Posted in Sermons, Writing

Pretty Words for Messy Work: A Sermon on Matthew 9:35-10:8

Today is Graduate Recognition Sunday. Now, I know there are a lot of jokes that can go around about graduation speeches, lots of cliches and worn-out metaphors and cheesy illustrations…I have experienced several graduations in my life, the most recent of which was only two years ago, in advance of my moving to Seattle and serving in ministry with you. I can confirm that many graduation speeches have these hallmarks of cheesiness. And also, many don’t, and it’s a shame that many don’t remember the wisdom shared. But, it’s also understandable. Because graduations are a time of life transition, a liminal time where there is tension between leaving the sureness of the past and venturing into the unknown future. Whether you or a loved one are transitioning from kindergarten to grade school, from middle- to high-school, from high-school to college or into a degree program or finishing education, graduation times are liminal. Life transitions can be exciting, because it is often good news that situations change, that things don’t have to be as they always were, that something new is on the horizon. And it’s also natural to experience fear, anxiety, and trepidation when you are called forth, called to attend to something new beyond yourself and embrace a new way of living. 

Enter our Scripture for the day, which Delia read so well, the story of Jesus calling the disciples. I think it’s easy to gloss past this part of the gospel of Matthew, hurrying on to get to the good stuff of healings, preachings, parables and more. Why do we need to know the names of the disciples or where they’re from or what their professions were? That’s boring information, I’m here to learn about Jesus!

Though the disciples’ personal stories may go the way of common graduation speeches and fade soon from memory, let’s take a moment to get to know these folks. Because they, like today’s graduates, like all of us in this current societal moment, are being called to something beyond themselves. In this group of disciples, we have two sets of brothers: Simon Peter and Andrew; James and John. We have a tax collector, Matthew, who worked for the Empire and was probably not a popular person because of his profession. We have Simon from Canaan, who in Luke’s gospel and Acts is also referred to as a “zealot,” so he would have been a passionate revolutionary who probably didn’t get along so well with Matthew being in the pocket of the Empire. We have Thomas, who we know had a lot of doubts about the Jesus movement. And we have Judas, who eventually would trade insider information about Jesus resulting in his arrest and violent death at the hands of the state. 

And Jesus, gathered this motley crew, “gave them authority over unclean spirits to throw them out and to heal every disease and every sickness,” taught them to travel unencumbered across the land, relying on the hospitality of strangers, refusing payment for their services and living simply. 

One must ask, perhaps a la Thomas, if the disciples knew what they were getting into when they faced that moment of transition. We hear in other Scriptures about how Peter left his home and family, James and John left their father, the fisherman Zebedee. They lived with a common purse and shared all things, and sometimes were chased out of town, and were watched by imperial spies. So what made them become followers of the Way? 

I’d argue they knew what they were doing, at least in part. Jesus offered a vision of how life could be, a vision that was so tempting and world-bending that it was worth leaving behind the security of life the way they had always lived. 

And so today, I ask you, do you see the vision? Do you feel the world that is possible, and, to quote author Arundhati Roy, that is so close you “can hear her breathing”?

Let me be clear: I’m not only asking our graduates this question, because in my brief experience of these people in our community, they have vision. The graduates we celebrate today have a vision of a world characterized by peace, they make music, they think deeply, they demonstrate for justice in the streets, they take action in their schools, they work with children, they advocate for accessible teaching pedagogies. Nola, Sarah, Eva, Jessica, David, Anna have a vision of a better world. 

So I ask again, do you see the vision of the world that is possible? And I suggest that it is closer than we may think. 

Detroit-based activist, author and movement strategist adrienne maree brown suggests that USAmerican society is suffering from a crisis of imagination. This resonates deeply with me, as there are many places in my individual life and our collective life as a country that I have taken for granted, been apathetic and even cynical towards, thinking those intoxicating words “this is how it’ll always be.” On last week’s episode of the podcast “The Word is Resistance,” a project of the Faith division of the Showing Up for Racial Justice organization, Jean Jeffress, a minister from Oakland, CA, shared this characterization of our current situation in the United States: “The US empire has literally never been anything but a white supremacist holdout that literally fought a war against itself to try to keep black people enslaved and has for centuries written into its laws and customs the violent exclusion of every nonwhite person and, lets face it, every non-Christian tradition. And then there’s capitalism…and it just screws everyone over.” Indeed, a crisis of imagination deeply plagues this country for us to wind up in a place where justice has still not reached our Black, brown and indigenous siblings. 

Again, Jean Jeffress, “There is nothing creative about white supremacy. There is nothing creative about colonialism or the building up and crumbling of empires over the millennia. There is nothing creative about imperialism or the violence it takes to maintain imperial order and rule over imperial subjects. There is nothing creative about capitalism or patriarchy, all tools of empire. All of these things are based on extraction. Of labor, resources, human beings for forced labor, culture, language, history, stories, religion, music, extraction of the very breath from the bodies of God’s children.”

adrienne maree brown encourages me, encourages us, to combat this crisis of imagination and push in whatever ways we can for a renewed spirit of creativity towards liberation.  I highly recommend her book Emergent Strategy, a concept which she describes as “how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for.”

Beloved church, these are pretty words for messy work. 

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve had family and friends from across the country reach out to me because of the things they’re seeing on the news about Seattle. “Why are the police tear gassing protestors with umbrellas?” “Do you know anyone in the front lines?” “Why would there need to be street medics?” “What does it mean to ‘Defund the Police’?” And, of course, “What is this Autonomous Zone all about?”

I have to admit I’ve had trouble knowing what to say, at times. There’s a lot of misinformation going around about what has been and is happening a mere few blocks from our church home in Capitol Hill. The images we have been seeing conjure feelings from anger to un-surprise to shock to galvanizing for action. Police using rubber bullets at close range against protestors, spraying children with pepper spray, releasing tear gas on protestors. Journalists running away as flash bang grenades are thrown towards them. Friends writing each other’s phone numbers on their arms in case of arrest or medical emergency. A car surging through a group of protesters and the driver shooting someone trying to protect others…then being arrested calmly with little force. Legal observers staying vigilant through hours and hours of rising tension. Neighbors filming from above in hopes their view of the streets below will be enlightening. 

And, we have also seen regular people exercising their imaginations as they creatively show up for each other. Local businesses opening their doors to share food with protestors, to shield them from gas. Nurses who finish COVID-19 testing all day volunteering their time as street medics. Barricades in the street covered with graffiti, guerilla gardens popping up in street medians, black and brown activists telling their stories to white folks who actually put their lives on pause to listen and learn, poetry written on the pavement, the documentary 13th showing on a screen in Cal Anderson park, people making food for each other and giving it away freely, community health advocates helping people in need. “Black Lives Matter” painted in a rainbow of colors and patterns down Pine Street. (If you haven’t seen a photo of this mural, it is stunning.)

https://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/h8er1i/black_lives_matter_mural_on_east_pine_street_in/

Here we have a vision of what could be. People showing up, with their own life experiences, multifaceted identities, and varying levels of access to resources, embracing the vision of the Autonomous Zone, a vision of a world beyond punitive policing. This is a vision from our Black, brown and indigenous siblings, and I want to follow this vision. A vision of what is possible when people treat each other with kindness, generosity, compassion, when people demand accountability from systems that have gone unchecked. I’m not saying that everything is perfect in the Autonomous Zone, but I must admit that the vision is beautiful. It is a vision of what a world characterized by imagination can do and what a creative community can be.

Hear this poem from adrienne maree brown:

There is an edge

Beyond which we cannot grasp the scale

Of our universe.

That border,

That outer boundary

Is imagination.

The only known edge of existence

The only one we can prove by universal experience –

We can imagine so much!

We can only imagine so much.

If perhaps it is a function of our collective minds

A dream of our endless nights

Then there will be abundance so long as we can imagine it –

Abundance on earth

If we can imagine it

Or abundance of earths

A sphere for every tribe

And every combination.

And to have it all

All we need is to remember

there is an edge

And grow our dreams beyond it.

Friends, we must expand our imagination. As we grow our dreams beyond the edges that surround us, hear this good news: though the systems of entrenched power and privilege thrive on extraction and apathy, to quote Jean Jeffress again, “God extracts nothing. The power of God is the power of life. Is the power of grass growing up through concrete, is the power of extinct species reappearing, which has happened recently. Is the power of black and brown people in the US surviving and being glorious even though nearly every ounce of political and institutional will has been used to crush and dehumanize. God is the power of creation, not extraction. God is creation and creation is alive.”

Beloveds, the gospel today is that another world is possible. The good news is that we are experiencing a sacred call to work for justice and to cultivate God’s vision. The good news is that things don’t always have to be this way, the good news is that after decades and decades of advocacy against police brutality, Black and brown activists are seeing traction. The good news is that WE have been called to be disciples of Jesus, to follow the Way of Jesus, to spread compassion, to heal, to decry the evils of systemic sin, to engage in the movement with each our own gifts and talents. The good news is that in a liminal time, Jesus gathered a motley crew of people from all walks of life, to think creatively and to live into a vision of another world. Indeed, that’s what God is doing with us TODAY. 

May we travel by the Way of Justice as we join in the building of a Beloved Community. Amen. 

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Originally preached for Seattle First Baptist Church, June 14, 2020.

Posted in Sermons

Finding Our Way

Scripture John 14:1-14

When I was in elementary school, sometimes my grandpa would pick me up from school. He’d drive up in his Camry and announce that we were going on an adventure. Usually this involved some form of getting “lost” along the 15 mile stretch of farmland that separated our small towns. Grandpa would ask me which way to turn onto country roads flanked by rows of corn, wheat and soybeans, and then at some point say delightedly, “Ok, we’re good and lost. How do we find our way home?” 

And I, aged six or seven or eight years old, learned not to be scared by being lost. You see, Grandpa had shared with me some skills to help me find our way home. He had taught me to navigate by the sun. With a map in hand and a watch telling the time and a clear view of the sun, I could usually get us homeward bound. Every time I look towards the sky, I remember those lessons in way-finding.

In this Scripture passage from John chapter 14, Jesus is surrounded by people who are feeling lost and confused. This passage is part of the Farewell Discourse, kind of the last instructions Jesus gave before his arrest and crucifixion. Jesus says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith in me as well. In God’s house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you? I am indeed going to prepare a place for you, and then I will come back to take you with me, that where I am there you may be as well. You know the way that leads to where I am going.” And Thomas, bless his heart, says, “But we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” 

And then Jesus shares these words, “I myself am the Way—I am Truth, and I am life.” 

Well, ok, Jesus, that really clears it up. Thanks for the obvious and to-the-point answer. 

Honestly, I feel a lot of kinship with Thomas, whose name is often synonymous with a lack of faith. Especially right now, as institutions across the country and world are planning the way forward with reopening industry and businesses. Especially right now, as some shelter in place orders remain through May, as they do in Washington State, and others expire earlier, or have expired already. I wonder how we can know the way forward when so many talk optimistically about the lessons our society can learn during this pandemic, and yet every news cycle reveals this country is still dreadfully sick with the poison of white supremacy that results in the murder of beloved black and brown children of God. 

Thomas has a point, doesn’t he? How can we know the way?  

Most of us are probably familiar with sayings that assure us that meaning is in our journey and not our destination. I wonder what Thomas would say about that. It seems like in this passage the disciples are taking Jesus’ words literally, concerning a literal destination of a house that has many rooms that Jesus is going to visit ahead of them. Thomas, Philip, Peter and others were worried about the physical location of Jesus so they could accompany him and continue ministry with him. But Jesus had different ideas. For him, The Way was not a path that could be marked on a map. The Way was a mode of living in collaboration with Truth and Life. The writers of the Hebrew Scriptures often referred to the way of wisdom, and following a path of life. This was the worldview into which Jesus was born, grew, lived and died. In fact, the early church was called “the followers of the Way.”  

Now, this famous Scripture passage continues as Jesus says the only way to know Abba God is through him, and that he and Abba God are one, indwelling together, recalling the poetic prologue to John that reads “In the beginning, the Word was with God and the Word was God.” We must be careful with this text because so many Christians over time have used it to further their agenda of exclusivism. As followers of the Way of Jesus today, we know from living in this world, that nothing is so simple as insiders and outsiders, sheep and goats, good and bad. Those who show us the way are not always practicing Christians, are not always people we expect, people who are like us. Part of the Truth of living is that God is so much more than anything humans can conceive, and so we must not put God into a box that reflects our image. It is in this context of living everyday in a grayscale world, we join with Thomas in asking, “How can we know the way?” 

The answer is right there. Jesus is the Way, and the Way is Truth and Life. Jesus has shown us how to follow him, perhaps not footstep by footstep but by transforming our lives so we are people who understand our wellbeing as intimately tied up in the wellbeing of others. Jesus has shown us what truth is, what justice is, how to resist the tyranny of Empire, how to turn over tables used for economic exploitation. Jesus brings children to his side and listens to them, Jesus believes women and allows them to share their gifts in ministry, Jesus ministered to people who society had thrown away. He has shown us the Way, and we are called to Follow.  

Today, the Way of Jesus may seem hidden in our USAmerican society that prioritizes profit over people, but it isn’t going away. We can always come back to the path, pull away the vines and remove the logs from our eyes and follow once again. And, as Athena so beautifully sang, “no one is alone…people make mistakes, holding to their own, thinking they’re alone…no one is alone…” Friends, as we follow the Way, as our complicated humanity causes us to stray from the path, let us know deep in our bones that we are not alone. 

That is one of the gifts of being community together: we are not alone. The saints of our hearts who have gone before show us the way. The church elders who love us and count us as family show us the way. The Godly Play teachers and youth group leaders and storytellers and poets and camp directors who help us experience the sacred stories and find our place among creative rituals show us the way. The parents, siblings, guardians and chosen family who nurture us and teach us how to be in the world show us the way. For Baptists, we proclaim our commitment to follow the Way of Jesus by participating in immersion baptism, surrounded by a community that covenants to journey with us on the Way.  

But how can we find the way in this time and place, when so often we feel, and are, isolated and alone? Social connection in the time of COVID-19 has proved to be a challenge. Technology is a blessing in many ways, and I count myself as one of many people who have learned so much throughout this time of physical distancing. But even as we gather using online platforms, there is a dynamic of connection that cannot be recovered, and that I pray about every day…the feeling of being present with each other in body. I feel so much joy in the dance parties and storytimes and Wednesday community gatherings and all of the online events we are doing together…and I also miss you. 

Last Sunday night, our youth group gathered virtually to watch Frozen 2 together. As we were messaging while watching the movie, there seemed to be general consensus in the appropriateness of this movie for the pandemic in which we find ourselves. For example, the magical snowman Olaf described how he practices “controlling the things I can when things feel out of control.” Perhaps living in this time is, as the Princess Anna sings towards the end of the movie, a matter of “doing the next right thing.” 

In the powerful song where Anna describes her descent into depression following a traumatic journey to find truth, Anna sings,  

“I won’t look too far ahead 

It’s too much for me to take 

But break it down to this next breath, this next step 

This next choice is one that I can make 

So I’ll walk through this night 

Stumbling blindly toward the light 

And do the next right thing 

And, with it done, what comes then? 

When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again 

Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice 

And do the next right thing.” 

Beloved church, what is the next right thing for you, and for us? In this uncertain time, you don’t need to have it all figured out. Heaven knows I don’t. But the way forward is remembering that we are not alone, and dedicating ourselves to doing the next right thing.  

Jesus left his disciples to follow the Way of Truth and of Life. The disciples had learned to navigate by following the Son, and so must we. We must follow this Way today, and every day of our lives. As we follow the Way we must proclaim the inherent worth and dignity of all people; decry white supremacist violence; and fight for economic justice for those living with their backs up against the wall, as Howard Thurman would say. This way is one that places the common health of our community above our desire to get a pedicure, that holds in the highest regard the freedom of religion for all, even those with whom we disagree. This Way is one where we proclaim Black Lives Matter, and where we join our voices from wherever we are worshipping this morning with Sweet Honey in the Rock’s version of Ella Baker’s words, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” 

The next right thing is always advocating for freedom, for justice, for peace, for truth, for life, for love. This is how we can know the Way we are called to live. We are called to make this world a true home where all belong and are free. 

May it be so. 

This sermon originally preached for Seattle First Baptist on Zoom #quarantinepreaching on May 10, 2020.

Posted in Sermons

Sermon for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

I am grateful for the opportunity to preach at the Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University in observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, January 19, 2020.

 

Seattle University Land Statement: 

I (we) respectfully acknowledge that our event today is taking place on Duwamish aboriginal territory. I (We) pay respect to Duwamish Elders past and present and extend that respect to their descendants and to all Indigenous people. To acknowledge this land is to recognize its longer history and our place in that history; it is to recognize these lands and waters and their significance for the peoples who lived and continue to live in this region, whose practices and spiritualities were and are tied to the land and the water, and whose lives continue to enrich and develop in relationship to the land, waters and other inhabitants today.

 

This week, across the world, people from various denominations and traditions are coming together for a week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I am honored to be an ecumenical partner in this observance, and am grateful for the opportunity to be here with you today.

I am a Baptist…and if there’s one thing Baptists aren’t…it’s unified. Local autonomy is one of the four Baptist freedoms, the things that make Baptists uniquely us. This means that individual churches can decide amongst their own congregation about most policies, and if they decide to associate with other like-minded or nearby churches, they can do so with consensus in their congregation. Individual churches decide to affiliate together. But for the most part, Baptists are a headstrong bunch and each church can decide what its life together looks like…then you get the American Baptists, the Southern Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Northern Baptists, the Progressive Baptists, the General Baptists, the Independent Baptists, the Alliance of Baptists…and on and on and on. You get the picture. 

For progressive Baptists, like those of us who accept women and LGBTQIA people as called to ministry, sometimes it can feel like we have more in common with progressive, justice-seeking folks in other denominations than we do within our own Baptist tradition. So unity is something we are grateful to join our ecumenical siblings in contemplating.

But even though Baptists as a group haven’t figured out the whole unity thing, some among our number have shared deep wisdom on this subject. 

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, I am humbled to be American Baptist, the tradition in which Dr. King was himself a part, and I pray that I do justice to his legacy throughout my ministry. Rev. Dr. King saw the disunity of the world in stark reality, as his experience as a Black man growing up in the segregated Jim Crow South, offered a vastly different vision of the world than I can ever imagine. Over the years of his ministry, Dr. King preached that unity does not mean uniformity, where all people would conform to the dominant Anglo-European white culture, but that unity of purpose was possible. I share these words that Dr. King preached in a sermon entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” acknowledging the choice of gendered language and intending it expansively: 

“No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood. Now it is true that the geographical oneness of this age has come into being to a large extent through modern man’s scientific ingenuity. Modern man through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. And our jet planes have compressed into minutes distances that once took weeks and even months. All of this tells us that our world is a neighborhood. Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.” 

Did you hear the famous lines in there?  “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” In this increasingly globalized world, what affects one of us affects all of us in myriad ways. Whether the example is climate change, global manufacturing and trade, the diamond industry, international politics, social media…people around the world are connected more now than humans  ever have been before. Sometimes NIMBY-ism (Not In My BackYard-ism) is tempting, as we place our happiness and our space and our well being above others, but we cannot deny that with all the storytelling technology we have access to, the globe is really just a large neighborhood. We must begin behaving like it. Particularly in the United States of America, this country with so much economic, political and cultural power and influence, we cannot now deny that our lifestyle comes at the expense of not only those who are marginalized in our own cities, but also those who are living on the edge around the world. 

And so in this week where we are tasked with praying for Christian unity, what are we praying for? And I mean the nitty gritty details of what it means to be unified. Not the surface-level, pastel-painted unity that is sugar-coated and nice to think about. But the real work of unification, the work that calls each of us to reflect on our lives, our values, our relationships, our privileges. The work of deep conversation and negotiation, of compromise and collaboration. Unity doesn’t mean we all agree all the time, that we have the same ideas and think the same way.  It means that we have the same vision as we go forward in life, a vision for the flourishing of all people. A vision for the end of violence, for wars to cease, for disease and neglect and self-harm and hatred to stop. When we are unified, we act for the good of the community, not just the good of ourselves and those like us. 

There are many ways of praying, many methods for coming together in common purpose as we pursue the vision of the kin-dom of God.Perhaps we pray by folding our hands and bowing our heads. Perhaps we draw or paint or write. Perhaps we meditate and spend time in silent contemplation over a Biblical text or a poem. Perhaps we pay attention to the beauty of the created world which God called “good.” 

A 4-year-old friend of mine once told me that she likes to do “eyes wide open” prayers, so she can see everyone that she is praying for. This is how I hope we pray as we pursue unity. This is the hard work of the gospel, to engage our spiritual sight and attempt to see as God sees, to love as God loves. To do this, we must open our minds, hearts and hands. We must allow ourselves to be changed by the prayer, changed by the way we see each other, changed by how we know each other as people made in God’s image. To pray for Christian unity, we must divest from the systems of privileges that divide us, that draw lines for who is our neighbor and who isn’t. And for those of us at the top of the food chain, we must utilize the privileges we have to magnify the voices that are shuttered, and to quiet the voices that are overpowering. We must take risks, as Paul did, in receiving a blessing from people he didn’t know, in being surprised by the kindness offered from an unfamiliar hand. 

Dr. King reminds us that we all can be a part of this work of Christian unity, the work of living in service to all children of God: “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Because when we have a heart full of grace, we can take the risk of hospitality and share that grace with others. When we have a soul generated by love, we are dipping into a wellspring of God that demands to be shared and shared and shared further. 

We can provide a warm fire, we can offer food to the hungry, we can outfit people with provisions for the journey. We can see Jesus in the thirsty, the hungry, the naked, the prisoner, the downtrodden and outcast. 

Perhaps we will make it possible that the whole world will know we are Christians by our love, and the kindness we offer will no longer be unusual and surprising, but common in our struggle for justice for all.

This week, let us pray that we have enough humility to unite with our siblings across traditions to pursue justice. That we have enough grace to give and receive feedback as those of us with various privileges continue to try to be allies. That we have enough humor to notice when God is pushing us towards kindness, even and especially when we are reluctant. That we have enough love to stay in the struggle when it gets tough, to love each other through hardship and pain and division until we can meet together in peace. Let us pray, and let us pray together, and let us pray without ceasing, for a world that reflects the goodness of our God.  May it ever be so. 

Posted in Prose, Spiritual Practices, Writing

Reflections from the Global Baptist Peace Conference

July 17, 2019

On Monday morning, I arrived in Cali, Colombia along with almost 400 other peacemakers from around the world. Over 30 countries are represented here, and many different languages are being spoken. Some have asked why I would spend so much money and have such a large carbon footprint by flying here, and I understand those questions. For White, Anglo citizens of the USA, there is a constant temptation and encouragement to think that the way we experience the world is the way everyone experiences the world. Our privilege makes it hard to empathize with others, hard to even start the process of thinking that life is different from ours somewhere else. Traveling to a different country with a different history than the USA’s (yet inexplicably tied to the same forces of domination and destruction that rule over us now) can be an important way to widen our vision and expand our empathy. There are people here from Colombia, from the republic of Georgia, from Mexico, from Cuba, from Rwanda, Uganda, the Phillipines, Italy, Australia…the list goes on. The folks hosting us here in Colombia are sharing their national pain and sorrow with us, including their personal stories and political visions and creative means of responding to the domestic terror they have experienced. These are experiences that is so specific to Colombia, and yet relatable all over the world. The Peace Accord of 2016, which was an agreement between the Colombian government and guerrilla forces (the FARC being the main one) is not a perfect document and it had not been implemented in perfect ways. The former president of Colombia received a Nobel Peace Prize for being an architect of this agreement. But as one survivor of the conflict said in yesterday morning’s panel, “I would rather have an imperfect peace process than a perfect war.” There is no arriving at peace. Peace is not a destination but a process.

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a sign in LAX

Justice is also a process, a path to travel, and not a destination. I am honored and humbled this week to be in the presence of clergy and activists and artists and humanitarian workers who have been engaged in the processes of truth-telling following the civil war and have also engaged in practicing radical forgiveness. Forgiveness is not for the faint of heart, and it is not right for everyone. It cannot be demanded and no one is entitled to it. The survivor I quoted earlier, a journalist whose husband was kidnapped and murdered along with other politicians from this district of Colombia, shared deeply about how she thought she had forgiven the FARC for what they had done in 2002. In 2014 she met representatives of the FARC and realized her rage and pain were still there…telling the truth helped release her from her pain. The same survivor said later on, “people who look for justice only as jail sentences are practicing revenge.” Revenge is not sustainable for a healthy community, though many find it lucrative. Revenge is not Christ-like.

The challenges to the Peace Accord are much the same as challenges to countries around the world, especially as fascism and nationalism and populism are on the rise. Challenges like political polarization, deep income inequity, and government being dominated by an extreme wing are familiar, too familiar, for comfort…hearing these stories and being in this place are a call to action. 

We could receive stories and learn from the comfort of our own homes in the USA, but what we receive would only be part of the truth. As a friend said aptly, “It’s another form of colonization to learn everything in a USA context.” Being in Colombia to participate in this Global Baptist Peace Conference is part of decentering myself as white Anglo USA citizen and showing solidarity with people who have experienced unrest that causes most USA citizens to call it “dangerous” to travel here. There is something sacred about being physically present with people, greeting each other with the same spirit across languages and nations. I pray the rest of this week and this time together will work in me and in all of us so that we are all moved to do what we can to pursue a world without violence.

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July 18, 2019

This time together in Colombia is sacred. People of many races and many languages and many theological perspectives have gathered together, spending many hours traveling, being the targets of searches at country borders, functioning on little sleep, missing events in their churches and families and countries. After we have made such an effort to be here, I cannot look away.

As people share stories of violence done to babies as young as 18 months, women, children, transgender people, queer people, migrants, religious minorities, poor people and people who are oppressed because of their race and ethnicity, it is hard to listen. I’ll just be honest about that. In my life I have faced violence, yes, but my white, Anglo, US-American privilege has protected me from a lot of the physical and political violence faced by people I am meeting here this week. At times this week, as I am deeply moved by what people are sharing about the ways they (literally) stand in the gap between oppressors and oppressed, terrorists and civilians, hateful counter protesters and justice-seeking demonstrators…I have heard things that break my heart. I have learned about ways my country has supported violence against rural farmers in Colombia and exported death-dealing theologies to indigenous people in Mexico and the ways people who claim to share my faith oppress our LGBTQ+ siblings. I have heard testimonies from people whose families have been targets of torture, who have received death threats, whose children have been kidnapped, who are afraid to leave their homes at times because of the work they are doing to bring about a more just world. I cannot turn away.

And as I contemplate returning to my country, the United States of America (not just “America” because that includes the whole Western Hemisphere), I cannot, and will not, turn away. And I am grateful and hopeful to know that there are many who will not turn away. Some are here this week in Cali. Some are reading this post. Some are in my church. I thank the God who overturns tables and chooses women to be witness to the resurrection and who makes a meal to feed thousands out of two loaves and three fish that I am part of a community of peacemakers who will not turn away. As Mayra Picos-Lee, the president of the Board of the BPFNA~Bautistas por La Paz, said today in her responding words following our morning plenary: “the commitment is to action.” When our hearts break, may they always break open, so the compassion we feel moves us to action.

And by no means am I, are we, are those gathered here, perfect. We cannot “let perfect be the enemy of the good”, as my beloved pastor and mentor and friend Steve Hammond says. The people who are here, who are part of Baptist denominations and organizations, we are not perfect. But a remarkable thing about this conference is that the work people are doing is being shared without shaming anybody, without guilting people into action, without playing the game of out-activist-ing someone. Stories and testimonies and sermons are being shared out of a desire to deeply know each other in meaningful ways, to take account of what part of the work is ours to do and to support each other while doing it.

Repenting is a part of this work. Before I became Baptist, i was part of a tradition that had prayers for repentance that we said on everyday Sunday. It was helpful for our community to have a space to air grievances and acknowledge our complicity. But with my low self-esteem, i took repentance too far sometimes. And after spending a lot of time in my personal prayer repenting out of my own broken image of my self-worth, I have since come to know the grace of God’s loving me as I am, as Mary Oliver says, “you do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles repenting.” I have reached a point in my understanding of sin and of God that I am convinced that communities of faith, particularly those marked by various privileges such as whiteness and high socioeconomic status, must consider again repentance as a part of our spiritual practice. We have much to repent for: complicity in white supremacy, USAmerican supremacy, exploitative capitalistic practices, silence, Christian supremacy, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia. Repentance has its linguistic roots in the Greek word “metanoia” which means “to think again” and “to change ones heart and mind.”

This conference is calling me to repent. And I share that call with you. Repent, change your heart and mind, about the ways we engage with exploitative practices. Change our hearts and minds from buying into death-dealing theologies that play into white/Christian/USAmerican supremacy. Change our hearts and minds to not only be the Samaritan who helps the person left at the side of the road, but also to accept help and wisdom and care from those from whom we least expect it. 

Leaving and returning are part of the cycles of life. So on Sunday morning, I will leave Colombia and leave this community of peacemakers and return home, to the USA, to Seattle, to my church and my home and my community, with my heart and mind moved to action, to find the work that is mine to do.

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Found friends in the airport in Panama City!

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the tent of meeting

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the tree planted by all of the Baptist peacemakers, with stones from each country represented

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some of the amazing people on the Board of Directors of BPFNA~Bautistas por la Paz

Posted in Sermons

Impractically Practical: a sermon on “blessed are the humble”

Some of you know that I am spending my summer doing a field education internship with the Vanderbilt University Hospital chaplains. I have been spending time visiting patients and sitting with families and praying with countless people with a variety of ailments since May, and, though I am new to this, I have been deeply humbled to do this work…and the other day, I received a blessing.

I was going on rounds on the trauma wing, and it was time for me to visit a man I shall call Larry. Earlier that morning I had seen Larry lying in the ICU hooked up to several machines, looking quite forlorn. But now, here he was in front of me, sitting up in his hospital chair with his son at his side, looking pretty chipper and announcing to me that “It was almost time to go home!” Of course, not all chaplain visits go like this, but sometimes they do, and that is what I call a miracle.  Larry and his son and I chatted for awhile about Larry’s time in the hospital, about the wonderful trauma team at Vanderbilt, and about what Larry was looking forward to doing when he returned home several states away. After a bit of this chitchat, Larry asked me to pray, and the three of us prayed together. As I exited the room, I shared my usual “I will keep you in my prayers and may God bless you in your healing.” My body was halfway out the door when Larry stretched out his hand towards me and said, “May God bless you and keep you and give you peace.” He said some other things, but I was too surprised in the moment to remember the words.

See, I was under the impression that I was the chaplain, that I was in the business of doing the blessing. Well–oops. I forgot that annoying tendency of humans to surprise us, and found myself in that moment wondering what to do. What could I do? I nodded and bowed my head and thanked Larry graciously. I was humbled to receive a blessing from a patient.

Sometimes the words “meek” and “humble” make me feel…weird. The dictionary says they mean things like “Overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame. Having a feeling of insignificance, inferiority, subservience, lowly.” And “Happy are the humble,” as our Scripture for today reads,  sounds to me like the kind of thing that someone might say to a woman who was acting “out of her place,” to a laborer who was asking for fair wages, to a soldier questioning the morality of orders. “Happy are the humble,” so you better get back to feeling “low in rank, subservient, insignificant,” as our Dictionary supplies. When I think about being meek or humble, I look for where power shows up in these situations: if someone can be “made humble” or “made meek” by a person with power over them, it opens the door to exploitation and abuse. The Beatitudes have historically been used almost as bludgeoning tools against groups of people whom Christians have tried to make subservient, like Jews and slaves. “Humble” does not always have good connotations, and we need to be aware of these.

But then there are times, like with Larry in the hospital, when the tables turn. When the one who we expect to be humble (wearing a hospital gown, attached to machines, unable to leave on his own volition) blesses the one who makes a new friend of humility. I was wearing my professional clothes, had a badge identifying me as staff, and was relatively in control of my time and location. Perhaps this blessing is like the kin-dom of God, unexpected, impractical and surprising. Perhaps this is what Jesus is talking about by saying, “happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.” Perhaps he is talking about Larry.

Some people have talked about the beatitudes as imperative, or as prescriptive, providing a recipe for good Christian living. But this does not make sense for Jesus to say that it is only when we are meek/mourning/poor in spirit, that only then can we receive God’s blessing. Despite the powerful exhortations to welcome and move through grief with grace we sometimes hear, we have to admit that we don’t really want to grieve, so why adopt that as a prelude to blessing? No, we affirm a God whose blessings and grace are not conditional. So let’s tuck away that idea for now, and instead look at the beatitudes as indicative, or descriptive. They are not an outline for how to gain a blessing, but they are describing who is/has been/will be blessed. In this teaching, Jesus is telling us how the  kin-dom will be. Like most of Jesus’ teachings, the beatitudes can be a wake up call to the kin-dom.

Charles James Cook writes in Feasting on the Word, “Whenever we hear the Beatitudes, we are struck with their poetic beauty and, at the same time, overwhelmed by their perceived impracticality for the world in which we live. We admire the instruction, but we fear the implications of putting the words into actual practice. We live in a time when the blessings given are to those who succeed, often at the expense of others. To be poor in spirit, peaceful, merciful, and meek will get you nowhere in a culture grounded in competition and fear. Perhaps this is why most references to the Beatitudes imply that in giving this instruction, Jesus was literally turning the values of the world upside down. Who can survive in attempting to live into the spirit of the Beatitudes?”

He goes on to say, “The answer resides not in their impracticality but in their practicality.” Perhaps Jesus meant for the words of the beatitudes to be lived everyday by ordinary people like you and me. Cook says that often we hold up the giants of faith like Martin Luther King or Mother Teresa and the world-renowned peacemakers like Gandhi and Desmond Tutu as role models. We should look to these legacies and learn from them, but we must be careful not to construct them as models of unattainable perfection in our mind such that we would limit ourselves from even trying to participate in the work of justice, for fear we will fall short. Cook challenges us to think about the ways that the beatitudes can be lived, because they are so practical they appear impractical to our world as it is now. The words “blessed are the meek” and “happy are the humble” seem impractical because they do not line up with our understandings of power.

It doesn’t take a lot of sleuth-work to figure out that our Western USAmerican culture does not value humility.  No, with its capitalism and white supremacy and nationalism, how could it? The USA boasts of our independence, not interdependence; our freedom, not our justice; our pride, not our respect for all life. The meek and humble are not the ones who make it to the top in our world. They do not hold power in the form of money, land, personnel and respect. The world does not treat them as blessed. So how should we understand Jesus’ words that are so impractical for our time?

The beatitudes confront this issue of time directly. Jesus is blessing and naming as “happy” those who are humble right now, whose lives may not be seen as worthwhile by the current society, those who have been made humble by unfortunate situations and circumstances of life like economic hardship, illness, addiction and exploitation. But Jesus is saying that their lives do matter now, that they are blessed now.  And not just now, but within the kin-dom that is expressed in visions of a nearby time: “they WILL inherit the earth,” there WILL be a time when their lives are seen as worthwhile. Just as God spoke the words “let there be light” and there was light/ “let there be day and night”/ “let there be land and waters”/ “let there be creatures that crawl/swim/slither/dance/walk the earth” and it was so—just as God created with these words and the whole creation trembled as it burst into life–just like this, Jesus’ words “The meek SHALL inherit the earth” made it so, put these words that indicate the coming of the kin-dom among us into motion. This WILL come to pass. Those who are weak, who have been made humble, who have been mistreated, who don’t know the value of their own life, whose bodies have been taken for granted and violated, those people–will inherit the Earth. Jesus, by sharing his vision for the kin-dom that is yet-to-be, declares that another world IS possible… (and author Arundhati Roy says, “on some days I can hear her breathing”).

Do we believe that this is possible? That the beatitudes are “for real”? How can other world come to be?

Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber, famous pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, agrees that the Beatitudes are descriptive, but suggests that they are also performative. Maybe, she says, “the pronouncement of the blessing is actually what confers the blessing itself.” Therefore she offers an expanded version of Matthew 5 verse 5:

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex-workers and the night shift street sweepers. Blessed are the losers and the babies and the parts of ourselves that are so small. The parts of ourselves that don’t want to make eye contact with a world that only loves the winners. Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted. Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented. Blessed are the teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. [And I would add, blessed are the hospital patients] Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.”

The Sermon on the Mountain was spoken by Jesus to teach his disciples. As we strive to be faithful students, are we learning what Jesus is teaching us? Are we greeting his words with an attentive posture, though we are separated by time and space from the mountaintop where these words first were spoken? Friends, we must humble ourselves as Jesus humbled himself–by recognizing that we cannot do life alone, that none of us is as good as many of us joined together. As we open our hearts to the teachings of Jesus–as we work on our own discipleship–we are tasked with participating in the reality that Jesus was working and living and loving to create. We are tasked with taking up the beatitudes for ourselves and our community, so that they are not just random words to us in the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. We are to go about our lives blessing the meek, the mourning, those who labor right here, right now. We don’t need to wait for someone else to do it because we are scared that we won’t do it right; we don’t need to wait for someone else to do it because we don’t have enough time. Jesus’ words to us bid us to go and do likewise. We are to go about living the beatitudes so that they become truly descriptors of the world in which we live, move and have our being.

Friends, today let us dedicate ourselves to participating in the Beatitudes. In this world, it is impractically practical to share love, to build community, to forgive those who hurt us, to acknowledge when we have done wrong, to accept the progress of time, to practice awe and wonder. Let not our rank, status, race, class, ego get in the way of receiving blessings from impractical places. Let not our tendency to sell ourselves short, to underestimate ourselves, to hide our gifts, to cut ourselves down; let these not get in the way of our deep knowing that we, ordinary people though we are, are called to live the beatitudes by receiving Jesus’ blessing of the humble. Let us accompany each other in our journeys, giving and receiving in mutual love and care, pushing back against the world that sells isolation and individualism. May we always retain the capacity for surprise as others–as we–extend our hands in blessings that seem impractical, but that make all the sense in the world.

May it ever be so.
Sermon originally preached July 9, 2017 at Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, TN. 
(photo: http://www.crosskeysvillage.org/blessing-the-hands/)

Posted in Sermons

Gospel Questions: How is it that your eyes were opened?

“How is it that your eyes were opened?” (John 9)

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“How is it that your eyes were opened?” is what the religious leaders ask the man whom Jesus healed. “How is it that your eyes were opened?” is the question from people who don’t understand the behavior of Jesus and his followers. “How is it that your eyes were opened?” ask the people who can’t logically figure out the process of gaining clear sight. “How is it that your eyes were opened?” ask our family members of varying political persuasions, ask our bosses and volunteer captains, ask our activist friends, ask the neighbors whom we serve.

The question that is the refrain in our text today is important because it is voiced no less than four times throughout this whole passage. The only clear answer to the question that I can find here–and as we know, things are not always clear when Jesus is involved–is that the man’s ability to see resulted from an encounter with Jesus.

In the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America~Bautistas por la Paz, we provide opportunities to encounter Jesus and have our sight restored. As we know, sometimes the way we learn to see is by removing the log from our own eyes, or wiping away the mud that has been placed there by layers of societal training to think a certain way, and when the BPFNA~Bautistas por la Paz gather together, we come with a wet washcloth perfect for wiping away grime and tools for chucking logs away into the woodpile. For the last couple years, our annual summer conference has been focused on themes from Jesus’ story in Matthew 25, wherein people ask the ruler, “When have we seen you naked and hungry and thirsty and ill and in prison?” Last year, we gathered around the theme of “When Did We See You in Prison?: Breaking Social and Structural Injustice.” This coming July, we will congregate in Toluca, Mexico to address the question “When Did We See You Naked? Clothing Each Other With Hope.” Each summer, we ask a gospel question; we practice removing the logs from our own eyes with workshops and deep conversations as we build meaningful relationships across differences of country, language, ethnicity and culture; and begin to see clearly so we can confront the world as it is. Maybe we did not think about those who are imprisoned and detained prior to Peace Camp; but afterwards, we have had encounters with people for whom those stories are lived realities, and we see differently. Maybe we don’t normally consider the different ways in which people must be clothed with hope; but at this coming Peace Camp in July, we will have direct encounters with folks who are dealing with grief and depression and desolation, and with whom we can share our hopes and dreams. Then, we see differently. All of this happens by encountering Jesus through encounters with each other. And sometimes when we return to our homeplaces and families of origin, people ask us, “What did you learn? How is it that your eyes were opened?”

In true Jesus-style, I’m going to ask you another question: once we have gained new sight, what is it that our eyes have been opened to see? Perhaps we view in a new way the reality of injustice that looks like homelessness and hunger in our community; young children crossing the desert borders alone; families divided in anger and anxiety over political events in our world. These truths are important to see, and we must gain courage not to look away. And also perhaps our eyes are opened for the purpose of seeing the world that is possible if we follow in the footsteps of Jesus: some call it the beloved community, the peaceable kin-dom, a world characterized by justice and restoration of relationship and affirmation of the imago Dei, the image of God, in all of creation, all of our neighbors–even in us! May we be brave enough to wipe away the mud and remove the logs and risk encountering Jesus. May we learn to see those who are hungry and naked and ill and in prison, and may we witness to those who ask us these good and hard gospel questions.

(This sermon snippet originally preached at the Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, AZ on March 26, 2017 alongside two other “Gospel Questions”: “Where do you get this living water?” and “Who do you say that I am?”)

Posted in Sermons, Writing

Something Big for Something Good

Text: Matthew 4:12-22

Many of you know that I work with kids in local school gardens. This work gets me in all kinds of goofy situations, from carrying around 15 flats of herb seedlings in my Prius to ordering live caterpillars online to be delivered through the US Postal Service to digging for potatoes with 4 year olds, my arms covered in dirt up to my shoulders. This January, we started back to school with some new guests in a preschool classroom: about 1,000 Red Wiggler Worms. To be expected, some children dove right into the box of worms, asking to cuddle the worms and naming them “Fluffy” and wondering about what we should feed them. To see their joy was a wonderful thing! And then, also to be expected, some children hold back and watch, they squeal with anxiety or fear, and some refuse to even be near the worm box altogether. I noticed last week that one child in particular, I’ll call him Miguel, was having a hard time approaching the worm bin, and mostly watched with trepidation from the sidelines as his classmates engaged the Red Wigglers excitedly. This Thursday, however, when I entered the classroom, Miguel made a beeline over to me and proudly announced,

“I don’t have my fear anymore. I left my fear.”

This caught my heart right up into my throat. “I don’t have my fear anymore. I left my fear.” What an amazing, and timely, statement.

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We’ve all heard sermons on this passage from the gospel of Matthew. We sometimes throw around the phrase, “fisher of men” or its gender-neutral equivalent, “fisher of people,” as an illustration or metaphor for evangelism, conjuring images of lone fishermen out in the middle of a stream in the Adirondacks, casting a long line in order to “hook” and “reel in” a disciple for Christ. However, if we pay attention to our text, we have these two sets of brothers using large nets—they were not out in order to get simply one fish, they wanted to gather an abundance of fish in order to serve their community.

This desire to deal in abundance for the good of the people of God remains constant as the fishermen’s vocations change according to Jesus’ invitation. Releasing their nets, their established business, their family, Simon and Andrew and James and John immediately comply with Jesus’ request. The call issued in the text to “change hearts and lives” also applied to the fishermen’s skills, as they had to change how they understood their skillset in order to work with Jesus to subvert the dominant culture. Jesus called the fishermen from the place where they were, with the skills they had already—fishing takes patience to wait for the nets to fill, strength and collaboration to work together to pull the nets into the boat. As they traveled with Jesus, they were no longer casting their rope nets into the deep in hopes of an abundant catch of fish, but they learned how to cast rays of hope into the crowds in Galilee, Judea and eventually in Samaria, such that their community might have abundant life and experience healing at the hands of Jesus.

How did these fishermen find such courage to change their hearts and lives in this way? And to follow Jesus in order to encourage others to follow suit?

Listen to my student Miguel: “I don’t have my fear anymore. I left my fear.”

Friends, it has been such a week.

On Monday we observed a day of remembrance for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—a man who was the charismatic leader for multiple intersecting Civil Rights Movements with a broad and diverse base of followers, who was called at one point “the most notorious liar in the country” by the director of the FBI. On Friday,  we absorbed the inauguration of the next president of the United States of America—amid a political dialogue that threatens to set back the progress gained in racial, economic, gender and health arenas at least fifty years. This week we remembered with honor the sacrifices and the martyrs taken too young during the Civil Rights movements of the 60s and the leaders of a whole generation of people for the pursuit of justice between those of different races and economic statuses; and also this week, many of us have feared what is to come with the current political rhetoric. We are stuck between calling to each other to re-ignite Martin’s dream and pursue justice through protest and advocacy now, for now is the time, and trying to figure out what exactly we stand to lose, as people always do during transitions of power.

We must leave our fear.

I wonder how Simon and Andrew and James and John felt when they were approached by a strange man on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Maybe they stood there in the boats as the man who was Jesus gestured at them and uttered some nonsense about being a “fisher of people.” Maybe they thought, “I’m not really sure what that means, but somehow, I know I want to be a part of that work.”

Living in Roman-occupied Galilee as poor fishermen, how much do we really believe that Simon and Andrew dropped their nets immediately, asking no questions? That James and John left their father in the boat and never looked back?  I often wonder at what really happened—if it were me, or you, wouldn’t you want to know who was this guy that’s asking you follow him? What does “fishing for people” mean? I’d ask questions and want to see a resume and a travel plan and a documentation of hotel stays and wonder who’s driving and have a list of restaurants to visit, and…you get the idea.

Or—did it really happen as the author of Matthew’s gospel writes it? Simon and Andrew and James and John all recognized at least some of what was at stake with Jesus’ offer. Did they know their lives would change? Did they know they’d possibly never return to their families? Did they know they’d maybe never be the same again? They realized that on some level, this was a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-blue-moon invitation they could not refuse.

What made it such an offer?

When I think of receiving invitations that I can’t refuse, I think they fall into the following categories: often these invitations are rare, include people we love working with or we don’t see regularly; they concern issues about which we are passionate and are important to making our world a better place.

Something else comes to mind. Listen to this familiar passage and see what jumps out at you. These words are a benediction that our senior pastors used recently, originally penned by William Sloane Coffin and undergoing several iterations and updates to the language before landing on our ears here today:

“May the Holy One bless you and keep you.
May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
May God give you the grace never to sell yourselves short;
Grace to risk something big for something good;
Grace to remember that the world is now too small for anything but truth, and too dangerous for anything but love.
So may God take your minds and think through them.
May God take your lips and speak through them.
May God take your heart(s) and set them on fire.”

Did you find it? The part that caught my ear?

“Risk something big for something good.”

For the brothers at the Sea of Galilee, it would have been a huge risk to give up what little security they had as blue-collar laborers, a huge risk to leave their nets and their boats and all vestiges of their livelihood and follow Jesus. Why these people, those who have so little to lose that it seems a monstrous amount to risk? And yet, they heed Jesus’ invitation?

It is just this huge risk that makes the story powerful: Jesus does not follow societal lines of class stratification to decide who to call to be his disciples. Perhaps Jesus knew that kings and princes and priests and those of high standing would not give up the promise of their wealth and security and status in order to bring about the kin-dom of God, in order to follow Jesus as he preached “change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kin-dom of heaven!” That would be too much of a risk for them, and surely, they would not give up a predictable and stable life for the “something good” in Coffin’s benediction.

Audrey West on the Working Preacher blog writes, “As Jesus walks beside the water, the soon-to-be-disciples are engaged in their everyday jobs: earning a living for themselves and their families by fishing in the Sea of Galilee. They are probably at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder; their work is dirty and physically challenging, and it demands their attention from sunup to sundown. Jesus does not seem to be bothered by their grimy fingernails, their wet and dirty clothing, not even by their low social status or lack of political power. The One with the kingly pedigree (see Jesus’ birth narrative) does not demand that they shower up before joining his mission, nor does he ask questions about their education, their abilities, nor their availability for an extended time away from home.”

These soon-to-be-disciples consented to changing their hearts and lives. They left their fear, risking big things in order to do the good of accompanying Jesus’ subversive mission on Earth. Today, changing hearts and lives looks like this: when hate and bigotry become mainstream, it is our duty as Christians, as people who attempt to live our lives by walking in the light of Jesus and put off the shadows of darkness, to rise in body or spirit and be active and use our positions as people of faith to subvert the political dominance of violent words, actions and policies. We must be willing to risk security/ generational wealth/ social status/ family connections–things that are oh-so-big–for truth/ love/ compassion/ equity/ justice–things that are oh-so-good–and long-awaited. Let us take on these risks by following the example of the brothers gathered at the seashore—dropping the promise of safety and consenting to follow Jesus to do work that we do not fully understand, with the promise that we are uniquely shaped to be a part of it.

So, friends: If you are a doctor, be a doctor for the kin-dom by serving protesters injured on the streets after challenging the bigotry codified in our legislature. If you are a teacher, be a teacher for the kin-dom by engaging in popular education, pointing people from all walks of life to learn about the Civil Rights Movement history that inhabits this city, and indeed, this very church where we gather now. If you are a preacher, a poet, an artist, a writer, a chef, a construction worker, a gardener, a seamstress, a musician—be those things for the kin-dom by advancing, in your own unique way, the voices of those who are shut out time and time again from positions of power and privilege in our society. God is calling to all of us where we are, at the edge of the unknown, simply asking us to follow the way of Jesus, and use our talents for being the kin-dom. Know, too, that Jesus did not call us to be solitary workers for his mission: were not Simon and Andrew brothers? Were not James and John both sons of Zebedee? Here, we are all united by a purpose to confront the powers of divisiveness in our homes, our city, our state and our country, to work with each other as siblings to do this work for the kin-dom. Jesus did not wait for the fishermen to come to him, no, Jesus went out to where they were. Sometimes bringing folks into the movement means going out and reaching out. And remember what many preachers have noted before in our text today: that the fishermen’s nets did not break even though they were full to bursting. Abundance will not break us—that is the goodness for which we are called to risk great things.

Beloved friends, hear the good news today: God comes to us where we are, in the midst of the smell of fish and brine, at the edge of the sea with rocks bleached by salt and sun. God comes to us where we are, seeing what we have and offering to show us how to use it in a new way. God comes to us where we are, revealing opportunities to use our pre-existing skills for the sake of the kin-dom of God.

When Jesus meets us at the seashore, how will you leave your fear? What will you risk? And what do we stand to gain?

 

Originally preached January 22, 2017 at Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, TN.

*photo from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Port Clinton, OH. http://immaculateconceptionpc.com/.

Posted in Sermons

Here We Are.

Isaiah 6:1-8 (CEB)

6 In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, the edges of his robe filling the temple. 2 Winged creatures were stationed around him. Each had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew about. 3 They shouted to each other, saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces!  All the earth is filled with God’s glory!” 4 The doorframe shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 I said, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces!” 6 Then one of the winged creatures flew to me, holding a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.” 8 Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.”

 

isaiah-6-chagall
The Prophet Isaiah by Marc Chagall

 

This past summer I was fortunate to join with other Vanderbilt Divinity students and attend the Children’s Defense Fund conference at the Alex Haley Farm in Clinton, TN. On the first day of the conference, Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner, a civil rights veteran and a Presbyterian minister, led the seminarians gathered there in exploring theology and action. She asked us what she calls the EMT questions: the questions that Emergency Medical Technicians ask people who have just been in an accident to assess head trauma.

These questions are:

Do you know who you are?

Do you know where you are?

Do you know what time it is?

Do you know what just happened?

If a person responds correctly to all of these questions, they are considered “alert and conscious times 4.” If they only respond to the first three questions, they are considered “alert and conscious times 3” and so on. Rev. Dr. Lindner told us that the first question, “Do you know who you are?” is the most important, because identity is the last thing to go in trauma situations. She also proposed that the utility of these questions does not end in a hospital setting, but that they can also be applied to prophetic ministry.

Let’s ask the prophet Isaiah a few questions:

Do you know who you are?

     Yes, I am Isaiah, son of Amoz.

Do you know where you are?

      Yes, I am in Jerusalem in the northern kingdom of Israel.

Do you know what time it is?

     Yes, it is during the reign of King Uzziah.

Do you know what just happened?

     Yes, King Uzziah has just died. And I have seen a vision from God.

Well, our prophet seems to be alert and conscious times 4. But something is missing from these questions when applied to theological work. We must also ask: what is the meaning of all of these answers together? What do we do now that we know the facts?

For Isaiah, he lived in the southern kingdom of Judah during the reign of King Uzziah. Biblical scholars tell us that in this time, around the 7th century BCE, Assyrians exiled many elites from the northern kingdom of Israel during the time of Isaiah’s ministry. This created a lot of political tension within the community of Jerusalem in the south, because they feared Assyria would come for them next, according to other prophets and psalms recorded in this time period. King Uzziah’s death also marked a point of transition of power and potential social upheaval. Isaiah’s ministry took place under several different kings: after Uzziah, there’s his son Jotham and then his son Ahaz, and then Hezekiah. The point is, there was a lot of political strife going on in Isaiah’s time; you can read about the cycle of good kings and bad kings and all the transitions in the book of 2nd Kings.

In recent weeks, we’ve talked a little about the job description for prophets, which never seems like much fun, and for Isaiah it’s the same. God grants Isaiah a magnificent vision and allows Isaiah to see the world as God sees, and yet, these are God’s directions to Isaiah: “Go and say to this people: Listen intently, but don’t understand; look carefully, but don’t comprehend.” God sends this chosen prophet to go speak to people who willfully turn away from God. Sounds kind of like a doomed mission, to me.

And yet, there’s something about answering God’s call with a strong “Here I am. Send me.” that sticks with me. Could what’s missing be the meaning to which the EMT questions are pointing? Acknowledging the facts of the situation, recognizing the possibility of trauma, and still answering God’s call affirmatively.

Glendale, what are the answers we give to the EMT questions today?

Who are we?

In some ways, all we have to do is turn over our bulletin. “Glendale Baptist Church, a caring community of equality and grace.”

We are Christians, called to be a community of the living body of the Christ. We are called to contradict violence with love, war with creation, hatred with understanding, ignorance with wisdom, fear with faith, and oppression with justice. We are people who have amazing resources in our DNA of building communities of resistance–whether it is providing sanctuary for Jews fleeing Nazi-occupied Germany or witnessing against the School of the Americas or crossing borders to create a mutual and loving relationship with a church in Santa Clara Cuba or declaring themselves open, affirming and inclusive of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer folks, Christian churches have been–and will continue to be–places where people gather to join God’s work in the world. With Isaiah, we are called to be a people who show up and speak to a people with unclean lips–and sometimes they look like us.

Where are we?

We are in Nashville, Tennessee. We are in the Southern United States. We are in former Confederate territory. We are in a church. Like Isaiah, we inhabit space in a powerful country that too often sees threats surrounding us.

What time is it?

There are different ways to mark time. One way is printed on the front of your bulletin. Another way to describe today is that it is the first Sunday after a presidential election, a fairly normal every-four-years occurrence. Or, we could say we are living fifty years after the Civil Rights movement began. And like Isaiah, we are in a time marked by political upheaval and transition.

What just happened?

We now have a leader who brags about assaulting women; who threatens to build a wall to keep Mexican immigrants out of this country; who made disparaging remarks about a soldier who was killed in the line of duty because he was Muslim; who, for that matter, wants to ban all Muslims from this country that some say was founded on a value of religious freedom. Many are saying this election result is a surprise because they were taken off-guard, because they thought “surely, people are better than giving in to hate/racism/sexism” “surely, this won’t happen” and then it did. People have been saying, “The veil has been pulled back and now we see clearly.” In recent days, we have seen horrifying hate crimes take place all over the country. Now that the veil has been removed, those who would commit acts of terror have been emboldened by the vocal validation of the man who will be sworn in as the President in January. A gay man in a bar was taunted and beaten; Latino high school students in Michigan were told to go back to Mexico; women are being harassed openly in grocery parking lots and malls and outside their schools; white men have told black men and women and children, “It’s our country now.” 

There we have the facts–we are alert and conscious times four. So what do we do now?

First, let us remember that only some people are now having the veil pulled back off of a world which they–which I, too,–dearly hoped was not really the reality. Some have been living with various veils over their world for quite a while. As a woman, I live partially in an unveiled world where the realities of sexism and misogyny affect me every day; but because I’m white, the veil of white privilege keeps me from experiencing systemic prejudice based on my skin color. There are many veils that cover worlds of homophobia, transphobia, bias against people with different abilities, ethnocentrism and so many more. Many people in this very room live in unveiled worlds where prejudice is obvious and bold and affronts us every day; others are kept from seeing by veils of privilege marked by whiteness, economic status, white supremacy, patriarchy and American citizenship.

In Isaiah’s vision, the prophet had the veil of his humanity pulled back such that he was blessed with being able to see how God sees: the glory and praise of the Lord was too much for him! His reaction to seeing the vision was confessional: “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips!” He mourns that he is ruined, there is no hope for him because he has said terrible things, perhaps words that divide and exclude, that propagate bigotry and hatred. He confesses his complicity in the uncleanness of his people. In the United States of America, as in many places around the world, our privilege/our social status, is determined by several factors. The most prominent factors are race, gender and economic status. Due to these factors, all of us in the room are complicit in structures that oppress, meaning that we have a part in making possible a way of living that puts down people so that others–so that we–can be lifted up. For those of us that benefit from systems that use and abuse people so that we can maintain our own comfort and complacency, we must follow Isaiah’s prophetic lead and confess our role in sustaining systemic evil.  We must confess all the ways that we have stayed silent while people used words, perhaps racial epithets, that we deem unacceptable, or perhaps it was saying something homophobic at the family dinner table, or objectifying someone’s body in a workplace. We must repent of our part in this violence.

Hear the words of a friend and colleague of mine, Jules Galette, said at Friday’s protest at Vanderbilt: “For the arc of the moral universe to approach justice, we must bend it.” This is a big task, but God is in the habit of asking prophets to do big things. And as Glendale Baptist Church, we already have a statement expressing our angle on bending this arc:

Again, on the back of our bulletin, let’s read together: “We strive to partner with God and follow Jesus on the Way of Love; to create sanctuary for one another with special concern for those who are marginalized; to work intentionally for mercy and justice; to sustain a creative and compassionate theological voice; to gather resources joyfully and share them generously; to love our neighbors and care for all of creation.” Those are pretty good places to start.

Concretely, we know what living these commitments look like. As I read the following activities, please raise your hand if you are involved in these programs. Look around at each other to see who is raising their hand–maybe stop them on their way out and talk to them about their work.

This looks like:

  • serving folks experiencing homelessness with Room in the Inn;
  • supporting our Muslim siblings at the Islamic Center in 12South or over in Murfreesboro;
  • volunteering with LGBTQ youth experience homelessness with Launch Pad;
  • feeding people with Luke 14:12;
  • gathering churches together to provide moral leadership for our Nashville Community with Nashville Organizing for Action and Hope;
  • raising awareness about sexual assault and providing support for survivors;
  • Providing healthcare;
  • teaching;
  • organizing against white supremacy with Showing Up for Racial Justice;
  • making music and art to celebrate beauty in our world;
  • growing food and building sustainable infrastructure.

Look around us–we are already involved in so many important activities. This election just means that we keep doing what we’re doing, but with an understanding that we must act more urgently–we keep educating and keep agitating and keep growing and keep bending that arc of the moral universe further and further towards justice.

But what if we are still not ready to act? What if we are afraid that as we bend, we may break? We may not be the best speakers, we may have said or done things that have hurt and angered and oppressed people in the past. We may be waiting for the right words and we wait for the right time and we wait to be perfect and we wait for approval and we wait  for total safety. But the time for waiting is past. That time is long past. Our complicity will not depart from us, but we do not have to remain stuck there. Even though Isaiah has unclean lips, he cries, “I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces!” Then, a seraph brings a hot coal from the temple altar to anoint his lips, confirming that God chose Isaiah to do God’s work. God knew Isaiah had the potential to speak truth to power and so the anointing coal prepares Isaiah for righteous conversation.

My people, in times like these, God anoints our mouths and readies our speech. For some, the coals grant the courage not to shy away from or avoid tough conversations and speak hard truths and call out those who are divisive or in denial–even those closest to us. For others, we need more love on our tongues to speak  into a world inundated with fearful and hateful speech. God, working through our community of resistance at Glendale Baptist Church, is preparing us to engage with our neighbors, to call them into loving dialogue and to spur them to action. On your way out of the sanctuary, please pick up a red gem from the baskets by the doors to symbolize the coal that anoints your lips. What is the righteous speech that God wants you to use to bend the arc of the moral universe just that much further toward justice?

Dear friends in this community of Christ, we know who we are. We know where we are. We know what time it is. And we know what just happened. So, when it is time to make meaning from these answers and take action, God asks us this: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”

And even though we know the facts of the situation, as dire and scary as they may be; even though we have ventured into the unveiled world to see as God sees; even though we are aware that trauma may come in the days ahead, I pray that we all can answer in one voice: “Here we are. Send us.”

 

Originally preached at Glendale Baptist Church, 11.13.16.

Posted in Sermons

My Neighbor, the Mountain: Earth Day Sermon

As you might have heard…last Wednesday, April 22, was Earth Day. Founded in 1970 and leading to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, Earth Day began in part as a desire to raise as much awareness about the deterioration of the natural environment as was raised by student demonstrations protesting the Vietnam War. Earth Day was born out of a struggle for justice in its many dimensions, and has seen worldwide movement after being founded in the United States.

As expected, my Facebook newsfeed was chock full of folks posting about climate activist art and 350.org and ways to abolish extractive industries and people planting trees and everything you could ever think of that is related to care for the Earth. The obligatory post quoting the Native American proverb “We don’t inherit this planet from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” showed up about every other minute. Pictures of folk spending sunny days in their garden (highlighting the pastoral) and hiking huge mountain ranges and steep canyons (highlight the sublime) were ubiquitous. [But only for one day]

What was I doing on Earth Day? Not gardening or hiking or planting trees.
Naturally, having a Facebook argument with a dear friend, who also happens to be a climate change denier.

My friend had several points to make. 1. The Earth has had ice ages before when humans weren’t around­­and who caused those climate changes?; 2. Scientists are grant­funded and keep claiming that climate change is real to keep the money flowing to think tanks that do climate research; 3. That ice melting being a problem doesn’t make sense because when you melt ice cubes in a glass of water your glass does not overflow; and 4. That it is ridiculous to think that humans can stop climate change.

As far as the first three go, I will let the majority of climate scientists who study greenhouse gases, geologists who know all about cyclical environmental disruptions, and chemists who understand that ice melting in a glass is different from ice melting on an always­changing and eroding Earth, explain for themselves why some of my friends’ ideas are a little less than informed and play into some dominant political ideologies.

But I want to focus in on the last one: “It is ridiculous to think that humans can stop climate change.”
I actually agree with this, but probably for different reasons than my friend wrote it.

It is ridiculous to think that humans can stop climate change because i​t is already happening. It is all around us.​Agriculture is changing because of billions of bees that are dying­­there go our pollinators that help us grow our food. Extreme weather events such as droughts and flood­inducing rains are becoming more common­­symptoms of Earth’s HVAC system being out of whack. Rates of species extinction are happening at the fastest rate EVER (yes, in the whole entire history of our planet). The Great Barrier Reef has lost over half of its coral due to ocean temperatures rising causing coral bleaching­­basically killing off the bacteria that cause the vibrant coral rainbows. Islands are becoming inundated with water as ocean levels rise, submerging exotic locales such as the Maldives, Fiji and, in recent news, the island chain of Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean. Environmentalist and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben suggests that we need a whole new name for this planet which we are inhabiting: “Earth” but with two As: “E­a­a­r­t­h,” because it is somewhat like the old planet, but irrevocably changed, and with an uncertain future.

However, all ego and desire to be right aside, there is something hugely wrong with my Facebook argument. It’s not about the science. It’s not about “believing” or “not believing” in climate change. It’s not even completely about politics and money at this point.

Communities all over this world, both human and nonhuman, are suffering, are being constantly harmed and degraded and pushed to the brink of what we recognize to be living well.​ Folks are suffering, even here in the United States of America and in Nashville, and we are beyond the point of no return. We are beyond the point of blaming each other and playing partisan politics. We have long passed by the possibility of keeping our tunnel vision focused on our own backyards, and are now faced with the reality that everything on this planet is interrelated and decisions and actions made on one side of the globe can be distinctly and intimately felt on the whole other side of the world.

The task ahead of us is this: We need to figure out a way to enhance each other’s flourishing in light of a changing climate. It’s here. It’s now. It’s up to us.

This is a daunting task, figuring out how to mitigate the destruction that is coming down the pipeline to a habitat near you, courtesy of years of industry and exploitation of resources and people and urbanization and a whole host of other causes. This is difficult, figuring out how to support communities who are losing their families, their food, and their sacred spaces because if the ocean rises any farther, their homeland will simply​cease to exist.

As people of faith, we know that there are resources in our sacred texts about creation care.
Hear words from Genesis 1:
God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that was made and indeed, it was very good.”

The psalmist writes: “God makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. God waters the mountains from God’s upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of God’s work. God makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for humankind to cultivate­bringing forth food from the earth.” (Psalm 104:10­14)

From the prophet Isaiah: “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12)

We also know that there are texts that do not paint such a rosy view of the creation, instead focusing on a far­off (or perhaps close­at­hand) eschatology of the end times and Judgment Day. The books of Daniel, Isaiah, Joel, Revelations, and even the letters to the Thessalonians in the New Testament all speak of lakes of fire and God’s wrath against those who turn away from God, rendering them to an eternity of unspeakable pain. B​ut d​on’t worry about your physical body or our degraded Earth, there will be a “new heaven and a new earth because the old earth had passed away and there was no sea.”
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But where are the texts that speak to the need to build community, to restore us to each other and make new our relationships, to understand the power structures that are exploiting our neighbors and damaging our collective dignity?

I suggest we take another look at the parables.

I believe the parables of Jesus (short stories told with the purpose of being surprising and alarming; stories that not only f​lip over​the status quo but s​hatter it c​ompletely) are underutilized in Christian Biblical discussions of environmental justice. Some folks believe that parables are rather literal, serving only to set examples of ideal social interactions between humans, which sadly keeps the interpretive reach of parables in the human realm alone.

However, if we widen our definition of environmental justice, we can understand how parables may be useful. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” I often like to talk about environmental justice as incorporating, and thus necessitating, all other justices, (as well as being very Biblical).

For example: Without economic justice, there is no environmental justice; Economic justice involves people being able to feed their families by working for a living wage; a case study would be the Coalition of Immolakee Workers in Florida, who are fighting to push major grocery stores like Publix to pay workers more for the tomatoes they pick. Here’s another example: Without racial justice, there is no environmental justice; a case study would be the development of toxic waste sites and garbage dumps in neighborhoods with high populations of people of color, such as in Dixon, Tennessee, a mere 42 miles west of here. I​t even happens here in Nashville.

So, if environmental justice is concerned about the race, ethnicity, gender, country of origin, sexuality, income, health and education level of all people, then environmental justice is not just an ecological issue. It is also a social issue, concerned with the way that people separate themselves and assign value based on differences. The parables can help us with this.

Take the story of the Good Samaritan.

The frame story for Jesus’ telling of this parable is important. A lawyer (or rather, a scholar of the law) was trying to test Jesus to see if Jesus truly knew the Torah Law. He basically asks Jesus what kinds of deeds he needs to do to get into heaven. Jesus turns the question back on him, forcing the lawyer to respond with the correct Torah portion “Love the LORD your GOD with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says, “Yep, you did a good job memorizing that…” and turns away, but the lawyer persists: “But WHO is my neighbor?”

So Jesus tells this story:
There is a person walking down the road minding his own business, by all accounts a Jew, based on the audience who was listening to Jesus tell the story. He falls into the hands of robbers, who beat the person violently, rob him of all his possessions, and leave him for dead in a ditch on the side of the road. A few people come along (members of the clergy, no less!), and instead of having mercy and saving the poor soul (as members of the audience listening would hope they would do), they cross over to the other side of the road, wanting nothing to do with this helpless figure. But t​hen​who should come along but a S​amaritan,​a member of a group that the Jews detested at that time because of a long history of violence and persecution. And what does the Samaritan do but upon seeing the lifeless figure in the ditch, lifts him up and puts him on his own donkey, takes him to an inn and pays for his care. No amount of social segregation based on race, class, birth sex, or gender identity could change the fact of the mercy shown by the Samaritan towards the Jew. Jesus, while telling this story, asks his audience “Who acted as a neighbor to the person in the ditch?” and they rightly reply “the Samaritan.” Thus the word neighbor is given an exalted status, is shown to mean a person who defies barriers with grace and mercy.

But notice, also, that while the lawyer in Jesus’ audience was trying to figure out who his neighbor was so he could decide how nice he had to be to get to heaven (do I have to walk his dog? invite his family over for dinner? clean his car?), Jesus turns the word neighbor around, giving it a dual meaning. Not only is the neighbor the object of the help, but it is also the person bestowing the help­­there is a mutuality of being neighborly. Neighbors are in constant relationship, both giving and receiving at all times.

As are we​with this planet we are riding on. As many of us here are Westernized USAmericans, we have been born into a culture based on capitalism, which is upheld by the over­utilization of natural resources and the exploitation of people all over the world. Our very way of being has been based on being able to take­take­take from the land…now we have to figure out how to give back to our home the Earth.

What if we treated the Earth as the Samaritan treated the person who lay beaten, violated and bleeding in the ditch? What if we looked around with our “neighbor goggles” on, and saw everything around us as being enlivened by the Spirit of the Divine, just as we ourselves are?

How would our lives be different if we lived seeing a mountain as our neighbor?

And so I’m not here today to school you on climate science, tell you the true meaning of the Good Samaritan, or make you feel bad about your lifestyle. (Really). I’m here to suggest a constructive way of reading our changing world that will open our eyes to environmental justice issues around us, and so that we might be able to think up a way to address these issues as a community.

Every time we demonstrate for fair wages for low­income workers, we are being good neighbors, we are fighting for environmental justice, we are building the beloved community of creation.

Every time we write letters and call our senators asking them to support free and reduced lunches for Tennessee students, many of whom are food insecure, we are being good neighbors, we are fighting for environmental justice, we are building the beloved community of creation.

Every time we paddle the Cumberland River or hike the Appalachian trail and stop and experience awe at the beauty and grandeur of creation (including cleaning up after ourselves), we are being good neighbors, we are fighting for environmental justice, we are building the beloved community of creation.

Every time we refuse to see the world in polarities, but instead see not only shades of grey but a technicolor universe of powerful and diverse people, we are being good neighbors, we are fighting for environmental justice, we are building the beloved community of creation.

Friends, our good Creator has blessed us with a beautiful Creation to care for, and, when we have not done such a good job of it, has used the words of the apostle Paul to remind us that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…f​or the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”​Let us go forth to be partners with God in the renewing of Creation, in the redemption of our human relationships so that we can enhance the flourishing of all life on this beautiful, this one and our only, Blue Planet.

*Sermon originally preached at Scarritt Bennett Center, Nashville, TN April 28, 2015