Tag: Paul

The Whole Armor of God

Ephesians 6:10-20 armor.jpg
John 6:56-69

I have an issue. I have a fatal disease called life. Someday, it will kill me. Every day, it takes its toll on me and ages me more. Breaks my body down more. And leads me closer to my grave. Whether from TMB, too many birthdays, or another cause, some day, I’m going to die to this fatal disease.

And that issue, my mortality, weighs heavily on me. I do a lot of things to try to ignore it, cheat it, or prevent it.

I prevent it by wearing my seat belt, brushing my teeth, eating healthily.

I cheat my death by ‘fake’ dying… riding rollarcoasters, or watching scary movies, or getting into other situations where I can consider death… but I don’t actually die.

And I ignore my mortality. I get on with my life, enjoy the moment, and don’t think about if I’m wisely spending every tiny little second.

But this fatal condition influences most aspects of my life. It makes me eat, makes me drink, makes me sleep, makes me look both ways when crossing the road… it also makes me fear, and hate and be depressed.

Consider, the EPA is rolling back regulations on coal power plants. This means that about 1000 extra people will die a year due to the carbon particulates in the area. Just 1000, but a whole lot of financial savings. It sounds measly, right?

But that fatal condition tells me that those 1000 people could be, and statistically will be, me. Ohio produces a lot of coal power. We usually have pretty poor breathing air. And an asthmatic like me is really sensitive to what I’m breathing. Is my life worth those dollars saved? It is for most of the USA. But, personally, I’d rather be living. I’m kinda invested in my life and living… more than I am invested in two cents or so cheaper electric.

This makes me depressed. Sad. It makes me anxious because I feel there is little I can do. It makes me fearful of tomorrow, of the very air I breathe. It makes me hate policy makers and cooperations and even my fellow Americans who think this is okay.

My fatal condition leads me to view the world as threatening and scary, and I get full of negative emotions.

The same process of mortality leading to fear and hate and depression is occurring to the Ephesians that Paul writes. They are very mortal. In fact, I am 100% sure every single Ephesian Paul was addressing (and even Paul himself) are now dead. They saw their faith siblings being put on trial, and killed, for being Christian.

And the same is occurring to the disciples Jesus addresses in our reading. They see war and starvation and oppression from Rome and the local powers, everywhere they turn.

All of us are facing our own mortality. Each of us are going to die.

This disease called life has only been put in remission three or four times, and only beaten once, that I’m aware of.

Jesus tells his disciples that if they eat his flesh and drink his blood, this mortality is cured. They are given life eternal. As we spoke about over the last few weeks, Jesus is saying something completely scandalous. First the educated complained about this teaching. And today, we hear Jesus’ own disciples complaining.

“This teaching is difficult! Who can accept it?” It is offensive that Jesus is telling us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. It sounds sacrilegious. It sounds scandalous. It clearly is not the words of a military king. Now not just the people, or the educated, but Jesus’ own disciples are beginning to second-doubt following this rabbi.

And how can anyone cure mortality? Besides a few, like Elijah, everyone else has died, is buried, and their bones eventually turn to dust. After a few thousand years, that person not only is wholly physically gone… but even the memory of them is gone. How can eating flesh and blood cure death?

Jesus tells them, “You think this is offensive – what if you see me taken up to Heaven? How offended will you be then? What kind of a challenge to your faith will happen then? Think about this: The Spirit gives life. Not flesh.”

In other words, our bodies may be alive, but they don’t have the divine spark of a soul. That soul, that Spirit, is from God. So literally eating Jesus will not give you life. Literally drinking Jesus’ blood won’t give you life. The Holy Spirit gives you life. That Holy Spirit is in the words and teachings of Jesus. There is life and Spirit in the words he speaks.

Without the Spirit, our bread and our grape juice are just that — bread and grape juice. They become a sign of God, a remembrance of Christ, and a uniting sacrament because of the Spirit. In that Spirit, we gather. In that Spirit, we pray. In that Spirit, we respond to God’s invite to the table. In that Spirit, we receive eternal life.

So is communion, the literal bread and drink, necessary and essential for eternal life?

Consider this… as the fatal disease of life progresses, it makes some of us unable to eat and drink. What happens to someone if they cannot take communion any more? If they have a feeding tube, or are allergic to wheat and wheat bread if offered, or are a recovery alcoholic and only wine is offered? What happens if you’re in a service where communion is denied to you?

In all of these cases… are you cut from the vine that is Christ? Are you now denied eternal life?

Absolutely not!

Jesus says, “It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.”

In our denomination, we understand that a person can partake of communion without physically drinking or eating. Sometimes, for any of the reasons mentioned or another, people cannot physically eat the bread and take the cup. But, Spiritually, they partake. Spiritually, they take inside themselves the life, the eternal words, the life-giving bread and ever renewing drink. This is because the flesh, the physical food and physical drink, isn’t what is important about communion. What is important is the Spirit of God uniting everyone, the Holy One of God, our Christ, remembered and presiding over the Table, and our Creating God recreating the world anew through the unity we find in the sacrament.

Jesus is saying that eternal life is not living in heaven in the future… but it is also living fully now. It isn’t waiting for the world to be destroyed, or hastening that destruction so that Christ will come again and save us… eternal life is living the words of God through Christ. It is making Earth the place in which God’s kindom is fully experienced, and the rule of God wholly known – that rule of love and grace and mercy – just like it is in heaven.

Every Sunday we pray the Lord’s Prayer, and pray that Earth becomes like Heaven. That the eternal life of Heaven, the rich and fulfilled, the loving and peaceful, the understanding and merciful, the harmonious and whole life of heaven is also lived here. “Let thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven.”

Here, Jesus offers the balm of Gilead, the solution to our fatal disease: a well lived life. A Spiritual life. A life that doesn’t end when we die – die to greed, die to fear, die to hate, die from TMB or any other cause – but a life that continues on abundantly now and into heaven. And that complete, healthy, whole life is available for those who eat and drink Christ.

For we are what we eat! When we eat and drink Christ, we become like Christ, we do his words, and we live our lives in the eternal manner.

But death still happens. Fear still happens. Our bodies still break down, and still die. Bread still molds, drink still sours, and the physical passes away. So what are we to do when the fatal dis-ease, fatal – not- at – ease comes and makes us fear the future, hate our siblings, get depressed over the present, or defensive of our self, wealth, and lives?

That is what Paul is writing about.

When we feel threatened, war will not defend us. Swords will not be a comfort. Armor will always have weak spots and gaps. Walls will be circumvented. Every security measure misses something. Home-grown terrorism is a thing that banning people from nations with terrorist active will not prevent. Random acts of violence, random deaths by freak accidents, and even meaningless cruelty happen no matter who you are, where you are, or how Godly and Christian you are.

Evil is real.

Evil happens.

Evil always slips in, somehow.

So Paul reminds us that we’re not fighting enemies of flesh and blood. He reminds us that immigrants and refugees, transients and transsexuals, Muslims, Jews, skin-heads and Anti-fa, Republicans or Democrats and Capitalists or Socialists are not the enemies of Christians. These are people. Humans. Children made in the image of God. Somebody’s little daughter; someone’s beloved son. People with souls.

And people are mixed bags with good qualities and bad qualities all tossed into one body.

No; pointing out a group and labeling every member “My enemy” or “God’s enemy” is not Biblical. We’re not fighting physical people!

Instead, we are fighting systems. Fighting the status quo. Fighting the way things are. Our enemy is the world system that has policies which turn a beloved child into a terrorist. Our enemy is every government order this is cruel and inhumane. Our enemy is poverty. Power inequality. Greed.

Our enemy is the cosmic powers of this present darkness – the spiritual forces of evil. You don’t have to believe in Satan or the devil for there to be evil. Evil – intentional harm – is a cosmic power. A power outside of ourselves that is infused into our current world. A spiritual darkness bred out of our fatal disease of mortality makes us fear, and hate, and do harm to one another. Why are we greedy? Because the more we have, the more secure we are, and the further death feels from us. Why are we cruel? For the same reason. It makes us feel powerful. Like we can cause death on others but no one can cause death on us.

Our enemy is death, and all of the negative and hurtful things we do out of fear of death.

So Paul reminds us that death is defeated. Death has no sting. Death has no victory. Christ has saved us, redeemed us, made us no longer prisoners to all that the fear of death inflicts on us.

When we feel we need more protection, we’re not to pick up more arms and weapons. We’re not to build stronger borders and stronger alarm systems. We’re not to point to specific people and say ‘He is the Anti-Christ!’ or ‘She is pure evil!’ We Christians are to focus on boosting our Spiritual armor… for we are in a spiritual war. A war over the negative, life-stealing emotions that the fear of death inflicts in us.

So Paul writes: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day,” when fear and hate and insecurity invoke the devils and temptations in you to sin. “And having done everything” to be spiritually strong, “to stand firm” in your commitment to love and peace. “Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

This is the armor and arms we’re to have – truth, peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, righteousness, and the words of God. All of these to be living in peace rather than living in fear.

“ Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”

Pray for one another! Pray peace for yourselves. Pray peace for your enemies. Pray peace for the world. Pray peace and the only arms and armor we will ever need is the whole armor of God.

Amen.

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Angry Christians

angerEphesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

I get irrationally angry sometimes over the most silly, trivial things. I was parking the other day. There were only 2 spots left in the little lot. One in front of the other. A car went down the first lane, I went down the second. Now we’d both have the last two spots.

The lady decided to pull through – and take both spots.

I was more angry with her than the situation called for. I broke into tears. I usually cry when I’m angry. And my body tenses up. Sometimes my body shakes as my blood pressure rises. My heart beats fast and I get a sweat. I feel it all over me – do I fight, or do I flee?

It’s like I’m threatened.

I feel threatened and angry. Threatened not by the other person – they bothered me – but threatened by my own body.

My own body is betraying my emotions. It is threatening to make me yell. Threatening to make me cuss. Threatening to — I don’t know. Explode? Roar?

Lose my smile, I think. And lose my calm exterior. And lose my control.

That’s it.

I can’t control my feelings.

I get angry! And then my body reacts, and I can’t control my body. My body betrays my emotion of anger! With one unthinking park job, this woman ripped all this control from me.

I can’t be Christian and be angry, can I? For Jesus in Matthew says, (5:21-22) “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

I’m liable to judgment for being angry. And it would have been better to give her a one-finger salute than to have called her a name like You Fool, You Pea-Brain, or You… [ fill in your favorite insulting title that I’m not going to say from the pulpit.]

Even today Paul tells us in scripture to put away our wrath and anger, wrangling and slander, and malice. That these things grieve the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 4:30-31).

So what sin have I done in my anger by sitting in my car staring at that woman, angry, crying, and asking, “What in the world is wrong with you? Learn to drive, you fool!” Am I going to hell?

Maybe I should have picked up my cross, kept my mouth shut, not gotten emotional, been serene, and kept it all inside. It would be torture. It would be somehow mastering feeling only the emotions I want to feel. I think it would be dying to myself.

I know plenty of Christians who try to live this way, and teach others to live this way.

Bottle that anger up. Better – don’t even feel it in the first place.

That’s real fine and dandy until someone takes your parking spot and you roar in your car.

WHY did I explode inside? Why did I feel so much anger? It happened so fast!

I think because “never be angry” is not possible for ANY human at all.

God gave us anger. God gets angry, a lot, in the Bible. Jesus got angry. Prophets and people got angry. Our church mothers and fathers got angry. Anger is an emotion all complex creatures feel — from the anger of a rat having their food stolen to the anger of God – and everyone and every creature in between – we get angry.

Often, the Bible talks about righteous anger. So maybe Christians ought to only have righteous anger and not selfish anger. I’ve heard this argued, lived, and preached too.

The woman taking my spot wasn’t an affront, an insult, a sin against God. So my anger wasn’t justified. Had she done something truly heinous (like purposefully harm someone, steal money out of greed, blasphemy against God )I should be righteously furious. But since this was just taking my spot, I didn’t have a right to be angry. It wasn’t right – righteous – anger.

I should be righteously angry at injustice – just like God. I should be righteously angry at evil – because that is the opposite of our good, loving God. I should be righteously angry at everything that perverts, blasphemies, harms the relationship of any with the Holy. Scripture, especially the First Testament’s stories, speaks often of God’s anger getting provoked and God taking action. But it also speaks of God being “slow to anger, and rich in love” (Psalm). And James has the popular phrase “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19).

Righteous anger is an anger that is educated, controlled, slowly comes to be, but quickly passes as soon as forgiveness is petitioned. An anger based out of love.

I didn’t have righteous anger over where I wanted to park my car. Was my anger the sin Paul tells us today to not have? The sin that Jesus says makes us liable, prone to, hell?

Although many Christians would say yes, I think otherwise. And I didn’t always think this way. It’s been a process of change.

As a child I saw when my parents got angry. We all do. My mother believed the Christian thing to do when angry is to not say a thing if you have nothing nice to say. Or, in Paul’s words today, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths.” So she kept her anger inside. An icy, steely silence would fill her when she was angry. She still smiled. She still nodded along. Usually the person she was speaking to had no idea they were crossing a line. I knew! I saw it in the way her smile was tight and thin. I saw it in the stiff way she walked. This internal anger simmered and brewed inside of my mother never expressed.

I learned to bottle my anger like she did. This or that person would minorly insult me, and I’d bottle it up. I’d not say anything. Then they would do it again. And still I would smile and say to myself I was forgiving their trespass by not speaking a word. But over time, angry drop by angry drop filled up my internal bottle. And the person I was growing more and more angry with never had a clue. Because I kept smiling. I kept it to myself. My silence was my anger. My tension in my body my anger.

I began to say little things to OTHERS about being angry with So-And-So. Over coffee. In the parking lot. Over Facebook. But not to So-And-So’s face. Oh no – I couldn’t. This wasn’t righteous anger, so it had to be sinful anger that I – as Christian – am not allowed to have.

And then one day, something happens… like my parking spot is taken… and all that anger that’s been pushed and shoved into a bottle inside me goes off like the cap on a shook bottle of New Year’s campaign. And I get irrationally angry over something stupid and silly. I get way more angry than I ought to be for the situation. I lose control of my emotions, my body, and after roaring — then sit in grief and self-hate at my sinful anger.

Sinful anger, I used to tell myself. What do you do with that? Shove the anger into that now empty bottle… and repeat the process.

Does this sound familiar to any of you? Are you a bottler of anger? Are you carrying about a lump in your stomach, or a tightness in your shoulders, that is all your pent up anger you won’t let yourself feel, or express, or even acknowledge?

I had a pastor once hand me a phone book. A big, thick one. She said, “I get angry. I get alone. I sit on the floor and I rip out big chucks of this and shred it. I yell. I do this until it all passes.”

I thought about yelling. I had a friend whose family yelled when they were angry. Loud, abusive language would flow from their lips. Insults and curses. These often were followed with belts, or hands, or sticks. While my house shoved everything into little hard diamonds of bitterness and grudges… my friend’s house spread anger to the four winds and over every relationship. Alcohol made it even more explosive there. It was a constant walk on eggshells.

Was this pastor telling me to just wallow in anger – to welcome it and throw it around like that household did? Telling me to be the pastor of a congregation ran this way?

No. Not at all. She told me a Buddhist teaching is to accept emotions as they come, feel them, and then let them pass. So when she got angry she recognized she was angry. She identified why she was angry. She felt the anger – ripping out some phone book pages – and when the anger was exhausted, she let it go.

No longer angry.

Nothing bottled.

Now she could address WHY she was angry. She could go ask the person who insulted her to not say such a thing again. She could try calling customer service again. She could look forward to her next sermon or meeting or visitation even if that was with the person who made her angry. She could re-enter a hospital situation where she has no control, cannot fix it, and is feeling nearly hopeless… and go into it being centered.

She told me today’s passage. “Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

Be angry.
We all get angry. Over righteous things and over unrighteous things.
We all get angry.

But do not sin.
Don’t harm your relationship with God. Don’t harm your relationship with others. Don’t isolate yourself and remove yourself from the community; and don’t scream profanities at others or name call or slap them or harm them.

Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
Don’t bottle it up, day after day, week after week, until you become a pressurized bottle ready to crack open over something silly. That bottled anger turns to bitterness, and grudges, and hate. The devil, writes Paul, settles into that pent up anger and encourages us to sin, to separate ourselves and others, more. That unspoken anger breaks relationships. The person you’re upset with may not even know what she or he is doing is bothering you. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Speak about it. Speak the truth. Address the issue. And do something to express the anger.

And then let it go.

Paul doesn’t write anger is evil, or sinful. Anger just IS. It’s an emotion, an emotion God has given us. And we are full of many emotions.

Emotions cannot be controlled.

We do control what we do with those emotions.

Psalms tells us that to control our anger — not by never being angry, but by being able to feel it, express it, and let it pass — is more impressive than conquering a city. A huge feat. It takes time and practice.

Paul advises we practice doing no evil with our emotions.

Evil is what harms, what intentionally causes hurt for the sake of hurt. Evil is what tears down the body of Christ…

Anger can be good, or bad. Holy or evil.
Anger can build us up.
Anger may be the words of grace we need to hear.

That woman who took my spot saw my expressed anger. I was more angry than I ought to have been… as I said, it is a process to learn to healthily express ourselves. But she saw my anger and backed up to give me room to park.

She saw my tears and asked me if I were okay.

I could have bottled it up. I could have continued to lie to myself about how I feel and lied to her. But I said the truth, “No. I’m not.”

That blessed stranger invited me to talk. So I did. I told her how I was there to euthanize my cat, and this was the final two spots, and the whole week had been full of stress and anger, and I’ve been trying not to express any of it, and…

In the end, I was given tissues, and volunteers like the woman in the lot helped me through my day. I was given grace and hospitality. Kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving… building one another up.

We’re instructed to do these things. Instructed to embrace one another just as we are, with all our emotions, all our feelings, and then help one another towards shalom.

Shalom is being healthy, inside and out, body and mind and soul, being whole. Shalom is peace. True peace. Not the peace of steely silence. Not the peace that is so thick you suffocate. Not the peace of a house walking on eggshells.

But true peace.

The peace where we understand and support one another. The peace where we are free to express our emotions – without judgment. The peace where we can speak truthfully to one another and, because we are in covenant, not fear one another will gossip, slander, or react with malice. Peace where we are authentic with ourselves, with one another, and know we are forgiven and loved and welcome.

Peace, Jesus tells us. Peace. Take time to savor the Bread of Life, to release the shaken up, and return to peace, to shalom.

Be angry, but do not sin – and don’t bottle it up and let the sun go down on your anger.

Amen.

Breaking Down the Dividing Wall

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

Let me tell you what’s in the news –

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

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

These are the headlines… from 62 AD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A man tortured and killed by my own government.

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

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

My citizenship is Christianity.

My brothers and my sisters are all who are Christian.

My cousins are all who follow God.

My neighbors are all of humanity.

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

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

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

We’re called to love our neighbor.

Love our selves.

And even love our enemies.

For we are known as Christian by our love.

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

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

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

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

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

Picture the 99% protests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Powerful Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 81vRnmnrlBL
Mark 6:1-13

Have you been Saved? Call out the day and the hour and the minute you felt Jesus in your heart!
Have you seen angels? When and where and what did they do?
Have you been touched? What miracle did you witness?
What about out of body experiences?
What about dreams of heaven and visitations from the dead?
Can you feel the Spirit!?

In some churches, the space between this world and the unseen is very thin. They feel these great revelations and know the flow of the Spirit as strong a presence as someone right here. Sometimes it is so strong they get possessed, speak in tongues, fall into seizures, or even faint.

And for some churches, and for some people, faith and grace keeps them going. Not supernatural experiences. Not out of body moments. Not miracles.

Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, they keep on going to church, keep on praying, keep to their religion in their emptiness.

And in emptiness, we are still strong.

Mother Theresa wrote the following confessing prayer to Jesus:

“Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love–and now become as the most hated one–the one–You have thrown away as unwanted–unloved. I call, I cling, I want–and there is no One to answer–no One on Whom I can cling–no, No One.–Alone … Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart–& make me suffer untold agony.

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them–because of the blasphemy–If there be God –please forgive me–When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven–there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul.–I am told God loves me–and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?”

Over her life, she felt in her soul so alone, so empty, so without the Spirit in her…

… and yet, she came to see this as a gift.

She knew this is the feeling Jesus had on the cross. This is the pain that made him cry out “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me?” This is the emptiness that Jesus poured himself to for us.

And that is the loneliness that the forsaken and poor of our world feel from society.

She drew strength from the Emptiness

The weakness forced her to become Strong in ways she wouldn’t have known otherwise

Jesus’ weakness of being human is the strength that unites us with God.

Jesus’ emptiness of his divinity on the cross to feel death is how no matter whether we live or die, our God is with us, our Christ experiencing and having had experienced this with us, and pulling us towards the final victory over death, over sin, over separation.

There is strength in not being self contained.

There IS strength in relying on Christ.

Whether we do so with the gift of tongues and visions, or we do so with the gift of a long, dark, night of the soul where we feel spiritually dry and alone.

There is still strength in relying on Christ versus solely ourselves.

And that is what Paul is arguing today.

Paul knows of churches where the Spirit manifests boldly.

Paul knows of people who have had great visions – himself included.

But he also knows there’s people who practice their faith for minutes, and hours, and days, and weeks, and months and years and never sense anything supernatural. But that does not mean they have less faith than those who can manifest Pentecostal tongues or those who have visions. No – he knows God has said “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Christ’s presence is all we need.

When we are weak, we are strong – because then we are relying on Christ and not ourselves.

When we have times when we really feel our faith we should delight in that. And delight in others who do. And when we have times we are just doing the motions out of faith, not out of feeling it, we should delight in that too. Those are times Jesus is carrying us. And we should delight in others who are being carried by Jesus too.

Remember this is Paul who will argue that the body of Christ is made of all kinds of parts and people. Not everyone can be an eye, for we need ears. Not everyone can be an ear, for we need eyes. Not everyone will be a mystic, and spiritual; we need thinkers and doubters and questioners. Not everyone needs to be a thinker and doubter and questioner either — we need our people sensing the divine.

It is our weakness – not being able to be everything for ourselves- that makes us strong. For then we rely on one another; and rely on Christ.

Jesus’ message is the same as Paul’s. Or rather, Paul was preaching similar lessons as Jesus.

We read today that Jesus came to his hometown after having been out and about preaching and doing miracles. He goes to the synagogue and begins to preach.

Just like at the other places, people are amazed at what he is saying. But instead of celebrating the good news of God’s forgiveness and the in breaking of the reign of God… they are amazed at his audacity. They’ve always heard of great preachers and prophets as larger than life characters. Amazing people. Astonishing in person.

But this is just Mary’s son.

There’s his sisters.

And his brothers.

He’s not some super trained doctorate of religion… he’s a carpenter. Look, I’m using the chair he made last year. And Bobby over there used to make mud pies with little Jesus and Tammy there changed his diapers.

This is no miracle worker. This is Just Jesus.

Our church is no church in Corinth. No Saint Paul’s Cathedral or none-denominational mega church. This is Just Saint Michael’s.

What can we do?

The people in Jesus’ hometown thought he was nothing and so saw him do nothing. They were limited by how much they would permit him to be. They knew the human Jesus who had faults and flaws and was so mortal. And they demanded miracle workers to be fully perfect and have everything in order.

But that’s not the message of God. God loved us while we were still sinners. While not perfect, we’re called. While full of the Spirit or full of spiritual emptiness, we are included into the Body of Christ and told there is a spot for us. Those full of visions and those questioning the existence of God both are called to be saints, and to “Come be [Christ’s] light” to the world. (Jesus to Mother Theresa)

So Jesus sends us out. Sends the disciples out. Sends us out. Not loaded with everything figured out and perfect, but carrying just Jesus. He tells them to go with the bare minimum and to rely on the hospitality of strangers. He tells them to go with nothing spare. No backups. No money. Not even an extra cloak or pair of shoes. Just themselves. “Eugene Peterson offers Jesus’ instructions this way: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment” (The Message).

God never calls the equipped. God equips the called.

God never picks perfect people, perfect churches, perfect situations. God makes perfect the strength in those called.

And we, all who are Christian, are called to be Christ’s light to the world.

In your weakness, strength is made perfect.

In your need of Christ, you are filled with Christ whether you feel it or not.

In your brokenness, you are the perfect person to help another who is broken.

In your pain, you understand the pain of another.

Rev. Sally Brown applies these thoughts to our world today. She writes, “…culture is eyeing the churches these days, testing our credibility. Congregations may imagine that they cannot think about public witness until their internal problems, doctrinal and budgetary, are all resolved. But it may be precisely our internal challenges that press us into the kind of engagement with each other and with the Spirit that can turn us, sooner rather than later, away from cloying self-absorption and outward to the world God loves. Even in our weakness, maybe even because of it, we become credible witnesses of saving news in this frantic, fearful world.”

In other words… our culture is looking to us, looking to church communities, to see how to get through our trying times.

America is fractured and fighting. As we fight ourselves, we affect our world. The effects are helping raise tensions everywhere. Are we heading towards another world war?

I don’t know.

I do know, that we, in our imperfection, are called to this hurting country and hurting world. Not because we have it all together, but because we’re authentic in our tries to live together in our diversity. We are the equipment. We are the witnesses. We are the people called to say, “I wholly disagree with you, but I can still love you.” “I will not ever vote like you do, but I will share bread with you.” “I am not you, but I am glad you are my neighbor.”

Who you are now, without everything figured out, is needed now to be Christ’s light.

Amen.

Whose Baptism?

Acts 8:26-40

thekla2
This fresco represents the calling of Thekla, which led her to renounce her engagement and her life as a married woman. Thekla appears at a window (far left), listening to Paul as he preaches with his raised right hand on an open codex. Behind Paul, stands Theokleia, Thekla’s mother, with her right hand raised in admonition (her eyes and right hand have been scratched out, an indication that someone considered her a heretic). Thekla was not permitted to appear in public, but she heard Paul’s sermon from the window of a neighbor’s house and was spellbound by his words. In spite of her mother’s admonition, she renounced her engagement, followed Paul, and spread the word of God. “Stylistic comparisons suggest a date for these paintings in the late 5th or early 6th century A.D., in particular in the Justinianic period” [Austrian Archaeological Institute (www.oeai.at/index.php/st-pauls-grotto.html)].
 “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” The Ethiopian treasurer asks Philip this as they ride along in the treasurer’s royal cart and carriage. “Look, here is water!”

And Philip responds by leaping off the wagon, and baptizing the new believer.

No special water.

No special time.

No special place.

An ancient story, not in our Bible but still from 180 AD, is the story of “Acts of Paul and Thecla.” Thekla, like the Treasurer in our Gospel today, is a noble. She listens to Paul’s preaching, and she decides to become a follower of Christ. She breaks off her engagement with another nobleman and says: ‘I’m staying a virgin and following Paul about and the Christ!’ This goes over just as well as you think it will. The town flogs and tosses Paul out, but decide to burn her at the stake if she won’t give up Christ.

And she won’t.

What begins is a series of miracles — rain saves her from the fire, smoke covers her like clothing so she doesn’t have to be naked, and Thekla walks boldly back to Paul. She now says – Don’t just let me come with you, listening, but let me cut my hair and pass myself off as a man, so I can preach this good news too! Just give me a baptism!

And Paul says no. She’s a woman, and women clearly don’t preach. So he won’t baptize her.

But Thekla doesn’t go home.

In the very next town, Thekla again is told to give up Christianity and marry a guy. And again she refuses. And again the town takes her clothes away to shame her and tries to kill her. Again miracles occur. When it looks like things are over and Thekla is in the middle of the city arena where the pond is full of hungry seals and the land with every angry beast, Thekla knees and prays.

“In the name of Jesus Christ do I baptize MYSELF” and she throws herself into the pond of hungry creatures.

No special time.

No special place.

No special water.

Then there are more miracles. Lightening strikes and fire and lots of chaos. Every animal and every human that tries to harm Thekla finds they cannot. In the end, the town is scared of her and asks, “Who are you?!”

She answers, “I am the handmaid of the living God; and what I have about me-it is that I have believed on that his Son in whom God is well pleased; for whose sake not one of the beasts hath touched me. For he alone is the goal (or way) of salvation and the substance of life immortal; for unto them that are tossed about he is a refuge, unto the oppressed relief, unto the despairing shelter, and in a word, whosoever believeth not on him, shall not live, but die everlastingly.”

The governor orders clothes given to the woman and her permitted to leave.

But Thekla says no. She’s put on the garments of salvation, and those are what she’ll leave with.

A whole lot of the town converted to Christianity that day.

Thekla then traveled, preaching, testifying, healing, and teaching the Word of God.

When she ran into Paul, he was amazed to see what a following she had, and he asked what was going on – and did she still want baptized? She answered, “He that hath worked together with thee in the Gospel, hath worked with me also unto my baptizing.”

In other words… The same person who converted you, Paul, to Christianity and brought you to understand the scriptures is who baptized me.

That same person is who baptized the Ethiopian treasurer. Philip just was there, enabling the receiving of the gift.

That same person baptized each of us.

The water doesn’t matter.

The time doesn’t matter.

The place doesn’t matter.

Baptism is a gift from God to us, and we respond back to God. And as a community, we welcome our new sibling and begin to walk with them through all of their lives.

It is why little ones can be and are baptized.

Baptisms are from God.

No human can prevent them because we humans, we’re participating in and witnessing a sacred moment between an individual and the Holy Divine.

No one here heard the conversation Rebecca and God had today. But it happened. It is in her soul. There in the desert near Ethiopia, or in the crowded coliseum arena of a city, no one HEARD the conversation that man or woman had.

But Philip and a whole ancient city witnessed the holy moments.

Today you are Rebecca’s witnesses. You need to tell her the story of her baptism. Just like you need to tell the story to Alden, and every one of our children — age 0 to 100.

And we need to remember our own baptisms, and the stories we’ve been told about them.

At that moment, you and God connected in a brand new way. At that moment, you joined in Christ’s birth, and life, death, and resurrection. At that moment, you gained a family that will never, ever fit in one place for a family reunion. (Well… no reunion here on Earth.) At that moment, some human baptized you in the name of Christ – but it was God who reached out, touched you, washed you, sealed you with the Spirit, and gave you a new life in Christ.

So who’s baptism is it? In our scriptures, we hear of people arguing about whether someone has received the baptism of Paul’s, or the baptism of John’s. You may today hear today people refer to the Methodist baptism, or the Catholic baptism, or the United Church of Christ baptism…

But there is only one baptism. One God. One Creator, sustainer, and redeemer in who gifts us this sacred ritual.

We all share the baptism of Christ.

Amen.

Made for Good Works

John 3:14-21gandhi
Ephesians 2:1-10

Paul is writing to the little group of religious refugees in Ephesus.

He says, once — all of you — including all of us here at Saint Michael’s — were existing in the course of the world, following the ‘aeon’ or spirit of the air, the gestalt, or the common way of doing things. And the common way of doing things is disobedient to God. It’s full of trespasses and sins. We harm each other even though we don’t mean to just because we’re in the world. The systems we live in have racism, sexism, and ableism, agism, and all kinds of isms built into them. Without meaning to, we participate. Our clothes are made overseas in sweat shops. Our food is often gathered in by hands paid 10 cents a basket – almost slaves. Our electricity comes from the lives of men and women and kids who suffer from coal pollution.

Just by being – we are harming others.

And even if we die, we still harm others – because now we’re embalmed with chemicals, and our relatives burn fossil fuels to come to our funerals, and those fuels pollute the air, and water, and ground and…

You get the idea.

Living or dying, the “normal” way of the world is to harm others… even if we don’t mean to and don’t want to.

So we become the children of wrath, anger, and frustration. If we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, why put the extra effort into fair trade and local food instead of the cheapest food? Why bring your own bags to the store when they’ll happily give you plastic? Why conserve electricity. Or not litter.

The world, as it is, encourages us to follow our impulses, our short-lived desires, and have faith only in that which we can touch and sense with our bodies.

Paul says all of this made us dead.

Dead.

Not physically – but inside.

Dead.

Dreading to get up in the morning.

Dead. Depressed and seeking escape.

Dead. Not feeling generous, or merciful, or loving.

Dead. Just existing. Not living. Not thriving.

But, says Paul, God — rich in mercy — rich in love — reached out to us. We didn’t change. We didn’t do anything to merit this. God just in God’s love, and mercy, and grace chose to reach out and touch the world – touch us – full of sin and trespasses and stuck in these systems that force us to just keep sinning against one another – God reaches into this world, and picks us up one by one, and places us in a new world.

A world not ruled by the way things are.

A world instead ruled by the Messiah.

This new world lays atop of the world with the way things are, and we exist in both simultaneously. The new world, reigned by God, is a world of justice, and mercy, and peace. A world where it is possible to live in unified diversity. A world of light, and love, and understanding.

It is the world that one day will be the normal world, the way things usually are. But that heaven on earth is not yet here.

Instead, we get little glimpses of it, and invited to live into it now.

We’re the people with just a foretaste, a little snack, before the big meal.

And since we’re the snackers, it’s our job to get the house ready for the big meal. We know what is to come, and we’re to live that new world into fruition. Live like that new world is already here. Because the more we live like that, the closer by is the realm of God.

Paul says we — who stand with one foot mired in the way things are, and one foot in the realm of God — we’re created for this very work. Created at the very beginning to do good works.

I don’t know if Paul means when we are reborn in Christ, or when God first creates us, but I am confident Paul is saying we Christians have a mission, a purpose – and that is to live our lives in the realm of God.

Living in the realm of God is doing good, doing right, to ourselves and to others.

Now – works and deeds never save us from sin. No one can be perfect. Don’t think church and heaven and God are for the perfect. Paul is not saying earn your way into heaven. Remember? He said God already moved, already opened the door, and is welcoming us into the new creation.

Rather, Paul is saying when we live in that new creation, we cannot help but do goodness to one another. It is what we’re created to do. So keep encouraging it!

Truly, Church and heaven and God are for the sinsick, the people who are sick and tired of the way things are, and want change. The people who want sin to be no more.

We are saved from sin and harm and evil being the norm by God – who came, and showed the world that God is stronger than the sin and harm and evil we inflict on each other, or even God’s own son.

The Easter story is: God won. Jesus is resurrected. Sin, harm, evil, death are defeated.

This is what John and Paul are writing about.

We read today part of Jesus’ speech to Nicodemus in John. Nicodemus, you may recall, is the man who comes to Jesus in the middle of the night to ask questions. And in the book of John, Jesus says — remember Moses lifting up, exalting, the serpent? The serpent was a symbol of death. Yet, through it, came life. So, too, do I have to be lifted up – exalted – through a sign of death.

God defeated the serpent at the serpents’ own game. Defeated death through death. And defeats the way of the world, the way of sin, by entering the world and changing the way of the world to one of love.

Remember – “God so loved the world…” God so LOVES the world… that God’s love is transforming the “normal” from sin to love.

And we’re the people asked to participate.

That’s the condemnation, writes Paul. Judgment doesn’t come from Jesus, or the cross, or even God.

We are our own judges and judgment.

If we love light, and goodness, and Truth, if we want to work for harmony, and peace, and love; then we are already living into the new realm, the new reign, of God.

But if we love darkness, being evil, and lies, if we want to work for self-security, profit, and out of fear, then we don’t like God’s message. And we are choosing to live in the world ruled by the way things are right now.

That is our own judgment. We choose to live into the new world, or we choose to try to keep things the way they are.

John writes like it is super easy to pick one or the other.

But, I find it is SO hard.

Change is scary.

I like being secure and I’d like to be rich.

Sometimes, I don’t want to understand what goes into making my shoes because if I understand, and still choose this brand, then I am implicated. I am guilty. I am now choosing to participate in the sin of harming those workers in India and China.

Sometimes, I prefer the darkness. The not understanding. The not knowing.

Knowing, the light, is too painful. I’d rather my deeds not be exposed.

You’ve heard it said before that ignorance is bliss.

Yes, it is.

The judgement is whether we’ll give up that ignorance, and bliss, and choose the narrow path – full of heart-ache, and full of great reward – but not easy in the least.

Being Christian is hard work. It is heart work: the hardest kind. And changing the world is not easy.

I cannot help but wonder how my own little deeds have any effect on the world. What a penny? A jar of peanut butter? A smile? What are these tokens of kindness compared to the massive amount of harm occurring?

I am a single drop of water in a dry desert.

So Paul writes us encouragement.

Every dollar is made out of pennies.
Every forest is made out of trees.
Every house is made out of nails.
Every Christian is made out of single prayers.

In the body of Christ, no eye can say an ear isn’t needed, and no face say no “part we cover up” isn’t needed. Everything, every little bit, together, makes a difference.

And it all comes down to the little daily things we do.

Comes down to the very atoms of our bodies.

The atoms of the world. And universe.

Changing the world begins wherever you are.

For wherever you are, you are called to live into the realm of God and show it, and its victory, over the realm of the way things currently are.

Today we took an offering for the One Great Hour of Sharing. This helps organizations large and small all across our world.

Consider Sarah. She is a young mother, and was faced with an incredible challenge: her nine-month-old daughter couldn’t consume solid foods — or any food, for that matter — and as a result, the little baby wasn’t growing. Starving.

Willing to try anything, Sarah would feed her daughter new foods in the hope that her daughter’s body would finally accept some type of nourishment. Time and time again her hopes were dashed.

Enter Bread for the World, and the One Great Hour of Sharing, and WIC on Wheels of Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Enter the physical, and spiritual, and mental, and social powers of the World That Will Be. The world of generosity, inclusion, and love.

The mobile clinic brings services for young families directly to communities and offers services such as healthy foods, nutrition education and healthcare referrals.

The mobile clinic has been a godsend for Sarah and her daughter. It was there that Sarah was given a voucher for a literally lifesaving formula for her daughter.

Sarah’s daughter has gained strength, and her sensitive stomach has become more agreeable to some foods with the help of the mobile clinic’s nutritionist.

How was this child saved? Through a mother’s prayers, through the pennies we pay in taxes, through the money we donate to the UCC, through the people who volunteer and promote Bread for the World, through all of us who are living into God’s realm now that says no one – not even a young mother, who lacks transportation, with a sickly child, should suffer physically, socially with stigma or mentally with fear.

Pennies and prayers.

Or consider Ramona of the Dominican Republic. Ramona is a widow with three children who feared she would become destitute – and on the streets.
But things started to turn around when Ramona received and raised her first piglet. She gave four of that sow’s initial offspring to neighbors and sold eight, using the proceeds to invest in more animals. She’s sold over 50 pigs to date and made more than $4,000. Ramona’s business has thrived with help from her children and the day laborers she hires from among her neighbors. She now has nearly 100 animals and a brighter future.

Likewise, Juliana, mother of three, saw everything improve thanks to that one small gift. She has made $620 so far from selling piglets after giving six to neighbors. She’s thrilled that the money helped her send her two sons to school and pay for their school supplies, uniforms, backpacks, shoes and transportation.

Best of all, Juliana’s pig business has brought her back to her community. She used to be a domestic worker in the nation’s capital, Santo Domingo, and made the commute home only on weekends. Now, she earns enough to stay home, raise and sell pigs, and run a small grocery store she and her husband opened in their home.

The pig project is part of the Foods Resource Bank’s Dominican Republic Bateyes project. These programs are supported by One Great Hour of Sharing and encourage love of neighbor. Today, families are “paying it forward,” enabling more and more of their neighbors to make life-changing improvements to their circumstances as well.

The program works and is modeled after Heifer International.

Pigs. Pennies. Prayers.

Now consider, when you are an immigrant and disaster strikes, where do you turn for help?
Listen to one survivor’s words of the California fires last year: “The fire busted open the window in the house and woke us up. We left wearing our pajamas, not even wearing shoes. We spent two nights in a parking lot because the shelter was full. We finally came home and we had no food. [A man from the UCC church] brought food to our house so we could eat.

 

Another survivor said, “Gas stations were selling water for two times the usual price. We left our home with nothing. [The UCC] made sure we had food, water, information, whatever we needed.”
A third survivor added, “The people I worked for evacuated so I lost my job. [There are] seven people [in my family] and we’ve moved four times.”
Because these are immigrants, they were unable to receive support from FEMA or other relief organizations. But we are living into the world that could be, not the world that is.
So – we are called to help everyone.
The UCC of California became a safe place to find assistance, food, water, gift cards, holiday food baskets, connection to recovery resources and social support. They became the advocates of the most vulnerable.
Several women “were being asked to clean up fire damage at the hotel where they were employed and were not supplied with any masks or special gear. When they resisted, their manager berated them and threatened them with the loss of their jobs.”
With the help of the church, these women kept their jobs AND were given the proper gear to not breathe in the toxic ash.
Months after the fires, there are still scores of people who need assistance. Out of work since flames sent them fleeing their homes, many are dealing with unpaid bills and food insecurity.
So the church is still helping. Still sending people out, creating a supportive environment where everyone recovers from the fires together as a community.

People. Pigs. Pennies. Prayer.

The world changes with little deeds, and with how we live our life.
I leave you with two guiding quotes:
First, Mahatma Gandhi: “My life is my message.”
Second, Mother Theresa, “Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”

Who is the person nearest you?
Live your life as your message- the message of Christ.

Amen.

_________

 

Benediction

 

Sponsor a child . . . Plant a tree . . . Rebuild a home . . . Visit a prisoner . . . Be a mentor . . . Teach . . . Serve a meal . . . Bring water to the desert . . . Pray . . . Donate . . . the opportunities are endless. And they’re all right here. What part of our world is waiting for you to make a difference?

Bickering Siblings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But if they turn away—God knows the corrupt.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because most of us don’t care about nirvana.

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

No one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we have the same parents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all worship God.

And we are all siblings.

Amen.