Draft Sermon 072014

So, don’t you see that we owe this old do-it-yourself life nothing? There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Revitalizing Spirit gestures us to come nearer. There are things to do, people to see, and places to go!

This resurrected life you receive from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously pregnant with courage, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We awaken to our true self. We awaken to who God is, and we discern who we are: Parent and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—a fantastic inheritance! We are called to live as Christ has lived. We are to go through the hard times with him, and then we’re indubitably going to go through the good times with him!

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can scarcely wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is dimmed. God maintains restraint until creation and all creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead as our joyful expectancy deepens.

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult suffering throughout the world are birth pangs. Pain that is not only within us, but also around us. The Spirit of God is stirring us from within. We experience the birthing pangs together and apart from each other. These fruitless and stark bodies of ours long for complete liberation. That is why waiting does not diminish us; any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, do not see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our hope is.

Romans 8:12-25

I am not sure if Tracy warned you about me. I feel like I ought to plaster a disclaimer across the pulpit saying, “He is just one expression of a Reformed Faith. It’ll be ok, it’s just 12 minutes.” I am only partial joking. I might offer relief to some in telling you that I have retired from professional ministry and am now a social worker in South Oklahoma City serving a community mental heath center and only moonlight as a pastor when friends and colleagues need someone to stride into the pulpit and offer proof that the radical nature of Christ leads to a life of pregnant adventure.

Ten years ago I was doing something very similar to what I am doing right now today. I was traveling from church to church in Los Angeles trying to garner financial and spiritual support for my upcoming YAV year in Kenya. I would show up to worship and share a bit about the program. YAV stands for Young Adult Volunteers and it is a PCUSA mission service component for youth 18-30 to serve in various national and international contexts in which they explore faith in service to others.

Full of fear and trepidation I approached pulpit after pulpit and delivered my best testimony about how I got to this place in my life. The Lord was calling me to service. The church that I had served as a youth worker and high school youth director had recognized gifts of service in me and challenged me to pray about it. I am not a man of in-betweens or moderation. I am the same man that has been baptized 3 times, been a sandwich board street preacher, witnessed to drunk folks in bars, and never meets strangers. So, I accept their challenge and I pray that God give me a life of adventure and make me dangerous to the ills of the world.

The next year in Kenya brought me to places and people that still shape me in profound ways. I arrived a staunch evangelical conservative Christian and left as a confused and wounded lover of Christ. I started seminary 2 weeks after I left Kenya. I soon found my way to a bottle to mask my suffering. I had no idea then that I was struggling with PTSD. I had no clue where I began or where I ended. My identity was in shambles.

I got a job bouncing and cooking at a bar 422 steps from Austin Seminary. I poured my heart and soul in to that pub. I would read about Tillich, Gutiérrez, Calvin, Barth, and DiForinza and I would share this in conversation with my co-workers and customers. It became know that I was a priest or something. People would seek me out. There I was, a fella with a broken heart, hiding in a bottle, and ministering to the margins. It was the best ministry I had been a part of.

I had to get out of there; my health would not take any more of it. I quit working at the pub and buckled down. I graduated, got married, and moved to Louisville, Kentucky. My wife worked at the Presbyterian Center and I was going to go to Social Work school. I had been dismissed from the ordination process and had become disenfranchised with the church. There was no place for a fella with a broken heart that had hid in a bottle and ministered to the margins.

I soon found myself serving a Disciples of Christ church that wanted me to minister to the LGBTQ community in Louisville. I love this idea, to minister to the community that had gotten me dismissed from the PCUSA ordination process. It was an amazing time of awakening to the beauty and power of God working in and through folks that I had always thought would burn in hell or that at the very least would be hard pressed to be used as instruments of God’s love.

Those three years delivered me to apostasy in the eyes of Pat Robertson and Al Mohler. I received more messages explaining that I was in error and was leading those I professed to love down the broad road to hell. It was an enlightening time of pregnant adventure. It was also a hard time for the church, longtime members became upset when the national news caught wind of things we were doing and when the nation got word that I and the other pastor on staff were not going to act as agents of the State any longer by signing marriage certificates, the camels back was broke. This lead to a slow decline in my support and the niche I had found was no longer supported.

This eventually brought me to Oklahoma. My wife was called to a lovely church in Oklahoma City where her gifts in ministry are utilized in a spectacular display of loving-kindness. I was branded as a liberal, rebel-rousing type and barred from seeking a call in Oklahoma. I mourn that loss still. I crawled through the open window God left ajar and finished my master of social work at OU.

I wrestled with the thought of failure. When we graduated in 2008 from Austin Seminary we were told that in five years 50% of us would not be in ministry any longer. I had made it three years of full time ordained ministry before I burned out of church. I was one of the statistics. I was bathed in shame. The pregnant adventure I had always prayed for had abandoned me. The thing is, the adventurously pregnant life doesn’t leave us. The suffering, the frustration, the difficulty are part of the birth pangs. “All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult suffering throughout the world are birth pangs. Pain that is not only within us, but also around us. The Spirit of God is stirring us from within. We experience the birthing pangs together and apart from each other. These fruitless and stark bodies of ours long for complete liberation. That is why waiting does not diminish us; any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, do not see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our hope is.”

God is not calling any of us to an easy life of leisure. To be a fisher of [men but need a gender neutral way to express this] means we must toil and labor. There is joy in the work but there is never NOT risk. It is a risky and dangerous prospect to put ones life in the hands of Christ and be light in a world that is full of biased hatred of a redeeming and reconciling Emmanuel. The world hates the justice, the peace, and the love that flows forth from the Human-struck wounds of Jesus.

 

Good Enough

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When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20:19-23

 

How many of you have a bucket list?

 

I do. I want to walk the Way of Saint James, study at Plum Village, be silence at the Abbey of Gethsemani, and follow the footsteps of the Buddha. I also want to visit every Major League Baseball stadium. The one on my heart these days is to visit Astoria, Oregon.

 

Lewis and Clark spent a winter here on their journey out west. Clark Gable began his career there at the Astoria Theater. Many films for the 80’s were filmed there, including The Goonies.

 

29 years ago yesterday the world was introduced to a ragtag band of pre-teen heroes. Mikey, Mouth, Data, Brand, Chunk, Andy, and Stef lived in the Goon Docks. Their homes are being foreclosed due to the expansion of the local country club. The kids are upset and gather at Mikey and Brand’s house. There seems little hope for their cherished homes to survive.

 

Mikey and Mouth stumble upon an old map and convince the others to join them in finding the lost treasure. They follow the map and encounter The Fratellis, a fugitive family that had just broke out of jail. They manage to escape The Fratellis but had to go in to an underground tunnel, where they find themselves closer to the treasure than anyone ever before.

 

The rest of the film shows us that The Goonies pursuit of the treasure is only achievable if they all offer their best to each other. If Mouth did not speak Spanish they could not have followed the map. If Data did not tinker with gadgets they could not have avoided the traps set out before them. If Stef had not played the piano then they would not pass an obstacle. The Goonies needed Brand’s strength, Andy’s determination, and Mikey’s leadership. Everyone played a role in this journey towards the treasure.

 

Every one has a role. The parents’ frantically search for the kids. The Fratellis pursue the Goonies. Chunk befriends Sloth and then they pursue and eventually save the Goonies. The Goonies may have been lost in the eyes of some. To others the Goonies were dangerous. The Goonies believed they were on a journey to save their homes.

 

To my 10 year old heart it was magic. Surrounded by life that I was not quite responsible for I yearned for liberty, freedom, and security. Prior to this films release I had not the words or ability to articulate what kind of longing I held in me heart. I was not alone. For many people my age The Goonies gave us hope. It gave us a way forward and dared us to dream. I can ask almost every one of my contemporaries, “What do Goonies say?” And they will know how to answer. The Goonies is a geography in which our adult ethics and morals were hewn and the responsibilities of our parents were revealed.

 

“Goonies never say, die!”, guided them as they moved along their journey. Goonies did not quit because there was great risk involved in stopping. The Goonies did not stop because there was nothing left to do but to keep going. For the Goonies that journey was about getting lost in the hopes that if they made it out alive, life would be better and they would still be together.

 

Pentecost is like that. It is not a place of answers, nor does it hold on too tightly to tradition or pageantry. Pentecost is a place of meandering. A place where we all begin a journey to stay together.

 

Pentecost moves us through a chute of spiritual equipping and out in to a world that IS and IS NOT yet ready for the Gospel message. We are not the owner/operators of the Gospel. We are the meandering sojourners seeking hope amongst a world of hurt.

 

Pentecost is a journey where as you get lost in God you find yourself and as you find yourself you become a light to others trying to get lost. Because in being lost you will find yourself and we will all stay together. Pentecost challenges the notion of dominate culture that the fearfully and wonderfully made creatures of God exist in some sort of hierarchical guild with winners and loser, us and them, and good and bad. With this I am reminded of Paul’s declaration that there is no human division that shall bear witness against God. We are in the same boat. This journey you are on, this journey I am on, this journey they are on is the same journey.

 

Pentecost peels back the niceties of cultural decorum that maintains the status quo and calls us towards a light of exploration with equality and justice as the markers of faithfulness. The treasure we seek is not of gold and silver but of self-sacrifice and abiding in the love of God. The rewards we receive are not retirement plans, comfortable homes, a healthy paycheck, or a glory gilded sanctuary. If these are the trappings of a decent and orderly society than we have missed the Pentecost mark.

 

Along this Pentecost journey if we stay together, meander as one, we will be rewarded with community, we will awaken to a faithfulness that resembles sacrifice, and we shall experience resurrection and peace shall be with us.

Good Feeling

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Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Luke 24:44-53

 

Ten years ago I my life was about to take a dramatic shift. I was graduating with a degree in Religious Studies and a few credits shy of another degree in Ceramic Arts. Earlier that year I had traveled to Louisville to interview for a spot to become a missionary. I had not traveled outside of California; say for the time I lived as a toddler in Washington State and the few occasions I went to Tijuana. I was now traveling Southern California to raise support for my impending trip to Kenya.

I lived a sheltered life, one of fervent pursuit of identity and purpose. I had traveled the extremes of faith and religion. I was a militant Evolutionist. I fought faith with reason. I exposed the lies of pulpit sheep and sought to tame the false power of a risen Christ I saw as a charlatan.

I was a charismatic extremist. I ditched reason for absolute faith. I climbed the faithful ladder towards the prize of eternal life, hoping to take as many damned souls as I could along the way. I submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and desperately preached his salvation on weekends at Venice Beach.

I abused and consumed Scripture as a drug addict consumes drugs. I was faithful and offensive. I was earnest and misguided. I was cocksure and uncertain. I was confused and confessed. I was a hot mess.

There I was traveling to raise financial support for this mission to discover my purpose. In all honesty I was seeking to escape the life I was bound in. I had no direction, little hope, and fear was my currency. I spent Lent, Passiontide, Eastertide, and on towards Pentecost rallying support. I would go to churches, in rented cars because my truck had been stolen, and share with folks what I was doing and pass around a plate. In most circumstances I barley covered the costs of the rental car and gas. I often felt out of place giving my spiel and passing that plate. I was surrounded with guilt and losing affection for this impending journey. As I was driving home after some spiel and plate action I wasted away in traffic and wondered, “Why am I doing this? “This is all I know,” was my reply. This is what the National Mission Office of the Presbyterian Church told us to do. We were to grind, meet, and connect. Build up our network to share our story and acquire the necessary financial support to go and do Christ’s work.

Then why was I not feeling part of community? Where was the financial support that I needed to answer the call? My network was shrinking as I sought to follow the traditional path. I was terribly unhappy. So, I stopped the spiel and plate act and sold my art.

I remained connected with my church friends and the friends that would never darken the door of a church that saw their love as sin. I held art shows in bars and my home church offered space for my art to be sold at the annual talent show. I loved this process. I saw my communities merge and support me. I rediscovered why I was doing this. And within 2 months I had raised $18,000. I only needed to raise $8,000.

I arrived in Kenya on a Holy Spirit contact high. I was as extreme as ever. I was ready and willing to get in to this missionary thing. I was part of a group of young adults from the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the PCUSA. We all checked in to a local convent to begin our language and cultural training. We were there for a month.

Life here was far slower than at home. I was forced to slow down and found lots of time to contemplate the road that got me to Kenya. I was never good at being still. I talk too much. I never meet a stranger. I am about as extroverted as they come. But there in that Kenyan convent, surrounded by a language and culture that I was obviously a stranger too, I waited. I waited. I waited.

I’d love to share with you all of the exciting things we did there in that first month. We stayed in that convent for a month. We never left the grounds. 24/7 those broken glass covered walls surrounded us. We waited. God forced us in to ourselves and we could not escape that life altering power of the Holy Spirit. Where we could not go, she could.

I realized that the same Spirit of peace, comfort, affliction, and love that covered my in the US was the same Spirit that was poking and prodding my heart there in Kenya. I realized that God was indeed the God that fashioned the world. The Word of God opened up to me. I was flooded with emotions and experiences of the road that brought me there. Behind those walls God made me wait so that I could find myself. No matter what I felt God was in control. The space around me was chock-full of God.

It was then that I realized that the best kind of faithfulness is when you dwell in that space that God has fashioned for you. It is in that space where heaven, hell, and everything in between lay, that you are nearest to God. That Divine geography that awakens your heart and mind to the call upon your life. It is there that your mind is opened and The Word of God may be understood. That suffering and overcoming that suffering is part of the process. We exist as witnesses to the glory of God, praising all of God’s grand Creation. Is this not the Chief End of Humankind?

That witness is not homogenous. That witness is as dynamic and individual as it is complex and communal. We are constantly stirring. We are the ebb and flow of God’s “Good Deeds.” In being faithful are we required to travel the same path? Does faithfulness require stagnation in tradition and rites that cement us in a path of “this is how it has always been”?

Are we not called to a living dynamic faith that builds up community and it connects us to the divine presence in each other? We are indeed called to stay in Jerusalem until we have been clothed with power from on high. The problem with this is that we often confuse adversity and suffering as signs that we have not been clothed with divine power.

Is it not the very fact that we endure suffering in the Name of Christ and that we experience adversity living into the call of the Gospel that signifies that we are no longer naked but have donned the power of that Holy, Holy Spirit?

It’s important to understand that God never demands or doles out suffering, nor is suffering ever a path to righteousness. One of the sins of the church is using suffering to justify slavery, violence, and crimes against humanity. But the reality is that our faith is tested every day. Sometimes, waiting in Jerusalem is all we got. And waiting there in the city for that divine power is the Holiest act of all.

Thanks Be To God, Amen.

Get Up, Stand Up.

SAM cartoon

But Stephen, enabled by the Holy Spirit, stared into heaven and saw God’s majesty and Jesus standing at God’s right side. He exclaimed, “Look! I can see heaven on display and the Human One standing at God’s right side!” At this, they shrieked and covered their ears. Together, they charged at him, threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul. As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Then he died.

Acts 7:55-60

 

In the living room he waits.

 

A collective love surrounds him, emanating from family and friends. The memories flood everyone’s minds. That 6-year-old boy that idolized his older brothers. Overcame a life of hardship. He did all the right things. He stayed away from trouble when his brothers made friends with it.

 

Family conflict and personal crisis clouded his development. He dreamed of better days. A hope to get out of the poverty and violence that surrounded him. He wrestled with himself. The normal teenage questions of who and what am I twisted his capacity to its breaking point. He took it to the field. Out there between the hash marks, on that grass-gilded field, he discovered he was ok.

 

He followed the traditions. He offered his body as a living sacrifice to the gods. He did all that was asked of him. He was a good son. He was a good and faithful disciple. And he did all of this hiding a part of who he was.

 

This night all of the past hurt, the pain of hiding the truth, the hopes and dreams blew open the door and Michael Sam becomes the first openly gay professional football player. This night he is selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft and Michael, exhausted and relieved, hugs his boyfriend and the world shudders.

 

Are you wondering why I bring Michael Sam in to a conversation about Stephen? Ask yourself, why did Stephen get killed? Stephen was a believer with exceptional endowment of divine power that did great wonders and offered signs to the people of God’s grace. He ministered to the Greeks. He was proclaiming a tough word for the establishment to hear. Religious leaders grew to dislike and even despise him because he challenged their power and showed the world there was another way to worship God.

 

Stephen was public about his challenge. It was who he was that challenged the status quo. He did not hide who he was. He accepted and proclaimed to all the message of inclusive faithful being that countered the way things had always been. Those that heard or saw him either loved him and accepted this new way forward or hated him and sought to silence his challenge of power. Stephen was killed because he offered an expansive witness of God’s love that shifted power away from the way it has always been. Because it is always dangerous to challenge power.

 

Now, what about Michael Sam? Michael Sam got drafted and as countless draftees before him, teared up and embraced a loved one and shared a kiss. Only Michael’s loved one was also a man. The reaction was swift. Some took Sam to task for “doing that” on national TV. More proclaimed the end of moral certainty in the US. Many let it roll on by without a care or worry. What began in the mid 70’s with David Kopay, reached a peak that night in May when Michael Sam was drafted. He became the first openly Gay NLF player.

 

A preacher in Georgia has responded. He is organizing a boycott of Visa, who has sponsored Michael Sam, and a boycott of The Saint Louis Rams, who drafted Sam. He is catching steam under a theological proclamation that God abhors homosexuality. That the drafting of Sam has ushered in a new era of shame and moral decay. This pastor and his followers are warning America that the “Gay Agenda” is moving to secure rights for the LGBTQ community.

 

There is one thing I agree with this pastor on, and that is that the Gay Agenda is indeed seeking rights for the LGBTQ community. The Gay Agenda is seeking to affirm and secure the full humanity of God’s created order. As this plays out, yesterday we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the legalization of Same-Sex marriage in Massachusetts.

 

In the years since Massachusetts acknowledge the sanctity of love within Same-Sex partnerships an additional 17 States and the District of Columbia have followed suit. This represents 121 Million people or 38% of the total US population. With another 7 States, including Oklahoma, that are awaiting a higher court verdict to legalize Same-Sex marriage. When these 7 additional States legalize Same-Sex marriage an additional 55.9 Million people will be allowed to fully participate in the Rights we enjoy here today. This would mean that 56% of the US population would live in a State that exercised full equality for its citizenry. This is indeed a watershed moment. Times are changing. This is just in the last 10 years.

 

Where are we as the church? We are declining. We have lost the moral edge. Who knows what really did it? I imagine it was a menagerie of things that has led us to this place. No one event or one theological idea has delivered us to the edges of society. The end result is a church that is isolated from its children and a church that has no idea how to minister where her children are. This is not a Trinity thing, nor a rich church/poor church thing, a black church/white church thing. This is a how we have become lukewarm church holding on to yesterday thing.

 

Michael Sam is our Stephen. Michael Sam is pointing us in a direction; he represents a people, and is showing us how to proceed. Michael is showing us how to connect with our children. Stephen did the same and it got him killed. I hope that we do not stone Michael Sam but that we receive his presence and awaken the Gospel that Jesus the Christ is beckoning us to follow.

 

In the churches zeal to maintain tradition, morality, power, and faithfulness we have forgotten the most important commandment of all…To Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself and to Keep God Above and Before All.

 

I am not suggesting that anyone of you betray your conscience and jump out in to the world as Open and Affirming of the LGBTQ community. I am suggesting that we need to do something when HIV/Aids is a scourge in the Black Community. I am suggesting that we could be preaching the Gospel and offering a space in the church for LGBTQ Christians seeking to run the good race of faith. I am suggesting that we embrace the compelling call of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves, to be a light in this State for those that are not what some refer to as “traditional.” I am suggesting that we let go of morality and righteousness and hold on to the nearness of Christ and be community first. Can we trust that God will sort out the righteousness and we can focus on welcoming and loving our neighbors?

 

Stephen beckons to his time that the work that Jesus has performed is opening up the Temple to those that dare never step foot in to it before. He challenges the power of the status quo by daring to proclaim that God loves all and that the Messiah, Jesus, has cleared the way to expand the faith of all. Michael Sam is doing the same here for us.

 

He leads us towards greater love and faithfulness. He is beckoning us to follow a path that challenges the way things have been. He is showing us a way to expand our love and how to be Christ’s hands and heart in the world. Here is an opportunity for us to embrace as others are damming, judging, and proclaiming tat repentance is needed. We have a chance to step outside of the safety of our walls of tradition and drop the rocks of faith we hold, dust off the stranger, take them to our home for dinner, and listen to their story, as we pray, “Lord do not hold our sin against us.”

 

My address to the University of Oklahoma, Zarrow School of Social Work Graduating Class of 2014

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Ever since I heard the practical advice to always wear sunscreen, that youth holds a beauty and power incomprehensible to its possessor, and that inside every adult there lurks a speech dying to get out, I have wanted to address a group of graduates in a public forum. Thanks to the support of my friends and colleagues of the 2014 Zarrow School of Social Work, that dream becomes a reality today.

 

In preparation I researched famous valedictories. I wanted to see what others had already said. So, I could offer something unique. I put together an outline, poured it in to a word document, and sought to fashion something that would honor you all. It is my sincerest hope that inspiration may be found in the following words. At the very least I hope that no one gets up and leaves in the middle of this.

 

I remember the first time I read the Preamble of the NASW Code of Ethics, “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” I felt a kinship with these words. I wanted to immediately imprint them upon my heart, live in to them. I quickly discovered that I was surrounded by colleagues that also found comfort in these words. We all aspired to be agents of change. We are people of deeply held conviction that stand against power and speak truth to it. We are people with an enthusiasm for equality. We are people with hearts that embrace human tragedy with compassion. We are people consumed with a responsibility to those caught in the machine of systemic exploitation.

 

We began as helpers-in-training and over the course of the past few years we have been fashioned in to vessels that promote social justice and social change. Our will has taken on the will of our clients as we advocate for equity and seek to eradicate injustice. Our hearts bear the hopes of those we serve as we seek to affirm the dignity and humanity of all. Our guiding light is the ethical code to which we are tethered.

 

We all have arrived at the same port by different ships. Ships that bear the scars of the past and hold the treasures of our future. A journey that brought us here at this time, with each other. A time of transition for this institution and for ourselves. A journey that has shaped and fashioned the hopes and dreams that we ponder today. A journey with realized potential and life-long memories.

 

That journey ends today, and another one begins. We have persevered through doubt, fear, and material obstacles to arrive here at the expiration of our time as graduate students. The dynamic and diverse paths that deliver us to this place and have compelled us to dedicate our lives to securing good for those in which good is not so readily available. We have been equipped and are being sent from here out into the world to challenge injustice, to write history, and to walk alongside the marginalized towards self-efficacy and hope.

 

We depart from here ready to advance change in a manner that propagates real and permanent good. We dare to dream dreams of peace, tranquility, and a hospitality that shades the oppressed and marginalized. We are not special, nor so different from others. What sets us apart is that we ask ourselves, “What can we do for others? How can we do it with integrity and competence.” We strive to enhance the capacity of others to address their own needs. We advocate for response to the needs of others, believing in the importance of human relationships. Friends, Where peace is desired, there we shall be. Where hunger is alive, there we shall be. Where justice is threatened, there we shall be. Where equality is abhorred, there we shall be.

 

We embody the delicate work of change as illustrated by the philosopher Jane Addams who said, “Social advance depends as much upon the process through which it is secured as upon the result itself.” We are those that reject the comfort and convenience of silence for the uncomfortable action of speaking up in times of controversy and challenge power. We govern our actions not by political power, or popularity but by the conviction that all of humanity demands dignity. We shall not shy away from truth. Trusting that truth will shape and guide our work and adherence to our ethical foundation.

 

Having learned to crawl, then walk, we shall now run, along the paths that guide us away from here, forward towards the calling of justice and compassion that bear the name of Social Worker. We shall not sleep through the revolution. We shall not despair at the hard work ahead. We shall trust in the bottomless vitality present in each one of us. Knowing that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. Our destiny has been woven in that moral arc of justice. When we are tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged we shall return here to this day and remember, renew, and rest in the shared memories of our time here with each other.

Bohemian Rhapsody

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On this morning two people were walking towards a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about what had happened over the last few days. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and began walking alongside them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place here in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our…HOW THE…chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and to be crucified. But we had believed that he was the one to redeem Israel, the Messiah.

Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Earlier this morning, some women of our group puzzled us. They were at the tomb very early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of us went to the tomb and found it just like the women had said; but we did not see him.

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went with them to stay. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to everyone there. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:13-35

 

Last year I convinced my wife and a couple of friends to attempt the OKC Memorial Marathon. We set up a training schedule and stuck to it for about 3 weeks. Then life happened. My friends and I got busy with classwork. My wife’s work at the church dominated her life. We all got overwhelmed and lost track of the training regime.

 

Time passed by and the race drew near. With 2 weeks left before the race we all discussed dropping out. I honestly did not mind that idea. In fact I was trying to seed the soil with this idea. We decided that at the very least we could walk the 13.1 miles to complete the half marathon.

 

On race day we meet across the street from the memorial. It was humid and warm. I was tired, my wife was angry that I had talked her in to this. We gathered in the race corals not paying attention to where we were. The race began and we realized that we were in the elite area. This meant that we were surrounded with people that ran this race at a very fast pace. This was a pace that we were not prepared to maintain. We did our best to keep up and exhausted ourselves by the time we began to exit Bricktown.

 

We walked most of the race. Around mile 10 my wife and friends wanted to pick up the pace. I could not. My knees had nothing left and the blisters on my feet begged my to stop altogether. I pressed on but at a snails pace. I encouraged them to go ahead and I would meet up with them later.

 

That last 3 miles were the most painful steps of my life. I begged for relief and fought the urge to stop. I would walk for 10 minutes and rest for 9. I looked for a way out as I trotted along. Then I popped out of the neighborhoods and on to Broadway, facing the finish line. I gathered all my energy and tried to run. The crowd was going wild. Everyone was willing me forward. I was a galloping steed breaking the air towards the end. In reality, I was an ill-prepared man barely walking. I finally crossed the finish line with the most dejected look on my face.

 

I bought the photo to put on my wall to remind me to never run a race that I am not prepared to run. My experience at last years race reminds me of today’s text. We have a journey of 7 miles whose difficulty lies not in its distance but what what transpired prior to it. Jesus had just died and along with his death the hopes, dreams, and will of many went along with him.

 

These travelers’ hearts were burdened. These burdens prevented them from seeing the hope in their midst. “Jesus himself came near and began walking alongside them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Mired in their grief, wanting to see what they wanted to see, they were not ready to see the resurrected might of their leader, their teacher, their friend.

 

One of the hardest parts of faith is believing in the midst of unbelief. There is this internal debate going on inside us that seeks to weigh the options and seek the straightest path. If we are hurting we seek to hurry through that hurt and want to arrive at that island of peace. When we see folks in pain we offer platitudes of comfort, perhaps their pain, their hurt is too close a reminder of our own inevitable bout with hurt. There is nothing like revealing the mettle of our community than pain and suffering.

 

Staying the course against increasing difficult odds is another marker of faith. When do you cut bait and row to shore, exiting the waters never to fish again? There is much sense to speak of when one talks about the rationality of what we do. Doing the same things over and over and expecting different results is not a good recipe for change. Sometimes is seems like faith is literally a maze of blind leading the blind with a power that is acquired in some sort of charismatic talent show. What is the difference between divinely inspired and inherently decided? The answer to this can put you on varying sides of a debate that dismantles communities and does little to solve the woes of those that are homeless, dying, hungry, or seeking to exist as the world around them devolves in to a warzone.

 

What is faith without a little trial? Tell this to those that suffer the hands of violence or those that live in a world of inequality and injustice. Faith in the midst of trials may seem sadistic or cruel. Offering a perspective of trails of faith in this instance may not allow for the kind of intimacy that draws us to relationship, at least the kind of relationship that is needed to reveal the twisted, marred resurrected body of Jesus the Christ.

 

Walking along that road towards Emmaus that day these people are filled with that kind of communal fashioning and shaking stuff. The community’s intimacy is shaken. Everyone is going in a different direction. Then arrives the broken, pierced, marred resurrected body of Jesus the Christ. “Jesus himself came near and began walking alongside them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”That’s what the broken, pierced, marred resurrected body of Jesus does; he comes along side us and rebuilds our community. To prepare for this we got to let go of everything. Nothing can be left to interfere with the new life being offered. This is what we are called to do as we move away from Easter and towards the resurrection of Christ’s ministry in the world on the day of Pentecost.

 

We mustn’t be kept from recognizing Jesus. We must look beyond what is broken, pierced, or marred within us, within our community. Just as we placed all our woes at the foot of the cross, trusting in the power of a swaddled child that rode in to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. We mustn’t pick them up now. Let us draw nearer to God so that our eyes may be opened and our hearts be prepared. Our community be renewed.

Fight The Power

flavor flav chuck d public enemy 1980s - Copy

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, and wash in the pool of Siloam”. Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

John 9:1-41

 

 

I have always held sympathy for the Pharisee’s. They always seem to be on the short end of the stick. They try really hard to do the right thing and Jesus keeps on fighting their power. They are the Ancient Semitic version of the Bad News Bears.

I don’t think they are all wrong. Jesus did violate the Sabbath by laboring to healing our blind friend. Jesus may have not exercised the greatest restraint in confronting the temple authorities about the Sabbath law he broke. In the eyes of the Pharisee’s, Jesus is asserting authority without having earned it.

Here is this upstart fella from Nazareth, a Podunk guy from a Podunk town. He comes to the big city and starts telling the establishment how things ought to be run. In fact, as he asserts his opinion over authority he attracts disciples of his own.

I would be a little upset too, if the world to which I offered myself in service were not all that was promised. The countless years in the finest schools being finished to be part of societies upper crust. The Pharisee’s were the movers and shakers of their time.

The Pharisee’s got all the headlines, as the ancient world paparazzi would stake out the temple and their homes just to get us breaking news. The citizens of ancient Israel hung on the words and actions of the Pharisee’s. They were the gurus, yogis and proprietors of wisdom that delivered all that self-help goodness. If you were to climb a mountain seeking wisdom from above you may discover a Pharisee a top that peak above the clouds.

The Pharisee’s were what you dreamed of growing up to become. Being a Pharisee meant you were the peoples advocate to God. For a faithful religious devotee, can it get any better than that?

What do we dream for our children? What do we dream for ourselves? Do any of us dream of being a peacenik, carpenter just scrapping by? Do you still dream? Have we chosen the path through the eye of a needle or have we walked the rocky, thorn-laden path towards the open arms of Christ? Taking that path and delighting in our failing in the name of Christ.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” This man was born blind neither according to his sin nor the sin of his parents but so that God might be witnessed in his restoration. This is another way of saying it is not about us it is about God.

The Pharisee’s question Jesus’ actions and with or without justification fear rises in the heart of the Pharisee’s. They are concerned with maintaining the status quo. They need their order and structure to exist in a world of ever increasing chaos. If Jesus challenges there place, their power then what is going to happen to them? Things are going to change. If our leaders are forced to change then we will have to change. If we have to change then what are we going to do about the brass plaqued treasures we have stored in our churches?

The early church is in a familiar situation as we are today. The Romans occupy the Holy Lands. The Promised Land in now the rented land. Wickedness visits the chosen people. They await an opportunity to be relevant again. They hunger for that time in the good old days when thousands of folks filled the temple. They remember when they were the rule of the land and they fit in to a way of life that was good for them. There was plenty to eat and everyone pitched in.

Just as fear motivated the Pharisee’s questions, fear can motivate our questions. We can operate in a manner that is more about survival than answering God’s calling for us to prosper through transformation of our minds.

Are we asking the wrong questions? Are we climbing mountains to distract us from the duty of the mundane calling to be justice in the life we lead? Are we in shape to climb the mountain? Are we even called to climb the mountain? If we all climb the mountain, there will be no one left in the valley to offer refreshments.

Where is the Pharisee in us and what are they holding on to? I have no problem relating to and finding the Jesus in me. I could share with you 1,000 ways about the Jesus-like awesome I exhibit day in and day out. I don’t like to admit that there are a 1,000 ways I am a Pharisee as well.

I was watching this film last week called Enlighten Up! It is a film about a guy that is skeptical about yoga and what practitioners’ claim are its benefits. He agrees to practice yoga for a few months and allow a camera crew to follow him around. He goes to a few classes in New York City and is not amused with the perceived hoity toity nature of those involved in the New York City yoga scene.

Then he goes to India to study at the source for a few months. He discovers that yoga is more about being than about doing. He learns that yoga is not just something that one signs up for and attends a couple of times a week to get healthier. Yoga is a way in which one may enter in to a deep conversation with their self and awaken to the real self.

In one of the final scenes on the film the skeptical atheistic American is sitting at the feet of a very famous Guru as the Guru answers his questions.

The American says, “I’m afraid to ask you stupid questions.”

The Guru replies, “Answers are stupid. Questions are never stupid. You came to meet me. You could have come by cycle. You could have come by car. You could have come by train. You could have come by elephant. You could have come by foot. To reach here, there are so many directions. That depends on you, where you are presently. It’s not important what you are doing. It’s important why you are doing.”

The American asks, “What do you mean?”

The Guru answers, “You can prepare food for yourself to consume. You can prepare food for somebody you love. And you can prepare food for your Lord, your god. The action will be the same. Physically, but inside it will be different. Even if you are forced to do some cooking for somebody you don’t like you will do it. But you won’t enjoy it.”

The American questions, “The same can be said for yoga?”

The Guru returns, “Anything…anything under the sun. The same can be said about anything.”

The American replies, “But I’m a godless guy from New York City. It does not make sense to me about bhakti (devotion) or Krishna.”

The Guru says, “Don’t embrace them. I never said to embrace Krishna. No, never embrace. Never do it. If you don’t like, then don’t do it. Go on practicing what you are doing. If you want to believe in God, believe in God. If you don’t want to believe, don’t believe. And still you can be a religious person.”

The American asks, “Then what would make me religious or spiritual?”

The Guru answers, “Being yourself. Being your true self.”

Jesus restores the blind man to his true self. The Pharisees witness this and get nervous and question him three times. They bring in his parents too. The Pharisees press him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

It is not about the questions the Pharisee’s are asking it is about the questions the Pharisee’s are not asking. What condition are their hearts in? Where is fear taking them? Danger is near.

There is danger in hearing the Gospel. When we ask questions of God we hear the Gospel. When we hear the Gospel we are transformed from the inside out. We are born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in us. We are not born blind neither according to our sin nor the sin of our parents but so that God might be witnessed in our restoration! Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

It is good to ask questions of God only if we are prepared to seek answers. Asking questions of God draws us deeper in to relationship with our Divine Creator. This is the root of the child-like faith we are all called to. Parents, does a child not question to understand the world around them? Children ask questions until they understand what is going on and then ask some more questions, testing the parameters of their existence. It is good to ask questions. To question is to discover. To discover is to mature. To mature is completing ones faith. The completion of faith draws us nearer to God. Being nearer unto God is that sweet spot we are all chasing.

God Only Knows

The following sermon was modified from a sermon that was to be preached at Connecting Point Presbyterian Church and was snowed out.  It is presented to you with y’all as the congregation.

sermon 020214[new low]

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:1-12

 

When I was in the last year of seminary I got a few gems I held on to.  One was enjoy that final year together with those folks that walked alongside of me the past two years.  I did enjoy them.  Between ordination exams, scrambling for what would be next, and writing those papers I should have at the beginning of the semester I savored the presence of these saints.  We held court nightly at the local watering hole.  We sang karaoke and tried bánh mì for the first time.  We explored Austin with a newfound passion.  We knew that our time here with each other, this special place that shaped us and forged a mind and heart of God that we trusted would carry us away from each other and towards the “not yet.”  I have never had a moment of time like that again.

 

I was also told to practice good self-care.  The physical, mental, and spiritual pressures that ravaged my body for three years did indeed take its toll.  I put on over 70 pounds, got pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, addiction problems, and an academic non-emotional faith.  Towards the end of seminary I did manage to join a gym, watch my diet (some), and quit smoking.  This did little to curb my appetite for destruction.  Much of this pursuit may have more to do with me getting married a week after graduation.

 

The last gem was that 50% of my classmates and cross-denominational colleagues would not make it past five years of service in ministry.  I always knew I would have to trail blaze a path towards the church I felt called to be a part of.  I imagined I was prepared for that.  I also did not worry, as I was going to pursue social work.

 

Colleagues prepared for parish ministry, sought work in parish ministry, or worried; I got in to social work school and scored a scholarship.  We moved to Louisville and things went array.  I stumbled into ministry and found myself abandoning my social work dreams.

 

The last gem of a 50% ministry dropout rate was replaced with ass scrambling to figure out how to transform and equip a congregation to move towards the emerging spaces of missional ministry.  With a largely senior population and with a motivated group of members we had some interesting experiences.  Moments of growth and moments of devastating loss.  For three years I grew, the congregation grew.  Then it came time for us to part ways.

 

Leaving was emotional.  I was not prepared for this transition.  I lost myself and woke up in darkness.  I hurt and could not shake it.  This was a moment I realized that I could not do this by myself.  I was isolated, felt alone, and scared about what lie ahead.  I was one of those that dropped out of ministry within five years of graduation.  I felt like a failure.  I proved all the naysayers correct.  I pondered if I was ever really called at all.  I lamented the debt I hold sans a viable vocational career.  I was low.  I was in Lo-debar.

 

I reached out to y’all.  I asked for prayers.  I vented.  I wrestled publicly with faith.  I lashed out and bit those I love.  I was a sour, salty piece of work.  Here is when I became aware of, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Here is when my poverty bound spirit received a gift of ears that hear and eyes that see.

 

A mentor of mine lovingly shared with me the pain of his life.  This was during a seminary-sponsored event of family celebration and welcome.  We sat there in his library, just around the corner of stories of misadventures and missteps.  He spoke kindness to me.  I listened with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.  I felt, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Comfort washed over me.  My warming heart knew I was not alone.  Courage began to creep in to my depressed and anxious soul.

 

Gone was the uninformed bravado of a green horned pastor of privilege.  The fainted victim posture gave way to something new.  I was naked.  All I had left was a trust that God was still here and wanted to chat.  “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

 

I have never seen the difference between humility and meekness.  I have always seen meekness as weakness.  Humility was prostration before God.  In reality it was more of a deflecting all good and bad comments and praise away from me and towards God.  I could not dare allow for any praise or criticism to penetrate the armor of God.  A good solider keeps a tight defense and a watchful eye.

 

I would also include any emotions in this.  I could not let love or trust in as that would lead to disappointment and hurt.  God does not want me to hurt nor does God want me to have obstacles.  This was the good things happens to good people and good people are Godly people theology of my youth.  It is false and a cheap theology of an immature faith.

 

I used to believe that I had to guard my heart and mind from knowledge.  That the devil was bound up and hiding in progressive/liberal ideas.  I did not trust my mind to engage divine ways.  In seminary I awakened to, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  I was told that I was smart for the first time in seminary.  I was encouraged to study and equipped with skills to research, study, critically think, and to listen.  My hunger for knowledge was no longer guarded.  A cocktail of Shiner Bock and cheese fries vanquished that dragon of doubt and fear as we argued and celebrated at “The Crown”, our other seminary classroom.

 

I fought the love of others for a long time.  I hardened my heart and was an unkind, masked fool.  When I began to receive the freely offered love of others, trust arrived, as did mercy.  For the first time in my life I was washed in the blood of the lamb (figuratively of course) as I read, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

 

Mercy…grace…forgiveness…love.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  I did see God. Not in my pursuit to shed the human inside me but in the imperfect communities that loved me in spite of my shortcomings and embraced me because I was me.  Pure in heart was not a procedure as much as it was a diagnosis.

 

The symptoms include loving kindness, loving mercy, and humbly walking with God.  Treatment includes community, relationships, loving the stranger, and seeing God everywhere you go.

 

Then you get, “Blessed are the cheese makers…This is not meant to be taken literally, but refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.” 

 

The Beatitudes are not meant to be a checklist of shit to do in order to get a blessing.  The beatitudes are a path towards being a blessing to others.  The heavenly reward can be debated.  In all honesty, I do not believe in heaven.  If I did my heaven would be Sam Cooke playing a set & welcoming Pete Seeger up to play along.  Thomas Merton & Dorothy Day occupy a table in the crowd & sing along.  James Brown is backstage warming up with Johnny Cash.  Sam Kinison is working the bar, as Judas orders another PBR.

 

The Cliff Notes version is blessed are those that bless the Other.  The bottom line is be kind to others, be kind to yourself.  Love others, love yourself.  The church is all fucked up and broken.  It is in decline and that 30-40 year career you dreamed of is not getting good odds from Vegas bookmakers.  Resources are dwindling.  It is tough to be the young adult representation and the pastor.  Everyone knows change needs to come but no one will take the first step.  Parish ministry seems more like hospital chaplaincy.  The connectional church feels more like the dysfunctional church.  The good news is that the church is so broken that we cannot make it any worse.  Whatever you are doing is better than what is going on now.  “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  You are fearfully and wonderfully made creature of God.  Go and be your bad self.  And remember the self-care.  That’s important.

The Harder They Come

sermon RKP 012614

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”  From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.  Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.  Matthew 4:12-23

Last week we heard Jesus say, “Come and See.”  Which we learned that Jesus was ultimately saying, “Let’s hang out and experience each other.  And we will change this world together.”  This makes the most sense if one believes that this world is indeed in need of change.

One would need to accept the idea of sin as inequality, injustice, and oppression within human systems that impede The Kingdom of God from full manifestation in the world right here, right now.  This is generally more pressing for those that are being oppressed, experiencing injustice, or bound in those human systems that deny full equality.  Those that are bound in these human systems are separated and dominated for the benefit of power.  This power is what Jesus was offered from Satan when he was in the wilderness after his baptism.  This power is privilege and privilege is the root of sin.

Today we encounter Jesus telling more folks to, “Come and See.”  He is continuing his counter cultural march towards his ultimate death in Jerusalem.  He is calculated and unflinching in his action.  On his march towards the cross, Jesus is challenging power and privilege along the way.  Jesus is pushing back against the religious elite of his day making way for a new path for God to emerge.

What Jesus is doing screams in the face of how it’s always been.  Jesus rebukes tradition and demands that the power tied up in leadership be disseminated broadly.  Now replace First Century Palestine with Twenty First Century US and Disciples, Pharisees, and Sadducees with Presbyterians, Lutherans, or Methodists.

Jesus turns over the moneychangers tables in the temple declaring that these wolves have invaded the House of God with greed.  Peter affirms the place of Gentiles in the church and challenges the primacy of Jewish authority.  Paul abandons his role as part of the religious elite to minister to Gentiles and grow the church away from Palestine.  The church splits to East and West over doctrinal differences, each pointing fingers of disapproval.  Iconoclasts are displeased with the religious art and imagery of the Iconodules.  Re-baptizers muddy the church waters with demands of higher righteousness.  Martin Luther nails 95 theses on a door and transforms the church.  Reformers break off further over music, sacraments, and organizational structures.  From Palestine to North Africa to Constantinople to Rome to Avignon to Canterbury to New York to Dallas to Mexico City to São Paulo to Accra to Nairobi to Kerala to Beijing…the church keeps turning.  This is the church reformed, always reforming.

Change is part of our DNA.  Change is something that our faith is rooted in.  Jesus prescribes change at all levels of society.  The Gospel at its core is change embodied, a road map of change.  We see in today’s Gospel, change is something we participate in.  We are change agents.  Change begins when we drop what we are doing and follow Jesus.

Accepting the call to follow Jesus in change is about the last time we have full control over anything.  We do not get to dictate what that change will be.  As Christians this change is laid out before us.  As agents of change we are actors in the grand reclamation of the beautiful intimacy between Creator and creation.

Jesus will use whom ever he choses to bring about change.  More often than not, Jesus uses the outsiders of society, the broken, the lame, and the lost.  Jesus reclaims the brokenness bound up in income disparity.  Jesus convicts the religious elite by offering wholeness outside of its control.  Jesus proclaims that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.  Jesus calls a few fishermen and a tax collector to be the inner circle of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

From the ranks of the disenfranchised, the hopeless, the faithful, and the downtrodden come prophets, priests, and workers that transform this world as we hurl towards the promise of a new day.  We look to the hills, desperate for help.  Faithful we have been.  For 30, 40, 50, and sometimes 60 years we darkened the halls of church.  We have filled that pew and dedicated our life to the ways of God.  Sometimes that change feels like we are being left behind.

No one likes to be left behind or forgotten.  When we feel left behind or forgotten we may close ourselves off from the very thing that God is working in us.  We build up walls to those that seem different than us.  We isolate ourselves.  We may become judgmental of those engaging in change.  We forget the grace we have received and move away from that pool of grace we once calmly waded in.  The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating.  By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

You see we are called to be love in the world, love that illuminates the saving grace of the Christ.  If we feel left behind by the changes happening around us, perhaps it is a call to affirm the good works of today with the story of the good works of yesterday.  Church is not a monolithic statue to our Beloved Creator but a diverse and complex witness of faith of all saints that strive and have strove to be lights of the Kingdom of God.  Dr. King said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.  He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.  There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.”

Change is gonna come.  How do we engage change in a manner that no one is left behind?  Community is the answer.  We offer space to those that feel left behind or tired from the long journey here.  We offer space to listen to those with energy and creativity that will take us in to tomorrow.  We couple the us and them and fashion a we.  Everyone has a place in church for There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”