A Week in the Word: God Has No Grand-Children

This icon of the Trinity draws on the feminine images used in Scripture for the Holy Spirit, as a reminder that women as well as men can bear the image of God.This week’s “week in the word” is a message by Rev. Phil Hardy at Life’s Journey UCC of Burlington, NC originally given last year on Pentecost Sunday that “God has no grand-children”.  Although it was originally a Pentecost sermon, I feel it is appropriate on Trinity Sunday.  For the meaning of the Trinity is that there is not a person God has made that God does not count as not a grand-child, but a child of God.

As theologian C. Baxter Kruger puts it on his blog,

“From all eternity, God is not alone and solitary, but lives as Father, Son and Spirit in a rich and glorious and abounding fellowship of utter oneness. There is no emptiness in this circle, no depression or fear or insecurity. The trinitarian life is a great dance of unchained communion and intimacy, fired by passionate, self-giving and other-centered love, and mutual delight. This life is good. It is right, unique, full of music and joy, blessedness and peace. Such love, giving rise to such togetherness and fellowship and oneness, is the womb of the universe and of humanity within it.

“The stunning truth is that this Triune God, in amazing and lavish love, determined to open the circle and share the trinitarian life with others. This is the one, eternal and abiding reason for the creation of the world and of human life. … Before the creation of the world, the Father, Son family-silhouette-clip-art1and Spirit set their love upon us and planned to bring us to share and know and experience the trinitarian life itself. Unto this end the cosmos was called into being, and the human race was fashioned…”

The truth celebrated on Trinity Sunday is that God has looked at you, at me, and said “you are my child, whom I love, in whom I’m well-pleased”, including you, me, all of us in this embrace of love.

I feel Pastor Phil’s sermon really brings this message home.  I know it’s blessed me and I hope it blesses you.

If you like it, please follow Pastor Phil’s blog at https://pastorphilhardy.wordpress.com/ .   Also, please feel free to drop me a line sometime either on the blog here or via email if you hear a particularly good sermon in a progressive southern pulpit that would be good to share in our “week in the word”.

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie,

your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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Daily Devotional: Recognizing Scripture’s Liberating Picture of Godly Womanhood

mother-and-child2 John 1-13

One of the things that I learned a few years ago that revolutionized how I read the letters of John are that when he writes to “the elect lady and her children”, many scholars believe that the “lady” in question is a woman who pastors a church that meets in her home.   This interpretation fits so perfectly the instructions John gives to her of caring for various members of her church as if they are her children and she their mother, of guarding against those who would come into the community trying to take advantage of members, and of ensuring true teaching in her home.

It also fits the testimony of Scripture. The book of Romans describes women in roles of leadership. One woman, Junia, is described as an apostle who like Paul preaches, teaches, and shares the Gospel in areas that had not yet heard of Jesus in order to establish new churches.   Other women are described as fellow ministers alongside Paul. Both Paul’s letters and the acts of the Apostles describe Priscila as a minister who teaches the Gospel even in ways that correct the theology of men like Apollos. Whether this elect lady is a pastor, some other leader, or a metaphor for the church it is clear that women are key leaders in the earliest church.

mary magdalene kinda native american lookingThis text is one light shining in the New Testament, reminding us that the few texts which get quoted to describe a second place status for women in church, society, and family do not tell the whole story. Rather from the beginning God has called, gifted, and sent out women as equal to men in the work of the Gospel. Remember Jesus taught women like Mary Magdalene, Mary the sister of Lazarus, Martha, and others as disciples alongside the twelve. And it was women who found Jesus risen from the dead and became both the first Christians and ministers of the Gospel.

Throughout his ministry Jesus honored women, treating them with dignity and value. The examples of women being prized, honored, and given equal responsibility are far more numerous in the New Testament than texts used by some to place women in second-class roles of subservience in the church, the community, and at home. The prevalence of these liberating texts about the role of women suggest that when other texts are quoted in ways that suggest women are somehow less than equal to men in the eyes of God, they are being quoted out of context.

icng__working_women_by_sneedham507-d6x8n3jLet’s join John in valuing women as leaders. Let’s join Jesus in valuing women’s gifts and values. Let’s also end the mis-use of Scripture to justify silencing, using, or abusing women. Instead let’s hear the clear clarion call saying the Spirit has fallen on all, man and woman, Jew and Greek, of all races, backgrounds, classes, and sexualities. Let us realize embracing each person as they are is learning to embrace the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s gifts which come in every packaging imaginable.

Daily Devotional: Where is Christ in this Suffering?

jesus opening eyesLuke 5:12-26

What stands out to me is both the faith and determination of those who seek Jesus out in this Gospel story. “If you choose to,” boldly proclaims the man with leprosy, “you can make me clean”. Unable to bring the paralyzed man in at Jesus’ feet due to the crowd, the man’s friends begin to rip off the thatch roof.

I have to admit I no longer see these stories as easy or simple.   I hear the man’s certainty that Jesus can heal and wonder about my own lack of certainty. Sitting beside sick beds, with grieving families, and the dying as a minister extending comfort, I have to admit a part of me does wonder – Can Jesus truly just say the word and they be healed? And if he can today, then why does he allow this suffering? This death? This heartache. To me those words, brimming with hope and determination when ushered from the mouth of the paralyzed man, are to me a cause of pain, wonder, and uncertainty. If Jesus can if he choose, why does not?

chaplain 1To me at first this paints a picture of a Jesus less loving and compassionate than I encounter in the Gospel story.

Yet I encounter Jesus as loving, compassionate, present, when I sit beside the sick, hurting, and suffering. Joining them in prayer I do see Jesus become visible as comfort and healer, felt tangibly as the One alleviating pain, helping those needing comfort, giving courage to speak the words that are needed to bridge the gulf that separates them in their final moments.   At times I do see healing but it comes as a gift yet also a mystery.   I do not know why Jesus heals some and not others. I wish I had the answers to why some experience physical healing and others do not.

What I do notice, though, on looking at this passage a second time, is what this healing by Jesus does for them. In the case of the man with leprosy, he not only had an illness. He had an illness which was socially isolating. The Levitical children-coming-to-jesuscode in Scripture called for those with leprosy and skin diseases to be kept out of camp, so that the disease did not spread.   By Jesus’ day, a command aimed at disease prevention had come to take on a spiritual component in the eyes of the people.   If one had to be removed from the worshipping community, surely they or someone in their life was suspect. They had committed some sin deserving their rejection. Even God did not smile upon them.

In healing the man with leprosy Jesus not only was removing physical disease but tearing down the barriers that stood in the way of true community.

Such is also true with Jesus’ healing of the man who was paralyzed.   In the same Levitical code in Scripture that called for those with leprosy to be kept out of camp until it passed in order to present the spread of disease, we are told that those with physical disabilities of any kind could not go into the temple to offer sacrifice. This was about the symbolism of only sending persons and gifts without blemish to God, a symbolic way of saying “give of the best to the master”.

Yet, as with leprosy, by Jesus’ day this command had come to be connected with a sense that those with physical disabilities were somehow spiritually damaged. As was asked of Jesus in John 9 about a man born blind, the assumption was that one with a disability had either sinned, or their parents had sinned. Physical disability was viewed as punishment for sin.

This is why Jesus’ first word is not you are healed but rather you have been released from sin. Jesus’ physical healings were object lessons demonstrating that God did not intend anyone to be cut off from God’s love, or from the embrace of the community of God’s children.   Jesus’ healings were aimed at tearing down walls of separation, and creating reconciliation.

I do not always know where God is and what God is doing in the midst of sickness and disease, but one thing I have found to be true: wherever barriers of exclusion are torn down and people are welcomed into community, God is present. Wherever reconciliation where barriers of racism, sexism, homophobia, family discord, have torn people are apart in the past, Jesus is at work. Wherever injustices that keep humanity divided and at odds fall aside, Christ has stretched out his healing hands. Just as I’ve seen Jesus show up in deep and healing ways as a living source of comfort for those facing illness whether their physical situation improved or not, so I have seen Jesus present in the struggle for inclusion, equality, reconciliation, and freedom.

For some, feeling outcast and forgotten, this text is calling you to know that you are not. Christ stand with you. Christ is the One at work in your community and life to tear down every barrier and bring freedom. Trust that loving presence.

For many who like me do not face much in the ways of barriers or prejudice, I think you need to hear what I do from this text: a call to be a friend of those your community has deemed outcaste. One willing to push through the resistance of the crowd, and if need be tear down walls yourself so that those on the outside can be brought in and welcomed at the feet of Jesus. Ultimately it is this desire and calling that was at the root of so much good done by people of faith in the fight for women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery, Civil Rights, and now through those speaking up for issues like GLBT inclusion and immigrant rights.

Let’s hear that call and say yes.

Daily Devotional: Living as Grace to Others, Embracing Grace for Ourselves

coffee-prayer-scripture1 John 3:11-18

This text makes a profound connection: hatred of others and our own shame about ourselves.   Cain destroys Abel through murder because Cain knows his deeds are evil, and Abel’s example of right living shames him.   So to hate, exclude, and mistreat another too often flows from our own fear of allowing who we truly are to be brought into the light, seen by God and others.   In order (in our minds) to keep attention from us, we point to scapegoats to exclude.

I know I’ve seen this to be true in my own life. How many times are the people who are the most hateful toward gay people the very ones struggle with some issue with their own sexuality?   To avoid facing their own sexual identity confusion or their own guilt about issues with sex in their lives, these people choose to pick on sexual minorities in the church and community.

beloved (1)Similarly, how often when we are annoyed by or rejecting of another is it because of how that quality we see in them that so grates on our own nerves is something that we are upset about or ashamed of in ourselves?

The writer of 1 John calls us to be transformed by love. When we are transformed by love, we begin to learn God in Christ accepts us just as we are, not rejecting the parts of us that are not some perfect ideal. It is we who God loves.   Learning this, letting it sink deep into our hearts, allows us to begin to accept ourselves no longer pretending those differences in us that make us different, imperfections that make us not live up to our or other’s ideals, and yes outright sins and shortcomings are not there. We learn to make peace with them. Strangely when we do this, the self-destructive and hurtful tendencies that may flow from these unacknowledged parts of us begin to plague us less, and we choose more life-giving paths.   And, most important to the text, we begin to learn to embrace others in their difference, in their imperfection, and yes even in their failures.

That’s living grace.   Today let’s learn to accept the grace offered to us in Christ, and to be that grace to others.

Daily Devotional: The Cry of the Innocent

dont shootPsalm 17.

This psalm is the cry of the one unjustly persecuted, sought out, who seeks to be recognized as an innocent. I cannot but think of the cry of this past year – “Don’t shoot!” as hands lift in the air. “I can’t breathe!” “Black lives matter”. I think of the many young people who lost their lives, not for being tried in court and found guilty of crimes, but simply for being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Or, worse yet, by an unstable person with a badge and a gun whose prejudice or shell-shocked soul had not been found out until too late.

alan turingThis psalm is the prayer, too, of people like Alan Turing who in the early twentieth century was convicted not as a hero who helped the British win World War II against the NAZIs through code-breaking and the inventor of the first model for a computer, but instead as a criminal simply for being gay.  His mistreatment for the “crime” of being who he was ultimately led to his death. It is the cry of all who, like countless gay and transgender people in the Western world for centuries, and still many such people in countless countries in our world, who find being who they are to be against the law.

They cry “we are innocent!”

Do you feel, also, persecuted for who you are? If so, this psalm reminds you God sees. The hurting, the persecuted, the suffering are described as under the sheltering wing of the Spirit and the apple of God’s eye.   For Jesus, too, was persecuted for who he was and found guilty when innocent because he did not fit in.   Know God is with you.

martin luther kingAs Dr. Martin Luther King was said, we can know that though the night may be long, it will not last forever for though the moral arc of the universe is long, it bends toward justice.

If you, like me, find yourself not persecuted, judged, or threatened for who you are, hear this cry as an invitation to look for who is wrongly persecuted and oppressed around us.   Know that God stands with them, and is present in the forces working to right that wrong and bring equity.   God calls you and me to stand with God, beside such ones.   We are invited to participate in God’s work which a late friend who was a Jewish rabbi described to me as “tikkum olam”, repairing the world.   God chooses not to simply snap heavenly fingers and say “make it so” but to repair what is broken in the world through the partnership of people like you and me.

Let’s join God in this work today, knowing together with God we can be a force of healing and hope.

Daily Devotional: Standing Though the Fire Burn Hot

daniel gold image

Daniel 3:1-8 seems far removed to me as I read it.   I cannot imagine a president of my country building statues to himself or herself, asking me to bow down and worship them as God at threat of fiery death.   Yet this is what is envisioned happening to Daniel, and was not too uncommon in the ancient world in which the emperor was understood to be a divine figure, a god walking on earth.

The refusal of the three Jewish leaders here – Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego – is courageous. It inspires later people of faith of all backgrounds to stand against injustice, knowing some causes are more important than life. The fact that in the fiery furnace a fourth figure stands with them is suggestive of how when we stand against injustice, even when the heat of persecution falls upon us, we are not alone. God stands with us.

fiery furnace danielYet in history, this experience is one that has been shared by others.

In the lives of the first audience of this text, which seems to have been written in the wake of Antiochus Epiphanes setting up in the temple of Holy Scripture idols to himself and his nation’s gods, as a conquering emperor from Greek-speaking lands, the Jewish nation was forced with a choice. Would they stay true to the God they knew, or abandon it all at risk of death? Many saints chose to stand against this threat to their faith at great risk, including torture and even death.

In Germany, in the early twentieth century, a man claimed himself to be founder of a German Reich, claiming almost god-like power for himself and his political party. This Hitler chose a program by which this system of belief was forced upon churches, and in which people who were gay, Jewish, or with disabilities (among others) bonhoefferwere forcibly rounded up, tortured, and killed in throngs.   Yet people of faith, like pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and like Corey Ten Boone, chose to refuse to lay aside their faith in order to be safe and protected.   Bonhoeffer led a movement of Confessing Christians who stood against this naked abuse of power, reminding Germany God was God, not Hitler, and that all people deserve to be protected as children of God.   Corey hid people in her home, which saved many lives but ultimately nearly cost hers.

Similarly in South Africa, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela stood with their faith in God against the hateful system of apartheid at great cost, and here in the South women and men like Martin Luther King stood against the hateful system of Jim Crow.

desmond-tutuThough we do not necessarily share the same risks, there are still injustices we are called to stand with alongside these great heroes of faith. What’s more, we are called to remember those being persecuted. There are many parts of the world in which individuals are still being slaughtered for their faith, and we need to moved to see their plight. We need to work toward an end of all religious persecution until all God’s children can freely worship and live as God intends.

Song of the South: Infinity

My wife, Katharine, wrote the following poem about the experience of many youth she supports in her work with bullied and marginalized youth.  I find her words particularly poignant, in light of the time I worked as a chaplain at a shelter for women & children who had been abused.

I hope this “song of the south” inspires & challenges you as it does me.

And ain’t whistling Dixie,

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

kat and mich

INFINITY

This one goes out to all my kids, my teens, my peers

All of you who’ve found yourselves bruised, abused, abuse 1misused, unable to choose

The life you deserve to live; all the while you give, forgive, just try to live

Any way that will make the pain stop, let you put down the razor so the blood won’t drop

Scarlet red, as you lay in your bed, thoughts swirling in your head, can’t help wishing you were dead

You deserve a life you can get through without a knife, don’t need to have paid for another blade

You feel like a zero, not a hero, remembering when he came into your bedroom as you slept

Ever so quietly crept, slipping a hand over your mouth. Don’t wake daddy? Oh no, he’s awake

It’s mommy’s heart that would ache if she knew your gripping pain, your worry you’ll be beat

Or would she just retreat, her eyes vacant, her mind in a faraway place where she can’t see, can’t hear

The tears you cry, the screams you try to muffle as you realize the ones who should protect you

Are the ones who make you run; run far, far away, but where? To school?

That’s not really a place you’re cool. The teachers say they’re tryin’ but the punches keep flyin’

Wicked tricks they keep denyin’, while the nasty names are multiplyin’,

falling-into-a-black-holeDays so brutal even the sky is cryin’ as you sit on the bus, enduring kicks and thinkin’ bout dyin’

At home you’re silent, lest things get violent. Don’t take much thinkin’ to know he’s been drinkin’

A C on your math test? They say you’re not doing your best, and they won’t settle for any less

You go outside to bring them the mail, walk back inside and step on the scale, and cringe

Haven’t eaten a full meal a week, and you know tonight’s the night to binge

If the number on your test was the number on that dial, you’d be off the hook a while

Until they started in again on how much you really need to be thin. You guess that your worth

Wasn’t determined at birth, but by letters and numbers or whatever the world chooses today

In bed again you lay, the skies are gray, the beginning of a new day

Up all night cramming, jamming the information in your brain

Pushing yourself through the pain of another workout, skipping meals, counting calories, weak

This is what it takes, you realize. You need to be at your peak to please the world, the 3’s, 4’s, 5’s

The 8’s, 9’s, 10’s. Honor roll, down the cat walk they stroll, the same ones who called you troll

Through years of self hate, taking the bait only to be spat on by those who discriminate

And you believe you’re just a zero, never could dream of being a hero, never of winning the prize

Always wearing the disguise of a happy go lucky perfect 10. That disguise fails again and again

Seems the only ones who can’t crack the code are the ones who set you down this road

That leads to nowhere, not like anyone should care, right? After all, isn’t it just your fight?

They say “it gets better” but that’s only somewhat true, for it to get better, it has to start with you

Realizing they’re wrong, calling out the lies and deceit, refusing to believe the words they repeat

You’re not the only one. There’s that girl who is always on the run

And the boy who decided life was done, now thrown in jail since he thought he’d use a gun

To take down, destroy those he felt determined his value, his worth

But it really is true you’ve all had it from birth

You’re all beautiful, smart, loved without condition, but when all the negative becomes repetition

You forget, your mind is set, you believe the words of those who’ve never really met

The amazing, talented person that you are, beneath the scars

They aren’t who you are.

Today it’s ok to hide under a rock, to block out the world, to wish it away

There’s one over here I’ve used for many a year, it’s big enough for all of you to stay

But only for tonight, because tomorrow we step out together into the light

And every last person who’s been made to feel like a zero will see

The hero they were truly meant to be

As they go from zero to infinity