The Taft-Hartley Act additionally required that employment agreements collectively bargained for to benefit union members would also be required to inure to the complete benefit of non-member employees, even though these employees elect not to join the union.” (Forbes)

“But did you know that Taft-Hartley further requires that the union be additionally obligated to provide non-members’ with virtually all the benefits of union membership even if that worker elects not to become a card-carrying union member?

By way of example, if a non-member employee is fired for a reason that the employee believes to constitute a wrongful termination, the union is obligated to represent the rights of that employee in the identical fashion as it would represent a union member improperly terminated. So rock solid is this obligation that should the non-union member employee be displeased with the quality of the fight the union has put forth on his or her behalf, that non-union member has the right to sue the union for failing to prosecute as good a defense as would be expected by a wrongfully terminated union member.

Given the fact that Taft-Hartley was providing non-union members with most all the benefits of membership without having to join up, […] it would be unfair for non-member workers to gain all these goodies at no charge while members were obligated to pay dues for the very same services the union provided.

To compensate for this, Taft-Hartley required that, while nobody could be forced to join the union, non-members would be required to pay dues to the union as if they were members. These are called “agency fees”—the equivalent of union dues when paid by a non union-member.” (Forbes)

Now, these agency fees are only for the negotiated benefits the union provides. It’s illegal for them to be used for political lobbying, or any other activities the union does. The agency fee is only for the portion of cost the union incurred while negotiating on behalf of all the employees.

So along comes the new Right-to-Work laws. These say that no one should have to pay agency fees either, but do not over turn the Taft-Harley Act. Therefore, Right-to-Work laws “permit non-union member employees to continue to get all the benefits of union representation and protection, as is still the requirement of federal law, without having to pay so much as a penny in return for these benefits.” (Forbes) AND the non-union, non-agency paying member can SUE the union if he or she doesn’t like how the union represents them.

Why in the world would any states — 28 of them so far! — sign these what seem like Right to Freeload laws?

The national Right to Work movements and political lobbying groups argue that forcing people to join unions is against some religions’ stances. That is true – but because of the Taft-Harley Act, no one is forced to join unions.

The Right to Work groups argue our freedom is restricted if we have to pay agency fees. That money we could pocket. Yes, that is true. But then there will be a weaker union. And a weaker union leads to a union breaking up. In states where Right-to-Work has passed, the average income for workers has reduced by 3% (Forbes). The medium income has increased — this is because that 3% the workers lost is going to the factory and business owners — driving up the maximum income in the state… but not the average. Medium and average are not the same thing.

So this is a case of what is the lesser evil, the greater good?

If you’re thinking as an individual, it looks like it would be better to have a bigger pay check by not paying union or agency fees. If you’re thinking as an individual, it looks like it would be better to pay your workers less, give them less benefits, and therefore have a more profitable company.

If you’re thinking as part of a community, you know that by sacrificing some of your paycheck now for agency fees or union dues, you end up with a larger paycheck over time because the union is fighting and protecting you from being exploited. If you’re thinking as a part of a community, you know if you pay your workers more and give them more benefits, they tend to live happier and healthier lives, are more productive, and more company loyal.

What way is better to think? Think individually or think collectively? For only self or self and other or only other?

Every moment of our day, every decision we make, we have to balance these choices.

Our scripture and our faith is adamant we are to think collectively and with the other. We’re to think as the Body of Christ, as many members but one body. We’re to think ‘I’m glad I have a day off,’ and think about those who are working jobs without a living wage – so much work two or three jobs to make ends meet – and they have no days off. We’re to think that low-income worker is me — for we’re the body of Christ. We’re to think we are as healthy and as strong, as well off and as whole as the least member of ourselves. We’re to think of the resident aliens, the strangers, the immigrants, the people held into slavery of debt, and know God commands we grant everyone time to rest.

We grant everyone wholeness and healing.

We grant everyone compassion and shalom…

… Because God grants it to us.

The Pharisees aren’t bad guys. Those who think individually aren’t bad guys. But Christians are called to look at the bigger picture Jesus shows us, called to think differently, called to think collectively and act generously to all.

Amen.

((https://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2012/12/11/right-to-work-laws-explained-debunked-demystified/3/#4499ec9e6439))

A Mother’s Prayer

1 John 5:9-13 prayer
John 17:6-19

 

Celine Dion, Kristin Getty and more sang about it – there’s a whole movie – and more books and plaques and bookmarks than you could ever read… there’s power in a mother’s prayer.

 

This week my daughter had nightmares one night. She crawled into bed with me and pulled my arms around her so that I was hugging her. I laid there, thinking about how I’d be trying to research and write this sermon in the morning on 3 hours of sleep. Worried.

 

And then I realized the treasure here… just with hugs, I made all her monsters go away and the world right again.

 

I remembered when she was a baby, and one night I was so sleep deprived I was in tears when she woke crying again. I sat in a rocker, holding her, humming, and cat napping most of the night with her in the crib or on my lap.

 

Just my presence was all she wanted to make the monsters go away.

 

On both these nights I prayed. My mother’s prayer. All my wishes and hopes for the little one in my care. All my concerns. I whispered, spoke, these over her. On and on I went, like weaving a protective blanket, which I prayed would wrap her like my hugs when I cannot do so myself.

 

So she’d always be prayed over, always have that hug to keep the monsters away.

 

I was just doing this without plan. Without pretty words. Without a format or goal and I am pretty certain there was no ‘amen’ because the prayer just keeps going on and I’m still praying the same good things.

 

I think about my own mother on this mother’s day. I bet she prayed this way over me. Those nights she rocked me as I slept on her arms, sick. Those nights I lived far away and she missed me. I don’t think she’s said amen yet. She’s still praying a protective blessing prayer over me.

 

I think about her mother, who prayed over my mother. I remember my great aunt rocking me to sleep, and I think about myself praying and rocking my little nephew.

 

How very many people are praying over one another. This community, itself, all Christians, have a mother’s prayer being woven over them by centuries of prayers.

 

And by Christ himself.

 

I hear a mother’s prayer in Jesus’ prayer today for us. It is rambling. Pleading. Speaking concerns. Confessing he will not always be there physically for his little lambs. So please, please God, please holy parent, protect these dear ones. Guard them from the harm and hate of the world. Don’t take them out of the world – but protect them while they are in it. Sanctify them. Guide them on their roads of life. Give them joy. Give them love. Give them truth. For their sakes this prayer is said.

 

And like our mothers, our aunts, our cousins, our grandmothers, and all the women and motherly-figures in our lives… our motherly Jesus is still praying.

 

Not saying amen.

 

In our letter today, the author writes to the young Christians a mother’s prayer, also. Reassuring them. Challenging them. Reminding them who they are and whose they are.

 

He or she says – take courage… your own heart, the Holy Spirit within, whispers the truth to you: God loves you. God is with you. Eternal life is your’s through Christ.

 

Eternal life. What is eternal life? Who has it?

 

It’s some fancy concept of a future heaven for a lot of people. But in our scriptures, Jesus tells us the time has come. The bread of life is available now. Now, not in the future, there is the ever living waters.

 

The words we’re translating as Ever-living has two levels of meaning. One is the idea of being outside of time. Time passes, but the water, or person, is wholly unaffected. Unaging. Unchanging. Unmoving. No pain; no harm; and usually we imagine no worldly life. Ever-living in an after-life.

 

The second meaning is more akin to ever renewing waters, ever refreshing. Picture a fountain at Dolder’s or Millstream nurseries – the water flows endlessly. The flowing water is full of movement, and change, but it does not cease. The motion keeps oxygen in the water, and keeps the water from getting stale and stagnate. Stale and stagnate water is not good, grows mold, and nothing much else. But the living water supports all the animals (and people, if we’re feeling brave) who drink from it. Butterflies and sparrows, frogs and toads – maybe fish and irises and lotus.

 

Ever living water, in the second sense, is alive, and changes, but renews. It knows hurts and harms, but heals. It has concerns, and worries, and long nights that seem to never end… but it regains its sparkle over time.

 

It is a prayer that doesn’t end.

 

Jesus says he is these waters. In baptism, we invoke these waters. The Holy Spirit within us is these waters at work. From God, our loving parent, flow these waters.

 

They are our prayer that never ends. Like a mother’s prayer, like Jesus’ prayer, like the prayers each of us are speaking over one another this very moment.

 

Blessings. Renewal. A comforting monster-eradicating presence holding us in a hug all through our long nights. Not that you are outside of the world, aloof, removed, unchanging – but that you thrive in the world, walking with our Good Shepherd, and drinking deeply of the Ever Living Waters.

 

I finish this sermon today continuing the prayer your motherly caretakers began over you, long, long, before you were born:

 

Beannacht 
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life

(Source: John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings)

 

May you feel God,

who calls you Beloved Child of Mine,

holding you, encouraging you, carrying you, reviving you.

May you feel that love of God, your Holy Caretaker, at all times.

And may you always know Jesus prays for you.

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.

Testify to the Light

Isaiah 61:1-4; 8-11
John 1:6-8, 19-28
egg-3
Rachael Djaba and Ben grin and show off a couple of the family’s hens. (by Heifer International)

Isaiah sounds as if he is writing a song of joy… saying things like “Good news to the oppressed!” and “I will greatly rejoice!” but Isaiah is actually writing a lament. A song of sorrow.

You see, returning is not restoration.

The exiles from Babylon have returned to Jerusalem and found the holy temple of God destroyed. The city and its surrounding cities destroyed. Ruins. And at first, they were so happy to leap into action. The returning Jewish population told the local population who were not exiled just what was what. The returning population were those priests and scribes and educated folk. The population who stayed were average people, and poor people. Over time, strife grew among them.

“Let’s build back the temple of God!” said those returning.

So the locals did… but the new temple was not as marvelous as Solomon’s. And the returned Jews grumbled, ‘You just can’t get good help! This thing looks awful!’

And the remaining Jews grumbled, ‘This is the best we could do. Who are these soft people to tell US what to do? WE who had to stay and try to survive in ruin?”

And the two groups bicker.

Isaiah brings the Good News to both: the oppressed locals and the brokenhearted returned exiles. He says God will gift them joy, garland, instead of sorrow and ashes. They, together, are a planting of the Lord and will be great trees to display God’s glory. Together they will rebuild cities and the devastations of many generations.

Indeed – returning is not restoration.

Going back to a place is not the same as restoring a place.

Being in a place is not the same as flourishing in a place.

Consider the families in California, Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico (among many other places). When they return home from evacuating from fires and hurricanes, they don’t find a HOME. They find a place, where once their home was. Houses are gone. Familiar trees and landmarks reduced to rubble. There is a long process of rebuilding the houses.

And even when the rebuilding is done, over months, there is still not restoration. Some people never come back and choose to live where they evacuated. Your neighbor of twenty years now lives 2000 miles away. Some buildings are not rebuilt. If, God forbid, we were to lose this church we’re in… you cannot build a new church and have it be 175 year old lovingly restored brick and slate. It is a new building, with a new history.

And our lives- their lives- are forever changed. All that time without work, all that money invested into rebuilding, all that effort.

The American Civil War was 152 years ago and yet STILL you can see its effects in our politics, in our buildings, in our church denominations even and so forth.

Returning to a place, or even liberating a people, does not mean there is restoration.

Restoration is a hard job that takes more than just being present.

Each Sunday I have been speaking about an alternative gift idea for your loved ones for Christmas. On the first Sunday of Advent, I spoke about reusing, regifting, and also passing on your photos and stories as ways to live into hope and future-thinking.

Last Sunday, I spoke about ANERA, the American Near-East Refugee Aid, as a way to gift peace monetarily into the Middle East. I also spoke about working locally living peace by learning about and welcoming the stranger.

Today, I speak about Heifer International – who are bringing joy around the world and not just being in an area, but restoring an area. Today I ask you to consider giving a flock of chickens, or a pair of goats, to a family somewhere in the world in the name of a loved one for Christmas. Just as our Baltimore – Millersport kids gifted sheep with our Barn Yard Round Up VBS.

Now, if you don’t know the story yet, let me tell you a bit about the non-profit.

“Dan West, a farmer and youth leader, was a relief worker during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. While passing out powdered milk to children on both sides of the conflict, he grieved when the supply of milk ran out with children still waiting in line. He reasoned that these people needed “not a cup, but a cow.” He challenged his farmer friends at home to send heifers. Because he believed that everyone who receives should also experience the dignity of giving, West came up with the idea of Passing on the Gift. Every family who receives a Heifer animal, he insisted, should pass on one of their animal’s offspring to someone else in need.”

Heifer only enter communities upon invitation. They train project participants extensively on a host of topics that range from animal husbandry to gender equity. Even down to what kinds of grass produce the best milk. But the education and generosity doesn’t end there.

Each family who is given all this know-how AND the flock of chickens, milking cows, goats, or llamas or sheep are asked to pass this same knowledge and animals to another family when their own animals have offspring. This turns people who received, into givers, and empowers everyone. Also, “the impact of the original gift is doubled, at minimum, proving that small actions lead to big results” – lasting, transformative change occurs not just for one family, but for the whole community.

For instance, hear the story of Rachael Djaba, of Ghana, She and her husband and seven biological kids, live in “a rural area, populated mostly by subsistence farmers and fiishermen. For many of them, their income rarely stretches to cover much more than banku and fufu, traditional fare made of plantains, cassava or corn. These foods offer plenty of carbohydrates, but little else.” Many people in this area are stunted, anemic, and very ill. One day the family found a week old baby abandoned by his mentally ill mother. So they took him in as their eight child because, as Rachel says, “Even though we think we are poor, there are people more poor than us.”

This little baby, named Ben, seven months later, qualified the family to participate in a research project on nutrition with a university teamed up with Heifer international. The requirement was a family who had a child under the age of 1. And, because the Djaba’s chose to help out others even in their poverty, they, blessedly, now would be the recipients of aid.

All the families “who joined the project received 40 chickens and training on how to raise, care for and sell any excess eggs and poultry that were left after providing children in the family with at least one egg a day. Families also got seeds for home gardens. Because vegetables had been considered a rare luxury before, project participants had to learn how to cook with them and incorporate them regularly into their diets. By introducing eggs and leafy greens to the families’ diets and helping them set up businesses that produce a regular stream of income, Heifer and their partners hoped to curb malnutrition and give children a better start.”

In the Djaba’s case, baby Ben is THRIVING! And so are the 40 birds. They have turned into 170 birds on the little farm with another 80 birds already given or sold away. 20 crates of eggs are sold locally now. At one time, Rachel had to take out loans to buy medication for her constantly ill kids and they rarely went to school. Now, they haven’t been ill in two years and are in regular schooling.

And it’s because of generosity. People generously give to Heifer International, the Djaba family were generous to the little week old baby, and now everyone in their rural area has access to eggs and vegetables and are much healthier.

This is what restoration is. This is what the kin-dom of God looks like. This is fortunes reversed, the earth springing forth new life, and liberty from debt, release from poverty, comfort to mourners, and joy.

The joy of God.

The joy that loves justice and builds up others.

Going back to a place is not the same as restoring a place.

Being in a place is not the same as flourishing in a place.

John comes baptizing and calling people back to God. As you know, believers and doubters and the plain curious go out to meet him in the desert. They go out to the place. Most he calls vipers and snakes. Some realize the truth he is preaching and return to God.

To all, John says you’re here – at the PLACE – returning back to God, but that’s not the same as restored. “I baptize with water; but there is one who is coming after me, and I am not worthy to untie his shoes.” As you know, other Gospels continue, “He will baptize you with fire, and the Holy Spirit.”

John says, I give you a cup of milk — but the cow is coming.

I give you a band aid, but the great physician is on his way.

I am not the light – but I testify to the light.

WE are called to do the same. WE are called to live into this light, to testify to it, and to ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’

We are called to restore each other and lead one another to the ever-restoring waters of Christ. We are called to not just go to a place – not just go to church – but be the church that is restored, and restoring, others.

We are not the light, but we testify to the light.

And for this light, for this invitation to not just return, but to be RESTORED – we can rejoice!

The Lord has anointed you with water, and fire, and the Holy Spirit to bring good news, and proclaim the favor of the lord. Go and do so!

Amen.

 

All quoted text that isn’t Biblical is from Heifer International’s website, December, 2017, and their children’s Christian education flyer

Sheep and Sheep

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24ararat-sheep-20

Matthew 25:31-46

Today is Christ the King Sunday – the day we proclaim Christ is King over all the world, the lord over all lords, the highest politician, highest ruler, over all rulers. Everyone and everything belongs under Christ’s rule and we anticipate the day this reign is fully actualized.

This sounds fantastic.

Until you consider there are 1.3 billion Muslims; 1.1 billion atheists, 900 million Hindus, not to mention a billion some more Buddhist, Pagans, Jews, Sikhs and hundreds of more religions. These people are not Christian.

If Jesus were to return right now, this very moment, would 70% of the world’s population be instantly damned – just because they were born in non-Christian areas, or to non-Christian families, or found a connection to God in a non-Christian religion?

Matthew’s gospel is addressed to early Christians living among all the non-Christians. And Matthew recounts Jesus talking about sheep and goats among the nations.

Nations. Peoples.

Not just the Jews Jesus was speaking with, but the nations – the gentiles – the non-Jewish, non-Christian, Romans or Grecians or Egyptians or Babylonians — people who did not confess Jesus as Christ. People like all the neighbors and communities, indeed, families, of the early Christians.

The neighbors and communities and families of ourselves.

Jesus says when he returns, the whole world will be judged.

Are all non-Christians going to hell and all Christians going to heaven?

Jesus’ parable says that to the shock of the nations – to the shock of Christians and non-Christians everywhere – there are blessed people among all nations. There are heaven-bound men and women and children who are Muslim, and who are spiritual but not religious. There are faithful Hindu priests and Buddhist monks in heaven.

And each and every one say, “Jesus – when did I serve you? I didn’t.”

And Jesus, in his parable, replies, “Whatever you did to the most vulnerable in your community, you did to me.”

And Jesus takes the sheep, the people who followed the Good Shepherd without even realizing it, and takes them into his heavenly flock.

And what of the goats? When Jesus talks about the nations — all peoples and all religions – this includes all religions, including Christianity. We’re the largest religion on the face of the Earth.

Jesus tells his disciples that the goats are just as shocked as the sheep to be NOT included. They thought they were sheep, thought they were following the Good Shepherd, but instead, they were following other lords and kings and gods while giving lip-service to Jesus. They ran with the flock of sheep here on earth, but their hearts and deeds didn’t reflect the heart and deeds of Jesus.

These Christians say, “Jesus, when did we not aid you?”

And Jesus replies to them, too, “Whatever you denied the most vulnerable in your communities, you denied to me.”

Jesus here is referencing but also advancing the words of the prophet Ezekiel.

In Ezekiel, the Israelites are scattered in exile across many lands. Why has this happened? Ezekiel says because the people have been exploited. The exploitation of the vulnerable, the weakest, the people have ruined communities and destroyed the nation. The shepherds of the people, their leaders, have failed them. The shepherds have gotten rich and changed rules to benefit themselves while the people have gotten poor and suffered injustices. As Ezekiel puts it, “Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep” (34:2b-3).

Ezekiel spoke about how God would go out and gather in God’s people from all the nations… and then God would separate the sheep from the sheep. They all look the same, but God sees a difference. A difference in who these sheep truly belong to. Remember – sheep follow the voice of the one who leads them – not a stranger.

Ezekiel says when God comes, God comes with justice. God reverses each wrong dealt to the people. Wounds are healed, bellies are filled, rest is given. God, God’s self, takes over and is in charge. And God separates the fat sheep from the lean. “Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide… I will judge between sheep and sheep.” And the fat and strong sheep are destroyed, while the hurting ones are fed justice. Injustice has made them lost, injured and weak. Justice will make them strong, united, and healthy again.

Ezekiel is not speaking about Israelites and non-Israelites. He is speaking about all the Israelites. Among God’s own people – among the sheep and sheep – God is judging which of us have been bullies, and have led soft lives at the detriment of others. Which of us have gotten rich off the labor of the poor. Which of us use more resources than others. Which of us refuse to share and attack the starving, injured, or weak when they come to our areas.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, and he sits on the throne to judge all nations… the surprise is there are many non-Christian sheep, and many Christian goats. The surprise is there are many holy and good people who are not Christian; and there are many sinful and evil people who ARE Christian.

The judgement is, who has, in the words of Micah, done justice, loved kindness, and walked humbly with God?

In Matthew, being a Christian does not make you good or bad; does not mean you are Saved or Unsaved; does not mean you are pleasing or displeasing God. What you believe, and how you act upon that belief, determines your destiny. If you believe in the goodness of the world, and you believe we are meant to love one another, and you act in loving deeds – you are a sheep, whether or not you know it. And if you believe its a dog-eat-dog world, and no kind deed goes unpunished, and you act in selfish ways – you are a goat, whether or not you go to church.

Now, in our country, it is rare to find any politician who says they are a religion other than Christian. Being ‘Christian’ gets you votes. It means you’re mainstream, respectable, trustworthy. Being ‘Christian’ means you can claim God is on your side, and if people don’t vote for you, they are voting against God. Being ‘Christian’ means you are above any wrongs.

These ‘Christians’ are fat sheep and goats. These Christians are the ones who cry ‘Lord, lord,’ but who never actually know Christ. You know who these false Christians are because the way they vote in the House or Senate, or their executive orders, or the policies they advocate, harm the most vulnerable.

The most vulnerable people in our country are illegal immigrants, legal immigrants, gays and lesbians, transgendered, unwed single mothers, children, teachers, and those with criminal records. The most vulnerable people in this country are blacks, women, Native Americans, the elderly and millennials. The most vulnerable people in this country have mental health issues. Physical ailments. Addictions.

The fat sheep in our country are born here, are sexually ‘straight’ or pass as heterosexual, they are white, married, and male. The fat sheep in our country have never been in trouble with the law – or if they have, had had their record expunged. They are affluent, educated, and are able to shape the world about them through their financial, political, or social sway. Instead of using all the power they were born into to be a wise leader, a good shepherd, a guide to make the world a better place… instead, they use their power to make sure they have more power, more money, more sway.

The Internet Freedom movement is anything but freedom for you and I. It permits the rich to have freedom to choose what the poor must pay to access websites. Sites that speak truth to power, sites that challenge the way things are – sites that advocate for the most vulnerable – may not be accessible because you don’t pay enough… or may be blocked all together.

The tax bill the House passed gives steep discounts to owners of private businesses — but makes teachers pay for their own teaching supplies. It drastically reduces the taxes on the most affluent in the country and raises the taxes on the poorest. In other words, it rewards the rich and punishes the poor.

Those fleeing the lack of infrastructure, intense crime and poverty, and earth quake after tsunami after hurricane of Haiti are kicked out of the country. Along with all who try to escape Sudan. Although, we are now free to import all the oil we want from Sudan… but its people are denied sanctuary from the Sudanese wars where 6,000 some children fight in Darfur and crucifixion is still a legal way to kill political prisoners.

If what we do to the most vulnerable, we do to Christ…

We are deporting Jesus.

We are forcing Jesus to pick between paying his water bill or eating today.

We are telling Jesus he was born evil, thinks evil, and the world would be better off if he killed himself.

We are cramming Jesus into little prison cells and giving him 2 cents a day for his slave labor.

We are punishing Jesus for being born not-White, for being not-Married, for being Middle Eastern, for being a refugee, for being an advocate of the poor and destitute, for being a promoter of women’s rights, for thinking children matter, for challenging authority and government, and for being a lean sheep.

We are only as Christian as how we treat the most vulnerable among us.

Now… being white is not a sin. But it is being born with power. Born as a shepherd. Are you a good shepherd? Or are you a shepherd who’d rather ignore or harm the other sheep?

Being rich is not a sin. It is owning power. But it means we have a responsibility to generously and lavioushly share that wealth with others – so none are fat and none are thin.

Being straight, and/or male is not a sin. It means, however, responsibility as the ‘norm’ to invite the other in and LISTEN to how life is different. It means you are responsible to help make the world a better place for ALL PEOPLE.

This is Christ the King Sunday. We are celebrating the current reign of Christ, and anticipating the full reign.

Think of what that day will be — when the low are lifted and the high are lowered so all are equals.

Think of what that day will be – when we all eat justice. Will justice be sweet or bitter to you?

Do you look forward or do you fear that glorious day?

We are called to a radical life. Radical. Outside the norm. We are envisioning a radical future. A time of reversals. That time and day are ever closer – and we are invited to live into it now.

Come – live as Christ’s own and give up the selfish idols!

Come be a lamb of God! For God is seeking you, welcoming you.

Come, repent, change your ways, and return to the fold of Christ.

Come, follow the good shepherd, born in a barn, yet king over kings, yet lord over lords.

In your own hearts, recommit yourselves to being Christian.

Amen.