Lord, Have Mercy.

First preached 3/17/19 at West Linn Lutheran Church. 

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus,]“Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

-Luke 13:31-35

I think I’ve shared this but Luke is my favorite Gospel because of the kind of Jesus Luke reveals to us. This Jesus has some real emotions. I mean here we have angry Jesus, we have stubborn Jesus, we have determined Jesus, we have Jesus full of love and longing, and we have discouraged Jesus (Disrupt Worship Project, Lent 2, Rev. Carolina Glauster).

I love that our God is one of so many emotions! Because that is me. I’m known for having so many emotions all at once so in this very human side of Jesus, I see myself reflected.

I think especially this weekend of all the many emotions I’ve had. The joy it was to gather with 54 other faithful lay and rostered leaders at the Building an Inclusive Church training yesterday and Friday evening. The gratitude I had for the amazing group of WLLC members who provided hospitality and participated in the training. The excitement for us to continue this work together. My heart is full from that.

But my heart is also broken. Because other emotions I had this weekend were anger and grief because I woke up Friday morning to the news of 50 of our beloved Muslim brothers, sisters, and siblings, murdered at their place of worship.

Lord. Have. Mercy.

 

Jesus clearly has experience with those “set on murder” and he does not have the time for them. Exasperated Jesus calls Herod a fox, y’all. The Hebrew Scriptures associate foxes with being clever but ultimately sly and unprincipled. They act with no regard or care for others and the consequences their actions have on others. Jesus’ words here reflect the disdain that Jesus has for Harod. And, like I said, Jesus has no time for this. Harod is, in Jesus’ eyes, powerless (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2).

And so I can’t help but think today, who are the foxes of our world today? In light of the terrorist attacks in New Zealand, I cannot help but name Brenton Tarrant, the man charged with committing these heinous, hate-filled acts of violence against the Muslim communities in Christchurch, as a modern-day fox.

But this is deeper than this one man. We must expand our view of the foxes of this world not being people but rather the ideologies that those who act with violence against others were and continue to be bathed in. We look towards these ideologies because this is much greater than Brenton Tarrant.

These ideologies are the pervasive, systemic and EVIL ideologies of white supremacy, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. In fact, these ideological foxes are the anythings and everythings that perpetuate the fear and violence against others – the growing list of phobias and -isms that divide and divide and divide. Kill and kill and kill.

Lord, have mercy.

 

“You go and tell that fox for me, I’m casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will finish my work.”

Herod, the fox, is powerless to prevent Jesus’ work in the world. And beloveds – I know it is so hard to see this right now – after FIFTY of our Muslim siblings were slaughtered in their place of worship (something that we are surprisingly and sickingly familiar with) – it seems like the foxes of this world have won over. But the foxes are powerless over our compassionate God who acts with a bold determination to gather us together in Her protection (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2)..

And though I believe it with all my heart…trust me, I am struggling to see it. I want to fall on my knees and yell  “God, if you’re healing and casting out demons, why are these foxes still killing your beloveds?!?!” But in times like this I have to trust that God was in those mosques…I have to trust that God is weeping for Her slayed children…I have to trust that God. Will. Have. The. Last. Word.

Lord, have mercy.

 

On Friday afternoon I gathered with other people of faith and our elected officials at the Muslim Educational Trust. I arrived just as the funeral prayers were being recited during the Muslim time of worship. I stood just out of the sanctuary while hundreds of our local Muslim siblings were praying together in this time of great grief for their extended community. I could feel the saturation of the Spirit in that place.

And as their prayers ended and many departed for work while other interfaith leaders and elected officials trickled into the space, I took my shoes off and entered that Holy Place. I saw imams and rabbis embracing. I saw condolences being made. I saw tears flowing. And as the prayers began for the vigil, I was reminded that the last time this large of an interfaith gathering took place in this area was directly after the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue where eleven of our Jewish siblings were killed in their place of worship.

Lord, have mercy.

 

But through that, the collective grief offered up in prayer, song, and speech…there was a sacred healing. Not a curing of the violence that had been done, because that is not possible. But a healing and mending of communities. A recognition that we are stronger together and that the love shared in that place will and MUST overcome the hatred that permeates this world.

A Sikh leader charged us to “stop being bystanders and start being upstanders.” To not sit around and wait to gather again together when the next community of faith – or any community – is targeted. But to do something about it.

Not easy work…It’s scary. I don’t know about you but there is fear within me when I show up to vigils or even to worship following events like this. And even when we do speak up, we run the risk of facing repercussions…WLLC saw this when y’all put out the sign wishing our Muslim siblings a blessed Ramadan and faced the backlash of vandalism. We risked it putting our sign out front of the building this week. But risking things, even with small statements of support, is how we build this world from love. It’s how we say that we will no longer tolerate other’s intolerance because when lives are at stake, there is no room for that in the shelter of God’s wings.

This, my beloveds, is how we live into our baptismal calling. In our affirmation of baptism we are asked if we renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God. We are asked if we renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God. Well, these ideological foxes are those things defying God at every turn. So we must speak, we must act.

Because, y’all, just like Jesus will not be stopped by the powers of the world that were out to kill him, so must we not bow down in fear. We must we link arms together with all of our siblings and sing the song that a rabbi led us in. He sang it in Hebrew first and it was beautiful to hear the voices of our other Jewish siblings present join in. Then we sang it in English:

I will build this world from love

You must build this world from love

If we build this world from love

Then God will build this world from love

Lutherans believe that we are co-creators with God, we are reforming the world with God…we are not to be passive and offer our “thoughts and prayers” – though they are needed – we are called to act. To actively cast out the foxes of this world and cure the hate…We are called to be agents of God’s justice until that third day when God’s work will be finished.

Until then, Lord have mercy.

 

 

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An Ash Wednesday Homily

First preached 3/6/19 for Ash Wednesday services at West Linn Lutheran Church. This is an expanded outline of sermon, not complete. For recording of complete sermon, email me. 

Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Mother who is in secret; and your Mother who sees in secret will reward you. 

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Parent who is in secret; and your Parent who sees in secret will reward you.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

– Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Today I come at this text with two reminders stuck in my head:

  1. The first is a reminder a dear professor, Gordy. He taught my spiritual formation class and we would read this text weekly as our devotion and it served as a lens to whatever spiritual practice we were going to focus on that week.

  2. The second is the reminder of what happened last Ash Wednesday in Parkland Florida, where 17 precious, beloved children of God died in another school shooting.

On this day where we talk about and confront the reality of our mortality…we have this text about prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. On a day where we put a big black mark on our forehead for the whole world to see, we have Matthew telling us to do these things in secret…weird.

But what it boils down to is our intent…don’t do these things so that you may be SEEN by others.To just be seen, begs question of authenticity – In this social media age, do we post a picture of us with a cross on our forehead or at a rally for “likes” or do we do it because that is how we are truly living into God’s purpose for us?

Luther’s theology of creation. We are created by God to be in relationship with God and the primary way we meet God is through relationship with the other. Through unselfishly living for the glory of God meaning the glory of the other.

Almsgiving for the glory of God and your relationship with Her creation

Prayer for the glory of God and your relationship with Their creation

Fasting for the glory of God and your relationship with His creation

Lent about examining our motives for doing things, for realizing “Paisley, this isn’t about you. This is about God and bringing in God’s kindom”

My professor, Gordy taught us a Lakota term that has impacted my understanding of how the Spirit moves through me – and all creation – to bring in the kindom of God Mitakuye Oyasin which means “All are related.” This is how we learn to turn from a selfish purpose for action to a selfless purpose.

When we have this mindset that we are completely bound together,  we cannot help but turn outward and see that the Spirit calls our heart to be for the sake of the other. It is a recapitulation that understands that all our almsgiving, prayer, and fasting is not to boast of ourselves but to give glory to God and to the other.

The Holy Spirit binding us into communities of faith, centered around God is indeed the treasure that we are so freely given.

But the hard reality we face this day, is that treasures, even treasures of the Spirit, given on earth are subject to decay…

That day in Parkland, Florida the treasure of 17 families ended up in caskets because the ideological treasure of the second amendment placed in the hands of a man set on violence claimed the victory over the lives of children. Thieves do indeed steal our treasures.

On January 5th, a rare and aggressive lymphoma claimed the life of Gordy, a beloved teacher, pastor, father, and spouse. Moth and rust do indeed take our treasures away.

But, even facing this hard reality this day, we are reminded that our treasures, our relationships with others through the gift of the spirit, are stronger than the power of death. We are reminded in this cross of ash that we are claimed, forgiven, and redeemed. We are reminded that though death is relentless, we are bound by something greater that transcends this earthly realm. Gathered by the Spirit into the Communion of Saints, a community that cannot and will not ever be broken.

And that is why I receive these ashes this day every year. I need this reminder in this unpredictable and dangerous world.

So I ask you, beloved community, I ask you to ponder in your hearts before the music starts, why are you receiving these ashes today? What purpose do they hold for you? What change do you hope they will inspire in you this Lenten season and into the rest of your life?

A focus for the Journey

Let me tell you. 

Getting to Holden Village is a journey, especially in the winter. From West Linn it takes driving over a snowy, icy pass that is hopefully not closed due to an avalanche. It takes maneuvering through smaller, less groomed passes and snow-covered roads. It takes staying overnight in Chelan, driving to Field’s Point to park, and boarding the boat. Boats run once a day, three times a week during the winter, so if you miss that boat, you’re two days away from the next one. The boat ride takes about two hours and the journey still is not over. You form a chain with the other sojourners to get the luggage onto the bus, careful not to slip on the icy inclined dock. Then you pile onto the bus, huddling together for warmth, and climb the 2,000 ft to the Village through a series of treacherous, snow-covered switch backs, all the while crossing avalanche shoot after avalanche shoot. The bus ride takes about an hour and then you finally arrive to a snowglobe-like village in the middle of nowhere. A safe sense of home.

We each go on journeys like this and, as a Christian community of faith, we go through a yearly journey from death into life during the season of Lent. On Wednesday we begin that journey with the reminder of our own mortality as the words “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” are accompanied by the tracing of an imperfect cross on our foreheads. This reminder is a yearly reorientation inviting us into contemplation and emptying. Knowing our own mortality should cause us to think differently and to clear out the extra “stuff” that we have deemed as important. This invitation has caused many to choose to “give up” something for the season of Lent. Perhaps, like me, you have given up sweets, coffee, social media, soda, etc.

But I invite you this time around to join me in focusing on what is still needed in this emptying instead of what must go. This is perhaps more intentional as it forces us to look inside of ourselves and evaluate what our very souls are missing. It makes us discern where God’s creative and life-giving Spirit can work in us so that we cultivate a practice that can be sustained throughout this season of Lent and into the entire Church year.

Maybe you know what this practice may be or perhaps you need more time. But, if you decide to join me in adopting life-giving practices for this journey, let me know! I would be curious to hear what the Spirit is calling you to do and be in this stage of your own journey. If it is not me you wish to share with, I encourage you to share with someone because God puts us in these communities to lean on each other and to hold one another accountable. May your journey be both difficult and light, treacherous and safe, emptying and fulfilling. And, most of all, may your journey lead you to that safe sense of home.

Well, until you travel down the mountain again.

 

Jesus’ Lullaby

Sermon preached 2/17/19 at West Linn Lutheran Church.

 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
– Luke 6:17-26

I can’t help but hear in this text the song of women. The song of Miriam, the song of Hannah, the song passed down through all generations – woman to woman. And then, we hear it from the lips of Mary the mother of Jesus. But it did not end with Mary – Surely it was passed down through Jesus, the twelve, the early Christian community, has continued on our lips, and will persevere through the generations to come.

We don’t have many stories of baby Jesus at all and so sometimes I use my imagination to figure out what Jesus was like as an infant, as he held his head up for the first time, rolled over, sat up, crawled…the joy that Mary and Joseph felt as he took his first steps. And, yes, even as he entered those “terrible two’s” I wonder what Jesus must have been like.

But the thread throughout it all that I imagine, is Mary cradling her newborn in her arms and singing him a gentle yet radical lullaby:

My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, my spirit rejoices in you.

You have looked with love on your servant here and blessed me all my life through.

Great and mighty are you, O Holy One, strong is your kindness evermore.

How you favor the weak and lowly one, humbling the proud of heart.

You have cast the mighty down from their thrones and uplifted the humble of heart.

You have filled the hungry with wondrous things and left the wealthy no part.

(Magnificat, Marty Haugen 1986).

I picture Mary holding her son as he grows up and fights going to sleep, her teaching him the words as he begins to talk, her singing while cooking meals, her humming along as she checks in on him and covers him with a blanket in the dead of night while he lie asleep… her singing this song of praise, knowing and pondering in her heart all that he would grow up to be.

And the words stuck. We hear it here:

Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are the hungry, for they shall be filled,

Blessed are the weeping, for they shall laugh.

Blessed are those who are spoken poorly of, for their reward is great in heaven.

But then the more difficult part:

Woe to the rich, for they have received your consolation.

Woe to the full, for they shall be hungry.

Woe to the laughing, for they shall weep.

Woe to those who are spoken well of, for they are as the fake prophets.

 

I confess to y’all…

I have more wealth than those living on the streets of Portland.

I have never felt true hunger or worried about where my next meal would come from.

The majority of my days are filled with laughter.

And Lord knows that I am spoken well of. I hear that affirmation each day that I have walked with this community.

So, I guess, woe to me.

And, I would guess, most of you are thinking the same thing.

So woe to us all.

But not quite. Because if there is anything I know about the song of women sung throughout all history, is that it is not a song of condemnation…it is a song of radical transformation, a song that re-imagines what the world could be…a song that pleas for a reawakening to the real suffering of those on the fringes.

A reawakening that only can happen in community.

What is notable about this account from Luke is that Jesus gathers with the crowd on a level place. This is Jesus in the midst of it. Not like last week’s text where Jesus got in a boat and went off the shore and taught from there. Not like Matthew’s account of the beatitudes where Jesus stood on the mount and taught them.

No, Jesus is on this level place with all gathered around him. Jews and gentiles, poor and rich, hungry and fed…ALL. Jesus does this because the Lukan Jesus is always about  promoting community, inclusion, and expanding the vision of what what the kin-dom of God looks like.

And so he stays, right there in the midst of the crowd after showing his power and teaches. The text says he teaches the disciples but the whole crowd hears. Jesus wants them to hear because he is speaking to all. Just picture it, the whole crowd gathering in as tightly as the can, cupping and turning their ear to hear this words.

…Words of comfort to some but words of perceived condemnation for others.

And I say perceived because I also know a God whose love for us is so great that nothing can separate us. We’ve seen this…like in the story of the rich man who approached Jesus and asked how he went about gaining eternal life. And Jesus….Looking at him LOVED him. He looked at him and loved him. And I cannot imagine that even when that rich man went away weeping, Jesus loved him any less.

But still. What do we do with these woes?

If our God is one whose mission in the world was to mend and build community, then is not the biggest sin is when we place value in those things that promote selfishness instead of selflessness.

Take that rich man, for example. He weeped over his belongings because he had so many. He surrounded himself and despite his desire to enter into eternal life, he chose his possessions. He resisted entering into community with Jesus and his other followers because his possessions had sadly become the pinnacle of success in his mind.

Perhaps the text could take a line from the Jeremiah text for today…”mere”

Woe to you who place their trust in mere mortals.

Woe to you who place all your trust in mere worldly riches, because your trust should be on God.

Woe to you who place their trust in mere earthly food, for they are deprived of the true understanding of the heavenly bread that is for all, especially those who are starving.

Woe to you who are laughing because you have ignored the hurt of all creation.

That I believe is it. It’s about who and what do we value, trust in, etc.

Those who are poor, those who are hungry, those who are weeping, and those spoken poorly of have a greater insight because the world has told them that they don’t have anything else to trust in except for God.

In seminary I had the privilege of learning from various types of spiritual practices, most are about not relying on our own selves and material things but trusting and gaining courage to live from something other and greater than ourselves.

The spirituality of AA that taught that the first thing one must do in recovery is to admit that we are powerless. Many of the steps are about honest communication with ourselves and with those whom we have broken/harmed. It’s about embracing what is out of your control so that we can be brought back into community. 

Indigenous spiritual practices taught that Mother Earth provides all that we need. That everything is connected and each persons actions impact another.

One of the most eye-opening spiritual practices, though, was African American Spirituality through singing. Our professor shared that her own spiritual practice involves listening, singing, and dancing along to Fannie Lou Hamer’s Woke Up This Morning. My professor said that it is one of the few things that gives her the strength to navigate daily struggles as a black woman living in this racist country. The words are simple and repetitive:

Woke up this morning with my mind, stayed on freedom.

Walking and talking with my mind, stayed on freedom.

Singing and praying with my mind, stayed on freedom.

Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah.

Fannie Lou Hamer was an activist for voting, women’s, and civil rights. She would say elsewhere that to her freedom would only be achieved through Jesus. 

Blessed is Fannie Lou Hamer, though people spoke poorly of her because her reward would be freedom through Christ.

Some of us are given the gift of freedom more than others, and it is truly woe to us for not using our privilege and stop remaining complicit in systems that are killing our siblings.

Woe to us who have everything to give but refuse to use it, because this world has so much work to do. Woe to us who are breathing easy, while our siblings of color cannot breathe under the weight of white supremacy. Woe to us who remain silent in the face of injustice out of fear of being disliked. Woe to us that place all of our trust in ourselves that we cannot and will not trust God’s plan for freedom for all.

All great movers and shakers speaking up for freedom, doing the work of Jesus to stand on a level place with all people, were spoken poorly of. Many were and are imprisoned. Many were and continue to be killed.

We know how it ended with Jesus. He is betrayed by his friend, tortured and murdered by those in power. He was spoken poorly of and his reward is resurrection. And we who follow in his footsteps speaking truth to power and risking it all with our minds stayed on freedom…we become truly blessed.

As one commentator says, “God does not take kindly half-heartedness. God does not bless us as we maintain the status quo…God does not bless us as we bathe in respectability in the eyes of the world. God does not bless us as we quietly maintain tradition and gloss over or ignore prophetic voices calling us back to God…God does not bless us as we protect and build institutions and empires. God does not bless us, well off, full, comfortable, hearty, and well spoken of…God [blesses us] as God jar[s] us out of our faithful complacency.” (David Ostendorf, Feasting on the Word)

Being jarred out of our comfort is how we carry on the song of resistance, the  song of the women, the song that Jesus paraphrased that day on the level place, the song of resistance carried on by Fannie Lou Hamer, the song that has been spoken in many different versions, voices, and languages. The song carried on by those who are on the fringes that taught them “don’t give up, keep that mind stayed on freedom.” The song of freedom that we too join into as we proclaim the radical call of the Gospel that reawakens us to the needs of others.

And for the invitation to join that song, to become blessed, we say thanks be to God.

*Hymn of the day was ELW 723 Canticle of the Turning

 

A Christmas Eve Homily

Originally preached 12/24/18 at the 11pm Candlelight Christmas Eve Service at West Linn Lutheran Church. 

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

 

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 

Luke 2: 1-20

I’ve told many people a secret about myself lately: I’m kind of a grinch. I’m not and have never been a big fan of Christmas. I don’t like popular Christmas carols. I’m not big into Christmas decorations. I don’t like the consumerism that seems to be forced upon people this season.

This year, in particular, I feel very indifferent to Christmas. My family is 3,000 miles away and I won’t be there to celebrate with them. To see my 5 month old niece on her first Christmas. To play with my almost 2 year old nephew. To see my three brothers and my parents.

So perhaps I’m a little more grinch-y than normal.

But I don’t think that’s inherently bad. In fact, I think it is good for me to name my own feeling about this holiday because, chances are, there are some of you sitting here today feeling exactly the same way. Perhaps this year in particular is difficult or maybe, like me, you’ve never really been a Christmas person.

I’m here to tell you that it’s okay.

We act like one must be just filled with Christmas joy and spirit on this night. That if you aren’t singing “Glory to God!” or rejoicing with a loud shout of “Alleluia!” that we must be doing something wrong. But that’s not the case at all…

In fact from the very first Christmas, people reacted in many and varied ways to the birth of the savior of the whole world. In tonight’s Gospel message we hear:

The shepherds were at first terrified

The angels responded in praise

Those who received the news from the shepherds were amazed

And Mary…Mary quietly pondered in her heart.

Those I have told about my indifference to Christmas have seemed baffled by the confession. A future pastor who isn’t all gung-ho about the birth of Jesus. Sound impossible. But honestly…why we would expect each person to respond the same way to the birth of the Christ Child? If each person is uniquely made by God with own personalities, joys, and sorrow…then why would we expect all to be filled with this outward Christmas joy?

It’s an unrealistic expectation.

But the Good News tonight is that no matter their response to the news of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds, the angels, Mary and Joseph, and even our animal siblings… they all gathered together in community – standing in awe of the Christ Child who lay in the manger.

It’s quite amazing, isn’t it? That already in his first hours of life, Jesus is able to break down boundaries and gather people together across differences. And that community gathering around Jesus is the true and tangible evidence that the Jesus in the flesh, Emmanuel, makes a difference in the world.

And that continues to be the Good News each Christmas for me. That I can come and I can be with God’s people, bringing whatever emotions I have to that place, knowing that I will be accepted and loved just the way I am. Because that is the power of the one that lays in the manger this night – the one who dwells in human flesh, in the totality of the human experience, to be with us and for us in our joys and in our sorrows…no matter what.

So whether you are like the shepherds and terrified this night. Or whether you are proclaiming God’s praise. Or exceedingly amazed by the birth of Emmanuel. Or whether, like Mary, you are simply pondering things quietly in your heart…know that you are welcome and loved here. That God chooses dwells inside of you and this community this night and always. And that, my friends, is “good news of great joy for all people.”

Amen.

What will protect us?

CN: Gun violence; gun worship. 

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. (Mark 13:1-8) 

The Temple will be thrown down. That is serious business that we are talking about. See,  the Temple was considered to be the actual dwelling place of the Divine. It was also the social and economic center of many people’s lives. And, for the marginalized, like the widow from last week, it was the place where they ideally received protection.

So to say that the dwelling place of God is to be thrown down…to say the center of protection will be no longer…to say that the thing that was considered to be of ultimate value would be destroyed…it is scandalous news.

As I imagine what the disciples thought when they heard this news, I couldn’t help but wonder what it is in our lives that we place as ultimate value? What is it in our lives that we think will protect us? What do we cling to when we are terrified, in the midst of these birth pangs?

The first time I preached on this text was last year, November 18th, at a midweek service. It was ten days after the Sutherland Springs Shooting and the day after the Rancho Tehema Shooting. I said:

Ten days ago when we lost 26 of God’s beloved children and yesterday we lost another four. The violence that surrounds us shows the true depth of the birth pangs…we are living in a bleak time. And though we know that through Jesus our endings are just beginnings, that soon Jesus is coming again to dry our tears when hurricanes roar, fires rage, and lives are loss but I cannot help but feel that pointing to some future reality is inadequate when our siblings are continually getting killed NOW.

This anger inside of me caused by Yet. Another. Shooting. cannot be calmed by my knowledge that this is just the beginning because I don’t know if our world can take much more of these birth pangs.

And so today I mourn and cry out where oh where are you, O God? How long must we wait? How many more must we bury? Where oh where are you, O God?

I’m sad to say world doesn’t seem to be in any better shape than it was a year ago.

Twenty-four days ago eleven of our Jewish siblings were killed in their place of worship in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Thirteen days ago thirteen people were killed at a bar on college night in Thousand Oaks, California. Just yesterday, a shooter entered a Chicago hospital and killed three.

These are just three of the 314 mass shootings that have occurred this year. And those are just what is considered a “mass” shooting.

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Map of the 314 Mass Shootings of 2018

Guns. This is what we are clinging to for protection: pieces of metal with the ability to end a life in a split second.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who owns multiple weapons and who is publicly against gun-control. Each time a mass shooting occurs, he says that it was not the fault of the gun but was person who “must have been nuts.” Each time I do not argue that an increase in access to mental healthcare would be helpful in confronting the rate of mass shootings, but I also enter into conversation with him about why military grade weapons should be placed in hands of civilians. Me and many others who are vocal about gun violence recognize that a gun ban is too divisive of a platform so we fight instead for restrictions. Restrictions like a thorough psych eval, a background check, a more limited selection of weapons, and no military grade assault rifles.

And yet there is still resistance because people are fearful and believe that their ultimate protection will come from their own hands. Our nation worships guns. Guns have come and we have be led astray (v. 5-6) by the false sense of power that they give to the handler.

But we need to recognize that guns will not save us. Think about the shooters and how many end up dead – either by their own hand or by the hands of law enforcement. If they live – and if the justice system does their job (another story for another day) – they will spend the rest of their lives incarcerated. Guns will not protect them.

This is where I would normally turn to, “well what does protect us, then?” But to be honest, I don’t know. I feel like the faithful answer is to say “God will protect us.” But is that true during these times of the birth pangs? I desperately want to cling to my identity of Child of God for protection, but Jesus is clear here that we will all experience the birth pangs. We are not getting out of this unscathed. Just as Jesus did not get out of his life unscathed.

Being a theologian of the Cross, I know whole-heartedly that God was in that synagogue when Robert Bower opened fire. I know that God was in Borderline Bar when David Long opened fire. I know that God was in Mercy Hospital when Juan Lopez opened fire. I know that God weeps for the loss of Her children.

But like I said last year, knowing this doesn’t make it better now. It doesn’t make these birth pangs any less easier to live in. In some cases just knowing God’s presence is a passive thing and we have too many people in the world today who send “thoughts and prayers” but we need action. And what frustrates me most about this Gospel text is that it doesn’t tell me what to do and I do not have the strength to know what to do when I’m paralyzed by the increasing reality of mass shootings.

I dug through this week’s texts again and again until I found it in the Hebrews passage:

Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),  and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:19-25, with emphasis) 

I may not be able to single-handedly fix the problem of gun worship here in the U.S. but I can hold fast to my faith in Jesus Christ. We can hold fast to our belief that, yes, God is present in joy and in suffering and that God has won the ultimate victory over the powers of Sin and death – even when it is impossible to see. Even when we cannot help but cry out “Where oh where are you, O God? How long must we wait? How many more must we bury? Where oh where are you, O God?”

But the second is the more important thing because it is what we can do when we feel hopeless and helpless. We can provoke and encourage one another to love. This means accountability.

We can write letters and call officials to hold them accountable for what they have done and have not done to ensure safety for all. This means calling people out for putting profit over people. Calling people out for putting the second amendment before the first.

We can continue in conversation in conversation with those who believe differently then ourselves so that we may provoke them to the way of love.

We can hold ourselves accountable for spending our money in places and on organizations that are striving to enact the Kindom of God here and now, even amidst the birth pangs.

We can band together in communities of accountability that strengthen one another in action while also holding each other accountable for practices of self-care – practices that allow us to continue to do this work as we see the Day approaching.

There is action to be done here.

Our voices will be heard.

The birth pangs will end in new life and our weapons will be turned to plowshares (Isaiah 2:4).

All Saints Sunday

All Saints Sunday is one of my favorite festivals of the Church Year.

This is probably in part due to the fact that the topic of death is one that is avoided at great costs in my culture. A culture where death is pushed to the margins where it is “out of sight, out of mind.” Just think about the increasing number of senior living communities – we don’t want to have to see aging, the loss of autonomy, and the eventual dying process. Why? Because it reminds us that we are not invisible, we are fragile and our lives are fleeting.

But we have a God who died.

It is bizarre to me that we run away and hide from death yet proclaim the great promise of eternal life that we are given through Jesus’ life, DEATH, and resurrection. Perhaps this is because resurrection is the end of the story but, friends, there is and can never be resurrection without death. We cannot hold fast to one while avoiding the other.

To cope with and honor the reality of death I posted this reflection last year on All Saints Day:

Today at church we celebrated All Saints Day and I placed a photo of me and my grandma at my college graduation on the altar and lit a candle for her. In doing so I was reminded of a practice I developed for myself during CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education, AKA intern chaplaincy) where I would light a tea-light candle for each of my patients that died. By saying their name I acknowledged their personhood and identity as Child of God who was and is fiercely loved by family and by God. I would pray for those left behind and for the patient to find rest and peace in God’s loving embrace. I let it burn for a bit and then would then blow out the candle. For me, the flame of the candle represented the life of the patient, the wax represented those whose lives were impacted by them, and the tin that held it together represented God. So even when that flame was out, God continued to hold together what had fallen – melted – apart. Later that night the wax would harden again and, although never exactly the same because it had been melted, the wick could be lit again.

It is on the days like All Saints that we light those candles again, embrace and acknowledge the thinness of the veil between life and death, and share memories of our loved ones. It is in days like this that we get a glimpse of the future resurrected life, where we are joined together again in physical community with those of the Church Triumphant.

My supervisor during LVC (Lutheran Volunteer Corps), used to share a beautiful symbol at each “Remembering Circle” (small memorial service) that we would provide space for at the senior living community. We would set up a half-circle and, once everyone was gathered, she would share that we remember that though our circle appeared incomplete, it is in fact completed by those who have died.

At my internship site Confirmation Sunday is on All Saints Sunday. It is this day that they affirm and claim their faith for themselves. As they shared their faith statements, many of them spoke of suffering and death, but also the hope they gained from those experiences. In preparation for this day we studied the Creed together, part by part. Afterwards we spoke of the most meaningful parts to us. Many mentioned that the idea of the Communion of Saints was their favorite because it said there “is unity when there seems to be disunity.”

That is what we mean when we confess our believe in the Communion of Saints – a community that our loved ones who have died, our loved ones that are still alive, and ourselves are all a part of. It is community bound together by the love of Christ and the hope of the resurrection. A hope that even on the saddest of days, we cannot help by proclaim.

O God of grace and glory, we remember before you today those saints that have gone before us. We thank you for giving them to us to know and to love as companions in our pilgrimage on earth. In your boundless compassion, console all who mourn. Give us faith to see that death has been swallowed up in the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we may live in confidence and hope until, by your call, we are gathered to our heavenly home in the company of all your saints; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.” Amen. (Prayer of the Day, ELW Funeral) 

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