Tag: Jeremiah

Blessed?

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Luke 6:17-26 jesus-refugee-1

God stands with the outcasts, the hungry, the poor, the sorrowful. God is sobbing because her child is stolen from her, taken away, lost. God is crying because his only son was murdered by the authorities for peacefully seeking a better life.

At our southern border today these stories are in the thousands. People that came to our country in desperation have arrived to only be cursed, imprisoned, have their children taken in many cases to never be returned. When I see this news, the same news we all get, I think of how far away it is, how little I can do…

But the truth is it’s happening in our own state.

God is with Rachel who is here, in central Ohio, because her husband attempted to kill her with acid and burned off most of her face.

God is with Daniel who is here, in central Ohio, because he witnessed a crime gang murder his older brother. And now they want all the witnesses dead.

God is with Joshua who is here, in central Ohio, because he wants his little children to grow up where they don’t have to dodge landmines.

These are different names, but these are real people living only minutes away from us, not just some distant story on the news.

These are the people we are putting into concentration camps. And we have work camps.
What’s going on at our borders is controversial; some people focus on protecting our wealth, our jobs, our safety from strangers.

Others focus on what is being done to protect those borders. Children taken from their parents with reports of them being beaten, raped, and even killed through sheer neglect. Children whose only crime was to have parents think Americans were honest in our desire to help the helpless.

Many people that feel ‘We’d like to help, but we have problems of our own’.

I think most of us see these stories, and meet these people, and KNOW bad things are happening this very moment…

But what are we to do?

No one in this room is personally harming a refugee or immigrant.

Yet the politicians we’ve chosen have decided our taxes will pay the salaries of the people doing this, pay for those prisons, and now will likely pay for an eight billion dollar wall.

As a country we stopped reading our Bible and instead have chosen bits and pieces of it that tell us prosperity is the right of Christians.

We stopped living our faith. Our faith that says in all ways we are to be salt for the earth – a flavoring, a blessing. Not a curse hateful of others.

When God sent Jesus, God sent our savior born of a refugee. An immigrant. A woman and man who traveled seeking a better life for the child.

God sent Jesus born into a family like yours or mine. A normal family. With brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. A messy family.

God sent Jesus born to share our common lot. To know what it is to be human. To know blessings – honor – and woe – shameful times.

God sent Jesus to stand not in Rome among the honorable, nor the honorable of occupied ancient Israel — but to stand level with the poor, the deported, the huddling masses considered shameful, embarrassing, undesirable, and sinful.

Luke wrote his gospel to people like us. It is addressed to Theophilus who is a citizen of the ruling people. Much like we are citizens of the ruling people. And Theophilus was part of the popular religion. Much like we are. And Theophilus generally always knew where he would get his next meal, where to rest his head, and whether or not his relatives were alive, and safe. Much the same with us.

Luke writes to Theophilus to tell him why this impoverished foreigner Jesus came to Theophilus, too; and why Theophilus needs Jesus.

Why we NEED Jesus.

We NEED Jesus because of the torture of innocents. We NEED Jesus because of our faith being corrupted, turned into a weapon, and used against our own Christian body. We NEED Jesus to open our eyes, forgive our sins, and let us begin again our life with all people in the name of Christ.

“Our salvation depends on the poor.” ((Dorothy Day))

Jesus came down and stood on a level place.

No mountain top. No pulpit. No temple on the hill. Jesus came DOWN from heaven and stood right in the middle of earth – in the muck, with the common people, with the throng, with those in the cheap seats.

And around him came a great multitude a people. A huddling, starving mass. Jesus came and was with those no one else wanted.

Our Statue of Liberty speaks of us as the promised land, as a heaven on earth, where all are welcomed. All are equals. All are honorable. At the foot of the Statue of Liberty is a plaque with words we’ve aspired to live:

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Are we hypocrites? We place Lady Liberty on a pedestal and forget her. We forget we are the children and descendants of wretched refuse, refugees and immigrants, who yearned to breathe free.

We place God on our money and forget God sees the love of money as the root of all evil.

Forget God does not care for lip service but cares for justice.

God does not care how we treat the honorable but God deeply cares how we treat the least of these, the least among the world.

We say we’re Christian as we live in a manner only Satan would love – a manner that loves ourselves before all others.

As a country, we are forgetting who and who’s we are.

Jesus said… “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” You have traded heaven for money.

“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” You are physically comfortable now, but starving your soul.

“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” For when Jesus returns, and we feel the full weight of our sins and separations, we will tear our clothes in anguish and cry out inconsolable.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” When you’re called such a good Christian, such a good citizen, such an upstanding member of society… woe to you because you’ve sold yourself to the false prophets of the world and not to the True Prophets who stand with the shameful of society.

Luke is pleading with Theophilus and with us through his stories of Jesus that we give up the path of woes, and turn to the path of blessings! Of honor!

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” God lives among those who are poor! Poor of spirit. Poor of health. Poor of money. Poor in all ways. For those who know want know their need of God. Know their need of mercy and assurance. Know they NEED God.

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” Those who are not satisfied are seeking. Seeking better worlds. Better ways of living. Deeper religion. Is your soul hungry? Do you hunger for justice, for a reversal that brings the low high and the high low? Do you hunger for God? You WILL be filled!

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Laughter! The reign of God is here more every day. And it brings joy to those who weep now. Those who weep to see what we are doing at the border and weep. Those who weep to see our leaders corrupted, self-centered, warmongering and ignoring the plight of everyday people. We who weep now will find joy in God and God’s great reversal.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.” If you’re in hot trouble with your family because of your beliefs – good job! You’re doing Christianity right. If society tells you to be less radical, to be more practical, and to stop caring… GOOD. You’re doing your faith right. On account of the son of man, we should always be pressing the envelope and challenging people to live more into the reign of God.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”

We’re not living for rewards on Earth.

What do we do? How do we – who are not politicians, whose letters go ignored when we write, who are not at the border, who are not affluent – what do we DO to live this narrow, outsider way our Savior leads us?

We don’t turn a blind eye. We look. We watch. We pray. We donate money to charities helping refugees and immigrants such as CRIS – the Community Refugee and Immigrant Services.

We speak. We speak on social media, to family, to friends. We refuse to continue to let the hate spread. We act as antibodies, a cure, where we are, healing the body of Christ here. Preventing the cancer from spreading.

We are here for a reason and a purpose. We are born for a time just as this. We are in the drought with too much heat but we have deep roots. Dig into your faith. Delve deep for the ever-living waters. Bring forth that new life, those green leafs, that hope. BE the church. BE the body of Christ. BE the people who have seen the goodness of God and live like it.

Blessed, honorable, are you when you are unpopular on account of your lived out faith.

Blessed are we when we let go of possessions
for the kingdom of God unfolds in open places.

Blessed are we who know the ache of hunger,
for the empty places in body and soul are the fertile soil for new growth.

Blessed are we who know sorrow,
for the ache of love lost is witness to the seed planted.

Blessed are we who know scorn,
for the rejection of humans keeps us mindful of that beyond.

Blessed are we who live in the harmony of life in the Spirit, for we will recognize abundance.

((Katherine Hawker (2004) and posted on Liturgy Outside. http://liturgyoutside.net/beatitudes.pdf))

Blessed are we who answer God’s call to love ALL.

Amen.

Advertisements

Shocking Scandal

Jeremiah 1 4:-20
Luke 4:21-30

Epiphany 4C

ajAerM1_700b_v2

Jesus is… so confrontational today. I’m tempted to paint his village as unkind, but they ARE kind. They welcome Jesus in and speak well of him. They speak with amazement. They’ve heard he’s been doing miracles, and welcome him home.

Oh sure, some point out this is just Joseph’s boy. Maybe they elbow each other about silly antics Jesus did as a baby. They don’t think of him as a prophet. They especially don’t think of him as the son of God; or as God incarnate.

But they’re not intentionally cruel. Just a little… belittling.

While they’re still in amazement at how Jesus has grown, Jesus puts words in their mouths. “You’re going to say ‘Doctor, cure thyself!’ and you’re going to ask me to do the miracles here I did in the past. But I’m not going to, because you won’t accept me.”

I bet the town is confused at first. Accept you? Of course we accept you little sugarplum! But yet, if you want us to think you’re more than the kid we babysat, you’ll have to show us a miracle.

Jesus continues to their shocked and scandalized faces, “Do you remember the prophet Elijah? There was a severe famine. It didn’t rain for 3 years and 6 months. There were widows everywhere and everywhere were people suffering. But God sent Elijah to none of these widows but one – a foreign widow in a foreign town.

When Elijah arrives, God tells him the widow is going to provide food and shelter for him. But the widow tells Elijah she is gathering sticks to make the very last of her flour and oil for herself and her son… and then they are going to die from the famine. Elijah tells her, “Give me this last bit of bread, and my god will be sure your jar of flour and jar of oil don’t run out until it rains again.”

The woman face a choice. She could believe this stranger and give her last meal to him… or she could give the last bit of food to herself and her son. She could have faith in this strange god, or she could keep to her local gods.

She chooses to give Elijah the bread.

And God makes sure they have oil and flour for herself, the boy, and Elijah during the whole famine.

Elijah was sent to the marginalized, the powerless, those starving, and those in need of hearing about God. Elijah was sent to those who would accept him.

Picture it, anger is appearing on the faces of Jesus’ neighbors and cousins and brothers and uncles. His aunts and sisters and nieces getting the second hand account outside of the synagogue. Our Jesus, OUR Jesus, isn’t going to do any miracles here?! We raised him! And he won’t even do a single awesome thing here?

He should show preferential treatment to his own family and town! THAT is US!

He thinks WE won’t accept him? We raise this kid! He OWES us!

Jesus implies his hometown doesn’t need miracles: they already have them and live with God. And, that although they are suffering, there are worse off people that Jesus is being sent to by God.

Do you feel the anger growing? Why don’t we who faithfully serve get rewarded miracles? We, who are born into the faith, we should be the special ones.

Jesus continues by bringing up the next beloved prophet of our shared history: Elisha. In Elisha’s time, many, many people had leprosy. But Elisha miraculously cured only one: Naaman.

Naaman isn’t Jewish. He is haughty. He doesn’t trust God or the prophet Elisha. But finally he bathes in the river as directed, and miraculously is cured of his leprosy. From there, he changes faith and honors God and the prophet, and shares his faith at home.

But the Jewish lepers continue to have leprosy.

This is NOT fair.

Jesus’ relatives and neighbors get up to their feet furious. You’re saying God is showing preferential treatment to those who don’t honor God?

You’re saying WE won’t accept YOU? Physician, heal yourself!

And they run Jesus out of his hometown and try to kill him.

… And they were right. Jesus is not about what’s fair. He tells parables of a master giving his servants all the same amount of money whether they worked an hour or eight hours. That’s not fair.

He talks about sons who run away, spend all their father’s wealth, and come home broke being honored while sons who stay and obey their father get their normal lot. Really not fair to that older son.

Jesus is not about fair.

Jesus is about just.

Justice says those in Jesus’ hometown knew God loved them and knew how to live according to God’s word. Jesus’ ministry is to show the world of God’s love… not just those who already know.

Justice says everyone should have enough money to eat, even if they can only find work for an hour.

Justice says God welcomes home the sinners and the sinless, because all are God’s children.

But it’s not fair.

Not fair in the least.

But it is justice.

Picture three boys trying to watch a baseball game, but there’s a wooden fence in the way. Each boy is a different height: tall, average, and short. The tall boy can see over the fence. The other two cannot. We have three box they can stand on to help them see. How shall we distribute the boxes?

First, lets be fair. We give each boy one box to stand on. Now the tall boy is even taller and can still see. The average boy can now see. But the short boy is still too short.

We can’t give preferential treatment to the last, right? That wouldn’t be fair. But all three boys cannot see the game.

So let’s be just. Justice says the tall boy doesn’t need help to see. Justice says the second average sized boy needs just one box to see. And the third boy needs two boxes to see. Now, all three can see the game. But we had to distribute the boxes according to need instead of all getting some.

If you’ve seen or heard this illustration, then you know what comes next: the best world is where we don’t need boxes at all because we take away the barrier of the wooden fence. All three boys can watch the game through a chain-link fence without help.

That is shalom. That is wholeness. That is curing the world of systemic sin and barriers and woes. That is the heaven on earth we are called to create.

But in the meantime… there is sin… and there are boxes to help people cope with it… How are we going to use our resources to help people?

Jesus tells us to lower the high and lift up the low, so all are equitable. That means for his hometown, and for us, there’s not preferential treatment JUST because we’re faithful.

The reward for being Christian is being among the people of God, and living aware of God’s love of us.

Miracles, an easy life, favoritism from God? Those are not a given. Very faithful people are denied miracles and very faithless people get them. And the reverse happens, too.

The reward for being Christian is the life lived. The life reborn. The foretaste of the life God is bringing.

And it ain’t fair. And its scandalous.

But it is good news to those who need it the most.

Amen.

Call to Worship: New Covenant

Based on Jeremiah 31:31-34
One: “The days are surely coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant
Many: Not like the old covenant, which was broke,
One: But a new law that is written within.”
Many: A new covenant written on our hearts.
One: “I will be their god,”
Many: And we will be God’s people.
One: No longer shall one say to another – Have you been saved?
Many: For everyone shall be – the least to the greatest.
One: All iniquity is forgiven, and sin is remembered no more.
All: We come free from sin to worship our God who gives us the new covenant!

Wounded Healers

Theodicy2
Full graphic here –> https://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2292 Does contain cusswords.

Jeremiah 31:31-34
John 12:20-33

Surely the day is coming when no one will ask “Who is God?” because we’ll all know – God’s ways are written inside of us. In our hearts. There’s no question. We just know.

Surely the day is coming when we will be in full understanding with God, and there won’t be need for teachers and pastors and theologians…

… But it sure doesn’t seem to be this moment. I testify this pastor struggles. We are here, in the final Sunday of Lent before Holy Week. Here- on this last Sunday of quiet reflection before we come to Jerusalem, and Jesus enters with the welcome of a King. Next week we’ll sing Hosannas. And we’ll consider during the week the cross.

That horrible thing.

The nearly unspeakable thing.

Sometimes, we rush from Palm Sunday to Easter and miss the heartache in between. Sometimes, we rush from Genesis and God calling us Very Good to the Gospels, where God So Loved the World.

And we miss the messy, messy reality in between.

The messy reality where murder happens, and senseless death. When armies rise up against armies. And homes are burned. And lives shattered. Children’s heads dashed on rocks and blood and guts and broken bones galore. We miss the slavery. The beatings. The rapes. The sin.

We miss the cross when we gloss over Holy Week, or gloss over the Bible.

Our stories, our scripture, our message of God is so relevant because it is asking, and reframing, and asking again: what does it mean to be human?

What does it mean to be God?

Why do good things happen?

Why do bad things happen?

And to be human, to be alive. is to know good and bad and everything in between.

“My soul is troubled,” said Jesus.

My soul is troubled today, I say. I look at this cross, and I wonder – how could it happen?

How could Peter turn and deny his savior, his master, his best friend?

How could all the disciples run away from Jesus’ last hours, dying there, a condemned criminal?

How could Mary abide seeing her son die?

How could God abide this wrong?

Or all the other wrongs in the world?

Who is God to permit such suffering?

Why do bad things happen?


Theodicy is a fancy term for this problem, for asking the theology of “why do bad things happen?”

The issue is set up like this: why does an all powerful, all knowing, all loving and good God permit bad things to happen?

Some have answered – there must be no god. My God, My God – why have you forsaken me? Because there is no god listening to your cries.

And some have answers – surely there is a god. We just have to tackle this theodicy problem.

These three descriptions of God set up a triangle. If we can resolve one of the angles of the triangle — all powerful, all knowing, or all good — the issue collapses upon itself and goes away. We have an answer for why bad things happen.

Let me give you an example… Maybe bad things happen because God is not all powerful. God loves us deeply and wholly. God knows bad things are going to occur. God works with us to try to stop these things. We pray and God works. We work and God gives the Spirit. But because we are sinful, or we have free-will,  or because God chooses to limit God’s own power… bad things happen.

Maybe the world would fall into chaos if God meddled too much in it and did a lot of miracles.

Maybe God wills a perfect world, but chaos and sin is still too powerful.

Maybe God set up the world to reward the sinful with pain and the sinless with blessings, and to meddle in this would be to disturb the order of things.

For one reason or another, God’s not all powerful. But God is all knowing and all loving.


 

Or maybe bad things happen because God is not all knowing. God can and does do everything. And God is all love. But God doesn’t know the results and the future. Sometimes, chaos slips into God’s plans. Truly humans plan, and God plans better, but even the best of plans can go wrong. God doesn’t plan the bad. Sometimes, it just happens.

Think of the Garden of Eden – it seems God was surprised that humans chose to eat from the trees God banned. God sure acted angrier than someone who planned on this happening!

Or maybe it just appears God doesn’t know what God is doing at times because we have very limited minds and perspectives. There must be a master plan – we just don’t know it.

Or God is just making things up as God goes along.

Einstein said God doesn’t play dice with the universe. All things are ordered and what seems random is actually determined due to quantum physics… But what if God DOES play dice? What if change, chaos, random occurrences, happenstance really is a thing… and we and God just plan the best we can?


Or maybe bad things happen because God is not all good. God can and does do everything; and God knows all that will be and has been; but God is not all hearts and sunshine and love. Instead, God is vindictive. Or God is righteous. Or God is just.

If you read the Bible, there is fire and brimstone. Maybe that’s the only way some people learn their lessons. There is hell, and punishment for sins, and punishment just for touching the Ark of the Covenant without permission.

Maybe God is so just and righteous, that the impurities of us on God’s honor, and God’s righteousness, means God HAS to demand satisfaction – demand payment – for our wrongs. There is a universal debt we’re racked up, and someone has to pay.

Or maybe God just appears to be not loving, but in actuality, is loving us like a parent and knows to teach us with soft knocks and hard knocks how to be better people. Maybe God is letting bad things happen to test us, to burn away the chaff, per se.

Maybe God could have designed a way for us to learn how to be good people without heartache, but then God could have just programmed us to be robots and we never would be able to voluntarily love God back or be in a real relationship. Because real relationships require freedom to say no. Freedom to walk away.

Or maybe God is like us… and not wholly all good but has spurts of anger and emotional outbursts.

Or maybe…

Maybe…


The lists and ideas go on and on and on. All of these justifications of God have been argued. And will be argued. And are currently being argued.

And not just in academic books or in seminaries.

I hear phrases like, “That’s karma,” and it means “what goes around, comes around.” If you do good deeds, good things come back to you. If you do bad deeds, bad things happen to you. This is theodicy. Trying to explain our God and why bad things happen.

I hear things like, “God knew what God was doing,” or “It was just her time.” There is a master plan and God is following it. We’re just along for the ride. More theodicy. More explaining why bad things happen.

And I hear things like, “God must have needed another angel,” or “That’s the punishment of God.” Again… more theodicy. More trying to explain our world and our God.

After Jesus died, people struggled greatly to explain how God could let Jesus die. Some concluded Jesus must never had been the Chosen One, the Christ. Maybe he was a great prophet, but not the Christ.

Others concluded Jesus must have known this was going to happen all along. And they remembered things he said that seemed to foreshadow his death.

Still others decided the cross must actually be an act of God’s love, and Jesus was the sacrificial lamb that takes away sins… just like the lamb’s blood in Passover — the time when he was killed.

These are all theodicy answers.

All the gospel writers and early Christians and ancient Jews and ancient Greeks and Romans trying to understand what just happened and who God is.

None of them are right.

But none of them are wrong.

Theodicy is like balancing on a ball. You can do it, but you constantly have to make adjustments. And as soon as you have your balance, as soon as you have an answer, the ball and problem has moved again.

I think of it like a puzzle. I worry it for awhile, come to a conclusion that lasts a month – a year – maybe more — and then I have to come back to it again and think some more.

And people did this long before Jesus’ time, too.

The entire book of Job is a work of theodicy. Why do bad things happen? Each one of Job’s friends offers a different solution. And Job demands an answer from God God’s self — and God doesn’t give a satisfactory one. Or doesn’t answer. It’s hard to tell.

It’s like the author of Job knew we won’t have a satisfactory answer to why bad things happen until we can ask God ourselves face-to-face. Until then, we’re screaming at the sky.

Why bad things happen to people — good people and bad people — seems to never have a perfectly neat answer that works 100% of the time all the time for everyone.

So when you hear John’s answer today for why the cross happened, and why bad things happen, know it is John’s answer. Each Gospel answers it a bit differently. Each theologian answers it differently.

Each person answers it differently.

We all come to the cross as individuals, again and again and again, and each time, we see Jesus, we see God, we see why bad things happen, in a different light. Even if it is just slightly different than last time.

John’s theodicy answer is the cross had to happen. Jesus is like a single grain of wheat. And Jesus will fall, and the seed die, per se, and stop being a wheat seed. But it will then grow up and produce many, many wheat seeds. Much fruit.

And that we are to follow this – to reject the way of the world, and to accept the way of Christ. To stop trying to save our lives and start living for Christ.

John’s answer is that God spreads God’s salvation through what appears to be bad things, but is actually good. The cross looks like humiliation. It is degradation. It is shame. But it actually is glory, and honor, and is a way of lifting Jesus up for all people to see.

The seed appears to die, and all hope to be lost – but it is simply giving up itself in order to reproduce a hundred fold.

Jesus will appear to die, and all hope to be lost – but he is simply giving up himself in order to bring all people to him.

Sometimes I agree with John. Sometimes I do not. That’s the thing about theodicy… its a problem we never solve permanently. We just reach temporary solutions.

One temporarily solution for myself is to think of all of us, and God included, as wounded healers.

Bad things happen. God doesn’t will them, I think (for right now. My answer of course will change. All theodicy answers change.) But God wills good to come out of bad situations.

So God didn’t plan to put Jesus on the cross, but God planned to bring good out of what happened. And God did.

God doesn’t intend for us to have cancer, to lose loved ones, to suffer – but God does intend to help us bring good out of these situations.

God intends to help us become wounded healers.

Wounded healers are people who know what heartache is, who know what loss is, and through their own wounds, are able to heal others.

Because I’ve been in those shoes, I know how to help. Because you’ve been in my situation, you know what I need most. No two people have the same exact experience… but every heart is carrying a wound.

And that wound, that hurt, is a soft spot that God can help us use to connect with one another.

It’s not the Law of God written on our hearts… maybe. But maybe it is: maybe the new covenant is a covenant of love that connects in these wounds, and unites us through the common experience of being human.

The common experience of knowing heartache. And joy. And suffering. And elation. And pain. And death.

That’s the thing about theodicy – about understanding God and why bad things happen – our hearts and minds change as we experience more.

As we transition this week into Holy Week, and into Palm Sunday, I invite you to reflect on the cross – what does it mean? Why did it happen?

Agree with John. Disagree with John. Agree with Mark or Matthew or Luke or Paul or disagree with all of them.

What is the cross to you?

Who is God to you?

Who is Christ?

And why do bad things happen?

Amen.

In the Garden

Jeremiah 31:1-6Jesus-Comes-to-Us-Resurrection-Mary-Magdalene-John-20-1-18

John 20:1-18

In the beginning, writes Genesis.
In the beginning, write John.

Genesis tells us God -spoke- and created all.
John tells us the Word was with God and through the Word all was created.

In Genesis, God is a Gardener. God makes a peaceful garden and places people in it – but people must flee in it tears when they disobey God.

In John, Jesus is mistaken as a gardener. People have fled to this sorrowful garden in tears. Mary leaves it with joy to obey God.

In Exodus to Moses- God says God is the I AM! In John, Jesus repeatedly says “I AM.”

John 6: 35, 48 I am the bread of life
John 8: 12, 9:5 I am the light of the world
John 10:9 I am the door
John 10:11 I am the good shepherd
John 11:25 I am the resurrection and the life
John 14:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life
John 15:1 I am the true vine

And, John 8: 58 “Before Abraham was, I am”

In this garden, humanity and the Great I AM meet once again. In this graveyard, new life springs forth. In this place of sorrow – unexpected joy is found.

“Resurrection is nothing short of re-creation. That the burial and resurrection of Jesus take place in a garden underscores the Fourth Gospel’s unrelenting commitment to holding the divine and the human together. Death is the reality of life, but resurrection points to the reality of abundant life.” (Karoline Lewis)

The Great I AM wants to recreate with us; wants to begin again; wants to restore our relationship.

Our scriptures, our faith, our God is all about restoring relationships. Today, we read the story of Mary and Jesus meeting, but we also know that this is also a story about humanity and God meeting and beginning again. This time, instead of leaving the garden in anger with each other, humanity and God leave the garden ready to work together.

Now this is all heady – so let’s bring it down to what that really means: it means living into God’s reign now. It means being Christ-like now. It means living that ever-renewing, abundant life now.

You see, people come to Jesus through personal encounters. 1 on 1. It’s 1 on 1 conversation that brings the Samaritan woman to understand Jesus as the Messiah. 1 on 1 debate for Nicodemus at night. 1 on 1 for Zaccheus in the tree. Doubting Thomas will stop doubting when he personally touches Jesus. Saul will turn from persecuting Christians when he personally meets Jesus. It is the personal encounter with Phillip and his faith that converts the Ethiopian man; and it is personal encounters with the disciples – the apostles, the women, all those who witness – that bring the faith in Jesus’ way from a small following of middle eastern men and women to a world religion.

How did you end up here, today? I bet someone personally told you about their faith, and you had a relationship with that someone – a mother, a father, grandparent, good friend, spouse – very, very few people (if any!) come to Christ through scripture alone. This is a faith of relationships. Of personal encounters.

Today – Mary is the first to have a personal encounter with the Risen Christ. And she shares this encounter.

Would you be here today if Mary hadn’t left the garden to tell the Good News?

The Garden of Eden was large, but it wasn’t the entire world. We have a new mission – to spread the Good News everywhere. To plant God’s garden everywhere. You and I are co-gardeners, co-creators, with God. We are tasked with feeding, clothing, and caring for one another. We are tasked with gardening the world – caring for its plants and animals, waters and skies. We are tasked with carrying hope into hopeless situations and responding with love in hateful situations. We are called – by name – to rise from our graves and live the abundant life God offers to us now.

The I AM told the prophet: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Out of everlasting Love, God abides with us. Out of everlasting Love, God builds again. Out of everlasting Love, God bids us to go from the garden and take the good news to all peoples – for all peoples are the children of the great I AM.

I AM is Risen! I AM abides with us. I AM will come again!

Christ is Risen!

Go out and share this beautiful news like a spring flower with all peoples! 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.

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Ephesians 4:1-16

What is stronger? Rock, or water?

Rock seems stronger than water. Rocks keep water back, such as with dams. A rock goes through a window a whole lot easier than a rain drop. People build solid foundations out of rocks – not on sinking watery ground.

But let’s consider water: with enough time, water seems stronger than rocks. It finds cracks in that dam and slowly erodes the rock away. With enough time, it carves solid rocks and makes holes as gigantic and as deep as the Grand Canyon. A rock shatters with a big impact against it. Water, however, splashes, moves, around the rock that hits it and keeps on moving – unchanged.

In the short term, rock may be stronger.

But in the long term, water is more enduring. Water is stronger.

Perhaps this is why the Bible speaks of hearts that get hardened, that get turned into stone. Pharaoh’s hardened heart ignored the plight of the Israelites and turned Moses away. Hardened, cold, stony hearts made Jesus sad and angry. People who owned these hearts were more concerned about the proper way of doing things, about propriety, than simply helping others whenever the opportunity arose.

Jesus asks his disciples if they have hard hearts when they argued about how to share a single loaf of bread among them. Jesus reminded them that they had just seen him feed thousands of people with a few loaves – do they not understand?

A single loaf can feed many people.

But only if their hearts are not hard, but rather: are strong.

Hearts of stone never think there is enough to go around. Hard, solid, stony hearts are a dam, a defensive wall, that shuts out others and shuts out God. Isolated and alone inside that dark, cold, chamber, we huddle fearful of the outside world. Scared that our single loaf of bread will run out, and scared to share it too.

Soft hearts, strong hearts, hearts drenched in holy waters, are like river stones. These hearts are porous, full of holes. Gently, baptismal waters have carved space into these hearts. Space for the Holy Spirit to flow. Space for Christ. Space for others. These holey hearts, full of holes and God’s love, know we have more than enough resources when we all share. These kinds of hearts have windows to let the world in, and the graces given to us by God out.

You see, when we are baptized, we baptize with water and the Holy Spirit. The water cleanses away what is old – washes off the dirt, sins, and fear. We die with Christ in Baptism, and we arise with Christ in Baptism. So as the Spirit fills us, we become full of new life – a purpose – full of gifts to share for the community.

These gifts are graces, gifts from God, and never meant to be hidden away.

Like the children’s song ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ these gifts, these lights, are supposed to shine.

In us, from Baptism, the light of Christ burns. It is our own little candle. Our candle to shine out of our porous hearts to guide others towards love, towards Christ, towards God. This holy light we carry with us, wherever we go, as a beacon of the strength of water.

The world tells us to be harsh, to be cold, to be rock hard.

But our God tells us to be patient, to be kind, to be loving.

In the short term, a person can get ahead by playing by the world’s rules.

But in the long term, water is stronger. God is stronger.

For as Paul wrote us, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

That long term, permanent love – that love that breaks holes into even the toughest of hearts – that love that is patient enough to work for decades eroding away a spot to plant the light of Christ – that love of God is stronger than all else.

We, today, are privileged to witness an act of that love.

We, today, are witnesses to God and Ella Grace communing in a way beyond words.

We, today, are the eyes, the ears, the memories, the hands, the mouths, that will remind this little girl as she grows up of this moment. We will tell her we were present for this holy moment when the Spirit alighted upon her. We will pledge, during her baptism, to guide her and her family, aide and assist, pray and support, them as Ella grows. Part of that will be telling her that she is a beloved child of God, a child who has God’s ever lasting love, a child who has been washed with baptismal waters and the Spirit, a child who carries Christ’s light within her.

And when she is five, fifteen or a hundred and fifteen, these truths will not have changed.

Let us, we the people of one faith, one Lord, one baptism – the people who are children and yet gifted the Words of God – let us now prepare ourselves for this holy, once-in-a-life-time rite of Ella’s that we are privileged to be a part of.