Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There! By Rev. Chris Davies

1 Kings 19:9-13         “Don’t just do something, sit there!”

At that place Elijah came to a cave, and spent the night there.

He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that  said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
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DON’T JUST DO SOMETHING, SIT THERE! read the poster that my friend John put together inviting folks to come join his church for worship.

I scoffed.  How are you going to tell me to sit here when I have to pack my entire house up, write a sermon, say goodbye, paint the house, gracefully end a pastorate, turn 30 this week, take a few days, start a new job, finish a project for the entire denomination, sell the house, say goodbye to my family, move to Cleveland, and start traveling around the country?

DON’T JUST DO SOMETHING, SIT THERE!  Try just enjoying God as much as God enjoys you…. reads the poster.

Because finding time to sit and enjoy God in the fullness of Gods very self is high on my to-do list when there are people to connect with before we leave  and ways to figure out how to say The Most Profound Sermon ever and the chaos is surrounding and I packed up my bookshelves and I can’t find my kitchen supplies and “people are coming to look at the house in 10 minutes can you be ready?” and Thomas Hooker needs lots of attention because he’s anxious and Erik needs lots of attention because he’s anxious and I probably should make an effort to get over to my parents house and find ways to schedule flights, and and.. and.. and.. and..

DON’T JUST DO SOMETHING, SIT THERE!
But the wind is tearing apart it all and where is God in this wind!  But the storm is raging and where is God in this storm!  But the earthquake shakes my very core and where is God in this quake!  But the fire burns through everything, and WHERE is GOD in this FIRE!?

DON’T JUST DO SOMETHING, SIT THERE!

Ha.  Yeah, sure.  If I just sit down… a moment… then all the voices and thoughts will rush in anyway.  If I just sit down… and spend some time with God… the way God wants to spend time with me… right?  The way God wants to spend time with me.  What will happen if I sit here? in the midst of the chaos of all the should’s and to-do’sand deadlines and close-made-connections and anxiety of maybe-i’ll-be-late and all the things that spill off my list and onto the list of someone else around here… What if I just… don’t…?  And sit, instead?

It’s never been a strength of mine.  Sitting.  And not Doing.  I’m so used to orienting my time to doing, that it’s no shock to me that Elijah was looking for God in the big things, and moving to find those answers in the wonders of the chaos.  There is an element of shock in the way in which God sneaks in past all of that, though.  Like Elijah— I did not find God in the doing— but rather in the being.  Especially as I have tried to be intentional about leaving Wapping as best as I’m able.

Don’t just do something— sit there.  Be there.  Be present.  Show up.  Love well. These are some questions and some wrestling I’ve been engaging over the last few weeks.  And you know what? Like Elijah, I was wrong.  This time, I didn’t find God in the storm of packing and moving and cleaning and getting ready.  I didn’t find God in the minutia of making sure all the emails were sent out and all the ends were wrapped up and everyone knew as much as they needed to know.  I didn’t find God in the house-quake and firestorm of movement.

This week, I found God in the moments where I sat still.  I found God in moments of reflection and gratitude, in people who stopped by my office to say thank you and wish me well.  I found God in Noel, asking how to archive my time here, and in Teddy, who swung by for a hug, and in Christine and Jim who have been helping collect me boxes for weeks.  I found God in Ben Love, who’s hugs I’m sure going to miss, and Ken Johnson who seems to be right where he’s needed.  I found God in the quiet time taken with Ann Drake, who I’m sure has a direct line to heart-connections, and hugs and intention from Rick Usifer, and SPF, who pulled together a beautiful picture with send off’s, and the deacons, who are so thoughtful in getting me a suitcase for travel with gratitude.  I found God in everyone who I got to hug last week at the party, and everyone here that I will have the beauty and honor of serving communion one last time together, and the moments where the awareness of the sacredness of local church ministry and pastoral caring showed up in such a big way.

Because, dear church, I’m not sure what God has in store for me.  I’m not sure if I will serve in a local church like this one again.  As I move into the National Setting of the UCC, I am so thankful for these past three and a half years, which have shaped my understanding of ministry.  I’m thankful for having worked with Mark, who is SO gifted at pastoral ministry and listening—sitting in the stillness for the voice of God, and how he shares that gift liberally.  I am thankful for the ways in which you have made space for me and Erik in this place, and especially thankful for the ways in which you have challenged yourselves to grow to love bigger and better and more on the behalf of those whom you have loved.

Wapping Community Church, I am honored to have been your pastor.  It hasn’t always been easy, and it hasn’t always worked the way we thought, but it has been wholly holy.  And as I sat in the stillness of this past week, amidst all the chaos, I couldn’t find anything other than gratitude and love, and praise for all that has been.

Don’t just do something, sit there.
And hear:  “What are you doing here?” The still small voice of God seems to ask.

“Loving. Here, I am loving. And being loved.”
Thank you for loving me.  And for letting me love you.​

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Candles & Charades

Isaiah 9:1-4
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
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Pope Francis has recently said that Christmas, as we currently practice it, is a charade.  Lights and parties and excess and excess and excess— and the world is at war.  There will be food overflowing, and children starving.  There will be Nativity scenes set out, and there are modern refugees seeking shelter, and told the inn, the state, is full.  We’ll cut down trees for fun while our world aches in pain from environmental abuse.  We’ll honor one baby, and ignore millions.  We’ll light candles and house lights, and some haven’t enough oil to heat their home.  Christmas, as we currently practice it, is a charade.

Heavy words, for we who have begun to take out the family treasures and decorations.  Heart wrenching words, for we who have begun to count the Christmas trees on top of cars, going from the farm to the home.  Hurting words, for we who want to repair the world, and also find joy in the light of the sparkling tree and the arms of a love.
Cognitive Dissonance is the uncomfortable dis-ease when we hold beliefs and values that are in direct contradiction with each other.  It’s peppered all over our faith and our world and our lives, and we are in situations every day that produce cognitive dissonance.  It’s how you may have felt as I began to preach— holding the truth of how much the decor and delight of the season impact your innocent, childlike, love of Christmas, against the truth of a heart-hurting world that can always use more compassion.

There are a few ways to relieve cognitive dissonance, and some are more healthy and helpful than others:
—do something to change one of the dissenting thoughts, or talk ourself into justification,
—justify the dissonance by adding new options that make it seem okay,
—or, outright deny that it’s happening.

I’ve accessed all the strategies myself. I’ve seen them all accessed by people in this room and in this community.  Some work better than others.  So how do we go forward?  On one hand, the world around us swirls in tinsel and light and flashing sale signs, and on the other hand, people are protesting and dying, holding images before them that can’t be un-seen, and war rages, as the Pope said.  Is it all a charade?  Are we but moving though through the motions, closing our eyes to what is happening?

I really don’t think so.  I think we care so much it becomes overwhelming sometimes.  I think we start to turn the dissonance between—caring so much— versus —playing into the seasonal fervor—into coping skills to make and move sense of it all…

We who are living into the transformative and challenging life God wants for us, approach the dissonance with action.  We move towards faith and healing.  We reach to the stranger with love, we feed the hungry, we contribute our money and our time and our love and our energy towards places like this church, and beyond; each striving to make a difference in the world and make sense of this tension that we live in.

The charade comes crashing in when we choose to remain blind to the aches of the world— when we deny that this is happening.  When we choose to pretend that all is the quintessential New England “fine” when it’s not.  It’s not fine.  We’re a messy and a broken world, we don’t know what we’re doing most of the time, but we keep moving in faith that somehow, somehow, we’ll get a little closer… with the help of God.  We’re a people living in darkness.  We stretch towards lights, but miss the Light.  The seductive glow of the charade pulses from the horizon, and yet still the Light that is the Life of the World shines in the distance, a different call.

The season of advent holds this tension, of soon, soon. We’re not there yet.  Wait, my children, wait.  And while you wait, wonder.  What would this cognitive dissonance be like in the world God visions for us, together?  What would it be like with the lion and the lamb laying still; and the viper and asp and child together; the politician in the streets with the poor learning the needs of the people; the addict offered healing instead of prison; the queer youth who live on the streets brought into the homes of families with more space in their house and in their heart; the protestor and the police enjoying a meal and meeting heart-to-heart and being seen; the shopping mall becoming a shelter; the Jew and the Muslim and the Christian and the Pagan breaking bread and saying “we are, who we are, better, together”; the swords of war, beat to plowshares, spears into preening hooks, nation shall not rise up against nation, and oh! how light will come.  The wondering plays on the edges of God’s vision, letting us experience it where we are able, and removing the blindfold in the space between where we are and where we could be.

THIS is the advent message— hope.  Soon but not yet.  Wait in this tension . Wait, children of God. There will be a little more light— we who are in darkness, in dissonance, will find more light.

Because we could all use a little more light.  The Light that is the Life of the World awaits, but he’s not here, yet.  He’s in the tension, the places of discomfort, the cognitive dissonance.  He’s both reminding you that there is hurt in the world, and I think, encouraging you to find and shine light and Love regardless.

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Because you and I know that despite the want of the world for change, and the call of God to work towards a more peaceable kin-dom and the beloved community that stretches across all that we have set up to divide each other, the tension of living in the world, in this country, and in this community will not stop.  The dissonance of living into a Christian life and living into an American life will not stop.  We’ll be asked to choose, over and over, where our faith and values lie, and how to make sense of that odd choice.
The charade, as the pope has said, isn’t about Christmas celebration in general.  He said that the deep sadness of God and tears of Jesus fall for those whose sole purpose on this planet is to wage war, but who cynically deny that’s their intent.

It’s when we forget to acknowledge this cognitive dissonance, this tension of being a human in this part of the world, at this time of year… when we deny the real privileges that we carry… when we hold up our ignorance as a shield…. when we scoff when the real pain of our brothers and sisters and siblings in Christ which is brought into holy awareness— THAT is the charade.

So in this advent season, we are invited…  asked…. even demanded…. through scripture and through our faith today, to break the rod of the oppressor, and increase our joy.  Note the spaces of dissonance and still bring a little more light into the world.  Light the candles and usher in the hope of all that is to come.  And in the meantime, we work towards lessoning the dissonance of excess and not enough.  We reach out towards those in need, with non-judgement and welcome.  We see the places where we can do better and strive to move into our fullest version of self.  We sigh in awareness of a world at war, and pause to let the advent hymns and carols resound, anyway, knowing that God is here, too, even in the midst of all of this.  ​

Let us open our eyes, our hearts, and see and feel the world around us.  And yet still, light the candles.  Increase the joy.  Put up the tree.  Pull each other close.  And know that in the dissonance, in the advent waiting, in the darkness, here, too, is God.
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Prayers of the People after this past week of…. everything. #prayfortheworld

I foolishly tried to write a prayer for this week that holds it all.  At this, like every other week, I will fail. It won’t hold it all.  Only God can do that.  But I am confident that God will show up anyway, and that God’s love will be washing over everything, anyway.   That’s the prayer within a prayer, right?  God, let our prayers and worship and action and hope… Let us be enough.  So join me in intention and prayer:

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God, in this world full of darkness and terror, let us shine your love-light and hope.  In a world where there is skew and lenses of privilege in every news source, help us to do our best to pray for the world.

We lift up Paris.  We lift up bombs in Beirut.  We lift up terror in Baghdad.  We lift up misguided blaming of refugees.  We lift up the transgender community, this week mourning the names and lives of over 200 killed this year.  We lift up Palestine and College Campuses and racism in America.  We lift up hopelessness and despair and those affected by mental illness and suicide and addiction.  We lift up the evils of cancer and chronic pain, the unseen weight we carry in our minds, the horror of abuse and torture, across the world and close to, or in our, homes. We lift up hunger and pain and homelessness.  We lift up our hands open and wanting and falling short asking for your help, God of Ages.

Hold to us the ability to open our hearts and see beyond our own understanding of the world, into the reality of a multiracial, multicultural, multi-religious global community where all are cherished.

Remind us through our holy scriptures to Love our Neighbors, to work for peace, justice and mercy.  Remind us, too, that other faith traditions’ Holy Scriptures say the same thing, and that most of the followers are living life as we are, trying hard to Love more fully and follow God more closely.   Demand us, Lord, not to clump “those people” into “that religion” and to pull the plank from our own eye, acknowledging the extremists even in Christianity.

God, hold us accountable to our own faith, that we stretch to know and love even those we perceive as different than us.  Turn us and stretch us, invite us to transformation and always, to love You, Neighbor, Self.

Hold us in healing: we who grieve, weeping still.  We, who direct all attention to repair our bodies and minds, we who carry Gospel with us everywhere we go, speaking sometimes and acting all times.  Hold us in healing: for relationships and broken trust.  Hold us in healing: holding the work of hope towards us, pointing a way and offering opportunity for us to live into our compassion.

God, we pray for peace that passes all understanding, and restoration.  We hold up our apathy and anger as gifts, inviting you to take them away, that we may see and act.  We pray for wholeness for ourselves, our world.  We pray knowing that you hold our collective and individual prayers… those voiced here in this space, and those offered through our hearts…

“Ritual’s Comfort” by Rev. Chris Davies

Bible Translation:  Abraham Sacrificing Isaac.
Gen. 22

Come in, would you?  Thank you, dear.  Pull the tent closed.  I’m going to tell you a story.  There’s a point, in a life, where one can look back and see where her moments made meaning.  Where she had an effect on the world, and the world had an effect on her.  I’m nearing the end, now, and at that point.  My days are filled with memory…

Now, though, most of my being is uncomfortable.  They don’t tell you that part, when you’re young.  I’m telling you now, so you know..  There’s no easy way to sit or lie without the body reminding you of the years upon it.  So I look into memory…

But even that comes and goes.  The words… they escape me.  I know the meanings, I search for different ways to say it… I wish I had studied more.

But the memories… each moment punctuated by the rituals that sustain me through.  Even when the words are gone, the rituals will remain.  They’ve helped me mark the moments in memory that I return to… and help me see the curve of a live lived.  Lived well, I hope they say, one day.  Certainly lived though.

Rituals define the events that made meaning in my life, all throughout.  The marriages, full and empty, the wandering, the connections with Abraham.  The rituals stabilized and gave me comfort, the day-to-day prayers and month-to-month services, like the beating of a drum throughout the fullness of my journey.

First it was the Marriage to Abram, we called him, then.  We were young.  I wasn’t altogether certain—his religion was different than mine, but he courted me well.  (I used to be so beautiful, believe it or not… Now, though? ….)  Anyway.  His passion and energy for his God captivated me.  So when he asked my family, I let them see the sparkle in my eye, too.  And taking me away from home felt like a grand adventure.  I suppose it was.   I remember the wedding ritual.  The exchange of the sheep and the promises of a future.  He seemed so passionate.  And the first night…  he spoke to me of promises of a large, large, family…  and promises of the Lord… blessings and fulfillments…  So I relaxed my anxieties… and joined with him in his adventure.

But once it seemed that I was on board, his energy left me, this time, and we looked to Egypt!  Still searching for the land Promised.  Once we got there, I could feel others’ eyes on me, again.  We settled… and Abram pitched his tent on the outskirts of the city, ready to go negotiate with the Pharaoh, and that’s when we were called in…

Unfamiliar rituals.  Abram picked up on it before me.  He whispered “Say you’re my sister!” and I nodded.  They moved in ways that seemed route, practiced… but still bizarre for me.  Brothers are safer than husbands.  Husbands can be killed and wives taken, but brothers have negotiating power.

So we echoed again the marriage ritual, negotiating what cannot be had, and my true status as wife disregarded.  The ritual marked the moment, again.  We took the sheep, oxen, donkeys and servant-girls.  I burned with anger.  Sister!?  So then, the plagues, Pharaoh got the hint, and we left. … with the goods.

In the wilderness, Abram was mine again, and we returned to the rituals of daily life in the desert.  The days merged together.  Remembering them now, it seems I hold the small things more than the extraordinary…. how when he’d return from pasture he’d brush past me, kissing the top of my head, and onto more business with the men.  Our family rituals.   We hoped for children, and despite everything we tried…. nothing.  He spoke of blessings, again and again, and I grew tired.  Looking back, I should have listened, instead of tuning out that well-played track.  It’s easier to say that, looking back.  Treasure those little moments, now, dear, would you?

He spoke so about our large, large, family (ha!) and I had to take things into my own hands.  One of the women offered in my Egyptian dowry seemed the answer to the promise the Lord made our family— multitudes!— and so I had to make it happen.  It took some convincing to make Abram go along with the plan… and it broke my heart to do so… but eventually he did.  The ritual, again, this time, this time with the girl.  It was becoming comforting, this near-miss-Marriage ritual… I knew the words, I leaned in,  I let it happen.  I could only pray.  And from this: Ishmael.

But the girl wasn’t as skilled at reading the nuances… while she could surrogate, she couldn’t wife.  She started with the passive aggression, to me, and turned on aaaalllllll the charm to Abram.  I was afraid to go to him—it wasn’t obvious, but it was there.  My heart clenched.  My anger burned.  I was provoked.  He didn’t understand.  Until one day, I snapped, and he called me into his tent, asking of me WHAT is going ON… and I cracked.  Crying, I begged God’s compassion, and told him the story.  Praise the Lord, Abram heard me, believed me, and affirmed my status as Wife again.  For a time…

Because even that wasn’t enough adventure and role play for my husband.  Brother, so he introduced himself, once again, to another powerful leader, with more marriage price, more empty ritual, more goods to offer.  Again, in that day— still now—… sisters are safer than wives.

The Lord works in odd ways, though— I know that now— and this rouse produced a blessing and land for our Family, and more silver and animals and a covenant with the powerful leader, all because of the fear of the Lord.   And we moved on, rag tag band of followers.

And the day to day rituals became my substance.  Prayers in the morning.  Prayers in the evening.  My body moving and my mind elsewhere.  It blurred together… until the flash of light!  and the angel!  And again God promised Good to us… and a ritual descended.  No longer Abram and Sarai… but Abraham and Sarah.  Father of multitudes and royal ancestress of nations.  We laughed… here we are in our old age….   “You will bear a son, and call him Isaac!”  More laughter.  Impossible.  My body was well past the time for such things!  Shaking my head, back to the mundane… …until…. the impossible proved possible, and I felt stirrings within me.  Wide eyed and bed-ridden, At that moment, ……….everything changed,……….. forever.  Isaac was born, and became my daily delight!  I never thought… I couldn’t believe… what miracle!  The ritual of his naming was one of the Most Important in my life… my laughter.… all the meaning behind the movement… all the feeling behind the claiming of him as my son.   The marking of new purpose.

But when I saw Ishmael playing with my beautiful boy, his hands around my boy’s neck, his smirk indicating violence, the threat alluded to for future consideration…. A mother knows.  And This time, I had no hesitation of demanding of Abraham: Send your firstborn away!  He is not the bearer of the Lord’s promise.  Abraham pleaded, argued, promised it would be fine… but I couldn’t un-see what I saw.  Isaac, my baby boy, in danger.  He relented, and gathering supplies, sent them out to the wilderness to reckon with the Lord.

Abraham and I grew distant, but Isaac kept us together.  The ritual of rearing a child, pouring all the effort and energy into a son… it kept us from talking to each other, and for us, it was a gift after all we’d been through.  Isaac grew, and laughed.  Played, and delighted in his life.  And I delighted in him.  My son!

Then, again… a moment that changed everything.  Father and son went out into the wilderness, and when they came back…

Silence.

Stoicism.

Everything shifted.

They did not speak.  Isaac was in shock.  Heartbroken.

I…. reacted to my baby boy’s fear.  I gathered him up and took him away.

How could anyone?  How could Abraham?  I once knew this man.

I poured myself into ritual once again.  The daily prayers, the moments of connection, the familiarity of finding God and self in the memorization of the words and the people surrounding.  In those moments, I could transcend what had happen, re-center myself, and be at peace.  In those moments, I could try and piece together the meaning and re-imagine purpose and see my family together again.  I could try.

Abraham moved away to Beersheba.  I stayed in Hebron.   We didn’t speak.  I was tired, at that point, I confess… Just tired.  Of all the drama, and moving and everything… I just couldn’t go.

And I need rest, now. Just rest.  And ritual. The way in which it all makes sense and comes together… comfort in that ritual.  I wish Abraham and Isaac would come back together… they have so much in common with their deep faith.  It’s even in the way they laugh, the head tilted, just so…  You know, I need to rest.

Would you bring me some water?  That’s nice, dear.  Thank you.  And thank you for listening.  Sometimes, when you get to a certain age, you think back, reflect… all the moments that define you and land you where you are… I didn’t think I’d land here.  But it’s not bad.  And could you do me a favor, dear?  I’d like to stay here.  When I die? Send word to Isaac.  Right here.  It won’t be long now.  But tell him and Abraham both.  The ritual I want is right here.  And they have to do it.  Together.  That ritual… After all we’ve done together, that will be my last gift to them.

Thank you, dear.  Close the tent on your way out.5178224_orig.jpg

(watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Who is(/Who’s) God?

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.
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Society puts forth such a significant misleading story in the myth of “happily ever after” and “unconditional human love.”  It’s not possible.  And year after year, I see people yearn for relationships that simply can not be what we are taught, in the media, and romantic comedies, and literature, and hollywood scenes.  Year after year, I see folks heartbroken because their partner or child or parent cannot fulfill everything that is expected of them, every single time.

We are at a significant disadvantage in love, because we live with this necessarycondition of human.  Further, Love, real love, is not a feeling.  Real Love is a verb, an action of doing something for another, or for oneself.  Love is extending past our own comforts and boundaries in a way that simultaneously uplifts another and expands self.  M. Scott Peck writes in The Road Less Traveled that once the puppy romantic love ends and fades, once partners realize once again that they are two separate individuals with annoyances, preferences, needs, wants, goals, and life paths that may not necessarily line up in the exact same way, THEN is when the real work of loving can begin.  And Loving—the action of loving—is certainly work.

Parents, family, friends, partners, ….people choosing to be in full relationship with one another must work at it in order for relationships to deepen beyond a surface level.  We must overcome the inertia of laziness and the fear of genuine connection to go any deeper.  Peck notes that falling in “love” as our society deems it, is not real love.  “Falling in love,” he writes,

is not an extension of one’s limits or boundaries; it is a partial and temporary collapse of them.  The extension of one’s limits requires effort; falling in love is effortless.  Lazy and undisciplined individuals are as likely to fall in love as energetic and dedicated ones.  Once the precious moment of falling in love has passed and the boundaries have snapped back into place, the individual may be disillusioned, but is usually none the larger for the experience.  When limits are extended or stretched, however, they tend to stay stretched.  Real love is a permanently self-enlarging experience.  Falling in love is not.

Boundaries are stretched, and as a result of real love, we learn, grow, and are transformed. Ursula K. LeGuin wrote, “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.”  Consistent effort is required to maintain a loving relationship.

And because we are humans, it is so difficult for us to continue to work at love. We think that at some distant point, we will have “arrived” and that work is no longer necessary to love. We are, inherently, continuously working against the inertia of laziness.  We push against our limited condition of human, telling stories and myths of “unconditional love.”

But we: Lovers, Parents, Siblings, Friends,— are not able to Love Unconditionally.  Even when we cannot see them, the conditions are there.  For some, the conditions become painfully apparent.  Parents who realize that there is only so much they can do for their child.  Partners who are brave and strong enough to step away from an abusive situation.  Siblings who realize the best way to remain in relationship is from a great distance and at a surface level.  Adult Children who see the patterns of anger in their own parents, and choose a different way.  For others, they love blissfully unaware of the conditions in the distance.   Yet, we are not able to love truly unconditionally.

However, God is.

God is Love.
Christ is Love incarnate.
The Spirit is Love in action.

And God… Love… searches us and knows us, in our messy conditions of human… and calls us God’s own.  God’s overflowing love sees our inmost parts and calls us Very Good.

Even in our darkness, our depression, anxiety… where we are afraid, where we choose to turn away from the very best versions of ourselves… even that darkness is Light to the One Most High.  Despite our own interpretations of how we must behave and our own assumptions of how others should… God showers love and grace upon us.

We cannot imagine or truly understand the unconditional love of God.  We speak it, but even in speaking and preaching this truth, we limit it to words.  The love of God is beyond and before words— even before the words are on my tongue, God knows them completely.  Once uttered, God demonstrates God’s ability to be beyond the words we’ve said.

We can’t comprehend the unconditional love of God for all people: even those we have oppressed, ostracized, demonized.  Even those who have hurt us or those we love.  Even terrorists and atheists and those we’ve put on death row.

And when we believe, even beyond our comprehension that God loves everyone, then we must, too, believe that the redeeming radical transformative love of God is surrounding us, too.  The awareness of our worthiness to be loved changes lives and the world.

God’s love is unconditional.
For the new first-time grandmother watching her parenting tactics repeated upon her grandson,
God is love.

For the inmate of a petty drug crime stuck in a cell for 10 more years, and wondering if his life matters.
God’s love.

For the divorced woman searching for a place to find affirmation and love, and finding a radical space of love and renewal,
God is love.

For the elderly in assisted living who’s memory brings him between decades and faces that blur together,
God’s love.

For the trans kid who lives on the street corner, clinging to the love of God and help of a stranger, after she was kicked out of her home for being herself,
God is love.

For the exhausted work-o-holic upon the realization that he’s missed years of his family,
God’s love.

God’s love.  God is love.  God’s love.  God is love.  I think sometimes we, who cannot comprehend the words of love, and limited by our own human condition, and experiencing human love (and loss…)…. forget the expansiveness of the love of God.  We forget that God loves the person we hate most.   We forget that the grace of God, who loves us: fearfully and wonderfully made into these bodies and brains and hearts and complications.

We know the great Commandment to be ’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and strength,’ and the second, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’  There are three Love commandments in there.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Love yourself.  All three of those come with compassionate action, and are related: loving yourself as the only tool you have to love the world and those in it and God who created it.

And in that love is work.

That’s the catch: We’re not made to be aimless.  We are not created to stay still and bask in this love.  We’re called to love in action, to be compassionate and stretch beyond what we thought was possible.  We’re called to love recklessly and intentionally: our selves. our neighbors. our God.

We cannot love unconditionally because we are limited by this necessary condition of human.  We are messy and broken and lonely and wanting.  We can choose to enter into and leave relationships for our own self care and community.   And in the midst of our human frailty is God, who has searched us and knows us, where we sit, where we rise; and knows our inmost thoughts.  God who is acquainted with all our ways. God who Is Love.  Who’s love is truly unconditional, never ceasing, never waning, never leaving.

So in closing, I leave you with these excepts from 1st John, the early Christians reminding each other:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. ..… Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.…… God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them …..

Space Junk

PictureThis sermon has three parts.

It’s about Jesus harnessing the power of creation to help clarify questions of faith.
It’s about God in Creation and God in Community.
It’s about Synod, Space Junk, and making statements and creating space.

Braided together, hard conversations and escapism into sunsets point to the work of our generation: to do the work and be the church.

Mark 4:35-41
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

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Who is this, that creation itself is in his power?

Jesus is teaching and evening comes.  He calls to them— let’s go over to the other side of the lake!  With his disciples, and not much else, they all got in the boat.  Then, a windstorm arose! Creation itself whipped up a ruckus while Jesus slept on, his head resting on the cushion as the fear and anxiety of his followers amplified.

Don’t you care?
Where are you?
We are dying!
He rouses, rebukes the wind, and in the coming calm, raises an eyebrow and turns to the people:  What are you afraid of? Where is your faith?
And they knew, saw power, saw Christ, and said to each other: Who is this that even the very elements of nature bend to his command?  Creation itself is in his power?

Who is this that draws on awareness of creation to change the state of things?   And why?
Maybe because sometimes looking at creation even helps us gain perspective and see the longer view.

This week: I slept outside on a porch and listened to a chorus of loons.  I swam in a lake with teenagers.  I walked in the woods.  I talked about God.  I slept beneath the stars on a ledge, Mt. Washington in the background.  I taught about Jesus.  I prayed that I might possibly see a Moose.  I sang songs with themes of justice.  I went spelunking in caves.  I taught teenage girls how to own their power and affirm their voices.  I taught youth that Christianity is not belief in certain things, but the willingness that being in relationship with God and each other.

Creation itself was the backdrop for taking the long view.  For youth and adult leaders to find out what is really important in Christianity and intentional community.  Where is your faith? came the question out of the awareness of the Power of Nature.  Whether it was beside a lake while the water lapped at the shore, or in the lodge with the laughter of the younger groups encouraging our questions and exploring, we, too, heard Jesus ask us about Faith, as we asked and learned and grew in ourselves and in relationship to God.

We had hard conversations about what it means to live in community.  If one’s bed time is 10 and another wants to stay up talking until midnight, how are we all going to make space for each other?  If one articulates her need to not hold hands during games, and another brings an exuberance of activity, how do we compromise?  If one speaks so quietly that he is rarely heard, and another’s voice drowns out his, how do we hear the concerns and find the community decision?  We began the week with a covenant of relationship, and lived through that covenant into community.

We learned that even in the midst of all of what we bring:

Youth from families that looked and acted differently,
from different areas of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and NH,
from a variety of access to wealth and privilege,
youth who identified themselves across the spectrum of sexuality and gender,
youth who pointed to their experiences at camp as the formative way they are able to articulate a connection to God,
youth who are leading churches and will continue to grow to Christian leadership…..
even in the midst of all this incredible diversity, we must have the hard conversations and keep the faith.

Though, I confess, it feels as if doing “faith” in nature, is easier.  When the power of creation surrounding seems to challenge and affirm community building… it seems as though the connection flows freely.

Even with the youth this week, when we thought about nature and sunsets and mountain tops and moose and loons and coniferous trees…. we could say, “here is God!”  …but in the moments of doing the work of being in community, it was harder.

Who are we, that the power of Nature so clearly shows the power of God, and yet the head of our Faith is one who commands the storm itself?  I wonder if the disciples thought this when they were experiencing the awe of “the nature” on the lake.  Creation herself honoring the power of the Christ… Finding God in nature and thus helping to see God in community.

Finding God in Nature is seductive, and easy for most.  Finding God in community is evasive, and stunningly rewarding, for those who are faithful enough to try.

We tested the limits of God in community when we gathered for our National Gathering of Church—General Synod, in Cleveland the beginning of the summer.  We spoke about controversial topics and voted on several major resolutions.  The tension in the room was so palpable that many pastors there were practicing their techniques in being a “non-anxious” presence.  We spoke about why we were calling a straight, white, cisgender, man over 50 to lead, when so many people were expecting a visual representation of diversity in our leadership.   We spoke about Just-Peace and divestment from Israel’s businesses profiting from within the settlements in Palestine, and whether we’d call that apartheid.  We called for the removal of the confederate flag and everything the symbol has been constructed to represent.  We resolved to learn and call attention to the use of the derogatory name of the Washington Football Team, the “Redsk*ns.”   You might imagine the tension in the room.

The whole time we spoke of these issues, there was running commentary on twitter.  People tweeted goofy, profound, Godly things.  We tweeted prayer and community hopes and dreams.  They tweeted opinions and mournings and wonderings.  We tweeted articles that would help people get learning and background of each vote.  They tweeted about the background conversations within each committee.  And then— something started happening in the place of tension, on twitter first:  people started asking for the Space Junk resolution.

What?!  Space Junk!?


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Space junk became the punch line to a tension filled hall of hard conversations.  Space Junk became the safe word- of, I’ve had too much! Sometimes conflict is hard! So is living in community!
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In the midst of a tension filled hall, the care of Creation and the power and call for our natural world cut through the complicated messiness and allowed us to step into our fullest selves and do the work of community.  Mirroring Jesus, we called on the awareness of Creation to change the state of things.

The hard work of living in community and being Christians together is that hard conversations never leave us.  They make us want to say “don’t you care! we’re dying!” And sometimes it takes an awareness of creation herself to call us to re-charge and come back to care.

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When we finally did get to the Space Junk resolution, the relief of our commonality bonded us together.  With little fanfare, and much relief, The United Church of Christ affirmed our commitment to be faithful stewards of all of creation, even beyond this world.  With some giggles for space junk, and go forth and prosper.

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The tension of the storm ceased, we were reminded of our faith, and to have faith in our covenantal process.  From Christ in the boat, to camp on the Mountain, to a witness in outer space, it always strikes me that finding God in Nature is seductive, and easy for most.  Finding God in community is evasive, and stunningly rewarding, for those who are faithful enough to try.

We take our cues from Creation, and bring our creative spirit into community, for the Christ that calls us together in faith and witness to the world:  in this space, and in all space.  This is the work of our era: to do the work and BE the church.

Acquainted with Grief

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Isaiah 52: 1-3, 13, 53:1-9

Awake, awake,
put on your strength, O Zion!
Put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for the uncircumcised and the unclean
shall enter you no more.
Shake yourself from the dust, rise up,
O captive Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
O captive daughter Zion!
For thus says the Lord: You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.
……

See, my servant shall prosper;
he shall be exalted and lifted up,
and shall be very high.
Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
They made his grave with the wicked
and his tomb with the rich,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Awake, Awake, Zion— This is a going to be a hard one. I’m going to name some hard truths, and do so with love. Church, let’s talk about grief. Institutional grief.

Why are are we grieving, Church? Because this isn’t the church we thought it would be 20, 30, 40 years ago, and it won’t be that which we expected.

Because space to grieve that reality is so important before we consider how we are going to be the church in the coming months, years, and decades.

I keep an eye on articles and statistics and pew reports and realities of the church at large in America right now, and we’re at a collective time of transition and grief. The pew report came out, again, and the numbers keep getting more and more stark. (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/ ) Every major Christian voice has something to say about the “declining membership” and “how to attract young families” and pointing to how what the collective church *is* doing, *isn’t* working.

We point to money: Less people choose to give to church.

We point to time: More people choose something else for Sunday morning. No one volunteers for committees that feel like part-time jobs.

We point to priority and attention: Church is no longer the center of community that it was even just 20 years ago, but in conversation and sometimes competition with several other community centers for the time, attention, and money of the same people.

One researcher writes, “At one end of the spectrum, 50% of American Christians attend mega-churches. At the other end 50% of Christian churches have no more than 75 people in attendance each Sunday. Many of the members of these congregations are now over age 50. Many live in rural areas. Many find it difficult to maintain their church facility and keep a professionally trained pastor on staff.” He goes on to say that some estimate 50% of churches will close their doors in the next 5 to 10 years. (Louis F. Kavar,Contemporary Churches: Spiritual Transformation of Congregations, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.) Churches around our town, state, country and world are feeling the strain. Church is collectively engaging— or choosing not to engage— with our changing role in the American landscape.

There is an undeniable reality of a change coming within the church! The United Church of Christ just called the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer as our next General Minister and President— the face of our denomination— and he describes was is before us as “nothing short of a second Reformation,” and calls us to be attentive to what is already nailed to the framework of our door in the near future. (John Dorhauer, Beyond Resistance. Chicago: Exploration Press, 2015.)

Churches around the country are looking at this reality of what is before us and interacting with it in different ways. Another article I just read, and then tweeted about, is entitled, “Why the Church Needs Millennials, but Millennials Don’t Need Church.” In the article, Millennial minister Stephanie Vos writes, “From what I’ve seen, Boomers, by and large, are going to go to church. It would be nice if they found one they liked. And it would be even nicer if they found one that would cater to their needs.

…On the other hand, Millennials don’t care if they go to church or not – they are craving meaningful experiences, and that can happen at yoga or the meditation center, camping with friends or volunteering, protesting downtown or working in the community garden.” (http://thesaltcollective.org/why-the-church-needs-millennials-but-millennials-dont-need-church/#sthash.sehMRPoP.GgR2Uuzp.dpuf ) …As a millennial, I found truth all throughout that article, and reflected in my closest friends, and what they are up to right now.

And however we see—or choose not to see—this reality— here at Wapping Community Church …. will reflect the long term future of our church.

And Church? That means we need to be ready to make some decisions together.

Church? That means we need to have the courage to be in conversation. Especially when it’s hard. Opting out of the hard conversations is opting out of our future together.

Because Church? The alternative to this grief and conversation is finding or maintaining a church that will be a great one for a funeral.

Yet, Church, before we start those conversations and thoughts and wonderings… Before those who are brave enough look to the possibilities within Faith Formation and Open and Affirming and bravely enacting our statement of Welcome for All…. we have to grieve.

This isn’t what exactly what we hoped for, and what we thought, when we vision our community church. We visioned more children. A community center. A priority. So we grieve.

Church, though, I know one who will walk with us… a man of sorrow and well acquainted with grief. I know that we, as a people, have survived reformation after reformation… using words and sacred texts of old to point to the hope of the future, beyond and out of their original context, into a new context.

I can’t hear the scripture we read without thinking of Jesus Christ, and Handel’s musical interpretation, and sacrificial atonement. We know this scripture was written long before Jesus, and to a people that were seeking awareness in the midst of exile and despair. We know that the image of suffering servant was portrayed as the embodiment of the then people’s hurt and grief. And we know that vision grew in our Christian tradition through the generations to reflect One who Will came to heal… to take away the hurt… to help create something new in a different way.

We see how these IN words, FROM the context of which they were born, people read comfort and make meaning of their Babylonian exile. As Christians, when we read this, we think of how this particular text has been used to speak to balm the wound and the grief, and bring hope and healing, in the form of a Suffering Servant that we know as our Christ. Generations later, we still

read hope in the incarnation of a Suffering Servant— acquainted with grief. We read the text on Good Friday, because even still we see in these words evidence for our theological sense-making of the violence and perversion of justice as a man, acquainted with grief, hung discarded.

The text speaks to us even still today as we conceptualize the role of Church in this day and age, and grieve what we thought we would be. And as anyone who has interacted with grief knows, it’s a messy process that loops and surprises. To deny and suppress the work of it lets it sneak up in ways that are not healthy or helpful for church. It makes us act up and act out: lashing out at people who aren’t directly responsible, knowingly creating problems that would be easier to react to then the grief itself, speaking rumors in the parking lot instead of working together, putting bandaids on hurts that need much more extensive care.

When we think of grief, Kubler-Ross’ stages are accepted as norm: Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

Lou Kavar gives examples as follows for church:

Denial: Our church isn’t shrinking. It’s just a trend. We’ll always be here.

Anger: If it wasn’t for the poor leadership’s decisions, this wouldn’t be happening! It’s their fault! Or it’s the scandals, the TV scams, the media!

Bargaining: If we start another service at a different time with better music, we’ll have everyone flocking to the church!

Depression: We’ve tried everything and nothing works. Our kids don’t even want to come. Acceptance: “Perhaps, just perhaps, the important thing is the teaching of Jesus and not the organization. Perhaps there are different ways for Christians to gather and to live the message of Jesus that we haven’t explored. Perhaps there is a new form of Christianity emerging.” (Kavar).

Perhaps, even, you can recognize where YOU are in those stages of grief when you think of your relationship to church, and then to God.

Church, I’m so sorry. Have you heard that, yet? I’m sorry for this change. It’s going to hurt some. As we discern together, we will have growing pains. I’m sorry. We can grieve those pains— that it doesn’t meet what we thought it would, that people will leave without explanation, or effort, that we’ll have to let go of some of what we *thought* was *most* important in order to live the Gospel. I’m sorry. It will hurt.

Know that even as we grieve, there is one acquainted, intimately, with all of our institutional stages. One who finds self, and the ability to show up, even, and especially when our grief means that we behave badly in community—and then calls us to remember to love each other and then act like it.

Church, you who have grieved personal losses know, though, that no matter how you handle it, it doesn’t change the reality of what has happened, or will happen. We do know that it’s a process. Some push away their biggest supporters, and some come together as a community to grieve and receive support.

It is my hope that by naming this reality, we can intentionally look to our future together. We can sing the hymns of old that give us hope, and look to how we can vision for the millennial church. Because no more baby boomers are being born. And millennial culture is taking more and more of the American landscape. Church, we have to go there, too.

Church, you who are Israel feeling your grief, carrying the weight of emotion, you can relate to this passage, feeling beat up and interacting with grief of exile.

Church, we look to One who is the central message of our faith, who’s Gospel will live beyond this building and these boards and committees… to carry us through, and we relate to the suffering before we look to the hope.

Church, we have work to do, in naming this reality, we can grieve it in all the stages that will pop up and surprise us…

The importance of the message that we carry demands that we move forward in faith, even though we have not moved on.

Because, Church? we can come together and vision how to BE the Church for those who have yet to know the intimate and transformative love of Jesus Christ, himself well-acquainted with grief.

Amen.

BLM: Why Do I have to Preach Today? by Rev. Chris S. Davies

Why Do I Have To Preach Today? 

Rev. Chris S. Davies

Exod 4:10-17

 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’  But he said, ‘O my Lord, please send someone else.’ Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, ‘What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.‘

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As a pastor, it’s my God given- call to take the world around us, and theologically reflect.  Bring meaning.  Help people see these things through the lens of Christ.  Weeks like this though, when I feel helpless and hopeless, heartbroken and hurting, I want to throw my hands up and say, God, seriously?  Please send someone else.  Someone who can say this more effectively, more gently, more intentionally.  I’m all emotion and part filter.  I stumble over the hard things and sometimes avoid the call of God.  It was tempting to do that this week.

Why do I have to preach today?  ….and then the anger of the Lord reminds me that my job is more than bring a nice service and a nice word to some nice people.  Because to follow Christ is not always nice.  It’s challenging and back-breaking and people die following our God.  So preach the word.  Weeks like this, when the reality of death is literally brought into church, it would my sin to avoid preaching it.  Weeks like this, I wish working for God was a little more palatable.  But weeks like this show us how much work there has to be done for God, around our country and around our world.

When Moses pleads with God that he not be the one to do the work of saying the words, God says, Fine.  Your brother, then, will speak.  You will relay the message and he will do something with it.  The Word starts with God, and moves through Moses and his brother Aaron, then moves around all the people, making meaning and giving food for thought.  It’s a heavy responsibility, for Moses, for Aaron, for all the people.  And for me, daring to speak words that God calls me to speak, and for you, with the audacity to believe that God is trying to get your attention somewhere. 

Theologian Kierkegaard likens worship, and thus preaching, to a stage performance.  Which doesn’t go exactly the way you might think, with performers and audience.  He says that if this is a stage, then God is the audience.  They who are in the pews– you–are the performers.  And the pastors and they who lead worship are the stage-hands on the sidelines whispering cues and trying to help along the way.  If this is the case, then ultimately, your performance is between you and God. 

My prayer is that these cues from the sidelines–these sermons– impact how you interact with the Lord Our God.  A sermon isn’t meant to have all the answers.  It is meant to get you thinking, to give you crumbs of theological reflection that last throughout the week and month and year.  If there is a sermon to which you still think back, then that sermon did it’s job.  And whether because you agree or disagree, you’re not sure, or you still find meaning powerfully from it, then that was an effective sermon.

Worship is a space where we come with all the cares and worries of our lives, our celebrations and our thanksgiving, and find space to be in ourselves and in community with our God and our world.  It’s also a space where we DARE to think that GOD might actually show up.  And if They did show up?  One author writes,

“It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”1

What then? Theologically reflecting on our world is absolutely essential.  How are we to make meaning out of murder?  How am I to preach what God is calling me to preach, and trust that you who are in relationship with God find God in the midst of this week’s tragedies?

Ethically, responsibly, theologically, I cannot preach this week without preaching Black Lives Matter.  This has literally been brought into Church.  For church to ignore it, is sin.  Like Moses, I say it clumsily and as a prayer, because there are some who don’t, or won’t.  Black Lives Matter.  We say it now, because when we say “all lives matter,” we wash away the very real experience that not even in church are black lives safe.  Black Lives Matter.  We say it, and repeat it, and the message of God goes forth from the pulpit to the congregation and into the world as prayer and as action.  The experience of black people in this country isn’t one person, or one incident, or one town.   Over and over again we learn at the expense of black lives that there is– and this is fact, proven again and again, studied and confirmed, over and over, that black people are treated differently for every single step of their lives than white people.  This is a reality of our society.  We are not, and cannot be, color blind.  This experience is real.

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If calling attention to reality makes you uncomfortable, know that this isn’t a plea for white guilt.  Nor is it a sermon calling out any one person individually as “racist.”  It IS a confession of a guilty system, the sin of our society, saying, we have messed this up.  All of us.  We have not seen the inherent worth and dignity of each human life, created in the image of God.  We, collectively have looked at the least of these in our society and turned our faces, walking past those beaten, starved, dying, imprisoned along the way, and saying almost nothing. 

And if a PASTOR leading BIBLE STUDY in a CHURCH isn’t safe, then who is?  If the sin of our society leaks over that there is literally no sanctuary, no place safe for people to go and mourn and pray and be in community together, then something serious is wrong.  If the only reason that a 5-year-old in Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina is alive today is because they were playing dead in the midst of a shooting, then this is a symptom of a sick system.

How does a sick system find redemption?  Lord almighty, I’m not sure.  But we have to start somewhere.  Individually, if we want to begin to work towards change, it is our job first to LISTEN.  If we are white, we do not know what it’s like to not feel safe everywhere that we go on account of our skin color.  Swallow the discomfort of hearing something hard, and listen.  Hear the stories of people of color, speaking the truth. Do not interrupt.  Read the news.  Look at the internet.  Hear the pain, the mourning, the lament.  Pray: Lord, in your mercy.  Kyrie Eleison

It is a responsibility of one who claims solidarity to continue to be informed, educating themself to the best of their ability about our society in 2015.  As allies, it is our responsibility to teach ourselves, not the responsibility of one oppressed to remind us why it matters.

Next, remember that if we are to be an ally to ALL the children of God, know that “ally” is a verb.  It is an action we do daily, and a verb of the present tense.  What communities have done in the past doesn’t warrant the actions of this moment; because it is a choice to continuously stand on the side of those in need.  What does that look like today and tomorrow and the next day?

Know when to apologize. Speaking with and on behalf of those who are marginalized is hard work, and we’re going to stumble within our community and beyond.  One professor of color teaching social justice work says,  “When you screw up, be prepared to listen to those who you hurt, apologize with honesty and integrity, work hard to be accountable to them, and make sure you act differently going forward.”2

  Be aware that discomfort is expected, and stretch to it, knowing that God will meet us there.

And finally, one of the best ways to act to change the system is to speak also to people who share our own identities.  As a Christian, speak with other Christians about why Black Lives Matter. If you’re white, talk to other white people about why Black Lives Matter.  Doing so amplifies the message and uses our voices responsibly in communities that are already used to hearing from us (and our voices) as individuals.

So.  Yes, this is hard.  So, too, is following the Christ before us.  It is uncomfortable.  Following Jesus isn’t meant to be comfortable.  If you have (stayed and) heard the extent of this sermon, then you know how hard it can be.  And here from the sidelines, your cue is to take the Word of God and continue talking about it, continue wondering what it is to be a Christian in the world where brothers and sisters, beloveds of Christ are not safe in their place of prayer as a direct result of the color of their skin.  Like Aaron, you have heard, too, the hard word spoken.  Take it forward, speak some, listen mostly, and see around you the sin of our society.  Work for the day when we are all honored in our experience and appearance and the way in which we each reflect God, Godself.

Most importantly, hold close to the truths of our faith: that we believe in redemption.  We believe that all things can be made new.  We believe that we are partners in God’s service working for peace and justice that we may be here on earth, as God holds it in heaven.  We know that we can’t get to Easter Morning without Good Friday.  We believe that from violence can be peace; from death, there is, and must be resurrection.  We hold fast to the truths of our faith, knowing that God will meet us there.  Amen.

1  Dillard, Annie.  Teaching a Stone To Talk. New York: Harper & Row, 1982

2 http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/11/things-allies-need-to-know/

Aching Wounds #BlackLivesMatter

I hope this wound doesn’t go away soon. I hope the scar leaves a mark that echoes for centuries. I hope the stories of the four pastors and the bible study and the five year old who played dead in order survive live on in how we talk about a system that is terribly, terribly broken.

I hope this starts conversations that are UNCOMFORTABLE to have for white people. (They should be uncomfortable. We are still not living in daily fear because of our skin color. We can handle some discomfort, am I right?) I hope that compassion and LISTENING to an experience that is NOT OURS will weigh out here. Put your awareness on twitter and‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬. Research what is real, go beyond news sources who are clearly not reporting in a fair or ethical way. Cry. Scream. Lament. Acknowledge this is a problem. Do your research, or listen to one who has. Don’t tell us how you get it because you grew up poor or have issues of your own, or how you were part of a great program of racial conversation in the 90s, because we aren’t talking about your experience, right now. Deciding to stand in solidarity is a daily thing, not one that just happened once in the 90’s. Having a black friend does NOT mean that you understand fully how real this is.

And yet in the midst of all this, my faith tells me that we can’t get to resurrection without death. My faith tells me that Good Friday carries an air of hope amidst the hopelessness. But, children of God, we’re not ready to skip to Easter. We have YEARS of work to do, and half the work is going to be reminding people that it’s real, actually happening; racism is alive, well, and veiled in soft language. It’s going to mean acknowledging our privileges, being uncomfortable, owning our mistakes, and deciding that the system can’t go on this way. Live into these deaths, these scars, these screaming despairs. Swallow your silence, and substitute courage for caution. Listen to the story of they who are oppressed. Talk about that story with people who share your own identities and beyond. Be uncomfortable, and real. Start there… and together we can work for redemption and resurrection, even of a sick system.