Monday, June 26, 2017

Conflict and Baptismal Call

Matthew 10:24-39 & Romans 6:1b-11
They tell us preachers to tell the truth, to be true to the text, and to preach good news, but it surely doesn’t look like there is any good news in the gospel lesson today and the text is a little alarming, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  I wrestled with it all week long.  Read commentaries.  Wrote obsessively in my journal.  Talked it over with friends from different faith American Baptist, a few Roman Catholics, a Reformed Jew.  Talked it over with other Lutheran pastors.  Complained to a few people, too.  And many of the people I complained to this week suggested (in one case implored) that I preach primarily on the Romans text. 

And really, Paul with his, “we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” is certainly easier to hear and to preach on than Jesus with his, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

To tell you the truth, I am a little afraid to preach on this text, because even though I understand what Jesus is calling us to do, even though I would and have and will put my life on the line to save and to serve others, it is terrifying to preach the call of Jesus to people whom I love…because what Jesus says is hard and what Jesus asks of us is uncomfortable and sometimes scary, and historically, when I have said these things in the light, folks whom I love have gotten mighty angry with me.

And that’s exactly what Jesus promises in this text.  He is talking about the kinds of conflict that will arise when we are fully committed to God’s way of mutuality.  We’ll find ourselves at odds with the public sphere, with the institution of the church, with our friends, with our families, with our loved ones.  But when we are committed to God’s way of mutuality, we are fully committed to the understanding of God’s love, grace, and shalom in everyday life, in every aspect of human relationship: public, private, economic, political, personal and communal, body, mind and environment.

If we are committed to this way of life to this kind of life for ALL people, then it’s going to require a little uncomfortableness on our part.  It will require some stretching and some bending and some giving up and moving over and maybe some shouting in the public square…and that’s especially hard to do when we are aware that we are suffering, too.  (Or you know, if we’re introverts…that whole spontaneous public speaking thing can be challenging.)

But here’s the thing:  I think we all too often avoid the tough conversations and shy away from what Jesus is really saying in order to stay comfortable.  And too often, our comfort comes at high cost to someone else.

I think that within the confines of Christianity in the United States, we have attempted to domesticate Jesus.  If we keep Jesus in the box of healer, comforter, friend, divine guy who came to take away our sin and make us feel good…well that Jesus, the calm one in the landscape painting with sheep at his side and rosy cheeked, blue-eyed children in his lap, that Jesus is so much easier to live with than the guy who comes bearing a sword. Keeping Jesus tame helps keep us comfortable.

And it’s not that those things aren’t true or that that image of Jesus is bad or wrong.  It’s just that it’s incomplete.

If we examine Jesus through the gospels and through the lens of history, what we know to be true is that, in addition to those things, Jesus was a religious public leader, a nonviolent revolutionary who sought to fundamentally reorient the way people lived with each other and themselves. Jesus called systems and rulers into account.  He put his life and his reputation on the line for the sake of those whom the world called “bad.”  He got angry and threw things. 

If God took on flesh and walked among us today, in this nation, I wonder what she would think and say and do.  Would she calmly look around and tell us that she understands that globally we’re doing the best that we can?  Or would she flip over tables and shout because week after week our best intentions still leave children hungry, refugees displaced, and millions without access to healthcare.

Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on state, national, or international policy.  I don’t know exactly what the answers are to the myriad troubles and evils that plague this nation and this world.  But I do know that if one child is hungry, Jesus weeps.  And I do know that if one person dies because there is no place which will offer him welcome, Jesus weeps.

And I also know that it is my job as a non-violent, public Christian leader to shine the light on the things that we are called by Christ to attend to.  Even if I'm afraid someone will be angry with me for doing it.  And that shows up in the gospel lesson today, Jesus says, “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops”

 And it is our jobs as followers of Jesus, as Christians, to do the thing that is before us.  In recovery communities, we often say, “do the next right thing.”  Sometimes that next right thing is scary.  Sometimes we wonder if sharing means we are going to go without.  Sometimes amplifying the voices of those who are wounded by this culture of domination or lending our voices to the voiceless puts us in a position to be wounded, too.

Because the truth is, when you speak out for the weak, voiceless, oppressed, marginalized, and vulnerable, you are aligning yourself with them and making yourself vulnerable.  People will use that vulnerability to say you’re wrong or too-sensitive or bad.  It’s gonna sting.  It’s going to hurt.  Do it anyway.

Because it is our baptismal calling.  Remember hearing Romans?  “we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life”

Newness of life…a new way of living.  A reformed and reforming world where all people are loved, valued, cared for beloved…God’s way of mutuality.

As I pondered all of this this week, I felt overwhelmed.  And I don’t know about you, but when I get overwhelmed, I can shut down.  Become ineffective.  But then today my friend Kevin Strickland reminded me of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

People of God, hear the Good News:  you are freed, forgiven, and beloved.

Now, in response to your baptism, do the thing in front of you.  Do the next right thing.  Do your little bit of good.  For the sake of the Gospel.  For the sake of the world.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

keep singing

keep singing
               light into darkness
               hope into hearts
               love into the world

keep singing even if you have to borrow
               somebody's words
               somebody's tune
               somebody's breath

keep singing
               until my heart becomes yours
               until your heart becomes mine
               until the world knows we all are one

               one heart
               one hope
               one humanity


keep singing

(originally published on 6.13.16 in response to the shootings at Pulse in Orlando)

Monday, June 12, 2017

God in Relationship

the book read for the children's message at APLC on Holy Trinity Sunday

Holy Trinity Sunday
Matthew 28:16-20
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
a sermon for the people
of Abiding Presence Lutheran Church

“Three in One and One for all!”  This is what my imagination comes up with as I think about explaining the Trinity, and of course, it does’t completely capture God in three persons.  In the course of my life in the church, I have seen (and used myself in my youth ministry days) a variety of imperfect, incomplete, or downright laughable “illustrations”…none of them quite hit the mark.  Let’s see, there is shell + white + yolk = egg, or peel + flesh + core = apple, or that perennial favorite, steam + liquid + ice = water.  The water analogy is another version of the “I am always only ever me.  Yet, at the same time, I am ‘mom’ to my children, ‘daughter’ to my parents, ‘sister’ to my siblings. One person, three ways of being known." But that kind of thinking is called modalism.  And it is heresy!

How are we to think of the Trinity then?  Excellent question.  And the truth is I have no idea.  Like much about God, the Trinity is a mystery…one beyond our human imagination.  Unencompassed by even the very, very clever (and completely original, I’m sure) “Three in One and One for all!”

In our lessons for today: Genesis tells of God the Spirit moving on the waters and God the Creator creating the world by speaking it into being; and since the Gospel according to St John says that God the Son is the Word of God and that “in the beginning was the WORD”, we who are self-professed Jesus-as-Son followers can find traces of the Trinity in the first creation account.

The New Testament and the Gospel readings are a little more explicit; Matthew refers to baptizing in the name of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” and 2 Corinthians refers to the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.  There’s no “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” language here.  Rather there is a focus more on community, love, and grace than on the names or titles of the three in one.

Nowhere in scripture do we find the word “trinity” or an explanation of how God is both three and one at the same time.

So maybe rather than thinking about the “how” of the Trinity and risking a burning at the stake as heretics (just kidding.  I’m pretty sure we don’t do that anymore), but just maybe we should be thinking about and praying about the impact that the Trinity has on our lives, on our reality.

The Trinity shows us God in relationship…in God’s way of mutuality.

And that relationship is ever changing, ever growing, ever expanding to invite absolutely everyone to relationship with God and with one another.  Where each is valuable, “good”, precious, beloved by God.  Where each seeks to value, love, and call one another “good”.

I believe that we are called to God’s way of mutuality.

“Jesus' believed that God's way for human beings to live, to live with each other and the planet that is in our care was emerging and in-breaking. He taught that while the kingdom of domination was all around us and in us, that God was moving to change that. Jesus invited disciples to join him in announcing and living within God's Reign of Mutuality.
Everyone was invited: Jews, Greeks, Romans, gentiles, Samaritans, the poor, the rich, the blind, lost, the confused, those who were too certain of themselves, women, men, children and so on.

Everyone is still invited. Everyone.

In God's Reign of Mutuality we are invited to practice Baptismal Awareness: to integrate into our conscious lives the paradoxes and contradictions of human life. This means that human beings can learn to reduce the teeter-totter of dominance and submission and learn to hold one another as equals and to remember that we are beloved of God. Paul speaks to this in his beautiful imagery of the church as the body of Christ.

In domination culture the ideal human is a powerful one. In mutuality culture, the ideal human is one who embraces life-as-it-is and who seeks to hold others as equals with differing gifts. Mutuality culture can be understood as an open circle with the cross in the middle. The cross represents God's willingness to join us in the midst of our humanity and to suffer with us rather than to dominate us. Jesus whole life reminds us of God's self-giving love.”[1]

God exists in community, and God invites us into that community, too, into a family of equals who share a common mission and a common life but who exist in that community as individual members of creation uniquely beautiful but who are more brilliant together than they could ever be on their own.

If we think about God this way:  God in relationship, then it makes our reality more understandable…we are made in the image of God and God needs community…of course we need community, too!  A community centered around our God…who created us, loves us, and calls us into life with God…living in God’s way of mutuality in which no one person or group of persons is more valuable or beloved than another…but in which we are called to love and to serve and to invite the whole world.

as my Goddaddy says,

“Our calling today, on this Holy Trinity Sunday, is neither figuring out the Trinity nor explaining it.

Our calling is living the Trinity in our lives and in the holy and loving community we call the church. (and inviting others into God’s Reign of Mutuality)

Our calling is to join with one another in caring for creation.

Our calling is to take up our cross and follow the Christ in the work of spreading God’s love in the world.

Our calling is to pray together and to be open to the leading of God’s Spirit on our lives, come what may.”[2]


Monday, June 5, 2017

skyward bound

Related image

fireflies rising from their sleep
under the weeping willow

each drop of sorrow
was buried

and resurrected
to joy and light and life

on this summer evening
skyward bound