Sermon – “On Level Ground” – explaining Luke 6 + examining who we overlook

Luke 6:20-26

This sermon offers some context for Luke 6 before talking about what it may have meant for Jesus to meet people “on level ground.”

Sometimes preaching is about
undoing bad theology
as much as it is about
sharing the good.

And sometimes the “good news” is that
the “bad news” we THINK we hear in scripture
isn’t so bad after all.

Today is one of those days.

In order to find what is beautiful and true and good in this text, we first have to deconstruct the text a little bit.

So I’ll start by saying that I don’t particularly like this version of the Beatitudes.

There’s another version of this scripture in the Gospel of Matthew.

And it’s a little more poetic and little more affirming.

Those of you who have sung in church choirs or who grew up in a church and had to memorize Bible verses, Matthew’s version is probably the version you’re most familiar with.

While Luke says:
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
and
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.

Matthew says
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
and
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Matthew’s version is a bit more inclusive.

All of us, at some point in our lives are poor in spirit.

All us, at some time in our lives hunger and thirst for righteousness.

All of us aspire, at some point, to be peacemakers and to be merciful and pure in heart.

In Matthew’s gospel, the kingdom of heaven belongs to all of us.

But in Luke, it seems like the only ones who are blessed are those who are suffering.

On top of that, Luke adds this whole piece about woe. There’s no woe in Matthew.

But
Luke says woe to you who are rich.
Wo to you who are full now.
Woe to you when all speak well of you.
Woe to you who are laughing.

Yikes.

I am not a fan.

But I’m also not one to throw out sacred texts just because I don’t like them.

So let’s figure out what Luke is actually doing here.

If we read up on Luke,
we discover that he was a good friend and traveling companion of Paul.

And Paul, at least at first, really believed that the end of the world was just around the corner.

He thought Jesus was coming back any minute and that God would make everything that was wrong right.

And that Jesus would flip the world on its head and bring in a new era of heaven on earth.

Any second.

And in Luke’s version of this text, Paul’s ideas about the end of the world come through clear as day.

Luke is NOT talking about us in 2019.

He’s talking to an audience in 80AD, shortly after the fall of Jerusalem, in the midst of crisis and chaos and some of the worst persecution of Christians.

And he’s telling them, it’s not going to be like this forever.

The end of Rome, the end of ALL human empires is coming.

At any minute, God will swoop in and fix it.

IT WILL GET BETTER.

And in THAT context, yes – blessed are those who are poor now. Blessed are those who are hungry now. Blessed are those who mourn now.

Because they won’t be poor and hungry and mourning for long.

And yes, woe to those who believe they’re satisfied with food and wealth.

Because Jesus is bringing something altogether different and more meaningful.

And those who are attached to wealth and things—they’re going to hurt for a second while Jesus strips it all away to reveal God’s new world.

It’s NOT saying that if you’re poor or hungry or mourning today in 2019 that you should be happy about it. Or feel blessed.

Certainly, you can find blessings in the midst of any situation, but it’s not only the poor or the hungry or the mourning who find blessings.

And it’s NOT saying that if you’re rich, all you can expect is woe.

That’s not what Luke is trying to say.

He’s trying to reassure his specific audience that whatever their situation, it’s not going to be permanent.

Today isn’t all there is.

There’s something beyond this realm.

And in the end, we will ALL find satisfaction, SPRITIUAL satisfaction and wholeness, which will surround us in the light of love when we pass from this world.

This is good news.

Whatever pain we experience today WILL one day be over. Maybe in this life, maybe beyond this life.

But the circumstances we face today, positive or negative, they’re temporary.

That’s only bad news if we’re not seeking spiritual wholeness.

It’s only bad news if we’re not seeking peace.

It’s only bad news if the only thing that brings us joy is money and food and jokes.

If that’s the ONLY thing, then we’ve got some work to do.

All of this is to say that if the world is ending tomorrow, this text makes a lot more sense.

You with me?

Okay.

So if Jesus, the historical man and divine child of God, did NOT come back in 80CE and turn the world upside down, then we turn instead to a different interpretation of scripture.

Which is that WE are the Living Body of Christ.

Jesus the one man did not return, because we, the church, we the people of God, are tasked with continuing Christ’s work in the world.

So what does that look like in today’s scripture?

Well, let’s take a break from Jesus’ words for a moment and look at Jesus’ actions.

In Luke’s version, Jesus doesn’t give this sermon on a mountain top.

He comes DOWN from the mountain, and he stands on a level place.

A place full of all types of people – people seeking good news, people seeking healing, people who are curious, and people who want a change in their lives.

And he stands among them.

On level ground.

Risky ground.

On the mountain, he has a good vantage point.

But among the people, he’s at their mercy.

And people are reaching out, grabbing at him. Wanting things from him.

People who are richer than him and poorer than him. Healthier and sicker. Men and women, elderly folks and children.

And he basically dives head first into the entire group.

And THAT to me, is the most powerful witness of this entire text.

Not Jesus’ words, but his actions.

His choice to stand right in the midst of everyone.

And if WE are the LIVING Body of Christ, that is where we too are called to be.

Not on the mountain top, although that’s a beautiful place to be for a moment.

Ultimately, we’re not called to stay there though. We’re called to be with those who need the love of God.

As Christians, we’re taught often that our place is specifically with the hungry and imprisoned and sick and mentally ill and homeless.

We’re taught that it’s our job to get to know and care for people who have fallen on hard times.

And that is absolutely true.
It’s also true that Jesus teaches and demonstrates that as the Body of Christ, we’re also called to be with those who are free and who have shelter and who have material wealth.

Just because someone is wealthy doesn’t mean that they don’t need God.

For some, wealth is a burden in its own way.

And there are plenty of people who have material comfort, but who struggle with other pain that is just as real and just as life-changing.

We are called to be in the midst of all of it…

It’s not that money is irrelevant.

It has an impact.

Even the church needs money to operate, and that’s a practical thing we cant ignore.

But how much we have or don’t have has no impact on our access to God.

And it should have no impact on where we, as the Body of Christ, go with the Good News of God.

Rich and poor and everyone in between – we all benefit from knowing that God loves us. And that there js a community that loves us no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey.

So my challenge to us this week is to consider who in our lives may need that good news that perhaps we’ve overlooked.

Perhaps we’ve overlooked them because they ARE struggling, and it’s difficult for us to engage them, because we’re not sure just what to say.

Or perhaps we’ve overlooked them because we think they have it all together.

May we show up, be present, and be a force for love.

Amen.

Sermon on Luke 5 – “Gone Fishing”

“Gone Fishing”

This sermon talks about persistence (and when not to be persistent) – what it means to put ourselves out there to help people.
Luke 5:1-11

SERMON

Do we have any fishermen or women in here today?

It’s been a while, but I used to really enjoy it.

I used to fish with my grandfather here in New Mexico, actually.

He grew up in Las Vegas, and we used to go fishing in the mountain rivers for trout.

Sometimes, we caught fish.

Other times we didn’t catch anything.

But we always had a good time.

And I remember that even after hours of nothing, we’d still keep casting those reels out into river, praying and hoping something would bite.
Fishing requires a lot of faith. Some would say a lot of luck.

There’s some skill too, of course.

But if the fish aren’t biting, the fish aren’t biting.

In our story today, the fish were simply not there at all.

And that happens sometimes.

As any of you know who’ve ever been fishing, unless you’re fishing at a fish farm, where the ponds are teeming with fish, there’s no guarantee you’ll catch anything.

You can put your nets down all night long and come up empty-handed.

How frustrating it must have been for those men to meet up with Jesus after just such a night.

They were cleaning their nets of all of the gunk from the lake, and here comes this man who tells them to stop and throw the nets back in again.

Who was Jesus to tell them anything?

Well, it’s not as crazy as it sounds.

If we read chapter 4 of Luke, Jesus was actually staying at Simon-Peter’s house.

They already knew each other.

And in the last chapter, Jesus had healed Simon-Peter’s mother-in-law.

So Simon-Peter knows Jesus is capable of miracles.

He’s beginning to trust Jesus.

And so he takes his boat out again, and this time, their nets are teeming with fish.

At which point, if I were Simon-Peter, I would have considered bringing Jesus on board as another business partner.

Seriously – if he can magically summon fish, Jesus is the guy to have on your team.

But instead, Jesus tells them to drop their nets entirely and join him on his trip up the coast, fishing instead for people.

A lesser-known miracle in this story is that the analogy of fishing for people actually works for Simon-Peter.

The analogy honestly falls flat for me – the idea of ensnaring people is gross.

Bringing people to Christ shouldn’t look like tricking them or catching them in a net.

But it works for Simon-Peter. Miracle #2 of the day.

And miracle #3 – James and John trust their business partner Simon-Peter enough that they also drop their nets and follow Jesus.

And it pays off. Their lives are changed forever.

It doesn’t always pay off, but here it does.

These men show up, they take a risk, and something extraordinary happens. Not only do they catch a ton of fish, but their lives are transformed.

They do what they’ve been doing all along – putting their lives in God’s hands, throwing out their nets not knowing if the place they’re fishing is teeming with fish or empty.

They simply show up, trust the process, and trust God.

Maybe as fishermen, they were uniquely suited to this work of following Jesus.

Because their entire lives were built around chance and uncertainty.

They worked hard every night, they were persistent, and yet sometimes, they came up with nothing.

Working with people is no different.

Sometimes, we show up for people and all we receive is anger and ugliness in return.

Or we get nothing. We show up, and we’re ignored or rejected.

Other times, we show up to try to help people – perhaps people who are in the throws of addiction or another difficult situation – and we do all we can to bring them to a better place, to offer them care and safety and nurture, and despite all of our efforts, they succumb to their disease.

It’s incredibly frustrating sometimes.

Not unlike fishing.

When you fish, you can have just the right bait and the right lures and the right time of day and the right season, and for some reason beyond your control, the fish just don’t bite.

If we give up the first time we try, we’ll certainly never be successful.

The one certain way to never catch any fish is to not try.

The same is true for people.

Now there’s a caveat here, which is that sometimes, we’re not the right person to help.

Or that person is not the right person for us to help.

We think we’re fishing in a fertile river, but in reality, we’re tossing our line into a fountain full of pennies.

There ARE times when moving on is appropriate.

And so if you’ve given up or moved on and decided to let someone go, because they’re not interested in help,

and you’ve tried every lure you have and they haven’t worked.

And for years, you’ve been going back to the same pond and fishing over and over again without catching anything.

At some point, you have to forgive yourself for moving on to another body of water. Or a different type of fish.

We have no control over whether or not the fish bite. Only how often we toss in our line.

And we’re limited by our energy and the number of hours in the day.

If there’s someone in our life who we simply can’t seem to help, it’s okay to keep trying.

But it’s also okay to let go for a while and use our energy to show up for someone else who needs us.

Throw out our line in a different river.

By doing so, we give God and the Spirit and luck a chance to work.

There ARE times, when we show up for people, and because we’re there,

because we put ourselves in their lives to help, something miraculous happens.

It doesn’t happen every time we put ourselves out there.

But it does happen.

I know, because I’ve been one of those people more than once.

People in my life have been persistent with ME. Loving with ME, keeping ME on the line, even when I was fighting them.

The first Disciples were admirably persistent. They listened to Jesus and gave the lake another shot.

And THAT time, whether it was Jesus or luck or the Holy Spirit, their catch was bountiful.

May we aspire to be as persistent and trusting and faithful.

Amen.

Sermon – Cyrus, the Messiah, and the Super Bowl

Sermon – “Cyrus, the Messiah, and the Super Bowl”

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Today is the American holiday we call the Super Bowl.

It’s a celebration of athleticism and patriotism and brilliance in advertising.

It’s also a chance for people to get together and eat lots of chips and dip and barbeque.

I’ll admit, I probably won’t watch it this year.

I’m mentioning the Super Bowl, because its’ hard not to on Super Bowl Sunday – it’s a part of the fabric of our culture.

It’s the closest we have to gladiatorial combat. It’s entertaining, and it’s competitive.

Even I, someone who is not super into professional football, find myself getting caught up in it sometimes.

It’s fun.

And it also plays on that part of us that embraces competition.

The part of us that’s taught from a young age that there has to be a winner and a loser.

I started t-ball and soccer and gymnastics when I was 4.
At 4 years old, I was told to have fun and be a good sport, but also to win.

To be the best. To get that championship trophy.

In high school, my basketball coach told us all the time that 2nd place was 1st loser.

And so as much as we strove to develop teamwork and have fun and get fit, we also strove to win.

Winning is certainly better than losing, if the game is set up to have winners and losers.

And in our culture, winning and losing is part of the way we frame our experience.

We don’t even realize how often we use competitive sports language.

But think about it.

We “score a job”, we “win a promotion” over another colleague. Or we lose a friend. Or lose an opportunity.

At least in my generation, when good things happen—let’s say I found a great sale, people will respond by saying things like “Win!” or “Score!”

It’s a part of the way we think.

And we’re not the only ones who operate that way.

Or who have in the past.

Our competitive culture now is not unlike the culture of the developing Roman empire that ruled at the time of Jesus.
And at the time, Jesus was preaching to what we’d consider the losing team.

The people of Israel were facing increasing incursions from Rome, and there were regular revolts against the Roman authorities, most of which were brutally defeated.

Israel was like a sports team that was 1 and 20 at the end of the season. And they were looking to draft a superstar.

They were looking for a savior, someone to bring them the championship and the prestige that comes with being the winning team.

Or at least bring them out of this slump.

And so when Jesus quotes Isaiah 62, people get excited.

He’s come to bring good news to the poor – great.

He’s come to release the captives – yes.

To let the oppressed go free – perfect.

To proclaim the year of God’s favor, which means the year in which everyone’s debts are forgiven – that sounds wonderful.

But then Jesus cuts the scripture short.

In the passage he’s quoting, there’s an extra line that he leaves out.

The original text from Isaiah 61 reads:
The Spirit of God is upon me,
because God has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19
to proclaim the year of God’s favor.”

and the day of vengeance of our God;

It’s almost identical, except for one little line in there.

The day of vengeance of our God.

And it’s not an accident that he leaves it out.

But that’s not what people are looking for.

Because they’ve been told stories about the last savior. The last man who brought their team out of last place into prominence again.

The savior named Cyrus.

At the time of Cyrus, Jerusalem had been burnt to the ground by the Babylonians, and the people with any education or power had been captured and exiled to Babylon.

Those who remained in Jerusalem were enslaved or imprisoned.

This message was for them.

A promise that God would not only free them from their suffering, but also enact vengeance upon their captors.

Which Cyrus did.

So when Jesus quotes this scripture in our Gospel message today, it’s extremely significant that he leaves out the vengeance part.

The people of Israel are again under pressure when he speaks at the synagogue, this time from Rome, the undefeated team with all the money and all the best players.

When Luke writes his Gospel, Rome is either on the verge of destroying Jerusalem again, or depending on the date that Luke’s written, they’ve already destroyed it, again exiling people with power and capturing and imprisoning and enslaving those left behind.

And so when Jesus leaves out the vengeance part – well, what kind of messiah is he?

People are thrilled when he says

God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
to let the oppressed go free,
19

But no vengeance? Pshh.

And what’s this about Jesus ministering to people outside of Israel?

It would be like Tom Brady, quarterback for the Patriots, who Patriots fans generally think is a game-changing player and a big reason for their success – it would be like him saying – I’ll play for the Patriots in the first quarter, but then in the second, I’m going to help out the Rams, and then in the 3rd, I’ll sell hotdogs. And then in the 4th, I’ll give the cheerleaders a break and cheer on the sidelines.

Yeah – it would never happen.

And if it did, Brady would be fired. For sure.

Because that’s not how the game works.

But that’s what Jesus is suggesting.

So of course, they want to run him off a cliff.

Jesus was not the messiah they were looking for.

He hasn’t just come for the people of Israel.

He’s promising to minister to the Romans as well.

And he’s not a war hero like Cyrus was. And he doesn’t come from an important family. He’s just Joseph’s kid.

And on top of allll that, he’s not interested in vengeance.

It would be like if the Rams and the Patriots, instead of playing this giant televised game, said hey – let’s do a workout together and do some team-building exercises. I bet there’s a problem in the world that we could solve if worked together on it.

No way.

Today’s about sweat and competition and even vengeance for some of the players.

And yeah – its’ just a game, but it’s a reflection of who we are too. And how we think.

Like the people Jesus is preaching to, we too are hurting and want to see some entertainment in which other people win on our behalf.

We want a hero to come save us the way Cyrus saved the people of Israel so long ago.

But that’s not what Jesus is offering.

Jesus is offering to change the game entirely.

To put rivals on the same side.

To change our competitive games into cooperative games.

And to push us to work together instead of at odds with each other.

And that kind of culture shift isn’t an easy one to accomplish.

Now I want to be clear that I’m not against all competition. I think it can hone our skills sometimes and push us to be even better.

But when it comes to what matters, working together, we accomplish a lot more.

And it feels better, ultimately, not to fight everyone, but to find common ground and put our energy into joint ventures.

My challenge –

Consider where we might be able to transform competition to cooperation….

Sermon – “Water into Wine – Listening to Nudges from God”

 

“Water into Wine – Listening Nudges from God”

John 2:1-11

This sermon encourages us to listen to people who love us and listen to that still, small voice of God that nudges us toward difficult callings.

What a bizarre miracle to start out the Gospel with.

Matthew, Mark and Luke have Jesus getting baptized and then going out into the desert for 40 days to battle his demons and contemplate his future.

But John features party Jesus.

Jesus will go on to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and battle demons, but first…

Water into wine!

If we think this is an odd way to start his ministry, I imagine Jesus did too.

I’m pretty sure that he had no idea when he showed up to this party that THIS was the moment his ministry would really begin.

There were certainly signs he was going to make a difference in the world.

Already, by this point, he has some guys following him.

But even they’re not sure he’s the one to follow.

When one of them says, “We’ve found the messiah,” another one says, “Really? Can anything good come out of Nazarteth?”

Jesus himself isn’t convinced that he’s worth all the hype.

When Nathanial and Philip begin walking behind Jesus, he actually turns around and says, “What do you want?”

They ask him where he’s going, and he says, “Well, come and see.”

The next day, they’re still following him, and they ask – “Where are you going?” And he says, “Follow me.”

I imagine Jesus may have thought they were just along for the party.

And it’s some party.

The family has 6 stone jars for water, which are extremely expensive—much more pricy than ceramic jars—so they’re likely quite wealthy.

These jugs are for ritual washing, so they’re from the priestly family, which makes this an even bigger deal.

And the family must have a ton of food and space in their home to spare, because they not only welcome Jesus, but these misfit followers of his as well.

Unfortunately, although they have plenty of food, they didn’t plan for quite SO many guests, or perhaps not so many enthusiastic wine drinkers, and they begin to run out of wine.

Now, from my perspective, that doesn’t seem like a major issue. I’m fine without wine at a party, and it’s certainly not as big a deal as someone being poor or hungry or outcast.

So it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. It would have brought shame to the family that was trying to do its best to create a great party.

People would have talked about their stinginess or their poor planning.

And since it was a priestly family, and wine was considered sacred in many contexts, it would have been doubly embarrassing for this priestly family to run out of wine.

It’s not a crisis, but it’s one of those “make it work” moments where someone needs to improvise and come up with a way to remedy the problem.

And maybe because it’s not a life or death crisis, it’s the perfect first step for Jesus, who is reluctant to take on the mantle of leadership that so many have told him to take.

Mary, wisely, recognizes what’s going on and turns to her son to solve the problem, not because she can’t solve it herself – I’m sure she could have – but because she recognizes this as an opportunity for Jesus to own up to his role as a leader and miracle-worker.

Mary’s known Jesus for 30 years at this point, and she knows his potential for leadership.

She’s had dreams and angels telling her Jesus is going to be the messiah. And yet, up to this point, he’s been dragging his feet.

Mary, loving mother that she is, uses this opportunity to give him a gentle nudge toward his calling.

Jesus resists, at first, giving the two most common excuses.

“It’s not my problem”
And
“It’s not my time.”

But Mary doesn’t relent.

She tells the servants to listen to him, and they do.

Jesus was a gifted teacher and leader. He was charismatic and kind. People naturally flocked to him.

But he didn’t see it. Or chose not to see it.

Here, surrounded by a room full of people looking to him, he finally, says yes to being the person all of these other people already believe him to be.

He finally says yes when someone he loves invites him to do something extraordinary.

In the Gospel of John, THIS is the turning point. Not the baptism, not his time in the wilderness. His first miracle, which Mary nudges him to do.

From there, he jumps right into the deep end.

After the wedding, the first thing we hear Jesus does in the Gospel of John is
go to the temple and turn over the tables of the money changers, telling the religious authorities they’ve made a massive mistake monetizing the temple and overcharging poor people for the animals they need to perform sacrifices.

He jumps in head first, jumps into the deep end, and begins his journey of leading people and institutions toward healing and restoration and transformation.

Mary nudges into the water, and Jesus decides, at last, to swim.

I imagine she’d actually been nudging him for years.

I imagine his friends had been too.

But over and over again, Jesus, like so many of us, responded, “It’s not my problem. It’s not yet my time.”

How many times have WE said that?

If you talk to most ministers, they didn’t go to seminary right after college.

The vast majority of them came to ministry as a second career.

For years, they said, “That’s not my problem. It’s not my time,” until God and the community and their own sense of call was so loud, they couldn’t ignore it any more.
Many of us already know, in this moment, something that we NEED to do, but that we’re resisting.

I’m not talking about chores or tasks that are on our todo list.

I’m talking about life-changing difficult choices like saying YES to moving into a smaller home and downsizing, because it’s the right time and it would be what’s best for our health and for our children.

I’m talking about life-changing, difficult choices, like saying at the age of 60, I’ve felt a calling to ministry all my life, and it IS my time.

There were many people over 60 in my seminary, by the way. And they’re extraordinary ministers today. People who were successful lawyers or accountants or stay at home parents who finally said “YES” to the Mary’s in their life who nudged them, at last, toward the calling they’d known their whole lives was lingering under the surface.

I’m talking about life-changing difficult choices like saying YES to leadership in the church, because we need you, and because you know God will multiply the gifts you have to make a difference.

I’m talking about life-changing difficult choices like saying YES to a career change, because you’re not fully living into who you believe God is calling you to be.

I’m talking about life-changing difficult choices like saying YES to the end of a relationship or YES to the beginning of a new one.
I’m talking about life-changing difficult choices like saying YES to being a foster parent, because even though you’re not perfect, you feel called to be a parent, and you have SOMETHING to offer, and this desire to be a parent has been bubbling up in your for years. And there are children in Albuquerque who, due to no fault of their own, are unable to continue living safely with their families.

Jumping into callings like these is not something to do without discernment. Certainly, none of us will ever feel completely prepared to move or to be a pastor or to be a parent or to end a career path or relationship and start a new one.

If we felt completely confident in doing those, I’d question why we didn’t act sooner!

Doubts are normal and healthy.

Even Jesus had them.

But when we hear nudges, from dreams, in prayer, and over and over again from people who love us and know us well, perhaps it’s time to listen.

Amen.

Sermon – Baptism of Jesus – “Cleaning Out the Fridge”

This sermon encourages us to release the distractions and excess we’re holding onto, making room for God and for one another.

John 3:15-22

“Cleaning out the Fridge”

It is cold out there.

So I regret that the analogy I’m using today has to do with refrigeration.

But it also has to do with a beautiful tropical island.

So let’s imagine that part of the story in more detail.

Let’s imagine that this morning, we’re on a beautiful island in the middle of the pacific.

The sun is shining. You’re surrounded by trees and fresh fruit you can pick right off the vine.

It’s 85 degrees, as it is every day on this island. And it’s humid. That shouldn’t be so hard to imagine today.

But it’s even more humid than this. So humid you can almost swim through the air.

You’re sitting on your patio overlooking the jungle, and next to you, on a table, is a giant basket woven out of palm leaves. And it’s FULL of fish.

Last night, the tides were just right, and you caught a whole boatload of fish.

If you don’t like fish, imagine that you caught a whole BOATLOAD of vegetables.

It’s my analogy. I can take some creative license.

So in this scenario, which is one I saw regularly when I lived on a little island in Micronesia, you have much more food than you can possibly eat.

If you were living in the United States, you might just pop that extra food in the freezer for later.

Then you wouldn’t have to go fishing again tonight.

I know my own fridge is full of leftovers here.

But in Micronesia, if this was a few decades ago, you wouldn’t have a refrigerator.

You might not even have power at all.
So what are you going to do with all of that extra fish? Or those extra vegetable fish?

You could use them as fertilizer, I suppose.

You could give it to your dogs or pigs.

Drying them is not really an option in this climate.

Even if you charred them and salted them, they’d grow all kinds of fun molds by the end of the day.

Trust me.

So what do you?

Well of course, you share them with your neighbors.

Because inevitably, there’s someone on your side of the volcano that DIDN’T catch a boatload of fish last night. And they’d benefit from this surplus you acquired.

And they’d probably repay the favor next time THEY have a surplus.
When John the Baptist is preaching in the wilderness, and Jesus follows him shortly after, I believe they were envisioning a world without refrigerators.

Not literally, but figuratively.

They envisioned a world and they preached a world in which storing things up for ourselves wouldn’t even occur to us.
That when we have 2 shirts, we give the second to someone without.

And when we have extra food, we share it.

A world in which we are satisfied with what we have and share all that goes above and beyond.

I included the longer text from Luke, chapter 3 today, because I wanted us to hear that message.

John isn’t just preaching that people should be baptized to “wash away their sins.”

He does tell them to repent, but by that, he means, turn your lives around.

Turn your lives around and turn your eyes and your heart toward God and toward those in need.

He doesn’t say give everything up.

Just give up that which is MORE than what you need.

Let go of the excess.

I know this is probably preaching to the choir in this congregation.

This is not a message that’s new for you.

When we have leftovers at meals here, we take them to Casa Q or to the Transgender Resource Center or to the East Mountain Food pantry.

When members of this church have extra time, we volunteer to feed the hungry or visit those who are homebound or make blankets for those who are homeless.

So I challenge us to consider where ARE we holding onto beyond what we need?

Maybe it’s money or things. I know my own closet could use some spring cleaning.

But maybe it’s not something tangible.

What else are we keeping to ourselves.

Our fears? Our emotions? Our true selves?

What grudges are we storing up and putting on ice as we wait for the right time to take them out and serve to someone who wronged us.

What leftovers of the past are gathering mold as they stay in there longer and longer?

How would our lives change if we removed those and gave them to God?

John tells us that Jesus will not only baptize us with water, but with fire and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus will come to burn all of that extra away.

All that we don’t need.

All that’s not nourishing.

Baptism is not just about a one-time welcome into the church.

Or about blessing people who are new to the faith.

As Tom Stuart put it so eloquently in Bible study. Baptism is not just a high-five.

It’s a commitment.

It’s a commitment to a world without spiritual refrigerators.

A world in which we COMMIT not only to caring for others and giving our extra clothes and time and money to those who need it….

But a commitment to living a life in which GOD is at the center, a world in which we free ourselves to let go of that which doesn’t nourish our souls or serve God.

In baptism, and in remembering our baptism, God ALSO makes a commitment to us.

God commits to burn away the excess once we give it God to release.

God commits to work with us to put people in our lives that need extra fish and extra time and extra mental energy.

God gives us opportunities every day to share ourselves. And to cleanse ourselves of that which is not nourishing of our bodies and souls.

Of course, it’s not that easy. We’ve grown up in a culture that emphasizes consumerism and hoarding and self-interest.

I’m told that 60 years ago, in many American communities, there was one lawnmower on the block. One or two sewing machines. And not everyone had their own car. Or 2. People had to share to get by.

That’s changed.

We now live in an era in which we’re taught that we, as individuals, should have everything we need to meet every need we have.

Christianity is a radical departure from that.

And so it will take a lot of time and hard work to transform ourselves into a people that remembers how to share. And how to ask for help.

I will say that having a lived for a year without a refrigerator, and without a TV and without power between 11PM and 7AM. You’d be amazed how liberating it can be to live with less.

Because with less STUFF and less noise and less emotional clutter, there is so much more room for that which is important.

When we strip away the extra, we experience the essence of who God created us to be.

This type of renewal and rebirth is exactly what John was talking about at the waters of the Jordan.

Even now, baptism brings us together as a community and reminds us that we are called to commit to a life a service and sharing.

It also reminds us that we are not alone.

That whether we are someone with lots to share or someone who needs others to share with us, we are united in a community that is committed to caring for one another.

I do believe that this community here at Church of the Good Shepherd is modeling what a baptismal community looks like.

But there is always more work to do. Here at the church and in our own hearts.

So to help us ponder that, we want to give you something tangible to take with you to remind you both of your commitment and your connection to this community.

In a moment, our ushers are going to pass around some plates with river rocks in them.

These rocks are yours to take and keep if you’d like.

They’re mostly smooth, but they still have some rough edges, just like us.

I encourage you to take one and as you do, remember the commitment you made to God at your baptism. If you were too young to say the words yourself, say them to God now in your heart.

Tell God, if you’re ready, that you commit to this new world described by John.

You commit to sharing what is extra and releasing that which you don’t need.

Just as the water and the minerals over time shaped this rock,
Over time, God is shaping you, smoothing out your edges, releasing from you those extra pieces that distract, detract, and keep you from community. And as the water of God’s love flows over you, God continues to shape you into the solid, simple essence of who you were created to be.

 

Prayer
As we hold these river rocks in our hands,
Help us remember the grace of water
The imagination of the primeval ocean
And the current of the streams that washed over
The world
In the beginning and now
Let us be inspired by the courage
Of rivers, that continue
Believing in the slow fall of ground.
As they flow toward the ocean.
Let us remember the nourishing
Powers of water
Both the way water nourishes our bodies
Just as the waters of baptism
Nourish our souls.
As we hold these rocks in the weeks to come,
Remind us of our commitment to your reign.
Remind us of John’s invitation to simplicity.
And your invitation to a community to build a just
World, one life at a time.
Remind us, finally, that in baptism, and in community here,
We are never alone.
Just as this rock took a long journey through time
With the river that washed over it,
Remind us that our long journey is
Marked by your grace,
Which washes over us now and forever.
Amen.

Sermon: Faithful Choices

Sermon: “Faithful Choices”

This sermon explores the challenges of ethical decisions and how to separate “right” and “wrong” choices from “faithful” choices.

Scripture:

Isaiah 60:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-12

—-
The story of the magi usually focuses around gifts.

But that is only part of the story.

Today, I want to us to look more closely at another part of the story – the decision they faced as people who were asked to spy on Jesus for the king.

A nearly impossible choice confronted them – betray the tyrant king Herod to save the life of a child who MIGHT turn out to make a difference in the world
Or…
save their own lives and give a report to the king.

They could have also given a false report – tell king Herod they’d seen the baby and he wasn’t all that.

But they didn’t do that either.

They visited Jesus, and then after being warned in a dream, they fled and disappeared, never returning to Herod again.

We know how the story ends – how Jesus turns out to be the messiah, the man who is also God incarnate who changes the world forever.

But the magi didn’t know that yet. They may have sensed it, experienced something special when they visited him. But he was still just a child when they encountered him. They had no way of knowing who he would become.

What they DID know was that Herod was dangerous.

By that time, Herod had captured Jerusalem, and his first order of business was to get rid of his predecessors.

He killed 45 prominent leaders, including an elderly man he believed was plotting to overthrow him.

He also drowned an 18-year-old high priest, who was also his brother-in-law, because he thought the Romans would like his brother-in-law better.
He also executed his mother-in-law, his wife, and three of his sons.
Herod created an extensive spy network and eliminated anyone he suspect of revolt, including 300 military leaders that he executed.
He also killed a number of Pharisees who predicted that Herod’s throne would be taken from him and given to Herod’s younger brother.

And of course the Gospel of Matthew speaks to Herod’s extreme paranoia, saying that he was killing all of the babies in Bethlehem and was after Jesus himself.

All this is to say that betraying Herod had the potential to exact a massive cost, a deadly cost. And yet, the magi took that risk.

What a fascinating choice.

How did they arrive that?

I imagine that couldn’t have been an easy call.

Would we have made the same decision?

None of us would want to hurt a child. And yet, if our own life was at stake, would we make the same decision?

I wouldn’t have blamed us if we didn’t.

When it comes to big choices with life-altering consequences, there is rarely an easy answer.

Even decisions that AREN’T life or death can be difficult…

The other day, I decided I wanted to make some brownies, and so I needed some eggs.

I stopped by Smith’s, and since my husband does most of the grocery shopping, I’d forgotten just got overwhelming that place can be.

I only needed two eggs. Any eggs would have been fine.

But here I was, in the back of smiths, with a giant trough full of every type of chicken egg you can imagine.

Grain free / grain FED / cage free / grade A / AA / extra large / brown / locally sourced / brand name and everything in between…

And suddenly, I was faced with a barrage of ethical dilemmas…

Do I buy cage free? Does cage free mean they’re actually treaded humanely? What’s the value of grain fed vs. grain free? What’s the effect of feeding chickens grain anyway? I seem to remember my grandmother’s chickens ate corn. Is corn a grain? And am I helping the corn lobby by buying these? And if I am, is there anything wrong with that?
Some of the eggs were local, but they weren’t cage free. Which is more important? Saving the environment by buying local or loving these creatures whose eggs I’m about to eat by buying cage-free? And do chickens particularly care? And just because they’re cage free, does that mean they’re actually treated humanely? And cage free eggs are twice as expensive – would it be better to just save the two dollars and forget about chicken well-being so that I can give that money to a charity like COGS that is feeding hungry PEOPLE? Or should I forget COGS and drop that 2 dollars in the Salvation army bucket? Or hand it out to the homeless person who’s shivering outside the Smith’s?

All I needed were two eggs…

And if I’m honest, I didn’t even NEED two eggs. I WANTED two eggs, because I WANTED to make brownies. Because it had been a stressful week, and chocolate sounded really good.

But suddenly, I was faced with a barrage of ethical questions.

And that was just in the 10 minutes I was at the store buying ONE thing.

There are hundreds of compelling forces that tug at us. Our faith, our love for the environment, the ethical treatment of animals, our time, the use of our money and how it impacts the world – animals and people alike… and our cravings for chocolate.

And this is a tiny example. We face much more difficult decisions regularly.

Not unlike the magi, the “wise men,” we are often tasked with choosing between two risky options, between two less than perfect options.

Do we keep a friend’s confidence, for example, or do we betray it, because our friend is in trouble and they need help?

Do we tell the truth when it means we might hurt someone’s feelings, or do we tell a “white lie,” because that person needs a word of hope or happiness today?

Do we vote for the “lesser of two evils” in an election (assuming we don’t like the main party candidates) or do we vote our conscience, knowing our candidate is unlikely to win?

I want us to take a moment to remind us that in cases like this, there are no “right” choices.

Let’s release ourselves from our harsh self-judgement for a moment – those voices in our lives and in our own brain that tell us we made the “right” or the “wrong” choice.

What’s important is not that we make the “right” choice – there’s no way to predict the future and know what choice WILL be “right”— what’s important is that we make FAITHFUL choices.

When it comes to difficult ethical choices, there is rarely a clear “right” or “wrong” answer.

Even with the eggs in the supermarket – there is no “right” or “wrong” choice.

But there are FAITHFUL choices.

The magi were faithful to their belief in this new king, this child they believed would change the world for the better. They chose to be faithful to him instead of being faithful to their own safety. Or faithful to the tyrant king.

Other spies of Herod may have made different choices. They may have chosen to stay safe, and live another day. Perhaps THEY made a difference in their own lives or in the lives of people they were close to.

I imagine there were other people who were asked to spy for Herod who ended up feeding him misinformation, distracting him from the events happening in that stable in Bethlehem.

All of those were faithful choices.

And I hope they were made with some careful discernment.

Discernment is a word Christians use to describe the process of taking time to examine where our values line up with God’s values before making choices.

It’s different from weighing pros and cons.

Instead, we pray, we examine our motives, we remember our values, we meditate on where we believe God might be calling us, and THEN we make a choice that is faithful to what we discover.

Henry Nouwen explains: “Discernment is about listening and responding to that place within us where our deepest desires align with God’s desire. As discerning people, we sift through our impulses, motives, and options to discover which ones lead us closer to divine love and compassion for ourselves and other people and which ones lead us further away.
Discernment reveals new priorities, directions, and gifts from God. We come to realize that what previously seemed so important for our lives loses its power over us…To our surprise, we even may experience a strange inner freedom to follow a new call or direction as previous concerns move into the background of our consciousness.”

My invitation to us this week is to embrace this practice of discernment when it comes to difficult choices, remembering that there is no “right” choice or “wrong” choice. I invite us instead to make “faithful” choices.

My other challenge is to forgive ourselves for past choices, choices that were faithful and choices that were not, knowing that God also forgives us for unfaithful choices as well.

Ever day, God gives us new opportunities to make faithful choices. So let’s release ourselves from the self-judgment and begin afresh with new faithful choices.

Amen.

Sermon: A New Heaven and a New Earth

 

This sermon references a much longer article in Narratively, which includes a pastor’s story of coming out as a Christian to his atheist parents and coming out as a pastor with a non-binary gender identity. You can read the full article here: https://narratively.com/the-holiness-and-heartbreak-of-a-nonbinary-pastor/.

I highly recommend it!

The sermon, based on Revelation 21:1-6, challenges us to consider what parts of Jesus’ message we personally struggle to accept and integrate.

 

Sermon: “A New Heaven and a New Earth”

 

Revelation promises a new heaven and a new earth at the end of days.

 

I admit, there are some things in my life, and in my community, that I’d like to see change.

 

(This weather, for one. Thank goodness, the solstice has passed, and the days will begin getting longer!)

 

But there are some things that I really like the way they are.

 

I like my comfortable lifestyle…

 

I’m not sure I’m ready for all of that to change.

 

And I suspect that if I were to really honestly and complete follow the teachings of Jesus, they would.

 

I’m not sure I’m ready for ALL of that yet.

 

I know Jesus calls us to radical living and radical generosity, but I’m taking my time…

 

And I’m not proud of that. But change is tough. And so I’m taking on the Gospels a little bit at a time, gradually wading into the deep end.

 

Because the truth is, change, even change motivated by faith, can be extremely difficult.

 

And it’s not always welcome…

 

We say every Sunday as a part of the Prayer of Jesus – “Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”

 

Do we really mean it?

 

What if God’s reign showed up tomorrow? Would we welcome it?

 

I suspect not – otherwise the reign of God would be here already!

 

At Christmas, we talked about God with us. And we celebrated the birth of this beautiful miracle, the baby Jesus.

 

And yet, if we read the Gospels – if we read the “Good News” of the Bible, this miracle has some pretty serious consequences for our lives.

 

Deitrich Bonheoffer writes, “It is very remarkable that we face the thought that God is coming, so calmly, whereas previously peoples trembled at the day of God, whereas the WORLD fell into trembling at the idea of Jesus Christ walking over the earth…

 

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us.

We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.

The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience.”

 

Frightening news for everyone who has a conscience!

 

He adds, “[Imagine] Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality. He asks you for help in the form of a beggar, in the form of a ruined human being in torn clothing. He confronts you in every person that you meet.  He walks on the earth as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, and makes his demands. That is the greatest seriousness and the greatest blessedness of the message. Christ stands at the door. He lives in the form of the person in our midst. Will you keep the door locked or open it to him?”

 

I have to admit, there are some days, I don’t even want to open the door for Boyscouts selling popcorn.

 

Would I really open the door for someone begging for food?

 

Would we as a church?

 

I’d love to say, “Of course! We’d open the door.”

 

And yet, I encourage us, as we enter this new year, to do a realistic assessment. To really challenge ourselves to consider – are we a church that is COMMITTED to creating a just world, through community, one life at a time…?

 

I believe we are.

 

I believe that this place, if any, is a place that can make that happen.

 

And yet, today, I’m going to share with you a story about a church much like our own that said a lot about welcome, but didn’t follow through when confronted with a situation that tested their conviction.

 

This story is about two friends of mine, an ordained UCC pastor named Ryan, their wife, Molly, also an ordained minister, and their family.

 

Ryan was pastoring a church in Iowa.

 

And for Ryan, I’m going to use the pronouns they and theirs and them, because Ryan identifies as non-binary when it comes to gender.

 

This is not a lecture on gender, by any means, but let me read to you Ryan’s explanation, because it was educational for me, and it may be for you as well. This comes from a magazine feature in a magazine called Narratively.

 

Ryan writes:

I always knew I was genderqueer, but I didn’t always have the language for it. When I was a kid, all of the adults in my life seemed to think there were only two kinds of people: females, like my friends Kristina and Marisa — they were called girls — and males, like Nicholas and Christopher — they were called boys. But from somewhere deep in my soul came the rejoinder: “I am a male — but I feel like Kristina and Marisa. What do you call that?

Rather than attempting to score goals on the soccer field, I picked dandelions. Instead of playing cops and robbers during recess, I put on musicals. My Matchbox cars sat unopened on the shelf while I spent hours in my Playskool kitchen. In my early teen years, I got ahold of a copy of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus and was bemused to find myself squarely in the Venusian camp.

It’s not that I didn’t like boys. It was simply obvious that they weren’t my people. I didn’t talk like them, didn’t walk like them, didn’t stand and sit like them, didn’t communicate like them, didn’t play like them, didn’t care about what they cared about. Boys were fine, I guess. I just knew for certain that I wasn’t one.

Girls were so much more worth it. We got each other. We clicked. We knew what really mattered in life: love, babies, kitchen parties and The Sound of Music.

Nearly all of my friends were girls. Beyond a few physical distinctions, I couldn’t understand what made us so different. It’s not that I wanted to change my anatomical maleness — I was fine with my body the way it was. But the expectations everyone seemed to have about what my maleness meant — the expectation that I “be a boy” and eventually “be a man” felt maddeningly impossible to meet.

My family was certain I’d be gay. When I went through puberty and started finding myself attracted to women, even I was a bit surprised. Though my sexual orientation seemed to warrant the label of “heterosexual,” the frustration and confusion around my gender identity — what I later learned to call gender dysphoria — never went away.

Explaining this to a church, however — even a self-styled progressive one where I had served for almost six years — turned out to be more of an adventure than I’d bargained for.

I’m going to pause here – the church’s website, under “what we believe” says

  • that God is love
  • that God made all of humanity to love and be loved—no exceptions
  • that the community we call church is a school and laboratory in which we learn and practice the art of loving and being loved.
  • that there is room for diversity of thought and opinion within the church

 

So here’s what happened when Ryan came out to them…

[After preaching and doing some education about gender and sexuality, on Pentecost], I revealed to the congregation my own Spirit-given queerness. In the middle of that week, I sent out a pastoral letter to my congregation, further explaining my intention to live true to my gender identity, and I included a photo of myself as the nonbinary person I am, dressed in my clerical collar, a black pleated skirt, my favorite dangly cross earrings, and my favorite sandals — with my carefully pedicured toenails. What could go wrong?

A lot, it turns out

Over the next seven months, tensions escalated. I wouldn’t — couldn’t — go back in the closet, and yet the experience of seeing their male-bodied pastor in skirts and dresses proved simply too jarring for some.

The church’s vice president, himself a gay man, yelled at me, saying I had no right to call myself queer — he saw me simply as a straight man who wanted to dress inappropriately at work.

An older parishioner said to me, “I’m so disappointed in you. You lied to us. If you had told us this when you interviewed, we wouldn’t have hired you. And if I had dressed like that when I was a kid, my father would have killed me.”

“I understand,” I said. “You didn’t sign up for this. But please know that I wasn’t trying to lie to anyone. I just didn’t know how to be myself. I was afraid that if I did, it would be just as you said: I wouldn’t be able to find a job — or worse.’

I reminded him that plenty of trans people do get killed for being who they are. But I confessed that I’ve become more afraid of the world I help to create by hiding my true self than I am of dying.

One influential member told me that he wouldn’t be back in church until I was gone and that he’d be doing everything in his power to ensure that it happened as quickly as possible. “How am I supposed to bring my mother to church with you dressed like that?” he demanded…. The congregation’s governing body began to take action to remove me, and I was finally asked for my resignation.

It’s a heartbreaking story.

But I’m not telling it to you to make you sad or to make you feel better about yourselves for how welcoming you are.

And I don’t tell you this story, because I think we as a church have any issues when it comes to welcoming people who are genderqueer (although if this story is jarring to you…it takes time to learn and adjust to new expressions of gender – be gentle with yourself while also remembering to keep yourself accountable).

I tell you this story, because Ryan’s church was a lot like our church.

It had a similar size, similar demographics, similar commitment to justice and welcome.

We too love the good news of Jesus – that uplifting news that Jesus loves us no matter what.

And we both love the idea of a new heaven and a new earth in which God will reign.

And… like that church in the Midwest, and like so many Christians around the world, we also struggle sometimes to embrace the tougher pieces of the Good News…

We struggle sometimes with the idea that if we are to truly embrace the teachings of Jesus, it’s not going to be EASY.

For this congregation, it’s probably not going to be gender or sexuality issues that will challenge us most.

So what do you suppose our challenge WILL be?

When Jesus shows up in 2019, in the form of a beggar, or an immigrant, or a person in need, or perhaps as someone offering US help, what do you suppose it will be that WE will push back against?

What will Jesus reveal as OUR challenge?

Will it be our wealth?

Our savior complex?

Our lack of patience?

This year, as God continues to create a new heaven and new earth, we WILL be confronted with the living Christ among us. We WILL be challenged…

 

The good news is, we don’t have to do it alone.

 

I already told you – the Gospels are something I personally struggle with. Jesus was a radical. I’m inching my way toward his teachings, but I’m not there yet.

 

Together, we can help each other along that journey – keep each other accountable, and support each other as we encounter road blocks along the way.

 

My invitation is for us to ponder this week: what part of the Good News challenges us the most? How do we benefit from not embracing that part of the Gospels? What might change in our own lives if we did let God drive that part of our lives…if we DID take one more step toward the teachings of Jesus? What might change in us…? What might change in the world…?

Truth vs. Facts – An Alternative Nativity from the Gospel of James

For this sermon, I told (from heart) the story of the Gospel of James. Included below is my introduction and some of the details from the story that I chose to include (it leaves out others). It’s a fascinating story that’s not included in our Bible, but that helps us imagine Mary and Joseph’s story in more depth. You can read it yourself here: https://www.asu.edu/courses/rel376/total-readings/james.pdf

The key this week is to remember that it’s impossible to know what of the nativity story is “factual.” But every year, we find new Truth within in it. What truth might the Gospel of James add to your understanding of Mary and God?

Text: Luke 1:46-56

The Magnificat is one of the most beautiful texts in the Bible.

I can just imagine Mary, full of fear and anticipation arriving at her cousin Elizabeth’s house and finally hearing a word of good news.

Instead of judging her or asking her just how she ended up pregnant, Elizabeth, full of the Holy Spirit, proclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

And in response, Mary proclaims:

My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.

She not only rejoices that she is pregnant, but she rejoices that this child she bears is about to change everything.

Mary is an extraordinary woman, and yet the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tells us very little about who she was.

Most of us think of her as a young woman, but it actually doesn’t say anywhere in our Bible that Mary was young.

Or that Joseph was old.

Those details, along with many others left out of our Bible, come from a book called the Gospel of James.

Gospel of James doesn’t appear in our Bible, but it had a massive impact on the way we understand who Mary was.

It was written in 2nd Century – probably around 145 AD.

(Matthew  – 85/95, Mark 66-70, Luke 80-110, John 90-110)

30 years after the Gospel of John

There are over 130 surviving manuscripts translated into Syria, Ethiopic, Coptic, Georgian, Old Slavonic, Armenian, Arabic, and Latin.

Many believe it was part of the midrash, Jewish commentary on scripture.

It was incredibly popular among early Christians, and it shaped the way Christian teaching came to understand who Mary was.

So today, I want to tell you part of the story.

If you’d like to read the entire thing, there’s a link on our Facebook page. I’ll put it in my sermon post on the website as well. If you want a hard copy, I’ve included some at the back.

Like the scriptures that appear in our Bible, it’s impossible to know whether the story is “factual.” But certainly, it offers truth.

So let’s dive into this fascinating account of the life of Mary and see what truth it has to offer us this Christmas season….

 

The Gospel of James starts not with Mary or Joseph or Jesus, but with Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna.

 

We learn that Joachim is a rich and generous man who gives twice the offering everyone else does.

 

Despite his generosity, people look down on him, because he has no children.

 

A man named Rueben suggests that Joachim and Anna are cursed and that they must be hiding some secret sinful lifestyle that is leading to their childlessness.

 

After that encounter, Joachim is devastated, and he runs out into the desert, where he says he will not eat or drink until God sends him a message.

 

Meanwhile, Anna is hurt that her husband has vanished into the wilderness, and she prays to God to give her a child. She promises that whether the child is a male or female, she will dedicate it to God.

 

An angel appears to her and says that she will conceive and that her child will be known to the entire world.

 

The angel then appears to Joachim in the desert and tells him the news, at which point he returns to Anna and celebrates that they’ve conceived.

 

Nine months later, Anna gives birth to a child.

 

What is it, she asks the midwife.

 

A girl, the midwife says.

 

And Anna says, “My soul exalts this day.”

 

She names her Mary.

 

As promised, they dedicate Mary to God.

 

They build a sanctuary in their home while she’s still a baby and don’t let anything unclean enter Mary’s room.

 

They don’t let just anyone babysit her either – only the “pure daughters of the Hebrews.”

 

When Mary is 3, they take her to the temple and hand her over to the priests.

 

She grows up living in the holy of holies, the most sacred part of the temple, a place most people are not allowed to enter, especially women.

 

There, she’s fed by the hand of an angel.

 

I imagine it was quite an isolated childhood…

 

When she’s 12, and ready to begin her menses, the priests become worried that she’ll defile the temple. Any bodily discharge was considered unclean, and so women of Mary’s age were necessarily unclean typically once a month.

 

An angel comes to Zechariah with an answer. He invites all of the widowers in Judea to come to the temple and bring their staffs with them.

 

The angel tells him that God will send a sign, and that the man to whom he shows a sign will be the one to take Mary in.

 

When it comes to Joseph, a particularly elderly widower, a dove flies out of his staff, and the priests agree that Joseph should take her in.

 

Joseph is of course reluctant.

 

“I have sons and am old,” he says, “while she is young. I will not be ridiculed among the children of Israel.”

 

The priests remind him of all the stories of what happens to people who disobey God, and they put enough fear in Joseph that he agrees to take Mary in and protect her.

 

Shortly after, he has to leave town to build houses. He promises Mary that God will protect her.

 

While he’s gone, Angel appears to Mary… says she will conceive. She asks – like all women conceive? No, he says, Not like that Mary. The power of God will come over you. Thus, the holy one who is born will be called the son of the most high. And you will call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

At that point, Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who greets her as we read last week. And  in the Gospel of Luke, Mary responds with the Magnificat, which we read today.

When Mary returns home, and Joseph also gets back from his trip, he’s devastated when he sees Mary’s pregnant.

He’s failed.

 

He was supposed to protect her, and now she’s pregnant.

 

She insists she didn’t do anything wrong.

 

To which, Joseph responds, “Then where did this thing in your womb come from then?”

 

That night, Joseph has a dream in which an angel comes to him and says, “The child in Mary is from the Holy Spirit. Call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Joseph wakes up and glorifies God.

 

Next day – a scribe comes to him and says, “Joseph, why haven’t you appeared to our traveling group?”

Joseph – I was tired.

 

Priest sees Mary pregnant – runs at top speed to the high priest and tells on Joseph.

 

Joseph and Mary dragged before the court.

 

Insist that Joseph return Mary to the temple.

 

Joseph weeps.

Priest, moved by his suffering – “give you the water of God’s wrath to drink it and it will make your sin clear in your eyes.”

They both return unharmed, proving to the priest that they were telling the truth, and they are cleared of all charges.

Leave rejoicing and praising God.

Then comes the census…, which show up in our other Gospels.

As they travel, Mary asks to be let down from the donkey – her labor pains are starting.

He finds shelter for in a cave, and he stations his two sons to watch her while he runs into town to find a Hebrew midwife in Bethlehem.

On his way down the mountain, a woman shouts to him – Man, where are you going in such a rush?

To find a midwife…

Explains the whole situation with the Holy Spirit…

She says, “Well, I happen to be a midwife.”

He says, “Come and see”

 

“Joseph finds a midwife, and explains to her Mary’s special impregnation by the Holy Spirit. They make their way back to the cave, where a dark cloud was hovering over. As they approached, a blinding light shone from inside the cave, driving away the cloud, and when the light disappeared baby Jesus was born.”

Midwife proclaims, “My soul glories this day, for today, my eyes have seen a miracle: salvation has come to Israel.”

—-

It’s impossible to know what is “factual” about the Christmas story. But certainly, there is Truth within it.

 

What truth does this text hold for you this Christmas?

What part of Christmas legitimately brings you joy?

What makes you laugh?

What resonates with you?

 

What resonates with me – Elizabeth piece – how Mary, rejected and scorned finds blessing and love in her encounter with the Holy Spirit through Elizabeth.

What resonates with you?

We say in the UCC that “God is still speaking.”

What Truth is God speaking to you this Christmas?

Sermon: Elizabeth Full of the Holy Spirit + How the Spirit Shows Up in Us

There’s a great book on the Holy Spirit by two theologians I knew in college, Dr. Will Willoman and Dr. Stanley Hauerwas. One is was a highly regarded author and professor at the Duke Divinity School. The other is a bishop in the United Methodist Church and the dean of the chapel at Duke University. I regard both in high esteem.

In their book on the Holy Spirit, which is 96 pages long, they mention Mary 10 times.

Baptism, including the baptism of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit descends in the bodily form of a dove, comes up 40 times, and Pentecost, the holiday where the Holy Spirit inhabits the people and enables them to finally understand each other, Pentecost – the birth of the church – well, that gets its own chapter.

Strangely, the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah is never once mentioned.

It’s strange to me, because in the Gospel of Luke, the first time the Holy Spirit shows up is with these two key figures.

And through them, the Holy Spirit becomes an integral part of the Christmas story.

So as we listen to today’s text, I encourage you to pay attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Text: Luke 1:5-25, 39-45

The Holy Spirit shows up throughout this text. And if we were to read the rest of the 1st chapter of Luke, it would appear again.

Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit when his son John is born, and he gives thanks to God and prophesies that his son will prepare the way for the Lord.

The first person the Holy Spirit inhabits, though, is not Zechariah. It’s not even Mary, who we’re told becomes pregnant when the Holy Spirit overshadows her like a cloud.

The first person we learn is full of the Holy Spirit is John, who we’re told will be full of the Holy Spirit before he’s even born.

And John, before he’s born, is living inside Elizabeth’s womb, a place where Elizabeth and her husband both believed no child would ever be.

When Elizabeth is 6 months pregnant, the Holy Spirit appears again.

Mary appears on the scene, and John, who is full of the Spirit, leaps for joy when he hears Mary’s greeting.

And Elizabeth, full of the Spirit, says something to Mary that Mary would never expect.

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

For those of us with Catholic backgrounds, that’s a familiar phrase, isn’t it?

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

It’s part of the “Hail Mary,” and it originates with the words of Elizabeth, Elizabeth who is filled with the Holy Spirit.

Mary, has undoubtedly been told over and over again that she’s crazy for thinking that an angel spoke to her. She’s a sinner for getting pregnant outside of marriage, and at such a young age. People are undoubtedly calling her unclean and looking at her with disgust and pity.

But in this moment at Elizabeth’s house, for the first time, she hears a word of hope.

Much needed hope. Up until this point, Mary was dutifully following God’s plan, but she wasn’t overjoyed about being pregnant at such a young age and without the security of a marriage.

When the angel Gabriel first comes to Mary and tells her she’ll become pregnant – she says,

“I am the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”

Certainly dutiful, but not overjoyed.

But when the Holy Spirit speaks to her through Elizabeth, Mary responds,

“My soul magnifies the Lord. And my spirit rejoices in God. Generations will count me blessed and happy and favored by God.”

God, through the Holy Spirit, speaks through Elizabeth and offers Mary relief, consolation, and yes, even joy.

The Spirit not only works through Mary to reassure her—it also moves Elizabeth to action.

>She opens her home, which is a blessing for Mary, but also a major step for Elizabeth.

She’d been in seclusion for over 5 months, according to the text.

We’re not sure why, but we can guess that she was embarrassed or ashamed that in a culture that emphasized childbearing so much, she was childless, which many saw as a sign of her sinfulness.

Having a pregnancy at such an advanced age may have been an answer to prayer, but she was probably afraid of something going wrong, which, if people knew she’d been pregnant, would add fuel to fire of their scorn.

Being an older woman, I imagine her body was also struggling with the physical challenges associated with being pregnant.

And yet, when she full of the Holy Spirit, she is transformed.

She connects with another woman who has been rejected, and she not only speaks words of hope, but she opens her home and her life to someone else.

In the midst of a very complicated and difficult situation, God breaks into their lives in the form of the Holy Spirit.

God inhabits Elizabeth, goes with her, transforms her.

If God inhabits her, and God inhabits Zechariah and Mary, who is to say that God can’t also inhabit us?

Transform us.

Use US to make a difference, to offer a word of hope or promise.

It’s not always easy to see, but I personally have no doubt that God is in each of us.

God dwells within each of us.

Goes with us wherever we go.

So that begs the question, if God goes with us,

Where are we taking God?

Where are we dwelling most of the time?

Are we dwelling in a place of peace and forgiveness?

Are we taking God into places where God can work through us in the form of words and actions that provide hope and meaningful change?

Are we dwelling in a place of anger and resentment?

Are we dwelling in our own heads, where God is happy to be. God can certainly transform us, even when we’re self-absorbed.

When we need to stay home and grieve, for example, God is with us there.

God has the power to transform us from the inside.

And God also has the power to transform the outside WORLD through us.

Of course, that requires us to go out into the world.

It requires us to open up the doors of our hearts, to hear the greeting to those in need and move beyond our personal situations to care for someone else.

So my challenge to us this week is to embrace the Advent message, and to prepare ourselves to move beyond our current situations that we might bring God into new places, places where God is desperately needed.

Amen.

Benediction story:

I used to go walking in the foothills near Berkeley, California our pet dog, Jesus.

My husband named him that, because he used to live in Texas near a church that had a very active mission program.

And every Saturday at 7AM, they would ring his bell and wake him up and ask him if he’d found Jesus.

And so he said, if I ever get a dog… I’m naming it Jesus.

So when they come by, I can introduce them.

So when he and I adopted a dog in California, he named it Jesus.

I had some hesitation about it.

But it’s turned out well.

Because now, every day, we get to walk with Jesus.

There were some beautiful wilderness areas near Berkeley where you could walk with friendly dogs off-leash.

And I remember my husband getting so nervous when Jesus was a puppy that he would wander off.

But my friend, who’s a dog trainer as well as a Methodist minister, told him, “Don’t worry. No matter where you go, Jesus will follow you.”

Even if Jesus got distracted by a bird or something that smelled interesting, if we turned our backs and started walking away, he would always catch up and follow us.

And that’s not just true for the dog Jesus.

God, whether it’s in the form of the Creator or Jesus or the Holy Spirit, will always follow us.

Sermon – Hanging on to Hope

This post has 2 parts – an introduction to scripture and then the sermon itself.

1) Intro to Joshua 2 and Genesis 38

In the first chapter of Matthew, the author traces Jesus genealogy for 41 generations, from Abraham to Mary and Joseph.

 

I’ve spared us that reading and those 40+ Hebrew names, and instead, I’m choosing to highlight 2 of Jesus’ more controversial ancestors, Tamar and Rahab.

 

I included them for a few reasons. First – they’re women, and we’re focusing on the “women of Advent” this year.

 

Second, they’re ancestors of Jesus, they’re part of his extended family, part of his family’s story.

 

And finally, they’re unconventional heroes.

 

When we read this now, and when many of our Christian foreparents read this, what stands out is that Rahab and Tamar were both women who did offensive things.

 

Rahab was a prostitute by profession. She was also a traitor.

 

Tamar, disguised herself as a prostitute in order to sleep with her father-in-law and produce an heir.

 

And so the common interpretation of this text is that Matthew must be showing us that Jesus, like us, has a complicated family history.

 

That Jesus, like us, has less-than-perfect ancestors.

 

Which is true.

 

But what is odd, is that it is Tamar and Rahab that are most often pointed to as the prime examples of this imperfection.

 

And yet, if we take the time to look at the names of everyone in Jesus’ line, Rahab and Tamar are some of the mildest of the bunch.

 

Included in the list is David, who, if you’ll recall, got another man’s wife pregnant and then sent that man to the front lines to die.

 

Other characters are equally sketchy.

 

Jacob steals his older brother’s birthright by tricking his blind father while his father is on his deathbed.

 

Solomon descends into idolatry.

 

Rehoboam goes to war against Israel.

 

And Jehoram, takes the throne and to secure his position, kills 6 of his brothers.

 

The more I read and study the Gospel of Matthew, the more I begin to wonder if Matthew wasn’t including Rahab and Tamar because they were somehow uniquely sinful or scandalous.

 

Most of Jesus’ ancestors fall into that category in one way or another.

 

The more I read and study, the more I ask, what if Rahab and Tamar are included, not for their lack of ethics, but instead, for their heroism?

 

Rahab and Tamar both save the Jewish people.

 

They both take extraordinary leaps of faith, trust in God, and risk their own lives in service to others.

 

Let us consider both their humanity AND their heroism as we hear their stories this morning.

 

2) Sermon – Hope and Peace

Last week, I went rock climbing with some friends of mine.

When you’re 50 or 100 feet up in the air, and your hands are slipping, the only thing that brings you peace is your faith in God,

and your faith in the person holding the other end of the rope…

 

And your faith in the rope itself.

 

The rope holds you when you let go.

 

It pulls you upwards if you need a boost.

 

It lets you down gently when you’re ready to come down.

 

It allows you to swing and move to different parts of the rock.

 

And if just thinking about this is making you nervous, because you’re afraid of heights, imagine that even when you’re on the ground, a rope can pull you forward.

 

Or hold you together.

 

In times of insecurity, in times of danger, it’s something tangible that we can use to get to safety.

 

It offers a measure of peace.

 

Rope is also a metaphor that appears in both of our scriptures today.

 

Rahab lets the soldiers down out of her window using a rope.

 

And later, she ties a scarlet cord to her window to let the soldiers know to spare her household, which they do.

 

In our other story, when Tamar sleeps with Judah, she asks him to leave his cord with her as a promise.

 

It’s not clear what that cord refers to, but it’s probably a rope bracelet or belt.

Whatever it is, it’s that cord, along with his staff and seal, that she shows the town later to prove that her child is his.

 

In both cases, rope ends up being salvation.

And it’s not a coincidence that the authors use rope as a metaphor.

 

The word for rope in Hebrew, tikvah, means “hope.”

 

Hope, in English, is an abstract concept.

 

But in Hebrew, hope has a tangible analog.

 

A rope can be held with our hands. It’s something we can cling to.

 

Tamar and Rahab both cling to the rope in their hands, while they also cling to the hope those ropes provide in the midst of conflict and uncertainty, the hope for peace to come.

 

Of course, the peace and security they seek does not come right away.

 

Hope also implies waiting.

 

The root of the word “hope” and “rope”, that same word we’ve been talking about, well, in Hebrew the root of that word, kavah, means both to bind together and to wait.

 

Which makes sense.

 

Hope AND rope are usually paired with waiting.

 

When I’m rock climbing, if I’m hanging from the rope, I’m waiting either to go up, or to go down. I’m somewhere in between.

 

Things we wrap up in rope or cord are waiting to be used.

 

Rope is not only a symbol of security, it can also be a symbol of being held and being kept secure in that in-between time.

 

When Rahab helps the spies escape, they don’t deliver on their promise to her right away.

 

The invasion of Jericho comes a few chapters later.

 

Rahab hangs the red rope out her window and waits for the spies to deliver on their promise to spare her family, a promise that had no guarantees.

 

Likewise, Tamar does not become pregnant on her preferred timeline.

 

She has to wait many years, through two husbands,

plus the additional time she waits for Judah’s youngest child to grow up,

plus the time she has to wait for Judah to discover her pregnancy and approve, which was certainly not a given,

plus the 9 months she ultimately has to wait for her child to be born.

 

During that time of waiting, they cling to these threads, this tangible symbol of promises made.

 

In this time of Advent, as we wait in expectation for the birth of Jesus, we too have cords to hold onto.

 

We have the threads of community that bind us together.

 

We have the rope of justice, which draws us out into the world.

 

We have a tether to the Holy Spirit, which pulls us forward, even when we have a hard time moving.

 

And we have an unbreakable tie to God, which holds us whenever we find ourselves in the in-between times.

 

May we experience the peace that comes from being held, and the anticipate the peace to come.

 

Amen.

Sermon: Thanks for Giving – Finding Wholeness…

In 2016, after the presidential election, Ellen DeGeneres did a segment where she created a program called “Mobile Moderator,” where families could invite a professional moderator like Anderson Cooper or Wolf Blitzer to come over for Thanksgiving dinner to moderate the inevitable political conversations that would crop up over turkey and stuffing.

In the demonstration, Blitzer sits in with a family of Trump and Clinton supporters arguing about the wall and immigration.

After a few choice words from the family, which is beginning to interrupt and talk over each other, Wolf Blitzer jumps in, “Mrs. Douglas, Uncle Luke, if we could just please get back to the original question, Could someone please pass the salt.”

The professional moderators also serve as fact checkers.

When grandma chimes in, “I hear that Barack Hussein Obama made it legal to steal things.”

Blitzer cuts her off – “That is absolutely not true.”

“Then who stole my glasses?” she asks.

He points at grandma and says politely, “Your glasses are on your forehead.”

Ellen promises, “Your Moderator will restore civility to the conversation.”

Doesn’t that just sound delightful?

 

We should all have a professional moderator at Thanksgiving.

 

Ellen’s segment was funny, because that type of conflict is something we can all relate to.

 

Arguments between loved ones have been going on since humanity could speak.

 

Even in the early church, which modeled Christianity for us, there were disagreements.

 

Not surprisingly. In today’s text, In today’s text, Paul addresses 2 women who are struggling to agree.

 

And so he says them, “Be of one mind in Christ.”

 

“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.”

 

PEACE, which in the Greek is equivalent to WHOLENESS.

 

You can have a seize fire without peace. If there are hungry children or people in refugee camps, there is not peace.

 

And you can have peace that includes conflict, conflict that brings you together and closer to an understanding of one another.

 

So when Paul talks of peace, he’s talking about the wholeness, the completeness of God that will guard our hearts and our minds.

 

Wholeness.

 

Connectedness.

 

Understanding.

 

He often uses the Body of Christ as a metaphor for this.

 

One whole, different parts.

 

We can have different functions but still appreciate one another.

 

Even if we don’t like some parts of our body, they’re useful and they work together with the rest of us.

 

Those of us who are hands don’t always VALUE the feet. Those of us who are eyes don’t always understand the value of ears.

To make this metaphor a bit more real, imagine what part of the body you’d say the Democrats are. Or the Dallas Cowboys. Or the Kentucky Wildcats.

 

Whether it’s football games or elections or Thanksgiving dinner conversations, this holiday season can bring our differences into focus and stress out our spiritual body.

 

And it’s not just the political discussions.

 

When you put different people in the same room together, things can go sideways sometimes.

 

When wine is added to the picture, it often gets much worse.

 

I remember one Thanksgiving, someone’s girlfriend jokingly brought up a funny old story about that time her boyfriend went to jail.

 

She was trying to connect and fit in with the family, but it turns out, she and her boyfriend were the only ones who knew that story…

 

The silence was deafening.

 

Other tables are awkward for different reasons. My family’s Thanksgiving table tends to be awkward on account of the stories not being told and the topics not being talked about.

 

We do such mind-bending mental gymnastics to avoid conflict, that sometimes, the conversation goes in bizarre directions.

 

There are other Thanksgiving tables that are challenging for different reasons.

 

Sometimes it’s not the conversation or who’s at the table.

 

Sometimes what’s difficult is knowing who’s not at the table…

 

With all of the commercial pressure to make this holiday about family, it’s difficult for many of us to not feel a pang of sadness, when our table is set without a place for the person or people we wish were there.

 

Thanksgiving is not always comfortable.

 

But it CAN be peaceful.

 

It CAN reflect God’s wholeness.

 

Even when we feel emptiness.

 

Not long from now, we’ll all have the chance to sit down with one another and experience that wholeness, that peace.

 

Angela and her many helpers have prepared an extraordinary feast to say thank you to YOU for your generosity all year.

 

It’s an opportunity to get to know one another.

 

To get to know our new members.

 

And to practice what Paul encourages the church to do.

 

To be of one mind in Christ.

 

To focus on whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, and what is excellent and worthy of praise

 

 

The tables around which we gather here at church of the good shepherd are tables that aspire to reflect God’s peace.

 

They are not tables where we avoid our differences.

 

Here, we value our diversity.

 

We know how much we can learn from one another.

 

I’ve heard many Democrats in this congregation tell me how thankful they are that there are Republicans in this congregation…

I’ve heard Libertarians talk about how thankful they are there are Republicans in this congregation…

And Republicans themselves have been generous in welcoming the voices of those sitting both to their right and left…

 

The conversations we have fill out a larger picture of what is true and a larger picture of what really matters.

 

And we incorporate that value of unity through diversity into our ritual of membership.

 

When we welcome our new members, one of the questions is asked, “How do we agree,”

 

And we respond, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”

 

The essentials we claim are love for one another, and a mission to build a just world through community, one life at a time.

 

And our love for one another is not conditional on agreement. In fact, we encourage disagreement – in non-essentials, liberty.

 

Disagreement and diversity of opinion—those bring us closer to peace, to wholeness, to a greater understanding of the wideness of God.

 

And throughout all of it, we insist on charity. No matter what, we aspire to give each other the benefit of the doubt. We aspire to offer each other grace.

 

It is not always easy, but we work at it.

 

We may not have professional moderators at our Thanksgiving table today, but we will have the moderating influence of church members who care deeply for one another.

 

And our bonds as a community and our commitment to justice may be one of the greatest moderators of all.

2 Samuel and Speaking Truth to Power

This sermon was initially going to be about “speaking truth to power.” Perhaps we are the power that needs speaking to…


2 Samuel 12:1-7

12 and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man!


Sermon: “Speaking Truth to Power”

I still remember the first time I got in big trouble. I mean BIG trouble.

I was on the playground at the church preschool, and we had a tire swing that you could spin in circles.

It was incredibly fun.

And my class, the 4-year-olds, had play time with the 3-year-olds.

And there was a cute little 3 year old that decided he wanted to play on the tire swing.

So being the good little friend that I was, I decided to show him how fun it was.

A friend of mine and I spun him and I spun him and I spun him.

And he screamed…

We all screamed on the tire swing.

It was so fun!

But this time, the child was screaming in fear.

He wanted off the ride, and that was gradually becoming clear to us.

But at 4, we already knew a lot, you know.

And we just knew how fun this spinning ride was.

And so maybe if he just stayed on it a little while longer, he’s learn how fun it was.

But he just kept screaming, and a few turns later, crying.

But from my perspective, I was showing this kid the time of his life.

Welcome to the playground, I was thinking. This place is the best!

But in his mind, an older child was bullying him and not letting him get off this terrifying spinning donut.

A teacher ran over, stopped the swing and put me in time out.

And understandably so.

She explained that he was 3. And we were 4. And there were 2 of us. And if he said stop, we had to stop. That was the rule.

“What you did was mean,” she said.

How would you feel if you were scared, and someone kept spinning you like that?

And then I started crying.

And I think I cried for a long time.

I felt terrible.

I had really scared and hurt this little kid.

Me, the 4-year-old little girl who was now crying in time out.

I had power, and I used it irresponsibly.

Thankfully, there was a teacher who was willing to intervene.

In our story today, Nathan is the teacher. And he puts David in Time-Out.

David isn’t a 4-year-old. He’s the king of Israel.

But like that 4-year-old kid who didn’t get that she had power, David doesn’t recognize, until Nathan says something that David crossed a line.

And he crossed a big line.

The backstory to today’s text is that David, newly king, sees a woman bathing on the roof. He falls in love with her and yada yada yada, he gets her pregnant.

It’s not clear whether or not she consented to this arrangement, but frankly, when the king of your entire nation propositions you, you don’t have much power to say no.

So in addition to her being an inappropriate choice, given her social status in relation to the king, and her consequent inability to really consent, David’s choice to sleep with her was even more problematic, because she was already married to one of David’s military officers.

But hey – David had a bunch of wives. And he was king. Everything was his domain.

No big did.

Except it was a big deal. Because she’s pregnant by David, he’s in a bit of a bind, because her husband has been off at war, and he’ll know the child isn’t his.

So David sends him from his current military post to the front lines of the war, where David knows he’ll die. Which he does.

Problem solved, right?

Well, Nathan has a different perspective.

And Nathan tells David this story to help David understand the gravity of David’s actions.

And David does. What FOLLOWS our text today is a confession from David. And genuine repentance and sadness for what he’s done.

To me, as an outsider, it seems obvious that what David did was wrong.

You don’t take another man’s wife, sleep with her, and then send the man to die.

But in David’s mind, he was just following his heart.

David was a romantic. A musician and an artist.

And she was a fully consenting adult, right?

No, David.

She was your servant. One of your subjects.

And you were the most powerful man in Israel.

But see, David doesn’t see himself as powerful.

He sees himself as the little shepherd boy who was the youngest and smallest of 7 brothers.

The child that his father refused to send to war.

The child that was asked to bring his brothers food, but not enter the war.

He ended up being the armor bearer for the king before him.

But not because he was strong or particularly skilled in battle.

It was because his music, his songs and his harp, soothed the dying king’s anxious mind. He was a music therapist.

And a consummate underdog.

He grew to fame when he killed Goliath, a giant.

But David didn’t slay him with a sword.

David wasn’t even strong enough to carry the heavy armor the king provided him.

David went into battle in his ragged shepherd’s clothes.

With a slingshot, the weapon of children and thieves.

And so yes, he killed a giant, but not with weapons or strength typically attributed to great warriors.

When David became king, he didn’t shake that story.

Even though he ended up commanding all the armies of Israel, in his mind, he was still that little shepherd boy, the youngest child, the artist and musician, the poet and care-giver.

He was like that little girl on the playground, the 4-years-old, who didn’t realize her strength.

And so when Nathan tells David this story, David undoubtedly puts himself in the place of the poor shepherd.

Because David understood that role.

He understood what it was like to fall asleep next to the sheep, to love them and care for them.

He saw himself in that role.

And so when Nathan talks about the rich man, who, like David, took something precious from a poor man, a man’s wife, in David’s case, David’s world is turned upside down.

Suddenly, his eyes are opened, and David recognizes the horror of what he’s done.

He repents, he prays for forgiveness, and Nathan offers it.

As we read it, who do we relate to?

Are we the poor man from whom our precious possessions are taken by the rich?

Are the we the victims of cruel and mindless tyrants?

Or are we the ones with power, taking from the powerless?

I’m not sure it’s that simple.

None of us is the King of Israel.

And none of us, as far as I know, is a poor man with one sheep.

Power dynamics are a lot more fluid for most of us.

Power tends to come from resources – money, prestige, a title, a job position. But it also comes from resources we don’t think about – our education, our ability to communication, our connections. Being a part of this community of faith gives us power.

If we’re in a difficult situation spiritually or emotionally or financially, the church always finds ways to help us. Not everyone has that in their lives.

Power can also come from things like age and gender and skin color – things we can’t control, and yet people project power onto us based on those things.

Because I’m a woman, even though many people think about men as having more power often, as a woman, I have access to some places and opportunities that men don’t.

As a white woman in particular, I have the power to walk around pretty much any neighborhood in the Northeast Heights I want without suspicion. If I walk with my dog, people tend to trust me even more.

If you’re a large black man, that’s probably not going to be the case.

Even those of us who feel generally pretty powerless, those of us who are US Citizens all have the power to vote.

And we have the power to make use of city resources.

Some of us have friends in “high places,” which gives us unique access.

All of this is to say that like David, we are not always the underdog. Even those of us who are 4-years-old or who feel like we have the very limited resources of a 4-year-old, even we have power.

So the good news is that we all have resources, some that we don’t usually think about. We’re probably more powerful than we realize.

Which means we have more responsibility than we realize. Because with all the power we have, we have extraordinary capacity to help people. But we also have the power to hurt people.

So my challenge to us this week is to be mindful of what power we have. What resources are at our disposal. What power is projected onto us that we didn’t ask for? How can we use it responsibly.

My other challenge to us is to consider when HAVE we acted like King David? When HAVE we accidentally crossed a line or accidentally hurt people who had less power than we do?

The good news is that God forgives us and works through us and through others to transform us, just as God worked through Nathan to transform David.

So when we do spin people too fast on the tire swing or get caught up and wander across boundaries we shouldn’t, we always have the power to listen to those who are pointing out the truth of the situation. And we always have the power to transform ourselves….

 

I will not be ashamed of being a Christian! James 2, good works, and Casa Q

 

James 2:14-26

I’m disappointed Casa Q couldn’t be here… <Casa Q was going to present at COGS – their plans changed earlier this week>

I’m still going to speak about them today.

But first, let’s talk about James….

 

The book of James is all about how we can live into our faith.

 

And chapter 2, this text in particular,

talks about the connection between faith and action.

 

James says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

 

People are REDEEMED by works and not just faith alone.

 

Another translation would say people are SAVED by works and not just faith alone.

 

And Catholics and Protestants have debated for generations whether faith or works are more important

in the big people of redemption and salvation.

 

But to me, it’s obvious that faith and works go hand in hand.

 

In fact, modern theologians, including the Pope, would agree.

 

The question that intrigues me MORE is what do we need to be redeemed FROM?

 

What have we done that leads us to need redemption?

 

I don’t want to call you out for public confession, so let me make this easier.

 

What has someone ELSE done that you think leads them to a place where they need redemption?

 

(examples from the congregation – sin, apathy, indifference, nothing)

 

Okay. Now none of you said original sin…

 

But we’re not going to go there today…

 

None of you said people need redeeming  form their political affiliation.

 

You were thinking it….

 

Don’t you think that some people need redeeming from their choices of who to vote for?

Or who they already voted for?

 

Of course we think that. But that’s not of God.

That’s from our egos.

 

None of you said other things either.

Like that we need to be redeemed from our gender.

 

Other people have said that.

How many times have you heard that someone “throws like a girl?”

Well, being a girl is obviously worse then, right?

Of course not.

 

The Bible says there is neither Greek nor Jew slave nor free male nor female. All are one in Christ Jesus.

 

But society says there’s a hierarchy.

 

The same could be said for sexuality.

 

Thank God no one said anything about people needing to be redeemed from their sexual orientation.

 

That’s not of God either.

 

That impulse comes from cultural indoctrination and fear and a misreading of scripture.

Not from God.

 

And yet we can’t ignore that people still preach that message.

 

And that it has an impact on our children.

 

That’s where organizations like Casa Q come in.

 

That’s where WE come in.

 

With both faith AND works.

 

Casa Q is an organization that we work with that provides safe living options and services for LGBTQ youth and allies who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

They also provide things like transportation to school and work, life skills classes, and counseling.

They also help educate these children’s parents, in many cases, reuniting newly-educated parents with their children.

 

They do the work of healing, growth, and reconciliation, all while providing a safe place for these teenagers to live and learn.

 

There are approximately 4000 teens and children experiencing homelessness in Albuquerque.

Services for families meet a lot of the needs for homeless children and teens, but not if those children and teens are kicked out by their parents.

A disproportionate number of homeless youth are LGBTQ, usually because their families have rejected them and kicked them out.

 

About 1/3 of homeless children and youth in Albuquerque are LGBTQ.

 

It’s estimated that there are between 700 and 1000 homeless youth in Albuquerque who do not have a safe place to go, because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

 

Right now, Casa Q can only host 8 of those kids at a time.

But it’s a start.

And every one of those kids has a plan,

put together with the directors of Casa Q,

on how they’re going to find work, find housing, and find stability.

 

Most kids at Casa Q are not there all the way to graduation. Some find housing with high school friends.

Others get emancipated and find safe housing with other young adults.

 

Others get reunited with their families after Casa Q does extensive work educating the families and helping them create a safer home environment for these kids.

 

Our role has been to bring food.

 

And we need more help with that effort.

People who are willing to shop once every month, and people willing to chip in for groceries.

Food flies out of that kitchen. These are teenagers, remember.

 

And the food matters.

 

But its’ not just our actions that have an impact.

It’s our faith.

 

Because when we show up representing a church, it does additional healing work for these kids.

 

Whenever I go by there, and Jenny can back me up on this, the kids there are always surprised that the people helping them most are churches.

 

It’s a surprise to them that Christians are helping them.

 

It is a surprise to see Christians helping people who are on the margins, young people who have been kicked out of their homes for who they are.

 

That shouldn’t be a surprise!

 

Jesus healed people that society labeled “unclean.” Jesus crossed gender norms and spoke to women.

 

Early Christians like Paul said there is neither male nor female slave nor free Greek nor Jew, all are one in Christ Jesus.

 

And James, in his letter to other Christians said that faith, without works is dead.

We need both.

We need the good deeds.

But we also need to be a louder voice for Christian faith.

We need to tell people who love us,

people who know us as thoughtful, critical thinkers.

People who know that we feed the hungry and care for the homeless and advocate for LGBTQ rights.

We need to tell people who know THAT about us that WE are Christians.

Or that we attend a church.

 

Some of us are NOT Christians. We have different self-identifications. Agnostic or atheist. But we’re here.

Doing the work of creating a just world, one life at a time.

 

It’s important that we let people know that THIS is what churches do.

 

There is no shame in being a Christian.

The shame we experiences comes from the actions of our brothers and sisters who call themselves Christian but who are actually possessed with the demons of bigotry.

But bigotry is not of Christ.

There is no shame in being a Christian…

Repeat after me: “There is no shame in being a Christian!”

 

If we are silent about our faith and our church, it is those demons our children will hear…

 

The message of God’s love saves lives. We cannot be silent.

 

So my challenge to us is two fold this week.

1 – to consider giving to Casa Q ($ or shopping)

 

2 – Be bold – tell someone in our lives, someone we’re not out to yet, that we are a Christian. Or that we attend a church!

And let them know what this place is up to. Let that narrative circulate.

The person you tell may not need to hear it, but they may have a relative or a friend that’s LGBTQ who’s never heard of a church where they could be welcome.

They may have a friend or a relative that wants to put their faith into action but has never heard of a church that actually puts its faith into action.

 

The message of God saves lives. May we be bold in our words and bold in our actions, that God might multiply both for the building of God’s reign on earth.

Amen.

Be Bold in Listening – Sermon on John 21

John 21:15-25

A note on the translation:

Our scripture today describes a conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter, a Disciple of Jesus. Simon Peter has a unique name, because his first name, Simon, means “Listener,” and his second name, Peter, means “Rock.” Pay attention to when Jesus addresses him as “Simon” (listener) and when the text refers to him as “Peter” (rock).

Our scripture today also includes 2 Greek words that are both translated as “love” in our text: agape and phileo. Agape love is unconditional love – it is a love you give no matter what you think about a person, whether you admire them or not, or whether you know them well or not. Agape love is described as the type of love Christians should have for one another, and the love God has for us. Phileo is slightly different – it is a more personal and intimate type of love. It comes from a place of admiration and genuine affection. You can love someone unconditionally and not like them. Similarly, you can agape love someone and not phileo love them. The use of these two different terms may or may not be significant to the meaning of the text, but the two translations are included in brackets so that you can decide for yourself.

Scripture: John 21:15-25

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me, [unconditionally] more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Master; you know that I love you [like a brother].” Jesus said to him, “Feed my little lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me [unconditionally]?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you [like a brother].” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me [like a brother]?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me [like a brother]?” And he said to him, “Master, you know everything; you know that I love you [like a brother].” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Master, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Master, what about him?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” 23 So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

 

Sermon: “Be Bold in Listening”

 

Peter’s world revolves around Peter.

 

Of course it does.

 

All of our worlds revolve around us.

 

We can’t help it.

 

We only see the world through our own eyes.

 

And Peter’s world view is specific to his time and place.

 

Peter is a stereotypical man’s man. He is a man of muscle – a fisherman who uses his hands, who has strong arms, who smells like the sea and hangs out with the guys.

 

He’s arrogant, stubborn at times, and he’s a man of action.

 

Hence his nickname, “Peter,” which means “rock.”

 

His first name, “Simon,” means listener.

 

But Peter is what he is usually called, because the nickname “rock” fit so well.

 

Peter likes order and control. When Jesus appears to Peter along side Moses and Elijah, Peter’s first instinct is to build a building there to hold onto that moment.

 

He’s also brave. He’s the only Disciple who tries to follow Jesus and walk on water. And he does it, at first, until he began to doubt, and then he sinks. Like a rock.

 

Despite his hesitation in the sea, it is clear that he is loyal to Christ.

 

When the soldiers and priests came to arrest Jesus, Peter draws his sword and cuts off one of their ears.

 

He is solid, strong, and stubborn. He doesn’t budge. He doesn’t waver in his opinions.

 

Until he does.

 

Peter loses his center.

Jesus is arrested.

 

And while Peter is standing around a charcoal fire with officials waiting to question Jesus, Peter denies even KNOWING Jesus.

 

Three times he denies him.

 

Shortly after, Jesus is convicted, crucified, buried, and then on Easter morning, raised from the dead.

 

Our story today takes place in the time shortly after these events.

 

We’re not sure whether this is a literal appearance of an embodied Jesus or a vision, but either way, Peter is again sitting around a charcoal fire, the same type of setting as the last time someone asked him 3 questions about his relationship with Jesus.

 

Only now, it is Jesus asking the questions.

 

And Peter has a chance to redeem himself.

 

Jesus asks him, “Simon, Listener, Do you love me unconditionally?” Agape. Do you love me without conditions?

 

Because remember, that for Peter, in the past, there were conditions. Peter was the most loyal and steadfast Disciple, until… he wasn’t. There were conditions on Peter’s loyalty. There were conditions on Peter’s love. When Peter’s own life and reputation were at stake, Peter denied even KNOWING Jesus. And so here, Jesus is giving Peter a second chance.

 

But Peter, the rock, whose ears and world view are closed off, misses the opportunity.

 

And Peter responds, “Jesus – of course I love you. I love you like a brother.” In other words, I admire you. I respect you. I love you because of who you are and what you do and what you represent. I love you for a reason.

 

Jesus responds, “Then feed my little lambs.”

 

Which to Peter, must have been a bizarre response. Remember, Peter is a stereotypically macho guy. He’s a fisherman. He’s a fighter. And here Jesus is asking him to care for the baby sheep…?

 

Peter is a straight-forward, literal kind of guy. He says what he means. And so he takes Jesus’ words literally too. Jesus is asking Peter to feed baby sheep. How bizarre. In the worldview of Peter, babies are women’s work. And shepherds – they’re thieves and outcasts. Peter already has a good job as a fisherman. Why would he leave it for a dirty job with animals?

 

And so while Peter is sitting there confused, Jesus asks again, “Simon, Listener, Do you love me unconditionally?”

 

And Peter, the rock, the stubborn one, says again, “Of course I love you, Jesus. I love you like a brother. I love you because of who you are and what you do and what you represent.”

 

And so Jesus, who isn’t getting anywhere with the “feed my lambs statement,” softens his request a little bit. “Care for my sheep,” he says.

 

But Peter still doesn’t quite get it. And he’s hurt that Jesus isn’t hearing him. And he’s not used to this nurturing role Jesus is asking him to take on.

 

Jesus, wise man that he is, figures out that Peter isn’t ready for the care-giving role. And Peter isn’t READY to love Jesus without conditions. And so finally, Jesus meets Peter where he is. And Jesus asks, “Simon, LISTENER – do you love me like a BROTHER?”

 

And Peter says, “Yes, Jesus! That’s what I’ve been saying! I love you like a brother!”

 

“Then feed my sheep,” Jesus says.

Now, Peter understands, as a fisherman, how to feed people.

He gets that. And so Jesus is finally getting through.

 

Jesus then tells him, Peter – follow me. Follow my example. Your path is to follow me all the way to the cross.

 

At which point, Peter gets distracted by his ego again.

 

Wait a second, Peter says. I’m going to die? But what about that other guy? Is he going to live forever? How come I have to be the one to die. I thought I was the rock, your right-hand man? What happened to me being the one upon which the church is built, Jesus?

 

And Jesus basically says, Peter – it’s not up to you. Stop worrying about everyone else. I’ve told you your path. Now follow me.

 

I don’t know if Jesus was entirely successful in communicating his message to Peter. It’s difficult to talk to a rock.

 

And at times, that’s what talking to Peter felt like, I’m sure.

 

And at times, I imagine we can relate to the struggle Jesus had with him.

 

Doesn’t it feel like we’re talking to people like Peter sometimes? Rocks that just won’t listen and just won’t get it?

 

These past few weeks, I’ve had some conversations where people have just said the craziest things. And I’ve tried to gently and compassionately correct their obviously ridiculous views.

 

But we all know how well THAT works.

 

When you’re talking to a rock, one of the worst things you can do is try to push on them harder. Or to try to break them open.

 

Because the way people tend to work is that when you push against someone that’s pushing, they simply push harder.

 

They get even more defensive, they dig in their heels, and they shut down.

 

So how do we communicate with people like Peter? What does the Bible advise?

 

Well, the example Jesus gives is excellent.

 

He begins with a big request – feed my little lambs, Peter. You who have denied even knowing me – I want you to love me unconditionally, and to be nurturing to the most vulnerable.

 

But then, when he recognizes Peter isn’t getting it, he softens his request.

 

And ultimately, he meets Peter where Peter is.

 

He doesn’t give up on his opinions or his requests, but he starts from somewhere closer to where Peter already is.

 

In other words, he doesn’t ask someone who’s never run in their lives to run a marathon tomorrow.

 

He asks them to get off the couch and walk a block.

 

And he doesn’t ask someone who’s never been to church to be baptized this week. He asks them to come to a presentation or to visit.

 

This is the example of Jesus over and over again.

 

He challenges people, but he does so with baby steps. And with genuinely curious questions that invite the listener to move ahead on their own accord.

 

The challenge is, in order to meet people where they are, we have to KNOW where they are.

 

Is someone testing us? Are they lashing out because there is pain somewhere in their lives that has nothing to do with us? Are they making these statements to push buttons? To right a wrong?

 

Without asking where people are coming from, it’s nearly impossible for us to know how to meet people where they are.

 

Jesus knew everything. He had an advantage from the beginning. And he still had to work to get Peter to listen.

 

It’s going to take a lot more for us to get there.

 

So my challenge to us this week is to work on our Christian, compassionate communication.

 

Instead of jumping to conclusions about people’s choices, I challenge us to ask, “Could you walk me through how you came to that conclusion?”

 

Instead of attacking people’s views as bigoted, which they very may well be, let’s approach them with Christian compassion and ask, “Help me understand where you’re coming from.”

 

We may still end up disagreeing with them. But perhaps we will get better at the practice of understanding them and loving them…

 

 

With curiosity and compassionate questions, perhaps we’ll soften the hearts of those rocks in our lives. And perhaps, we’ll even do the miraculous work of softening our own.

 

 

Feeding of the 5000 – Not Just “Bread and Circuses” (Sermon)

Scripture: John 6:1-15

 

This story is the only one told in all 4 gospels.

 

They tell it drastically different audiences…

 

And yet there is something about this table that appeals to all of them…

 

Perhaps what drew all of these writers to this story is that food is central to our survival.

 

But there are plenty of stories about food in the Gospels.

 

What sets this story apart is that this story is also about NOURISHMENT.

 

The miracle of this story is not only that everyone had bread and fish to enjoy,

but that all of these people from different walks of life when home satisfied and nourished.

 

Because THAT was what was missing at the time of Jesus.

There was actually a community feeding project happening that was giving people bread. Roman citizens anyway.

 

But there was open criticism of the policy.

 

Have you ever heard the term “bread and circuses?”

 

 

Basically, the Roman senators tried to pacify the people and win their votes by subsidizing the cost of food and entertainment.

 

 

Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote, “The evil was not in the bread and circuses, per se, but in the willingness of the people to sell their rights as free men for full bellies and the excitement of the games which would serve to distract them from the other human hungers which bread and circuses can never appease.”

 

So at the very same time these 4 stories were being told about Jesus feeding thousands of people, the Roman government was doing the exact same thing.

 

Not to satisfy their hunger, but to keep them docile. And to win reelection.

 

Roman senators learned that if they gave people free bread and low-cost entertainment in their districts, it was easy to win votes.

 

They also knew that if the people had full bellies and were entertained, they would be much less likely to pay attention to the manipulations happening behind the scenes,

including the creation of policies that would gradually erode the rights of the very citizens that voted for the guys giving them free bread and entertainment.

 

While people were watching gladiators and grand boat battles in the colleseum,

Rome was raising taxes and creating economic policies that enslaved agricultural workers to the point that some families would never be able to escape debt.

 

While people were enjoying the cheap bread provided to voting citizens,

Rome was continuing to enslave conquered peoples and non-citizens were starving and dying of hunger and disease.

 

While people were enjoying the ridiculousness of the political theater that was happening in the public sphere,

behind the scenes, Rome was still plotting war and expansion

that would end up leading to citizens of the empire having to serve in wars they didn’t see coming and wars that in many cases cost them their lives,

because they were full and distracted.

 

People got complacent while their government slowly and deliberately created policies that benefitted the Roman political elites

and punished the everyday people who weren’t paying attention.

 

This simultaneous policy of bread and circuses and empire expansion was happening at the exact same time our Gospel story was written.

 

And the audience of John, Jewish Christians, would have known personally the cost of complacency.

 

Shortly before the Gospel of John was written,

Rome exercised a brutal conquest of Jerusalem.

 

They destroyed city and burned their 500-year-old temple to the ground.

 

The emperor gave orders that they should demolish the entire city except for some of the towers and the western wall, in order to “demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which Rome had subdued.”

In terms of the rest of the city, Josephus writes, “Therw as nothing left to make anyone who came after believe Jerusalem had ever been inhabited. Those places which were adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now become desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down. For the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste.”

 

People throughout the empire fell for the illusion that the Roman empire was nourishing them, and as a result, their lives and their nations fell.

 

And those who resisted learned quickly that an empire who has the unwavering support of its people,

an empire that is not critically examined by its own people,

has no accountability to rules of decency or human welfare.

 

So in the aftermath of this painful conquest, John as well as Matthew and Mark and Luke write about a rabbi named Jesus who tells people he too will feed them.

 

But not to control them or pacify them. Not to distract them while he erects an army or passes laws requiring them to sacrifice themselves to the war machine fighting Germanic tribes far away.

 

No – Jesus’ bread is given to nourish them and liberate them.

 

The people listening to Jesus learned what it means to pay attention, to care for not only those feeding them cheap entertainment, but those who are begging outside those same venues.

 

John appeals to all of those people who may have been well-fed, but were fed up with the rulers of their time who were starving them of their humanity.

 

And when Jesus said “I will feed you, not just with bread, but with the Word of God and eternal life,” his preaching and serving food in community was an act of outright rebellion.

 

Because with HIS bread came an invitation to escape apathy. To organize in community. And to take back the power not that comes from military might but that which comes from faith and from action centered in faith.

 

Rome ultimately fell, but the actions of politicians have changed little in 2000 years.

 

We know what it looks like to have our politicians manipulate us and keep us complacent and distracting us with political theater.

 

And I’ve seen that political theater first hand.

 

Not just in the news, but in Washington DC myself.

I worked at a think tank there that focused on Latin American and Carribean issues, and I”ll talk more about that in our presentation this afternoon, but my work was reserarching policy and figuring out how as a country, we be better stewards of our resources and make a difference in the world. That’s how I saw it anyway.

 

But I learned quickly, that that’s now how others see it there.

When I worked in Washington DC, there were two sayings repeated to me over and over again. One was “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine,” meaning I’ll pay attention to what you’re telling me if you can help me with something that matters to me. And then the other saying was  “all politics is local,” which meant that if you wanted to get anything done, you didn’t appeal to a legislator’s ethics or moral code.

You didn’t say, “I know you’re a Christian, and I’m a Christian too, and Jesus taught us to feed the hungry.

And right now, there are hungry people in Haiti and people facing political violence in Haiti who are victims of a political system that we helped put in place.

And people are suffering. And we are morally obligated to step in and help here. We’re morally obligated to fix this”

 

But if I couldn’t tie what was going on in Haiti to an impact on their particular district, they weren’t going to give me the time of day.

 

If people in New Mexico didn’t care about Haiti, then the representatives from New Mexico weren’t going to care about Haiti either.

 

And it honestly broke my heart a little bit.

 

I was presenting them with a clear, well-researched point of view as to why, as human beings, we should shift our policies toward Haiti.

 

But the people in the room were telling me – what bread and circuses are you going to give our people? Because that’s how I get elected.

 

This is why we can’t just feed the hungry with bread.

 

Yes, that’s important. And that’s PART of what our church has committed to doing with our new initiative to combat child hunger in Albuquerque.

 

But we can’t just do direct service.

 

We have to engage, we have to speak up and change the systems and structures that contribute to child hunger in the first place.

 

If we don’t let our government officials know that this issue matters to us, they’re not going to pay attention to it.

 

Because there are lobbyists up at the State Hosue every day telling our legistors about things that matter and why they should vote a certain way.

 

If we don’t speak up, our voice is going to be lost entirely.

 

And our voice matters. Not just our voice as citizens, but our voice as Christians. We MUST speak with our moral voice as people of faith.

 

People our state is not just hungry for bread. Children in our community are not just hungry for food. They are hungry to be NOURISHED.

 

They are hungry to be taken seriously. They are hungry to be cared for and loved and told that they matter.

 

And following in the footsteps of Jesus, we can part of THAT effort.

 

I will not stand idly by while our government starts wars. Not just wars in foreign nations but wars on the working poor.

 

I will not stand by. And I will vote.

 

My challenge to you this week is to make sure your voice is heard also…

 

My challenge to us this week is simple –

#1 – make sure you are registered to vote. If you are not, go online and search “register to vote New Mexico,” and it will tell you how to do it.

#2 – learn who your representatives are and write at least 1 of them. If you’re computer savvy, you can write the same letter and copy and past. Write him or her. Don’t email. Letters have a bigger impact. Write him or her and tell your representatives that the issue of child hunger matters to you as a person of faith. Our children deserve more than just bread and circuses. They deserve real nourishment.