A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

“Be Opened! And Never Be the Same!” Mark 7: 24-37 Pentecost 15B Sept. 6th, 2015 September 7, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 12:09 am

It’s been a tough week to watch the news. No, I’m not talking about The Donald’s hair, although that’s not easy to see. I’m talking about the human tragedy that is unfolding as Syrian refugees attempt to flee their own country’s civil war that has been raging since March of 2011. It’s heated up lately and so it is estimated that over 11 million Syrians are refugees with another almost 8 million Syrians displaced in their own homeland for one reason or another. It is the worst refugee situation since WWII. Many fled to Iraq, but Iraq, as we know, has its own insurgency to deal with and they are just not able to absorb extra people with high needs right now. They are also going to Jordan, which currently has the largest Syrian refugee camp, as well as Turkey and now many are attempting to go to Europe for a new start and most importantly safety for themselves and their families. Over half of the refugees are children. This crisis is causing strain on much of Eastern Europe and it’s not always being dealt with well.

I watched haunting videos this week of families being ripped apart or living outside. How many of you saw the video of the refugees in Hungary? Thousands are at a train station waiting for trains to take them to Germany, Austria and other points west. But the trains didn’t come. One train did come and there was a melee of humanity trying to get on it. Some thought that it was a set up and refused to get on. The train pulled out from the station stuffed with people, some Syrian some European. About 45 minutes into the trip the train suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere. They were surrounded by Hungarian riot police and told to get off of the train. The European travelers were let go and put on a bus to continue their journey. The first Syrian travelers who exited were rounded up by the police to go to a camp.  Need I remind you that camps in Eastern Europe do not have great reputations. So they stopped getting off the train. This standoff lasted for several hours. Finally, some tried to get off and make a run for it, only to be captured. One young couple with an infant tried to escape. The riot police closed in and tried to arrest them. They threw themselves down on the tracks with the dad lying on top of his wife and baby to protect them. As the police pulled him off and away from his family, he held onto his wife’s jacket with his teeth in a desperate effort to stay together.

We all saw the haunting and heartbreaking image of the drowned Syrian toddler who washed up on the shore in Turkey. His father was the only survivor in his family’s attempt to flee war. Most of the time we watch these videos and see these pictures of people and we don’t know their names. They are nameless poor souls with whom we empathize and maybe even donate some money to their plight, but they don’t impact us directly as we don’t even know one personal piece of information about them. That seems to hold their horrific reality at bay and from invading our reality. But we know this little boys name: Aylan Kurdi. He was three. He was dressed in a red little shirt, little blue shorts and what every little boy on the run needs, little sneakers. Now he’s real. Now he’s in my heart, in my thoughts and in my reality. His name opened up my ears to this crisis and ripped open my heart to learn more and my mouth to speak. I know that God was with Aylan and his family as they fled and died. I know that God with all of the other Syrian’s whose names I don’t know.  I know that as a follower of Jesus I am compelled to open up myself to speak out against any one of my fellow human beings and children of God from being harmed in any way.

It’s very comfortable to keep tragedy, sorrow, disease, hardship and those who are different from us at arm’s length. We separate ourselves in all kinds of ways and look for justification to do so.  We keep separate so that we don’t have to take on someone else’s reality, tragedy or social position-let’s face it-it’s risky and a lot of work to do so. We can also get compassion fatigue and just need to not think about anyone but ourselves for a while.

I wonder if Jesus was suffering from a little compassion fatigue in Mark 7-“He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.” How many of us have entered our own home hoping no one was there so that no one would need us for about 30 seconds? But Jesus didn’t even get 30 seconds before a woman accosted him with a desperate plea for her daughter. This unnamed, Gentile, woman (lot’s of boundaries between her and Jesus right there!) bowed at Jesus’ feet and pleaded not for herself but for her daughter. The next exchange makes some people uneasy as it shows a fully human Jesus a bit stuck in the racial and gender boundaries of the time. He tries to put her in her place so to speak, but she won’t let Jesus off the hook. Jesus is opened up by her demand for justice and to be heard by God.  Jesus allows himself to be opened by her and responds to her need speaking the words she longs to hear: the demon from her daughter is gone and God has heard her.

Again, no sooner than Jesus gets to Decapolis, is he chased down by more people who bring him another person needing freedom. This man was also a gentile, considered unclean and on the edges of society as he was deaf and couldn’t speak. Jesus opens the man’s ears and tongue. Just as Jesus had been opened by the unnamed woman, he now opens up this unnamed man. “Be opened,” Jesus proclaims and he is. Now Jesus, still seeking a nap, told them not to tell anyone but not only had the man been opened, the whole crowd had been opened! How could they not speak? Their ears, mouths, hearts and minds were all opened to the work of God in the world and to the fact that God goes to those whom the rest of the world tries and separates from. God opens us and we see and hear that we are not separate; we cannot, as we are not boundaried from one another but connected through the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

“Be opened.” How do we need to be opened today? Opened to see our global neighbor as ourselves? Opened to see and know the names of those killed by oppressions in this country? Opened to see the person sitting next to us right now as a beloved child of God? Opened to see our community with different eyes? Here’s the thing about being opened that Jesus, the unnamed woman and the unnamed man realized…Once you’re opened by God, you’ll never be the same. You’ll never see the world, God’s people or yourself the same. You’ll never see boundaries that we think keep our hearts, minds and bodies safe in the same way. We’ll be opened the Saturday for God’s Work Our Hands as we feed families at Ronald McDonald house, make quilts and blankets for those in need. We’re opened each time to build a Habitat house, serve meals to the homeless, speak out for someone with no voice in our culture. To be opened by God is to risk, to risk loving and losing, to risk speaking out for justice and equality, to risk hurting and being hurt, to risk losing your life in the world, to risk gaining your life with God.

Jesus proclaims to us each day, “be opened,” to God’s love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and hope. God’s gift of grace and faith, opens us, God opens us in order for God’s healing love and grace to flow through our openness to the world to open other people, to overwhelm creation with peace, unity and wholeness-no more boundaries between each other or us and God.  God opened the way to eternal life and love through Jesus Christ-through the waters of baptism that washed Shelby this morning, through bread and wine that open us to the reality of Jesus breaking the boundary of death and being present with us now and in all times and places. We are opened by God’s love, and this love cracks open the whole world to the coming of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.

For more information on the Syrian refugee crisis and to donate, please go to: http://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Relief-and-Development/Lutheran-Disaster-Response/Our-Impact/Middle-East-and-Europe-Refugee

 

Welcome to the Twilight Zone January 3, 2015

I’ve written before about the female clergy experience so, if you’re bored or over that topic, then I would move on from this. But if you’re still here, indulge my ramblings for a bit and I promise I move beyond gender towards the end.
It’s a well known fact that the vocation of clergy can be a lonely one, regardless of gender. You just quite don’t fit anywhere. I don’t want to diminish or negate that experience for my male colleagues as it is true and is difficult to navigate. But in conversations with other female colleagues (including an extensive one with my best friend who is also clergy), as well as watching and experiencing what can happen on-line to female clergy, I offer that we have an added unique layer to our experience. What makes this particularly challenging is that God’s very vision for humanity, the vision that many of us daily participate in, espouses radical equality and relationships. Yet, for many, our experience is anything but that. (I want to say up front that I think these challenges exist for women in the secular workplace as well.)
You Don’t Quite Fit in with the Women’s Groups
If you assume that as female clergy, we would have this whole set of people who would welcome us to be a part of their circle because women are so much more relational than men, you would be wrong. Reality is that many of the parishioners have been in the congregation for years, decades even, they have a fairly tight bond and so adding this “new girl” in isn’t on the radar. After all, we are the pastor so our main role is to pray or lead worship at the Women’s Retreat, right? Who wants the pastor at their Bunco or dinner out nights? We get it. But don’t assume that we would say no to an invite. Many people make friends at their jobs….need I say more? Many clergy, of any gender, have few if any opportunities to make friends outside of church.
Now, we don’t want to bust up bestie girl times, but just be aware that your pastor likes that too, and probably really likes you!

You Have Other Colleagues to Hang Out With
Yes…..and no….Whether we like it or not, clergy is still a male heavy vocation. (In my denomination, ELCA, only 20% of clergy are female.) Now, female clergy do get together and I, for one, want to give a shout out to all my sisters in ministry who love and support me everyday! But there is still a “good ol’ boys” club that exists and, again, we’ve noticed. Men have had the seat of power for essentially 2,000 years and we still live a in a primarily patriarchal culture, in and out of the Church. Many men are simply unaware that they, just by being male, possess more power than women. So their behavior matters-a lot.
There is still a stigma associated with hanging out with female colleagues-you might get labeled as “feminist,” “weird,” or it might raise an eyebrow that opposite gender colleagues can hang out. Sigh…are we all still in Jr. High? So, the men will go for beer with each other or they will go out together with their wives and not even consider that it might be nice for the pastor and her husband to be part of the crowd. Once again, we get it. A pastor and a pastor husband doesn’t fit the cultural norm or paradigm. Our lives and way of being in ministry are very different and frankly, new. Now, in fairness, what the church expects of pastors wives is ridiculous. They think that they are essentially getting two employees for the price of one. Interestingly enough, no asks or expects my husband to bake cookies for Sunday morning, arrange altar flowers, lead a ministry or teach SS. Which is good, as he has a job. I don’t volunteer at his job (can you imagine?) and he volunteers only sporadically at mine.
And Then There Are the Haters
Oh yes, there are men (and sometimes other women) who “believe in the Bible” and assert that women can’t and shouldn’t be clergy. After all, we are missing very important anatomy that enables us to be rationale and intelligent. On social media, it’s not uncommon for female clergy and particularly female clergy of color to be personally and professionally attacked for following God’s call for their lives. I witnessed this just yesterday and when I offered support to this colleague, a male colleague cautioned me for being to bold and outspoken about my support and own experiences with this same issue! Can a girl get a little overt support from her male colleagues? They all talk a great talk about affirming their female colleagues ministries and give great private pep talks. But when the rubber meets the public road? Crickets. What if the “guys” see that they might support any aspect of the “feminist agenda”? Will they lose some power?
Welcome To the Twilight Zone
Here we are, caught somewhere between our deep love for our call to ministry, the context in which we serve, and the people with whom we serve and the brokenness of human relationships as a whole. The Twilight Zone of female clergy is that we have even fewer places in the Church and in society where we fit in. I often wonder if the addition of female clergy in many denominations is a microcosm of how the Church is or isn’t adapting to changing culture and norms. In my more philosophical and theological moments I can theorize away how being and living part of the change in God’s Church and being a part of what the Holy Spirit is up to in the world is a gift and a privilege. I can convince myself that all of my colleagues, male and female, are doing the best we can and it just is what it is. I can reassure myself that all of my, and my sisters in ministry, uncomfortable moments are part of change, part of revealing Christ at work in us all and in the world. Change is hard, change is scary, change is unsettling. Change questions power, personal identity, and status quo.
This is not just change for the male clergy, but change for the female clergy too. We are just as complicit in all of the above challenges and uniqueness as the other players. We don’t always handle the situation in the best way and let our humanness get the better of us. We don’t speak up for ourselves for fear of not being liked. We don’t remember that the only person we can change and control is ourselves. We don’t practice the 8th Commandment as often as we should.
How can we as the intentional people of God name these pieces in healthy and productive ways for conversation? How can we finally move beyond conversation to self-examination and truth telling about our own fears: fear of loneliness (as the common human experience), fear of loss of identity, fear of loss of power, and fear of the unknown? How can we truly live with one another in our primary identity as children of God?
I am hopeful, honestly. I think we will together wrestle with these questions and realities and then realize that it’s our commonalities as people and people of God that has the power to over come these challenges. This is not just about those on the “inside” of the Church-this is about God’s mission for all people to know the love of God in their lives. What if we as “being the Church” could really live together in such a way that people were naturally drawn to this community of faith? What if we let go of our need for power and control in our own lives and gave into the power of God’s radical love?What if the only power we need to consider is that of the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us, make us new creations and move us from where we are today? What if we all truly believed in God’s promises that we all fit in?
“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.” Galatians 3: 28

 

The Holy Pause of Advent December 6, 2014

(The following is a devotion I wrote the Women’s Advent Brunch at Lutheran Church of the Master in Lakewood, CO)

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
1 Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. (Selah)

8 Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. 9 Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. 10 Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. 11 Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. 12 The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. 13 Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.

In this season of busyness and distraction, we know that we are also in a season of waiting-Advent. We wait-almost holding our breath for the excitement of Christmas-not just the festivities but the excitement of Christ coming among us; the excitement of the reminder of God incarnate, God among us and God speaking to us and guiding our path. The season of Advent is holy pause, a long inhale and exhale in the church year. The word Selah in our psalm is somewhat of a mystery but we know that it appears in Psalms that were more than likely used in corporate worship among the Israelites. They were songs or litanies that the people spoke together as one voice. Speaking as one people is a tradition that is ancient and still important today. Biblical scholars think that Selah was a cue to pause in the song or litany and breathe together. It was a cue for the people gathered to worship and praise God to connect to the breath of God and to one another.
When we pause, take a deep breath and connect with others we make space don’t we? We make space in our lungs for air, in our lives for each other and we make space in our lives for God. In the coming of Jesus, God is proclaiming that God has made space, room, for us in the very life of God. Through the life and ministry of God’s own child, God is literally breathing space in the world (in creation) for love, mercy, forgiveness and grace. Just as God breathed into the first humans, God’s breath in Jesus blew into the world for life and love and continues to move and live in us in every breath that we take.

We know that there are times in our lives and in our world that it seems we are all holding our breath. We wait for new life to take their first breath and for some to take their final breath in this world. We hold our breath in the face of violence, injustice and fear. We know we are complicit in denying other people life and breath. The reminder of Selah is that we are all connected and connected by the very breath of God. So, breathe. Create a holy pause, a holy breath, or as the psalmist writes, a path in your day for Jesus to come into your hearts and into your life. Hear with your head, with your heart and with your spirit what God speaks to you in that holy breath, how God meets you where you are and promises to be with you on your journey in this life and in the next.
Prayer:  God in you we get our very life, our very breath. Create in us space for your word, for your love and for your grace. Your whole creation is holding its breath for reconciliation, for peace, for love, for mercy. Filled with your breath, may we be instruments of your work in the world. In the name of your son Jesus, the light and breath of the world, amen.

 

Risking it all-Matthew 25:14-30 Nov. 16, 2014 November 17, 2014

Filed under: sermon,Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 3:57 am
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(This is the sermon I preached at the first worship service this morning, 11-16. The second worship service went, well, differently…)

I posted this question to my Facebook page about risk-risks you’ve taken and how did it go, and what’s the one risk you wish you had taken. I had several responses in the course of a few minutes! It was crazy how the conversation about risk just kept going! Over 20 diverse people (from all walks of life, professions and denominations) told me about the risks of vocational decisions, moving, leaving harmful situations, marriage, having children, changing one’s mind about something, divorce and leaving family and friends. Risk is a part of life. They commented that these things were HARD. These weren’t calculated risks like which carpet to choose but risks that altered the way they lived their daily lives. Yet, I didn’t hear one person regret a risk that they actually followed through on. Some even commented that the risk they took that initially felt and looked like failure (such as their divorce) turned out to be a meaningful step to wholeness and joy. The only regret talked about was for risks not taken.
Risk is often an invitation to something that we’ve never done before or to think differently about our lives and the world around us. When we take a risk, when we step out beyond our fears, we are stepping into a vision that is bigger than ourselves. We are stepping into a vision that is beyond what we can imagine, explain or fully grasp. Many people on the FB conversation pointed to the fact that it was because of risk that they took, they grew, they were transformed and they now live with people differently. Risk is an acknowledgment that maybe there’s more than what we can presently see. The apostle Paul names this in 1 Corinthians 13: 12, as seeing in mirror, dimly. We don’t know exactly where the risk will take us, only that it will indeed move us from where we are now.
Risk also forces us to explore who were really are and often forces us to redefine what success means for us. When you are uncertain about the future, you begin to know more about yourself, your identity, your gifts, and your short-comings. Success, in the face of risk, ceases to be measured in dollars earned, our title or position but takes on a quality of being true to who we are. Success becomes about living out of our gifts and passions and not into material things. Taking risks also makes us vulnerable and exposed to judgment, and yet, often risk connects us with others around us in ways that are not possible when we shelter ourselves and don’t step out into the unknown. Risk drives us to community-finding other risk takers for partnership on the journey. The conversation of risk brought 20 people (many who don’t know each other) into honest conversation about risk and the reality of fear.
Matthew’s community would have been wrestling with risk. Things would not have been easy for these early Christians. Their risk was not about being given a funny look when they mentioned their church or Jesus in the grocery store line or at a dinner party(as it is for us) but risk was that their community could dissolve at any time, they could be arrested and put to death for their belief in this radical God who risked everything to be with humans, who hung out with the unclean and the criminals, who spoke truth to power, who gave up life on a cross to show forgiveness, mercy and love, and who was resurrected to break the barriers of death and despair.
Matthew places this story about three slaves right before Jesus begins his journey to the cross and uses it to turn the definitions of success and risk on its head for his community and for us. Matthew is making the point that the greatest risk with this precious story of the love of Jesus Christ, is to bury it and not do anything. The greater risk is to do nothing, accept the status quo, be safe and be sure that no one is inconvenienced or uncomfortable. Matthew doesn’t spend a lot of time on the first two slaves other than to point out that their only reward is more work in the master’s realm and they have the joy of relationship with the master. But Matthew spends some time telling us about the third slave and his issues. The third slave proclaims his fear of the master but really that fear is about himself. In his fear, he couldn’t see beyond himself or see a bigger picture outside of his own perspective. He was afraid to fail and so did nothing. In the doing nothing, he had already failed.
Matthew knew that his community had been given much already. They had received the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, they had each other for support to live their identity as beloved children of God and they had all of this in abundance. They were people who had absolutely nothing to lose and by living their daily lives proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in their neighborhoods and towns, the world had everything to gain. God’s abundance is to be shared and not buried underground. Yet, it seems fear was rampant in this early Christian community. Fear was overtaking the joy of living in relationship with God and with one another.
What is it for us here as the gathered community of LCM to live in the joy in our relationship with God and each other? Like Matthew’s community, we have been given much. We, too, have been given freedom from sin and death, freedom from worrying about messing up, unconditional love, we have been given our core identity as a child of God, we have been given each other, this gathered community, no matter what time you worship, for deepening our faith, caring for each other and the neighborhood. God has provided us everything we need to risk sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. We know that we are called to take this risk: we know that we will not be comfortable, we might be afraid, we know that our risk might seem like failure, and we know that success in God’s kingdom is nowhere near the same as the worlds.
While we here at LCM, may not risk our physical lives to proclaim the gospel, we are living in a time not unlike the early church. The culture and society around us is suspect of Christianity and Christians. We believe crazy stuff like unconditional love from God, resurrection from the dead and eternal life, forgiveness for all, the primacy of community and living one’s life for their neighbor, and caring for those whom society neglects. Living out our core identity as followers of Jesus Christ, makes us different than the rest of the world. It means decentering our personal preferences, it means we gather with other to read and wrestle with ancient texts that still speak truths, we serve and care for those in need daily, we truly believe that continuing the ministry that Jesus began of revealing God’s love to the world makes a difference. Following Jesus means risking not being popular, risking not being comfortable, risking not worrying about ourselves, risking being part of a community that will change us, risking that we will no longer be who we were before we began the journey. But in that risk is the deep joy of being who God created us to be. It turns out that living from a place of deep joy in the life of God with the people of God is the definition of success the world needs to hear.
God has trusted us with much in God’s kingdom. God calls us to be faithfully risky with the treasure of God’s unconditional love, grace and God’s vision of success for the world. We are called to be faithful-not perfect. We are free to do whatever is necessary: love with great risk, share generously with great risk, offer peace with great risk, connect to the neighborhood with great risk, or whatever God calls us into participation with her. It will transform us, not leave us the same, move us beyond ourselves and our own preferences, deepen our faith yet fill us with joy. Thanks be to God.

 

“You’re so vain, you probably think this sermon is about you.” Matthew 18:18-35, 14th Sunday of Pentecost, Year A, Sept. 14th, 2014 September 15, 2014

So, I’m a child of the 70’s and I love 70’s music. You’ve heard me say before that being in the car a lot I like my XM radio (if you hold out long enough, it comes down to a cheap monthly rate). The 70’s station is my favorite, a time when talented singer/songwriters such as Carly Simon were common. One of her hits was “You’re so Vain.” It’s a classic breakup song that regals us, with sarcasm and wit, the damage this former boyfriend (and the speculation of who that was) did to her. We all identify with her plight, as we all know people who only think of themselves and don’t really give much thought to how their words or actions might possibly affect someone else. We all have people in our lives who annoy us, lie to us, or wound us in some way and somehow belting out the words “You probably think this song is about you, don’t you? Don’t you?” as you roll down I-25 is slightly cathartic.
Carly Simon puts into a three minute song the microcosm of life with other people. It’s messy, complex and humans tend to be self absorbed. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that in Matthew 18 we move from “where two or three are gathered in my name,” to Peter asking how many times he has to forgive these other people who are ostensibly gathered in Jesus name. I’ve been saying all week, “where two or three are gathered…you’re gonna need forgiveness.” We are focused on ourselves and so we bump into one another in ways we’re not even always aware we’re doing and we leave scars to show for it. We wound each other in small and large ways. What are we to do when this happens? Do we forgive the person who gossiped about us? Probably. Do we forgive the person who stole $20 from us? Again, probably. But what about my friend who asks me if she should forgive her ex-husband who killed their children? Honestly, I don’t know. Or what about a victim of abuse, should they forgive their abuser? I don’t know. I guess it depends what we mean by the word “forgive”. Is it to forgive and forget? Is is a clearing of the balance sheet of wrongs done to you by someone or wrongs that you have committed? Is it a second chance? Or is it something else entirely?
Peter is wrestling with this too apparently, and I bet he had a specific incident in mind when he asked Jesus about how many times to forgive someone. Peter must have had a repeat offender in his life. Jesus’ initial answer is frankly a little too school yard playground for me: you should forgive over and over. Well, that’s great if someone just takes your juice box and cookie but I’m not sure that speaks to some of the real abuse and damage that people can inflict on one another.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there with that seemingly oversimplified response. He continues and tells Peter and the others, this over the top parable of the “unforgiving servant.” It’s so steeped in ridiculousness that we know it’s not to be read literally. So we pay attention to the theme of the parable. The amount of debt this slave owes the king is more than a servant can actually ever rack up in a life time. It would be like you or me garnering a billion dollars in debt. We would actually have to work really hard at accumulating that amount of debt. This slave that owes so much, throws himself at the mercy of the king and the king responds out of pity-he feels bad for him and releases him from his overwhelming debt. The slave is free.
What’s the first thing the slave does with his newly found freedom? He takes a fellow servant by the throat and threatens him. In his freedom, he chose to continue worrying about himself. The other slaves told the king of course, who was furious. This slave, who for a brief bit of time, had it all, and lost it all just as quickly and is handed over to be tortured. And then Jesus, not being the touchy, feely, pacifist that I prefer, says that this is what will happen to us if we don’t forgive from the heart. Ok, about now all I’m hanging on to is that this is just a parable.
See here’s the thing. We all hear this story and immediately start to worry about ourselves. So, I have to forgive or lose God’s grace? I have to forgive no matter what the circumstance? How do I know if I’ve really forgiven someone? But I’m still mad, broken and hurt! We want forgiveness to be easy, clear, and neat. I forgive you and the pain goes away. You forgive me and I stop feeling guilty. I forgive myself and I can finally have peace.
But that is not our human reality. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily end the damage that has been done to each other. God forgives us completely and unconditionally each and everyday; more than the 77 times Jesus talks about, unless you’re under 2 months old. God knows that forgiving us is actually about acknowledging and entering into our brokenness and pain of our past and present, and offering us radical hope for a different future. God walks with us into that future. God also calls us to walk together into that future. When we can offer forgiveness to someone else, we are being honest about our pain; not burying it, not denying it and not ignoring it. We are also calling out the other person’s real brokenness that affects us. Forgiveness is a new way to be in relationship together, built on the grace and hope first offered us by God through Jesus over and over.
We are created for community, to be gathered together to reflect and reveal the loving presence of Christ wherever we are. The kingdom of heaven is God’s mercy for all God’s people and God’s desire for her people to fully live in hope, love and grace at all times and in all places. But this kingdom of heaven is not yet fully here, so we continue wound each other and must struggle with our human frailties of thinking only about ourselves, realities of violence, cheating, lying, and all of the other ways that we unfairly deny each other abundant life. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse any of our harmful behavior or means that we have to allow harm to be done to ourselves or others. Actually, in community we are compelled to call out wrong when we witness it and stand with those in harms way. But there is also this difficult reality that because of our interconnectedness, when we withhold forgiveness, when we deny anyone hope, we ultimately deny it to ourselves. It can feel like torture to live without hope for a tomorrow filled with the promises of God.
God extends to all of us radical forgiveness that is difficult for us to even receive because it is rooted in the very heart, the very being, of our unconditional loving God. If we truly receive this forgiveness, it compels us to offer it to someone else because it’s too important, too meaningful and too life giving to keep it to ourselves. We will want with our whole heart, with our whole being, for our neighbor to have this gift. Because ultimately, this forgiveness is about you and about all of us rooted in God’s mercy and love. Thanks be to God.

 

Bad Boundaries: Sermon on Matthew 15:21-28 Year A, August 17, 2014 August 17, 2014

We love to give things labels to organize our world. Or at least I do. Organizing a closet, a drawer, my office, or anything gives me a sense of peace and control. Do you remember those old label makers that you could punch letters onto a plastic sticker and label your whole world? My mom had one and I loved that thing. I labeled almost everything in my room, including my baby sister. I don’t have one now but I wish I did! I love knowing exactly where something is, exactly what it should be used for, and having similar objects together for ease of finding them. This sort of organizing and labeling can be helpful and fairly benign. As humans, we like some sort of control over our surroundings, we like to put things in categories that we can understand and interact with in a logical way. Without labels and categories, our lives have the potential to be chaotic, messy and overwhelming. We like predictability.
This categorizing spills out into our interactions and relationships with people in our daily lives. It starts when we are very young and by the time we are in junior high or high school we know what all the cliques are and who is in them: jocks, nerds, band geeks, goths, hipsters, etc. And we know from an early age where we fit and where we don’t. Crossing those boundaries was unthinkable and with the rare exception, impossible. Even in adulthood that sadly doesn’t change and often intensifies. Such as, this group of people are my close friends, this group of people are acquaintances/coworkers, this group of people are strangers, this group of people are poor, rich, educated, uneducated, republican, democrat, male, female, white, black, hispanic, native, and the list goes on and on. We put people in categories and we like it when people stay in their proper containers, roles and relationships with us. It’s clean, neat and predictable. Many of us even label ourselves and even accept the labels assigned to us by others or society. Wife, husband, mother, father, fat, thin, pretty, handsome, introvert, extrovert, young, old, etc. These labels can and sometimes do place us in groups where we are accepted and comfortable but they also divide us by creating boundaries and an “us versus them” mentality with those people who are NOT in our label. We can reduce people to a charactiture. In the book The Big Sort, demographic research from the past 15 years has discovered that we are self sorting ourselves into more and more homogenous groups in this country by ethnicity, political affiliations, and socio-economics. Even as the US grows more diverse, we are clumping together with only those the most like us and who make us the most comfortable. We like to be comfortable. When the categories are violated, it’s confusing, messy, unpredictable and VERY uncomfortable.
This gospel story this morning troubles me because it points to the reality of seeing labels and not people. We have Jesus who frankly is operating out of his clique of being male with a lot of privilege in the first century Palestinian culture. He ignores the cries of the woman in our story at first. She’s not just any woman but a woman with the label of Canaanite. From our OT history, we know she’s the enemy. And women, especially unaccompanied women, didn’t speak out to a man in public. For Jesus to answer her, would be for Jesus to admit that she had some claim or right to him. That would be uncomfortable for Jesus and the male disciples at the bare minimum. Jesus is acting well within the cultural norm as an insider and it completely annoys me because this is not the label of Jesus that I like. I like to keep Jesus in his label of Son of God, the divine Jesus. The Jesus that is predictably kind, inclusive, forgiving, merciful, abundant, and counter cultural. But here we clearly have Jesus as fully human. Jesus, in the reality of his humanity, trying to keep some control and predictability in his life. Men don’t speak to strange women and Israelites DO NOT speak to Canaanites. Jesus is not acting the way I want him to at the beginning of this passage. I want him immediately to include her, love her and accept her. But instead Jesus ignores her, the disciples try to send her away and then Jesus calls her a dog when he does speak to her. Seriously Jesus? Is Jesus really removing any human dignity from her, and making it clear where she is on the social ladder? Frankly, I’m appalled and my instinct is to protect this woman from this apparently typical first century man named Jesus who appears to be trying to keep her in her proper place.
But this Canaanite woman does something remarkable in the face of all of the labels, boundaries and cultural injustices: she refuses to be bound by them. She acknowledges that yes, indeed, she is out of place, she is not in Jesus’ social group but she refuses to allow Jesus to just dismiss her. She asserts that despite her labels, she is more than those labels and is also deserving of the mercy that Jesus is offering the “lost sheep of Israel.”
Her faith is not just about belief in Jesus, we assume that she has heard of him and who he is somehow, but her faith is courage to claim her own and her daughter’s full humanity and place at God’s table. Her faith is persistent action when it seems hopeless and useless to keep pushing for justice. She forces Jesus to step out of the cultural categories that they were both caught in and affirm her true label: a child of God deserving of God’s abundance. In these few verses she starts out in her position of a lowly Canaanite but gets Jesus to see her as more than that, to see her as a woman, a full human, at the end of their exchange. Not to mention that Jesus grants her the healing of her daughter from a demon.
Jesus also ultimately refuses to be bound by the cultural labels. He does finally speak to her and he does admit that God’s mercy is wider than first offered. This mercy he offered the woman would have been seen as offensive and scandalous to the Israelites as his talking to her would have been. God incarnate is not neat, predictable and clear. The boundaries are not where we think they are. This passage highlights the messiness of relationships with each other and even with God, as well as the offensiveness of truly offering God’s love to all. We’re going to mess it up but are we going to move past our own uncomfortableness for the sake of offering God’s love and mercy to another? Just when we think that we have God all figured out, labeled and categorized, we discover that God can’t be contained by our human labels and need for control.
The reality and the danger of labels, categorizing and sorting ourselves gets expressed in many different ways in our world. From the violence in Ferguson, MO that points out our struggle with racism in this country is far from over and that labels of skin color are still dehumanizing, to mental illness as a label that people are too ashamed to speak of, to religious categories that spark war resulting in the death of school children, to gender violence, to the marginalization of those who self identify as LBGTQI. And it’s not just these larger social divisions that are a problem: in our own corner of the world, cliques, gossip, or anytime we assume an “us versus them” mentality about anything, it seems that our categorization of each other trumps our very humanity at times. Whenever we look for what is different about another person and assign a label, we fail to see each other as the very same child of God, loved by God.
There are tensions in our Matthew story that are difficult to reconcile, but what is true is that this Canaanite woman refused to let go of her own identity as a human created by God regardless of other social divisions. She forced Jesus to step out of his boundaries to recognize her inclusion in God’s plan for reconciliation of all people and creation. Jesus did exactly that-included her, not just for her sake, but for all of us. Jesus crosses boundaries and shows us that as the people of God, we are called to those places of uncomfortableness, unpredictability, and chaos for the sake of radical unity, the abolishment of “us versus them” thinking, in the face of social and cultural divisions. We are called to walk with each other despite differences. We do this when put aside our own wants and comfort for someone else’s needs, when we share from what we have, and when we offer each other benefit of the doubt and true grace. We are called to witness for the world, that through the fully human and fully divine, Jesus Christ and by his death and resurrection by God, the boundary of division from God and each other is eradicated. We are free to live as ONE people of God with no division, distinction, or category. The predictability of God’s promises of love and mercy for us all and God labels all of us as a beloved child, is all we need is to know. Thanks be to God.

 

God’s love, children swearing, failure and other realities of sowing seeds July 13, 2014

My first teaching job out of college was as a lead preschool teacher at a childcare center name Over the Rainbow that was shortly bought out by a local church in Lincoln, Sheridan Lutheran. My very first day was Dec.26th, 1993, I had just graduated on the 18th (so you can imagine how happy my parents were that I already had a job!) and honestly, I was fairly confident at 21 in my teaching abilities. I had graduated magna cum laude and had been awarded the outstanding student teaching award. I had it goin’ on. So, I came in my first day with lessons, songs, stories, and lots of lovely ideas of how the children and I would spend our days learning, playing and growing. The morning went fairly well and it was time for recess. Which in NE in the winter is a process with young children. I had 16 four and five year olds to get coats, hats, gloves and boots on. Even that went well. They dutifully made a little line and we went outside. They played well for about 15 minutes and I gave the two minute warning as you should with young children and then called out it was time to line up. All of the children did this except Daniel. Daniel kept doing whatever he wanted. I walked over to him and said, “Daniel, you must not have heard it was time to line up.” He looked up at me and said, “No, I heard you b*^%$.” Well, this was not covered in any of my classes, needless to say. He and I went back and forth for a bit and then I realized I was going to have to break a rule of teaching and simply pick him up and drag him inside. I was fairly certain I would be dismissed and go to jail for child abuse as he fought me and didn’t go quietly. He screamed obscenities in front of all of these other young children. So, on my first day, I was going to need to explain to a young mom why her sweet, four year old princess now knows the F word. The rest of the day did not go any better. Daniel screamed obscenities all the way through nap time, hurt other children and was so disruptive that I couldn’t even get through a lesson, a story and any of my lesson plans. Turns out that Daniel came from a difficult living situation of dad in jail for armed robbery, deep poverty and neglect. Any seeds of boundaries, love and even education seemed to not take root. And I was pretty sure that none of the other kids were getting anything either because all of my time was spent dealing with his behavior. Most of the time I felt like a failure as a teacher (and maybe even as a person) to this class and all they would remember is chaos. I know very little of what happened to Daniel, only that in elementary school his behavior did not improve despite all of the work and love myself and others had done with him. He didn’t thrive and I’ve always wondered what more I could have done.
We live in a culture that tells us to avoid failure at all costs and if you do fail, for all that’s holy, don’t tell anyone or admit it. Blame someone else for the shortcoming. But if you succeed, take all of the credit and know it’s because you earned it and deserve it. But here’s the reality of life: what takes root and grows and what doesn’t, is a mystery. And an example we’re all familiar with is our own faith in Jesus Christ.
In our 21st century pluralistic and global world, Christians are not the majority in many parts of the world. In the US and in CO, Christianity is the minority. And those of us who proclaim Jesus as the way, the truth and the life wonder, why? The story of God’s amazing and unconditional love and grace took root in us somehow at some point. Now maybe we can point to all of the ways that the seeds of faith were scattered to us: Sunday School, or a good pastor, or a loving church community, parents and grandparents who passed on the faith, and those things are good. But how many people around us had the same experiences and yet don’t believe? What do we do about that?
I don’t think our situation as 21st century followers of Jesus is that far off from that of the first followers of Jesus. Those following Jesus were in the minority, most definitely. Jesus was walking around, in the flesh, performing miracles and teaching people and yet far more people didn’t follow than followed Jesus. For the disciples this was perplexing and curious. Why didn’t others see what they saw? What would it take to convince them? Should they work harder? Offer whatever the people want to hear? Was this ministry of Jesus a failure?
In this section of Matthew, Jesus and his message were meeting resistance and it was getting hard. Jesus decides to share this parable of the sower to the large crowd, and the disciples, who heard it very differently than I think we do today. We tend to focus on if we are the seed or the sower or get all hung up on the types of soils that Jesus talks about. We wonder which soil we are or which type our neighbor is, but I don’t think any of that is Jesus’ point. I think that the point of the parable comes in verse three, the very first sentence: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.” Or hear it this way: Listen! God went out to love. God went out to spread the seeds of love and mercy in all sorts of unlikely places not worried about the outcome. God wasn’t afraid to go to the hard, rocky places, to the thorny places where one can get hurt; to the hot, dry places where life is difficult. God didn’t stick to the soil where success was assured. God was’t worried about failure, only that the seeds went everywhere to everyone.
Jesus is naming some realities of ministry and of life that we can’t escape. We will go out with this amazing story of God’s abundance, grace and love and there are rocks, thorns, birds, hot sun, lack of water and nutrients, and all sorts of obstacles to the word of God taking root in the lives of people and in us. There will be more failures than successes in ministry. We will try ways to nurture the growth of the word of God in ourselves, the neighborhood and in the world that maybe won’t work. We will try different ways of worship, education, Sunday School, youth group, confirmation, walking with the community, and serving that may or may not take root. But…what if something we try does take root and is more fruitful than we ever imagined? What if we quit focusing on what didn’t go well and focus on what is growing and is bearing fruit right before us? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jesus ends the parable with the witness of the abundant harvest. Even in the face of failure, there can be a harvest that defies imagination.
Last October when Lois and I went to Aspen for the think tank on faith formation, there was a young lady there, Katie. We got to talking and she mentioned that my name was familiar. After putting together that she was a life long member at Sheridan Lutheran, she realized I had been her preschool teacher in that class with Daniel. But she didn’t mention Daniel at all. She did say she remembered stories I had told, songs I had taught and the prayer we did before snack and lunch. She told me how much she had loved going to preschool and that she used to cry on the days she didn’t go. It seems despite what I thought of as failure was a seed taking root in Katie.
She was at the time the worship leader for a mission development in Lincoln and she is now spending this year with Young Life and then will be going to seminary. I’m not taking credit for the Holy Spirit’s work in Katie, but I was sure I was such a failure of a preschool teacher to that class and I have thought about that many times. But God says what might look like failure to us, look again, for God is at work. Don’t miss what God is doing abundantly right in front of us because we are obsessed with the failures. That doesn’t mean that we give up on the Daniels but we shouldn’t lose sight of the Katies either. We keep following God out to all kinds of places for God’s seeds of love to be sown through us in people and places we would never expect. God understands that following Jesus is hard and won’t always take root how we expect but God promises to be with us on the path, in the rocks and in the thorns and to love us no matter what. God says there is always more than we can imagine, always more than enough and always room for everyone. And Jesus proclaims to us “Listen! God is going out” with us, to sow seeds in us and through us for the sake of the world. Thanks be to God.

 

God’s Hope for the World: Sermon on Genesis 1-2, Matthew 28:16-20, Holy Trinity Sunday, Year A, June 15th, 2014 June 16, 2014

I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel like the problems of the world just keep piling up and it’s overwhelming. No matter how much I am outraged and saddened about another child being shot, it will happen again. No matter what I do, children go to bed hungry. No matter how I want people to live in peace, people will still make hateful racist, anti LBGT, and other hurtful remarks. It seems we can’t just all get along. Sometimes, the world can seem like a dark and isolating place. And if we’re completely honest, we wonder if there should be some sort of reboot. Do we just need to start over somehow? We worry what kind of world we are raising our children in or leaving for the next generation. What will be our legacy and what consequences will those after us have to experience? What is it we are supposed to do or be? What is it we want for our life together?
And we look for some hope. I have noticed that the idea of hope bubbling up in the secular culture quite a bit. Some of you already know that I have been thinking about this lately. I listen to the radio a lot, as many of you can guess, I drive quite a bit. So, I wait and get the deals on the satellite radio to help me pass the time. One of the stations I listen to is a top 40 format. They do a weekly count down of the top 15 songs each week and I noticed last week as I was driving to and from Ft. Collins that 4 of the top 15 songs directly speak to the desire and longing for hope and unity as humanity. (In case you’re wondering: “Raging Fire” by Philip Philips, “Nothing More” by the Alternate Routes, “Scare Away the Dark” by Passenger, and “Love Don’t Run” by One Republic.) It’s also a theme that is integral to the plots of many tv series and movies. Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, even sillier ones like This is 40. To notice the darkness and brokenness of the world is part of our human experience and yet so is the clinging to some strand of hope it seems.
So I’ve been thinking about the nature of hope and what the difference is between the secular idea of hope and the hope that we have as people who believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes a difference in and for the world. I am also wondering what God is up to in our world with these themes of hope and unity bubbling up.
Much of the secular media culture seems to link hope to another person noticing your human condition and offering you compassion. Hope seems to need a communal quality to it. Hope transcends the individual and give substance to the mystery of mutual relationship. Yet, the concept of hope that is put forth in the world still has the underlying assumption that hope is all about us. That hope doesn’t exist without something that we as human beings do. And we continue to get it wrong and so the spiral of despair and hopelessness continues because we can’t pull ourselves together and we stay with our narrow focus of the world around us and only what we can see. And so hope and unity seem unattainable.
If the world says that hope is fleeting, dependent on us and yet desperately needed, what do we know about what God says about hope? Today’s texts help tell the story of God’s love and hope for the world. In the Genesis creation story, we read that God is hovering over the formless void and darkness. “Formless void” is better translated from the Hebrew as chaos. In the very beginning, God looks right into the chaos and darkness and speaks light and life into it. God’s word and breath swept into the chaos to create life where none had existed before.
And not just one kind of life but all kinds of life. God created fish and birds and plants and trees and cows and dogs and lizards and deer and snakes and platypuses. God created not just one thing or one time but again and again. When God was done creating the plants and animals, God still wasn’t finished. God the creator had more visions of what the world could be. God created people, in God’s image-men and women. Not just in God’s physical image but in the image of God’s love and hope for what it could mean for God and all that God created to be together. God created life to be interwoven and interdependent in order that each part of creation needs other parts of creation to be healthy, whole and what God declared as good. God didn’t create out of hopelessness but out of hope and joy bursting with the possibilities of what living in the midst of and with this creation for eternity could be.
Hope is embedded into all that God has created. Flowers that bloom every spring, plants that regrow each year, sunrise after the dark, babies (is there anything more hopeful than a new baby?), new friendships, even our how we develop as humans is a sense of hope. Developmental phases where babies and children learn new things, phases of life that offer adults new opportunities, even while other parts of our lives are fading away. God’s hope is deeply intertwined in us.
We know that shortly after this glorious creation, a separation between God and humanity occurred. Yet, God’s resilient hope for connection with us abounds in the world and this was never made more plain than in the person of Jesus. God came to us to be love and hope in the flesh. Jesus proclaimed that God’s love is for all, nothing separates us from God and that just when it seems that darkness, death, and hopelessness will win-look again. God’s hope that created the world, created life once again from death. God’s hope calls to us from the empty tomb to tell us that this is a hope that is not dependent on us but encompasses us and draws us into the very life of God. God’s hope is enough for you, for me and for us all. We don’t even have to always believe in this hope all of the time. Sometimes we will worship in this hope of God and at the same time wonder if it’s true.
Jesus knew that the idea of hope the world offers will confuse us and make us question. The world tells one story of hope that is incomplete and unsatisfactory and yet, we find it easier to believe than God’s overflowing promises of hope, grace, mercy and daily renewal that meet us right where we are with no strings attached. We have to experience these promises over and over to drown out the other voices we are prone to listen to and this is why we gather together often as the people of God.
This hope and love from God I believe is what God wants for us in our life together. Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 28 to go out and give voice and experience of the good news of new life in God to all people because this new life is for all people. We all are intertwined in the life and breath of God and connected to one another and it’s why it matters that we tell the story of God’s love and hope to one another, to our children and youth, to our neighborhood, and to our world. We have to remind each other that God’s hope is not dependent on us or what we do but is simply in us to be revealed and daily recreated. We have to remind each other that we matter to God and to one another, as well as that we daily receive being this new creation and deep love from God’s Holy Spirit who simply desires to always be with us whether there is chaos, peace, challenges or joy. This is the hope we cling to and live in everyday. Thanks be to God for all of God’s people who are filled and moved by the Holy Spirit, who are the hands and feet of the risen Christ for the sake of the world that God created. Amen.

 

What’s prayer got to do with it? Sermon on John 17:1-11 Easter 7 Year A June 1, 2014

Mike and I have friend from Nebraska, Matt, with whom we went to high school, worked at camp during our college years and he and I even attended seminary at the same time. We both also worked at the UNL campus ministry just at different times. Needless to say he’s a good friend of ours. On early Friday morning we got the news that his house burned. Everyone got out ok but Matt needed some medical attention. His wife and two young elementary age children were physically fine. But they lost much of the house and their possessions. Matt’s wife posted on Facebook what had happened, that they were fine and to please not ask what they need right now as they didn’t know. So, many of us as friends and family made simple posts of support, love and prayers. He has many pastor friends obviously, and many of us wrote an actual prayer or that we were praying.
How many times when life becomes difficult or unclear or even downright tragic for someone we tell them that we are praying for them? Or when we are going through a difficult time people say they are praying for us? We do it all the time and here’s the thing for me, it sometimes kinda bugs me. It feels and sounds like a copt out. If I tell you that I am praying for you, then maybe I don’t really have to do anything else for you and get my hands dirty. Especially if I don’t have to pray out loud or in the presence of anyone else. Those words of “I’m praying for you,” can almost seem like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
Or sometimes those words of “I’m praying for you” are really born out of a sense of helplessness because there is really nothing of any substance that we can do to change our friend or family member’s situation. With my friend Matt who lives in NE, what can I do to help him? I guess I could drive to NE and help them clean up or something? But realistically, they will need a professional and my help would be laughable at best. Maybe as they put their house back together they will need some financial help, which I could do, but that won’t be for awhile. So, in the mean time, I tell them that I am praying for them. Is it enough?
This whole idea of what prayer is bewilders many of us. Donald Miller in his book, “Blue Like Jazz,”talks about treating God and prayer like a cosmic slot machine: prayers go in and we think what we want should pop out. Is it about getting what we want out of God? Is prayer about telling God all of our problems so that God will fix them? Is it a way to do something for someone without ACTUALLY having to do anything? Is it about me, myself and I? Is it about keeping God happy because Jesus tells us to pray? Is it about eloquent words and proper posture?
In John we get the first part of Jesus prayer to God for his disciples in chapter 17. It’s Jesus last hurrah with the disciples before his arrest and crucifixion and the messiah who turned water into wine, fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, who raised Lazarus from the dead, decided the best use of his time left with his friends was to pray. He was leaving them; they would be alone without his daily physical guidance, so shouldn’t Jesus be trying to shove as much knowledge about God or the Torah down them or be giving them something tangible that they could hold on to in the coming days, weeks and years? I would think so. But Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus stops and prays. Really? That’s the best you’ve got Jesus?
The words that the writer of John has Jesus say are well constructed and eloquent if not a little convoluted. But I am struck by what Jesus does NOT ask God for with the disciples in the entirety of chapter 17. He doesn’t ask for God to bless them with anything worldly. Jesus doesn’t ask God to have Judas not betray him or to help Thomas believe in the resurrection the first time Thomas is told about it. Jesus doesn’t ask God for advice on how best to act when arrested or what to do if the disciples abandon him. What Jesus does ask, is for God to be revealed in the disciples lives and for overall protection as they proclaim God’s love and work in the world. Jesus asks that they are one with each other and one with God, creator, redeemer and sustainer.
I can easily forget what prayer is really about and I need this reminder from Jesus. Prayer is not about me. It’s not even about you. It’s about God and connecting ourselves to the very heart of God which is about so much more than our day to day concerns and joys and yet is all about those day to day concerns and joys at the same time. Prayer is exactly what Jesus asks for in John-prayer is about being one in the life of God. One voice, one hope, one people. When we pray with and for one another, it’s a connection of relationship. It’s a time to create a holy space for God and each other in our busy lives. When I am praying for Matt and his family’s current situation, I am remembering that we are connected from our past, present and future relationship through God is truly present and promises to love us all. They occupy space in my life and in my heart.
Jesus knows that the most important action to model with his disciples before he is no longer with them day to day, is that of stopping, pondering and creating space in their lives for the mystery of God’s promise of continued and eternal relationship with them. All of the extraordinary actions Jesus had done cannot compare to knowing that you are important in the life of God and in the life of someone else. Jesus is naming in this prayer what is already true: we are one in the life and love of God and God’s Holy Spirit is with us always. Nothing changes that. But by saying or hearing the words “I’m praying for you,” it’s a reminder of the promise that this holy space has been created for you in the heart of a friend and in the heart of God. It’s knowing it’s already true that God’s Holy Spirit is connecting you to something bigger than yourself and to others and there may not always be adequate words for what comes from that space in your heart. This is why Paul writes in Romans 8 about the Holy Spirit interceding for us with sighs too deep for words.
Our very breath is prayer-it connects us to the breath of God that surrounds us. And this breath of God is in us all-our friends, our family, coworkers, those whom we don’t like, those whom we’ve never met. It’s what makes us one in the life of a relational Triune God. In deep unity, words aren’t even necessary, let alone supposedly articulate ones. When we are with someone who knows us well, we don’t even have to speak to communicate our thoughts. This is what Jesus prays for us all. That we know God so well that words aren’t necessary, to live fully in the here in now with one another in God’s love and to know we can rest in the promises of the sacred space created just for each of us in God’s heart with unconditional love, mercy, and grace. Thanks be to God.

 

#YesAllWomen (and men) don’t want to live in fear May 31, 2014

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I have been reading the tweets and blog posts all week from the #yesallwomen on Twitter and Facebook. Honestly, I did not jump in with any tweets or blogs of own until today. Why? It’s not because I am ambivalent or because I don’t think that I have faced discrimination. I am not ambivalent and I, too, was raised in the culture of both subtle and overt gender inequality and misogyny (as have all women, hence the hashtag). It struck me today that it was partially out of fear that I haven’t added my voice to this conversation. Fear. I was afraid of being labeled “one of those feminists.” I was afraid that to name some of the ways this affects me is to give it more power. I was afraid that my place of privilege as a white, heterosexual woman would be hurtful to my sisters who were LBGT or of another race. Let me say now that I understand that being born a white woman in America is akin to winning the lottery in other parts of the world. I have more resources, power and autonomy than most women in other countries will ever possess. I am beyond lucky and blessed-that is my privilege. When I realized that fear was keeping me from speaking out, I kicked myself for I am not a person who operates out of fear in my life. I have this privilege and I should use it to both reveal the brokenness in the world and the true presence of God and not allow fear to weigh into my decision making.

This social media conversation surfaced in me all the ways that fear does dictate my life and the lives of women. I am afraid to send my 17 year old daughter off to college. I’m not afraid that she will flunk out, I’m not afraid of the finances (well, maybe a little), I’m not afraid she won’t make friends. I am afraid of the statistics of sexual assault on our college campuses. I am afraid that what my daughter will really learn is that men are to be feared and not trusted. I’m afraid of these things because its what all women on a college campus learn. Don’t go out at night, don’t be alone, don’t walk down that street, don’t drink something that you didn’t watch be poured, don’t wear that dress, don’t be too nice to that guy, don’t touch that guy, don’t be too pretty, don’t be too smart. I wish I could say that all of that changes after college, but it never does.

It becomes subconscious the way the fear controls how women move in the world. Just today, I was at Target in the check out line, when a man came up behind me in line. He stood very close (too close) to me and was muttering something and looking at me intently. Yes, this might freak a man out as well, but I had in the matter of seconds four exit strategies in mind, what to do if he followed me, got my phone and keys out, and made note that I had spotted a police officer in the parking lot on my way in. Now, I am willing to bet that most men would not have thought that completely through all while buying granola bars. But women have been trained to do this as part of our daily routine. We don’t even realize we are doing it most of the time. We always have a worst case scenario running through our brains. When we see a man, we immediately do a risk assessment. How sad and heartbreaking is that?

This is why I am also afraid for my son. I am afraid that no matter how his dad and I have raised him to respect women, to see each woman as a beloved child of God (just as he is), to see women as equal partners in life, work and friendships, that he will be seen by women as a risk to be assessed. (My husband admits to crossing the street if he is approaching a woman who is by herself so as not to cause her any alarm.)

The #yesallwomen conversation brings to light what has been in the dark far too long. It gives space and voice to the reality that God didn’t create us for division and fear. God created men and women in God’s image to reveal the kingdom of God in the world, to reveal true Shalom peace and to treat each other with full respect and equality. God created us to speak truth and to hear truth from one another. God, our father and our mother, created us for unity and to affirm and celebrate our God given differences. So, I guess I am “one of those feminists” who believes that God is in this struggle, that this is not just about me and women but is about us all. What effects me, effects my husband, my daughter, my son, my best friend, her husband and children, my partners in ministry, my local and global neighbor.

Jesus prays in John 17: 11 and 21 that we may all be one. We are all one in this conversation and this is why I will not let fear determine my voice, my ministry or my life. What will you add, both my sisters and brothers, to this conversation? Don’t be afraid; we are all one in Christ.