Week in the Word: I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot

hanks chapelThis is the message I preached on Sunday, January 27th,  at Hanks Chapel United Church of Christ in Pittsboro, NC   I hope it blesses you!  If you find yourself in or near Pittsboro, please join us!   Hanks Chapel has Sunday school at 9 AM, with worship beginning at 10 AM, and is located at 190 Hanks Chapel Loop, Pittsboro, NC.  We also have Bible study most Wednesday nights at 6 PM at our fellowship hall. 

 

“I am Not Throwing Away My Shot”

 

Call to Worship                             (inspired by poem by Rev. Pauli Murray )

bruised reedHope is a crushed stalk

Between clenched fingers

Hope is a bird’s wing

Broken by a stone.

Hope is a word in a tuneless ditty —

A word whispered with the wind,

A dream of forty acres and a mule,

A cabin of one’s own and a moment to rest,

A name and place for one’s children

And children’s children at last . . .

Hope is a song in a weary throat.

dying child 2Give me a song of hope

And a world where I can sing it.

Give me a song of faith

And a people to believe in it.

Give me a song of kindliness

And a country where I can live it.

Give me a song of hope and love

And a child’s heart to hear it.

 

Matthew 5:1-20, New International Version

sermon on the mountNow when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.  He said:  3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

These are the words of God for the people of God.  May God open our hearts and minds to see and know what God is saying to us in them this day.  In Christ’s name. Amen.

 

What stands out to you in these words of Jesus?

 

my_shot_act_1_2

“I am not throwing away my shot / I am not throwing away my shot / Hey yo, I’m just like my country / I’m young, scrappy and hungry / And I’m not throwing away my shot”.      So begins the play Hamilton.  This play dramatically sets to music the story of the founding of our country, and the struggle our founding fathers went through to write out our constitution and our bill of rights, documents which flesh out exactly what it would look like for their dream – of a land where all people are created equal, with freedom and the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – what that looks like put into practice.

martin luther kingThis week is a time we think about how dreams become reality, too, as we reflect on the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, who famously said “I have a dream” during his march on Washington, calling in that speech for a time to begin when people of all races and backgrounds could be welcomed as one, being treated as equal, in every part of human life.

Our responsive reading today is based on a poem by 6ebdd-paulimurraybylaurelgreenanother dreamer, the Rev. Pauli Murray of Durham, who was a civil rights leader working for that same dream almost a generation before King’s struggle and who, like King, was also jailed for her stands against racial prejudice and discrimination here in the South.   Unlike him, Pauli lived to a ripe old age, continuing even after his death her fight for this dream, by working as a writer, then a civil rights attorney, and finally as one of the first black female pastors ordained into the Episcopal Church USA.

 

In a way, when Jesus climbs atop the mountain in today’s Scripture reading, he is also announcing and fleshing out what the dream he has been proclaiming– the dream of “the kingdom of heaven” – looks like and how we can change our lives to help make it a reality here and now, which is, after all, what he means when he says repent and believe.

Those who followed Jesus up the mountain to hear his “Sermon on the Mount” which follows would have automatically gotten the point, remembering that it is on such a mountain that Moses first delivered the 10 Commandments, the laws that were the centerpiece of Moses’ fleshing out of what it would like for this rag-tag band of freed slaves he led out of Egypt to become a free people, the nation of Israel.   And those Moses-shining-facegathered listening to Jesus’ sermon would have remembered how the prophets imagined that a day would come when the same thing would happen for all people. Those prophets dreamed of a time when the mountain of God’s house would be set up, and people of all nations – not just Israel but anyone and everyone – would come to it, to learn God’s ways, learning how to beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more.        They would have known that Jesus was getting ready to flesh out what that dream looks like, in practical terms, the dream of becoming people individually and a community together that brings the healing of the nations the prophets promised, making this world here and now more as it is in heaven.

With that context, I wonder, does anything stand out to you about the picture Jesus paints of what this might look like?

First of all, it is important to notice what the foundation of this dream or vision for Jesus is not.  It is not a set of rules to obey, but instead having the heart of God.  I think this is an important fact we often overlook, and goes against the grain of what we expect.  When God calls that rag-tag band of freed slaves Moses led out of Egypt to become a nation, broken heart 2God does so through giving them a set of laws: The Ten Commandments.  I think often we look up, expecting the same thing from Jesus today: for God to hand us a list of rules, some IKEA instructions or how-to manual on building God’s church or community, or building a Christ-like life.  This is why, on the one hand, we often end up feeling inadequate wondering how we can ever live up to who we need to be if we want to be close to God and, on the other hand, why so often churches end up judging and excluding people who don’t always fit their image of what they think a good Christian ought to look like: when we think following Jesus is about keeping a list of rules we often end up trying to push ourselves and others to fit into boxes, predetermined images of what following God looks like,  which may painfully not fit.

This is why Jesus says our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and other teachers of Biblical law, who were the key religious leaders of his day.   They could quote the Bible front to back, but had turned it into a set of rules to keep people in line, and often instead of setting people to be free to be who God made them to be, it became in their hands just another force pushing people down.  Jesus’ kingdom is different than this – it is expressed by Jesus’ promise that the Spirit of the Lord is upon me; and has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, deliverance to the captives, freedom to the oppressed, recovery of sight to the blind, and proclaiming that the day of God’s favor or pardon has come.  It is a revolution of freedom that draws people out of fear and into close friendship with God, and pushes people to break every bond that oppresses them and others.

This is why instead of rules Jesus points to attitudes of the heart as his kingdom’s declaration of independence constitution, or bill or rights: those who are blessed, who become the salt and light we are called to be if we are ones who live out Jesus’ prayer thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven, are not necessarily those who keep all the rules right or can quote their Bibles.  That’s the righteousness Jesus says we need to get beyond.   They are those who are pure in heart and truly come honestly before God just as they are, without pretense.  They are those who recognize their own poverty and need before God, while also standing in solidarity with the needy and vulnerable all around them. They are those who mourn over the injustice in the world, its impact on others, and their part in it.  They are those willing to count the cost and face loss themselves for working with God to set right what’s broken and hurting in our world.  These aren’t rules – and there’s as many ways to live these beatitudes Jesus describes out as there are people and places in the world, so we don’t fulfill them by trying to fit ourselves and others into boxes where we and they don’t belong.

beatitudes (1)N

o, these beatitudes are what Gods’ heart is throughout the Scriptures, which tell us again and again that God hears the cry of the poor, lifts up the oppressed, cares as a father to the fatherless, the immigrant and widow; and is moved with compassion to the broken and hurting.

And we don’t develop God’s heart by gritting our teeth and trying really hard to blindly follow a list of rules or be someone we aren’t.  Rather, God rubs off on us as we regularly spend time in God’s company, as we openly and honestly share our lives with God, letting God guide our thoughts and minds, our heart and intentions, each day. That shapes our hearts more and more into ones that beat in sync with God’s.

One Biblical image for this is of a tree.  Psalm 1 tells us that psalm 1 treea tree planted by streams of water will grow fruit in due season.  As we open ourselves up to the living waters of God’s presence each day in our lives, in each person we encounter, in each moment, if we do it honestly, bit by bit we will begin to develop a heart shaped like God’s just like a tree planted by the water will naturally begin to grow its leaves, blossom, and ultimately grow fruit in due season. Our challenge then is not to ask what rule we must follow better  but asking whether we are planting ourselves each day by the running water of God’s presence by spending time paying attention to God.

These qualities then are a picture of what cooperating with God as God works to bring God’s dream of healing, reconciliation, and hope into our lives and world looks like.   I had a good friend of mine when I was a pastor in the Eastern part of the state who was a retired Jewish rabbi.  He used to say when asked that the message of the prophets of mend world 2Scripture was tikkun olam, or “you, go mend the world”.   This is definitely what Jesus is talking about when he envisions the kingdom of Heaven coming near in our lives and in our church, with us being salt that heals wounds and adds flavor to the world, and the light that shows the way for those who’ve lost direction.   As Bono, lead singer of U2, once said when asked why he kept arguing for people from wealthy nations like ours to help those struggling in poverty in the developing world, being kingdom people means to “Stop asking God to bless what you’re doing” and instead looking and listening to “Find out what God’s doing. It’s already blessed” so we can join God there, working together with God.  Knowing the ongoing message of Scriptures about God’s heart we are talking about now, Bono goes further to say where is God? “God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.”

Ultimately, God is already at work in such places healing, reconciling, and setting free.  If we can but open our eyes and see, we will know that God is extending God’s hand to us, inviting us on the adventure of going those places with God and joining in that work of mending broken lives and our broken world.   Each day, as individuals, as a community, as a church, to be the people God has called us to be we have to ask how can we join God in what God is doing?  How can we join God in mending God’s people and God’s world?  And I would say this is especially important for us as a church now to ask, as we consider where we are moving together as a church in the  future — we must move together with God, working together where God is working, caring for those for whom God is caring, not simply doing what meets our needs and keeps us comfortable.  One path is the path that leads to life; the other to being that salt that has lost its savor.  Let us answer that call to go out of our comfort zones, Hanks Chapel, to be salt and light.

beatitudes

This is why it is those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the peacemakers and the merciful that are blessed.  These aren’t passive qualities which God wants to shape into our hearts.  No, these are the qualities of those moved to action.  As one commentator puts it, hungering and thirsting for righteousness is not in the Bible longing for being some holier than thou religious expert but instead it is a longing to rescue and release the oppressed and restore the powerless and outcast to their rightful place in the community.  Likewise, being merciful is not just feeling sorry for others and going on your way but is instead us putting practical compassion put action.   As Glen Stassen says in his Living the Sermon on the Mount, this speaks of “those who have … such compassion

XIR193456

toward all people that they want to share gladly all they have with one another and with the world”.   And being a peacemaker is not just avoiding fighting or looking the other way without getting involved while conflict happens, but it is pro-actively going to those situations where people are divided and things could turn ugly, and helping people find constructive solutions that tear down walls between people, helping them move forward together, without threat of violence and recrimination.   These qualities are good pictures of what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King meant when he said that God’s people needed to be not just thermometers reflecting the temperature of the climate around them but thermostats who set the temperature and climate for their communities.

Any thoughts about ways you see some of us already doing this here?

What about new ways we can strive to live this out?

Friends, let’s hear God’s call. Let’s be scrappy.  Let’s be hungry.  Let’s not throw away our shot, but let us take God’s hands, joining God in being people of healing, of peacemaking, of compassion and of justice – the salt and light we are called to be in God’s world.  Amen and Amen.

my shot

Week in the Word: Shadow-Boxing

hanks chapelThis is the message I preached on Sunday, January 20th,  at Hanks Chapel United Church of Christ in Pittsboro, NC   I hope it blesses you!  If you find yourself in or near Pittsboro, please join us!   Hanks Chapel has Sunday school at 9 AM, with worship beginning at 10 AM, and is located at 190 Hanks Chapel Loop, Pittsboro, NC.  We also have Bible study most Wednesday nights at 6 PM at our fellowship hall.

 

Shadow-Boxing

Call to Worship                              based on poem by Rumi

guest-houseThis being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

 

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

They may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

 

 

Matthew 4:1-17, New International Version

temptation of jesusThen Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,

and they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death  a light has dawned.”

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

These are the words of God for the people of God. May God open the eyes of our minds and ears of our hearts so we might see, know, and embrace what God is showing us in these words.  Amen.

 

Before I share what stands out to me, what strikes you about this section of Matthew’s Gospel?

 

I can’t speak for you, but I think every time I read the Gospel as it tells the story of Jesus going into the wilderness, I have to take a moment and remind myself “I don’t think that means what you think it means”.  For me, when I first hear wilderness I imagine woods, flowering dogwoodand I remember the words to one of my favorite poets, which says, “Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable.  I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.  Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing. If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.”  When I hear the word “wilderness,” I look at my busy schedule, my to-do lists for my two jobs, for helping family and friends, for planning for my future, and I think “the wilderness? That sounds nice.  Let’s grab a backpack and a tent, and do it.  Let’s go off the grid a few days”.

But that, of course, is not at all what it was like when, immediately after his baptism, Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit, literally in the Greek driven — the same word the Bible uses for how Adam and Eve are driven out of Eden when they sin and Israel is driven out of the Holy Land for her sins during the exile — by the Holy Spirit away from his comfortable home, from his daily job, from his family and friends, out to fend for himself desertin the wilderness.  Instead of what I expect when I hear the word “wilderness”, this is a lonely journey not into beautiful treelines but into punishing desert, the same deserts that Abram and the patriarchs wandered through looking for a promised land, and the same deserts which Jesus’s ancestors, the people of Israel, passed through for a generation after leaving slavery in Egypt.  It is a journey for whoever takes it into hardship, into heat, into thirst and hunger.  It is a journey not just to be comfortably alone, cut off from the business of the world, but into a crushing kind of isolation most of us have trouble imagining.

When I think about what facing into that isolation must have been like, I imagine another kind of isolation: imprisonment and exile.   I think of the experience of people like Nelson Mandela who resisted racist apartheid in South Africa, Martin Luther King whose birthday we are celebrating on Monday, and Deitrich Bonhoeffer who stood against the NAZIs, when they were cut off, isolated from others, by being thrown in jail StAnthonyInTheDesert_basic_drawing 04for their fight for justice.   Such a journey forced them to come face to face with their deepest selves.  Writing about his experience being imprisoned while awaiting his trial at the hands of NAZI Germany for resisting their campaign of abuse and slaughter of Jews, gays, gypsies, those with disabilities, and many others, Bonhoeffer asked, “Who am I? They often tell me / I stepped from my cell’s confinement / Calmly, cheerfully, firmly, / Like a Squire from his country house.

“Who am I? They often tell me / I used to speak to my warders / Freely and friendly and clearly, / As though it were mine to command.

“Who am I? They also tell me / I bore the days of misfortune / Equably, smilingly, proudly, / like one accustomed to win.

“Am I then really that which other men tell of? / Or am I only what I myself know of myself? / Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage, / Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat, / Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds, / Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness, / Tossing in expectations of great events, / Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance, / Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making, / Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

“Who am I? This or the Other? / Am I one person today and tomorrow another? /Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others, / And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling? /Or is something within me still like a beaten army / Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved? / Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. / Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!”

bonhoefferSome of you, I bet, can relate with Bonhoeffer’s questions.  Though you have not been driven into the desert alone like Jesus, and likely not thrown in jail for your work for justice or the Gospel like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Deitrich Bonhoeffer (although, who knows?  One of you might have, unknown to me, been jailed for civil disobedience), I think all of us enter into experiences in which we feel pushed, driven, into feelings of isolation, of weakness, of loss, of failure.  In such times, like Bonhoeffer, we face our deepest fears, doubts, struggles.  We face into temptation.  We are brought face to face with the darker sides of our nature – what psychologists have called our shadow sides: our many insecurities, fears, our drive to be right at any cost.

The fact Jesus has his own insecurities and fears, temptations and doubts to face into says something.   That Jesus has these and the devil can throw them at Jesus’ face even though Scripture tells us that Jesus had no sin, when Hebrews 4 says Jesus is not  One “who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin”, teaches us something important.  To have insecurities, to have questions, to have fears, to have doubts and to be tempted, is not to sin, since Jesus experienced all of this without sinning.  It is instead to be human, vulnerable, to struggle.

What’s more, that immediately after answering God’s call on his life, the Holy Spirit drives Jesus right into a situation where he must face head on these sides of himself, before he can go out and proclaim “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” suggests that we don’t need to fear these trying times that come upon our lives, that come upon our churches, or our families: these times we feel driven and pushed to the edge of ourselves, these times when we are forced to encounter head on our shortcomings and weaknesses, our vulnerabilities and seemingly worst qualities as individuals and, yes, these same characteristics in our families, in our communities, and in our churches.

As our responsive reading, a poem by the Muslim poet Rumi, reminds us when describing some of the surprising and challenging experiences life brings our way, Devil_vs_Jesus“Welcome and entertain them all! / Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, / who violently sweep your house / empty of its furniture, / still, treat each guest honorably. / He may be clearing you out / for some new delight.”         Though difficult, if like Jesus we keep our eyes focused on God, who we are from God’s perspective, and how God is calling us to work together with God at building God’s dream for our lives & world even in the midst of our pain, such experiences can actually prepare us for better doors God is opening for us and for our future.

It is in part through his experience of imprisonment, awful though it was, that Nelson Mandala developed the character and compassion he needed to lead his people in South Africa not only out of apartheid but toward reconciliation between groups of people who had been at odds over racial issues from time out of mind.

One of my heroes in the faith is a man named Troy Perry.  Troy is a man who in the 1960s loses it all – his job as a pastor, his marriage, his family – when people discovered he is gay.   He hits rock bottom, and is driven to such despair and hopelessness he attempts to take his own life.  And it is there – in the midst of his darkest moment, while

recovering from his failed suicide attempt, that Troy senses God saying to him I love you, Troy, and have not given up on you.  And I am calling you to reach out to people just like you, who because the church has given up on them, need to be reminded I love them too and have not given up on them either.   It was only through going through that dark moment where he confronted his deepest failures, insecurities, temptations, and losses, that Troy Perry could see his calling and embrace it, at a time when a lot of our country still lay divided over race and you be jailed for being gay, his call then of beginning a work of starting some of the first churches in our country that intentionally welcome gay people alongside straight people, and people of every race and background, all around the banner of the cross, recognizing the ground is level there, with room for everyone. For there is not a person not embraced by the open arms of Christ, not a one for whom Christ did not die.

christ+in+the+wildernessCan you think of other examples of times when going through such a trying experience personally or as a family or a church, helped prepare people for something better God had before them on the other side of it?

I think this is important not just personally, but also for us as a church.   The last few years, many of our families here at our church and in our community have gone through such hard times that stretched and tried them, haven’t they?  Some of you are still going through them today.   As a church, too, we’ve gone through our own times of storms together that have shaken us, and made some of us wonder if we would get through, which also has shown us areas we need to learn, grown, and change, as well.

Such times can feel so helpless.  They can feel like the end.   But Jesus’ example shows us that passing through the wilderness  and facing our doubts, fears, shortcomings, and prejudices there — you name it! —  together may be just what we have had to go through, to prepare us to open up to the next bright thing God has on our horizon – to welcome people we never would have thought to welcome in, to see needs we would otherwise have overlooked, to serve in ways we would have never thought of before.

Friends, though it hard, let us embrace these experiences that make us face our weakness, need, temptation, and doubt.   We must let go of our impatience.  We must let go of our fear.  We must trust that, together with God, we can face not only these dark moments but the great possibilities God brings for us to change ourselves and our world on the other side of them.  Let us hear God’s call and say “yes”.  Amen and Amen.

 

Sanctuary, Resisting Babel, and the Power of the Gospel

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-cc7yr-a509e0

Derek Jones of the Triangle Sanctuary Network

With news flooded with stories of a government shutdown surrounding questions of immigration, I am excited to share a timely podcast interview.  Last year I was blessed to sit at table and interview Derek Jones of the Triangle Sanctuary Task Force about his work organizing churches and community groups to support people who are immigrants and facing discrimination and deportation.

During our talk tonight we enjoyed some Turkish lentil salad inspired by The Last Train to Istanbul, which tells the story of Turkish people who helped hide Jews from the NAZI government in World War II.  Most importantly to our questions today, we explored both the necessary politics of the Gospel claims and how these translate to our relationships with our immigrant neighbors.

 

img_5836.jpg?w=474

Derek Jones of the Triangle Sanctuary Network

With news flooded with stories of a government shutdown surrounding questions of immigration, I am excited to share a timely podcast interview.  Last year I was blessed to sit at table and interview Derek Jones of the Triangle Sanctuary Task Force about his work organizing churches and community groups to support people who are immigrants and facing discrimination and deportation.

During our talk tonight we enjoyed some Turkish lentil salad inspired by The Last Train to Istanbul, which tells the story of Turkish people who helped hide Jews from the NAZI government in World War II.  Most importantly to our questions today, we explored both the necessary politics of the Gospel claims and how these translate to our relationships with our immigrant neighbors.

 

img_5836.jpg?w=474

 

 

Week in the Word: What Will You Do With Your One Wild and Precious Life?

hanks chapelThis is the message I preached on Sunday, January 13th,  at Hanks Chapel United Church of Christ in Pittsboro, NC   I hope it blesses you!  If you find yourself in or near Pittsboro, please join us!   Hanks Chapel has Sunday school at 9 AM, with worship beginning at 10 AM, and is located at 190 Hanks Chapel Loop, Pittsboro, NC.  We also have Bible study most Wednesday nights at 6 PM at our fellowship hall.

 

What Will You Do With Your One Wild and Precious Life?

Call to Worship                              based on poem by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

grasshopper7Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

 

Matthew 3:1-17, New International version

john baptizerIn those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15 Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

These are the words of God for God’s people.  May God open the ears of our hearts and eyes of our minds so we might see and hear what God has for us in these words of Holy Scripture.

 

Does anything stand to any of you in this Gospel reading?

Our responsive reading that opened our time of worship included words from the poet Mary Oliver.  After intimately describing the beauty of nature, she asked the haunting chaplain 1question which ties into today’s Gospel reading “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  What do we plan to do indeed?

This is a question I can’t avoid asking myself again and again with my ongoing work in hospice -– sitting with people at the end of their lives and helping them as they ask themselves “what was my life for? Did it matter?”

This question of what we will do with our one wild and precious life is called in the Christian faith the question of one’s calling or one’s vocation.  In our Gospel reading, we see Jesus, together with those others who listen to the preaching of John the Baptist, facing into just this question.   Their experience, and particularly Jesus’ response, has much to teach us as we face into questions of our own callings today.

john baptizer 2I wonder, what does Jesus’ response and the response of those others listening to John preach in or Gospel reading speak to you about this question of calling?

At its heart this question of calling – “what will we do with this one wild and precious life?” —  challenges us to recognize who we are.  When Jesus comes up from the waters of baptism, that is what He does.  The heavens part.  The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus, hovering over him like a mother dove hovering over her baby birds, sheltering them under wing.  The voice of God the Father echoes — “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”   Jesus’ choice to be baptized by John re-affirms his identity as God’s Son, one loved by and delighted in by God.

As Marianne Williamson reminds us in her book A Return to Love, ultimately recognizing our worth and value to God as God’s own children, is the starting place for our own journeys, too: “Our deepest fear,” she writes, “is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Yet, rather than making us self-centered, recognizing ourselves as God’s very own, loved and of infinite worth as Jesus does, leads us to put aside our anxieties and fears so we may see others and our world more clearly.  As Henri Nouwen writes in his book The Life john baptizer 3of the Beloved, “First of all, you have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry, and, in the long run, destructive. The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting” Love.

“When we claim and constantly reclaim the truth of being the chosen ones,” he continues, “we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others their own chosenness. Instead of making us feel that we are better, more precious or valuable than others, our awareness of being chosen opens our eyes to the chosenness of others. That is the great joy of being chosen: the discovery that others are chosen as well. In the house of God there are many mansions. There is a place for everyone – a unique, special place. Once we deeply trust that we ourselves are precious in God’s eyes, we are able to recognize the preciousness of others and their unique places in God’s heart.”

Jesus’ baptism also is about recognizing such a wider vision.  Notice the preaching that quote-the-kingdom-of-god-is-not-a-matter-of-getting-individuals-to-heaven-but-of-transforming-walter-rauschenbusch-73-24-39precedes this baptism:  Repent. The kingdom of heaven has come near. For John the Baptist and also for Matthew, the kingdom of heaven is less about the place we go when we die and more about making this world here and now more like how heaven where we are headed already is: in the words of the Biblical prophets Isaiah and Micah, a place where swords are beaten into plowshares, where spears are beaten into pruning hooks; where people of all backgrounds are welcomed as one family, and where no one need learn violence anymore.

John’s preaching that this kingdom of heaven has come near is his way of saying: don’t wait for heaven to make the world better.   You, today, be the change you want to see in this world.   As Frederick Buechner once said, “”By and large a good rule for finding out” your calling “is this: the kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that kingdom of god within thomasyou need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. … The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”.   We each have some way each day and throughout our lives that as children of God our unique gifts, passions, talents, time, and energy, can be put to work in ways where we come fully alive and in ways that make the plot of ground we are on a little bit more like it is already in heaven.

And yet, we also each have ways we hold back from this, don’t we?  And ways in which we often put our gifts, passions, time, and talent, to work in ways that are purely selfish, spiteful, or hurtful.

This is why John uses such strong language about repenting.  Don’t just say you are Abraham’s children, in other words that you grew up in a religious family.  Don’t just say you will repent or change your life.   Do it!  Bear fruit in your life that is proof you are being changed.  It is not just paying lip service and wishing God will make the world a better place.  It is not just having thoughts and prayers.  It is actually doing the work, joining God in this effort yourself.

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism does not flesh out what these fruits of repentance will look like here and now, but in the Gospel of Luke we find out such repentance is us giving up ways we are unjust, unfair, ways we take advantage of and harm others, for ways we can make this world today more as it already is in heaven.  Notice how it describes repentance: ‘ “What should we do then?” the crowd asked’ in Luke 3.  ‘John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”  Even tax collectors came to be baptized. Baptism-of-Christ (1)“Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.  Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”’       Jesus will go further in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, saying to not return evil for evil, violence for violence, but instead to love your enemies, to forgive those who harm you; to give generously to all without expecting repayment.   As Dr. Martin Luther King used to say, we are not to simply be thermometers reflecting back to the world the temperature all around us, but to be thermostats, ones who help set the climate and temperature of our communities in ways that set the tone for others.

Which brings us to the final part of our question “what will we do with this one wild and precious life?”: Jesus and those others joining John’s baptism commit to face into their own shortcomings, giving those over to God to be made new.

When John talks about how Jesus is coming, he says it will be like Jesus sends a fire on the earth, sorting out wheat from inedible chaff on the threshing floor, preserving the good while burning up the worthless.

You see, the call to be children of God means to grow into being ones who as Jesus did reflect God in how we live and act, showing God’s love, compassion, and goodness in our actions, just like children reflect the image of their parent in their appearance.   We each have sides to ourselves that are anything but like God: sides that are selfish, thoughtless, uncaring.   This is a part of why baptism uses water: as water washes away dirt and filth, so God wants to wash away from us all those parts of us that keep us from reflecting God and bearing God’s image.   It is no fun at all to face into the sides of ourselves that aren’t our best, but facing into them head on, naming them, giving them to God, and cooperating with God as everyday God shows us how to lay them aside, helps us live more fully into all God has made us to be.  This is a vital part of this call to live this one wild and precious life.

Friends, let us take this plunge with Jesus.  May you, may I, may all of us, discover how to embrace our one wild and precious life together!  Amen and Amen.

 

Week in the Word: Our Border-Crossing God

This is the message I preached on Sunday, January 6th,  at Hanks Chapel United Church of Christ in Pittsboro, NC   I hope it blesses you!  If you find yourself in or near Pittsboro, please join us!   Hanks Chapel has Sunday school at 9 AM, with worship beginning at 10 AM, and is located at 190 Hanks Chapel Loop, Pittsboro, NC.  We also have Bible study most Wednesday nights at 6 PM at our fellowship hall.

 

Our Border-Crossing God

Call to Worship

native american nativityWhen the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,

to heal the broken,

to feed the hungry,

to release the prisoner,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among the people,

to make music in the heart.

Open our hearts, our hands, and our lives Oh Christ,

That we might encounter and serve You

in each person we meet, in each other,

and in all you have made and all you love.  Amen.

 

This Sunday is Epiphany Sunday, which marks the end of  the “12 days of Christmas” that celebrate the birth and early life of Jesus.   This first Sunday of Epiphany is traditionally when Christians remember the arrival of the wise man or Magi, who arrive some time after Jesus’ birth, long enough after Christmas that Jesus is no longer a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes but now a child.

epiphany 3Epiphany is a time when we focus on in how God lights our way ahead through the life and teachings of Christ.  Because of this, starting this week we will focus during our sermon time on readings from the life of Christ, particularly the Gospel of Matthew.  I want to invite all of you who can to read along the Gospel of Matthew each week from now to Easter.   Today, since it is the first Sunday of Epiphany, we will focus on the coming of the Magi and what follows.  If you would turn in your Bibles, or read along with the words on the screen, as we read Matthew 2:1-23 together:

coming of the magi 31 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and griefunder, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

May God open the eyes of our minds and ears of our hearts so we can see and hear what God is saying to us in these words of Holy Scripture.  Amen.

 

Does anything stand out to you in this text?

extremely loudSome time ago I was blessed to watch “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, a film starring Tom Hanks, which focuses on searching and finding.    A nine year old with autism, Oskar Schell has trouble letting go and connecting with life and people all around him. Oskar’s father devises a game, a kind of scavenger hunt, where Oskar has to search to find treasures in answer to clues in each of the 5 burroughs of New York.  To complete this task, Oskar has to stretch himself and go to new places, connecting with new people.

As a part of this game, Oskar’s father tells a story about a missing sixth burrough which disappeared by floating away into the sky.  Then, without warning, Oskar’s father dies at the falling of the twin towers on September 11th.  Afterward, Oskar continues to search, both for clues of his father and this missing magical final burrough.  It is this searching and finding which leads Oskar to ultimately make peace with the grief he is carrying, opening up to life all around him.

Today’s Gospel reading tells a tell of searching and finding as well.   The Magi are on a search.  These Magi are a group of astronomers, philosophers, and priests of the Zoroastrian religion who  travel from Persia, a part of the Parthian Empire with which the Roman Empire was in an ongoing Cold War, into the Holy Land of Palestine which lies crushed under the boot of Roman rule, in search of a promised King and Savior.  Their journey – and what follows after it – has much to teach us about where God can be found today, and how we can embrace God in the places God is breaking forth now.

What stands out to you about where God shows up and how people join God in this text?

1 – In this story, God is on the other side of every wall being built to keep out the “less than” and “the different”.

It is interesting, isn’t it, that the Magi come to the royal palace first, in whose walls princes are born and raised in the lap of luxury, expecting to find the promised Savior there, but cannot?   God does not color in our world’s expected lines.  God does not show up where people expect a King will be born.

coming of the magi 2No, instead, God comes born of Mary, who was an unwed teenager when she became pregnant, who eventually marries Joseph, a simple man who works with his hands who is also not Jesus’ biological father.  You can imagine the shock the Magi had to find Jesus being raised by this unlikely couple. They could not be further from Herod’s opulent palace!   After all, the Gospel of Luke tells us that when Jesus is brought to be dedicated to God in the temple, Joseph and Mary cannot bring the customary lamb the law requires to be sacrificed at a dedication of a child, but only a few simple birds, an offering which the Bible reserved as only acceptable for the poorest of the poor.   Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were thus likely living hand to mouth when the Magi arrived  and their expensive gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh might have pulled them out of hardship and hunger.

Usually we stop the story of Epiphany Sunday here, with the search by and arrival of the Magi, but I thought it was important, borrowing the words of Paul Harvey, to continue onto the “rest of this story”, since we are in a day and time when our country – and not just our country, but the world at large – is struggling over how to handle the immigrant, the stranger, and the refugee.   We see this in the tragic news of a number of Guatemalan children who have died while in the custody of our government as they sought asylum the borderwith their families from life-threatening violence beyond our borders, and the related debate in our country that has shut down our federal government about building a southern border wall.  Our debate is not unique to us, though.  You hear it too, outside our country, in the debates in Europe about Brexit and how to respond to the influx of refugees who’ve flooded Europe seeking safe harbor from violence in the Middle East the last few years.

So it is very important to notice that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph also become refugees and,  immigrants themselves.  It is among such ones God appears in our midst. Hearing another has been born with a rightful claim to be heir of the throne of Israel, one born who (unlike himself) can trace his family back to King David, one born under a blessed star and in answer to prophecy, and one born who is declared the rightful ruler of Israel by foreign dignitaries from an enemy empire… Well, you can see why Herod felt threatened.  So Herod sought to wipe Jesus’ family out, by slaughtering those children who might be king.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus respond like refugees before and since have always done: they flee across the border, back to Egypt, where thriving Jewish communities exist in places like Alexandria, and they can avoid being caught up in this purge of the undesirables which Herod seeks.   And let us be clear: this was not legal immigration.   Joseph, Mary, jesus-a-refugeeand Jesus did not go to Herod’s palace and ask for documents, their equivalent to modern visas and passports, before heading to Egypt. That would have been signing their own death sentence.  Like the many who have come, children in hand, fleeing violence to our Southern border today; and the many who have done the same on the borders of the European Union the last several years, these three simply get up and go, trusting God’s lead and also trusting that there will be welcome when they get there.  It is among such ones that God comes near.

In Jesus, God has crossed every border to show that there is no one beyond God’s care, no one for whom God does not open up God’s arms in welcome to save and set free, no one nadia_bolz-weber_photonot welcome into the borders of God’s kingdom.   As Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of a church focused specifically on reaching out to those deemed too far gone and too far different by other churches in her area, House for All Saints and Sinners, writes, “every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it”.  (Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint)

God’s border-crossing in Jesus reminds us that none of us have gone too far, done too much, to be beyond the boundaries where God’s love and grace can reach.  But it also demonstrates that it is exactly on the other side of such humanly designed borders that God still often appears, particularly among those the world has told us to rule out, among those our world drives us to build fences and walls to keep at bay.  To experience God aright, we need to open our arms to them as well, just as God does.

–          2 –Where God is found at Epiphany reveals a different way of being community

Where God is found — in this toddling child Jesus — not only challenges Herod’s role as king, but also the Empire itself that put Herod there, suggesting another way to build community together than the way of the Roman Empire.

A part of the miracle of both the Christmas season, and the Epiphany season which follows afterward, is that God comes in exactly the way God does in Christ to make a statement.  Jesus is not the only one born with claims to be born of a virgin.   Augustus Caesar, the ruler who put the Roman empire on the map, also had people claiming he Caesar-crossing-the-rubiconwas born of a virgin mother and one of the gods.  They also claimed Augustus was the son of a god, a prince of peace, and a savior of the world.  And just as the Gospels tell us of Jesus ascending after his death and resurrection, so the Roman propaganda machine also claimed when Augustus Caesar’s time on earth was done, he was carried away by a cloud into heaven to live with the Roman gods.   This was the Roman “fake news” machine’s way of saying that their way of  empire was the way to lasting peace: a way described well by the historian Tacitus when he said “they plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a quote-the-kingdom-of-god-is-not-a-matter-of-getting-individuals-to-heaven-but-of-transforming-walter-rauschenbusch-73-24-39wasteland” of dead bodies and polluted earth, “they call it peace.”

Jesus came as he did making a clear statement – born in a way that mirrors the false claims made for Caesar, born in a way that proclaims already what Jesus himself will later say after his baptism – “the kingdom of heaven”, not of Rome, ”has come near.  Repent,” or change your pattern of thinking and acting,” and believe” it.  Jesus’ birth is revolutionary.  The coming of the Magi proclaims that Christ will show a different way to build peace, to build community, to resolve the struggles we as individuals and as a world face – a different way than Rome’s damaging pattern of building walls and crushing others under foot.  Christ comes to pave a path based on grace, on loving service to others, on building bridges, tearing down walls, on forgiving even those who have wronged us, and of making more room at the table to welcome people in.  He comes not building walls, but building ladders making a way over our every wall.

–          3 -Our challenge is to join Jesus in being this kind of community together

In our reading, people make surprising choices, choosing either to be communities that follow the way of Christ or the way of Caesar.  It is no surprise that Herod and his court chooses the path they do – to lash out and react to what Herod does not understand and what he fears with judgment, exclusion, and violence.  This is Caesar’s way after all and Herod is Caesar’s puppet king, placed on his throne to live out the way of Rome, of empire, of oppression.  Today too we have people with a vested interest in repeating the same patterns of oppression, injustice, callousedness toward others and God’s earth, that have harmed people in our community from time immemorial.  Yet ought to be somewhat surprising that the religious leaders surrounding Herod, who know their Bibles front to back, are not the ones gathering to welcome Christ in, but actually show up supporting Herod as he begins his violent attack on children, hoping to wipe Christ out.   Some today, too, knowing full well the Bible’s call to walk in the way of Christ, sidle up to government, to power, to wealth, and look away while those in power allow the innocent, children, minorities,  those in need suffer.   We are called today to search our own hearts and see if there are ways we are simply going along with how things have always been done too, without counting the cost, and working to be a positive change.

peaceablekingdomWith the religious folks’ response, it is surprising then that it is not the religious people who know and quote our Bible,  but priests from another nation and another religion who don’t know the Scriptures in our Bible that are the ones who pick up on what God is doing, and come bearing gifts to Christ.  It is surprising that it is not the people of Jesus’ own nation but the people over the border from him in Egypt who welcome his family as refugees in their own country, so that Jesus can grow and flourish in safety there until the time of violence in his home country of Israel has ended.  These examples challenge us to open our eyes to those the world has ruled out who might point us in the way of Christ.  As Henri Nouwen writes in his book, Here and Now: Life in the Spirit, “I have become aware that wherever God’s Spirit is present there is a reverse mission.  The poor have a mission to the rich, the blacks have a mission to the whites, the handicapped have a mission to the ‘normal,’ the gay people have a mission to the straight, the dying have a mission to the living. Those whom the world has made into victims, God has chosen to be bearers of good news.”  We are challenged to build the kind of community together here that lifts up those voices among us, the voices the world often silences, recognizing God speaks through their story too, and often exactly what we need to hear, if we will but let them speak and listen to their stories.

Most importantly, the Gospel challenges us to look at who the folks are whom the world has taught us are across borders from us, thus unapproachable.  We are challenged to ask who we may be tempted to say are behind some invisible line or wall that makes them ones we can’t welcome.   We must ask, as communities and as individuals, are we siding more with the Herods in our world today who put up walls in ways that even threaten the lives of children?  Or are we siding more with the Magi and the people of Egypt in our midst, who bring gifts, blessings, and hospitality to the other?

May we be those who welcome Christ, our border-crossing God, wherever  and among whomever he journeys.  Amen and Amen,