A New Land, A New Time

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Isaiah 65

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;[e]
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

I had the good fortune to find some time to walk around Madison yesterday afternoon. As I met one smiling face after another, watched children ride their bikes down suburban streets, saw people helping each other, their kids racing from one house to another I was reminded again and again that people are basically good and kind. I was reminded that we all bear the image of God and the love of God just shines right on through us like sunlight through a stained glass window.

It was a reminder that, although our country feels so very divided right now, we share a goal that goes way beyond the election. We share the goal of a country in which all people can live with great hope and joy, with meaningful work and justice for all. And as I thought about the fact that not only have we just had a contentious election, but that Friday was veteran’s day and I, like so many of you, have such deep, deep gratitude for our veterans and all that they have done for us. All that they have given to help us attain these greater goals of freedom, equality, and a bright future. We all hold those things in common, values and goals we cherish.

We are in a new land today. Let that sink in. We are in a whole new place and we aren’t certain what will happen, how we should live. It’s just really shaky and uncertain. And that’s exactly where the people who third Isaiah was speaking to were at. It’s interesting to hold Isaiah 65 right next to Isaiah 66 because they parallel one another, the first written to those who had not been faithful-but ending with a promise anyway, and the second written to those who had been faithful, also ending with a promise.

Let me be honest and clear with you. I’m really hurting from the results of our recent election. I don’t dislike Trump as a man. I’ve known many men like him, and I want to be clear that I am not saying that anyone here who voted for him is in favor of the racism, misogyny and abuse that is raising its head right now. I do not believe anyone here wanted to see the Klan marching in victory.

My heart is with those who are now fearing that this means half of America doesn’t value them, doesn’t believe they have a right to safety, or hope, or a future. I hear their fear, I hear their dismay, and I can’t ignore it. I have been left wanting to comfort the women and young girls around me with the knowledge that even though we have elected a man who sees them as nothing more than objects to rated, used, and abused, their sacred, intrinsic worth, remains.

So please understand that I recognize that most people who voted in this election, regardless of who they voted for, are good, decent people, who don’t want anyone to be hurt or scared. They certainly don’t condone violence even as violence against women and minorities immediately escalated following this election. Please know, that I understand that no matter who won this election, some of us would be hurting.

We as a church have not done a very good job of acknowledging trauma and I want to acknowledge that there are those among us who have experienced sexual violence, it’s an unseen, often unacknowledged trauma. if you are one who feels your abuse and trauma have been dismissed and disregarded, if you feel unsafe then these next words are for you:

Hold onto your anger with tight fists and don’t let it go! Your anger is a holy fire lit by God within you, reminding you that you are a child of God! A child of the most high and any abuse or violence against your being that you have suffered is so very, very wrong! Don’t let go of that!

Even if there is only one person here who has experienced abuse or sexual assault present here today, hear me clearly: you deserve better than this.

So please hear me now, listen with every fiber of your soul, especially if you are one of those,

You are so deeply loved and cared for, God weeps with you for every violation of your beautiful tender soul. You are beloved, chosen, called, you are seen wholly and completely in every aspect of you being, broken and whole, and loved completely. The breaking, broken parts of your life, are continually washed clean in the tears of God. You are stronger than you ever thought you could be, and those times when you don’t feel strong enough, that’s why we are here, that’s why God gave you us, because it’s okay not to be strong enough. Everyone has their breaking point, and those times when you can’t quite make it, it’s okay.

And again, I want to be clear that I am not saying everyone who voted for Trump approved of his behavior or the interpretation that others are putting on it. I want to acknowledge that there must be incredible frustration and hurt in being wrongly labeled and categorized.

We are called to wrestle and engage with all that is happening, and refuse to let it go, refuse to numb out, or accept violence as politics as usual. So hold onto your pain until it blesses you, until it leads you to treasure, until it brings you to the thing you love the most. Pain is the red flag saying this is important, this is important, this is important.

Trust that God is at work in this process. God is the one who shifts our painful experiences from pointless and painful to transformative. Who uses them to open our hearts and souls to those around us. It is God who shifts our pain from meaningless to redemptive.

We are incredibly divided in our nation right now. Incidents of violence have increased, students are protesting, protests are becoming riots, and it’s all very frightening. To extricate the people from despondency, to attach meaning to their past and present misery, was the task that the prophet and God had in common.

We find ourselves in a new land, where we are called to hold aloft the light of Christ and remember who we are and whose we are.

The exiles in Isaiah, having returned to the promised land also had some faithful and some not-so-faithful responses. The first half of Isaiah 65 lists some of these faults, forsaking the worship of the God of Israel for those super fun worship ceremonies on the hill, defiling oneself, doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord.

We, like the exiles returning to Jerusalem, have been through a sea-change, in fact it’s still going on. And we, just like they did, get to choose how we will respond and most likely, just as it was with them, it will be a mixed choice, a little back and forth, because it’s hard to be all in, all the time. But we do get to choose, and the good news is, that we were born for just such a time. We are a gracious, loving community; we are a community committed to dialogue and to learning, to building bridges across divides. We are a people who know we are called to love justice, to walk with the oppressed, to be humble, and to welcome all people to the love and grace we have received in Jesus Christ.

Now that doesn’t mean we won’t slip once in a while. We won’t necessarily argue or be hurt or angry. We will have different views and perspectives, but we are committed to the way of peace, we are committed to the path of healing, we are committed to one another, we are committed to following Jesus.

We are a wrestling people, not a walking away people. For I remember the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to abandon you.

And that brings us to the second part of Isaiah 65. The part that we take refuge in during hard and difficult times;

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.

Violence is loud, but Love is more pervasive. We are in process, this is not over yet.

This is the promise we hold onto. That centering our lives on God, living faithfully, we will be participants in creating a new heaven and new earth. That God will delight in us, that every tear will be wiped, every wound will be healed. That in this new kingdom the fruit of one’s labor will not be stolen, that health and wellbeing will be the prospect of all people, not only the wealthy, that we will not fear for the future of our children, but see them live blessed and joyful lives. This is the promise we hold onto.

Now we don’t get to this promise without going through the rest of it. It’s a process, not instant gratification. And this process involves a lot of healing, a lot of looking at the places where we’ve gone wrong, but the promise remains. So we need to actively disavow racism, misogyny, and violence- no matter who you voted for, these things don’t represent who we are. We need to create a safe place for all the children of God to gather, to know they are wholly and completely welcome. And we need to be vocal about doing this. We must witness to the world that we walk the path that Jesus taught us to.

We are in need of deep healing. We urgently need to see the love of God made visible in our world today and we are uniquely empowered to be that love made visible. We are needed right now. This we know. We are healers, caretakers, visionaries, we are worker bees and community organizers. Our message to the world is one of love and grace, not because we are so great but because God is. Not because we are the most forgiving, but because God is. Not because we are the most inclusive, but because God is.

We are all tasked with choosing love over hate, faith in God over despair, and we are all tasked with making these choices visible so that others may see them and take heart. We are called to be love in action, love determined to make a difference, love working to change and transform a life, a culture, a world. It is this love in action that brought Jesus to the cross. It is this love in action that we are called to bring to the world. Take up your cross is not a passive directive! God who entered into the messiness of life and the cruelty of death to be with us, invites us to do the same for each other.

We are not responsible for fixing everything, for healing the world, that’s God’s work. But we are responsible for the piece of the world within our reach. So today my friends, seek out and find that piece of the world near you that needs healing, needs love. Be that healing and that love, let your light shine brightly so that others may see it and take hope, so that others may see it and discover the reason for your hope.

I invite you to consider one solid, concrete way of being the love and healing that the world needs so much right now. Wear a safety pin so people will know you are committed to being a safe person. Sit next to the woman in the hijab, confront hateful talk when you hear it, pray for those who you are afraid of or who anger you. Find at least one concrete way you can be the peace and healing we so need in the world, for the world needs you today. And don’t let go of hope. Choose to rejoice in God especially when things seem dark and hard.

Once, when I was working in the rehab, a place where we didn’t even use the word God, a young man asked if he could close group using the Lord’s prayer. With the rest of the group’s consent he did so. Now I was confused by this because I knew he wasn’t a Christian, that he had recently expressed an interest in Buddhism, so I stopped him after group and asked him what that was about. He said, “when I was running drugs and I had to go through the park where the other dealers were hanging out, and I would get scared, I would say that prayer under my breath the whole way. It helped me feel safe.” We don’t have to begin with perfect faith or any faith. God hears us. This is why we worship, especially when things are difficult, uncertain and scary, because we need it. It changes us, it works in us. So don’t let go of the struggle until it blesses you. Don’t stop halfway through and reside in the pain, praise God always

Psalm 98

O sing to the Lord a new song,

For the Beloved has done marvelous things!

By the strength of your Indwelling Presence,

We, too, are called to do great things;

We are set free through Love’s forgiveness and truth.

Yes, your steadfast love and faithfulness

Are an ever-present gift

In all our lives.

All the ends of the earth have seen

The glory of Love’s Eternal Flame.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord your God,

All the earth;

Break forth into grateful song

And sing praises!

Yes, sing songs of praise extolling

Love’s way;

Let the melody be

Gratitude and joy!

Let the voices of all people

Blend in harmony,

In unity let the people

Magnify the Lord!

Let the sea laugh and all that

Fills it;

The land and those who

Dwell upon it;

Let the waters clap their hands;

Let the hills ring out with joy,

Before the Holy One, who radiates Love

To all the earth.

For Love reigns over the world

With truth and justice,

Bringing order and balance

To all of creation!

Rooted and Grounded, Paul’s Love Poem

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Click here for the audio file~09031901

I had to take this scripture into myself this weekend. To let it work on me, to feel the poetry of it. The kneeling, the bowing, the praying, the astonished heart of one who has been overcome by the fullness of God, of God’s love. This text reads like a love poem to the Damascus road experience. The astonishing moment where a bright light shines lovingly on all the dark and hidden corners of one’s soul and changes everything. This river of grace and love which flowed through Saul the persecutor changing him, altering him forever; breaking open his heart, enlightening his eyes, drawing forth love and compassion from one who was, who had been a persecutor.

And then he is no longer that, but something new. Love paints all things with a new light and his life is transformed. One might wonder if Paul ever regretted it, this move from wealthy pharisee with political power and prestige to hunted revolutionary speaking and preaching the gospel of Jesus to a hurting and lost world. But if we wonder then perhaps we have missed the love poem written in this text. So many years after the Damascus road incident, so many years and experiences later, Paul writes:

Kneeling before the Father,
The archetypal father from whom all fathers
On earth or in heaven (perhaps even the third heaven but who can say? In the body or out.)
Take their name

And I

I only a simple child
Moved by the love of the Father
Moved by the love which,
Is beyond my knowledge

Yet

Somehow I feel
A new experience
An abundance of glory
(can you not feel it? )
This then
Is the love of the Father

A love which has no height
No depth
No width nor circumference
With which to contain it.

(can you not feel it?)

An abundance of glory, an earth shattering, life changing, unexplainable fullness of God. All these years after Damascus and he’s still in love with God. Paul is given to some rebukes in his writing; he is given to some self promotion, but mostly, he is given to love and surrender for the sake of the gospel. And Paul knows that this is not an easy love, it is not a comfortable love but one which will change you, which will shake up your life and take you to places you cannot at this time imagine. Even as he prays that we too might have the experience of God’s love he also prays,

But be strengthened
Be rooted and grounded
In love
Because you’re going to need it
Because this love,
It will change everything and change is hard
Even when it’s good.

(Love lives in your heart now, can you feel it?)

Be strengthened
In your inmost being
In the depths of the dark inside places
Of your soul.
Be strengthened
Because hope grows.
A new light
A new potential
Future possibilities expand
And
Love says yes
Be strengthened
Because your heart
Just might break open
To wondrous new possibilities
And you may find yourself
Opening up to impossible people
And impossible situations
Which are quite possible now

(how cool is this? But do you dare believe it?)

Paul who had been Saul, who had been replete with all the signs of success that one might hope for in his day, must have spent a lot of time shaking his head, wondering how he came to be in the places he ended up. How did this upright pharisee end up running from the law, hanging precariously in a basket as it was lowered down the city walls. How did he end up shipwrecked on an island. How did he end up in prison? He must have been shaking his head in wonder at times, because no matter how bad it got, it was better than anything he had ever known. It was a fullness of God’s presence, of God’s love, of God’s Spirit that he could not put into words. It was the love of God in Jesus Christ which he could not contain, could not encapsulate such that he could somehow convey it.

It was beyond the height, the depth, the width or length, of anything he could hold up and show. It was uncontainable, this love which flowed through his veins and remade him, which rebirthed him, a whole new creation.

Paul threw it all away. All of his privilege and his influence, his respectable position in society. All gone. He was no catepillar refusing to become a butterfly, creeping around on all those legs, staying safe and remaining in all that he knew. He threw it all away, entered the chaos of the chrysalis and was reborn, remade, because this uncontainable, unknowable love shattered every preconception and expectation that he had. And in this love poem that is our Ephesians text he prays the same for us. “In the abundance of his glory may he, through his Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner self, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith.”

In the abundance of his glory, that unrestrained, indomitable, life-changing, life-altering glory, which no person can witness and not be changed by-

Be Changed! Grow firm and strong, be brave, so very brave, because this will change everything; it will take you to new places and new roles, new positions in society, it will change everything!

This is no prosperity gospel! This is not a promise that if you believe God will give you everything you ever wanted, but rather that God will fill you with good thing you’ve never even considered, never imagined, never even knew you needed. You may find yourself dangling from the city walls in a basket, on the run from the police because you fed the homeless, because you protested the violence, because you stood with those who suffer and demanded justice. You may find yourself walking away from a life of prestige and privilege and yet feeling somehow deeply fulfilled and not lacking anything at all.

But it is an act of bravery, an act of trust to open one’s heart so fully to Jesus. To surrender so deeply and let God remake you. Because, if you are like me, then you know what it is to say, ‘I have plans. I know where I’m going and I know what I want to achieve, so the sooner God gets on board with my plans, the better we will get along.” It’s an act of bravery to let go of our expectations, our hopes and dreams and let God bring something new and unknown into our hearts.

I wonder if you will try something with me. Hold your hands out and clench your fist tight. White knuckle it for a moment. All that God longs to give you, the goodness and abundant life that Jesus came that we might have, is not something that God will force upon us. Go ahead and release your fists, turn your hands over, palms up, feel the openness, the release, the surrender of an outstretched hand, an open palm.

When Saul was riding down that Damascus road he was holding tightly to all he knew. He was a white knuckle pharisee, trying his very best to do every right and correct thing. He was in control, till God knocked him for a loop, unseated him, and offered him an opportunity for growth. Paul, courageously opened his heart, released his grip, and surrendered. God does not pry our hands loose but offers us opportunity, after opportunity. The pain of a tight-fisted grip on life is unnecessary and therefore sad and painful. God asks only that we will release our grip on our preconceptions, our plans, our insistence on safety and being right, and let God fill our surrendered, up-turned palms with good things!

God longs to fill our lives with good things, with a rich, full, abundant life. Jesus looking down over Jerusalem, that city which kills its prophets, where he would meet his own death, was filled with compassion. “If I could,” he said, “I would take you all under my wing, like a mother hen.” If you will let me, I will love you, I will care for you. What more do we really want, than to know we are loved, we are accepted, we belong?

Glory be to him who, working within us, can do infinitely more, than we can ask or imagine. Infinitely more, and yet we struggle to allow this, to let go of our plans, but Paul says, let go, let God work within you. It will be more and greater than anything you could ever imagine! It will bring you to places you never thought you would be, you never thought possible! Infinitely more. Just let that sink in. God will do infinitely more than you can imagine.

But be filled with the fullness of God, that incomprehensible, life-changing, life-altering love and then watch what happens!
God who is at work within us,
will not abandon us,
will walk with us as we go,
leading us, bringing us to a new land,
a new way of being.

This new way of being that is not rooted in fear and self protection, but is rooted and grounded in love. It is not rooted in white knuckle sobriety or propriety, but in deep surrender, faith, and trust in the One who loves us. This new way of being that insists we be rooted and grounded in love, that we act with love, that we open ourselves up to love, that we release our fear-based grip and allow God to fill our lives with good things.

Paul, in his deep-rooted love, in the rich abundance that has flowed into his heart and soul, changing him, taking him to unimaginable places, opens his heart with deep compassion for the church, for that beleaguered, struggling community and he prays:

Kneeling before the Father, from whom every fatherhood in heaven or on earth takes its name: in the abundance of his glory may he, through his Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner selves, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith and then, planted in love and built on love, with all God’s holy people you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth, so that knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.

Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever amen

This prayer, this love poem, it is our prayer, is our love poem to God, to one another. May we be rooted and grounded in love, may we speak with love, may we act with love, and may we be strengthened in our inner selves, may we have the courage to release our tight-fisted, fear based grip and allow God’s grace and love to flow through our veins, remaking us, re-birthing us, making us a new creation, that God might look down upon us and say, “I’ve got kin in that body.” May God who can do infinitely more than we can ever imagine forgive our fear and continue to work within us, remaking us, reforming us into the body of Christ.

Amen

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.

Desert Wanderings

Harry Randall Truman was a faithful and devoted man. He was the caretaker of a mountain lodge near Spirit lake and he loved, he truly loved the wilderness. The mountain with its depth and mystery, the lake with a cold, damp fog rising off of it in the early mornings. I imagine Harry in his devotion, his heart swelling and over-flowing with love, standing on the deck of the lodge in the early morning, coffee cup in hand, drinking in the almost silence, that golden silence when the world speaks as one with God before our busy schedules and to-do lists take over. I never met Harry, so I can only imagine, but I imagine Harry as one of those many people from the Pacific Northwest who proudly proclaim, the mountain is my temple, the forest is my sanctuary, I meet God there. I have no need for steeples or organ music, I have tall pine trees and birdsong.

spirit lake

When the call came to leave the mountain, Harry refused. “My mountain won’t hurt me,” he proclaimed and as he witnessed to his deep faith and love of the wild lands, the forests, his beloved mountain, people were inspired. He received marriage proposals in the mail. People took heart listening to him and they too refused to leave the mountain, at least until the evidence was more certain.

Harry said the mountain would take care of him and I suppose in a way it did. When Mount St. Helens erupted it folded it’s hot, molten lava around Harry and his cats and it held him eternally. He did not have to witness the devastation of his forests, of his lake, of his mountain; he was spared that. There is a certain grace and certainly there is fidelity in Harry’s story.

There is also a refusal. A refusal to enter into exile and endure the desert times, the I feel so lost times, the time of loss and grief. I can’t imagine Harry’s situation. But I do know that in some ways it is our situation. Most of us were raised in a certain church, a certain way of being church.

I have the fondest memories of Wednesday night potlucks and to me a church isn’t home unless I can enter the sacred places alone and walk through them as if I’m home. This naming and claiming for me as a child involved signing up to clean sections of the church and joyfully doing so every week, this quarter we have the kitchen and the narthex, next one we have the bathrooms and the adult Sunday school room, and so it would go. It was ours. We were home.

It involved sitting vigil at the foot of the cross from Good Friday service until Easter morning when the pastor arrived to do the Easter service- we would sign up for 15 minute increments and in complete silence we would enter and relieve those who had come before us and we committed to never leaving that cross alone in the horror of death until resurrection came. My mother loved to sign up for the middle of the night sessions so this vigil often began with her waking us at one or two in the morning and driving through the cold to church. All of this is viscerally encoded in my being.

This is how I know my church…except that, it changed. My church became the one where I was greeted with a hug and a soulful, “I see you” gaze. My church became the one where, and I know this is different, we did prayer stations and at a designated time during the service I could move from one prayer station to another, physically praying as I lay my body down on pillows, artfully praying as I painted a “graffiti wall” with my earnest prayer, or simply lighting a candle, and then, most significantly for me, receiving communion by name. I was known here, I was claimed here. As I moved through the service I would receive small pats on my shoulder, a brief smile here and there. Somehow I was known and loved and accepted and I felt it viscerally.

My church was also a small church where my service began in the early hours of Saturday morning as my fellow seminarians slept in and I, I was off to buy groceries. Though, no, to be honest my worship and expressing my love for this congregation began earlier in the week, often on pinterest an internet site with lots of delicious recipes that I would peruse, trying to find and create the perfect menu. And after coffee I would run to the store, shop for wonderful, fresh goodness and spend the day in the basement of the church, again alone, working, cleaning, cooking, feeling myself at home in deep visceral ways, in the way of thanksgiving smells, and canning or jamming sessions with extended family, home is where the kitchen is, and with my radio on full blast I would dance and sing and cook, so that I might present a full meal to all these wonderful, loving, gracious people who took me in when no one else would.

My church became the message that you are welcome here; all your tears and anger and frustration, all of you, all that you are and all that you experience yourself to be, are welcome here. I’m paraphrasing, because to be honest this message was one I received in pieces, a little here, a little there. But again, I knew I had found my church. The final piece of the message, you have worth and value, you have something to contribute, and by the way, God sees you, God loves you. Huh, nothing more. No earn it. No if you do this…God will love you. No, if you do this…I will accept you. No if you are this you can be part of our community. No. No. Isn’t that something? You! Sitting there. You! Are loved! That final piece, once I was ready to let it in, to receive it, it made the whole world church!

So about now you might be wondering what all this has to do with Harry Randal Truman and his love of his mountain. Right about now I can imagine Harry twirling in his grave saying, how can you conflate my love for my mountain with church?! But I am sure that he would admit that standing on his deck in the morning, watching the mist rise off the lake, feeling and hearing the Spirit of God pulsing through the wilderness, singing with the birds, that this was church for him.

And I understand his refusal to leave church as he understood it, even if it meant death. Because I refused to leave church until it meant death, the death of who I was as a fully aware and adult woman, until it meant that I must become small and diminished. But I know something that Harry never had the chance to discover, that church comes in many and different forms. Some of them feel odd and different and off-setting, especially at first, but all of them are wonderous and grace inspired and beautiful. And Harry was not able to receive this.

My sister-in-law and my brother live on the Oregon coast and every week my sister-in-law posts pictures she has taken of the Oregon coast on facebook and it is devotional. I know, some of you are thinking, “how can anything on facebook be devotional” but it is. Her pictures speak of a deep love, a willingness to stand in awe and wonder, of a willingness to accept grace and love without explanaition. “Why are you doing this for me?” and no answer comes, and we wonder openly about the love or perhaps the silence, but we accept the gift. We accept it in wonder and awe!

So what is church anyway? Is it the grand and vibrant mountain, holy mountain, on which my ancestors worshipped? Is it the edifice of a cross that must be accompanied, that invites us into the death of Jesus Christ? Is it the kitchens and bible study rooms that must be cleaned and thus owned? Is it the liturgies that invite us into personal and public prayer? And when all around us are saying, in large and quiet voices, this will end, do we have the courage and the faith to believe that the church can and will exist in lots and lots of different and unexpected forms?

I wonder sometimes, if Harry had left his beloved mountain, his humble mountain, would he have learned to worship the grand and incredible mystery that is God on the beach as my sister-in-law does? I wonder if he would have named it and claimed it, saying here, today, I worship and adore, straight up adoration, the mystery that is God manifested yesterday in Mount St. Helens but today in Castle Rock, tomorrow who knows?

We have this resurrection faith. This faith that God will come even through, perhaps especially through, death. We die to what we know, the ways in which we have always experienced God, believing that God will become present to us in new and different ways, in unexpected ways. We die to what we know, perhaps because we need so desperately to believe, to know, that God will be present to us even when we have let go of all that is certain.

And in doing so we enter the desert. Halle, hallejuha, we enter the desert. Imagine Jesus, that human side of him, being so blessed at the river that the heavens split open and God said, I am so very, very proud of you. I don’t know about you, but if the heaven’s split at the river, in the midst of baptism. I would be dunking under that river over and over trying to hear it again. But Jesus leaves.

Harry could not leave the place where he experienced the divine. H would not be driven out to the desert, but Jesus, he leaves.

We stand at just such a cusp. There are so many, many memories of God-filled, God-inspired moments here. We have so many memories of worship being a certain way and like Harry our love of what we know, the ways in which we have experienced God, call to us. And we want to remain faithful to that just as he did. And like Harry we know that this cannot last. We feel the trembling of the mountain, the dissolving of finances, the empty pews. We know we cannot stay but like Harry we want to stay and continue to feel the blessed and gracious presence of God in the ways which we are familiar with.

Following Jesus out into the desert isn’t easy. Walking into the silence and the loneliness, encountering our darkest side, encountering our mortality is frightening. Jesus received this incredible blessing, sky splitting open, God speaking directly to him, and in response he leaves. In response he opens himself up to the mystery and the uncertainty. In response he walks into the darkness, into the desolation and he experiences temptation. It is a walk of faith, to walk into the darkness.

We are entering Lent, a time when we are invited to die with Christ and learn that we truly have a resurrection faith, that dying we live. We are invited into our greatest fears that we might learn that God is there too.

As we stand together on the edge of the desert, as we face our mortality we have a decision to make, to enter the unknown and let go of certainty or to die where we stand, remaining faithful to what we already know. I believe that Harry was not alone when the mountain erupted, that God was with him even then, loving him, protecting him, caring for him. I do not believe that if we decide not to embrace change that God will abandon us or be disappointed in us, but I do believe that this church will not survive it; we cannot keep doing what we have been doing and expect to get different results. This is a valid choice but it is not the only one.

We can choose to follow Jesus into the desert, into the unknown, embrace change and let the Spirit transform us. We can open our hearts and souls up to the incredible process of transformation and say, yes this too. We can walk into the darkness, encounter our mortality, grief, and loss knowing that we do not walk alone, that God is holding our hand as we go.

We stand on the cusp decision just as Harry must have as he watched his neighbors pack up and leave.

Please pray with me, Most holy and gracious God, teach us not to judge one another as we struggle to know what the right thing is. Teach us to be kind and to respect the decisions that we each must face. Teach us to seek You always knowing that whether we can face the desert and transformation or whether we stay resolutely where we have experienced You once before that You are with us. Amen

Revisiting the Past

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Have you ever re-visited a place of trauma? This morning I returned to a place where I was pushed, unintentionally I hope, to the very brink, to a place where I had to constantly remind myself that life was worth living and I wasn’t a horrible, toxic, inherently unlikeable person. It was a place which had been overwhelming to me, a place where I felt powerless.

 

If you’ve ever done this, returned to such a place, you know the heart squeezing panic that sets in. You know how every cell of your body screams “Run!” as you intentionally walk forward.  You know how just being there can be an act of courage even if all the people who hurt you are long gone. If you’ve done this you know the dissonance of entering a place where life wasn’t safe and knowing that today it is.

 

Remember Sarah from the movie Labyrinth? “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great…You have no power over me.” Her’s was a hero’s journey as is the journey of everyone who overcomes a painful past. Learning to say, “you have no power over me,” and really believing it, knowing it inside of yourself, is a journey. It seems to me that often the child that is stolen is a piece of ourselves. It is hope. It is joy. It is wonder. Reclaiming that, from whatever has stolen it, is always worth the journey. 

 

I went back today, just briefly, and I walked through the doors of a place that had brought incredible pain into my life. I didn’t cry. I started to, but then I felt everything shift as I saw the place from a new perspective. I realized how much smaller it was than I remembered. I saw all the flaws, the disarray, the clutter. I realized that everything had changed because I had changed.  I realized that I was stronger and more capable than I had thought possible. 

 

I know that today I am the only one who holds on to these memories. Others have moved on. Even as I hear the Monty Python chorus yelling, “Get on with it!” in my head, I know I still have a little healing to do. I still feel a nauseating adrenaline rush just being there. I still feel vulnerable. I still get scared and I know I have to face my fears, to lean into them and see what they have to teach me. I know that I still need to say the words aloud, “I am a daughter of the King, a beloved child of God, and you have no power over me.” I didn’t say these words today though. Today I just got out of there as fast as I could. Plenty of time for heroics another day.