Monday, March 14, 2016

Easter Is Coming!

It won’t be long now. Just a few more days, and it’s the most holy time of the Christian year – the week of Jesus’s passion. We remember his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, ponder over his final public teachings, share in a holy meal. We’ll betray him, deny we even knew him, abandon him when he is arrested, but we can’t stay away. We’ll witness his trial, follow him to Calvary, watch as the nails are driven in. We’ll mourn as the stone is rolled over the entrance of the tomb we laid him in. And we’ll huddle confused, broken, afraid as we wait for Easter. 

For Easter IS coming!

We do this every year, this journey into death and the grave. We do this because we know Easter is coming. Easter Is Coming! Every day, resurrection happens. Every day, new life bursts forth from death. Every day God says “No” to sin, “No” to death, “NO” to the power of evil in this world! Easter is coming!

I’m reminded of the House Stark motto in the book “Game of Thrones” –Winter is coming! In their world, winter isn’t just a season of the year, it’s a period of years when cold winds howl, deep snow covers the ground, life perishes. The Starks are always prepared for the worst: Winter is coming!  It seems like the world around us has adopted this motto – “Winter is coming” – terrible things are happening and it won’t get better, so better prepare for the worst.

In contrast, the House Christian proclaims “Easter Is Coming!” Yes, the forces of evil still rage. Completely defeated by the cross and the empty tomb, they haven’t given up. But it’s a losing battle. It’s a lost battle. Christ is risen! Christ reigns! God’s kingdom has come! We testify to both the brokenness in the world and to God’s presence in those broken places. Easter is Coming! Christ has died! Christ has risen! Christ will come again! And again, and again – to each of us, to the world, coming in love, in mercy, in grace. Coming to those places where the shadow of the cross looms large, walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death - never abandoning, denying or betraying us. Shedding light on our confusion, calming our fears, making us whole again. Easter is Coming!

It won’t be long now. A few days and we’ll shout “Hosanna”, “Crucify”, “He is Risen!” A few days and we will once again marvel at God’s amazing love and grace poured out through Christ for us. Easter is Coming!  

I can't say "Easter is coming!" without linking you to this great video by WorkingPreacher

Monday, March 7, 2016

The End of the World as We Know It? Early thoughts on Mark chapter 13

“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed”… (Mark 13:7a). It’s easy to look around at the world and think we are living in the end times. Wars, famine, pestilence, natural disaster – how much more can we take? Surely we are living in the end times!

When Jesus said this to his disciples, they were standing outside of the Temple (Mark chapter 13). He had just predicted its destruction. And as he predicted, in 70AD the Romans destroyed the Temple, killed most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and took the remaining Jews (and Christians living there) into captivity. I’m sure it seemed like the end of the world to them! It was certianly the end of the world as they knew it!

In the face of this upcoming destruction what does Jesus counsel? Does he tell the disciples to run and hide? To let their fear close in on them? To give in to hate and anger? NO!

Jesus says “Do not be alarmed (13:7). Do not be led astray (13:5). Don’t believe it when people get all excited and say “Messiah is here” or “He is here” (13:21). Be alert (13:23). Stay awake and keep alert (13:33, 34-37).”

Then he tells the parable of a man who goes on a journey and leaves his servants to care for his estate. They are expected to be about the master’s business while he is away, doing their jobs faithfully. They don’t know when he will return, but they sure don’t want to be caught goofing off when he gets back!

Wars and rumors of wars. Maybe we are living in the end times. And then again maybe not. There’s no way to know for sure. I have a pastor/friend who tells his confirmation students that Jesus may come tomorrow – or you may be hit by a bus! Either way, for you, Jesus has come. It’s a bit dramatic - and gruesome! – but it gets to the point: we don’t know, we can’t know. Even Jesus says he does not know – only the Father knows (13:32). Sure, there have been many who in their pride has tried to predict the date. But I believe that Jesus was cautioning the disciples against doing exactly that. Only the Master knows when the journey ends. Don’t waste time trying to figure it out. Instead, the best way to be prepared it so do the job set before you – to be about the Master’s business.

There’s a Jewish saying: if you have a sapling in your hand, and you hear that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling, then go and greet the Messiah. Along those same lines, Martin Luther has been said to have said “If I knew that the world was going to end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.” Both sayings demonstrate confidence in the future that comes from trusting in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

When the kingdom of Judah was under siege from Babylon and the Exile was almost upon them, God instructed the prophet Jeremiah to demonstrate that kind of confidence and trust: by purchasing a field (Jeremiah chapter 32). A strange command – to buy a field just as you are about to be captured and carried off. Jeremiah bought that field and announced to the soon-to-be-exiles that doing so was acting out God’s promise to one day bring them back from exile. God kept that promise. God always keeps God’s promises.

Wars and rumors of wars. Famine, pestilence, natural disaster. The election of the “wrong” candidate, passing of “wrong” laws. Job loss, serious illness, loss of a loved one - anything that threatens the life we know. Each of these can seem like the end of the world. And truly, each of these can be the end of the world as we know it.

In the face of this end, Jesus reminds us to not be afraid. To stay awake, not watching for disaster, but faithfully carrying on with the Father’s business: Loving God, loving the neighbor as ourselves. Serving those whom Christ came to serve. Caring for the least, and the vulnerable – knowing that as we do so, we are caring for Jesus. Praying for “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” And always trusting in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Love. That's all. Just love.

Jesus was once asked which was the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-33).  He responded with “Love the Lord your God out of all your heart, out of all your soul, out of all your understanding, out of all your strength – and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

When I teach the Ten Commandments to my confirmation students, I tell them that the first few commandments are about loving God, and the rest are about loving the neighbor.  One flows out of the other.  I love the way Martin Luther explains each of the commandments in his Small Catechism:  “We are to fear and love God, so that…” and then explains what we are not to do according to the commandment, but also what we so instead to show love. 

Each of the commandments flows out of the first commandment:  Love God.  Love for self comes from knowing you are a beloved child of God – and love for others flows from loving God in response to God’s love and mercy in your life.

What would it look like if we loved God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength?  And loved our neighbors as ourselves, remembering Jesus redefined neighbors to include pretty much everyone.  Including our enemies, who we are to love and pray for.
     What if we loved ourselves for that matter -not narcissistic, inward-focused love, but truly loved ourselves as beloved children of God, created in the image of God?  This is a self-love that is not selfish, but flows from God’s love for us and bubbles up, overflowing into the world.

If you pay attention to the news, or follow Facebook, you’ll see there’s a whole lot stuff out there that is exactly the opposite of loving God and loving the neighbor.  There’s a lot of fear, anger and hatred being spouted.  That’s evil rearing its ugly head. That’s sin inviting us to turn away from God and back in on ourselves. 

      Now you may be afraid – it is truly a frightening world these days!  And you may be angry – there’s a lot to be angry about.  But the faithful response is never hatred.  Jesus is pretty clear – love God, love neighbor.  Trust God.  Pray for the enemies.  Pray for the world.  Trust God.  And put that trust and love for God in action by loving in the face of fear, forgiving in the face of anger. Let love of God and others guide your choices and actions. 

And when this seems just too impossible, ask God for help.  For everything is possible with God. 

I don’t ask my confirmation students to memorize the 10 Commandments any more.  Memorization is not a high priority in school these days, and they don’t see the point in memorizing stuff they can look up on line.  What I do ask is for them to memorize just this:  Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as your self – and your neighbor is everyone. I do this because Jesus taught that if you remember just them much, you have all the Law and the Prophets.  

I do this because if you can just remember to act out of love, you’ve got it right.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

How long will you go limping along?

It really seemed like the right thing to do.

You know how it goes – you want to provide for your family, for your old age. You want to live the good life, to have fun, do the things you like.

So you do what it takes to give you security. To make sure you have enough.

That’s all we were doing.

When those prophets the Queen Jezebel brought to Israel with her started talking about how Baal was the god of storm, and his consort Asherah was the goddess of fertility, well, what were we supposed to do? Those are the very two things that farmers can’t live without. We need rain; we need our seed, and soil and livestock to be fertile.

Sure, YHWH is God of everything. But it couldn’t hurt to hedge our bets just a little. It couldn’t hurt anything, could it?

So we offered to YHWH and we offered to Baal and Asherah. And it was going pretty well.

But then this guy Elijah shows up. This prophet of YHWH, who couldn’t leave well enough alone.  He gets on King Ahab’s case for marrying Jezebel in the first place, and for allowing her to bring her gods, and trying to get all of Israel to worship them. Elijah declares YHWH says there will be a drought, because we are worshipping other gods.

 Baal’s priests tell us not to worry – after all, Baal controls the rains. Just to make sure – we offer to both YHWH and Baal, and Asherah for good measure.

But the drought comes anyway. And Baal’s and Asherah’s servants get more and more demanding as the drought goes on. No matter what we do, it isn’t enough to satisfy these gods. Soon they start demanding blood offerings – our blood, our children. They say it’s the only way to bring the rain.

We hear that Elijah is over in Phoenicia in Zarephath. Even though there’s famine there too, he’s got food enough to eat –him and the household where he’s staying are being fed miraculously. I wonder why he’s not here, taking care of his own people?

Three years go by and no rains. Finally Elijah shows back up, and King Ahab demands him to call on YHWH to stop the drought. Elijah calls for a showdown between him and Baal and Asherah’s servants.

So we get ready to set off to Mt Carmel to see who wins. There’s a really nice altar to Baal there. You would say they have the home field. 

The rules are pretty simple. Each side will sacrifice a bull, but instead of lighting the sacrificial fire themselves, each will call on their god. The god who is truly God will be the one who lights the fire.
Personally, I think both Baal and YHWH will light the fires. I mean Baal is the god of the storm, right? It would be no problem to set a bit of wood on fire with a good lightning bolt. And YWHW should be able to do the same – I remember the story of YHWH leading us out of Egypt with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. I don’t know what Elijah thinks he’s going to prove with this.

As if he knows what I’m thinking, Elijah challenges me to choose a side, saying to us all:  “how long are you going to limp along with two different opinions. How long are you going to hedge your bets? You can’t have it both ways. You either serve YWHW or you serve Baal. Today you have to make a choice – who will it be?”

Elijah calls for two bulls to be brought out and lets Baal’s people pick their bull first. They take some time – it takes awhile for 450 priests to agree on something! – then select the biggest, juiciest, most perfect bull for their sacrifice.

Elijah lets them go first. The priests start loudly praying, and dancing around the altar. Nothing happens.

Elijah begins making fun of them. Maybe Baal can’t hear them.

They get louder.

Maybe Baal is meditating.

They dance harder.

Maybe Baal is on a journey. Maybe he’s asleep and must be awakened.

They begin to cut themselves, offering their own blood with the bull to Baal.

Nothing happens.

We begin to get restless. The morning has passed, it’s after noon and Elijah hasn’t started his offering. It’s getting close to the time of the oblation sacrifice – the one where we give thanks for blessings and declare our loyalty. It doesn’t look like either Baal or YHWH will receive oblation today.

Finally Elijah turns his back on the 450 prophets of Baal and walks over to the side where YWHW’s altar used to stand. It was torn down to make more room for Baal’s altar, but Elijah starts collecting the rocks and putting the altar back together. This old man, all alone doing such hard work – I send my sons to help him, others offer to help, but he waves them all away.

He finds 12 large stones to put on the top. We know what this means – it’s for the twelve sons of Israel, the 12 tribes, the 10 of us who broke away and became Israel, and the 2 who remained loyal to the line of David and became Judah.

He laid the wood on the fire and the bull. We lean in, waiting to hear how Elijah would call on YHWH. How could one man get the attention of a god, when 450 couldn’t?

Then Elijah did something absurd. He called for water. First, we thought he might be thirsty. After all, he’d been working hard. Perhaps he needed to clear the dust from his throat before he started.

But he wanted more than just a cup. He wanted a lot more – jars full of water. In the middle of a drought!

People began offering water from their water skins. Some ran down to the sea to get water there. Soon there were four jars filled and Elijah commanded them to be poured on the offering.

And then four more.

And four more.

The offering was drenched – water filled the trench around the altar. There was no way this thing would ever light. Was he crazy?

This was absurd. This offering had no chance of catching on fire. It was a ridiculous as…
as impossible as…
as thinking someone in the grave for three days could be raised!

Then, just at the time for the loyalty offering, Elijah held up his hands. We all got silent, straining to hear his simple prayer: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back." (1 Kings 18:36-37)

Just like that, fire fell from heaven. A fire so hot and persistent that even the stones and water were consumed.

Just like that, the choice was simple. We had put our trust in the wrong things. Things that offered false hope, false security. We hadn’t hedged our bets; we had bought into false promises of security and prosperity. Ashamed, repentant, and truly terrified of a God who could do such things, we dropped to our knees, prostrate before YHWH, and called out, our faces buried in the dust, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul and all your strength.”

At our confession, the rains came.

I had thought it wouldn’t hurt to cover all my bases, worshipping Baal and YHWH to make sure we had what we needed. But trusting in something other than YWHW led to death and destruction, drought and famine. Only YHWH brings life.

What about you? Who do you serve?

What are the idols you offer your time, and skills, and money, and allegiance to? Where do you truly place your trust? Who do you count on to save you – your family, your work, your money and possessions, your nation, even the blessings YHWH has given you – false gods are much more subtle in your world.

Those things seem so reasonable – as reasonable as it was to us to call on Baal, god of storms, in time of drought. But those things you trust will fail you; they will be silent when you really need them, as unresponsive and impotent as Baal to the call of all those prophets.

It is YHWH, YHWH alone, who can be trusted, no matter how long the drought lasts, no matter what life throws at you, whose steadfast love and mercy never fail.

How long will you go limping along?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

You Laughed! Narrative Lectionary, Year 2, Second Sunday of the Story

Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7

What do you do when God’s promises seems as impossible as a 90 year old woman giving birth?

You laugh.

Not a laugh of joy.

A bitter laugh – like laughing at a joke that ceased to be funny a long time ago

A laugh of derision.

A laugh of scorn.

Have you ever stood beside the tent with Sarah and laughed that laugh?

I have.

I sifted through stories this week - stories of people who persevered, who were patient, who never gave up and finally against huge odds achieved their dreams.  I could tell you one of them.

But then I realized that the story I need to tell today is my own.  You’ve heard part of my call story.  The good parts - toward the end when the promise became real, the way that first flutter of life in a pregnant woman’s womb makes the baby real, growing larger and closer as the moment of birth arrives.

But what happens when God’s promises come in a place where there’s no hope of life?  

How old was I when I first felt God calling me to ministry?  I’m not sure anymore - 13, 14, maybe as late as 16, or 17.  

But it was impossible.  This was the 1970’s and women could not be pastors.  I raged against the promise:  why would God call me, give me gifts for something that could not be?  Why would God promise what I could not have?

The promise lay lifeless as I went off to college.  Then I found a way I could make the promise real - (not God!):  I could become a youth minister.  Women could do that.  That must have been what God meant!

Have you ever tried to force God’s promise?  Tried to take it into your own hands and make it happen?  If you have then you know how bitter that road can be.  Sarah tried that when she convinced Abraham to have a baby through her slave Hagar, a baby Sarah would claim as her own son.  How later Sarah looked at the child playing in the yard and knew that this was not right- God’s promise was still empty.

I discovered that I was no more suited to be a youth minister at that time than Sarah was suited to have a child through her slave.  This was not how God’s promise would be fulfilled.

It’s a moment when you can lose all faith.  I tried - and it didn’t work.  I must have it wrong.  This is not really what God is calling me to do, not what God promised.

It’s a moment when you can turn your back.  And I did.  I gave up - faith, God, everything.  

For years, like the fool in Proverbs, I said in my heart, “There is no God.”

Was it like that for Sarah?  How many times did Sarah doubt?  

How many times did Abraham? 

Up to that day by the oaks of Mamre, all the promises were made to Abraham.  Three times God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of nations - three times Abraham was promised a son, but only the last time, 24 years after God first called Abraham, was Sarah even named in the promise.  

And Abraham laughed - Sarah, ninety year old Sarah, have a child?

Who could blame him for laughing?  

All that wasted time.  When she was a younger woman - say when God first made that promise 24 years ago, and Sarah was 66 -  then maybe.  She had been barren all their marriage, and even at 66, ‘it had ceased to be after the manner of women with her.’  But she was still younger.  It was still impossible, but maybe not so impossible?

I imagine there was a lot of laughter as as he and all the males in his household were circumcised according to God’s command - and not the good kind.  Scornful laughter, snorts of derision, barks of disbelief.  

Bitter laughter from Sarah as she  watched her husband once more trust in this stale old promise God had dangled before him for almost a quarter of a century.

Now this day, outside the tent, Sarah hears the promise herself.  These men - God’s messengers, or the very Lord God - they came for her.  She was the reason they were there.  They asked where she was, knew her by name.  Promised that she would have a son, not sometime, but in a year!

And she laughed.  A dry bitter laugh of one who no longer has any hope.

And yet - is anything too wonderful for God?  

No because with God all things are possible.

Because God is a God that breathes life into dust,

God is a God who makes a way out of now way.

God is a God who can bring life to dried up dreams, and promises that seem to have withered over the years.

God is a  God who snatches victory from the jaws of death, and bursts forth with laughter from a three-day old tomb.

God is a God who laughs when life triumphs over death.

A joyous laugh - just as Sarah laughed when she held her son.  As she watched this child of laughter - Isaac - grow.

Is anything too wonderful for God?

No.  There is nothing too wonderful for God.

And even when you turn you back on God, God stays with you.  God keeps God’s promises.

Even when you laugh at God.

[1] The Simarillion.  I have changed the names Tolkien gave to Eru Illuvtar and the Ainur and Melkor to their Greatest Story (biblical) counterparts in order to facilitate the storytelling to a group who is not familiar with Tolkien’s world.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

What was I thinking!?! Surviving the first week of my DMin program

What was I thinking?

It's a question I've asked myself over and over again that first week of my doctoral program as I struggled with writing papers and a sermon and the intense classwork you expect in a 3 week summer program.

What was I thinking?  Am I ready for this?

What was I thinking? Am I smart enough for this?

What was I thinking? I chose to have to write an exegetical paper - again!  I must be crazy!

What was I thinking?

Sitting there on Saturday morning after surviving that first week, I remembered what I was thinking the prevous Saturday as I packed for this adventure.

I knew I'd be busy during the week.  There would be books to read and things to write, maybe some evening discussion with my classmates.  I was sure I wouldn't have time to spare during the week (and I didn't!).

But then there was Saturday and Sunday.  Two long, lonely days looming large on my horizon.  Surely there wouldn't be enough class work to fill them both.  How would I fill those days stuck in seminary guest housing?

What was I thinking?

Well, I wasn't thinking that there would be others in my position, far from home who would also be stranded in the seminary housing.

I wasn't thinking about Chris and Laurie, who love the wonders of the city they live in, and said, "Come and see the Stone Arch Bridge!  And you HAVE to have Izzy's Ice Cream!  And aren't you tired of seminary food, I know this great place where we can go and have good food and great fellowship!" And organized dinner on Thursday night and a field trip Friday afternoon - and then proceeded to tell us of other great places to see and to make some tentative plans for next weekend too.

I wasn't thinking of Trish, who led me into temptation by telling me as we walked to breakfast Saturday morning about the art in the park show right next to our breakfast destination.  I spent the morning immersing myself in beauty with - and this is the amazing part to someone who drags her spouse to these things- someone else who loves art shows!  So many lovely beads.....

I wasn't thinking of Elisabeth or Steven who joined Trish and I in making dinner Saturday night.

I wasn't thinking of Lee who accidentally overheard a conversation with my kids, and asked, "Is everything ok?"

I wasn't thinking of Cindy or Amrela or Lesley who also struggled with the same doubt and fears and asking "What was I thinking?" and yet shared their stories and support as we all begin this new adventure together.

I wasn't thinking of the cohort two years ahead of us that was eager to meet us and share their wisdom and encourage us.

I wasn't thinking of the community that grows when we gather together.

As Trish and I explored the artist's tents and ooh'd and aah'd over the art, I reluctantly moved away from a particular piece of art that was just out of my budget, And then I said, "I just realized we'll be back here next year!"  She responded, "I thought of that too!"

I think in that moment what I understood that this is more than just a class, or a program, or time at continuing ed.  The ten us us are more than classmates - we are a community.

Community is so important.  Humans are social creatures – we were created to be in relationship with one another and with God.  We may admire the myth of the rugged individual pulling him/herself up by the bootstraps, but that’s just not the way we’re designed.  We need each other.  We need God.

That’s why worshiping together is so important.  Yes you can worship God in the middle of a lake or a forest – I’ve done so myself.  But we need each other - just like I needed the others in my Dmin cohort.  We need to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), to rejoice with each other and share each other’s suffering together (1 Corinthians 12:26).  We need to hear the testimony of others who have traveled down the same roads we are travelling, who can proclaim God’s steadfast love and faithfulness at the times we need to hear it most.  And we need give others that encouragement gleaned from our own encounters with God.  As it says in Hebrews 10:24-25:  And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

This is why gathering together as a community of believers, worshiping together, working together, praying and playing together is important.  Sure, God can be worshiped any place and time.  But God knows that we need each other – especially in those times we ask ourselves, “What was I thinking!”    

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Charleston: It's Personal.

I know.

You’re tired of hearing about the shootings in Charleston.  It’s old news.  Other stuff is going on in the world, in your life.  Why am I writing about something that happened two weeks ago, all the way across the nation?

Because it’s personal.

The two pastors who were killed went to one of my denomination’s seminaries.  Not the one I attended, but I have dear classmates of color who taught me much about faith and trust and God’s steadfast love and mercy.  I mourn the deaths of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and Rev. Daniel Simmons as deeply as if they were one of my classmates.  Indeed they were my colleagues in ministry, as was Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor and Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton who also were murdered that night.

I can’t imagine the deep shock and grief of a congregation losing not just one, but four pastors, as well as five other congregation members:  Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, and Susie Jackson.  My heart aches for my sisters and brothers at Mother Emmanuel.  While I have never worshipped at Mother Emmanuel AME Church, in seminary I did worship at two AME congregations in Columbus Ohio as part of the African-American Religious Experience class.  I remember being one of six or seven white faces in the congregation as we nervously looked at one another waiting for the service to start.  I remember that nervousness fleeing as we were warmly welcomed as brothers and sisters in Christ, truly included as part of the worshiping community, experiencing the joy of faith in a new way.

The shooter was a young man from a congregation in my denomination.  I said this was personal – it gets very personal here.  I imagine him standing in front of the congregation only a few years ago as they congratulated him on his graduation from high school, presenting him with a gift from the congregation, perhaps a quilt lovingly made by the women’s circle.  I see him as a young teenager on his confirmation day, rejecting the forces of sin, death and the devil, professing his faith, and kneeling at the altar rail as the pastor lays hands on his head and says, Father in heaven, for Jesus sake, stir up in him the gift of your Holy Spirit; confirm his faith, guide his life, empower him in his serving, give him patience in suffering, and bring him/her to everlasting life.  I see a 5th grade boy reaching out his hand for the bread of life the first time he took Holy Communion.  I see a proud 3rd grade boy clutching the new Bible the congregation has just given him.  I see a young boy in a bathrobe wishing he was old enough to be a wise man instead of a shepherd at the Christmas pageant.  I see a baby, the waters of baptism poured on his head as he was named and claimed a beloved child of God.

He was one of ours.  A child raised to love God and love the neighbor as himself.  Taught to follow Jesus, who gave us a new commandment: to love as he first loved us.  And I wonder how this young man found the story of white supremacy and hate and fear more compelling than the Story in which he was raised?   

It’s time to ask ourselves some questions.  Yes we need to pray.  Pray God comforts those who mourn the nine deaths in Charleston and brings comfort and healing to everyone who suffers from hatred and violence. Pray for the young man who did such a terrible act, for his family, for his congregation.

But we also need to take a long look inside ourselves and ask some hard questions.  We need to repent of our own fear and hatred of those who are different from us. To ask God to open our eyes so that we see in the other someone who is created in the image of God, who is deeply loved by God.  To ask God to open our hearts so we may love with God’s love for the world.     

This is personal.  It's about you and me and the systems of racism and injustice in our societies and how we participate - often without even realizing it - in those systems.  It's about realizing that this could have happened anywhere, in any of our communities.

This is personal.  We serve a God of love, who created ALL humans in the divine image.  Who loves ALL the world so much that God came and dwelt among us.  Lived and died on a cross, because of those systems of power and injustice.  We are called to follow the one who knelt down and washed the disciples feet, commanding them to love - the last act before he was unjustly arrested and crucified.

This is personal. The resurrection is God's resounding "NO!" to the forces of sin, death and the devil.  We are called to bear witness to God's "YES!" to life and love, to stand in the face of hate and death, We need to talk about racism.  We need to listen to those who suffer from it's insidious hold on our society.  We need to name those places where racism, poverty, injustice, violence, hatred and fear still reign - and to take a stand and say "No more!"

This is personal.