Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post Election Prayer

It was the Sunday after the election many years ago.  I was worshipping at with my congregation that morning and the mood was not happy.  Much of the congregation had voted for the other guy – the candidate who was defeated.  They were sure that the winning candidate would ruin our country, economically, morally, socially. 

The prelude ended and the pastor began the announcements by saying, “I know that many of you are unhappy with the outcome of the election.  I know that you are afraid of how this president will lead us.  I want to start this morning by telling you the Christian response to this election.”
We waited, most expecting him to denounce the president-elect. And I have never forgotten what he 

“Pray for this president.”

“Pray that God will guide his decisions and give him wisdom.  Pray that all of our leaders will lead us wisely.  I know that many of you will have trouble with this.  But this is the Christian response, the Biblical response.  Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”  And if you still have trouble praying for this president, remember that Jesus said to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44).”

Then he led us in a prayer.

As I write this, I don’t know the outcome of the election.  I do know that there will be people who are excited by the outcome and filled with hope, and there will be people who fear what the newly elected candidate will do once in office.  What I do know is this:  as Christians, our response is clear.  We are to pray for God to give our leaders wisdom to lead us in paths of justice and righteousness.  And if that’s hard for you with this president elect, think about this:  those leaders and governments Paul was telling his readers to pray for   - that was the Roman emperor and the hated Roman Empire, whose abuses of power often meant the persecution of Christians, whose Pax Romana was maintained though conquest and oppression.  If the early Christians could pray for their persecutors, how much more can we pray for our country, which we love, and for our leaders, whatever we might think of them?

This election has been soul-wearying in so many ways.  And the atmosphere of fear and division has not dissipated just because votes were cast.  Jesus begins the sermon in which he tells us to love our enemies with the Beatitudes.  We are called to be peacemakers, to comfort those who mourn, to be merciful.  We begin our work by praying:

Creator and Keeper of All:

We pray for ourselves 
            that Your love would soften our own hearts 
            so we may be the salt and light 
            our country and this world so desperately needs.  

We pray for our divisions to be healed.  

We pray for Your holy wisdom 
            to inspire and guide our leaders.  

We pray for Your reign to come, 
             and You will to be done
             in our lives, 
             in our congregations, 
             in our communities,
             in our country, 
             in the world.

We pray this no matter who is President, 
             for we put our trust in You.

We pray this always.

We pray in hope and in fear

We pray in faith of your love for us and the world.

We pray

Monday, November 7, 2016

Put Not Your Trust in Mortals A Pre-Election Reminder

I don’t know about you, but I am totally sick of the election season.  And I will be lifting up a prayer of thanksgiving on tomorrow morning, because it’s finally over!

But we know that just because the election may be over, it’s not really over.  No matter who wins or loses, the hard work of governing this nation is ahead of them.  It’s a tough job, one made even harder by the partisan divide our country is embroiled in, and by the ugly words said during the campaign.  Words that have deepened our divisions and pitted groups against each other.  

We who are called to be peacemakers have our work cut out for us! How do we vote faithfully? 

I have a few words of advice for you before you go to the polls:

Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
 the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.

It seems to me that this Psalm has it right – don’t trust in mortals, trust in God.  We put a lot of stock in who we elect to govern us, to fix this country’s problems, to lead us in the right path – maybe we put too much stock in what they can do.  After all, the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof (also from the Psalms).

That doesn’t mean it’s not important to choose good leaders.  Pray about your vote, pray about the election, pray for the candidates (no matter what their party!).  Pray about your hopes and fears for the future.  Turn it all over to the One who reigns forever.

Whatever your fears and hopes, whoever you plan on voting for, remember that in the end, God is in control.  Which is the very best news I’ve heard all election season!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Cry for Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, Dallas, Orlando and for Our Church

It was 10:30 pm and I was waiting to cross the street from the seminary campus to the family housing.  I had worked the closing shift in the seminary library and everyone else had headed home when the library closed at 10.  All the businesses on Main Street were closed, except for the Kroger two blocks down and across the creek that separated the safe suburb of Bexley from East Columbus with is high rates of drug deals, crime, and murder..   I was alone, waiting for the ‘walk’ signal.  Then I saw two young black men in hoodies walking up from the Kroger on the other side of the street.

I hated the feeling I got in my gut. I looked around - no one was coming to join me at the light.  I was completely alone.  I started to make a mental inventory - I had no cash, nothing of value, good.  Then I remembered I was carrying my laptop in my backpack.  What would I do without my laptop - all my notes and my papers were on it..   I hated myself for thinking such things. I’m a good person. I’m not racist, not prejudiced, I told myself.  Yet, I see two black men on the street at night and my mind immediately goes there.  I wondered if they were two white men, would I be having the same internal conversation?

This is a safe community, I reassured myself.  I let the kids walk to their friends houses all the time.   Besides, maybe they will be past the corner by the time the light changes and I cross the street.

No luck - the light changed, and I was going to have to walk right past them.  Our apartment was the closest to the corner and my husband was some, so maybe he would hear me if I screamed loud enough.  Stop it!  I told myself - you’re better than this.  

The men were close enough now that I could hear them talking - in Swahili.  I relaxed.  Just two international students from the college across the other street from the seminary. Whew!  I was safe. We smiled in greeting and went on our ways.

But I kept thinking about the encounter, ashamed of my immediate fear.  

Aw Pastor, you might want to say.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.  That was a reasonable response.  You have to be concerned for your own safety.

Don’t say it.  I don’t want to be reasonable.  I don’t want to be safe.

I don’t want to be consoled.

I want to be outraged.

I want to rail against a world that says it’s ok to mock and belittle, fear and hate someone because of the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their religion their gender, their sexual orientation or ability levels.

I want to lament with God over the pain she must surely
feel as she watches her warring children.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy..

I want to lament with God as God weeps as a man is killed when being arrested for selling CD’s, a man is shot in a routine traffic stop, police officers are targeted and five lose their lives protecting an otherwise peaceful protest.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy..

I want to lament with God as God weeps over the death of a man who struggled with his sexual orientation and learned to hate himself so much that he opened fired up a gathering place of people like him. I want to lament with God over the 49 deaths he caused. My heart breaks with God's when a pastor - a pastor - can say that more should have died, because anyone with a different sexual orientation or gender identity outside of God’s love.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

I want to lament with God as God weeps over the human pain and suffering of refugees fleeing a murderous invasion of their towns, escaping with their lives to live in squalor can be ignored and discounted because those refugees who are fleeing from the same murderous group we fear just. Might. Be. harboring. One. of. Them.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

I want to lament with God as God weeps over as walls of hatred and fences of fear say that it’s all the fault of those people pouring over our borders.  If they just went back where they belong, everything would be ok.  After all, everyone knows that Latinos and Latinas are just drug dealers and users, thieves, murderers, and rapists.  

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

I want to lament with God as God weeps when all Muslims are lumped together and branded as terrorists, ignoring their pain as their religion is misused as justification for horrendous acts committed by a small group.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

I want to lament with God as God weeps over a culture is so steeped in hate and privilege that a young man baptized and raised in our house could sit through a bible study and be welcomed and prayed for and then calmly open fire on his African American hosts in hopes of starting a race war.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

I want to lament with God as God weeps when God’s children see with eyes of fear, as I saw with eyes of fear the threat in two black youth walking down the street instead of seeing the image of God in them.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

This is the malady the church suffers from.  This is what has brought us to this place where fear and hate and systemic sin have so corrupted our political process, our economy, our culture, our very ways of communicating with and relating to each other, to the point that we post our “thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragedy” and in less than 30 seconds our thoughts have turned to the cute kitten video we share next.

Lord have mercy,
Christ have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

I want to lament with God.  I don’t want to be consoled.  I have not been called to be consoled.

Here is our call:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; (2 Corinthians 5:16-18)

We have been called to a ministry of reconciliation.

We regard now one from a human point of view.
I'm not sure that Paul had in mind his admonition to the Galatians  - neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female when he wrote these words.  But since the Orlando shootings, these words has been going through my mind like a mantra.  

Or maybe an accusation:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view

You know I never planned on actually preaching this sermon.  I wrote it for you, but I wrote it for class. This was my pain and grief and and confession after the Orlando shootings. I thought at best, I would post this sermon in my blog.  I was so sure that by the time July 31 rolled around - when this passage in Paul was scheduled to be read - we would have moved on.  But I preached this sermon for the first time in a classroom just 1 ½ miles from the place where Philando Castile was shot.

But the mantra keeps ringing in my head.  And today, July 10th, just four Sundays after Orlando, blood still flows in our nation’s streets.

The day after the Orlando shootings, one of our modern day prophets, Steven Colbert, began his monologue by saying:

“Naturally, we each ask ourselves what can you possible say in the face of this horror,” he said. “Then sadly you realize you know what to say because it’s been said too many times before.... It’s as if there’s a national script that we have learned. And I think by accepting the script we tacitly accept that the script will end the same way every time. With nothing changing. Except for the loved ones and the families of the victims for whom nothing will ever be the same.”

Nothing changes.  
Except for the families of the victims.

We don’t take direction from the national script!.  

We read from God’s script and it says”

From now on,
we regard no one from a human point of view;
even though we once knew Christ
from a human point of view,
we know him no longer in that way.
So if anyone is in Christ,
there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away;
All this is from God,
who reconciled us to himself through Christ,
and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;

We regard no one from a human point of view.  

We read from God’s script and it says
  • Everyone is fearfully and wonderfully made
  • Everyone is made a little lower than the angels
  • Everyone is created in the image of God
  • Everyone is a beloved child of God

And we who are heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ Jesus
  • Whom God sent not to condemn this world that God so loves, but to bring life and reconciliation.
  • Must stand up and say, have to stand up and say:
From now on,
we regard
no one
from a human point of view.

For as long as we see through human eyes,
as long as we see “other”,
as long as we are not willing to step out of our comfortable bubble and take a risk,
we cannot serve as ambassadors of Christ.

I don’t want to be consoled.  Or reasonable.  Or safe.

I want to be that new creation!  I want to be reconciled to God and an ambassador of reconciliation.

I confess my own sin, my own complicity, all the times I turned my eyes away - I invite you to pray with me:

O God my eyes are still too human - I want to see with your eyes but can't.  I long to be the new creation you have made me in Christ.
I’m not truly reconciled until I have those eyes.  Oh -  I know I am reconciled to you - but my eyes still see from a human point of view.  My eyes keep me from seeing you in the other.  My eyes keep me from seeing people you deeply love and desperately want to be reconciled with.  
Heal my broken eyes and hardness of heart.  Give me new eye, your eyes.  Soften my heart till it bleeds with your love and compassion.  Reconcile me to you and to my brothers and sisters of all colors, creeds, ethnicities, orientation.  Make me your new creation in Christ.   Amen.

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.