Being Brave, Brave, Brave

09021902 ~ click here for an audio of the sermon

woman-with-hemorrhage

She did the one thing that was riskiest, that put her at risk of the most painful loss, she dared to hope things could be different. We have this tendency to keep a back door option available. Sometimes it’s just a way of being able to keep hope alive and that’s all good but it also keeps us from fully engaging. I can imagine that this un-named woman might have thought to herself, “If it doesn’t work, well at least no one will know I tried and I can tell myself that it might have worked, might still work if I really tried, you know, if I asked him.” Because that’s what we do, we keep our options open.

 

It’s not unlike the way we pretend that we would have done things differently than victims of crime. Except, of course, that none of his creative thinking about what he would have done differently really makes us any safer at all. It’s just the way our minds work. We want to pretend that if we had really tried, really put forth our best effort things would have worked, so yeah, it’s not like we really failed, we just didn’t give it our all, and we save face.

 

Except…except this woman does give it her all. She was ritually unclean, and had been for years. In the minds of the people around her the fact that she bled and didn’t sicken or die was either profane or sacred but whatever it was you didn’t want to mess with that stuff, it was better and safer to just not go there, don’t let that stuff get on you, so she was, whenever she bled, untouchable. Elsewhere we hear Jesus say, “Satan has bound this woman for 18 long years, isn’t it right to free her?” I can almost imagine him asking of this crowd, “Satan has cast this woman out of community, out of connection with her loved ones, Satan has isolated and condemned her to being untouchable for 12 long years, isn’t it right to restore her to community, to her loved ones?”

 

In order to understand this passage and what her life would have been like we need to hear the laws under which she would have lived, from Leviticus 15 we hear:

 

19-23 “When a woman has a discharge of blood, the impurity of her menstrual period lasts seven days. Anyone who touches her is unclean until evening. Everything on which she lies or sits during her period is unclean. Anyone who touches her bed or anything on which she sits must wash his clothes and bathe in water; he remains unclean until evening.

24 “If a man sleeps with her and her menstrual blood gets on him, he is unclean for seven days and every bed on which he lies becomes unclean.

25-27 “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, but not at the time of her monthly period, or has a discharge that continues beyond the time of her period, she is unclean the same as during the time of her period. Every bed on which she lies during the time of the discharge and everything on which she sits becomes unclean the same as in her monthly period. Anyone who touches these things becomes unclean and must wash his clothes and bathe in water; he remains unclean until evening.

28-30 “When she is cleansed from her discharge, she is to count off seven days; then she is clean. On the eighth day she is to take two doves or two pigeons and bring them to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The priest will offer one for an Absolution-Offering and the other for a Whole-Burnt-Offering. The priest will make atonement for her in the presence of God because of the discharge that made her unclean.

31 “You are responsible for keeping the People of Israel separate from that which makes them ritually unclean, lest they die in their unclean condition by defiling my Dwelling which is among them.

 

 

It was a life in quarantine. How isolating it must have been for this woman to be untouchable, to be seen as something that is contaminating, for twelve long years. Imagine not being able to touch your child, not to brush the hair off his forehead, or wrap your arms around your parents, not being able to touch your husband without contaminating them. Twelve long years of being unclean, untouchable, of having to throw out or wash things you accidently touched. Not being able to sit with friends, or share a meal. Is it any wonder she snuck up on Jesus?

 

How many times had she gone to one healer or another, desperately seeking help. The noxious remedies she must have swallowed, the suggestion always, that she must have done something to deserve this, to have earned God’s wrath, the incredible shame of feeling not right, not OK, not clean for 12 long years. Always the suggestion either implied or outright that a good person, a wise person would have handled this differently and her illness, her uncleanliness was such an imposition.

 

When we know what doesn’t work, when we know the usual ways and the status quo continue to be painful, we must try something different. We must be brave enough to let go of how things are in order to hope for what might be. This woman did just that. She was not faithful once but, perhaps out of sheer desperation, was faithful over and over. If this remedy does not work, she must have thought while swallowing one bottle of snake oil or doing another set of prescribed exercises, I will try another. If this doctor, this healer, this shaman, cannot figure this out, I will try another. Her faith was not in reaching out to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe but in reaching out again and again and again. She had depleted her finances and yet she did not give up. Still she reached out, still she tried again and again. Complacency tells us we’d better give up, complacency asks us who we think we are that we can make a difference? Complacency and our fear that nothing will ever work makes our lives very small.

 

Better to crowd a little closer to God, a little closer to Jesus and reach out one more time. Better to keep pressing on.

 

Bryan Stevenson is a civil rights lawyer whose book we will be studying for a PBU book study beginning in July. He had the good fortune to meet Rosa Parks and two of her friends, Ms. Carr and Ms. Durr who were pioneers from the civil rights era. On many occasions he would be invited to come and sit with them, to simply listen and learn. The first time he did this Ms. Parks turned to him and asked him what he did. He enthusiastically told her,

 

“Well I have a law project called the Equal Justice Initiative, and we’re trying to help people on death row. We’re trying to stop the death penalty, actually. We’re trying to do something about prison conditions and excessive punishment. We want to free people who’ve been wrongly convicted. We want to end unfair sentences in criminal cases and stop racial bias in criminal justice. We’re trying to help the poor and do something about indigent defense and the fact that people don’t get the legal help they need. We’re trying to help people who are mentally ill. We’re trying to stop them from putting children in adult jails and prisons. We’re trying to do something about poverty and the hopelessness that dominates poor communities. We want to see more diversity in decision-making roles in the justice system. We’re trying to educate people about racial history and the need for racial justice. We’re trying to confront abuse of power by police and prosecutors…”in his enthusiasm he realized he was going on too long, and he stopped. He says that Ms. Parks, Ms. Carr and Ms. Durr were all looking at [him].

 

Then Ms. Parks leaned back smiling, “Ooooh, honey, all that’s going to make you tired, tired, tired.” We all laughed [Mr. Stevenson reports, he was a little embarrassed to be going on so in front of these three pioneers, these three amazing women who had fought so long and so hard. Then he says, ] Ms. Carr leaned forward and put her finger in my face and talked to me just like my grandmother used to talk to me. She said, “That’s why you’ve got to be brave, brave, brave.”(Taken from Just Mercy (C) 2014 Bryan Stevenson)

 

In our scripture reading today this unnamed woman was brave, brave, brave, even though she must have been exhausted. In her bravery she crossed lines and broke boundaries. She risked defiling this incredible man, this wild and uncertain healer and holy man who came to her town. Caught out she falls to his feet confessing and trembling. Can you imagine her fear? If one touch cured her, what might he do now that he knew she had defiled him? I imagine Jesus reaching a hand down to her, taking her by the hand and lifting her up.

 

But this story isn’t done with us yet! If we are to fight on and on, never giving up hope for 12 long years, is there a point at which we simply stop, give up, say this is the way it’s always been and will always be?

 

By the time Jesus gets to Jairus house his daughter is dead. They are too late, the house is filled with wailing and crying. This then must be the time to say, well that’s it. Even King David gave up beseeching God when his son died. Even King David said, well, that’s it. God has taken my child and no amount of beseeching will return my child. He removes his sack cloth, cleans the ashes off and eats a good meal. It is really no use trying anymore.

 

But death is not triumphant with Jesus. Death is not the final answer. How many years, oh lord? How many deaths? “Go on now, be brave, brave, brave, don’t give up”, Jesus says. “Sneak up if you have to, but reach for God’s grace, reach for the healing and the resurrection that every cell in your body is reaching for.” Be brave, brave, brave.

 

Faith in this story is not about a lack of doubt. It is not about having the right answers or the assurance that this time it will work. It is about Not. Giving. Up.

 

 

Jesus goes in to this 12 year old girls room and says to her, Talitha kum! Arise little girl, and…she does. She not only gets up she begins walking around, talking and laughing, a healthy 12 year old girl.

 

12 years of lamentation, of isolation, of crying out to God and we must continue. 12 years in quarantine, and we must continue to hope, to reach out. When do we get to give up, curse God and die, as Job’s friends advised him? Not even when death has come and all seems lost. Not even as we gather to mourn and bury our dead. Not even when our house is filled with lamentation and sorrow, not even when we are tired, tired, tired. Not even when it seems like the status quo, the way things are is just what it is and will always be. Not even then.

 

To be ambitious, to push on, to keep seeking justice and peace and mercy for all people is to be faithful. To continue to seek the good of our neighbors, to seek reconciliation and the peace of God is to be faithful. We are not promised success. We are not promised huge numbers in the pews or a balanced budget. We are not promised great standing in the community. We are asked to press on even when it has been years and even when death has touched our lives. We are asked to celebrate the gifts God has given us, the abundance that God has filled our lives with even as we cry out against injustice, inequality, discrimination, loss, and pain.

 

We are not asked to wait until things are perfect but to seek the grace of God here and now, in the midst of this work. We seek the grace of God because we can’t do it on our own. We seek the grace of God because when we try to take it all on ourselves it breaks us. We seek the grace of God because it is never failing and it continues to show up, and fill us up, and lift us up, even when we are yet broken. We seek the grace of God because we know our salvation has already been secured even as we long for and cry out for the fullness of God’s mercy. We seek God’s grace and healing through long years of waiting and crying out and we do not stop, nor withdraw, not even in the face of death.

 

We will not yield and let fear and complacency make us small. Jesus said “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly” and so we will be faithful and seek out that full, abundant life that has been promised to us and we will neither cease nor desist until we can touch the hem of his robe and feel the healing in the depths of our bones. Talitha Kum! My friends, arise and celebrate, it is the faithful thing to do for not even death can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting on the Porch

 

 

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09021202~click on this to hear an MP3 recording of the sermon.

Usually when we talk of the prodigal’s father we join him on the race down the road to greet his son, but not today. We like to talk about his grace and long standing devotion to his wayward son, but not today. Today we cannot talk about happy endings and pretend that everything is OK when one of our sons has committed a horrific act of terrorism.Today we gather with thousands of other churches across the nation, across the world, to mourn the terrorist attack on Mother Emmanuel.

Today we must count ourselves one with the parents of terrorists all over the world and sit with the prodigal’s father on the front porch, staring down the dusty road, wondering where we went wrong and if it will ever be put right. Today we must wonder if there is wisdom that we forgot to impart. Today we must wonder if there were times when we were silent and our child took that as affirmation and consent rather than the polite avoidance of conflict. Today we must wonder why we didn’t notice that our son was hanging out with a bad crowd and we might even wonder if we too say things that ought never be said. We must ask ourselves if we clutch our purses a little too tightly when passing a black man. We must wonder how it is that we have arranged our lives so that we ourselves have no friends of color or very few. We must ask ourselves if we have become complicit in the systemic racism that pervades our country.

For surely as we sit on this porch feeling the failure of our parenting we must question everything. We must question the teacher who said “it’s natural for them to segregate. They don’t really like to be around white folk.” We must question those who say, “You don’t want to live on that side of town, that’s where the coloreds live.” We must question the TV shows and movies which make all black men seem dangerous and violent. and black women too sexually available.  We must ask ourselves if we have defended violence against black youth by insisting they were “too rowdy,” or “not respectful enough.” We must ask ourselves how often we refused to show up because we were too scared to stand with our brothers and sisters in their time of trial. How often was keeping the peace was more important than protecting the lives, hopes and dreams of our brothers and sisters?

Today we sit on the porch with the prodigal’s father and we mourn and we repent. We repent not because we ourselves committed an act of violence but because we like to sit and discern the truth for a very long time, too long a time, when action is called for. We repent because while we are not necessarily guilty of violence we are responsible because we have the privilege of choosing our response. Unlike the congregation of Mother Emmanuel who has no choice but to engage we can choose not to. We can choose to avoid the matter, to pretend it doesn’t affect us and too often we have. Even when it is our son who is wreaking violence.

The young man who committed this act of terrorism was raised in a church not unlike this one. I am sure they were glad to have him as youth are so energizing to a congregation. He could have been raised right here. Surely he is one of us. He could have been our child’s best friend, a classmate, a neighbor. Today we join the ranks of those whose children have gone off to do horrific things and surely we can now see how horrible it is to wonder if you could have done better. What might we have said that would have helped that man see the image of God in all people? What might we have done that would have helped that man develop empathy? How could we have affirmed for this young man that we are all so intimately connected that we cannot be well if we allow the persecution of others let alone participate in it. And perhaps more importantly what do we need to do now to end the systems of racism and the complicity of our nation in this horror?

In 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. gave the eulogy for the four young girls who lost their lives in the bombing of the Birmingham church. His words apply as much today as they did then:

“[The victims] say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”

Surely we join the prodigal’s father on the front porch today as he looks for and longs for his son who has gone so far off the righteous path. Even as we seek out and learn to see the systems which shaped and formed this young man we must acknowledge, if not our own guilt then at least our complicity. Too often we have defined racism as the malicious acts or words of an individual and we have been quick to absolve ourselves of these types of behaviors stating that we have not done these things. We fail to notice the racist systems that pervade our country and we have not done enough to stop them.

What will we do to change our legacy? How will we engage this conversation? Some will say, “well, that has nothing to do with me,” and retreat into silence. Others will stand with our brothers and sisters of color and refuse to let them stand alone. How will we change our legacy?

We must also recognize that alone we can do nothing and we raise our cry before God because without him we are powerless. But we must not say that this act of terrorism is beyond our comprehension, or that it is solely the result of mental illness and is not about race. We must not say this while we still benefit from and live in systems that perpetuate and continue the very oppression that fueled this young man’s attack. We must recognize that in the midst of this horrific year of the black lives matter campaign that we are only seeing what has already been happening unseen. We must recognize that it is not that things are worse than they have been but rather that a light has been lit which is shining on our national shame. And even as this light is shining on the evil which hates the light, some places are trying to enact laws to halt the videotaping, to blind us all to what is and has been going on, to try and get us to un-see what we have seen and  un-know what we know. Yet we know, we have always known, that evil hates the light.

Chris Crass a blogger with the A Few Good Men Project writes:

“If we truly abhor this devastating act, then we must recognize it as terrorism and seek to understand the worldview, the institutional backing and political agenda this terrorism is embedded in. We must recognize that white indifference and denial is key to giving space for this terrorism to operate and thrive, and commit ourselves to destroying the vast network of support giving rise to the terrorist attack against Black members of a Black church, rooted in Black liberation struggles and a vision of beloved community for all.“

If our hearts are breaking, Chris goes on to say, then let them break away from white supremacy and let us be brave enough to look at how white supremacy and systems developed to perpetuate it have crept into our hearts and minds. Let us be brave enough to admit that none of us who has been raised in the United States is free of this evil. Let us admit that when we come before God in contrition acknowledging that we need God’s help and cannot achieve salvation nor be righteous aside from God that white supremacy is part of that sin, a sin we cannot wash away by ourselves.

Glennon Doyle Melton writes a blog called Momastery which is very popular with the mothers of young children, wrote in response to the Charleston shootings. I never saw the original blog. She said in a later post, I lay awake all night wondering if my words were any good. Were they fair, were they honest, were they helpful?  And who could I ask? And then I wondered how it is that I can arrive at this stage of my life without any real friends who are people of color. I cannot be a good ally, she said, because I am not a good friend. Today she must join the prodigal’s father on the front porch wondering where she went wrong and if there is time to make it better.

You see, white supremacy and the systems that support it rob us of our goodness, of our children, of our friendships, of our possibilities, of our humanity, as surely as it oppresses people of color. We will not be well while our sisters and brothers are not well. We will not have justice nor mercy nor peace, until our sisters and brothers have justice and mercy and peace. This is not a pretty or convenient thing to say nor is it a judgment; it’s just how it is. We cannot evade the reality that we have accepted an evil into our lives, because we would rather not look at it too hard, and because we benefit and that’s hard to give up. Our default in this society is white supremacy and we are fed a diet of it 24/7. We must actively seek to interrupt it, to break it down or it becomes “just the way it is,” fully internalized and accepted.

We gathered here on Thursday, several of us, several members from other churches black and white, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian. It was pre-arranged as if God knew we would need it in ways we could not have imagined when we first arranged the service. For those of us who attended it was an act of grace; it was a moment when the kingdom began to break in, it was exactly what we needed at that very moment. It was as if, sitting with the prodigal’s father in silence and in mourning we caught a glimpse of dust stirred up on the road and our heart rose wondering if this might be him, could he be coming home, could healing be happening?

I want to tell you that the son is coming. I want to tell you that Cain and Abel are reunited and the murdered blood no longer cries from the ground. I want to tell you that the older brother has gotten over himself and his need to be special, to be above and better than his younger brother and is no longer sulking in the courtyard. But it would be premature.

God has promised to wipe every tear but first the tears must flow, and perhaps that justice which will roll down like waters is in those tears and they must not be staunched nor dried up until justice does roll down. Perhaps that justice which will roll down needs not only black tears and brown tears and red tears but white ones too and it waits until we can humbly say we need forgiveness for things done and things left undone.

For the heart is right to cry out! And perhaps we may stomp our feet and yell in great anger, but we are so right to cry out, like Rachel who weeps for her children and will not, will not, will not be comforted! Go on then and cry out! For our brothers, our sisters, their mothers, fathers, and children have been terrorized, have been murdered, and there is no place of safety. So cry out and let our tears join their tears and let us not stop until justice, peace, and mercy roll down upon us, cleansing us, freeing us and uniting us as one people, one body, one church. Let us raise such a ruckus that God himself will stir in his heavens and say, “My, what a noise you all are making.”

We may not be guilty, perhaps some of us carry some guilt, I know I do, but we are all responsible. We are all responsible adults who can affect the discourse in these united states and who are we really to absolve ourselves of that responsibility? A great light is being thrown on the national shame which is the brutalization of black bodies upon which this nation was built. It is horrific. No wonder we want to look away. But it is also within our purview to change, to create change, to be the change, to demand change. If we will only be brave enough to see what has been hiding in the darkness, if we will only be brave enough to acknowledge our wrongs, then we can begin to heal.

We remember today that we were never called to lives of comfort or security. We were never called to play it safe. We are called to be faithful. We are called to love one another-no exception. We are called to be peacemakers, to be those who bring the good news to those who hunger for it. Today perhaps that is us. And the good news is that we can, if we are very brave and very faithful, begin to dismantle the systems of oppression. We can. We have been entrusted by God with the care and the loving of his very dear beloved children. Let us be faithful to that charge and let us not turn away from the wrongs that have been done, that are being done, and that yet may be done if we fail to intervene. When did we see you Lord? We may ask one day. Let it be for the right reason.

No More Invisible People

09020501~ click this link for an audio version of the sermon.

David, alone in the fields watching his sheep might have prayed like this:

Holy One, do you even see me here? I feel so alone. Sent out to the fields by my father to tend sheep. “Maybe this will make a man out of you,” he had said, “or maybe a wolf will kill you but either way I will be rid of the puny, effeminate thing you are. No more hanging around the kitchen with your mother! Now go!” and I went. I am an obedient child Lord. Why can’t I be big and strong and handsome like my brothers? Why did you make me so small, so tender? Why am I inclined to the lyre while my brothers are inclined to the sword? Why am I drawn to poetry when this world rewards action? I don’t even feel like a real man, I am small and I am weak. Do you see me Lord? Is there anything of value about me? “

Perhaps David, the greatest poet of scripture, the ardent man of prayer, would have gone on and on. The days must have stretched endlessly. The days must have been very long for this child who loved poetry, music, and dance, for this child who would grow to be a compassionate and loving man, one inclined to mercy and not vengeance. Out in the midst of the vast hills and fields alone with a flock of sheep David would have been very alone. Loneliness has a way of seeping into one’s skin, into one’s heart and soul. One only needs to be unseen to be alone. One only needs to be invisible to be alone. David alone in the field, sent out to tend sheep by his father, might have cried out to God, “Do you even see me? Do you know I’m here? Does any of this matter?”

Until that day when the anointer of Kings, the high priest Samuel comes to visit. He comes in secret, bringing with him a heifer to sacrifice but they soon learn this is a ruse. Samuel has come to see David but first he must see all the others. First he must see the big and strong, the handsome, strapping lads that Jesse has to offer. First he must see exactly what he had expected to see when he came out there and learn that his expectations are wrong. Samuel must see beyond his expectations to the breaking in of the kingdom. For certainly there is a breaking in of the kingdom when the runt of the bunch, the unheralded, unconsidered, unwanted lover of poetry and music, the one who’s first intimate relationship is with Jonathon, this outcast, reject, maybe a passing bear will kill him and rid me of this effeminate son, is truly seen. Is seen as God sees and not as we see. Is seen and chosen.

Imagine the confusion when this one is chosen and not the others. Jesse, later to his wife, “I think Samuel’s lost it. Unbelievable that I could show him all of our fine, tall, strong sons and he looks at them and just shakes his head no. How are we to understand this? That God would choose that weakling of a boy over the others? He told me I must be hiding one and honestly I was. I sent that one out to the sheep so the neighbors wouldn’t see him prancing about. I had hoped it would make a man of him. “ David is the underdog, the abandoned child. He is the one who is unseen even by his parents who conveniently forget him out in the fields.

There is incredible power in being seen and incredible insult in being overlooked or seen wrongly. Insult not in the common use of the word where someone with malicious forethought tries to inflict injury, but insult in the actual wounding, the actual leaving of a mark on one’s heart and soul. We do not simply crave to be seen for who we are, we need it. A healthy mother will hold her child face to face, smiling into the infants face and say over and over, “I see you! I see you, you beautiful child!” and over time the child learns from this that they have worth, they have value that is intrinsic to who they are. Cut off from the beauty of being seen we become vulnerable, even sickly. Our hearts and souls begin to twist and we struggle to find solid ground to stand on.

Kalief Browder lost that solid ground during his two years in solitary confinement on Riker’s Island. Although he knew he had done nothing wrong and was never charged with doing anything wrong, he could not hold onto his sense of self during that time of abuse and isolation. Even when returned to his parents after three years of being detained he could not find that solid ground. Although his parents and others gathered around him, saw him as best they could, his despair was overwhelming and just last week he took his life. Kalief was invisible to our society and there was no Samuel to anoint him and tell him that God sees him. There was no Jonathon to love him and keep him safe from the crazy abuse he suffered.

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Walter McMillan, sitting on death row for a murder he did not commit, greeted his new lawyer with tears in his eyes saying, “I just need to know that you can see me for who I am. I am not a murderer. I didn’t do it. I couldn’t have done it. Can you, will you, see me for who I am?”

Pastor David Stewart’s wife, a native woman, stands at the cash register with her friends, also native women, and the lady ringing them up can only see the pastor’s wife, the one with authority, not the other women. Elona stops her, “These are my sisters,” she says, pointing to the women who walk invisible through the town, ”please acknowledge them too.”

It has been years since Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man was published but we still struggle to see one another and this seeing is so vitally important. We all know what it is to have someone see you as something you are not; perhaps to see you as rich and snobby, or to see you as incapable and incompetent, or perhaps to simply not see you at all, as if you did not matter nor have any voice. It’s deeply unsettling and it drives an urge in us to shout out, “Hey! See me! I’m right here, I’m not like that!” whatever that is, it isn’t us.

The sad sack of a janitor in the play Chicago sings his lament, call me Mr. Cellophane because, “You can walk right by me, look right through me, never even know I’m there.” Who are the unseen people in our society today? Who do we struggle to see for who they are? In all their glorious humanity?

Kalief, alone in his cell, might have prayed like this, ”God, do you even see me? Does anyone care that I am alone in here? I feel so alone. I try to believe it will all be OK but honestly, I’m beginning to give up. I don’t understand why no one cares. Please God, let me know that someone cares, that someone can see me.” But no Samuel came to anoint him, to tell him that God does see you, that you have immense worth and value, and without this seeing Kalief slipped away.

There are those among you who know those moments when you felt seen, really, truly seen. Those moments when someone greeted you at the door and said, “God has sent you here for a purpose,” and something inside you came to life in that moment. We have been called just as Samuel was called, to see and affirm the precious children of God all around us. We too are called to say, not only your bright and beautiful, your tall and strong, but show me the children you yourself struggle to see. Show me the small and easily forgotten, show me the uncomfortable and overlooked, that I might see and affirm them too.

We have been called to see, truly deeply see so that no one need cry out, “Don’t you see what’s happening to us? Doesn’t anyone care?” King David was no king when Samuel anointed him. He was a small and weakly poetry loving, dancing, prancing, lyre playing boy. He was sent out into the wilderness to live or die trying. He was forgotten and unseen even by his own parents. “Is there another?” Samuel asked and Jesse responded, “Well, yes, but he’s the runt of the bunch, surely you don’t want to see him.”

And God said, “Yes, I do. I want him seen.” Who are we called to see? To really, deeply truly see? Who’s voice is missing from our discussions? Like Samuel we are called to go out and find these people. Like Samuel we may have to take a heifer with us, insist we are only there to worship, all that we might find those people who have been left out of the dialogue. Like Samuel we are called to look and earnestly see one another that no one is left feeling invisible. Like Elona we are called to insist that others see those around us who are invisible to them. Like Walter McMillan’s lawyer we are called to hear the cry of the disowned and forgotten pleading with us to “please see me for who I am.”

Who do we see and who do we refuse to see? God calls us to see all people as children of God and bearers of the Imago Dei and this changes everything. It changes everything because we cannot refuse to see Kalief Browder any longer; we cannot refuse to see Walter Mcmillan; we cannot refuse to see the children at the Mckinney pool. We cannot sit idly by as others insist that it is OK and even right to lock up, beat, or abuse these children of God. We are called to see and hear the cries of our brothers, of our sisters and sometimes this will stretch us. Sometimes we will have to redefine who our sisters and brothers are. Sometimes we will have to insist, “Yes, bring that one in from the field, bring that one in from solitary confinement, bring that one in from the neighborhood, I want to see them too.”

We have been called to see and affirm the nature of our brothers and sisters, to see them in all their glorious, beautiful and difficult humanity. We are called to see them as a deliberate act of justice. A rabbi once instructed his students, “How do you know the moment when the dawn begins to break” he asked them, “When there is enough light to tell the difference between a man and a woman walking the street,” one hopeful student answered, “No,” the rabbi said. “When there is enough light to tell the difference between a horse and a cow out in the field,” another answered, “No,” the rabbi replied. “The dawn begins to break when you look into the eyes of a stranger and you see there a brother, a sister, then the dawn will begin to break.” More than 500 years ago the poet Hafiz wrote,

I wish I could show you

when you are lonely or in darkness

the astonishing light of your own being.”

Our calling is to see the beauty, the fullness of the image of God, in others when they cannot see it themselves, when others cannot see it, and to proclaim to the world that this too is a child of God. It is a beautiful and sacred calling; how amazing that we have been blessed to see the image of God in each person we meet. How wonderful that we have been blessed to affirm the beautiful, God-given, sacred nature of those around us.

Who is My Family?

09012901~ click this link for an audio of the sermon.

 

Please pray with me, “God, our relationships are difficult. We want so much to know we are accepted and belong but we struggle to accept others and create a space of belonging. We see differences more than we see similarities. We hang with those who are like us, those who make us feel comfortable and we ignore and fail to see those who discomfit us, who call us out and challenge us to greater things. Help us, Lord, to see with the eyes of love, to see with the eyes of compassion, and strengthen our hearts that we will stay present and not turn away.” Amen

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With God all things are possible. This is our reality, our faith, the ground on which we stand. With God, all things are possible. We live in a world where change is hard, where divisions are easier to see than healing. Yet we stand within God’s word and proclaim the healing power of that word nonetheless. We insist on the basic truth of this word, this healing. We create our lives and make our decisions based on this unseen truth, that with God, all things are possible, all healing is within reach.

Today we are speaking about family, who is my family, and this is sort of an odd thing for a church that calls itself a family church to ask. We might almost take comfort in today’s scripture as it seems to affirm that all people who abide in Jesus, who follow Jesus’ way are family. But it’s a little uncomfortable too. There is a part of me that wants to take Jesus to task. I want to ask him if he forgot himself and where he came from that he would ignore his own mother standing outside the door. It was bad enough that when she came to him at the wedding at Cana asking him to help with the lack of wine that he called her “woman.” For all the mother’s out there I just want to say, “WHAT? You called your mother WHAT?” So just maybe there’s a little discomfort here too.

There is something about Jesus insisting that all who seek God, who follow him, who desire to be closer to God, are family and that blood bonds are not as significant that is deeply radical. We are familiar with the ten commandments including the need to honor one’s father and mother. This is a basic societal expectation in Hebrew society, but do you know how strongly it was enforced? When Jesus defied the expectation that he would drop everything and tend to his mother and his blood relatives he was again being the radical rabbi who turned every expectation on its head. In the era in which Jesus lived if a young man defied his family he could be drug outside the city gates and stoned to death. But Jesus defies this tradition just as he encouraged his followers to do so. In Luke 9 Jesus calls a man to follow him and the answer is yes, but. Yes, but, let me go and bury my father. And Jesus responds let the dead bury the dead, no one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

It’s a scary text. It’s a text that insists we let go of our obligations, our community ties, our societal expectations and simply follow God. Just follow, now, right now, without hesitation. No wonder the pharisees and other religious thought this was cult! Would we be any different today?

Is anyone feeling a little less comfortable with our being a family church yet? Whew! Deep breath, so what does this mean for us? Are we to be a family church and if so what does that look like? What does it mean for us to follow Jesus, just go, now, right now, forsaking all other obligations and ties?

Robert Frost once defined home as the one place where, when you show up they have to take you in, no questions asked, you simply belong. I love this definition. To me it not only speaks of home but of church. Now I know there are churches that don’t really want the social misfits, the uncomfortable people, the ones who challenge our sense of what’s right, but I’m talking about church that welcomes all people exactly at they are. A church modeled on, formed on, in and through the very love that Christ shows us, gave to us and in which we seek ever to abide, is a church that sits with prostitutes, tax collectors, traitors, lepers and HIV positive people. No matter who you’ve been, or what you’ve done, you are welcome here, no questions asked.

This is the counter cultural church in action. I once knew a pastor who believed firmly in instant obedience. If he was in prayer and something came to him, he felt that he must act. So one day, this happily married pastor was in prayer when it came to him that he should go down to the corner where the prostitutes gathered in his town and invite them to church- so he did, immediately. He got up and walked down there, and evangelized. He brought a good message of hope, of love, of inclusion to these women who were treated very poorly by most upright, upstanding members of the community. Now, it took some time to win their trust but he felt that God had called him to do this and it was a bit uncomfortable to be standing down there talking to prostitutes when members of his congregation would drive by, but he did it anyway. He carefully explained to his wife what he was doing and he just kept on.

One bright sunny Sunday morning as the service was getting started a couple of these women walked in late to church. Now, you all know how we are, as the service was getting started and they were a bit late the only open pews were the ones in front, the ones no one wanted to sit in. The so-called “pews of shame” so called because that’s where the late comers and the pastors always end up sitting. And they walked down the center aisle dressed to the nines in their best outfits, which still looked a little like street wear, and sat down in the front pew. This went on for a few weeks and the pastor was thrilled! Clearly God had sent him to these women to help them transform their lives and it was working! It was incredibly validating.

You all know where this is going, right? Because for a while the upstanding members of the congregation tolerated their pastor hanging out with prostitutes and they tolerated these women showing up in church dressed inappropriately, but slowly it became evident, in all the small ways that we do sometimes, that they didn’t approve and these women didn’t fit in and they weren’t really accepted. And they quit coming.

The underbelly of the church was exposed. It isn’t that these were bad people, but being church is about so much more. It redefines who my brother, who my sister is. And just like family, we don’t get to choose, but we do get to love and we do get to honor, accept, and create a place of belonging for all the incredible, wildly diverse, unexpected people that God sends us to be our family in Christ.

I didn’t watch the interview with Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar gave to Fox news but I did catch some of the hard and painful clips. Unlike this church that found itself being called into relationship with a group of prostitutes, who’s mistakes and sins were immediately apparent, Michelle and Jim Bob knew and loved their son long before his sins and mistakes were evident, he was already family, already one of them and he was given the acceptance and belonging that we all crave long before he made any mistakes. When people come to us and we can see that they don’t have it all together, that sin has touched their lives and changed them and we can see that, it’s harder to invite them into our space and say, “hey, you are one of us.”

Who is family today? Do we hold out our hands to all people, sinner and saint alike, or do we strive to keep ourselves safe? The radical, inclusive love of God in Jesus Christ exceeds all boundaries. It pulls us into unsafe places where we have to see and recognize the sinner in the saint, the powerless victim who reminds us of our own vulnerability, and the ones who we can save, who’s lives we can change, if we are willing to forgo our own comfort. Family isn’t easy. No one pushes our buttons like family and yet, in healthy families, we commit to working out our issues. We commit to honoring our differences rather than being divided by them. If relationships are change agents, then family relationships are master change agents! Being a healthy family means so much more than tolerating one another. It means being willing to be changed by and for one another. It means learning uncomfortable truths and hard truths and loving anyway.

When Jesus’ family came to the door of that crowded room they came because they were concerned about him and they didn’t understand what he was doing, who he was, or what it all meant. They wanted to stop this disruption of the social order because they were good citizens and they, like all of us, like to keep things calm. And besides, they loved him and didn’t want him to get in trouble. Jesus refuses all of this. Jesus wasn’t about maintaining the status quo, he wasn’t about staying safe. Jesus was all about getting into trouble and upsetting the status quo. He was all about loving the most inappropriate and socially unfit people-without having to shun the upright and popular, no choosing sides!

Edwin Markham sums this kind of family so beautifully when he wrote:

“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In !

Love and I, Love and you, Jesus and all of us, we have the wit to win because we know, we really know, that our family circle is so very wide and vast, it takes everyone in. All of our marvelous, flawed humanity is in, prostitutes, Josh Duggar, that obedient pastor, that difficult congregation, you, me, all of us, have been taken in. We have a home and a family where we belong, where we are accepted, where we are loved in all of our difficult glorious humanity, because Jesus has come to us and no one and nothing can ever take that away.