Wonderings and Reflections:
A thin, frail black woman in her seventies stands up slowly in a courtroom in South Africa in to face evil. In front of her are several white security police officers. One of them, Mr. van der Broek, has just been tried and found guilty in the murders of this woman’s son and husband.
van der Broek had come into this black woman’s home---as a white police officer in South Africa. He took her son, shot him at point blank range and burned his body while the other white security police officers partied nearby. Several years later they came back. This time van der Broek and his partners took her husband. She heard nothing of him or from him for two years. Then they came back to fetch her. They took her to a riverbank where she saw her husband for the first time in two years. He was beaten and bound, lying on a pile of wood. As van der Broek and his cohorts poured gasoline on him, she heard her husband speak his last words: Father, forgive them….
This woman stood to face evil in that courtroom on that day. She listened as van der Broek confessed to his crimes. A member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation commission then turned to this now elderly black woman and said: How should justice be done for this man who so cruelly destroyed your family?
“I want three things,” the woman calmly said. “I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned to gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.” She paused. “My husband and son were my only family. So I want Mr. van der Broek to become my son. I want him to come twice a month to my house and spend the day with me so I can pour out on him whatever love I have remaining in me.”
“Finally,” she said, “I would like Mr. van der Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. So I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. van der Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven.”
As the court assistants came to lead the woman across the room, van der Broek fainted, overwhelmed by what he had heard. As he struggled for consciousness, those in the courtroom---family, friends, neighbors of the black woman, all victims of decades of oppression and injustice---began to sing softly and assuredly: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me….”
Love one another as I have loved you. This, this is that kind of love. This is that all-forgiving, sacrificial, lay-down-your-life-for-another Jesus kind of love. This is a love that puts another’s interest first; in fact, this love recognizes that the other’s interest is my best interest.
When I first read this story, I was overwhelmed and inspired. And yet, at the same time, I thought to myself: I don’t think I could do that. I don’t think I have that much love or forgiveness in me. But, I want to. I want to love like this. Oh, Jesus, I want to be able to love like this.”
And that, Beloved, is just the crack the Holy Spirit needs to invade our hearts.
Did you hear what Peter did in today’s reading from Acts? Peter, a regular guy---a lot like you and me---but a guy so swept up in the passion of Jesus, the passion for Jesus--- that Peter decides to trust in a new way, a new path. You see, Peter had been taught that Gentiles were out. They were outside the circle of salvation. But then, God sent a vision and God sent Peter to meet Cornelius—a Roman centurion—and then we hear Peter today as he talks to his fellow Jesus followers and he explains what he has experienced, the vision of inclusion he has been given, and Peter declares that he now believes Cornelius, a Gentile, has already been saved---just like them, the believers---Peter declares that God desires all, even the Gentiles, to be in the in-circle of salvation.
As Peter is talking, the Holy Spirit falls on them all---a radical outpouring of the Holy---and Peter (and the early church) is presented with an opportunity to learn something new concerning divine persistence to act on behalf of those who have been excluded. The early church’s perspective of who was in and who was out, of just who is the Beloved Community, was being changed---not by their own doing—but by the intervention of the Holy Spirit. By the extravagance of the Holy Spirit and the wideness of God’s mercy.
Neither Peter nor Cornelius were able, by themselves, to cross the boundaries that the world and the early church had set between them. Both of them required the Holy Spirit to intervene---to pour Herself out on them in order to love in this bold, inclusive Jesus kind of love.
It’s the same for us. We need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to ease into the cracks of our hardened hearts and minds---to break down our barriers and knock over our boundaries that keep us from loving others as Jesus loves us. And Beloved, some of these barriers and boundaries have been taught by the Church. Some have been embedded in our structures and systems, so they are part of our culture, society and laws. Some have been taught to us by our history books and our families. All of them need to be demolished. Because in Jesus we see that there are to be no boundaries or borders between God’s people that prevent them from pouring out love upon one another. There are no barriers between God and God’s people---at least none that God has made, but we can certainly do a fine job of building them ourselves.
Beloved: daily we see stories that verify we—as a people, as a nation, as the Beloved---we do not yet know how to live out this radical love and inclusivity, this equity for all of the beauty of human diversity, this stewardship of the entire Creation. But, Beloved, if we are willing---if we allow ourselves to be cracked open, the Holy can and will mend, restore, make new. And not just our hearts and minds and spirits need to be cracked open, but if we are willing to allow our systems, our structures, our cultural expectations, our religious beliefs, our erroneous racial identifications and our petty categorizations of humanity to be cracked open---then not only we as individuals, but we as the Beloved Community, we as Americans, we as global citizens---and yes, even the globe itself---can be put on the track toward wellness and wholeness, to mending and repair.
The Rev. Stephanie Spellers writes in her book, The Church Cracked Open: “Our cracked-open hearts are at last roomy enough to hold the lives and hearts of others……Once your heart is cracked open---or the heart of your institution has cracked open---you are positioned to give your life, privilege, and power away specifically for love of peoples who have suffered under the knee of oppression. This is how we all draw near to our crucified and risen God.” (1875 in Kindle)
God tells us today that the world’s boundaries, divisions, and barriers, they will be defeated. By our belief and trust in the Holy. Because this belief and trust enacted, putting flesh onto our beliefs, is to love one another. As Jesus loves us. Sacrificially. Laying down one’s life. Not waiting until the other deserves it but because this radical love is who we are. And it is who we are because it is who God is. God’s will is Love. God’s will is Love.
C.S. Lewis once wrote: Don’t waste time bothering about whether or not you love your neighbor. Act as if you do.
Act in love, act from love, act through love. The love that recognizes meeting the other’s best interest is meeting my best interest. This love that sees that we are bound to one another because God has bound us together. This is the love that changes the world; this is what defeats evil; this is what conquers our separation from one another, and therefore, from God. As Jesus followers and Jesus lovers, we are not allowed the luxury to think along the lines of: my kind, not my kind. Beloved, for those of us who love God, there is not a single person on the face of the earth who is not our kind.
A devotional I once read talked about how throughout history, people have done radical things to try to please the god or gods they believed in. Animals, and even people, have been sacrificed. Crusades have been waged. Witches have been hunted. Heretics have been burned. Men in white robes with white hoods, calling themselves the Ku Klux Klan, looted and burned, maimed and lynched black bodies in the name of Jesus Christ.
Maybe it’s human nature to want to do drastic and radical things to please God---or perhaps, I should say, maybe it’s human nature to falsely do things in God’s name in order to appease our own notions of who belongs or who is worthy or our own “rightness.” Too often we can convince ourselves that God hates or disowns people or groups of people---and interestedly enough: it is always the same people we hate or disown.
Today we hear the Holy declaring a new nature for humanity, a new radical act to please God: Love. Love everyone, regardless of whether we agree with them, understand or even know them. How? Forgive them---somehow. It might take a lifetime. But even when we haven’t yet reached forgiveness, love them. By working for the benefit of all people---working toward the Common Good---this is how we can love all others. Work for the flourishing of Creation and every human being in it. This is a radical thing to do, a huge thing to do---so huge it requires a God-sized love to do it. The Good News is: that’s exactly what God gives us.
Do you ever wonder how to know what is the right thing to do? What should I do to help this situation? Looking at this sticky mess---what is the right thing? Confession time: I often feel this way right now because there is so much in upheaval: the climate crisis, the economy, the pandemic, our great political divide and politicians who refuse to work together, poverty, racism, insurrection, violence....unfortunately the list goes on...And then we have those more personal upheavals: broken relationships, trauma and tragedy we know personally, illness, loss, grief, isolation.....
How can we know what to do or how to move forward or what the right thing is for each struggle, each upheaval, each weary battle?
Now, Beloved, I know this reading from 1 Corinthians might seem really strange and distant to us, Paul talking about whether it’s right or wrong to eat meat that had been offered to idols and other gods; we might think this really has nothing to do with our lives today. But, Beloved, Paul is simply trying to help out folks in this new church of Corinth when there’s a conflicting issue in their society, in their community—trying to help them determine what is the right thing to do. Like us, Paul is helping the Corinthians to answer the question: How do we live as followers of a new way in the midst of followers of the old way? So, let’s set aside the particular (whether to eat meat or not) and get at the Gospel Truth Paul is offering.
Paul says: You might know a lot about this situation, but knowing alone isn’t enough to determine what is the right, the just, the good thing to do. Paul says the right and good (or we might say: what is meet and right so to do) is found when we look through the lens of Jesus and ask: What will help my neighbor? What will hurt my neighbor? Knowing what is right comes from considering what will be the ramifications of our choices on others. Not how will it work out for me, primarily, but how will it affect my neighbor and the world in which I live?
And Beloved, Paul isn’t just talking about your besties, the fun neighbors you like to hang out with, Paul is talking about the neighbor you don’t understand or who has a different world view or with whom you vehemently disagree. So, maybe, Beloved, this strange reading about eating meat has a lot more to do with us and our reality than we would think.
And here’s the thing, this putting each decision in the context of neighbor requires a great reversal---a metanoia—turning from an inward, self-centered stance to an outward, other-centered posture. And this metanoia requires a letting go of my view and living into a wider view, a Creation view---God’s view.
And here’s where the Gospel Good News comes into the mix. In Today’s Gospel, we are the man with the unclean spirit, the demon-possessed one. Because the truth is, each one of us has our own demons; those sharp edges and ragged corners within us that allow us to believe some folks are less worthy or unworthy. Not worthy of our time, our compassion, our patience or our listening hearts. That some folks don’t know better or do better so their lack of what’s needed to thrive is on them. Those jagged bits of us that knows there is inequity in our society, but it doesn’t affect us personally so we’re willing to let it slide. The bits that let us sit in our comfort while others know no comfort. Those judging, condemning morsels within us that relish in pointing out how others are so very wrong (thank God we are in the right!), and making sure they know we know how very wrong they are.
Beloved, we have demons that keep us separated from friends, families, neighbors, community members; demons of self-righteous anger, pride, lack of humility, unwillingness to be uncomfortable or inconvenienced, and of course, let’s not forget delicious gossip. Yep, we’re that guy---the demon-possessed one. But, Beloved, let us not wallow in regret, shame or guilt. That won’t get us anywhere. That, Beloved, that is a waste-land.
Today’s good news is that Jesus, this Holy One, has authority over these demons. God has sent a prophet among us who can show us how to be truly human, how to be authentically human, our best selves: people who can live into the dream of the Beloved Community.
And our first step toward the Beloved Community is to name our demons, expose our demons to the light and love of this Holy One, this One who saves and restores. This revolution we long for, Beloved, this new world we desire that can transform community, nation, and Creation---this revolution begins small, not big, it begins within us. Begins in our hearts, minds, spirits and bodies. If we truly desire to live into the wholeness and abundance of God’s promises, into this dream of Beloved Community, then we need to be willing to be vulnerable with God: the God who is Spirit and the God who comes to us in the form of our neighbor. God with skin on. This God who longs to know us and to be known.
This year we are calling one another, as the Beloved Community, to take intentional steps into this vulnerability with God through prayer. We are calling on each other to commit to a year of intentional and formational prayer that can strengthen our bonds to one another, to our neighbor and to God. You will hear more about that next Sunday.
Beloved, God is calling us to Galilee---where the Christ heals and restores---heals and restores us, our neighbors, our relationships, our communities, our nation, and this world. Healing and restoration that require our participation, our engagement, our commitment. Come, Beloved. Come and see. Come and follow. Yes, it is hard to walk a new way amidst those who still cling to what has been, but the Holy One is with us. Leading. Walking alongside. Lightening the path and shadowing our footsteps. So, come. Let us walk each other into wholeness; let us walk each other home. Home to Galilee.
Sunday, January 24
This past week, I heard a leader from our previous administration say that America is not multicultural---that multiculturalism is not who we are as America. Beloved, you may agree with that statement or disagree; there does seem to be different understandings of who we are as a nation and as a people. I, personally disagree with this leader; I was taught that we are indeed a nation of many cultures, different faiths and many peoples, but Beloved, here’s the thing: for we who follow the Christ---this Way of Love personified in a person—then our truth of who we are doesn’t come from the definition of a nation. It comes from this Holy One who is Creator of all things---and therefore, we do recognize ourselves to be multicultural because multicultural is surely who God is. If humankind is made in God’s image, then there is no denying that God’s image is one of many languages, many colors, many cultures.
In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul declares that he expects the Christ to come back soon----so soon, in fact, that Paul advises people not to make their own long-term plans because the time for Jesus is upon us. And Paul knows, and declares, that when the Christ, this Way of Love, breaks back in---then the present form of the world passes away. The present form of this world passes away….
Oh! Beloved! What good news. I long for the present form of this world to pass away---this animosity and anger that paints our landscape, this division and vitriol of humanity that weakens us, this poverty, this injustice of racism, this silencing of the voices of women and the LGBTQ community, this diminishment of refugees and immigrants, this desecration of Creation----oh how I long for it all to pass away….
And Beloved, the passing away of a world only happens when those who inhabit that world change (or as we often translate the Greek of Scripture, when there is repentance—a metanoia---a turning around). When we change our ways, our priorities, our views. When we turn from one way of being to another way of being, of another way living, another way of loving.
Like the people of Ninevah we hear in today’s reading. Of course, our friend Jonah wanted nothing to do with helping the Ninevites since they inhabited a world, this capital city of Ninevah, that was the center of the oppressive state (Assyria) which oppressed Jonah’s people, the Israelites. Jonah had no desire to help them or see them or speak to them. In fact, he ran the other direction. But God would have none of Jonah’s avoidance. Nor will God have ours.
And when, reluctantly and begrudgingly, Jonah decided to do as God asks, well then the Ninevites---they turned, they repented. They believed God. In fact, this translation of the Greek that we hear today as “believed” is too small for what this word really means. They didn’t just believe; they trusted. They trusted God---these non-believers, these misinformed, these non-followers. They believed and trusted God. They trusted there is another way to live, to choose, to share, to be in relationship with God and with neighbors—friend or foe.
Thanks to the work of this reluctant Jonah. The oppressors turned, repented, and then, Beloved, then the consequences that had once followed their oppressive, evil ways----these consequences were set aside, ended, because there was no oxygen to breathe life into the evil and oppression that once had been. And a wave of repentance led to a great reversal. A wave of repentance, turning around, led to a great reversal. Because, as the poet Amanda Gorman put it, we are not broken, simply unfinished.
When we, as individuals, but perhaps more importantly as a people, when we turn from evil ways: name-calling, finger pointing, placing more value on some rather than on all, when we turn from the evil of spreading misinformation, when we turn from demanding what is best for us and turn toward demanding what is best for all, when we step from the chains of self-centeredness that imprison us and turn toward the bonds of sisterhood and brotherhood that are central to God’s dream---then the world turns---turns from upside-down to right side up, turns toward God’s Kingdom come.
An old world passes away and a new world rises up. A world where all have enough because God has provided enough for everyone---as long as we learn to live together rightly and justly, when we recognize that none of this is mine, but all of it is ours, thanks be to God.
Last week’s Gospel told us that Jesus decided to go to Galilee and today, Mark puts it like this: Jesus came to Galilee. Galilee: where Jesus teaches and heals, where Jesus connects to all people, especially the disenfranchised, where Jesus feeds the hungry and quenches the thirsty, where Jesus levels the playing field and liberates the oppressed, where Jesus builds relationships and restores hope. Galilee where the Good News is proclaimed.
Beloved, the appointed time has grown short, the time for Jesus is upon us and God’s Kingdom is near. Turn. Turn, Beloved, toward the way of love. Love of God, love of neighbor, love of self. Turn and choose life. Come to Galilee.
In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Paul asks some Ephesians: “Into what then were you baptized?”
Beloved: how would you answer that question? Into what then where you baptized? Were you baptized into a community? If so, do you mean the community of the church where you were baptized? Do you mean the Episcopal Church or the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America? Do you mean the worldwide Christian community or the community of people who know God by many names?
Were you baptized into a set of beliefs? A series of doctrines? A collection of practices and rituals?
Were you baptized into a new world? A new way of Living, a new way of loving? Into what then were you baptized?
Let’s hear this reading from the book of Acts as it is written in the Message translation:
Now, it happened that while Apollos was away in Corinth, Paul made his way down through the mountains, came to Ephesus, and happened on some disciples there. The first thing he said was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace God with your heart? Did God get inside you?”
“We’ve never even heard of that--a Holy Spirit? God within us?”
“How were you baptized, then?” asked Paul.
“In John’s baptism.”
“That explains it,” said Paul. “John preached a baptism of radical life-change so that people would be ready to receive the One coming after him, who turned out to be Jesus. If you’ve been baptized in John’s baptism, you’re ready now for the real thing, for Jesus.”
Beloved: are we ready? To live into this baptism of ours? To take God into our minds and embrace God with our heart…..to let God get inside us? This baptism of ours is just the beginning---when we say these words and make these promises and have the living water poured over us----this is our first response to God’s invitation to live into this new world and to wake up and take part in this new life. But then, Beloved, there is the rest of our lives. Our baptism is our yes to a new authority. That’s right---I said authority. The world tries to woo us to consider other authorities: political, national, material, financial----so many options. Our country is spinning today because we, as a people, seem to be living by opposing authorities. And some of these so-called authorities do not have the Common Good in mind, this Common Good Jesus continually urges us to seek, but instead they seek power, wealth and security for some, but not all. Or they demand a personal freedom to live however they want no matter how it affects others or what it costs Creation or how much it divides God’s people.
But we who have been baptized, we answer to a different authority---and it is God, this God whom we know through Jesus the Christ. This God who is with us….this God who speaks.
Today’s Word tells us that when God speaks…..
Light is created. The sun, moon and stars come into being. Time is born and a new day begins. Order takes shape from the chaos. In the time of Genesis, when God moved over the waters, the waters were a symbol of the abyss…..the dangerous and unknown…..the shadows and the dark deep from which monsters come……And today we hear: God controls the abyss…God brings order from the chaos….God defeats the monsters.
And today we hear that when God speaks, Creation responds: thunder, lightning, earth, wind and fire. When God speaks, nature takes its course: birth, death, renewal and Glory is made known.
When God speaks, we are named Beloved. All are named Beloved, and we are sent forth toward the healing and uniting ministry this Creation needs, freed from our self-centeredness and our self-serving ways---baptized into a new life, a new way of living, a new community---a community whose authority is Elohim, Yahweh, Allah, El Shaddei, this Triune God who is Creator, Redeemer and Spirit.
So with the world around us in upheaval…..with our neighbors so divided…..with our democracy teetering on the edge……we may find ourselves asking: what can we do? What can we truly and actively do amidst this chaos….here on the edge of what feels like an abyss? First of all, we must stop saying: This is not who we are. Beloved, maybe not personally or individually, but collectively----this is who we are. There is no denying it. And as we own this reality, we can then begin to say: But this is not who we are meant to be. This is not who we will choose to be.
Beloved: remember……remember who we are and whose we are…..And Listen…..God is still speaking.
We are baptized into a worldwide community of people who know and are known by God. Baptized into a new life of practices that opens our hearts, minds and spirits to God, opens the door to God’s presence, turning us toward God----that’s what repentance means---a complete turn around from false authorities to the only authority through whom we can know Peace, through whom we can live out God’s good will for all of humankind. Listen and turn toward God. For when this God speaks……..
There is Light, life after death, order from chaos, Creation restored, glory made known, monsters from the abyss defeated.
Beloved, into what then were you baptized? Who is your authority? To whom then are you listening…….?
Beloved it is Epiphany---a word that means revelation…..an aha moment……an awakening.
And tonight’s story from the Gospel echoes all too clearly the Epiphany we need to have right now, today, January 6th, 2021. Herod, a power-hungry leader, was willing to kill thousands of children for the sake of hanging onto his power. In our nation’s capitol, power-hungry leaders, and their followers, were willing to put lives on the line all for the sake of maintaining power. With this Gospel story echoing in our ears, we are seeing and hearing on our screens what happens to humanity when it becomes too enamored with its own power. When the thought of losing one’s power overtakes the human heart and desperation sets in.
Desperation that is then acted out by inciting fear and violence---insurrection and divisiveness----lawlessness and lovelessness…..whether in the country of Egypt or on the steps of a Capitol building. The story playing out in Washington D.C. tonight is the story of Matthew, Chapter 2---our Gospel tonight. When maintaining power is more important to humanity than the common good, the will of the people, the will of the Divine, and Love.
But, Beloved, let us not move---as we so often do---to name calling and labeling one another so we know which side each of us stands on. Yes, we should hold those whose words and actions have led to this violence and this threat to our democracy accountable. We are each called to use our voices, our votes, and our influence to empower our public servants to uphold our nation’s laws and Constitution in order to set our society back on a road of civility and justice.
But, Beloved, let’s not be too quick to let ourselves off the hook. This day was not made in a moment, or even in a 4-year span…..this is a moment that has been in the making since our nation began. And each of us plays a part in it. Now, if you are like me, until these past few years, I have foolishly thought that I haven’t taken part in this growing mess. But we all have. Because since 1776, this nation has not only tolerated, but we have baked into our systems, our institutions, our ways of being, our definition of what is America and American---some pretty abhorrent things: white supremacy, racism, nationalism, fear of the foreigner, toxic masculinity, socioeconomic oppression, classicism.
So, Beloved, if like me you are horrified by what you are seeing on our screens, then join me---join the Christ---in this Epiphany. Waking up to the shadows within our systems, within our culture, within our structures, within our hearts. Wake up and shine the Christ light there. Let us learn our own complicity, and then let us own it. And change it. And become who we proclaim to be. Not only as Christians…..but as Americans. E Pluribus Unum---that’s our motto: From the Many, One.
There is no time for further name-calling and labelling. We must heal our wounds. We must find ways to work toward justice---God’s sense of justice which demands mutuality, diversity and inclusion---we must find ways, and demand our public servants to find ways, to work together toward the Common Good. The Common Good which is an ideal of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and all major world faiths. After all, Beloved, the side we stand on is the same side. We are all on one side---humanity’s side, creation’s side---the side for which our Holy God never ceases to stop working. And neither shall we.
Herod would rather that we remain asleep. That we do not wake up to our complicity; that we leave it as it is. Conserve the status quo; let the power remain where it lies. But, Beloved, we have heard the angels and we have seen this Star. Wake up Beloved. Bring your gifts; pay homage with your lives. We are God’s Beloved Community----E Pluribus Unum.
Jesus wants to know what folks are saying about him. And the disciples say: They think you are the ones from the past who they have heard and learned about: Elijah, Jeremiah---or maybe even that dude down at the river who folks are talking about: John the Baptist.
Then Jesus leans in---getting intimate with those who follow him and Jesus asks: But who do YOU say that I am?
When it comes to our faith, when we are asked to explain what we believe or think---we often fall back onto what we have been taught---dredging up those phrases and answers from our catechisms, our Sunday school classes or our prayers. So often that question: What do you believe? Who is Jesus to you? Kind of makes us freeze. “Oh no!” we think, “I didn’t know I was going to have to answer that question.”
Or worse yet, we think: “My faith is private; people shouldn’t ask me that question.”
But, Beloved, our faith isn’t private. Now, it may be personal, but faith—by the very living example we have in Jesus and the truth we know in the Living Word---faith is communal, collective---not private. Faith is something that is to be shared; yes, in deed and action, but sometimes folks, God desires we use our words, our stories. God desires that we answer the question: Who do you say that I am? not only from learned knowledge, but from our lived experience.
This requires that we mature from simply reading and knowing about God to actually knowing God, having God as a companion, bringing our vulnerable and authentic selves into this relationship with the divine instead of just our spankin’ clean, decked out in church clothes, spit-polished versions of ourselves.
From this real, living relationship---a relationship that is full of doubt, questions, struggles, and a range of emotions---we then have stories to share. Sharing who we know this living God to be in our very real lives.
Who do you say that I am?
Maya Angelou once wrote: “Do the best you can until you know better. When you know better, do better.” Knowing God helps me to know better---and then to do better. That’s why I follow Jesus. Jesus is the lens through which I gaze upon God, learning a better way of life, of being. Jesus is so many things for me.
Jesus is the One who catches me. Many of you have heard these tales, so indulge me: When I was 18, almost 19, I found out that Murray and I were expecting our first child. But we were not yet married, and being our younger selves, uncertain of what to do. I left college for a semester and moved back home, and Murray and I ended up taking a break in our relationship---both of us struggling. You know, I was the priest’s kid, so having your priest’s daughter come home from college, pregnant and unmarried, isn’t the ideal situation. But this faith community of St. Anskar’s in Hartland, Wisconsin rallied around me. They loved me, gave me jobs babysitting their kids, even offered to be my labor coach. Now, my oldest sister was actually my coach, but think about how beautiful this offer was: this person knowing I was young, a first-time mom, probably afraid: this person said: I have done this before, I have been in that moment---I will help you if you need me. Now, that Beloved, that’s the love of Jesus. This community was the living Body of Christ and caught me when I was stumbling and struggling and afraid. Jesus is the One who catches me.
Jesus is the One who comforts and strengthens me. When our fourth and final child, Abe, was born prematurely, he couldn’t breathe on his own. He had to have oxygen; in fact, he was blue. And we didn’t know on that day what other consequences there may be to his arriving 6 weeks early. Lots of possibilities were mentioned: cerebral palsy, blindness, brain bleeds----all overwhelming to hear in that moment. Abe was rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, also known as the NICU. I didn’t even get to hold him. Later that night, Murray brought our other three children to meet their baby brother and then they all went home after what had been a long and anxious 24+ hours for all of us. Then I was in my room, alone---looking at the psalms in my Bible for….something….while the tears flowed and the fear rumbled. I was saying over and over: Help me, Jesus, help me. I was so afraid; I couldn’t even summon up the courage to ask the questions of the nurses that I had about Abe because I was afraid of the answers. And then, Beloved, then Jesus walked into my room. And warmth filled the air. Jesus sat next to me on my bed, took my hand, looked me in the eyes and said: Everything’s going to be all right, Jane. I promise. Everything will be all right. And then Jesus was gone. And so was my fear. My tears stopped. Calm and peace invaded me. And I asked to be taken to the NICU where I asked all my questions. Because I knew---whatever happened, however this played out---here was this baby blessing and we would be okay. Jesus is my comfort and my rock.
But even more than that, Jesus is the One who gives me the breath and the desire to move forward---through tough times, through slow times, through boring, everyday times and through the glorious, once-in-a-lifetime times. Because Jesus comes to me in all those times through the folks I meet, you the Beloved Community, the neighbors we have, the students I’ve known, the colleagues with whom I partner. My children, grandchildren, and sisters bring me joy, laughter, and friendship. Through humanity with whom I rub elbows, Jesus keeps giving me breath, inspiration, and the hope and desire to progress, move forward and to take the next step.
You know, Beloved, the church often says that marriage is holy, a sacrament even, because in the covenantal relationship of marriage, we see the kind of love that God feels for us---particularly in the Christ. This sacrificial love that puts the other in the forefront, that shares the last cookie or runs to the store because you forgot something. This love who listens to your complaints and your triumphs, who laughs at your ridiculousness and forgives your momentary cruelty. This love that refuses to give up, even when it gets really hard, who chooses you again and again and again. When you have morning breath and bedhead, this love that still kisses you good morning and says: I love you. And says the words you need to hear in the moment you need to hear them; this love that loves all of you—even the not so wonderful bits---this love I know in Murray, my husband. And I can say the same thing about my momma---she loves me as God loves me. Who do you say that I am? Because of our marriage and the love of Murray, because of the love my mom has given to me since even before I was born, I know Jesus to be my home---no matter the house or town or state in which I live. How blessed I am to have this love, this love that is the nest from which I can fly high and this love to which I can return home when I need rest.
And Jesus is the One who challenges me. Jesus is the neighbor who tells me the story of their life of living on the economic edge, trying to move out from prison of addiction, but finding very few lifelines being thrown to them because we don’t understand why the first chance, the second rehab hospital, the losing their home and their job wasn’t enough to make them want to change. Because, of course, they want a different life, but addiction is a demon that is relentless and strong, and more than we’d like to admit: sometimes unbeatable. This neighbor, my friend, asks me to see outside the experience I have known---to listen to a reality that is foreign to me---and challenges me to that command: Whatever you do for the least valued of these…..love your neighbor…..feed my sheep.
Who do you say that I am? All those Sunday School classes, and Vacation Bible Schools, and seminary courses taught me many things. But none of those book answers are my personal answer to who Jesus is. Those teachings focused my sight and fine-tuned my hearing and sharpened my heart and mind so that I can know the living Christ---the God right in front of me---the God who dwells in humanity. Jesus died on the cross. But the Christ still lives. And the Christ isn’t a disembodied spirit floating around and descending from time to time. The Christ is the embodied presence of God here on earth in my neighbor, in my family and friends, in this church, in the one who stands before me and the one who sits next to me. Incarnation.
These are some of my stories. What are yours? Do you know them? Have you taken the time to look back and see where God has been present? Beloved, we are called to know our stories and then to live them out again in other people’s lives. Tell your story, tell the story, this great love story of us and God, this loving, life-giving, liberating God who refuses to let any of us go.
Who do YOU say that I am?
“Go….proclaim the good news: The Kingdom of heaven has come near.”
A done deal---the Kingdom is near, God’s Kingdom, right here and right now—not some far away place or time----not after we are dead and buried----but here, Beloved, now. This might be hard to believe during a pandemic, during this time when the ugly reality of the divisive and prejudiced nature of our nation is being revealed, but it is still true, still Gospel, still the Good News: The Kingdom of heaven has come near.”
What does that Kingdom look like? How will we know Kingdom Living when we see it? Friends, there’s no mystery here; the Christ tells us: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”
Cure the sick: Wear masks, wash your hands regularly, maintain safe physical distance. We do these things to keep others healthy and safe, particularly the vulnerable. Such simple things to do, especially after 430,000 deaths in the world; over 117,000 dead in the United States and rising toward 1,000 in our state of Wisconsin. In a matter of months. Surely, these simple tasks: keeping a safe distance, washing hands, and wearing masks in public are things we can collectively do to slow the rise of these death rates. Right now, in this pandemic, this is how we can cure the sick.
Beloved, by eradicating poverty, demanding a living minimum wage for all, ensuring food security, ending homelessness, companioning those with addiction and mental health issues, protecting our immigrant and refugee siblings who live oppressed lives in the shadows---even while they are working to provide for our food and economic structure--- when we free our siblings from poverty, from hunger and homelessness, from fear and inadequate or non-existent healthcare---we raise the dead.
Cleanse the lepers, Jesus tells us. While we may no longer fear leprosy as we once did, we still treat too many people as the outcast and the marginalized. But, I don’t think those who are outcast and marginalized are the ones with the disease; I think those of us who have status and privilege and who don’t work toward justice for all are the ones who are sick, unhealthy, and diseased. Just this week our trans-siblings have had their healthcare protections in our nation eroded. When we use our voice and our political influence to pushback whenever those who have not been fully protected and welcomed in our society are threatened, we cleanse ourselves of our human tendency to marginalize and ostracize those with whom we are uncomfortable. And Beloved, there’s still a lot of cleansing to do.
We are feeling and seeing the need for cleansing with every protest, every cry from another black mother or father who has lost a child to racism. With every new lynching of a person of color, every blind eye turned to the poverty and lack of clean water for our indigenous and native siblings, every time we allow women to be subjugated and be stripped of her right to make decisions about her own body, every time we allow racism, prejudice, bigotry, hatred and fear to speak---we have demons among us. And these demons are given life by us: by our mindsets, our privilege, our indifference, our laws, our mores and customs, by our systems and our governing rules. And we, those of us with status and privilege, authority and power---we are the ones who must cast these demons out---once and for all.
Today God tells Moses to tell us---we who are bound and tied through the waters of baptism to those first Israelites wandering in the wildernss of Sinai---God tells us: “You shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” And our ancestors said: Everything you tell us, God, we will do.”
Beloved, we know how that turned out. Now, they probably meant everything they said, just as we do when we say the Creed, or renew our baptismal vows, or pray the Lord’s Prayer. We know our ancestors got lost, just as we get lost, that they promised just what we also promise, but then go and do another thing. Why is it so hard, this Kingdom living? Sometimes it is just so very hard to do the right thing, the God thing.
So, right now, Beloved, I want you to close your eyes. Close your eyes and hear God’s Kingdom call to us again: Cure the sick…..raise the dead…..cleanse the lepers…..cast out the demons…..
Take a deep breath. Look within your own heart. What is keeping you from fully living out that Kingdom call? What keeps you from living and giving the love of God in these life-restoring ways, these means of salvation and redemption?
Is it busyness? Blindness? Discomfort? Do you doubt your ability? Have a lack of desire? Is there a misunderstanding? Apathy? Lack of resources? Are you self-centered and inwardly curved? Beloved, where does the sin of racism, the poison of seeing another as less valuable or less worthy live within you, within your heart?
(open your eyes now). Beloved, whatever it is---the obstacle, the barrier, the weed to be rooted out---I invite you to turn that over to God. Now, if you’re like me, there is more than one---so start with just one. One at a time---put that broken piece, that hindrance---right at the center of your prayer life. Ask God to remove it, to mend it. Maybe you need to start by asking for the desire for it to be removed, cleansed, transformed. But, Beloved, this is our work to do---and God is with us in this work, God is for us in this work. And as our hearts, minds, and beings are reformed, we can walk deeper into the Kingdom that has drawn near; we can see and hear and taste it more clearly. And then share it with others---widening the Beloved Community, relationship by relationship. Living together as the holy nation, a kingdom of priests. God’s Kingdom come near.
American Philosopher Dallas Willard puts it this way: “We don’t believe something by merely saying we believe it or even when we believe that we believe it. We believe something when we act as if it were true.”
Beloved: it has been a hard week. On Wednesday we learned that America now has more than 100,000 deaths due to Covid19. And the death count is still rising.
This past Thursday, I was reading an article in the Milwaukee Journal, reporting on America’s ghastly record of 100,000 deaths due to coronavirus. In the article, the daughter of a man who died from the virus in Connecticut said : "For people whose lives haven't been threatened or where the virus hasn't been as rampant through a community, I just think numbers or not, it's still so abstract to so many people. It doesn't matter if it's 200,000, 100,000 or 10. It doesn't mean anything until you're personally affected by it."
It is all too easy to think: “Well, the virus is not too bad here, so we don’t have to be as cautious as New York City.” Or to think: “I am in relatively good health or younger, so I don’t have to worry.” But, Beloved, we know that this virus is made more dangerous because a person can have the virus without having any symptoms. This is why wearing masks is what love looks like right now because the statistics show that if there are two people together, and one is a Covid19 carrier and one is not, there is a very high rate of transmission to the nonCovid person. If only the non-Covid person wears a mask, the possiblity of transmission drops to 70%. If only the Covid19 Carrier wears a mask, the possibilty drops to 5%. And, Beloved, if they both wear a mask, the possibility drops to 1.5%. Why wouldn’t we wear masks in public?
Consider Hong Kong and Singapore, The Wall Street Journal reports that these two cities reported their first cases of the virus in January. “Four months later the densely packed Asian metropolises, with a combined population of about 13 million, have seen 27 fatalities between them.” Only 27 fatalities. Let me put it to you this way: 27 of 13 million is .000002%. America’s death toll, if we had the same percentage of deaths from the Coronavirus as Hong Kong and Singapore ( .000002%) America’s death toll would be 656 deaths. 656. Not over 100,000.
What’s the difference between us and Hong Kong and Singapore? One big difference is that in the Asian culture, people wear masks in public whenever they think they may be sick out of respect for other people. This cultural mindset of the other’s wellness being prioritized over my comfort or convenience or preference has saved thousands of lives. Because prioritizing the wellness of the other, prioritizing the wellness of our siblings at the forefront is how we live salvation. But if our mindset is: “Well, I don’t think it’s going to affect me, so I am just going to keep on doing what I do and living how I live”.......then we reach over 100,000. If our mindset is “I don’t think it’s going to happen here or it isn’t affecting people I know and love---it is happening over there”......then the death rate keeps growing and growing and growing..
A hard week, indeed. And, Beloved, in Minneapolis on Monday, George Floyd was pinned down to the ground, a white police officer’s knee on his neck. George asked for the knee to be removed saying: I can’t breathe. It hurts. It hurts all over. He called for his mother. He repeated that he couldn’t breathe. The knee remained on George’s neck for almost nine minutes; for the last three of those nine minutes, George was unresponsive. George died on Monday. Riots, looting, and protests erupted in Minneapolis and around the country as another black man has needlessly died in the hands of those we trust to keep us safe.
Now hear me, Beloved, hear me: there are many, many good and wonderful police officers; the vast majority of police officers are people who keep us safe, who lay their lives down on the line every day. But we have a sin that is woven into the fabric of American society, a sin that grows from the same root of indifference to others that we are seeing in the spread of the virus in America. This sin can infect even those who have sworn to serve and protect all citizens. And it is the sin of racism.
Beloved, it is hard to come to grips with this sin that we have woven into our ways of being on every level: laws and principles, education, the workforce, entertainment, the Church, housing opportunities, socioeconomic realities----all of it. The truth is: White people—we have authority and status in this country simply because we are white. Our white privilege doesn’t mean we haven’t suffered or struggled. It means our suffering and struggling isn’t due to our skin color.
Even the poorest white person in this country has more opportunity, more safeguards, more protections than most people of color. We Americans do not live out our Constitution that all people are created equally. And we Christians are not living out our baptismal vows to seek and serve Christ in every person, to respect the dignity of every human being. Most of us probably think: “Well, I’m not racist. I don’t have a problem with black people or brown people, with indigenous peoples or Asian people. I’m not racist.”
Beloved, I want to invite us to consider that if we are not actively working against racism in America, then we are racist. If we are not actively learning the truth of how racism works in our legal systems, our justice systems, our housing, our education, our financial and social structures, then we are turning a blind eye because as a white person---it doesn’t affect us. Allowing racism to continue to exist without actively fighting against it is racism.
Racism is born from our indifference to one another and it erodes our connectedness, our unity, our oneness. The very thing the Christ came to earth to show us in Jesus: We are one: with each other and with God. This is the Gospel Truth that is meant to be at the center of everything we do, we sing, we pray, we preach, we live. The wellness and wholeness of my sibling—whether in China or in New York or in Plover or in my house; whether the color of my sibling’s skin is black or brown or white or any shade under the sun; whether my sibling’s name is Ahmaud Arbery or George Flynn---the wellness and wholeness of my sibling is to be my priority. Our priority. If my sibling says: I can’t breathe. There is no peace
Beloved, indifference and racism kill. According to Medpage Today, “Predominantly black U.S. counties are experiencing a three-fold higher infection rate and a six-fold higher death rate than predominantly white counties. Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, PhD, former president of the American Public Health Association said, “There is nothing different biologically about race. It is the conditions of our lives. We have to acknowledge that now and always."
More black Americans are dying of Covid19 because since our country began, we, white people, have looked away from the rampant racism that riddles our country. Our racism has led to people of color having less access than white people: less access to affordable housing, good education, well-paying jobs and advancements, adequate healthcare. We white people have allowed humans to be treated inhumanely, to live as if they are less valuable than ourselves------not because we are monsters, not because we don’t have hearts: But because it didn’t touch OUR lives. It didn’t affect our house.
Beloved, the Christ shows us and tells us that all of Creation is our household. God’s kingdom is our house. Our lives are inextricably and irrevocably connected to all lives. As people who follow Jesus, we are called to set a new normal, a new standard, a new human behavior toward suffering and pain. Like Jesus, we are to put ourselves in the suffering person’s shoes. Because the suffering person---whether she is suffering from Covid19 or his suffering comes from a knee on his neck---the suffering person is our brother, our sister, our beloved.
On this day of Pentecost, I want us as the church to remember that Rain School from our children’s message. The school in that story isn’t the building. The building serves a purpose---to form and build up a community of children, who then form the community of people. And next year, after the storm, that building will look a bit different. And there may even be some new faces and some other faces may no longer be there when they return. But the growing and the forming and the learning will continue---as long as the people who make up the school and who attend the school and who provide for the school remember what they are about.
Same goes for us. Right now, we are feeling the mighty wind of the Holy Spirit—moving in and around us as the storm of the Coronavirus threatens to completely dismantle what has been built. And friends, like the school, America needs a good storm to blow through. We need a storm of justice to blow through us--and dismantle the racism we have built with our own hands. Like Jesus, we are to live as if black lives matter. Because here’s the thing: all lives can’t matter until black lives matter. So, my white friends, we must no longer remain indifferent. We can no longer turn our heads or our hearts away from the ugliness that is ours to dismantle----we have created it, and now we must eradicate it. Starting tomorrow, on our website, there will be a page called: Eradicate Racism. The page will contain things we can do as individuals, and as the Beloved Community, to put an end to this sin of ours, including a new 10 week class/conversation called Sacred Ground that will begin the third week of June.
So, come wind of the Holy Spirit---blow down the barriers we have built in our hearts between us and others. Pour down the rain of God’s love and drown our self-centeredness, our greed, our indifference. Let the walls of what has been be washed away so we can rebuild and start anew. Let us breathe life into our virus-riddled nation by prioritizing our sibling’s health and let us work to put to death the systemic racism that is destroying us from within.
Beloved, the Word tells us that when we are baptized, we take on more than a new name, a new family. We take on a new body. We are clothed with Christ’s body. Beloved, if we are going to call ourselves Christian, if we are going to be the Church, then it is time to put our Jesus on.
Beloved: do you know who Cameron Dallas is? He is a 25 year old social media influencer. He uses Youtube and Vine to make short videos and in many ways, it has made him a star. Netflix even offered him a show. What about Huda Kattan? She is a social media influencer who is a make-up expert. She has 29 million followers. Then there’s Marian Ezzedine who posts “Cooking with Mimi”; 2.4 million folks check in with her to get ideas about how to make their at-home meals tastier. Together these three influence almost 55 million people.
An influencer is someone who has the power to affect the decisions of others because of her/his knowledge, authority, position or relationship with the audience. For Cameron, it’s all about the relationship that he is building with others via his videos. For Huda and Marian, it’s about relationship and their knowledge—all three of these have a following in a distinct niche with whom they actively engage. 3.48 billion people actively use social media---that’s 45% of the world’s population. Wowza! That’s a lot of influence potential---that’s a lot of folks.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Beloved: God is calling on us to be influencers---yes on social media, but also in every way we can be. We are called to be Influencers: our knowledge is the Way of Love; our authority is that we are God’s Beloved who have been given, and continuously have access to, the Holy Spirit; and our audience is everyone we have contact with----in public, in private, and on social media. And right now, Beloved, we really need to pay attention to social media because it is what is connecting us in new ways, to new folks, and with lots of possibility to share and spread this Way of Love.
This unique time we are living in is providing us a unique opportunity to live into our Beloved interconnectedness beyond our walls, beyond our local community and state, even beyond our nation. Through technology, we can build relationships with folks around the world, around our country, inside our city and within our own Beloved Community. You, Beloved, you are whom Jesus is talking to when Jesus says: You receive the power from the Holy Spirit. This isn’t about clergy and the institution of the church; this is about us as the Body of Christ---as individuals and as a committed community of faith. God wants you, wants us, to be social influencers---influencing the circles around us and beyond us to live the Way of Love.
This means God is calling us (not just me, not just leadership) but all and each of us to figure out how to connect with others---even in this time of pandemic---especially in this time of pandemic. Beloved: listen to the Spirit, discern in prayer, and then share your thoughts of how we might continue to support one another and grow a wider Beloved Community---online, with social media, and also as we do more testing and our numbers change: in small groups maintaining safe, social distance and wearing masks, continuing to stay safe and keep connected.
And perhaps this is just a new way to say the same old thing I always seem to be preaching, but today I want to touch on something specific from our everyday lives, something that is gnawing on my heart and spirit. In the reading from the First Letter of Peter we hear: “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” This verse is an option to be read during the service of Compline or Night Prayer in the prayer book. We used to do Compline to end every day at church camp each summer. And this line always provoked a strong mental image in me: I could see that lion prowling---seeking me out---I could hear its roar.
Now, people may want to “dismiss” the devil saying: Aw, the devil’s not real. But, Beloved, the devil is real. Now, I don’t think the devil is some dude in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork. The original name for the Devil is Ha Satan. This means Adversary. The Opposer. The Devil is anything and everything that opposes God’s life-giving, loving, re-creative force in the world. So, Beloved, sometimes we are the Devil because sometimes our words or our actions or our choices work against God’s life-giving, loving, re-creative force. Sometimes we know this and still move forward with our choices, and sometimes our evil is done unintentionally. That’s why I love the words from the Confession found in Enriching Our Worship. In that prayer we pray: We have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created. We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf. Ha Satan. The evil that opposes.
Beloved God is calling us to be social influencers who help each other to turn from Ha Satan’s ways and to lean into love instead. And where I see and hear that roaring lion prowling around in our lives, and in my life, is the human tendency to divide. Our reaction to label and to separate. Liberal and conservative. America or China. Black lives or Blue Lives. Fool or savior. These divisions are used as weapons to separate us from one another. We use them and speak them ourselves. Marketers use them to divide us. Facebook and social media bots are using them to influence us toward a certain candidate or away from a candidate---spreading false information and inflammatory posts so that we will live and move from hate and fear rather than love and unity. And, if I confess freely, sometimes my words may even do that. In our need to “be right” we often demean and belittle the other side, the one who disagrees, or the one who has another viewpoint in order to proclaim our rightness.
So, what to do? How then shall we live? God doesn’t call us to be “milktoast” and be lukewarm about the Gospel message. How can we strongly and boldly proclaim this message of inclusivity, of providing for the needs of all because all are equally deserving of having enough---no matter what; how do we stand against racism, fascism, homophobia, queerphobia without language that divides? How do we fight against poverty, injustice, and exclusion while maintaining unity?
Well, if I was in possession of a “how-to” manual, then I could make millions. And friends, the Bible isn’t really a “how-to” manual on this. Our young adults are reading Rachel Held Evans’ book, Inspired, and we have been talking about this---how we come to the Bible thinking it has clear and certain answers when what it really has is a variety of viewpoints, a cacophony of voices, and possibilities of choices and ways forward. And that space there---in the middle of the variety, the cacophony, and the possibilities---is just enough space for that prowling lion the devil to take advantage and push a wedge between us.
So, let’s look to Jesus: Jesus who sits down to dinner with religious leaders, powerful authorities, the elite of the day as well as lepers and sinners, tax-collectors and fisherman—the general riffraff of the day. Based on what he says, we know Jesus has issues with how both, and all, groups choose to live. And yet, Jesus builds relationships with all of them----particularly seeking out those who are disenfranchised, those on the margins and edges, the immigrant and the refugee, the sick and the ostracized---because Jesus knows the powerful and the elite don’t have the same need as these ones. The powerful and elite have resources to meet their basic needs of food, water, shelter, healthcare and the primal need for community and touch. The powerful and elite do not need the Christ to provide that for them. So the Christ goes to the ones who cannot (or because of how society is set up---are not able to) provide for those needs. And Jesus sits with them, heals them, breaks bread with them. Jesus turns to his followers and say: You give them something to eat. You go out, 2 by 2, and heal them. You love them. You have the Spirit, the authority, the influence----you do it.
Let’s think about that table at which Jesus sits with sinners---the tax collector, the Judas, the Pharisee and the religious elite. This table, Beloved, is where our salvation begins. Because this table doesn’t just serve food; it builds community. A new community where everyone belongs---fools and saviors, liberals and conservatives, Americans and Chinese, Black lives and Blue lives. At God’s table all belong. And all share things in common. As one of the young adults said in our conversation: “We all want to provide for our families, have homes, feel secure.” Beloved, The Christ begins with our commonalities rather than our divisions, inviting us to sit at the table based on our humanity, not our exceptions nor our expectations.
I still don’t have all the answers of how we do this exactly---how we live it out as individuals, as families, as cities and as the Beloved Community. But, that’s okay. The Spirit has answers and she is providing situations and opportunities for us to do this work of uniting rather than dividing. Our work is to be mindful of the prowling lion. Oh, it will continue to get the better of us, but our mindfulness can change how we use our authority, our knowledge, and our social media posts to influence one another toward Love and away from Hate. Can we state the Gospel without denigrating those whom we believe are shunning it? Can we actively work from Love and Justice without spitting into the faces of those we think are defying Love and Justice? Even when they don’t play by the same rules? Even when they spit on our faces? Think of those nurses in face masks who go to the protests to open up states---silently facing down their neighbors who raise signs demanding haircuts and their individual freedoms, those neighbors who are terrorizing and not protesting because they have brought their assault rifles. What is it that these nurses do? They stand there. No words. Wearing their face masks and uniform, they proclaim the Gospel. In defiance to hate. In resistance to Ha Satan. In collusion with Love.
Sometimes, Beloved, when I read a Facebook post or a Twitter post that proclaims something I think is foolish or dangerous or hateful, my fingers itch to use my words to flatten the sender of the post like a bug. Or maybe I should say, my tail twitches and I growl from my throat as I use my sharpened lion claws to rip their post apart and reveal their idiocy or their inhumanity or their complete and utter disregard for life.
Anyone else? That space that is between me and the writer of the post is all the space the Devil needs to get me to forget the Christ and respond from the deep, dark pit of my human nature instead of the spark of the divine within me. And when I do, evil wins the moment. And Hate takes hold. And Fear insulates and fertilizes……..
But, Beloved, I have been blessed and baptized to know another way, and thanks be to God, something in my day always brings me back to my senses, back to the Christ. Maybe it’s a friend who speaks the words of love to me or I see an example of love lived out on a screen or read it in a book or I am re-centered in our Belovedness through prayer or song or Word. So many ways---ways and practices that being part of Church has helped me to develop my Christ muscles, that has strengthened that divine spark within me to shine brighter. Frankly, Beloved, sometimes it is simply the Spirit who whispers in my ear: Remember who you are. Remember whose you are. And so I turn—an internal revolution that happens again and again and again.
Beloved, today Jesus calls us to be witnesses---social influencers---influencing and compelling those in our circles---online and offline---publicly and privately---known and unknown---to choose love. Choose unity. Choose our commonalities rather than our divisions. Fools and saviors. Chinese and American. Black and blue. Liberal and Conservative. Saint and Sinner. The world may tell us one is more worthy than another. Our neighbor may demand it. But Beloved, God refuses it. Jesus’ life and ministry denies it. And our infuencer, the Christ, calls us to effect change and revolution in an entirely different way. “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
And all God’s people said: Amen!
Just when the disciples are most in need of pastoral care---on the eve of Jesus’ departure in today’s Gospel reading---Jesus promises the gift of the Advocate who will come and walk alongside them. This animating Spirit will companion them in their time of great need and fear and uncertainty, restoring life and hope and helping them to live into a new way. Because starting tomorrow for these disciples, their lives as they knew it will be all turned upside down---and there won’t be any going back. The cross lies just ahead.
And Beloved, at this time—as we continue to live in this time of pandemic, this time of moving toward re-opening, as some of us are afraid to go too fast and some are worried about the economic effects if we move too slowly, into our troubled hearts and our wrenching questions and anxieties, into the very real grief and loss that some of our Beloved have experienced firsthand and many of us are feeling at one level or another, the Spirit comes. She is here. Ready to re-animate us, inspiring us again with the Divine breath of the Creator, companioning us toward new life, new hope, new ways of being.
The Spirit is here as we gather—yes differently, but still united and bound together---as we gather to give thanks, to name our blessings, to share our burdens and loss, to speak and sing our story and our Truth. This gathering grounds and roots us in our truest identity as God’s people. People who vow to live lives of caring for one another and all others, lives of compassion and mercy and forgiveness, lives of seeking justice and an end to oppression for all of humanity—no matter their nation, their language, their orientation, their skin color, their faith, their mistakes, their failures, their political party, their socioeconomic status. For people of God know the Truth: that we are one human family, one clan of Creation. So as God’s people, our borders encapsulate all; we do not value one life as more important than another. Nor do we abdicate our responsibility to provide for one another. For we vow to live and move with the eyes and heart of the Christ who came to gather all things together, on heaven and on earth.
The Spirit reanimates and breathes life into us as we find ways to “keep in touch” and build relationship. Through the written words on note cards, the phone calls made more often, the online chats and posts and comments. As we live physically separated, we are renewed by these relationships---and our loneliness is eased, our fears are dampened, our joy is kindled.
And our prayer, Beloved, this ongoing stream of Spirit-breath that moves from us to God to others to us to the world to the need to the loss to the grief to our hearts, and minds, and spirits and bodies. This is the Advocate in action. For an advocate is: one who pleads the cause of another; one who defends or maintains a cause; one who supports or promotes the interests of a cause or a group. And Beloved, as God’s people: our Cause is Love. Our interest is Unity. Our Group is all of Creation.
Beloved, the Advocate’s presence in our lives, our receiving of the Spirit, moves us to then become Advocates for others. Through us, the Spirit is bringing hope as our ministers take Boys and Girls Club meals out to Junction City, to Rosholt and to Almond/Bancroft. She is breathing new life into the hard spaces caused by poverty, unemployment, and this pandemic as the gifts you provide go to help folks get food and meds and provide quarters and soap for clean laundry, with help from our Community Wellness Coordinator, Gracia. The generosity of your gifts inspire our Compassion Response Team to partner with others in our community, like CAP services, to help folks get through this pandemic by granting them funds to pay utilities, rent, filling gaps in their budget. And the Compassion team is working with Migration ministries to help those who so often do not have an Advocate for they are seen as aliens, strangers, and foreigners. But we, we who are God’s people, we have heard God tell us over and over: When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34).
God’s words and call to us are why our Leadership team has just voted to sign a resolution calling our legislators to stop the proposed deportation of our Hmong siblings, for no matter their nation of birth, or their parents’ nation of birth, their home is here. Their lives are here. We belong to one another. And these words of God are why our Social Justice Advocacy team are also inviting all members of the Beloved Community to join in a letter writing campaign to our legislators using your voice to enact God’s word.
Beloved, while we have been in this pandemic now for weeks, there is currently a shifting taking place---as we all long for it to be over, but we also desire to move back to communal life safely. As communities, as a state, as a nation, this is the time when we need guidance and leadership---helping us to discern the best ways for all---the smartest ways for the common good---to restore our economy and our life together.
Did you know the word economy comes from the Greek word for household, and it means the management of material resources for the household?
What household? Yours? Mine? Portage County’s? Wisconsin’s? America’s? Well, yes, sure. All of those things. But here’s the thing, Beloved, as God’s people---we don’t start or primarily move from the smallest economy (mine and yours), because we are first and foremost, stewards and safeguards for our largest economy---God’s household. God’s oikonomia---which is all of Creation. That’s why we who already know God see things differently, and hold things differently, and God hopes: respond and choose differently. Beloved: as God’s people our household is large---all of Creation. All nations, all races, all plants and animal-life, all languages, all people.
And our household is at a turning point. Right now, as we live on the cusp of trying to move out from the oppression of the pandemic into a new life, we are all---every nation, every state, every family, every individual---we are all going to have to decide: How shall we live now? Some may desire to simply return to our old ways. But those ways brought us to this day. We, Beloved, we can be the casters of a new vision, a new way. Right now the Spirit empowers us to weave a new dream, build a new path, lead creation into the greener pastures of God’s Kingdom.
Jesus warned in today’s Gospel that the world “cannot receive, because it neither sees God nor knows God.” Jesus knew the world would be estranged from God—and let’s not fool ourselves, we as Christians are often the estranged as well. But Jesus did not mean that someone who doesn’t know or believe or trust God will NEVER receive. Jesus was telling us that a shifting is required, an internal revolution, a change within so that what was once unknown can become known. This is what we hear Paul attempting to do for the listeners in the reading from Acts today. To make known what was once unknown---meeting people in their own spiritual landscapes, speaking differently than we would to folks of our own faith community---but speaking our Truth, our command, God’s cause of Love in such a way that it can grab hold in places that once knew it not.
Beloved, we know our highest Authority; we know the voice of our Shepherd. We know our Greatest Law, the Law of God’s land: and it is love.
So, then, Beloved: at this moment in history, how can we be advocates for love—this grand cause and proposal of God that we live as one Creation. That we care for all of Creation. That we share the abundance God provides because all are equally deserving? And Beloved, this includes those we consider fools and those we think are saviors. How can we be advocates for love as we have conversations with our government and our representatives---encouraging and, frankly, demanding that we have a new way forward that isn’t crippled by partisanship and division, but instead that our new way of governing will be to work together for the Common Good, the greater good—the gift of rebuilding a true democracy. Where every voice matters. Every voice counts. Where people mean more than profit. Every person is valued and no one is left outside our care and protection.
Beloved, can you feel it? The Spirit is re-animating us, inspiring us to advocate for the Way of Love. Now is the time. Now is the day of salvation. Let us use our voices, our consumer power, our choices and decisions to lead. Lead as God’s people and midwife a new world. Instead of waiting for our political leaders to forge a new way, let us take our cue from Scripture and cry out for a new commandment amongst us: Love one another. Love your neighbor. Through our words, through our actions, through our economy. As God’s people, we cannot be silent. As God’s people, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and take our places at the front of the crowd to take those first steps, at the sides of the crowd to make sure there’s protection for everyone, especially the weak and the vulnerable, and at the back of the crowd to make sure that we leave no one behind—leaving no one orphaned.
Resurrection is upon us. From the tomb steps forth new life. This is our Truth. Now, by God’s grace and strength and spirit, let us love, let us live, let us lead.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.